Farewell, Steve Bannon

Farewell, Steve Bannon

01/10/2018Ryan McMaken

It's been a bad few months for Steve Bannon. He was fired from his White House job in August. Then he supported Roy Moore and other political dead ends in an attempt to put himself forward as the leader of "Trumpism." Bannon then decided to provide a variety of juicy quotations denouncing Donald Trump in order to help Michael Wolff with his anti-Trump expose. Shortly thereafter, Bannon backtracked and apologized. After that, Bannon lost one of his most prominent sources of funding — the wealthy Mercer family. Finally, to cap it all off, Bannon was fired from his position as an adviser and radio host at Breitbart, where he had long enjoyed positions of leadership. 

This year-long run of total failure comes at the end of a remarkably short period of fame for Bannon, who, prior to Andrew Breitbart's untimely demise in 2012, was neither especially influential or well known. 

In his short period at Breitbart, Bannon did, however, manage to cozy up with Donald Trump and many within his movement, and turn this into an influential position at the White House. But Bannon quickly faded as an influential figure in Washington.

In spite of his short and not-especially-notable tenure as a senior political adviser, Bannon continues to benefit from myths about his status as a kingmaker in Washington and around the nation. But, as Barbara Boland notes this week at The American Conservative, the myth was always just that — a myth. 

Bannon — always a relentless self-promoter — also managed to create the impression that he was the purveyor of some new kind of insightful and revolutionary political plan and vision. The idea was that he was going to create a Republican majority that would persist for generations. 

Upon closer inspection, however, there was never anything especially insightful, creative, or unique about this vision. It has always been nothing more than a re-tread of economic populism in which the Republicans would buy votes with lavish government spending on pensions and other social programs that are allegedly attractive to the "working classes." This would be coupled with economic nationalism opposed to free trade and devoted to aggressive foreign policy. 

David Stockman explains how Bannon's position was just the usual warfare-welfare state vision dressed up in nationalist and culture-warrior rhetoric: 

The last thing America needed was a conservative/populist/statist alternative to the Welfare State/Warfare State/Bailout State status quo. Yet what Bannonism boiled down to was essentially acquiescence to the latter — even as it drove politicization deeper into the sphere of culture, communications and commerce.

Stated differently, the heavy hand of the Imperial City in traditional domestic, foreign and financial matters was already bad enough: Bannonism just gave a thin veneer of ersatz nationalism to what was otherwise the Donald's own dogs' breakfast of protectionism, nativism, xenophobia, jingoism and strong-man bombast.

As Stockman correctly notes, Bannon never exhibited any real understanding of how central banking, Wall Street cronyism, and economic policy were driving the American cultural and economic trends that Bannon so often condemned. 

Instead, Bannon took to blaming people who do understand economics — i.e., Austrian-school economists and various free-market activist types — for various national ills, and for leading the Republican party astray. Says Bannon: 

 And then the Republicans, it’s all this theoretical Cato Institute, Austrian economics, limited government — which just doesn’t have any depth to it. They’re not living in the real world.

Later, Bannon returned to the theme, claiming that free-market ideas don't matter, and that "it is workers, not libertarian theorists, who are the backbone of the country.” (It's unclear if Bannon intends to imply that all libertarians are pie-in-the-sky "theorists" or if he is willing to admit that many libertarians do, in fact, work for a living.) This sort of right-wing Leninism-Maoism functions on the idea that "the working man" is all that matters, and that entrepreneurship, capital, and markets, are all somehow at odds with ordinary people being able to make a living. Not surprisingly, Bannon proposed to prop up the working classes with prohibitions on free trade, on migration, and by protecting federal social programs — thus expanding the debt burden and tax burden on everyone. 

The realities of economics matter little, though, when your political ideology relies primarily on sentimentalism. Bannon bases much of this position on his own nostalgia for the good ol' days in "an observant Catholic family" in a working class neighborhood. 

For Bannon, though, his devotion to this worldview never gets much beyond politics. Indeed, Bannon has an odd way of expressing his supposed devotion to the Catholic social milieu he praises. Divorced three times, Bannon apparently couldn't be bothered to personally do much toward creating the “typical fifties-sixties Americana neighborhood” that he says he wants to re-create. And this well illustrates the problem with turning to politics to cure every social ill. Erecting trade barriers and trashing immigrants isn't going to rehabilitate the American family, or convert people to a devout religious life. That sort of thing requires a lot of difficult non-political action. Were Bannon committed to getting government off the backs of people so they could pursue these goals voluntarily — via decentralization or other practical measures — that would be a good thing. But that has never been Bannon's goal. 

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John Milton Explains Freedom of Speech

11/19/2020Gary Galles

Recently, I told my wife that the 2020 election follies made me think of John Milton. She commented that I may have been the only one in America to make that connection to the second most important author in the English language, after Shakespeare, best known for his poetry. After all, very little of this year’s politics has been poetic (though it could be argued to fit somewhere in Paradise Lost). I was thinking of Milton’s prose.

