Power & Market
An an editor of publications with a distinct ideological bent, I sometimes hear that it's important to strive to avoid "preaching to the choir" or "preaching to the converted."
It's difficult to generalize what is meant when this phrase is used. Some users of the phrase think it's a waste of time for any group to discuss important topics among the members. Why discuss laissez-faire economics (or any topic) with other people who already agree?
Some have even argued that the very existence of publications devoted to a specific limited ideological point of view are dangerous because they encourage more in-group discussion at the expense of outside engagement.
More generally, though, the use of the phrase "preaching to the converted" is used to devalue the practice of encouraging frequent discussion of ideas and scholarship within in a certain group. The phrase instead suggests it is better to focus most — if not all — communications outward for the purposes of converting outsiders.
There's a lot of gray area here, and moderates on the issue likely hold a wide variety of opinions as to just how much discussion ought to be with outsiders. Some may think its fine to develop ideas internally, and to engage in only occasional outward "missionary" efforts. Depending on the nature of the organization, some may even think it's fine to focus nearly all energies on in-group teaching and scholarship so that in-group members can then go to other organizations which specialize in outward communications, but do little in terms of internal debate and idea development.
In practice, most ideological groups do both internal idea development and education, and outward communication.
Both activities are important, and many people understand this.
Some observers, nevertheless have a tendency to excessively emphasize the importance of not "preaching to the converted" and this is often due to three incorrect assumptions:
- It is believed that people in the converted already have a sufficient understanding of the topic at hand.
- It is assumed that the converted will never leave the group in question.
- It is believed that the converted won't interact with people outside their group in other contexts.
To illustrate these points, it may be helpful to speak of them in the context for which the term was originally invented: religious evangelization.
This isn't to suggest that laissez-faire views of political economy are anything like a religion. They're not. These views do not constitute a "way of life" or any sort of all-encompassing theory of the cosmos or the human person.
Nevertheless, a religious group can serve as an instructive analogy for a closer look at spreading a certain ideological viewpoint.
The "Choir" Is Often Full of Poorly Educated and Casual Believers
Let's begin by looking at "the converted" or the congregation in any religious group.
Anyone who has experience within any sizable group of Christians — for example — knows that there is a wide variety of knowledge levels and engagement levels within the group.
Some of them are well-read, enthusiastic, orthodox, and attend every single group event. Others are less sure of the group's core beliefs. Some only attend services occasionally. Some self-identify as Christians, but have barely read any of the group's most important documents.
And yet, all of these people call themselves "Christians." Clearly, it would be a mistake to then conclude that no one in this group requires additional discussion, instruction, or reading. In fact, most would benefit from being shown new ways of looking at things, or new readings with which they had not been familiar before. The clergy and teaching staff would also benefit from being asked difficult questions and being asked to elaborate on ideas already discussed. Useful information doesn't just flow one way. Without this, the "converted" cannot be expected to communicate their ideas to others, or even to themselves. Moreover, because old people die and new people are born, new people may be coming into the group as other people are dying off.
Some of the Converted May Be Headed Out the Door
This brings us to the second problem of assuming too much about the converted. It is often assumed that those who are converted will stay that way. This, of course, is a bad assumption in both ideological movement and in religious groups. People fall away from religious groups frequently. The same is true of any number of ideological groups, whether they be based on laissez-faire economics, on Marxism, or on veganism.
Thus, one of the most important functions of "preaching to the converted" is to address the questions of those who perceive inconsistencies in the ideas, or to better explain hard-to-understand aspects of a certain group of ideas. One of the most important things to avoid is the idea that every question already has pat answers that are self-evidently true to everyone. This is rarely the case, of course, so even among the converted, additional discussion and investigation is usually warranted.
The Converted Are Part of Other Groups
And finally, it is important to remember that "the converted" — unless they're part of a despotic cult — interact with numerous other groups of people in daily life, whether through family, professional work, or community groups. If these people are to be expected to spread certain ideas effectively, they must have a competent grasp of them. And there must be some place or publication or organization that can help them obtain this grasp of things.
In other words, if the converted are to share their ideas with others, their primary concern should be understanding these ideas well in the first place.
Leonard Read regularly made this point, noting:
it is only in self-improvement that one can have any influence whatsoever on the improvement of others. This point may never come clear unless we know why so few of us feel any need for self-improvement while so many of us possess an overpowering itch to improve others. Why do we spend so much more time looking down than up?
