COVID Panic: The New War on Human Rights

COVID Panic: The New War on Human Rights

05/05/2020Ryan McMaken

In a world where the Left has declared everything from abortion to social media to be a human right, it is disheartening, to say the least, that so many who think of themselves as "progressive" have embraced wholesale violations of real human rights: namely, the rights to seek employment, to freely assemble, and to exercise one's religion.

The ban on searching for employment is the most damaging in its immediate effects, and the war against this right looks something like this: in the name of preventing the spread of disease, civil governments have taken to issuing decrees—in many cases without any sort of legal process that allows for appeal or public debate—shutting down businesses and prohibiting the free exercise of one's right to seek employment.

Why Looking for Work Is a Basic Human Right

In other words, individuals have been prohibited from entering into peaceful voluntary agreements with others to sell their labor in exchange for wages. For those who earn a living through independent contracting or selling goods and services, the effect is the same: commerce with others is forbidden, with the result being impoverishment and a loss of one's income.

In the American context, this is violation of several rights outlined in the Bill of Rights, most especially the property rights outlined in the Fifth Amendment. To be cut off from one's own labor and one's own right to enter into contracts is fundamentally a destruction of the basic right to control one's own property. But, of course, these rights are not specifically American. All human beings have these rights, whether recognized by government officials or not. A farm worker in Tanzania has these rights just as much as an insurance agent in Baltimore. To ignore these rights is no less backward than ignoring rights to free speech or the right to not be enslaved. Any governmental attempt to seize property in this way requires—morally speaking—due process.

The Inequality of Shutdowns

Those in favor of lockdowns and impoverishing millions insist that there is no other way. Unless we outlaw employment for millions, we are told, the death toll will be unacceptable. Of course, when pressed for what death toll is "acceptable," no answer is given. Is it six hundred thousand (the number who die from cancer in the US each year)? Sixty thousand (the number who typically die in the US from flu and pneumonia each year)? Some lesser number? One? This figure remains a great mystery. We are only told that human rights are null and void until the "experts" decide otherwise.

Politicians still, begrudgingly, allow some people to exercise their right to work for a living. These people are the ones in so-called essential lines of work. Which types of work are essential? Well, that's up to the arbitrary whims of the state governors who now rule by decree (and collect six-figure paychecks while cosigning others to unemployment). In some places, hardware stores are "essential." In other places, they are not. In some places, diagnostic procedures to find brain tumors are deemed "elective" and therefore verboten. In other places they're allowed.

Should private citizens violate these many prohibitions and limitations, the result is anything but voluntary: the state uses force (or the threat of force) to impose fines, jail time, and to revoke business licenses.

The result, of course, is mass unemployment and the loss of access to a wide variety of goods and services, including housing, transportation, education, insurance, and even basic necessities like food. The newly and forcibly unemployed are expected to be content to sit at home, go on welfare, prepare for bankruptcy, and watch their children go hungry. 

Meanwhile, those who complain about the regime's callous and immoral disregard of human rights are denounced by the ruling (and very well-paid) technocrats.

Some especially out-of-touch pro-shutdown "COVID Warriors" rationalize it all by insisting that these prohibitions on earning a living are, as Dr. Anthony Fauci claims, mere inconveniences. It's easy to see why someone like Fauci might think this way. His government salary is $400,000 dollars (not including whatever lucrative contract work he has on the side), and there is little risk he'll be missing any mortgage payments any time soon. 

Similarly, lots of white-collar "creative class" types who can work from home delight in lecturing other people about "staying home" and "flattening the curve" while working-class people who work in fields that require human interaction are just out of luck. Some simply can't afford to give up their incomes and wait around for small, inadequate government checks that may take weeks to arrive. At some point in the near future those checks will stop coming, an even in places where the state plans to ramp up welfare spending, the fact is a community must produce wealth before wealth can be distributed. An economy that is in decline will simply be redistributing a smaller and smaller pool of resources. 

Not surprisingly, some business owners and contractors will try to open their businesses anyway. And some workers will still try to provide services in the marketplace—which is now a black market thanks to government decree.  In these cases, the police—i.e., more government employees with safe jobs and hefty paychecks—intervene and arrest business owners, just to make sure the destitute aren't allowed to bring in a few bucks.

Those who support this systematic use of violence and harassment of peaceful citizens insist they have the moral high ground, and the crusaders for public health contend that they are are the only ones who care about human life while those execrable working-class barbers, hygienists, and front desk receptionists care only about filthy lucre.

The Costs of Unemployment and Isolation

In the real world, however, cutting people off from earning a living comes with many costs indeed. There is a growing mountain of data showing that unemployment leads to more deaths via drug abuse, suicide, and stroke. Other side effects are even more grim, such as the increase in domestic violence and child abuse recorded during these "stay at home" orders.  Forcing people into isolation comes with real physchological effects that shorten lives.

But ignoring this reality is to be expected of those who have adopted the tunnel vision of the busybody and the public moralist. In the minds of the COVID Warriors, all that matters is the lives of the people the COVID Warriors have deemed important. Everyone else's life and well-being is of lesser importance. If there's more suicide and more child abuse, that's too bad, but it was all "worth it." 

It should not surprise us that this war on human rights—led largely by smug intellectuals, billionaires, and politicians—has come wrapped in the mantle of moral supremacy. But such is the usual m.o. of those who view human rights as an inconvenient impediment to one's agenda. The Soviets insisted that they represented "the workers" and a revolution in favor of a more just world. The slave drivers of the Old South equated slavery with civilization itself. The absolutist monarchs of Renaissance Europe told themselves they were defenders of culture and God and national "honor." Then, as now, moral crusaders justified the destruction of dissidents, traitors, and anyone else who refused to repeat some variation of the slogan "We're all in this together." 