The primary reason is that well before America was founded, Milton famously argued for freedoms of speech and the press, and against censorship in England. His defense of freedom of conscience and religious toleration later powerfully resonated with America’s founders, as is most evident in the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

In contrast, we have of late been experiencing a widespread attack of censorship, which has not just limited citizens’ freedom of expression, but undermined Americans’ ability to inform themselves before voting for who will represent them. Because it originated with private actors rather than government, even though the intent was to dictate the government chosen, it was not a violation of the First Amendment. But the consequences of multiple powerful actors putting all of their thumbs on the same side of the scales they intended voters to use was, and remains, a serious threat to America. So it is worth remembering John Milton’s words on behalf of freedom of belief and expression, and their connection to our ability to discover truth.

  • Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.
  • Truth….Let her and falsehood grapple.
  • Who ever knew Truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?
  • Truth…needs no policies or stratagems…to make her victorious. These are the shifts and the defenses that error uses against her power.
  • There is no learned man but will confess he hath much profited by reading controversies—his senses awakened, his judgment sharpened, and the truth which he holds firmly established. If then it be profitable for him to read, why should it not at least be tolerable and free for his adversary to write…it follows then, that all controversy being permitted, falsehood will appear more false, and truth the more true; which must needs conduce much to the general confirmation of an implicit truth.
  • If it come to prohibiting, there is aught more likely to be prohibited than truth itself.
  • No institution which does not continually test its ideals, techniques and measure of accomplishment can claim real vitality.
  • When complaints are freely heard, deeply considered, and speedily reformed, then is the utmost bound of civil liberty obtained that wise men look for.
  • Knowledge forbidden? Suspicious, reasonless. Why…?
  • Truth and understanding are not such wares as to be monopolized.
  • When language in common use in any country becomes irregular and depraved, it is followed by their ruin and degradation. For what do terms…which are at once corrupt and misapplied, denote but a people listless, supine, and ripe for servitude?
  • How oft [have] nations gone corrupt…by their own devices brought down to servitude.
  • Discern…in what things persuasion only is to work.

Not only was Milton an important advocate for freedom to discover truth without artificial constraint, he was an influential defender of other liberties whose defense relies upon that discovery. America’s founding generation echoed him in several ways. In fact, one could say that is best reflected in the Declaration of Independence’s assertion of unalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” which, while more famously connected to the thought of John Locke, can also be collapsed into the word liberty, as Milton used it, as our right to life is part of our liberty and our ability to pursue happiness is the result of liberty.

In contrast, much of what has been proposed by politicians this year has involved widespread invasions of our liberties, disguised by focusing only on those promises to give, without much mention of the corresponding unavoidable promises to take from others to do so. His words sharpen our ability to judge that deviation from the ideas that created America.

  • No man…can be so stupid to deny that all men naturally were born free, being the image and resemblance of God himself.
  • The whole freedom of man consists either in spiritual or civil liberty.
  • [God] created them free and free they must remain.
  • Liberty…who loves that, must first be wise and good.
  • None can love freedom but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license, which never hath more scope than under tyrants.
  • Nations grow corrupt, love bondage more than liberty.
  • [Those] with their freedom lost, all virtue lose.
  • Liberty of conscience…above all other things ought to be to all men dearest and most precious.
  • Liberty hath a sharp and double edge, fit only to be handled by just and virtuous men; to bad and dissolute, it becomes a mischief unwieldy in their own hands: neither is it completely given, but by them who have the happy skill to know what is grievance and unjust to a people, and how to remove it wisely; what good laws are wanting, and how to frame them substantially, that good men may enjoy the freedom which they merit, and the bad the curb which they need.
  • Love Virtue, she alone is free.
  • Is it just or reasonable, that…voices against the main end of government should enslave [those] that would be free? 
  • They who seek nothing but their own just liberty, have always right to win it and to keep it, whenever they have power, be the voices ever so numerous that oppose it.
  • Who can in reason then or right assume monarchy over such as live by right his equals, if in power or splendor less, in freedom equal?
  • The power of Kings and Magistrates is nothing else, but what is only derivative, transferred and committed to them in trust from the People, to the Common good of them all, in whom the power yet remains fundamentally, and cannot be taken from them, without a violation of their natural birthright.
  • It is lawful…for anyone who have the power to call to account a tyrant.

Americans have been major beneficiaries of John Milton’s literary blows for liberty against tyranny through his political impact on our founders. But this year’s dramatic violations of our freedom to seek the truth and express our views to one another, and its widespread proposals to violate other core liberties, show that heritage to be at serious risk. Revisiting Milton’s arguments in these areas is a good way to recognize the risks we have already been exposed to and their ominous implications for the future and a good source of reinforcement for the principles our country was founded upon. And at their heart is his conclusion that free we must remain.

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Why They Hate Judy

11/17/2020Doug French

Trump’s lady-in-waiting for the Federal Reserve, Judy Shelton, is losing Republican support by the day. The Washington Post unleashed its comeliest columnist, Catherine Rampell, to finish off Shelton, whose primary negative is her past support for the gold standard and her questioning the need for the central bank at all.

