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US Sanctions on Russia May Sink the Dollar – Article by Ron Paul

US Sanctions on Russia May Sink the Dollar – Article by Ron Paul

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
August 10, 2014
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The US government’s decision to apply more sanctions on Russia is a grave mistake and will only escalate an already tense situation, ultimately harming the US economy itself. While the effect of sanctions on the dollar may not be appreciated in the short term, in the long run these sanctions are just another step toward the dollar’s eventual demise as the world’s reserve currency.

Not only is the US sanctioning Russian banks and companies, but it also is trying to strong-arm European banks into enacting harsh sanctions against Russia as well. Given the amount of business that European banks do with Russia, European sanctions could hurt Europe at least as much as Russia. At the same time the US expects cooperation from European banks, it is also prosecuting those same banks and fining them billions of dollars for violating existing US sanctions. It is not difficult to imagine that European banks will increasingly become fed up with having to act as the US government’s unpaid policemen, while having to pay billions of dollars in fines every time they engage in business that Washington doesn’t like.

European banks are already cutting ties with American citizens and businesses due to the stringent compliance required by recently-passed laws such as FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act). In the IRS’s quest to suck in as much tax dollars as possible from around the world, the agency has made Americans into the pariahs of the international financial system. As the burdens the US government places on European banks grow heavier, it should be expected that more and more European banks will reduce their exposure to the United States and to the dollar, eventually leaving the US isolated. Attempting to isolate Russia, the US actually isolates itself.

Another effect of sanctions is that Russia will grow closer to its BRICS (Brazil/Russia/India/China/South Africa) allies. These countries count over 40 percent of the world’s population, have a combined economic output almost equal to the US and EU, and have significant natural resources at their disposal. Russia is one of the world’s largest oil producers and supplies Europe with a large percent of its natural gas. Brazil has the second-largest industrial sector in the Americas and is the world’s largest exporter of ethanol. China is rich in mineral resources and is the world’s largest food producer. Already Russia and China are signing agreements to conduct their bilateral trade with their own national currencies rather than with the dollar, a trend which, if it spreads, will continue to erode the dollar’s position in international trade. Perhaps more importantly, China, Russia, and South Africa together produce nearly 40 percent of the world’s gold, which could play a role if the BRICS countries decide to establish a gold-backed currency to challenge the dollar.

US policymakers fail to realize that the United States is not the global hegemon it was after World War II. They fail to understand that their overbearing actions toward other countries, even those considered friends, have severely eroded any good will that might previously have existed. And they fail to appreciate that more than 70 years of devaluing the dollar has put the rest of the world on edge. There is a reason the euro was created, a reason that China is moving to internationalize its currency, and a reason that other countries around the world seek to negotiate monetary and trade compacts. The rest of the world is tired of subsidizing the United States government’s enormous debts, and tired of producing and exporting trillions of dollars of goods to the US, only to receive increasingly worthless dollars in return.

The US government has always relied on the cooperation of other countries to maintain the dollar’s preeminent position. But international patience is wearing thin, especially as the carrot-and-stick approach of recent decades has become all stick and no carrot. If President Obama and his successors continue with their heavy-handed approach of levying sanctions against every country that does something US policymakers don’t like, it will only lead to more countries shunning the dollar and accelerating the dollar’s slide into irrelevance.

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.

Ten Principles of Classical Liberalism (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Ten Principles of Classical Liberalism (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
Originally Published November 8, 2009
as Part of Issue CCXVI of The Rational Argumentator
Republished July 24, 2014
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Note from the Author: This essay was originally published as part of Issue CCXVI of The Rational Argumentator on November 8, 2009, using the Yahoo! Voices publishing platform. Because of the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices, the essay is now being made directly available on The Rational Argumentator.
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 24, 2014
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Fundamental Ideas in a Philosophy of Liberty

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I was recently asked to attempt a formulation of ten crucial principles of classical liberalism, the worldview which animated the American Revolution, the European Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the libertarian revival of free-market thought in the mid-to-late twentieth century. Classical liberalism – even when it is not explicitly espoused – still has considerable residual influence on the political and economic institutions of the Western world and is having an increasing impact outside the West as well. I see the principles of classical liberalism as primarily forward-looking. These ideas need not only characterize aspects of humanity’s past. They can also guide and ameliorate our future.

The following ten principles are not exhaustive, and they have been formulated broadly to account for differences in opinion on particulars within classical liberal circles. Although different people may apply and interpret these principles in somewhat different ways, a general agreement on even these ideas would go a long way toward advancing liberty, prosperity, and peace in the world.

Principle 1. The life of each individual is an absolute and universal moral value. No non-aggressive individual’s life, liberty, or property may be legitimately sacrificed for any goal.

Principle 2. Every individual owns his body, his mind, and the labor thereof, including the physical objects legitimately obtained through such labor.

Principle 3. Every individual has the right to pursue activities for the betterment of his life – including its material, intellectual, and emotional aspects – by using his own body and property, as well as the property of consenting others.

Principle 4. The rights of an individual to life, liberty, and property are inherent to that individual’s nature. They are not granted by other human beings, and they cannot be taken away by any entity.

Principle 5. The initiation of physical force, the threat of such force, or fraud against any individual is never permissible – irrespective of the position and character of the initiator. However, proportionate force may be used to retaliate and defend against aggression.

Principle 6. The sole fundamental purpose of government is to protect the rights of individuals by engaging in actions specifically delegated to the government by its constituents. Government is not the same as society, nor is the government entitled to sacrifice some non-aggressive individuals to advance the well-being of others.

Principle 7. Every individual has the absolute right to think and express any ideas. Thought and speech are never equivalent to force or violence and ought never to be restricted or to be subject to coercive penalties. Specifically, coercion and censorship on the basis of religious or political ideas are not acceptable under any circumstances.

Principle 8. Commerce, technology, and science are desirable, liberating forces that are capable of alleviating historic ills, improving the quality of human life, and morally elevating human beings. The complete freedom of trade, innovation, and thought should be preserved and supported for all human beings in the world.

Principle 9. Accidents of birth, geography, or ancestry do not define an individual and should not result in manmade restrictions of that individual’s rights or opportunities. Every individual should be judged purely on his or her personal qualities, including accomplishments, character, and knowledge.

Principle 10. There are no “natural” or desirable limits to human potential for good, and there is no substantive problem that is necessarily unsolvable by present or future human knowledge, effort, and technology. It is a moral imperative for humans to expand their mastery of the universe indefinitely and in such a manner as will reinforce the survival and flourishing of all non-aggressive individuals.

