Browsed by
Tag: Jeffrey A. Tucker

Nazis on Twitter? That’s What Blocking Is For – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Nazis on Twitter? That’s What Blocking Is For – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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

I’ve followed the fascinating case of Jonathan Weisman, The New York Times’s deputy Washington editor, and his conflagration with the legions of Nazis on Twitter. After he tweeted an essay about the rise of fascism in the U.S. — an essay not unlike the one I wrote this time last year — he was dogpiled by a variety of crazy alt-right accounts, and bombarded by some deeply malicious messaging.

You wake in the morning and find 100 notifications from people calling you a tool of the Jews.It might have been new to him, but for most curious Internet users of a certain generation, this is nothing new. For Weisman, it came as a shock, and understandably. The tweets featured photoshopped images of Weisman being marched to the gas chambers, for example. They threatened him with vile anti-Semitic and hard-core racist rhetoric.

He knew that if he merely claimed that this happened, he would be met with incredulity by a mainstream audience. To make sure that people believed him, he spent the day retweeting the vile messages to his followers, as if to say: “this stuff really does exist.”

I know exactly what he means. After my first critical article on Trump last year, one in which I reported on an early campaign speech I watched, I was trolled hard too. You wake in the morning and find 100 notifications from people calling you a tool of the Jews, slamming you with racist cartoons, telling you that you have sold out the white race, and even calling for your death.

These are people who perhaps begin their trajectory with some harmless anti-PC racial banter, but it escalates to become a full-scale political ideology, one that eventually crowds out all concern for human rights and decency. What they have joined isn’t a real army with guns, but when you are targeted it is still emotionally draining and politically frightening to say the least.

It’s supposed to be. That’s why they do it. The point is to shake you up, and make you feel like you are being bombarded.

When I told people about it, they didn’t believe it, or didn’t want to believe it. I too ended up screenshotting and posting in private messages, just to make the point that these vile movements do indeed exist. Even then, people doubt, probably because the sheer aggressiveness of this crowd is rather new in public life, at least in the US.

Hatred, Left and Right

For most of my writing career, I’ve been called a corporate shill by the left, a puppet of the Kochtopus, an apologist for capitalist exploitation and frankenfood. None of the attacks from the left have matched the sheer vitriol of those from the supposed opposite side. These days, though I hold the same libertarian perspective I always have, I’m being denounced as a witting dupe of the rootless commercial class, a shill for the global banksters and usurers, a cuckservative (look it up), and probably a secret Jew myself.

Welcome to Twitter in 2016.

The world truly does seem to be dividing between authoritarians of the right and left, and the rest of us. At some point in last year, hundreds of bitter people left their 4chan caves and became Twitter mavens. It became the choice venue for the far right, which has developed its own internal signaling systems such as putting the signs ((( ))) around ostensibly “known Jews.” They use swastikas as avatars. They post Nazi-era caricatures of Jews. And the rhetoric is a revival of interwar hate that most people believe was vanquished from the earth with the defeat of the Nazis 70 years ago.

Not all the accounts are so blatant. Some prefer the dog-whistle approach in their own posting and merely retweet the more hard-core material. After a while, you can become very talented at spotting the members of this internet junta, and have it confirmed with only one or two degrees of separation from the more overt deniers and/or celebrators of the actual Holocaust (strange how deniers and celebrators hang out together).

Just as left socialism never seems to go away, no matter how many economic disasters it brings about, so it is with national socialism with a rightest tinge. In fact, it seems to be growing, both in Europe and the US, posing a serious challenge to those of us who consider ourselves classical liberals: hard opposition to the left and to the right. As I’ve written elsewhere, the world truly does seem to be dividing between authoritarians of the right and left, opposed consistently by a small but growing group of genuine liberals all over the world.

Terms of Use

Now, to be sure, Jonathan Weisman was exactly right to wonder why Twitter puts up with this stuff. As he points out, banning such accounts is not censorship; this is a private venue that can set its own rules, same as a restaurant or movie theater. And Twitter does indeed have rules against “hateful conduct” that threatens people based on religion and ethnicity, as well as a policy on harassment that prohibits targeting people and inciting others to do the same. There’s no question that these accounts are in violation.

Why doesn’t Twitter act? Well, it sometimes does. After the Weisman articles, Twitter banned some 30 or so accounts. What happened to them? It’s pretty easy: they can easily come back again with another user name. In this sense, Twitter is, by design, much easier to game than Google or Facebook, both of which have much stricter policies. Sockpuppeting is a way of life here.

How does a digital venue decide how strict to be on these matters? It is all about the value of the platform for users. Sometimes tighter is better and other times it is not. In the case of Twitter, a main contribution it makes to global culture is its openness to all. You can find and see and hear just about anything. You can curate your feed. You can include or exclude. Sure, that takes a bit of work, but it is more than worth it.

For Facebook and LinkedIn, matters are very different. Permitting hate, harassment, sex solicitation, porn, and so on, is a problem for the kind of culture they want to create for members. And so it is more carefully policed. Again, this is not censorship anymore than a restaurant that demands shoes is violating human rights. You have the human right to be a Nazi all you want on your own property, but you don’t have the right to do so on property that belongs to others.

What To Do?

As it turns out, the nasty junta of hate-spewing freaks is not an army after all.When this started happening to me, I was initially disoriented and, I admit, a bit shaken. But then it struck me that Twitter surely has permitted a way to deal with this. Sure enough, there is a little gear that allows you to select a pretty little option: block. With the block, that account can no longer contact you or post among your notifications. Quite simply, you stop hearing from them.

I spent about a month doing this to trolls. Oddly, it is very satisfying. Someone tags you in a hate-filled post. With one click, you can blast them out of your curated universe. Once I got the hang of it, it became a game. Instead of getting mad, you just get even. Well, not really. But it sort of feels like it.

You know what? It works. After blocking about 100 accounts over the course of the fall, the problem almost entirely vanished. As it turns out, the nasty junta of hate-spewing freaks is not an army after all. In the end, we might in fact be talking about a few hundred accounts. Maybe it is more. And maybe after this article, they will all be back.

It might not be possible to make them all go away, but there is a way to reduce the influx and almost eliminate the stress. That’s not to minimize the alarming rise of fascism in politics here and abroad, but only to say that we are wise to distinguish between reality and digital illusion.

Blocking Is Betting than Beatings

And this is a much better option than leaning hard on Twitter to do more enforcement of its own terms of use. As much as these people disgust me, I would actually prefer to live in a world in which even deranged Nazis have access to widely available communication channels. I won’t invoke the right of free speech here because that’s not what this is about.

I will, however, say a good word for openness to all – and I mean all – points of view, access to media by all the world’s people (this is a wonderful miracle), and, above all else, the right of individuals to exclude through blocking. This is the way the opinion market should work. This is how we curate our own intellectual lives.

What we absolutely do not need – which Europe has tried to do – are government controls on what types of opinions one is allowed to hold and what books one is allowed to read. If you want violent extremism to grow, this is a great path towards guaranteeing that it will. Shutting people up by force is not the solution. The block button is far more effective than any censor.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup Liberty.me, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. 

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

 

The Orlando Bloodbath and the Illiberal Mind – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The Orlando Bloodbath and the Illiberal Mind – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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

Society is forever threatened by individuals with corrupt hearts

***

The horrifying events at the Pulse bar in Orlando, Florida, the worst mass shooting in American history, illustrate what is meant by the term terrorism. It is violence designed to shake our sense of security and safety, to instill fear, to remind us how fragile is the very existence of what we call civilization. One moment, people are dancing and enjoying the music. The next they are covered with blood amidst unspeakable carnage, and wondering when the bullets are going to tear through their own flesh.

