Denying Reality Leads to Tyranny and Societal Failure

Denying Reality Leads to Tyranny and Societal Failure

05/14/2021Patrick Barron

The common thread that connects failed societies, from Weimar Germany to the Soviet Union, is an almost pathological insistence on denying reality. Weimar Germany denied that masses of printed money would destroy civilized society. The Soviet Union insisted that Soviet Man would emerge spontaneously from the ashes of capitalist society. Weimar Germany spawned Nazi Germany. Nazi Germany was completely destroyed, both physically and politically, by the World War II Allies. Mercifully, the Soviet Union simply collapsed after seventy years of consuming capital to achieve the phantom of the classless society. Today both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union are synonymous with tyranny and failure. Both nations murdered millions. Both nations no longer exist. True, Germany exists as does Russia, but I contend that both are new nations. Neither is perfect, but neither claims a political heritage to the nation that preceded it.

Pathological policy errors flowed inexorably from a skewed view of reality in both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Once this view of reality was deemed to be above criticism, its champions adopted increasingly tyrannical policies. Nazi Germany's Aryan Supremacy racial theories seemingly justified the murder of the handicapped, Gypsies, those of alternative sexual orientation, Jews, and Slavs. In the name of birthing a new Soviet Man, the Soviet Union murdered anyone who stood in the way of its program to confiscate all businesses, including small farms. When businesses and farms failed, there was no soul searching as to root causes that might lie in Marxism itself. No, the problem had to be saboteurs within society. Reality, you see, was what the Soviet Union's Politburo said it was. As the vanguard of the proletariat, the Politburo stood outside society and saw its flaws. Those who disagreed were blind to this insight and had to be eliminated.

Chasing the Phantoms of Alternative Reality

Today the West especially is adopting policies that flow from alternative realities that, frankly, do not exist. Here I list just a few:

  1. Catastrophic global warming/climate change is caused by man and must be stopped. I prefer to qualify the term "global warming/climate change" by the adjective "catastrophic". Is the world warming? Who knows? Is the climate changing? Probably. But neither global warming nor climate change is "catastrophic". Yet it has become almost an article of faith that the earth is on the precipice of an environmental catastrophe, requiring ever more radical handicaps on our freedoms and the economy.
  1. White privilege in the US is responsible for crimes against minorities and disparities in wealth. This critical race theory has spawned witch hunts for secret and shadowy white supremacist groups especially in the military, which has empowered investigators to find evidence of these groups and root them out. It will be imperative that these investigators actually uncover such groups, whether they exist or not. Critical race theory is the old Marxist class struggle theory in new clothes. The Marxist class struggle theory postulated that we all are born into a class and cannot escape its prejudices. But notice that the Marxist and now the Race theorists consider that they themselves are not susceptible to the prejudices in which all the rest of us are trapped. Very convenient, eh?
  1. Covid-19 is an existential threat to human life on earth. Constitutionally guaranteed human rights may be violated with impunity. Who gets to decide all this? Why, elected officials and government bureaucrats, of course.
  1. Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) explains that government need not moderate its spending. Government can always manufacture more money in order to fund new programs and pay its debts . More government spending can always prevent a drop in aggregate demand. Government debt is irrelevant, because "we owe it to ourselves". MMT gave government elected officials exactly what they always wanted--carte blanche to spend, spend, and spend some more and not worry about justifying or prioritizing spending. As Keynes actually said, pay people to dig holes in the ground and pay others to fill them back up. What could possibly go wrong?

Champions of the above denials of reality refuse to discuss whether their view of reality is accurate. All are articles of faith and cannot be questioned. In fact, to question them is considered to be an admission of ignorance, guilt, or perfidy. One wants to destroy Mother Earth, enslave minorities, kill innocent people, and prevent all in society from enjoying unlimited prosperity. It's the old straw man fallacy on steroids. Furthermore, resources will be expended to pursue these phantoms, and more resources will be expended to protect oneself from being caught in a witch hunt. Society will live in fear--fear of global warming, fear of being branded a racist, fear of contracting a dread disease. Unfortunately, what society does not fear is that our lifetime's savings will be wiped out by inflation made possible by MMT.

The Basics of Reality

Contrast these phantoms with the pragmatic basics of sound economics: namely, that in order to prosper man must face the reality of human existence—primarily scarcity and uncertainty. People's preferences must be accepted at face value. Man acts. This is an irrefutable axiom in that to deny it is to confirm its validity. His action is rational in the sense that he believes that his action will improve his condition. He understands cause and effect. He performs one act at a time. He performs the most important act first; in other words, he ranks his actions in order of importance. Performing an act means that he must sacrifice the execution of others until later; in other words, acting means giving up some other preference, at least until some later time. Man's ordinal ranking of preferences means that the cost of an action is determined by what he eschews until later. No two men have the identical ordinal ranking of preferences; plus, the preferences cannot be assigned a cardinal value in order to compare one man's preferences with another. Man discovers the concept of comparative advantage and adopts the division of labor in order to accomplish more. Through the market process, man adopts a universal medium of exchange (money) in order to break the tyranny of direct barter. Now man can indirectly exchange his specialized production for a universal medium of exchange in order to obtain his real wants. Man invents government as a specialized service in order to protect his person and his property at a lower cost. He invents law in order to adjudicate inevitable disputes.

All this is reality. Peaceful exchange requires social cooperation, which brings about peace and prosperity among men everywhere. As advice columnist Ann Landers used to say, Wake up and smell the coffee!

In the Aftermath of the $355 Million Ruling Against Trump, Business Owners Are Even Less Safe than Before

3 hours agoDaniel Kowalski

Willing buyer and willing seller. These five words form the very basis from which the system of capitalism is based on. You have something you want to sell and if I want to buy it then we either agree or disagree on a price. If we agree then I give you money, take the product, and walk away. And if we disagree then we move on with our days.

