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Pentagon Pushes Plan for Female Draft Registration – Article by Ryan McMaken

Pentagon Pushes Plan for Female Draft Registration – Article by Ryan McMaken

The New Renaissance Hat
Ryan McMaken
******************************

The Pentagon is moving forward with pressuring Congress to add women to the Selective Service program, which will make virtually all young people eligible for the military draft. The Washington Times reports:

The Pentagon says the country should stick with mandatory registration for a military draft, and it advocates a requirement for women to sign up for the first time in the nation’s history.

The recommendations are contained in a Defense Department report to Congress that serves as a starting point for a commission examining military, national and public service.

Congress ordered the Pentagon report, and the office of the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness completed it in the early months of the Trump administration.

Currently, only male citizens and residents age 18-25 are required to register, for a pace of about 2 million each year.

Women, whom the government has never ordered to sign up, would add 11 million to the Selective Service System database “in short order,” the report says.

Not surprisingly, the Pentagon, the report reminds us, wants the Service Program to continue indefinitely. No surprise there. But now, the Pentagon wants to expand draft registration so it can include millions of young people who had not previously been eligible.

This proposed change will be couched in a variety of irrelevant issues like “gender equality” and “women in combat.” At the heart of the matter, however, is the fact that the Pentagon wants an even larger list of potential forced laborers who can be paid below-market wages. In other words, draft registration offers — and has always offered — a list of people who can be forced to pay higher taxes in the form of mandatory “service”:  

“Conscription is slavery,” Murray Rothbard wrote in 1973, and while temporary conscription is obviously much less bad — assuming one outlives the term of conscription — than many other forms of slavery, conscription is nevertheless a nearly-100-percent tax on the production of one’s mind and body. If one attempts to escape his confinement in his open-air military jail, he faces imprisonment or even execution in many cases.

Conscription remains popular among [nation-]states because it is an easy way to directly extract resources from the population. Just as regular taxes partially extract the savings, productivity, and labor of the general population, conscription extracts virtually all of the labor and effort of the conscripts. The burden falls disproportionately on the young males in most cases, and they are at risk of a much higher tax burden if killed or given a permanent disability in battle. If he’s lucky enough to survive the conflict, the conscript may find himself living out the rest of his life as disfigured or missing his eyesight and limbs. He may be rendered permanently undesirable to the opposite sex. Such costs imposed on the conscript are a form of lifelong taxation.

Fortunately for those who escape such a fate, the term of slavery ends at a specified time, but for the duration, the only freedom the conscript enjoys is that granted to him by his jailers.

But, Modern Conscription Won’t be About Combat Duty

The irrelevance of gender issues here is made clear by the fact that the Pentagon’s report is part of a larger effort which is, as the Times describes it, “a commission examining military, national and public service.” We’ve moved well beyond the issue of strictly military or combat service when we’re talking about forced labor through conscription.

Should the American federal government decide that it’s necessary to finally make use of the Selective Service lists, the new draftees won’t be people sent to carry rifles on the front lines. The military doesn’t want poorly trained conscripts in combat, anyway. But this fact by no means precludes the potential usefulness of conscription to the federal government.

What the US federal government does want — especially in case of dropping revenues due to economic crisis — is cheap labor to build military bases, drive trucks, prepare food, load cargo, mop floors, and perform the countless non-combat tasks that are required to further expand military prerogatives both at home and abroad. Yes, the US government can pay people to do all those things now. But conscripts could be much cheaper.

After all, even in the military, few soldiers ever are in combat situations. In active war zones in recent decades (i.e., Iraq and Afghanistan) there have been seven support personnel for every infantryman. In other words, for every rifle-carrying soldier in a combat zone, there are seven computer programmers, cooks, and mechanics keeping that combat soldier well supplied.

But why stop with military-related issues? “National service” can encompass a wide variety of duties. These can include any of the tasks currently performed by civilian contractors who do government work now on all sorts of domestic infrastructure and social benefits programs.

In the future, if young Americans are drafted, they’re going to be fixing vehicles in a garage or sitting at a desk in an office. And they’ll be doing those tasks for the low, low wages that involuntary servitude makes possible.

The issue of whether or not women should be in combat roles is a totally separate issue and beside the point of whether or not draft registration should be expanded further.

