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Month: October 2012

A Speculative Order of Arrival for Important Rejuvenation Therapies – Article by Reason

A Speculative Order of Arrival for Important Rejuvenation Therapies – Article by Reason

The New Renaissance Hat
October 6, 2012

A toolkit for producing true rejuvenation in humans will require a range of different therapies, each of which can repair or reverse one of the varied root causes of degenerative aging. Research is underway for all of these classes of therapy, but very slowly and with very little funding in some cases. The funding situation spans the gamut from that of the stem cell research community, where researchers are afloat in money and interest, to the search for ways to break down advanced glycation endproducts (AGEs), which is a funding desert by comparison, little known or appreciated outside the small scientific community that works in that field.

While bearing in mind that progress in projects with little funding is unpredictable in comparison to that of well-funded projects, I think that we can still take a stab at a likely order of arrival for various important therapies needed to reverse aging. Thus an incomplete list follows, running from the earliest to the latest arrival, with the caveat that it is based on the present funding and publicity situation. If any one of the weakly funded and unappreciated lines of research suddenly became popular and awash with resources, it would probably move up in the ordering:

1) Destruction of Senescent Cells

Destroying specific cells without harming surrounding cells is a well-funded line of research thanks to the cancer community, and the technology platforms under development can be adapted to target any type of cell once it is understood how to target its distinctive features.

The research community has already demonstrated benefits from senescent cell destruction, and there are research groups working on this problem from a number of angles. A method of targeting senescent cells for destruction was recently published, and we can expect to see more diverse attempts at this in the next few years. As soon as one of these can be shown to produce benefits in mice that are similar to the early demonstrations, then senescent cell clearance becomes a going concern: something to be lifted from the deadlocked US regulatory process and hopefully developed quickly into a therapy in Asia, accessed via medical tourism.

2) Selective Pruning and Support of the Immune System

One of the reasons for immune system decline is crowding out of useful immune cells by memory immune cells that serve little useful purpose. Here, targeted cell destruction can also produce benefits, and early technology demonstrations support this view. Again, the vital component is the array of mechanisms needed to target the various forms of immune cell that must be pruned. I expect the same rising tide of technology and knowledge that enables senescent cell targeting will lead to the arrival of immune cell targeting on much the same schedule.

Culling the immune system will likely have to be supported with some form of repopulation of cells. It is already possible to repopulate a patient’s immune system with immune cells cultivated from their own tissues, as demonstrated by the limited number of full immune system reboots carried out to cure autoimmune disorders. Alternatives to this process include some form of tissue engineering to recreate the dynamic, youthful thymus as a source of immune cells – or more adventurous processes such as cultivating thymic cells in a patient’s lymph nodes.

3) Mitochondrial Repair

Our mitochondria sabotage us. There’s a flaw in their structure and operation that causes a small but steadily increasing fraction of our cells to descend into a malfunctioning state that is destructive to bodily tissues and systems.

There are any number of proposed methods for dealing with this component of the aging process – either repairing or making it irrelevant – and a couple are in that precarious state of being just a little more solidity and work away from the point at which they could begin clinical development. The diversity of potential approaches in increasing too. Practical methods are now showing up for ways to put new mitochondria into cells, or target arbitrary therapies to the interior or mitochondria. It all looks very promising.

Further, the study of mitochondria is very broad and energetic, and has a strong presence in many areas of medicine and life science research. While few groups in the field are currently engaged in work on mitochondrial repair, there is an enormous reservoir of potential funding and workers awaiting any method of repair shown to produce solid results.

4) Reversing Stem Cell Aging

The stem cell research field is on a collision course with the issue of stem cell aging. Most of the medical conditions that are best suited to regenerative medicine, tissue engineering, and similar cell based therapies are age-related, and thus most of the patients are old. In order for therapies to work well, there must be ways to work around the issues caused by the aged biochemistry of the patient. To achieve this end, the research community will essentially have to enumerate the mechanisms by which stem cell populations decline and fail with age, and then reverse their effects.

Where stem cells themselves are damaged by age, stem cell populations will have to be replaced. This is already possible for many different types of stem cell, but there are potentially hundreds of different types of adult stem cell – and it is too much to expect for the processes and biochemistry to be very similar in all cases. A great deal of work will remain to be accomplished here even after the first triumphs involving hearts, livers, and kidneys.

Much of the problem, however, is not the stem cells but rather the environment they operate within. This is the bigger challenge: picking out all the threads of signalling, epigenetic change, and cause and effect that leads to quieted and diminished stem cell populations – and the resulting frailty as tissues are increasingly poorly supported. This is a fair sized task, and little more than inroads have been made to date – a few demonstrations in which one stem cell type has been coerced into acting with youthful vigor, and a range of research on possible processes and mechanisms to explain how an aging metabolism causes stem cells to slow down and stop their work.

The stem cell research community is, however, one of the largest in the world, and very well funded. This is a problem that they have to solve on the way to their declared goals. What I would expect to see here is for a range of intermediary stopgap solutions to emerge in the laboratory and early trials over the next decade. These will be limited ways to invigorate a few aged stem cell populations, intended to be used to boost the effectiveness of stem cell therapies for diseases of aging.

Any more complete or comprehensive solution for stem cell aging seems like a longer-term prospect, given that it involves many different stem cell populations with very different characteristics.

5) Clearing Advanced Glycation Endproducts (AGEs)

AGEs cause inflammation and other sorts of mischief through their presence, and this builds up with age. Unfortunately, research on breaking down AGEs to remove their contribution to degenerative aging has been a very thin thread indeed over the past few decades: next to no-one works on it, despite its importance, and very little funding is devoted to this research.

Now on the one hand it seems to be the case that one particular type of AGE – glucosepane – makes up 90% or more the AGEs in human tissues. On the other hand, efforts to find a safe way to break it down haven’t made any progress in the past decade, though a new initiative was launched comparatively recently. This is an excellent example of how minimally funded research can be frustrating: a field can hover just that one, single advance away from largely solving a major problem for years on end. All it takes is the one breakthrough, but the chances of that occurring depend heavily on the resources put into the problem: how many parallel lines of investigation can be followed, how many researchers are working away at it.

This is an excellent candidate for a line of research that could move upward in the order of arrival if either a large source of funding emerged or a plausible compound was demonstrated to safely and aggressively break down glucospane in cell cultures. There is far less work to be done here than to reverse stem cell aging, for example.

6) Clearing Aggregates and Lysomal Garbage

All sorts of aggregates build up within and around cells as a result of normal metabolic processes, causing harm as they grow, and the sheer variety of these waste byproducts is the real challenge. They range from the amyloid that features prominently in Alzheimer’s disease through to the many constituents of lipofuscin that clog up lysosomes and degrade cellular housekeeping processes. At this point in the advance of biotechnology it remains the case that dealing with each of the many forms of harmful aggregate must be its own project, and so there is a great deal of work involved in moving from where we stand today to a situation in which even a majority of the aggregates that build up with age can be removed.

The most promising lines of research to remove aggregates are immunotherapy, in which the immune system is trained or given the tools to to consume and destroy a particular aggregate, and medical bioremediation, which is the search for bacterial enzymes that can be repurposed as drugs to break down aggregates within cells. Immunotherapy to attack amyloid as a treatment for Alzheimer’s is a going concern, for example. Biomedical remediation is a younger and far less funded endeavor, however.

My expectation here is that some viable therapies for some forms of unwanted and harmful metabolic byproducts will emerge in the laboratory over the next decade, but that will prove to be just the start on a long road indeed. From here it’s hard for me to guess at where the 80/20 point might be in clearing aggregates: successfully clearing the five most common different compounds? Or the ten most common? Or twenty? Lipofuscin alone has dozens of different constituent chemicals and proteins, never mind the various other forms of aggregate involved in specific diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

But work is work: it can be surmounted. Pertinently, and again, the dominant issue in timing here is the lack of funding and support for biomedical remediation and similar approaches to clearing aggregates.

