Power & Market
The Government of Poland announced this week that it is no longer providing weapons support to Ukraine, and that Warsaw will focus on building up Polish weapons stockpiles instead.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said Wednesday, “We are no longer transferring weapons to Ukraine, because we are now arming Poland with more modern weapons.”
Warsaw's decision comes as diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Poland have worsened due to a dispute over imports of Ukrainian grain into Poland. The conflict has its roots in the fact that Russia has largely prevented Ukraine from exporting grain via its Black Sea ports. Ukraine then turned to exporting grain by land, with much of it going through Poland. Waraw, however, feared that a massive influx of Ukrainian grain in Polish markets would drastically cut incomes for Polish farmers. As in many European countries, farmers in Poland retain sizable political clout, and Warsaw moved to convince the EU to restrict Ukrainian grain sales in Eastern Europe.
Last week, however, the European Commission moved to allow Ukrainian grain sales across the bloc prompting unilateral bans on sales in Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia. Ukraine then sued all three countries in the World Trade Organization, and has accused Warsaw of "acting in Moscow's Interests."
Thus, Poland's decision to pull back its Ukraine support comes after weeks of threats from Kyiv and the ongoing trade dispute. It is unlikely, however, that Warsaw's latest move is a mere bluff designed to push back Ukraine's grain exports. There is good evidence that the Ukrainian regime is beginning to wear out its welcome with Poland. Polish president Andrzej Duda this week compared Ukraine to a drowning person who pulls down people who try to save him. Duda suggested it becomes "necessary to act" to "protect oneself from being harmed by a drowning person" who "can pull you into the depths."
Also notable is the fact that these moves from Warsaw come as election season, so comments like these can also be read as attempts to shore up support with significant voting blocs within the country.
Until recently, Poland was one of Ukraine’s strongest allies in the war. Now Polish President Andrzej Duda compares Ukraine to a desperate drowning person who can pull the rescuer down with them. pic.twitter.com/JzjiGlp5Rn— David Sacks (@DavidSacks) September 21, 2023
The fact that Poland is slowly souring on endless largesse for Ukraine is quite a reversal from 2022 when Warsaw was one of Kyiv's most enthusiastic supporters. Indeed, as we noted here at mises.org, Polish support for Ukraine was downright reckless with Polish calls for a "no-fly zone" and a Polish scheme to ship F-16s to Ukraine in an attempt to escalate the conflict. Poland has also been a key partner to Kyiv in continuing to provide safe haven to about a million Ukrainian migrants seeking to escape conscription, war, and economic devastation in Ukraine. Poland also spent more than 8 billion euros on supporting these migrants in 2022 alone.
The slackening support for Ukraine also likely stems from the fact that more astute observers have perceived that initial predictions about the potential for a Europe-wide Russian invasion were clearly wrong. Russian tanks will obviously not be rolling through Poland or Hungary any time soon, even if NATO completely withdraws from Ukraine.
It is not a given, however, that the current ruling party in Poland will be rewarded in the upcoming elections for its softening support on Ukraine. NATO's operations in Ukraine—funded overwhelmingly by American taxpayers, of course—still has many supporters in Poland. However, if the ruling party comes out of the election unscathed following its pullback from Ukraine, this will likely be bad news for Kyiv which has already lost its summer "offensive" and continues to endure unsustainable losses. The Russians aren't giving up their control of southeast Ukraine any time soon. Moscow must retain control of the Cherson regime to keep control of irrigation waters for the Crimea, and total control over the Sea of Azov is key to ongoing plans to open up the trade routes with the Caspian Sea and the Volga River basin.
The longer Ukraine fails to make any progress in its south, the more likely other European regimes will conclude that endangering their own domestic budgets and agricultural voting bases are no longer worth the trouble.
The Biden Administration is celebrating the first anniversary of the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which allocates trillions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies to industries of their choice. Welcome to five-year plans.
While guest-lecturing in Moscow one cold March night in 1993, a student asked why western firms didn’t invest more in Russia. I had just finished my PhD Dissertation on the subject of US-Russian joint ventures, so I probably gave a long, boring answer, that ended with an observation that in Russia, it was hard to make plans. One bright student quipped, “We used to have plans. Five-year plans.” And the whole room erupted in laughter.
