Power & Market

Is Iceland Too Small? An Icelander Says No.

02/13/2020Ryan McMaken

Thank to Thorvaldur Gylfason for pointing out his 2009 article examining the economic implications of Iceland's small population of only about three hundred thousand people.

Gylfason noted how Icelandic politicians have claimed that the country's small population was "our most serious social evil," and that the critical mass for a well-functioning society must be much larger than was currently available.

But Gylfason notes:

Yet, medieval Florence and Venice flourished with 70,000 and 115,000 inhabitants. They were better situated in Europe and better served by sea lanes than Iceland was and could, therefore, easily make up for their small size through trade. Economic integration is vital to small countries. The population of ancient Athens was 200,000. Too small? Hardly.

Or take modern Barbados (pop. 300,000), independent since 1966, a prosperous and stable democracy where virtually every child completes primary and secondary school and life expectancy matches that of the US. Is Barbados too small? No. Barbados has not even felt it necessary to pool its currency with its eight neighbours comprising the East Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU, pop. 600,000). Since 1975, the exchange rate of the Barbados dollar has been kept fixed vis-à-vis the US dollar at a rate of 2 to 1 (and the ECCU, meanwhile, pegged the East Caribbean dollar to the US dollar at a rate of 3 to 1).

Is there a lower bound on population below which countries cannot stand on their own feet? Yes, but it seems to lie far below 300,000.

The answer lies in free trade. Gylfason writes:

Fuelled by free trade, small nations have increased in number. Without external trade, many small nations would be inefficient on account of their small size and would seem, on economic grounds, to need to merge with larger nations. Foreign trade relieves small nations of this need by enabling them to reap the benefits of scale and scope through trade.

This is how trade has helped increase the number of sovereign states over the years. Without vivacious trade, the costs of small size to many countries would almost surely outweigh the gains. The inability of a small country to benefit from specialisation by exploiting its comparative advantages would by itself be disastrous.

Not that everything is fine when a society is small:

Even if small countries can succeed by being open and peaceful, their small size presents challenges. Strong checks and balances are imperative in small, heavily politicised, clan-based societies to prevent relations between politics, banking, and business from becoming too cosy, not to say incestuous. Here Iceland failed. High-quality recruitment into political service and careful selection of key public officials, from abroad if needed, are also important in a small country with a small pool of appropriate local talent. Here, too, Iceland missed the boat.

But the benefits do outweigh the costs, Gylfason concludes:

Some observers at the time thought Belgium and Portugal were too small to be viable as independent countries. The tables were turned in the twentieth century when centrifugal forces prevailed, facilitated by the worldwide liberalisation of trade after World War II. Iceland attained home rule in 1904 and transformed itself from economic parity with today‘s Ghana in 1900 to parity with Scandinavia in 1980 (Gylfason 2008a). Gradual liberalisation of trade from 1960 onward played an important role in Iceland’s transformation.

One consequence of the social accord that tends to go along with small size may be a shared interest in education, as children in cohesive societies are less likely to be deprived of schooling. Countries with 300,000 or fewer inhabitants keep their young people in school a year longer on average than larger countries, in the sense that the small countries have an average school life expectancy—i.e., the expected number of years of schooling that will be completed as measured by UNESCO—of 13 years compared with 12 years elsewhere.

Another consequence of small country size, especially in a strategic location, may be that neighbours may be willing to share the costs of national defence. France spends 2.4% of its GDP on national defence compared with 1.1% in Belgium and 0.8% in Luxembourg. This tendency may offset some of the higher per capita cost of public services in small countries. Moreover, and this may surprise you, small countries tend to have less corruption than large countries as measured by Transparency International. In 2008, the Corruption Perceptions Index—which ranges from 1.4 in Somalia to 9.4 in Denmark—was 4.6 on average in countries with 300,000 or fewer inhabitants compared with 4.0 in larger countries.

