Power & Market

Illinois County Votes to Nullify State Gun Laws

1 hour agoTho Bishop

Across the country we have seen Democrat-controlled states and cities announcing themselves as "sanctuaries" for immigrants in the opposition to policies handed down from the Trump administration. Last week, a county in Illinois voted to become a "sanctuary country"of its own, but this time the battle is over gun control measures that may be passed by their state government. 

As the USA Today reports:

The Effingham County Board approved the resolution 8-1 on Monday. Board members said they felt it was necessary to "take a stand" against gun control efforts in the Illinois legislature. 

Effingham County State's Attorney Bryan Kibler told Fox News that they decided to "flip the script" and "make this a sanctuary county like they would for undocumented immigrants." 

This is precisely how political self-determination should look like. Instead of leaving it up to legislators in an isolated capital dictate laws on a country as large and diverse as the United States, we are all better off having decisions be left at political units closer to the citizens themselves. Just as states should be able to nullify bad Federal policies, local governments should opt to nullify bad state law.

As Mises wrote in Liberalism:

[T]he right of self-determination...is not the right of self-determination of nations, but rather the right of self-determination of the inhabitants of every territory large enough to form an independent administrative unit. If it were in any way possible to grant this right of self-determination to every individual person, it would have to be done. 

Of course in order to check the political authority of larger entities, those trusted with enforcing the law must be willing to stand with their local community. Unfortunately in the case of Effingham County, it seems their sheriff isn't prepared to do so. Still, the increased willingness of state and local governments to question the wisdom and rules of larger government bodies is one of the more promising trends in American politics. 

Recommend reading: Anarchism and Radical Decentralization Are the Same Thing by Ryan McMaken
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Incrementalism and Gun Control

03/27/2018Jeff Deist

An audio version of this article is available here.

The spectacle of anti-gun marches this past weekend, at times both sinister and maudlin, provides yet another example that “democracy” does not yield some kind of livable compromise on any given issue. Instead it creates division and distrust, fed by a media environment that encourages using children as props, promotes emotion over reason, and confuses motion with action.  

What democracy does yield beyond a doubt is the incremental but relentless expansion of state power in society, as seen throughout the 20th century in America. Incrementalism, an inescapable feature of statism, is scarcely acknowledged by gun control advocates and gun rights advocates alike. But it forms the backdrop for everything political in our unfortunately hyper-politicized society.

Surely we understand the entire 20th century in America as a triumph of sweeping progressive incrementalism. Central banking, taxes on income, retirement insurance schemes, public schools, welfare programs, housing programs, food stamps—all of these were once radically progressive ideas that over time became fully integrated into the American landscape, accepted by even the most reactionary conservatives.

Take the constitutionally-suspect income tax, made possible by ratification of the 16th Amendment in 1913. It was first sold to the public as a scheme to soak the rich, and indeed for the first few decades only about 5% of the population was even required to file an income tax return. The tax rate on incomes up to $20,000 (several hundred thousand of today’s dollars) was only 1%, and was only 7% on vast incomes above $500,000 (many millions today).

Fast forward to today, and even the lowliest minimum wage earner files a basic 1040 form. The highest marginal income tax rates approach 40%, and have been far higher in previous decades. More importantly, the Internal Revenue rules contain thousands of pages of minute regulations, creating a compliance and privacy nightmare for decidedly non-rich average Americans.

So a century after the radical new idea of taxing income became accepted, individual income taxes now account for a majority of federal revenue. April 15th is now a permanent part of the American landscape, something unimaginable in 1913. That’s how incrementalism works.

A similar story can be told about the Social Security system. Old age pensions were needed to keep elderly widows from being thrown into the street, or so Americans were told in 1935. The Great Depression had put millions out of work, average life expectancy was less than 65, and there were dozens of workers paying into the system for every beneficiary. And until 1950, the (employee portion) Social Security withholding tax rate was only 1%.

Who could object to such a humane and viable system? A lousy 1% of one’s paycheck to prevent the specter of elderly people living in the streets?

