Power & Market

Seattle's CHAZ: Homesteaders or Illegal Squatters?

06/12/2020Jeff Deist

Listen to the Audio Mises Wire version of this article.

Protestors in Seattle have taken over whole city blocks in a neighborhood known as Capitol Hill, just a bit north of downtown. They occupy city streets and parks, as well as (apparently) a police precinct building. This enclave, dubbed the "Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone" or CHAZ, is now making headlines around the world. Its newly assembled residents have declared CHAZ an independent nation apart from both Seattle and America, and thus exempt from laws and local police jurisdiction. They have set up fences and checkpoints around the area (so much for open borders), and already urban legends are proliferating about warlords taking over, extortion and shakedowns replacing taxes, and new forms of quasi-private security taking hold. Nobody knows how long the situation will persist, but recall how 2011's Occupy Wall Street demonstrations lasted many months.

Of course Capitol Hill, like all urban neighborhoods, is a mix of "public" and private property. Ingress and egress for residents and businesses take place via public streets, which are severely impaired at the moment. Property values, the viability of retail stores, and the general quietude and livability of this gentrified neighborhood are very much in flux. Anyone who owns a condo, shop, or restaurant in the area has a right to be angry and an argument for monetary compensation from both the protestors themselves and the city government that has so badly failed them.

Good luck with that in a Seattle courtroom.

But what about the purely "public" (i.e., government owned) land and buildings around Capitol Hill? To the extent that the occupied buildings and streets "belong" to the City of Seattle, are the protestors legitimately occupying them? Can anyone, Seattleite or not, make a valid claim to such property? Are they illegal squatters or legitimate homesteaders?

It seems like an absurd question on its face, and it is: surely the forceful takeover of a long-established area cannot be legitimate, even if a few government-owned roads and buildings muck up the principles involved. But no less than Professor Walter Block likens government-owned property to virgin territory, albeit stolen, available to any claimant for homesteading. In Block's conception, anything owned by the City of Seattle—libraries, buildings, equipment, roads, you name it—is as wide open to anyone as a virgin tract of land in deepest Alaska never touched by humans. 

I do not at all claim that property such as government roads or libraries is "unowned." Rather, I claim these holdings were stolen. I agree that the state now possesses them; I argue, only, that this is unjustified. And, yes, I insist, the same libertarian analysis can be applied, in this context, to virgin and stolen land. Why? This is because for the libertarian, at least as I construe him, stolen land is de jure virgin land, ready for the next homesteader to seize it (on the assumption that the rightful original owner cannot be located, or he acquiesces in the state’s seizure, or that, arguendo, we can ignore this rightful owner.)

Seattle's mayor Jenny Durkan may not go quite as far as Dr. Block, but she does appear to acknowledge the new, uh, "community" essentially colonizing major thoroughfares in the Emerald City. She may not be ready to grant the CHAZ outright ownership of the streets in question, but neither is she setting any deadlines for eviction:

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Clearly the mayor is in the midst of a dangerous situation, both literally for the people in the CHAZ and in terms of her own political career. It's a public relations nightmare. And from a purely legal perspective, what grants her authority over who occupies Capitol Hill?

One answer is taxes, says Dr. Hans-Hermann Hoppe. In his view, the streets of Seattle are not virgin territory available to homesteaders, but rather akin to land held in trust by (admittedly unworthy) state agents on behalf of taxpayers. If those trustees won't sell the land or other property outright and return the funds to taxpayers, Hoppe's view is that they at least ought to operate and maintain such property on their behalf. So, for the purpose of countering Dr. Block's contention that government property should be viewed as open to homesteading—and only for that purpose, Hoppe says—"public" property should be viewed as being owned by taxpayers. As such, it should be managed on behalf of the long-suffering (net) taxpaying citizens as a matter of simple justice.

Principles aside, the essence of ownership is control. Bureaucrats, police, and politicians who control access to and use of "public" property are its de facto owners, because only they can sell, encumber, or control its use. The average American's ownership claim to the local playground or a city library is virtually nil. Simply try sleeping in them overnight, and you'll quickly find out who really owns them. So, for the moment, the Seattle protestors have the greatest control over Capitol Hill and hence an ownership claim of sorts under the brute force of "possession is nine-tenths of the law."