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Clown World Finance

The recent blowup of GameStop shares has revealed, if anyone was still doubting, that the center of clown world is not Washington, DC, nor Silicon Valley—but Wall Street. To be clear, this is not meant to refer to the gallant band of redditors from r/wallstreetbets—those few, those happy few, that band of brothers who, as of this writing, may very well be poised to force several hedge funds into bankruptcy. Rather, the clowns are those hedge funds and all those other institutional investors who have been propped up by central bank intervention for decades while congratulating themselves that their seven-figure earnings were all due to their own financial brilliance.

What Happened?

The story of what happened (so far) is briefly told. It was revealed that GameStop was one of the most shorted shares in Wall Street, with the fund Melvin Capital taking the lead in shorting it. While this may or may not be a sound position based on market fundamentals—I have not investigated and think it’s a mug’s game to waste time on fundamentals these days—people did not take kindly to the revelation. Specifically, redditors at the subreddit Wallstreetbets saw that the short sellers were vulnerable, and they organized a campaign to drive them into the ground. Suddenly, retail investors flooded the market, bought up shares and drove GameStop shares, which had been trading below $20, into the stratosphere, topping $365 Wednesday morning (January 27). Melvin Capital suffered huge losses, up to 30 percent, and had to be saved by an infusion of $2.75 billion Tuesday afternoon.

That’s Not the Whole Story, Though…

In a sane market, where market fundamentals actually determine prices, this would not have happened. Short selling would simply be a way of quickly and efficiently determining the market price of stocks, and there would be no special profit to be had from this practice, beyond the arbitrage gain (in the case that the short sellers were correct). Similarly, investors angry at the short sellers could not have driven stock prices sky-high in defiance of reality. Both practices are only possible in a market flooded with ever-increasing amounts of new money freshly printed by the Federal Reserve.

For decades the central banks of the world—chief among them the US Federal Reserve—have had really only one mission: interest rates cannot ever be allowed to rise and everything must be done to prevent even the mildest of corrections in financial markets. They were able to get away with it clandestinely, so to speak—who now remembers the good ol’ days of the Greenspan put?—but after the financial crisis of ‘08 they had to come out into the open. Interest rates were forced lower and lower and markets were flooded with a tsunami of credit. Stocks and bonds responded, as could be expected, by reaching new all-time highs year after year. Of course, there were always economists ready with ever more whacky theories as to why this bare-faced inflationism was really sound policy dictated by the science of modern economics, but the result for anyone to see is financial markets that are completely divorced from reality and whose only purpose seems to be securing cheap funding for the US government and enormous earnings for the financial elites.

Then, of course, came corona, and the government, in its wisdom, chose to destroy the economy. To placate the plebs they offered them a few handouts—first $1,200, then $600—all financed by that incredible machine, the central bank printing press. According to Keynesian orthodoxy, this should have stimulated the economy to no end, ensuring a rapid recovery. Unfortunately, since most of the world was shut down, there were precious few opportunities for people to actually spend their money, and since the man in the street is wiser than most government-employed economists, he probably understood that an unprecedented shutdown of all society is not the best time to engage in a bonanza of consumer spending. So, he saved and invested his money, which thanks to the advances in modern technology he could now do directly, without going through savings banks or brokers.

Yet inflation is still inflation, even if it does not show up in government statistics, and the infusion of such an ocean of liquidity naturally drove stocks, bonds, bitcoin, and now GameStop sky-high. The beneficiaries this time were not the banks or Wall Street investors, however, but the many retail investors who now ganged up on Melvin Capital and the other “sharks” of Wall Street. It is all animal spirits, or rather, it is driven by the desire of those who feel themselves shortchanged to see the high lords of finance come crashing down. This latest round of inflation gave them the means to bring about just that.

Is This the End?

It’s impossible to tell what will happen next. Maybe the flood of liquidity is spent and Wall Street will weather the storm; maybe the Fed will again step in with new credit lines to save them, which seems most likely—again, the prime directive of the Fed has always been to save the big shots in finance. It is possible that financial markets are now so broken, central bank officials so worried about the effects of their money printing, that nothing will be done and we are now seeing the beginning of the end of the Big Bubble of 1980–2020. However, if recent history and mainstream economic orthodoxy are any guide, the Fed will stop at literally nothing to “save” the markets.

As Zero Hedge remarked on Twitter, “What is remarkable is how many people are “surprised” by what is going on in the “market” You throw $20 trillion stimulus at it, you nationalize the bond market, you break all links between price and fundamentals…what do you think happens.” Indeed. It would be wholly fitting in clown world, however, if the Great Stock Market Crash of 2021 were begun by day-trading teenagers, flush with helicopter money (thanks, Uncle Milty!) and with nothing else to do, forming a mob on reddit in order to break a hedge fund.

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Reminder: The Feds Control a Gargantuan Amount of Coastline Real Estate

01/27/2021Ryan McMaken

An article at Vox today notes that the Biden administration seeks to add many, many acres to the list of "protected" lands within the United States. Protected lands are lands that in most cases were already public—usually federal—lands where human activities have been heavily restricted. The "ideal" protected land—from the hard-core environmentalist perspective is a wilderness area where nearly all human activities are prohibited. 

The Biden administration wants to expand these restrictions to the point of encompassing 30 percent of land and 30 percent of US ocean areas. This would basically triple the amount of land currently under protection. 

But at least this would leave a sizable amount of land in private hands. The same can't be said about the oceans. Since the US does not allow private ownership of ocean territory, it is all directly controlled by the US government. 