This was perhaps Read's version of "doctor, heal thyself." It's a good thing to want to go out and improve the world. But it's important to also have the means of improving one's self first. Being a member of "the choir" or "the converted" is often a helpful first step.
On January 1 this year, a new law in the Flemish region of Belgium went into effect, effectively banning kosher slaughter of animals "after regional parliaments introduced prohibitions for animals that have not been pre-stunned."1
According to The Jewish Chronicle:
Shechita is banned in Flanders as of January 1, while similar restrictions will be in place in the French-speaking Walloon region from September 2019.
Local rabbis said it was in direct contradiction to Jewish law, which requires that an animal be uninjured and in optimal health before slaughter.
One added that the Belgian measures were putting Jewish lives “at risk.”
The motivation behind the new laws comes in part from concerns over animal welfare. Thus, Belgian lawmakers had to choose between religious freedom for Jews and animal welfare. They chose the animals.
Clearly, there is a fundamental conflict of values here between those motivated by animal welfare, and those motivated by religious freedom.
We see similar conflicts between advocates for religious freedom and those who oppose male circumcision, and between the two sides in the abortion debate. We see it in debates over bans on Muslim head coverings. In democratic political systems — including those with strong constitutional protections for minorities — the majority opinion eventually wins out. Constitutions can be changed, and what the majority considers to be "right" will eventually become the position of all institutions.
Moreover, in cases like kosher slaughter, the activities being targeted are no mere preferences. They touch on fundamental values, and they present a clear conflict with other value systems. In cases such as these, where there is no apparent room for compromise. And if there is no "middle ground," whose values ought to prevail?
Democracy Doesn't Always Work
Throughout most of the West, of course, we're all taught from an early age that "democracy" will allow everything to work itself out. The parties in conflict will enter into "dialogue," will arrive at a "compromise" and then everyone will be happy and at peace in the end.
But, that's not how it works in real life. While there are some areas for compromise that can be found around the edges of issues such as moral values and ethnic identity, the fact is that in the end, kosher meats are either legal or they're not. Circumcision is either legal or it's not. Abortion is either legal or it's not. Muslim head coverings are either legal or they're not.
After all, if one group of people believes that a 3-month-old fetus is a parasite that has trespassed against the mother, those people are going to find little room for compromise with a group of people who think the same fetus is a person deserving legal protection.
Indeed, we see the shortcomings of democracy at work every time this latter issue comes up. One side calls the other killers who are complicit in the killing of babies. The other side calls their opponents rubes and barbarians, probably motivated by little more than crazed misogyny. Similar dynamics, of course, are present in cases involving animal rights, circumcision, and headscarves. One side thinks that their side is the only acceptable option for virtuous people. "Virtue," of course, can be defined any number of ways. Some are so blinded by their cultural biases, in fact, that they even conclude that no "civilized" person could possibly believe that, say, circumcision is anything other than a barbaric practice.Those who continue to believe in such things must therefore be forced "into the 21st century" by the coercive power of the state. Their religious beliefs, as Hillary Clinton demanded in 2015, "have to be changed."
These problems also exist under authoritarian, non-democratic regimes. But anti-democrats usually admit that the state is using force to support one side over the other. Democrats, on the other hand, often prefer to indulge in comforting fictions. What many supporters of democracy refuse to admit is that there is no peaceful debate that will solve this conflict. The conflict is philosophical and moral in nature. And, so long as both sides are forced to live under a single legal system, any "compromise" will take the shape of one side imposing its position on the other by force. In the end, the losing side will be taxed to support the regime that disregards its views and forces compliance with laws made by the winning side.
Those on the winning side, of course, don't see any problem here. What the minority thinks of as "oppression" is really — according to the winners — just "modernization," "progress," "decency," "common sense," or simply "the will of the majority." The fact that the enforcement of that will of the majority is founded on state violence is of little concern.
The Solution: Secession and Decentralization
Ludwig von Mises, who was himself a democrat, offered a solution to the problem of democratic majorities: self-determination through secession and decentralization.
For Mises, populations must not be forced perpetually into states where they will never be able to exercise self-determination due to the presence of a more powerful majority. On a practical level then, populations in regions, cities, and villages within existing states must be free to form their own states, join other states with friendlier majorities, or at least exercise greater self-government via decentralization.