In his book, Basic Economics, Samford Professor Thomas Sowell described the role of prices in the economy as “conveying information about an underlying reality while at the same time providing incentives to respond to that reality. Prices, in a sense, can summarize the end results of a complex reality in a simple number.” Prices are determined in a decentralized manner based on the relationship between supply and demand. When a product is in high demand then the seller will usually be selling his products at the price he sets and when demand is low, then the seller must lower his price to one consumers agree to. In a true free market society, there are only two authorities when it comes to setting a price: the buyer and the seller.

Price controls are restrictions on prices created and enforced by the government. These are done with the virtuous incentive of protecting buyers and sellers from each other. A price ceiling prevents sellers from charging more for a product and service than the government dictates while a price floor prevents buyers from paying less than what the government determines to be fair. In many cases throughout history, the noble intentions of these policies to promote fairness and affordability usually result in shortages and black markets when confronted with reality.

Price controls fail because they do not have the flexibility to respond to the collective demands of the market in a quick fashion in the same way that prices do. A price is a subjective idea that only becomes true once a buyer and seller agree on it. Both parties involved in the transaction are the only real authority on what the price will be.

The recent $355 million-dollar civil law suit filed by the state of New York against former President Trump and his business empire goes against the concept of willing buyer and willing seller. The core argument the state is that Trump committed fraud because he inflated the value of his properties when using them as collateral to obtain loans. The claim is that he used false valuations because the state and judge believe these properties were worth less than what Trump valued them to be.

But the judge and the state’s Attorney General Leticia James were not the ones who were loaning Trump money. The sellers in these transactions were the banks. The state claims that they were cheated by Trump because if the valuations for his property were lower, then the loans would have been riskier than originally thought and higher interest rates would have been charged. Never mind that these big banks have departments of people who created their own valuations that in the end decided that it was okay to proceed with these values.

The banks were willing to sell their loans to the former president and Trump was willing to buy them. And in the end they were paid back. The terms of the contract were honored and everyone moved on.

New York State found out about these deals years later and decided to go after Trump because, officially, they disagreed with the values he assigned to his property, and they called that fraud. Keep in mind that they were not a party in this transaction and, if government has a role to enforce contracts, then this contract was fulfilled and did not require intervention. The banks did not call for help and did not see themselves as being victims. The $355 million is not being paid to the banks but is instead going to the state’s treasury.

But because the state disagreed with the values and therefore disagreed with the prices in the contract that everyone else was happy with, they went after Trump in court and were assigned a judge who openly agreed with them before the day in court even began.

Many are warning New York State based businesses that they should leave the state before becoming the next target of an overzealous government. Governor Kathy Hochul tried to play down these fears and claim that businesses who do not break the law and commit fraud should not have anything to worry about. But when she was asked about Trump’s case she said that the former president was punished for his “misrepresentation of assets.” But what was misrepresented? He put a price tag on what he valued his properties to be. The banks did their own due diligence and agreed.

What has happened in New York is worse than a price control because the government’s idea of fairness is entirely subjective and not transparent.

Using these criteria, a government agency can go after a small business by claiming they are committing fraud by asking for a higher price for their product or service than a bureaucrat is willing to personally pay. Or you could one day wake up to find your bank account frozen because the price you sold your old house for in 2021 is higher than its value in 2019 and you are accused of taking part in a “fraud” that drove up the value of homes while pricing others out of the market. When the rule of law is thrown away and all that matters is the mood and discretion of who is in charge, you will find yourself living in a tyranny.

Regardless of how you feel about former President Trump, the ruling against him in New York goes against the free-market principles that made America the economic powerhouse it is today. Price controls, central planning, and the law becoming opaque all have historical track records of failure. These concepts should be vigilantly discouraged if we want to continue having a thriving society.

Inflation is Coming Down. Why aren’t Prices?

The Consumer Price Index numbers have recently come in with a slight decline to 3.1 percent YOY in January 2023. This is down from a peak in June 2022 of 9.06 percent inflation. Federal Reserve officials laude this as a victory. “Inflation has been conquered! Long live rate cuts!” they cry. The possibility of rate cuts has been touted after the fastest rate hikes in 40 years. Consumers, however, are not buying this rhetoric. The University of Michigan’s Consumer Sentiment Index saw an uptick, but nowhere close to its pre-COVID levels. Prices haven’t gone down for the average consumer even as inflation numbers “get better.” Why?

Source: Barron’s

It is important in any discussion of inflation measures to distinguish between the Core CPI measure that the Federal Reserve uses as a measure, and the “Headline” CPI. Both are an index measuring the general price level of a basket of goods. If one was to check the Consumer Price Index proper, they would find the index level at 309.685. That number may not mean much to the average consumer who glances at the data, but it becomes more readable when one calculates the YOY (year over year) percentage change.

Core CPI is different from Headline CPI in that the former removes so-called volatile goods like energy and food. The logic behind this exclusion is that energy and food prices are volatile. Their prices can change rapidly often as a response to political actions, disasters, and other supply shocks that will eventually be dealt with. These might not contribute to the overall increase in the price level in the long term, as the prices very well might lower or rise if they rapidly sink, so they are removed.

Core CPI is currently higher at 3.875 percent, meaning that when you include the volatile factors their prices have decreased. Looking to the Consumer Price Index’s Gasoline Index, you can find a decline from its peak in June 2022 (at 411.984) to today (at 293.287). Average gasoline prices have declined from a peak also in June 2022 at $5.05 on average to $3.21.

Source: St. Louis FED

Source: St. Louis FED

Food similarly has declined in terms of percentage change, but its price level continues to rise overall, even if it has slowed down. It appears that a decline in energy costs has pushed headline CPI down.

