Rothbard's Man, Economy, and State: a Memoir

Rothbard's Man, Economy, and State: a Memoir

04/13/2018Gary North

In October 1962, I was given a lifetime advantage: a copy of Murray Rothbard’s Man, Economy, and State. In the language of journalism, it was hot off the presses. It had just been published. I was sent a copy by F. A. Harper, known as Baldy, who was not bald. At the time, he ran the Institute for Humane Studies. Until early that year, he had managed the William Voker Fund. The Volker Fund had put up the money that subsidized the publication of Rothbard’s book. It was published by Van Nostrand, a small but respectable mainstream publishing house located in Princeton, New Jersey. Van Nostrand was also the publisher of a series of books that had been financed by the Volker Fund over the previous two years.

I was in my final year of college as an undergraduate. I had written to Harper the previous year about some questions I had about Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action (Yale University Press, 1949). Harper responded in a letter. I still have the fragments of that letter. For some unknown reason, I cut off the introduction to the letter, which would have had the date on it. I suspect this was in the summer of 1961.

By 1962, Harper was serving as my part-time mentor. I did not fully understand this at the time. In November 1961, he paid for me to fly to Burlingame, California, in order to spend a few hours with him. This was one of the turning points in my life, although I did not know this at the time. He gave me a copy of Israel Kirzner’s book, The Economic Point of View, which had been published by Van Nostrand in 1960. I wrote this on the front page: “presented by F. A. Harper November, 1961.” He was recruiting me. I have been grateful for this ever since. When he sent me Man, Economy and State, he was still in the process of recruiting me.

Within a few months after my visit, Harper was fired by the man who controlled the Volker Fund, Harold Luhnow, the nephew of William Volker, who died in 1947. Luhnow took over the management of the Fund in 1947. He shifted its focus from charitable activities in Kansas City, Missouri to financing the remnants of classical liberalism. In early 1962, he replaced Harper with Ivan Bierly, who had received his Ph.D. under Harper at Cornell years before. The Volcker Fund was renamed “The Center for American Studies.” That shift turned out to be crucial in my career. Bierly hired a new staff. One of the people he hired was R. J. Rushdoony. I wrote to him in the spring of 1962. I met him when he lectured for two weeks at a summer seminar sponsored by the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists. Rushdoony continued to recruit me in my senior year. He brought me to work for the Center as a summer intern in 1963, and I lived at his home. I spent the whole summer reading the basic texts of Austrian School economics, including Man, Economy, and State.

ACADEMIC GUILDS

Rothbard’s book was a masterpiece, both conceptually and rhetorically -- the art of persuasion. He had a rigorously systematic mind. He also had a stupendous memory regarding materials he had read, which he demonstrated in the book’s footnotes. He had an unmatched ability to write clearly. I mentioned this in my article in the 1988 Festschrift for Rothbard, Man, Economy, and Liberty. In my article, “Why Murray Rothbard Will Never win the Nobel Prize,” I said that he wrote much too clearly to win it.

Mises was a clear writer. But in Human Action, he offered fewer footnotes than Man, Economy, and State. He also did not use the paraphernalia of modern economics. There are no equations and no graphs in anything Mises ever wrote. The famous supply and demand scissors are absent in his books. In terms of presentation, Rothbard in Man, Economy, and State was far closer to the mainstream academic community than Mises was. But he was not close to the mainstream community with respect to the content of what he wrote. He was an academic pariah in 1962, and he remained a pariah all his life. He shared this position with Mises.

This was not a liability in the long run. One of the important points made by Thomas Kuhn’s paradigm-shifting book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, also published in 1962, was this: major shifts in the worldview of intellectuals are usually generated from either the fringes of an academic guild or from outside the academic guild. If they are generated from inside, they are generated from young men who are reacting against the outlook of the guild. They are on its fringes. The other source of change in perception comes from brilliant outsiders who are in no way under the authority of a particular academic guild.

Mises was funded from outside of academia. New York University paid him no salary for a quarter of a century. He retired in 1969. He may have been the oldest professor in the nation. The money to pay his salary had been put up by rich friends of Mises, most notably Lawrence Fertig, who was on the board of New York University. He donated through the Foundation for Economic Education after its founding by Leonard E. Read in 1946. The Volker Fund also put up money for Mises and Hayek at the University of Chicago. The Volker Fund had put Rothbard on its payroll, mainly to review books, beginning in the mid-1950's. Rothbard was not on any university or academic payroll in 1962. Only after the demise of the Center for American Studies in 1964 did he get his first teaching position, which was at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute. The school did not offer an economics major. He taught budding engineers. He was on the fringes.

