The Little Girl Who Cried Jihad

The Little Girl Who Cried Jihad.

In the coffee shop. Just looked over at the television for a second and had to do a double take. It was Tea Party favorite Michelle “I don’t hate Muslims” Bachmann! Long time, no see.

The volume was off so I read the transcript in order to figure out what was going on.

Here is the part I caught: “This is Islamic Jihad!”

My initial reaction: “Get out your prayer rug.” Eye roll. “Which way’s Mecca again?”

Okay, to be fair, when I looked over again just now she was condemning US intervention in the form of arming rebels in Syria. Good for her!

Too bad it is hard to take her seriously anymore. Last time we heard her cry “Jihad” it was a call for intervening in Iran. And before that, it was about staying the course in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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What I’ve Been Thinking All Along

What I’ve Been Thinking All Along.

[This article can also be read at Notes on Liberty]

And never had the patience to say until now.

These are my thoughts and observations on the Zimmerman case. I did follow the news and commentary when the shooting happened, and in the following weeks. But trials bore me to tears, so I didn’t really pay much attention (I wasn’t the only one) to it. In fact, other than the verdict, this is what I knew about the trial and its periphery, commentary throughout:

– Zimmerman was charged with manslaughter as well as second degree murder. I don’t know if these were leveled against him at the same time or if they dropped one to pursue the other. I could probably easily find out but I’m feeling lazy.

– The prosecution had a really lousy case against Zimmerman. Much of what they did helped the defense. The prosecution’s witness’s own statements indicated that Zimmerman had a right to be where he was (for the record, I’ll take an impetuous neighborhood watch volunteer over the well-trained police, any day of the week, and twice on Sunday), and that he was the one being attacked. Any provocation, short of a threat or assault, may have been stupid, but it was hardly criminal. So you have the testimony of witnesses who didn’t even see all that went down. From the start it was pretty obvious that the prosecution didn’t have much more than this. Maybe Zimmerman did throw the first punch. Who knows? But it has to be proven beyond the shadow of a doubt. It seemed pretty obvious from the facts the public was made privy to well before the trial that the prosecution would never be able to do this.

– Certain groups wanted a guilty verdict, no matter what. Some of them for their own sincere reasons, but many simply because they have an agenda. Few if any of them, from what I could tell going all the way back to when the shooting happened, even had the capacity to empathize with George Zimmerman. This is fine, but when it becomes a racially motivated witch hunt with a presumption of guilt, and then the media gets a hold of it, and the outcome of the trial begins to take on consequences that could have repercussions throughout the nation, we have a major problem on our hands.

The fact is, it is really no one’s business besides the accused, the victim’s family, the lawyers, the witnesses, and the local courts and police. Not even really the community’s beyond the general task of stamping out crime. Some would argue that this trial has major consequences, and so we must pay attention to it. They are right, but it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Making a big deal is what makes it a big deal. The only reason it has any consequences for anyone other than those involved or anywhere besides where it actually occurred is because we have been paying far more attention to it than it ever merited. And the reason for this is a collectivist mentality, where all formerly and currently oppressed folk must band together to defend their own even though they might just be in the wrong.

How could a case like this possibly have an impact on trials or laws or liberties or race-relations or childrearing or property rights in other states without the media and special interest groups hyping it beyond its actual scale and scope?

I certainly don’t want to sweep injustice (if there even was any besides the presumption of guilt placed upon George Zimmerman) under the rug, but it is illogical to think that widening the circles of those who think they have a say in this matter will lead to a preferential outcome. For all the clamor and hyperbole this case was still decided in the courts by an impartial jury of Zimmerman’s peers (well, sort of). The way certain people on the television, on the radio, on the web, in print comported themselves could have had little other effect than to pressure the jurors to follow the guidance, not of their own conscience, but of a bloodthirsty lynch mob. Even if they happened to hand down the correct verdict under these circumstances, and Zimmerman got what he “deserved” (whether exoneration or incarceration), they could in no way claim that they served the cause of justice. Neither the mob nor the jurors.

America is a nation full of self-serving big-mouthed know-it-alls, not that this is news or we need a reminder. Unsurprisingly then, the cause of justice was the last thing on these peoples’ minds. I place most of the blame on Trayvon’s (most vocal) sympathizers as it looks like Zimmerman’s were mostly reacting to the trend of busy-bodies, community organizers, and race-baiters who ran with this non-story to further an agenda: gun control, person control, race control, but not self-control.

But guess what? The real haters lost. So it was all one big distraction. A waste of everyone’s time. It was fascinating and all, but can we talk about something important (in its own right) now?

Ham-Fisted Coercion and Incompetence versus the Invisible Hand of Self-Interest

Ham-Fisted Coercion and Incompetence versus the Invisible Hand of Self-Interest.

[The following is my entry for the first ever Thorpe-Freeman Blog Contest, originally published at Notes on Liberty on May 22nd. My entry for last month’s contest, which was one of two runners up mentioned here, can be read here.]