As I noted in this article, both the empirical and theoretical evidence suggests that smallness is no impediment to growth and economic success. Smallness means more openness to trade, less aggressiveness militarily, and studies have shown that small countries have better growth rates in many cases.

In his book Human Scale, Kirkpatrick Sale covers this topic of the "ideal" size for a political entity. Sale suggests that an independent city or city-state probably reaches its ideal size for self-rule around fifty thousand people. He also notes that medieval cities that were larger than this tended to break themselves up into smaller, adjacent independent pieces, with the idea being that large scale breeds alienation, crime, and political dysfunction.

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Senate Attacks Judy Shelton for Sin of Being Outside the Mainstream

02/13/2020Tho Bishop

Today the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing for President Trump’s two most recent Federal Reserve nominees. In one chair sat Christopher Waller, vice president and director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, whose dreadfully dull answers could have been the product of a bot forced to watch one thousand hours of central bank testimony. Luckily for those watching, most of the questions were directed towards the far more intriguing—and controversial—Judy Shelton.

Although by no means an Austrian, Judy Shelton’s record includes public support for a modern gold standard, criticism of the Fed’s response to the financial crisis, and even a comparison of America’s central bank to Soviet central planners. On the topic of competing currencies, Ms. Shelton once referred to Bernard von NotHaus, a man arrested by the US government for the production of silver “Liberty Dollars,” as the “Rosa Parks of monetary policy” for his willingness to challenge the Fed. Beyond monetary policy, she cited government deposit insurance as a program that risks creating moral hazard, suggested that the US could pay off its public debts by selling off assets such as the US Postal Service and federally held public lands, and even publicly questioned the accuracy of government inflation measures.

The recounting of the greatest hits of Judy Shelton offered a glimpse of what it would look like to actually drain the swamp of central bankers.

Of course, all of this was sharply—and at times uncivilly—criticized by duly elected economic midwits who sought to lecture to Shelton while desperately relying upon the prepared questions of legislative aides.

Senator Richard Shelby, at one point the chairman of the banking committee, was particularly appalled at the notion of nominating a Federal Reserve candidate so outside the mainstream. His grilling of Ms. Shelton included sagely pointing out that the amount of gold in the world is worth less than the American GDP and suggesting that the gold standard was a product of the days when the US was a “barter economy.”

Of course, it is a reflection of the dilapidated state of modern economics that Shelby’s ignorance would make him a safer choice for the Federal Reserve than either Shelton or her friend James Grant.

It is also sad to see Shelton, obviously a very intelligent woman, take the strategy of trying to sing from a more traditional script rather than take the opportunity of the hearing to defend the ideas she has long supported. Although there were times when she offered clever outs to her testimony, such as declaring that she would never want to “go back” to any previously existing monetary system (which is not the same thing as seeing a potential use for a newly priced gold backing in the future), for the most part Shelton attempted to try to present herself as a more status quo figure.

In one of the more entertaining exchanges, Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana pushed Ms. Shelton on what she would recommend if faced with an abrupt financial crisis. Her response, unfortunately, was more of the same—taking interest rates to 0, more QE. It was an answer so uninspired that it was basically repeated by Mr. Waller.

Shelton was also attacked for apparent changes in her policy prescriptions during the Trump regime.

Although she once (accurately) blasted the Obama administration for monetary and fiscal recklessness, she has advocated for more accommodative policy in recent years. One could perhaps forgive Shelton for the sin of identifying the Federal Reserve for what it really is—a political institution—but her nomination is likely to be killed by senators who prefer to maintain that the illusion it is anything but.

In fact, shortly after the hearing, Washington was already filled with whispers about her nomination already being dead.

If true, Congress will miss the opportunity to actually act on the goal that is so often given lip service on the Hill—increasing diversity on the Fed. Beyond the irrelevant point of her gender, Judy Shelton would have brought a heterodox economic perspective from well beyond the echo chamber of modern central banking. Having received her PhD in business administration from Utah State University, she is far removed from the elite institutions that are quite effective at wiping out common sense.

