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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Sheriff Tries to Clean Up Government

11/15/2018Mark Thornton

In an attempt to "clean up" government the sheriff of tiny Marshall Country, Alabama (pop. 97,000) ordered 22,000 rolls of toilet paper and 450 cases or trash bags. No word if this was an accident or if it was an attempt to bankrupt the county.

Extra Toilet Paper at the Sheriff Sept. in Marshall Co.

 

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78 Million Americans Now Live in States with Legal Recreational Marijuana

11/15/2018Ryan McMaken

Advocates for marijuana legalization won another victory this year as voters in Michigan voted to approve legalization of recreational marijuana in last week's election.

This comes only a month after Canada finalized its legalization of recreational marijuana, making it only the second country where the national government has legalized nationwide recreational use.

Nevertheless, with the addition of Michigan to the eight other states that have legalized recreational marijuana (not counting the District of Columbia), 78 million Americans now live in jurisdictions where it's been legalized.

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Were these states to form their own country, it would be the nineteenth largest country in the world — larger than the United Kingdom and France.

This new reality has already made itself felt in federal policy.

In 2017, Congress voted to deny the Justice Department funds to enforce federal laws against medicinal marijuana.

And when now-outgoing US Attorney General Sessions announced plans to crack down on marijuana use that had already been legalized at the state level, he received bipartisan opposition in Congress. Not even republicans in Congress from pro-legalization states want anything to do with a ratcheting up of the Drug War.

Also pending in Washington is the "Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act" which, is essentially a "states' rights" bill supported by both parties in the name of reining in the drug war. Its purpose is to recognize what the Tenth Amendment already makes clear: that the federal government has no authority to dictate to states as to what people can eat or smoke.

One shouldn't expect many politicians to apply this philosophy across the board, although recognizing the importance of decentralization in the Drug War is a good first step.

Trump has suggested he will support the bill.

Illinois and New Hampshire may be next on the list for legalization, perhaps in 2020.

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The New Bob Murphy Podcast Interview with Jeff Deist

11/15/2018The Editors

Bob Murphy has a terrific new podcast called, unsurprisingly, The Bob Murphy Show. His focus? "Free markets, free minds, and grateful souls." Bob tells us he plans to focus more on individuals and their personal stories than libertarianism or economics per se. He's already hosted Tom Woods and Carlos Lara, and has big ideas for noteworthy future guests.   

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Here Bob and our own Jeff Deist discuss Jeff's time in DC, and what it's really like behind the scenes in the feckless US House (hint- people are uglier, dumber, and less cunning than House of Cards). They also consider Jeff's work in the world of private equity M&A, and how low interest rates cause huge distortions in how--and whether-- deals are done.

Be sure to subscribe to Bob's new show!

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An Easy Alternative to the Brexit Agreement

11/15/2018Gary North

Prime Minister May says that she has reached an agreement with the European Union.

The agreement is 585 pages long. Every time politicians vote to implement a 600-page document that was written by high-level bureaucrats, the liberties of the citizens of that nation decline. The devil is in the details, and there are a lot of details for the devil to get into.

She got it through her cabinet. Now she has to get it through Parliament, which is going to be a challenge. The pro-Brexit people hate conciliation, and the Remainers don't want to agree to anything remotely like Brexit.

She was never a big fan of Brexit. She is going along with the whole thing grudgingly. She has stalled an agreement for almost 2 years.

If Parliament won't vote for her agreement, then Britain will depart from the EU on March 29. It's automatic.

I have a solution. Parliament does not have to accept any agreement. No agreement is necessary.

Here is my Brexit solution. Parliament votes for this law.

Her Majesty's government adopts a policy of zero tariffs and zero import quotas, beginning tomorrow.

That's it? That's it!

There would be no negotiations with foreign countries. There would be nothing to negotiate.

If exporters located in EU countries want to sell something to the Brits, good for them. If there are Brits who like the products and accept them, good for them.

Tariffs are simply sales taxes on imported goods. Anytime a government cuts taxes, that is positive.