Today, Social Security and its Medicare cousin—another incremental advance— consume 15% of employee paychecks, average life expectancy in America is 78, fewer than three workers fund each recipient, and the unfunded future shortfall in entitlements may reach $200 trillion.

This is incrementalism writ large.

As a bonus, your Social Security number is now a unique identifier that helps the IRS and other government agencies, insurance companies, landlords, bank and credit providers, rating agencies, a host of websites and social media platforms, and happy identity thieves track your every move. So much for FDR’s promise that only you and the Social Security Administration would ever know your private number.

Even social and cultural issues, which ought to evolve completely outside of politics, become matters of incremental statism. Thus the Stonewall era, marked by justified concerns over police beatings of gay men and violent enforcement of unjust sodomy laws, morphed into something quite different. Today the LGBT movement pushes America inexorably toward legal and legislative battles concerning a host of issues, from hiring laws to required gender pronouns to religious exemptions to hate speech to what marriage ceremonies clergy must perform. In other words, issues currently being fought over in Europe, the UK, and Canada soon will be fought over in the US. And they won’t be fought on cultural fronts, by well-intentioned people seeking compromise and understanding, but in the statist arenas of legislatures and courts.

Democracy is nothing more than the process of politically vanquishing minority viewpoints. We can sugarcoat it, but our American version of winner-take-all, top-down, federalize-everything governance is not somehow ennobled by voting or debate. It manifests itself in state power, not some mythical version of halfway compromises whereby neither side (or sides) gets everything it wants. And where that power cannot be wielded abruptly, for practical, political, or ideological reasons, it is wielded incrementally.

Thus every call for gun registries, background checks, mental health screening, prohibitions on certain weapons, magazines, or ammunition, etc. must be viewed through this incremental lens. The question is not whether such proposals represent today’s common sense, or whether anyone “needs” an AR-15. The question is what the laws we enact today might lead to tomorrow.

Because our well-intentioned great-grandparents didn’t mean to saddle anyone with trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities when they let Congress pass the Social Security Act of 1935, but that’s exactly what they did.    

So when gun control advocates insist they simply want commonsense measures imposed, or that “nobody wants to take your guns,” the answer for many Americans is clear: we don’t believe you.

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Ilana Mercer on Trump's Phone Call to Putin

03/22/2018Ilana Mercer

"This is just a truly astonishing moment coming from the White House podium," tweeted MSNBC's Kasie Hunt. Like the rest of the media pack-animals she hunts with, Ms. Hunt had been fuming over President Trump's telephone call to Vladimir Putin, congratulating him on winning another term as president.

Reliably opposed to a truce were party heavies on both sides. Sen. John McCain joined the chorus: "An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections," he intoned.

Another Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley, told a reporter testily that he "wouldn't have a conversation with a criminal. I think Putin's a criminal. What he did in" Iraq, what he did in Libya ... Wait a sec? Remind me; was it Putin or our guys who wrecked those countries? So many evil-doers on the world-stage, it's hard for me to keep track.

"When I look at a Russian election, what I see is a lack of credibility in tallying the results," sermonized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. "I'm always reminded of the elections they have in almost every communist country."

Actually, what the International Election Observation Mission found in Russia's presidential election of March 18 was far more nuanced. Why, in some ways the Russian elections were very American: In the difficulty dissident candidates have in getting on the ballot, for example.

Ask Ron Paul or all those anonymous, aspiring, independent, third-party candidates about the US's "restrictive ballot access laws and the other barriers erected" by the duopoly to protect their "de facto monopoly in America," to paraphrase Forbes.com.

As for jailing journalists, frequently for life: Not Russia, but an American ally, Turkey, is the world’s biggest offender. But hold on. Isn't Trump turning on the Kurds to pacify the Turks? Maybe it's something the Saudi's said. Go figure.

What doesn't change is the interchangeability—with respect to any peaceful overtures made by President Trump toward Russia—of the Stupid Party (Republicans) and the Evil Party (Democrats). And yet, the same self-interested individuals protest, periodically, that Trump's recklessness risks plunging the country into war.