A Huge Repudiation of Property Rights

Ultimately, the only aspect of the women-as-draftees debate that is important is the issue of whether it is morally acceptable to force young people into temporary slavery. Precious few conservatives, of course, have a problem with this, which is why they ultimately can only oppose the expansion of draft registration to women on the grounds of gender politics. For the conservatives, it’s simply a given that forced government labor is entirely justified.

But, even outside the hard-core of the pro-military right-wing regime, it’s hard to find anyone in Washington who seriously opposes draft registration. It’s now been decades since the 1970s when there had a been a movement to abolish both the draft and draft registration. Ron Paul, not surprisingly, was among the supporters of that plan. Not even the end of the Cold War could end mandatory draft registration.

Now we’re talking about expanding the program. But make no mistake about it. Expanding Selective Service from 50 percent of young adults to 100 percent is not about equality, or progress, or patriotism. While these notions will no doubt be used to bully people into supporting such a move, the real-world effect will be a massive expansion in government power over the lives of the population.

Even if modern conscripts avoid all combat, the idea of conscription will always be nothing more than a wholesale repudiation of property rights. The argument that the draft is a necessary “insurance policy” in case of military crisis is no different than saying that nationalization of private industry should always be on the table as an important “insurance policy” in case of economic crisis. Or perhaps the abolition of freedom of speech should be an option as an “insurance policy” in case of social and ideological upheaval.

If young Americans can’t be convinced to fight in the federal government’s wars, then that’s an indication that the federal government doesn’t quite command the respect it thinks it deserves. Often, this is an indication that young people don’t believe the federal government’s propaganda that a war is necessary to “defend freedom,” “fight global communism,” or “end all wars.”  If Americans would rather take their chances not taking up arms for the federal government, that’s a serious problem for the federal government, indeed. But what’s a problem for the federal government is by no means necessarily a problem for the taxpayers who pay the bills. Nor is it a problem the federal government is morally entitled to “rectify” by forcing millions of Americans into involuntary servitude.

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.

This article has been edited in accordance with TRA’s Statement of Policy.

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

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

The New Renaissance Hat
Ryan McMaken
******************************

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.

Our Economic Malaise Is Impacting Young Workers the Most – Article by Ryan McMaken

Our Economic Malaise Is Impacting Young Workers the Most – Article by Ryan McMaken

The New Renaissance Hat
Ryan McMaken
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In the wake of the 2007-2009 recession, 78 months passed before employment returned to where it had been before the crisis. This was, by far, the longest period needed to recover from job losses in decades. The second-longest period needed to recover jobs occurred after the 2002 recession when about 50 months were needed to recover lost jobs:

economic_malaise_young_people_1

Moreover, we see that in recent cycles, job growth during each recovery has been getting weaker and weaker over time:

economic_malaise_young_people_2

Some observers of the rose-colored-glasses-wearing variety have attempted to explain away the most recent malaise in job gains by claiming that fewer jobs are needed because so many Baby Boomers are aging out of the work force, and because people are so much wealthier, they argue, workers are leaving the labor force for non-economic reasons. That is, people are leaving the labor force for reasons other than being discouraged workers.

These claims are plausible, but the empirical data we have does not support them.

Keep in mind that ever since the 2007-2009 recession, the U-6 unemployment rate, which includes underemployed workers (i.e., involuntary part timers) and discourage workers, has reached multi-decade highs in recent years, and even now, is only at levels seen during the worst of the last recession:

economic_malaise_young_people_3

This is not simply a matter of fewer jobs being created because workers are going away.

To get a sense of the situation, we have to first look at the demographics of the working age population and the labor force.

(This demographic data on the working-age population is only currently available through the first quarter of 2015, so the time series ends in early 2015.)

economic_malaise_young_people_4

The top line is the total working age population (ages 15-65) published by the OECD and the World Bank. According to this measure, there is no decline in the working age population.

If people were aging out of the work force in droves to the point of driving a net exodus, we would see a downturn in the blue line. We don’t see that. In fact, from the beginning of the last recession at the end of 2007 to the first quarter of 2015, the working age population increased by 7.5 million people.

During that same period, the US economy added 801,000 jobs. That is, after the initial loss of 10 million jobs, the US economy began to add jobs again, but after more than seven full years, had only added a net of 801,000 jobs.