Mark Brandly discussed some of the implications of this in 2016, writing:

What about the submerged lands? The federal government also claims ownership over what they call the submerged lands of the US. These claims began with 1799 legislation regarding the “customs waters,” allowing the boarding of foreign flag vessels within 12 nautical miles of the coast. Over time, these claims have expanded and in 1945, Harry Truman declared US government jurisdiction and control over the continental shelf. During the next decades, governments of the world claimed increasingly larger amounts of the ocean beds. Problems occurred, however, if two governments disagreed over these claims. This became a United Nations issue in the 1970s, and in 1982, at the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, the countries of the world came to an agreement regarding their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ), whereby each country owned the sea and the sea beds out to 200 nautical miles offshore.

Due to Congressional resistance of United Nations treaties, Congress did not ratify this agreement. But Ronald Reagan, in 1983 simply proclaimed sovereign rights over the US Exclusive Economic Zone. He ratified the agreement by presidential mandate.

According to a Department of the Interior report, there are 3.9 billion acres in the US EEZ. Reagan’s proclamation was the biggest land grab in US government history.

Consider this map of the US that includes the US EEZ. The various colors highlight the regions of the EEZ. 

One point to make here is that there is over 70 percent more submerged lands in the US than the total amount of dry land in this country. That is, the federal government owns more submerged land than the total amount of land in the 50 states.

Thus, 76.9 percent of total land in the United States is government owned. There is no doubt that regarding this essential resource, land, our economy is heavily socialized.

Needless to say, the fact the feds already directly control the coastline greatly facilitates federal efforts to add these areas to a list of "protected" areas. Those who are opposed to this can thank Ronald Reagan. Consequently, there is no "market" in coastline use at all, but it is all directly owned and planned by federal personnel. It doesn't look like there's any significant opposition to this. Many pundits and theorists—including most alleged "free market" types have long waved off the idea of privatizing ocean lands when suggested by Walter Block, for example. But so long as oceans areas are assumed to be "public" the use of them will directly be controlled by the feds and restricted to use for whatever purposes the regime finds most politically convenient.

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When Fascism Comes, It Will Be Wearing a Mask

01/26/2021Ron Paul

Almost immediately after his inauguration, President Joe Biden began creating new government dictates via executive orders. Many of these executive orders concern coronavirus, fulfilling Biden’s promise to make ramping up a coronavirus-inspired attack on liberty a focus of his first one hundred days.

One of Biden’s executive orders imposes mask and social distancing mandates on anyone in a federal building or on federal land. The mandates also apply to federal employees when they are “on-duty” anywhere. Members of the military are included in the definition of federal employees. Will citizens of Afghanistan, Iraq, and other countries where US troops are or will be “spreading democracy” be happy to learn the troops shooting up their towns are wearing masks and practicing social distancing?

Another one of Biden’s executive orders forces passengers on airplanes, trains, and other public transportation to wear masks.

Biden’s mask mandates contradict his pledge to follow the science. Studies have not established that masks are effective at preventing the spread of coronavirus. Regularly wearing a mask, though, can cause health problems.

Biden’s mask mandates are also an unconstitutional power grab. Some say these mandates are an exercise of the federal government’s constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce. However, the Constitution gives Congress, not the president, the power to regulate interstate commerce. The president does not have the authority to issue executive orders regulating interstate commerce absent authorization by a valid law passed by Congress. The Founders gave Congress sole law-making authority, and they would be horrified by the modern practice of presidents creating law with a “stroke of a pen.”

Just as important, the Commerce Clause was not intended to give the federal government vast regulatory power. Far from giving the US government powers such as the power to require people to wear masks, the Commerce Clause was simply intended to ensure Congress could protect free trade among the states.

Biden also signed an executive order supporting using the Defense Production Act to increase the supply of vaccines, testing supplies, and other items deemed essential to respond to coronavirus. The Defense Production Act is a Cold War relic that gives the president what can fairly be called dictatorial authority to order private businesses to alter their production plans, and violate existing contracts with private customers, in order to produce goods for the government.

Mask and social distancing mandates, government control of private industry, and some of Biden’s other executive actions, such as one creating a new “Public Health Jobs Corps” with responsibilities including performing “contact tracing” on American citizens, are the type of actions one would expect from a fascist government, not a constitutional republic.

Joe Biden, who is heralded by many of his supporters as saving democracy from fascist Trump, could not even wait one day before beginning to implement fascistic measures that are completely unnecessary to protect public health. Biden will no doubt use other manufactured crises, including “climate change” and “domestic terrorism,” to expand government power and further restrict our liberty. Under Biden, fascism will not just carry an American flag. It will also wear a mask.

Reprinted with permission. 

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The State Is a False-Flag Operation

01/26/2021Jason Morgan

Over the past year, as violence has erupted in cities across the United States and even in the Capitol building in Washington, DC, partisans have routinely insisted that looting, vandalism, terrorism, arson, beatings, and murder are “false-flag operations.” By this is meant that agents provocateurs have infiltrated one side’s ranks and have behaved badly on purpose, for the sake of damaging the reputation of the group that has been compromised. The end goal is to delegitimize a rival group and, ultimately, have it suppressed by the state.

Like taking a dive in a soccer game, in other words, the point of the false-flag operation is to have the referee disqualify a particularly hated opponent.

On this telling, it is the people who appeal to the state—the “referee”—as the arbiter of law and order. False-flag operations presume the existence of state authorities able to crack down on those deemed to have broken the state’s rules.

But what are these rules, and whither does the state derive the authority to make and enforce them? The rules, simply put, are whatever the state says they are, and it is precisely the state’s monopoly on violence that allows the state to get away with this tyranny. Now matter how lopsided the arrangement and no matter how preposterous the rules, only the state and its agents get to inflict harm. Everyone else must remain docile or risk incurring the wrath of a very heavily armed government.