The president wants to cooperate with the Russians. International confrontation being their stock-in-trade, the UniParty won't countenance it. Politicians in both parties have not stopped egging Mr. Trump on, rejecting the détente he seeks with Russia, and urging American aggression against a potential partner. Yet, incongruously, in October of 2017, a Republican Senator, Bob Corker, saw fit to complain that the president was "reckless enough to stumble [sic] the country into a nuclear war."

To please and curry favor with an establishment that detests him and is vested in the geopolitical status quo—POTUS even signed sanctions into law against Russia.

Cui bono, pray tell? Who benefits from this standoff?

General Barry R. McCaffrey has The Answer. The Trump congratulatory courtesy call to Mr. Putin shows the president's refusal to protect US interests, tweeted the general.

"US interests" or your interests, sir? Who benefits here? Ordinary Americans, or the media-military-industrial-complex; the swamp organism Dwight Eisenhower warned about in his farewell address: "The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – ... felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government ... [of] an immense military establishment and a large arms industry."

Not to mention the attendant barnacles who suction onto the ship of state: professional TV talkers, think tank sorts, self-anointed intellectuals (who’re not very intelligent). All are vested in an American-led order, so long as they get to dictate what that (martial) order looks like.

The same political flotsam "argues" against President Trump's desired détente with Russia using the following logic: If the "master of the political insult," Donald Trump, "declines to chide Putin," to quote NBC and CNN standard issue "analysts"—something is off. Ergo, Trump is beholden to Putin and to Russia. The Russians must have something on him.

Such a line of "reasoning" fails basic logic, simply because it's inexhaustive. In other words, there are other, highly plausible explanations as to why the president is not warring with Russia, not least that diplomacy is a good thing; that POTUS ran on a promise of peace with Putin; that he had articulated, as a campaigner, an idea entertained by most Deplorables. Namely that Russians are at odds with Islam and ISIS; that Putin is a Russia First, nationalist, whereas our Anglo-Europeans "allies" are Islam-friendly globalists.

Had POTUS kept pressing the positions he ran on, he might have retarded the Russia political wildfire, now raging out of control. Philosophical consistency would've served him well as an antidote to the political opportunism around him.

Instead, President Trump has surrounded himself with appointees who deliver a message discordant to his. What comes out of the White House is an ideological cacophony.

Hiring different perspectives in business could well be a strength. But it’s a weakness when politics and policy are in play. To advance a political agenda, one needs a team that shares the political philosophy underlying that agenda.

MSNBC's Miss Hunt and her political clones were particularly galled by Sarah Sanders. The White House press secretary was asked whether the Russian election was free and fair. She replied: "We don't get to dictate how other countries operate."

What’s outraging our neoconservative-Jacobin establishment is that the White House is practicing, if only fleetingly, what another American president counseled in a bygone Independence-Day speech: detachment and diplomacy in foreign policy.

[America] goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.

The man who'd be casting pearls before swine today was John Quincy Adams. The sixth president of the United States (1825-1829), son of John Adams, spoke truths eternal on that July 4, 1821.

***

Ilana Mercer has been writing a weekly, paleolibertarian column since 1999. She is the author of “Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America From Post-Apartheid South Africa (2011) & “The Trump Revolution: The Donald’s Creative Destruction Deconstructed (June, 2016). She’s on Twitter, Facebook, Gab & YouTube

 

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It Doesn't Take a Genius to Understand Economics

03/16/2018Per Bylund

In fact, most geniuses seem to simply not get economics. An example is the recently departed physicist Stephen Hawking, who - like so many - made rather ridiculous statements of economic nature. Quoted by MSN/MarketWatch, Hawking makes several very simple mistakes in his attempted economic commentary. For instance, he seems to not understand the difference between a natural resource (the physical production factor) and an economic resource (the subject value), which leads him to erroneously conclude that hoarding, and the resulting increased scarcity of physical ​resources, impoverishes humanity. Also, Hawking noted:

“If machines produce everything we need, the outcome will depend on how things are distributed,” he wrote. “Everyone can enjoy a life of luxurious leisure if the machine-produced wealth is shared, or most people can end up miserably poor if the machine-owners successfully lobby against wealth redistribution.”

