Power & Market
Many years ago, I had a lunatic roommate who would remove people's clothes from the laundry machines midcycle, throw temper tantrums like a child, and set the thermostat to crazy temps, among other things.
One workaround that one of my sane roommates and I designed for the thermostat problem was to go out and buy a second thermostat. We connected it to the HVAC system and disconnected the existing one but left it on the wall.
The new one was hidden behind the wall, but still accessible through a vented panel. The one on the wall was still powered—it beeped and displayed temps normally. It just was not connected to the system so it would not actually control the heat/air. It was a decoy.
The crazy roommate never figured out that the thermostat did not do anything. The belief of control was maintained, but control was secretly removed. I don't have many practical examples of how to do this, but we should do this to the government.
Give politicians, activists, and corporate media "fake thermostats" to adjust to their hearts' content, so they can exercise their tyrannical dreams without turning our lives into nightmares.
They probably won't figure it out, because they will be too busy celebrating their victories and patting themselves on the back to check the outcomes of their "policy." Even if they did check, they would probably succumb to confirmation bias and attribute the healthy, free society and good economic outcomes to their own tinkering with the fake thermostats. Our response should be to pat them on the head and say "Good job!" like we would to a child pretending to steer the car from the back seat while the adult drives.
Listen to the Audio Mises Wire version of this article.
In a great many states and municipalities, government executives have declared states of emergency. These are in most cases mayors and state governors who first declare a state of emergency and then begin unilaterally issuing a wide variety of executive orders without consent from any elected legislative body.
Historically, these emergency periods were limited to a specific duration, often thirty days.
The Lawfare blog has helpfully summarized the emergency declaration power of most states:
- In Texas, " A state of emergency concludes when the disaster has been deemed to have passed, if the legislature decides to terminate it, or if the declaration is not renewed by the governor after thirty days."
- In Colorado, "A state of emergency cannot last more than thirty days without the governor renewing it and the general assembly, by joint resolution, can terminate a state of disaster emergency."
- In Florida, "The state of emergency cannot continue for longer than 60 days unless the governor renews it."
- In New Jersey, "A public health emergency is automatically terminated after 30 days unless the governor renews it under the described standards."
- In New York, "any action the governor takes using his emergency power must not last for longer than 30 days. The governor can renew this emergency action for an additional 30 day period after reconsidering all of the relevant facts and circumstances."
Notice a potential problem here: the "time limits" are essentially meaningless, because all that is required to extend them is for a single person—the governor in these cases—to declare the emergency extended. Even worse, the same person who declares the emergency is the one who rules by decree during the emergency.
The only possible veto in many cases exists if the state's legislative body convenes and passes a resolution to end the emergency declaration, as happened recently in Pennsylvania. Such a process, however, throws the status quo strongly in favor of one-man rule by decree. It is assumed that a single person can declare an emergency and then govern as he or she wishes with virtually no institutional opposition until the full legislature can convene and take a vote. In some states, there isn't even a clear means for the legislature to meet when it is not already convened according to the usual calendar. After all, many state legislatures only meet part of the year. Some legislatures meet only once every two years.
In practice, the system should be the reverse: emergency declarations should provide for a veto from a small legislative committee or some other group of elected officials outside the governor's office.
F.A. Hayek discusses this in volume 3 of Law, Legislation, and Liberty:
"Emergencies" have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have been eroded—and once they are suspended it is not difficult for anyone who has assumed such emergency powers to see to it that the emergency will persist. Indeed if all needs felt by important groups that can be satisfied only by the exercise of dictatorial powers constitute an emergency, every situation is an emergency situation. It has been contended with some plausibility that whoever has the power to proclaim an emergency and on this ground to suspend any part of the constitution is the true sovereign. This would seem to be true enough if any person or body were able to arrogate to itself such emergency powers by declaring a state of emergency.