A nightclub—a conspicuous symbol of commercial ebullience and progressive cultural creativity—becomes a war zone in the blink of an eye, and why? There is no final answer to such a gigantic question, but there are strong suggestions based on the identity of the killer and recent experiences with Islamic extremism. It stems from intolerance, leading to seething hatred, resulting in violence, leaving only devastation and fear in its wake. One corrupt heart, driven to action through profound malice, turns a dance club into a killing field.

No Political Solution

It is political season, so of course the tragedy will have implications for the direction of politics. Islamophobia gets a boost, which helps the cause of religious intolerance and nativism, even though the killer was an American citizen and in no way represents the views of a billion and a half peaceful and faithful Muslims struggling for a better life.

Two nights earlier, beloved YouTube star Christina Grimmie was shot dead by a man having no motivations related to Islam. Fear drives people to seek political solutions, so the details of the case in question are not likely to matter. Political control over our lives and property will undoubtedly follow this catastrophe just as they did after 9-11.

And yet there are no political solutions, at least none readily at hand. Yes, the radicalization of some sectors of Islam might never have taken their present course had the U.S. not made egregious foreign-policy blunders that incited the drive for vengeance among millions. Looking back over the decades, back to the 1980s when the most extreme ideologies received U.S. encouragement from the U.S. as a Cold War measure, all the way to the destabilization of Iraq, Syria, and Libya, one sees how the violence of war has fed the violence of terrorism in repeating cycles.

Still, no one can say for sure that absent such blunders, someone like the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen, would not come into existence. Society is always threatened by individuals with corrupt hearts and the malicious intent to purify the world of sin. We try to protect ourselves. Security systems respond by becoming ever better at what they are supposed to do. The horror has already re-started the debate between gun rights and gun control (however: by law, that bar was a gun-free zone, meaning that people could not protect themselves or stop others who are intent on killing). And yet, in the end, there is no system of politics and no system of security capable of ending all such threats to human well being.

Toleration as a Virtue

The answer lies with the conversion of the human heart.

Where does this begin?

Given that the driving force here is related to religion, we can turn to the very origins of liberalism itself. It was once believed that society, in order to function properly, required full agreement on matters of faith. But after centuries of warfare amounting to nothing, a new norm emerged, some half a millennium ago, which can best be summarized in the term toleration.

You can’t kill capitalism without killing people. The insight was that it is not necessary for people to agree in order that they find value in each other and get along. A society can cohere even in the presence of profound religious disagreement. We all have a greater stake in peace with each other than any of us do in winning some religious struggle. As 19th century liberal cleric John Henry Newman put it, “Learn to do thy part and leave the rest to Heaven.”

This was the profound insight, and it led to a new enlightenment on a range of issues beyond religion: free speech, free press, free trade, freedom of association. The insight concerning toleration planted a seed that led to a new realization of how humanity can enjoy progress. Voltaire’s Treatise on Toleration, which summed up the case, appeared a mere twenty-one years before Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. Their core idea was the same: we have more to gain from toleration, exchange, and freedom than we have from vanquishing the foe from the earth.

So it should be no surprise that the attempt to revert that progress and bring back a new age of tribal warfare would begin by questioning the core insight of religious liberty. Instead it seeks to purify the world of heresy and save souls through violence, if not by centralized authority, then by individual action. It is a premodern manner of thinking, one that seeks to end the lives of those who use freedom in ways that contradicts its own views of what is right and proper.

And notice too how the rise of intolerance has targeted such a conspicuous sign of capitalist consumerism: the dance clubs, and, particular, one that caters toward the gay community. Capitalism is the economic realization of the idea of human freedom, one in which people choose their partners, their music, their mode of expression. No one harms anyone; everyone is free to enjoy, to stay out late, to drink liquor, to move and sing as an expression of individuality.

The illiberal mind loathes such freedom and wants it destroyed. This is why, in the end, it is always capitalism itself that is in the crosshairs. And you can’t kill capitalism without killing people.

Resist Fear

What are we left to think and do when faced with such a bloody tragedy? Remember the foundations of what made us who we are, the philosophical underpinnings of what made the modern world great. Seek peace. Tolerate, even celebrate, differences among us. Find value in each other through trade. Defend human rights and freedom against all who seek to stamp them out.

Resist fear. Reject hate. Defend institutions that help all of us realize our dreams. Turn away from revenge fantasies and recommit ourselves again to living peacefully with others, treating even our enemies as if someday they might be our friends. Building a world free of violence and terror takes place in the conversion of one human heart at a time, beginning with our own.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup Liberty.me, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. 

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.

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

Interest in Libertarianism Explodes – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Interest in Libertarianism Explodes – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
******************************
 Johnston / Weld

For forty years, the Libertarian Party has worked to survive. Then, in what seems to be a brief flash of time, it is suddenly at the center of American political life. It’s absolutely remarkable how quickly this has happened.

It’s a perfect storm that made this happen. Party A has become a plastic vessel for pillaging pressure groups, with a phony at the top of the ticket. Party B has been taken over by a cartoonish replica of an interwar strongman. Like beautiful poetry, or like the third act of a 19th-century opera, the Libertarian Party has risen to the occasion to represent a simple proposition: people should be free.

And that theme seems interestingly attractive, enough to draw more media attention to the Libertarian Party in the last week than it had received in the previous 40 years combined. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration. But a Google News search generates 600,000 results right now, and more recent coverage than I could read between now and midnight. Meanwhile, the Johnson/Weld ticket is polling at 11% nationally, which is essentially unprecedented.

Given today’s information flood, do you know how difficult this is to accomplish? It’s unbelievably difficult to cause anything to trend in this world. That this has happened is amazing. Plus, “libertarian” is a weird word to most people. In some ways, for a party that represents a beautifully simple idea, and the most important idea in the history of the world, this is word is a handicap.

And yet it is happening anyway.

Libertarian_Interest

Friends of mine have taken issue with this or that position held by Gary Johnson and William Weld. This is not the point. Every time I speak to either them, they are immediately quick to clarify that this election is not about them as people or the particulars of their policy positions. It is about representing an idea and a body of thought — an idea that has otherwise been nearly vanquished from public life. They admit to being imperfect carriers of that message. But this humility alone contrasts with the arrogance of the other two parties.

Nor is this really about getting Johnson/Weld elected. It is about clarifying the very existence of an option to two varieties of authoritarianism that the two main parties represent.

This ticket is not an end but a beginning.

For many months, I watched in horror as the only home that tolerated something approaching the old liberal idea has been taken over at its very top by a political force that now has had nothing good to say about liberty.

I’ve looked for an upside but had a hard time finding.

Now I do see the upside. The purging of freedom-minded people from the national end of the Republican Party has created an amazing opportunity. And the Libertarian Party is stepping up to play its historical role.

What is that role? Here has been the controversy for many years. Initially, many people believed it could actually compete with the two parties. When it became obvious that this was not possible, the role became one of ideological agitation and education. Thus ensued a 30-year war over purity of ideology. After all, if the point is not to win, and rather only to enlighten, it becomes important to offer the most bracing possible message.

But that conviction alone does not actually solve the problem. Which version of libertarianism, among the dozens of main packages and hundreds if not thousands of iterations, should prevail? This becomes a prescription for limitless factionalism, arguments, personal attacks — which is pretty much a description of how people have characterized the party and libertarianism generally over the years.

It is for this reason that the Johnson/Weld run this year is so refreshing. They are sometimes called moderates. I don’t think that’s right. It is more correct to say that they are interested in the main theme of the party, and that theme is freedom. No, they are not running to implement my vision of what liberty looks like in all its particulars. But they are on message with the essentials: freedom is what matters and we need more of it.

There was a time when such a message was redundant of what was already said by the Republicans and, perhaps, even the Democrats. But with the whole messaging of the two-party cartel having become “what kind of tyranny do you want?” there is a desperate need for someone to change the subject.

All issues of ideological particulars aside, this is what we need right now. And it will make the difference. Having this ticket become a part of the debate structure can provide that needed boost to liberalism as an idea, saving it from the desire on the part of the Trump/Clinton to drive it out of public life.