Here we see the paradox of all the recent talk about “false-flag operations.” For the real false-flag operation is the state itself. The state has always monopolized violence. And over time that monopoly, which is rightly called tyranny, has come to be carried out as though for the sake of the very people being tyrannized.

In recent centuries, the state has claimed to exercise the monopoly on violence in the name of “the people” at whose forbearance the state is said to exist. The United States is held out as a democracy of, by, and for the people. So, when the state commits violence in the people’s name, it does it, by definition, on their behalf.

And yet, who among us has agreed to any of it?

For more than thirty years, for example, the federal government has been waging war—economic, proxy, air, full-scale, or some combination thereof—against Iraq. For more than a decade before that the same federal government was egging on a pitiless war of attrition between Iraq and its neighbor, Iran. There was never a plebiscite on any of it. I did not sign off on it, and neither did you. It is not clear what percentage of Americans could locate Iraq or Iran—let alone Kuwait, which Iraq invaded in 1991 and which we were told it was our solemn duty to defend—on an unmarked world map. But the federal government emblazoned on the tanks and planes and ships and uniforms used in that forty-year war, against a country the vast majority of us know nothing about, the same flag that flies outside many of our homes in America. We were led to believe that the victories in that war’s campaigns was a great glory for the United States, for all Americans.

This was, in truth, a false-flag operation of massive proportions. The American flag outside my home does not signal consent to the carpet-bombing of cities using incendiary devices on which is painted the same flag design. But the federal government pretends that it does. It is like the mole inside the milling crowd, lashing out and then making it seem as though it was everyone who committed the violent act. It was not, though. It was one bad actor, ruining the reputations of the entire group.

Covert operations by the federal government are even more nakedly false-flag operations. When the Central Intelligence Agency wages “dirty wars” in Latin America or plans the assassination of African leaders, or when a Federal Bureau of Investigation sniper guns down a lady holding a baby at Ruby Ridge, do they do that for the same reasons that you or I fly our American flags? Most of us have no idea what is happening, do not learn often until years later that anything happened at all. So it is fair to ask: Do the people who do those things do them for us, or for themselves?

And, when Islamic terrorists fly airplanes into our buildings and murder thousands of people on a crisp autumn day, do they attack the individual Americans who are killed, or do they simply “follow the flag” and try to hit the homeland of the government whose agents have been on a worldwide murder spree since the waning days of World War II?

The CIA, the FBI, and the other unchecked agencies of federal power are the epitome of false-flag operations. They do not work for the people they claim to be working for.

This point was reinforced by Ryan McMaken in a recent Mises Wire article. McMaken reminds us that there is “no treason” in the United States, because not a single person alive today signed the “social contract” on which our republic is founded. McMaken links Lysander Spooner, the American anarchist whose 1867 essay “No Treason” explains why the Constitution does not bind anyone who did not sign it, with Murray Rothbard, whose brilliant tract “Anatomy of the State” pins the nature of centralized power down once and for all. The state rests on its monopoly of power. If anybody challenges that, the state must kill them or else suffer a possibly fatal usurpation of the one prerogative that brings the state into existence in the first place. The “social contract” theory merely insinuates literally everyone in a given polity into the original cabal.

This explains a lot of the past hundred and fifty years. The rise of the nation-state in the nineteenth century democratized the marauding that states had always engaged in, from the very beginning of state formation. Where once William the Conqueror, for example, led just his dukes and foot soldiers into battle, the nation-state, equipped with growing powers of mass surveillance and bureaucratic control over taxation and all other aspects of life, could now dragoon—the polite words are “conscript” or “draft”—totally unrelated people into total war.

Lenin famously said that it was not the countries of Europe that were are war with one another in World War I, but the capitalists of those countries. He was close. It wasn’t the capitalists, but the statists. Everyone else was a hostage. The dragooned had no reason to fight one another. As was shown in Flanders on Christmas Day, 1914, they preferred playing soccer and singing songs to mowing one another down with their state-issued machine guns. But they were part of the false-flag operation that we all call by the euphemism “the state.”

False-flag operations are a reality of political warfare, and especially of the violent street theater which has come to typify so much of our public life in recent years. But let that not distract us from the bigger reality. The real false-flag operation is not carried out by the people accused of trying to overthrow their government, but by that government itself.

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Critiquing the Dollar-a-Day Idea of Poverty

The first year of this decade has given us time to pause and think about how the world stands in terms of global development. One widely used statistic to examine development, which shall be called the “dollar-a-day” idea, measures the idea of poverty in an all too narrow manner. For this article, we will examine the limitations of this metric, as well as implications of a theoretical notion by John Maynard Keynes that predicted poverty would end by 2030.

A Brief History

In an online lecture series based on his book, The Age of Sustainable Development, author Jeffrey Sachs puts forth the idea that poverty could be a thing of the past by 2030. For this, he draws upon a musing from John Maynard Keynes, where the father of modern macroeconomic theory wrote in 1930 about how poverty would end in the span of a hundred years. This view of poverty is associated with material wealth: John Maynard Keynes was, after all, a privileged Englishman in his day.

In this day and age, Jeffrey Sachs links this to the idea of extreme poverty being eradicated by ensuring that every person in the global population lives over the international poverty line, as dictated by the World Bank. This same poverty line was conceived in the 1990’s as a threshold of living off a dollar a day, or equivalent. There are, however, some problems with using this standard as the single benchmark for ending poverty within the next decade.

The Dangers of This Definition

The first problem is that the dollar-a-day measure is based on an idea that is now three decades old. It is pegged to the currency of one economy, and, as some would argue, is still too low to be contextually appropriate in all cases. Should we still take this measure at face value?

