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Category: C.Jay Engel

Is Reformed Libertarianism Different than Regular Libertarianism?

Taken from the Reformed Libertarian FAQs

The definition of libertarianism is the legal theory (which has political ramifications) which holds that no man may initiate aggression, or threat to initiate aggression, against the property of another human being, lest he engage in criminal behavior. That is to say, under the libertarian legal theory, a criminal is defined as one who breaches the above described “Non-Aggression Principle.” The logically deduced implications of this principle includes actions such as theft, murder, rape, fraud, breach of contract, trespassing, battery, kidnapping, and so on. For the libertarian, that which is illegal is determined in terms of private property ownership and therefore not all things that may be categorized as immoral, unethical, sinful, and so on are necessarily criminal.

The Reformed libertarian agrees with all of this and thus in this way, we don’t differentiate “our type” of libertarianism from a “regular one” when it comes to the meaning of libertarianism. We are purist, Rothbardian-Hoppean libertarians.

What we are trying to communicate, however, with our phrase, is that when we look at the foundation or justification of the above meaning of libertarianism, we source it within the context of a Christian worldview, the epistemology and moral theory of which is distinct from other potential foundations for libertarianism.

For instance, there are utilitarian libertarians (Mises), Natural Law libertarians (Rothbard), Kantian libertarians (Hoppe). There are others as well.  But what libertarians have in common is not their worldview, not their justification of knowledge, and not their personal lifestyle preferences.  Rather, they have in common their agreement with the first paragraph above. Libertarianism is a set of propositions. Anyone who assents to those propositions is a libertarian. Libertarianism is “thin,” which means that it is a set of statements about the use of force in society, but the doctrine itself is distinct from the defense of that doctrine. Rothbard and Hoppe are not two types of libertarians, and neither are we a distinct type. The “Reformed” in Reformed Libertarian is not a qualification of the libertarian part. What we propose is that libertarianism, since it is a political theory based on ethical positions, can be best defended from a Christian philosophical system, since Christianity best justifies ethics.

More generally, what we are communicating with the label “Reformed Libertarian,” is A) that each editing contributor to this site is Reformed; B) we are interested in investigating relationships in theory and history between the libertarian world and the Reformed world; and C) that, yes, Reformed Christians can and should be libertarian! It is a resource for those Reformed Christians who want to convince their Reformed friends that libertarianism is a wonderful system of political thought!

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The Court Economists: Justification for Power

Mises:

The great economists were harbingers of new ideas. The economic policies they recommended were at variance with the policies practiced by contemporary governments and political parties. As a rule many years, even decades, passed before public opinion accepted the new ideas as propagated by the economists, and before the required corresponding changes in policies were effected.

It was different with the “new economics” of Lord Keynes. The policies he advocated were precisely those which almost all governments, including the British, had already adopted many years before his “General Theory” was published. Keynes was not an innovator and champion of new methods of managing economic affairs. His contribution consisted rather in providing an apparent justification for the policies which were popular with those in power in spite of the fact that all economists viewed them as disastrous. His achievement was a rationalization of the policies already practiced. He was not a “revolutionary,” as some of his adepts called him. The “Keynesian revolution” took place long before Keynes approved of it and fabricated a pseudo-scientific justification for it. What he really did was to write an apology for the prevailing policies of governments.

This explains the quick success of his book. It was greeted enthusiastically by the governments and the ruling political parties. Especially enraptured were a new type of intellectual, the “government economists.” They had had a bad conscience. They were aware of the fact that they were carrying out policies which all economists condemned as contrary to purpose and disastrous. Now they felt relieved. The “new economics” reestablished their moral equilibrium. Today they are no longer ashamed of being the handymen of bad policies. They glorify themselves. They are the prophets of the new creed.

