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Why the Joint Session Standing Ovations Creeped Me Out – Article by Marianne March

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Categories: History, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatMarianne March
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On February 28, 2017, I tuned in for President Trump’s speech to a joint session of Congress. What stood out to me most, besides VP Pence and Speaker Paul Ryan’s matching cobalt ties, was the way those two men and a portion of the audience kept popping up and down, out of their chairs like plastic rodents in a game of whack-a-mole. During the roughly hourlong speech, (some of) the audience rose out of their chairs, clapping, no less than twenty times.

Clap Until Your Hands Are Raw

There is something incredibly disingenuous about giving an enthusiastic standing ovation every three minutes. What inspires people to participate so eagerly in, what is clear to any outsider, an orchestrated scene?

It calls to mind, Russian novelist, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s book The Gulag Archipelago, in which he describes the following scene,

At the conclusion of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). … For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the stormy applause, rising to an ovation, continued. But palms were getting sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly even to those who really adored Stalin.

However, who would dare to be the first to stop? … After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall applauding and watching to see who would quit first!

Then, after eleven minutes, the director of the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved!

The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving wheel. That, however, was how they discovered who the independent people were. And that was how they went about eliminating them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him:

“Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding.”

Circa 2017

Some amount of applauding and even standing ovations are not out of place at a political event, especially a presidential speech, but audience reactions to Mr. Trump’s joint session address were borderline ridiculous.

People in the gallery, and seated behind Trump, stood and applauded law enforcement, the First Lady, protectionist trade policies, “transitioning” out of Obamacare, and they clapped almost endlessly for Carryn Owens, the grieving widow of Navy Seal Ryan Owens who was killed during a raid in Yemen in late January.

During the several minutes that they stood clapping for her, Carryn Owens sobbed, clenched her hands together and looked up to the ceiling, mouthed the words ‘thank you,’ and clearly struggled to keep her composure. It was difficult to watch.

Glenn Greenwald described the moment perfectly in an Intercept article:

Independent of the political intent behind it, any well-functioning human being would feel great empathy watching a grieving spouse mourning and struggling to emotionally cope with the recent, sudden death of her partner.”

And it’s true. I imagine few could help feeling sympathy for this woman. Not only has she borne the loss of her husband, but she is now being used as a pawn to promote and glorify war and suffering.

Using Women to Promote War

And what a paltry recompense applause is. I’m sure that the widow Owens would much prefer that the men and women of Congress keep their hands in their pockets to losing her spouse. But this is a powerful tool for promoting war and it has been used for a long time.

Exalting only a country’s own soldiers, without so much as a whispered reference to the other victims of war, the deaths of innocent civilians, and using women, particularly mothers and widows, to connect an audience with less negative perceptions of war is an old trick.

This tactic is perhaps best explained in the 1964 film, The Americanization of Emily,

And it’s always the widows who lead the Memorial Day parades…. We shall never end wars by blaming it on ministers and generals or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogies. It’s the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers; the rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widows’ weeds like nuns … and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices.”

What is amazing is that we’re still falling for these schemes.

Again, I agree with Greenwald that,

None of this is to say that the tribute to Owens and the sympathy for his wife are undeserved. Quite the contrary: when a country, decade after decade, keeps sending a small, largely disadvantaged portion of its citizenry to bear all the costs and risks of the wars it starts – while the nation’s elite and its families are largely immune – the least the immunized elites can do is pay symbolic tribute when they are killed.”

In his address, President Trump called for “one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” And then he proceeded to show us just how he’s going to get it. How many more widows and victims will be paraded out in front of us in the years to come?

We must recognize that when we allow our emotions to be manipulated in this manner, we, too, become pawns of the powerful.

Marianne March is a recent graduate of Georgia State University, where she majored in Public Policy, with a minor in Economics. Follow her on twitter @mari_tweets.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

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Alan Greenspan Admits Ron Paul Was Right About Gold – Article by Ryan McMaken

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Categories: Economics, History, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance Hat
Ryan McMaken
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In the next issue of The Austrian, David Gordon reviews Sebatian Mallaby’s new book, The Man Who Knew, about the career of Alan Greenspan. Mallaby points out that prior to his career at the Fed, Greenspan exhibited a keen understanding of the gold standard and how free markets work. In spite of this contradiction, Mallaby takes a rather benign view toward Greenspan.

However, in his review, Gordon asks the obvious question: If Greenspan knew all this so well, isn’t it all the more worthy of condemnation that Greenspan then abandoned these ideas so readily to advance his career?

Perhaps not surprisingly, now that his career at the Fed has ended, Old Greenspan — the one who defends free markets — has now returned.

This reversion to his former self has been going on for several years, and Greenspan reiterates this fact yet again in a recent interview with Gold Investor magazine. Greenspan is now a fount of sound historical information about the historical gold standard:

I view gold as the primary global currency. It is the only currency, along with silver, that does not require a counterparty signature. Gold, however, has always been far more valuable per ounce than silver. No one refuses gold as payment to discharge an obligation. Credit instruments and fiat currency depend on the credit worthiness of a counterparty. Gold, along with silver, is one of the only currencies that has an intrinsic value. It has always been that way. No one questions its value, and it has always been a valuable commodity, first coined in Asia Minor in 600 BC.

The gold standard was operating at its peak in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a period of extraordinary global prosperity, characterised by firming productivity growth and very little inflation.

But today, there is a widespread view that the 19th century gold standard didn’t work. I think that’s like wearing the wrong size shoes and saying the shoes are uncomfortable! It wasn’t the gold standard that failed; it was politics. World War I disabled the fixed exchange rate parities and no country wanted to be exposed to the humiliation of having a lesser exchange rate against the US dollar than itenjoyed in 1913.

Britain, for example, chose to return to the gold standard in 1925 at the same exchange rate it had in 1913 relative to the US dollar (US$4.86 per pound sterling). That was a monumental error by Winston Churchill, then Chancellor of the Exchequer. It induced a severe deflation for Britain in the late 1920s, and the Bank of England had to default in 1931. It wasn’t the gold standard that wasn’t functioning; it was these pre-war parities that didn’t work. All wanted to return to pre-war exchange rate parities, which, given the different degree of war and economic destruction from country to country, rendered this desire, in general, wholly unrealistic.

Today, going back on to the gold standard would be perceived as an act of desperation. But if the gold standard were in place today we would not have reached the situation in which we now find ourselves.

Greenspan then says nice things about Paul Volcker’s high-interest-rate policy:

Paul Volcker was brought in as chairman of the Federal Reserve, and he raised the Federal Fund rate to 20% to stem the erosion [of the dollar’s value during the inflationary 1970s]. It was a very destabilising period and by far the most effective monetary policy in the history of the Federal Reserve. I hope that we don’t have to repeat that exercise to stabilise the system. But it remains an open question.

Ultimately, though, Greenspan claims that central-bank policy can be employed to largely imitate a gold standard:

When I was Chair of the Federal Reserve I used to testify before US Congressman Ron Paul, who was a very strong advocate of gold. We had some interesting discussions. I told him that US monetary policy tried to follow signals that a gold standard would have created. That is sound monetary policy even with a fiat currency. In that regard, I told him that even if we had gone back to the gold standard, policy would not have changed all that much.