When I tell that story in my classes in the US, no one laughs. That’s because the Biden administration has just launched their version of “five-year plans.” They won’t work. I explain the failure of the Soviet socialist five-year plans in the classroom by asking a student who might be wearing a Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs jersey, “Will Mahomes be with the Chiefs in five years? Will they be in the Super Bowl in five years? Will they still be the Kansas City Chiefs in five years, or will they move to another city?” Students quickly get the idea that five-year plans are dumb because no one knows what jersey will be demanded in five years. Yet, five-year plans require that you make that prediction.
That statement from former House Speaker Dick Armey should be on the wall of every congressperson in DC. “The reason markets are smart is because they aggregate all the information available from every possible producer and consumer. Markets are where everyone votes. Isn’t that a good way to solve problems? Wasn’t that how the congressional representative was elected? We hear cries continually about “threats to democracy.” Well, the recent flood of money into narrowly specified industries is a threat to the democratic medium that we call the market. Why should only government elites get to vote? What’s wrong with “one person, one vote?” Because that’s what happens in a market. Here’s how economist Friedrich von Hayek explained it, "The advantage of a free market is that it allows millions of decision-makers to respond individually to freely determined prices, allocating resources - labor, capital, and human ingenuity - in a manner that can't be mimicked by a central plan, however brilliant the central planner."
When our house was built in 1999, the owner wanted to be “ahead of the curve,” so he ran three physical hard wires to every room: TV, telephone, and internet. We don’t use any of them. The investment was wasted. As the trillions of dollars in funding through the Inflation Reduction Act will be wasted. The Biden administration’s commitment to broadband, the power grid, and electric vehicles will suffer the same fate. No one knows which technology will dominate in the future.
“Predictions are difficult, especially those about the future,” quipped Danish Physicist Nils Bohr. But that doesn’t seem to slow the economic humanism that’s behind the motivation that encourages governmental bureaucrats to pick winners and losers. Speaking of those Kansas City Chiefs, would any reasonable person suggest that the government put their enormous resources behind ONE of the 32 teams in the NFL? Of course not, that would destroy the league. What do you think providing $28 billion via the Chips Act will do to the semiconductor industry?
When Milton Freidman popularized the phrase, “There is no free lunch,” he was making the point that trillions of dollars forcefully extracted from taxpayers are dollars that could have gone to other investments. Financial folks expect a return on their investment that is equal to, or above the average rate of return. Government subsidies perform well below that expected rate. Thus, every dollar that is committed to a government subsidy - on average - underperforms. That makes all of us poorer.
Solyndra is a classic example of governmental elites trying to predict the future. The solar panel manufacturer received $535 million in loan guarantees. When it failed, President Obama observed that he didn’t know which technologies would prevail. He’s right, he does not know. But the market does. The half-billion dollars that President Obama flushed down the Solyndra toilet was forcefully extracted from obedient, tax-paying citizens by the use of power. That’s why we should rely on the market.
When the market works, investors willingly contribute their own assets, by choice.
So it’s pretty simple: Would you rather have a society operated by power, or by freedom? That’s why it’s called free market capitalism. Another warning from the economist Hayek, “I regard the preservation of free markets, as an essential condition of the very survival of mankind.” Or as Whole Foods founder John Mackey said, “Capitalism is humanity’s greatest invention.” Then, government subsidies are humanity’s worst invention.
Only three months ago, the US debt crossed the $32 trillion mark. Here we are again, this week passing $33 trillion, with still no end in sight. As usual, Democrats are blaming Republicans, Republicans are blaming Democrats, as the political circus in Washington perpetuates a never-ending debt ceiling crisis.
The New York Times attempts to shed light on some of the reasons behind this relentless debt growth.
The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 was previously estimated to cost about $400 billion over a decade, but according to estimates …. it could cost more than $1 trillion thanks to strong demand for the law’s generous clean energy tax credits.
Connecting clean energy tax credits with inflation reduction remains a rather vague proposition; and trillion-dollar spending programs are notorious for blowing through budgets.
It’s bad enough the State forces taxation upon the People; but, the inability to spend within an annual multi-trillion-dollar budget only adds insult to injury.
The New York Times highlights another troubling issue:
In late 2022, the I.R.S. delayed by one year a new tax policy that would require users of digital wallets and e-commerce platforms to start reporting small transactions to the agency. The policy was projected to raise about $8 billion in additional tax revenue over a decade.