It is by no means necessary, however, that one and the same agency should possess the power to declare an emergency and to assume emergency powers. The best precaution against the abuse of emergency powers would seem to be that the authority that can declare a state of emergency is made thereby to renounce the powers it normally possesses and to retain only the right of revoking at any time the emergency powers it has conferred on another body. In the scheme suggested it would evidently be the Legislative Assembly which would not only have to delegate some of its powers to the government, but also to confer upon this government powers which in normal circumstances nobody possesses. For this purpose an emergency committee of the Legislative Assembly would have to be in permanent existence and quickly accessible at all times. The committee would have to be entitled to grant limited emergency powers until the Assembly as a whole could be convened which itself would then have to determine both the extent and duration of the emergency powers granted to government.
As is often the case, Hayek is quite milquetoast here, assuming that the civil government ought to enjoy significant leeway in what it can do during an emergency. But even this highly moderate view of Hayek's would be an immense improvement from the current status quo, which is one in which governors can appoint themselves de facto dictators for an open-ended amount of time, and in which the only way of ending the one-man rule is for the legislature to take extraordinary measures. It's a truly odd state of affairs in a country that claims—less convincingly with each passing day—to be a country that values the rule of law and opposes the arbitrary rule of a tiny number of privileged government agents.
Oliver E. Williamson, 2009 Nobel laureate and founder of "transaction cost economics," has died at age 87.
As I wrote in 2009,
Oliver Williamson's Nobel Prize, shared with Elinor Ostrom, is great news for Austrians. Williamson's pathbreaking analysis of how alternative organizational forms — markets, hierarchies, and hybrids, as he calls them — emerge, perform, and adapt has defined the modern field of organizational economics.
Williamson is no Austrian, but he is sympathetic to Austrian themes (particularly the Hayekian understanding of tacit knowledge and market competition). His concept of asset specificity enhances and extends the Austrian theory of capital and his theory of firm boundaries has almost single-handedly displaced the benchmark model of perfect competition from important parts of industrial organization and antitrust economics.
He is also a pragmatic, careful, and practical economist who is concerned, first and foremost, with real-world economic phenomena, choosing clarity and relevance over formal mathematical elegance. For these and many other reasons, his work deserves careful study by Austrians.
When the customer receives defective, shoddy, or inferior-quality products and above market price—from the only game in town—the customer lacks an easy escape from incompetent or unscrupulous sellers. It behooves the customer to seek other viable options in the market from firms that offer similar products. But if there are no competitors at all, who and what improves choice and consumer protection?1
What we know doesn't protect consumers are high barriers to entering the marketplace. These are barriers that are set up to the extent of not allowing newcomers to risk their capital in order to better serve the customer. These barriers often take the form of government regulations. But regulations generally restrict competition rather than enhance it. Although government bureaucrats may have good intentions when putting regulations in place, regulations don't actually protect consumers. More regulation means fewer sellers, fewer customer choices, and fewer consumer protections. More market competition, on the other hand, provides more customer protections. Competition allows firms to develop better ways to serve people and protects customers by providing more choices.
Although consumers should be able to shop around for substitutable goods and services, oftentimes they can’t. For example, the taxi industry—heavily regulated by harsh and inflexible rules—has been disrupted by technology-driven transportation services such as Uber. Professor Walter Williams highlighted the lack of competition in the taxi industry back in the early 1980s. Now we see the result of newcomers entering this industry. They protect customer wants and needs and have broadened their customer base many times over. More importantly, they have given customers a choice, and thereby protection.
Competition, for the sake of consumer protection, hinges on the premise of the market as a process. As Sowell stated in Wealth, Poverty, and Politics, “Wrong premises seldom lead to correct conclusions.” A wrong premise is erecting more barriers to industry and market entry. What protects the consumer from a single provider selling faulty products and providing bad service? The answer boils down to the number of choices available to the consumer. Producers and providers have to respond to particular prices, quality, and service matters that represent customer "votes"—how much business they get. Votes signal to the producer-entrepreneur that they are serving clients well, which encourages the producer to provide the utmost quality.
From the consumer's point of view, facts about the market are only observed and discovered through competition. It is true that in a competitive and free market, entrepreneurs learn from the price system which services and products are preferred. They might also learn other facts about a market: the number of competitors, the market price, the cost of labor, etc. The consumer employs a similar process. Competition allows them to collect information as well.
- 1. See Henry Hazlitt, Man vs. the Welfare State.
