Power & Market

Inflation Ruined a Chocolate Bar — But Is the Dark Age Now Over?

07/23/2018Ryan McMaken

Chocolate company Toblerone announced this week that it will be returning its chocolate bars to the pre-2016 shape — at least in the British market. Back in 2016, the company had decided to put less chocolate in its chocolate bars by changing the shape. It was, the company said, part of an effort to deal with rising production costs. Here's what the two different versions of the bars looked like:

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Source: The Telegraph

Among chocolate lovers, this change was rather scandalous. Most people, of course, didn't exactly make an issue of it in social media, but the change constituted one of many efforts to deal with price inflation at the time — known as "shrink-flation."

Back in 2016, Christopher Westley reported on this, and how the Toblerone "scandal" was part of a larger inflation-created problem:

[Toblerone] widened the gaps between the segments of its iconic chocolate bar, reducing its total volume by some 10 percent. Although the reaction has something of an Old Coke-New Coke air to it, one can easily see it as a sign of the inflationary times, an effect of worldwide money creation coordinated by the leading central banks, with Toblerone being just one of many victims.

The economics of the decision shouldn’t surprise an actual student of economics. Since inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon, and since the world’s central banks have been pumping new money into the global economy at unprecedented rates for several years, we should expect an upward pressure on prices. In a Facebook post, Toblerone explained that it was forced into changing its product in response to “higher cost of numerous ingredients,” adding that

...we had to make a decision between changing the shape of the bar, and raising the price. We chose to change the shape to keep the product affordable for our customers, and it enables us to keep offering a great value product.

Statements such as this cause Toblerone to become, unwittingly, a case study for how firms in competitive markets respond when monetary inflation raises their costs of production. When that happens, firms are less able to pass the cost on to consumers in the form of higher prices because if they do, they face a strong likelihood of losing market share and revenues. Instead, these firms cut back in terms of volume, size, and portions.

We see this all the time. Have you been to a restaurant lately where the menu prices haven’t seemed to change but the portions of food on your plate has? Or opened a bag of chips that hasn’t fallen in size while the volume of chips inside has? Or consumed a product of lower quality than you remembered in less inflationary times because its producer was obligated to change ingredients to break even?

The fact is, Toblerone can’t raise its prices willy-nilly due to the many substitutes available to consumers. Critics claiming otherwise ignore this common side effect of inflation in competitive industries, a phenomenon that especially has applied to candy markets in recent years.

It remains unclear, however, if the company is just reverting to the old shape and size, or just the old shape? If it's going back to the old shape and size, this would suggest that the company has found a way to produce candy bars less expensively, or that it can raise the price of the bars without driving down demand to the point it will hurt the company.

It's a safe bet, though, that we shouldn't expect a general reversal of the shrink-flation trend. A "pound" of coffee now seems to be 10 or twelve ounces of coffee in the US.

On the other hand, median income growth has in recent years finally begun to significantly exceed old pre-2008 levels, so it may be food companies are now using the current income gains as an opportunity to re-adjust prices upward before the next recession, when sensitivity to price increases will be far more significant.

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Income Equality: The Middle Classes Aren't Much Better Off than the "Poor"

07/11/2018Ryan McMaken

It's easy to find income inequality in the United States when we compared the super-rich with the middle class. But when we compare the middle class to the "poor" there's a surprising amount of income equality.

But how can the middle class have incomes similar to the poor? Isn't that logically impossible?

Well, this sort of income equality is made possible by the existence of government social benefit programs. When we account for income transfers to low-wage workers — or to people who don't work at all — we find that the incomes of middle class people — in spite of often working far longer hours — are similar to the poor.

The political implications of this are significant.

This is explored in a fascinating new article by Robert Ekelund and Phil Gramm, "How Income Equality Helped Trump," at the Wall Street Journal last month.

The authors note:

The most surprising finding is the astonishing degree of equality among the bottom 60% of American earners, generated in part by the explosion of social-welfare spending and the economic and wage stagnation during the Obama era. Hardworking middle-income and lower-middle-income families must have recognized that their efforts left them little better off than the growing number of recipients of government transfers. The perceived injustice of this equality helped drive the political shift among blue-collar workers, many of whom supported the pro-growth candidacy of Donald Trump in 2016 despite having voted for Mr. Obama in the two previous presidential elections.