Revenues to the government would fall. This is also good.

Import quotas don't generate any revenues. There shouldn't be any import quotas.

Would trade go up between buyers in Great Britain and sellers in the European Union? You bet it would. Everybody likes to be able to sell at a discount, and, overnight, exporters to Great Britain would find that their goods now sell at a discount. No sales taxes are tacked onto the goods.

Would this be good for British buyers? Of course. Who wants to pay sales taxes?

Would financial companies leave Great Britain? No. Why should they? All of a sudden, the whole world would want to sell goods to residents of Great Britain. The doors would be open wide. If it's good for trade, it's good for finance.

If Great Britain did this, its economy would not sink. Other countries in the European Union would figure out that the benefits of staying inside the EU don't compensate for the liabilities associated with the surrender of national sovereignty. Anyway, a substantial minority of voters in those countries would figure this out. All it would take would be a policy of zero tariffs. In other words, all it would take would be a reduction of taxes. "We're outta here!"

No nation needs to sign a 500-page agreement in order to leave the EU profitably. It simply leaves the EU, abolishes tariffs and quotas, and starts trading.

Come one, come all! Let's make a deal!

This article originally appeared here at GaryNorth.com.

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A Trump-Pelosi Budget Deal is a Recipe for the Worst Kind of Tax Increase

The most disturbing outcome of the recent mid-term election isn’t that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will be a Member of Congress. I actually look forward to that because of the humor value.

Instead, with the Democrats now controlling the House of Representatives, I’m more worried about Donald Trump getting tricked into a “budget summit” that inevitably would produce a deal with higher taxes and more spending. Just in case you think I’m being paranoid, here are some excerpts from a recent Politico report.

The dust has barely settled on the midterm elections, yet tax talk is already in the air thanks to President Donald Trump signaling openness to higher taxes, at least for some. …Trump said he’d be open to making an “adjustment” to recent corporate and upper-income tax cuts… Those off-the-cuff comments are sure to spark concerns among Republican leaders… Trump also suggested he could find common ground with Democrats on health care and infrastructure.

To be fair, Trump was only talking about higher taxes as an offset to a new middle-class tax package, but Democrats realize that getting Trump to acquiesce to a net tax hike would be of great political value.

And I fear they will be successful in any fiscal negotiations. Just look at how Trump got rolled on spending earlier this year (and that orgy of new spending took place when Democrats were in the minority).

I fear a deal in part because I object to higher taxes. But also because it’s quite likely that we’ll get the worst kind of tax hikes – i.e., class-warfare increases in tax rates on work, saving, investment, and entrepreneurship.

The political dynamic of budget deals is rather straightforward. So long as the debate is whether to raise taxes or not, the anti-tax crowd has the advantage since most Americans don’t want to give more of their money to politicians.

But if both parties agree with the notion that taxes should increase, then most Americans will — for reasons of self defense — want higher taxes on the rich (with “rich” defined as “making more money than me”). And those are the tax increases that do the most damage.

Interestingly, even economists from the International Monetary Fund agree with me about the negative consequences of higher tax rates. Here’s the abstract of a recent study.

This paper examines the macroeconomic effects of tax changes during fiscal consolidations. We build a new narrative dataset of tax changes during fiscal consolidation years, containing detailed information on the expected revenue impact, motivation, and announcement and implementation dates of nearly 2,500 tax measures across 10 OECD countries. We analyze the macroeconomic impact of tax changes, distinguishing between tax rate and tax base changes, and further separating between changes in personal income, corporate income, and value added tax. Our results suggest that base broadening during fiscal consolidations leads to smaller output and employment declines compared to rate hikes, even when distinguishing between tax types.

Here’s a bit of the theory from the report.

Tax-based fiscal consolidations are generally associated with large output declines, but their composition can matter. In particular, policy advice often assumes that measures to broaden the tax base by reducing exemptions and deductions are less harmful to economic activity during austerity. …base broadening often tends to make taxation across sectors, firms, or activities more homogeneous, contrary to rate increases. This helps re-allocate resources to those projects with the highest pre-tax return, thereby improving economic efficiency.