Reason is the founder of The Longevity Meme (now Fight Aging!). He saw the need for The Longevity Meme in late 2000, after spending a number of years searching for the most useful contribution he could make to the future of healthy life extension. When not advancing the Longevity Meme or Fight Aging!, Reason works as a technologist in a variety of industries.  

This work is reproduced here in accord with a Creative Commons Attribution license.  It was originally published on

Organic Shmorganic – Article by Charles N. Steele

Organic Shmorganic – Article by Charles N. Steele

The New Renaissance Hat
Charles N. Steele
October 6, 2012
A study by researchers from Stanford University of “organic” food was unable to find any health benefits, prompting a rant from NYT’s Roger Cohen against organic food.  Finally, finally, finally!  Cohen on track, rather than off the rails!Many years ago I heard Bruce Ames, a cancer researcher and head of College of Public Health at Stanford give a lecture in which he discredited the health claims of the “organic” movement and warned that it would raise costs without returning corresponding benefits.  His main fear was that this would lead people to eat fewer vegetables rather than more.  The second most important thing people can do to avoid cancer is eat more vegetables, he explained (stopping smoking is  number 1).  He based this in part on his own research with with carcinogenic properties of manmade pesticides and naturally occurring ones; the naturally occurring ones were every bit as bad and as prevalent in vegetables, and neither posed a meaningful risk in his research.  (Obviously misuse of pesticides could be a different matter.)  The new Stanford study was unable to find the superior health benefits attributed to “organic” foods, corroborating Ames’ argument.

I’ve also heard agriculture experts discuss the alleged environmental harmfulness of “non-organic” agriculture, something not covered in the Stanford study.  Again, the alleged environmental benefits of “organic” are mostly hype, and in some cases it can be worse.  Chemical fertilizers in particular deserve none of the slander that’s directed at them.  (Again, use them incorrectly and you can poison things… but that’s also true with “organic”.)

I’ve been putting “organic” in quotation marks, because the word itself always meant something different: it refers to carbon-based compounds.  That is, that’s what it meant until the word was grabbed by – let’s be honest – hippie food faddists.  “Organic” was changed to mean “simple, healthful, close to ‘nature,'” (another doubtful word), all utterly unsubstantiated claims.  Next yuppies and similar types jumped on the bandwagon, because it made them feel good about themselves “saving the planet and eating healthier and sidestepping ‘corporate agriculture,’ etc.”

This is a great example of the fundamental role of subjective utility in economic value.  Belief in “organic” is essentially religious faith, unfounded in evidence.  What makes “organic” more valuable is consumer demand, based on perceived, imagined characteristics, not some physical measurable properties.  That’s why big food corporations got into the act. They were slow to enter, and when they did, they were entirely responding to demand.  They would prefer not to produce this way, because it is costlier, but so long as consumers demand it, you give them what they want, or you lose market share.  There’s quite an irony here. Anti-capitalists frequently accuse “big business” of manufacturing consumer preferences in order to manipulate people and reap profits, yet the whole “organic” movement was manufactured by a motley collection of  anticapitalist  mystics from both left and right.

I heard NPR cover this story, and the  reporter concluded that the whole “organic” thing must have been a conspiracy by “big agriculture” (another dubious concept) to hoodwink us and get our money… a completely backwards argument, as most farmers, big or little, would prefer less costly, easier, more productive modern agricultural methods.  It’s quite common to be producing “organic” crops, meat, etc. and have some small step go wrong and have the “organic” label be lost – and even though the stuff is perfectly good, it now can’t be sold for enough to cover costs.  I’ve had farmers tell me about this, and have read of many more examples.

“Organic shmorganic” indeed!

Dr. Charles N. Steele is the Herman and Suzanne Dettwiler Chair in Economics and Associate Professor at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan. His research interests include economics of transition and institutional change, economics of uncertainty, and health economics.  He received his Ph.D. from New York University in 1997, and has subsequently taught economics at the graduate and undergraduate levels in China, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the United States.  He has also worked as a private consultant in insurance design and review.

Dr. Steele also maintains a blog, Unforeseen Contingencies.

How Government Sort of Created the Internet – Article by Steve Fritzinger

How Government Sort of Created the Internet – Article by Steve Fritzinger

The New Renaissance Hat
Steve Fritzinger
October 6, 2012

Editor’s Note: Vinton Cerf, one of the individuals whose work was pivotal in the development of the Internet, has responded to this article in the comments below. Read his response here.

In his now-famous “You didn’t build that” speech, President Obama said, “The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”

Obama’s claim is in line with the standard history of the Internet. That story goes something like this: In the 1960s the Department of Defense was worried about being able to communicate after a nuclear attack. So it directed the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) to design a network that would operate even if part of it was destroyed by an atomic blast. ARPA’s research led to the creation of the ARPANET in 1969. With federal funding and direction the ARPANET matured into today’s Internet.

Like any good creation myth, this story contains some truth. But it also conceals a story that is much more complicated and interesting. Government involvement has both promoted and retarded the Internet’s development, often at the same time. And, despite Obama’s claims, the government did not create the Internet “so all the companies could make money off” it.

The idea of internetworking was first proposed in the early 1960s by computer scientist J. C. R. Licklider at Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN). BBN was a private company that originally specialized in acoustic engineering. After achieving some success in that field—for example, designing the acoustics of the United Nations Assembly Hall—BBN branched out into general R&D consulting. Licklider, who held a Ph.D. in psychoacoustics, had become interested in computers in the 1950s. As a vice president at BBN he led the firm’s growing information science practice.

In a 1962 paper Licklider described a “network of networks,” which he called the “Intergalactic Computer Network.” This paper contained many of the ideas that would eventually lead to the Internet. Its most important innovation was “packet switching,” a technique that allows many computers to join a network without requiring expensive direct links between each pair of machines.

Licklider took the idea of internetworking with him when he joined ARPA in 1962. There he met computer science legends Ivan Sutherland and Bob Taylor. Sutherland and Taylor continued developing Licklider’s ideas. Their goal was to create a network that would allow more effective use of computers scattered around university and government laboratories.

In 1968 ARPA funded the first four-node packet-switched network. This network was not part of a Department of Defense (DOD) plan for post-apocalyptic survival. It was created so Taylor wouldn’t have to switch chairs so often. Taylor routinely worked on three different computers and was tired of switching between terminals. Networking would allow researchers like Taylor to access computers located around the country without having dedicated terminals for each machine.

The first test of this network was in October 1969, when Charley Kline, a student at UCLA, attempted to transmit the command “login” to a machine at the Stanford Research Institute. The test was unsuccessful. The network crashed and the first message ever transmitted over what would eventually become the Internet was simply “lo.”

With a bit more debugging the four-node network went live in December 1969, and the ARPANET was born. Over the next two decades the ARPANET would serve as a test bed for internetworking. It would grow, spawn other networks, and be transferred between DOD agencies. For civilian agencies and universities, NSFNET, operated by the National Science Foundation, replaced ARPANET in 1985. ARPANET was finally shut down in February 1990. NSFNET continued to operate until 1995, during which time it grew into an important backbone for the emerging Internet.

For its entire existence the ARPANET and most of its descendants were restricted to government agencies, universities, and companies that did business with those entities. Commercial use of these networks was illegal. Because of its DOD origins ARPANET was never opened to more than a handful of organizations. In authorizing funds for NSFNET, Congress specified that it was to be used only for activities that were “primarily for research and education in the sciences and engineering.”

During this time the vast majority of people were banned from the budding networks. None of the services, applications, or companies that define today’s Internet could exist in this environment. Facebook may have been founded by college students, but it was not “primarily for research and education in the sciences and engineering.”

