October 14, 2013
“The state incurs those well-known debts for politics, wars, and other higher causes and ‘progress,’ thus mortgaging future production with the claim that it was in part providing for it. The assumption is that the future will honor this relationship in perpetuity. The state has learned from the merchants and industrialists how to exploit credit; it defies the nation ever to let it go into bankruptcy. Alongside all swindlers the state now stands there as swindler-in- chief.”
–Jakub Burckhardt, Introduction to the History of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (1598-1763)
September 30, 2013
The idea that British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain spinelessly appeased Adolf Hitler at Munich in 1938 is the central myth of both the left and right wings of the American War Party today. According to the oft-told tale, had Chamberlain stood up to the belligerent Nazi dictator instead of ceding to him the areas of Czechoslovakia that were mostly inhabited by Germans, the Third Reich could have been stopped in its tracks before it was ready for all-out war. Modern-day hawks will immediately fall back on this analogy whenever their opponents suggest that negotiation and deliberation might be the best response to the crisis of the day. The problem is: the British Army was woefully unprepared for war in 1938; most people in Britain and France were thoroughly unwilling to fight another Great War with Germany over disputed territories in Czechoslovakia; and it was hardly clear at that point that Hitler was going to do anything besides undo the Versailles Treaty (which was widely seen as unfair even outside of Germany) and possibly attack the Soviet Union (which was widely seen as an equal, if not greater threat, than a resurgent Germany). Nick Baumann gives a good overview of the situation in Slate. For a more comprehensive treatment, one should consult A.J.P. Taylor’s classic, The Origins of the Second World War.
March 27, 2013
As the Supreme Court hears arguments on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, a well of support for something called “marriage equality” has risen on my Facebook newsfeed. Immediately I bristled at the new term. People used to say that they were for gay marriage, not for some abstract notion of the equality of marriages. And whenever I hear the word ‘equality’ I think of Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s observation that “In order to bring equality to a hedge, one needs garden shears.” Indeed, one could conceivably bring about ‘marriage equality’ by restricting the rights of heterosexuals just as much by expanding the rights of homosexuals.
Of course, that’s not what the ‘marriage equality’ Facebook crusaders want, so I considered trying to convince them that ‘marriage freedom’–the simple idea that all consenting adults should be able to enter into any non-coercive contractual relationship that they want and call it whatever they want–should be the true ideal. But I’ve realized that the term ‘marriage equality’ does convey what this battle is really about in a way that the term “marriage freedom” might not. By defining marriage as solely between one man and one woman, the Defense of Marriage Act denies gay couples rights to certain federal tax credits and Social Security benefits that heterosexual married couples can take advantage of. If the Supreme Court strikes down this law, therefore, married gay couples will be able to equally partake in the welfare state–what Bastiat famously characterized as the “the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.”
Conor Boyack has an excellent post explaining why this is the wrong way to approach gay marriage. He writes:
Equality before and non-discrimination by the law is important, to be sure. But increasing the size and scope of the state is not the proper method to fulfill that objective. As is usually the case, the opposite is true; reducing and ultimately removing the other barrier is best…
Proponents of altering marriage law in the states and at the federal level claim that prohibitions against gay marriage are unfair and discriminatory. They claim that equality before the law demands that their relationships likewise be licensed and sanctioned by the state.
As with sales taxes, the state should not be enlarged in pursuit of equality in marriage licensure. Because the government has no business being involved in marriage, the discrimination inherent in existing marriage law is best remedied by removing it altogether, or at least reducing the inequality by removing tax credits, estate planning benefits, and other incentives currently restricted to heterosexual couples whose unions are licensed by the state.
I would only add that taxes should be reduced across the board to make up for the elimination of tax credits that would result from the government getting out of the marriage business. That would lead to real marriage freedom.
February 11, 2013
We’re obviously losing right now and will continue to lose for the foreseeable future. But libertarians like to comfort themselves with the idea that our long term prospects look much better. If the national exit polls conducted by Edison Research last year are any indicator, however, the long term–or at least the medium term–looks bleak too. 59 percent of voters under the age of thirty think that “the government should do more to solve problems.” Only 37 percent responded that “the government is doing many things better left to businesses and individuals.” Every older age group registered much more skepticism towards government.
Of course, public opinion polls are always problematic, and it could simply be that people naturally get more skeptical of government as they get older. But I don’t see it being easy to convince young people to abandon their all of their commitments to the hosts of left wing causes they’ve been attached to since grade school.
I write this post not to council despair, but to emphasize the scale of the task before us.
At a Mont Pelerin Society meeting last year, the President of the Czech Republic, Václav Klaus explained,
Hayek rightly argued that “freedom cannot endure unless every generation restates and reemphasizes its value.” Now it is our turn. Our generation and the generation of our children have to do it. And we should start doing it before it is too late.
February 7, 2013
With all the hysteria surrounding the gun debate, it seems that this subject has made it no longer possible for libertarians to hide under the safety of that term (libertarian) when discussing the matter with full-fledged leftists. If you defend full-blown gun ownership, you are automatically part of the right-wing. And on top of that, if you mention the government as the major problem you are automatically a right-wing extremist. We are now, it appears to me, cut from the same mold as conservatives in the eyes of leftists.
I could be wrong but this gun debate seems to be the ultimate and final issue – where all the lines are drawn – because it concerns private defense of property vs. the government and its ever encroaching “right” to monopolize violence and defend property. If I am lumped in with the pathetic ‘conservatives’ – so be it. I’d rather be ridiculed and associated with virtually anyone outside of the murderous, arrogant, sanctimonious, central planners. And I’d rather side with the rebels who want to be left alone, no matter who they are, against the conservative occupiers of the state’s power.
January 13, 2013
On Obama in Afghanistan, gun control, and the flu “epidemic”:
January 8, 2013
Krugman is very flattered that some people think he should be the next Treasury Secretary, but reminds his supporters that he already has more influence than “most senators.” He writes:
So first of all, let’s talk frankly about the job I have. The New York Times isn’t just some newspaper somewhere, it’s the nation’s paper of record. As a result, being an op-ed columnist at the Times is a pretty big deal — one I’m immensely grateful to have been granted — and those who hold the position, if they know how to use it effectively, have a lot more influence on national debate than, say, most senators. Does anyone doubt that the White House pays attention to what I write?
(Hat tip EPJ)
January 6, 2013
From the New York Times, of all places:
Health insurance companies across the country are seeking and winning double-digit increases in premiums for some customers, even though one of the biggest objectives of the Obama administration’s health care law was to stem the rapid rise in insurance costs for consumers.
Particularly vulnerable to the high rates are small businesses and people who do not have employer-provided insurance and must buy it on their own.
Higher costs, fewer choices, more bureaucracy. It’s only going to get worse.
January 5, 2013
It takes energy and resources, of course, both to scrap cars and to manufacture the vehicles and parts necessary to replace them. Further, the benefits from replacing less fuel efficient cars with more fuel efficient ones has been negated because people tend to drive more when their cars use less gas.