Power & Market

Economics: The "Other Side" of Politics

4 hours agoPer Bylund

The realm of politics is to coordinate solutions beyond what decentralized actors and organizations can themselves achieve. This is done through the power of the state (coercion). Thus, the scope and use of politics as a means is strictly limited to where it is the better solution for society and its constituents. 

This means that the boundary of the proper use of politics and the state is identified by what can (and will) be coordinated through decentralized means. In other words, the boundary of politics is composed by our understanding for the mechanisms behind spontaneous orders and their emergence. 

Chief among these is the price mechanism and economic calculation. 

In other words, the "other side" of politics, which suggests where and to what extent the powers of the state should and can be used, is economics and, more broadly, economic literacy.

Economic theory explains how markets, the nondirected and unplanned coordination of decentralized efforts, work. Where markets work, and where the market order does not pose a problem that is unsolvable by market actors themselves, there is no reason for politics—other than as prescribed by the minority normative position that coercion is somehow preferred over voluntarism.

There are of course issues involved with defining the exact boundary of the proper realm of politics, and which issues are actual problems.

There is also a problem of "insiders" in the political system having more or less unlimited interest in expanding their sphere of influence (if not power). But the underlying problem, especially in democracies, is widespread economic illiteracy: if we do not (or will not) understand how markets work and how beneficial orders can arise spontaneously out of the actions of self-interested actors, whether individuals or families or businesses, then we undermine, expand, and will even dissolve the boundary of the proper realm for politics.

In other words, to use Franz Oppenheimer's old but insightful dichotomy, we invite the political means (coercion), along with the inefficiency and unproductive (if not destructive) incentive structures, to take over the proper space of the economic means (voluntarism).

That's problematic for all of us, if not for society overall, and poses an ethical problem, since the vast majority does not hold the position that "coercion is preferable to voluntarism."

A problem that can only be solved by learning how markets work, studying sound economics, and gaining economic literacy. 

As Mises put it:

Economics must not be relegated to classrooms and statistical offices and must not be left to esoteric circles. It is the philosophy of human life and action and concerns everybody and everything. It is the pith of civilization and of man’s human existence. (Human Action)

The social function of economic science consists precisely in developing sound economic theories and in exploding the fallacies of vicious reasoning. In the pursuit of this task the economist incurs the deadly enmity of all mountebanks and charlatans whose shortcuts to an earthly paradise he debunks. (Economic Freedom and Interventionism)

Formatted from Twitter @PerBylund

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To the Left: Stop Whining About Wyoming's Two Measly Senate Votes

01/22/2020Ryan McMaken

In a January 14 article for Vox, Ian Millhiser discusses a new proposal in the Harvard Law Review designed to accomplish four things:

(1) a transfer of the Senate’s power to a body that represents citizens equally; (2) an expansion of the House so that all citizens are represented in equal-sized districts; (3) a replacement of the Electoral College with a popular vote; and (4) a modification of the Constitution’s amendment process that would ensure future amendments are ratified by states representing most Americans.

 The scheme consists of dividing up the District of Columbia into more than one hundred new tiny states so as to drastically increase the number of leftist-controlled states so as to push through a wide variety of new Constitutional amendments.1 

Milhiser is enthusiastic, since he believes the US electoral system is too "undemocractic" and that the system must be overhauled "so that the United States has an election system 'where every vote counts equally.'" 

[RELATED: Stop Saying "We're a Republic, Not a Democracy" by Ryan McMaken]

Milhiser's concept of "unequal" is illustrated more clearly when he calls the US Senate "ridiculous" because it is a system "where the nearly 40 million people in California have no more Senate representation than the 578,759 people in Wyoming."

So now we have arrived at the heart of the matter. 

Milhiser contends Californians are underrepresented in Washington—or more likely he thinks leftists are underrepresented, given the context of the piece—because Wyoming and California have equal representation in Congress. 

This, we are supposed to believe, somehow leaves millions of Californians disenfranchised. 