Mises and Rothbard were outsiders. That was their great advantage. This was not clear to me in 1963, but after I read Kuhn’s book in 1968, I understood. The economics guild had no control over either of them. Neither of them published in professional journals. Rothbard had published a few essays, but after 1960 he never bothered again. He made a wise decision. He did not have to conform to what any editor believed.

CLARITY AS A STANDARD

I have always appreciated clarity of exposition. In 1963, as today, I was of the opinion that an author had two primary responsibilities: accuracy and clarity. Persuasion is in third place. Rothbard was tremendous at all three. In this sense, he became my literary model. To the extent that I am known for my writing, I gained this skill more from Rothbard than anybody else.

In 1966, I took a graduate seminar on the American Revolution from Douglass Adair. He had been the editor of The William and Mary Quarterly. He had personally transformed it from a journal that published regional memorabilia into the premier journal of colonial history. He told us that he always used this criterion for screening manuscripts. If an article did not stand on its own merits without the footnotes, he would not publish it. He said that the footnotes were important to validate the thesis, but if the article was heavily dependent on the footnotes to make its point, it was not worth publishing. That impressed me at the time. I see in retrospect that everything scholarly/academic that Rothbard ever wrote would have qualified for publication in terms of Adair’s rule.

Adair made another observation. He said that every scholar would benefit from a year of editing a scholarly journal in his field. Why? Because he would discover how few of his colleagues have the ability to write clearly.

Rothbard had a huge advantage over his peers. He was the master of clarity in the field of economics. He was even more clear than Hazlitt. As a friend of Hazlitt's, I guarantee you that Hazlitt would have been the first to admit this. He was a humble man. For a man who achieved so much, he was an astoundingly humble man. He had an enormous respect for Rothbard.

F. A. Hayek was a clear writer, but as he admitted, he was not a systematic thinker. He divided schools of thought into two groups: systematizers and puzzlers. Hayek called himself a puzzler. In economic thought, this is clearly seen in Austrian School economics from the beginning. Carl Menger and Eugen Böhm-Bawerk were systematizers. Friederich Wieser was a puzzler. Not many people have ever read Wieser. Puzzlers are harder to read than systematizers.

Hayek gained attention in the English-speaking academic world beginning in the early 1930's. Mises was not well-known in academia outside of Austria. Hayek is still the best known Austrian School economist. He won the Nobel Prize in 1974. But Hayek never wrote a treatise on economics.

Henry Hazlitt was a clear writer. He was rhetorically gifted. He had the ability to sustain long, complex arguments, as he demonstrated in his refutation of Keynes, The Failure of the “New Economics.” It was published in 1959. We never see it footnoted in any scholarly journal. There are few people who have ever read it. Hundreds of thousands of people have read his little masterpiece, Economics in One Lesson (1946), but he wrote it in just a few months, and it is not systematic in the way that treatises are supposed to be. It was not meant to be a treatise. It was meant to be a popular book that introduced people to free-market principles. It succeeded. Nothing that Hazlitt ever wrote was a comprehensive treatise.

In 1949, the world of economic theory was waiting for a clear, comprehensive, systematic treatise.

PIECES OF THE ECONOMIC PUZZLE

Most of the pieces of the economic puzzle had been lying around in an unorganized pile ever since Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations (1776). They had been refined and trimmed by Carl Menger in 1871 in his Principles of Economics. The British economist Alfred Marshall in 1890 attempted to put the pieces together in his Principles of Economics, but as is true of so many British thinkers, he was something of a puzzler, not a systematizer. The British intellectual tradition is inductivist, not deductivist. It does not begin with first principles. The pieces in his textbook did not fit together well because they were not systematically based on methodological individualism in the way that Human Action is.

I will now make an admission. It was not until just a few years ago that I recognized what should have been screamingly obvious to me and everybody else. Human Action was the first comprehensive treatise on economics. This may seem like a preposterous statement, but if you look back over the books on economics prior to Human Action, there is no book that starts at the beginning – the acting individual – and develops a comprehensive theory of all aspects of the market process in terms of just a few principles, which Mises called axioms and corollaries. No other economist called them axioms and corollaries. That was what made Mises unique.