This restrictive environment finally began to change in the mid-1980s with the arrival of the first dial-up bulletin boards and online services providers. Companies like Compuserve, Prodigy, and AOL took advantage of the home computer to offer network services over POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service) lines. With just a PC and a modem, a subscriber could access email, news, and other services, though at the expense of tying up the house’s single phone line for hours.

In the early 1990s these commercial services began to experiment with connections between themselves and systems hosted on NSFNET. Being able to access services hosted on a different network made a network more valuable, so service providers had to interoperate in order to survive.

ARPANET researchers led by Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn had already created many of the standards that the Internet service providers (ISPs) needed to interconnect. The most important standard was the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). In the 1970s computers used proprietary technologies to create local networks. TCP/IP was the “lingua franca” that allowed these networks to communicate regardless of who operated them or what types of computers were used on them. Today most of these proprietary technologies are obsolete and TCP/IP is the native tongue of networking. Because of TCP/IP’s success Cerf and Kahn are known as “the fathers of the Internet.”

Forced to interoperate, service providers rapidly adopted TCP/IP to share traffic between their networks and with NSFNET. The modern ISP was born. Though those links were still technically illegal, NSFNET’s commercial use restrictions were increasingly ignored.

The early 1990s saw the arrival of the World Wide Web. Tim Berners-Lee, working at the European high energy physics lab CERN, created the Uniform Resource Locator (URL), Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP), and Hyper-Text Markup Language (HTML). These three technologies made it easier to publish, locate, and consume information online. The web rapidly grew into the most popular use of the Internet.

Berners-Lee donated these technologies to the Internet community and was knighted for his work in 2004.

In 1993 Mosaic, the first widely adopted web browser, was released by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). Mosaic was the first Internet application to take full advantage of Berners-Lee’s work and opened the Internet to a new type of user. For the first time the Internet became “so easy my mother can use it.”

The NCSA played a significant role in presidential politics. It had been created by the High Performance Computing & Communications Act of 1991 (aka “The Gore Bill”). In 1999 presidential candidate Al Gore cited this act in an interview about his legislative accomplishments,saying, “I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” This comment was shortened to: “I created the Internet” and quickly became a punchline for late-night comedians. This one line arguably cost Gore the presidency in 2000.

The 1992 Scientific and Advanced Technology Act, another Gore initiative, lifted some of the commercial restrictions on Internet usage. By mid-decade all the pieces for the modern Internet were in place.

In 1995, 26 years after its humble beginnings as ARPANET, the Internet was finally freed of government control. NSFNET was shut down. Operation of the Internet passed to mostly private companies, and all prohibitions on commercial use were lifted.

Anarchy, Property, and Innovation

Today the Internet can be viewed as three layers, each with its own stakeholders, business models, and regulatory structure. There are the standards, like TCP/IP, that control how information flows between networks, the physical infrastructure that actually comprises the networks, and the devices and applications that most people see as “the Internet.”

Since the Internet is really a collection of separate networks that have voluntarily joined together, there is no single central authority that owns or controls it. Instead, the Internet is governed by a loose collection of organizations that develop technologies and ensure interoperability. These organizations, like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), may be the most successful anarchy ever.

Anarchy, in the classical sense, means without ruler, not without laws. The IETF demonstrates how well a true anarchy can work. The IETF has little formal structure. It is staffed by volunteers. Meetings are run by randomly chosen attendees. The closest thing there is to being an IETF member is being on the mailing list for a project and doing the work. Anyone can contribute to any project simply by attending the meetings and voicing an opinion. Something close to meritocracy controls whose ideas become part of the standards.

At the physical layer the Internet is actually a collection of servers, switches, and fiber-optic cables. At least in the United States this infrastructure is mostly privately owned and operated by for-profit companies like AT&T and Cox. The connections between these large national and international networks put the “inter” in Internet.

As for-profit companies ISPs compete for customers. They invest in faster networks, wider geographic coverage, and cooler devices to attract more monthly subscription fees. But ISPs are also heavily regulated companies. In addition to pleasing customers, they must also please regulators. This makes lobbying an important part of their business. According to the Center for Responsive Politics’s OpenSecrets website, ISPs and the telecommunications industry in general spend between $55 million and $65 million per year trying to influence legislation and regulation.

When most people think of the Internet they don’t think of a set of standards sitting on a shelf or equipment in a data center. They think of their smart phones and tablets and applications like Twitter and Spotify. It is here that Internet innovation has been most explosive. This is also where government has had the least influence.

For its first 20 years the Internet and its precursors were mostly text-based. The most popular applications, like email, Gopher (“Go for”), and Usenet news groups, had text interfaces. In the 20 years that commercial innovation has been allowed on the Internet, text has become almost a relic. Today, during peak hours, almost half of North American traffic comes from streaming movies and music. Other multimedia services, like video chat and photo sharing, consume much of people’s Internet time.

None of this innovation could have happened if the Internet were still under government control. These services were created by entrepreneurial trial and error. While some visionaries explored the possibilities of a graphically interconnected world as early as the 1960s, no central planning board knew that old-timey-looking photographs taken on ultramodern smart phones would be an important Internet application.

I, Internet

When Obama said the government created the Internet so companies could make money off it, he was half right. The government directly funded the original research into many core networking technologies and employed key people like Licklider, Taylor, Cerf, and Kahn. But after creating the idea the government sat on it for a quarter century and denied access to all but a handful of people. Its great commercial potential was locked away.

For proponents of government-directed research policies, the Internet proves the value of their programs. But government funding might not have been needed to create the Internet. The idea for internetwork came from BBN, a private company. The rise of ISPs in the 1980s showed that other companies were willing to invest in this space. Once the home PC and dial-up services became available, people joined commercial networks by the millions. The economic incentives to connect those early networks probably would have resulted in something very much like today’s Internet even if the ARPANET had never existed.

In the end the Internet rose from no single source. Like Leonard Read’s humble writing instrument, the pencil, no one organization could create the Internet. It took the efforts of thousands of engineers from the government and private sectors. Those engineers followed no central plan. Instead they explored. They competed. They made mistakes. They played.

Eventually they created a system that links a third of humanity. Now entrepreneurs all over the world are looking for the most beneficial ways to use that network.

Imagine where we’d be today if that search could have started five to ten years earlier.

Steve Fritzinger is a freelance writer from Fairfax,Virginia. He is the regular economics commentator on the BBC World Service program Business Daily.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

The Golden Age of Freedom Is Still Ahead – Article by Anthony Gregory

The Golden Age of Freedom Is Still Ahead – Article by Anthony Gregory

The New Renaissance Hat
Anthony Gregory
October 6, 2012

Free enterprise is often associated with the past. This perception puts the market’s champions, seen as hopeless reactionaries, on the defensive.

A typical narrative follows: America had an insufficiently active government under the Articles of Confederation. The Constitution expanded the central government to meet society’s needs. In this climate, where property rights continued to trump the common good, the central government could not maintain national cohesion and ensure racial equality. During the Civil War, the federal government grew to preserve the Union, enable commerce through expansion of infrastructure, and abolish the ancient evil of slavery. During the late nineteenth century, laissez faire reigned supreme. Unchecked, robber barons exploited their customers and workers.

American society, so continues the narrative, overcame its laissez-faire history and embraced active government in the Progressive Era. Commerce, banking, monopolies, food and drugs, and labor conditions finally became regulated. The market was still too free, however, causing the stock market crash and the Great Depression, which the New Deal’s reforms finally addressed. Anachronistic free marketers resisted this progress.

A generation later the free market proved inadequate on race relations, education, poverty, social insurance, workers’ conditions, and the environment. New regulations, taxes, and programs arose in the 1960s and 1970s to address these deficiencies. Ronald Reagan’s election marked a conservative counterrevolution toward the free market, causing the savings-and-loan crisis, rising income disparities, and, ultimately, the 2008 financial collapse. After four consecutive reactionary presidents—Bill Clinton being a practitioner of neoliberal austerity—deregulation and market fundamentalism have again revealed themselves as outdated approaches to America’s modern problems.

