Power & Market
Stocks fell last week following news that the yield curve on Treasury notes had inverted. This means that a short-term Treasury note was paying higher interest rates than long-term Treasury note. An inverted yield curve is widely seen as a sign of an impending recession.
Some economic commentators reacted to the inverted yield curve by parroting the Keynesian propaganda that recessions are an inevitable feature of a free-market economy, whose negative effects can only be mitigated by the Federal Reserve. Like much of the conventional economic wisdom, the idea that recessions are caused by the free market and cured by the Federal Reserve is the exact opposite of the truth.
Interest rates are the price of money. Like all prices, they should be set by the market in order to accurately convey information about economic conditions. When the Federal Reserve lowers interest rates, it distorts those signals. This leads investors and businesses to misjudge the true state of the economy, resulting in misallocations of resources. These misallocations can create an economic boom. However, since the boom is rooted in misperceptions of the true state of the economy, it cannot last. Eventually the Federal Reserve-created bubble bursts, resulting in a recession.
So, recessions are not a feature of the free market. Instead, they are an inevitable result of Congress granting a secretive central bank power to influence the price of money. While monetary policy may be the prime culprit, government tax and regulatory policies also damage the economy. Many regulations, such as the minimum wage and occupational licensing, inflict much harm on the same low-income people that the economic interventionists claim benefit the most from the welfare-regulatory state.
The best thing for Congress and the Federal Reserve to do after the bubble bursts is to let the recession run its course. Recessions are painful but necessary if the economy is going to heal from the damage done by government’s inflate-tax-borrow-spend-and-inflate-some-more policies. But Congress and the Fed cannot resist the cries to “do something.” So, Congress spends billions on wasteful “economic stimulus” plans and bailouts of politically influential corporations. Meanwhile, the Fed tries to “prime the pump” via new money creation, restarting the whole boom-and-bust cycle.
This is not to say that no one would experience economic difficulties in a free market. Businesses and even whole industries would still close because of changing consumer tastes, new competitors offering superior products, or bad business decisions. There may even be bubbles in a free market as some investors misread fads as permanent changes in consumer preferences. But periods of downturn would be shorter, and most would only affect specific industries rather than the entire economy.
President Trump’s imposition of tariffs (which are a form of taxes on American consumers) has been particularly harmful. The tariff war has not just raised prices on imported consumer goods. It has also cut off markets for export-reliant businesses, such as manufacturers that import materials used to construct their products.
The trade dispute with China may be the event that pushes the US economy into a major recession or even a depression. However, the trade war is not the root cause of the downturn. The next recession, like every recession since 1913, will come stamped “Courtesy of the Federal Reserve.” The only way to end the boom-and-bust cycle and restore peace, prosperity, and liberty is to end the welfare-warfare state, repeal the Sixteenth Amendment, and audit then end the Fed.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has suggested eliminating the Department of Homeland Security.
Her motivation seems to be reducing federal immigration enforcement powers, although it doesn't necessarily follow that abolishing the DHS would actually accomplish this.
Nevertheless, the DHS is just yet an other cabinet level agency pushed to facilitate even more government spending, and has never been necessary. Its abolition would be a step in the right direction.
The thing about raising government agencies to cabinet-level status is that the move makes it easier for the bureaucrats in charge of the agencies to politically agitate for more government spending in their favor, and to push bigger government in general. It's no coincidence that as the US government has grown ever larger and more intrusive, so has the number of cabinet-level agencies. So now, we have the EPA, the SBA, and the departments of HUD, Energy, and Education all provided with more direct access to the president and the media. Everything they do is deemed "essential." Everything they do, we're told, is a matter of national importance.
DHS is no different. When the 9/11 attacks occurred, they exposed the sheer incompetence, laziness, and inefficiency of government security and defense organizations. Year after year, hundreds of billions of dollars were poured into these organizations — in addition to the countless billions spent on the Pentagon. But when they were shown to be asleep at the switch, what happened? Rather than have their budgets cut, and senior officials fired in droves — as should have happened — George W. Bush and his cronies decided that what the federal government really needed was a new department into which billions more in taxpayer money could be poured.