Oil prices surged Tuesday night following the Iranian government's missile attack launched in response to the US's killing of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
According to CNBC, US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures surged 4.5 percent, or $2.83, to $65.53, their highest level since April.
In dollars per barrel, the WTI oil price has hovered around $55 per barrel over the past year, with the exception of a spike above $60 per barrel in May 2019.
In inflation-adjusted terms, oil prices ended 2019 under $60 per barrel, and remained well below the prices experienced from 2005 to 2014 (WTI):
The 2005 surge was due in part to the US's 2003 invasion of Iraq. The oil price exceeded $150 per barrel in mid-2008 and remained above $100 per barrel during much of the period from 2011 to 2014.
However, global oil prices have fallen significantly as US crude production has surged over the past decade thanks to fracking technology. The energy economy in the US was fundamentally changed by this shift, with the US becoming a net oil exporter over the past decade. According to an article last month in the Wall Street Journal, this was unexpected in an age when environmentalists and others lectured the public on "peak oil" and how energy was about to become outlandishly expensive. TheWSJ notes:
At the beginning of the decade, energy independence was still a joke for late-night television comedians,” says author Daniel Yergin, who is vice chairman at IHS Markit. “Turn around a decade later, and we’re here.”
So, when US foreign policy produced a shock due to its endless military interventions in the region, it meant a lot of pain for the taxpayers and voters in terms of energy prices. But, the added oil production of the past ten years
changed the relationship between crude prices and the U.S. economy. Whereas higher oil prices were once an unequivocal drag on the country’s economy, the impact is now more mixed. More-expensive crude still hurts consumers, but it is an economic boon to the country’s revived oil-producing regions, partially offsetting the impacts.
“Oil prices go up — Texas wins, North Dakota wins, New Mexico, Oklahoma,” says University of Chicago economist Ryan Kellogg.
If oil prices remain at a sustained high due to a war with Iran, this would mean a higher cost of living for most Americans, but it could help certain regions and populations within the US. Oil-producing states like Texas and Oklahoma — states that just happen to contain many of the current administration's core supporters — would benefit.
By pointing this out, I'm not claiming President Trump is deliberately trying to drive up oil prices to benefit certain constituents. But the current domestic political realities do mean that the president is unlikely to suffer as much from high oil prices as he might have been in previous decades.
Moreover, many of the downsides of higher oil prices will remain unseen by the public.
For example, fracking requires a substantial amount of resources to be profitable, including water, manpower, and financing.
Indeed, fracking is expensive, to the point that many investors have begun to doubt its profitability in recent years. This, in turn, has led to cutbacks and layoffs.
While that's a bad thing for those employed in that industry, a decline in investment and resource allocation devoted to fracking means that the cost of financing, water, and manpower for other industries goes down, meaning that they can expand.
If oil prices go back up, we'll likely hear about how this is leading to job gains in the energy economy. But the downside of that is significant for other industries. Naturally, rising energy prices mean, well, higher energy prices for businesses. But they will also mean higher prices for all those factors that go into US oil production. War-driven increases in energy prices are likely to generally drive up the cost of doing business.
This, of course, is likely to be in addition to the hundreds of billions — or possibly trillions of dollars — necessary to prosecute yet another Middle Eastern war.
Now that I've reached the ripe old of age of 42, I've been married for twenty years, and I've partially raised four children.
The older I get, the more I realize how very wrong I was to ever think that a disproportionate number of people older than me possessed some sort of special knowledge about how to properly run one's life.
The amount of laziness, moral degeneracy, arrogance, and general buffoonery I've witnessed among the older set has forever cured me of the idea that my "elders," prima facie, are a source of wisdom.
This doesn't mean none of our elders provide excellent examples after which to aspire. Many do.
But the problem lies in figuring out which ones are worthy of such consideration.
Many parents will recognize this conundrum from problems encountered while parenting.
After all, obedience and respect of others, practiced properly, are virtues. But who is deserving of obedience or respect?
As a a parent, what quickly becomes apparent is that it takes very little effort to tell young people they should be obedient to people who are in positions of authority. This, apparently, is what people have done in a great many times and places. Many are told to "respect" cops, soldiers, their teachers, clergy, government officials, parents, elders, and people with impressive titles.