This is a rather strange claim, however. It is impossible to know what signals a gold standard “would have” created in the absence of the current system of fiat currencies. It is, of course, impossible to recreate the global economy under a gold standard in an economy and guess how the system might be imitated in real life. This final explanation appears to be more the sort of thing that Greenspan tells himself so he can reconcile his behavior at the fed with what he knows about gold and markets.

Nor does this really address Ron Paul’s concerns, expressed for years, toward Greenspan and his successors. Even if monetary policymakers were attempting to somehow replicate a gold-standard environment, Paul’s criticism was always that the outcome of the current monetary regime can be shown to be dangerous for a variety of reasons. Among these problems are enormous debt loads and stagnating real incomes due to inflation. Moreover, thanks to Cantillon effects, monetarily-induced inflation has the worst impact on lower-income households.

Even Greenspan admits this is the case with debt: “We would never have reached this position of extreme indebtedness were we on the gold standard, because the gold standard is a way of ensuring that fiscal policy never gets out of line.”

Certainly, debt loads have taken off since Nixon closed the gold window in 1971, breaking the last link with gold:

Ryan W. McMaken is the editor of Mises Daily and The Free Market. He has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre. 

This article was published on Mises.org and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

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Malthus Predicted Penury on the Eve of Plenty – Article by Richard M. Ebeling

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Categories: History, Philosophy, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatRichard M. Ebeling
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Those of us fortunate enough to have been born in the so-called Western World (Europe and North America) rarely appreciate the historical uniqueness of our material and cultural well-being compared, not only to many around the globe today, but to westerners just a handful of generations ago.

A mere 200 years ago, in 1820, the world population numbered only around 1.1 billion people. About 95 percent of that number lived in poverty, with 85 percent existing in “extreme poverty.” By 2015, the world population had increased to over 7 billion, but less than 10 percent lived in poverty. Indeed, over the last quarter of a century, demographers calculate that every day there are 137,000 fewer people around the world living in extreme poverty.

This escape from poverty originated in Western Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with the coming of the Industrial Revolution and the freeing of men and markets from the heavy-handed regulations and commercial restrictions of government. Especially since the mid-twentieth century, that liberation from poverty has been slowly but surely enveloping more of the people in the so-called “developing countries.”

Before this economic revolution of human betterment was made possible by free, or at least freer, markets, life around the world was (borrowing part of Thomas Hobbes’s famous phrase) basically nasty, brutish and short for virtually all of mankind.  The idea and ideal of material prosperity for humanity as a whole was merely the dream of a few dreamers who concocted utopian fantasies of remaking society to make a better world. For some at the end of the 1700s, the French Revolution served as the inspiration to believe that now that the “old regime” of power, privilege, and political position was being overthrown and a “new dawn” was opening for humanity.

The destruction of the ancient institutional order opened the door for remaking society and its structure; and with the institutional transformation could come a change in man. There emerged a new version of Plato’s belief that human nature was primarily a product of the social environment. Change the institutions within which men lived and the character of man could be transformed over time, as well.

William Godwin and the Collectivist Remaking of Man and Society

A leading voice in support of this “transformative” vision was William Godwin, a British social philosopher and critic, who argued that selfishness, poverty, and the form and content of human relationships could be radically made over, if only the institution of private property and the political order protecting it was abolished.

He argued for this new understanding and conception of man and society in his books, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), and The Inquirer (1798). Indeed, some have argued that Godwin was one of the first of the modern advocates of “anarchism” – an ideal society without a system of political coercion in which men will cooperatively and collectively live and work for a higher “common good.”

The guiding principles in Godwin’s political and economic philosophy (which received some revision and modification between the three editions of Political Justice during his lifetime) were:

First, the moral foundation of all human actions should be based on the individual being concerned with the interests and betterment of the collective society, and not himself; any judgment concerning the ethics in men’s behavior should not be based on the results those actions produce, but the intention or motive behind the actions undertaken.

Second, that human nature is not a universal “given,” but rather man is born like a “blank slate,” the content of which can be influenced by the social environment and the education experienced by the new mind.

Third, that poverty is not and need not be an essential part of the human condition; rather, it is the result of the institution of private property that gives what rightly belongs and should be shared equally by all men to some by arbitrary political power and legitimacy; a “new society” of communal work and sharing will raise production to unimaginable levels, abolishing poverty and creating plenty.

Fourth, this would be coupled with the fact that as there was less concern with material want, people would turn their minds to intellectual pursuits; this would result in a reduction in the sex drive, and a falling off in reproduction and the number of people in society. Thus, concerns that a materially better off world might mean a growth in population exceeding the capacity to feed it was downplayed. Besides, there were plenty of places around the world to which any excess population could migrate.

Said William Godwin in Political Justice:

“If justice have any meaning, it is just that I should contribute everything in my power to the benefit of the whole . . . It is in the disposition and view of the mind, and not in the good which may accidentally and intentionally result, that virtue consists . . .

“Human beings are partakers of a common nature; what conduces to the benefit or pleasure of one man will conduce to the benefit or pleasure of another. Hence it follows, upon the principles of equal and impartial justice, that the good things of the world are a common stock, upon which one man has as valid a title as another to draw for what he wants . . . What can be more desirable and just than that the produce itself should, with some degree of equality, be shared among them?”

What if some individuals refused to sacrifice for the collective, and were unwilling to bend their own self-interest to the betterment of the societal group? Godwin was equally direct that the individual had no right to his own life if his foregoing it served the needs of the collective:

“He has no right to his life when his duty calls him to resign it. Other men are bound . . . to deprive him of life or liberty, if that should appear in any case to be indispensably necessary to prevent a greater evil . . .”

Thomas Malthus on the “Natural” Limits to Human Betterment

Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) was an ordained minister who became interested in various themes in political economy and became famous for arguing against the theories espoused by William Godwin. His father, Daniel Malthus, took a view sympathetic to Godwin’s on man, human nature, and society. Thomas took the opposite view and ended up writing his famous, An Essay on the Principle of Population as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society, with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet, and Other Writers (1798).

The gist of Thomas Malthus’s argument was that physical capacities to regularly increase the supply of food for human survival falls far short of the natural inclinations of human reproduction. Thus, the growth in population, when left unchecked, and given the “passions” of men and women, has the tendency to outrun the supply of food.

Hence, there were natural limits on the improvement of the material conditions of man, which no change in the political, economic, and social institutions of society, by themselves, can assure or bring about a “heaven on earth,” as prophesied and promised by Godwin and others.

Not surprisingly, the book caused a firestorm of controversy. Malthus’s apparent “pessimism” concerning the possibility of improving the human condition through conscious social change led the British social critic and essayist, Thomas Carlyle, to call economics, “the dismal science.”

Malthus argued that human existence is bound by two inescapable principles that have not and are not likely to change, given all of human history: the need for food to exist, and the degree of sexual passions of men and women for each other, which he enunciates in his Essay on the Principle of Population:

“I think I may fairly make two postulata. First, that food is necessary to the existence of man. Secondly, that the passion between the sexes is necessary, and will remain nearly in its present state.