This is a common view that at best captures a fundamental misunderstanding of economics: that ownership of the means of production somehow implies power (economic or otherwise). But, as we've known since Menger, the means of production have only value to the extent they contribute to the production of consumers' goods, the consumption of which is the realization of value. In other words, if I buy all machinery in the world and refuse to use any of them to produce goods, the economic value is zero. If I don't use the machinery to produce and sell ​consumers' goods, I have destroyed the economic value of my property.

The real effect of robots "producing everything" is that the cost of production plummets, which offers producers profits. But as we're flooded with goods, their market price also plummets. And as the (only) role of capital is to increase the productivity of labor, it means we don't have to work much to support a very high standard of living. The true gig economy is that we can work only for an hour or two - ​when we feel like it - to support a month's (or maybe a year's) worth of luxurious leisure. 

​This is apparently a problem to some geniuses.

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Ikigai: Meaning and Purpose in Life

02/09/2018Jonathan Newman

We all strive for satisfaction and purpose in our lives. We want to do what we love, love what we do, and do it well enough to pay bills and buy groceries. The Japanese have a word for this “sweet spot”: Ikigai, which translates to “a reason for being”. Artists have rendered the overlapping criteria like this:

kigai_0.png

The main four overlapping circles are what you love, what the world needs, what you can be paid for, and what you are good at. According to the diagram, the intersection of what you are good at and what you can be paid for is your profession. The intersection of what the world needs and what you love is your mission.

Sometimes three of the criteria overlap, like the case where your passion (what you are good and and what you love) and your mission (what you love and what the world needs) overlap. In that case, you have “delight and fullness, but no wealth.” Ikigai is when all four criteria are satisfied.

What the world needs, and what people will pay for, are the same

An economist wouldn’t really see a difference between the what the world needs (red circle) and what you can be paid for (blue circle). If somebody needs something, then they would be willing to pay for it. If somebody is willing to pay for something, then they necessarily want or need it.

Even if we consider social problems like poverty and homelessness, those with resources are willing to pay to help alleviate these problems. We economize on the use of resources to alleviate social problems through voluntary donations from others. Thus, somebody with a need who cannot pay for that need to be met is still covered by the blue-red total eclipse.

The law of association guarantees you a spot in the division of labor

Furthermore, the law of association guarantees that everyone has a comparative advantage. Using the language of the ikigai graphic above, everybody has a guaranteed spot in the what you are good at (green) and what you can be paid for (blue) overlap. And since the blue and the red circles are really the same, what this means is that everybody has the profession-vocation combination.

Everybody has a comparative advantage because even if somebody is really good at something, it means they incur a high cost by doing anything else. Said another way, if somebody is really good at something, then somebody else can produce something else at a relatively lower cost. The law of association is based on this logic. One man’s relative productivity in A is necessarily another man’s relative productivity in B.

Individuals find their comparative advantage by interacting with others in the market. It is only by surveying existing producers, goods, and the prices of those goods that one can make an informed decision on what to produce or where to apply for jobs.

Government gets in the way

The only thing that can hinder the natural process of individuals finding what they are good at, what they can be paid for, and what the world needs is government intervention. Price controls (including minimum wages), regulations, taxes, subsidies, and crowding-out effects can only prevent individuals from finding ikigai.

Government can also separate the what the world needs category from the what you can be paid for category. When the government removes resources from the market to pursue a separate set of ends, certain people get paid, but not necessarily to produce what the world needs. The use of the resources is no longer subject to the strict profit and loss test of the market.

We know that consumers value what producers do by the profit earned by the producer. Losses indicate that the resources used by the producer have higher-valued uses elsewhere. Since there are no market prices for anything the government does, there is no way to calculate profit and loss.

Government budget surpluses and deficits do not proxy for profit and loss because tax revenues are not related to the citizens’ satisfaction with the government’s projects. Thus we get a lot of what we don’t need and not enough of what we do need through the government.

What you love and what you prefer

So far, we’ve seen how economic theory guarantees everyone a job that satisfies three out of four of the ikigai criteria: what the world needs, what you can be paid for, and what you are good at.