But this is also a very lazy way of teaching children how to engage with their world. Any half-wit can just wave a hand and tell children to respect people in positions of authority.
The proper — but much more difficult — way of teaching "respect" is to teach the young that only some people in positions of authority deserve respect. The hard part is figuring out who deserves it and who doesn't. (Even more difficult is the task of earning respect from others.)
For example, a police officer who doesn't know the law, shirks his duty, or abuses his power does not deserve respect. A politician who is dishonest or imagines himself a hero while living off the sweat of taxpayers doesn't deserve respect. A school teacher who is lazy, teaches her subject poorly, or treats students badly, deserves only contempt. A parent who spends the family budget on toys for himself doesn't deserve respect. An "elder" who lives a life of dissipation ought to be treated accordingly.
Unfortunately, all police officers wear the same uniform. All politicians wear similar "respectable" outfits. There is no easy way to just look at a teacher or college professor and know if he she is competent.
This task is especially difficult for children who are only just beginning to learn how to differentiate between honorable people, and ignorant fools.
But we have to start somewhere, and a good place to start is not by insisting that just because Old Man Wilson managed to avoid death for a certain number of decades, his words must be heeded.
That many people still believe this nonsense, however, has been on display in recent years thanks to social media and and the seemingly endless number of news articles and op-eds about "Millennials." The recent rise of the dismissive phrase "OK boomer" has elicited even more whining from some boomers about how the youngsters ought to show them more respect. Some have even attempted to claim the term is a slur like the "n-word" or a violation of federal anti-discrimination law.
And for what exactly is this respect so deserved? Admitting that boomers didn't directly exercise much political power until the 1990s, we still ask:
Do they deserve respect for running up 20 trillion dollars of government debt since the 90s?
Do they deserve respect for inaugurating a period of endless war that began with the periodic bombing of Iraq and the Balkans, and which continues to today?
Do they deserve respect for ushering in a culture in decline, characterized by latchkey children, widespread divorce and out-of-wedlock children, a rising suicide rate, and the continued obliteration of civil society in general?
Do they deserve respect for the destruction of the Bill of Rights through "patriotic" legislation like the Patriot Act and the continued spread of our modern surveillance state?
Too Much Aggregation
This sort of "analysis" of course, misses most of the details, and relies on broad generalizations. It is not true that all boomers supported the sort of policies that led to endless war, out-of-control spending and the destruction of our human rights. Many boomers actively opposed this sort of thing. But many did either directly or indirectly support all these unfortunatel developments in recent decades. And they deserve the scorn they receive.
But this very fact makes our point for us: it is never a good idea to pay respect to elders just because they are elders. They deserve no more respect than anyone else, until proven otherwise. The same ought to be applied to any group demanding respect, whether that be judges, cops, bishops, or university faculty.
The Mises Institute is notable for publishing articles supporting a number of radical views, including, among other positions:
- Abolition of the central bank.
- Radical reductions in military spending and military action overseas.
- Radical decentralization of political power through secession, nullification, or robust federalism.
- Adoption of untrammeled free trade.
These positions all reflect positions held by liberal schools of though in the past, whether the Manchester School, the American Anti-Federalists, or the French Liberal School . In various times and places, these views have even met with varying degrees of success.
Nevertheless, to the modern ear, these views sound incredibly radical, and the end goals generally sound exceedingly unlikely to be realized in the near future.
And yet, this is where advocates for freedom and free markets usually take a wrong turn.
For some reason, many non-leftists, whether libertarians, conservatives, or milquetoast centrists, embrace the notion that a position on public policy ought not be expressed unless there is chance that it can be realized in the very near future.
I hear this often from critics, and see it often in the comments section on mises.org, or in social media. The routine is usually the same:
- The author expresses support for a change in public policy that would significantly change the status quo.
- A reader expresses agreement with the sentiment.
- The same reader than contends that achieving this goal is unlikely in the short term.
- The same reader then asserts one shouldn't even bother expressing support for this position because it's unlikely to be realized in the short term.
