Power & Market

Block: How I Profess My Libertarianism to My Students

03/19/2019Walter Block

I am a professor (I teach economics at Loyola University New Orleans). In my view, this means I should profess something. I would be bland and uninteresting to my students if all I did was offer them all sides of every controversial issue in an even-handed way, so that none of them even had a clue as to where I stood on any topic. Of course, I would be derelict in my duty if I only offered my own viewpoint. As John Stuart Mill says in his “On Liberty” (paraphrase) “if you only know your own side of an argument, you don’t even know that, since all views are contrasted with all others.”

I thus feel obligated to acquaint my students with a plethora of viewpoints.

So, what do I profess? Austrian economics and libertarian political economy. I offer to my students all sides of an issue, but within five minutes of my first lecture they can readily discern precisely where I stand.

Read the full article at Real Clear Markets.

Walter Block
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Bipartisan Attacks on the Second Amendment

03/12/2019Ron Paul

A nationwide system of gun registration could be a step toward national gun confiscation. However, antigun bureaucrats need not go that far to use the expanded background check system to abuse the rights of gun owners. Gun owners could find themselves subject to surveillance and even harassment, such as more intensive screening by the Transportation Security Administration, because they own “too many” firearms.

Republican control of the White House and the Senate does not mean our gun rights are safe. Republicans have a long history of supporting gun control. After the 1999 Columbine shooting, many Republicans, including many who campaigned as being pro-Second Amendment, eagerly cooperated with then-President Bill Clinton on gun control. Some supposedly pro-gun Republicans also tried to pass “compromise” gun control legislation after the Sandy Hook shooting.

Neoconservative Senator Marco Rubio has introduced legislation that uses tax dollars to bribe states to adopt red flag laws. Red flag laws allow government to violate an individual’s Second Amendment rights based on nothing more than a report that the individual could become violent. Red flag laws can allow an individual’s guns to be taken away without due process simply because an estranged spouse, angry neighbor, or disgruntled coworker tells police the individual threatened him or otherwise made him feel unsafe.

President Trump has joined Rubio in wanting the government to, in Trump’s words, “take the guns first, go through due process second.” During his confirmation hearing, President Trump’s new Attorney General William Barr expressed support for red flag laws. California Senator and leading gun control advocate Dianne Feinstein has expressed interest in working with Barr to deprive gun owners of due process. It would not be surprising to see left-wing authoritarians like Feinstein work with right-wing authoritarians like Barr and Rubio on “compromise” legislation containing both a national red flag law and expanded background checks.

My years in Congress taught me that few politicians can be counted on to protect our liberties. Most politicians must be pressured to stand up for freedom by informed and involved pro-liberty citizens That is why those of us who understand the benefits of liberty must remain vigilant against any attempt to erode respect for our rights, especially the right to defend ourselves against private crime and public tyranny.

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Bovard: Ethiopia Crash of Boeing 737 Max Might Be Latest Example of Backfiring Safety Efforts

03/12/2019James Bovard

Another Boeing 737 crashed Sunday in Ethiopia, killing all 157 aboard. This is the second crash of the new Boeing model Max 8 since October. Investigators have only begun sorting out this tragedy but some experts suggest that the plane’s automated safety software may have prevented the pilot from preventing the fatal plunge.

If software and sensors designed to prevent crashes actually increased the risk of catastrophe, then the Boeing accidents are another reminder that safety policies can have unintended fatal consequences.

Unfortunately, policymakers routinely ignore the unforeseen costs of well-intended safety efforts. For instance, the Transportation Security Administration, seeking to make air travel perfectly safe from terrorists in the months after 9/11, spawned airport checkpoint regimes that are so intrusive that many Americans choose to drive instead.  A Cornell University study estimated that TSA’s heavy-handed policies helped boost traffic fatalities by at least 1,200 additional deaths.

A Business Week analysis noted, “To make flying as dangerous as using a car, a four-plane disaster on the scale of 9/11 would have to occur every month, according to an analysis published in the American Scientist.…People switching from air to road transportation in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks led to an increase of 242 driving fatalities per month — which means that a lot more people died on the roads as an indirect result of 9/11 than died from being on the planes that terrible day.”