Unfortunately, economic theory cannot guarantee the fourth criterion: that you love what you do. That part is up to you and your values.

Economics can guarantee, however, that you will do what you prefer, which might be considered a broader category that encompasses what you love to do.

Anything that you do voluntarily is necessarily your most-preferred course of action given your circumstances. This concept is called demonstrated preference. Murray Rothbard famously employed it in his article “Toward a Reconstruction of Utility and Welfare Economics”:

The concept of demonstrated preference is simply this: that actual choice reveals, or demonstrates, a man's preferences; that is, that his preferences are deducible from what he has chosen in action. Thus, if a man chooses to spend an hour at a concert rather than a movie, we deduce that the former was preferred, or ranked higher on his value scale. Similarly, if a man spends five dollars on a shirt we deduce that he preferred purchasing the shirt to any other uses he could have found for the money. This concept of preference, rooted in real choices, forms the keystone of the logical structure of economic analysis, and particularly of utility and welfare analysis.

Demonstrated preference does not just apply to one’s purchasing decisions. It also applies to selling decisions. If you sell your labor to an employer for a certain wage, you demonstrate that you prefer that arrangement over any other alternative given your current knowledge and preferences. You may not “love” your job, but you certainly prefer it to not working or working somewhere else, or else you would choose those paths.

One way to interpret the economic concept of demonstrated preference in a psychological way is to reflect at any given moment on all the choices you have made that have led you to your current situation. Every choice you’ve ever made has been the best one you could have made given your circumstances at the time of your choice. If you look back and see some choices you regret, this has only added to your set of information, allowing you to make more informed decisions going forward.

No matter what, we can find a certain level of contentment in the thought that all of our past experiences and choices have brought about either better circumstances or more complete information to help us make even better choices.

Conclusion

The demonstrated preference concept and the law of association have delightfully optimistic implications. Find your comparative advantage and participate in the division of labor and you will find purpose in your life knowing that you are helping the world, taking care of yourself and your family, and making the best use of your skills. While finding a profession/vocation that you love can be difficult, you can rest assured that you are always doing something you prefer to all other alternatives and that any regret can be chalked up as a learning experience.

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In 1973, Murray Rothbard Predicted Netflix, HBO, Showtime, and Amazon

11/13/2017Ryan McMaken

Mark J. Perry writes this week at AEI:

In 1973 when commercial TV in America was an oligopoly of only three major networks (ABC, CBS and NBC), economist Murray Rothbard, presciently predicted in his book For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto the eventual rise of pay-TV (Netflix, HBO, Showtime, Amazon, etc.).

Perry then quotes this section (which can be found on page 122 of the PDF): 

Furthermore, if TV channels become free, privately owned, and independent, the big networks will no longer be able to put pressure upon the FCC to outlaw the effective competition of pay-television. It is only because the FCC has outlawed pay-TV that it has not been able to gain a foothold. “Free TV” is, of course, not truly “free”; the programs are paid for by the advertisers, and the consumer pays by covering the advertising costs in the price of the product he buys. One might ask what difference it makes to the consumer whether he pays the advertising costs indirectly or pays directly for each program he buys. The difference is that these are not the same consumers for the same products. The television advertiser, for example, is always interested in a) gaining the widest possible viewing market; and b) in gaining those particular viewers who will be most susceptible to his message.

Hence, the programs will all be geared to the lowest common denominator in the audience, and particularly to those viewers most susceptible to the message; that is, those viewers who do not read newspapers or magazines, so that the message will not duplicate the ads he sees there. As a result, free-TV programs tend to be unimaginative, bland, and uniform. Pay-TV would mean that each program would search for its own market, and many specialized markets for specialized audiences would develop—just as highly lucrative specialized markets have developed in the magazine and book publishing fields. The quality of programs would be higher and the offerings far more diverse. In fact, the menace of potential pay-TV competition must be great for the networks to lobby for years to keep it suppressed. But, of course, in a truly free market, both forms of television, as well as cable-TV and other forms we cannot yet envision, could and would enter the competition.

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