Now, picture being $33 trillion in debt while looking for new and innovative ways to tax private citizens on their crypto wallets to “raise” $8 billion over a 10-year period. It’s evident taxation alone will never sufficiently address the fiscal challenges in Washington.
A Treasury Department report last week showed that the deficit — the gap between what the United States spends and what it collects through taxes and other revenue — was $1.5 trillion for the first 11 months of the fiscal year, a 61 percent increase from the same period a year ago.
The feasibility of extracting an extra $1.5 trillion in annual tax revenue must be questioned. Barring significantly increasing the wealth confiscation of the masses, making up for this annual shortfall by simply taxing more will never suffice. Even if higher taxes were the solution, we shouldn't be surprised if deficits persist.
Amidst this alarming $33 trillion milestone, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen appears unfazed by the debt level, appearing on CNBC, addressing the nation with a straight face saying:
The statistic or metric that I look at most often to judge our fiscal course is net interest as a share of GDP.
By the same logic, should the government borrow and spend $10 trillion at 1% on make-work projects, this would be okay as the trillion-dollar interest expense pales in comparison to the boost in GDP. If so, it rings true that debt doesn’t matter, so long as taking on new debt services the old debt.
The causal nature of the Federal Reserve is seldom made. But we must keep in mind that the Fed’s ability to buy government debt makes the US Government's ability to spend money it doesn’t have that much easier. It’s true the Fed does not own all the US debt. But if it weren’t for the Fed, we wouldn’t be $33 trillion in debt as it is.
The Harmonized Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) consists of 12 subindices, which are weighted according to their shares in total household expenditures. If, for example, food and non-alcoholic beverages (subindex 1) account for 15% of expenditures, they should also be given a weight of 15% in the overall index. In this way, each expenditure category would be given the importance it has for an average household. This is the claim of official statistics. But here, too, as so often, aspiration and reality diverge.
In Germany, the traditionally largest subindex covers housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels (subindex 4). It has always accounted for more than 21% of the overall index since the mid-1990s. Between 2020 and 2022, the weight had increased to slightly more than 25%. The official statistics thus assumed that German households spend on average around a quarter of their total expenditure on goods of this category. This is too little in the eyes of some critics. Many households spend significantly more on goods of this type. In larger urban areas, households often spend more than a third of their income on rent alone.
There has now been an unexpected change in 2023. The Federal Statistical Offices did not increase the weight of subindex 4, but lowered it from 25.2% in the previous year to 16.5%. No valid justification for this has yet been provided. On the website of the Federal Statistical Offices, there are only empty phrases: "The Corona pandemic, which has been prevalent since 2020, with its restrictions on public life and the resulting consequences, makes it necessary to change the usual procedure for updating the goods weights for the third year in a row as well." (translated with DeepL because AI is really good at translating bureaucratic talk.)
How could one even justify such an implausible adjustment? As a matter of fact, the adjustment means that from now on official statistics will assume that the average German household spends only 16.5% of its total expenditure on housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels. Whether this assumption is realistic is something everyone can consider for themselves.
What is clear is that the down-weighted subindex 4 has been showing above-average inflation rates for some time now. Between 1996 and 2022, it has risen by 84% overall, but the HICP as a whole has risen by only 59%. Only subindex 2 for alcoholic beverages, tobacco and narcotics has risen even more strongly during this period, by 115%.
During the inflationary phase of last year, prices in subindex 4 rose the most of all. The inflation rate here was 13.9%, more than 5 percentage points above the official average inflation. That the Federal Statistical Offices have now decided to lower the weight of this subindex has one practical effect: the officially measured inflation will be lower. But it measures past reality.
Abstract: Counts of publications in the academic journals of the Austrian school of economics are used to rank scholars and institutions by research productivity in Austrian economics over the preceding decade. The journals surveyed are, alphabetically, Advances in Austrian Economics, Cosmos + Taxis, the Journal des économistes et des études humaines, the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics, and the Review of Austrian Economics. Ranking methodology follows the established mainstream literature but focuses on publications in journals that specialize in the Austrian school. An appraisal of the Austrian school’s progress over the past decade is provided, and implications for the future are suggested.