“These two laws ever since we have had any knowledge of mankind, appear to have been fixed laws of his nature; and as we have not hitherto seen any alteration in them, we have no right to conclude that they will ever cease to be what they now are . . . I do not know that any writer has supposed that on this earth man will ultimately be able to live without food.

“But Mr. Godwin has conjectured that the passion between the sexes may in time be extinguished. As, however, he calls this part of his work, a deviation into the land of conjecture, I will not dwell long upon it at present, than to say, that the best arguments for the perfectibility of man, are drawn from a contemplation of the great progress that he has already made from the savage state, and the difficulty of saying where he is to stop.

“But towards the extinction of the passion between the sexes, no progress whatever has hitherto been made. It appears to exist in as much force at present as it did two thousand, or four thousand years ago.”

The Checks on Mouths to Feed: Misery and Vice

Malthus then made his famous statement concerning the relationship between the “geometric” rate of unchecked population growth in comparison to the “arithmetical” growth in the rate of food production. Eventually, the rate of population growth would overtake the rate of food production, the result of which would be a “natural check” on population through poverty, starvation, and death.

“Assuming then, my postulata as granted, I say, that the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man. Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first process in comparison to the second.

“By the law of our nature which makes food necessary to the life of man, the effects of these two unequal powers must be kept equal. This implies a strong and constantly operating check on population from the difficulty of subsistence. This difficulty must fall somewhere; and must necessarily be severely felt by a large portion of mankind . . .

“This natural inequality of the two powers of population and of production in the earth, and that great law of our nature which must constantly keep their effects equal, form the great difficulty that to me appears insurmountable in the way of the perfectibility of society.

“All the arguments are of slight and subordinate consideration in comparison of this. I see no way by which man can escape from the weight of this nature. No fancied equality, no agrarian regulation in their utmost extent, could remove the pressure of it even for a single century. And it appears, therefore, to be decisive against the possible existence of a society, all the members of which, should live in ease, happiness, and comparative leisure; and feel no anxiety about providing the means of subsistence for themselves and families.”

Malthus argued that taking periods of 25 years as a benchmark, the accelerating growth in population would finally reach a crisis point relative to the rate of food growth.  What, then, may check this growth in an unsustainable population? Malthus concluded only two factors. What he called “vice” and “misery.”

Fearful of marrying before he can support a family and bring about starvation and ruin to his offspring, a man may delay and defer marriage until he feels financially able to care for a wife and children. But this results in “vice,” since the sexual urges lead men to search out physical gratification outside the bonds of matrimony, and the birth of illegitimate offspring.

Or it brings about “misery,” due to a failure to defer marriage, and the bringing into the world children for which means of subsistence do not adequately exist. This results in starvation and premature death of children and adults that brings the population and its growth down, again, to a level sustainable from existing food production.

Malthus added that if Godwin’s proposal for a greater community of property and equality of distribution of its output were to be introduced it would soon diminish the incentives for work and effort and set men into conflict with each other. Or as he put it, weakened private property rights would soon set in motion “the black train of distresses, that would inevitably be occasioned by the insecurity of property.”

Tempering Nature’s Constraints through Moral Restraint

In 1799, after the publication of An Essay on the Principle of Population, and then again in 1802, Thomas Malthus went on trips around parts of Europe. He collected a large amount of historical and demographic data on population (to the extent that such data then existed). He used this to publish a second edition of the book in 1803 that was substantially increased in size and factual information, as he had been able to gather it.

To his previous argument, Malthus now added an additional factor that could serve as a check on population, and could even keep population growth sufficiently under control so that standards of living might rise, even in the long run. This was what he called “moral restraint.”  This was a conscious act to defer marriage until an individual had the financial means to adequately support a family, and the will to renounce the temptations of “vice.” That is, to abstain from sexual gratification outside of marriage. Said Malthus:

“It is of the utmost importance to the happiness of mankind that population should not increase too fast; but it does not appear that the object to be accomplished would admit of any considerable diminishment in the desire for marriage.

“It is clearly the duty of each individual not to marry till he has a prospect of supporting his children; but it is at the same time to be wished that he should retain undiminished his desire for marriage, in order that he may exert himself to realize this prospect, and be stimulated to make provision for the support of greater numbers . . .

“And if moral restraint be the only virtuous mode of avoiding the incidental evils arising from this principle, our obligation to practice it will evidently rest exactly upon the same foundation as our obligation to practice any of the other virtues.”

Unleashing of Free Markets Negated Malthus’ Prediction

Given the seven-fold increase in world population since 1820 discussed above, accompanied by an even more dramatic fall in global poverty over the last two hundred years, Malthus’ warnings and fears seem to have been totally undermined by the facts of history. Population has exploded beyond all experience in human history during the last two centuries, yet all of these billions of additional mouths are increasingly fed and with a rising standard of living for a growing number of them.

Clearly, Malthus, writing in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries underestimated one important influence that was beginning during his lifetime: market-based industrialization. Investment in productive capital equipment, especially in agriculture, began to dramatically increase the output and the nutritive quality of food produced per unit of cultivated land. This included the development of modern chemistry to increase harvests and productive strains of crops. Thus, food production has grown exponentially, and not, as Malthus feared, “arithmetically.”

Urbanization has resulted in a conscious choice by married couples to reduce the size of families. In farming societies with limited mechanization, each child is an additional mouth that comes with two hands to help in the working of the land.  Hence, children are “investment goods” in agricultural society, both for work to be done and offering support for parents in their old age.

In industrial, urban society, children are additional mouths to feed that supply little or no extra income to the family during most of childhood. Hence, children are “consumer goods” that consume income, and reduce the standard of living of the family.  In addition, the cost of urban residential living space has influenced the incentives about sizes of families. And, of course, the development of birth control has greatly influenced the ability and widened of the choice of how many children to have, and when.

In fairness, what Malthus and many others failed to see or anticipate was the explosion of production, industry, and commerce that was soon set loose by expanding economic liberty in the nineteenth century. This unleashed entrepreneurial innovation and discovery of market opportunities in the pursuit of profits. This was made possible by ending the trade protectionism, domestic regulation, heavy tax burdens, and paper money inflations that enveloped all of Europe, including Great Britain, during nearly the quarter of a century of war from 1791 to 1815 between first Revolutionary and then Napoleonic France against practically all of the rest of Europe.

The difference was made by the arrival of peace and the beginning of a conscious introduction of economic liberalism, first in Great Britain and then other parts of the European continent, and independently at the same time in the United States. Only then was free market capitalism’s potential horn-of-plenty able to begin to release its bounty upon humanity.

Malthus’s Contributions to Human Understanding

Many historians of economic thought have pointed out the various weaknesses, exaggerations, inconsistencies, and factual errors in Malthus’s argument and the changing premises and arguments in the various editions of his Essay on the Principle of Population. Indeed, one of the leading such historians, Edwin Cannan, stated that Malthus’s analysis, “falls to the ground as an argument, and remains only a chaos of facts collected to illustrate the effect of laws which do not exist.” And Joseph A. Schumpeter even said that the actual pattern of birth rates with industrialization and urbanization accompanied by growth in food production suggested “a sort of Malthusianism in reverse.”