At least the Fed will have the addition of Mr. Waller, who can offer such pearls of wisdom as:

The fiat monetary system we have around the world works well as long as it is managed well by the central bank.

Where would America be without such invaluable insight!

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Pete Quiñones and I Talk Immigration in This Podcast

02/13/2020Ryan McMaken

Last summer when we were both at Mises University, Peter Quiñones and I sat down in the studio and talked about immigration for a full hour. I think we've provided enough to annoy both open borders people and hard-core restrictionists. I cover the horribleness of border guards, the unconvincing nature of economic arguments against immigration, Ludwig von Mises's highly practical views of immigration policy, and the real political and sociological issues potentially raised by large-scale migration.

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Lew Rockwell Discusses His Book The Left, the Right, and the State

02/12/2020Ryan McMaken

If you haven't yet bought yourself a copy of Lew Rockwell's Against the Left: A Rothbardian Libertarianism do yourself a favor and pick one up.

But at the same time, I recommend Lew's 2010 book The Left, the Right, and the State.  I don't think this book has received as much attention as it deserves, and if you like radical stuff—I mean really radical unapologetic antistate stuff—this one can be mined for all kinds of great insights.

I was recently reminded that Peter Quiñones is also a fan of Against the Left, and back in November, he interviewed Lew about it on Peter's podcast.

If you're looking for a fun refresher on why state-sponsored mass murder and impoverishment are bad things, you might enjoy this one.

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Democrats Ignore Trump's Real Violations

02/12/2020Ron Paul

This week the latest Democratic Party attempt to remove President Trump from office—impeachment over Trump allegedly holding up an arms deal to Ukraine—flopped. Just like “Russiagate” and the Mueller investigation, and a number of other attempts to overturn the 2016 election.

We’ve had three years of accusations and investigations with untold millions of dollars spent in a never-ending Democratic Party effort to remove President Trump from office.

Why do the Democrats keep swinging and missing at Trump? They can’t make a good case for abuse of power, because they don’t really oppose Trump’s most egregious abuses of power. Congress, with a few exceptions, strongly supports the president flouting the Constitution when it comes to overseas aggression and shoveling more money into the military-industrial complex.

In April 2018, President Trump fired one hundred Tomahawk missiles into Syria, allegedly as punishment for a Syrian government chemical attack in Douma. Though the US was not under imminent threat of attack, Trump didn’t wait for a Congressional declaration of war on Syria or even an authorization for a missile strike. In fact, he didn’t even wait for an investigation of the event to find out what actually happened! He just decided to send a hundred missiles—at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars—into Syria.

We are now finding out from whistle-blowers on the UN team that investigated the alleged attack that the report blaming the Syrian government was falsified and that the whole “attack” was nothing but a false flag operation.

Is such unauthorized aggression against a country with which we are not at war not worth investigating as a potential “high crime” or “misdemeanor”?

Last month, President Trump authorized the assassination of a top Iranian General, Qassim Soleimani, and a top Iraqi military officer inside Iraqi territory while Soleimani was on a diplomatic mission. Trump and his administration tried to claim that the attack was essential because of an “imminent threat” of a Soleimani attack on US troops in the region.

We found out shortly afterward that they had lied about the “imminent threat.” The assassination was not “urgent”—it was planned back in June. Trump then claimed that it didn’t matter whether there was an imminent threat: Soleimani was a bad guy so he deserved to be assassinated.

But the attack was an act of war on Iran without a congressional declaration or authorization for war. Is that not perhaps a “high crime” or “misdemeanor”?

We are finding out that, contrary to what Trump claims, Soleimani was not even behind the December attack on US troops in Iraq. New evidence suggests that it was actually an ISIS operation attempting to goad the US into moving against Iraq’s Shi'a militias.