Source: St. Louis FED

That aside, the CPI and Core CPI are down since 2022. Yet, consumer sentiment hasn’t recovered. Getting nearer to the coveted 2 percent inflation range hasn’t made things easier for most consumers. The inflation rate has continued to decline, but prices haven’t gone down overall, exempting energy prices. To properly understand this, one must understand how CPI and inflation rates work.

 The Consumer Price Index is a measure of the general price level of a basket of goods over time. That basket changes as spending habits change over time. A base level for the index is at 100, and the standard inflation rate reported is a report of the percentage change over a year. The 3.1 percent inflation for January 2024 tells us that between January 2023 and January 2024 there was an increase in the index of 3.1 percent. A positive inflation rate means that the Consumer Price Index is still growing. As it becomes lower, that simply means it grows slower than previously.

Source: St Louis FED

The CPI continues to grow, meaning that the general price level has continued to grow. The inflation rate falling doesn’t necessarily mean that prices will return to their pre-COVID levels. Prices haven’t come down precisely because the price level continues to grow. To properly see a proper decline in the general price level, there must be deflation. Deflation would be reflected in negative inflation rate measures, as the CPI declines. To see a return to the pre-COVID price level there would need to be deflation enough for a decrease of 50 points on the index.

Austrians have long pointed to the connection between inflation and the growth of the money supply. The principle is simple enough when one understands marginalism. As the supply of goods increases, the value of an individual unit of those goods declines. To see a proper decline in prices to pre-COVID levels there is a need to see a decline in the money supply, all else held equal. Ryan McMaken has tracked the growing decline in the money supply as the Federal Reserve has raised rates, but the decline is not enough.

Source: Ryan McMaken at Mises.

The Federal Reserve may have slowed the growth of the general price level, but it has not done enough. There is a need for serious deflation if consumers wish to see prices return to where they once were. The price level is still growing, and it is easy enough to see if you understand what the inflation rate actually means.

Inflationary Fed Policies: Why They Think They Should Do It, and Why It Doesn't Really Work

02/22/2024D.W. MacKenzie

Demand Side economists, like Paul Krugman, claim that officials can use changes in the inflation rate and in public debt to “manage the economy”. Higher inflation rates supposedly act as a stimulus to increase GDP, and to lower the unemployment rate. How is this supposed to work? In the original form of this argument workers are fooled by inflation. That is, workers don't perceive the effect that inflation has on the purchasing power of their wages. Employers do perceive cheaper real wages, so they pick up some bargains by hiring some additional workers. These marginal workers have lower productivity, but since wages have gone down, they are well worth hiring. In many modern versions of the demand side theory, some businesses are slow to raise their prices in response to a general increase in prices. Hence, total demand for goods may increase. The idea that higher inflation leads to lower unemployment is known as the “Phillips Curve”.

Modern economists all agree that the stimulative effects of inflation, if any, must be temporary. Markets will adjust to inflation over time, and these adjustments will shift aggregate supply so as to nullify any prior increase in aggregate demand.

Statistical data suggests that workers respond to inflation promptly and aggressively. The graph just below shows that unit labor costs increase during inflationary booms. When the Federal Reserve increases the money supply this increases total spending, and many prices begin to rise.

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There is in fact some evidence of inflation reducing unemployment rates, temporarily. However, workers react to tight labor markets by pressing for higher wages and by not working as hard. The trendline in the above graph represents the immediate effect of inflation on unit labor costs, there is no lag in this regression. If there was a long lag in the effect of inflation on labor market conditions, then Federal Reserve officials would have some room to manipulate labor markets. It takes some time for Federal Reserve policy to affect the rate of inflation, but very little time for workers to nullify the effect of inflation. Furthermore, the effectiveness of inflationary policies depends on the strength, not just the timing, of our responses to these policies. Changes in unit labor costs have a 27.5% correlation with inflation rates. Only a few of the data points above are exactly on the trend line, most are either well above or below. This means that the specific response to Federal Reserve policies and labor markets does vary in each case. Worse still, this effect seems to shift during severe crises (e.g the Subprime and C- 19 crises). Hence, the task of crafting optimal inflationary policies is a guessing game. In other words, Federal Reserve officials face the worst combination of conditions for using inflationary monetary policy to achieve lower unemployment.

The evidence in the above graph directly contradicts the original version of the Phillips Curve . This data also poses difficulties for contemporary proponents of the Phillips Curve. The data presented above also indicates that the recent wave of inflation was unnecessary. The Federal Reserve created a wave of inflation in order to deal with the Covid-19 crisis. The benefits of the aforesaid inflationary policy were doubtful from the outset, and reducing inflation will likely cause a recession in 2024.

[This article first appeared at "On the Other Hand..."]

Translating Fedspeak

02/21/2024Jonathan Newman

Five days before the last Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, Tho Bishop wrote about how the Fed and other agencies are preparing for a crisis without telling everyone they are preparing for a crisis. In his article, he showed how the Fed and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency were working on a policy that would require banks to access the Fed’s discount window once a year, which would diminish the stigma associated with crawling up to the window as a last-ditch effort to save your failing bank.

This is clearly crisis prep. They see the dominos falling: commercial real estate valuations, credit card delinquencies, regional bank failures last year, the expiration of the Bank Term Funding Program (which was emergency lending without calling it “emergency lending”), high-profile corporate layoff announcements, etc. They are getting ready for their next power grab once the crisis is in full swing.

The minutes from the January FOMC meeting were released today, and they reveal, in Fedspeak, of course, worries about the economy and the banking system.

In the discussion of financial stability, participants observed that risks to the banking system had receded notably since last spring, though they noted vulnerabilities at some banks that they assessed warranted monitoring. These participants noted potential risks for some banks associated with increased funding costs, significant reliance on uninsured deposits, unrealized losses on assets resulting from the rise in longer-term interest rates, or high CRE exposures.