But even with its weaknesses and factual errors, others have seen an enduringly valuable contribution in Malthus’s theory of population. No less than an authority than the Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises, in his treatise, Human Action, suggested that in Malthus’s work can be seen a contribution equal to the discovery of the logic of division of labor and the spontaneous workings of the market order for the betterment of human circumstances:

“The Malthusian law of population is one of the great achievements of thought. Together with the principle of the division of labor it provided the foundation for modern biology and the theory of evolution; the importance of these two fundamental theorems for the sciences of human action is second only to the discovery of the regularity in the intertwinement and sequence of market phenomena and their inevitable determination by the market data . . .

“Malthus showed that nature in limiting the means of subsistence does not accord to any living being a right of existence, and that by indulging heedlessly in the natural impulse of proliferation man would never have risen about the verge of starvation. He contended that human civilization and well-being could develop only to the extent that man learned to rein in his sexual appetites by moral restraints…

“Nonhuman beings are entirely subject to the operation of the biological law described by Malthus . . . But the case is different with man. Man integrates the satisfaction of the purely zoological impulses, common to all animals, into a scale of values, in which a place is also assigned to specifically human ends.

“Acting man also rationalizes the satisfaction of his sexual appetites. Their satisfaction is the outcome of a weighing of the pros and cons. Man does not blindly submit to a sexual stimulation . . . He refrains from copulation if he deems the costs – the anticipated disadvantages – too high.”

Thomas Malthus, even with the limits and incompleteness of his analysis, can be seen to have made essential contributions to understanding the inescapable human condition. First, man at any time exists under a scarcity of the means for his ends.  Other things held given, the larger the population the greater needs to be the available supply of food and other necessities of life, if the standard and quality of life are not to be diminished. The only way to prevent a decline in standards of living is for there to be increases in capital investment that increase production and the productivity of the workforce more than any increase in the population.

Second, given the level of capital investment and technological knowledge, there is an optimal size of a society’s population, below which more people means greater net output, and above which there results less net output. And, third, the political and economic institutional circumstances can make a difference in that they may foster capital investment, more forward-looking choices by individuals, and incentives to save and work.

On this latter point, Malthus was well aware of the dangers from overreaching and expanding governmental power in terms of their threat to liberty and popular self-improvement. In the expanded, fifth edition of his Essay on Population, which appeared in 1817, he warned that ignorance of the laws of nature and the essential institutions of a free commercial society can easily lead astray mobs of people whose violent actions may open the door to despotism.

This sets the stage for a dangerous confrontation between individual liberty and political authority, in which people must always be watchful and knowledgeable so as to check the government’s drive for unchecked power. Malthus warned:

“The checks which are necessary to secure the liberty of the subject will always to some degree embarrass and delay the operations of the executive government. The members of the government feeling these inconveniences while they are exerting themselves, as they conceive, in the service of their country, and conscious perhaps of no ill intention towards the people, will naturally be disposed on every occasion to demand the suspension or abolition of these checks; but if once the convenience of ministers be put in competition with the liberties of the people and we get into the habit of relying on fair assurances and personal character, instead of examining with the most scrupulous and jealous care the merits of each particular case, there is an end of British freedom.

“If we once admit the principle that the government must know better with regard to the quantity of power which it wants than we can possibly do with out limited means of information, and that therefore it is our duty to surrender up our private judgments, we may just as well at the same time surrender up the whole of our constitution. Government is a quarter in which liberty is not nor cannot be very faithfully preserved. If we are wanting to ourselves, and inattentive to our great interests in this respect, it is the height of folly and unreasonableness to expect that government will attend to them for us.”

Thus, Thomas Malthus’s contribution may be said to be the following: Man is above all other life forms on earth in that he is able to use his reason to control his passions when they may entail costs greater than the anticipated benefits; at the same time he can use his rational faculties to devise ways to escape limits that nature places upon him by planning ahead to increase his future productive and income earning capacities to improve his standard of living. And that to do so most successfully there must be the necessary institutional prerequisites, among which freedom, property, and peace are the most essential.

Richard M. Ebeling is BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. He was president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) from 2003 to 2008.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

See the original article here.

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What Marx Could Teach Obama and Trump about Trade – Article by Jairaj Devadiga

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Categories: Economics, History, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatJairaj Devadiga
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Karl Marx was hardly known for championing economic freedom. Yet, even he understood the evils of protectionism. Marx, as quoted by his sidekick Frederick Engels, gave probably my favorite definition of protectionism:

“The system of protection was an artificial means of manufacturing manufacturers, of expropriating independent laborers, of capitalizing the national means of production and subsistence, and of forcibly abbreviating the transition from the medieval to the modern mode of production.”

Wow. So much wisdom packed into one sentence, and from Marx of all people. Let’s go through the sentence piece by piece to understand its meaning.

“Artificially manufacturing manufacturers”

This is an obvious one. We need only look at Donald Trump and the way he seeks to create jobs in the United States. By imposing tariffs on imported goods, Trump wants to encourage their production in America by making it relatively cheaper. This is what Marx meant by “manufacturing manufacturers”.

“Expropriating independent laborers”

Protectionism, as Marx observed, hurts the working class. Apart from the corporations who are protected against foreign competition, and their employees, everybody loses. For example, when Obama increased tariffs on tire imports, it increased the incomes of workers in that industry by less than $48 million. But it forced everyone else to spend $1.1 billion more on tires.

Just imagine the impact of Trump imposing across the board tariffs on all products. The cost of living for the average working class American would shoot up by an order of magnitude. And that is not even considering the impact of retaliatory tariffs.

“Capitalizing the… means of production” and  “forcibly abbreviating the transition… to the modern mode of production.”

Marx knew that when you make it expensive to employ people by way of minimum wage and other labor regulations, you make it relatively more profitable to use machines. Economist Narendra Jadhav tracks how manufacturing in India has become more capital-intensive over the years. Tariffs on imported goods did not help create jobs in the manufacturing sector. Even though India has armies of young, unemployed people it is cheaper to use machines rather than comply with the nearly 250 different labor laws (central and state combined).

Just because Trump imposes a tariff on Chinese goods does not mean that jobs will “come back” to the US. Even if there were no minimum wage, wages in the US are naturally higher than wages in less-developed countries, meaning it would still be cheaper to use robots.

“Emancipation of the Proletarians”

Apart from more and better quality goods that would be available more cheaply, as economist Donald Boudreaux points out ever so often, there is another thing to be gained from free trade. Marx said it would lead to the “emancipation of the proletarians.” I turn once again to India as an example. Where earlier the rigid caste system forced so-called “untouchables” into demeaning jobs (such as cleaning sewers), in the past 25 years some of them have become millionaires as a result of India being opened up to trade.

It is a shame, that even when virtually all intellectuals, from F.A. Hayek and Milton Friedman to Karl Marx and Keynes, have agreed that free trade is the best, there are those who would still defend protectionism.

Jairaj Devadiga is an economist who illustrates the importance of property rights and freedom through some interesting real-world cases.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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Do You Know Who the Swiss President Is? – Article by Bill Wirtz

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The New Renaissance HatBill Wirtz
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Doris Leuthard. That’s the name of the incumbent Swiss president in case you wondered or might need it in a general knowledge quiz any time soon. But how come a country this well known on the international stage happens to have such an unknown executive?