Rothbard was an a priorist (deductivist) in epistemology, just as Mises was. In 1962, this made a grand total of two economists. In Man, Economy, and State, Rothbard laid out the chapters of the book in a systematic fashion. From Chapter 2 on, each chapter is a development of the previous chapter. This is what a prioristsare supposed to do. They start with axioms, and they develop the axioms, point by point. Mises had done the same thing in Human Action. Rothbard did it with greater precision. He also did it with greater clarity.

The first person to understand the uniqueness and comprehensive nature of Human Action was Rothbard. He saw this in 1949. This gave him an edge over all of his contemporaries. That is why Man, Economy, and State, which took him over a decade to write, was so important to my generation of budding economists. He systematized what was already a systematic introduction to economic theory. He made it easier for us to grasp the importance of what Mises had done.

Mises put together pieces of the puzzle. Rothbard took that completed puzzle and made it more palatable for younger economists who wanted to see graphs. Fortunately, he never used an equation. That would have sullied the product.

Rothbard never claimed uniqueness for his book. He fully understood that it was a derivative product. But as an introductory treatise that uses the paraphernalia of the modern economic textbook, Rothbard’s book is more serviceable than Mises’s book. In 1962, the enormous volume of his footnotes represented a survey of almost everything that had been published in the journals over the last 50 years. I have never seen anything like it. Admittedly, this dates the book. But that was inevitable, given Rothbard’s strategy. He wanted to introduce the basics of Austrian economic thought, and he wanted it within a framework of the sweep of economic opinion as of 1960 or thereabouts.

CONCLUSION

I don’t know if younger scholars read Man, Economy, and State before they read Human Action. In retrospect, I’m not sure whether I finished Man, Economy and State before I finished Human Action. I do know that I read quite a bit of Human Action in 1961. I wrote to Harper about the book in 1961. But I don’t remember if I read the whole book before the summer of 1963. I had finished both books by late August 1963. But there is no question in my mind that Rothbard opened the categories of economics more clearly to me than Mises had done. Rothbard’s literary style and his approach to economics was exactly what I needed in 1963. His book gave me an edge on my contemporaries. It shaped my work dramatically both in graduate school and subsequently. I even wrote a term paper for a course in apologetics – the philosophical defense of Christianity – on Rothbard’s epistemology. That was in 1964.

If someone has never read any economics, and he wants to start at the top, I recommend that he read Human Action first. But if he is in graduate school as an economics major, he probably would be wise to read Man, Economy and State first. If you like supply and demand graphs, read Rothbard’s book first. If you don’t like graphs, read Mises first.

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Newman on Tom Woods Show: The Progressive Era Was a Scam

24 min agoPatrick Newman

Patrick Newman joined the Tom Woods Show yesterday to talk about the Murray Rothbard book he edited on the Progressive Era.

Check out the episode here. 

 

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Was Mises a Neoliberal?

04/23/2018Jeff Deist

Does neoliberalism, the tired slogan of our time, have a precise definition? 

The short answer is no, it doesn't. At least not readily one readily at hand, if this New Republic article is any guide:

For the left, neoliberalism often connotes a form of liberal politics that has embraced market-based solutions to social problems: the exchanges of the Affordable Care Act, for instance, rather than a single-payer, universal program like Medicare. {Jonathan} Chait argues that leftists use the word to “bracket the center-left together with the right” and so present socialism as the only real alternative. But the term has its critics on the left, too: Political economist Bill Dunn finds it too insular, rarely adopted by the people it is said to describe. The historian Daniel Rodgers, meanwhile, argues that neoliberal means too many different things, and therefore not enough.

But is neoliberal a slur, as some contend, used to attack Democrats who are overly cozy with Wall Street and global corporations? Does it describe left-liberals who have given up the fight for full democratic socialism, and sold out their principles to enjoy the fruits of unjust capitalism?

English anthropologist and geographer David Harvey implies as much, though he does assign reasonably cohesive elements to the term:

An economy built on just-in-time production, the internationalization of capital, the deregulation of industry, insecure labor, and the entrepreneurial self. In the years since, these trends have only accelerated due to improvements in, and the spread of, information technologies. But few call this “post-Fordism” any longer. They mostly call it “neoliberalism.”