Read other articles in The Rational Argumentator’s Issue CCXVI.

History of the Minoan Civilization of Ancient Crete (2002) – Essay by G. Stolyarov II

History of the Minoan Civilization of Ancient Crete (2002) – Essay by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
July 20, 2014
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Note from the Author: This essay was originally written in 2002 and published in four parts on Associated Content (subsequently, Yahoo! Voices) in 2007.  The essay earned over 32,200 page views on Associated Content/Yahoo! Voices, and I seek to preserve it as a valuable resource for readers, subsequent to the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices. Therefore, this essay is being published directly on The Rational Argumentator for the first time.  ***
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~ G. Stolyarov II, July 20, 2014
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The Minoan civilization of ancient Crete has long fascinated historians and students of history. As early as about 4000 years ago, the Minoans already had a thriving culture with major commercial, esthetic, and technological accomplishments, unparalleled virtually anywhere else in the world of their time. Some have even speculated that the Greek legend of the ultra-advanced ancient city of Atlantis was based on knowledge, passed down through the ages, of the accomplishments of Minoan Crete.

This essay will examine key aspects of Minoan life and culture. We begin by looking at this civilization’s emergence and the kind of geographical environment in which it came to be. We then continue the examination of the Minoan civilization of ancient Crete by discussing the Minoan economy and government – both of which were remarkably advanced for their time and allowed the Minoans a then unparalleled degree of liberty and prosperity. We proceed to discuss this culture’s religious, esthetic, and technological aspects, the athletic activities common in Minoan Crete, and the manner in which this remarkable ancient civilization met its end.

Beginnings of the Minoan Culture

The site of Knossos, the capital of ancient Crete, possessed discernible human influences from as early as 7000 BC. The beginning of intense development can be detected at about 3000 BC.

The Minoans originated in Asia Minor and spoke a language not related to the Indo-European group. The interpretation of their scripts and any manner of their phonetics are lost to us, although Myceneans and later Greeks may have borrowed certain Minoan aspects of speech.

Centralization of government was gradually instituted with the construction of the first Palace in Knossos at about 2000 BC.

When population reached levels exceeding the available food supplies, migrations to neighboring islands were required to extend the accessible arable territory. Need of a navy also arose for purposes of transportation as well as commerce with other Mediterranean cultures for the acquisition of food and other raw goods.

Geography of Crete

Crete, a large island in the Mediterranean, lies halfway between Asia Minor and Greece, granting it a central spot in numerous ancient trade routes on the sea.

During the earliest days of its development, Crete was free from invasions, since no civilization had yet developed a sufficiently massive and functional navy to mount an expedition. This permitted relatively calm development, where resources could be employed for technological advancement and the arts rather than frequent warfare, subsistence, and repairs. The Minoans as a result created few defensive structures and no standing army, since the necessity for these was not present.

Crete possesses a temperate climate and highly productive soil. Large families were common, as demonstrated by houses of four to six rooms for even the poorest dwellers within the realm. Evidently, the frequent agricultural surpluses resulted in rapid population growth and hence the need for expansion and trade.

Economy

The primary vehicles of the Minoan economy were mercantile ships also equipped with armaments. They conducted journeys to mainland Greece, Asia Minor, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Palestine. From there they imported basic resources such as additional food to maintain a constantly increasing population.

Minoans exported refined goods, such as jewelry, wine, oil, and artwork, for Crete was home to numerous skilled craftsmen and specialists.

Present hypotheses concerning the identity of numerous Minoan documents hint at a purpose of recording commercial transactions. It is known that accuracy and calculation were valued in conducting economic deals.

Trade was centralized and commissioned by the King, whose extensive network of bureaucrats would implement detailed designs and analyze the results. Because of Crete’s small size and relatively small population, it was possible for the monarch to govern the country in a similar way to the management of a modern corporation. Nevertheless, the government did not neglect the people, and there is evidence of even the lower classes enjoying imported goods. The distribution may not have been even, yet the differences between wealth and poverty were substantially smaller than in any other contemporary culture.

Government

Crete was ruled by a monarch from the central palace of Knossos. The first ruler (and the only one whose name is known) was the legendary King Minos, described by later Greeks as being the son of Zeus and appointed by the chief deity to reign over the island.

The monarchy, however, was far from a totalitarian regime. Historian Richard Hooker describes the role of the King as a “chief entrepreneur or CEO” rather than a dictator. Numerous administrative decisions were shared by a priesthood (which was mainly female) and an immense network of bureaucrats and scribes. This semi-meritocracy was one of the most civil regimes of its time, remarkable for its lack of rigid caste structures and barriers to individual socioeconomic advancement.

Evidence suggests that the people of Crete were permitted a large degree of liberty, and no gender inequalities existed. Cretans are anomalous in that respect, having avoided the negative impacts of late Neolithic societies upon women and the poor. Perhaps this is due to the fact that their relative tranquility placed a smaller need on a strong military and a subservient workforce. Thus patriarchy and a rule of warlords never developed.

Religion

The Minoans had a matriarchal religion in which no male gods were detectable.

Cretan religion orients itself around animals, and numerous deities seem to possess a central emphasis on them. For example, “The Huntress” represents human attempts for mastery over other creatures, while “The Mountain Mother”, a diametric opposite, attempts to preserve a natural setting for animals. A popular household goddess was portrayed as entangled in snakes throughout her organism. Other goddesses possessed exteriors of birds, most notably doves.

The Minoans worshipped trees, rocks, and springs in a semi-Animist manner.

Evil figures in Minoan religion are represented as human demons with the limbs of lions and other carnivores.

Art, Architecture, and Technology

The most renowned of the palaces in Knossos was the four-story Labyrinth, the chief palace of the King in existence from 2000 to 1350 BC. Its extraordinary abundance of rooms served as a basis for legends of foreigners, such as mainland Greeks, who perceived it as a maze in which it would be humanly impossible to remember one’s way. In reality, however, it was not the crude dwelling of the Minotaur that myths describe it to be. It possessed numerous places of worship, workshops, lavish banquet halls, and a grand courtyard in the center, surrounded by four sections. This palace was destroyed and rebuilt numerous times, in 1700 BC, and later by an earthquake in 1600 BC. The eruption of the Santorini volcano in 1450 BC was its greatest catastrophe, although it was restored once more by conquering Greeks. However, it fell into neglect and disrepair as Crete lost its political value around 1380 BC. This monumental work is thought to have been designed by the legendary architect and scientist Daidalus, the father of Icarus.