By the way, “base broadening” is the term for when politicians collect more revenue by repealing or limiting deductions, exemptions, exclusions, credits, and other tax preferences (“tax reform” is the term for when politicians repeal or limit preferences and use the money to finance lower tax rates).

Anyhow, here are some of the findings from the IMF study on the overall impact of tax increases.

Mitchell1.jpg

The chart on the right shows that higher taxes lead to less economic output, which certainly is consistent with academic research.

And the chart on the left shows the revenue impact declining over time, presumably because of the Laffer Curve (further confirming that tax hikes are bad even if they generate some revenue).

But the main purpose of the study is to review the impact of different types of tax increases. Here’s what the authors found.

Our key finding is that tax base changes during consolidations appear to have a smaller impact on output and employment than tax rate changes of a similar size. We find a statistically significant one-year cumulative tax rate multiplier of about 1.2, rising to about 1.6 after two years. By contrast, the cumulative tax base multiplier is only 0.3 after one year, and 0.4 after two years, and these estimates are not statistically significant.

And here’s the chart comparing the very harmful impact of higher rates (on the left) with the relatively benign effect of base changes (on the right).

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For what it’s worth, the economic people in the Trump administration almost certainly understand that there shouldn’t be any tax increases. Moreover, they almost certainly agree with the findings from the IMF report that class-warfare-style tax increases do the most damage.

Sadly, politicians generally ignore advice from economists. So I fear that Trump’s spending splurge has set the stage for tax hikes. And I fear that he will acquiesce to very damaging tax hikes.

All of which will lead to predictably bad results.

P.S. A columnist for the New York Times accidentally admitted that the only budget summit that actually led to a balanced budget was the 1997 that lowered taxes.

Originally published at International Liberty
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President Trump’s Iran Policy – Is It ‘Normal’?

11/13/2018Ron Paul

It’s not often that US Government officials are honest when they talk about our foreign policy. The unprovoked 2003 attack on Iraq was called a “liberation.” The 2011 US-led destruction of Libya was a “humanitarian intervention.” And so on.

So, in a way, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was refreshingly honest last week when, speaking about newly-imposed US sanctions, he told the BBC that the Iranian leadership “has to make a decision that they want their people to eat." It was an honest admission that new US sanctions are designed to starve Iranians unless the Iranian leadership accepts US demands.

His statement also reveals the lengths to which the neocons are willing to go to get their “regime change” in Iran. Just like then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said it was “worth it” that half a million Iraqi children died because of our sanctions on that country, Pompeo is letting us know that a few million dead Iranians is also “worth it” if the government in Tehran can be overthrown.

The US Secretary of State has demanded that Iran “act like a normal country” or the US would continue its pressure until Iran’s economy crumbles. How twisted is US foreign policy that Washington considers it “normal” to impose sanctions specifically designed to make life miserable – or worse – for civilians!

Is it normal to threaten millions of people with starvation if their leaders refuse to bow down to US demands? Is the neoconservative obsession with regime change “normal” behavior? Is training and arming al-Qaeda in Syria to overthrow Assad “normal” behavior? If so, then perhaps Washington’s neocons have a point. As Iran is not imposing sanctions, is not invading its neighbors, is not threatening to starve millions of Americans unless Washington is “regime-changed,” perhaps Iran is not acting “normal.”

So what is normal?

The continued Saudi genocide in Yemen does not bother Washington a bit. In fact, Saudi aggression in Yemen is viewed as just another opportunity to strike out at Iran. By making phony claims that Yemen’s Houthis are “Iran-backed,” the US government justifies literally handing the Saudis the bombs to drop on Yemeni school busses while claiming it is fighting Iranian-backed terrorism! Is that “normal”?