But maybe only 801,000 jobs were added because very few of those 7.5 million people wanted to be in the work force.

Well, it’s a safe bet that not all of them wanted to be in the work force, but we do know that using the standard BLS measure for the work force that 2.4 million people entered the work force during the period when only 801,000 jobs were added. (See the green line above.) That means over that time period, you had 1.6 million new people in the labor force while half that many jobs were added.

And this labor force measure only takes into account active job seekers and employed people. It ignores discouraged workers and involuntary part timers.

So we find that both the official labor force and the working age population were increasing at levels substantially above the employment levels.

Indeed, the only way we can find a number that suggests more jobs were added than workers is to look at the working-age population for ages between 25 and 54. That is, if we exclude all potential workers under 25 and all above 54, then yes, the working age population did decline by 1 million jobs. (See the red line above.)

In real life, though, the work force includes quite a few people who are, say, 22 years old, and quite a few who are 60 years old. If those people are included, the working age population is growing considerably.

Meanwhile, workforce participation has been falling for a number of years, and is now at some of the lowest levels that have been seen in more than 30 years. From 2014 to 2016, work force participation ranged from about 62 percent to 64 percent. That’s the lowest participation rate seen since the the early 1980s.

economic_malaise_young_people_5

Many have assumed this means that many older workers are leaving the work force. Unfortunately, it seems that it is young workers who are most likely to leave the labor force, which is problematic for future productivity. For young workers in the 20-24 age range, work force participation has been falling for more than a decade, and fell off significantly during the last recession:

economic_malaise_young_people_6

Meanwhile, labor force participation for 55-and-older individuals has held steady:

economic_malaise_young_people_7

It appears unlikely that it is now unnecessary to add jobs at a rate comparable to past recoveries because so many older workers are leaving the work force. Nor is it likely that young people are leaving the work force because they are so prosperous. It’s more likely that young people are leaving the work force as discouraged workers.

This supposition is further strengthened by the fact that the unemployment rate in the 16-24 age range has been above 10 percent for the past nine years. It was especially high even before the last recession.

But, unemployment among over-55 workers is among the lowest of all demographic groups, with a rate between 3 percent and 4 percent in recent years.

In other words, older workers are sticking around and doing relatively well. It appears that younger workers, meanwhile, are more likely to be unemployed, underemployed, or even totally out of the workforce as discouraged workers.

One phenomenon that gives us a reason to think this is the fact that the number of young people living with their parents has reached historic highs in the United States. As Pew recently reported:

In 2014, for the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18 to 34 were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household.

Living at home is more likely for men than for women, but in both cases, more young people are living with their parents than during any other period since World War II:

economic_malaise_young_people_8

Those who attempt to spin the current job numbers as simply the effects of people happily leaving the work force appear to be mistaken in assuming that older workers are leaving, and that younger workers need not work because they’re so unusually productive.

If young workers were so productive, is it too much to believe that they would choose to rent an apartment rather than live with their parents?

Once we look a the demographics behind the current job numbers, we actually find the situation is more alarming that we might have thought otherwise. We seem to be in a situation where younger workers are participating in the work force less, and putting off acquiring essential job skills that will lead to more productivity later.

Older workers are still sticking around in numbers large enough to keep the overall labor force number growing.

However, while both the working age population and the labor force are growing, overall job creation simply is not keeping up.

At some point, those 30-year olds living with their parents are doing to need full-time work, but will they have the job experience necessary (and thus the productivity) necessary to support the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed?

Or, will they simply enter the workforce with few job skills following a decade of part-time work or no work forced on them by our weak economy? When that happens, we’re likely to see a continued decline in the household and personal incomes.

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.

Why Do We Celebrate Rising Home Prices? – Article by Ryan McMaken

Why Do We Celebrate Rising Home Prices? – Article by Ryan McMaken

The New Renaissance Hat
Ryan McMaken
May 26, 2015
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In recent years, home price indices have seemed to proliferate. Case-Shiller, of course, has been around for a long time, but over the past decade, additional measures have been marketed aggressively by Trulia, CoreLogic, and Zillow, just to name a few.

Measuring home prices has taken on an urgency beyond the real estate industry because for many, home price growth has become something of an indicator of the economy as a whole. If home prices are going up, it is assumed, “the economy” must be doing well. Indeed, we are encouraged to relax when home prices are increasing or holding steady, and we’re supposed to become concerned if home prices are going down.