Harvey references Henry Ford, not Gerald Ford, in his identification of neoliberalism as the political devolution of western societies from democratic nation states into subdivisions of borderless mass production and mass consumption. And this materialism is at the core of why left-progressives view neoliberalism as a pejorative term; and perhaps not surprisingly label the New Republic itself a neoliberal outlet (notwithstanding protestations by Chait and others). To progressives, the Clintons, the Democratic National Committee, and traditional old guard liberal media outlets are merely center-right leaning mouthpieces for big business.  

As with most political (and politicized) terms, definitions vary wildly depending on who uses them. Murray Rothbard and Elizabeth Warren hardly mean the same thing when they say "capitalism," and we all suffer from the tendency to imbue words with meanings that suit our purposes. Interestingly, use of the term "neoconservative" similarly has been attacked as a slur, one designed as code for undue Zionism or overeagerness to unleash military forces. Helpfully, however, neoconservative Godfather Irving Kristol himself provided us with the broad parameters, and the expression has lost much of its bite in the post Bush 43/Cheny/Rumsfeld era.

Within the current zeitgeist we can offer a less inflammatory yet still loose definition of neoliberalism than Harvey: the basic program of late 20th century liberalism (social democracy, public education, civil rights, entitlements, welfare, feminism, and a degree of global governance), coupled with at least grudging if not open respect for the role of markets in improving human life. In other words, neoliberals are left-liberals who accept the role of markets and the need for economic development as part of the larger liberal program. Think Bono, who considers himself a progressive "citizen of the world" yet admires markets and globalism.

With this definition in mind, the New Republic article goes badly astray when it asserts that neoliberalism "emerged from the ruins of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the early twentieth century." First and foremost, it's hard to consider any century-old framework of thought as neo anything. And it's difficult to trace meaningful connection between first and second generation Austrian economists, writing before World War II, before truly global trade, and before the triumphant ascension of central banks, with today's neoliberal political program of social democracy and political globalism. Menger, Mises, and Hayek, with their deep regard for specialization, comparative advantage, and global trade, all wrote within a basic framework of nation states.  

As is often the case, critics of markets and private property mistake means with ends, and assume a lack of concern for "human" considerations is necessarily bound up with rigorous concern for material considerations. Hence author Patrick Iber travels a winding path of cherry-picking Misesian and Hayekian thought, the effect of which is deeply misguided though not malevolent. Not much is new here; Iber simply repeats the standard progressive arguments: they favored capital over labor. They supported democracy only as a means of reducing violent people's uprisings. They supported government, but only in service to wealth and property. And so forth. Yet by New Republic standards he treats both men somewhat fairly, far better than, say, The New York Times or Washington Post would and have. There is only one out-of-context cheap shot directed at Mises ("he was pleased when an anti-fascist uprising was violently suppressed in 1927"); meanwhile the article at least recognizes Hayek's moral concerns over apartheid in South Africa and Pinochet's dictatorship in Chile.

But the author errs badly in assuring the reader that Mises (the democrat) preferred capital to labor in service of the bourgeoisie, and that Hayek thought markets took priority over "human rights and social justice." This is especially interesting given Hayek's own perspective on the latter term, and the typically vague manner in which the author employs both.

For our purposes we can neatly distinguish "real" liberalism, or classical liberalism for lack of a better historical term, from neoliberalism. Liberalism in Mises's conception is fundamentally concerned with private property. In this view the means of production — capital — are in private hands. They are not owned by the state, by society, by "the people," or collectively. Full stop. No amount of regulated semi-capitalism or semi-socialism can evade this foundation, because both individual and economic freedom hinge on the free use and control of private property. Control over one's property, meaning the ability to use, alter, alienate, encumber, or sell it, is the essence of true property ownership—albeit always subject to tort liability for harms caused to others. Any amount of taxation, regulation, or outright confiscation necessarily erodes this control, which Mises acknowledged even within his framework of utilitarian democracy as a protector of property rights.

This insistence on property rights at the core of any liberal program is scarcely to be found in today's neoliberalism, yet again it remains at the heart of left-progressive antipathy to the term. They are suspicious of any introduction, or re-introduction, of markets and property into what ought to be a worldview of economic planning by the state.