Whether their claim is valid comes down to whether they are illegal squatters or righteous Lockean homesteaders. In a densely settled area like Seattle, with a long history of property titles flowing from valid sales, the question becomes absurd. Their protests and encampments directly affect the undisputed private property all around them. The Seattle government has thoroughly controlled the roads and police using funds forcibly taxed from Seattle residents. Capitol Hill residents, businesses, and visitors rely and depend on existing understandings and contractual arrangements. Seattle cannot be homesteaded, not even city property, in any conceivable manner that does justice to its current inhabitants. And to the extent that they've paid for it all through taxes, their right to evict the CHAZ protestors clearly supercedes any "right" to conflate occupation with protest.   

It's tempting to dismiss the Seattle protestors en masse because of their terrible and violent political beliefs, and their terrible designs for remaking America without property or markets. But that doesn't change the thorny question of how to deal with them here and now. If they are illegal squatters—not to mention disruptors of many who live or work in the area—then their forcible removal is justified. But New York City lacked the political will to remove Occupy Wall Street campers from Zuccotti Park for many months. Will ultrawoke Seattle in 2020, with its obliging mayor, evict the CHAZ protestors anytime soon?

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Swiss National Bank Q1 2020: $94 Billion in US Equities

05/13/2020Robert Aro

Did you know that Switzerland’s central bank, called the Swiss National Bank (SNB), owns approximately $94 billion of publicly traded US equities such as Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google? Its top holding is in Apple, with over $4 billion worth of shares in the company. The SNB’s filing statement was released on Friday, showing ownership of 2,480 holdings as of its quarter end.

The SNB provides insight into the possible future of central banking while also illustrating a failure in economic policies. The bank, similar to the Federal Reserve, has been partaking in expansionist monetary policies in attempts to best manage the economy but differs in its reasons for doing so. According to a statement made by SNB chairman Thomas Jordan:

We must counteract increased upward pressure on the Swiss franc. We have therefore decided to scale up our foreign exchange market interventions—a tried-and-tested instrument—to shield the Swiss economy.

Per the bank, its expansionist monetary policies are important to provide downward pressure on the value of the franc. The chairman continued his stance with a speech over the weekend, Reuters reported:

The appreciation on the franc as a safe haven has become enormous. Without the SNB’s monetary policy we would see a completely different franc exchange rate in the current situation.

The mainstream media and academic community provide little explanation for this, as Professor Michael Graff from the Swiss Economic Institute was quoted by the Financial Times:

The SNB is one of the sacred cows of Switzerland. You don’t criticise the SNB.

Central banking is important to maintain economic order. Without these bankers, who are mostly economists, the world would be much worse. Or would it? The SNB has a mandate of price stability and focuses largely on controlling the exchange value of the franc, while the Federal Reserve seeks to promote maximum employment and stable prices. Neither mandate is much different than the “sacred cow” statement above and perhaps both are intentionally vague; however, they are the mandates central bankers use to justify their actions.

SNB fears the Swiss franc would appreciate “too much” and that this would be bad for the economy. Economists often cite how exports will hurt, yet no one asks about imports, the rise of purchasing power, lowered consumer prices, the cost of living, increases in savings, or positive interest rates. Instead, we hear of the importance of embarking on expansionary policies to save a nation from the dangers of a strong currency. Thus, to avoid danger, the Swiss are “forced” to inflate their currency. But, they must invest this money somewhere. So why not purchase ownership in dividend-paying companies in the USA?

At what point in time, this crisis or the next, will interest rates go negative? And what happens if the US dollar becomes “too high” or another crisis emerges requiring a new Fed intervention such as buying equities? Issues around sovereignty also arise: What happens if a central bank owns enough shares in a publicly traded company to start voting in, or making a hostile bid for, publicly traded companies?

Or maybe it's best not to ask such things. Perhaps the sacred cow is no different than the gift horse and it’s probably best not to look it in the mouth. Sadly, when it comes to inflationary monetary policies, they never actually work. It just takes time for everyone to notice.

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Spain Reports More Than Five Times as Many COVID-19 Deaths per Cap as US

03/31/2020Ryan McMaken

It's been a couple of days since my post on deaths per 100,000 in the USA and several other countries.

I'm very much a cautious "measure twice, cut once" type of person, so I went back and updated some of my calculations using more recent numbers.