My translation: “The underlying problems in the banking sector that resulted in the bank failures last year have only been papered over, and not meaningfully resolved. Deposits, commercial real estate loans, and all those assets with unrealized losses you’ve marked as ‘held-to-maturity’ are not safe.”

While participants noted that they were not seeing any signs of liquidity pressures at banks, several participants noted that, as a matter of prudent contingency planning, banks should continue to improve their readiness to use the Federal Reserve's discount window, and that the Federal Reserve should continue to improve the operational efficiency of the window.

My translation: “We are definitely seeing signs of liquidity pressures at banks, so they should get ready to line up at the discount window for a loan of last resort.”

Given that the stresses that emerged at some banks early last year have subsided, members agreed to remove from the statement the reference to the resilience of the U.S. banking system as well as to tighter financial and credit conditions and their effects on the economic outlook.

My translation: “Yeah, we were definitely lying earlier when we said ‘risks to the banking system had receded notably’ and how we aren’t ‘seeing any signs of liquidity pressures at banks.’ We’re just gonna delete the ‘banking system is sound and resilient’ line.”

 

Little Pink Houses

02/21/2024Douglas French

Oh but ain't that America for you and me.

Ain't that America something to see baby

Ain't that America home of the free

Little pinks houses for you and me.

John Cougar Mellencamp

Released in 1983 after double-digit price inflation from 1979-1981 

Shrinkflation has President Joe Biden annoyed. He called it a “rip off” on social media ahead of the Super Bowl. “Some companies are trying to pull a fast one by shrinking the products little by little and hoping you won’t notice,” said Biden, who evidently just now noticed, and is calling for companies to stop it.

While the President is focused on snacks and such, the New York Times reports that homebuilders like Lennar are building 400 square foot structures and calling them homes. The Times piece by Conor Dougherty entitled “The Great Compression” explains “Over the past decade, as the cost of housing exploded, home builders have methodically nipped their dwellings to keep prices in reach of buyers. The downsizing accelerated last year, when the interest rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage reached a two-decade high, just shy of 8 percent.”

“Their existence is telling,” Ali Wolf, chief economist of Zonda told Mr. Dougherty. “All the uncertainty over the past few years has just reinforced the desire for homeownership, but land and material prices have gone up too much. So something has to give, and what builders are doing now is testing the market and asking what is going to work.”

With 400 square feet, no garage, and driveways just wide enough for one vehicle or two motorcycles — builders can offer prices under $300,000 in markets like San Antonio and Redmond, Oregon. The days of the $100,000 to $300,000  starter home are long gone in many markets. “This is the front end of what we are going to see,” said Ken Perlman, a managing principal at John Burns Research and Consulting.

Levittown, N.Y. Cape Cod homes, considered the model post-World War II suburb, were about 750 square feet. However, Americans want more space for their stuff and the median home size has increased to about 2,200 square feet, up from around 1,500 in the 1960s

As for snacks, “This corporate greed is one of the reasons that Americans are frustrated by expensive grocery bills,” Senator Bob Casey D-Pa., said in a December statement.

The good Senator should study the work of Ludwig von Mises who explained,

No complaint is more widespread than that against “dearness of living.” There has been no generation that has not grumbled about the “expensive times” that it lives in. But the fact that “everything” is becoming dearer simply means that the objective exchange value of money is falling.

While prices rise, the value of the dollar shrinks, the number of chips in a bag and the size of houses shrink.

“The advocates of public control cannot do without inflation, Mises wrote. “They need it in order to finance their policy of reckless spending and of lavishly subsidizing and bribing the voters.”

[Pre-order the 4th Expanded Edition of Early Speculative Bubbles & Increases In The Supply of Money today.] 

Confessions of a Former Environmentalist: Five Reasons Why I Gave Up on "Green" Policies

I used to be an environmentalist.

I once wrote that “scientists are right about climate change.” I long opposed logging clear-cuts and excessive drilling. I even voted for the Green Party candidate (gasp!) for president. But this long-time supporter of environmentalism has completely abandoned its modern instantiation. Here are five reasons why.

1. Failed climate change predictions.

Science is about accurate prediction. If Newton’s theory had failed to predict how apples fall, then it would be useless.

Few scientists have been as bad at this (basic) job as climate scientists. In one of the most comical episodes I’ve ever seen, climate scientists erected signs in Glacier National Park predicting its glaciers would be gone in 2020—only to be forced to leave the signs after the predictions proved false. For a year, tourists to the park were met with a monument to the legacy of climate science: They stood looking simultaneously at glaciers … and the sign that promised, on the good authority of climate science, that the glaciers were not there.

Increasingly, climate scientists have appeared to me not as serious intellectuals but as the crazy old coot on the corner with a sign proclaiming: “The End is Near!” At some point, it is best to just avert your eyes and walk on by.

2. Where did the wild spaces go?

Thoreau said of nature: “We need the tonic of wildness.” Thoreau was right about me at least. One of my primary motives for being an environmentalist was that I believed natural wild spaces were good for the soul.

I still believe that. But many modern environmentalists don’t. They have abandoned this idea and substituted in its place a cult-like obsession with a set of things that clearly won’t preserve wild spaces at all.

And that brings us to wind farms. I hate wind farms. They kill birds and destroy forest habitats. The blades are made of materials that fill waste dumps and can’t be recycled. They require lithium batteries that have to be mined with methods that create the very kinds of problems the “clean energy” movement is supposed to solve.

But for all that, my primary reason for hating wind farms is the same as my motive for opposing all those oil derricks years ago: They destroy the wild spaces of my sanity. They dilute Thoreau’s tonic.

The real problem is the scope of their effect. An oil derrick isn’t attractive—but it is a fairly contained ugliness. Wind farms, on the other hand, ruin everyone’s view for miles and miles and miles around. The higher you go in the Pennsylvania mountains, the more you ought to feel freedom. But the higher you go, the more likely you are to have your vast wild vistas displaced by wind turbines. Even if a specific turbine design is attractive, it still interrupts our ever-diminishing wild spaces. So unless you happen to be a rich Massachusetts politician with the power to stop wind farms from messing up your own pristine ocean view, the tonic you get from nature will be appreciably less curative.