The final sentiment usually looks something like this: "That's a fine idea, but it's not gonna happen, so just forget it!" Another variation is "people don't agree with you right now, and it's hopeless to try to convince people otherwise, so just give up."
Rothbard: What We Can Learn from the Abolitionists
Note that in this way of thinking, the attitude is to immediately declare defeat and to abandon the goal because achieving this goal looks to be difficult. As far as I can tell, this is a very common attitude.
This sort of knee-jerk defeatism helps offer a clue as to why enemies of the left tend to adopt a pessimistic and paranoid point of view. They have trouble even imagining success, let alone attempting to achieve it.
This attitude, of course, is the opposite of that used by a variety of successful political movements — including that of the abolitionists.
In an article for the Libertarian Review in 1968, Murray Rothbard looked at the methods of the abolitionists for insights on how to pursue policy goals that appear seemingly impossible at first.
Rothbard noted that from the early days of the abolition movement, the end goal appeared far-fetched and extremely unlikely. Thus, the only immediate victories to be hard were small and piecemeal.
A gradualist method was forced on the abolitionists. But, as Rothbard noted, the goal was never gradualist. It was always for immediate and total abolition:
William Lloyd Garrison was not being “unrealistic” when, in the 1830s, he raised the glorious standard of immediate emancipation of the slaves. His goal was the proper one, and his strategic realism came in the fact that he did not expect his goal to be quickly reached. Or, as Garrison himself distinguished,
Urge immediate abolition as earnestly as we may, it will, alas! be gradual abolition in the end. We have never said that slavery would be overthrown by a single blow; that it ought to be, we shall always contend. (The Liberator, August 13, 1831)
Similarly, for those who want a radical reduction in state power today, they must adopt a similar posture: always maintain the explicit and public goal of radical change, while accepting small and gradual victories.
Rothbard quotes Aileen Kraditor who writes:
It follows, from the abolitionist’s conception of his role in society, that the goal for which he agitated was not likely to be immediately realizable. Its realization must follow conversion of an enormous number of people, and the struggle must take place in the face of the hostility that inevitably met the agitator for an unpopular cause. ... The abolitionists knew as well as their later scholarly critics that immediate and unconditional emancipation could not occur for a long time. But unlike those critics they were sure it would never come unless it were agitated for during the long period in which it was impracticable. ...
To have dropped the demand for immediate emancipation because it was unrealizable at the time would have been to alter the nature of the change for which the abolitionists were agitating. That is, even those who would have gladly accepted gradual and conditional emancipation had to agitate for immediate and unconditional abolition of slavery because that demand was required by their goal of demonstrating to white Americans that Negroes were their brothers. Once the nation had been converted on that point, conditions and plans might have been made. ...
Their refusal to water down their “visionary” slogan was, in their eyes, eminently practical, much more so than the course of the antislavery senators and congressmen who often wrote letters to abolitionist leaders justifying their adaptation of antislavery demands to what was attainable. ...
This position then has the added benefit of — as small gradual victories are achieved — constantly pressuring the "moderates" and pushing their "middle" ever more in the desired direction. Rothbard continues:
From a strictly strategic point of view, it is also true that if the adherents of the “pure” goal do not state that goal and hold it aloft, no one will do so, and the goal therefore will never be attained. Furthermore, since most people and most politicians will hold to the “middle” of whatever “road” may be offered them, the “extremist,” by constantly raising the ante, and by holding the pure or “extreme” goal aloft, will move the extremes further over, and will therefore pull the “middle” further over in his extreme direction. Hence, raising the ante by pulling the middle further in his direction will, in the ordinary pulling and hauling of the political process, accomplish more for that goal, even in the day-by-day short run, than any opportunistic surrender of the ultimate principle.
It is important to accept partial victories, however, without sending the message that a partial victory is sufficient:
In our view, the proper solution to this problem is a “centrist” or “movement-building” solution: namely, that it is legitimate and proper to advocate transition demands as way stations along the road to victory, provided that the ultimate goal of victory is always kept in mind and held aloft. In this way, the ultimate goal is clear and not lost sight of, and the pressure is kept on so that transitional or partial victories will feed on themselves rather than appease or weaken the ultimate drive of the movement.