Specifically, I've updated the third graph in the original post which is the number of deaths per 100,000 at the same point in the timeline since at least 1 case per million population was reported.

In the US, the first day to show more than one case per million population was March 7. So, counting up twenty days we arrive at March 26. On that day, there were 1,295 total deaths in the US. That works out to 0.391 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000. Meanwhile, in Italy, the first day with at least one case per million was Feb 22. Twenty days later, there were 1,106 deaths. That works out to 1.572 COVID-19 deaths per 100,000.

And so on:

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And here's how things looked five days earlier, on day 15:

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The gap between the US and Spain and the US and Italy became larger over these five days. At day 15, Italy's total for deaths per 100,000 was 3.9 times larger than the US rate. At Day 20, Italy's rate was up slightly at 4 times larger. At Day 15, Spain's death rate was 4.6 times larger than that in the US. At day 20, Spain's rate had grown to 5.6 times larger than the US rate.

As I noted earlier, there are many reasons why the deaths per 100,000 could be higher in Spain and Italy than in the US, Germany, and Switzerland. One may be the quality of healthcare. While the US, Germany, and Switzerland all have health systems with sizable government sectors, they have multi-payer systems that are more competitive and modern than the systems found in Spain and Italy (and the UK, for that matter). Switzerland has a system similar to Obamacare.

Another major factor is demographics. Both Spain and Italy have some of the lowest birth rates in the world, and these relatively elderly populations are lopsidedly affected by COVID-19. These demographic trends can be seen a bit in their population growth:

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Note how few people Spain and Italy add each day on average. Spain barely adds anyone at all each day. And Italy is declining in population. (These are historical averages, so this doesn't include deaths from COVID-19.) Italy is simply a country with a very old population and very low birth rate. In fact, Italy's population is projected to fall more than 10 percent over the next thirty years. The US's population growth, while not high by global standards, is certainly more robust than we're seeing in Spain and Italy. This is true both in total numbers and proportional to the population overall. With the exception of Iran and Switzerland, the US is growing faster percentagewise than all these countries.

These trends aren't carved in stone. It's entirely possible that something will happen in which the US's death rate accelerates so fast that it overtakes Spain and Italy in this regard. At this time, however, that is not the trend.

(Net population change data, COVID-19 deaths, and total population data are from Worldometer.)

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Senate Attacks Judy Shelton for Sin of Being Outside the Mainstream

02/13/2020Tho Bishop

Today the Senate Banking Committee held a hearing for President Trump’s two most recent Federal Reserve nominees. In one chair sat Christopher Waller, vice president and director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, whose dreadfully dull answers could have been the product of a bot forced to watch one thousand hours of central bank testimony. Luckily for those watching, most of the questions were directed towards the far more intriguing—and controversial—Judy Shelton.

Although by no means an Austrian, Judy Shelton’s record includes public support for a modern gold standard, criticism of the Fed’s response to the financial crisis, and even a comparison of America’s central bank to Soviet central planners. On the topic of competing currencies, Ms. Shelton once referred to Bernard von NotHaus, a man arrested by the US government for the production of silver “Liberty Dollars,” as the “Rosa Parks of monetary policy” for his willingness to challenge the Fed. Beyond monetary policy, she cited government deposit insurance as a program that risks creating moral hazard, suggested that the US could pay off its public debts by selling off assets such as the US Postal Service and federally held public lands, and even publicly questioned the accuracy of government inflation measures.

The recounting of the greatest hits of Judy Shelton offered a glimpse of what it would look like to actually drain the swamp of central bankers.

Of course, all of this was sharply—and at times uncivilly—criticized by duly elected economic midwits who sought to lecture to Shelton while desperately relying upon the prepared questions of legislative aides.

Senator Richard Shelby, at one point the chairman of the banking committee, was particularly appalled at the notion of nominating a Federal Reserve candidate so outside the mainstream. His grilling of Ms. Shelton included sagely pointing out that the amount of gold in the world is worth less than the American GDP and suggesting that the gold standard was a product of the days when the US was a “barter economy.”

Of course, it is a reflection of the dilapidated state of modern economics that Shelby’s ignorance would make him a safer choice for the Federal Reserve than either Shelton or her friend James Grant.