The Swiss Opposed Centralization from the Start

The beginning of the Swiss confederacy wasn’t about power.

From the 14th century on, while Europe was torn in territorial conflicts or the religious Thirty Years War of 1618 to 1648, the (originally) 8 cantons of the Old Swiss Confederacy were a microcosm of peace and prosperity. These cantons in themselves did have religious differences, but preferred to agree on a pact of mutual military assistance to protect the neutrality of the region and its peace. The Holy Roman Empire had granted this community of cantons imperial immediacy, meaning they were declared free from its rule while being a part of it. As the European royalties raised massive amounts of taxes to finance their decade-long wars, being Swiss was comparable to living in the first true tax haven: by any means the destruction in all of Europe made the differences that these cantons have look insignificant.

Later, religious differences in Switzerland grew, sparkling battles between Catholic and Protestant cantons. Each of these battles had winners, yet none were able to impose a true change of regime, as the cantons were too diverse to be governable. The cantonal governments refused to cooperate with each other: the only foreign policy they could agree on was that of neutrality, which ended up saving it from war.

The French Revolutionary army invaded the Confederacy in 1798 and established the Helvetic Republic, a centralized state, abolished cantonal sovereignty and feudal rights and reduced the cantons to administrative districts, all in the image of France itself. This French nation-building project failed 5 years later, as the population didn’t cooperate with any centralization attempts. The Helvetic Republic was incompatible with the Swiss mentality: the people demanded that government decisions be made at the canton level, not at the federal level.

Centralization and Switzerland’s Civil War

After decades of struggles over the centralization of power, a civil war ended the everlasting Swiss question of the legitimacy of a federal government. The Sonderbund War started in 1847 and was a fight between seven conservative and Catholic cantons who opposed the centralization of power and rebelled against the Confederation which had been in place since 1814. What followed was probably one of the least spectacular wars in world history: the federal army had lost 78 men and had 260 wounded. The Sonderbund conspiracy dissolved and Switzerland became the state it is today in 1848.

Think about this, the Swiss fight (which was marked by its incredible lack of violence in comparison to others) was purely over the rejection of the centralization of power, the skepticism of the responsibilities that a large entity has, while, mind you, we’re only talking about a country of 16,000 square miles. The result is a relatively neutral state which maintains a greater amount of freedom and prosperity than most European nations.

The Federal Council, Impotent by Design

The executive of the federal multi-party directorial republic is a body called the Federal Council. It is composed of 7 members (each one responsible for one of the seven departments in Switzerland) who are voted into their position by both chambers of the Federal Assembly. Their presidency and vice-presidency is rotating each year, their mandate is four years. The current council is composed of 2 social democrats, 2 center-right conservatives, 2 national conservatives, and one Christian-democrat (Doris Leuthard, who’s the current president).

While the Confederation of Switzerland was designed to follow the example of the United States when it comes to federalism and states’ rights, the Swiss avoided the concentration of the executive into one person. It is interesting to note that although every European country made (and makes) constant changes to their form of government, this council has not changed since 1848. The only political change has been made to the Federal Council, is the reversal of the Magic Formula, or also known as the Swiss consensus, a political custom which divided the 7 seats in the country between the four ruling parties. With the arrival of billionaire industrialist and EU-opponent Christoph Blocher and his Swiss People’s Party, this political agreement had been shaken up and, furthermore, made Switzerland’s accession to the European Union more and more unlikely.

The council shows unity towards to the public and most decisions are made by consensus. That is largely because their function is more decorative than functional, as most of the power is still held by the cantons. Decisions related to education and even levying taxes are made at the regional level. There is no executive action or veto which the federal government could use.

The president of Switzerland has little to no room in public political discourse. So if you don’t know who the new president of Switzerland is, don’t worry. Some Swiss people might not know either.

Localism Works in Switzerland

The Swiss cantons perform the balancing act of politics: the conservative cantons are those outside of the big cities such as Zurich, Geneva or Bern (the capital). The population in the smaller communities reject the tendency to govern from the capital. As a result, the Swiss have continuously rejected proposals like the ones phasing out nuclear energy.

This push for localism would be considerably more difficult if it wasn’t for the system of direct democracy that is very common in the Confederacy.

All federal laws are subject to a three to four step process:

  1. A first draft is prepared by experts in the federal administration.
  2. This draft is presented to a large number of people in an opinion poll: cantonal governments, political parties as well as many NGO’s and associations out of civil society may comment on the draft and propose changes.
  3. The result is presented to dedicated parliamentary commissions of both chambers of the federal parliament, discussed in detail behind closed doors and finally debated in public sessions of both chambers of parliament.
  4. The electorate has a veto-right on laws: If anybody is able to find 50,000 citizens who will sign a form demanding a referendum within 3 months, a referendum must be held. In order to pass a referendum, laws need only be supported by a majority of the national electorate, not a majority of cantons. It’s not unusual for Switzerland to have referenda on more than a dozen laws in any given year.

These referenda are the reason why the political majorities have decided to include their own opposition in government: if the majority does not seek a consensus, the oppositions can use a citizens initiative (referendum) to overturn any decision made on the national level.

The system of checks and balances through both the aggressively localist cantons and the tool of direct democracy has made Switzerland particularly resistant to the growth of government, and one of the few relatively liberty-minded bastions in Europe.

Bill Wirtz studies French Law at the University of Lorraine in Nancy, France.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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Trump’s Promised ‘New Foreign Policy’ Must Abandon Regime Change for Iran – Article by Ron Paul

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The New Renaissance HatRon Paul
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President-elect Donald Trump told a Cincinnati audience in early December 2016 that he intends to make some big changes in US foreign policy. During his “thank you” tour in the midwest, Trump had this to say:

We will pursue a new foreign policy that finally learns from the mistakes of the past. We will stop looking to topple regimes and overthrow governments. …In our dealings with other countries we will seek shared interests wherever possible…”

If this is really to be President Trump’s foreign policy, it would be a welcome change from the destructive path pursued by the two previous administrations. Such a foreign policy would go a long way toward making us safer and more prosperous, as we would greatly reduce the possibility of a “blowback” attack from abroad, and we would save untold billions with a foreign policy of restraint.

However as we know with politicians, there is often a huge gap between pronouncements before entering office and actions once in office. Who can forget President George W. Bush’s foreign-policy promises as a candidate 16 years ago? As a candidate he said:

I am not so sure the role of the United States is to go around the world saying ‘this is the way it’s got to be.’ … If we’re an arrogant nation they will resent us, if we’re a humble nation but strong they’ll welcome us.

Unfortunately as soon as he took office, George W. Bush pursued a completely different foreign policy, attacking countries like Iraq at the urging of the neocons he placed in positions of power in his White House and State Department.

Some people say that “personnel is policy,” and that much can be predicted about Trump’s foreign policy by the people he has appointed to serve his Administration. That is where we might have reason to be worried. Take Iran, for example. While Trump says he wants the US to stop overthrowing governments, on the issue of Iran both the candidate and his recent appointees have taken a very different view.

Trump’s pick for National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, has said the following about Iran: “I believe that Iran represents a clear and present danger to the region, and eventually to the world…” and, “…regime change in Tehran is the best way to stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program.”