Fantasies about Trump being an agent of Putin or trying to get Ukraine to help him win the election are presented as urgent reasons Trump must be removed from office. Real-life violations of the Constitution and the reckless militarism that may get us embroiled in another Middle East war are shrugged off as “business as usual” by both Democrats and Republicans in Washington.

Democrats won’t move against Trump for what may be real “high crimes” and “misdemeanors,” because they support his overseas aggression. They just wish they were the ones pulling the trigger.

Reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute.

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Remembering Burt Blumert

02/11/2020David Gordon

Today would have been the ninety-first birthday of Burt Blumert, one of the greatest personalities of the modern libertarian movement. Burt was the indispensable man behind the scenes and was a key figure in the Mises Institute, the Center for Libertarian Studies, and LewRockwell.com. He was one of Murray Rothbard’s closest friends, and when you met him, it was easy to see why Murray liked him. He was a genial and kind person, and a source of wise counsel to all those fortunate to know him. Burt was the founder of Camino Coins and a principal figure in the hard money community. If you want to get a sense of what Burt was like, you have only to read his collection of humorous essays Bagels, Barry Bonds, and Rotten Politicians (2008). It was a source of great pride and comfort to Burt in his final illness that he was able to see this book in print. Burt helped me with good advice when I most needed it, and I will always be grateful to him for his counsel and friendship

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"Good Governors Do Not Consider Their People as Their Prey"

02/10/2020Gary Galles

In the free-for-all that has been the 2020 presidential campaign so far, there has been a notable absence of serious concern for liberty. The idea that gave birth to our country has been largely crowded out by spirited efforts to outdo rivals in what H. L. Mencken called an “advance auction of stolen goods.”

But those who prize liberty have a great source to turn to, which America’s founders turned to three centuries ago—Cato’s Letters, by John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, which began appearing in the 1720 London Journal. As Ronald Hamowy wrote, “Its arguments against oppressive government and in support of the splendors of freedom…frequently served as the basis of the American response to the whole range of depradations under which the colonies suffered.” With all the campaign promises to remake government, always at someone else’s expense, and the far more frightening promises to have the government remake us, by further reducing our liberty, Cato’s Letter 38, “The Right and Capacity of the People to Judge of Government,” is particularly important to revisit:

The world has…been led into such a long maze of mistakes, by those who gained by deceiving, that whoever would instruct mankind must begin with removing their errors….

[Liberty is] but little encouraged…there being…oppressors and deceivers mutually aiding and paying constant court to each other. Wherever truth is dangerous, liberty is precarious….

Most of those who manage [government] would make the lower world believe that there is…difficulty and mystery in it…which…is direct craft and imposture: Every ploughman knows a good government from a bad one…whether the fruits of his labor be his own, and whether he enjoy them in peace and security…

The principles of government…lie open to common sense, but people are generally taught not to think of them at all, or to think wrong of them.

What is government, but a trust committed…to [those] who are to attend upon the affairs of all, that every one may, with the more security, attend upon his own? A great and honorable trust; but too seldom honorably executed…therefore a trust, which ought to be bounded with many and strong restraints…Every violation…ought to meet with proportional punishment…because indulgence to the least faults of magistrates may be cruelty to a whole people.

Honesty, diligence, and plain sense, are the only talents necessary for the executing of this trust; and the public good is its only end: As to refinements and finesses, they are often only…the arts of jobbers in politicks…playing their own game under the public cover….

[P]ublic ministers and public enemies have been the same individual men….

Ill governments…are…enemies to private property….

Every private man…has a concern in [government], because in it is concerned…his virtue, his property, and the security of his person: And where all these are best preserved and advanced, the government is best administered….

What is the public, but the collective body of private men…And as the whole ought to be concerned for the preservation of every private individual, it is the duty of every individual to be concerned for the whole, in which he is included….