Millions of Yemenis face starvation after three years of Saudi attacks have destroyed the economy and a Saudi blockade prohibits aid from reaching the suffering victims, but Secretary Pompeo recently blamed Yemeni starvation on, you guessed it: Iran!

And in a shocking display of cynicism, the US government is reportedly considering listing Yemen’s Houthis as a “terrorist” organization for the “crime” of fighting back against Saudi (and US) aggression. Labeling the Yemeni resistance a “terrorist” organization would effectively “legalize” the ongoing Saudi destruction of Yemen, as it could be justified as just another battle in the “war on terror.” It would also falsely identify the real culprits in the Yemen tragedy as Iran, which is repeatedly and falsely called the “number one sponsor of terrorism” by Pompeo and the rest of the Trump Administration neocons.

So yes, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told one wicked truth last week. But before he demands that countries like Iran start acting “normal” or face starvation, perhaps he should look in the mirror. Are Pompeo and the neocons “normal”? I don’t think so.

 

 

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Woodrow Wilson Made Democracy Unsafe for the World

11/12/2018James Bovard

This week is the 100th anniversary of President Woodrow Wilson’s speech to Congress seeking a declaration of war against Germany. Many people celebrate this centenary of America’s emergence as a world power. But, when the Trump administration is bombing or rattling sabers at half a dozen nations while many Democrats clamor to fight Russia, it is worth reviewing World War One’s high hopes and dire results.

Wilson was narrowly re-elected in 1916 based on a campaign slogan, "He kept us out of war." But Wilson had massively violated neutrality by providing armaments and money to the Allied powers that had been fighting Germany since 1914. In his war speech to Congress, Wilson hailed the U.S. government as "one of the champions of the rights of mankind" and proclaimed that "the world must be made safe for democracy."

American soldiers fought bravely and helped turn the tide on the Western Front in late 1918. But the cost was far higher than Americans anticipated. More than a hundred thousand American soldiers died in the third bloodiest war in U.S. history. Another half million Americans perished from the Spanish flu epidemic spurred and spread by the war.

In his speech to Congress, Wilson declared, "We have no quarrel with the German people" and feel "sympathy and friendship" towards them. But his administration speedily commenced demonizing the "Huns." One Army recruiting poster portrayed German troops as an ape ravaging a half-naked damsel beneath an appeal to "Destroy this mad brute."

Read the full article at USA Today.
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Gustave de Molinari's Short-Lived Flirtation with the Socialists

Some of the French economists centered around the Journal des Economistes were elected officials. For example, Louis Wolowski was elected to the Assemblée Constitutionelle in 1848;1 so was juge de Paix Frédéric Bastiat. Decades earlier, Jean-Baptiste Say and Benjamin Constant were famously defending Classical Economics in the Tribunat where they opposed Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonaparte returned the favor and expelled both of them in 1804 and 1802 respectively.2

Unlike the aforementioned economists, Gustave De Molinari never was a politician himself. However, this does not mean that he never ran for office. He had briefly attempt to join the ranks of the liberal party in 1859.

Left or Right?

In his 1864 book review of De Molinari's Cours d'économie politique, Lord Acton points out the turbid relationship between the Liegeois-born economist and the Liberal Party: "[In] 1848, he returned to his own country, and finished his course of political economy at the Musée d'Industrie of Brussels, where, we believe, he has not been altogether well treated by the Liberal ministry. This gives a personal significance to his protest against the nomenclature of the two parties, which falsely implies that the one comprises all that is religious, and the other all that loves liberty, in Belgium".3

Indeed, De Molinari wasn't the keenest on political demarcations; in earlier writings, he had presented the fluidity between the nomenclature of liberal, religious, and even socialist party structures. Historian Roderick T. Long pointed out that De Molinari favored a collaboration with the French socialist party.4 According to him, both economists and socialists favored the same principles. In his Lettre aux socialistes (1848), the anonymous author (later identified as De Molinari) stressed that both economists and socialists favored a society in which justice was prevalent for every individual member. However, both groups used a different methodology. Economists thought of liberty and freedom as the necessary means to reach said goal, as history has shown them time and time again. Socialists, on the other hand, used statist recipes with taxes.