Common sense, however, strongly suggests Californians—or at least the politicians who claim to represent them—are quite well represented in Washington and wield quite a bit of power. Let's look at some numbers:

California has fifty-three votes in the US House of Representatives while Wyoming has one. 

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As a percentage of the full House, California's delegation makes up 12 percent of all votes while Wyoming's makes up 0.2 percent. 

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In fact, California's representation in the House is so large that California House members outnumber members from an entire region of the US: namely the Rocky Mountain region. If we add up all eight states of the Mountain West (Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico) we come up with only thirty-one votes. Moreover, many of these states have split delegations (as with Arizona and Colorado) and rarely vote as a unified group. California, on the other hand, has only seven Republican House members out of fifty-three, meaning that the state's delegation tends to reliably vote together.

California even enjoys a sizable advantage in the electoral college as well. It is true that the electoral college formula evens things up somewhat. California representatives wield more than 10 percent of all electoral college votes, and Wyoming enjoys only 0.6 percent of all votes. Now, if the Rocky Mountain region were to vote together for a certain candidate, it could theoretically, almost equal the power of California. But, the region doesn't vote together, with Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada often going for one party while the rest of the region goes for another. Thus, California, because its electoral votes are centralized, brings more power to presidential elections than the entire Rocky Mountain region.

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So, while it's true that Wyoming's two votes in the US Senate make it easier for a Wyoming-led coalition to veto legislation that favors California, the same can be said of California in the House. While California and Wyoming theoretically have equal power in the Senate, Wyoming has essentially no power in the House, and could not possibly hope to do much to overcome opposition from California House members. The fact that voters in Wyoming have more US senators per person hardly places people with California-type interests at the mercy of people with Wyoming-type interests.

Essentially, the system as it now functions places significantly more veto power in the hands of California in the House. At best, though, Wyoming has only an equal veto to California in the Senate. Veto power, of course, is one of the most important aspects of US legislative institutions, since it is designed to help minority groups protect their own rights even when lacking a majority. This is the philosophy behind the Senate's filibuster, and the philosophy behind the bicameral legislature. The purpose is to provide numerous opportunities for minorities to veto legislation pushed by more powerful groups. 

The importance of protecting minority rights, of course, is a mainstay of the ideology we used to call "liberalism"—the idea that people ought to enjoy basic human rights even when the majority doesn't like it. 

All that is out the window, however, where progressives and other leftists suspect they are in the majority, in which case the protection of minority groups is null and void. Suddenly, the Democratic majority is the only thing that matters. 

Had rank majoritarianism won the day in the past, Indian tribes, Catholics, Quakers, and Japanese Americans would have all been extirpated or run out of the country a century ago. But the sort of prudence that put some limits on the power of the majority in the is now thoroughly unfashionable on the Left. The Left now strains to grasp the opportunity to rid themselves forever of even what small amount of legislative resistance can be offered by the hayseeds in flyover country. 

The fact that California gets more than fifty times the votes of North Dakotans isn't enough for progressives. They must also stamp out what limited influence North Dakota has in the Senate as well.  

This sort of thinking suggests that in order to make the US more "democratic" large minorities of voters—voters with specific economic and cultural interests that differ from those in other regions—ought to be rendered essentially powerless.

All that said, I endorse the plan from the Harvard Law Review Milhiser is pushing. It undermines the idea that the US's current state boundaries are somehow sacrosanct and that enormous states with millions of people are a perfectly fine thing. The US and its member states are far too large, and could use a thorough dismembering. But Milhiser should be careful what he wishes for.

  • 1. I should note there's nothing wrong with dividing up the US into a large number of small states. It's just that the scheme ought to encompass the entire country rather than just a tiny of part of it with the goal of helping a single political party. Indeed, most US states are far too large and ought to be broken up into far smaller pieces: https://mises.org/wire/if-american-federalism-were-swiss-federalism-there-would-be-1300-states
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How Expansive Is FBI Spying?