These are enormously exciting times. Six months ago, I would have never imagined such opportunities. As I’ve written elsewhere, the choice is at last clear, and clearer than it has been in my lifetime.

We can do socialism, fascism, or liberalism. Which way we take forward will not be determined by who gets elected but by the values we hold as individuals. And here, at long last, national politics can make an enormous contribution to changing hearts and minds.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup Liberty.me, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. 

This article was originally published on Liberty.me.

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

Thomas Carlyle: The Founding Father of Fascism – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Thomas Carlyle: The Founding Father of Fascism – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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

Thomas Carlyle fits the bill in every respect

***

Have you heard of the “great man” theory of history?

The meaning is obvious from the words. The idea is that history moves in epochal shifts under the leadership of visionary, bold, often ruthless men who marshal the energy of masses of people to push events in radical new directions. Nothing is the same after them.

In their absence, nothing happens that is notable enough to qualify as history: no heroes, no god-like figures who qualify as “great.” In this view, we need such men.  If they do not exist, we create them. They give us purpose. They define the meaning of life. They drive history forward.

Great men, in this view, do not actually have to be fabulous people in their private lives. They need not exercise personal virtue. They need not even be moral. They only need to be perceived as such by the masses, and play this role in the trajectory of history.

Such a view of history shaped much of historiography as it was penned in the late 19th century and early 20th century, until the revisionists of the last several decades saw the error and turned instead to celebrate private life and the achievements of common folk instead. Today the “great man” theory history is dead as regards academic history, and rightly so.

Carlyle the Proto-Fascist

Thomas_CarlyleThe originator of the great man theory of history is British philosopher Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), one of the most revered thinkers of his day. He also coined the expression “dismal science” to describe the economics of his time. The economists of the day, against whom he constantly inveighed, were almost universally champions of the free market, free trade, and human rights.

His seminal work on “great men” is On Heroes,  Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (1840). This book was written to distill his entire worldview.

Considering Carlyle’s immense place in the history of 19th century intellectual life, this is a surprisingly nutty book. It can clearly be seen as paving the way for the monster dictators of the 20th century. Reading his description of “great men” literally, there is no sense in which Mao, Stalin, and Hitler — or any savage dictator from any country you can name — would not qualify.

Indeed, a good case can be made that Carlyle was the forefather of fascism. He made his appearance in the midst of the age of laissez faire, a time when the UK and the US had already demonstrated the merit of allowing society to take its own course, undirected from the top down. In these times, kings and despots were exercising ever less control and markets ever more. Slavery was on its way out. Women obtained rights equal to men. Class mobility was becoming the norm, as were long lives, universal opportunity, and material progress.

Carlyle would have none of it. He longed for a different age. His literary output was devoted to decrying the rise of equality as a norm and calling for the restoration of a ruling class that would exercise firm and uncontested power for its own sake. In his view, some were meant to rule and others to follow. Society must be organized hierarchically lest his ideal of greatness would never again be realized. He set himself up as the prophet of despotism and the opponent of everything that was then called liberal.

Right Authoritarianism of the 19th Century

Carlyle was not a socialist in an ideological sense. He cared nothing for the common ownership of the means of production. Creating an ideologically driven social ideal did not interest him at all. His writings appeared and circulated alongside those of Karl Marx and his contemporaries, but he was not drawn to them.

Rather than an early “leftist,” he was a consistent proponent of power and a raving opponent of classical liberalism, particularly of the legacies of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill. If you have the slightest leanings toward liberty, or affections for the impersonal forces of markets, his writings come across as ludicrous. His interest was in power as the central organizing principle of society.

Here is his description of the “great men” of the past:

“They were the leaders of men, these great ones; the modellers, patterns, and in a wide sense creators, of whatsoever the general mass of men contrived to do or to attain; all things that we see standing accomplished in the world are properly the outer material result, the practical realization and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men sent into the world: the soul of the whole world’s history….

One comfort is, that Great Men, taken up in any way, are profitable company. We cannot look, however imperfectly, upon a great man, without gaining something by him. He is the living light-fountain, which it is good and pleasant to be near. The light which enlightens, which has enlightened the darkness of the world; and this not as a kindled lamp only, but rather as a natural luminary shining by the gift of Heaven; a flowing light-fountain, as I say, of native original insight, of manhood and heroic nobleness;—in whose radiance all souls feel that it is well with them. … Could we see them well, we should get some glimpses into the very marrow of the world’s history. How happy, could I but, in any measure, in such times as these, make manifest to you the meanings of Heroism; the divine relation (for I may well call it such) which in all times unites a Great Man to other men…

Carlyle established himself as the arch-opponent of liberalism — heaping an unrelenting and seething disdain on Smith and his disciples.And so on it goes for hundreds of pages that celebrate “great” events such as the Reign of Terror in the aftermath of the French Revolution (one of the worst holocausts then experienced). Wars, revolutions, upheavals, invasions, and mass collective action, in his view, were the essence of life itself. The merchantcraft of the industrial revolution, the devolution of power, the small lives of the bourgeoisie all struck him as noneventful and essentially irrelevant. These marginal improvements in the social sphere were made by the “silent people” who don’t make headlines and therefore don’t matter much; they are essential at some level but inconsequential in the sweep of things.

To Carlyle, nothing was sillier than Adam Smith’s pin factory: all those regular people intricately organized by impersonal forces to make something practical to improve people’s lives. Why should society’s productive capacity be devoted to making pins instead of making war? Where is the romance in that?

Carlyle established himself as the arch-opponent of liberalism — heaping an unrelenting and seething disdain on Smith and his disciples. And what should replace liberalism? What ideology? It didn’t matter, so long as it embodied Carlyle’s definition of “greatness.”

No Greatness Like the Nation-State

Of course there is no greatness to compare with that of the head of the nation-state.

“The Commander over Men; he to whose will our wills are to be subordinated, and loyally surrender themselves, and find their welfare in doing so, may be reckoned the most important of Great Men. He is practically the summary for us of all the various figures of Heroism; Priest, Teacher, whatsoever of earthly or of spiritual dignity we can fancy to reside in a man, embodies itself here, to command over us, to furnish us with constant practical teaching, to tell us for the day and hour what we are to do.”

Why the nation-state? Because within the nation-state, all that is otherwise considered immoral, illegal, unseemly, and ghastly, can become, as blessed by the law, part of policy, civic virtue, and the forward motion of history. The leader of the nation-state baptizes rampant immorality with the holy water of consensus. And thus does Napoleon come in for high praise from Carlyle, in addition to the tribal chieftains of Nordic mythology. The point is not what the “great man” does with his power so much as that he exercises it decisively, authoritatively, ruthlessly.

The exercise of such power necessarily requires the primacy of the nation-state, and hence the protectionist and nativist impulses of the fascist mindset.

Consider the times in which Carlyle wrote. Power was on the wane, and humankind was in the process of discovering something absolutely remarkable: namely, the less society is controlled from the top, the more the people thrive in their private endeavors. Society needs no management but rather contains within itself the capacity for self organization, not through the exercise of the human will as such, but by having the right institutions in place. Such was the idea of liberalism.

Liberalism was always counterintuitive. The less society is ordered, the more order emerges from the ground up. The freer people are permitted to be, the happier the people become and the more meaning they find in the course of life itself. The less power that is given to the ruling class, the more wealth is created and dispersed among everyone. The less a nation is directed by conscious design, the more it can provide a model of genuine greatness.

Such teachings emerged from the liberal revolution of the previous two centuries. But some people (mostly academics and would-be rulers) weren’t having it. On the one hand, the socialists would not tolerate what they perceived to be the seeming inequality of the emergent commercial society. On the other hand, the advocates of old-fashioned ruling-class control, such as Carlyle and his proto-fascist contemporaries, longed for a restoration of pre-modern despotism, and devoted their writings to extolling a time before the ideal of universal freedom appeared in the world.