The was politically important in the sense that making DHS a department made it easier to call for every more funding for its constituent agencies. But much of what the department does was already done before 9/11 — including immigration regulation.
What was new was the federalization of airport security, and new slush funds for domestic police departments.
In a 2017 article titled "Four Agencies to Abolish along with the Dept. of Education," I put DHS first on the list (followed by the EPA, Interior, and Agriculture):
One: The Department of Homeland Security, $51 Billion
Somehow, the United States managed to get along for more than 225 years before this Department was created by Congress and the Bush Administration in 2002.
The Department quickly became a way for the federal government to spread federal taxpayer dollars to state and local law enforcement agencies , thus gaining greater control at the local level. The DHS administers a number of grant programs that have helped to purchase a variety of new toys for law enforcement groups including new weapons, and new technologies. Also included in this is the infamous military surplus program which is supplies tanks and other military equipment to police forces everywhere from big cities to small rural towns. The crime-free town of Keene, New Hampshire made sure its police received a tank through this program as have many larger cities.
When the Orlando gunman opened fire in the Pulse nightclub in 2016, the police eventually rolled up in a tank — which did nothing to stem the bloodshed inside the club.
Police claim they need these half-million-dollar vehicles from the DHS to deal with civil unrest. Never mind, of course, that every state already has a National Guard force specifically for that purpose.
While the Department was created in response to the 9/11 attacks, the Department does nothing to address anything like a 9/11-style attack, and all the agencies that were supposed to provide intelligence on such attacks — the FBI for instance — already exist in other departments and continue to enjoy huge budgets.
DHS also includes agencies that already existed in other departments before, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the agencies that handle immigration and customs. Those agencies should either be returned to the departments they came from or be abolished.
And, few would miss the Transportation Security Administration — an agency that has never caught a single terrorist, but has smuggled at least $100 million worth of cocaine.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is usually wrong about pretty much everything. But on this she's accidentally correct: abolishing the DHS would be a net good for America. It was never necessary, and is mostly a channel for violating the rights of Americans through a de facto standing army of federal agencies and local cops pumped up on federal dollars and military equipment. Politicians in Washington DC would hate to see it go. But the taxpayers would likely benefit were it to disappear forever.
Arthur Laffer, the recent Presidential Medal of Freedom winner and occasional Peter Schiff gambling partner, made headlines yesterday for questioning the value of an independent Federal Reserve.
As he told CNBC's Squawk Box:
I don't understand why the Fed is independent, to be honest," said Laffer, a former economic advisor to President Donald Trump and former President Ronald Reagan. "Fiscal policy is not independent. Military policy is not independent. Social policy is not. Why should monetary policy, this very powerful tool to control the economy not be subjected to democracy just like every other instrument of government?"
As expected, this quickly came under attack by Fed romanticists who believe that an independence should never be questioned (a faith they grasp on to in spite of the record of both Fed failures and its history of being politically influenced.)
In fact, as Dr. Joseph Salerno has written about over the years, there may be real value in getting rid of the illusion of an independent central bank.
As he wrote in The Austrian:
The desideratum of the Austrian political economist with classical-liberal or libertarian leanings involves the complete separation of government and money through the establishment of a commodity money like gold (or silver), the supply of which is determined exclusively by market forces. Nonetheless, there is great merit in replacing the opaque and pseudo-scientific control of “the money supply process” by entrenched Fed employees and officials with overtly political control of money by elected officials and partisan administration appointees. There are a number of benefits of stripping the Fed of its quasi-independent status and transforming it into a handmaiden of the Treasury, as the American Monetary Institute (AMI) and early Friedmanite reform programs call for.
Of course, a better approach would be to open the Fed up to competition by repealing legal tender laws and exempting parallel currencies from taxes. But, considering other Fed reforms that have been discussed in recent years, Laffer's suggestion is hardly that outlandish.
I woke up this Independence Day morning, surprised to find out that Bill Greene, the great 2016 faithless elector who cast his vote for Ron Paul, passed away. Among other things, Bill was a fierce advocate of making gold and silver legal tender, and was an assistant professor at South Texas College. He was an early supporter of Ron Paul, his support going as far back as Paul’s 1988 campaign.