Trump’s CIA choice, Mike Pompeo, has said of President Obama’s Iran deal, “The Iranian regime is intent on the destruction of our country. Why the President does not understand is unfathomable.”

And Trump’s selection for Defense Secretary, General James Mattis, was even more aggressive, saying, “The Iranian regime in my mind is the single most enduring threat to stability and peace in the Middle East. …Iran is not an enemy of ISIS. They have a lot to gain from the turmoil in the region that ISIS creates.”

Donald Trump’s words in Cincinnati don’t seem to match up with the views of the people that he’s assigning to high places. At least when it comes to Iran.

While I hope we can take President Trump at his word when it comes to foreign policy, I also think we should hold him to his word – especially his encouraging words in early December. Will the incoming president have the ability to rein in his more bellicose cabinet members and their underlings? We can be sure about one thing: if Trump allows the neocons to capture the State Department, keeping his foreign-policy promises is going to be a lot more difficult.

Ron Paul, MD, is a former three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President and Congressman from Texas.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

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After Peres, Is Peace Possible in the Middle East? – Article by Ron Paul

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The New Renaissance HatRon Paul
******************************

The death of former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres last week marks the last of the Zionist “old guard” who successfully fought for a UN mandate to establish the state of Israel in what was formerly British Palestine. Much has been written about Peres since his death. He was a peacemaker. He was a warrior. He was brutal. He was complex. It is possible for all of them to be accurate at the same time.

Was Peres a warrior? That is without question. Israel was established in bloodshed and Peres played an important role in that fight. Also, the brutal Israeli attack on a Palestinian refugee camp at Qana in 1996 took place under Peres’s command. In that attack more than 100 women and children were killed.

But history, and especially Middle East history, can be quite complex. Shimon Peres was above all in favor of trying to find a way for Israelis and Palestinians to live side-by-side. He was right there in spirit when Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had a famous 1993 handshake with Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat. Rabin paid for his efforts with his life, as a right-wing radical assassinated him in 1995.

Shimon Peres was in favor of real negotiations with the Palestinians and he several times inserted himself into the process to urge the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu to start talking rather than saber rattling. In 2012, for example, Peres made it known again that he favored a two-state solution and that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was a suitable negotiating partner. He also urged Netanyahu to open up direct talks with Hamas if certain agreements could be made beforehand.

But perhaps his greatest move to avert war only came known with his passing. Former Jerusalem Post editor Steve Linde wrote a fascinating article last week in his old newspaper detailing a meeting he and the Post’s managing editor had with Shimon Peres in 2014. According to Linde, Peres was asked what he thought was his greatest legacy. He replied that he had personally intervened to stop Netanyahu from ordering a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear sites. Asked by the journalists when they could report this revelation, Peres responded, “when I’m dead.” So it came to pass last week.

How much for the worse things have become in Israeli-Palestinian relations with the passing on of anyone preferring negotiations to violence! There is little interest among current Israeli leadership to take steps toward negotiation or peace. Innocent Israelis and Palestinians will continue to be killed and injured as long as no compromises are considered. Sadly this position is reinforced in Washington, where the Obama administration just agreed to grant Israel the largest military aid package in US history.

There is much to admire in those who work for peace, even those with stains on their record. I remain convinced that Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts would be much closer to bearing fruit if the US government would stop inserting itself into the process and subsidizing either side. Left alone, both sides would likely produce more leaders interested in ending bloodshed and conflict.

Ron Paul, MD, is a former three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President and Congressman from Texas.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

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Why Was Coffee Drinking Once Scandalous? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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The New Renaissance Hat
Jeffrey Tucker
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In 18th-century Europe, many products and services reached a newly emergent middle class for the first time in human history. The capitalist age was maturing, and that meant that average people had money for the first time and lots of choices on how to spend it. One of the new products they could buy was coffee. With that came a great deal of social suspicion and even dread.

None other than Johann Sebastian Bach satirized the puritanical fear of coffee in his delightful and witty “Coffee Cantata.” It was one of the few times he ever tried his hand at pure pop entertainment. Of course he succeeded brilliantly; he was Bach after all!

The “Coffee Cantata” tells the story of a daughter who scandalized her father due to her devotion to coffee. She couldn’t stop singing about how wonderful it is, while her father corrected her constantly.

“You naughty child, you wild girl, ah!” the father yells at his daughter. “When will I achieve my goal: get rid of the coffee for my sake!”

“Father sir, but do not be so harsh!” she responds. “If I couldn’t, three times a day, be allowed to drink my little cup of coffee, in my anguish I will turn into a shriveled-up roast goat.”

She happily agrees to do everything he says in every area of life except one: she will not give up coffee.

And then follows a beautiful tribute to coffee: “How sweet coffee tastes, more delicious than a thousand kisses, milder than muscatel wine. Coffee, I have to have coffee, and, if someone wants to pamper me, ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!”

The father threatens her: “If you don’t give up coffee for me, you won’t go to any wedding parties, or even go out for walks.”

She still refuses.

Then the daughter plays a little game. She has a husband in mind and extracts from him a promise that if she marries him, he must allow her to drink coffee. He agrees. Then she goes to her father, who opposes the marriage, and makes a deal: if she is permitted to marry him, she will give up coffee. The father is delighted, and agrees.

Thus does the daughter gain a new husband, and, much more importantly, a permanent right to drink coffee whenever she wants!

What was this fear of coffee? Why was this such a big deal? It does have some narcotic properties to it, as we all know so well. It can give you a delightful lift.

But that alone does not account for the early opprobrium with which coffee-drinking, particularly for young girls, was greeted. For a fuller account, we need to understand something larger and more socially transformative: the advent of the coffee house itself.

The coffee house was one of the earliest public institutions, operating on a purely commercial basis, that brought a wide variety of social classes, not to mention a mixture between men and women, in a market-based social setting. In the 18th century, coffee houses spread all over Europe and the UK, attracting young people who would sit and drink together and discuss politics, religion, and business, and exchange any manner of ideas.

What the father in the Cantata is actually objecting to is not coffee as such but unapproved, unchaperoned social wanderings.

The Loss of Control

This was a huge departure from the tradition that entitled parents and other social authorities, including governments, to determine what kind of associations their children would have. Coffee houses introduced a kind of anarchy to the social structure, and introduced new risks of randomized contact with ideas and people that parents could no longer control. Coffee represented freedom itself – the freedom to mix, mingle, and consume what one wanted.

Indeed, coffee houses became a great source of public controversy. In England, in the 17th Century, Charles II tried to ban them all on grounds that they were “places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers.” Even a century later, women were banned from attending them, and this was true in France as well. Germany had more liberal laws concerning women and coffee but public suspicion was still high, as the “Coffee Cantata” suggests.

houghton_ec65a100674w_-_womens_petition_against_coffee

Women who were banned from coffee houses developed a very clever response. In the famous “Women’s Petition Against Coffee” of 1674, women said that coffee was responsible for the “enfeeblement” of men. Historians say the campaign contributed to the gender integration of coffee houses.

We see, then, that the commercial availability of coffee actually contributed to the advance of women’s rights!

