Power & Market

Was Mises a Neoliberal?

04/23/2018Jeff Deist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What Will Weapons Inspectors Find in Syria — And Does it Matter?

04/23/2018Ron Paul

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

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

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

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

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

We should share Rep. Massie's concerns.

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

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

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

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

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Reprinted with permission. 

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Waco: 25 Years Later

04/19/2018James Bovard

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

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

 

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Why Tucker Carlson's Monologue About Syria is So Important

04/10/2018Tho Bishop

Tucker Carlson's monologue last night was one of the most powerful moments in cable news history. What makes Carlson's - and Thomas Massie's - opposition of bombing Syria so important is that they not only point out that war is not in America's interest, but openly questioning the "official" narrative about what is going on in that country. Considering he's been a voice for military restraint since joining Fox's line up, and proven to be a devastating foil to neocons like Max Boot, Carlson's stand wasn't surprising, but it's still courageous. As Ron Paul and other principled anti-war voices know, nothing outrages the powers at be more than questioning the narrative. 

Compare this strategy to others. Congressman Justin Amash has preferred to make Constitutional arguments against White House military. Unfortunately, as we've seen repeatedly in the last 50 years, they don't work. As Tom Woods has noted, the Constitution has become so badly distorted that the executive branch has completely hijacked war making power. Even the Vietnam-era War Powers Act, seen as a Congressional attempt to limit the executive branch, actually served to strengthen the power of the Oval Office to declare war. 

Similarly, simply questioning the pro's and con's of such an action is unlikely to spark the appropriate public outrage. Every day the government pushes us further and further in debt, engaging in all sorts of policies that diminishes our quality of life. With the right spokesmen, a large section of the public will buy into just about anything.

So instead of debating the merits of Syrian action as if both sides have good intentions, an effective anti-war message must call out the warfare state for what it is: a parasitic institution with a long history of lying to the American public in order to use the American flag to bring death and destruction abroad. As Tucker noted, the same advocates for war today were wrong about Syria a year ago. They were wrong about WMDs in Iraq. They wrong about rebuilding Iraq. They were wrong about moderate rebels in Libya and Syria. The foreign policy of the post-9/11 world has been little more than a string of lies, the culmination of which has been millions dead, trillions wasted, America less safe, and the Middle East less stable. 

The brightest silver lining of Donald Trump's political movement has always been feeding the public's skepticism of the Federal government - from Congress, to the FBI, to the CIA and the rest of the "Deep State." Questioning these once sacred institutions has become mainstream orthodoxy for a major political party.

Now that America's most prominent war skeptic is a Fox News primetime host, perhaps that skepticism will seep into foreign policy as well. 

Tucker Carlson's Most Important Monologue Ever

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What Makes AI Dangerous? The State

04/09/2018Per Bylund

So I watched "Do you trust this computer?", a film that "explores the promises and perils" of artificial intelligence. While it notes both the good and the bad, it has an obvious focus on how AI might bring about "the end of the world as we know it" (TEOTWAWKI.) That is, if it is left unregulated.

It's strange, however, that the examples of TEOTWAWKI AI were "autonomous weapons" and "fake news," the latter because of how it can provide a path for a minority-supported dictator to "take over." While I understand (and fear) both, the examples have one thing in common - but it is not AI.

That one thing is the State. Only States' militaries and groups looking to take over a State have any interest in "killer robots." They're also developed by/for those groups. The fake news and "undue influence" issue is also about the power over the State. Neither weapons nor fake news require AI. Yet, in some strange twist, the film makers make it an AI problem. Worse: they end the film indicating that the main problem is that AI is "unregulated."

But this is completely illogical: with the State as the problem's common denominator *and* the solution?