[Editor's note: see Greene's Mises Institite author profile.]
Last summer, I had the privilege of interviewing Bill while working on a paper on the history of the Mises Institute and the Austrian Revival. Here, we discussed various different subjects, including Ron Paul’s 1988 campaign, and the growth of the Mises Institute. This has not yet been published, and I would like to do so as a tribute to Bill. Below is our interview, conducted on 6/19/18:
Atilla Sulker: Describe the state of the libertarian movement in 1988, and the extent to which the Mises Institute influenced the overall movement in America at this time?
Bill Greene: In 1988, the Mises Institute was only six years old, having split off from the Cato Institute in 1982 (a Mises co-founder, Murray Rothbard, had co-founded Cato). Up until that split, the Cato Institute was the leading influence on the libertarian movement in the United States since its founding in the mid-1970s (not long after the founding of the Libertarian Party itself in 1971 – Cato’s co-founder, Ed Crane, was the LP’s National Chair from 1974-1977). Even at such a young age, the Mises Institute had already begun to have a strong impact on the libertarian movement – specifically, on its economic policy foundations. Cato’s focus was on government policy recommendations from a libertarian-leaning position. Since that time, the Mises Institute’s influence on libertarianism in the U.S. has equaled, if not surpassed, Cato’s influence. [The Mises Institute was in fact never part of Cato.]
AS: Describe the relationship Ron Paul had with the Mises Institute in 1988, and the extent to which the organization influenced his campaign platform?
BG: Ron Paul’s relationship with the Mises Institute in 1988 was initially through one of its co-founders, Llewellyn (Lew) Rockwell, who had been Paul’s chief of staff, (from 1978-1982) when Paul was a Republican U.S. Congressman. When Rockwell left for Mises in 1982, Paul – who had been heavily influenced by the works of Rothbard beginning in the 1970s – continued his relationship with the co-founders of Mises, drawing much (or most) of his policy positions from the writings of Austrian school economists. When Paul ran for President as the LP nominee in 1988, most of his campaign platform was pulled from these same policy positions. He has continued to be a Senior Fellow of the Institute since that time, often working, writing, and speaking with others connected to it.
AS: Is there a point in Dr. Paul’s career in which it appeared that the Mises Institute’s influence on him was climactic?
BG: I don’t think so, because the relationship has always been symbiotic, and Ron Paul was already firmly in the Austrian school’s camp even before the Mises Institute was founded. Since its beginnings, it’s been difficult to separate the two from each other.
AS: Describe the influence the Mises Institute had on Dr. Paul’s VP candidate Andre Marrou.
BG: I don’t have any personal knowledge of the Mises Institute’s influence on Andre Marrou.
AS: Describe the overall size and sentiment of Ron Paul’s 1988 presidential campaign based on your experience.
BG: Ron Paul’s 1988 presidential campaign appeared to me to be more extensive than the LP’s past campaigns, as this was the first time they had two former elected legislators on the ballot (Paul was a former GOP U.S. Representative, and Marrou was a former LP Alaska Representative). As usual, the campaign’s biggest challenge was getting on the ballot in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Due to highly restrictive ballot-access laws in a number of states, Paul’s campaign was only on the printed ballot in 46 states & DC (although he did achieve write-in status in Missouri –and in North Carolina, where I headed the N.C. Students for Ron Paul and participated in ballot-access petitioning). Despite Paul’s (and Marrou’s) extensive travels across the country, the campaign was excluded from any debates and only achieved 432,179 votes (0.5%) – still twice as much of Lenora Fulani’s (New Alliance Party) campaign, which actually did achieve 50-state ballot access.
AS: Describe the nature of Andre Marrou’s 1992 Libertarian presidential campaign.
BG: I was not active in his 1992 presidential campaign, although I remember reading news stories on it here and there, such as when he received the highest vote total in the primary results of the first town in the nation to report its votes (Dixville Notch, NH).