01/22/2020Ron Paul

Cato Institute research fellow Patrick Eddington recently filed several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to find out if the Federal Bureau of Investigation ever conducted surveillance of several organizations dealing with government policy, including my Campaign for Liberty. Based on the FBI’s response, Campaign for Liberty and other organizations, including the Cato institute and the Reason Foundation, may have been subjected to FBI surveillance or other data collection.

I say “may have been,” because the FBI gave Mr. Eddington a “Glomar response” to his FOIA requests pertaining to these organizations. A Glomar response is where an agency says it can “neither confirm nor deny” involvement in a particular activity. Glomar was a salvage ship that the Central Intelligence Agency used to recover a sunken Soviet submarine in the 1970s. In response to a FOIA request by Rolling Stone magazine, the CIA claimed that just confirming or denying the Glomar’s involvement in the salvage operation would somehow damage national security. A federal court agreed with the agency, giving federal bureaucrats, and even local police departments, a new way to avoid giving direct answers.

The Glomar response means these organizations may have been, and may still be, subjected to federal surveillance. As Mr. Eddington told Reason magazine, “We know for a fact that Glomar invocations have been used to conceal actual, ongoing activities, and we also know that they’re not passing out Glomars like candy.”

Protecting the right of individuals to join together in groups to influence government policy is at the very heart of the First Amendment. Therefore, the FBI subjecting such groups to surveillance can violate the constitutional rights of everyone involved with the groups.

The FBI has a long history of targeting Americans whose political beliefs and activities threaten the its power or the power of influential politicians. The then named Bureau of Investigation participated in the crackdown on people suspected of being communists in the post-World War I “Red Scare.” The anticommunist crackdown was headed by a young agent named J. Edgar Hoover, who went on to become FBI director, a position he held until his death. Hoover kept and expanded his power by using the FBI to collect blackmail material on people, including politicians.

In the 1930s and 1940s, the FBI spied on supporters of the America First movement, including several Congress members. Two of the most famous examples of the FBI targeting individuals based on their political activities are the harassment of Martin Luther King Jr. and the COINTELPRO program. COINTELPRO was an organized effort to spy on and actively disrupt “subversive” organizations, including antiwar groups

COINTELPRO officially ended in the 1970s. However, the FBI still targets individuals and organizations it considers “subversive,” including antiwar groups and citizen militias.

Congress must hold hearings to determine if the FBI is currently using unconstitutional methods to “monitor” any organizations based on their beliefs. Congress must then take whatever steps necessary to ensure that no Americans are ever again targeted for surveillance because of their political beliefs and activities.

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What Crypto "Token Velocity Theorists" Can Learn From Austrian Economics

01/21/2020Stephan Livera

In the “crypto” world, there are theorists mistakenly applying Irving Fisher’s equation of exchange without knowledge of Austrian critiques of the idea. Understanding why Austrian economists are critical of MV = PT might help these theorists avoid these errors in reasoning. (These theorists include Kyle Samani, Chris Burniske, and Vitalik Buterin among others, hereafter referred to as "crypto velocity theorists.")

Quick Overview of Terms in the Fisher Equation of Exchange

In the equation, M = ​the money supply, V = ​the velocity of money, or the average number of times a currency unit changes hands per year, ​P = the average price level of goods during the year, and T = an index of the real value of aggregate transactions​. In the MV = PQ formulation, Q = an index of real expenditures and P × Q = nominal GDP.

How Are Crypto Velocity Theorists Misapplying the Theory?

Crypto velocity theorists seem to believe that the current structure of crypto tokens (non-bitcoin ones) has a velocity that is too high. They assert that somehow by using the protocol to force holding or "lock up" periods the velocity of the token can be slowed down, enabling more sustainable value capture for a crypto protocol. There are various "tokenomics" ideas being proposed to achieve this slowdown in velocity, such as profit share mechanisms, staking functions to lock up the token, or gamification to encourage holding.

But are these mechanisms sustainable in the longer term? Distinguished against these ideas is the simple concept of bitcoin, a token and monetary network created to replace fiat money. Bitcoin can justifiably hold a place in a person’s cash balance under a theory of speculative demand based on its monetary characteristics. In this case, the more relevant reference is Carl Menger and the argument around marketability or saleableness, not the quantity theory of money and associated equation of exchange.