Adherents of the Austrian school of economics have been cuckoo for Shelton for those very reasons, but, Rampell describes the Fed nominee as “a demonstrably unqualified partisan quack.” 

Rampell claims a gold standard “might be popular among the right-wing fringe, but it was abandoned worldwide long ago and remains almost unanimously rejected by economists. For good reasons, including that gold prices are volatile. Linking the dollar to gold can also restrict liquidity when the economy needs it most—as happened during the Great Depression.”

She forgets: the Great Depression was inevitable given the boom the Fed created in the years before. “The Federal Reserve System launched a further burst of inflation in 1927,” wrote Hans F. Sennholz, “the result being that total currency outside banks plus demand and time deposits in the United States increased from $44.51 billion at the end of June 1924, to $55.17 billion in 1929. The volume of farm and urban mortgages expanded from $16.8 billion in 1921 to $27.1 billion in 1929. Similar increases occurred in industrial, financial, and state and local government indebtedness. This expansion of money and credit was accompanied by rapidly rising real-estate and stock prices. Prices for industrial securities, according to Standard & Poor's common stock index, rose from 59.4 in June of 1922 to 195.2 in September of 1929. Railroad stock climbed from 189.2 to 446.0, while public utilities rose from 82.0 to 375.1.” 

What were once referred to as panics, then depressions, and now recessions are the healing of the economy from inflationary and speculative booms, which lead to malinvestment and dangerous economic distortions. “The ensuing recession is a period of repair and readjustment. Prices and costs adjust anew to consumer choices and preferences,” explained Sennholz. 

As Ms. Rampell writes, today’s economists, trained in the modern Keynesian framework, believe corrections aren’t allowed and malinvestment should be enabled by cheap money forever, with the result being zombie companies wasting precious capital. Capitalism requires success and failure. A link from gold to the dollar keeps government and private business in check. 

“Shelton’s confirmation could represent a point of no return for corrupting the mission and functionality of the Fed,” writes Rampell, “and destroying whatever bipartisan resolve remained to not tank the economy for political gain.”

In his book Money of the Mind: Borrowing and Lending in America from the Civil War to Michael Milken, Jim Grant wrote, ”the pro-Federal Reserve System forces had promised to uphold the gold standard and to defend the new Federal Reserve notes against the well-observed tendency of government-backed currencies to depreciate.” 

Elihu Root, Republican senator from New York, spoke eloquently and at length against the Federal Reserve Act, with his primary argument being that the central bank could be inflationary. While it didn’t have to be, he insisted it would be. Fed proponents claimed the country would be fortunate to have an “elastic” currency. “Root retorted that it would rather be an ‘expansive’ one—all growth and no contraction,” Grant wrote. 

Senator Root was prescient beyond his dreams. Ms. Shelton might bring a tiny bit of historical wisdom to the arguments in the Eccles building.

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What the Fed Could Look Like in 2021

11/13/2020Robert Aro

In addition to the gains in the stock market on Monday, uncertainty about covid, and the economy, is another concern regarding the outcome of this election, as reported by CNN:

This week, all eyes are on the Trump-appointed General Services Administration administrator, Emily W. Murphy, to recognize Joe Biden as the winner of the election and president-elect.

This high-ranking bureaucrat has the job of “officially affirming Biden has won the election on behalf of the Trump administration,” something which, so far, has yet to occur. Moreover, the US Senate outcome is still not officially set, although Republicans had a narrow lead at the start of the week. Assuming Biden is inaugurated and the Republicans hold the Senate, what, if anything, could this mean for the Fed?

First, Judy Shelton’s long shot at joining the Fed has now become an even “longer shot.” Considering Trump couldn’t even persuade fellow Republicans like Mitt Romney or Susan Collins to vote for her, it’s unlikely Biden would have much more success. The nominations expire when Congress is adjourned at the end of the year. So her appointment probably won’t happen.

As for promotions of central bankers, various reports from the mainstream media are saying Governor Lael Brainard could be asked to leave the Fed’s inner circle to become secretary of the Treasury, making her the first woman in history to hold that position.

Regarding the role of the Fed chair itself, it remains to be seen whether Biden would prefer to continue with Powell. As a registered Republican, Powell would likely have support from a Republican-controlled Senate. In the middle of a global pandemic, as David Wessel of the Brookings Institution said to the Washington Post:

No president likes to replace generals in the middle of a war.

Of course, sometimes the “war” can be waged by the state upon its own people, as in the case of the war on drugs or the war on poverty, etc. In the case of monetary policy, the war waged by the inflationists on the general public continues. We are often told mild inflation is good and to not worry about the money supply, the debt levels, and currency debasement. In the press, Reuters explains:

Modern Monetary Theory, the idea that governments which print their own money can and should spend whatever they want provided it’s fuelling [sic] economic growth and productive employment. Biden is already a partial convert, with Stephanie Kelton, an MMT proponent, on a task force that in July laid out 110 pages of policy recommendations.