Moreover, in order to accommodate the realities of constantly-changing populations, demographics, and cultures, borders and boundaries must change over time in order to minimize the number of people as members of minority populations with little to no say in national governments controlled by hostile majorities.
In Mises's vision, there is no perfect solution. There will always be some minority groups that are at odds with the ruling majority. But, by making states smaller, more numerous, and more diverse, communities and individuals stand a better chance of finding a state in which their values match up with the majority. Large unitary states, however, offer exactly the opposite: less choice, less diversity, and fewer changes to exercise self-determination.
The Option of Decentralized Confederations
Nor do all political jurisdictions need to be totally independent states. Mises himself advocated for the use of confederation as a solution to problems of cultural and linguistic minorities. Confederations might be formed for purposes of national defense and diplomacy, Mises noted. But in any country with a diverse population, in order to maintain internal peace, self-government of domestic affairs must be kept localized and so as to minimize the ability of a majority group to dominate a minority group.
Mises didn't invent this idea, of course. This sort of confederation was justified on similar grounds by the founders of the Swiss Confederation and the United States. Moreover, while not planned out ahead of time, the government of Austria-Hungary was by necessity decentralized to minimize internal conflict. In cases such as these, matters of language, religion, education, and even economic policy must be handled by the local majority, independent of any nationwide majorities. Or else democracy becomes little more than a tool for the winning coalition to bludgeon the losing coalition.
For decades, this worked at various times in the United States. On the matter of abortion, for instance, Americans agreed prior to Roe v Wade to allow abortion laws to be determined at a local level and be kept out of the hands of the national government. Public schools — and what was taught in them — were governed almost exclusively by local school boards and state governments. Even immigration policies and linguistic issues were decided by local majorities, and not by national ones. So long as these matters remained local matters they were irrelevant to national politics. Under these conditions, a victory for one party or another at the national level has little impact on the daily practice of one's religion, moral values, or schooling.
As localized democracy turns into mass democracy, however, majorities exercise increasing power over minority groups. Each election becomes a nationwide referendum on how the majority shall use its power to crush those who pose a threat to the prevailing value system. Even worse, when there is one nationwide "law of the land" there is no escape from its effects, save to relocate hundreds of miles away to a foreign land where the emigrant must learn a new language and a new way of life far from friends and family.
Needless to say, as this sort of democratic centralization increases, the stakes become higher and higher. The potential for violence becomes greater, and the disenfranchisement of minority groups becomes ever more palpable.
Mises understood well what the end game to this process is. It's political and social unrest — followed by political repression to "restore" order. War may even follow. For Mises, the need to guarantee localized self-determination was no mere intellectual exercise for political scientists. It was a matter essential to the preservation of peace and freedom. We would do well to take the matter as seriously as he did.
- 1. The law also bans "halal" slaughter, which is basically the Muslim version of kosher slaughter, and is extremely similar. Not surprisingly, the law's passage was motivated in part by anti-Muslim sentiment in Belgium, although antimale welfare was the most-often used justification for the legislation.
Listen to Ryan McMaken's commentary on the Radio Rothbard podcast.
In order to whip up opposition to Brexit, pro-EU activists have long relied on generating fear by suggesting that without EU membership, British trade will suffer, and export totals will collapse.
This, however, has always been an unconvincing argument because EU membership tends to restrict participation in global trade more than it enhances it.
Even the EU admits that "growth in global demand is coming from outside Europe, noting that 90% of global economic growth in the next 10–15 years is expected to be generated outside Europe, a third of it in China alone."
Moreover, the importance of the EU as an export market for the EU has been declining in recent decades. 15 years ago, the EU accounted for over 50 percent of all UK exports. By 2015, the number had fallen to 44 percent, reflecting the shift toward markets outside of the EU.
Even the EU's core members like Germany know the real future of global trade lies outside the EU. As Alasdair MacLeod noted last year,
[W]ith respect to trade, Fortress Europe’s trade policies are increasingly disadvantageous to her. Germany now exports more to China than to any individual European country... [Germany] sees on her Eastern flank ... a pan-Asian phoenix arising in the form of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), led by Russia and China. And it is growing.
...India and Pakistan also became full SCO members, taking the rapidly-industrialising membership to nearly half the world’s population. The Silk Road is sending goods to Europe, and will transport Mercedes, BMWs, and VWs the other way. Asian demand for German engineering and capital equipment is likely to become the largest market by far for the foreseeable future.