This repeated recognition that the free market no longer suits society’s needs is a common theme of modern liberalism. Through experience the inadequacy of the unhampered market has forced enlightened observers to accept the need for more government.

One obvious problem with this narrative is the steadily changing definition of “free market.” The free market is said to have caused problems addressed in the Progressive Era, yet once again the market economy was blamed for the Depression.The New Deal is said finally to have abolished laissez faire, yet laissez faire has been the culprit in every crisis since. Thoughtful proponents of this narrative explain that the 1980s, for example, were somehow substantially more laissez-faire than the 1970s, yet they rarely present more than a handful of superficial examples of deregulation amid an overall trend of regulatory expansion.

A major problem market proponents have in confronting this narrative, whatever its shortcomings, arises because they themselves sometimes accept it implicitly, often complaining about the liberties lost over the years. The significant kernel of truth is that the national government has unmistakably grown well beyond anything imagined in 1789 or even the nineteenth century. And surely, for every argument statists have defending this growth, compelling historical and economic counterarguments are available.

Yet we must be careful before conceding this premise that the past was laissez-faire. By celebrating the political economy of yesteryear, we risk associating our ideals with the past’s many injustices. We can and should avoid this baggage entirely.

Slavery: The Opposite of Free Enterprise

No libertarian defends the horrid institution of slavery. The problem comes in how free marketers sometimes describe slavery as a mere exception to the rule of early American freedom. In fact this exception virtually swallowed the principle whole.

Progressives love contrasting the pro-liberty, anti-tax rhetoric of the founding generation with the slavery that they tolerated or championed. Robin Einhorn’s American Taxation, American Slavery is a sophisticated contribution to the argument that those loudly protesting taxes were often the very people who clung to human bondage. This argument indicts the rhetoric of property rights, which is foundational to free enterprise and, in a warped form, the “right” of one person to own another. Infamously, the Supreme Court found in Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857) that the Fifth Amendment protected a white man’s right not to be deprived of his slave without due process. Given this association between America’s slave-owning generations and the rhetoric of liberty, it is crucial that free marketers explain, emphatically and intelligently, how slavery was the very negation of the free-market system.

The subjugation of slaves would undermine early America’s status as a free country even if slaves were a tiny minority. They were not. Slaves amounted to 18 percent of the population at the time of the Constitution’s ratification and 12.6 percent on the eve of the Civil War, at which point there were nearly four million.

Libertarians should study the brutality of this system. Historians estimate that hundreds of thousands of slaves were forced to migrate in antebellum America’s internal slave trade. Children were frequently ripped from their families. Beatings and rape were ubiquitous, and torture as punishment was hardly unusual.

Even slaves with relatively humane masters lacked the freedoms that most of today’s Americans, living under the modern leviathan, take for granted.

Peter Kolchin, in his seminal American Slavery: 1619–1877, sums up the reality:

Slaves could hardly turn around without being told what to do.They lived by rules, sometimes carefully constructed and formally spelled out and sometimes haphazardly conceived and erratically imposed. Rules told them when to rise in the morning, when to go to the fields, when to break for meals, how long and how much to work, and when to go to bed; rules also dictated a broad range of activities that were forbidden without special permission, from leaving home to getting married; and rules allowed or did not allow a host of privileges, including the right to raise vegetables on garden plots, trade for small luxuries, hunt, and visit neighbors. Of course, all societies impose rules on their inhabitants in the form of laws, but the rules that bound slaves were unusually detailed, covered matters normally untouched by law, and were arbitrarily imposed and enforced, not by an abstract entity that (at least in theory) represented their interests, but by their owners. Slaves lived with their government.

I thank God I don’t live with my government! For many years the pro-market tradition saw slavery as a grave violation of its principles. Kolchin writes:

Early political economists—including Adam Smith, whose book The Wealth of Nations (1776) remained for decades the most influential justification for the principles underlying capitalism—believed that slavery, by preventing the free buying and selling of labor power and by eliminating the possibility of self-improvement that was the main incentive to productive labor, violated central economic laws.

Although critics blame market exchange for the rise of slavery, this criticism is grossly unfair. The slave trade was indeed a market of sorts—unfree, unjust, and regulated—but the most fundamental relationship in slavery was not a market at all. Kolchin explains:

Slave owners engaged in extensive commercial relations, selling cotton (and other agricultural products), buying items both for personal consumption and for use in their farming operations, borrowing money, and speculating in land and slaves, but the market was conspicuously absent in regulating relations between the masters and their slaves. In other words, relations of exchange were market-dominated, but relations of production were not.

The slave power dominated political life in the South and enjoyed federal support through the Fugitive Slave Clause. Slavery was a major government program, its enforcement costs socialized through law. “The chief way that the South’s slaveholding elite externalized the costs of the peculiar institution was slave patrols,” writes Jeffrey Rogers Hummel in Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men. These slave patrols were “established in every slave state” to enforce black codes, inflict punishment, and suppress insurrections and were “compulsory for most able bodied white males.” Slave patrols, necessary to slavery’s maintenance, were a flagrant violation of the free economy.

The destruction of the Indians, the restrictions on women owning property, and many other antebellum policies also illustrate that the United States hardly had a free market before the Civil War. Slavery best makes the point. The conflation of a slave society with free enterprise is an obscenity.

Protectionism, Nationalism, and Corporatism

Outside of slavery nineteenth-century America often fell far short of the free-market ideal. Protectionism was a perennial problem, from the nationalist Tariff of 1816 to the sectionally biased Tariff of 1824 and the infamous Tariff of Abominations in 1828, from President Andrew Jackson’s threat to invade South Carolina to enforce the Tariff of 1832 to the Morrill Tariff of 1861. In 1870 the average tariff rate hit 44.6 percent. High tariffs financed the corporatist arrangement of federal subsidies for waterways, canals, and railroads during the Civil War, a war that defied market principles dramatically through its taxation, conscription, militarization of society, massive inflation, and inauguration of new government bureaus.

After slavery’s abolition and before the twentieth century, American economic liberty in some senses achieved a peak, but not without many qualifications. Immediately after the Civil War, state-level black codes kept nominally free blacks in a form of extended slavery, indenturing them to employers and criminalizing “vagrancy.” The U.S.  government began enforcing Reconstruction in the conquered South through military rule. Reconstruction counteracted State-imposed rights violations but also fostered a rise in government education and infrastructure projects financed through federal subsidies and considerable hikes on state-level property taxes. Government schooling became much more prevalent in the South, and by the end of the century 75 percent of the states had compulsory attendance laws.

The banking system—fundamental to any modern economy—was regulated by the federal government for most of the nineteenth century. There was a National Bank from 1791 to 1811 and again from 1816 to 1832.The Civil War birthed a new federal banking system that quickly grew, eventually culminating in the creation of the Federal Reserve in 1913.

In the late nineteenth century Benjamin Tucker identified four federally created monopoly powers that robbed Americans of their liberty—the land monopoly, money monopoly, patent monopoly, and tariff monopoly. These mostly involved federal privileges, but the heavy hand of government was also felt locally. Nineteenth-century state governments, at times working with federal authorities, displaced and killed American Indians; regulated various professions, labor relations, consumption goods, and businesses; and implemented social programs.

All in all, the U.S. regulatory state, explains Roderick Long, was not a twentieth-century innovation, but rather was “deeply involved from the start, particularly in the banking and currency industries and in the assignment of property titles to land. (Even such land as was not stolen from the natives was seldom appropriated in accordance with any sort of Lockean homesteading principle; instead, vast tracts of unimproved land were simply declared property by barbed wire or legislative fiat.)”

In substantial ways the economy of the late nineteenth century was freer than today, although some groups were heavily controlled, not least of all the southern blacks persecuted by Jim Crow laws, to say nothing of whites restricted by segregation from freely associating with these blacks.