Imagine the Fed in 2021; no Judy Shelton, a governor with respect for sound money. Combine this with a president considered a “partial convert” of MMT, we can only imagine what kind of money expansion programs will be crafted. Maybe Biden takes the MMT spending-to-prosperity approach, then at least we can have a (very) faint hope that a Republican-controlled Senate could try to stop him. If so, imagine a gridlocked US Congress; fiscal stimulus bills would become very difficult to pass. Who would be charged to “fuel economic growth” if not the Fed?

While we wait to see who will head our government into the new year, and while we expect a new change in government could also bring changes to the Fed, we cannot reasonably expect these changes will amount to anything more than superficial. Unless a hard money advocate, or someone with an understanding of free markets, whether from within Congress or the Fed, is appointed, there is little to no indication that policies will change drastically.

Bernanke lowered interest rates and increased the money supply during the last recession. Jerome Powell did the same during this recession. Until someone in a position of authority can explicitly address the problems, and eventually reject this doctrine, it won’t make much difference who runs the central bank. The Fed seems to be running on autopilot, sticking to accommodative policies, with press conferences between policy decisions to remind us this is indefinite. Should we have a lame duck presidency, expect the Fed to do “whatever it takes” to get the wheels of commerce turning again.

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Presidents Come and Go. The Fed’s Power Grows.

11/13/2020Robert Aro

Americans anxiously wait for the final outcome of this election, the Federal Reserve continues on its immovable course towards nationalization of the means of production. Ironically, we vote for a president who has limited power, but a hand on the nuke button; whereas, we don’t vote for the Fed chair, who has nearly unlimited power, and a hand on the economic equivalent to the nuke button; the ability to conjure money out of thin air.

As for Fed chair Jerome Powell, who kept rates on hold, his Q&A after the committee meeting revealed that regardless who is president, as long as the Fed can expand the balance sheet at will, they continue holding all the cards. First, the good news, according to Powell:

The overall rebound in household spending owes in part to federal stimulus payments and expanded unemployment benefits, which provided essential support to many families and individuals.

It is truly owed to the Federal Reserve and government intervention that more money was digitally made into existence, of which some went into household spending.

However, despite the increase in money supply and debt levels, comes the bad news:

As we said in September and again today, with inflation running persistently below 2 percent, we will aim to achieve inflation moderately above 2 percent for some time so that inflation averages 2 percent over time and longer-term inflation expectations remain well anchored at 2 percent.

Per the Fed, life did not become as unaffordable for the masses as they had hoped, therefore they expect to maintain an “accommodative stance of monetary policy” until prices rise enough, meeting their inflation objective.

And, at last, the confusing news, the part where the line between fiscal and monetary policy becomes blurred:

Fiscal policy can do what we can, which is to replace lost incomes for people who are out of work through no fault of their own. And then what we can do is we can obviously support financial stability through our lending programs, and we can support demand through interest rates and asset purchases and that sort of thing.

Perhaps it’s the size of the asset programs by the Fed or the spending programs of the government, that ideas around the two are continually intertwined. Often, Powell must define the difference between the two, in this instance noting that the government can take action such as replacing lost wages, while the Fed can buy government bonds.

As explained:

Elected officials have the power to tax and spend and to make decisions about where we, as a society, should direct our collective resources.

True, Congress can tax and spend, but what the chair doesn’t seem to admit is that taxation only provides so much money, compared to spending which appears to be nearly limitless. Of course, what makes up the shortfall when spending exceeds taxation revenue, if not from debt? Considering the Fed owns $4.5 trillion of US Treasurys, of a nation with a $27 trillion debt, we should come to terms with understanding that the Fed is financing a significant portion of the US government’s spending activities.

Yet, it’s difficult to argue with one of the most powerful men on the planet when he says:

And so if the idea is money financed fiscal policy, that's not something that we would consider. So that—what I mean by that is really, you know, the central bank is really funding fiscal activities of the government fairly directly. No. That's not something we do.

As for the money expansion, which is not “money-financed fiscal policy,” we should listen when he says:

So when I say we're not out of ammo, I'm looking at, you know, a couple of our tools mainly. As I mentioned, the asset purchase program.

The majority of people will undoubtedly be watching to see how the election is called and the looming fallout, but we must remember: the government is financed by the people and also by its central bank. The trajectory we are on is one where the Fed’s balance sheet will continually increase, with a corresponding decrease in the wealth and freedom of the individual. How this fits in with the concept of a strong republic by the people and for the people is anyone’s guess.

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Don’t Forget LBJ’s Election Theft

The mainstream pro-Biden media is poking fun at Donald Trump’s suggestion that there could be fraud involved in the post-election receipt of mail-in ballots. Apparently they’re not familiar with the election-theft case of Lyndon Johnson, who would go on to become president of the United States.

The entire matter is detailed in Robert Caro’s second book in his biographical series on Johnson. The book is entitled Means of Ascent.