[H]e who says that private men have no concern with government…is saying that people ought not to concern themselves whether they be naked or clothed, fed or starved, deceived or instructed, and whether they be protected or destroyed….In truth, our whole worldly happiness and misery are owing to the order or mismanagement of government.

It is the eternal interest of every nation, that their government should be good; but they who direct it frequently…find their own account in plunder and oppression.

["Good governors…do not consider their people as their prey."]

Cato’s Letters were widely echoed by America’s founders seeking to defend their liberty. And after decades of inflating government intrusions at the expense of our liberty, they brings us back to the essence of good government—“whether the fruits of his labor be his own, and whether he enjoy them in peace and security.” It also brings us back to citizens’ central role in the process—preventing further assaults against our rights, which protect our liberties.

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Coronavirus? The Chinese Central Bank Has a "Solution"

02/07/2020Frank Shostak

In response to the economic paralysis brought about by the coronavirus, the Chinese central bank has pumped $243 billion into financial markets. On Monday, February 3, 2020, China’s equity market shed $393 billion of its value.

Most experts are of the view that in order to counter the damage that the coronavirus has inflicted, loose monetary policy is of utmost importance to stabilize the economy. It is believed that the massive monetary pumping will lift overall demand in the economy and in turn will likely move the economy out of the stagnation hole.

According to this way of thinking, consumer confidence, which has weakened as a result of the coronavirus, could be lifted by massive monetary pumping.

Now, even if consumers were to become more confident about economic prospects, how is all this related to the damage that the virus continues to inflict? Would the increase in consumer confidence due to the monetary pumping cause individuals to go back to work?

Unless the causes of the virus are ascertained or unless some vaccine is produced to protect individuals against the virus, they are likely to continue to pursue a life of isolation. This means that most people are not going to risk their lives and start using the newly pumped money to boost their spending.

It seems that whenever a crisis emerges, central banks are of the view that first of all they must push plenty of money in to “cushion” the side effects of the crisis. The central bankers are following the idea that if in doubt “grease” the problem with a lot of money.

It did not occur to all the advocates of the aggressive loose monetary policy that this is going to transform a given economic crisis into a much larger one.

Most advocates would respond that it is the central bank’s duty to defend individuals against various bad side effects. The only way they can defend individuals is by not adding more damage.

If loose monetary policy could counter the bad side effects of the coronavirus, we could agree that money pumping is an effective remedy to eradicate side effects of viruses. In such a case, central bankers should be nominated for the Nobel Prize in medicine.

But most experts still don’t get it—money is just the medium of exchange. It produces nothing and it can only provide the services of a medium of exchange. If we begin to consider money as something magical that can fix everything, including eradicating the economic side effects of the coronavirus, it opens the door to nasty economic surprises.

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The State of the Union: An Annual Reminder of Inevitable Default

02/05/2020Tho Bishop

Last night’s State of the Union was particularly noteworthy for its showmanship. Scholarships were given away, medals were awarded, families reunited. At a time when national politics is bad theater, President Trump is clearly its most gifted star.

Trump also knows what sells. As a political figure, he’s motivated not by any consistent ideology, but rather by transactional legislation. Following the performance, an MSNBC pundit noted that the speech was a “microtargeted ad” to various demographics aimed at expanding his base before next year’s election.

Combined with his Super Bowl ads highlighting criminal justice reform, his focus on charter schools and honoring a hundred-year-old Tuskegee airman are aimed at eroding away the Democrats' 90 percent control of black voters. The cameo by Venezuela opposition leader Juan Guaidó was an appeal to Hispanic families who have fled communist regimes—perhaps a poke at Bernie Sanders. Paid family leave, a policy focus of his daughter, is intended to help him with suburban women.

What doesn’t sell? Fiscal responsibility.

The political equivalent of Crystal Pepsi, the Republican Party has given up its long-standing façade of budgetary restraint. As Donald Trump told donors earlier this year, "Who the hell cares about the budget?”