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How Reagan Set the Liberty Movement Back a Decade

Many libertarians miss the fact that one of the most damaging aspects of Ronald Reagan wasn’t just his growth of the US Federal Government; it was also because he triggered a strictly political movement which damaged the appearance of a need for a true libertarian movement. When things are particularly bad, when the state’s presence is obviously unbearable, people begin to look at liberty and away from government as the solution to their woes. Reagan, though, brought back faith in Washington– and in doing so, he set the entire liberty movement back until Ron Paul was able to make mainstream again in 2007. 

Rothbard, as usual, is particularly observant:

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Setting the Stage: The Anti-Government Rebellion of the 1970s

I am convinced that the historic function of Ronald Reagan was to co-opt, eviscerate and ultimately destroy the substantial wave of anti-governmental, and quasi-libertarian, sentiment that erupted in the U.S. during the 1970s. Did he perform this task consciously?Surely too difficult a feat for a man barely compos. No, Reagan was wheeled into performing this task by his Establishment handlers.

The task of co-optation needed to be done because the 1970s, particularly 1973–75, were marked by an unusual and striking conjunction of crisis – crises that fed on each other to lead to a sudden and cumulative disillusionment with the federal government. It was this symbiosis of anti-government reaction that led me to develop my “case for libertarian optimism” during the mid-1970’s, in the expectation of a rapid escalation of libertarianinfluence in America.

1973–74 saw the abject failure of the Nixon wage-price control program, and the development of something Keynesians assumed could never happen: the combination of double-digit inflation and a severe recession. High unemployment and high inflation happened again, even more intensely, during the greater recession of 1979–82. Since Keynesianism rests on the idea that government should pump in spending during recessions and take out spending during inflationary booms, what happens when both occur at the same time? As Rand would say: Blankout! There is no answer. And so, there was disillusionment in the government’s handling of the macro-economy, deepening during the accelerating inflation of the 1970s and the beginnings of recession in 1979.

At the same time, people began to be fed up, increasingly and vocally, with high taxes: income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, you name it. Especially in the West, an organized tax rebel movement developed, with its own periodicals and organizations However misguided strategically, the spread of the tax rebellion signaled a growing disillusion with big government. I was privileged to be living in California during the election year of 1978, whenProposition 13 was passed. It was a genuinely inspiring sight. In the face of hysterical opposition and smears from the entire California Establishment Democratic and Republican, Big Business and labor, academia, economists, and all of the press the groundswell for Prop 13 burgeoned. Everyone was against it but the people. If the eventual triumph of Ronald Reagan is the best case against “libertarian populism,” Prop. 13 was the best case in its favor.

Also exhilarating was the smashing defeat of US imperialism in Vietnamin 1975 – exhilarating because this first loss of a war by the United States, many of us believed, was bound to get Americans to rethink the disastrous warmongering bipartisan foreign policy that had plagued us since the unlamented days of Woodrow Wilson.

On the civil liberties front, the de facto legalization of marijuana was a sign that the nonsense of drug prohibition would soon be swept away. (Ye gods! Was that only a decade ago?) Inflationary recession; high taxes; prohibition laws; defeat in foreign war; across the board, the conditions seemed admirable for a growing and triumphant libertarianism.

And to top it off, the Watergate crisis (my particular favorite) destroyed the trust of the American masses in the Presidency. For the first time in over a hundred years, the concept of impeachment of the President became, first thinkable, and then a living and glorious process. For a while, I feared that Jimmy Carter, with his lovable cardigan sweater, would restore Americans’ faith in their president, but soon that fear proved groundless.

Surely, it is no accident that it was precisely in this glorious and sudden anti-government surge that libertarian ideas and libertarian scholarship began to spread rapidly in the United States. And it was in 1971 that the tiny Libertarian Party emerged, in 1972 that its first,embryonic presidential candidacy was launched, and 1973 when its first important race was run, for mayor of New York City. The Libertarian Party continued to grow rapidly, almost exponentially, during the 1970s, reaching a climax with the Clark campaign for governor of California during the Prop 13 year of 1978, and with the Clark campaign for the Presidency in 1980. The morning my first article on libertarianism appeared in the New York Times in 1971, a very bright editor at Macmillan, Tom Mandel, called me and asked me to write a book on the subject (it was to become For a New Liberty). Not a libertarian himself, Mandel told me that he believed that libertarianism would become a very important ideology in a few years – and he turned out to be right.