“I am feeling very good about that prediction,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Bloomberg when asked whether the U.S. would avoid a recession while still containing inflation. “I think you’d have to say we’re on a path that looks exactly like that.”
Tell that to the 39,000 Americans who filed bankruptcy in August. That number is an 18% increase from a year ago and with unemployment now just 3.8%, imagine when more people are laid off with over $1 trillion in credit card debt outstanding.
At the same time commercial bankruptcies increased nearly 17% in August compared to July, reports Fortune.com, marking the 13th consecutive month that total bankruptcies, including families and individuals, have logged year-over-year increases, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute.
Chapter 11 filings surged 54% from the same month from a year ago. US bankruptcy courts recorded six new, large filings ($50 million +) last week alone. At least 23 big filings happened last month. The jump in business failures, especially for big firms, is clear, Ed Flynn, a consultant with ABI who studies bankruptcy statistics told Fortune. “I think a lot of it is interest rates,” said Flynn. “There have been an unusually large number of large cases.”
If that’s the case more bankruptcy filings are on the way. The September 11th treasury note auction produced the highest yield since before the great financial crisis, 4.66%.
“Treasury yields also have also been pushed higher by growth in the supply of new notes and bonds to finance the US government’s widening budget gap. The three-year tenor increased by $2 billion this month and last month,” Elizabeth Stanton reported for Bloomberg.
If Secretary Yellen was familiar with the Austrian Business Cycle Theory she’d know the ongoing increase in interest rates means the landing will not be just hard, but historic in its brutality.
ABSTRACT: This article identifies the lack of policy analysis as a major research gap in pay equity policies. Applying a policy analytic approach, the article applies comparative empirical evidence to the tasks of problem structuring and policy prescription as well as to three different evaluation methods: effectiveness, cost-effectiveness, and benefit-cost analysis. The results show that pay equity policies lack fundamental justification as public policies. Implications for research and policy revision follow.
Late last month, the administrators at a Colorado public school—with the grandiose name "the Vanguard School"—tried to force a 12-year-old boy named Jaiden to remove a Gadsden flag patch from his backpack. The Gadsden flag may be more familiar to readers as simply the rattlesnake flag with the words "don't tread on me" on it. People who are at all familiar with the American revolution know the flag is a revolutionary-era flag with a message designed to repudiate the imperial despotism imposed on the Americans by British elites.
Teachers and administrators at the Vanguard School, however, were absolutely sure the flag has "origins with slavery, and the slave trade." Of course, this is exactly the kind of historical illiteracy and social-democratic revisionism we'd expect from public school teachers and administrators. "Teaching" at your average public school is mostly about running a taxpayer-funded propaganda mill and daycare center, and has little to do with the dissemination of any factual material. Thus, it is likely that the staff at this school saw on MSNBC once that the Gadsden flag is "racist" because some American conservatives wave it. The leap from this slur to the idea that the flag is a symbol of slavery is brief indeed.
This whole narrative is part of the story pushed by the "1619 Project" at the New York Times which would have us believe that the American Revolution itself was all about racism and slavery. Meanwhile, the real themes and facts of the revolution—secession, natural rights, radical liberalism, violent revolution, and extreme decentralization—have all been swept aside to serve Progressives' current ideological projects. The regime's propagandists—which includes most public school employees—naturally seek to destroy and discredit all symbols of the American Revolution beyond bland slogans about "taxation without representation." This framing of the revolution makes it all very safe and does not encourage any opposition to the current regime. After all, we have "representation" now—the millionaire gerontocracy in Congress "represents" you, don't you know—so there's no reason to think revolution can be justified. If you don't like something, just vote harder.
This sterile pro-status-quo interpretation of the revolution is exactly what we should expect to be taught in a government school because the correct interpretation is far too dangerous and inconvenient for the regime.
The reality of the revolution, of course, is that a sizable portion of the population—from intellectual elites in cities to ordinary farmers in the countryside—grew tired of the British yoke. Animated by a radical ideology of natural rights—which we now call "classical" liberalism or libertarianism—Americans declared the established government illegitimate and seceded. It didn't have to be that way. At first the Americans had asked politely for more freedom. They even sent the Olive Branch Petition to the King. For their efforts, the Americans were declared "traitors"—that epithet so often used by despots and their useful idiots everywhere.
