Getting Closer!

Getting Closer!

Getting Closer to the Prize!

Last month I gave myself a week and a half to write a blog post for Notes on Liberty building off of Ross Emmett’s FEE article “What’s Right with Malthus” for the Thorpe-Freeman blog contest.

Yesterday, the contest judges posted their findings.

Congratulations to contest winner Adam Millsap on his piece on the gradual reemergence of the ordered chaos of city life.

And I am happy to announce that my post was mentioned as a runner-up! Not bad, if I do say so myself. With Brandon’s victory for the May contest, that makes for two recent mentions of Notes on Liberty by The Freeman‘s website.

Also mentioned was Babatunde Onabajo’s essay, also on Malthus, which I do recommend. In it, he describes why the business cycle, that is, prosperity interrupted by recession, could be considered a good thing. Endless wealth and growth might keep those driving it in good shape, but it can erode their character and leave those few who are unable to be a part of it to fend entirely for themselves. If those with the most to share (freely, not stolen from them through fraud or force, of course) are unable to sympathize with the less fortunate, what reason would they ever have to help them?

Getting Closer to Utopia!

I found Onabajo’s arguments compelling, but I would like to offer two critiques. One slight, and one very slight. To be fair, the author was only permitted 1,000 words for his essay, so he could not have really gone into these points, even if he wanted to.

The first is that the business cycle needn’t always include what we think of as painful recessions and depressions. Ups and downs, sure; the market isn’t perfect. But nothing along the lines of 1907, 1920, 1929, 1973, 2000, or 2007. These were all the result of central banking and/or state interventionism. In a free market, gone global and unhindered by trade barriers, recessions (if you could even call them that) would tend to be far less severe. Depressions would probably be nonexistent. Using Onabajo’s arguments, this could eventually lead to moral decline. Endless prosperity for which fewer and fewer have any skin in the game (indirectly proportionate to the increase of the rate of growth) destroys character. From the ensuing ethical and intellectual decay, I would imagine that the result would be more calls for state-intervention, leading, in time, to more severe recessions. (Interestingly, there is a cycle even in what I just described. But it may be more akin to a modern-day anacyclosis than it is to the business cycle. I am not well versed in Public Choice Theory, but I would be surprised if it didn’t have some good insights into this matter.)

The other critique I have is that under ideal free market circumstances, the need for charity for those simply down on their luck (as opposed to the defenseless and the handicapped) would decrease due to an approximately equitable distribution of not just the bare necessities, but of basic comforts and common frivolities. Coupled with milder and milder recessions, this would mean that not only would there be fewer to sympathize and fewer to be sympathized with, but also far less need to sympathize. (That is, until moral degradation sets in, giving special interests the opportunity to call for state-intervention, leading to severe recessions and depressions.)

Hating Energy Dependence, Not Loving Energy Independence

Hating Energy Dependence, Not Loving Energy Independence.

I worked on this piece on and off from November 30th to January 21st. I wrote the bulk of it on the first day, and most of the editing since then had been cosmetic. It is somewhat related to a project I was helping a friend with, although that is not the reason I wrote it. This piece originally appeared on January 21st at Notes on Liberty, where it was my first for that blog.

WHAT’S SO BAD ABOUT ENERGY DEPENDENCE?

Contrary to what one might be led to think, energy independence need not be the opposite of energy (inter)dependence. Likewise, contrary to what many advocates of free markets and free trade will say, energy dependence (perhaps not their choice of words), is not a good thing. Energy interdependence certainly can be a good thing, but in today’s world I can’t agree that every instance of it always is. Continue reading

One Year Later at PTPOL

One Year Later at PTPOL.

Well, this blog has been registered at WordPress.com for one year now. It took a while to get it off the ground, but it hit the ground running. (How’s that for a mixed – and contradictory – metaphor, by the way?) Click here to learn more about the blog, and here to learn a little bit about it’s author.

140 posts, 6,602 views, 482 comments, 200 WordPress likes, 192 Facebook likes, 54 followers on WordPress, 1150 followers on Twitter.

Not bad for an amateur one-man team, right? Well, its the readers that are more to thank. Without them there really is no point in writing.

Continue reading

There is, However, Another Way of Looking at, or for, Socialism.