Really, by staying in the EU — which is obsessed with tightly regulating and controlling trade with countries outside the bloc — the UK is limiting its own ability to be flexible with the rest of the world.
These facts, however, are not readily apparent to the general public in the UK or elsewhere, and the idea that the UK will be somehow "isolated" without the EU continues to turn heads.
But how to help illustrate that Brexit really means more openness in trade?
There is an easy way to help with this, of course, and it would be the right thing to do with or without Brexit: The US should immediately adopt a position of unilateral free trade with the United Kingdom.
The US, of course, should adopt unilateral free trade with everyone right now, but failing that, the UK is certainly an acceptable place to start.
I suggest the UK as a starting point because open trade with Britain is an easy sell, politically.
After all, opening up unfettered free trade with the UK would be an easy choice strategically. It would make the US an indispensable partner all the more, and solidify the UK as an important part of the North American economy.
Moreover, any claims that unilateral free trade with the UK is "enriching our enemies" would be laughable. The UK and the US have been at peace for more than 200 years. Unilateral free trade doesn't lead to "exploitation" of the US in any case, but even if it did, this would not be an issue of military importance.
From an economic standpoint, of course, unilateral free trade is always to the benefit of the country which adopts it. It would mean lower production costs and less expensive consumer goods for countless Americans and American entrepreneurs. Even if the UK maintained tariffs on American goods, the end result would only mean more inexpensive goods for Americans, and more investment in the US by British companies who reap the rewards of selling more goods to Americans.
Claims that the US would be flooded with "cheap goods made by slave labor" — as some anti-China protectionists like to claim — would be obviously non-sensical. British labor laws are similar to those in North America, and the cost of British labor is similar as well.
Moreover, when it comes to trading with the British, it is harder for protectionists and xenophobes to capitalize on nationalist impulses to push their agendas. Are we really to believe that we ought to fear exploitation by English-speaking high-income foreigners who, by the way, have an extensive history of investment in American industries?
Trump's Mishandling of the Brexit Situation
Unfortunately, for all his big talk about building strategic advantages for the US government, Trump has badly mismanaged the Brexit situation and will probably botch the opportunity to draw the UK further into a greater partnership with the US.
Instead of using Brexit as a means to build a better relationship with the UK, at the expense of the EU's quasi-socialist bureaucrats, Trump has instead attempted to isolate the UK further in order to force UK acquiescence to Trump's economically-illiterate campaign against free trade.
This hurts American consumers and producers while also potentially helping politicians in both China and the EU. As Thomas Wright at Politico notes:
A post-Brexit Britain needs close relations with other major countries, and if the United States is difficult to deal with, [the UK] will find itself increasingly tempted into a closer economic partnership with China, one that will surely have political consequences. Trump’s antagonistic approach also plays into the hands the leftist leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, a persistent critic of a close U.S.-UK alliance who would likely leap at the chance to weaken the special relationship.
My personal position is that it is not important or in our best interests to engage in foreign policy posturing with China or any other country. Political neutrality and open commerce is always the best position. However, I do know that Trump and his allies think that playing games with China and the EU are important policy goals. But even by their standards, the administration's anti-UK protectionism is counter-productive.
No doubt Trump's supporters will stick to their little narrative in which Trump is playing 4-D chess and has some grand plan that will both stick it to the EU and massively increase American exports to the UK at the same time.
This is a pipe dream, of course, but some people seem to actually believe it.
Were the Trump administration wiser, it would pursue unilateral free trade not just with the UK, but with the entire Anglosphere of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Both the economic and strategic benefits would be substantial.
This week is the 100th anniversary of President Woodrow Wilson’s speech to Congress seeking a declaration of war against Germany. Many people celebrate this centenary of America’s emergence as a world power. But, when the Trump administration is bombing or rattling sabers at half a dozen nations while many Democrats clamor to fight Russia, it is worth reviewing World War One’s high hopes and dire results.
Wilson was narrowly re-elected in 1916 based on a campaign slogan, "He kept us out of war." But Wilson had massively violated neutrality by providing armaments and money to the Allied powers that had been fighting Germany since 1914. In his war speech to Congress, Wilson hailed the U.S. government as "one of the champions of the rights of mankind" and proclaimed that "the world must be made safe for democracy."
American soldiers fought bravely and helped turn the tide on the Western Front in late 1918. But the cost was far higher than Americans anticipated. More than a hundred thousand American soldiers died in the third bloodiest war in U.S. history. Another half million Americans perished from the Spanish flu epidemic spurred and spread by the war.