Thus, suppose that the libertarian movement adopts, as a transitional demand, an across-the-board 50 percent cut in taxation. This must be done in such a way as not to imply that a 51 percent cut would somehow be immoral or improper. In that way, the 50 percent cut would simply be an initial demand rather than an ultimate goal in itself, which would only undercut the libertarian goal of total abolition of taxation.
Note also that the abolitionists recognized the importance of "demonstrating" the rightness of their position, and in that the public needed to be "converted." Unlike modern conservatives and a great many libertarians, the abolitionists did not assume that those who disagreed with them would always disagree with them. It is not uncommon to hear, however, the assumption among many conservatives and libertarians that trying to explain to people the rightness of the pro-freedom position is a lost cause. For people who think like this, the only hope is to preserve the status quo for as long as possible — although this is obviously a losing battle. The mere thought of expanding the popularity and prominence of their position is assumed to be outlandish. Needless to say, an ideological group that thinks like this will always be a group of losers.
Unfortunately, many on the side of freedom and free markets have completely lost sight of the value of the abolitionist way of doing things. This leads to any number of self-defeating views. Some maintain that one must remain totally agnostic about all policy changes unless that change brings about total and immediate victory in all respects. Thus we hear about some libertarians who refuse to support any tax cut, so long as the tax cut is not a 100% tax cut. Another unfortunate result might be quietism in which some assert it's pointless to say anything at all because short term victory appears unlikely — so better to just give up now. Still others won't bother with any sort of activistm if victory will require more than a few months of effort.
Note, of course, that the modern left doesn't think this way.
Consider the matter of health care, for example. For years, leftists advocated for ever-greater government intervention in healthcare. Indeed, Obamacare had originally been put forward in the form of Hillarycare back in the early 1990s. This itself came after many years of activism in favor of government-controlled healthcare.
Hillarycare was defeated, but the left continued to agitate endlessly for "universal healthcare" of one type or another. Nor did this effort even stop when Obamacare was adopted. For many on the left, Obamacare wasn't universal enough. So, five minutes after Obamacare was signed into law, the next step for the left was devised: "Obamacare is a step in the right direction," they said, "but the next step is now single-payer healthcare!"
Advocates for ever-greater government control of the healthcare system didn't even skip a beat. Immediately after achieving a partial victory, the drive toward the next goal continued unabated.
It's not hard to see why the left is regarded my many of optimistic and visionary while the right as seen as adrift and lacking any discernable goals whatsoever. Meanwhile, many conservatives and libertarians search constantly for a reason to give up and quit — and to encourage others to do the same.
One of the most obnoxious stories in America the past year has been the controversy over players protesting during the national anthem. While I personally sympathize with both concerns from athletes about police brutality in minority communities, as well as the desire of most football fans to simply not have any sort of political advocacy mixed into their sports, the resulting media coverage - from both political and sports outlets - has been largely nauseating. While the NFL offseason obviously brought discussion of the topic down to a simmer (with the exception being the occasional update on Colin Kaepernick - and now Eric Reid's - lawsuit against the league), the NFL's decision this week to change its anthem-policy has it once again at a raging boil.
Unfortunately most of these articles try to make this issue more complicated than it really is: it's all about money.
While it's natural to try to fit this story into some of the larger culture wars going on in the country, this is really just a simple business calculation. At the end of the day the NFL is not in the business of promoting patriotism, or providing a venue for social causes, or even really about the athletes who play in the league. It's all about getting the attention of fans, and the NFL clearly thinks most of them don't want protests during the national anthem. This also means that one key point has been ignored in this whole debate, it isn't only in the interests of league owners to not offend fans - it's in obvious long-term interest of players too.
After all, if the same athletes were making the same plays in front of the same sized audience that watches the NHL, the value of each individual player would be significantly less than it is today. Being a great athlete is not an inherently profitable skill, there are plenty of athletic marvels who can't make a million dollars a year taking advantage of their specific abilities. It's the mass appeal of specific sports that allows individuals like LeBron James, Bryce Harper, and Antonio Brown become very wealthy individuals. In the case of the NFL, polling showed that over 60% of fans watched fewer NFL games due to the player protests. If declining NFL ratings remain a constant, and it impacts revenue, then players in 2028 may be worse off than players in 2018.