Instead, we're led to believe that it is problematic that Google tracks our web searches and Facebook knows our friends and beliefs ("because autonomous weapons"?). While I agree that it is ugly, neither company is making a claim over life and death. In fact, they operate under the harshest regulation there is: the market. Because they are making investments to make money, and money can only be made in one of two ways: through offering something that people want and are willing to pay for (Oppenheimer's "economic" means), or through simply taking it from people against their will ("political" means). Companies operate according to the former, which means they are subject to the mercy of consumers. The State operate according to the latter.

No, I'm not saying the ability to play on people's emotions, deceive them through "fake" information, etc is unproblematic. I'm saying the film completely misses the elephant in the room - and suggests it is the solution.

The logic is based on wishful thinking, if not ideology; a refusal to see what's obviously there. The solution is simply not a solution: if the State would "regulate" how Google and FB use AI to sift through the data and feed people what they want to hear, what makes anyone think this applies also to the DOD or NSA and their data, which are *not* collected from consumers voluntarily but in secret. And the latter are much more likely to work on autonomous weapons. The film even states this is the case, yet seems to skip over that problem.

To illustrate the difference between Oppenheimer's economic and political means, consider two recent trust crises. The Cambridge Analytical debacle caused Facebook to immediately change their business as the owners lost billions when the company's value plummeted. That value is based on people's willingness to use the web site and its apps, to continue sharing content. The #DeleteFacebook hashtag harmed the owners. Then compare with what was revealed by Snowden: that the State spies on everyone. The data are collected in part from companies that are both forced to comply with requests and legally obligated not to say anything about it. Yes, the leak stirred up a lot of emotion, but what happened to the "deep state" surveillance? Probably nothing. Except maybe some new routines and, probably more money to control leaks.

Which is more problematic, the "economic" means that are subject to consumers' trust (and, really, whim), or the "political" means not subject to insight, oversight, or at all accountable because it is secret and because we pay for it whether or not we wish?

Add to this how the latter is interested in and aims for both autonomous weapons and to keep/claim the power of the State. It's pretty obvious that neither is a utopian perfect solution, but one clearly has a built-in control mechanism because it is based on value, the other does not - and is even based on being done in complete secrecy and at our expense (involuntarily). Yet the latter is somehow in the film treated as the ("only"?) solution. That perhaps makes for a good play on people's confirmation bias, because we've learned in school and want to believe that the State "is us." Fine, but that's not us spying on us and producing autonomous weapons. In fact, it would be hard to believe a political decision to "stop developing" such weapons. Who really believes they wouldn't continue despite saying the very opposite?

The fact is, there is no downside to simply lying and pretending. Whereas, if severe, companies can be wiped out overnight if people don't trust them - their value is gone. So the logic in the film simply doesn't work; it doesn't make sense. One cannot help thinking, if this is the state of human intelligence, our ability to logically draw conclusions from the data available to us, then making machines that think on "our level" can't be all that difficult. And it cannot be hard for machines to recognize real patterns and draw conclusions that follow.

But perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that the film makers misunderstand economics on a fundamental level:  they point to automation as a huge problem - because it creates more value for us at lesser cost. We'll be relieved of jobs. Oh no. Think about that this Monday morning.

Here's the link for whoever is interested. It was free through yesterday, it seems. Today it's $3.99 to watch. 

Taken from @PerBylund on Twitter. 
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Why Not a China-California Free Trade Agreement?

04/04/2018Tho Bishop

While Trump's presidency has largely been a disappointment in terms of policy, he has been very successful in forcing progressives to reconsider their love of the Federal government.

While we still have a ways to go before reaching CalExit, we have seen California's government make some moves to distance itself from Washington on the world stage. Most notably, Governor Jerry Brown signed an agreement with China to work together on climate change following the Trump Administration's decision to withdrawal from the Paris accord.  

As former California Governor Gray Davis put it:

If Obama was still in office, this phenomenon would not be occurring. But Jerry keeps pushing … People, when they think of climate change, see Jerry Brown as a legitimate alternative [to Washington]. It’s not make believe. It’s real.