It is also sad to see Shelton, obviously a very intelligent woman, take the strategy of trying to sing from a more traditional script rather than take the opportunity of the hearing to defend the ideas she has long supported. Although there were times when she offered clever outs to her testimony, such as declaring that she would never want to “go back” to any previously existing monetary system (which is not the same thing as seeing a potential use for a newly priced gold backing in the future), for the most part Shelton attempted to try to present herself as a more status quo figure.

In one of the more entertaining exchanges, Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana pushed Ms. Shelton on what she would recommend if faced with an abrupt financial crisis. Her response, unfortunately, was more of the same—taking interest rates to 0, more QE. It was an answer so uninspired that it was basically repeated by Mr. Waller.

Shelton was also attacked for apparent changes in her policy prescriptions during the Trump regime.

Although she once (accurately) blasted the Obama administration for monetary and fiscal recklessness, she has advocated for more accommodative policy in recent years. One could perhaps forgive Shelton for the sin of identifying the Federal Reserve for what it really is—a political institution—but her nomination is likely to be killed by senators who prefer to maintain that the illusion it is anything but.

In fact, shortly after the hearing, Washington was already filled with whispers about her nomination already being dead.

If true, Congress will miss the opportunity to actually act on the goal that is so often given lip service on the Hill—increasing diversity on the Fed. Beyond the irrelevant point of her gender, Judy Shelton would have brought a heterodox economic perspective from well beyond the echo chamber of modern central banking. Having received her PhD in business administration from Utah State University, she is far removed from the elite institutions that are quite effective at wiping out common sense.

At least the Fed will have the addition of Mr. Waller, who can offer such pearls of wisdom as:

The fiat monetary system we have around the world works well as long as it is managed well by the central bank.

Where would America be without such invaluable insight!

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Should Racists Get Healthcare?

01/02/2020Ron Paul

Political correctness recently took a dangerous turn in the United Kingdom when the North Bristol National Health Service Trust announced that hospital patients who use offensive, racist, or sexist language will cease receiving medical care as soon as it is safe to end their treatment.

The condition that treatment will not be withdrawn until doing so is safe seems to imply that no one will actually suffer from this policy. However, healthcare providers have great discretion to determine when it is “safe” to withhold treatment. So, patients could be left with chronic pain or be denied certain procedures that could improve their health but are not necessary to make them “safe.” Patients accused of racism or sexism could also find themselves at the bottom of the NHS’s infamous “waiting lists,” unable to receive treatment until it truly is a matter of life and death.

Since many people define racism and sexism as “anything I disagree with,” the new policy will no doubt lead to people being denied medical care for statements that most reasonable people would consider unobjectionable.

This is not the first time the NHS has withheld treatment because of an individual’s behavior. A couple years ago, another local health committee announced that it would withhold routine or nonemergency surgeries from smokers and the obese. Since reducing smoking and obesity benefits both individual patients and the healthcare system as a whole, this policy may appear defensible. But denying or delaying care violates medical ethics and sets a dangerous precedent. If treatment can be denied to smokers and the obese, then it could also be denied to those who engage in promiscuous sex, drive over the speed limit, don’t get the “proper” number of vaccinations for themselves and their children, or have “dangerous” political views.

Government bureaucrats denying care to individuals for arbitrary reasons is the inevitable result of government interference in the healthcare market. Government intervention is supposed to ensure quality and affordable (or free) care for all. But government intervention artificially lowers the costs of healthcare to patients while increasing costs to providers. As demand rises and supply falls, government imposes rationing to address the shortages and other problems caused by prior government interference.

Rationing has been part of American healthcare at least since the passage of the Health Maintenance Organization Act of 1973. Every plan to expand government’s role in healthcare contains some form of rationing.

Advocates for government intervention in healthcare will counter complaints about rationing by saying that the related healthcare decisions are being made to benefit people’s quality of life. But claiming government officials know how medical treatment can best enhance quality of life is as absurd as claiming that government officials know the correct prices of automobiles.

The only way to reverse the slide into national healthcare and rationing is for those who understand the economic and moral case for liberty to keep pushing to replace Obamacare and all other government intrusions in healthcare. Government-controlled healthcare must be replaced by free market healthcare that empowers individuals to determine for themselves what does and does not enhance their quality of life.