We should note that Mises also appended his program of liberalism with two important corollaries that were "neo" for the time, specifically the interwar years: freedom and peace. In contrast with what he saw as the "old" 19th century perspective, a "present-day" liberalism had "outgrown" the old version through "deeper and better insights into interrelationships." Meaningful liberalism required political freedom for the individual, especially freedom from involuntary servitude. And peace was the foundation for all true economic activity, inescapably tied to civilization. Undoubtedly New Republic readers would benefit from understanding just how progressive Mises really was when Liberalism first appeared in 1927!

Meaningful argumentation, as opposed to politics and outright war, requires words and precise definitions. This is why, unfortunately, almost all political talk devolves into what Orwell accurately described as "meaningless words." Meaningless words attempt to impugn or attack the "other," rather than convey specific information or create understanding and consensus. Politics is not a science, but we would all benefit from insisting on rigor in definitions from political pundits just as we once did from social scientists. Imprecise meanings and shifting semantics generate more heat than light, and leave us all talking past one another.

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Fed: "Underlying Inflation" near a 12-Year High

04/23/2018Ryan McMaken

According to the Federal Reserve's Underlying Inflation Gauge, the 12-month inflation growth in March was at 3.13 percent. That's the highest rate recorded in 140 months, or nearly 12 years. The last time the UIG measure was as high was in July 2006, when it was at 3.2 percent. 

The Fed began publicly reporting on new measure in December of last year, and takes into account a broader measure of inflation than the more-often used CPI measure.

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Not shockingly, the UIG has shown a higher rate of inflation than the CPI, most of the time in recent years. Moreover, this gap between UIG and CPI appears to be growing.1 

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In March, while the UIG was 3.13 percent, the CPI growth rate was 2.4 percent. This was a 13-month high for the CPI. 

The use of consumer prices only in the CPI has long been a problem, in that the cost of living and planning for the future does not involve only the basket of goods used in the CPI calculations. A wide variety of assets affect the American economy as well. 

As explained by the New York Fed's summary of the UIG measure:

We use data from the following two broad categories: (1) consumer, producer, and import prices for goods and services and (2) nonprice variables such as labor market measures, money aggregates, producer surveys, and financial variables (short- and long-term government interest rates, corporate and high-yield bonds, consumer credit volumes and real estate loans, stocks, and commodity prices).

But don't expect the Fed to abandon its fondness for the CPI and the arbitrary "2-percent inflation" goal any time soon. The fact that the broader measure of inflation is climbing to the highest level seen in more than a decade is apparently not a matter of concern. 

Today, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Charles Evans, reiterated that the Fed is holding to its 2-percent inflation goal - and they're not talking about using the UIG measure. 

  • 1. The gap is simply calculated by substracting the CPI YOY growth rate from UIG YOY growth rate. A negative value means the CPI was higher than the UIG in that period. 
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What Will Weapons Inspectors Find in Syria — And Does it Matter?

04/23/2018Ron Paul

Inspectors from the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have finally arrived in Douma, Syria, to assess whether a gas attack took place earlier this month. It has taken a week for the inspectors to begin their work, as charges were thrown back and forth about who was causing the delay.

Proponents of the US and UK position that Assad used gas in Douma have argued that the Syrian and Russian governments are preventing the OPCW inspectors from doing their work. That, they claim, is all the evidence needed to demonstrate that Assad and Putin have something to hide. But it seems strange that if Syria and Russia wanted to prevent an OPCW inspection of the alleged sites they would have been the ones to request the inspection in the first place.

The dispute was solved just days ago, as the OPCW Director-General released a statement explaining that the delay was due to UN security office concerns for the safety of the inspectors.

We are told that even after the OPCW inspectors collect samples from the alleged attack sites, it will take weeks to determine whether there was any gas or other chemicals released. That means there is very little chance President Trump had “slam dunk” evidence that Assad used gas in Douma earlier this month when he decided to launch a military attack on Syria. To date, the US has presented no evidence of who was responsible or even whether an attack took place at all. Even right up to the US missile strike, Defense Secretary Mattis said he was still looking for evidence.

In a Tweet just days ago, Rep. Thomas Massie expressed frustration that in a briefing to Congress last week the Director of National Intelligence, the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of Defense “provided zero real evidence” that Assad carried out the attack. Either they have it and won’t share it with Congress, he wrote, or they have nothing. Either way, he added, it’s not good.