The Dismal Science

One of the noblest achievements of the liberal revolution of the late 18th and 19th centuries — in addition to the idea of free trade — was the movement against slavery and its eventual abolition. It should not surprise anyone that Carlyle was a leading opponent of the abolitionist movement and a thoroughgoing racist. He extolled the rule of one race over another, and resented especially the economists for being champions of universal rights and therefore opponents of slavery.

As David Levy has demonstrated, the claim that economics was a “dismal science” was first stated in an essay by Carlyle in 1848, an essay in which non-whites were claimed to be non-human and worthy of killing. Blacks were, to his mind, “two-legged cattle,” worthy of servitude for all times.

Carlyle’s objection to economics as a science was very simple: it opposed slavery. Economics imagined that society could consist of people of equal freedoms, a society without masters and slaves. Supply and demand, not dictators, would rule. To him, this was a dismal prospect, a world without “greatness.”

The economists were the leading champions of human liberation from such “greatness.” They understood, through the study of market forces and the close examination of the on-the-ground reality of factories and production structures, that wealth was made by the small actions of men and women acting in their own self interest. Therefore, concluded the economists, people should be free of despotism. They should be free to accumulate wealth. They should pursue their own interests in their own way. They should be let alone.

Carlyle found the whole capitalist worldview disgusting. His loathing foreshadowed the fascism of the 20th century: particularly its opposition to liberal capitalism, universal rights, and progress.

Fascism’s Prophet

Once you get a sense of what capitalism meant to humanity – universal liberation and the turning of social resources toward the service of the common person – it is not at all surprising to find reactionary intellectuals opposing it tooth and nail. There were generally two schools of thought that stood in opposition to what it meant to the world: the socialists and the champions of raw power that later came to be known as fascists. In today’s parlance, here is the left and the right, both standing in opposition to simple freedom.

Carlyle came along at just the right time to represent that reactionary brand of power for its own sake. His opposition to emancipation and writings on race would emerge only a few decades later into a complete ideology of eugenics that would later come to heavily inform 20th-century fascist experiments. There is a direct line, traversing only a few decades, between Carlyle’s vehement anti-capitalism and the ghettos and gas chambers of the German total state.

Do today’s neo-fascists understand and appreciate their 19th century progenitor? Not likely. The continuum from Carlyle to Mussolini to Franco to Donald Trump is lost on people who do not see beyond the latest political crisis. Not one in ten thousand activists among the European and American “alt-right” who are rallying around would-be strong men who seek power today have a clue about their intellectual heritage.

Hitler turned to Goebbels, his trusted assistant, and asked for a final reading. It was Carlyle.And it should not be necessary that they do. After all, we have a more recent history of the rise of fascism in the 20th-century from which to learn (and it is to their everlasting disgrace that they have refused to learn).

But no one should underestimate the persistence of an idea and its capacity to travel time, leading to results that no one intended directly but are still baked into the fabric of the ideological structure. If you celebrate power for its own sake, herald immorality as a civic ideal, and believe that history rightly consists of nothing more than the brutality of great men with power, you end up with unconscionable results that may not have been overtly intended but which were nonetheless given license by the absence of conscience opposition.

As time went on, left and right mutated, merged, diverged, and established a revolving door between the camps, disagreeing on the ends they sought but agreeing on the essentials. They would have opposed 19th-century liberalism and its conviction that society should be left alone. Whether they were called socialist or fascists, the theme was the same. Society must be planned from the top down. A great man — brilliant, powerful, with massive resources at his disposal — must lead. At some point in the middle of the 20th century, it became difficult to tell the difference but for their cultural style and owned constituencies. Even so, left and right maintained distinctive forms. If Marx was the founding father of the socialist left, Carlyle was his foil on the fascist right.

Hitler and Carlyle

In his waning days, defeated and surrounded only by loyalists in his bunker, Hitler sought consolation from the literature he admired the most. According to many biographers, the following scene took place. Hitler turned to Goebbels, his trusted assistant, and asked for a final reading. The words he chose to hear before his death were from Thomas Carlyle’s biography of Frederick the Great. Thus did Carlyle himself provide a fitting epitaph to one of the “great” men he so celebrated during his life: alone, disgraced, and dead.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup Liberty.me, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. 

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.

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

The Hoverboard’s Patent Problem – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The Hoverboard’s Patent Problem – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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

Who has the right to make a “hoverboard”?

Shane Chen of Portland, Oregon, owns the patent to one of the hottest holiday gifts this season. It is a kind of hoverboard, a small item that keeps its user upright using infrared sensors, gyroscopes, and motors. You have probably seen them all over your city. You might even have been approached by a street seller.

The authorized version — licensed by Chen himself — is being made and distributed by Razor USA. Prices started at $1,000 and up, but competition from cheap knockoffs, selling for as low as $200, has brought the price for the authorized version to $600. Still, there are places online where you can get them for $200. If experience in new products in a guide to the future, in a year, they will be available for less than $100.

And truly, these knockoffs are everywhere. Small entrepreneurs are importing them from small manufacturers by the thousands and selling them on the streets. They are making and selling so fast that quality control has been… lax. There are anecdotal reports of explosions and sudden acceleration (parodies on this Saturday night live skit). Amazon has refused to sell many brands.

The patent has proven difficult to enforce. Razor is spending up to $1 million per week to sue unauthorized manufactures. It’s a reminder: it’s never enough just own the government-granted monopoly rights to produce something. It always costs money to enforce it. You have to investigate. You have to litigate. You have to win. And by the time that day comes, you might have lost vast market share.

If the product is popular enough, the task is essentially hopeless. The resources and time expended on patent enforcement might instead of gone to innovation and marketing toward actually making profits. Enforcing a monopoly isn’t necessarily the same as making money. Indeed, it is the opposite.

The Case of Eli Whitney
The hoverboard saga brings to mind the history of one of the 19th-century’s most famous inventions: the cotton gin. The holder of the patent was Eli Whitney. A year after his graduation from Yale, he designed and constructed an improvement in the cotton gin — a technology that had existed since the ancient world. He obtained the patent on a single feature, a brush-like extension that improved the way the seeds were extracted from the cotton.

According to Boldrin and Levine, Eli and his partner Phineas Miller has dreams of getting rich with a monopoly pricing scheme. They would install their machines throughout the South and ask a royalty of two fifths, payable in ginned cotton. This prospect seriously annoyed farmers throughout the region, understandably.

So it became a common practice for farmers to reverse engineer the innovation — not a difficult thing to do. Rather than lease the Whitney machine, they would just make their own. Does this violate anyone’s rights? Of course not. A design of a contraption is made scarce and “owned” only by legislation. To forcibly prevent farmers from making their own machines is actually an invasion of their rights.

Still, with the prospect of riches dancing in his head, Eli and Phineas set out to sue every farmer who reverse engineered their design. “Whitney and Miller spent a lot of time and money trying to enforce their patent on the cotton gin, but with little success,” write Boldrin and Levine. “Between 1794 and 1807 they went around the South bringing to court everyone in sight, yet received little compensation for their strenuous efforts.”

Meanwhile, the gin led to vast increases in productivity. The cotton industry boomed. But the holders of the patent became ever poorer.

Fortunately, the story ends well. Whitney learned that suing people is less profitable than actually marketing products. His next project was to invent a machine that created interchangeable parts for muskets. Having learned his lesson, he did not seek a patent for his innovation. He just got busy right away and began selling. (His main customer, as it turns out, became the US Army.)

He finally did strike it big. As Boldrin and Levine summarize the lesson: “It was not as a monopolist of the cotton gin, but rather as the competitive manufacturer of muskets that Whitney finally became rich.”