How Do Prominent Austrian Economists Critique the Quantity Theory of Money?

Austrian economists reject the quantity theory of money, which is too mechanistically focused on the nominal quantity and not on real subjective valuations by individuals. Murray Rothbard and Joseph Salerno point out many problems.

In Man, Economy, and State, Rothbard points out a serious conceptual flaw:

At any one time there is a given total stock of the money commodity. This stock will, at any time, be owned by someone. It is therefore dangerously misleading to adopt the custom of American economists since Irving Fisher's day of treating money as somehow “circulating,”…There is, actually, no such thing as “circulation,” and there is no mysterious arena where money “moves.” At any one time all the money is owned by someone, i.e., rests in someone's cash balance.

In other words, Rothbard shows that velocity is a rather meaningless idea. Further, he points out that different goods cannot be meaningfully added together, demonstrating the absurdity of doing so:

How can 10 pounds of sugar be added to one hat or to one pound of butter, to arrive at T? Obviously, no such addition can be performed, and therefore Fisher's holistic T, the total physical quantity of all goods exchanged, is a meaningless concept and cannot be used in scientific analysis.

Joseph Salerno levels his own critique against the idea of the quantity theory of money also, identifying where it is vacuous in his article "A Simple Model of The Theory of Money Prices":

Let’s begin with the Quantity Equation as conventionally stated: MV = PQ. Our simple model above reveals that the real action is on the right side of the equation.…The mechanical passing of a specific sum of money from one hand to the next in exchange, that is, “spending,” is completely governed by the money price that has been antecedently established by the exchanging parties. Thus the money spent is merely an outcome of the pricing process and in no sense a causal factor. In other words, the aggregate flow of money spending is determined by the value of money and not the other way around.

Salerno demonstrates that individuals' subjective valuations drive prices all along, not the quantity of money in a mechanistic sense.

So, in the end, "Tokenomics" and attempting to "game" token velocity downward to satisfy an erroneous Fisher equation of exchange is misguided. We should aim to understand bitcoin and cryptocurrencies from an Austrian monetary theory standpoint. Menger's On The Origins of Money and Ammous Saifedean’s The Bitcoin Standard are more relevant places to begin. Saleableness is more important than velocity.

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Hans Hoppe in Arabic

01/21/2020David Gordon

Admirers of the work of Hans-Hermann Hoppe will be pleased by some news from our friend Youssif Almoayyed, an outstanding supporter of the Mises Institute who lives in Bahrain. Youssif informs us that books by Hans have been translated into Arabic and are selling very well.  His A Short History of Man was brought out by a small Iraqi publisher from Mutanabbi Street, a historic center in Baghdad for paper making, book binding and bookselling, now known as an intellectual center. The book sold very well in Iraq and has already covered its costs, even though the publisher hasn’t engaged very actively in distributing it. Youssif notes that complete freedom of the press now prevails in Iraq, with no government censorship, although publishers of controversial books risk physical attacks from offended private citizens or groups.

Hans’s more famous book Democracy: The God That Failed sold half its print run within two months and a pirated edition is already available. When the book was released in Bahrain at a book exhibition, the first day of which was marked by a solar eclipse, it was a hit, in part owing to the endorsement of a noted Bahraini intellectual and historian. Some who saw the word “God” in the title feared the book was blasphemous, but readers soon discovered that Hans meant by it only his intention to denounce democracy as idolatrous. The book has no quarrel with Allah, fortunately for its fate in the Arab world.

Arabic readers now have a chance to study the thought of this most provocative and insightful libertarian theorist. It only remains to add, though Youssif is too modest to say so, that he himself has done a great deal to bring the libertarian message of Hans Hoppe, as well as that of Mises and Rothbard, to Bahrain and the wider Arabic world. For that he deserves our profound gratitude.