AS: Briefly describe, based on your experience, the development of the libertarian movement in America up from Dr. Paul’s 1988 presidential campaign to his 2008 presidential campaign, and outline the role of the Mises Institute in this development.
BG: Based on my own experience, the Mises Institute played a vital role in the development of the libertarian movement in America during the 20 years after Dr. Paul’s first campaign for U.S. president. During the first decade, they published and disseminated massive amounts of literature, newsletters, books, audio, video, and more; once the internet became more and more ubiquitous, they were able to have an ever-growing impact, rivalling the much better-financed Cato Institute in scholarly publications and economic education activities. The Mises Institute’s website soon became the highest-trafficked economics website in the world, and when Dr. Paul decided to run for president again in 2008, he was able to draw upon, and direct his new followers to, that large body of works in support of his policy positions. As a result, his following grew and became ever more educated in libertarian thinking.
BG: When I ran for various political offices over the years, most of my own policy positions were influenced by publications I got from the Mises Institute. This was especially true of my unsuccessful campaign for the Florida House of Representatives in 1994, when I became the first state house candidate to be officially endorsed by the Political Action Committee of the nascent Republican Liberty Caucus (the “libertarian wing of the GOP” co-founded in 1991 by Paul). I had followed Dr. Paul out of the LP and back into the GOP, and I have been a member of, and active in, the RLC since that time.
AS: Is there anything else we should know about Dr. Paul’s 1988 campaign, or anything pertaining to the subject matter?
BG: My favorite story from Ron Paul’s 1988 campaign for President is from the time our N.C. Students for Ron Paul group brought him to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for a speech to around 150 students and local residents. Following his speech (which professed many of the same policy prescriptions as his speeches today), he opened the floor for questions. A local group of Socialist Workers’ Party members were in attendance, and began challenging his free-market stances in a number of different areas. I remember Dr. Paul’s eyes lighting up at that, as he almost gleefully shot down every challenge with logical rebuttals, point by point. Twenty years later, when I chanced to run into Dr. Paul at a local restaurant while he was campaigning in Florida, I mentioned that event – and he remembered it, clearly and (quite obviously) fondly, remarking on how much fun he had that day. I was, to say the least, impressed.
It is not automation that scares people, it is inflation. Might sound odd, but what I mean is that the promise of a fully (or at least a more extensively) automated future seems like a threat because modern currencies are fundamentally inflationary.
When we work and save, the purchasing power of our saved funds diminishes with time. This is not a natural state of things, as many nowadays would assume. It is created. The reason prices tend to go up over time is that money loses its purchasing power.
If you think about it, shouldn't innovations and competition mean we become more productive and thus can get the same benefits (goods, services) at a lower cost? That is exactly what is happening, and it is evident in some industries like hi-tech (smartphones, tablets, PCs). Wherever there are private businesses producing and competing with others, prices fall.
The reason the number of dollars required to buy an item increases is that the number of dollars in circulation is increasing at a faster rate than productivity. Prices go up because banks, especially through central banks "run" by governments create new money. Prices of goods adjust to the additional money in circulation.
In other words, the 2% inflation target many central banks have is really, though simplified, a matter of creating new money at a rate that exceeds productivity gains by two percentage points.
So what does this mean for automation?
Inflation means it is immensely difficult to save for retirement, to accumulate funds to last a lifetime--or to use savings to cut down on work time. Because those savings, if in cash, lose purchasing power over time, or must be invested, which means you risk losing them.
In other words, losing one's job is a huge problem whether or not you have savings. Which means the lack of work in a future where machines can do the work (or, perhaps, all work) appears to be a threat.
Economically speaking, it is not a threat, but an opportunity: machines relieve us from hard, time-consuming, and dangerous work so that we can do other things – and since machines save us from working because they increase productivity (produce at lower cost), prices should fall even faster. So our wages and savings should last much longer!
But in a world with inflationary currencies, this seems impossible because the perception is that we must work longer hours to keep our standard of living (imagine if you never had a raise--your standard of living would fall due to inflation's rising prices).
This loss of purchasing power, compared to the increased purchasing power we should benefit from, is basically taken from us through taxation. And this is what makes an automated future seem like a threat.