There is, However, Another Way of Looking at, or for, Socialism.

Hey all, it’s been ten days since my last post (but I’ve got more than 30 drafts, some of which I will discard, others may be outdated, yet a decent amount of which I hope to post in the near future). I’ve been somewhat busy with researching environmental organizations and “green” energy subsidies. I won’t bore you with any of the details (yet?), but I’d like to share some of my general observations.

The pattern I have seen develop for the different types of energy, as well as their advocates, is that, Continue reading

Tea Party Heroes Ron And Rand Paul Make For A Bitter Brew; Seventh Response

Tea Party Heroes Ron And Rand Paul Make For A Bitter Brew; Seventh Response.

The following is the seventh paragraph of Barry Germansky’s op-ed Tea Party Heroes Ron and Rand Paul Make for a Bitter Brew, from earlier this year, interspersed with my rebuttals from within the last few days.

BARRY GERMANSKY: The Pauls’ default stance of misrepresenting the historical record also helps them peddle the absurd Austrian School idea to deregulate all private businesses and subsequently create a utopian free market.

HENRY MOORE: We have already dealt with the historical record, which you have ignored, but must you now ignore the point of science (economics is a social science, one for which there are many competing theories)? You are here misrepresenting the Austrian School of Economics. To quote Walter BlockNo, Austrian economists can’t oppose or favor anything. To say that they do is to violate the normative positive distinction. Austrians are limited to saying that a given policy will have thus and thus effects; they logically cannot say, qua Austrians, that a policy is good or bad, nor may they favor or oppose it, again qua Austrian economists. Certainly, they can do so as citizens, as ethicists, as philosophers, but economics per se is and must be value free, despite the fact that this stricture is all too often violated, as in the present case.”

So Austrians do not oppose or favor any policy, such as deregulation, privatization, “utopian” free markets, as Austrians. They may do so as libertarians, which many Austrian economists are in varying degrees, but not as members of the economics profession, regardless of the school they find the most useful. Why is adherence to the Austrian school or other free market theories, and to libertarianism often found in the same people? Emphasis on such things as individual choice and individual action, as well as the fact that utility (relative to societal norms) applied to knowledge gleaned from the scientific theory, and the morality of the philosophical/political theory often lead to compatible conclusions.

A general example would be where policy a leads to unintended result b, an Austrian neither favors nor opposes policy a in and of itself, rather its merit depends on whether result b is in line with the original intent of policy a and/or the societal norms that the policy derives from or is in reaction to. To the scientist, the policy and its result have no moral value relative to science, only relative to the purported intentions of the policy in question. To the philosopher, especially one coming from a framework that values liberty highly, the Austrian (though not as an Austrian) may oppose the policy (and favor alternatives) on those grounds, regardless of whether or not he favors or opposes them (or remains objective, in the case of science) on other grounds.

A specific example following these same lines would be economically interventionist policies that intend to increase homeownership rates because the societal norm is that home ownership is a worthy and valuable goal, which then have the result of decreasing homeownership or stopping the growth of home ownership in the long run, or that have myriad other unwelcome (by society, not necessarily the scientist, who is mostly an observer) effects that outweigh those results considered more positive. The Austrian that is also a libertarian might oppose these policies on the grounds that public policies favoring one group (generally socio-ecnomic, ethno-cultural, political, or regional) at the expense of others necessarily violates the rights of the those in other groups. I just described to you the Housing Bubble and ensuing economic crisis.

[It is sometimes observed that Austrian school luminary Ludwig von Mises, though libertarian in his conclusions, was very much a utilitarian/consequentialist, and when coming to conclusions about the moral worth of a policy, applied this to his scientific knowledge, rather than a deontological libertarianism apart from his scientific knowledge. This is somewhat true, taking into account semantics, but upon further study, when all is put into context, the label is somewhat of an oversimplification.]