When the British state eventually launched a war against the Americans to prevent their secession, the Americans were forced to take up arms and killed government soldiers and officials until they packed up and left the country. The revolutionaries only wanted peace and self-determination. The British refused to let them have it. The British got their response, and got it good and hard.
It was all morally justified, of course: the secession, the rebellion, the disdain for the British idea of "law and order." Parliament and the Crown had attempted to destroy the Americans' human rights—the rights of life, liberty, and property as outlined by the libertarian Leveller revolutionaries in England a century earlier. As a result, the revolutionaries were entitled to protect their rights by using violence in self-defense.
Naturally, today's elites ignore those parts of the American Revolution. It also now appears the Progressives have moved on to the next phase which is to discredit the revolution altogether. Thus, symbols of the revolution must be denounced as symbols of slavery, and all modern rebellion and secession declared to be "treason" or "sedition" or some other political "crime." It's okay to "rebel"—i.e., in the style of Antifa or Black Lives Matters—so long as the "solution" is always more state power. Real independence, secession, and rebellion are absolutely not allowed. The 1619 Project thus assures us the whole enterprise of the American Revolution was suspect. We're told those ill-mannered Americans should have listened to their betters in the imperial metropoles of Britain!
For those who actually respect human rights, however, any attempt to craft or promote this Progressive anti-revolutionary narrative must be met with enthusiastic opposition. In the case of Jaiden at the Vanguard School, there is a happy ending. The teachers were humiliated and Jaiden's backpack remains bedecked with the Gadsden flag. It's a small victory, but a necessary one. For obvious reasons, the regime doesn't want Americans to think secession or revolution—as so well described by Thomas Jefferson—is ever an option. Ever since the counter-revolutionaries got their new centralist-nationalist constitution in 1787, the American regime has been about the maintenance and spread of federal power. The revolution, however, acts as a beacon in the opposite direction, and Rothbard has explained why:
The Americans had always been intractable, rebellious, impatient of oppression, as witness the numerous rebellions of the late seventeenth century; they also had their own individualist and libertarian heritage, their Ann Hutchinsons and Rhode Island quasi anarchists, some directly linked with the left wing of the English Revolution. Now, strengthened and guided by the developed libertarian natural rights ideology of the eighteenth century, and reacting to aggrandizement of the British imperial state in the economic, constitutional, and religious spheres, the Americans, in escalated and radicalized confrontations with Great Britain, had made and won their Revolution. By doing so, this revolution, based on the growing libertarian idea pervading enlightened opinion in Europe, itself gave immeasurable impetus to the liberal revolutionary movement throughout the Old World, for here was a living example of a liberal revolution that had taken its daring chance, against all odds and against the mightiest state in the world, and had actually succeeded. Here, indeed, was a beacon light to all the oppressed peoples of the world!
The Austro-libertarian movement has the better ideas. They continue to be discussed, elaborated, and intellectually defended. But how can the right ideas be implemented? What good is it to be right if the reality is left-wing? In fact, most of the population, or at least public opinion, seems to be drifting further and further to the left, with cancel culture, climate hysteria, a sprawling welfare state and ever higher taxes and levies.
The right ideas and theories are there, but they have not yet been put successful in practice. How can this be changed? Of course, ideas are important, they must also be disseminated, from below, from the grassroots up. It's an arduous process. And there has been undeniable progress in recent years. Nevertheless, the left-wing zeitgeist is rolling over the freedoms of citizens almost unhindered; most shockingly during the Covid crisis. The left tries to paint anyone who stands in the zeitgeist´s way as an extremist or even a Nazi.
Against this background, what can a successful strategy look like? Murray Rothbard addressed this question in an article in the Rothbard-Rockwell Report entitled Right-Wing Populism: A Strategy for the Paleo Movement. His contribution is groundbreaking and forward-looking. He anticipates the successes of Donald Trump in the United States and, more recently, of Javier Milei in Argentina.
Javier Milei is making a splash on all sides, because on August 13, 2023, he won the primaries for the presidency in Argentina. In the German media, he is described as ultra-right and ultra-libertarian. Recently, the Financial Times dealt with the self-confessed anarcho-capitalist in a column, in which the author insinuated that the libertarian Milei would follow the strategy of right-wing populism designed by Murray Rothbard in 1992. This gives rise to the question if that claim is true and what exactly is this right-wing populism?