Regardless of the wisdom of the Paris accord, I choose to view the willingness of state leaders to work beyond the Federal government as a positive phenomena. So why shouldn't the Golden State look to make a similar move on trade?

After all, a few of California's signature industries will face a direct impact from China's retaliation to Trump's tariffs. As Reuters reports:

China said at the weekend that it was imposing retaliatory tariffs of between 15 and 25 percent on $2.75 billion worth of U.S. imports, including frozen pork, nuts and wine, in response to steep duties on aluminum and steel announced by the Trump administration....

Almonds are China’s second-biggest import from California farms. In 2016, China took 12 percent of California’s almond crop, which was valued at about $518 million.

The Chinese levy on U.S. almonds goes up from 10 percent to 25 percent, said Richard Waycott, president and chief executive of the Almond Board of California...

California wine is also taking a hit.

The latest import levy on wine will increase the total tariff and tax paid on a bottle of U.S. wine imported into China from 48.2 percent to 67.7 percent, according to the Wine Institute, which represents 1,000 wineries and affiliated businesses in California.

The United States, predominantly California, exported wine valued at nearly $79 million to China last year, according to the Wine Institute.

In order to protect his state's exporters, maybe it's time for Governor Brown to try his hand at the art of the deal.

Though there is little he can do to nullify the new tariffs, he could exempt some Chinese goods - perhaps LED lights, machinery, and appliances - from California's 6% sales tax. In exchange, China could exempt California good from their new policies. While such a deal may not perfectly balance out, this mutual disarmament would allow Xi Jinping to demonstrate that his stated desire to defend the benefits of free trade is more than just empty talk. Governor Brown would have to defend the loss of state revenue - and the anger from competing manufacturers of those goods - but it would provide him yet another opportunity to stick it to a federal government that continues to threaten his state.

While not perfect, the move would also offer an example of what a true genuine free trade agreement would look like. Instead of trying to create a new complicated regulatory structure in the hopes of creating some new managed common market, you would have two parties simply agree to drop their own imposed costs on peaceful commerce.

Of course I don't expect to actually see this happen. But, like the creation of New California, it's fun to think about. 

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Why Should Anyone Trust James Comey?

04/03/2018James Bovard

The FBI suffered another debacle on Friday when an Orlando jury returned a not guilty verdict for the widow of Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people and wounded 53 in his attack on Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in June 2016. The biggest terrorism case of the year collapsed largely thanks to FBI misconduct and deceit.

Noor Salman was charged with material support of a foreign terrorist organization and lying to the FBI about knowing about her husband’s pending attack on the nightclub. The FBI vigorously interrogated her for 18 hours, threatening her with the loss of custody of her infant son unless she signed a confession. Salman, who reportedly had an IQ of only 84, initially denied any knowledge but relented and signed a statement composed by an FBI agent. 

Recommended: Abolish the FBI by Ryan McMaken

Federal prosecutors flourished the FBI memo of Salman’s confession as the ultimate proof of her perfidy. But the memo contained false statements and contradictions which even the government could not sweep away. After the trial ended, the jury foreman (who wished to remain anonymous) notified the Orlando Sentinel: “I wish that the FBI had recorded their interviews with Ms. Salman as there were several significant inconsistencies with the written summaries of her statements.”

In this landmark case — as well as in the 2016 interview of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn — the FBI chose to rely on its agents’ ex post facto memos instead of the words and voices of individuals it was investigating. Four years ago, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the FBI and other federal agencies would henceforth record such interviews but little has changed from the J. Edgar Hoover era.

Read the full article at USA Today
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Wyoming is Challenging the Fed, Can it Become America's "Crypto Valley"?

03/27/2018Tho Bishop

The DC Swamp continues to fester, but there is still interesting work being done at the State level.  Particularly interesting is what we've seen so far this year in Wyoming. 

Earlier this month, the Wyoming legislature became the latest state to modify their state laws to challenge the Federal Reserve's monopoly on money.