A Tale of Two Hands

I came across Gary Galles’ recent article in The Freeman about Leonard Read’s analogy of government coercion as a clenched fist, “The Clenched Fist and the General Welfare.” I see a symmetry between this analogy and Adam Smith’s about self-interest unintentionally channeled into market organization, one that is so familiar to free market proponents and detractors alike that it is a common metaphor: the invisible hand.

Government coercion and market organization. Two very important concepts for any libertarian to master. Which one better provides for the general welfare? Smith and Read would contend the latter. The reasons for this are contained in the analogies. As Read and Galles point out, not much good can come from a clenched fist. Only violence and incompetence. It can punch. It can pound. That’s about it. What better description of government? Likewise, as Smith notes, the usefulness of markets is that they do better than government many of the noble things government tries to do, thereby rendering it redundant, if not unnecessary, in those areas. The all-too obvious fist of government regulations and mandates is no match for a more efficient, less obvious hand: self-interest.

The clenched fist of government coercion is quite visible. It holds up the occasional good it achieves, downplays the great expense at which such good comes about, and blames its own inadequacies on “free” markets. The invisible hand, however, is open. It is able to do more, and better, than the clenched fist, without stifling progress in other areas.

Coercion seems like a question of ethics, and organization a question of economics, but they are each, in essence, questions of both. What is unethical for an individual is also unethical for a group of individuals. And if made policy, it is no longer simply unethical, but uneconomical as well, because of the fear,  uncertainty, and even exuberance that arises among market actors, leading to misallocation of resources into unprofitable lines of production.

The questions are irrevocably linked. Even natural, inalienable rights—ethical concepts—are, for our purposes, best understood as constructs devised to protect the economic interests (the pursuit, use, and extension of life, liberty, and property) of individuals. They exist to help us avoid, and ultimately, resolve what are really economically motivated disputes.

Cantillon, Smith, Menger

Mark Thornton’s “Cantillon and the Invisible Hand” suggests that Richard Cantillon was Adam Smith’s influence in his description (in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, 1759, and The Wealth of Nations, 1776) of the mechanism (self-interest’s effect of inadvertently providing for the general welfare) that he calls “an Invisible Hand.” In Thornton (2009), this standard interpretation appears to be upheld against several modern theories of the metaphor’s meaning.

With this interpretation and then further development of the idea to incorporate “newer” concepts, we can say that actions taken for personal gain accumulate in the marketplace in the form of signals indicating supply, demand, cost, loss, and profit, leading to various levels of further risk, production, and consumption, which have serendipitous advantages for others participants in the marketplace. The marketplace facilitates trade. In a free market, this means voluntary exchange. Since the Marginal Revolution, it has been acknowledged that voluntary exchanges benefit all parties to them, or they would simply not take place. Thus, the general welfare is provided for.

In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, on the subject of landlords’ relationships with tenants, writes Smith (pp. 184-85):

They are led by an invisible hand to make nearly the same distribution of the necessaries of life, which would have been made, had the earth been divided into equal portions among all its inhabitants, and thus without intending it, without knowing it, advance the interest of the society, and afford means to the multiplication of the species.

Cantillon and Smith appear not to have incorporated the idea that landlord and tenant could each receive something they valued more in exchange for what they valued less. So how could they say that tenant benefit at all? Because the things they received were necessities, without which they might have starved.

Before the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, tenancy was often just a higher form of serfdom. Even so, the self-interest of tenants benefited landlords, not just the other way around. And there were relationships besides those of tenants and landlords. Merchants and laborers would have also had mutually beneficent dealings with tenants and landlords. But Smith focused on one aspect of one relationship in his first economic use of the phrase “an Invisible Hand.”

Market’s Good Invisible, State’s Evil Unseen

Because social benefits derived from self-interest go unseen, they are often taken for granted. It is assumed that man must either benefit only himself or rely on handouts. The first implies a zero-sum game at best and a Hobbesian jungle at worst. The second implies charity, but where that alone is insufficient in caring for the needy and the lazy, forced wealth redistribution. To the (sometimes willfully) unobservant, the concept of markets as fortuitous is an unfathomable alternative.

The clenched fist (government) often gestures towards the progress it has made. It has certainly made some progress for some. The favored classes. Individual autocrats placating the coalitions of their supporters, plutocrats pulling the levers of power, or democrats vying for public privilege. But, usually, some stable combination thereof. This progress comes at the expense of that (superior) progress which would have been achieved had producers’ wealth not been expropriated. But, as Bastiat (That Which is Seen and that Which is Not Seen, 1850) and Hazlitt, (Economics in One Lesson, 1946) have shown, this ill effect goes unseen, and so, government-driven progress is made out to be, by those with more influence, larger platforms, and louder voices, equal or superior to market-driven progress.

Why can’t they let things be? The world goes on by itself!

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.)

On Pledging my Allegiance to a Totalitarian Regime

On Pledging my Allegiance to a Totalitarian Regime.

On this Independence Day, in addition to watching fireworks, attending the neighborhood barbecue, and having a good time with those who matter most, as well as actually remembering the purpose of the celebration, that is, political independence from a tyrannical empire, I would like to continue being my contrarian nonconformist self and bring something dark and uncomfortable to my readers’ attention.