This is a rather odd way of looking at the price of a basic necessity. If the price of food were going upward at the rate of 7 or 8 percent each year (as has been the case with houses in many markets in recent years) would we all be patting ourselves on the back and telling ourselves how wonderful economic conditions are? Or would we be rightly concerned if incomes were not also going up at a similar rate? Would we do the same with shoes and clothing? How about with education?

With housing, though, increases in prices are to be lauded, we are told, even if they outpace wage growth.

We’re Told to Want High Home Prices

But in today’s economy, if home prices are outpacing wage growth, then housing is becoming less affordable. This is grudgingly admitted even by the supporters of ginning up home prices, but the affordability of housing takes a back seat to the insistence that home prices be preserved at all costs.

Behind all of this is the philosophy that even if the home-price/household-income relationship gets out of whack, most problems will nevertheless be solved if we can just get people into a house. Once someone becomes a homeowner, the theory goes, he’ll be sitting on a huge asset that (almost) always goes up in price, meaning that any homeowner will increase in net worth as the equity in his home increases.

Then, the homeowner can use that equity to buy furniture, appliances, and a host of other consumer goods. With all that consumer spending, the economy takes off and we all win. Rising home prices are just a bump in the road, we are told, because if we can just get everyone into a home, the overall benefit to the economy will be immense.

Making Homes Affordable with More Cheap Debt

Not surprisingly, we find a sort of crude Keynesianism behind this philosophy. In this way of thinking, the point of homeownership is not to have shelter, but to acquire something that will encourage more consumer spending. In other words, the purpose of homeownership is to increase aggregate demand. The fact that you can live in the house is just a fringe benefit. This macro-obsession is part of the reason why the government has pushed homeownership so aggressively in recent decades.

The fly in the ointment, of course, is if home prices keep going up faster than wages — ceteris paribus — fewer people will be able to save enough money to come up with either the full amount or even a sizable down payment on a loan.

Not to worry, the experts tell us. We’ll just make it easier, with the help of inflationary fiat money, to get an enormous loan that will allow you to buy a house. Thus, rock-bottom interest rates and low down payments have been the name of the game since the late 1980s.

We started to see the end game at work during the last housing bubble when Fannie Mae introduced the 40-year mortgage in 2005, which just emphasized that when it comes to being a homeowner, the idea is not to pay off the mortgage, but to “buy” a house and just pay the monthly payment until one moves to another house and gets a new thirty- or forty-year loan.

It Pays To Be in Debt

On the surface of it, it’s hard to see how this scenario is fundamentally different from just paying rent every month. If the homeowner stops paying the monthly payment, he’s out on the street, and the bank keeps the house, which is very similar to the scenario in which a renter stops paying a landlord. There’s (at least) one big difference here, however. It makes sense for the homeowner to get a home loan rather than rent an apartment because — if it’s a fixed-rate loan — price inflation ensures the real monthly payment will go down every month. Residential rents, on the other hand, tend to keep up with inflation.

But why would any lending institution make these sorts of long-term loans if the payment in real terms keeps getting smaller? After all, thirty years is a long time for something to go wrong.

Lenders are willing and able to do this because the loans are subsidized and underwritten through government creations like Fannie Mae (which buys up these loans on the secondary market), through bailouts, and through a myriad of other federal programs such as FHA. Naturally, in an unhampered market, a loan of such a long term would require high interest rates to cover the risk. But, Congress and the Fed have come to the rescue with promises of bailouts and easy money, meaning cheap thirty-year loans continue to live on.

So, what we end up with is a complex system of subsidies and favoritism on the part of lenders, homeowners, government agencies, and the Fed. The price of homes keeps going up, increasing the net worth of homeowners, and banks can make long-term loans on fairly risky terms because they know bailouts of various sorts will come if things go wrong.

But problems begin to arise when increases in home prices begin to outpace access to easy money and cheap loans. Indeed, we’re now seeing that homeownership rates are going down in spite of low interest rates, and vacancy rates in rental housing are at a twenty-year low. Meanwhile, new production in housing units is at 1992 levels, offering little relief from rising prices and rents. Obviously, something isn’t going according to plan.