Reprinted with permission.

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Society's Choice: General Welfare or Equality

07/29/2019Per Bylund

Imagine a social system in which those contributing to the welfare of others are rewarded for it, and those contributing more get access to more resources—so that they can serve us better. Such a system would generate ever more welfare, and for more people.

Then imagine an alternative system under which we institute a central force in society with the object to make sure resources are always equally distributed regardless of how they are used and whether they contribute to welfare.

These are the two "ideal" but contradictory systems, the eternal conflict between economic and political means, that have generated our current state of affairs: a mixed system of social meritocracy and utter force.

Today, there are only limited rewards for serving others, often combined with a penalty for gaining access to resources, and a parallel system imposed on this order, in which those with influence but without the intention or track record of serving others can gain and retain access to resources.

This access is provided by the central force instituted to take resources used to serve us from those doing it better--to give to those who have little or poor track record in this service. The outcome is unsatisfactory for proponents of both "ideal" systems, both claiming the influence of the other system corrupts the workings and outcome of our present social order. And they are both correct: general welfare is hampered by the distortions of redistribution and regulation; equality is hampered by both the limited meritocracy and the distorted incentives due to the availability of non-welfare based access to resources.

The solution to the problems in our current state of affairs is to move to one of the ideal systems: markets or state.

The choice depends on what we prefer--general welfare or equality.

Either one offers only limited ability to satisfy also the other ideal, which is why these ideals are in eternal conflict.

Formatted from Twitter @PerBylund

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St. George Tucker: Distinguishing Laws from Dictates, and Freedom from Servitude

07/10/2019Gary Galles

While many of America’s founders are justifiably famous, others have received too little attention. St. George Tucker is one.

Born in Bermuda on July 10, 1752, Tucker was a militia colonel in the American Revolution, who even wrote Liberty: a Poem, on the Independence of America (my favorite line being “Freedom! thy joys alone are riches to the brave!”), that George Washington said “was equal to a reinforcement of 10,000 disciplined troops.” Afterward, his service included his appointment, with James Madison and Edmund Randolph, to the 1786 Annapolis Convention that led to the Constitutional Convention, and his opposition, with Patrick Henry and George Mason, to adopting the Constitution in the absence of a bill of rights.

Tucker’s greatest service to posterity, however, involved the law. Not only was he a law professor and judge on three different Virginia courts, historian Clyde Wilson noted that,

St. George Tucker’s View of the Constitution of the United States was the first extended, systematic commentary on the Constitution after it had been ratified by the people of the several states and amended by the Bill of Rights. Published in 1803 by a distinguished patriot and jurist, it was for much of the first half of the nineteenth century an important handbook for American law students, lawyers, judges, and statesmen.

David Kopel wrote, “St. George Tucker is perhaps the preeminent source of the original public meaning of the Constitution. His 5-volume American edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries was by far the leading legal treatise in the Early Republic.” Tom DiLorenzo summarized it as laying out “the Jeffersonian interpretation of the Constitution, which was replaced by the centralizing, big government … interpretation after 1865.” The fact that the Supreme Court has cited Tucker 40 times illustrates the importance of his work.

Today, with St. George Tucker’s commitment to limited government, states’ rights, and the judiciary’s role of preventing government oppression a too-dim memory, his insights into liberty and the original understanding of government under our Constitution are worth re-visiting.

In this country … the blessings of liberty have been … dearly purchased.

In a government founded on the basis of equal liberty among all its citizens, to be ignorant of the law and the constitution is to be ignorant of the rights of the citizen.

What can be more absurd than that a person wholly ignorant of the constitution should presume to make laws pursuant thereto?

 A distinction … does exist between the indefinite and unlimited power of the people … and the definite powers of the congress and state legislatures, which are severally limited to certain and determinate objects.

All men being by nature equal, in respect to their rights, no man nor set of men, can have any natural, or inherent right, to rule over the rest.

Legitimate government can … be derived only from the voluntary grant of the people, and exercised for their benefit.

Every extension of the administrative authority beyond its just constitutional limits is absolutely an act of usurpation in the government.

Government originally founded upon consent, and compact, may by gradual usurpations on the part of the public functionaries … become a government of force. In this case, the people are as completely enslaved as if the original foundations of the government had been laid by conquest.