The bottom quintile earned 2.2% of all earned income in 2013, but after adjusting for taxes and transfer payments, its share of spendable income rose to 12.9%—six times its proportion of earnings. The second quintile’s share more than doubled, rising from 7% of earned income to 13.9% of spendable income. For the third quintile, middle-income Americans, the increase was much smaller, from 12.6% to 15.4%.

Not surprisingly, high earners lost a considerable share of their earnings after taxes and transfers are taken into account. The fourth quintile’s share fell from 20.5% to 18.6%, while the top quintile dropped from 57.7% of earnings to 39.3% of consumable income. In other words, the top quintile’s share of earnings was 26 times that of the bottom quintile, but after taxes and transfer payments its share of spendable income was only three times as much.

Even more startling is the near equality among the bottom three quintiles. The bottom quintile, which earned only 2.2% of all earned income, had virtually the same share of spendable income as the second quintile, lower-middle-income Americans. This equality is despite the fact that lower-middle-income workers earned more than three times the share of income and worked 21/2 times as much, measured by comparing each group’s number of full-time workers relative to its working-age population. Middle-income workers earned almost six times the share of income and worked almost four times as much compared with the bottom quintile, but they enjoyed only about 20% more spendable income.

This equality in income endured in spite of the fact that many middle-income families worked far harder for what income they did have:

And even these numbers understate the huge difference in work effort. Compared with the bottom quintile, the lower-middle-income quintile had almost four times as many working-age families whose members worked two or more jobs, and the middle-income quintile had more than seven times as many families with members working two or more jobs.

As Gramm and Ekelund explain, middle class people know that the wealthy make a lot more than the middle class does. But the middle classes can also see they've benefited from the goods and services brought to the market by the wealthy. 

Meanwhile, a  middle-class worker who has two jobs, or a 55-per hour work week looks around and sees relatives or neighbors who never seem to work, but who also have a similar standard of living. They might know perpetually unemployed acquaintances who rely on CHIP or Medicaid, free school lunches, food stamps, and a myriad of other programs, all available to  many. Meanwhile, the middle class worker is putting in long hours to obtain the same amount of food and health care. 

The middle class workers then realizes he's working to pay for his own needs, and also those of the neighbor.

It's easy to see why this might breed resentment. 

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If Hillary Hates Populism, She Should Love the Electoral College

07/06/2018Ryan McMaken

Hillary Clinton was at it again the other day, complaining about how, if it weren't for that darned electoral college, she'd be president now. The Daily Mail reports on Clinton's remarks in her recent speech in the UK:

"Populists can stay in power by mobilizing a fervent base. Now, there are many other lessons like this," she said, adding that she had "my personal experience with winning three million more votes but still losing."

But there's nothing really novel about this. Clinton has been whining about the Electoral College since 2016.

The real news here, as Ed Morrissey at Hot Air notes, is that Clinton was condemning populism while at the same time condemning the electoral college. In other words, Clinton doesn't realize the electoral college is an anti-populist measure. In her speech

And why did the framers of the Constitution create it? To act as a buffer against populism, at least in form. The Electoral College reflects the popular vote on a state-by-state basis to prevent a handful of the most populous states from controlling the executive through the nationwide popular vote, which creates a buffer against the very impulse Hillary decries in this speech.

In other words, the purpose of the electoral college is to ensure that a successful presidential candidate appeals to a broader base of voters than would be the case under a simple majoritarian popular vote.

This makes it harder to win by doing what Clinton did during the campaign: focus on a thin sliver of rich Hollywood and business elites, coupled with urban ethnics.It's true that those two groups can offer a lot of votes and a lot of campaign dollars. But they also tend to be limited to very specific regions, states, and metro areas. The groups Clinton ignored: the suburban middle class and working class make up a much larger, more geographically diverse coalition. This can be seen in the fact that Trump won such diverse states as Alabama, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

In 2016, the electoral college worked exactly as it's supposed to — it forces candidates to broaden their appeal. Or as a cynic like myself might say: it forces politicians to pander to a broader base.