In his speech to Congress, Wilson declared, "We have no quarrel with the German people" and feel "sympathy and friendship" towards them. But his administration speedily commenced demonizing the "Huns." One Army recruiting poster portrayed German troops as an ape ravaging a half-naked damsel beneath an appeal to "Destroy this mad brute."
Read the full article at USA Today.
The media is railing about Trump for fearmongering ahead of the midterm elections. Like this never happened before? Like this is not the job description of modern politicians? Like Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton did not fearmonger whenever they could profit by spooking Americans? Trump is continuing a tradition that was firmly established by Woodrow Wilson. Fearmongering is simply another proof of the rascality of the political class – and another reason why their power should be minimized. Here’s a 2011 piece I wrote on the topic, excerpted in part from Attention Deficit Democracy.
Fear-Mongering and Servitude
In his 1776 essay, “Thoughts on Government,” John Adams observed, “Fear is the foundation of most governments; but it is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.” The Founding Fathers hoped the American people would possess the virtues and strength to perpetuate liberty. Unfortunately, politicians over the past century have used trick after trick to send Americans scurrying to politicians to protect them.
President Woodrow Wilson pulled America into World War I based on bogus idealism and real fear-mongering. Evocations of fighting for universal freedom were quickly followed by bans on sauerkraut, beer, and teaching German in government schools. H. L. Mencken observed in 1918: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed and hence, clamorous to be led to safety—by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” In Mencken’s time he was often considered cynical. Subsequent developments have proven Mencken to be a prophet.
The Democratic Party relied heavily on the fear card in the 1920 presidential race. On the eve of the November vote that year Democratic presidential candidate James Cox declared: “Every traitor in America will vote tomorrow for Warren G. Harding!” Cox’s warning sought to stir memories of the “red raids” conducted in 1919 and 1920 by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, during which thousands of anarchists, communists, and suspect foreigners were summarily jailed and in many cases deported. The American people rejected Cox and embraced Warren Harding’s promise of a “return to normalcy.”
President Franklin Roosevelt put “freedom from fear” atop the American political agenda in his 1941 State of the Union address. But FDR’s political legacy—especially Social Security—has institutionalized fear-mongering in presidential and congressional races. Democrats perennially portray Republicans as planning to yank life support from struggling seniors.
For almost 50 years American politicians have used television ads to spur dread, most famously in the 1964 “Daisy” ad for Lyndon Johnson’s campaign. The ad showed a young girl, in the words of Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times, “picking the petals off a daisy before the screen was overwhelmed by a nuclear explosion and then a mushroom cloud and Mr. Johnson declared, ‘These are the stakes.’” The ad did not specifically claim that Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee, would annihilate the human race, but the subtle hint wafted through. Though this ad only aired once, it instantly became a legend.
Whipping up fear was the flipside of President Bill Clinton’s “feeling your pain” political style. Clinton fanned people’s fear of guns, militias, and life without medical insurance. At the same time, the Clinton administration stretched the power of government on all fronts—from concocting new prerogatives to confiscate private property to championing FBI agents’ right to shoot innocent Americans to bankrolling the militarization of local police forces. Clinton was the Nanny State champion incarnate, teaching Americans to look to government for relief from every peril of daily life—from unpasteurized cider to leaky basements. As long as the President seemed to care about average Americans, his abuses were largely forgotten. (The 1996 Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Bob Dole, also promised to provide voters with “freedom from fear” via untying “the hands of the police.”)
Fear and Bush
The 2004 race was the most fear-mongering presidential campaign in modern American history. In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, George W. Bush referred to terror or terrorism 16 times. Bush reelection campaign television ads showed firemen carrying a flag-draped corpse from the rubble at Ground Zero in New York and a pack of wolves coming to attack home viewers as an announcer warned that “weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm.” (One commentator suggested that the ad’s message was that voters would be eaten by wolves if John Kerry won.) Just before Election Day a senior GOP strategist told the New York Daily News that “anything that makes people nervous about their personal safety helps Bush.” People who saw terrorism as the biggest issue in the 2004 election voted for Bush by a 6 to 1 margin. Moises Naim, editor of Foreign Policy, observed that the Bush campaign was “using the fear factor almost exclusively. This is a highly researched decision with all the tools of public opinion management. It’s nothing but a reflection that it works.”