Read the full article at USA Today

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Bylund: 3 Fundamental Ideas on How to Succeed as an Entrepreneur

03/08/2019Per Bylund


It's widely agreed that we need more entrepreneurship for economic growth and a higher standard of living. But more is not always better.

In fact, there can be too much of a good thing, in entrepreneurship as in so many other things. The reason is that economic growth comes from successful entrepreneurship that is also productive. And not all entrepreneurs who earn profits contribute to economic growth if they have unproductive -- or, worse, destructive -- effects on the economy.

Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs fail to consider what it is that they're contributing to the economy, and for that reason don’t always end up being productive. Sure, you don’t have to be productive to make money. And to the degree that "success" is a matter of getting big figures at the end of your P&L statement and being "in the black," you can succeed as an entrepreneur without contributing much to the economy or society.

Read the full article at Entrepreneur

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Block in Real Clear Markets on Austrian Economics

03/07/2019Walter Block

In addition to being a libertarian in political philosophy, I am also a member of the Austrian school of economics.

Austrian economics has nothing to do with the economy of that European country. It is so named because its founding fathers all emanated from that part of the world. They include such European scholars as Carl Menger, Eugen von Bohm-Bawerk, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich A. Hayek (Nobel Prize winner in the dismal science in 1974) and Joseph Schumpeter.  Murray N. Rothbard and Israel Kirzner are the most high profile American Austrians. In like manner, the Chicago School of economics does not at all focus on the commercial well-being of that particular city. Rather, this perspective too takes its name from the fact that its progenitors were all in some way associated with the University of Chicago. Luminaries include Aaron Director, Henry Simons, Milton Friedman, George Stigler, Gary Becker and Ronald Coase.

Read the full article.

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Big Tech has Big Problems, but More Regulation Will Only Hurt Consumers

12/06/2018Zachary Yost

Big Tech has long faced calls for more regulation, and as their companies have grown, so has the pressure. Now those demands are coming from within Silicon Valley itself. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently told Axios that, though he supports the free market, it’s only a matter of time before Big Tech is restricted. “We have to admit when the free market is not working. And it hasn’t worked here,” Cook said. “I think it’s inevitable that there will be some level of regulation.” Indeed, a newly released Axios poll found that 55 percent of Americans “fear the federal government won’t do enough to regulate big tech companies.” That figure is up 15 points over last year.

The problem is that, if implemented, such regulations would only entrench existing firms and hurt consumers.

As Axios notes, Big Tech regulation has become “a rare topic uniting Republicans, Democrats and Independents.” In August, Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, floated the idea of turning tech giants into public utilities. On the Left, writer Richard Eskow went even further by calling for companies like Amazon and Google to be nationalized. The young right-wing firebrand Charlie Kirk recently advocated that Google be classified as a monopoly and anti-trust law be brought to bear against it.

It’s understandable why so many across the political spectrum have an uneasiness about Big Tech. After all, it has an immense amount of power, especially in regard to stored information.

But increased regulation will only empower Big Tech and leave it less accountable than before. The “revolving door,” through which officials move between government and the private sector, allows businesses to heavily influence regulation. Sometimes they’ll even advocate that regulation be increased as a means of ensuring that the new regulations work to their advantage. When groups like Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, whose members already pay employees “well over the minimum wage,” advocate for an increase in the minimum wage, it’s not out of benevolence toward workers. They want to force their competitors to pay more in the hope of driving them out of business. In economics, this is known as regulatory capture, an idea developed by Nobel laureate George Stigler.  

Another tactic is making the regulatory hurdle so high that it ensures new competition and smothers startups in the cradle. A startup in someone’s basement can’t afford an army of lawyers to navigate through reams of regulations like Google and Facebook can.

Historically, Big Tech has been hands-off when it comes to lobbying, but that’s starting to change and the numbers show it. In 2017, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple spent over $50 million on lobbying, a 32 percent increase for Facebook and a 51 percent increase for Apple. In fairness, that’s much less than other industries spend on lobbying—but as talk of regulation increases, expect to see Big Tech kick up its lobbying even further and for its competition to get squelched.