As Mike Maharrey wrote for the Tenth Amendment Center

Titled the Wyoming Legal Tender Act, the new law defines gold and silver specie as “legal tender,” meaning it will be recognized as a medium of exchange for the payment of debts and taxes in the state. Practically speaking, gold and silver specie will be treated as money, putting it on par with Federal Reserve notes in Wyoming.

The law defines specie as coins having gold or silver content, or refined bullion, coined, stamped or imprinted with its weight and purity.

HB103 also prohibits the state or local governments from levying any property, sales of capital gains taxes on gold or silver specie. Wyoming does not have an income tax. However, it does have a sales tax and it assesses this tax against precious metals bullion

The Senate passed HB103 with some technical amendments by a 25-5 vote. The House previously passed HB103 by a 44-14 vote. Last Wednesday, the bill became law without Gov. Matt Mead’s signature. It will go into effect July 1, 2018.

At the same time, Wyoming became the first state in the nation to explicitly recognize cryptocurrency as a new asset class.

As Rachel Wolfson of Forbes reported:

The Utility Token bill was designed to exempt specific cryptocurrencies from state money transmission laws and is the first of its kind to legally define the way in which specific types of crypto tokens are treated by regulatory bodies. The bill excludes “developers or sellers” of tokens from securities laws under the caveat that they meet certain conditions. In order to meet these requirements, the token must not be offered as an investment and must be a vehicle for exchange as a utility token.

The state of Wyoming is the first elected body in the world to define a utility token as a new type of asset class different from a security or commodity,” Caitlin Long, co-founder of the Wyoming Blockchain Coalition, told me. “This has been a hot topic in Washington D.C. recently, as the SEC considers cryptocurrencies to be securities, FinCEN says they’re generally money, and the CFTC views them as commodities. Now, however, you have a state coming out and defining utility tokens as a new form of property, and property is generally the purview of state law.

Long and the other members of the Wyoming Blockchain Coalition view the passing of House Bill 70 to be especially groundbreaking as this could be the first step to getting the U.S. congress to clarify how cryptocurrencies should be regulated.

This could be very positive for the cryptocurrency community if Congress can break the tie and clarify everything. It’s very exciting that Wyoming is the first state to define what a utility token is, setting an example of how this could become a standard under federal law. I do believe the Wyoming approach will work under federal securities law and am optimistic the SEC will agree, Long said.

Already the Cowboy State is seeing a payoff for their proactive approach to cryptocurrency. According to Long on her personal blog, "Dozens of small software companies have already formed Wyoming entities and some of these have already leased office space – 20,000 square feet and counting."

This is one of many blockchain-related initiatives that Caitlin Long has been involved with, including some she mentioned during a Mises Weekends interview with Jeff Deist last year.

We are honored to have her as a supporter, and very excited that she will be speaking at our San Francisco event on The Future of Money in May. 

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Watch AERC Live!

03/23/2018Mises Institute

Unable to attend AERC 2018 in person? Thanks to our generous sponsors, you can watch live broadcasts of the named lectures at Mises.org/live. All times are CDT.

Friday, 23 March

9:15 - 10:15 a.m. The F.A. Hayek Memorial Lecture (Sponsored by Greg and Joy Morin): Roger Garrison, "The Road to Hayek"

1:30 - 2:30 p.m.  Henry Hazlitt Memorial Lecture (Sponsored by Hunter Lewis): James Bovard, "Why Washington Never Learns"

4:30 - 5:30 p.m. Murray N. Rothbard Memorial Lecture (Sponsored by Helio Beltrão): Richard Ebeling, "Lessons About Mises the Man from His Moscow ‘Lost Papers’"

Saturday, 24 March

10:45 – 11:45 a.m. The Lou Church Memorial Lecture (Sponsored by the Lou Church Foundation): Shawn Ritenour, "Austrian Economics as Common Grace"

4:30 – 5:30 p.m. Ludwig von Mises Memorial Lecture (Sponsored by Yousif Almoayyed): Kevin Dowd, "The Failure of Monetary Stimulus"

 

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Why Gun Control Doesn't Explain Australia's Low Homicide Rates

03/14/2018Ryan McMaken

Gun control advocates often point to Australia as an example of how "banning" guns leads to significant declines in homicide rates.