Of course, some people do care, particularly those who understand the real costs of runaway spending. Unfortunately, politics isn’t about the economic literacy of the few, but the prevailing ideology of the masses. As Jeff Deist noted in 2016, the implicit ideology of the American population is much closer to Bernie Sanders than it is to Ludwig von Mises. As such, it should be no surprise that the policies of the country align more closely with the “deficits don’t matter” vision of Modern Monetary Theorists than the sober analysis of Austrians economists.

Of course, the popularity of political positions cannot shield a society from the consequences of their actions.

A recent Congressional Budget Office (CBO) forecast now has America on track for a 98 percent debt-to-GDP ratio by the end of the decade, and that’s with a built-in assumption that spending trends won’t significantly increase—a bet I wouldn’t feel comfortable making.

Left out of this measure, of course, are the true costs of the current American government—including unfunded liabilities built into to America’s entitlement system. For example, social security has a projected long-term deficit of over $13 trillion. Medicare adds another $37 trillion. Factor in federal pensions and veterans' benefits and the number gets to $122 trillion.

Working to DC’s benefit is the fact that American debt is still treated globally as one of the world’s most secure assets. Global demand for US Treasurys remains strong, and directly subsidizes our leviathan state even as we simultaneously weaponize it against the rest of the world. While it’s impossible to predict exactly how long this status will continue, history informs us that it would be foolish to assume it will go on forever.

To his credit, Donald Trump seemed to instinctually understand this as a candidate. While running, he was remarkably honest when he talked about the need for American creditors to eventually take haircuts. The self-dubbed "king of debt," he compared it to his own approach in business:

I've borrowed knowing that you can pay back with discounts. And I've done very well with debt. Now of course I was swashbuckling, and it did well for me, and it was good for me and all of that. And you know debt was always sort of interesting to me. Now we're in a different situation with a country, but I would borrow knowing that if the economy crashed you could make a deal. And if the economy was good it was good so therefore you can't lose. It's like you make a deal before you go into a poker game. And your odds are much better.

While his comments shocked (shocked!) the Very Serious pundits at the time, they were a refreshingly honest look at America’s future. As is often the case with Trump, he was attacked by the press for saying aloud the things you're supposed to keep quiet—like his reportedly saying “Yeah, but I won’t be here,” when given a brief on America’s growing debt crisis in 2017.

Of course, although any sort of default by the American government would be a major chaotic event for the global financial system, it’s something we should embrace and prepare for. Peter Klein has noted, “that the US can never restructure or even repudiate the national debt—that US Treasuries must always be treated as a unique and magical "risk-free" investment—is wildly speculative at best, preposterous at worst.” Murray Rothbard advocated for the repudiation of the national debt, which he viewed as a “part of the American tradition.”

At the end of the day, however, whether one agrees with the idea of debt default is inconsequential. The political system today is inherently unprepared to tackle the issue. The incentive structures of democracy actively work against restraint and responsibility. So long as the economic profession is dominated by bad economists and our education system is dedicated to government indoctrination rather than economic literacy, we will continue to lack the political will to make the difficult choices necessary to get our fiscal house in order.

Luckily, America’s political disorder doesn’t mean that American citizens have to be unprepared. Awareness of the real problems we face doesn’t require taking the black pill, it simply means being aware of practical steps we can take as individuals to best prepare for the future.

Just as we can arm ourselves to protect ourselves against inept law enforcement, we can safeguard our wealth outside of the American financial system to protect ourselves against inept fiscal management. Be it gold, silver, bitcoin, or whatever, the future may very well belong to those who refuse to leave their destiny in the hands of politicians, bureaucrats, and central bankers.

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Iowa's Botched Election: Who (Or What) Counts the Votes Is Important

02/04/2020Ryan McMaken

The public still doesn't know who won the Iowa caucuses. Maybe the leaders of the Democratic Party don't know either.

But there's an important lesson here: if one's political process is founded on votes counted through a phone app, or a "direct recording electronic" (DRE) voting machine, centralized technical control of the system raises the risk of system-wide failure and corruption.