Bogus terror alerts might have made the difference in the 2004 election. Robb Willer of the Sociology and Small Groups Laboratory at Cornell University examined the relationship between 26 government-issued terror warnings reported in the Washington Post and Bush’s approval ratings. “Each terror warning from the previous week corresponded to a 2.75 point increase in the percentage of Americans expressing approval for President Bush,” Willer concluded. Bush beat Kerry by 2.4 percentage points in the popular vote. Former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge later admitted that many of the 2004 alerts were unjustified. The Cornell study also found a “halo effect”: Americans’ approval of Bush’s handling of the economy also rose immediately after the announcement of new terror warnings, Willer reported. Apparently the more terrorists were allegedly poised to attack America, the better job Bush was doing.
Voters in 2004 could choose whether they would be killed by terrorists if they voted for Kerry or whether they would be left destitute and tossed out in the street if they voted for Bush. Boston University professor Tobe Berkovitz commented to the Washington Post: “It’s not surprising that both campaigns are looking for the leverage point: scaring the hell out of the American public about what would happen if the other guy wins.” But the more an election is about fear, the more the winner will presume to be entitled to all the power he claims to need to combat the threat.
In his 2005 State of the Union address Bush declared: “We will pass along to our children all the freedoms we enjoy. And chief among them is freedom from fear.” The Founding Fathers would have derided the notion of politicians giving citizens “freedom from fear.” And they would have denounced the notion that this new-fangled freedom is superior to the freedoms the U.S. government had pledged to respect for more than 200 years.
After promising freedom from fear, a politician can always invoke polls showing widespread fears to justify seizing new power. The natural result of making freedom from fear the highest freedom is that any policy that reduces fear can be portrayed as pro-freedom. Bush claimed that to keep Americans safe he had to suspend habeas corpus and detain any suspected terrorist in perpetuity based solely on his unproven assertions. Bush authorized the CIA to use waterboarding and other methods of torture on detainees. He ordered the National Security Agency to launch a massive illegal wiretapping program that eavesdropped on thousands of Americans’ phone calls and emails without warrants. Yet Bush remained a great champion of freedom—at least in the eyes of his supporters.
The political mass production of insecurity is a dominant trait of our age. The easiest way for rulers to destroy the leashes the Constitution imposed on them is to make voters think they must choose: “We can obey the Constitution or we can prevent you from all being killed. What is it going to be?”
Rising fear can also undermine the freedom of speech that is a bulwark against government abuse. To the extent people desperately cling to faith in the leader to save them from all perils, they develop an intolerance to anyone who points out government follies or falsehoods. The Bush 2004 reelection campaign did all it could to fan such intolerance. Stumping around the nation for Bush, former New York City police commissioner Bernie Kerik told audiences in the final months of the campaign: “Political criticism is our enemy’s best friend.” As criticism is suppressed government becomes more incorrigible. Eventually the mistakes that could have been corrected cheaply early on become catastrophic national failures.
Fear and Obama
President Obama has picked up the fear-mongering relay baton with his attempts to frighten Americans about health care, global warming, economic collapse, and government shutdowns. Obama has also invoked the fear card to sanctify bombing bad guys anywhere and everywhere.
Government fear-mongering creates a downward politico-psychological spiral. The more fearful people become, the more gullible they will be. British philosopher John Stuart Mill warned in 1842: “Persons of timid character are the more predisposed to believe any statement, the more it is calculated to alarm them.” It is almost irrelevant whether 10 or 20 or 30 percent of the citizenry can see through government’s fraudulent warnings. In a democracy, as long as enough people can be frightened, all people can be ruled.
In the same way that some battered wives cling to their abusive husbands, the more debacles the government causes, the more some voters cling to rulers. The craving for a protector drops an iron curtain around the mind, preventing a person from accepting evidence that would shred his political security blanket. In the days after the 9/11 attacks polls showed a doubling in the number of people who trusted government to “do the right thing.” The media fanned this blind faith—as if trust in government was the high road to public safety. The Bush administration exploited the trust to unleash itself at home and abroad, and the nation is still paying the costs of its post-9/11 infatuation with government.
Bogus fears can produce real servitude. The Founding Fathers expected the American people to bravely stand up for their rights if their rulers trampled the law. Citizens cannot cower on cue without forfeiting any possibility of keeping government on a leash. If America is to have a rebirth of liberty, it must begin with a rebirth of courage.
The Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences is a dubious thing at best.