Johnson election theft took place in 1948, when he was running for the Democratic nomination for US Senate against Texas Governor Coke Stevenson, one of the most admired and respected governors in the history of the state.

In the primary election, Stevenson led Johnson by 70,000 votes, but because he didn’t have a majority of the votes, he was forced into a run-off. The run-off was held on a Saturday. On the Sunday morning after the run-off, Stevenson was leading by 854 votes.

As a New York Times review of Caro’s account stated, the day after the run-off election it was “discovered” that the returns of a particular county had not yet been counted. The newly discovered votes were overwhelmingly in favor of Johnson. Then, on Monday more returns came in from the Rio Grande Valley.

Nonetheless, on Tuesday, the State Election Bureau announced that Stevenson had won by 349 votes. Nothing changed on Wednesday and Thursday after the election. On Friday, precincts in the Rio Grande Valley made “corrections” to their tallies, which narrowed Stevenson’s lead to 157.

But also on Friday, Jim Wells County, which was governed as a personal fiefdom by a powerful South Texas rancher named George Parr, filed “amended” returns for what has become famous as “Box 13” that gave Johnson another 200 votes. When all was said and done, Johnson had “won” the election by 87 votes.

It was later discovered that one of Parr’s men had changed the total tally for Johnson from 765 to 965 by simply curling the 7 into a 9.

Where did the extra 200 votes come from? The last 202 names on on the election roll in Box 13 were in a different color ink from the rest of the names, the names were in alphabetical order, and they were all in the same handwriting. When Caro was researching his book, he secured a statement from Luis Salas, an election judge in Jim Wells County, who acknowledged the fraud and confessing his role in it.

As the Washington Post reported, to investigate what obviously appeared quite suspicious Stevenson employed the assistance of Frank Hamer, the Texas Ranger who had trapped and killed Bonnie and Clyde. It was to no avail. Johnson got a friendly state judge to issue an injunction preserving the status quo, after which the Democratic executive committee, by one vote, declared Johnson to be the winner.

Stevenson took the matter to federal court but the Supreme Court punted, declaring that it had no right to interfere with a state election.

So, Lyndon Johnson stole the election and ended up going to Washington as Texas’s US senator. Ironically, if Stevenson had become the state’s senator instead, Johnson would never have been selected to be John Kennedy’s vice presidential running mate and, consequently, would never have been president.

No wonder Donald Trump is worried about those Democrats! For that matter, those Democrats should be just as worried about those Republicans! 

Originally published by the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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SCOTUS May Be Setting the Stage for a Challenge to Qualified Immunity

On November 2, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the case Taylor v. Rojas. The petitioner in this case was Trent Taylor—an inmate in the Texas criminal justice system. Mr. Taylor alleges that in September of 2013 he was placed in a cell covered in human feces and left there for six days before being moved into a cell that was “freezing” for another four days. Mr. Taylor sued the corrections officers who were responsible for placing him in the cells, claiming that they violated his Eighth Amendment right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. The corrections officers involved in this case argued that they cannot be held liable for violating Mr. Taylor's Eighth Amendment rights because they have qualified immunity—a legal doctrine that grants sweeping immunity to government officials who engage in egregious violation of rights. The district court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the correction officers.

Mr. Taylor then appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The court invalidated The Fifth Circuit Court’s decision, claiming that Mr. Taylor’s rights had been violated and that the corrections officers should not receive qualified immunity because “no reasonable correctional officer could have concluded that, under the extreme circumstances of this case, it was constitutionally permissible to house Taylor in such deplorably unsanitary conditions for such an extended period of time.” The case was decided by a 7-to-1 vote with a sole dissent from Justice Clarence Thomas.

As Justice Samuel Alito points out in his concurring opinion, the United States Supreme Court typically avoids hearing cases where there is not an underlying question of how a doctrine or statute should be interpreted. This case did not involve a challenge to qualified immunity itself, but rather challenged the lower court’s application of the doctrine. Typically, the Supreme Court would avoid hearing cases of this type. However, the court decided to rule on this case. This leaves us with a large question: Why did the court feel it was necessary to weigh in on this case?

One possible explanation for their actions is that the court simply saw the facts of this case and decided that they were extreme enough to warrant an intervention. This seems unlikely considering the multitude of cases with similarly horrific fact patterns where the court has refused to grant cert. Such cases include incidents where officers shot a kid lying on the ground while aiming at a family dog, were accused of stealing $225,000, and told a police dog to attack a suspect on his knees with his hands behind his head. When you consider the fact that the court refused to rule on these cases, this interpretation of their actions in Taylor seems unlikely.

Another possible interpretation is that the court was attempting to fix a past mistake in the application of the doctrine. In the past, the court has ruled broadly on the question of qualified immunity. They have granted qualified immunity in many cases where it seems clear they should not have. This sends a message to the lower courts that they are to interpret qualified immunity broadly. It is possible that the court wished to fix this problem by giving an example where qualified immunity does not apply.