Blanc VS Coquelin

One place Molinari clashed with the socialists, however, and thus distinguished himself as a true supporter of laissez-faire, was in his opinions on banking.

While living in Paris, De Molinari must have read his friend Charles Coquelin's research on banks. Coquelin defended a free-market approach on banking; he preached the concept that the government should have no involvement in the role of banking. Rather, banks should be left alone. After empirical research on business cycles, Coquelin concluded that banking crises were the result of privileged monopolies and governmental regulation.5

Journalist and socialist Charles Potvin, however, opposed this vision: “Mr. De Molinari views align with the following principle. Legal persons should have the opportunity to gather themselves without governmental intervention. The role of the government should be limited to registration instead of active participation, isn’t it Mr. De Molinari? (Mr. De Molinari nods in agreement). If we follow Mr. De Molinari’s vision, wouldn’t priests and bankers run Belgium?6

Potvin’s opinion on banking changed over time — whilst always remaining in the realm of radical socialism. In his biography, historian Christophe De Spiegeleer argues that Potvin shows appreciation for the works of PJ Proudhon in his essays (Du Gouvernement de soi-même, La Banque Sociale).7 Proudhon proposes "la Banque du Peuple"; a company in which the people (ipse facto: the poorest individuals within a society) could borrow a lump sum of money without paying an extra fee. The poorest individuals were shareholders as well.8 Potvin praised these "mutualistic companies" in his magnum opus Du Gouvernement de Soi-Même (1877).

However, in his exchange with De Molinari, Charles Potvin outs himself as a disciple of socialist Louis Blanc. According to Blanc, the involvement of a government in the realm of banking was of the utmost importance. According to Potvin, spontaneous order and liberty would lead to anarchy in Belgium! For this particular reason, Louis Blanc claimed it necessary to seek government intervention and lift up the competition, in favor of a single, nationalized bank.9

"Pourquoi j’ai retiré ma candidature"

In a pamphlet (Pourquoi j'ai retiré ma candidature), written a couple of days after the fulminations of Potvin against Molinari, De Molinari announced the renunciation of his candidacy. In 1855, however, he had already predicted his fate within the party. In an article "Dialogue entre un électeur et un candidat," he criticized uninformed vocal minorities that forsake their own responsibilities. In the fictional dialogue, the voter expects politicians to take care of everything; protectionism, warfare, parish relief funds, subsidizing religion, ... To which the politician responds whether the voter would favor higher taxes. How would we fund these services? To which the voter responds: “How should I know? That’s up to you and that is why we elected you!”10

  • 1. RAMBAUD, Jules, l’oeuvre économique de L. Wolowski, Paris, L. Larose & Forcel, 1882, 9-29.
  • 2. MINART, Gérard, Entrepreneur et esprit d’entreprise. L’avant-gardisme de Jean-Baptiste SAY, Paris, l’Harmattan, 2013, 158-159.
  • 3. ACTON, John Emerich Edward Dalberg, “Review of Gustave de Molinari’s Course of Political Economy (1855)”, The Home and Foreign Review, 4, 1864, 313.
  • 4. LONG, Roderick T., “Rothbard’s “Left and Right”: Forty Years Later”, Mises Institute, 2006.
  • 5. MALBRANQUE, Benoît, “Réformer les banques: les propositions originales de C. Coquelin”, Laissons Faire, 1, 2013, 20-24; DE NOUVION, Georges, Charles Coquelin. Sa vie et ses travaux, Paris, Institut Coppet, 2017 [1908], 24-25.
  • 6. "M[onsieur] De Molinari proclame ce principe: les personnes civiles ont le droit de se constituer sans l'intervention de l'Etat. [...] La personne civile vient au monde, et l'Etat enregistre [...], n'est ce pas M[onsieur de] Molinari? (De Molinari fait un signe d'approbation). La Belgique ne serait-il pas exposée à une double invasion de moines et des banquiers?"“Après l’autel le coffre-fort”, Le Bien Public, 6 juni 1859.
  • 7. DE SPIEGELEER, Een blauwe progressist. Charles Potvin (1818-1902) en het liberaal-sociale denken van zijn generatie, Gand/Brussels, Liberaal Archief, 2011.
  • 8. PROUDHON, Pierre-Joseph, “Banque du peuple: déclaration”, Le Peuple, 1849, 1-13.
  • 9. CHARRUAUD, Benoît, Louis Blanc, la république au service du Socialisme, Unpublished PhD, Université Strasbourg III. Robert Schuman, 2008, 50.
  • 10. Cela vous regarde. Nous ne vous nommons pas pour autre chose" DE MOLINARI, Gustave, “Dialogue entre un électeur et un candidat”, l’Economiste belge, 1855, 1.
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The Midterm Election Showed Why We Need More States