Without inflationary money, that is in a world where we benefit in full from our (individual and collective) increasing productivity, automation means we can work less while at the same time have an even higher standard of living – because all prices would consistently fall, likely at an increasing rate.
How is that not a promise?
Adapted from Twitter @PerBylund
I wrote five years ago about the growing threat of a wealth tax.
Some friends at the time told me I was being paranoid. The crowd in Washington, they assured me, would never be foolish enough to impose such a levy, especially when other nations such as Sweden have repealed wealth taxes because of their harmful impact.
But, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken, nobody ever went broke underestimating the foolishness of politicians.
I already wrote this year about how folks on the left are demonizing wealth in hopes of creating a receptive environment for this extra layer of tax.
And some masochistic rich people are peddling the same message. Here’s some of what the Washington Post reported.
A group of ultrarich Americans wants to pay more in taxes, saying the nation has a “moral, ethical and economic responsibility” to ensure that they do. In an open letter addressed to the 2020 presidential candidates and published Monday on Medium, the 18 signatories urged political leaders to support a wealth tax on the richest one-tenth of the richest 1 percent of Americans. “On us,” they wrote. …The letter, which emphasized that it was nonpartisan and not to be interpreted as an endorsement of anyone in 2020, noted that several presidential candidates, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke, have already signaled interest in addressing the nation’s staggering wealth inequality through taxation.
I’m not sure a please-tax-us letter from a small handful of rich leftists merits so much news coverage.
Though, to be fair, they’re not the only masochistic rich people.
Another guilt-ridden rich guy wrote for the New York Times that he wants the government to have more of his money.
My parents watched me build two Fortune 500 companies and become one of the wealthiest people in the country. …It’s time to start talking seriously about a wealth tax. …Don’t get me wrong: I am not advocating an end to the capitalist system that’s yielded some of the greatest gains in prosperity and innovation in human history. I simply believe it’s time for those of us with great wealth to commit to reducing income inequality, starting with the demand to be taxed at a higher rate than everyone else. …let’s end this tired argument that we must delay fixing structural inequities until our government is running as efficiently as the most profitable companies. …we can’t waste any more time tinkering around the edges. …A wealth tax can start to address the economic inequality eroding the soul of our country’s strength. I can afford to pay more, and I know others can too.
When reading this kind of nonsense, my initial instinct is to tell this kind of person to go ahead and write a big check to the IRS (or, better yet, send the money to me as a personal form of redistribution to the less fortunate). After all, if he really thinks he shouldn’t have so much wealth, he should put his money where his mouth is.
But I don’t want to focus on hypocrisy.
Today’s column is about the destructive economics of wealth taxation.
A report from the Mercatus Center makes a very important point about how a wealth tax is really a tax on the creation of new wealth.
Wealth taxes have been historically plagued by “ultra-millionaire” mobility. …The Ultra-Millionaire Tax, therefore, contains “strong anti-evasion measures” like a 40 percent exit tax on any targeted household that attempts to emigrate, minimum audit rates, and increased funding for IRS enforcement. …Sen. Warren’s wealth tax would target the…households that met the threshold—around 75,000—would be required to value all of their assets, which would then be subject to a two or three percent tax every year. Sen. Warren’s team estimates that all of this would bring $2.75 trillion to the federal treasury over ten years… a wealth tax would almost certainly be anti-growth. …A wealth tax might not cause economic indicators to tumble immediately, but the American economy would eventually become less dynamic and competitive… If a household’s wealth grows at a normal rate—say, five percent—then the three percent annual tax on wealth would amount to a 60 percent tax on net wealth added.
Alan Viard of the American Enterprise Institute makes the same point in a columnfor the Hill.