While both of these interpretations are possible, it seems more likely that the court is trying to set the stage for a challenge to the doctrine itself. The court recently granted cert in the case Brownback v. King. This case contains a direct challenge to the qualified immunity doctrine and has a horrendous fact pattern. If the court wants to reevaluate qualified immunity in a meaningful way, it would be helpful to have a more carefully defined standard for when it ought to be applied. Taylor might be the court’s attempt at clarifying this standard for this exact reason.

Whatever the reason for the court’s ruling might have been, Taylor got justice. Additionally, the fact that the court ruled against the state in this case should give us hope for future cases. Should they decide to rethink the qualified immunity doctrine this case would be a great place to start.

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An America with Two Presidents

11/06/2020Tho Bishop

In the aftermath of Election Day 2020, ballots continue to be counted, states remain undecided, and party lawyers are dreaming about where to invest their upcoming billable hours. One thing we can count on, America’s political institutions are about to face a unique and fascinating challenge to their legitimacy.

For those who have better things to do than closely following late-arriving ballots in swing states, here is where things stand right now:

Joe Biden is poised to be able to claim victory in the election as blue ballots continue to trickle in from high-density urban areas in states like Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Georgia. At the same time, Donald Trump’s team continues to project confidence about Arizona swinging red and counting on military absentee ballots to make up any ground lost in the Peach State. Meanwhile, online sleuths are churning out anecdotal evidence of possible voter fraud and highlighting statistical anomalies in certain vital Democrat areas. As of Friday, they were even still allowed to talk about it on Twitter.

The confusion surrounding this election obviously evokes flashbacks to the Bush-Gore debacle of 2000. To Joe Biden’s advantage, Al Gore was dealing with a Republican state government at the time. Now, most of the states in question have a firmly blue state government, while most of the high-density urban areas are obviously governed by Democrat-controlled machines (none of which are particularly known for either competency or integrity).

Of course, even suggesting that partisan government officials may have more loyalty to their party over the civil religion of “democracy” is outrageous in the eyes of the corporate press.

Luckily, one of the major takeaways of the 2020 election is just how little the public actually thinks of America’s punditry class. After all, five years of nonstop stories about the sexist, white supremacist, unhinged Donald Trump gave rise to the most diverse political coalition the Republican Party has seen since 1960. The only demographic Trump underperformed relative to 2016 was white males. Oddly enough, the Left is not concerned with the privileged white patriarchy.

So where does that leave us?

If we assume, as we should, that the legal system inevitably leaves us with a Joe Biden inauguration, the next few years could be very interesting indeed. America will have a former president, deeply beloved by a base that stood out in the freezing cold past midnight in the tens of thousands during the campaign, who is not likely to go quietly in the night. Would it surprise anyone if Donald Trump boycotts a Biden inauguration? If so, is it possible he would hold a competing rally at the same time the forty-sixth president was being sworn in?

Does anyone doubt the attendance he would draw?

After all, regardless of the legal outcome, America is about to find itself with a president that will be viewed as illegitimate by a large portion of the population—and perhaps even the majority of some states. There is no institution left that has the credibility to push back against the gut feeling of millions of people who have spent the last few months organizing car parades and Trumptillas that their democracy has been hijacked by a political party that despises them.

To his credit, Joe Biden isn’t blind to what he is inheriting either. His problem is that a half century in politics has him out of touch with the America that actually exists. It is likely that Biden will stress bipartisan unity in his administration—a move made easier by the fact that he will need moderate Republicans more than the far-left caucus of his own party. In the past, America’s most hotly contested elections were decided with backroom deals among party bosses. Non-Trump Republicans are currently figuring out their price for standing with Joe Biden over their 2020 nominee.

It would not be surprising to see a Biden administration feature names like Bush, Kasich, or Flake. The problem is that this style of bipartisanship is as dated as the West Wing. The Left and Right want their sides to rule and dominate their enemies, while the center is more motivated by disgust of both sides than the desire for them to just get along.

If this is correct, the Biden administration will end up being precisely what the nonhysterical left always feared: the restoration of a neoconservative-neoliberal uniparty.

Adding to the chaos is the fact that Donald Trump will now be free of the burdens of responsibility that come with governing. America’s forty-fifth president will have the ability to do what he most enjoys: sit back, watch cable news, and start firing away from @realDonaldTrump. That is, of course, until he is predictably deplatformed by Jack Dorsey for being a threat to national unity.

Of course, blowback is not limited to foreign policy blunders by the American empire. Every attempt by those in power to silence Donald Trump going forward will have consequences they are not prepared to deal with.

For example, the second Donald Trump is forced to use a competing social media platform, the concerns about tech monopoly may begin to seem antiquated. Better still, a Trump news network seems inevitable—either built from scratch or by adopting one of the standing second-tier conservative options that currently exist. We can be sure that Donald Trump will never forgive the Murdochs for calling Arizona so quickly on Tuesday.