11/09/2018Tho Bishop

The midterm elections continue to play themselves out in various races throughout the country. The fight going on in Florida and Arizona over newly discovered ballots brings to mind the line attributed to Joseph Stalin, “It's not the people who vote that count, it's the people who count the votes."

While it may be too soon to come up with official vote totals for a few senate races, there is one election night conclusion we can be certain about: America needs more states.

While the idea may seem may seem radical, smaller political units are the best way of addressing some of the growing cultural divides that the media loves to talk about. Some of these divisions are illustrated quite starkly when we look at a county by county break down of various statewide elections.

For example, New York does a great job showing the difference between the political preferences of urban and rural voters. Though the state is one of the strongest havens for the Democratic party, Governor Andrew Cuomo only won 15 of the state’s 63 counties in his successful re-election bid. Without significant change, rural parts of New York will always have very little say in the direction of the state government due to how small their population is relative to the boroughs of New York City.

The political dominance of NYC is of course also true in primaries. Letitia James, who was elected this week as New York’s Attorney General, won the Democratic primary in spite of coming in third place in every New York county north of Westchester and Rockland.

AG Primary NY.png
(Source: New York Times)

Of course it’s not always true that cities dominant state politics. The Georgia governor’s race, for example, saw Republican Brian Kemp defeat Democrat Stacey Abrams in spite of the latter’s strong support in the metro Atlanta area (though Abrams is pushing a legal challenge to the result.) The cultural divide in that race goes beyond rural vs. urban voters, but also demographic representation. The majority of counties Abrams won were those with majority black populations. Similarly, the non-urban blue counties in the Texas governor’s race were all areas with Hispanic-majority populations.

While it’s fair to question whether one party is actually better equipped to serve the interests of one demographic or another, the desire for communities to have greater political self-determination is understandable.

Ludwig von Mises wrote at length about the struggles of being an ethnic or cultural minority living under an interventionist government. We see these concerns played out in current topics such as the push for community policing as a means to try and address police brutality in minority communities.

There are other practical advantages to smaller political units, beyond political self-determination. Research by Mark Thornton, George S. Ford, and Marc Ulrich has found a correlation between constituency size and government spending. As Ryan McMaken summarized in an article on what the US can learn from Swiss federalism:

As Thornton et al. conclude:

[T]he evidence is very suggestive that constituency size provides an explanation for much of the trend, or upward drift in government spending, because of the fixed-sized nature of most legislatures. Potentially, constituency size could be adjusted to control the growth of government.