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Yes, College Professors Are Almost All Left-Wing

01/21/2020Jeff Deist

Sean Stevens of Heterodox Academy and Professor Mitchell Langbert of Brooklyn College have a new article published by the National Association of Scholars. They examined professors' self-identified political views, party affiliation, voter registrations, and FEC (Federal Election Commission) records of political donations. Their research appears to confirm that college professors in fact skew overwhelmingly left-wing in their political views, even more than many of us thought. If they are even mostly correct, the (left) liberal professor stereotype is absolutely grounded in reality rather than caricature. 

Professor Langbert writes:

Sean Stevens and I have been working on a study of 12,372 professors in the two leading private and two leading public colleges in 31 states (incl. DC) that make registration public (mostly closed-primary states).  The National Association of Scholars has posted our initial findings on their blog. We cross-checked the registration against the political donations.  For party registration, we find a D:R ratio of 8.5:1, which varies by rank of institution and region.  For federal donations (from the FEC data base) we find a D:R ratio of 95:1, with only 22 Republican donors (compared to 2,081 Democratic donors) out of 12,372 professors.  Federal donations among all categories of party registration, including Republican, favor the Democrats: D:R donation ratios for Democratic-registered professors are 251:1; for Republican-registered professors 4.6:1; for minor-party-registered professors 10:0; for unaffiliated professors 50:1; for non-registered professors 105:1. We include a school-by-school table that facilitates comparisons.

These ongoing revelations about the reality of higher education in the US should give pause to every parent writing big checks for elite school tuition so Johnny or Jenny can fulfill their dreams. Think twice before blindly sending your children (or yourself) to ideological indoctrination centers. A university education may well be worthwhile, but only if students and parents alike have their eyes wide open.

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January 20, 2020: Three Links, Three Tweets

01/20/2020Tho Bishop

Three Links

While we're assured by the financial press that the Fed is full of Very Serious People, it's alarming how clueless some members of the Fed seem to be about the current operations of the central bank. The latest example is Neel Kashkari's take that the injections into the repo market have no impact on equity pricing.

EconomicPolicyJournal: Stunning: Minneapolis Fed President Put Out Tweet Indicating He Doesn't Know How the Fed Creates Money

Will Not-QE soon become QE4? Danielle DiMartino Booth thinks so. "The Fed will tell you it’s all technical in nature," she said. "In their last minutes, they said that if they had to move into [longer] coupons, they would. So the table has been set."

MarketWatch: The Federal Reserve is stuck in quantitative-easing hell

A decade of massive credit expansion in China has manifested in a variety of bubbles within the country, particularly in real estate. While the fallout from 2008 wasn't nearly as severe in the country as it was in the West, it severely shook confidence in China's stock market—which has never recovered to precrisis times. Instead, Chinese consumers have focused on land and financial products offered by shadow banks. Now, the consequences of China's debt-saturated economy are starting to make the middle class anxious.

South China Morning Post: China’s middle class frets the ‘good times’ are over amid sliding house prices, stagnant wages

Three Tweets

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Virginia Is Only the Beginning

01/20/2020Tho Bishop

Despite smears and scare tactics from the Virginia law enforcement and the corporate press, thousands of protestors have landed in the capital of Old Dominion in response to an anti-gun agenda being pushed by the new solid-blue state government. While large protests aren’t particularly unique in American politics, this particular event has captured the media’s imaginations in no small part due to the fact it consists of their favorite sort of villain: largely white, Trump-supporting, armed men. They can’t help but salivate at the idea of it descending into the tragic chaos that occurred in Charlottesville in 2017.

To a certain degree, the showdown in Virginia is really only superficially about guns. It also represents the valid anxiety that has arisen as the state’s rural population finds itself increasingly powerless in the face of rapidly expanding political power wielded by high-population centers.

Of course, it’s not surprising that the same commentators that often condemn—foolishlyeconomic gentrification, openly cheer political changes that threaten the way of life of families that have lived in an area for, in some cases, hundreds of years.

In a rare instance of usefulness, David Frum tweeted out today this chart illustrating the political trends in the state:

So what we see playing out in Virginia is, as Jeff Deist has frequently noted, the question of what happens to politically vanquished people.