Wealth taxes operate differently from income taxes because the same stock of money is taxed repeatedly year after year. …Under a 2 percent wealth tax, an investor pays taxes each year equal to 2 percent of his or her net worth, but in the end pays taxes each decade equal to a full 20 percent of his or her net worth. …Consider a taxpayer who holds a long term bond with a fixed interest rate of 3 percent each year. Because a 2 percent wealth tax captures 67 percent of the interest income of the bondholder makes each year, it is essentially identical to a 67 percent income tax. The proposed tax raises the same revenue and has the same economic effects, whether it is called a 2 percent wealth tax or a 67 percent income tax. …The 3 percent wealth tax that Warren has proposed for billionaires is still higher, equivalent to a 100 percent income tax rate in this example. The total tax burden is even greater because the wealth tax would be imposed on top of the 37 percent income tax rate. …Although the wealth tax would be less burdensome in years with high returns, it would be more burdensome in years with low or negative returns. …high rates make the tax a drain on the pool of American savings. That effect is troubling because savings finance the business investment that in turn drives future growth of the economy and living standards of workers.
Alan is absolutely correct (I made the same point back in 2012).
And the implicit marginal tax rate on saving and investment can be extremely punitive. Between 67 percent and 100 percent in Alan’s examples. And that’s in addition to regular income tax rates.
You don’t have to be a wild-eyed supply-side economist to recognize that this is crazy.
Which is one of the reasons why other nations have been repealing this class-warfare levy.
Here’s a chart from the Tax Foundation showing the number of developed nations with wealth taxes from1965-present.
And here’s a tweet with a chart making the same point.
A reminder that most of the OECD has moved away from wealth taxes. 12 countries had them in 1990, while only 4 levy them today. Most countries found that the tax has high administrative and compliance costs, and didn't meet the goal of redistribution. pic.twitter.com/pHs7Q5ehjL— Garrett Watson (@GS_Watson) January 24, 2019
On November 1, Mario Draghi’s tenure as governorof the European Central Bank (ECB) will expire, and the European Council will appoint a successor for the role. Moreover, it is now known that northern European countries are pushing for replacing Mr. Draghi — widely recognized as a “dove” — with a “hawk” — less accommodating toward the loose monetary policy being demanded by southern European states. Most especially, Italy.
On the other hand, there are plenty of economic considerations — besides the historical and political ones blaming the alleged excessive (but totally sensible and legitimate) German fear of hyperinflation — which support the northern European preference for a less accommodating governor, and a tighter monetary-policy stance. Let’s look at three of them, which are the most prominent amongst several others:
One: From March 2015 onwards, the Quantitative Easing program (QE, officially known al the Asset Purchasing Programme, APP) implemented by the ECB has been distorting the relative prices of European private and public bonds, delivering a perfect textbook-case of how Cantillon-effects distort the economy. Indeed, for instance, the current difference between the yield of American 10-year government bonds and Italian ones is much lower than the same difference between German 10-year government bonds and American ones, in spite of the total absence of macroeconomic fundamentals to account for this fact. Moreover, as figure 1 and 2 show, the Asset Purchasing Programme has been highly biased towards its public-sector branch (PSPP, Public Sector Purchasing Programme, painted in blue). This also distorts the relative prices of private and public securities, and brings about a crowding-out effect damaging private investments;
Two: From a historical and political perspective, Italy has been blatantly breaching the deals — i.e., the 1992 Maastricht treaty and the 1997 Amsterdam treaty — requiring limits of its public debt over a GDP ratio to the 60% level. In practice, this has reached a historical post-war peak of more than 132%. Hence, it is evident that Italy has been only reaping the benefits stemming from European integration. This includes lower public expenditure for debt-interests (from 12.2% in 1993 to 3.7% in 2018), monetary stability, low inflation, and commercial integration. Of course, northern states are no longer willing to let Italy have everything it wants, and are perfectly aware that Italy has been the country gaining the most in terms of lower interest on its public debt brought about by Mr. Draghi’s monetary policies;
Three: The central bank has been claiming these inflations are “justified” by the alleged empirical evidence entailed by the Phillips-curve. The central bankers have been lamenting excessively low inflation within the Eurozone, and Mr. Draghi has expanded the Eurozone’s monetary base up to a level equal to 28% (3.217-trillion euros) of its GDP. Meanwhile, the American monetary base has been reduced to a level lower than 17% of American GDP. This, combined with a stable — even though low — growth in the Eurozone, with a macroeconomic outlook close to its full potential (even Italy, the weakest of all European economies, is predicted to have an output gap equal to -0.3% of GDP in 2019 and -0.1% of GDP in 2020, thus practically reaching its full potential output) and the fear of an economic slow-down caused by trade-wars, has convinced north-European politicians that the current monetary-policy stance is no longer what Eurozone — as a whole — needs. (Even Italy, the weakest of all European economies, is predicted to have an output gap equal to -0.3% of GDP in 2019 and -0.1% of GDP in 2020, thus practically reaching its full potential output.)