Wind farms make oil derricks feel like pure mountain streams. Can we start drilling again soon?

3. Bullying over debate.

One of the clear signs that a movement is rotten is when it resorts to silencing its opponents rather than debating them. The modern “green” movement contains the worst set of bullies I’ve ever seen; indeed, they serve as primary fodder for my forthcoming book called Liberal Bullies. Rather than meet fact with fact, the movement increasingly calls people they disagree with climate deniers and engages in intentional censorship to silence the voice of opponents. Not only is this repugnant to those of us who value free speech, but it is also a clue that the movement doesn’t have a lot of substantive arguments. You don’t need to silence people when you can win an argument with facts.

4. Politics over facts.

Speaking of facts: The relationship between science and politics only works when the causal arrow between them goes from scientific facts to politics. The modern green movement has that backwards. I remember seeing a science presentation at a San Francisco aquarium where the speaker confidently asserted that Glacier National Park had less than 10 glaciers left. I thought that was odd because we had just visited the park and the park officials had told us there were over 40 glaciers. But trying to discuss this with a presumed expert was a parable of the modern movement: no amount of fact would change his conviction, because the facts didn’t fit his political beliefs.

5. Lack of a cost/benefit analysis.

Even at the height of my pro-environmentalist sentiment, I wasn’t opposed to all oil drilling. I know we need energy; I use it every day. I just wanted moderation that purposefully preserved a significant amount of wild nature. Well, across the board, the green movement increasingly just bludgeons us with simple-minded ideas that ignore the obvious costs of their policies. They push for recycling without considering the environmental costs of (say) moving recycled goods (even The Atlantic recently admitted that recycling wasn’t accomplishing all that much). They push for climate change initiatives while dismissing the costs for everyday families. They don’t often consider that, compared to other methods, wind farms produce a small amount of energy relative to the destruction they cause.

Concluding Thoughts

All movements have problems, including my own. All movements have bullies, including my own. I realize there is a danger in hand-picking a few extreme examples here. There are plenty of good environmentalists. I know some of them. I don’t want to paint the entire movement with one brush.

And yet, from my little corner of the world, something seems amiss. The green movement has increasingly ignored common people’s real experiences in favor of an ever-narrowing and cult-like political agenda. If it ever regains a focus on the reality most of us inhabit, I’ll re-consider.

But I’m not holding my breath.

This article was originally published by Grove City College's Institute for Faith and Freedom. 

Navalny and Lira: A Case Study in Western Hypocrisy

Alexei Navalny – seen as a pro-democracy, transparency, anti-corruption Russian nationalist gadfly – died while on a walk in his Siberian prison.  He was serving a long sentence, one the Biden administration raged about:  the Russian judiciary had convicted him of several crimes including fraud, embezzlement, “inciting extremist activities” and “rehabilitating Nazi ideology.”

I’m sure Donald Trump can sense the irony.

Navalny’s recent incarceration in Siberia comes of the heels of a less reported imprisonment and death of an actual pro-democracy, transparency, anti-corruption US, UK, and Ukrainian gadfly – who died of untreated pneumonia in a Ukrainian prison.  Gonzalo Lira, a 55-year-old American citizen, married father of two, was a journalist and commentator.  He had been charged by Kiev, without a date or plan for a trial, with “justifying Russian aggression against Ukraine.” Lira was said to have violated Ukrainian criminal code, a code Lincoln, Wilson and FDR would have enthusiastically enforced.

Lira and Navalny criticized and annoyed certain governments.  One did so as a politician, backed by several countries that, as a matter of policy, constantly call for regime change in Russia; the other criticized the Ukrainian government, for its US-pressed bombing the breakaway Donbass region, its refusal to abide by the Minsk Accords, its Nazi influences within the Army and government, and its efforts to join NATO.  Lira also reported what he saw during the past few years of war –  Kiev bleeding billions of Western dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives, and displacing nearly half of its population, because, as a matter of policy circa 2024, Kiev and its US master, will not negotiate with Putin.

The United States government was involved in the fates of both of these men. Navalny received continual support, funding and media advocacy from the West, in hopes of regime change in Russia; as for Lira, he was a US citizen by birth (born in California) and as an American, was due legal and welfare advocacy from the US Embassy in Kiev.  Instead of support, he was ridiculed on the front pages of mainstream media in the US for his eyewitness reporting from inside Ukraine, and received no financial or any other kind of support as he served as one of the few objective American voices watching and reporting on this expensive and destructive proxy campaign.  The US embassy in Kiev is large and quite well staffed. Yet, the embassy said little, and did even less for Gonzalo Lira.

DC’s upside-down morality is on constant display, but with these accidental examples of two middle-aged men, both working to expose government wrongdoing, only one was spending millions of dollars with connections to many European and NATO leaders, and their intelligence agencies, as this video illustrates.  Only one was celebrated in the West, to include his wife’s invitation and presence at the most recent “Davos of Defense” three day military conference, along with the US Vice President and key EU leadership.  Only one was a “democratic hero.”

Some memorable lines, as reported by Reuters, on behalf of Navalny, are instructive:

Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, wrote, “I don’t want to hear any condolences. We saw him in prison on the (Feb) 12, in a meeting. He was alive, healthy and happy.”  Clearly and predictably, she does not accept what is being reported.  That Navalny seemed happy is important to note.  From Lira’s distraught father, we have this: “I cannot accept the way my son has died. He was tortured, extorted, incommunicado for 8 months and 11 days and the US Embassy did nothing to help my son.”