There have been attempts to continue adjusting and salvaging the metric to suit the needs of today, such as drawing other thresholds to factor in inflation at $1.25, $1.90, or even rounding up to $2 a day, or by calculating against purchasing power parity for local currencies.

That said, there have also been great strides made in development studies since the 1990s, especially in the qualitative sense, to get a better and more holistic idea of poverty than by simply having a dollar a day, two dollars a day, or whatever other variation of this idea is being used, to dictate definitions of poverty.

Speaking of simplicity, that is the second problem. One appeal of the basic income approach to development is that it allows for easy, though sometimes arbitrary, ways to set simple standards to determine if someone is in poverty or not, just by picking a threshold and looking at what they earn as income. For example, if you happen to be earning and living off $2.00 a day as your basic income, then you are not considered to be poor by the dollar-a-day metric, end of story.

This idea has also formed the basis for national governments to form and create other simple metrics to set their own standards of poverty, and to enact policies that attempt to raise the standard of living for their citizens. However, the actions of citizens, influenced by local culture, personal subjectivity, and other factors, often reveal to us that such policies are inadequate relative to what people actually perceive as in their needs in life, which necessarily include more than just having money.

As a metric, the dollar-a-day measure is, pardon the pun, quite poor: indeed, it is argued that poverty statistics do suffer from a certain poverty, as posited by Don Mathews. The whole experience of poverty, and even the value of human life itself, cannot simply be captured and depicted in numbers and statistics. This is the third danger of defining poverty in such a manner.

The temptation to define poverty solely by income ignores other, deeper, and more complex issues related to it, such as the need for freedom and inclusion in society. Does having a dollar a day also mean that one's personal rights and liberties are respected? Or that one is happier with life, and not in a fleeting sense, but in a sense of lasting happiness? If not, then one continues to be in poverty and unfree as well, even if the number imposed on them says that they are no longer poor.

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The ECB Takes a Holistic Approach to the Yield Curve

01/25/2021Robert Aro

When a central bank controls the yield curve, should we not call it yield curve control? Last Tuesday Bloomberg wrote about how the European Central Bank (ECB) is implementing what could be perceived as yield curve control. The phrase itself invokes the idea that a central bank will formally set a yield target on government bonds then commit to buying as many bonds as necessary to ensure yields don’t go beyond the target, as the central banks of Australia and Japan do currently. If the idea of a central bank buying “any bond necessary” is worrisome, perhaps that’s why the ECB doesn’t refer to their bond buying actions as yield curve control.

Currently in Europe, the ECB strives to manage the debt load of 19 different member nations, who each issue bonds on their government debt. In order to manage this, the ECB takes action such as:

buying bonds to limit the differences between yields for the strongest and weakest economies in the euro zone…

What the acceptable spread between these yields remains unknown, and is subject to change whenever planners see fit. The concept is that the ECB decides when yield spreads are too wide, or possibly too narrow, and takes corrective action. This action involves adjusting bond purchases in order to alter the difference in yields between member countries.

A question was posed to ECB President Christine Lagarde on Thursday’s Q and A after announcing rates will remain on hold and the accommodative stance will continue for the foreseeable future:

What is your reply to endless commentary that in fact the ECB’s already doing de facto yield curve control, without saying so?

Lagarde responded, without using the term yield curve control, explaining the more “holistic approach”...

We’re not riveted to any particular yield. We take into account multiple indicators that relate to the financing of the economy, and as I said, we believe that financing conditions are currently broadly favourable on the basis of that multifaceted, holistic assessment…

Per Lagarde, the ECB is not setting a firm ceiling on government yields while buying enough bonds to ensure this isn’t breached. They are not defining a particular ceiling on yields and are looking at various factors, adjusting bonds purchases accordingly. In her words:

It is a holistic approach, it takes into account multiple indicators, and, you know, bank lending is one, credit conditions is one, corporate yields is one, sovereign bond yields is one, and it’s by combining all of those that we try to assess whether the financing conditions are favourable or not.

Meaning, they will monitor a wide variety of conditions to ensure bond yields are at the appropriate condition, ultimately buying as many bonds as necessary to ensure those conditions are met. This still doesn’t seem to have a formal name. While it does not meet the traditional notion of yield curve control, it seems more like a floating or adjustable type of yield curve control, except we don’t know the target.

Who is to say which is better? Should a central bank explicitly specify what the maximum yield on bonds should be? Or should they simply take corrective action when they feel yields are going in what they consider the wrong direction?

To be fair, what the ECB is doing might not be called “yield curve control,” but it is the controlling of yields. And if this comes off as nothing more than an exercise in semantics or confusing, we must assume this too was by central bank design. As for the Federal Reserve, will they eventually implement yield curve control like Australia and Japan, or choose not to, like the ECB?

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Business Insights on Tourism, Time, Services, and Subjectivity

The Austrian school and perspectives on economic theory apply very well to businesses in general, as seen in the thoughts of Clay Miller and articles by Hunter Hastings and Peter Klein, especially when it comes to developing advantages for responsive businesses in a dynamic environment. To expand on this, it would be good to look at how such perspectives can concretely be applied in certain industries, and for this article, we shall look at some specific applications of Austrian perspectives to tourism and hospitality.

The Value of Time

When on vacation, time is of the essence! Anyone who has been on an enjoyable holiday knows the importance of spending limited leisure time wisely. It is normal to expect that a tourist would want to maximize the time they have by any means necessary. Likewise, on the side of the businesses catering to the desires of tourists, coordinating the schedules of their clients can lead to better practices and more efficient methods of generating profit.

Concretely, knowing the expected times when guests arrive at, stay in, and leave a hotel, for instance, allows one to make highly effective decisions. A simple example would be that if a hotelier knows —because they asked— that a guest will be out of their room at 3:00 P.M. and won’t be back until late in the evening, then that is an opportune time window to have the room cleaned. This shows how knowledge of the way a particular client spends their time would lead to a better allocation of services.