As I explained last year when I defended the obvious league-wide blacklisting of Kaepernick, whether or not his cause was righteous or intentional disrespectful means little when the consumers of his product decide they don't like it. As Ludwig von Mises frequently noted in his works, consumers are empowered by the market economy to guide the decisions of businesses based on their willingness to consumer their product or a competitors. As he wrote in Bureaucracy:
The capitalists, the enterprisers, and the farmers are instrumental in the conduct of economic affairs. They are at the helm and steer the ship. But they are not free to shape its course. They are not supreme, they are steersmen only, bound to obey unconditionally the captain's orders. The captain is the consumer.
While this understanding of the NFL's decision should be pretty common sense, pundits who are offended by the fact so many NFL fans were offended by the protests have tried to take the NFL's decision to absurd ends.
For example, I recently read Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk ask whether the NFL's new respect for the national anthem would lead the league to crack down on Kansas City Chiefs fan who traditionally substitute "CHIEFS!" for "brave" at the song's conclusion. Florio may think he is being clever, but the answer is obviously not, because Chiefs fans clearly don't see that behavior as disrespectful. People can judge that to be hypocritical, but at the end of the day the masses that consume Chief tickets don't care. So long as consumer values are inconsistent and conflicting, so will certain business policies.
It's also worth noting that it's possible the NFL's judgment in this matter may end up being wrong. After all, the league was able to ink a new Thursday night package with Fox this offseason that was worth $15 million more a game than previous deals with NBC and CBS, in spite of declining ratings. Last year's troubles also didn't stop Pizza Hut from being willing pay big to take over the spot of "Official Pizza of the NFL" from Papa John's. Businesses make mistakes all the time, and perhaps the NFL's new rules will end up alienating a different block of fans, without regaining those who agreed with Donald Trump. Only time will tell.
What we can be certain though is that discussing this decision isn't about anything more than the NFL looking out for its bottom line. At the end of the day, the players should be as interested in that as the owners.
In a talk at the Second Amendment Town Hall in Batavia, New York, James Ostrowski discusses how the long-used efforts to preserve gun rights are doomed to failure. Shouting "the second amendment is enough for me!" is a failed tactic:
We are losing the fight for the Second Amendment. We are losing it in the courts. We are losing it in the legislatures. We are losing it in the media, in the schools and with young people. The approach we have been using to protect the Second Amendment for many years has failed, is failing and will continue to fail. That approach has basically focused on lobbying, elections, voting and using the litigation process without any serious attempt to change the philosophical or ideological bent of the country or to change the ideological trajectory of the country to the left which in the last five years has been accelerating, and without any attempt to change the basic progressive mindset which has dominated American politics for many decades. The tactics we have used are archaic, dated, spent, don’t work and there has been no attempt to use bold new innovative tactics and unless that changes, we are going to lose this fight.
We are close to losing a right that has been recognized in the West for many, many centuries. It’s an ancient right that great minds had to first do the philosophical work to identify, then define, then do the hard political work to have this right recognized by governments and by government law. We are on the verge of losing this ancient right in these times and perhaps very soon because of our own failure to properly defend it with good arguments and good strategy and tactics and the efficient execution of those strategies and tactics.
In every field, there are many unexplored or partially explored issues that may turn out to be important. But, in all likelihood, they are dead ends.
I compare this pursuit to an inventor who has an idea that a particular line of inquiry will lead to a major discovery. He may be correct, but he probably is incorrect. Most inventors are part-time inventors. They don't do it for a living. They may do it for the sheer joy of the pursuit. They may hope to make a lot of money. They may hope to change people's lives. There are many motivations. But the reality is this: most people who begin the pursuit of some great breakthrough fail. We read about the ones who did not fail, but there are plenty of stories of people who made the breakthrough, and who never made any money off of it. The man who got to the patent office two hours after Alexander Graham Bell did is long forgotten. He did not make any money.