Of course, to the Frums the answer is obvious. If your side doesn’t have the ballots, it’s time to submit or pay the price.

Of course, Frum’s evoking the only American president to wage war against an American nation makes sense given his long and bloodstained support for centralized power and the American empire. To others who do not share his cavalier dismissal of life and liberty, the question deserves more serious analysis than simply asking, What Would Abe Do?

In Virginia, we see two major contributing factors to its new progressive domination.

One, a massive influx in non-native-born Virginians due to the massive growth of the North Virginia economy. While it’s worth noting that much of this growth is the direct byproduct of the growing federal leviathan—both in terms of direct state employment and companies that relocate there to ensure better access to the dollars that come with it—the state connection here isn’t particularly important to the larger trend. After all, we see similar trends in non-beltway adjacent red states such as Texas, Florida, and Tennessee, where companies are relocating for better tax environments.

Two, the high-growth urban areas have also made Virginia one of the most schooled states in the country. The state is now sixth in the country in terms of percentage of residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher. While an educated population would once be considered a strength, the devolution of higher education means that such rankings now have some correlation with Americans favorable to the political left.

It is not a coincidence, for example, that Millennials are the most schooled generation America has seen—and also the ones most open to socialism. Further, when it comes to cultural issues—such as political correctness, abortion, or acceptance of drag queen story time—it is white college-educated Americans, not immigrants, who are the most out of line with rural Americans.

While Virginia’s unique history, as the native country of most of the most famous American founding fathers, along with being the former capital of the Confederacy, adds a level of symbolic significance that may escalate these tensions superficially, the divide on display today is likely to be repeated as otherwise-red states continue to see their cities grow.

It is not difficult to imagine, for example, the Atlanta metro area amassing large enough of a voting population to cancel out the votes of the rest of the state. In New York, we already see how a political majority in the city dictates the politics for everyone else.

What’s the solution, then? Well if the goal is having governments reflect the ideology of its residents—the true aim of democratic political self-determination—then the goal should be to add and alter states as need be. Allow northern Virginia to serve the interests of its solid blue base. Allow southern Virginia to defend the rights and cultural norms of southern Virginians.

The alternative is to continue our current democratic imperialism—which runs the risk of escalating to the point where today’s protesters show why it is so important to stand up for their right to bear arms. 

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Could Trump's Next Fed Chair Be A "Goldbug?"

01/17/2020Tho Bishop

This week, Donald Trump formally nominated Judy Shelton and Christopher Waller for vacant governorships on the Federal Reserve. Waller, the Vice President of the Richmond Fed, is widely viewed as a standard Fed nominee with the reputation of being a "dove" who has criticized recent interest rate hikes.

It is Judy Shelton who is particularly interesting.

A former campaign adviser for Trump, Shelton has been a vocal Fed critic who has praised the gold standard in the past. While she has recently advocated for lower interest rates, she has also been a critic of the Fed's policy of paying interest on excess reserves, which has become a key policy tool since 2008. Shelton's nomination is also interesting due to the stark contrast between her background and most of her colleagues'. 

As Joseph Salerno has noted:

The good news is that Ms. Shelton is not a technically trained academic economist, indoctrinated in the prevailing orthodoxy. She holds a doctorate in business administration from the University of Utah and has spent most of her career in the world of free-market policy think tanks, including stints at the Hoover Institute and the Atlas Network. She also writes refreshingly and articulately in favor of the gold standard, or some version of it.

The bad news is that she leans heavily toward supply-side economics, which is deeply flawed on monetary policy. Like most supply-siders, the position she advocates may be summed up in the motto, “I favor sound money—and plenty of it.”

Still, though by no means an Austrian, Shelton's voice on the Fed would create some much-needed ideological diversity in the central bank.