Clinton complains that a fervent group of voters can take over the machinery of government. But that's harder to do with the electoral college than without it. So, Clinton is making a mockery of her own argument by one minute complaining about populism, and then complaining about the electoral college the next.

But it was the Clinton team that had the more populist strategy. For example, in the US the 4 largest states (California, Texas, New York, and Florida) constitute one-third of the US population. The top-ten largest states total 54 percent of the US population. Hillary thought she could just focus on the larger states and that would be enough. Her strategy was to ignore half the country, call them "deplorables," and just count on the resentments of people in some big cities to carry her to victory. It's hard to see how that's somehow less "populist" than what Trump did.

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For Hillary Clinton though, everything is personal, and the fact that the electoral college came between her and the presidency means it must be a bad thing.

The fact that it also guards against Clinton-style demagoguery, however, doesn't make the electoral college "anti-democratic" as is thought my many who so tiresomely chant "we're a republic not a democracy." 50 separate presidential elections (plus DC and the territories) is not somehow less democratic than holding one big national election. It's simply a democratic method designed to ensure more buy in from a larger range of voters, not less. Other similar tactics include "double majorities" as used in Switzerland. And for all these reasons, as I note here, the electoral college should be expanded:

Double-majority and multiple-majority systems mandate more widespread support for a candidate or measure than would be needed under an ordinary majority vote.

Unfortunately, in the United States, it is possible to pass tax increases and other types of sweeping and costly legislation with nothing more than bare majorities from Congress which is itself largely a collection of millionaires with similar educations, backgrounds, and economic status. Even this low standard is not required in cases where the president rules via executive order with " a pen and ... a phone ."

In response to this centralization of political power, the electoral college should be expanded to function as a veto on legislation, executive orders, and Supreme Court rulings.

For example, if Congress seeks to pass a tax increase, their legislation should be null and void without also obtaining a majority of electoral college votes in a manner similar to that of presidential elections. Under such a scheme, the federal government would be forced to submit new legal changes to the voters for approval. The same could be applied to executive orders and treaties. It would be even better to require both a popular-vote majority in addition to the electoral-vote majority. And while we're at it, let's require that at least 25 states approve the measures as well.

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Is Kanye West for Real or Pulling a Publicity Stunt?

06/22/2018José Niño

No stranger to controversy, critically acclaimed rapper Kanye West has generated a whirlwind of media attention since returning to Twitter in late April . This controversial tweet storm reached its peak when West praised African American conservative activist Candace Owens for the way she thinks .

West also stirred the pot by claiming “Obama was in office for eight years and nothing in Chicago changed”, questioning former President Barack Obama’s record in bringing change to a city facing ongoing street violence .

A complete about-face from his race-baiting comments in 2005 , when he stated on live TV that then President George W. Bush did “not care about black people”, West’s recent comments have opened up considerable debate on racial affairs in America.

Pop Culture’s Potential to Change Politics

In the midst of his tweet barrage, various individuals have dismissed West’s remarks as a publicity stunt to promote his upcoming albums .

As mentioned before, West does have a penchant for stirring up controversy for publicity’s sake. In fact, West has openly admitted to being a “proud non-reader”, thus calling into question West’s political beliefs or lack thereof.

It remains to be seen whether West’s comments were sincere or reflect some sort of political “awakening” on his part, but the potential power of cultural figures like Kanye West still cannot be underestimated.

Nobel laureate economist F.A. Hayek understood the power of second-hand dealers such as academics, artists, journalists, and teachers in disseminating and popularizing ideas. These second-hand dealers play a crucial role in influencing policymakers and the general public.

Thanks to growing levels of distrust with government, a large segment of the population has lost faith in the traditional political process. Consequently, these disillusioned individuals have turned to entertainers and other pop culture icons like West as sources of credibility and relatability.

Questioning the Democrat vs Republican Narrative

Like the entertainer that he is, Kanye West has taken his social media rabble rousing to the recording booth.