Looking back at the astonishing success of Starbucks in our own time, it doesn’t seem surprising. They too serve as gathering spots, social mixers, places of business, and centers of conversation and ideas. We are more accustomed to it now than centuries ago, and yet even today, how much political controversy is engendered by access to products and services of which social authorities disapprove?

War on pot anyone?

As the “Coffee Cantata” concludes:

Cats do not give up mousing,
girls remain coffee-sisters.
The mother adores her coffee-habit,
and grandma also drank it,
so who can blame the daughters!

 

Jeffrey Tucker


Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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George Washington’s Letter to the Jews – Article by Sarah Skwire

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The New Renaissance HatSarah Skwire
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In August of 1790, George Washington wrote a brief letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island. If anything, it is more timely than ever as we continue to struggle with questions of toleration and bigotry, and of the joys and dangers of insisting on freedom of conscience in our nation and in our lives.

Gentlemen:

While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.

If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy. ~ G. Washington

Washington came to Newport for a visit on August 17th, 1790  and was addressed by Moses Seixas, one of the officials of the long-established Jewish congregation of Newport. Seixas noted that, given the grim history of the Jews, America was a particularly important place, for:

Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now (with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events) behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People—a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance—but generously affording to All liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language, equal parts of the great governmental Machine…

While I suspect many reader will find, as I do, the notion of being a part of the “great governmental machine” far less appealing than Seixas did, his main point remains a vital one. For a people who had been chased from their homes by persecution, forced conversions, violence, and governmental theft of their property, the American promise of toleration was an almost incomprehensible blessing.

Toleration in Rhode Island

When I visited the Touro synagogue—home of the Jewish congregation Washington addressed—last week, my tour guide reminded me that Rhode Island’s version of religious toleration was particularly impressive, even within the wider American context.

Founded by the famously ornery Roger Williams, who was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for spreading “new and dangerous opinions,” and established by a charter from King Charles II,  Rhode Island was based on principles of complete religious toleration from its very beginning. The 1663 founding charter notes that Rhode Island is meant to be:

a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained…with a full liberty in religious concernments… our royal will and pleasure is, that no person within the said colony, at any time hereafter shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony; but that all and every person and persons may, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments, throughout the tract of land hereafter mentioned, they behaving themselves peaceably and quietly, and not using this liberty to licentiousness and profaneness, nor to the civil injury or outward disturbance of others, any law, statute, or clause therein contained, or to be contained, usage or custom of this realm, to the contrary hereof, in any wise notwithstanding.

Even the structure of Newport echoes the words of its royal charter. The city’s churches are not next to the statehouse, but clustered behind it, emphasizing their equality with one another and the separation between church and state.

It is hard for a modern reader to understand exactly how astonishing this promise of complete freedom of religious conscience was for the time. Perhaps the best way to think about it is that, when this royal charter was drawn up, Europe had suffered through more than 120 years of near-constant religious warfare. The death toll from that religiously motivated violence totaled somewhere between 5.6 and 18.5 million, depending on which historians you read and whether or not you count deaths caused by diseases and famine resulting from warfare.

Rhode Island must have seemed like a miracle to any 17th-century citizen. And for the Jews of Spain and Portugal, making their way to Newport via Amsterdam, the promise of such freedom must have been tantalizing and a little terrifying. Could they really trust that non-Christian religions would be included in these promises? Would they really be safe?

They would.

And the letter that Seixas read to George Washington makes that sense of security perfectly clear. Seixas did not speak of toleration and freedom as promises made in hopes of some much-desired future. He spoke of them as established truths that were in place then and there, as he was writing. “We now …behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People—a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

Freedom Works

Washington’s response to Seixas and the other Jews of Newport is similarly focused on the success of the American experiment in toleration. He writes:

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

The Revolution is over. The Constitution is in place. The Republic has not fallen apart in its first years. There is reason to be proud, says Washington.

More importantly, he argues that toleration is not a question of an elite extending a favor to a lower and less worthy class. Toleration is about the equal treatment of all. The Jews of Newport are not “tolerated” the way that one learns to live with a leaky faucet or a small ding on your car bumper. Their differences are tolerated because their persons are equal.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

Repeating Seixas’s phrasing back to him, in words that have become a crucial part of American thinking, Washington reassures him, and all the Jews of Newport, that he and they are of one mind on the subject of toleration.

We should think, today, about that phrase that Seixas originated and Washington repeated. It makes a fine model for how we should behave in the increasingly fraught religious tensions of the 21st century.

A civil society should give to bigotry no sanction, and to persecution no assistance. That means that those of us who are already here may not use our position to persecute newcomers, nor may we use their differences as an excuse for hatred and ill-treatment. But this is a covenant that must work in both directions. To enter into a civil society, one must make those promises as well.

Old hatreds, old prejudices, and old patterns of persecution must be left on the doormat of a civil society—discarded, like a pair of muddy boots, before you come in.

Only then can we regain the pride that Seixas and Washington had in a toleration that they felt was secured. Only then can we close our letters as Washington closed his, with the conviction that now, “every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

Sarah Skwire is the poetry editor of the Freeman and a senior fellow at Liberty Fund, Inc. She is a poet and author of the writing textbook Writing with a Thesis. She is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

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Where Does the Term “Libertarian” Come From Anyway? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
******************************

The word “libertarian” has gained new prominence due to the strange politics of our time. According to Google Trends, its use as a search term in the US is at a 10-year high.

It’s long. It’s awkward. It always needs explaining. In America, it’s a word for both a party and an ideology. And the wars over what it actually means never end.

What I haven’t seen is a serious investigation into the modern origins of the use of the term that might allow us to have a better understanding of what it means.

Thanks to FEE’s archiving project, we now have a better idea. As it turns out, libertarianism is not a strange new ideology with arcane rules and strictures, much less a canon of narrowly prescribed belief. It predates the Libertarian Party’s founding in 1972. The term came into use twenty years earlier to signal a broad embrace of an idea with ancient origins.

To be sure, if we go back a century, you will find a 1913 book Liberty and the Great Libertarians by Charles Sprading (reviewed here). It includes biographies of many classical liberals but also some radicals in general who didn’t seem to have much affection for modern commercial society. It’s a good book but, so far as I can tell, the use of the term in this book is an outlier.

Apart from a few isolated cases – H.L. Mencken had described himself as a libertarian in 1923 –  the term laid dormant on the American scene for the following 50 years.

The Liberty Diaspora

Toward the end of World War II, a small group of believers in liberty set out to fight and reverse the prevailing ideological trends in media, academia, and government. During the war, the government controlled prices, wages, speech, and industrial production. It was comprehensive planning – a system not unlike that practiced in countries the US was fighting.

A flurry of books appeared that urged a dramatic change. In 1943, there was Rose Wilder Lane’s Discovery of Freedom, Isabel Paterson’s The God of the Machine, and Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead. In 1944, there was F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, Ludwig von Mises’s Omnipotent Government, and John T. Flynn’s As We Go Marching.

These powerful works signaled that it was time to counter the prevailing trend toward the “planned society,” which is why Leonard Read established the Foundation for Economic Education in 1946. It was the first institute wholly dedicated to the cause of human freedom.