No people can ever be free, whose government is founded upon the usurpation of their sovereign rights.

If in a limited government the public functionaries exceed the limits which the constitution prescribes to their powers, every such act is … treason against the sovereignty of the people.

A constitution is a thing antecedent to a government. … Hence every attempt in any government to change the constitution (otherwise than in that mode which the constitution may prescribe) is in fact a subversion of the foundations of its own authority.

A written constitution … [is] a beacon to apprise the people when their rights and liberties are invaded, or in danger.

Abuse of power is despotism … the right of one man is at the mercy of another, and freedom in such a government, has no existence.

It is indispensably necessary … that there be a perfect equality of rights among the citizens. … Equality of rights necessarily produces inequality of possessions; because, by the laws of nature and of equality, every man has a right to use his faculties in an honest way, and the fruits of his labor, thus acquired, are his own.

The rights of property must be sacred.

A thousand … pretexts and arguments … form the ladder by which the agents of the people mount over the heads of their constituents … from whence they behold those who have raised them with contempt.

The American states have reserved to themselves … the administration of justice … in all cases whatsoever, in which they have not specifically consented to the jurisdiction of the United States.

[Federal] jurisdiction extends to certain enumerated objects, only, and leaves to the several states a residuary and inviolable sovereignty over all other objects.

This original compact … is to be construed strictly, in all cases where the antecedent rights of a state may be drawn in question … it ought likewise to receive the same strict construction, wherever the right of personal liberty, of personal security, or of private property may become the subject of dispute.

The authority of the federal government … ought therefore to receive the strictest construction. Otherwise the gradual and sometimes imperceptible usurpations of power, will end in the total disregard of all its intended limitations.

The federal government. … Having no existence but under the constitution, nor any rights, but such as that instrument confers … can possess no legitimate power, but such as is absolutely necessary for the performance of a duty prescribed and enjoined by the constitution.

Until, therefore, the people of the United States … shall think it necessary to alter, or revoke the present constitution of the United States, it must be received, respected, and obeyed among us, as the great and unequivocal declaration of the will of the people, and the supreme law of the land.

The powers delegated to the federal government … have no relation to the domestic economy of the state. The right of property, with all its train of incidents … and the rights of persons appear to be no further subject to the control of the federal government, than may be necessary to support the dignity and faith of the nation in its federal or foreign engagements, and obligations.

Since the citizen is on no other account obliged to pay taxes, or undergo any other public burden, but as they are necessary to defray the expenses of the state, it ought to be the singular care of the government to draw no further supplies than the exigencies of the public require.

The first question is whether the power be expressed in the constitution.

All governments have a natural tendency towards an increase and assumption of power; and the administration of the federal government, has too frequently demonstrated, that the people of America are not exempt from this vice ... parchment chains are not sufficient.

A representative democracy ceases to exist the moment that the public functionaries are by any means absolved from their responsibility to their constituents.

The right of self-defense is the first law of nature.

Every power which concerns the right of the citizen, must be construed strictly, where it may operate to infringe or impair his liberty.

In the United States, the great and essential rights of the people are secured against legislative as well as executive ambition … by constitutions, paramount to all laws: defining and limiting the powers of the legislature itself, and opposing barriers against encroachments.

The congress of the United States possesses no power to regulate, or interfere with the domestic concerns, or police of any state.

Absolute independence of the judiciary … [is] necessary to the liberty and security of the citizen, and his property.

The judiciary … is that department of the government to whom the protection of the rights of the individual is by the constitution especially confided, interposing its shield between him and the sword of usurped authority.

A law limited to such objects as may be authorized by the constitution, would … be the supreme law of the land; but a law not limited to those objects, or not made pursuant to the constitution, would not be the supreme law of the land, but an act of usurpation, and consequently void.

The object of the several states … was not the establishment of a general consolidated government … but a federal government, with powers limited to certain determinate objects.

Acts of congress to be binding, must be made pursuant to the constitution; otherwise they are not laws.

As the subjects upon which congress have the power to legislate are all specially enumerated, so the judicial authority … is limited to the same subjects as congress have power to legislate upon.

People of America have not thought proper to suffer the freedom of speech and of the press to rest upon such an uncertain foundation as the will and pleasure of the government.