Furthermore, your idea of regulation is arbitrary. Because there is a public policy and it is called a “regulation,” that automatically means it regulates? No. Often so called “regulations” create irregularities, and occasionally the blame for economic crises rests on their shoulders. The free market, on the other hand, is capable of regulating without the aid of government so-called experts. Markets can regulate themselves because each person only needs knowledge about a small portion of that which affects him, whereas central planners can not regulate markets because there are far fewer of them and by comparison the knowledge required is too vast for them to master, in a given point in time, let only keep tabs on throughout a large span of time. This is an overly simplistic way of looking at it, of course, but when one clearly can not even grasp this concept, up till now I hope, it is pointless to delve much further. Though I have attempted to do so hereherehereherehereherehere, and here.

BARRY GERMANSKY: The Pauls refuse to believe that deregulation caused the Great Depression and the 2008 recession, despite vast quantities of evidence to the contrary.

HENRY MOORE: There is hardly any evidence (it is certainly not vast) that deregulation caused the Great Depression or the 2008 Recession, unless of course we see deregulation (which is often cleverly misused to refer to not only deregulation, but regulation, reform, and combinations of all the aforementioned) as a mitigating factor (e.g., rapid deregulation of a sector accustomed to regulation can indeed cause “problems,”; a separate issue entirely is the fact that these “problems,” though painful for some, are necessary to liquidate malinvestments and to shift misallocations, and that without these temporary wounds reopening, worse infections would fester).

In fact, it is more accurate to blame regulations. I use the term loosely (but nowhere near as loosely as some use the term “deregulation”) to refer to such things (during the 2008 Recession) as the Federal Reserve’s Dual Mandate of price stability and low unemployment, manipulation of interest and exchange and tax rates, price controls, implicit bailouts (this is the  type of regulation most commonly ignored by progressive-types griping about the so-called “repeal” of the Glass-Steagall Act, which often bears the brunt of the blame for the 2008 Recession), the Community Reinvestment Act and related or similar laws, the financial actions of certain Government Sponsored Entities, and the exacerbation of the ensuing problems with things like explicit bailouts, stimulus, and Quantitative Easing.

BARRY GERMANSKY: Following the Great Depression, when FDR introduced strict, compartmentalized regulation of the marketplace, the United States enjoyed a forty-year period of virtually uninterrupted growth, transforming the country into a superpower.

HENRY MOORE: The growth was not the result of any regulations, it was the result of a reinvigorated post-world war private sector, which had been stifled by the Hoover and Roosevelt economic and foreign policies in the 1930s and early 1940s. Without these policies the boom would have been that much sooner and by the time in question that much bigger. This is part of the reason the US became a superpower (it already was prior to the Great Depression, but after World War Two, increasingly so), but just as significant was what occurred with World War Two. The United States was comparatively insulated from the world wars in terms of structural damage. So it recovered from them more readily than the other superpowers, those in Europe and Asia. The competition, even that from the other supposed superpower, the Soviet Union, simply did not compare.

BARRY GERMANSKY: Then, when Reagan took office in the 1980s, he was aided by Alan Greenspan and company to remove the historically-proven regulations.

HENRY MOORE: The regulations were not historically proven. They led to the end of Bretton Woods in 1971, and the regulations imposed because of that (which were diminished some by Carter, Reagan, and Volcker), including wage and price controls, and the slow unravelling of the currency, both of which were major factors in 1970s Stagflation.

A lot of the regulations that Reagan got rid of were not just FDR’s. Some of them were also Nixon’s. Paul Volcker (under Carter and Reagan) actually did more to deregulate than Greenspan (only briefly under Reagan, more closely associated with Bush Senior, Clinton, and Bush Junior) ever did. A lot of Reagan’s policies, including deficit spending were the opposite you make them out to be. Supply-side economics is not the same thing as free market economics. Any “economics” that puts too much (i.e., artificial) emphasis on either the supply side or the demand side (or on both as they are not mutually exclusive) is liable to create distortions. It is true that supply drives demand, but this does not mean supply should be propped up in any way by government. For the record, supply-side economics is subtle corporate welfare (as opposed to that which artificially prop up demand which is things like wage and price controls and welfare for the poor) and has been practiced by every administration and Congress going back for decades, including FDR, often in combination with more policies aimed at propping up demand.

Greenspan’s policies were far from free market reforms. For a former proponent of the gold standard and follower of Ayn Rand, he had comparatively little to show for it in his actual policies, often moving in the opposite direction.