Who Loses?

The old debt-based tricks that once kept homeownership climbing and accessible in the face of rising home prices are no longer working.

From a free market’s perspective, renting a home is neither good nor bad, but American policymakers long ago decided to favor homeowners over renters. Consequently, we’re faced with an economic system that pushes renters toward homeownership — price inflation and the tax code punishes renters more than owners — while simultaneously pushing home prices higher and higher.

During the last housing bubble, however, as homeownership levels climbed, few noticed or cared about this. So many renters became homeowners that rental vacancies climbed to record highs from 2004 to 2009. But in our current economy, one cannot avoid rising rents or hedge against inflation by easily leaving rental housing behind.

This time around, the cost of purchasing housing is going up by 6 to 10 percent per year, but few renters can join the ranks of the homeowners to enjoy the windfall. Instead, they just face record-high rent increases and a record-low inventory in for-sale houses.

There once was a time when rising home prices and rising homeownership rates could happen at the same time; it was possible for the government to stick to its unofficial policy of propping up home prices while also claiming to be pushing homeownership. We no longer live in such a time.

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.

How Embargoes Destroy Freedom – Article by Ryan W. McMaken

How Embargoes Destroy Freedom – Article by Ryan W. McMaken

The New Renaissance Hat
Ryan W. McMaken
February 12, 2015
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In the wake of the Obama administration’s partial normalization of relations with Cuba, proponents of the embargo condemned the move, with National Review publishing an unsigned editorial claiming that allowing Americans to trade freely with the island nation amounts to giving comfort to murderous dictators. NR’s editors concluded with:

The Cuban government is not legitimate, and never has been. It is a one-party dictatorship with a gulag, an archipelago of prisons into which democrats and dissidents are thrown. We hope that the new American policy — Obama’s policy — does not benefit the Cuban dictatorship and harm Cuban democrats. We fear that yesterday was a good day for the Castros and a bad day for the Cuban people, and for American foreign policy.

This is all very interesting from an international relations perspective, and there is no doubt that the Cuban regime is a brutal regime. On the other hand, why does the brutality of the Cuban regime make it alright for the US regime to jail and persecute private American citizens who attempt to trade with people in Cuba?

That is, after all, the position of those who favor the embargo. Embargoes are not something where a magic fairy waves her wand and Cuba suddenly becomes invisible to Americans.

No, supporting an embargo means supporting the government when it fines, prosecutes, and jails peaceful citizens who attempt to engage in truly free trade. Support for an embargo also requires support for a customs bureaucracy that spies on merchants and consumers, and the whole panoply of enforcement programs necessary to punish those who run afoul of the government’s arbitrary pronouncements on what kind of trade is acceptable, and what kind is verboten. Naturally, this is all paid for by the taxpayers.

How the American Federal Government Punishes Trade

To get a taste of the reality of embargoes, one need only consult the Treasury Department’s summary of the Cuban embargo as administered by the “Office of Foreign Assets Control.”

For those who think the embargo has something to do with freedom, they might wish to consult the section on punishments for trading with people in Cuba:

Criminal penalties for violating the Regulations range up to 10 years in prison, $1,000,000 in corporate fines, and $250,000 in individual fines. Civil penalties up to $65,000 per violation may also be imposed. The Regulations require those dealing with Cuba (including traveling to Cuba) to maintain records for five years and, upon request from OFAC, to furnish information regarding such dealings.

Nothing says “freedom” like $250,000 fines and mandatory presentation of five years of private records upon demand from the federal government.

Private companies, of course, regard such potentially draconian sanctions as no joke, and companies must spend time and resources training employees and business associates to be sure that they do not find themselves in violation of federal law. This manual from Snap-on Tools is one example of how private companies must stay up to date on details such as this:

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) maintains strict embargoes banning, and lesser sanctions limiting U.S companies and their foreign subsidiaries from entering into commercial transactions with specified foreign countries, persons and business entities. Congress recently quintupled the maximum civil fines per violation of many of these sanctions from $11,000 to $50,000 (each unlawful shipment constitutes a violation), and doubled maximum potential criminal penalties assessed willful violations from 10 years to 20 years in prison. Moreover, enforcement is being given a much higher priority…

It’s easy to see why those who favor greater government intervention in the economy would have no problem with such a program, but it’s alleged defenders of free markets like the editors at National Review who appear to be most insistent that the US government keep all its agents armed and ready, and a prison cell open for anyone who violates their federal programs of choice.