Minoan art seems to have been separated from mundane tasks and duties and oriented toward a purely aesthetic purpose. Numerous wall murals in palatial complexes within Knossos illustrate scenes from the animal world and everyday life, common in depiction but detached from practicality. The objects portrayed were often trivial and superficial, and there is no moral or political aim discernible in the works. Art was instead developed “for art’s sake”.

Minoan cities possessed plumbing and sanitation systems reaching into the confines of every home. The exact means by which they realized this was, unfortunately, lost following their decline and not recovered until 17th century Europeans had again attained this skill.

Sports

The renowned sport of ancient Crete, open to both genders and subjecting all to the same standards, was bull leaping. This was a dangerous pastime, but harmless and humane to the athlete and the animal if performed with skill. A bull would be released to charge toward the jumper. Once it was in sufficient proximity, the performer would attach his hands to the bull’s horns and vault onto the creature’s back. Another common objective was to somersault from such a position to a state of standing on a spot of land directly behind the bull.

Boxing was also a favorite activity, as portrayed in numerous wall murals. The precise regulations are unknown, but this is perhaps a source of inspiration for later Greeks, who adapted the sport to the Olympic Games.

Fate of the Civilization

The Minoans’ isolation from foreign threats caused them to maintain feeble frontiers, and gradually mainland powers such as Mycenae developed, with the fleet and army to overcome them.

The task of conquest was perhaps lightened for the Myceneans by the explosion of the Santorini volcano, four or five times more massive than the cataclysmic eruption of Krakatoa in 1888. This, along with a similar catastrophe on a nearby island from the volcano Thera, inflicted devastating blows upon Crete’s population and economy, crippling it and rendering it susceptible to invasion.

Under Achaean occupation, Knossos gradually withered away into an insignificant village, the cultural level of the Myceneans being too primitive to maintain the complexities of the civilization which they had conquered.

Nevertheless, evidence suggests that Cretan script was somewhat adopted by the occupants. Elements of Linear A, the original (and yet un-decoded) alphabet of the Minoans, have been spotted in Linear B, the early writing of the Myceneans.

Myths maintained a memory of this civilization in such fascinating works as the tale of Theseus and his struggle against the Minotaur for over 3000 years. Only between 1900 and 1931, during the extensive excavations conducted by archaeologist Arthur Evans, did details begin to surface about the true identity of this culture. Archaeologists and historians discovered a humane and prosperous society that existed during a relatively savage time, a society that provided many of the early foundations of Western civilization.

Sources

“Knossos.” http://www.culture.gr/2/21/211/21123a/e211wa03.html

Hooker, Richard. “The Palace Civilizations of the Aegean.” http://richard-hooker.com/sites/worldcultures/MINOA/MINOANS.HTM

Iraklion Museum. “City of Knossos: The Palace of King Minos.” http://www.dilos.com/region/crete/kn_01.html.

Ludwig von Mises on War

Ludwig von Mises on War

The New Renaissance Hat
Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973)
April 15, 2014
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The following are quotations on war by Ludwig von Mises (1881– 1973), who was the leading economist of the Austrian School. This list was first published as an article on the Mises Institute website and subsequently published on Le Québécois Libre.
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History has witnessed the failure of many endeavors to impose peace by war, cooperation by coercion, unanimity by slaughtering dissidents……. A lasting order cannot be established by bayonets. (Omnipotent Government, p. 7)  
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War……is harmful, not only to the conquered but to the conqueror. Society has arisen out of the works of peace; the essence of society is peacemaking. Peace and not war is the father of all things. Only economic action has created the wealth around us; labor, not the profession of arms, brings happiness. Peace builds, war destroys. (Socialism, p. 59)

The market economy involves peaceful cooperation. It bursts asunder when the citizens turn into warriors and, instead of exchanging commodities and services, fight one another. (1st Ed. Human Action, p. 817 ; 3rd Ed. Human Action, p. 821)  
  
Economically considered, war and revolution are always bad business. (Nation, State, and Economy, p. 152) 
  
The market economy means peaceful cooperation and peaceful exchange of goods and services. It cannot persist when wholesale killing is the order of the day. (Interventionism: An Economic Analysis, p. 67)  
  
[A]ggressors cannot wage total war without introducing socialism. (Interventionism: an Economic Analysis, p. 70) 
  
War prosperity is like the prosperity that an earthquake or a plague brings. The earthquake means good business for construction workers, and cholera improves the business of physicians, pharmacists, and undertakers; but no one has for that reason yet sought to celebrate earthquakes and cholera as stimulators of the productive forces in the general interest. (Nation, State, and Economy, p. 154)  
  
War can really cause no economic boom, at least not directly, since an increase in wealth never does result from destruction of goods. (Nation, State, and Economy, p. 154) 
  
Whoever wishes peace among peoples must fight statism. (Nation, State, and Economy, p. 77) 
  
Modern society, based as it is on the division of labor, can be preserved only under conditions of lasting peace. (Liberalism, p. 44) 
  
Wars, foreign and domestic (revolutions, civil wars), are more likely to be avoided the closer the division of labor binds men. (Critique of Interventionism, p. 115) 
  
Modern war is not a war of royal armies. It is a war of the peoples, a total war. It is a war of states which do not leave to their subjects any private sphere; they consider the whole population a part of the armed forces. Whoever does not fight must work for the support and equipment of the army. Army and people are one and the same. The citizens passionately participate in the war. For it is their state, their God, who fights. (Omnipotent Government, p. 104)  
  
The existence of the armaments industries is a consequence of the warlike spirit, not its cause. (1st Ed. Human Action, p. 297; 3rd Ed. Human Action, p. 300)  
  
What basis for war could there still be, once all peoples had been set free? (Nation, State, and Economy, p. 34) 
  
The statement that one man’s boon is the other man’s damage is valid with regard to robbery, war, and booty. The robber’s plunder is the damage of the despoiled victim. But war and commerce are two different things. (1st Ed. Human Action, p. 662; 3rd Ed. Human Action, p. 666)  
  
It is certainly true that our age is full of conflicts which generate war. However, these conflicts do not spring from the operation of the unhampered market society. It may be permissible to call them economic conflicts because they concern that sphere of human life which is, in common speech, known as the sphere of economic activities. But it is a serious blunder to infer from this appellation that the source of these conflicts are conditions which develop within the frame of a market society. It is not capitalism that produces them, but precisely the anticapitalistic policies designed to check the functioning of capitalism. They are an outgrowth of the various governments’ interference with business, of trade and migration barriers and discrimination against foreign labor, foreign products, and foreign capital. (1st Ed. Human Action, p. 680; 3rd Ed. Human Action, p. 684)  
  