So libertarianism was on a roll in the 1970s. And then Something Happened.

What happened was Ronald Wilson Blithering Reagan.

The Reagan candidacy of 1980 was brilliantly designed to weld a coalition providing the public’s instinctive anti-government mood with sweeping, but wholly nonspecific, libertarian rhetoric, as a convenient cover for the diametrically opposite policies designed to satisfy the savvy and politically effective members of that coalition: the neocons, the Buckleyite cons, the Moral Majority, the Rockefellers, the military-industrial complex, and the various Establishment special interests always clustering at the political trough.

But we must not under weigh the importance of the traitorous roleperformed by quasi-libertarian intellectuals and free-market economistsduring the Reagan years. While their institutions were small and relatively weak, the power and consistency of libertarian thought had managed to bring them considerable prestige and political influence by 1980 – especially since they offered an attractive and consistent alternative to a statist system that was breaking down on all fronts.

But talk about your Knaves! In the history of ideological movements, there have always been people willing to sell their souls and their principles. But never in history have so many sold out for so pitifully little. Hordes of libertarian and free-market intellectuals and activists rushed to Washington to whore after lousy little jobs, crummy little grants, and sporadic little conferences. It is bad enough to sell out; it is far worse to be a two-bit whore. And worst of all in this sickening spectacle were those who went into the tank without so much as a clear offer: betraying the values and principles of a lifetime in order to position themselves in hopes of being propositioned. And so they wriggled around the seats of power in Washington. The intellectual corruption spread rapidly, in proportion to the height and length of jobs in the Reagan Administration. Lifelong opponents of budget deficits remarkably began to weave sophisticated and absurd apologias, now that the great Reagan was piling them up, claiming, very much like the hated left-wing Keynesians of yore, that “deficits don’t matter.”

Shorn of intellectual support, the half-formed libertarian instincts of the American masses remained content with Reaganite rhetoric, and the actual diametrically opposite policies got lost in the shuffle.

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Rothbard continues to fault Reagan for accomplishing the growth of the Federal Government– on economic policy, foreign policy, and other issues relating to private property– while at the same time appearing to give credence to limited government rhetoric. In this way, it was simply assumed throughout the 90s that the Reagan revolution was one of capitalism, constitutionalism, and freedom. 

Unfortunately, the Reagan Revolution never was. As I discuss here, it was the Reagan administration who let in, for the first time, the neocons into positions of real power.

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Mises: Actions are performed by individuals

Mises:

First we must realize that all actions are performed by individuals. A collective operates always through the intermediary of one or several individuals whose actions are related to the collective as the secondary source. It is the meaning which the acting individuals and all those who are touched by their action attribute to an action, that determines its character. It is the meaning that marks one action as the action of an individual and another action as the action of the state or of the municipality. The hangman, not the state, executes a criminal. It is the meaning of those concerned that discerns in the hangman’s action an action of the state. A group of armed men occupies a place. It is the meaning of those concerned which imputes this occupation not to the officers and soldiers on the spot, but to their nation. If we scrutinize the meaning of the various actions performed by individuals we must necessarily learn everything about the actions of collective wholes. For a social collective has no existence and reality outside of the individual members’ actions. The life of a collective is lived in the actions of the individuals constituting its body. There is no social collective conceivable which is not operative in the actions of some individuals. The reality of a social integer consists in its directing and releasing definite actions on the part of individuals. Thus the way to a cognition of collective wholes is through an analysis of the individuals’ actions.

We often gloss over the personal responsibility present in certain historical events by pretending that it was a certain group or nation or social institution at fault. Referring to these collectives or groups can sometimes be convenient, and there is no problem in using them as a reference point. But it must be remembered that it is indeed merely a reference point.