Even nationally the twilight of the nineteenth century was a mixed bag. Veto-happy Grover Cleveland was probably the most laissez-faire president in half a century and ever since. Yet Cleveland’s terms had nontrivial blemishes: He used U.S. Marshals to quell the Pullman strike and enforce the Sherman Antitrust Act, supported the Dawes Act’s aggrandizement of presidential authority over Indian affairs, strengthened the Chinese Exclusion Act, begrudgingly acquiesced to an income tax to offset reduced tariff revenue, created the Interstate Commerce Commission, and despite a largely anti-imperialist record, threatened and used military force to assert dominance in Latin America against European influence and in favor of U.S. banking interests.

Shifting Definition

The market’s defenders often mimic its opponents in moving the benchmarks to describe historical periods as “laissez-faire.” This dangerous game does not stop with the nineteenth century.

American life before the New Deal was certainly freer in important respects, but we must be cautious in defending the 1920s. Putting aside the bloated bureaucracies lingering from World War I, the Fordney McCumber Tariff of 1922, the Immigration Control Act of 1924, and the calamity of alcohol prohibition, it was 1920s credit expansion that Austrian economists credibly blame for the boom and 1929 crash. We lose credibility in carelessly praising the pre–New Deal Era while blaming the Depression on policies enacted in that time.

Less ambitious free marketers idealize the 1950s—the decade of top marginal tax rates exceeding 90 percent (and, for the poorest Americans, 20 percent); the FCC’s puritanical regulation of the airwaves and maintenance of the telephone monopoly; the booming military-industrial complex; and the growing regimentation of industry, farming, and higher education. The transformative Great Society was in many ways an expansion on Eisenhower-era precedents more than a qualitative break from the past.

Even more desperate acts of nostalgia glorify the Reagan years. Although some government impositions were curtailed on the margins, Ronald Reagan oversaw growth of the New Deal–Great Society regime, as deficit spending exploded, Social Security and protectionism expanded, and foreign aid and bureaucracies ballooned.

None of this sober reflection backward should prompt us to see our history as an inexorable march toward liberty. There have been major advances in modern times—abolition of the draft, strengthened free-speech rights, and greater legal tolerance for minorities—but even in areas like racial oppression and personal freedom, many matters have worsened. Over two million Americans are behind bars. The drug war has devastated African-American communities. Last year the national government deported more immigrants than ever before. The war on terror has shredded basic rights. Washington’s run-of-the-mill economic interventions—in the name of health, equality, environmentalism, and fighting poverty—have escalated.The national debt and entitlement state have seen an unprecedented boom.

Neither today’s dismal state of affairs nor past oppression should make us nihilistic. History can teach us a lot about liberty. Certain areas of American life were freer in the nineteenth century than today and others were not, and the social blessings arising from relative conditions of liberty are worth identifying and understanding. Economics shows that free markets serve the masses by elevating workers’ productivity and smashing the old order of privilege and oppression. Both experience and economic science demonstrate the superiority of liberty to statism.

The golden era of freedom and free markets is not now and it’s not behind us. It is still ahead of us. This is reason to rejoice. We can happily envision a much better future.

Anthony Gregory is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

TANSTAAFL and Saving: Not the Whole Story – Article by Sanford Ikeda

TANSTAAFL and Saving: Not the Whole Story – Article by Sanford Ikeda

The New Renaissance Hat
Sanford Ikeda
October 3, 2012

How often have you heard someone say, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” or, “Saving is the path to economic development”?  Many treat these statements as the alpha and omega of economic common sense.

The problem is they are myths.

Or, at least, popular half-truths.  And they aren’t your garden-variety myths because people who favor the free market tend to say them all the time.  I’ve said them myself, because they do contain more than a grain of truth.

“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” (or TANSTAAFL) means that, with a limited budget, choosing one thing means sacrificing something else.  Scarcity entails tradeoffs.  It also implies that efficiency means using any resource so that no other use will give a higher reward for the risk involved.

That saving is necessary for rising labor productivity and prosperity also contains an economic truth.  No less an authority than the great Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises has stated this many times.  In an article published in The Freeman in 1981, for example, he said:

The fact that the standard of living of the average American worker is incomparably more satisfactory than that of the average [Indian] worker, that in the United States hours of work are shorter and children sent to school and not to the factories, is not an achievement of the government and the laws of the country. It is the outcome of the fact that the capital invested per head of the employees is much greater than in India and that consequently the marginal productivity of labor is much higher.

The Catalyst

But the statement is true in much the same way that saying breathable air is necessary for economic development is true.  Saving and rising capital accumulation per head do accompany significant economic development, and if we expect it to continue, people need to keep doing those activities.  But they are not the source–the catalyst, if you will–of the prosperity most of the world has seen in the past 200 years.

What am I talking about?  Deirdre McCloskey tells us in her 2010 book, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the World:

Two centuries ago the world’s economy stood at the present level of Bangladesh. . . .  In 1800 the average human consumed and expected her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to go on consuming a mere $3 a day, give or take a dollar or two [in today’s dollars]. . . .

By contrast, if you live nowadays in a thoroughly bourgeois country such as Japan or France you probably spend about $100 a day.  One hundred dollars as against three: such is the magnitude of modern economic growth.

(Hans Rosling illustrates this brilliantly in this viral video.)

That is unprecedented, historic, even miraculous growth, especially when you consider that $3 (or less) a day per person has been the norm for most of human history.  What is the sine qua non of explosive economic development and accelerating material prosperity?  What was missing for millennia that prevented the unbelievable takeoff that began about 200 years ago?

A More Complete Story

Economics teaches us the importance of TANSTAAFL and capital investment.  Again, the trouble is they are not the whole truth.

As I’ve written before, however, there is such a thing as a free lunch, and I don’t want to repeat that argument in its entirety.  The basic idea is that what Israel M. Kirzner calls “the driving force of the market” is entrepreneurship.  Entrepreneurship goes beyond working within a budget–it’s the discovery of novel opportunities that increase the wealth and raises the budgets of everyone in society, much as the late Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison or Madam C.J. Walker (probably the first African-American millionaire) did.  Yes, those innovators needed saving and capital investment by someone–most innovators were debtors at first–but note: Those savings could have been and were invested in less productive investments before these guys came along.

As McCloskey, as well as Rosenberg and Birdzell, have argued, it isn’t saving, capital investment per se, and certainly not colonialism, income inequality, capitalist exploitation, or even hard work that is responsible for the tremendous rise in economic development, especially since 1800.

It is innovation.

And, McCloskey adds, it is crucially the ideas and words that we use to think and talk about the people who innovate–the chance takers, the rebels, the individualists, the game changers–and that reflect a respect for and acceptance of the very concept of progress.  Innovation blasts the doors off budget constraints and swamps current rates of savings.

Doom to the Old Ways

Innovation can also spell doom to the old ways of doing things and, in the short run at least, create hardship for the people wedded to them.  Not everyone unambiguously gains from innovation at first, but in time we all do, though not at the same rate.

So for McCloskey, “The leading ideas were two: that the liberty to hope was a good idea and that a faithful economic life should give dignity and even honor to ordinary people. . . .”

There’s a lot in this assertion that I’ll need to think through.  But I do accept the idea that innovation, however it arises, trumps efficiency and it trumps mere savings.  Innovation discovers free lunches; it dramatically reduces scarcity.

Indeed, innovation is perhaps what enables the market economy to stay ahead of, for the time being at least, the interventionist shackles that increasingly hamper it.  You want to regulate landline telephones?  I’ll invent the mobile phone!  You make mail delivery a legal monopoly?  I’ll invent email!  You want to impose fixed-rail transport on our cities?  I’ll invent the driverless car!

These aren’t myths. They’re reality.