In a recent song, Ye vs. The People , featuring fellow rapper T.I., West rapped on the song:

“That’s the problem with this damn nation/All Blacks gotta be Democrats/Man, we ain’t made it off the plantation”.

Provocative lyrics aside, there exists a nugget of truth in West’s rap verse.

It is no secret that the Democrat Party enjoys monolithic support from the African American community. Democrat presidential candidates have averaged 87 percent of the African American vote in the past 12 presidential elections.

Why Democrats have dominated with African American voters has been highly debated among political commentators , but the majority of these discussions lead to the unproductive black hole of partisan politics.

And West has fallen into this partisan trap.

The real problem ignored in these debates is the elephant in the living room that is government interventionism — something both political parties have taken a fancy to implementing in one way or other once in power.

The broken schools , dependency on welfare services , and the deterioration of the family unit that the average African American living in the inner cities must currently put up with was unheard of for a good portion of U.S. history. From 1890 to 1954 , African Americans had similar participation rates in the labor force as whites and were able to ascend the economic ladder with ease.

However, the key ingredient to the African American community’s success during that time period was limited government, a salient feature of the Gilded Age up until the New Deal era. In sum, it’s more than just switching political parties that will help African Americans prosper, but rather focusing on creating an institutional environment that facilitates economic growth.

Crush Dissent at All Costs

Unfortunately, minority leaders and pundits ignore the socialist elephant in the living room and prefer to turn to race-baiting and victim politics. As a result, constructive political discussion has remained stagnant.

When intellectuals and political personalities like Larry Elder, Thomas Sowell, and Walter Williams propose free-market alternatives to common social issues, entrenched political commentators immediately dismiss them as Uncle Toms or race traitors .

And when Kanye West dared to question certain sacred cows, he was met with the same scorn from the mainstream media.

This type of discourse embodies the authoritarian nature of modern-day liberalism: Support diversity in name but promote one-size fits all narratives when controversial political subjects emerge.

Bringing it Back to Basics

Breaking barriers and bucking conformist trends form the bedrock of hip-hop culture. In the status quo of identity politics, Kanye West’s audacious statements line up perfectly with the original spirit of hip-hop.

Starting out as an obscure movement in the South Bronx during the 1970s, hip-hop would serve as a creative outlet for disgruntled African American youth that were tired of the inner-city conditions they lived in.

By the late 1980s, hip-hop solidified itself as one of the hottest musical trends in the United States.

Rappers under the influence of social justice narratives can rant about the horrors of capitalism as much as they want, but it was this same capitalist system that made hip-hop an integral part of American popular culture.

The jury is still out on whether or not West’s media escapade will fundamentally change racial political discussions. Nevertheless, a healthy degree of skepticism is advised when breaking down these recent developments.

In today’s environment of Team R vs. Team D politics, the temptation to gravitate towards one political party or the other for solutions is still strong. For African Americans, joining the Republican Party—or any other political party for that matter—does no guarantee the path to the promised land.

The GOP’s interventionist policies merit substantial criticism, and just like their Democrat rivals, the GOP has played an integral role in perpetuating the current welfare state paradigm that disproportionately hurts minority groups.

Moral of the story:

African Americans must look beyond the traditional political process for genuine socio-economic stability.

Let’s hope that Kanye West’s recent actions don’t turn out to be another of his long line of publicity stunts. For inner-city dweller’s sake, it’s high time to start talking about free-market solutions to their problems.

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Inflation: Its Cultural and Political Consequences

Dr. Guido Hulsmann joined the Tom Woods show last week to discuss his work on the cultural and political consequences to inflation - a subject often neglected by most economists. 

To read more about Dr. Hulsmann's work on the topic, check out his book The Ethics of Money Production

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Inspector General's Report on FBI and Clinton's Emails Shows Secrecy Threatens Democracy

06/15/2018James Bovard

Yesterday’s Inspector General report on the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton contained plenty of bombshells, including a promise by lead FBI investigator Peter Strzok that “We’ll stop” Donald Trump from becoming president. The report reveals how unjustified secrecy and squirrelly decisions helped ravage the credibility of both Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the FBI. But few commentators are recognizing the vast peril to democracy posed by the sweeping prerogatives of federal agencies.