We should share Rep. Massie's concerns.

US and French authorities have suggested that videos shared on the Internet by the US-funded White Helmets organization were sufficient proof of the attack. If social media postings are these days considered definitive intelligence, why are we still spending $100 billion a year on our massive intelligence community? Maybe it would be cheaper to just hire a few teenagers to scour YouTube?

Even if Assad had gassed his people earlier this month there still would have been no legal justification for the US to fire 100 or so missiles into the country. Of course such a deed would deserve condemnation from all civilized people, but Washington’s outrage is very selective and often politically motivated. Where is the outrage over Saudi Arabia’s horrific three-year war against Yemen? Those horrors are ignored because Saudi Arabia is considered an ally and thus above reproach.

We are not the policemen of the world. Bad leaders do bad things to their people all the time. That’s true even in the US, where our own government steadily chips away at our Constitution by setting up a surveillance state.

We have neither the money nor the authority to launch bombs when we suspect someone has done something wrong overseas. A hasty decision to use force is foolish and dangerous. As Western journalists reporting from Douma are raising big questions about the official US story of the so-called gas attack, Trump’s inclination to shoot first and ask questions later may prove to be his downfall.

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Reprinted with permission. 

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This Is Amazon Go’s Real Innovation

04/23/2018Per Bylund

In this year’s letter to Amazon shareholders, released earlier this week, CEO Jeff Bezos extolled the value of high expectations. “We didn’t ascend from our hunter-gatherer days by being satisfied,” he wrote. Among the products that Bezos summarized was the company’s new shopping concept, Amazon Go.

“Since opening, we’ve been thrilled to hear many customers refer to their shopping experience as ‘magical,’” Bezos wrote. “What makes the magic possible is a custom-built combination of computer vision, sensor fusion, and deep learning, which come together to create Just Walk Out shopping.”

Innovation is a tricky thing. Too much change too quickly, and consumers will shun the advancement. Microsoft knows this well, having unsuccessfully launched the Tablet PC nearly a decade before iPads hit shelves.

Going too far or arriving too early is just as bad as arriving late to an industry trend—your company’s expectations can’t overshoot the customer’s expectations. Bad timing leads to losses. To disrupt the marketplace, businesses must show consumers the obvious value of the innovation before they make them feel comfortable enough to try it.

Bezos is right: The new Amazon Go store absolutely nailed that execution. The cashier-less shopping experience is a (rather obvious) next step toward automation, but it’s not so shocking that customers feel uncomfortable with the experience.

The real innovation of Amazon Go, however, is not the lack of cashiers. Amazon’s true endgame is what comes next: the end of the traditional grocery store.

Read the full article at Fortune
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Trump Tries to Shift Blame for High Oil Prices

04/21/2018Ryan McMaken

Oil prices headed upward more rapidly this week, hitting $68 per barrel (WTI), which is the highest price since December 2014. 

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Even if adjusted for inflation (according to the CPI), oil prices are still near a four-year high. 

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Trump took to Twitter this week to attempt to blame OPEC for the high prices, stating "Looks like OPEC is at it again. With record amounts of Oil all over the place, including the fully loaded ships at sea, Oil prices are artificially Very High! No good and will not be accepted!"

While OPEC can no doubt take some credit for pushing down production totals, Trump had best look in the mirror if we wants to find another major contributor to the recent rise in prices.

After all, prices haven't exactly been helped downward by the Trump administration's continued promises of ongoing military action in the region. Although Syria is not an oil exporter, interventions that threaten to destabilize the region further aren't a boon for consumers of oil. 

Essentially, what we have now is a president who is threatening a war in the Middle East, a trade war with China, and new sanctions against Iran. 

An additional potential threat lies with Washington's habit of imposing and expanding sanctions on Russia. As Julian Lee at Bloomberg notes

President Donald Trump already has Iran in his sights. The clock is ticking -- May 12 is the deadline for him to extend the waiver on sanctions that are suspended by the nuclear deal.

More recently he has turned up pressure on Moscow with a new raft of sanctions aimed at individuals and companies close to President Vladimir Putin.

In December, Russia — which is not a member of OPEC — had reached a deal with OPEC to limit its own production to keep prices up. Faced with uncertainly surrounding sanctions, it seems, Russia is now saying it will keep its options open when it comes to production. 