What has transformed the limited war between royal armies into total war, the clash between peoples, is not technicalities of military art, but the substitution of the welfare state for the laissez-faire state. (1st Ed. Human Action, p. 820; 3rd Ed. Human Action, p. 824) 

Under laissez-faire peaceful coexistence of a multitude of sovereign nations is possible. Under government control of business it is impossible. (1st Ed. Human Action, p. 820; 3rd Ed. Human Action, p. 824)  
  
Of course, in the long run war and the preservation of the market economy are incompatible. Capitalism is essentially a scheme for peaceful nations. (1st Ed. Human Action, p. 824; 3rd Ed. Human Action, p. 828)  
  
What the incompatibility of war and capitalism really means is that war and high civilization are incompatible. If the efficiency of capitalism is directed by governments toward the output of instruments of destruction, the ingenuity of private business turns out weapons which are powerful enough to destroy everything. What makes war and capitalism incompatible with one another is precisely the unparalleled efficiency of the capitalist mode of production. (1st Ed. Human Action, p. 824; 3rd Ed. Human Action, p. 828)  
  
Modern war is merciless, it does not spare pregnant women or infants; it is indiscriminate killing and destroying. It does not respect the rights of neutrals. Millions are killed, enslaved, or expelled from the dwelling places in which their ancestors lived for centuries. Nobody can foretell what will happen in the next chapter of this endless struggle. This has little to do with the atomic bomb. The root of the evil is not the construction of new, more dreadful weapons. It is the spirit of conquest. It is probable that scientists will discover some methods of defense against the atomic bomb. But this will not alter things, it will merely prolong for a short time the process of the complete destruction of civilization. (1st Ed. Human Action, p. 828; 3rd Ed. Human Action, p. 832)  
  
To defeat the aggressors is not enough to make peace durable. The main thing is to discard the ideology that generates war. (1st Ed. Human Action, p. 828; 3rd Ed. Human Action, p. 832)  
  
Social development is always a collaboration for joint action; the social relationship always means peace, never war. Death-dealing actions and war are anti-social. All those theories which regard human progress as an outcome of conflicts between human groups have overlooked this truth. (Socialism, p. 279) 
  
But what is needed for a satisfactory solution of the burning problem of international relations is neither a new office with more committees, secretaries, commissioners, reports, and regulations, nor a new body of armed executioners, but the radical overthrow of mentalities and domestic policies which must result in conflict. (Omnipotent Government, p. 6) 
  
For only in peace can the economic system achieve its ends, the fullest satisfaction of human needs and wants. (Omnipotent Government, p. 50) 
  
If men do not now succeed in abolishing war, civilization and mankind are doomed. (Omnipotent Government, p. 122) 
  
If you want to abolish war, you must eliminate its causes. What is needed is to restrict government activities to the preservation of life, health, and private property, and thereby to safeguard the working of the market. Sovereignty must not be used for inflicting harm on anyone, whether citizen or foreigner. (Omnipotent Government, p. 138)  
  
Only one thing can conquer war – that liberal attitude of mind which can see nothing in war but destruction and annihilation, and which can never wish to bring about a war, because it regards war as injurious even to the victors. (Theory of Money and Credit, p. 433) 
  
The first condition for the establishment of perpetual peace is, of course, the general adoption of the principles of laissez-faire capitalism. (The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science p. 137) 
  
He who wants to prepare a lasting peace must……be a free-trader and a democrat and work with decisiveness for the removal of all political rule over colonies by a mother country and fight for the full freedom of movements of persons and goods. (Nation, State, and Economy, p. 86) 
  
Liberalism rejects aggressive war not on philanthropic grounds but from the standpoint of utility. It rejects aggressive war because it regards victory as harmful, and it wants no conquests because it sees them as an unsuitable means for reaching the ultimate goals for which it strives. Not through war and victory but only through work can a nation create the preconditions for the well-being of its members. Conquering nations finally perish, either because they are annihilated by strong ones or because the ruling class is culturally overwhelmed by the subjugated. (Nation, State, and Economy, p. 87)  
  
Whoever on ethical grounds wants to maintain war permanently for its own sake as a feature of relations among peoples must clearly realize that this can happen only at the cost of the general welfare, since the economic development of the world would have to be turned back at least to the state of the year 1830 to realize this martial ideal even only to some extent. (Nation, State, and Economy, p. 151) 
  
The losses that the national economy suffers from war, apart from the disadvantages that exclusion from world trade entails, consist of the destruction of goods by military actions, of the consumption of war material of all kinds, and of the loss of productive labor that the persons drawn into military service would have rendered in their civilian activities. Further losses from loss of labor occur insofar as the number of workers is lastingly reduced by the number of the fallen and as the survivors become less fit in consequence of injuries suffered, hardships undergone, illnesses suffered, and worsened nutrition. (Nation, State, and Economy, p. 151 – 52)  
  
There are circumstances which make the consumption of capital unavoidable. A costly war cannot be financed without such a damaging measure….There may arise situations in which it may be unavoidable to burn down the house to keep from freezing, but those who do that should realize what it costs and what they will have to do without later on. (Interventionism: an Economic Analysis, p. 52) 
  
It is not the war profits of the entrepreneurs that are objectionable. War itself is objectionable! (Interventionism: an Economic Analysis, p. 74)
Meaningful and Vacuous “Privilege” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Meaningful and Vacuous “Privilege” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
December 3, 2013
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Sanford Ikeda’s concise and insightful lists of 14 common fallacies about the free market (available in two installments from The Freeman here and here) motivate careful thought about the commonly used and misused term “privilege” and the conflations in which it can result. In discussing the second fallacy regarding the free market, that it is identical to a system where the government grants special privileges to businesses, Dr. Ikeda writes that “People sometimes define ‘privilege’ as any advantage a person or group may have over others. Certainly such advantages exist today and would exist in a free market—you may be born into a wealthy family or have superior drive and resourcefulness—but these advantages are consistent with the absence of privilege in the libertarian sense, as long as you acquired such advantages without fraud or the initiation of physical violence against the person or property of others.”

Indeed, the increasingly common usage of the term “privilege” to mean any advantage whatsoever eviscerates it of any genuine meaning it once had. This problem in today’s discourse spreads far beyond discussions of connections between businesses and governments.