I think it is generally futile to become a full-time historian. There are too few jobs. You have to spend your life teaching not very bright students. They take the course probably because you have a reputation of giving easy grades. I was recently told this about Ralph Raico, who was an extraordinary historian, but who, unfortunately (for me, anyway), wrote very little. He described his career as follows: "I would begin teaching a group of students who could not find Portugal on a map. At the end of my course, they had never heard of Portugal."
I encourage people to become part-time historians. There are tens of thousands of Americans who are part-time historians of the Civil War. They are remarkably well-informed. Unfortunately, they rarely write. But, with free website software, there is now no legitimate reason why they should not publish book reviews, reviews of articles, and specialize in some area of the Civil War. This is equally true of regional or local historical investigations. There is lots of work to be done.
In the field of historical studies, part-time explorers and translators of petroglyphs often find very useful items. These items point to the fact that conventional historiography of pre-Columbus America is incorrect. But these studies virtually never get accepted by academic historians. What they find is never reported in any textbook. One such organization is the Epigraphic Society. It publishes a regular journal. The journal is never quoted in academic circles. These people have been doing this for decades.
Are these amateur explorers wasting their lives? I don't think so. They are making legitimate discoveries. But as far as influencing the academic guild, their efforts really are wasted. They have to decide whether it is worth it to them personally to make a unique discovery, even though the discovery will never be incorporated into the narrative of pre-Columbus America.
Yes, there's always the possibility that there will be a breakthrough that somehow does get picked up by academic historians, but the odds against this are astronomical.
I would tell somebody who is interested in petroglyphs that it's a good hobby, but it is only a hobby. To have any hope beyond this is psychologically self-defeating. The person is going to be disappointed, and this may lead to the person abandoning his hobby. But his hobby is good for him, and it is good for a handful of people who want to make sense of pre-Columbus America.
Here's an example of what I'm talking about. It's a lesson I produced for the Ron Paul Curriculum.
Then there are the conspiracy historians. Here, there are real psychological pitfalls. Conspiracy historians really do think that there's a possibility that they will be able to penetrate the thinking of the masses of Americans. They think they're going to do an end-run around the academic guild. They also imagine that the masses of Americans are interested in history, which except for Civil War history and perhaps some other military histories, is a delusion. There is always room for another book on Lincoln, as long as the book is not critical of Lincoln. Of the thousands of books on Lincoln, only a handful are critical, and their arguments rarely make it into the textbooks. When an idea does make it into a textbook, such as Lincoln's obvious infringements on due process of law regarding the publication of antiwar opinions, the historians shrug it off or apologize for it.
The same is true for Woodrow Wilson in his efforts to get the nation into World War I, and Franklin Roosevelt's similar machinations to get the nation into World War II. Initially, all such arguments regarding Roosevelt were dismissed as being Republican crackpot theories. Then, in the 1970's, a handful of historians began to conclude that the original critics of Roosevelt were correct. But then the authors said that Roosevelt was justified. The obvious example here is Robert Stinnett, who has written the most effective book on Pearl Harbor, Day of Deceit (2000), who apologizes for Roosevelt's deliberate deceptions at the beginning of the book. On the first page of the Preface, he speaks sympathetically. "I understood the agonizing dilemma faced by President Roosevelt. He was forced to find circuitous means to persuade an isolationist America to join in the fight for freedom. He knew this would cost lives. How many, he could not have known." This apology did Stinnett no good in academia. The academic guild dismissed his book as one more apology for isolationism, circa 1941. The book gained no traction. Its thesis is presented in no college or high school textbook on American history.
Then there are the part-time conspiracy historians. These people will read one or two books on conspiratorial movements in American history. They may read a few books on conspiracies in Europe, beginning with the French Revolution. Such conspiracies existed. The great book on this is James Billington's magnificent Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith. You cannot understand European history of the 19th century if you are not familiar with the book, and more than familiar: you have read it two or three times, and you remember many of the details. The book is literally indispensable. It was published in 1981. That was the last we heard from Billington. He took Reagan's offer to appoint him the Librarian of Congress in 1987, and he kept the job for the next 28 years. He never wrote another book. He got sidetracked. We are worse off for it.