The majority of America’s mediocre elites residing in Washington and New York City are going to take a Joe Biden presidency as a repudiation of Trumpism. The massive increase in his support suggests otherwise. Their blind arrogance ensures that the anger felt by the masses that brought President Trump to power in 2016 will not go away.

As Ludwig von Mises understood, there are inevitable limitations to a state if the public does not view its leaders as legitimate.

Only a group that can count on the consent of the governed can establish a lasting regime. Whoever wants to see the world governed according to his own ideas must strive for domination over men’s minds. It is impossible, in the long run, to subject men against their will to a regime that they reject.

A Joe Biden presidency may be imposed on red America, but the establishment of old will never be able to persuade the Make America Great Again movement that he is their leader. Thanks to Donald Trump, a large portion of the US are likely to view themselves as the enemies of America’s next president.

Which brings us back to the most fundamental question of modern American politics: What do you do with political orders that no longer serve the interests of their people? How do we treat politically vanquished people who just aren’t going away?

Luckily, there is no reason to fear an economic crisis any time soon… Such an event might really make things interesting.  

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Colorado Voters Vote for Democrats—and for Tax Cuts

11/05/2020Ryan McMaken

The Colorado Republican Party is the very definition of "sadsack." Over the past fifteen years or so, the party has repeatedly nominated candidates for office that were so inept and so uninspiring that even a population that wanted tax cuts couldn't bring itself to vote for the GOP. How do we know a majority of the voters want tax cuts, even if they keep voting for Democratic governors and legislators? We know this because even when a majority of the voters repeatedly vote Democrat, they simultaneously vote for statewide referenda that lower taxes. 

We saw this in 2016 when a majority of the voters cast ballots for Democrat Jared Polis while at the same time voting down proposals for new taxes and new regulations against businesses.

A similar thing happened this year. A majority of voters went with the Democratic candidate for the US Senate (John Hickenlooper) but simultaneously voted for a cut to the state's income tax. Voters also passed a new law requiring a vote on future attempts to raise fees for state "enterprises" like state parks.

The requirement for a statewide vote has proven to be a significant barrier. Voters in the state have overwhelmingly voted down attempts at raising statewide taxes. At the local level, taxpayers have proven much more tolerant, especially when new taxes are earmarked for specific purposes.  

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What Will It Take for Americans to Consider Breaking Up?

11/04/2020Jeff Deist

Listen to the Audio Mises Wire version of this article.

It’s one thing for mass democracy to produce bad results, in the form of elected politicians or enacted policies. It’s another when the democratic process itself breaks down because nobody trusts the vote or the people who count it. But that’s precisely where we are.

As things stand at this writing, last night’s presidential election remains undecided and looking ugly. At least six states are still uncalled, and both the Trump and Biden camps have their legal teams claiming victory. We may be in for days, weeks, or even months of legal skirmishes, all of which can only add to our intense political (or more accurately cultural) breakdown. 

Today, perhaps 140 million American voters are in purgatory, fearfully wondering what will happen to them if the other guy wins. This is nothing short of a national psychosis, absurd yet deadly real. And it gets worse every four years, despite the narrowing of any “policy” differences between the two parties over recent decades. If anything, presidential votes are overwhelmingly about tribal affiliations with our kind of person, not substantive ideology.

Yes, this is unhealthy. And yes, the psychosis manifests because the stakes are so high. It manifests because government is far too big and rapacious; lawmaking and jurisprudence too centralized in DC; the unitary executive presidency too powerful; and society too politicized. But these are unhelpful truisms. Plenty of Americans abjectly support more government, more centralized political power, an omnipotent president and Supreme Court, and the sharp politicization of every facet of life.

In Nation, State, and Economy Mises talks about a “liberal nationalism” and explains what a confident nation requires:

A nation that believes in itself and its future, a nation that means to stress the sure feeling that its members are bound to one another not merely by accident of birth but also by the common possession of a culture that is valuable above all to each of them.

What, then, is the common culture Americans possess?  What binds us together as a unifying principle? Is it language? Religion? Constitutionalism? Love of country? (What country?) Markets? It certainly is not obvious, and few of us feel optimistic about America’s future. Worse still, covid lockdowns have attenuated the ostensibly nonpolitical spheres of life—from family and work to sports, dining, movies, and travel. When we stare ourselves in the mirror all day, and read everyone’s innermost thoughts on social media, we find familiarity breeds contempt. 

Regardless of how the election turns out, it’s obvious America is not much of a country anymore, much less a nation. The sooner we accept this, the sooner we can get to work asserting the principles of federalism, subsidiarity, nullification, and even secession. None of the current frictions will get better over time, but they can get much worse—and our most important task must be to avoid any movement toward outright civil war. 