Certainly, the very fact that one individual is different from another – with a different set of experiences, different physique, different knowledge, and even different standing room at any particular time – provides that individual with opportunities that the other lacks, while rendering him or her limited in ways that the other is not. Unfortunately, this trivial fact is increasingly being misconstrued in some circles to suggest vile inequities arising out of innocuous human differences. People who have not aggressed against, or even demeaned or ridiculed, anyone are increasingly being identified as “privileged” simply for belonging to broadly and crudely defined groups – be it all people of European descent, all males, or even all non-overweight people (witness the pseudo-concept of “thin privilege”) or people who are not disabled. (“Ableism” is apparently an emerging sin in the vocabulary of the increasingly militant and vitriolic collectivistic “social justice” movement – which is about neither true individual-oriented justice nor the preservation of a civilized and tolerant society.)  Such a vacuously expansive view of privilege is a tremendous insult to the true victims of coercive privilege throughout history – from slaves in all eras, to women who in prior eras were denied suffrage and property rights, to the freethinkers and forbears of liberty and reason, whose voices were too often snuffed out by the arbitrary power of absolute monarchs and theocrats in the pre-Enlightenment world.

Thomas Jefferson, an opponent of privilege in its meaningful sense, put it best when he expressed in his 1826 letter to Roger C. Weightman “the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride legitimately, by the grace of god.” Jefferson was a staunch opponent of the coercive privilege that enabled some to gain artificial advantages by restricting others from pursuing life-improving courses of action. Accidents of birth, or special lobbying skills, should not, in a just system, enable a person to acquire prerogatives which could not be earned through the free, peaceful exercise of that person’s abilities. Jefferson saw the future and strength of the American republic in the hoped-for emergence of a “natural aristocracy of talent and virtue” – people who, when allowed the liberty to flourish through honest work and competition, would become role models for others solely through their examples. This natural aristocracy would not need force to maintain its prominence, because the traits of the most knowledgeable, most industrious, and most virtuous people will be emulated by any who earnestly seek to improve their own lives and who have the freedom to acquire knowledge and make their own decisions.

Yet Jefferson’s natural aristocracy would be denounced as an example of horrid “privilege” by the “social justice” types – simply due to the necessarily unequal distribution of outcomes on a free market of open and honest production, competition, and cooperation. After all, not everyone can originate the same ideas at the same time. Not everyone can take advantage of the same opportunity for entrepreneurial profit, whose attainment, as economist Israel Kirzner demonstrated in Competition and Entrepreneurship, arises out of alertness to opportunities that others have missed. Kirzner writes thatBecause the participants in [a] market are less than omniscient, there are likely to exist, at any given time, a multitude of opportunities that have not yet been taken advantage of. Sellers may have sold for prices lower than the prices which were in fact obtainable… Buyers may have bought for prices higher than the lowest prices needed to secure what they are buying…” (43). Would it be an example of unacceptable “privilege” for an alert entrepreneur to remedy such an arbitrage opportunity and thereby bring otherwise-unrealized value to consumers?

Yes, the free exercise of human abilities will produce outcomes where some people will have some advantages over some others (while, of course, leaving fully open the possibility that those very others will have their own distinct advantages, obtained through hard work, knowledge, or sheer luck). But, as long as coercion is not involved in securing and maintaining those advantages, the people endowed with them are not “booted and spurred” to ride the rest of us. As Dr. Ikeda points out, the differences among people are a source of strength harnessed by the free market: “The free market gives you an incentive to profit from associating with and learning from others who might be very different from you, who operate outside your normal social networks.” By incentivizing and facilitating these interactions, the free market encourages greater tolerance, understanding, and visible societal heterogeneity of the sort that constitutes the best safeguard against truly heinous oppressions based on collectivistic stereotypes. Instead of condemning others as being too “privileged” simply on account of innocuous differences, it is far more productive to think about how those differences can help one achieve one’s own values through honest, peaceful, and productive interaction, cooperation, and exchange.

You Cannot Negotiate With Iran? – Article by Ron Paul

You Cannot Negotiate With Iran? – Article by Ron Paul

The New Renaissance Hat
Ron Paul
December 2, 2013
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You cannot negotiate with Iran. That is what they told us for years. The Iranian leadership is too fanatical, they are not rational actors, they are “not like us.” One US official even recently said that deception is part of the Iranian DNA. But just over a week ago negotiations between the five permanent UN Security Council Members plus Germany and the Iranians produced an historic agreement that may be first step toward a new era in US relations with the Middle East.As Middle East expert Eric Margolis pointed out this week, for Iran’s major concessions it will only receive “$7 billion – of its own money, which has been frozen abroad by US-led sanctions.” That sounds like quite a bit of compromise for such a “fanatical” country.

Earlier this summer the same people made the same arguments about Syria. You cannot negotiate with Syrian President Assad, they said. He is insane; he is another Hitler. But not only was it possible, a deal was signed ending the threat of a US strike in exchange for Syria agreeing to give up its chemical weapons and the ability to manufacture new ones. Syria upheld its end of the agreement and the chemicals were all accounted for on schedule.

Why have the interventionists, the neocons, and the special interest groups claimed for so long that negotiation and diplomacy was tantamount to surrender; that countries such as Iran and Syria “only understand force”? It is because these groups are afraid of diplomacy. They do not want a peaceful resolution to these conflicts. They see US foreign relations only in the starkest terms: do what we say and we will give you aid, disobey us and we will bomb you.

Now the warmongers who call themselves “foreign policy experts” have been exposed. The whole world sees that they are wrong. Their advice is bad. Their limited vision of how foreign affairs should be conducted is actually dangerous to the United States. It is now clear that there are workable alternatives.

As with the US threats against Syria, public opinion polls on talks with Iran demonstrate that the American people are solidly behind diplomacy and opposed to another war. According to one recent poll, Americans support the deal reached with Iran by a margin of two-to-one.

Congress, however, is once again far behind the American people. Even as US negotiators were reaching agreement with their Iranian counterparts, US representatives and Senators were drafting legislation to increase sanctions on Iran. Instead of listening to the American people, many in Congress seem attached to special interests like the Israel and Saudi lobbies, which oppose anything less than full Iranian capitulation. Israel refuses to join the Non-Proliferation Treaty yet it seeks to dictate the rules of the treaty to those who have signed it. Saudi Arabia is desperate to control the region politically and economically, and it views an Iran that is free to sell oil and other products on the open market as a threat to Saudi power.

For too long both Israel and the Saudis have benefited from a US military guarantee. It has created “moral hazard” that only encourages more belligerent behavior on both of their parts. It remains to be seen whether this six month trial period will develop into a permanent move toward normalization of relations with Iran. What if Congress refuses to give Iran its own money back? But we are moving in the right direction and we should be optimistic.