In saying that “the state has committed a moral grievance” or that “the US bombed another geographical location whose residents did us no wrong,” we must remember that there are individuals consciously and willfully acting in these ways; and they will of course be held morally responsible. Whether the individual is giving a certain order or command or the individual is receiving the command and performing the action, the fact remains that moral and economic responsibility rests on human actors.

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The Division of Labor and the Beginnings of Western Civilization

I’ve recently taken it upon myself to go through Carroll Quigley’s epic “history of the world in our time,” Tragedy and Hope. tragedy_and_hope_by_carroll_quigleyFor those new to the libertarian scene, this book stands in a unique place as far as history books go. It tracks in very specific detail the rise of the Fabian socialists in Europe and how the inner circles of these groups integrated into positions of power in the Western world and had been (largely until Britain was destroyed in WWII) behind major power players in the early effort toward Anglo-American empire. This includes those close to the American banking cartel (the Fed), the Council on Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, and so on.

More blogging on that to come.

In any event, I found and interesting tidbit much farther back in time: at the dawn of what can properly be called “Western Civilization” (700-970 ad). Essentially Western Civilization was born on what was left behind in the fall of Roman Empire. When the Roman Empire began its remarkable downfall, smaller geographical locations began to split apart and handle things separately. This sparked an era of capital accumulation (capital of course being the bedrock of a prosperous and modern economy) and investment of capital into higher means of production (to use a Bohm-Bawerkian idea).

But what caught my eye was something else that came along with the new idea of capital investment:

“…a change from… the centralized, state-centered political orientation of the Roman world to the decentralized, private-power feudal network of the medieval world. In the new system a small number of men, equipped and trained to fight, received dues and services from the overwhelming majority of men who were expected to till the soil.

For those who have studied theorists like Hans-Hermann Hoppe, this should sound familiar. In Hoppe’s recounting of the transition from the feudal order to monarchy in medieval Europe, there were those who might be considered “natural elites;” those who were especially judicious in their thinking and far more capable of acting as “free market” judges and law-interpreters. Eventually they began to ignore the rich tradition of naturally arising “judges” and instead began to force the people to pay for their services and thus taxes again were brought back to society.

But what is interesting is Quigley’s mentioning of the “dues and services” that were given to the fighters/protectors and sourced in the tillers of the soil (the workers). The lesson that I want to draw from this is simple: what made Western Civilization unique was the emphasis on the division of labor! It wasn’t equal, no, because equality qua equality is not what builds a productive society. The division of labor and the rise of specialization is really fundamental to the success of the west (see also de Soto’s book). In fact, Quigley highlights the inequality:

From this inequitable but effective defensive system emerged an inequitable distribution of political power and, in turn, an inequitable distribution of the social economic income. This, in time, resulted in an accumulation of capital, which, by giving rise to demand for luxury goods of remote origin, began to shift the whole economic emphasis of the society from its earlier organization in self-sufficient agrarian units (manors) to commercial interchange, economic specialization, and, by the thirteenth century, to an entirely new pattern of society with towns, a bourgeois class, spreading literacy, growing freedom of alternative social choices, and new, often disturbing, thoughts.”

Indeed! The inequality, far from being a systemic stain on the New Era, was in actuality part of the explanation of its stability. It was the “inequitable distribution of income” that allowed those who brought more value to the market to save and invest. Without this key component of savings and capital accumulation (much to the disapproval of the consumption-oriented Keynesians), there would be no Western Civilization. Thus, the emphasis in our time needs to be on private property and the glories of the division of labor and we must explicitly oppose any attempts to drive civilization toward egalitarian ends.

In complete rejection of Marxist and cultural egalitarian goals, it was the rise of the bourgeois, the high income earners, the beneficiaries of the proper entrepreneurial decisions, that were the foundation of Western Civilization. And this started not just in the industrial factory, but right at the very heart of society: the production of law and order. The division of labor allowed those who were good at something to be paid for doing that thing en masse and for many other consumers on the market rather than the agrarian-specific system wherein everyone produces only for their immediate needs. And just as interestingly, it took the collapse of the central (Roman) state to awaken the conditions necessary for a radically decentralized phenomenon to begin working.