BARRY GERMANSKY: This helped big businesses make more profits while sending the rest of America into the gutter. This culminated in the 2008 recession.

HENRY MOORE: So is it deregulation or profit that causes recessions? Which is it? Didn’t small businesses get profits too? And didn’t some wages go up in real terms? And weren’t the wages that didn’t go up start on that trend before Reagan and Greenspan? What is it about profit (or deregulation) that sends “the rest of America” to the gutter? Is it that some of these new profits are not in fact new, but simply the same profits but less of them stolen through taxation? In other words, is the reason that some of these Americans were no longer permitted to live off of someone else? If you want a policy to blame for making the middle class poor and the poor desperate, look at things like minimum wage laws, which take the bottom rungs off the employment ladder; unsustainable lines of production encouraged by an elastic currency and cheap credit; dependence on high priced foreign cartel energy sources because the Executive Office, Department of Energy, Environmental Protection Agency, and public rent seeking special interests don’t want the United States to access her own abundant natural resources; and outsourcing caused by high tax rates, onerous regulations and managed trade. Those are your culprits.

BARRY GERMANSKY: The Pauls are able to ignore all of these historical events because they treat their personal ideology as more credible than primary evidence. This is a big no-no for any serious historian.

HENRY MOORE: You mention few, if any, actual historical events, and virtually no reliable evidence. Mostly personal ideology and vague platitudes.  And hardly any context to accompany them. You are not a serious historian. Neither are most of the people you have been reading or listening to. You are all certifiable laughing stocks. You and your arguments have no credibility whatsoever.

Tea Party Heroes Ron And Rand Paul Make For A Bitter Brew; Sixth Response

Tea Party Heroes Ron And Rand Paul Make For A Bitter Brew; Sixth Response.

The following is the sixth paragraph of Barry Germansky’s op-ed Tea Party Heroes Ron and Rand Paul Make for a Bitter Brew, from earlier this year, interspersed with my rebuttals from within the last few days.

BARRY GERMANSKY: Naturally, the Pauls’ preference for putting economic values first – by believing in free market libertarianism, which uses economics in totalitarian fashion to run society – caters to big businesses far more than the average citizen.

HENRY MOORE: Free Market Libertarianism no more uses “economics,” regardless of how that word is defined, to run society, than any other system does. In fact, as I have argued and will continue to argue elsewhere, it is less likely to do so. Is free market libertarianism the only system that seeks to apply its economic principles to society? Or do other ideologies also seek to apply aspects of their ideology, for good or bad, to society? It is clearly the latter. Or at least it would be to someone who didn’t confuse the term “free market” with the term “economics,” which is at the root of your mistake in the above sentence. And there is nothing inherently totalitarian about it either. That goes for any system, let alone one whose actual principles are the definition of totalitarianism’s opposite! Not unless actual force is involved, which you have yet to reliably point to in any manner. So now you are stretching the term “totalitarian” to mean “anything Barry Germanksy doesn’t like.”

However, a system that throws you in jail for not letting the government steal from you (through taxation, inflation, and regulatory costs) necessarily involves force. And that is just its economic side. Just imagine what this same society does in other sectors! Have you heard of wars of aggression and victimless crimes, for example? What is it about the type of system you advocate, where all is arbitrary, all is tailored to the lowest common denominator, that prevents these other totalitarian (by definition) measures from taking place? I put it to you that the system you advocate is no different than the one already in place (and opposed by the Pauls), where the totalitarian crimes I mentioned are widely practiced and sanctified through the supposedly democratic means by which they are implemented, save only by degree.

Government shouldn’t “cater” to anyone. Not big business. Not small business. And not special interest groups masquerading as advocates of the average citizen.

BARRY GERMANSKY: Perhaps this is best demonstrated by Ron and Rand’s constant support for the abolition of government-issued money in favor of currency minted by private banks. As is commonplace with the Pauls, they choose to ignore history or simply distort it.

HENRY MOORE: The government does not issue the money. This is false. If government issued the money the monetary system would have collapsed a long time ago, because a bureaucracy does not have, and therefore cannot respond to, the various incentives and disincentives, associated with actually seeking a profit.  The current monetary system is a hybrid of both the public and the private sectors. They remain private in the sense that they are not democratically elected nor accountable to the people they purport to serve, and public in the sense that they are protected and artificially propped up, primarily through various types of fraud and force.