There are workable baby steps toward this. Law professor Frank Buckley writes about “secession lite” in his sober and reasoned book on the subject of a national breakup. Buckley sees a third-way approach between our current disfunction and an outright breakup into new political entities, primarily through aggressive federalism and state nullification. This echoes sentiments from Professor Angelo Codevilla, who similarly argues that the feds simply lack the manpower to enforce federal laws and edicts on recalcitrant states. Just as blue states declared sanctuary cities as havens from Trump’s immigration policies, red states could restrict all manner of federal dictates (abortion and gun control come to mind) while simply daring the feds to interfere. At the end of the day, Codevilla reminds us, there are only a few million of them and many millions of us. And progressives too share this sentiment; even if Biden prevails, they remain shaken by the degree of Trump support. In fact the 2016 election saw the New Republic advocate nothing short of a renunciation of the hated red states.

Things don’t have to be this way. Americans are lovely people—generous, open. But politics divides them in the worst and most unnecessary ways. It’s time to break up, and millions of us sense this instinctively. So what’s stopping us?

For one, secession remains bound up with the Civil War and Confederate slavery in the American psyche, distant in time as they are. Manifest Destiny and the westward expansion resulted in a nice, round number of fifty states, a nice, big American number. Throw in a few specious Supreme Court decisions like Texas v. White, and it’s no surprise many Americans still have concrete between their ears on the subject.

But Trump may have changed all that. And if you want political liberty to retain a foothold in the US, if you want Misesian liberalism to show a heartbeat in the West, you should cheer this. 

Americans by and large are lovely people—open, generous, friendly, and quick to forgive. A hyperpoliticized environment, where everything is existential and rooted in race, sex, and sexuality, is deeply at odds with our character and well-being. We deserve to live peaceably as neighbors, even if that means breaking up and creating new political entities. Addressing the reality of our dysfunction is not divisive; the divide already exists. Our task is to apprehend this and end the charade of one nation.

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The Fed Is Still Trying to Understand Inflation

11/04/2020Robert Aro

It’s been over a hundred years since Mises wrote The Theory of Money and Credit and since the inception of the Federal Reserve. Yet the Fed is still trying to figure out inflation, so much so that the Reserve Bank of Cleveland operates the Center for Inflation Research (CFIR) in order to:

improve the understanding of policymakers, researchers, and the public about inflation and the factors that influence its behavior.

The research center’s Inflation 101 infographic makes their understanding quite clear:

Have you ever been shopping and noticed that the prices of things you buy have gone up? If the same things in your shopping basket cost $100 last year and now they cost $105, at a very basic level, that’s “inflation.”

To mainstream economists, mainstream media, and the academic community, the word “inflation” means the increase in prices of consumer goods or services, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or other inflation calculators. Using this definition, if the government imposes minimum wage laws or tariffs, if OPEC cuts oil production, or if toilet paper shortages occur due to panic, all which lead to price increases, it constitutes “inflation.” But this definition does not add up. When prices increase, it becomes nearly impossible to say if it was due to the Fed or some other factor. How, then, is the Fed supposed to control inflation, when countless factors contribute to it?

Those familiar with Austrian economics acknowledge this usage of “inflation,” and may use it in conversation, but the Austrian also understands the history and significance of using the term “inflation” to denote the increase in supply of money and credit. Contrast this to the Fed’s research center, which does not even acknowledge inflation’s history or the effects of using its original definition.

Perhaps, since their definition is unclear, they rephrase it:

Explained another way, inflation is ongoing increases in the general price level for goods and services in an economy over time.

This further convolutes understanding, as it introduces the notion of a “price level.” Central planner estimates, we are told:

Statistical agencies start by collecting the prices of a very large number of goods and services. In the case of households, they create a “basket” of goods and services that reflects the items consumed by households. The basket does not contain every good or service…

Once the basket of goods is decided they determine:

the current value of the basket by calculating how much the basket would cost at today’s prices (multiplying each item’s quantity by its price today and summing up). Next, they determine the value of the basket by calculating how much the basket would cost in a base period (multiplying each item’s quantity by its base period price). 

They fail to mention that the items and quantities in the basket can change from period to period, but they go on to explain “relative weights”:

In the case of a price index for consumers, statistical agencies derive the relative weights from consumers’ expenditure patterns using information from consumer surveys and business surveys.

Thus, the Fed understands inflation only when statisticians create a basket of goods and assign a relative weight of importance to each item. Between each period of comparison, the items, their quantities, and the relative weight of importance may be adjusted. Once complete, the Fed has their “data,” used to justify their policies. Nowhere does anyone seem to ask what the harm to society would be if their data is incorrect, or worse, inherently flawed.

Austrian economists have been vocal about the latter, saying there is an inherent problem of “measuring inflation,” for many generations, yet a research center which claims to be dedicated to inflation research somehow remains unaware. And even as recently as last year, Frank Shostak wrote a concise essay on the price level, concluding that:

Contrary to popular thinking, there is no such thing as price level that should be stabilized by the central bank in order to promote economic prosperity. Conceptually, the price level cannot be ascertained notwithstanding the most sophisticated mathematics.

Whether it’s the price level, defining inflation, or expansion of the money supply and its side effects, the Austrian school has written against these interventions for over a century. It would benefit society if an economic research center run by the Fed would consider these ideas; unfortunately, it seems they either don’t know or don’t care.

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