But even if Russia wants to expand production, US sanctions may limit this ability since Russia needs capital to keep production going, and "[d]ue to sanctions and the inability for Russian energy companies to obtain funding in U.S. dollars, Russia often has to turn elsewhere for backing, including costlier Chinese funding." 

That could impact total production, and thus drive prices up further. 

Given that Russia vies with Saudi Arabia and the US to be the world's top oil producer — It was number 3 in 2017 according to the EIA — policies that lead to cuts in Russian production will lead to higher global prices, all else being equal. 

In 2017, Russia provided 12 percent of global production, and Iran is an additional 5 percent. 

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If Trump were truly concerned about oil prices, he'd brush off continued efforts by Washington interventionists searching for yet more ways to isolate and limit trade with Iran and Russia. 

Moreover, openness toward oil-exporting states is all the more important since "[g]lobal oil supply has already been tightened by the OPEC-led supply cuts, and boosted by the collapse in Venezuelan output and drop in Mexican production. The group is nearing "mission accomplished" in draining excess oil inventories."

In other words, if US policy succeeds in limiting production in any countries outside of OPEC — such as Russia — that's only helping OPEC. 

As Ellen Wald at Forbes wisely suggested, though, Trump's blaming of OPEC for high prices is a savvy political move since the average America — who knows next to nothing about US sanctions, falling Mexican production, or the situation in Iran — will now associate pain at the pump with OPEC. 

We already know that blaming foreigners is a winning political strategy — as with the current brewing trade war against China — so this tactic may work nicely also. 

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Comey's Book Tour Is All About 'Truth' — but His FBI Tenure, Not so Much

04/20/2018James Bovard

In his ABC interview last Sunday, former FBI chief James Comey boasted endlessly of his devotion to truth, which he said “has to be central to our lives.” Touting his role in bringing down Martha Stewart, he declared, “The truth matters in the criminal justice system.” But, when he was FBI boss from 2013 to 2017, his agency duped the American public whenever convenient.

In 2014, Comey declared that “We do use deception at times to catch crooks, but we are acting responsibly and legally.” His comment was spurred by revelations that an FBI agent had masqueraded as an Associated Press reporter and fabricated an AP story. The Associated Press complained that the FBI’s tactics undermined “the vital distinction between the government and the press," while the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press protested that the ruse “creates the appearance that it is not independent of the government.” But Comey declared the technique was “proper and appropriate,” allowing such scams to continue.

The AP charade was chump change compared to the FBI’s next media flim-flam. After a high-profile confrontation between federal agents and Nevadan ranchers in 2014, the FBI created a bogus independent film crew that spent almost a year hounding the Cliven Bundy family and their supporters, taping their comments to propel federal charges against them. The feds eventually arrested and prosecuted Bundy family members.

This past January, federal judge Gloria Navarro dismissed all charges, denouncing “flagrant” and “reckless” misconduct by federal prosecutors. The FBI was exposed for lying for more than three years regarding its deployment of sniper teams around the Bundys’ ranch prior to the Bundys summoning supporters to protect them.

The Justice Department inspector general last month exposed Comey’s arguably deceitful tactics regarding his campaign to outlaw private encryption, which he perennially portrayed as a grave peril to public safety. After a Muslim couple gunned down 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif., the FBI invoked a 1789 law to sway a federal judge to order Apple to write anti-encryption software that would hand the FBI the keys to break into the terrorist’s iPhone (and all other iPhones).

Read the rest at The Hill
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Money-Supply Growth Rebounds to 10-Month High

04/20/2018Ryan McMaken

In March, growth in the supply of US dollars increased at the highest rate seen in ten months. This comes after a year-long period of falling growth rates, at the end of which money-supply growth fell to a near-ten-year low of 2.6 percent, year over year. 

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By March of this year, however, growth rates had headed upward again, rising to a year-over-year growth rate of 5.1 percent. 

The money-supply metric used here — an "Austrian money supply" measure — is the metric developed by Murray Rothbard and Joseph Salerno, and is designed to provide a better measure than M2. The Mises Institute now offers regular updates on this metric and its growth.

Meanwhile, the more commonly used measure of money supply, M2, continued to experience falling growth rates through the first part of this year. In March, M2 increased 3.9 percent, year over year, making it the smallest increase in M2 in 87-months. 