Reacting to an interview with Ms. Shelton last June, Jeff Deist wrote:

Her comments represent the most substantive attack on the Fed, and central banking generally, by any potential nominee to the Fed board in recent history. She not only challenges how Jerome Powell and Fed officials conduct monetary policy, but whether they can conduct it competently at all.…

So Shelton doesn't want to End the Fed. But in the parlance of woke America, she's an "ally." Recognizing the limits of central bank omniscience, and challenging its benevolence, are important first steps on the road to redeeming our money and our economy. 

In fact, it was precisely these unorthodox views that make her nomination a less-than-sure thing, even with a Republican-controlled Congress.  As Bob Murphy has noted, her competency in financial history has made her the target of criticism from establishment powers on both the Left and Right. Particularly of issue are comments made by Republican senators, often offering criticism with intellectual depth on par with their colleague Ms. Ocasio-Cortez. For example, when asked about Shelton's views on gold, Senator Richard Shelby, the chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, could only offer:

The gold standard would probably shatter a lot of people’s dreams around the world right now…There was a reason to get off of it.

The fact that the administration insisted on nominating Shelton in spite of the public concerns, demonstrates a certain level of confidence that her nomination will not be shot down. 

What's particularly interesting is that CNBC notes that there has been speculation that Shelton could be a potential replacement for Jerome Powell if Trump is still in office at the end of the Fed chair's term in 2022. If so, that would bring someone whom the Wall Street Journal described as a "goldbug" to the office of America's top central banker.

Of course, as Alan Greenspan's tenure showed, that may not actually mean much.

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US to Iraq: "Vote All You Want; We’re Not Leaving!"

01/15/2020Ron Paul

President Trump’s decision earlier this month to assassinate Iran’s top military general on Iraqi soil — over the objection of the Iraqi government — has damaged the US relationship with its "ally" Iraq and set the region on the brink of war. Iran’s measured response — a few missiles fired on an Iraqi base after advance warning was given — is the only reason the US is not mired in another Middle East war.

Trump said his decision to assassinate General Qassim Soleimani was intended to prevent a war, not start a war. But no one in his right mind would think that killing another country’s top military leader would not leave that country annoyed, to say the least. Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) said that the Trump Administration’s briefing to Congress on its evidence to back claims that Soleimani was about to launch attacks against the US was among the worst briefings they’d ever attended.

After initially claiming that Soleimani had to be taken out immediately because of "imminent" attacks he was launching against the US, Trump Administration officials including Secretary of State Pompeo and Defense Secretary Esper have been busy walking back those claims. Esper claimed over the weekend that he had not seen the intelligence suggesting an attack on US embassies was in the works. If the Secretary of Defense did not see the intelligence, then who did?

No doubt the Iraqi leadership recognized these kinds of deceptions: the same kinds of lies were used to push the US into attacking their own country in 2003. So it should not have come as a big surprise that the Iraqi government met last week and voted for all foreign military personnel to leave Iraqi soil.

Then a funny thing happened when the Iraqi prime minister attempted to communicate to the US government the will of the Iraqi people through their democratically elected officials. On Thursday Iraqi Prime Minister Mahdi phoned Pompeo to urgently request that Washington enact a US troop "withdrawal mechanism" in Iraq. American troops are in Iraq by invitation of the Iraqi government and the Iraqi government had just voted to revoke that invitation.

The State Department responded with a statement titled "The US Continued Partnership with Iraq," in which it essentially said that the US would not abide by the request of its Iraqi partners because the US military is a "force for good" in the Middle East and that as such it is "our right" to maintain "appropriate force posture” in the region.

The US invaded Iraq based on Bush administration lies, and a million Iraqis died as a result. Later, President Obama ramped up the drone program and also backed al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists to overthrow the secular Syrian government. Obama also attacked Libya based on lies, leaving the country totally destroyed. Trump is assassinating foreign officials and threatening destruction of Iran.

And the State Department calls that a "force for good"?

The United States can be a true force for good, however. End the military occupation of the Middle East, end foreign military aid, stop using the CIA to overthrow governments. Allow Americans to travel and do business in any country they wish. Lead by example and demonstrate how free markets and peace benefit all. A "force for good" means not forcing others to bow to your will.

Reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute.

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