Other factors mentioned by Thornton, et al. and others include:

  • Large constituencies increase the cost of running campaigns, and thus require greater reliance on large wealth interests for media buys and access to mass media. The cost of running a statewide campaign in California, for example, is considerably larger than the cost of running a statewide campaign in Vermont. Constituencies spread across several media markets are especially costly.
  • Elected officials, unable to engage a sizable portion of their constituencies rely on large interest groups claiming to be representative of constituents.
  • Voters disengage because they realize their vote is worth less in larger constituent groups.
  • Voters disengage because they are not able to meet the candidate personally.
  • Voters disengage because elections in larger constituencies are less likely to focus on issues that are of personal, local interest to many of the voters.
  • The ability to schedule a personal meeting with an elected official is far more difficult in a large constituency than a small one.
  • Elected officials recognize that a single voter is of minimal importance in a large constituency, so candidates prefer to rely on mass media rather than personal interaction with voters.
  • Larger constituent groups are more religiously, ethnically, culturally, ideologically, and economically diverse. This means elected officials from that constituent group are less likely to share social class, ethnic group, and other characteristics with a sizable number of their constituents.
  • Larger constituencies often mean the candidate is more physically remote, even when the candidate is at "home" and not at a distant parliament or congress. This further reduces access.

In these ways changes to the size of states wouldn’t only grant voters a greater say in what goes on in their state capitols, but could potentially lead to a change in how the Federal government operates. Smaller states would diminish the significant advantages incumbent senators enjoy due to the costs of running state-wide campaigns in expensive media markets like those found in California or Florida, and could even diminish some of the power national parties have on the higher chamber.

Of course none of these structural changes will help solve the issues America faces without an ideological change in favor of free markets and individual liberty. Still, at a time when Americans are questioning all sorts of political norms, it is worthwhile to question the physical size of political units in the US.

So as we prepare for several news cycles fixated on various electoral lawsuits, the best solution is the simplest one: let them both win.

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The Most Important Florida Election Win is the One No One is Talking About

11/07/2018Tho Bishop

Last night’s midterms were the odd political event where both sides left seeming reasonably happy with the result. While it was no blue wave, Democrats will now have two years of using the House to investigate the Trump Administration, while the GOP has strengthened its hold of the Senate and held on to several governorships.

Republicans also managed to expand its position in the state of Florida, with Rick Scott edging out Senator Bill Nelson – though recounts are on the horizon. This was an interesting political year for the Sunshine State, with proud Trump supporter Ron DeSantis topping the Bernie-backed Andrew Gillum. Looking beyond statewide races though, several constitutional amendments passed that will have a positive impact on the state’s future – particularly the three of the state’s 12 amendments dealt with taxes.

Amendment 1 expanded the homestead property tax exemption for property value up to $125,000 from the previous $100,000. Coupled with Amendment 2, which made permanent a temporary 10% cap on assessment increases on property not subject to homestead exemption, Florida voters gave themselves some stronger protections against property taxes – one of the more sinister means of government revenue collection.

An even bigger change came with the passing of Amendment 5, which establishes that a supermajority is now required for any future tax increases in the state of Florida. This is an important protection for the state which should isolate a radical change in fiscal policy beyond the reach of a single election cycle. For example, this amendment would have gone a far way in handcuffing the ability of Andrew Gillum to follow through with his platform that prioritized Medicaid Expansion paid for by new corporate taxes. Given the makeup and geographical breakdown of the Florida legislature, it will require a serious makeover of Florida politics for these sorts of ideas to ever near a supermajority.

This protection, combined with the strides Florida has made in recent years on regulation and licensing reform and lowest-in-the-country per capita spending means Florida should remain a strong contender for its current title as the freest state economy in the country well into the future. My guess is that more residents and businesses will continue to move to one of Paul Krugman's least favorite states. 

While the outcome of these tax-related amendments can be viewed as positives for Florida, the outcome of other amendments may cause people to question the wisdom of direct democracy. For example, Amendment 9 was an odd double-issue amendment that combined a ban on off-shore drilling with a restriction on indoor vaping. It, like all amendments on the ballot, passed.

It will be interesting to see if the “just vote yes” approach to on-ballot amendments continues next year. Attorney John Morgan, the driving force behind last year’s medical marijuana initiative, has announced plans to push for two issues in 2020. One would legalize recreational marijuana in the state, while the other would be a minimum wage hike.

Should he be successful, we’ll see if Florida voters are able to figure out the good idea from economic folly.

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