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The Flag-Burning Debacle

Donald J. Trump, that bastion of intellectually stimulating discourse, set Twitter aflame when he tweeted out that “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag- if they do, there must be consequences- perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail.”

The left suddenly pretended to care about the Constitution and appealed en masse to Supreme Court decisions protecting flag burning as free speech. Though hilariously, Hillary Clinton sponsored a 2005 bill to outlaw flag burning.

Here’s the thing though: Federal bans on American flag burning should not take place– not because it is free speech– but because flags are property owned by private property owners and the Federal Government has no authority over the use of private property. Rather than being a “free speech” issue, the more fundamental principle here is that it is a private property issue.

The purpose of the Bill of Rights, of which the 1st Amendment is a part, is not to declare 10 specific exceptions where the Federal Government cannot take action. No, the Constitution was written in such a way so as to prevent all actions except those that had been expressly delegated by the States and to the Federal Government. In this way, the Bill of Right was actually unnecessary because the Federal Government was never delegated power in those areas anyways. It was only added as a precaution against the Federalist tendencies to nationalize everything.

From a strict Constitutionalist perspective, the answer is simple: the Federal Government does not have delegated authority to make decisions regarding the proper use and treatment of flags. So-called Constitutionalists never make this argument, however, because doing so would reveal the unconstitutional nature of so much of the GOP’s actions since, well, its inception.

Now, the libertarian answer is obvious: the government acts contrary to its intention (prosecuting those who breach the property rights of others) when it is the one breaching the property rights of the owners of the flag. Easy peasy.

However, I do want to point out that there is no reason to jump to the other extreme and call those who burn flags heroic. It seems to me that such a juvenile and disruptive activity is intended merely to get attention and offend others. Look: people get offended at that kind of stuff. Why not challenge other people’s worldviews with reason and intellect? There is no need, in my opinion, to feel like we as libertarians are accomplishing something when we rejoice when a flag is burned.

We ought to live in a respectable and civilized manner. That’s how we win the future.

The deeper into libertarian theory, economic theory, and US history without all the State-sponsored propaganda one gets, the more disillusioned one become about all the symbols of American patriotism. If America itself is to be conflated with the Federal Government and its vast PR efforts, there is little reason to let one’s emotion get wrapped up in the flag.

There are some who say that the flag is nothing without the Federal Government and therefore is necessarily statist; there are others who view the flag as symbolic of a liberty-oriented ideal and therefore see the Federal Government as an enemy of that symbol.

There’s no libertarian position on that matter. Whatever your opinion I always recommend two courses of action: 1) don’t go out of your way to offend those who view things differently (though if offense is a byproduct of honesty and intellectual battle, so be it); and 2) don’t get so easily offended! Toughen up and defend your position.

As for me, I tend to prejudge that most flag-burners as silly leftist types and therefore roll my eyes; I also roll my eyes when someone gets offended at flag burning, as if it somehow harms them; and I also wish we didn’t have to get caught up in such ridiculous arguments.

As for Trump, of course his statement is absurd and anti-liberty. I also think nothing will come of it.

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Liberty Classroom’s epic 50% off sale will soon go the way of the buffalo


I have some good news and bad news. The bad news is that there is only 8 hours left of you guys seeing me post about the goodness of Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom. You are really going to miss my sales-type posts, aren’t you? Email me for tissues.screen-shot-2016-11-27-at-1-59-53-pm
 
Well here’s the good news: there’s still a chance for you to get 50% off one of the best intellectual resources in the liberty movement. You get access to all the courses on history, economics, political theory and more. You can also access the live sessions with Tom and other professors. And, if you get the Master membership, you get all Tom’s courses from the Ron Paul Homeschool Curriculum.
We are talking an entire course on Austrian economics, the history of political and economic thought, a thorough rebuttal of that devilish economic system called Keynesianism, history of the US, history of Western Civ, and more. Much more.
Your fears of not having the ammunition throughout 2017 with which you can take on your statist friends, is now over.
 