Part of what pushed the Austrian measure of money supply upward was an increase in treasury deposits at the Fed. 

The inclusion of deposits at the Fed is a key difference between M2 and the Austrian measure of the money supply, and growth in these deposits has added to the differences seen in growth between M2 and the Austrian measure. 

In March, treasury deposits at the Fed hit a 15-month high, rising to 273 billion. The highest level for treasury deposits ever reported occurred in November of 2016, at a total of $394 billion. 

What does the trend in money supply indicate? 

Historically, a sizable drop in money supply growth rates suggests that a recession is on the horizon — but not on the immediate horizon. 

In this graph, provided by RealForecasts.com, we see how dips in the money supply growth rate often precede recessions, but with a lag period of a year or so. In many cases, money supply growth is trending upward again by the time the recession officially begins. 

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Does the recent downturn and subsequent uptick indicate a recession? 

It's difficult to say how long the current boom period will last. Home prices continue to sail upward for now, although we do see volatility in the stock market. Unemployment data doesn't point to anything catastrophic at this time. 

Some indicators suggest problems, however. Delinquencies in auto-loan debt continue to trend upward, and growth in commercial loans remains new multi-year lows. 

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Canada is Not a Free Trade Zone

04/19/2018Tho Bishop

When lampooning the various arguments for trade barriers, Murray Rothbard would like to try to use the arguments offered against foreign trade to trade between states themselves.

As he wrote in Making Economic Sense:

The best way to look at tariffs or import quotas or other protectionist restraints is to forget about political boundaries. Political boundaries of nations may be important for other reasons, but they have no economic meaning whatever. Suppose, for example, that each of the United States were a separate nation. Then we would hear a lot of protectionist bellyaching that we are now fortunately spared. Think of the howls by high-priced New York or Rhode Island textile manufacturers who would then be complaining about the "unfair," "cheap labor" competition from various low-type "foreigners" from Tennessee or North Carolina, or vice versa.

Fortunately, the absurdity of worrying about the balance of payments is made evident by focusing on interstate trade. For nobody worries about the balance of payments between New York and New Jersey, or, for that matter, between Manhattan and Brooklyn, because there are no customs officials recording such trade and such balances.

If we think about it, it is clear that a call by New York firms for a tariff against North Carolina is a pure rip-off of New York (as well as North Carolina) consumers, a naked grab for coerced special privilege by less-efficient business firms. If the 50 states were separate nations, the protectionists would then be able to use the trappings of patriotism, and distrust of foreigners, to camouflage and get away with their looting the consumers of their own region.

Unfortunately such "absurdity" has been ruled to be the law of the land in Canada. As the National Post reports:

After a legal battle fought all the way to Canada’s highest court, a New Brunswick man’s quest to be able to buy slightly cheaper alcohol in a neighbouring province has failed.

In a unanimous decision handed down Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled provincial trade barriers are constitutional as long as they’re aimed at a valid purpose within the province’s jurisdiction, with only an incidental effect on trade. Canada’s constitution simply “does not impose absolute free trade across Canada,” it declared....

On its face, the case was about booze. But had the challenge been successful, the precedent could have struck down a massive swath of provincial trade barriers, from agricultural supply management to e-commerce to environmental controls. Crown attorneys from every province had lined up at the Supreme Court to argue against the challenge, with the federal government siding with them.

The ruling declared that allowing “full economic integration” within Canada would “significantly undermine the shape of Canadian federalism, which is built upon regional diversity within a single nation.” Federalism means there must be “space to each province to regulate the economy in a manner that reflects local concerns,” the court ruled.

As Maxime Bernier, a Conservative Member of Parliament and a student of Austrian economics noted, "Sad day for defenders of economic freedom in Canada."

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Waco: 25 Years Later

04/19/2018James Bovard

25 years ago this morning, FBI tanks were busy collapsing the home of the Branch Davidians atop their heads. FBI was also gassing the children, women, and men - leading to a conflagration that left 76 people dead. Waco shows that it is not an atrocity if the U.S. govt. does it - that federal aggression against Americans will often be ignored by the media - and that Congress cannot be trusted to expose federal outrages.

Read more from Jim Bovard at The Hill: Bitter lessons 25 years after Waco, Texas, siege

 

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