Lastly — and subsuming the three aforementioned bullet-points — a “hawkish” ECB-governor would be also in the interest of Italy itself. After all, Mr. Draghi’s monetary-policy stance has allowed Italian governments to keep implementing unsustainable fiscal policies without sustaining the associated economical and political costs, such as higher public expenditures for debt-interests and lower bank-lending. The latter is being caused by the huge exposure of Italian commercial banks to Italian sovereign risk.
Ultimately, northern-European savers, the stability of the monetary union and — especially — Italy itself do not need a lovely, charitable and “dovish” mother at the central bank. We need, rather, a stark, strict and “hawkish” tutor.
If you're not familiar with Denson's work, he is the Distinguished Scholar in History and Law here at the Mises Institute. He is also a practicing attorney in Alabama and the editor of two books, The Costs of War and Reassessing the Presidency, and the author of A Century of War: Lincoln, Wilson and Roosevelt.
Private roads shine in their ability to smooth and reduce traffic, and as a result, save our time, save billions of dollars of labor and leisure hours, and reduce pollution from cars.1 Moreover, they would save the lives of a portion of the tens of thousands of annual victims of fatal crashes by making roads safer. This cornucopia of benefits is made possible by introducing currently government-run roads to market prices, allowing consumers to coordinate who drives when and how much, and signaling to entrepreneurs to enlarge road systems and design them to be smoother-flowing and safer to capture profits from consumers who demand these services. However, skeptics criticize the viability of private roads on the grounds, among others, that roads are natural monopolies. The might of the market overcomes this concern.
Natural monopolies in neoclassical economics are characterized by services with high fixed-costs and low additional marginal costs per customer once the expensive, fixed infrastructure is finished. Examples of alleged natural monopolies include electricity grids, telephone lines, gas pipelines, and roads. Given the high cost and inefficiency of having two competing roads that both go from A to B running parallel to one another, not enough of such competition will exist because roads are a natural monopoly, the argument goes. As a result, road owners can abuse their leverage as the owners of the only road from A to B to force consumers to pay high prices and offer low-quality roads, or even blockade individuals. There are several issues with this objection. First, we currently face not only supposed natural monopolies at the scale of individual roads, we face a legal monopoly on the highways from sea to sea, and municipal monopolies on all of the roads in entire cities. The state has immensely greater power to abuse than any private road owner would.
Returning now to private roads, the longer the distance one is traveling, the more possible routes there are to get to the destination. Even if Jones has no choice but to use road X to get to the local grocery store, because people traveling long distances do have a choice in whether they take road X as part of their longer trip or not, the owner of road X will face pressure to make road X more appealing in quality and price to long-distance travelers, benefiting local drivers as well.2
Even if Jones is forced to use road X when he drives to certain locations, he has flexibility in the upper bound of how often and to what extent he uses road X. If road X is high-quality and reasonably priced, Jones won’t just use it when he absolutely has to, but rather he will choose to go out more often and stay home less. When he does go out, he will be more willing to go to locations that require staying on road X for a greater distance, such as going to a far away movie theater rather than the nearby bowling alley, which is relevant if a road or highway charges by distance traveled. Thus, even when road X has no other roads to compete with, which it does indeed in the case of long-distance travelers, it competes against Jones’ phone, TV, computer, video game console, board games, books, etc.