According to the paleo-libertarian Rothbard, the program of right-wing populism includes 8 main points:
- Radical tax cuts
- Radical reduction of the welfare state
- Abolition of privileges for "protected" minorities
- Crushing criminals
- Getting rid of bums
- Abolition of the Federal Reserve
- A program of America First (anti-globalist and isolationist)
- Defending traditional family values
Indeed, Milei's election manifesto is very much in line with Rothbard's right-wing populism and paleo-libertarianism. Milei wants to radically reduce taxes. He never tires of calling taxes what they are, theft. He also wants to radically grind down the welfare state and likes to illustrate the reduction in government spending and his proposal of reducing Argentinian ministries from 18 to 8 with a chainsaw. His "Chainsaw Plan" is intended to radically trim the state.
Milei repeatedly speaks of equality before the law as a fundamental liberal principle and wants to abolish privileges for minorities. As a result, he repeatedly clashes with radical feminists who defend legal privileges for women.
The imprisonment of criminals is also on Milei's agenda. Gun freedom is in his program so that victims can defend themselves against criminals. Those who refuse to work are no longer supported by the state in his Argentina.
Milei also has the 6th of Rothbard's points in his agenda: Milei wants to abolish the central bank of Argentina. Using right-wing populist rhetoric he aims to physically blow up the central bank. In doing so, he would wipe out the power of one of the most inflationary central banks, which willingly financed all Peronist and Kirchnerist spending programs. He wants to dollarize the country and open it up to currency competition.
Milei also puts his own country first: Argentina first. Right-wing populism opposes the globalist agenda. It cuts development aid, climate programs and military adventures. Milei likes to point out that Argentina was one of the richest countries in the world at the beginning of the 20th century thanks to classical liberal policies and was destroyed by socialism in the 20th century. In 35 years, Milei promises, Argentina can be a superpower again. The prerequisite for this to happen is a return to libertarianism.
Finally, Milei also defends traditional family values and opposes the state takeover of family responsibilities. The vehement opponent of abortion has defended the right to life several times in debates with radical feminists.
Milei used to be chief economist at various institutions and a professor of economics. He is a follower of the Austrian School of Economics. One of his dogs is named Murray. He contributor a chapter two-volume Festschrift in honor of Jesús Huerta de Soto edited by David Howden and myself. A couple of years ago he was guest via zoom in my seminar in our Master's degree in Austrian Economics that we offer in Madrid, and spoke about his strategy.
In short, Milei is one of us. And he can win the election. He can become president of Argentina. An Austrian. An anarcho-capitalist. With an openly radical libertarian election program. In a country that has paid homage to socialism for decades. Amazing.
Milei has been very present in the public debate in Argentina for years. He gained fame as a polarizing and fiercely arguing talk show guest. Later, he decided to create his own party to lead the culture war against socialism and statism more effectively and to bring the right ideas to more people.
His rhetorical strategy in debates is vociferous, belligerent, and is sometimes perceived as offensive (if the truth can be offensive at all). He does not allow himself to be intimidated or belittled by left-wing opinion-makers. In a debate, he simply shouts louder than the leftists, whom he calls "Zurdos", and interrupts them to tell them to their faces that they are saying an absolute stupidity and have no idea what they are talking about. You should read Hayek, Mises and Rothbard first, Milei recommends to them. He also calls leftists and politicians parasites and thieves, in a debate. For taxes are theft.
In keeping with Rothbard's strategy of right-wing populism, he clearly names the profiteers of the state apparatus. He rails again and again against the caste of politicians and bureaucrats. He calls them parasites that live at the expense of the hard-working and decent citizens. Politicians are completely useless and could not live without the productive Argentinians. Politics is not the solution, but the problem. And politicians form part of the problem. In this way, Milei wins over those decent Argentinians who suffer most from the yoke of the state. Equally clear are his remarks on the concept of social justice. So-called social justice is a monstrous injustice because it means unequal treatment of people before the law. It is a fig leaf for envy and resentment.
Milei's emotional and polemical nature resonates with many, especially among young people. After winning the primaries in mid-August, he has legitimate hopes for the Argentine presidency.