Speaking to Reuters, Russian newspaper editor and 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov called the death “murder” and said that he believed prison conditions had led to Navalny’s demise. In 2022, Muratov sold his Nobel Prize and gave the proceeds to UNICEF for their distribution in support of Ukrainian refugees.  He stated that he would have rather the prize been given to Navalny.  Similarly, friends and family of Gonzalo Lira also believe his death was murder.  Lira was not only married to a Ukrainian, a father to Ukrainian citizens, he had repeatedly reported about the horrific conditions for and harm done to Ukrainians inside Ukraine, and in the meat grinder of battle.  But somehow, there were no Nobels to auction, and no newspapers in the West were interested.

U.S. Secretary of State Blinken, the man in charge of all US Embassies, extended his condolences to Navalny’s family. He said, “[Novalny’s] death in a Russian prison and the fixation and fear of one man only underscores the weakness and rot at the heart of the system that Putin has built. Russia is responsible for this.”  Curiously, I can find nothing where Blinken addresses Lira’s repeated arrests, mistreatment, and eventual death at the hands of the Ukrainian government, and how hard he, as Secretary of State, tried to prevent it.

French President Macron noted “In today’s Russia, free spirits are put in the Gulag and sentenced to death.” I doubt Macron has even heard of Gonzalo Lira, but perhaps he did know of him.  Gonzalo was a free spirit, a bold and brave spirit, and he was put into a Ukrainian gulag without a syllable of French outrage, poetic or otherwise.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said, “I met Navalny here in Berlin when he was trying to recover in Germany from the poisoning attack and also talked to him about the great courage it takes to return to his country. And he has probably now paid for this courage with his life.” Scholz, who sacrificed his entire nation’s economy far into the future with his criminally silent assent of the US destruction of the Nordstream pipelines, among other things, should, for the sake of Germany, be making his commentary on courage from inside a German prison cell.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, tweeted “Like no one else, Alexei Navalny was a symbol for a free and democratic Russia. That is precisely the reason he had to die.”  As a suspected CIA and/or MI-6 asset, Navalny’s death, as his life, continues to serve a Western agenda.  One wonders if Annalena, noted for her accidental and sometimes embarrassing blurts of truth, did it again with this one.

Zelensky, speaking in the same Munich security conference this week, stated, “It is obvious: he was killed by Putin, as thousands of others were tortured and martyred by this one ‘creature’. Putin does not care who dies as long as he keeps his position. And that is why he should not keep anything. Putin should lose everything and answer for what he has done.”  Given what we know about church banning, free speech, Nazi influences, suspension of both opposition political parties and elections in Ukraine under the US-backed Zelensky, he proves himself, once again, to be a tiresome narcissist, projecting malignantly.

EU Council President, Charles Michel, along with many heads of state in EU countries, rushed to hold Putin responsible for the death of Navalny.  “Alexei Navalny fought for the values of freedom and democracy. For his ideals, he made the ultimate sacrifice. The EU holds the Russian regime solely responsible for this tragic death.”  The dramatic language is almost Versailles in its absolutism.

EU President Ursula Von Der Leyen, tweeted the real import of this death. “A grim reminder of what Putin and his regime are all about. Let’s unite in our fight to safeguard the freedom and safety of those who dare to stand up against autocracy.”  How about let’s all pray for a degree self awareness to dawn upon the EU ruling commission and the US imperial capitol – fighting against autocracy is indeed what we all should be doing, starting at home, resisting over-centralization and global mandates, and autocrats everywhere, wherever they are.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg made a wise observation, “We need to establish all the facts, and Russia needs to answer all the serious questions about the circumstances of his death.”  While the US shamefully did nothing to protect the rights or the life of its own countryman Gonzalo Lira, and Western media joked and celebrated his death, Stoltenberg’s recommendation should have been made, and followed, as soon as we discovered that Lira had died in a prison in Kharkiv.

Those most feared by governments are most at risk.  The US is rich with examples – Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Jeffery Epstein, Seth Rich, John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert, or the hundreds of people who showed up for the January 6 reading of the electoral count only to be tracked down and arrested to rot awaiting trials in DC prisons, and thousands of others, most not even household names.  The list is long, and we all know someone on that list. Those who effectively challenge state narratives and objectives always put themselves in danger.

Post-Republic, non-democratic governments always need to persecute and murder their political enemies.  Instead of accepting or tolerating such governments, we should work to expose, overwhelm and obliterate them, starting and ending with the one we know best — our own.

Originally published on LewRockwell.com. 

Is Socialism Viable? A Reply to David Gordon

02/21/2024Scott Sehon

In two columns, David Gordon reviewed my forthcoming book, Socialism: A Logical Introduction, and the Power & Market has very kindly given me the opportunity to reply.

As Gordon explains, I define socialism (chapter 2) as coming in degrees along two axes: (i) the degree of collective ownership and control of the means of production and (ii) the degree of egalitarian distribution of resources. The book then analyzes common arguments for and against socialism, and I ultimately advocate moving much further in the socialist direction than where we are in the United States, though I favor neither complete democratic control of the economy nor a completely equal distribution of resources. I argue that moving in the socialist direction would not violate rights (chapter 4) and that it would better promote human well-being than the more-capitalist alternative (chapters 6–12).

Gordon first takes issue with my treatment (in chapter 5) of an argument that many socialists make against capitalism: that by exploiting the workers, capitalism violates rights. I reconstruct and analyze versions of the argument, but in the end, I do not endorse it. Nonetheless, Gordon believes that I give the argument more credence than it deserves, and he says that I rely on a theory of the value of labor that economists generally reject. While I could defend my analysis, I’ll leave that point aside, since Gordon and I agree that this particular argument against capitalism does not clearly work.

Some of Gordon’s objections seem to rely on a misinterpretation of my view, though he began the review with a correct summary. For example, he says that it is a “glaring omission” that I do not respond to the argument of Ludwig von Mises, according to which “a socialist economy—by which he meant an economy run by central planners—would collapse into chaos” because “in the absence of numerical market prices, resources cannot be allocated rationally.”