In a free market, companies only have the power that consumers give them when they make their consumption choices. Google, Facebook, and Amazon are huge and powerful because so many choose to utilize their services. Economist Ludwig von Mises called this “consumer sovereignty,” writing, “The captain is the consumer. Neither the entrepreneurs nor the farmers nor the capitalists determine what has to be produced. The consumers do that.” No matter how large a business is, if it doesn’t give consumers what they want, it will eventually falter. Just look at Nokia. In 2007, the company controlled almost 50 percent of the world’s smartphone market. By 2013, that number had fallen to less than 5 percent. Such a drastic change in fortunes occurred because consumers chose to make it happen—and because other companies innovated more to attract them.

But if Big Tech becomes entrenched and protected from competition through regulation, the consumer’s power over them is diminished. It’s a recipe for decreased innovation and customer service. Big Tech is kept on its toes by the fear of becoming the next Nokia, which is why they spend tens of billions of dollars every year on research and development. There will be far less incentive to do so if they know that they’re safe from potential upstarts supplanting them.

Big Tech has big problems, but increased regulation will only lead to more lobbying, less competition, and less innovation. Consumers have given Big Tech its power, and as long as there are competition and alternatives, they also have the power to take it away. Let’s hang on to that control rather than demanding that the government exercise it for us.

Republished with permission from the author.
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Bolsonaro Elected in Brazil

10/29/2018Ryan McMaken

"Right wing" Jair Bolsonaro has been elected president of Brazil, which extends a significant shift rightward from the days of Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff. In Latin America — and especially Brazil, which is itself distinct from Hispanophone Latin America — "right wing" can mean many things, and it certainly isn't the same thing as we mean in the US. Laissez-faire economics — even in rhetoric — isn't necessarily part of the equation.

There does seem to be a distinct lean in favor of the income-and-wealth-producing middle classes with Bolsonaro, and that may be a good thing.

Not surprisingly, then, the media is telling me that Bolsonaro is pretty much the modern incarnation of Hitler, just as they did with Trump. And while I'm hardly a Trump booster, the guy obviously ain't Hitler, either — or even Mussolini. (Never mind that both those guys heavily pushed their countries in the direction of socialism and central planning...)

In any case, the electorate of Brazil has apparently tired of the status quo which is one of terrible crime and sky-high homicide rates, rampant corruption, and a steady drumbeat for more and more economic regulation and intervention.

While much of Latin America (not Venezuela, of course) is seeing dropping violence coupled with steady economic growth (see Peru, for example, where homicide rates are a small fraction of Brazil's and where economic growth is far more steady than in Brazil) Brazil appears to spinning its wheels.

For a good take on Bolsonaro from one of our writers, see Brazil-born Alice Salles on "Understanding Brazil's Donald Trump."

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Barack Obama's Return Just Reminds Us How He Fueled American Distrust

09/13/2018James Bovard

Former president Barack Obama is back. He kicked off a series of campaign appearances last week with a blistering attack on the Trump administration and said the Republican Party had “embraced a rising absolutism.” President Donald Trump deserves plenty of harsh criticism, but Obama’s indictment is akin to the kid who killed his parents and then sought mercy from the judge because he was an orphan.

Obama declared that“the biggest threat to our democracy is cynicism.” He also called for “a restoration of honesty and decency and lawfulness in our government.” But his eight years as president fueled the distrust of Washington that Obama now condemns.....

When Obama took office, the United States had the 20th-most-free press in the world, according to the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index. By 2016, it had fallen to 41st — worse than South Africa and barely ahead of Botswana. Obama appointees severely undermined the Freedom of Information Act.

“It should not be a partisan issue to say that we do not pressure the attorney general or the FBI to use the criminal justice system as a cudgel,” the former president said. Trump’s declarations about federal prosecutions are appalling. But while the FBI was investigating the legality of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, Obama repeatedly publicly declared that she had committed no crime. 

The Inspector General report released in June revealed that, after a half-hearted probe, the FBI planned to absolve Clinton unless she openly confessed to wrongdoing when FBI agents finally talked to her. The stifled investigation of her email shenanigans helped assure her the Democratic Party presidential nomination and, indirectly, paved the way to a Trump presidency.