This is fascism. And here you are, a leftist of sorts, defending it as though a monetary cartel was somehow a friend to the common folk. With inflation, anyone living on a fixed income is negatively impacted. It is true, at least in the short term, that an inflationary currency regime helps debtors, but it is equally true and equally important that not all debtors are the poor and downtrodden, and that not all the poor and downtrodden are debtors. In fact, the less “fair lending” regulations there are, the less likely lenders are to “take advantage” of people who cannot repay loans, because there is simply no incentive to do so. Loan sharks who do see incentives are far more common in systems that regulate legitimate lending practices to the point of making it overly costly for most people to operate with them.

So, the Federal Reserve Bank, is a private system reorganized by the state into a quasi-private monopoly. By way of illustration, consider two competing car lots whose salesmen decide they can get more profits by cooperating than they can by competing. So they both agree to raise the price of a vehicle on their lot to the same exorbitant price. Assuming there are no other car lots around within a distance that would make it cost effective to just buy a car out of town, anybody in the area who needs a new vehicle will have no choice but to buy a car from one of the two lots at the exorbitant price. Sure, this is price-gouging, but unless they figure out a way to ban new competitors, it is not yet a cartel. So say there is another salesman who sees the need for, as well as profit in, setting up his own lot and charging significantly less for his vehicles. Free Market. Problem solved. But before he can even get his inventory in, the local sheriff (one of the two cooperating salesmen’s cousin perhaps) comes up with some excuse to shut him down and run him out of town (through threats or bribery or blackmail, etc.). Well, this is exactly how the Federal Reserve, and in fact the entire financial system operates. Only the two price-gouging salesmen are the private banks and institutions who already have connections to government (and no, the root of the problem is not private banking, but a government susceptible to nepotism and corruption), the local sheriff is the government, and the competing salesmen are smaller, less favored banks, who may be even more capable and efficient than the major banks, but are starting at a distinct disadvantage. And yet you defend this system and would seek to create microcosms of it in every sector?

As for history, competing banks and commodity standards have been more efficient and less predisposed to severe downturns than national/central banks have. Unfortunately, even with a great many private banks there has been government manipulation and fraud, or government aiding in or covering up private sector fraud. This is not dissimilar to the more institutionalized manipulation and fraud now an accepted (but not well understood by the average person, nor fully transparent as to the specifics) part of the financial sector thanks to the Federal Reserve and various government regulatory agencies.

Such interference (sometimes initiated by government out of hysteria or motive, sometimes by the private banks themselves to increase their own gain, but remember, government is still the problem here because it made itself responsive to corrupting influences), has at times resulted in panics and runs and recessions and Depressions that have later been blamed on private banking, in general, rather than on the specific administration and the specific banks. But none of these downturns were anywhere near as severe or long lasting (save one, the Long Depression, which was only a depression in terms of decreasing prices, not in terms of a weak, anemic, struggling economy) as those that occurred in the era of, and as a result of, the Federal Reserve System.

BARRY GERMANSKY: Their plan to abolish the Federal Reserve has already been tried to varying degrees, and does not lead to utopian freedom. Instead, it creates an influx of fraud and currency debasement, followed by the concentration of financial power in the few banks that survive the ensuing “big fish versus little fish gladiatorial match”.

HENRY MOORE: The Federal Reserve System has been around for almost 100 years. Not once in that period of time has there ever been an attempt to abolish it. At least not an attempt that had any economic impact. Again your ignorance of history, which you project onto others, I am forced to deal with.

There were two national banks, neither of which were ever referred to as “the Federal Reserve” that had each been abolished. Perhaps that is what you are alluding to. But how could that be? Fully abolishing two banks are not “various degrees” of abolishing a bank. Abolishment is abolishment. Furthermore, the periods of these banks were replete with the problems you mention, though when the government does it they are not referred to as “fraud and debasement” because they are “legal,” while the periods where there was no central bank had less of these things. All of these periods had their fair share of panics, but panics are almost always overreactions to minor inconsistencies. If they are blown too far out of proportion the government steps in to “save the day.” What this usually means is they bail out their cronies (some of whom were just on the wrong end of a risk, others which were defrauding depositors), or where there is a genuine instance of good intentions on its part, wide scale distortions, leading to another round of blame, intervention, and yes, more reason to panic.