As of yet, no word was used to describe the ideological outlook of this group of thinkers. To understand why, you have to put yourself back in the confusing period in question. The war had entrenched the New Deal and dealt a serious blow to those who wanted the US to stay out of foreign entanglements. The political resistance to the New Deal was completely fractured. The attack on Pearl Harbor had driven the anti-war movement into hiding. The trauma of war had changed everything. The pro-liberty perspective had been so far driven from public life that it had no name.

Resisting Labels

Most of these dissident thinkers would have easily described themselves as liberals two decades earlier. But by the mid-1930s, that word had been completely hijacked to mean its opposite. And keep in mind that the word “conservative” – which had meaning in the UK (referring to the Tories, who were largely opposed to classical liberalism) but not in the US – had yet to emerge: Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind wasn’t published until 1953.

In addition, Leonard Read resisted labeling the pro-freedom ideology, and for good reason. An ideological system with a name seems also to indicate a plan for how society ought to be managed and what a nation ought to strive for in detail. What he and others favored was exactly the opposite: the freedom for each individual to discover the right way through an emergent process of social evolution that never stops. There was no end state. There was only a process. They rightly believed labels distract from that crucial point.

We Need a Word

And yet, people will necessarily call you something. The problem of what that would be vexed this first generation after the war, and the struggle was on to find the right term. Some people liked the term “individualist,” but that has the problem of de-emphasizing the thriving sense of community, and the vast and intricate social cooperation, that result from a free society.

Kirk’s book on “conservatism” appeared in 1953, but this term frustrated many people who believed strongly in free markets. Kirk had hardly mentioned economics at all, and the traditionalism he highlighted in the book seemed to exclude the classical liberal tradition of Hume, Smith, Jefferson, and Paine. The book also neglected the contributions of 20th century advocates of freedom, who had a new consciousness concerning the grave threats to liberty from both the right and left.

In 1953, Max Eastman wrote a beautiful piece in The Freeman that discussed the reversal of the terms left and right over the course of the century, and deeply regretted the loss of the term liberalism. Among other suggestions, Eastman proposed “New Liberalism” to distinguish them from the New Deal liberals. But in addition to being awkward in general, the phrase had a built-in obsolescence. He further toyed with other phrases such as “conservative liberal,” but that had its own problems.

We are Liberals but the Word Is Gone

They were all struggling with the same problem. These people were rightly called liberals. But the term liberalism was taken from them, and they were now homeless. They knew what they believed but had no memorable term or elevator pitch.

A solution was proposed by Dean Russell, a historian of thought and a colleague of Read’s who had translated many works of Frédéric Bastiat. In May 1955, he wrote the seminal piece that proposed that the term libertarian be revived:

Many of us call ourselves “liberals.” And it is true that the word “liberal” once described persons who respected the individual and feared the use of mass compulsions. But the leftists have now corrupted that once-proud term to identify themselves and their program of more government ownership of property and more controls over persons. As a result, those of us who believe in freedom must explain that when we call ourselves liberals, we mean liberals in the uncorrupted classical sense. At best, this is awkward and subject to misunderstanding.

Here is a suggestion: Let those of us who love liberty trade-mark and reserve for our own use the good and honorable word “libertarian.””

So there we have it: libertarian is a synonym for what was once called liberal. It meant no more and it meant no less. It is not a new system of thought, a new ideology, a new revelation of some highly rarified political outlook with detailed answers to all of life’s problems. It was proposed as nothing more than a term to describe a tradition of thought dating back hundreds of years in the West and with even ancient origins.

Liberalism = Libertarianism

Liberalism is a term that describes the general conviction that freedom is the best solution to the whole problem of social interaction. Put another way, liberalism celebrates the primacy of freedom and rejects power and central authority as both ineffective and morally corrupting.

Russell then goes into specifics. Libertarianism is “the opposite of an authoritarian. Strictly speaking, a libertarian is one who rejects the idea of using violence or the threat of violence—legal or illegal—to impose his will or viewpoint upon any peaceful person.”

A libertarian believes government should “leave people alone to work out their own problems and aspirations.”

A libertarian, continued Russell, “respects the right of every person to use and enjoy his honestly acquired property—to trade it, to sell it, or even to give it away—for he knows that human liberty cannot long endure when that fundamental right is rejected or even seriously impaired.” A libertarian “believes that the daily needs of the people can best be satisfied through the voluntary processes of a free and competitive market” and “has much faith in himself and other free persons to find maximum happiness and prosperity in a society wherein no person has the authority to force any other peaceful person to conform to his viewpoints or desires in any manner. In summary: “The libertarian’s goal is friendship and peace with his neighbors at home and abroad.”

Chodorov Weights In

He must have made a persuasive case. Frank Chodorov came on board, making exactly the same point in an essay in National Review, printed on June 20, 1956:

“The bottle is now labeled libertarianism. But its content is nothing new; it is what in the nineteenth century, and up to the time of Franklin Roosevelt, was called liberalism — the advocacy of limited government and a free economy. (If you think of it, you will see that there is a redundancy in this formula, for a government of limited powers would have little chance of interfering with the economy.) The liberals were robbed of their time-honored name by the unprincipled socialists and near socialists, whose avidity for prestige words knows no bounds. So, forced to look for another and distinctive label for their philosophy, they came up with libertarianism — good enough but somewhat difficult for the tongue.”

Read Comes Around

Even Leonard Read himself came around to using the term. He used it freely in his famous 1956 essay “Neither Left Nor Right.” Then in 1962, Read wrote The Elements of Libertarian Leadership. He again made the point that a libertarian is no more or less than a substitute for the term liberal:

“The term libertarian is used because nothing better has been found to replace liberal, a term that has been most successfully appropriated by contemporary authoritarians. As long as liberal meant liberation from the authoritarian state, it was a handy and useful generalization. It has come to mean little more than state liberality with other people’s money.”

A Big Tent

There you have it. The content is nothing new. It is a broad umbrella of people who put the principle of freedom first. In its inception, libertarianism included: constitutionalists, believers in limited government, objectivists, anarchists, localists, agorists, pacifists, brutalists, humanitarians, and maybe monarchists too. It included deontologists, consequentialists, and empiricists.

The term was designed to apply to everyone who was not a partisan of central planning. It did not refer to a narrow doctrine but to a general tendency, exactly the same as liberalism itself. And that liberal principle was that individuals matter and society needs no overarching managerial authority to work well.

Nor does it need to refer only to people who have a consistent and comprehensive worldview. Let’s say you want lower taxes, legal pot, and peace, and these are the issues that concern you. It strikes me that you can rightly call yourself a libertarian, regardless of what you might think on other issues once pressed.

For this reason, the endless fights over who is and who isn’t a libertarian are beside the point. There are better and worse renderings, better and worse arguments, better and worse implications, and it is up to all of us to do the hard work of discovering what those are. Whatever the results, no one can lay exclusive claim to the term. There are as many types of libertarians as there are believers in liberty itself.

To be sure, there are still plenty of problems with the term. It is still too long, and it is still too awkward. It will do for now, but notice something: the left-wing partisans of central planning don’t seem to embrace the word “liberalism” as they once did. They prefer the term “progressive” – a misnomer if there ever was one!

Does that leave the word liberal on the table for the taking? Maybe. That would be some beautiful poetry. I say again, let’s take back the word “liberal”.

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email

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