Gordon is correct that I ignore this argument, but it is for the simple reason that I am not advocating for a centrally planned economy without numerical market prices. Such an economy would be the extreme version of the first axis of my definition of socialism; I never said—indeed I explicitly denied—that I advocate this extreme version.

Similarly, when I argue that socialism need not violate political rights and I point to the Scandinavian countries to illustrate this (chapter 2 shows that the Scandinavian countries are much further in the socialist direction on the two axes), Gordon responds: “Sehon misses a fundamental point. The [Scandinavian] countries he mentions aren’t centrally planned economies.” Indeed, they are not. Why is that relevant, given that I do not argue for a centrally planned economy?

Also, in the context of rights and socialism, Gordon says I ignore Friedrich von Hayek’s argument in The Road to Serfdom “that centrally planned economies suppress important political rights.” Again, I fail to see the relevance of an argument against a view that I do not hold. Even in Hayek’s “Present State of Debate,” an article that Gordon cites, Hayek makes no argument that is directly relevant to the sort of socialism I am defending. (This is not to say that nothing Hayek says is relevant or poses a challenge; I discuss Hayek at some length in chapters 9–11 of the book.)

I’m honestly not sure what to make of criticisms that assume that I argue for a view that Gordon’s own summary clearly indicates that I do not endorse. With respect to the first axis, it is as if Gordon thinks that there are only two alternatives: either a completely planned economy or a completely free market. However, this would clearly be wrong: both in principle and in practice, we see that there are varying degrees to which we can exert democratic control over the economy.

Perhaps Gordon’s thought is this instead: if a completely state-run and state-controlled economy would be disastrous, then any move away from state control is desirable—the further from central planning, the better. However, this does not follow. It is clearly possible that there is a sweet spot with markets and prices, but with significant democratic control, particularly in certain areas. That’s what I argue, especially in chapter 9, where I cover arguments inspired by Hayek and Milton Friedman for free markets, and then in chapters 10–12, where I consider areas where we can expect the market to fail as a mechanism for increasing human well-being.

There is one point that Gordon makes on which I will concede some ground. In chapter 4, I respond to an argument by Matthew Harwood in which (on one reconstruction of the argument) Harwood simply assumes that socialism is an awful system. Harwood then infers that socialists will violate political rights, with the idea being that proponents of an awful system will need to suppress opposing speech in order to stay in power.

I point out that this is essentially question begging: if one starts with the premise that socialism is an awful system, we don’t need the rest of the argument in order to know that we should not adopt socialism. Gordon agrees with this much. However, he says that this “doesn’t make the argument useless,” for “if you do have grounds to think that socialism is an awful system,” then Harwood’s argument would allow you to infer that it would also be likely to violate rights.

Fair enough; if we had grounds on which to claim that socialism is an awful system, then its awfulness would likely compound itself into the further awfulness of repressing speech. While that is a concession, it is not much of one. If I were willing to grant, as a premise, that socialism is an awful system, then I obviously would not have written a book defending it.

Of course, most readers of Power & Market probably do have the antecedent conviction that socialism is awful. I invite you to read my book to see whether I can convince you otherwise!

Milei Exposes the Path of Destruction of the West

02/20/2024Daniel Lacalle

Big corporations and global leaders adhere to and assume the growing interventionism and the advance of socialism because, for politicians, it is an excellent way of perpetuating their power and control over citizens, while multinationals tolerate it because they have enough financial muscle and size to absorb the pernicious effects of the massive rise in public debt and monetary imbalances, public spending, taxes, barriers to trade, and progress.

They all know that the burden of interventionism falls entirely on small businesses and families, destroying the middle class in the process. The wealthy can escape the negative impact of monetary debasement and confiscatory taxes. People with salaries and small entrepreneurs cannot.

Who suffers the constant erosion of real disposable income from those gigantic and wrongly called government “stimulus plans” that never stimulate anything but bureaucracy, leaving a massive trail of debt and impoverishment caused by increased inflation and ever-increasing taxes? The middle classes and small businesses.

Why do global leaders accept a rising trend in destructive policies that they know will fail? There is a perverse incentive. Business leaders who should value the success of productive investment and free markets are afraid that the interventionist cancelling crowd will attack them and, therefore, prefer to look elsewhere or even finance the advance of anti-freedom ideas in the hope that the mob will let them work and invest in peace. Others believe they may keep their market share and avoid the threat of competition if they stay close to political powers. It doesn’t work. They do not leave them alone, and leaders lose more than they gain when they fall for cronyism. Whitewashing Marxist collectivism does not stop it. It is no surprise to see how this neocommunism disguised as social justice attacks with even greater cruelty those companies and leaders who embrace their false messages. Just like wokeism often cancels and destroys its most staunch defenders, Neomarxism does the same with corporations and business owners because its objective is full control.

The West is in danger, and Javier Milei explained this in detail at Davos, crushing the consensus narrative. “It should never be forgotten that socialism is always and everywhere an impoverishing phenomenon that has failed in all countries where it’s been tried out. It’s been a failure economically, socially, and culturally, and it has also murdered over 100 million human beings, he said. However, the most important point of his speech for me is to remind people what socialism is. “I know, to many, it may sound ridiculous to suggest that the West has turned to socialism, but it’s only ridiculous if you limit yourself to the traditional economic definition of socialism, which says that it’s an economic system where the state owns the means of production. This definition, in my view, should be updated considering current circumstances.