Sanford Ikeda is an associate professor of economics at Purchase College, SUNY, and the author of The Dynamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

The Importance of Subjectivism in Economics – Article by Sheldon Richman

The Importance of Subjectivism in Economics – Article by Sheldon Richman

The New Renaissance Hat
Sheldon Richman
October 3, 2012

After many years, Frédéric Bastiat remains a hero to libertarians. No mystery there. He made the case for freedom and punctured the arguments for socialism with clarity and imagination. He spoke to lay readers with great effect.

Bastiat loved the market economy, and badly wanted it to blossom in full—in France and everywhere else. When he described the blessings of freedom, his benevolence shined forth. Free markets can raise living standards and enable everyone to have better lives; therefore stifling freedom is unjust and tragic. The reverse of Bastiat’s benevolence is his indignation at the deprivation that results from interference with the market process.

He begins his book Economic Harmonies (available at the FEE store) by pointing out the economic benefits of living in society:

It is impossible not to be struck by the disproportion, truly incommensurable, that exists between the satisfactions [a] man derives from society and the satisfactions that he could provide for himself if he were reduced to his own resources. I make bold to say that in one day he consumes more things than he could produce himself in ten centuries. What makes the phenomenon stranger still is that the same thing holds true for all other men. Every one of the members of society has consumed a million times more than he could have produced; yet no one has robbed anyone else.

The Existence of Privilege

Bastiat was not naïve. He knew he was not in a fully free market. He was well aware of the existence of privilege: “Privilege implies someone to profit from it and someone to pay for it,” he wrote. Those who pay are worse off than they would be in the free market. “I trust that the reader will not conclude from the preceding remarks that we are insensible to the social suffering of our fellow men. Although the suffering is less in the present imperfect state of our society than in the state of isolation, it does not follow that we do not seek wholeheartedly for further progress to make it less and less.”

He wished to emphasize the importance of free exchange for human flourishing. In chapter four he wrote,

Exchange is political economy. It is society itself, for it is impossible to conceive of society without exchange, or exchange without society. …For man, isolation means death….

By means of exchange, men attain the same satisfaction with less effort, because the mutual services they render one another yield them a larger proportion of gratuitous utility.

Therefore, the fewer obstacles an exchange encounters, the less effort it requires, the more readily men exchange.

How does trade deliver its benefits?

Exchange produces two phenomena: the joining of men’s forces and the diversification of their occupations, or the division of labor.

It is very clear that in many cases the combined force of several men is superior to the sum of their individual separate forces.…

Now, the joining of men’s forces implies exchange. To gain their co-operation, they must have good reason to anticipate sharing in the satisfaction to be obtained. Each one by his efforts benefits the others and in turn benefits by their efforts according to the terms of the bargain, which is exchange.

But isn’t something missing from this account?

Austrian Insight

Indeed, there is: the subjectivist Austrian insight that individuals gain from trade per se. For an exchange to take place, the two parties must assess the items traded differently, with each party preferring what he is to receive to what he is to give up. If that condition did not hold, no exchange would occur. There must be what Murray Rothbard called a double inequality of value. It’s in the logic of human action–which Ludwig von Mises christened praxeology. Bastiat, like his classical forebears Smith and Ricardo, erroneously believed (at least explicitly) that people trade equal values and that something is wrong when unequal values are exchanged.

Perhaps I am too hard on Bastiat. After all, he was writing before 1850. Carl Menger did not publish Principles of Economics until 1871. Yet the Austrians were not the first to look at exchange strictly through subjectivist spectacles, that is, from the economic actors points of view. The French philosopher Étienne Bonnot de Condillac (1715-1780) did so a hundred years before Bastiat wrote:

The very fact that an exchange takes place is proof that there must necessarily be profit in it for both the contracting parties; otherwise it would not be made. Hence, every exchange represents two gains for humanity.

Bastiat Unaware?

Well, perhaps Bastiat was unaware of Condillac’s argument. That is not the case. He reprints the quote above in his book and responds:

The explanation we owe to Condillac seems to me entirely insufficient and empirical, or rather it fails to explain anything at all. . . .

The exchange represents two gains, you say. The question is: Why and how? It results from the very fact that it takes place. But why does it take place? What motives have induced the two men to make it take place? Does the exchange have in it a mysterious virtue, inherently beneficial and incapable of explanation?

We see how exchange . . . adds to our satisfactions. . . . [T]here is no trace of . . . the double and empirical profit alleged by Condillac.

This is perplexing. Clearly, the necessary double inequality of value is not empirical or contingent. Contra Bastiat, the double inequality explains quite a lot, and his questions all have easy answers.

Yet more perplexing still is Bastiat’s statement in the same chapter: “The profit of the one is the profit of the other.” This seems to imply what he just denied.

Consequential Failure

Bastiat’s failure to grasp this point had consequences for his debates with other economists. For example, he and his fellow “left-free-market” advocate Pierre-Joseph Proudhon engaged in a lengthy debate over whether interest on loans would exist in the free market or whether it was a privilege bestowed when government suppresses competition. Unfortunately, the debate suffers because neither Bastiat nor Proudhon fully and explicitly grasped the Condillac/Austrian point about the double inequality of value. As Roderick Long explains in his priceless commentary on the exchange,

[E]ach one trips up his defense of his own position through an inconsistent grasp of the Austrian principle of the “double inequality of value”; Proudhon embraces it, but fails to apply it consistently, while Bastiat implicitly relies on it, but explicitly rejects it. . . .

Proudhon’s case against interest seems to depend crucially on his claim that all exchange must be of equivalent values; so pointing out the incoherence of this notion would be a telling reply. But Bastiat cannot officially give this reply (though he comes tantalisingly close over and over throughout the debate) because elsewhere–in his Economic Harmonies–Bastiat explicitly rejects the doctrine of double inequality of value.

How frustrating! Bastiat has so much to teach. But here is one blind spot that kept him from being even better.

Sheldon Richman is the editor of The Freeman and, and a contributor to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. He is the author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America’s Families.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Are We Destroying the Earth? – Article by Sanford Ikeda

Are We Destroying the Earth? – Article by Sanford Ikeda

The New Renaissance Hat
Sanford Ikeda
October 3, 2012

People often complain that mankind is destroying the earth: that insatiable consumption and relentless production have laid waste to irreplaceable swaths of our planet, and that these activities have to stop or someday it will all be gone.

Which raises the question: What does it means to “destroy” something?

When you burn a log, the log is destroyed but heat, light, smoke, and ashes remain.  It’s in that sense that physics tells us that matter is neither created nor destroyed.  Similarly, cutting down a forest destroys the forest but in its place are houses and furniture and suburbs.

The real question is: Is it worth it?

Value Can Be Both Created and Destroyed

What people usually mean when they say mankind is destroying the earth is that human action causes a change they don’t like.  It sounds odd to say that my wife, by eating a piece of toast for breakfast, is “destroying” the toast.  But if I wanted that toast for myself, I might well regard her action as destructive.  Same action, but the interpretation depends on purpose and context.

When a missile obliterates a building and kills the people in it, it may serve a political purpose even though the friends and family of those killed and the owners of the building are harmed.  The perpetrator’s gain is the victim’s loss.  In the political realm, one person’s gain is necessarily another person’s loss.  You rob Peter to pay Paul; you kill Jack to appease Jill.  It’s a “zero-sum game.”

In the economic realm, however, a thing is destroyed to the extent that it loses its usefulness to somebody for doing something.  Someone may want to bulldoze my lovely home just for fun.  If she pays me enough I may let her do it and be glad she did.  When not physically coerced, a trade won’t happen unless each side expects to gain.  If it does happen, and if the people who traded are right, then all do in fact gain.  Each is better off than before. The trade has created something–value.  If they are wrong they destroy value and suffer a loss, which gives them an incentive to avoid making mistakes.