First, it's not a "real" Nobel Prize in the sense the Nobel Foundation neither chooses nor pays the recipient(s). Technically, it's the "Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel." The award itself is of checkered provenance, created by Swedish central bankers hoping to bolster the scientific image of economics. It's chosen by committee members who purposely apply the same principles used to determine winners in medicine, physics, and chemistry, thereby hoping the public won't much notice its lack of connection to the late Alfred Nobel (or his surviving family, one of whom blasted the prize as a PR effort designed to improve the bad reputation of economists).
More importantly, though, the "Nobel Prize confers on an individual an authority which in economics no man ought to possess," as none other than Friedrich Hayek exclaimed in his own remarkable acceptance speech upon receiving the award in 1974.
In Hayek's view, the Prize threatened to create an aura of hard science certainty around the decidedly social science of economics. This veneer, he worried, would influence both government officials and the public to view economic theory more like laws of physics or properties of molecules.
This was dangerous, in the view of a man who had seen Europe and Russia collapse under "scientific" socialism and written extensively about political economy in The Road to Serfdom and The Constitution of Liberty. He understood the deadly combination of hubris and certainty, and hoped to impress upon the audience that economics remained a discipline that studied humans, with all their irrationalities and frailties. In this sense he demonstrated the degree of respect he still had for the praxeological foundation of his then recently-departed old mentor Ludwig von Mises.
Murray Rothbard, writing in Human Events, had fulsome praise for Hayek as the surprise winner who eschewed the mathematical orientation of previous recipients:
The Nobel award comes as a surprise on two counts. Not only because all the previous Nobel Prizes in economics have gone to left-liberals and opponents of the free market, but also because they have gone uniformly to economists who have transformed the discipline into a supposed "science" filled with mathematical jargon and unrealistic "models" which are then used to criticize the free-enterprise system and to attempt to plan the economy by the central government.
F.A. Hayek is not only the leading free-market economist; he has also led the way in attacking the mathematical models and the planning pretensions of the would-be "scientists," and in integrating economics into a wider libertarian social philosophy. Both concepts have so far been anathema to the Nobel establishment.
Rothbard saw Hayek's achievement not only as a refutation of the Keynesian orthodoxy regarding stumulative monetary policy, but also as a demolition of the whole socialist political program flowing from Keynes's followers:
The political prescription that flows from the Hayekian theory is, of course, the diametric opposite of the Keynesian: stop the artificial inflationary boom, and allow the recession to proceed as fast as possible with its work of readjustment. Postponement and government attempts to stop or interfere with the recession process will only drag out and intensify the agony and lead to our current and probably future turmoil of inflation combined with lengthy recession and depression. The Mises-Hayek analysis is not only the only cogent theory of the business cycle; it is the only comprehensive free-market answer to the Keynesian morass of government planning and "fine tuning" that we are suffering from today.
But F.A. Hayek did not stop with this monumental contribution to economics. In the 1940s he widened his approach to the entire area of political economy. In his best-selling Road to Serfdom (1944) he challenged the prosocialist and pro-Communist intellectual climate of the day, showing how socialist planning must inevitably lead to totalitarianism, and demonstrating examples in the way in which the socialistic Weimar Republic paved the way for Hitler. He also showed how the "worst always get to the top" in a statist society.
So today let us celebrate Friedrich Hayek, the reluctant and worthy Nobel winner—rather than an economist who once wrote this, in a textbook no less:
The Soviet economy is proof that, contrary to what many skeptics had earlier believed, a socialist command economy can function and even thrive.
The federal government is running a massive deficit right now. American wages are stagnant. The US is involved in multiple costly wars with no apparent objective. And the president raises taxes on Americans at will through his tariff policy.
But fortunately the Congress is getting down to what is really important. Federalizing laws banning the sale of cat and dog meat.
The silliness of Congress's involvement in the matter is so obvious that even CBS news begins its article on the topic with a snide comment:
The government shuts down at the end of the month, and Democrats and Republicans seem unable to make a deal to keep it open. They are, however, united in trying to stop people from eating pets.
But the new bill does provide a chance for politicians to crow about "accomplishing" something in Congress. Bill sponsor and Florida Democrat Alice Hastings released a glowing statement:
"The House of Representatives has voted to unify animal cruelty laws across the country, which would prohibit the slaughter of dogs and cats for human consumption," Hastings said. "I am proud to have championed this effort in Congress to explicitly ban the killing and consumption dogs and cats across the United States, and am greatly appreciative of my friend and colleague Congressman Buchanan for taking the 'Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act' across the finish line today."