Whenever [civil] liberty is, by the laws of the state, further restrained than is necessary … a state of civil slavery commences. ... This species of slavery also exists whenever there is an inequality of rights, or privileges, between the subjects or citizens … for the pre-eminence of one class of men must be founded and erected upon the depression of another; and the measure of exaltation in the former, is that of the slavery of the latter.

St. George Tucker searched for “the criterion that distinguishes laws from dictates, freedom from servitude, rightful government from usurpation.” And Clyde Wilson suggests that his answer is best summarized in his statement that, “It is the due [external] restraint and not the moderation of rulers that constitutes a state of liberty.” Given that today, the federal power to oppress has clearly increased at the expense of Constitutional restraints, we should give Tucker’s understanding as much serious thought now as our forefathers did when our great experiment in liberty began.

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SCOTUS Is Right on the Census Citizenship Question, But For the Wrong Reasons

06/27/2019Ryan McMaken

The US Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the Trump administration cannot include a question about citizenship in the 2020 census form.

In response to efforts to add a census question asking respondents about citizenship, several large US states sued the administration, claiming the question would lead to under-reporting of the true number of residents in each state.

The court did not rule that the question could not be used under any circumstances, however.

According ot NBC:

The court's majority said the government has the right to ask a citizenship question, but that it needs to properly justify changing the longstanding practice of the Census Department. The Trump administration's justification was "contrived," Roberts wrote, and did not appear to be the genuine reason for the change, possibly implying that the real reason was political.

The case, Department of Commerce et al v. New York et al, was decided by a 5-4 majority, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the four so-called liberal judges.

The Census Is Too Intrusive

The effect of the ruling is a good one: it limits the number of questions on the census form, and thus the amount of personal information collected by census takers. Nevertheless, the ruling offers no real relief from a long-standing tradition of the US government using the decennial census to collect unnecessary data nowhere mandated by the US constitutions census provisions.1

Designed initially as simply a means of apportioning members of congress and drawing congressional districts, the US census has morphed into a program designed to collect data that can help the US government justify and plan a wide array of government programs and initiatives.

The very earliest census forms don't collect much information beyond the total number of people, whether they are male or female, how old they are, and whether or not they are slaves.

Yet, by the 1870 census, the government was asking questions about birthplace and citizenship. Questions about occupation, literacy, and disability began even before then. In 1860, it was apparently essential for the federal government to know if a person was "deaf and dumb, blind insane, idiotic, pauper, or convict."

The Citizenship Question

The fact that citizenship questions began is 1870 is significant. Prior to the 1870s, it was widely believed that the regulation of immigration was not a responsibility of the federal governments. Some state governments — especially New York and Massachusetts — enacted immigration restrictions in the mid nineteenth century. But both Congress and the Supreme court balked at the idea of imposing federal limits on migrants.

[RELATED: " American Immigration Policy 160 Years Ago " by Ryan McMaken]

This changed with sweeping new federal immigration laws passed in 1882.

At roughly the same time, federal policymakers started instructing the census takers to keep track of matters related to birthplace, immigration, and citizenship.

As the role of government expanded even further, more questions were added. These included questions on employment, housing, ethnic group, and more.

In the 1920s, Herbert Hoover, who support expanding the statistical-date role of the census bureau, became head of the U.S. Commerce Department. Hoover used his position to push for more data collection. Not surprisingly, the role of census data expanded even more with the New Deal.

In other words, policymakers needed more and more statistical information to justify a rising tide of new federal programs, and to claim that resources were being distributed equitably and rationally.

Opposition to Census Data Collection

Recognizing this close connection between government planning and census data — as well as potential violations of privacy — some political activists and policymakers have encouraged refusing to answer census questions.

For example, at the time of the 2000 census, both Senate Majority leader Trent Lott and presidential candidate George W. Bush advised Americans not to answer questions "they believed invaded their privacy." That may have been good advice, especially since the Census bureau recently admitted it failed to protect the personal data collected on 100 million Americans.

The fact both Lott and Bush were republican policymakers is not a coincidence. At the time, there was a significant — albeit not overwhelming — movement among the conservative grassroots that insisted Americans ought to refuse to answer census questions — whether on the short form or the new ACS long form — which went above and beyond number the population.