Profits and Losses Help to Minimize the Destruction of Value

In free markets gains manifest themselves in profit, either monetary or psychic.  (In the short run, of course, you can sustain a monetary loss if you think there’s a worthwhile nonmonetary aspect to the trade that will preserve the profit.)  Now, the free market is not perfect, despite what some economics professors say about the benefits of so-called “perfect competition.”  People don’t have complete or perfect knowledge and so they make mistakes.  They trade when they shouldn’t, or they don’t trade when they should.  Fortunately, profits and losses serve as feedback to guide their decisions.

There’s another source of market imperfection.  People may be capable of making good decisions but they don’t trade, or trade too much, because the property rights to the things they would like to trade aren’t well-defined or aren’t effectively enforced.  In such cases their actions or inactions create costs they don’t bear or benefits they don’t receive.  The result is that their decisions end up destroying value.

If I free-ride off the oceans, if for example I don’t pay for dumping garbage into it, then the oceans will become more polluted than they should be.  If there is a cleaner, more efficient source of energy than fossil fuels, but no one can profitably use it because the national government prevents anyone from doing so (for example by prohibitions or excessive taxation), then again the value that would have been created will never appear.

Aesthetics or Economics?

Our esthetic sense of beauty is part of what makes us human.  If we wish to protect a lake or a valley from development because we think it beautiful, how do we do that?

To some extent it’s possible to do what the Nature Conservancy does, and purchase the land that we want to protect.  But that’s not always possible, especially when the land is controlled not by private persons but by the national government, which makes special deals with crony capitalists in so-called public-private developments.  In any case, even the free market is not perfect.  Economic development and material well-being mean that some beautiful landscapes and irreplaceable resources will be changed in ways not everyone will approve.

Remember, though, that economics teaches us that an action is always taken by someone for something.  There are no disembodied costs, benefits, and values.  In a world of scarcity, John believes saving rain forests is more important than saving the whales.  Mary believes the opposite.  If we are to get past disagreements on esthetics–essentially differences of opinion–that can turn into violent conflict, we need to find some way to settle our differences peacefully, some way to transform them into value-creating interactions.

Imperfect though it may be, the free market has so far been the most effective method we know of for doing that.

Sanford Ikeda is an associate professor of economics at Purchase College, SUNY, and the author of The Dynamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Government Gifts from Heaven: The Illusions of Redistributive Taxation – Article by Kyrel Zantonavitch

Government Gifts from Heaven: The Illusions of Redistributive Taxation – Article by Kyrel Zantonavitch

The New Renaissance Hat
Kyrel Zantonavitch
October 3, 2012

Everybody wants something for nothing. But the problem is you can never actually get it. And virtually everyone quietly understands this.

Nothing is ever free, and there’s always a price to pay even if you only pay it eventually, indirectly, or secretly. And usually the price for this “free” stuff is quite high. You’re almost always far better off paying for it directly and honestly rather than engaging in any type of amoral, unprincipled, dispiriting, and anxiety-ridden beggary or theft.

But when it comes to government, many people today really do pretty much think you can get something for nothing. Many people nowadays really do believe that the government can magically generate things out of thin air, and then give them to “the people” for free. They even commonly think that this is the people’s “right.”

And the more coercive the government, the better, some people think. The more tyrannical the state is, the more it has the power to repeal the laws of economics, physics, and reality. Then it can give “the people” all sorts of free goods and services!

And yet, in an odd way, this view is actually right, because it’s always the more authoritarian states that pretend to offer the most goodies and booty to their greedy citizenry. They’re the ones that always claim to feature the most “economic rights” or welfare-state give-aways.

Many people in the 21st century really do want and even righteously demand “free” schools and medical care. They want mandatory “free” paid vacations, sick days, and personal days. They want paid mandatory “free” maternity leave along with no-charge day care for the kids. And, of course, they fully expect “free” public roads, parks, libraries, fire departments, water supplies, etc.

But the problem with all this “free” stuff as has already been stated is you truly do pay for it. This happens via taxes. And no, you can’t steal from the rich, and make them pay your share. If you attempt it, they’ll probably just make you pay double. If a government is tyrannical, the rich and powerful can work its machinery far better than you.

Still, too many people try. They hope and dream and then are easily deluded and duped.

The result of all this attempted robbery of the wealthy, and of the general public, is that while some people do get some “freebies” of a generally ugly and repellant type, the rest of the citizenry quietly raises the costs of everyone’s taxes thru the roof. And almost all the merchandise redistributed via taxation is invariably low in quality and high in cost. Now, maybe many don’t notice this. Defenders of Big Brother go to considerable trouble to disguise this reality from you. But it’s the truth.

Had you directly and honestly paid for all this apparent government windfall utilizing your individual judgment, prudence, experience, and intelligence you and your society would be far richer overall. The massive taxes you and the others end up paying are not at all worth it.

Ultimately, whether you know it or not, welfare-state redistribution of wealth results in its very advocates getting utterly conned and totally ripped off.

Kyrel Zantonavitch is the founder of The Liberal Institute  ( and a writer for Rebirth of Reason ( He can be contacted at

Is it Evil to Vote for a Lesser Evil? Steele’s Response to Stolyarov – Part 1 – Article by Charles N. Steele

Is it Evil to Vote for a Lesser Evil? Steele’s Response to Stolyarov – Part 1 – Article by Charles N. Steele

The New Renaissance Hat
Charles N. Steele
October 2, 2012

Mr. Stolyarov gives a thoughtful reply to my contention that given a choice between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Romney is the lesser of two evils.  I respond, but find I must do so in two parts.  Mr. Stolyarov makes two kinds of arguments in his reply to me; one is a philosophical one on the ethical nature of voting and the second an empirical one about Romney and Ryan.  In this note I address Mr. Stolyarov’s philosophical argument.   I ask many questions here – please note carefully that most of them are not rhetorical.

Mr. Stolyarov’s philosophical argument concerns the moral responsibility one bears in voting: “[E]ven a true incrementally lesser evil is still evil and does not warrant one’s support. One key consideration in casting one’s vote is one’s share of moral responsibility in what would transpire if one’s candidate of choice (even half-hearted choice) gets elected.”

At first glance this seems a reasonable argument – after all, wouldn’t we think that, for example, German citizens who supported Hitler’s regime bore a good share of responsibility for its crimes?  And in general, if people vote for candidate A over candidate B, it’s reasonable to think they bear some responsibility for empowering A’s platform over B’s.  But the more I contemplate it, the less I understand the nature of  this “moral responsibility” voting, for three reasons.

1. When we vote, we vote under conditions of uncertainty about what the candidates will do should they win.  Two reasonable people might differ in their expectations over what opposing candidates might do if elected, even if the candidates are truthful.  And candidates are often less-than-truthful about what they will do if elected; sorting out what is and isn’t true is not necessarily straightforward.  Consider a presidential election between A and B.  If candidate A wins the election and what subsequently transpires is counter to what the voter in good faith expected, what is the voter’s moral responsibility?  Further, we also don’t know and will never know what B would have done.  Does that matter?  Might not a vote for what proved to be A’s bad policies have prevented B’s worse ones?

In many cases these issues are small, but not always.  And certainly in times of major institutional transitions, or economic crises, or other important changes, they are likely to loom large.

2. If one votes for a candidate who wins, does one then share responsibility for everything the candidate does?  When we vote for candidate A, we get the “entire package.”  We can’t limit ourselves to voting for her/his positions on some issues but not others.  Suppose one agrees with candidate A on fiscal policy, but disagrees on foreign policy, and conversely supports B on foreign policy and opposes his fiscal policy.  In order to decide between candidates, our voter must judge which issue is more likely to be of central importance in the next term, as well as which one is more important for the voter’s overall vision of what should be done.  For that matter, the voter might think that B’s fiscal policy is a more serious flaw than A’s foreign policy, but also believes institutional barriers (e.g. Congress) will largely block B’s fiscal policy while nothing would block A from pursuing the bad foreign policy, and hence reasonably vote B.