Read the full article at USA Today
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Bankruptcy: Turkey Now, America Later?

08/27/2018Ron Paul

President Trump recently imposed sanctions on Turkey to protest the Turkish government’s detention of an American pastor. Turkey has responded by increasing tariffs on US exports. The trade war is being blamed for the collapse of Turkey’s currency, the lira. While the sanctions may have played a role, Turkey’s currency crisis is rooted in the Turkish government’s fiscal and (especially) monetary policies.

In the past seven years, Turkey’s central bank has tripled the money supply and pushed interest rates down to 4.5 percent. While Turkey’s government did not adopt Ben Bernanke’s proposal to drop money from helicopters, Turkish politicians have taken advantage of easy money policies to increase subsidies for key voting blocs and special interests.

The results of the Turkish government’s inflation-fueled spending binge are not surprising to anyone familiar with Austrian economics or economic history. Turkey is now plagued with huge deficits, a collapsing currency, and a looming economic crisis, making it the next candidate for a European Union or Federal Reserve bailout.

Turkey’s combination of low interest rates, money creation, and massive government spending to “stimulate” the economy parallels the policies the US government has pursued for the past ten years. Without drastic changes in fiscal and monetary policies, economic trouble in America is around the corner.

The very large and growing federal debt will cause a major crisis as the government’s debt burden will be unsustainable. Instead of cutting spending or raising taxes, politicians can be expected to pressure the Federal Reserve to do their dirty work for them via inflation. We may even see the Fed “experiment” with negative interest rates, which would punish Americans for saving. The monetization of the federal debt will erode the dollar’s purchasing power and decimate middle-and-working-class Americans who are already seeing any gains in their incomes eaten away by inflation.

If we are lucky, the next Fed-caused downturn will cause only a resurgence of 1970s-style stagflation. The more likely scenario is the type of widespread economic chaos not seen in America since the Great Depression. The growth of cultural Marxism, the widespread entitlement mentality, and the willingness of partisans of various sides to use force against their political opponents suggests that this economic crisis will result in civil unrest that will be used to justify new crackdowns on individual liberty.

Those who understand the causes of, and cures for, our current predicament have two responsibilities. First, prepare a plan to protect your family when the crisis occurs. Second, do all you can to spread the truth in hopes the liberty movement reaches critical mass so it can force Congress to make the changes necessary to avert disaster.

Since the crisis will result in a rejection of the dollar’s world reserve currency status, individuals should consider alternatives such as gold and other precious metals. Restoring a free-market monetary system should be a priority for the liberty movement. Other priorities include ending our interventionist foreign policy, cutting spending in all areas, rolling back the surveillance state, protecting all civil liberties, and auditing (and ending) the Federal Reserve. If we do our jobs, we can build a society of peace, prosperity, and liberty atop the ashes of the welfare-warfare state.

Reprinted with permission.

 

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Bake the Cake: The State of Colorado Is Still Persecuting Baker Jack Phillips

08/15/2018Ryan McMaken

The Colorado Civil Rights Commission is at it again. It's going after Masterpiece Cake Shop owner Jack Phillips for refusing to "make a cake with a pink inside and a blue outside, celebrating a gender transition from male to female."

This comes only months after the US Supreme Court ruled against the Commission's regulatory attack on Phillips for not baking a cake for a gay wedding.

Although the Supreme Court ruled in Favor of Phillips, it nevertheless took a very narrow view.

Instead of criticizing the very existence of laws that trample on property rights by mandating that people be forced — under threat of state violence — to provide services for certain privileged groups, the Court only took issue with the reasoning employed by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission when it ruled against Phillips.

When the ruling came down, I commented on the specifics of the Court's narrow ruling:

The US Supreme Court today ruled 7-2 in favor of a Denver small business owner who has been threatened, sanctioned, and ultimately driven out of business by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The controversy arose when the cake shop owner, Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding, claiming to be motivated by religious beliefs.

The cake shop was hauled up before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission where the commission ruled that the shop must "change its company policies, provide 'comprehensive staff training' regarding public accommodations discrimination, and provide quarterly reports for the next two years regarding steps it has taken to come into compliance and whether it has turned away any prospective customers."