The technical term for doing this on a grand scale in the hospitality industry is called “revenue management”. A more complex example of revenue management would be in anticipating how many guests will arrive in the hotel. Once the hotelier knows how many bookings are made, as well as the personal preferences of each booking, the rooms can be allocated to them according to their needs, ideally also in such a way that the rooms are filled so as to minimize the time and effort made to prepare these rooms according to specific preferences. After these rooms have been assigned, the remaining rooms can be sold to maximize the inventory. In doing so, profit is generated while loss is minimized, all through coordinating the times when these assets are used.

Running a hotel is a complex mechanism, not unlike the gears of a clock. If everything runs perfectly well against the hands of time, coordinated so that as guests arrive, rooms are cleaned and filled, technical issues are resolved, quality services are provided, and so on, the coming together of the system can generate maximum efficiency and profit. The opposite is a nightmare: if time preferences of the guests are unknown, the desired rooms are not available in a coordinated manner, technical issues don’t get resolved promptly, and services don’t know when and how to cater to clients, then time is effectively lost, and value is lost in the process.

The Value of Subjectivity

On the other hand, customer feedback in the world of hospitality is of vital importance. How else can one provide the best possible custom service to clients if we don’t ask them about their specific preferences? Of course, ultimately, each client is different, and has different reasons for, say, booking at a hotel: attending a business conference, having a romantic getaway, visiting friends and family, merely passing through as a stopover, and so on. That said, regardless of whether said hotel is in Vienna’s Altstadt or in Manila’s Intramuros, the principle remains the same, and understanding what each guest values allows for both customization and optimization.

Knowing the specific wishes of guests can also make things easier on the level of decisions made and in strategically allocating resources. Suppose that our theoretical guest mentioned earlier —the one whom the hotelier knows will be out of their hotel room at 3:00 P.M. and won’t be back until late in the evening— doesn’t want their room cleaned at all. Knowing this, a judicious hotelier would do well to ensure that housekeeping doesn’t clean the room, for not only is it against the desires of the guest, it is also a rather pointless opportunity cost: the resources and time of the housekeeping staff could be used to clean another room of another guest who wants it instead.

Being aware of customer preferences goes hand-in-hand with understanding how they value their own time. It allows the hotelier more opportunity to sell them services they would appreciate, as well as plan around specific requests, such as having a late check-out, which would affect how that room is prepared for the next guest. It is the burden of businesses to be able to provide and cater to these requests, but that doesn’t have to mean that the granting of these specific wants would be mutually exclusive of equally bespoke considerations towards other guests as well.

Lastly, the subjective experiences of guests are the ultimate standards by which their idea of a great vacation or excellent service was given or not. It is, as Hunter Hastings writes, about continuous value perception on the end of the customer, and as Mark Packard’s model shows us, empathy is a necessary skill to predict value on the end of the service provider.

Because everyone has a different notion of what a fantastic experience is, and what a worthwhile way to spend time entails, a hotelier must be willing to provide, to the best of their ability, a wide variety of potential services and a great degree of flexibility. This is so that every individual served in the tourism industry would feel that their own personal desires are being fulfilled for them, developing loyalty and patronage, which is the hallmark of any great service provider, regardless of the nature of their business.

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The Economics of Working from Home

Strict lockdowns imposed by governments to slow the spread of covid-19 continue to force more and more people around the planet into a “work from home” setup. This is problematic for a number of reasons as the citizens of countries around the world have to go about work and entrepreneurial activities under a number of restrictions: Tomas Forgac summarized major problems encountered by people who try to go on with their lives amid quarantine requirements.

Others have already commented on policies related to government action against covid-19, so rather than analyze such restrictions directly, this article will focus on insights and lessons learned from applying Austrian perspectives of time coordination to the difficulties present in the global phenomenon of working from home. Theoretically there should be many advantages due to more and more work and business efforts going digital, but in practice, this is not quite the truth.

The Theoretical Pros

The Austrian perspective values time and coordination. Where other economists see things primarily in terms of labor and capital, there is also a value in seeing things in terms of how subjective inferences about the future are made in a particular context and at particular points in time. In a free market economy, having access to information is a must for things to happen efficiently and smoothly. This would lead to better coordination among individual actors.

In the initial weeks of the lockdowns, many seemed to like the idea of working from home. Similarly, the idea seems attractive to businesses as well: a lot of the troublesome things that come with the daily grind are eliminated entirely as colleagues and employees use their smartphones and computers to react instantly to work matters. With limitations and mandates against going out, it becomes natural to make the most out of the situation and explore better ways of doing things.

That said, when business meetings are no longer in person, when everything is said in a clearly written email, when people no longer have to spend hours commuting to and from work, then coordination should be easier, and efficiency should be increased, right? Not quite.

The Practical Cons

To illustrate the drawbacks of the work-from-home setup, we have to consider an important concept in Austrian economics known as “opportunity cost.” To put it simply, this is not merely the monetary cost of something. Rather, it is the cost of what is given up when pursuing something else. Compatible with this is a concept borrowed from Ivan Illich, the idea of “shadow work,” which is essentially the time spent on the unpaid work one needs to do in order to actually perform paid labor.

A simple example should illustrate these two concepts. Let us say that a person with a 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. job (an eight-hour work day, lunch time excluded) spends an hour commuting to work in the morning and another hour commuting back home at the end of the day. A normal consideration would be to say that this person only works eight hours a day. However, when we use opportunity costs and shadow work to measure time, we see different dimensions instead.