Now, there have been attempts to limit its policies, but the one time (1920/1921) where this had any meaningful impact it, a) had a good impact, and b) merely limited it to its original duties, those which it had just three short years prior (1917). Hardly an attempt to abolish it. And if you are referring to more recent history, something under FDR (confiscation of gold) or Kennedy (elimination of silver certificates) or Johnson (profligate spending) or Nixon (ending Bretton Woods) or Reagan (appointing supposed goldbug Greenspan) or whatever you are must be willfully ignorant, because the changes these men made were either attempts to strengthen the Federal Reserve or the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Concentration of power in already exists. Indeed, it flourishes under central banking. And not just in the finance industry. Central banks are already privately owned cartels. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, they don’t always (if ever) use this power for the public benefit. Crony capitalism (I’ll wager you’d hate that even more than you do free market capitalism, if you knew the difference, that is) is what ensues. Favorites and those owed a favor get bailed out and subsidized. Those to whom this money “trickles down” eventually, as the economy reacts, lose the value that it initially had. This loss of value is always faster than the value gained in interest by saving money in a bank taking its orders from the Fed.

By the way, your metaphor really sucks. It conveys a false message and it is mixed.

BARRY GERMANSKY: Without government regulation to protect the country, individual autonomy among the masses becomes victimized by those with greater influence. The rich and powerful, who account for a small percentage of the country’s total population, have more wealth than the majority.

So now you are a nationalist? Protect the country? From what? The free society that made it great in the first place? The audacity!

What part of individual autonomy don’t you understand? Do I take it the phrase “Don’t Tread on Me” has no value to you? Because if I took your word for it “autonomy” is the right to steal and to kidnap or kill those who resist the theft.

And if you are worried about oppression by the rich and powerful, turn your eyes first to the policies you yourself advocate (or at least defend) that actually facilitate the oppression by the rich and the powerful. And who is this “majority?” Do you mean just anybody who you don’t arbitrarily classify as rich and powerful? Or like a true democrat do you mean 50.1% or more of the people with a minority of 49.9% or less? Or will either one do, depending on the situation? What about those that don’t care that some people have more money and more power? Shouldn’t you subtract them from your “majority?” And if you do, who then will be the majority? If it is the rich and the powerful and their less rich, less powerful allies, will their right to oppress become all of the sudden sacred because at least they are going about it democratically?

BARRY GERMANSKY: In a free market, some unfortunate people – for example, those who are physically disabled or grew up in poverty – will automatically be disadvantaged and have no assistance from society to overcome these factors (which the current system tries its best to accommodate).

HENRY MOORE: Yes, there are such people. But haven’t you heard of “community” or “family” or “charity”? Don’t you have any faith in humanity? None of these things are absent in a free market system. They and their proper functioning are all subject to risk in the free market’s absence, however.

Poverty exists, but like most other things it is exaggerated. For every genuinely distraught person there may be a handful of people who, for lack of better words, are just lazy bums. The average American household under the “poverty line” is in better shape today than all but the richest of the rich were 100 years ago. A rising tide lifts all boats. Poor people today have cable TV, multiple vehicles, washing machines, cell phones, computers, etc. That doesn’t mean we should let people who don’t fit this description fall through the cracks, but there are better ways than bankrupting the country and debasing the currency.

And what is to blame for a lot of this poverty? Minimum wage laws, welfare for the able-bodied, taxation, inflation, regulations, takings, prisons filled with nonviolent criminals, public schools (but then I already listed prisons). In a word, the state.

BARRY GERMANSKY: For these simple reasons, corporate monopolies would be even more widespread without government intervention. The little fish would have no chance.

HENRY MOORE: To recap: big government and big business go hand in hand. They are not foes. They are the best of friends. We are not talking about a little fish fleeing a big fish or a little fish competing for food against the big fish. No, we are talking about two enormous fish surrounding an unsuspecting little fish and tearing him to shreds before he even has a chance to realize what is going on.