“No way!” Yes way. Would I lie about this?
 
You have to sign up through my affiliate link! All the cool kids are doing it. Here it is: www.reformedlibertarian.com/woods 
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Dynamic Cultures– Nice Try Steve Horwitz

I should blog more, I said on Facebook. So I decided to make my comeback by taking a swipe at Steve Horwitz. Left-libertarian and AINO (Austrian in Name Only), Horwitz is one of those guys in the nominal libertarian movement that gets under my skin. Especially with little things like this (from here):

If libertarianism means anything, it’s that we understand that markets and cultures are dynamic, emergent orders that lead to human progress for all, and globally.

Um, no. First of all, markets being dynamic is an economic proposition, not a libertarian one. Libertarianism is a theory of the legal status of private property and the nature of criminal activity. Whether cultures are dynamic has nothing to do with libertarianism. These leftists who misconstrue libertarianism to make it something that is self-embracing of all kinds of leftist cultural desires are quite a drag on the liberty movement and were in part a reason for the rise of “Gary Johnson libertarianism.” I’ve talked more about these status quo libertarians here.

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A Note on Capitalism and Laissez-Faire

At The Center for Gospel and Culture at Boyce College, David Kotter questions whether the Bible endorses “American Capitalism” or “Communist Central Planning.”  He begins as follows:

The Bible does not endorse American-style Capitalism, nor did the early church practice Communist central planning in the early chapters of Acts.

I suppose this can be agreeable, although Kotter does not define “American-style Capitalism” or explain how the American economic system, which is more fascistic than communistic, can possibly be dubbed “capitalism.”  It can be agreeable if by this phrase he is referring to Fascism, which is the proper name for an economic system in which private corporations operate under partnership with the State.  But if that was his meaning, we might urge him to use a different phrase as the use of “capitalism” is quite misleading.  Sometimes, fascism is described as “crony capitalism” or “corporatism.”  I am not fond of the former phrase.  At any rate, “American-style capitalism” should be opposed because its not capitalism.

He also writes, “Republican Party economics is not a required part of Christianity.”  This is certainly true, since the GOP is largely socialistic, or at least “interventionist,” which is the predecessor of socialism.  Of course, it is also true in the sense that one’s commitment to free markets does not weigh into whether or not he is saved.

Now, not to mislead those who haven’t read the article, there is no doubt that Kotter is a proponent of the market system.  He spends the majority of his time largely expressing his agreement with a variety of components of the capitalist system.  He spends paragraphs 2-4 listing examples of private property, subjective value, the division of labor, entrepreneurship, and other such economic topics.

And then in the next paragraph, he writes:

On the other hand, the Bible does not endorse a completely laissez-faire perspective. Commerce was to be conducted with just weights and measures (Leviticus 19:35-36).

The problem with this, and the need for the present blogpost, is that he is apparently using laissez-faire in a way that is unfair to its use historically.  Thus, if any reader who is unaware of these topics accepts Kotter’s whole post, they will subsequently see laissez-faire through the wrong lens and may in the future consider a proponent of laissez-faire as holding to views which he actually does not.

It might be falsely assumed from the quoted paragraph that a laissez-faire proponent opposes just weights and measures.  Which more generally might give way to the false assumption that a laissez-faire proponent opposes a system of justice and enforcement of fraud and contract.  But laissez-faire has never meant “lack of rules.”  Ludwig von Mises, who is perhaps the greatest economist in the 20th century, was the chief laissez-faire thinker in his generation; he even went so far as to call Milton Friedman a socialist!  And yet, he was also the most vocal opponent of fiat money and government-granted authority to devalue currencies, which is what “just weights and measures” is intended to prevent, among other things.