3. How much difference does one’s vote make, anyway?  The quote from Mr. Stolyarov suggests that if candidate A wins, a person who voted for him shares some responsibility for what transpires.  But suppose A wins with a very large margin of the vote.  In that case, there’s nothing the voter could have done to stop what transpires.  What is her/his responsibility then?  Conversely, suppose instead A loses, so nothing transpires from the vote and presumably no moral responsibility attaches to the voter.  How does anything differ in these two cases, with respect to the voter’s culpability?  I can’t see that the voter has behaved differently in the two cases; shouldn’t moral responsibility be the same?  Perhaps not, but the why not?  And how would the responsibility differ in either case had the voter instead stayed home and not cast a ballot?

Similarly, in every presidential election in which I’ve voted, I voted in Montana.  In none of these was the vote close enough for mine to have mattered, but that’s irrelevant.  Montana’s three electoral votes simply do not matter for the national outcome, so no matter what happened, my vote had no connection at all to what subsequently transpired.  Does this mean that I’m exempt of all moral responsibility when I vote in a presidential election?  Why or why not?

These three points involve “disconnects” betweens one’s vote, the outcome of an election, and what subsequently transpires.  It strikes me that these disconnects weaken the moral responsibility a voter holds.

Mr. Stolyarov does address some of my concerns (particularly those of point 2) when he observes “It may therefore be justified to vote for an imperfect candidate who could do some incremental good, but not for a candidate who would commit incremental evil – in the sense of reducing liberty compared to the situation that existed prior to his election.”

It’s clear, then, that Mr. Stolyarov is not committing the Nirvana fallacy.  But I still find his point quite problematic.  It is not always obvious what constitutes “incremental good/evil” on net, or how we identify an overall reduction in liberty.  Let’s simplify this case by assuming there’s only one voter and no uncertainty about what candidates will do if elected, so that there are no disconnects between the vote cast and the political consequences.  Again, the voter faces a choice among presidential candidates, but now her/his vote determines the election and s/he knows exactly what political consequences will transpire.

If A’s positions on issues X and Y reduce liberty, and his position on issue Z increases it, how is the voter to weight A’s net effect on liberty?  (Assume for sake of argument there are no other issues.)  Is A automatically disqualified because of his position on X and Y?  Or could his position on Z conceivably be sufficiently beneficial for liberty to outweigh the harm done on the first two?  I would think so, and I suspect Mr. Stolyarov agrees.  (Again, I should note that in some cases any reasonable person should be able to weigh these relative harms and benefits and get the same answer.  But in some real world cases reasonable persons might strongly differ.)

But also, doesn’t it matter against whom A is running?  If candidate B is worse, much worse, on all three issues, should not the voter choose A over B, regardless of whether the net outcome from A is positive?  (I would think so.) Alternatively suppose instead candidate B drops out of the race to be replaced by C, and C is superior on all three issues.  Shouldn’t that lead our voter to reverse himself and support C?

This seems quite sensible to me, but Mr. Stolyarov seemed to rule it out:  “There is no doubt in my mind that Mitt Romney would commit numerous incremental evils – and there is no justification for supporting him in any way, even if his transgressions could be predicted with certainty to be less severe than Obama’s.”  It should by now be clear why I find this position problematic.

On this point, Mr. Stolyarov agrees with my earlier assertion “real progress in expanding liberty will come from economic, technological and social processes, NOT from electoral processes. If elections and political processes do anything in this regard, it will be simply to respond to and formalize advances made by civil society.”  But he then concludes: “But if this is the case, then there is no point supporting anything other than the very best available option in any election.”

I can’t see how that follows.  In our one voter example, suppose candidate A will take the nation slowly towards a totalitarian state, and B will take it very rapidly.  Would it not be preferable to choose A over B, to buy time for countervailing processes to act?

All of these examples suggest – at least to me – that a voter might reasonably and morally vote for a candidate who will minimize damage to liberty, even if the voter has only reasonable expectation of this.

Mr. Stolyarov does have another point worth noting in this matter.  He suggests we vote for the best candidate, even a third party candidate who has no chance of winning: “[A] single person can send a message by refusing to play along with the two-party system. If enough of us begin to think this way, then the libertarian voters will become a force to reckon with, a credible threat to the two main parties that unsatisfactory candidates will be disfavored no matter what. As an added bonus, if enough people in general begin to vote based purely on their conscience, then the whole ‘lesser of two evils’ trap would disappear, the two major parties would need to rapidly evolve or would disintegrate, and government could become truly representative.”

Maybe so.  I certainly hope so.  But note that this is a strategic argument and quite different from the argument about a voter’s moral responsibility.  I find the moral argument to be unhelpful in this discussion.

In part 2 of my response I will try to make the case that Mitt Romney is indeed the lesser of two evils when compared to Barack Obama.

Dr. Charles N. Steele is the Herman and Suzanne Dettwiler Chair in Economics and Associate Professor at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan. His research interests include economics of transition and institutional change, economics of uncertainty, and health economics.  He received his Ph.D. from New York University in 1997, and has subsequently taught economics at the graduate and undergraduate levels in China, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and the United States.  He has also worked as a private consultant in insurance design and review.

Dr. Steele also maintains a blog, Unforeseen Contingencies.

Gold is Good Money – Article by Ron Paul

Gold is Good Money – Article by Ron Paul

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
October 1, 2012

Last year the Chairman of the Federal Reserve told me that gold is not money, a position which central banks, national governments, and mainstream economists have claimed is the consensus for decades.  But lately there have been some high-profile defections from that consensus.  As Forbes recently reported, the president of the Bundesbank (Germany’s central bank) and two highly respected analysts at Deutsche Bank have praised gold as good money.

Why is gold good money?  Because it possesses all the monetary properties that the market demands: it is divisible, portable, recognizable and, most importantly, scarce – making it a stable store of value. It is all things the market needs good money to be and has been recognized as such throughout history.  Gold rose to nearly $1800 an ounce after the Fed’s most recent round of quantitative easing because the people know that gold is money when fiat money fails.

Central bankers recognize this too, even if they officially deny it.  Some analysts have speculated that the International Monetary Fund’s real clout is due to its large holdings of gold.  And central banks around the world have increased their gold holdings over the last year, especially in emerging market economies trying to protect themselves from the collapse of Western fiat currencies.

Fiat money is not good money because it can be issued without limit and therefore cannot act as a stable store of value. A fiat monetary system gives complete discretion to those who run the printing press, allowing national governments to spend money without having to suffer the political consequences of raising taxes.  Fiat money benefits those who create it and receive it first, enriching national governments and their cronies.  And the negative effects of fiat money are disguised so that people do not realize that money the Fed creates today is the reason for the busts, rising prices and unemployment, and diminished standard of living tomorrow.

This is why it is so important to allow people the freedom to choose stable money.  Earlier this Congress I introduced the Free Competition in Currency Act (H.R. 1098) to permit people to use gold as money again. By eliminating taxes on gold and other precious metals and repealing legal tender laws, people are given the option between using good money or fiat money. If the federal government persists in debasing the dollar – as money monopolists have always done – then the people would be able to protect themselves by using alternatives such as gold that are both sound and stable.

As the fiat money pyramid crumbles, gold retains its luster.  Rather than being the barbarous relic Keynesians have tried to lead us to believe it is, gold is, as the Bundesbank president put it, “a timeless classic.”  The defamation of gold wrought by central banks and national governments is because gold exposes the devaluation of fiat currencies and the flawed policies of the national government.  National governments hate gold because the people cannot be fooled by it.

Representative Ron Paul (R – TX), MD, was a three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President. See his Congressional webpage and his official campaign website

This article has been released by Dr. Paul into the public domain and may be republished by anyone in any manner.