The movement now appears to have been turned on its head with Trump supporters now insisting it is entirely appropriate to use census questions for purposes other than counting US residents — and to require honest responses. 

Meanwhile, those who sought to keep the citizenship question off the census form were, for the most part, among the people who insist a wide array of census-collected data is necessary to distribute hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer-funded handouts to targeted populations.

They're fine with asking lots of questions on the census. They're just opposed to a citizenship question. While these opponents of the citizenship question claim to be motivated by obtaining an accurate count, the true reason is likely political: they don't want citizenship to become a political football in re-districting debates or debates over the size and scope of the non-citizen resident population.

That's an understandable position, but it would be best if opponents of the citizenship question were more honest about their motivations.

As it is, today's SCOTUS ruling has implications for partisan politics. But it does little to rein in the census bureau or return the decennial census to its originally intended purposes.

  • 1. Not that a constitutional mandate would make additional questions desirable or moral. Government data collection has always been an important tool in augmenting government power. A constitutional provision authorizing data collection does not change this reality.
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Social Security is Broke, Any "Fix" is a Joke

05/16/2019Alice Salles

Social Security is going bust, a report released by trustees of the federal government’s entitlement programs claims. And without more money being poured into the system, the report argues, tens of millions of Americans will receive only three-quarters of their Social Security benefits in the near future. But even if trustees hadn’t figured that out by now, you would have known this was bound to happen. Unless you never heard any Austrian economist explain why Social Security is nothing but a Ponzi scheme.

According to the trustees, Social Security’s funds will be tapped out by 2035, meaning that this generation of working men and women may never see a dollar from what they “invested,” forcefully, over the years. In order to fix this problem and make Social Security solvent again, the report urges lawmakers to act.

“Lawmakers have a broad continuum of policy options that would close or reduce the long-term financing shortfall of” Social Security and Medicare, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and other trustees wrote in their report to Congress.

Options include hiking up taxes and slashing benefits, two policies that seldom find any support from elected officials on both sides of the aisle. As such, it’s clearly impossible to work on any Social Security “reform” that will actually help to prevent it from falling apart.

But is there any way that Social Security can be actually saved?

Abolish Social Security

President Trump thought he wouldn’t have to do anything to the entitlement program. As a matter of fact, he claimed that his plans were going to boost the economy enough that Social Security’s problems would be easily solved.

But the U.S. government has long been in debt. Quite deeply, as a matter of fact. As a result, money is not being put aside in some special fund for Social Security. What the government runs on is borrowed and printed cash, as the Federal Reserve keeps postponing its plan to slow down on the expansion of its balance sheets. But as the number of Americans who are 65 or older is expected to grow by a third between now and 2040, the cost of Social Security will continue to rise.

Considering that the program both undermines economic prosperity and damages the average American’s relationship with money by giving beneficiaries incentives to remain dependent on the government, ending it shouldn’t be a tough call. Especially knowing it will no longer be capable of fulfilling its obligations in the coming future.

But Social Security still has friends in high places.

It is thanks to big businesses and their connection with the government that we have the program in the first place. After all, if President Franklin D. Roosevelt hadn’t listened to hot shots at the time, who were upset smaller businesses were not giving employees retiree pensions, the federal government may have not been used to force everyone to pay for similar programs.

As Murray Rothbard put it, Social Security didn’t hurt big, established firms but their competitors, as the program “penalizes the lower cost, ‘unprogressive’ employer and cripples him by artificially raising his costs compared by the larger employer.” Unfortunately, not many Americans see the program this way.

With generations relying on the failed system over the years, it is certain we won’t see any politicians doing much to gut it. But hopefully, Americans will finally refuse the system once they learn it is both ineffective and based on policies that benefit big corporations on the expense of the little guy.

What’s not to hate about such a dysfunctional scheme?

Originally published at theadvocates.org.

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Socialism: Armed Robbery and Murder Based on Delusion and Profound Ignorance

04/15/2019George Reisman

Professor Reisman delivered this talk at a TEDx event held at Sage Hill High School in Newport Beach, California, on February 15, 2019.

Socialism: Armed Robbery and Murder Based on Delusion and Profound Ignorance | George Reisman

Further reading from Dr. Reisman: 

His book Capitalism is available at Mises.org, the Mises Bookstore, and Amazon. 

Follow him on Twitter: @GGReisman

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