Will Shane Chen Learn the Lesson?
The hoverboard, like the cotton gin, is in enormous demand. All the government power is the world will not prevent hundreds of manufacturers from making them, driving the price down and down until everyone can afford one. That one million per week that Razor is spending on trying to stop copycats is probably better spent on marketing and innovation — actually selling stuff rather than trying to prevent others from selling stuff.

Absent the government regulation, how can innovators make money? They have the first-mover advantage. This is what provides a period of high profitability before others get in on the act. This is the competitive market at work, inspiring everyone to serve the customer ever more faithfully through lower prices and better products.

Another factor that gives advantage to the innovators is trust. Even now, you can go to the drug store and see name-brand products living alongside store-branded products. Both make money. Both appeal to certain market segments. One producer’s gain does not necessarily come at the expense of other producers, unless the government intervenes.

It is common wisdom to say that the patent system is broken. But what is broken about it? It’s not that the system is abused. It is that it is used at all. Industrial monopolies achieved through government grants of special privileges create waste — and the ongoing lawsuits concerning the hoverboard are a case in point.

Whether it is ginning cotton or zipping around on city sidewalks, a true innovative society encourages as much production and innovation as possible, in service of the masses who love the newest and coolest thing.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup Liberty.me, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. 

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

The Conservative Meltdown, Courtesy of Trump – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The Conservative Meltdown, Courtesy of Trump – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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

Trumpflag2For 60 years, the conservative establishment has worked to overcome the biggest leftist lie of them all: that non-leftists are really Nazis in disguise. To wreck that view, conservatism reinvented itself after World War II.

William Buckley, editor of National Review, led the way. He purged the hard racists, dedicated segregationists, the Falangists, the anti-semites, the crypto-Nazis, the theocrats and ecclesiocrats, and the wildly paranoid conspiracy mongers.

Buckley was the one to do it too, because he was erudite and educated, with a subtle sense of things. It was a massive effort in social and political control, and it mostly worked. The culminating victory came with the election of Ronald Reagan.

So sensitive was Buckley to the charge of Nazi sympathies that he lost his composure completely, on live television, when in 1968 Gore Vidal charged him with being a crypto-Nazi. It was enough to cause Buckley, again on live television, to threaten Vidal with a punch in the face.

And Buckley never stopped the purges even through the 2000s. To be in the Buckley circle, you had to be housebroken. You had to avoid the fever swamps.

Many of these purges were wholly justified, but there was also collateral damage. He also purged the libertarians and the Randians too, for different reasons. Libertarians weren’t on board with the Cold War, so that was enough for him. As for Rand, perhaps it was the atheism above all else, since by this time, a firm defense of religious faith had become essential to the package of this new thing called conservatism.

If Buckley was so worried about the impression that the only alternative to leftism was Nazism, he might have cooled it a bit on suggesting nuclear war against the North Vietnamese and the Russians. If a distinguishing mark of Nazism is the use of mass violence to serve political ends, an ideological change would have been more effective than purges in countering the smears against the right. He might also have shown less affection for police-state tactics against antiwar protestors. After all, these smears from the left have the whiff of credibility for a reason.

And now in 2015 enters Donald Trump. He is not a marginal candidate. His rise and persistent dominance of the Republican field has establishment conservatives panicked, simply because it’s proof that their ideology is not dominant among GOP voters. Every demographic analysis of his supporters shows that they do not get their news from magazines or the internet. These people (middle age, middle income, white) are TV watchers and mostly haven’t been to college. What the intelligentsia says doesn’t impact their lives at all.

And yet their voices have a plurality in the Republican party. We haven’t heard from them that much in recent years because they’ve not had a standard bearer and the establishment has exercised such tight control. Now with Trump, we have the perfect storm: a person who is the caricature of the ugly American. He pushes patriotism to the point of nativism, energy in the executive to the point of fascism, police power as a solution without limits, and military strength to the point of outright worship of war as the only suitable means.

The latent statism of the right reaches its apotheosis in Trump, and it is driving the conservative establishment crazy. He is the painting in the attic, and they want it to remain hidden.

As for populism generally, both conservatives and libertarians have variously toyed with it in the past. Surely the people want liberty. Surely the only real problem is the ruling class and its power. If the people get their way, through an assertive wresting of control from the elites, the result would be a freer America. The real problem traces to the people controlling the party, not the voters as such.

But look at what’s happening. The establishment is losing control, but the result is not a movement that favors freedom but something more like the right-wing version of the Red Guard. The Trump movement is unleashing unguided hate: it was Mexicans, then Syrians, then all Muslims, and now he can stand in front of audiences ridiculing free speech and elicit cheers from the frothing masses.

H.L. Mencken is making much more sense to me today. This is a change for me. I’ve always appreciated Mencken’s love of freedom, his suspicion of the state, his appreciation for high culture, his disdain for the age-old superstitions. All that I could grasp and share. What I could not entirely share was his dread of the common man, and his absolute loathing of the political system that puts the hoi polloi in charge of choosing political leadership. He found the system preposterous.

I’ve always understood the intellectual arguments against democracy and agreed more or less. But I could never muster Mencken’s passion concerning the topic. I’ve never fully understood his intense conviction that democracy is the single biggest threat to liberty.

Trump has changed all that. Now I see it fully. The common man is gold as a consumer, worker, family member, church goer. As a voter and political influencer, the common man is a disaster waiting to happen.

What effect does this have on conservative ideology? It makes the job of seeming intelligent and responsible ever more difficult. If I were a leftist, I would be laughing out loud at all these upheavals. Trump as the only alternative to Sanders/Hillary is not a world I want to inhabit.

My prediction is this. Whether or not Trump snags the nomination, his dominance of the polls in 2015 has given the biggest boost the left has received in half a century. It also calls on conservatives to clean up their act: get more libertarian or prepare for the full Trumpization of your movement.

Read more:
Trumpism: The Ideology
Why We Should Talk About Fascism
The Eff Word Goes Mainstream
Has Donald Trump Unleashed the Neo-Nazis?
How Carly Fiorina and a Boring Debate Took Out Trump
The Rand Paul Campaign: A Retrospective

The featured image was taken by Michael Vadon (CC BY-SA 2.0 — photoshopped).

Jeffrey Tucker is Chief Liberty Officer of Liberty.me (http://liberty.me/join), a subscription-based, action-focused social and publishing platform for the liberty-minded. He is also distinguished fellow of the Foundation for Economic Education (http://fee.org), executive editor of Laissez-Faire Books, research fellow of the Acton Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, and author of six books. He is available for speaking and interviews via tucker@liberty.me.

Waking Up to the Reality of Fascism – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Waking Up to the Reality of Fascism – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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

The great extant threat to liberty is nativist authoritarianism

Donald Trump is on a roll, breaking new ground in uses for [centralized] power.

Closing the internet? Sure. “We have to see Bill Gates and a lot of different people… We have to talk to them about, maybe in certain areas, closing that Internet up in some ways.”

Registering Muslims? Lots of people thought he misspoke. But he later clarified: “There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases. We should have a lot of systems.”

Why not just bar all Muslims at the border? Indeed, and to the massive cheers of his supporters, Trump has called for the “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Internment camps? Trump cites the FDR precedent: Italians, Germans, and Japanese “couldn’t go five miles from their homes. They weren’t allowed to use radios, flashlights. I mean, you know, take a look at what FDR did many years ago and he’s one of the most highly respected presidents.”

Rounding up millions of people? He’ll create a “deportation force” to hunt down and remove 11 million illegal immigrants.

Killing wives and children? That too. “When you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.”

Political Vocabulary

This litany of ideas has finally prompted mainstream recognition of the incredibly obvious: If Donald Trump has an ideology, it is best described as fascism.

Even Republican commentators, worried that he might be unstoppable, are saying it now. Military historian and Marco Rubio adviser Max Boot tweeted that “Trump is a fascist. And that’s not a term I use loosely or often. But he’s earned it.” Bush adviser John Noonan said the same.