Milei's successes have become a topic of everyday conversation, especially in the Hispanic world. One speaks of Milei with astonishment and appreciation. Acquaintances and friends send short videos of his rhetorical gems. Libertarian ideas are back in vogue. People are venturing forward with libertarian opinions, everywhere and unexpectedly. The window of public and permissible opinions is shifting in the direction of freedom. Thanks to Milei.
Regardless of whether the charismatic Milei ultimately wins the election, his campaign has sparked a young and powerful libertarian movement. His triumph in the primaries may be more significant than the Ron Paul Revolution of 2008 and 2012. The incredible fact is that he is successful. With a right-wing populism that Rothbard recommended, in a run-down country, with his charismatic personality, with aggressive rhetoric. Nothing is impossible. Even a libertarian can win a democratic election. It's the strategy that counts. ¡Vamos Javier! ¡Viva la libertad, carajo!
A member of the Fort Lupton, Colorado Police Department was fired last month after she was found guilty of reckless endangerment and third-degree assault. Former Officer Jordan Steinke had arrested Yareni Rios-Gonzalez for suspected menacing and put her in the back of the patrol car of Platteville police officer Pablo Vasquez. Vasquez had parked his cruiser on railroad tracks. Moments later, the car was struck by a passing train with Rios-Gonzales inside. The victim—who has never been convicted of any crime related to the incident—and can thus be presumed innocent—suffered life-threatening injuries as a result. She barely survived.
The incident helps to illustrate the risks faced by suspects in custody when at the mercy of indifferent, incompetent, or hostile law enforcement officers.
The matter of police aggression toward persons already in handcuffs is also notable for being central to the George Floyd case. Floyd was subject to deadly force by police officers even though he was cuffed and posed little-to-no threat to the safety of officers or the public at large.
Indeed, we can point to many, many cases across the country of police assaulting persons who were in handcuffs. In most of these cases, police convicted of offenses receive slaps on the wrist such as job loss or probation. When lawsuits are pursued against the police officers or their respective departments, it is the taxpayers who pay the bill. Police attacks against handcuffed victims provide interesting case studies because they cannot be justified by the usual claims about the use of force by police. When law enforcement officers use violent tactics against others, it is often said this is justified because the officers were in danger of harm themselves, and thus acted in self-defense. These claims are often correct. In cases where suspects are already restrained, however, suspects do not pose a deadly threat to police and police assaults cannot be justified.
Unfortunately, protections for police such as qualified immunity and pro-police bias in law courts often prevents victims from receiving sufficient restitution from their attackers.
Murray Rothbard noted that the deck is already stacked against those who are taken into custody by police, and a legal double standard clearly exists. Rothbard writes:
The policeman who apprehends a criminal and arrests him, and the judicial and penal authorities who incarcerate him before trial and conviction—all should be subject to the universal law. In short, if they have committed an error and the defendant turns out to be innocent, then these authorities should be subjected to the same penalties as anyone else who kidnaps and incarcerates an innocent man.
In the Western world, the principal that government agents must be subject to the same law as everyone else is many centuries old. The reality faced by police, however, is something far different. Police can arrest, restrain, and imprison persons who have been convicted or no crime of offense. If police are wrong, and have imprisoned the wrong person, they rarely face any sanctions that an ordinary person would face for similar behavior. Rothbard goes on to note that in a truly just world, police
must observe the critical libertarian rule that no physical force may be used against anyone who has not been convicted as a criminal— otherwise, the users of such force, whether police or courts, would be themselves liable to be convicted as aggressors if it turned out that the person they had used force against was innocent of crime.
Of course, many will argue that this simply isn't practical and some suspected violent criminals must be detained until their guilt can be ascertained.
Even if we grant that claim for the sake of argument, we can see that depriving people of their freedom when they have yet to be convicted of anything is very serious business and offers many opportunities for abuse. Thus, one would think that taking non-convicts into custody—i.e., people still presumed innocent—requires the utmost care from police officers to preserve the health and safety of those who have been rendered unable to protect themselves or see to their own safety when in transit. Put another way, people in restraints have been deprived of exercising self-ownership and so it falls to the arresting officers to guarantee the suspects' safety.
Moreover, even those people in custody who are later found guilty of some offense must not abused while in custody. Punishments are to be dispensed by the law courts, not by arresting officers.
Unfortunately, many police officers don't see it that way.