Embargoes as Mercantilist Prohibition

At their heart, embargoes are nothing but a specific type of prohibition. Sometimes, the government imposes prohibitions on transactions involving certain goods, such as cannabis. Other times, the prohibition extends to all transactions with people in a certain place. The fundamentals are the same, however, in that they prohibit peaceful exchange, with heavy penalties for violators.

Moreover, embargoes are a throwback to the mercantilism of the days of yore when economic policy was viewed as a tool of international affairs, and should be designed, at least in part, to benefit the regime of the home country.

Historically, the mercantilist regimes of old tightly controlled trade opportunities which were debated as part of armistice agreements, such as the Peace of Utrech (1713) when the British were able to force the Spanish to allow exactly one ship of merchandise annually into Spanish colonies. At home, during the same era, the British state forbade its own citizens with valuable engineering knowledge from leaving the country, lest they emigrate to a foreign land and share their knowledge with foreigners. The economic needs of the state superceded those of the individual.

This is the type of economic policy that precipitated the American Revolution, when Americans in the colonies were allowed to trade with only specified nation-states and territories in such a way that was seen as advantageous to the British Crown. The freedom fighters in that conflict engaged in rampant smuggling throughout eastern North America to avoid taxes and to trade with the French and the Spanish who were hardly paragons of democratic liberalism.

Unfortunately, the Americans did not learn their lesson in the revolution, and got to work erecting their own trade restrictions by the late eighteenth century. The greatest crime of the era, however, was Thomas Jefferson’s embargo against the British which crippled the shipping and shipbuilding industries in the United States. Naturally, it was pointed out at the time that the Constitution did not permit any such action on the part of the federal government. No such quaint considerations restrain the American state or its pro-embargo allies today.

Cuba is not the only country subject to embargoes handed out by the American state, and North Korea, Iran, and Syria are in similar positions. The question is often asked as to whether or not these sanctions work. I would certainly claim that they do not work in accomplishing their stated purposes, but whether or not they work is really beside the point. Those who advocate for such embargoes need to back up a step and first prove that it is moral and legitimate for nation-states to dictate to the people who pay the bills (i.e., the taxpayers) with whom they are allowed to trade. A society that actually respects private property rights, of course, will accept no such proposition and will respect the right of private citizens to dispose of their property as they see fit. On the other hand, those who believe that it’s the prerogative of governments to micromanage private property and throw violators in prison are encouraged to move somewhere that the government can take a robust and active role in such things. Cuba, for instance.

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. 
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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.
Ron Paul, Richard Cobden, and the Risks of Opposing War – Article by Ryan McMaken

Ron Paul, Richard Cobden, and the Risks of Opposing War – Article by Ryan McMaken

The New Renaissance Hat
Ryan W. McMaken
May 1, 2014
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Since at least as early as the eighteen century, classical liberalism, and its modern variant libertarianism, have opposed warfare except in cases of obvious self-defense. We see this anti-war position clearly among the anti-federalists of eighteenth-century America (who opposed all standing armies) and more famously within George Washington’s Farewell Address. Thomas Jefferson frequently inveighed against war, although in moves typical for Jefferson, he acted against his own professed ideology on a number of occasions.

On the other side of the Atlantic, liberalism finally made significant gains in Britain with the rise of the Anti-Corn Law League in the late 1830s. The head of the league, a radical liberal named Richard Cobden, rose to prominence throughout the 1840s and is notable today for his active defense of laissez-faire capitalism as a member of the House of Commons, and also for his staunch anti-interventionism in foreign affairs.

For a time, his political star rose quickly, but by the time the Crimean War ended, Cobden, had been cast aside by both a ruling class and a public enthusiastic for both empire and war.

Prior to the war Cobden traveled Europe as an honored guest at international peace conferences while advocating for free markets, civil liberties, and libertarianism everywhere he traveled. But in the end, as has been so often the case, his political career was ended by his opposition to war, and his refusal to buy into nationalistic propaganda.

Like the Crimean crisis of today, the Crimean crises of the early 1850s were caused by little more than the efforts of various so-called great powers to tip the global balance of power in their favor. Foremost among those grasping for global power was the British Empire.