A better US relationship with Iran may signal the beginning of the end of US meddling in the region and serve as an incentive for Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Gulf States to solve their problems themselves. This would be a great boost to US national security, just as an Iran open to US business and trade would be a great boost to our economic security. Is peace finally breaking out? Let’s hope so.

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.

Remembrance Day 2038 – Short Story by Bradley Doucet

Remembrance Day 2038 – Short Story by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
November 11, 2013
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One hundred years ago, humanity was on the verge of global war. Hitler’s Germany had already annexed Austria, and Hirohito’s Japan had invaded China, Mongolia, and the USSR. Tens of millions of people would die in the ensuing Second World War, the deadliest conflict in human history. Today, we remember the fallen, both military and civilian, in this and other wars. We remember, and we give thanks for the current peace, which we have good grounds for believing will be an enduring one.

As recently as 25 years ago, such optimism would have seemed naïve. Though the world was already becoming much less violent in general, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were still an open psychic wound for many Americans, and isolated wars raged on in many regions. Fears of nuclear proliferation threatened to spark further conflicts in the already volatile Middle East.

But parallel to these political events and tensions, the global economy kept growing, spreading the benefits of industrialization and trade to more and more people in more and more countries. The more obvious the connection became between basic economic freedom and rising standards of living, the harder it became for even the most authoritarian regimes to resist the push for freer markets. Dire poverty has now been all but eradicated and real economic security is commonplace. And as people have more to live for, they are less willing to die for their countries. Pragmatic negotiations have become more attractive, and violent conflict less so.

The change that humanity has undergone can be summed up by a simple but profound slogan: Make trade, not war. As we have become more accustomed to seeing our neighbours as potential trading partners in positive-sum exchanges, killing them no longer seems to make a lot of sense. We remember today the wars of the past, that we might better appreciate our present peace and extend it indefinitely into the future.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.

Mercantilism vs. Free Trade: The Early Years – Article by Chi-Yuen Wu

Mercantilism vs. Free Trade: The Early Years – Article by Chi-Yuen Wu

The New Renaissance Hat
Chi-Yuen Wu
September 27, 2013
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Note from the Ludwig von Mises Institute (reprinted with permission, pursuant to a Creative Commons Attribution license): This selection is from Chapter II of Chi-Yuen Wu’s An Outline of International Price Theory, available in paperback and ebook editions in the Mises store.

In Chapter II, Wu discusses some early controversies in Mercantilist thought, and their effects on our thinking about free trade. It is interesting to read Wu’s summary of the debate between the interests of England-based manufacturers of clothing and the importers of clothing from the East India Company. In both cases, they are arguing from the position of special interest groups, but the arguments made by the East India Company, while not made in the spirit of any true devotion to free trade, are harbingers of later advances in our understanding of the value of free trade.

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The overseas discoveries in the last decades of the fifteenth century had widened the boundaries of international trade and had given rise to a change in its nature and an expansion of its volume. As a result of the opening of the new silver mines between 1540 and 1600 in America, Europe was supplied with an abundance of money metals and thus the establishment of a real price economy was facilitated. That change in commerce together with the extension in the use of money accelerated the development of the new spirit of private enterprise and paved the way for the triumph of the moneyed classes. In fact, the time had come for a transition from a number of local economies to a national economy, from feudalism to commercial capitalism, from a state of comparatively little trade to an epoch of extensive international commerce. That change in the economic structure is sometimes called by economic historians the “Commerical Revolution.”

In the world of thought, that change in the economic structure found its expression in what is known as “Mercantilism.”

… First of all, all mercantilists considered the benefit of the State as the end and object of economic activities, in their view the interests of the State had always to take precedence to the interests of the individual. The aim of all mercantilistic doctrines is to increase the economic power of the State. Moreover, the interests of the state were, in their eyes, by no means necessarily in harmony with the activities of the individual. According to them, wages, interest, industry, and trade should be regulated so as to benefit the State. Finally, the importance of “treasure” to a State was greatly emphasized. The reasons given in support of their advocacy of the accumulation of the previous metals changed from one time to another, but all mercantilists agreed that a nation must try by all means to increase its “treasure.” In general, they recognized that countries which did not possess gold or silver mines could not increase their stocks of the previous metals except by an annually recurring favorable balance of trade (if peaceful means alone were adopted). Consequently, they gave foreign trade the foremost place among the industries of a nation. …

The protection versus “free trade” controversy at the end of the seventeenth century was connected with the East India trade. In the latter half of that century the imports of Indian textiles into England were increasing, especially in the last two decades. Owing to the high costs of production, the English textile industries could not withstand the competition of the Indian imports. The result was that in the last decade of the century the English woolen and silk industries faced a grave crisis. Those industries were experiencing depression and unemployment, and complaints were made by the weavers and the public in general against the East India trade.

The best spokesmen of the weavers’ interests were John Cary and John Pollexfen. Like other mercantilists, they based their contention upon the conception of the State as an economic entity and stood for a definite national economic policy for the benefit of the state. … Cary and Pollexfen … judged the benefit of trade … by the nature of the exports and imports [rather] than by their quantity and value. In other words, “that Trade is advantageous to the Kingdom … which Exports our Product and Manufactures; which Imports to us such Commodities as may be manufactured here, or to be used in making our manufactures; which supplies us with such things, without which we cannot carry on our Foreign Trade; [and] which encourages our Navigation, and increases our Seamen.”

Judged by those criteria, the East India trade was said to be harmful and not beneficial to England … [Cary and Pollexfen] no longer valued foreign trade and the treasure brought by it for their own sakes but for the effects upon home industries and trade.

The ablest upholders of the East India Company were Josiah Child and Charles Davenant. They did not deny the obvious fact that the Indian trade was detrimental to certain industries, but they maintained that the fact was not a sufficient condemnation of the East India trade.

In place of those criteria, they tried to establish a new rule for testing whether a trade is beneficial to a state or not:

The best and most certain discovery … is to be made from the encrease or diminution of our Trade and Shipping in general. … Where-ever Trade is great and continuous so, and grows daily more great and encreaseth in Shipping, and … for a succession not of a few years, but of Ages, that Trade must be nationally profitable.

Using that criterion and facts that they had adduced to show that the East India trade had promoted the general prosperity of the nation, they were able to make out a case for the view that the East India trade was beneficial to the country.

Negatively, they tried to show that the proposal to prohibit the wearing of all Indian imported textiles in England would be detrimental to the nation.