In Iowa the downside of an electronic system was made worse by a sheer lack of competence on the part of organizers. The Iowa system was something of a hybrid between physically tallied votes that were then reported through an electronic system. Some parts of the process were directly observable and verifiable. But the electronic component of the system appeared to increase human error rather than mitigate it.

Moreover, even when results finally are announced, many will have good reason to hold the results suspect. Some will likely claim party leaders purposely held up results to make "adjustments." Others will question—quite reasonably—if the people who can't competently use the vote counting system can be trusted to properly count the votes at all.

The good news in all of this is that this is just a primary. This vote is essentially a private vote count for a private organization known as the Democratic Party. Even if the vote in Iowa is totally botched, all that legally matters is the candidate chosen at the convention this summer.

Things are different in a national elections, however. In those cases, the stakes are higher, and the motivation to influence them greater. When using electronic voting, votes can be more easily and conveniently lost or changed through error or malicious schemes. This can also be done more easily on a larger scale. Yes, paper vote counts can be corrupted, but it is more difficult to do so on a large scale.

Yet, many policymakers in many states have suggested "streamlining" the voting process by moving ever further toward DREs to count votes. Many of these same people wax philosophical about the alleged sanctity of the democratic process, or they make hysterical claims about how "Russian hackers" are trying to corrupt American politics.

This isn't to say there aren't people out there trying to tamper with vote counts. "The Russians" are not the only people with an interest in doing so. As has become abundantly clear since the election of Donald Trump, US intelligence bureaucrats at agencies like the FBI and CIA are happy to employ an endless barrage of schemes to undermine an elected president. James Comey, for instance, employed FBI investigations to enhance his own power and influence the 2016 election to suit his personal ends. We also know that the CIA and other intelligence agencies engage in cyber warfare of their own design. The idea that these skills and resources would never be employed for domestic political ends is a cute one.

The most reasonable response to all of this is to make the logistics of corrupting and "hacking" elections as daunting as possible. The first step is in insisting on old-fashioned paper ballots in all elections.

Unfortunately, fewer than half of US states require the use of physical ballots only. More than half employ electronic voting, at least in part. Some states even employ electronic voting without any sort of paper trail at all.

A big reason to employ electronic counting schemes is to make life easier for government officials. In other words,  laziness and incompetence on the part of the vote-counting officials (mostly state governments' "secretaries of state") means they're looking for a way to manage vote counts with minimal logistical effort.

These officials claim it's just too difficult to count all the votes in a public, traceable, and accurate way.

And yet, the United Kingdom just held an all-paper-ballot election in a country of over 65 million people. It's not that hard. As explained here, each UK voter casts a paper ballot. The ballots are rushed to the place where they are counted. People then count the votes out in the open. Candidates can ask for multiple recounts. The candidate with the most votes is announced in each constituency. The end. As one British observer noted:

On the 24th June 2016, by approximately 6am, we had managed to count 33,577,342 votes in the UK Brexit Referendum. These votes were counted by hand and we all voted by putting a simple cross in a box, using a trusty pencil.

Now, the voting in the Iowa Caucus has been closed for over 16 hours and, as of now, there has been no result. In fact only 1.9% of the votes have been tallied and are being reported.

Now, I'm not saying the British have a perfect system, and few would accuse me of being any sort of an Anglophile. Counting votes in a Prime Minister system is a bit different.  But the fact is that this isn't rocket science. Yet we now live in an America where governments can't manage their most basic functions. Yes, state and local governments are sure to pay their employees big salaries with exorbitant retirement benefits. Yet we're also being told—by these well-paid officials themselves—that in spite of perennially growing budgets, roads are falling apart and bridges are falling down. We're told school kids can't read because teaching people to read is just so, so difficult. And counting paper ballots? For these people, that's a nut that's just too hard to crack.

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