What could possibly be more (in)appropriate on this day—this Holy and Sacred Day—than to call into question—nay, to utterly denounce—one of this country’s most valued traditions, the recitation of the loyalty oath; the offering of blind, faithful obedience to a contract I did not sign, written by men I neither know nor necessarily respect, and interpreted by men far less worthy? Yes, the Pledge of Allegiance, second only to the Constitution and the Declaration (the Compact and the Articles long since forgotten) in the vast library of hallowed patriotic texts! Are there many other things so dear, so familiar, so comfortable (let alone more so) to the assembled children and to the huddled masses? No, I say! There are few. Very few. Especially today, this Glorious and Celebratory Day!

The Pledge of Allegiance, in it original form, was written by one Francis Bellamy, an early member of the Progressive Movement and an ardent admirer of Abraham Lincoln. It was at the request of the magazine The Youth’s Companion, which was at that time the sole seller of American flags (for which it charged handsomely) to public schools. From the start it is clear that the pledge was born not of patriotism but of monopolistic rent-seeking.

The original text,

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,

makes no allusion toward God, despite being written by a Baptist Minister (defrocked), Francis Bellamy. Mention of God was later added by Congress and signed into law by President Eisenhower, at the behest of various pressure groups (fortunately, none of these seems to have been particularly nefarious). I suppose that adding the words “Under God” somehow makes this already-tainted prose seem more American, more acceptable to those whose first inclination should have been to cast it aside as nothing short of idolatry or submission to tyranny.

The pledge incorporates several ideas that should be considered thoroughly disgusting to lovers of liberty. The symbolism of the “Nation” is more important than the actual principles it was supposedly founded upon. Individuals owe everything they are and everything they have to the collective entity referred to as the “Nation”. The states are not Constitutionally sovereign and the self-determination of the people living in them is undesirable. The right of the pledgee to separate himself from something he had no say in, no part in, no matter how evil or corrupt, is explicitly denied. “My Country, Right or Wrong,” as Stephan Decatur once put it.

It is arguable that its one truly positive line, “Liberty and Justice for all,” when written by such a man as Bellamy means something entirely different from what most people mean when they say it. Bellamy, you see, was inspired by the French Revolution’s “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité,” not the American Revolution’s “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

He was a proponent of civic religion, not unlike what was instituted during the First French Republic just prior to the Reign of Terror, and an apologist of tyrannies and promoter of lies. Especially those of Lincoln, by Lincoln, and for Lincoln. He was also a cousin to Edward Bellamy, a the author of Looking Backward: 2000-1887, a novel of a future socialist utopia.

But this should come as no surprise. Egalitarianism and authoritarianism often go hand in hand. Our man Francis Bellamy may not have identified himself as a fascist, but, as with most progressives and socialists, this did not stop him from actually being one.

The original salute to the flag, also created by Bellamy was based on the old Roman gesture of unconditional fealty to the Emperor. Similar (or rather, identical, both in appearance and in purpose) salutes were later incorporated into the civic religions of Italian Fascism and German National Socialism. The American variant of the Hitlergruß was not dropped by the progressives running the public schools until 1942. The same people who introduced it knew that their purposes would be better served by erasing history. They didn’t want to be perceived as fascists, a perception which would be logical when considering the economic, war, and propaganda policies of the Roosevelt Administration as well as the nationalistic ideas of early progressives such as Francis Bellamy, John Dewey (who provided the education model for Fascism), Theodore Roosevelt (who provided the governing model for Fascism), and Woodrow Wilson (who provided the propaganda model for Fascism).

Students_pledging_allegiance_to_the_American_flag_with_the_Bellamy_salute

So the next time you are at a gathering with a bunch of ignorant (but often well-meaning) flag-worshippers, don’t be afraid to sit down or leave the room in protest. I’m not often in that situation, but the last time I was, I stood up, but kept both hands by my side and my mouth shut. I moved my eyes around, avoiding the flag. It was awkward at first, but I do not regret it. For me, personally, this was originally about my political philosophy. But the more I think about it, it is also consistent with my theological perspective. The Pledge is idolatrous.

I do not mean to be accusatory by this. Certainly, those who have not given clear thought to it may not be intending to say the Pledge in this way. But once they have thought it through, if they still think it is alright to say the Pledge, or are afraid not to say it for fear of embarrassment, I would find it hard not to judge them. If not on the level of their conscience, then on the level of their intellect or their ego.

In addition to the charge of idolatry I add that of blasphemy. The “under God” addendum makes the Pledge a form of taking the Lord’s Name in vain. Quite possibly one of the worst forms, in fact. I think it is much better to curse out of anger or surprise, than it is out of high-mindedness or groupthink. The sin is more forgivable when it is a spontaneous, thoughtless, and forgettable remark than when it is required recitation for all right-thinking Americans.

To paraphrase The Most Interesting Man In The World: I don’t always take the Lord’s name in vain. But when I do, I prefer to say “God Damn.”