Justices Kennedy, Roberts, Alito, Breyer, Kagan, Gorsuch and Thomas all voted to overturn the earlier appeals court's decision to uphold the Commission's ruling against Phillips. Only Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented.

In the decision , authored by Justice Kennedy, much of the reasoning centered on the fact that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had demonstrated an apparently obvious bias against religious people, even though "neutrality" is legally required in such cases. The ruling states:

As the record shows, some of the commissioners at the Commission’s formal, public hearings endorsed the view that religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, disparaged Phillips’ faith as despicable and characterized it as merely rhetorical, and compared his invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust.

The SCOTUS ruling also noted that both the Commission and the appeals court largely ignored and glossed over the fact that the Commission had on three prior occasions ruled in favor of bakers who had refused to bake cakes with anti-gay slogans on them. There was an enormous double standard at work.

As Kagan notes in her concurring opinion, the Civil Rights Commission was abandoning neutrality in favor of making decisions “based on the government’s own assessment of offensiveness.”

In other words, the Commission was deciding, based on the members' own personal prejudices and biases, who shall be forced to bake cakes, and who shall not.

With this ruling, the court took a small step in the right direction by taking exception to the Commission's claim that freedom of religion doesn't exist. As noted by Justice Kennedy, the Commission essentially dismissed the very idea that religious conviction could be a valid reason to claim an exemption from the Commissions rules and regulations.

The Court came back and slapped down this reasoning, but it left the Commission plenty of leeway to rule against Phillips using different reasoning.

Thus, as long as the Commission can manufacture a different rationale for ruining Phillip's business, it is free to do, as far as the US Supreme Court is concerned.

The court's limited approach here illustrates the problem with the Court's strategy on the matter of anti-discrimination law has always been problematic.

By limiting Philipp's free use of his property only to cases in which he can prove some sort of religious conviction, the Court — and the law in general — relies essentially on mind reading in determining whether or not Phillips should be allowed to use his property as he sees fit:

This has led to a number of absurd legal and legislative acrobatics in which property owners must prove that their business decisions are motivated by artistic choices or religious conviction, but not by some other motivating factor. Thus, government commissions and courts are required to read the minds of business owners and determine whether or not their internal feelings and religious views fall under some government-approved motivation for refusing some sort of business service.

Proving or disproving internal motivations, of course, has always been an extremely sketchy way of doing things. After all, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission concluded that Phillips was using his religious views to justify unlawful discrimination. This, of course, requires that the commission members somehow have certain knowledge about the thoughts in Phillips's head.

This sort of reasoning also has the habit of working against business owners who hold views that are held only by small minority or otherwise might be considered especially idiosyncratic. One might argue that one is religiously opposed to providing some sort of service. But unless those views are recognizable to judges and bureaucrats as part of a known religious movement, the business owner is likely to be accused of simply making up an ad hoc religion to "mask" unlawful discrimination.

Ultimately, this sort of subjectivity invites just the sort of corruption and bigotry we see on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.

There's a far less complicated way of protecting rights in these cases, however, we should stop talking about "freedom of religion," and focus on ordinary property rights instead. In practice, freedom of religion can only be truly protected by protecting property rights overall. After all, all rights — including freedom of speech and freedom of religion — depend on the ability to exercise control of one's own body and property.

As Murray Rothbard has demonstrated, rights to religious expression and speech are simply types of property rights. Consequently, religious liberty and free speech can be protected with a more general respect for property rights. By saying that Phillips ought to be forced to bake a cake, the Commission is asserting that Philipps does not enjoy ownership over his own body, or the shop and tools he acquired by using his body to perform labor.

Having refused to acknowledge these property rights, though, the Supreme Court has empowered the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to continue its war against small-time bakery owners who are no threat to anyone and impose their views on no one. The Commission already knows how it's going to rule. Its hostility to Phillips is apparent, and there's not reason to believe the Commission will stop until it has succeeded in ruining him. The challenge the Commission faces, however, is in reverse engineering a ruling that can survive a legal challenge. I'm sure that with the help of a sufficient number of taxpayer-funded lawyers, the commission can succeed in this endeavor.

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