It may well be that a worker would like to shorten their lunch break for various reasons, such as to run an errand or even to finish a task that “cannot wait.” Doing so is a classic example of opportunity cost, as lunch is considered “free” time, but the time isn’t actually free, because that time could be used to do something else instead. The two-hour total of daily commuting from home to work and vice versa, on the other hand, could be called shadow work. This is time not considered part of the working hours per se, but it does take up part of a work day, and it is a necessary task that needs to be done in order to actually do a job. That’s a ten- or eleven-hour work day in the eyes of the employee, and not just an eight-hour one!

In practice, an employee in such a situation might choose to, for personal reasons, forego lunch one day to finish their daily tasks as fast as possible, so that they might leave work early and beat the afternoon rush back home. In this case, the employee is making a subjective and time-based value decision: rather than stay at work until 6:00 p.m., the employee finishes work early by skipping lunch and thus manages to go home as soon as possible, “saving” their time.

This leads to the realities that come with lockdowns. In a work-from-home scenario there is no need to commute or spend time in traffic. Likewise, the comforts of being able to prepare and eat one’s food at home can tempt people into believing that the new setup is convenient in terms of “saving” time. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that opportunity costs and shadow work can be mitigated or eliminated because everything is now done in one place.

One might even be fooled into feeling thankful for compulsory regulations that limit movement just because the hassle of distractions and personal costs of time associated with long business meetings, hours stuck in traffic, and so on, are suddenly gone. Poof! Just like that. Yet fast forward to the end of 2020, and we find out that, as with many things in reality, life isn’t that simple.

For example, the distinction between private life and work became blurred in many aspects, which certainly didn’t help the mental health of people coping with the isolation. In cultures where this distinction between work life and leisure is hard to make to begin with, the expectation of being online all the time causes much stress. Agreeing on common times to do work and coordinating effective schedules becomes difficult as well when one takes individual contexts into consideration.

As it turns out, while some meetings could have been reduced to a simple email, making everything an email isn’t the solution either. Those work spaces that realized this were quick to hold online meetings, which are cumbersome due to connectivity issues, unfamiliarity with the technology, and other aspects that make time coordination difficult. Rather than “save” time and improve efficiency, time is lost. In countries where internet access is already unreliable due to storms and inclement weather, it adds another contextual layer of hardship, exacerbating an already tiresome situation.

Conclusion

That everything is going online from now on due to the pandemic is not to be taken for granted. In theory, many things should become easier for work life as a consequence. In practice, however, and most especially due to a continued lack of coordination, that certainly won’t be the case. 

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How to Join the Alt-Tech Exodus

01/22/2021Horea Christian

So, you've heard that big tech companies have transcended the niggling free market and reached the lofty heights of partisan politics—and act accordingly. Unlike prominent political figures, you might not make the top of the purge list, but it's no secret that censorship is surging. Both to protect your freedom and to stop providing resources to those who would undermine it, it makes sense to jump ship. Now, when everybody else is also doing it. But how?

Freedom Is a Skill

In the world of technology the reeds are tall, and you only get as much freedom as your choices afford you. The taint of political virtue signaling has sadly not left the liberty-minded untouched, and there's plenty of snake-oil salesmen looking for your business. So it's paramount to know how censorship can reliably be stymied.

Freedom by Design Beats Freedom by Convention

Have you heard of this or that new platform whose board has “a strong commitment to free speech”? Well, wouldn't you know it, so did “Big Tech” until there was power to be gained by doing the opposite. A more “virtuous” platform, or a partisan platform “from your side” will not sustainably support your liberty. A platform designed with freedom in mind will.

The Core Concept of Free Design Is Decentralization over Centralization

There are two tiers for decentralized design. The first and highest standard is P2P (peer-to-peer), which connects users directly and relies on no centralized infrastructure. Sadly, not all content can feasibly be shared P2P (yet), so—in a wonderful analogy to the offline world—there is a second tier, federation. Federated services use a common protocol via which anybody can distribute content as long as they have the resources to maintain a server. Everybody could technically run their own server, but more often, a few hundred people maintain servers via which they make access to the protocol easily available to casual users. The emergent framework prevents influence (in the form of a large user base) from coagulating in one instance. Users can easily switch to a new provider (often keeping their data), and competition weeds out of abusive providers.

Tell Me What to Use Already

No. The best I can do is share with you the choices I made and provide an example rationale in light of the common priority of sustainable free speech. Your choices might be different.

Text Messaging

Text messaging fortunately is very lightweight, and P2P approaches are feasible. Tox is a protocol which allows you and all of your contacts to chat based solely on an open-source client which you can install on your device. There is no middleman who can censor you, no centralized server that can be taken down by malicious actors, and no one company which can go bankrupt or have a change of heart regarding this whole free speech thing. Yes, it also supports video and audio chat.

The Way This Works

You simply pick a client, install it, get an ID, share it with someone, and you're good. Forever.

Social Media

This is a bit more tricky, as the content requirements do not lend themselves to P2P. The biggest federated social network is known as the “fediverse.” You might never have heard of it, but you might have heard of software which uses the protocol (i.e., what an admin would run on his “instance,” i.e., his server), such as Pleroma or Mastodon. Alternatively, you might have heard of the biggest instance on the fediverse, Gab. That sadly doesn't cover it all, since the choice of an instance remains very important. To protect users from spam, or unwanted content (such as pornography) on their feed, the protocol allows instance administrators to block other instances, i.e., refuse to federate with them. While this fulfills the stated purpose, many admins also choose to block “problematic” instances. Instances generally publish a block list, though. You should check the “about” page of an instance you're considering, either for a statement that they don't block any other instance, or to ascertain that the block list is compatible with your preferences. I am looking to host my own instance, but barring that, I am considering FSE and liberdon—good free-speech instances which maintain no block list. You can also give an instance a try on a whim and switch later, though.