The mainstream press is more overt. CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked Trump point blank if he is a fascist. The Atlantic writes: “It’s hard to remember a time when a supposedly mainstream candidate had no interest in differentiating ideas he’s endorsed from those of the Nazis.”

There is a feeling of shock in the air, but anyone paying attention should have seen this last summer. Why did it take so long for the consciousness to dawn?

The word fascism has been used too often in political discourse, and almost always imprecisely. It’s a bit like the boy who cried wolf. You warn about wolves so much that no one takes you seriously when a real one actually shows up.

Lefties since the late 1930s have tended to call non-leftists fascists — which has led to a discrediting of the word itself. As time went on, the word became nothing but a vacuous political insult. It’s what people say about someone with whom they disagree. It doesn’t mean much more than that.

Then in the 1990s came Godwin’s Law: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 100 percent.” This law provided a convenient way to dismiss all talk of fascism as Internet babblings deployed in the midst of flame wars.

Godwin’s Law made worse the perception that followed the end of World War II: that fascism was a temporary weird thing that afflicted a few countries but had been vanquished from the earth thanks to the Allied war victory. It would no longer be a real problem but rather a swear word with no real substance.

Fascism Is Real

Without the term fascism as an authentic descriptor, we have a problem. We have no accurate way to identify what is in fact the most politically successful movement of the 20th century. It is a movement that still exists today, because the conditions that gave rise to it are unchanged.

The whole burden of one of the most famous pro-freedom books of the century — Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom — was to warn that fascism was a more immediate and pressing danger to the developed world than Russian-style socialism. And this is for a reason: Hayek said that “brown” fascism did not represent a polar opposite of “red” socialism. In the interwar period, it was common to see both intellectuals and politicians move fluidly from one to the other.

“The rise of Fascism and Nazism was not a reaction against the socialist trends of the preceding period,” wrote Hayek, “but a necessary outcome of those tendencies.”

In Hayek’s reading, the dynamic works like this. The socialists build the state machinery, but their plans fail. A crisis arrives. The population seeks answers. Politicians claiming to be anti-socialist step up with new authoritarian plans that purport to reverse the problem. Their populist appeal taps into the lowest political instincts (nativism, racism, religious bigotry, and so on) and promises a new order of things under better, more efficient rule.

Last July, I heard Trump speak, and his talk displayed all the features of fascist rhetoric. He began with trade protectionism and held up autarky as an ideal. He moved to immigration, leading the crowd to believe that all their economic and security troubles were due to dangerous foreign elements among us. Then came the racial dog whistles: Trump demanded of a Hispanic questioner whether he was a plant sent by the government of Mexico.

There was more. He railed against the establishment that is incompetent and lacking in energy. He bragged about his lack of interest-group ties — which is another way of saying that only he can become the purest sort of dictator, with no quid pro quos to tie him down. (My article on this topic is here.)

Trump is clearly not pushing himself as a traditional American president, heading an executive branch and working with Congress and the judicial branch. He imagines himself as running to head a personal state: his will would be the one will for the country. He has no real plans beyond putting himself in charge — not only of the government but, he imagines, the entire country. It’s a difference of substance that is very serious.

The rest of the campaign has been easy to predict. He refashioned himself as pro-family, anti-PC, and even pro-religion. These traits come with the package — both a reaction to the far left and a fulfillment of its centralist ambitions.

The key to understanding fascism is this: It preserves the despotic ambitions of socialism while removing its most politically unpopular elements. In an atmosphere of fear and loathing, it assures the population that it can keep its property, religion, and faith — provided all these elements are channeled into a grand national project under a charismatic leader of high competence.

Douthat’s Analysis

As the realization has spread that Trump is the real deal, so has the quality of reflection on its implication. Most impressive so far has been Ross Douthat’s article in the New York Times. As he explains, Trump displays as least seven features of Umberto Eco’s list of fascist traits:

A cult of action, a celebration of aggressive masculinity, an intolerance of criticism, a fear of difference and outsiders, a pitch to the frustrations of the lower middle class, an intense nationalism and resentment at national humiliation, and a “popular elitism” that promises every citizen that they’re part of “the best people of the world.”

In this, Trump is different from other American politicians who have been called fascist, writes Douthat. George Wallace was a local-rights guy and hated Washington, whereas Trump loves power and thinks only in terms of centralization. Pat Buchanan’s extreme nativism was always tempered by his attachment to Catholic moral teaching that puts brakes on power ambitions.

Ross Perot was called a fascist, but actually he was a government reformer who wanted to bring business standards to government finance, which is very different from wanting to manage the entire country. And, for all his nonsense about jobs going to Mexico, Perot generally avoided racialist dog whistles.

Why Now and Not Before?

Why has genuine fascism been kept at bay in America? Why has the American right never taken the final step that might have plunged it into authoritarian, nativist aspirations?

Here Douthat is especially insightful:

Part of the explanation has to be that the American conservative tradition has always included important elements — a libertarian skepticism of state power, a stress on localism and states’ rights, a religious and particularly Protestant emphasis on the conscience of an individual over the power of the collective — that inoculated our politics against fascism’s appeal.

Douthat singles out libertarianism as an ideological brake on fascist longings. This is precisely right. Libertarianism grows out of the liberal tradition, which is about far more than merely hating the ruling-class establishment. Classical liberalism has universalist longings, embodied in its defenses of free trade, free speech, free migration, and freedom of religion. The central-planning feature of fascistic ideology is absolutely ruled out by libertarian love for spontaneous social and economic forces at work in society.

As for “energy” emanating from the executive branch, the liberal tradition can’t be clearer. No amount of intelligence, resources, or determined will from the top down can make [central planning] work. The problem is the apparatus itself, not the personalities and values of the rulers who happen to be in charge.

(I’m leaving aside the deep and bizarre irony that many self-professed libertarians have fallen for Trump, a fact which should be deeply embarrassing to anyone and everyone who has affection for human liberty. And good for Ron Paul for denouncing Trump’s authoritarianism in no uncertain terms.)

Can He Win?

Douthat seriously doubts that Trump can finally win over Republicans, due to “his lack of any real religious faith, his un-libertarian style and record, his clear disdain for the ideas that motivate many of the most engaged Republicans.”

I’m not so sure. The economic conditions that led to a rise of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, and Franco in Spain are nowhere close to being replicated here. Even so, income growth has stagnated, middle-class social ambitions are frustrated, and many aspects of [federal] government services are failing […] Add fear of terrorism to the mix, and the conditions, at least for some, are nearly right. What Trumpism represents is an attempt to address these problems through more of the same means that have failed in the past.

It’s time to dust off that copy of The Road to Serfdom and realize that the biggest threats to liberty come from unexpected places. While the rank and file are worrying themselves about the influence of progressive professors and group identity politics, they need to open their eyes to the possibility that the gravest threat to American rights and liberties exists within their own ranks.


If you want to understand more about fascism and its history, see this chapter from John T. Flynn’s As We Go Marching.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup Liberty.me, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. 

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.

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

How Waze Makes Roads Safer than the Police – How an App Improved My Driving – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

How Waze Makes Roads Safer than the Police – How an App Improved My Driving – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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

The app economy has improved our lives in thousands of small ways, with seemingly endless opportunities to download and use gadgets that help us throughout the day, whatever our needs. Most are free or purchasable at a nominal charge.

Forget the ingredients for Shepherd’s Pie? Find it in seconds on the smartphone. Worried about the side effects of a new drug? They are there for you. Not sure about the quality of the restaurant you are about to enter? The crowds are anxious to tell you. Need a burrito for lunch? Uber will bring you one. (You can get a flu shot and a kitty, too.)

The truth is that we live completely different lives than we did ten years ago. We have unprecedented access to all life’s necessities, including medical and nutrition information, mapping information, the weather anywhere, plus hundreds of communication apps that allow text, audio, and video with half the human race, instantly, at no charge.