However, they could not do so without sacrificing some part of their mercantilistic doctrines and approaching the doctrine of free trade. The following quotations perhaps sufficiently reveal their main arguments:

Trade is in its nature free, finds its own channel, and best directeth its own course: and all laws to give it rules and directions, and to limit and circumscribe it, may serve the particular ends of private men, but are seldom advantageous to the public.

For all trades have a mutual dependence one upon the other, and one begets another, and the loss of one frequently loses half the rest.

It should be noted they were not free traders at heart. They advocated leaving trade free from restraints only in so far as the argument served the purpose of their Company and their views constitute a mere case of special pleading.

Author Description from the Ludwig von Mises Bookstore:

Greatness often comes from the most unlikely corners. Chi-Yuen Wu began this treatise while a student at London School of Economics during the Great Depression, then returning to an anxious China, on the verge of war, and in the throes of economic instability, finished it from the remoteness of Western China after being displaced from his home.

Wu looked at the history of economic thought as a way to explain what was happening and why. Lionel Robbins, in the Preface, says “Few, can read his penetrating commentaries without feeling that he has added substantially to knowledge, both in his elucidations and in his presentation of the general perspective of development.”

Murray Rothbard considered Outlines of International Price Theories to be a seminal contribution to the theory of price and international trade.

Bitcoin for Beginners – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Bitcoin for Beginners – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance Hat
Jeffrey A. Tucker
April 2, 2013
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Understanding Bitcoin requires that we understand the limits of our ability to imagine the future that the market can create for us.

Thirty years ago, for example, if someone had said that electronic text—digits flying through the air and landing in personalized inboxes owned by us all that we check at will at any time of the day or night—would eventually displace first class mail, you might have said it was impossible.

After all, not even the Jetsons cartoon imagined email. Elroy brought notes home from his teacher on pieces of paper. Still, email has largely displaced first-class mail, just as texting, social networking, private messaging, and even digital vmail via voice-over-Internet are replacing the traditional telephone.

It turns out that the future is really hard to imagine, especially when entrepreneurs specialize in surprising us with innovations. The markets are always outsmarting even the most wild-eyed dreamers, and they are certainly smarter than the intellectual who keeps saying: such and such cannot happen.

It’s the same today. What if I suggested that digital money could eventually come to replace government paper money? Heaven knows we need a replacement.

Solving Problems a Byte at a Time

Money started in modern times as gold and silver, and it was controlled by its owners and users. Then the politicians got hold of it—a controlling interest in half of every transaction—and look what they did. Today money is rooted in nothing at all and its value is subject to the whims of central planners, politicians, and monetary bureaucrats. This system is not very modern when we consider a world in which the market is driving innovations in other aspects of our daily lives.

Maybe it was just a matter of time. The practicality is impossible to deny: Gamers needed tokens they could trade. Digital real estate needed to be bought and sold. Money was also becoming more and more notional, with wire transfers, bank computer systems, and card networks serving to move “money” around. The whole world was gradually migrating to the digital sphere, but conventional money was attached to the ground, to vaults owned or controlled by governments.

The geeks went to work on it in the 1990s and developed a number of prototypes—Ecash, bit gold, RPOW, b-money—but they all faltered for the same reason: their supply could not be limited and no one could figure out how to make them impossible to double and triple spend. Normally, reproducibility is a wonderful thing. You can send me an image and still keep it. You can send me a song and not lose control of yours. The Internet made possible infinite copying, which is a great thing for media and texts and—with 3-D printing—even objects. But reproducibility is not a feature that benefits a medium of exchange.

After all, a currency is useless unless it is scarce and its replication is carefully controlled. Think of the gold standard. There is a fixed amount of gold in the world, and it enters into economic life only through hard work and real expenditure. Gold has to be mined. All gold is interchangeable with all other gold, but when I own an ounce, you can’t own it at the same time. How can such a system be replicated in the digital sphere? How can you assign titles to a fungible digital good and makes sure that these titles are absolutely sticky to the property in question?

Follow the Money

Finally it happened. In 2008, a person called “Satoshi Nakamoto” created Bitcoin. He wasn’t the first to solve the problem of double spending. A currency called e-gold did that, but the flaw was that there was a central entity in charge that users had to trust. Bitcoin removed this central point of failure, enabling miners themselves constantly to validate the transaction record. He had each user download the full ledger of all existing Bitcoins so that each could be checked for its title and not used more than once at the same time. With his system, every coin had an owner, and the system could not be gamed.

Further, Nakamoto built in a system of mining that attempts to replicate the experience of the gold standard. The math equations you have to solve get harder over time. The early creators had it easy, just like the early miners of gold could pan it out of the river, though later they had to dig into the mountain. Nakamoto put a limit on the number of coins that can be mined (21 million by 2140). (A new coin is currently mined every 20 seconds or so, and a transaction occurs every second.)

He made his code completely open-source and available to all so that it could be trusted. And the payment system used the most advanced form of encryption, with public keys visible to all and a scrambling system that makes its connection to the private key impossible to discover.

No one would be in charge of the system; everyone would be in charge of the system. This is what it means to be open source, and it’s the same dynamic that has made WordPress a powerhouse in the software community. There would be no need for an Audit Bitcoin movement. Trust, anonymity, speed, strict property rights, and the possibility that applications could be built on top of the infrastructure made it perfect.

Bitcoin went live on November 1, 2008. To really appreciate why this matters, consider the times. The entire political and financial establishment was in full-scale panic meltdown. The real estate markets had collapsed, pulling down the balance sheets of the major banks. The investment banks were unloading mortgage-backed securities at an unprecedented pace. Boats delivering goods couldn’t leave shore because they could find no backers for their insurance bonds. For a moment, it seemed like the world was ending. The Republicans held the White House, but the unthinkable still happened: Government and the central banks decided to attempt a full-scale rescue of the whole system, spending and creating trillions in new paper tickets to fill bank vaults.

Clearly government paper was failing. A digital alternative had to exist. But what gave Bitcoin its value? There were several factors. It was not fixed to any existing currency, so it could float according to human valuation. It was made from real stuff: the very 1s and 0s that were driving forward the global market economy. And while 1s and 0s can be reproduced unto infinity, the new coins could not, thanks to a system in which the coin and its public key were strictly controlled and the ledger updated for every transaction. Its soundness could be checked constantly through instantaneous conversion to other currencies as well as to goods and services. The model seemed impenetrable, the first digital currency that really addressed all the problems that had doomed previous attempts.