Whether or not the much vaunted gun laws were ever fully implemented remains a matter of debate, but data does indeed suggest Australia's already-low homicide rates continued to slide downward in the twenty years following the alleged banning of guns.1 Unfortunately, as Leah Libresco writes at the Washington Post, this doesn't give us enough information to draw many conclusions:

I researched the strictly tightened gun laws in Britain and Australia and concluded that they didn’t prove much about what America’s policy should be. Neither nation experienced drops in mass shootings or other gun related-crime that could be attributed to their buybacks and bans. Mass shootings were too rare in Australia for their absence after the buyback program to be clear evidence of progress. And in both Australia and Britain, the gun restrictions had an ambiguous effect on other gun-related crimes or deaths...

That sample sizes should be so small in Australia is not a surprise. Commentators on Australia often neglect to note that the country has a population smaller than that of Texas. Obviously, the demographics, geography and history of the two regions are extremely different as well. 

But with so few homicides to analyze in the first place, any asserted causality between the gun "ban" and homicide rates is indeed ambiguous. 

Other data suggests that Australia's experience is less than useful as an example to the rest of the globe. One of our readers, who goes by the pseudonym Alex Great, sent along a number of useful links in his own commentary which follows: 

Proponents of gun control will point to the declining homicide rate and claim that Australia has seem zero mass shootings since the NFA was enacted.

However, analyses like this are quite simple and miss a lot of important data. For example, looking at official homicide data from the Australian government, we can see that the sharp decline occurred years after the NFA was enacted. A 2003 study backs this up, noting that homicide rates were already falling before the NFA.

A report from 2007 titled “Gun laws and sudden death: Did the Australian firearms legislation of 1996 make a difference?” also noted that homicides were already falling prior to the NFA being enacted, and found that the NFA did not speed up the declining rate of homicides in Australia. More recent studies still find that the decline in homicides can not be attributed to the NFA, since non firearm homicides also sharply declined in the same period:

There was a more rapid decline in firearm deaths between 1997 and 2013 compared with before 1997 but also a decline in total nonfirearm suicide and homicide deaths of a greater magnitude. Because of this, it is not possible to determine whether the change in firearm deaths can be attributed to the gun law reforms.

In fairness, a review of the literature from Harvard did find that states that had more guns bought back experienced more rapid declines in homicide. However considering Australia was experiencing a decline in non firearm homicide at the same time, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how much of an effect the NFA actually had. Even the review admits that no study was able to explain exactly why gun deaths were falling.

The claim that Australia has had no mass shootings since the NFA is also blatantly inaccurate, for example, there was a school shooting in Melbourne in 2002 that killed two and injured five. The 2014 Sydney Seige, where a man armed with a shotgun took a cafe hostage, also shows that despite the NFA, Australia has been unable to get rid of gun violence in public places.

This lack of causality is also reminiscent of the gun control experience in Britain. As I noted in this article, England and Wales already had very low homicide rates — both historically and globally — by 1900. But given that gun control measures were not enacted until years later, it would be inaccurate to simply refer to gun control as the cause of low homicide rates in the region:

The first significant modern gun control law in the UK was the Firearms Act of 1920. The Act abolished what had been up until then an assumed right to carry arms.  The Act was likely introduced as an anti-Irish and anti-communist measure, as there was no evidence (then or now) of rising crime at the time. The 1920 act was followed by increasingly restrictive gun control laws in 1937, 1968, and 1988. From the 1950s into the early 2000's however, the homicide rate grew steadily.

Thus, these examples do not really provide a historical experience that we can point to and say "gun control led to low homicide rates in the UK and Australia." 

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