The Way This Works

Find an instance you like (via web search), and register an account.

Video Content

Creators who have been banned or demonetized by YouTube have congregated around a host of alternative platforms. Most of these platforms, however, are simply imitations of the YouTube model, often with cryptocurrency tacked on for futuristic appeal. There exists however a federated video-sharing protocol, PeerTube. Much of what was said about the fediverse applies here as well, other than it being less common for PeerTube instances to federate with everybody. I enjoy using QOTO and there are even a few search engines which look up all instances for content (e.g., PeerTube Index and Sepia Search).

The Way This Works

As a content consumer, you can use one of the aforementioned search engines to look for content you want to watch. No need to even register unless you want to keep track of favorites on somebody else's server. If so, you can use web search or this page to find interesting instances. Ideally, check how many instances they “follow” (more means access to more content) or how many total videos they give you access to (you can rank instances by either of these metrics here), and you're done.

Web Search

Believe it or not, there is such a thing as P2P web search: YaCy. YaCy is fairly easy to run on your own personal computer, and does not require you to maintain a server. In a sort of combination between a P2P or federated model, you can run your own YaCy (which is the recommended approach), or use somebody else's as far as they make it available (e.g., noisytoot). Your mileage may vary, and sadly it will never be as fast as centralized web search, though it could be similarly fast if you install it on your own computer and have a good internet connection.

The Way This Works

You can just download and install YaCy, and you're set up to search the web on your own. There are very very many configuration options, but you don't have to use them.

Email

Email is already federated, as it turns out. This might also help you grasp the concept of federation. That the text following “@” differs from contact to contact, is a dead giveaway for federation (social media accounts look similar on the fediverse). That most people still go for large-scale providers with questionable involvements in nonmarket processes is simply a symptom of good marketing and herd mentality. Many email providers will offer you more censorship-robust services. I particularly enjoy smaller providers, as they tend to have low running costs and can actually finance the service fully through donations. Further, you can host your own email server, as I do.

The Way This Works

If you are concerned about your current provider, you can simply run a web search for alternative providers; the process is much the same.

Some of These Options Look Daunting

Apathy and comfort are the enemies of freedom and very good bait to incentivize you to give it up. After all, that's how we got here. On a more gentle note, you don't have to go for all of the above, but if there is one particular service—such as social media or messaging—where you feel the cold breath of censorship down your back, it would be a good idea to give that a very serious try right now. None of these options require any particular expertise in technology, though, so it's rather a question of stepping out of your comfort zone than of studying anything at any great length. Not least of all, people are happy to help. Most of these technologies have support chats linked on their websites, and their support is considerably better than what you might have become used to from your current provider's help desk. Though it may not be overt or partisan, the spirit of freedom runs deep in the world of alt-tech, and people are more interested in empowering human action than in corralling you into their service. Be wary of “alternatives” which behave otherwise.

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Don't Worry, "the Economists" Have Everything under Control

01/22/2021Robert Aro

At Tuesday’s Senate confirmation hearing, former Fed chair and President Biden’s pick as US Treasury secretary Janet Yellen claimed to have an appreciation for the nation’s debt burden, then proceeded to show she clearly doesn’t:

But right now, with interest rates at historic lows, the smartest thing we can do is act big. In the long run, I believe the benefits will far outweigh the costs…

This imprecise term, "act big," is apparently being used to describe economic ideas, mainly how the government plans to spend $1.9 trillion. It’s a statement devoid of any calculation, open to an infinite number of interpretations. When she says the benefits outweigh the costs, this claim cannot be substantiated. Unfortunately, we live in an era where few question the expertise of the “economic experts.” As Treasury secretary, Yellen will be in a tremendous position of power, making decisions on our behalf. It’s in our best interest to consider the rationale behind such “big” ideas.

Yellen expressed some of her rationale for supporting the proposed spending bill:

I think there is a consensus now: without further action, we risk a longer, more painful recession now—and long-term scarring of the economy later.

Who are these economists? Where is this consensus? This was not the first time in the past week that “economists” were cited as supporting inflationist policies. In last Thursday’s speech, where the $1.9 trillion spending plan was initially unveiled, Biden referred to “economists” five times!

Like Yellen, the appeal to a higher economic power is strong. The first of his references mirrored hers:

We have to act and we have to act now. This is what economists are telling us….Our growing chorus of top economists agree that in this moment of crisis, with interest rates at historic lows, we can not afford inaction.

These economists are apparently in favor of borrowing trillions of dollars to fight against the pandemic, forced shutdowns, and a recession. The newly appointed president of the United States of America attempts to make the case for more debt compelling by telling us:

A growing number of top economists have shown, even our debt situation will be more stable, not less stable if we seize this moment with vision and purpose.

In what sounds like Fedspeak, supposedly taking on debt today will make our debt situation “more stable” in the future.

Finally, near the end of Biden’s speech, we are given an inkling as to who these economists could be who advocate spending trillions of dollars. He acknowledges it “does not come cheaply,” however, he urges that failure to act would be a much worse fate. After all:

The consensus among leading economists is we simply can not afford not to do what I’m proposing. Independent, respected institutions from around the world, from the Federal Reserve to the International Monetary Fund have underscored the urgency. Even Wall Street firms have reinforced the logic.

The “economists” providing this information remain unknown. Nevertheless, the Federal Reserve, the International Money Fund, and Wall Street firms are said to be on board with the Biden/Yellen spending plan. Perhaps with good reason, as they tend to benefit handsomely from government stimulus bills, which are paid for by society. As for those who don’t fall into those categories, that remains to be seen, since the threat of currency collapse and national bankruptcy continues to fall outside the purview of the Fed and the world’s leading economists.

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