Today, states don’t need to directly control the means of production to control every aspect of the lives of individuals. With tools such as printing money, debt, subsidies, controlling the interest rate, price controls, and regulations to correct so-called market failures, they can control the lives and fates of millions of individuals. This is how we come to the point where, by using different names or guises, a good deal of the generally accepted ideologies in most Western countries are collectivist variants, whether they proclaim to be openly communist, fascist, socialist, social democrats, national socialists, Christian democrats, neo-Keynesians, progressives, populists, nationalists, or globalists. Ultimately, there are no major differences. They all say that the state should steer all aspects of the lives of individuals. They all defend a model contrary to the one that led humanity to the most spectacular progress in its history.” This is critical because the average citizen has been led to believe that massive money printing, piles of new regulations and laws, rising public debt, and constant interest rate interventions are capitalist or neoliberal policies, when they are tools of statism to accelerate the rising size of government in the economy. Socialism does not seek progress; it seeks control. Large companies that fall into the trap of buying socialism suffer the same attack and further deteriorate their ability to create value and wealth.

Milei destroyed all the current myths in one speech at Davos, and millions watched in awe because it was obvious that he was telling the truth. And that, coming from Argentina, he knows what he is talking about. When one speaks with Argentine citizens, they often remind us all that they “come from the future.”.

The example of Argentina is obvious. Between 2007 and December 2023, the world looked to the other side in the face of a massive increase in poverty and inflation. They even had the audacity to justify that inflation was due to exogenous factors, not massive money printing, and that poverty was miscalculated, exculpating socialist governments from any responsibility.

The left’s shocking silence in the face of the humanitarian and ecological disasters created by the Socialism of the XXI Century governments in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Argentina, and other countries shows that they could not care less about the welfare of citizens or the protection of the environment but used seemingly harmless causes to take power and destroy the economy. Why? Because the goal of any socialist leader is to create poor hostage clients who depend on a state in which those leaders become obscenely rich as the country goes down. Do not be mistaken; statism does not seek the redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor, but the accumulation of the wealth of the nation in the hands of a few politicians.

Thankfully, Davos Milei was an undeniable success, and this shows that not all is lost. According to the World Economic Forum page, ten times more people watched his speech than all other leaders combined. Socialist leaders like Spain’s Sanchez bombed with less than 5,000 views. No, businesses do not depend on the state. There is no welfare state without powerful and productive enterprises, and there are no public services if private wealth is not created. There is no public sector without a thriving private sector. Progress does not depend on a crony, extractive, and confiscatory state but on a strong civil society of free individuals with independent institutions that act as a counterweight to political power. Legal certainty and investor attractiveness, or respect for international law, do not happen due to the generosity of political leaders, but thanks to free markets and independent institutions that limit political power. The world does not progress due to big governments, but despite the obstacles they put in place,

Milei crushed it by telling the truth. Those who remained silent for years about Argentina’s economic ruin now fear him.

Socialism is an impoverishing system that has failed and should not be defended out of fear of retaliation.

Milei reminded companies that they are the heroes of poverty reduction and progress and that the left only uses environmental and gender excuses to impose totalitarianism.

Milei reminded everyone at Davos that Argentina’s ruin is not a coincidence or a fatality, but the result of years of implementing the same interventionist policies that many at Davos have defended or tolerated.

What We Can Learn From Putin

Vladimir Putin isn’t a hero, but his interview with Tucker Carlson brings out some basic truths that we would do well to consider. In contrast to brain dead Biden and his gang of neocon controllers, Putin isn’t dominated by an ideological vision that requires world hegemony. He is a nationalist who aims to advance the interest of Russia. This enables him to have a realistic perception of world politics. In what follows, I’ll discuss some of the vital points we can learn from him.

Some people don’t want us to learn these lessons. As usual, the great Dr. Ron Paul is on top of this. Right after the interview, the mainstream media attacked it. They don’t want you to know that there is another side to their propaganda. Dr. Paul says:

“There has been much written and said about Tucker Carlson’s interview with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week. As of this writing the video on Twitter alone has been viewed nearly 200 million times, making it likely the most-viewed news event in history. Many millions of viewers who may not have had access to the other side of the story were informed that the Russia/Ukraine military conflict did not begin in 2022, as the mainstream media continuously reports, but in fact began eight years earlier with a US-backed coup in Ukraine. The US media does not report this because they don’t want Americans to begin questioning our interventionist foreign policy. They don’t want Americans to see that our government meddling in the affairs of other countries – whether by “color revolution,” sanctions, or bombs – has real and deadly consequences to those on the receiving end of our foreign policy.

To me, however, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Tucker Carlson interview with Putin was the US mainstream media reaction. As Putin himself said during the interview, “in the world of propaganda, it’s very difficult to defeat the United States.” Even a casual look at the US mainstream media’s reporting before and after the interview would show how correct he is about that. In the days and weeks before the interview, the US media was filled with stories about how horrible it was that Tucker Carlson was interviewing the Russian president. There was the danger, they all said, that Putin might spread “disinformation.”

That Putin might say something to put his country in a better light was, they were saying, reason enough to not interview him. With that logic, why have journalism at all? Everyone interviewed by journalists – certainly every world leader – will attempt to paint a rosy picture. The job of a journalist in a free society should be to do the reporting and let the people decide. But somehow that has been lost. These days the mainstream media tells you what to think and you better not dispute it or you will be cancelled!

What the US mainstream media was really worried about was that the “other side of the story” might start to ring true with the public. So they attacked the messenger.

The CNN reporting on Tucker’s interview pretty much sums up the reaction across the board of the US mainstream media. Their headline read, “Tucker Carlson is in Russia to interview Putin. He’s already doing the bidding of the Kremlin.”

By merely doing what used to be called “journalism” – interviewing and reporting on people and events, whether good or bad – one is “doing the bidding” of the subject of the interview or report?

No wonder fellow journalist Julian Assange has been locked away in a gulag for so many years. He dared to assume that in a free society, being a journalist means reporting the good, the bad, and the ugly even if it puts those in power in a bad light.

Read the full article at LewRockwell.com.