The FBI’s investigation of Clinton was spurred by her decision to set up a private server to handle her email during her four years as secretary of state. The server in her Chappaqua, N.Y. mansion was insecure and exposed emails with classified information to detection by foreign sources and others.

Clinton effectively exempted herself from the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The State Department ignored 17 FOIA requests for her emails prior to 2014 and insisted it required 75 years to disclose emails of Clinton's top aides. A federal judge and the State Department inspector general slammed the FOIA stonewalling.

Clinton’s private email server was not publicly disclosed until she received a congressional subpoena in 2015. A few months later, the FBI Counterintelligence Division opened a criminal investigation of the “potential unauthorized storage of classified information on an unauthorized system.”

The IG report gives the impression that the FBI treated Hillary Clinton and her coterie like royalty — or at least like personages worthy of endless deference. When Bleachbit software or hammers were used to destroy email evidence under congressional subpoena, the FBI treated it as a harmless error. The IG report “questioned whether the use of a subpoena or search warrant might have encouraged Clinton, her lawyers ... or others to search harder for the missing devices [containing email], or ensured that they were being honest that they could not find them.” Instead, FBI agents worked on “rapport building” with Clinton aides.

Read the full article at USA Today
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Is Marvin Goodfriend’s Nomination in Trouble?

06/07/2018Tho Bishop

The Senate Banking Committee is set to vote next Tuesday on the nominations of Richard Clarida and Michelle Bowman. As I noted when both names were initially announced, neither’s history indicates any reason to think they will shake things up at the Fed. To his credit, Mr. Clarida did indicate during his Senate testimony that he strongly supports normalizing the Fed’s balance sheet and getting it away from direct credit allocation by purchasing non-Treasury assets. That’s a notable improvement.

Reports indicate that it’s possible both nominees will receive some bipartisan support, in notable contrast to the last Fed nominee considered – Marvin Goodfriend. In fact, it seems increasingly clear that Goodfriend’s nomination is in danger. As the American Banker noted today:

There is a bigger question another Fed board nominee, Marvin Goodfriend, whose nomination has faced controversy. Goodfriend is a professor at Carnegie Mellon University and former monetary policy adviser to the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

“The Marvin Goodfriend nomination to the Board remains in limbo, but the odds of his confirmation are slim-to-none at this point,” Isaac Boltansky of Compass Point Research & Trading wrote in an analyst note May 14. “The odds slightly favor both Clarida and Bowman ultimately winning confirmation.

While Trump’s Fed nominees have largely been forgotten by the mainstream media, this development is a big deal. The reason I consider Goodfriend to be the “worst Fed nominee of all time” is that his enthusiastic support for negative interest rates and ambitious strategy for eliminating cash in America makes would make him a uniquely dangerous voice within America’s central bank.

It is worth noting as well that Goodfriend’s nomination is in peril in part due to an interesting coalition that transcends the political left and right. One of the loudest advocates against his nomination has been the organization Fed Up, a progressive organization whose primary policy goals have been greater “diversity” at the Fed and opposition to interest rate increases. While have obvious disagreement on monetary policy, it is promising to see some recognition on the left to the very real dangers negative interest rates and the war on cash can have on working class Americans.

Their advocacy seems to be working, with the expectations that Goodfriend will fail to receive a single Democratic vote in the Senate. Combined with Rand Paul’s committed no vote, Goodfriend is one more Republican opponent away from being done. Hopefully he will receive that from some of the better Republicans on monetary policy, like Ted Cruz or Mike Lee.

While it is a weird situation to see Elizabeth Warren doing more to attack a pro-tax advocate than either the Heritage Foundation or Cato, it does point to the unique political potency of the Fed as a political issue. If a Warren-Rand coalition brings down Goodfriend, America will be better off for it. 

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Illinois County Votes to Nullify State Gun Laws

04/24/2018Tho 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 county"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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