Boy, without the federal government, who could possibly regulate such things? I mean, other than the county commissioners who could just as easily pass an ordinance on the matter? The sale and handling of dog meat is already illegal nearly everywhere in the US. The new federal law is being passed because it gives politicians a shiny object to distract the voters with on the campaign trail this fall.
Keep in mind also that if the feds plan to enforce the new regulations, it will require work from federal employees who will need to surveil, investigate, and prosecute any suspected lawbreakers. The people who do it will collect a federal salary and, eventually, a federal pension.
Needless to say, there's no section of the Federal Constitution that expresses the necessity of federal involvement in regulating cat meat. But such trifles don't concern Congress when there is good politicking to be had. After all, from the politician's standpoint, only a few odd eccentrics like yours truly are going to bother condemning the bill. Meanwhile, the bill's supporters will be able to make stump speeches to suburban moms and college activists about how "I am fighting for you" in Congress by making dog-meat boutiques illegal under federal law.
This leads us to ask the question of how widespread this black-market industry even is. If is is not widespread then why the need for federal legislation? And if consumption of dog meat is widespread, then this tells us that somewhere in America private citizens — presumably taxpayers — like to eat dog meat. So, the federal legislation is either pointless, or it's trampling on the property rights of someone somewhere.
In either case, the question must be answered: are we to believe that dog-meat lovers have no rights just because lots of people think dogs are cute? Yes, I get it, I have a dog too and she's swell. Barring a Venezuela-style apocalypse, I'm totally not going to eat her.
On the other hand, if some people somewhere like eating dog, why is it my place to sign off on threatening those people with fines imposed by federal agents for doing something I find distasteful.
At this point in the debate, of course, the opponents of dog meat will start repeating totally arbitrary reasons for why eating dog ought to be verboten. "They' cute, they're intelligent, they make good companions." And so on.
But as anyone who has worked with pigs knows, those animals are very intelligent, too. Some are even cute. Some people keep pigs as pets. And yet, many of the same people who sob over dog meat have few scruples about ordering a sausage pizza.
Hardliner animal rights people are, at least, consistent in this. They are against all animal slaughter. And that's a respectable position — although not one I agree with.1
Dog Meat vs. Horse Meat
Unfortunately, we've already been over this, and the federal government has already been blazing the trail for regulating meat slaughter and sales for quite some time. In fact, it was just late last year that the Congress was debating ending an existing federal ban on the processing of horse meat. And although I've been a personal fan of many horses I have met, I also came out against that federal ban.
[RELATED: "Do We Really Need a Federal Ban on Horse Meat?" by Ryan McMaken]
In that case, though, opponents of horse-meat bans had something more in their favor: Americans were still eating horse meat in the mid twentieth century. Even more recently, Americans were feeding horse meat — ironically, given the current debate — to their cats and dogs. Moreover, as I pointed out in the article, Western society has a long history of eating horse meat, although it was never especially popular in the United States. But in the case of horse meat, why ought the "rights" of horses trump those of private taxpaying citizens who happen to make their living from selling horse meat? Or who enjoy eating it?
With cats and dogs, of course, there is very little history of them being eaten in the US or in Europe.
Eating dogs, however, is apparently common in China, Indonesia, and Korea. Some immigrants from those places still eat dogs.
But, there aren't enough people in the US who like dog meat to make the pro-dog-meat lobby in the US politically significant. Congress simply doesn't have to worry about any of those people when campaigning for re-election this November. Those horrible foreigners and new arrivals who like dog meat? To hell with them. And if they get caught eating a dog or cat? Well then its a $5,000 fine. Xenophobia continues to be great politics, just not in the way you think. It's not the Trump voters in this case who are wanting to stick it to foreigners and immigrants. This time, banning dog meat is all about pandering to soccer moms and well-to-do twenty-somethings who refer to their dogs as their children. It's probably a winning strategy.
- 1. Unfortunately, with many hardcore animal rights activists, this admirable consistency often fails to extend to opposing the killing of human life pre-birth.
At Wal-Mart, Bitcoin is now competing alongside gold, silver, and government coins in the candy isle.
Still not quite what Ron Paul and other Austrians have in mind advocating choice in currency, but it does serve as another illustration of how crypto-currency is becoming normalized in the United States.