A Bitcoin of One’s Own

Let’s fast forward in time to March 2013. I had become the proud owner of my first Bitcoin. My wallet lived on my smartphone. Only three years ago, some wonderful applications had already developed around the currency unit. Although I’m a bit techy, I’m not a rocket scientist and I’m quite certain that I would have been out of my league. But this is how digital institutions develop to become ever more user friendly. At the same event at which I became a Bitcoin owner, I also used a Bitcoin ATM. I put in the green stuff, held my digital wallet up to the scanner, and then I felt the buzz on my smartphone. Physical became digital. Beautiful.

But still I wondered what exactly I could do with these things. That’s when the consumer world of Bitcoin products appeared before me. We aren’t just talking about the Silk Road—a website that became notorious for enabling the easy, anonymous buying and selling of drugs. There are Bitcoin stores everywhere. And there are services in which you can buy from any website with a Bitcoin interface. There was growing talk of Bitcoin futures markets. Some companies were rumored to be going public with Bitcoins, and thereby bypassing the whole of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The implications are mind-blowing.

Sacred Pliers

Still, I’m a tactile kind of guy. I need to experience things. So I went to one of these sites. I brought the first product I saw (why, I do not know). It was a pair of pliers for crimping electric cables. I put in my shipping address and up came a note that said it was time to pay. This was the moment I had been waiting for. A QR code—that funny square design that looks like a 3-D bar code—popped up onscreen. I held up my “wallet” and scanned. In less than 2 seconds, the deed was done. It was easier than Amazon’s one-click ordering system. My heart raced. I jumped out of my chair and did a quick song and dance around the room. Somehow I had seen it thoroughly for the first time: this is the future.

The pliers arrived two days later, and even though I have no use for them, I still treasure them.

Bitcoin had already taken off when the surprising Cyprus crisis hit in a big way. The government was talking about seizing bank deposits as a way of bailing out the whole system. During this period, Bitcoin essentially doubled in value. Press reports said that people were pulling out government currency and converting it, not only in Cyprus but also in Spain and Italy and elsewhere. The price of Bitcoin in terms of dollars soared. Another way to put this is that the price of goods and services in terms of Bitcoin was going down. Yes, this is the much-dreaded system that mainstream economists decry as “deflation.” The famed Keynesian Paul Krugman has even gone so far as to say that the worst thing about Bitcoin is that people hoard them instead of spending them, thereby replicating the feature of the gold standard that he hates the most! He might as well have given a ringing endorsement, as far as I’m concerned.

Obsession and Resentment

My own experience with Bitcoin during this time intensified. I began to call friends on Skype and scan their QR codes and trade currencies. I began to rope other people into the obsession based on my experience: you have to own to believe. After one full day of buying, selling, and using Bitcoins, I had the strange experience of resenting that I had to pay a cab fare in plain old U.S. dollars.

How do you obtain Bitcoins? This process can be a bit tricky. You can look up localbitcoins.com and find a local person to meet you to trade cash for Bitcoins. Usually, this exchange takes place at high premiums of anywhere from 10 percent to 50 percent depending on how competitive the local market is. It is understandable why people are reluctant to do this, no matter how safe it is. There is just something that seems sketchy about meeting a stranger in an all-night cafe to do some unusual digital currency exchange.

A more conventional route is to go to one of many online sellers and link up your bank account and buy. This process can take a few days. And then when you set out to transfer the funds, you might be surprised at the limits in the market that exist these days. Sites are rationing Bitcoin selling based on availability, just given the high demand. It could be 10 days or more to go from non-owner to real owner. But once you have them, you are off to the races. Sending and receiving money has never been easier.

Doubts?

As of this writing, a Bitcoin is trading for $88.249.  Just three years ago, it hovered at 0.14 cents. Many people look at the current market and think, surely this is a speculative bubble. That could be true, but it might not be. People are exchanging an unstable, fiat paper for something with a real title that cannot be duplicated. Everyone knows precisely how many Bitcoins exist at any time. Anyone can observe the transactions taking place in real time. A Bitcoin’s price can go up and down, and that’s fine, but there is no real speculation going on here that is endogenous to the Bitcoin market itself.

Is it a pyramid scheme? The defining mark of a pyramid scheme is that more than one person has an equal claim on the same money or good. This is physically impossible with Bitcoin. The way the program is set up, it is a strict property rights regime with no exceptions. In fact, in early March, there was a brief hiccup in the system when some new coins were approved by one group of developers but not approved by another. A “fork” appeared in the system. The price began to fall. Developers worked fast to resolve the dispute and eventually the system—and the price—returned to normal. This is the advantage of the open-source system.

But what about the vague sense some people have that a handful of coders cannot, on their own, cause a new currency to come in existence? Well, if you look back at what Austrian monetary theorist Carl Menger says, he points out that a similar process is precisely how gold became money. Every new currency is not at first used by everyone. It is at first used only “by the most discerning and most capable economizing individuals.” Their successful behaviors are then emulated by others. In other words, the emergence of money involves entrepreneurship—that is, being alert to opportunities to discover and provide something new.

Leviathan Leers

But what about a government crackdown? No doubt that attempt will be made. Already, some national government agencies are expressing some degree of annoyance at what could be. But governments haven’t been able to control the cash economy. It would be infinitely more difficult to control a virtual currency with no central bank, with encryption, and with millions of users per day. Controlling that would be unthinkable.

There was a time when the idea that ebooks would replace physical books was an absurd notion. When I first took a look at the early generation of ereaders, I laughed and scoffed. It will never happen. Now I find myself looking for a home for my physical books and loading up on ebooks by the hundreds. Such is the way markets surprise us. Technology without central planners makes dreams come true.

It’s possible that Bitcoin will flop. Maybe it is just the first generation. Maybe thousands of people will lose their shirts in this first go-round. But is the digitization of money coming? Absolutely. Will there always be skeptics out there? Absolutely. But in this case, they are not in charge. Markets will do what they do, building the future whether we approve or understand it fully or not. The future will not be stopped.

Jeffrey Tucker is executive editor and publisher at Laissez Faire Books

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

Are We Destroying the Earth? – Article by Sanford Ikeda

Are We Destroying the Earth? – Article by Sanford Ikeda

The New Renaissance Hat
Sanford Ikeda
October 3, 2012
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People often complain that mankind is destroying the earth: that insatiable consumption and relentless production have laid waste to irreplaceable swaths of our planet, and that these activities have to stop or someday it will all be gone.

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

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

The real question is: Is it worth it?

Value Can Be Both Created and Destroyed

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

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

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

Profits and Losses Help to Minimize the Destruction of Value

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

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

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

Aesthetics or Economics?

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

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

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

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

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

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