Any road providers who make part or all of their income via billboards and other advertisements, vendor stands, stores, or pit stops on property on or adjacent to their roads have an incentive to maintain a smooth and constant flow of traffic to constantly draw new eyes and wallets, which would increase the amount they could charge for advertisement and vendor space.3
The question of an abusive proprietor of a road in a residential area would seldom even be raised, as networks of residential roads would be owned by the homeowner associations, covenant communities, or simply residents of the neighborhoods in which they are located, and have predetermined contracts guaranteeing road use to those buying homes in those neighborhoods. No one buys a house without also buying legal ownership of something as essential as the roof or driveway of the house. Likewise, in the future of more widespread privatized roads, road access rights will almost certainly be bundled into home purchases as much as the roofs or driveways of homes are now. As an example, a network of neighborhood streets with two hundred homes might be 1/200th owned by each homeowner, including a contract guaranteeing permanent road access to each homeowner.
Finally, with the matter of the roads immediately connected to people’s homes and in their neighborhoods solved, this provides breathing space (the longer the distance traveled, the more possible routes) such that this larger unit, the neighborhood, would likely possess multiple competing options for roads connecting it to the rest of the world from the north, south, east, and west.
Small is the gate and narrow the road that is centrally planned, but wide is the gate and broad is the road that is privately owned.
- 1. Robert P. Murphy, “A Gas Tax Hike is the Wrong Way to Fund Highways,” Mises Wire, 2018.
- 2. Price discrimination against local drivers could admittedly complicate this issue, but it would be costly to enforce and draw public contempt.
- 3. If road owners attempted to increase revenue the opposite way, by intentionally causing traffic jams to force drivers to view advertisements for longer periods of time, or purchase food from the road owners’ stores, this may work in the very short term until consumers learned of this tactic, and then ceased to patronize the road altogether. Only perpetual good service can secure perpetual profits.
Herbert Aptheker: Studies in Willful Blindness. By Anthony Flood. Independently published, 2019. I +93 pages.
Anthony Flood tells that in “the early 1970s, I was an acolyte of Herbert Aptheker(1915-2003). Known mainly for his writings on African-American history he was also, during the Cold War and even after, a theoretician of the Communist Party USA (CP).” (p.1) Flood became Aptheker’s research assistant and friend, but he eventually turned in disgust from his mentor, repulsed by Communist tyranny and atrocities.
Flood has documented a striking example of the way Aptheker’s rigid adherence to the Stalinist line corrupted his historical writing. Aptheker is best known as a historian for his American Negro Slave Revolts, his doctoral dissertation, published in 1943. In that book, he never cites the West Indian Marxist C.L.R. James’s Black Jacobins (1938), a study of the San Domingo Revolution of 1791 that overthrew the slave regime and established the Haitian Republic. Aptheker fully recognized the significance of the event; why then does he ignore James’s book? “What scholars virtually never even mention. . .is Aptheker’s life-long practice of rendering James invisible.”(p.15)
The answer, Flood suggests, is that James was a follower of Leon Trotsky. “Aptheker could not have missed the reviews it garnered in scholarly journals and the mainstream press. And yet in the few pages he devoted to that revolt in American Negro Slave Revolts, he neither cited Black Jacobins nor even listed it in his bibliography. For a card-carrying Stalinist like Aptheker, however, there was no lower form of life than a Trotskyist. “(p.80)
By no means did James ignore Aptheker. To the contrary, he attacked Aptheker for downplaying the role of blacks in abolitionist organizations. The Stalinists, James claimed, viewed blacks as subordinate shock troops of a prospective revolution rather than independent actors, and this Stalinist line Aptheker faithfully followed. True to his policy of treating James as an invisible man, Aptheker never responded to James’s criticism.
Flood discusses a number of other examples of the corrupting effects of Aptheker’s Communist bias, such as his tendentious The Truth about Hungary, approving the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and his claim in a newspaper article written in 1950 that the lack of revolts in North Korea showed that the Communist regime in power had popular approval.
Flood’s book is enlivened by stories of his conversations with Aptheker and Aptheker’s bitter enemy, the philosopher Sidney Hook, who was one of Flood’s professors. His careful account of the “invisible man” in Aptheker’s historiography is a valuable contribution.