But even as early as the 1830s, the British were seized by a series of national hysterias whipped up by a variety of anti-Russian pundits who were obsessed with increasing British military spending and strength in the name of “defense” from the Russians.

As is so often the case in securing the case for war, the pro-militarist argument among the Brits rested on perpetuating and augmenting the public’s nationalistic feelings that the Russians were uncommonly aggressive and sinister. Cobden, obviously far better informed on the matter than the typical Brit, published a pamphlet on Russia in 1836 actually considering the facts of Russian foreign policy, which he often compared favorably to the hyper-aggressive foreign policy employed by the British Empire.

Cobden began by comparing Russian expansion to British expansion, noting that “during the last hundred years, England has, for every square league of territory annexed to Russia, by force, violence, or fraud, appropriated to herself three.” And that among the self-professed opponents of conquest, the British failed to recognize that “If the English writer calls down indignation upon the conquerors of the Ukraine, Finland, and the Crimea, may not Russian historians conjure up equally painful reminiscences upon the subjects of Gibraltar, the Cape, and Hindostan?”

In an interesting parallel to the modern Crimean crisis, much of the opposition to the Russian among British militarists was based on the assertion that the Russians had annexed portions of Poland in aggressive moves that were deemed by the British as completely unwarranted. Cobden, however, understanding the history of the region to be much more murky than the neat little scenarios painted by militarists, recognized that neither side was angelic and blameless and that many of the “annexed” territories were in fact populated by Russians that had earlier been conquered and annexed by the Poles.

The Russians, while themselves no doubt hostile toward neighbors, were surrounded by hostile neighbors themselves, with the origins of conflicts going back decades or even centuries. The puerile and simplistic arguments of the British militarists, who advocated for what would become a global, despotic, and racist British Empire, added little of value to any actual public knowledge of the realities in Eastern Europe.

For his efforts in gaining a true understanding of global conflicts, and for seeking a policy of negotiation and anti-nationalism, Cobden was declared to be un-patriotic and a friend to the great enemy Russia during the Crimean war. Cobden, who had perhaps done more to consistently advance the cause of liberty than anyone else in Europe of his day, was declared to be a friend of despots.

The similarities to today’s situation are of course striking. The Crimea, an area of highly ambiguous ethnic and national allegiance is declared by the West to be a perpetual territory of anti-Russian forces much like the Eastern Polish provinces of old, in spite of the presence of a population highly sympathetic to Russian rule.

Moreover, the successor to the British Empire, the United States, with its global system of client states and puppet dictatorships and occupied territories declares itself fit to rule on a Russian “invasion” that, quite unlike the American invasion of Iraq, resulted in exactly one reported casualty.

As was the case with Cobden in the nineteenth century, however, merely pointing out these facts today earns one the label of “anti-American” or “pro-Russian” as in the obvious case of Ron Paul.

Like Cobden, Paul spent decades denouncing oppressive regimes domestically and internationally, only to now be declared “pro-Putin,” “pacifist,” “unpatriotic,” and “anti-American” by a host of ideologues utterly uninterested in familiarizing themselves with Paul’s actual record, including his denunciations, while in Congress, of Communist regimes and his warnings about Putin’s desire to expand Russian influence in Afghanistan.

Of course, Russia has not been the only target. For those who can remember the lead up to the Iraq War in 2003, this should all feel like déjà vu since many at that time, including some libertarians, claimed that opponents of invasion were “pro-Saddam Hussein” for pointing out that Iraq clearly had no weapons of mass destruction, and that his secular regime was probably preferable to the murderous Islamist oligarchy that has replaced it.

Paul remains in good company with the likes of Cobden, H.L. Mencken, William Graham Sumner, and virtually the entire membership of the American Anti-Imperialist League, including Edward Atkinson who encouraged American soldiers in the Philippines to mutiny. These were radical principled opponents of militarism who opposed government violence at great risk to themselves and their reputations. Some modern American libertarians, on the other hand, well out of reach of the Russian state, would rather spend their time stating what everyone already knows: Russia is not a libertarian paradise.

Ryan W. McMaken is the editor of Mises Daily and The Free Market. Send him mail. See Ryan McMaken’s article archives.

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.