New Waze of Driving
The app I’m most excited about today is a navigation tool called Waze. It provides mapping, plus delightful instructions on how to get from here to there. But beyond that, it crowdsources information to make the trip more efficient and safer than it otherwise would be. In big cities, Waze will take you through circuitous routes to avoid high traffic areas. It alerts you to accidents, road blocks, and debris on the road.

Impressively, it allows drivers to report where the police are staking out speed traps. It tells you whether the officer in question is visible or hidden. You can also confirm or deny the report.

14627-10326-waze-appstore-l

Police have objected to this feature of the app. Why? Because it means that drivers are better able to avoid getting ticketed. But think about this: the app actually succeeds in causing people to obey the law better by slowing down and being safer, as a way of avoiding fines.

Why would police object? If the whole point of traffic police is to get people to drive more safely, knowing about police presence achieves that goal.

Of course, we all know the real reason. The goal of the police on roads is not to inspire better driving but rather catch people in acts of lawbreaking so that they can collect revenue that funds their department. In other words, the incentives of the police are exactly the opposite of the promised results. Instead of seeking good driving, they are seeking lawbreaking as a means of achieving a different outcome: maximum revenue collection.

The whole ethos of Waze is different. It helps you become aware of your external surroundings, and conscious that other drivers are in a similar situation as you are, just trying to get to their destinations quickly and safely. We are there are help each other.

The Community Matters
For me this effected a big change in the whole way I drive. There is a tendency from your first years of driving to treat other drivers as obstacles. Your goal is to outsmart others who are crowding the road, moving around them quickly and navigating the roads with a chip on your shoulder. If there are no cops around, you drive as fast as possible.

I never intended to drive this way, but now I know that I have been, since I first received my government permission slip to drive. Once behind the wheel, I tended to think of myself as a lone actor.

Waze has subtly changed my outlook on driving. Other drivers become your benefactors because it is they who are reporting on traffic accidents, cars on the side the road, blocked streets, and the presence of police. They are all doing you favors. If you report, others thank you for doing so. You even see icons of evidence that your friends are driving, too.

Safety is priority one. Waze won’t let you type in a new address while you are driving. You have to stop the car before you can do that.

The app manages to create a sense of community out of drivers on the road, and that changes the way you think when you drive. Now I leave Waze on even when I already know the directions. It’s my connection to the community. I find my whole outlook on driving has changed. For the first time in my life, I can honestly say that I’m a safer and more responsible driver.

So thank you Waze — a product of brilliant entrepreneurship, distributed on private networks, performing a public service.

Compare with the people who are charged with the task of making our roads safe and are paid by our tax dollars to do it. Not only do they fail to accomplish what this one free application has done, they are actively seeking to cripple it.

Baby Steps to a Better World
Maybe this seems like too small a life improvement to justify mentioning? Not so. All great steps toward a better world occur at the margin, bit by bit, through trial and error, one innovation at a time. You look back at the progress of a decade and that’s where the awe comes into play.

It is not through large bills written by legislators and signed by presidents that the world improves. It is through small innovations, inauspicious downloads, incremental improvements in our existing paths that gradually build a better world. Waze is only one of a billion but it points to the right method and approach to an improved life.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup Liberty.me, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. 

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

The Poison Apple Called TPP – Article by Jeffrey Tucker

The Poison Apple Called TPP – Article by Jeffrey Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
October 14, 2015
******************************

Let’s say you have a trade deal that completely eliminates 18,000 existing tariffs between 12 countries that are otherwise hectoring each other with punishing trade barriers. To a person with a brain, this sounds amazing. Unless you are a luddite, a nativist, or a unionist, there seems to be every reason to support it. Trade is good. Global commerce is good. Fewer trade barriers are a good thing.

But let’s say that this same treaty binds all 12 signatory nations to an egregious imposition of government privileges for reactionary corporations who are paying to keep their cartels in place. I’m speaking here of big media, big music, and big pharma. They all live and breath to keep their “intellectual property” and to crush and destroy what they call “piracy,” which is actually the same thing as free-market competition.

What if this wonderful trade treaty was just a stalking horse for the dramatic expansion of these corporate monopolies? What if the whole point of the treaty were to use the language of growth and globalism to fight and crush the pressures toward universal information sharing that are inherent in the digital age?

I’m speaking here of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Like the Nafta and WTO battles before it, the TPP is being marketed as a free-trade agreement. The partisans have lined up for and against it on that basis. But this is all so much distraction. The true core of the treaty is protectionist in the extreme. It protects a handful of powerful industry players against genuine market competition.

The rumors about the Intellectual Property provisions have been flying for years. But no one had seen the results of the endless and secretive negotiations. Then Wikileaks got involved. It released the full draft text of the IP sections. It turns out to be far more than the usual prattle and the expected sop to a few deep-pocketed industries.

The IP sections of the TPP attempt to impose — by force of blackmail  — the worst of American law as it applies to copyright, patent, and trademark, and do so in industries where there is otherwise some freedom left in the system.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act, for example, puts the burden of proof on websites and internet service providers to make sure their content does not violate copyright. The book could be 75 years old and completely out of print but if a web bot discovers a PDF on the site, the government can force its immediate shutdown. This system pertains in the US right now but the TPP guarantees its enforcement in 12 countries in the Pacific Rim — some of whom host sites that are major sources of free information on the planet today.

The biggest revelation from the leaked document concerns big pharma. Their dream is pretty simple: they want to end generic drugs and the manner in which they distribute copies of named-brand products at much lower prices. In foreign countries, generics are a key to life. They are the way that people benefit from improved medical technology without paying exorbitant US prices.

The TPP would go a long way toward illegalizing generics for a whole class of pharmaceuticals. It all comes down to the rules that are used to decide whether generics can be produced at all. In the US, there is a practice called “linkage” that makes it impossible to produce drugs if there are any unresolved patent disputes. Linkage does not apply in most nations party to the TPP.

Politico explains:

Some of the most contentious provisions involve “patent linkage,” which would prevent regulators in TPP nations from approving generic drugs whenever there are any unresolved patent issues. The TPP draft would make this linkage mandatory, which could help drug companies fend off generics just by claiming an infringement…. In an April 15 letter to Froman, Heather Bresch, the CEO of the generic drug company Mylan, warned that mandatory patent linkage would be “a recipe for indefinite evergreening of pharmaceutical monopolies,” leading to the automatic rejection of generic applications. The U.S. already has mandatory linkage, but most other TPP countries do not, and Bresch argued that U.S. law includes a number of safeguards and incentives for generic companies that have not made it into TPP.

What’s even more remarkable is how the TPP would actually expand linkage to cover new classes of drugs in the US.

Politico explains again:

The opponents are also worried about the treaty’s effect on the U.S. market, because its draft language would extend mandatory patent linkage to biologics, the next big thing in the pharmaceutical world. Biologics can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for patients with illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis B and cancer, and the first knockoffs have not yet reached pharmacies. The critics say that extending linkage to biologics—which can have hundreds of patents—would help insulate them from competition forever.

The costs of this treaty, then, will not just be felt abroad. The costs will further institutionalize the pharmaceutical monopoly in the US, making people pay far more for drugs than they currently do, and even curbing research and development beyond what the major industry players are willing to endure to bring a product to market.

And it’s not just about the US. It’s about the countries party to this agreement. They are being blackmailed by the American ruling class, badgered and bribed to accept bad law in exchange for market access. This is not how trade is supposed to work.

But from the ruling-class point of view, this is the whole point of trade treaties. Any country can have free trade anytime it wants. It only needs to stop punishing imports and start making good stuff that others want to buy. You have to ask yourself: what is the real point of these thousand-page documents, the years of negotiations, and all this secrecy? Why did the first public appearance of any aspect of the TPP have to be released on Wikileaks?

What is it that they don’t want us to know?