On the matter of George Floyd, for example, Floyd already had his hands cuffed behind his back when police officer Derek Chauvin saw fit to kneel on his neck for several minutes. Why did Chauvin decide to use deadly force on a man already in restraints? This question was posed during Chauvin's trial to Minneapolis homicide lieutenant Richard Zimmerman, who is Minneapolis's longest-serving sworn officer. Zimmerman testified that Chauvin's use of deadly force on Floyd was "totally unnecessary" and that the use of deadly force would only be justified if the officers felt their lives were threatened by Floyd. Zimmerman testified it's hard to see how Chauvin could possibly come to this conclusion since the threat level posed by handcuffed suspects is very low. (Police Sergeant David Pleoger also testified that Chauvin used unnecessary force and violated policy by pinning Floyd on the ground.)
Chauvin's defenders naturally attempted to come up with excuses for Chauvin's incompetence and aggression. Although it has never been established that Floyd actually used a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill, some claimed that Floyd was arrested while stealing and thus—for some unexplained reason—deserved to have a man kneel on his neck while handcuffed. Others noted Floyd may have been on drugs, as if this was in any way relevant to the question of whether or not a police officer ought to be able to attack a handcuffed suspect.
The truth is that Chauvin likely assaulted Floyd simply because Floyd was being uncooperative and Chauvin felt Floyd was wasting Chauvin's time. We see this often. Suspects in handcuffs—i.e., people who have been convicted of no crime—have often been the target of police abuse because police grow impatient.
For example, police officers in Yuba City, California threw an elderly handcuffed man to the ground and paralyzed him because he wasn't complying fast enough to suit the short-fused police officers. In East Point, Georgia police shocked handcuffed Gregory Towns with a taser 14 times because he wasn't walking fast enough for police. In Clayton County, Georgia, a sheriff's deputy held a gun to a man's head while the man had his hands cuffed behind his back. The deputy wanted the man to comply with her orders more quickly. Officers in West Valley City, Utah shot and killed a man who was in handcuffs and detained inside a police station. Near Trinidad, Colorado, deputies barked conflicting orders at a handcuffed man who had parked in a place police didn't like. When the man couldn't figure out the deputies' incoherent demands, the police tased him in the face. Police in Castle Rock, Colorado allowed a police dog to attack a handcuffed man sitting on a curb. Police used a similar tactic in Alpharetta, Georgia.
Sometimes police abuse handcuffed suspects to extract information. In Roswell, Georgia, police locked a handcuffed 13-year old boy in the back of a police cruiser with the windows down in sub-freezing temperatures. The child wouldn't answer questions, so a police sergeant concluded "he's not going to say anything if he's warm." Police decided to freeze the boy until he talked.
These are all just cases that have been recently resolved, reported, or subject to legal proceedings. A longer timeline, of course, shows a long history of police abusing people in custody who are restrained and unarmed. These are also just the more egregious cases where police met with some level of legal accountability. Lesser cases often just bring acquittal or docked pay for abusive police. For example, when a Miami police officer kicked a handcuffed man in the head while he was lying on the pavement, the only punishment for the officer was a lost job. After an Atlanta police officer kicked a handcuffed woman in the head, he was fired but faced no legal consequences. Moreover, because most states protect officers from any personal liability due to "qualified immunity" laws, most legal settlements are extracted not from individual officers or police pension funds—as should be the case—but from taxpayer funds.
Yet, even when we recognize that policing can be a dangerous business and suspects are often unpredictable, how police treat people in custody is an indication of just how much police consider themselves to be above the law. It's one thing to react violently against armed and unrestrained suspects. That is often justified. It's something else entirely when police assault people who are on the ground with their hands cuffed behind their backs. Or, as in the case of Rio-Gonzales, the police may take away a person's freedom, but can't be bothered to ensure that person is not parked in the path of an oncoming train. Police are very good at taking advantage of the extra power and privileges that come with a gun and a badge. But they are apparently much less concerned with the added responsibilities and obligations that come with taking people into custody.
Rothbard was right that these abusers ought to be treated the same as any private citizen who attacks a person in handcuffs and is unable to defend himself. Police must be held personally liable for the harm they caused. Instead, under the status quo, these offending officers often enjoy free legal services from the police unions and can hide behind immunity laws. It's a two-tiered justice system, after all.