Patent attorney Stephan Kinsella explains: “What is happening here is that the US, at the behest of the American RIAA (music industry), MPAA (Hollywood), and Big Pharma industry, is using its hegemonic/superpower status to foist American-style IP law onto other countries, for the benefit of these special interests. This has been going on for decades now… Once TPP is ratified, as I expect it will be, US-style draconian IP law will be put into force in countries that comprise about 40% of world GDP.”

Adam Smith nailed it: “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

Those who have watched these negotiations say that the American negotiators have basically operated as lobbyists from the American pharmaceutical industry. This is why Doctors without Borders has come out so strongly against TPP. And this is also why the Electronic Freedom Foundation has come out so strongly against it as well.

The best case for the TPP is that many bad guys are against it. But that doesn’t mean that true liberals should be for it. In politics, what looks like a shiny red delicious apple can be poisoned to the very core.

Jeffrey Tucker is Chief Liberty Officer of Liberty.me (http://liberty.me/join), a subscription-based, action-focused social and publishing platform for the liberty-minded. He is also distinguished fellow of the Foundation for Economic Education (http://fee.org), executive editor of Laissez-Faire Books, research fellow of the Acton Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, and author of six books. He is available for speaking and interviews via tucker@liberty.me.

Why Open Borders? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Why Open Borders? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
September 15, 2015
******************************

Two dear friends of mine just experienced incredible struggles with immigration control in the United States, one from Australia and one from Canada. Both are enormously talented, in love with the freedom that America represents to the world — or once did anyway.

One barely got in after months of waiting, even though a willing, begging employer was waiting. The other was deported with a single day’s notice.

Each has been a captive of bureaucrats with awesome power. Their stories are tragic. Natives know nothing about this ghastly system and how it treats human beings. We never experience it.

The labyrinth of bureaucracy is jaw-dropping. The arbitrary power exercised by “our” bureaucrats is frightening. The loss to our nation’s productivity is mindboggling. Hearing these stories, you can’t help but apologize for the way our own government treats people who want to love this country and contribute to its greatness.

And to think that for the first 100 years of this country’s existence we had zero national immigration restrictions. The whole world was invited in — and this invitation led to the most prosperous society the world has ever known. In these times, there were no passports. For the most part, everyone was free to move around the earth — and this was thought to be the very essence of liberty.

Today, we have an effective ban on immigration. You can’t come to the U.S. to live and work legally unless you are family, highly educated, or get in as a refugee. Other than that, the barriers to legal immigration are impossibly high. The wait lines for employment visas are impossibly long, and people from the world’s largest population centers aren’t even eligible.

Meanwhile, the government spends $18 billion on stopping immigration — more than all other federal criminal enforcement agencies combined. This is money spent to stop people from freely exchanging labor for money. That the whole thing is a massive flop is revealed by the 11 million illegal immigrants in this country, and the half million apprehended crossing the border each year — surely only a fraction of those who were not.

But apparently, that’s not enough. Donald Trump is soaring in popularity by calling for mass deportations and building a wall around the country, in effort to double down on a failed government policy. Other candidates are alarmed at his rhetoric, but echo his core claim that there is some kind of crisis going on.

Meanwhile, this is a huge debate among people who otherwise swear fealty to “limited government.” Many people who claim to want freedom seem to have no problem with the implications of a closed-border policy: national IDs, national work permits, non-stop surveillance, harassment of all businesses, a “papers please” culture, mass deportation, tens of billions in waste, bureaucrats wrecking the American dream, broken families, the rights of Americans and foreigners transgressed at every turn.

In this environment of political hysteria, in which the rankest form of racial fear has reared its head, few dare to stand up and call for the only liberty-minded answer: open borders.

Just the phrase causes people to sputter in shock. The objections start flying: wages will fall, welfare will explode, people will vote for the wrong people, there will be cultural confusion, the national language will evaporate, crime will soar — on and on the parade of horribles marches.

The more you look into the research, the more these objections fall away. Immigrants cause less crime than natives. Immigration does not cause unemployment. Immigrants don’t consume more public benefits than natives; in fact, they use fewer. Indeed, they have kept Social Security afloat, even though they will never get a dime from the system. They don’t love liberty less: they poll in as more libertarian. Indeed, every one of these and other claims in Trump’s immigration policy paper are patently wrong.

Apparently, the facts don’t matter. And as for humane values and human rights, forget it. Immigration restriction is a fundamental attack the rights of at least two parties: the person who wants to employ someone currently outside the border and the person who wants to come work. It’s a thuggish interference with an economic exchange, like any other arbitrary restriction on trade.

So often, in many recent discussions I’ve had online, what’s going on here is just a shoot-from-hip bias. It’s exactly the same kind of fears that make people object to getting rid of the minimum wage, cutting taxes, eliminating tariffs, privatizing the TSA, eliminating zoning laws, cutting government spending, legalizing pot, and so on.

It’s freedom itself that people fear.

Once freedom goes away, it is difficult to imagine how things would work if it came back. The notion of freedom then scares people, and it becomes easy to think up a thousand different scenarios in which freedom can’t possibly work. Surely disaster will ensue!

This was a problem during alcohol Prohibition. The system wasn’t working, but the prospect of making its consumption and production legal again elicited a kind of panic. Would our streets be filled with staggering drunks? Would scarce income be squandered on liquor? Would families break apart?

The lack of imagination concerning how freedom can work is the single biggest barrier in the U.S. to ending the war on immigration.

Imagine if the U.S. had massive border controls between states, with checkpoints and passports and drug-sniffing dogs, and if you had to have permission to change from a job in Ohio to a job in Vegas, or if a Virginian could be deported from New Jersey for overstaying, or if you had to wait years to obtain the right documentation to move from one state to another, or if the labor market was so tightly regulated that an employer in another state could only hire you if they could prove they had no other options.

If all that were true, anyone who suggested open borders and a free labor market between states in the U.S. would be considered a dangerous loon.

But here is the clarifying fact: the conditions that allow free migration between states within the U.S. are identical with regard to free migration between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. The only difference happens to be the government that issues citizenship documents.

I live in Georgia. What if I started a movement to prohibit immigrants from Chicago to Georgia? Why would I suggest such a crazy thing? Because I believe that crime is higher in Chicago, welfare is more widely used, their imported labor would drive down wages, they vote in ways that are regrettable, and people there just don’t get the ways of the American South.

Should we have immigration controls between states? It sounds preposterous (though Trump could probably sell the idea). But the claims that we can’t have free immigration into the U.S. follow the exact same logic.

Every argument for immigration restrictions into the United States as a whole applies with equal validity for immigration controls between states, counties, cities, and even towns. And yet we do not have such controls. Why does it work so well? Because freedom works.

How can we begin to imagine what open borders would be like? We need an experiment in that exact thing. It just so happens that we have just such an experiment. There are 28 countries that have historically been at war for thousands of years. They all have different languages, different religions, and different folkways. At various periods, people from these countries have hated each other to the point of causing genocide.

Then one day, starting with an agreement that began to be implemented twenty years ago (the Schengen Agreement), they opened all the borders. Anyone from these countries can live and work anywhere. They can travel freely, on the same passports. No bureaucracy stops their freedom of movement and their freedom to produce.

The results have been spectacular. It’s the greatest experiment in completely open borders the world has seen in more than a century. It’s called the European Union. And it works. It points toward the ideal: a world in which everyone is free to move about the earth without fear of gun, wall, or barbed wire.

Let’s not fear freedom and free trade (which means, free trade in capital and labor). In the end, Ludwig von Mises was right: “Without the reestablishment of freedom of migration throughout the world, there can be no lasting peace.”

Jeffrey Tucker is Chief Liberty Officer of Liberty.me (http://liberty.me/join), a subscription-based, action-focused social and publishing platform for the liberty-minded. He is also distinguished fellow of the Foundation for Economic Education (http://fee.org), executive editor of Laissez-Faire Books, research fellow of the Acton Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, and author of six books. He is available for speaking and interviews via tucker@liberty.me.