Laissez-faire, in its historical use, was the theme of the French Physiocrats (see page 367 of this book), who were the most important opposition economists to the mercantilist doctrine of State control over imports and exports.  Whereas the mercantilists sought protective tariffs and government subsidies to help domestic businesses, the physiocrats declared that only free-trade, not managed trade, could lead a country to a prosperous future. It was Adam Smith that later carried forth these arguments and smashed the Mercantilists of his day with his book “The Wealth of Nations.”  Laissez-faire simply means “let it be” and should be interpreted as related to economic theory as “let the trade take place.”  The government should not intervene with two willing parties who are making a transaction. It does not mean: “lawlessness.”

If there is proof of fraud of any sort, then the criminal will be prosecuted.  All of this is entirely consistent with laissez-faire. For the point of laissez-faire is not to express desire for a system without laws, but rather to express desire for a system in which two consenting parties can engage in a voluntary trade without the government preventing it.  Laissez-faire has a historical context (otherwise, why keep the French phrase?). It is best that we keep it in mind.

After this paragraph, Kotter ends on an agreeable note, pointing out that an objection to capitalism on the basis of its inherent greed is nonsensical. For how does any other system remove the greedy mentality from the human being? For more on greed and capitalism, please see my article here.

Three cheers for laissez-faire capitalism.

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Freedom is Not “Public Policy”: Some Excerpts

I did some leisurely reading last night, which I haven’t done in some time. I read some essays from Lew Rockwell’s “The Left, The Right, & The State.”  I’ve read it before, but it’s always good to go back to the basics. Here are some excerpts from the essay “Freedom is Not ‘Public Policy.'”

Among the greatest failures of the free-market intellectual movement has been allowing its ideas to be categorized as a “public policy” option. The formulation implies a concession that it is up to the state—its managers and kept intellectuals—to decide how, when, and where freedom is to be permitted. It further implies that the purpose of freedom, private ownership, and market incentives is the superior management of society, that is, to allow the current regime to operate more efficiently.

Nice collection of essays, worth the time to read here and there.
Nice collection of essays, worth the time to read here and there.

This kind of thinking has been around a while. Murray Rothbard had noted back in the 1950s that economists, even those favoring markets, had become “efficiency experts for the state.” There is a small step from that unfortunate stance to providing a free-market rhetorical cover for the state to do what it wants to do anyway, which is surely the ultimate compromise.

Such was at the heart of the Reagan Revolution, when tax cuts were first proposed as a tool to bring in more revenue. Who said that the purpose of freedom was to ensure more lavish funding for the state? And what if the funding didn’t materialize? Does that mean that the tax cuts failed? Twenty years later, of course, we see that the strategy was a disaster because it turned out that there is a far surer way to collect more revenue: to collect more revenue.

There are many examples of this awful concession operating today. In policy circles, people use the word privatization to mean not the bowing out of government from a particular aspect of social and economic life, but merely the contracting out of statist priorities to politically connected private enterprise.

School vouchers and Social Security “privatization” are the most notorious examples at the national level. At the state and local levels, any government contract awarded to a grafting business interest is deemed “privatization.” A Washington think tank recently proposed that the CIA could become more efficient by contracting out to Washington think tanks.

What’s at stake is the very conception of the role of freedom in political, economic, and social life. Do we regard freedom as a useful device within the existing structure, or as an alternative to the current political system? This is not a matter of bickering libertarian sects. The very future of the idea of free markets is at stake.

[…]

We hear that if we “privatize” the schools with vouchers and other gimmicks, they will be cheaper to run and test scores will go up. We are told that if we “privatize” Social Security, it will produce higher returns for seniors. Here, the establishment libertarian policy people are saying: socialism is possible after all, so long as it is run by private enterprise!

In truth, if the education sector were ever completely in private hands, nothing like the current system would continue to exist. Most administrators would be without jobs in the school system. The schools themselves might become retail centers. Education would be radically decentralized and mixed with private enterprise. Schools would come and go. Teacher salaries would probably plummet. No one would have a right to an education guaranteed by the state. The state could ask for and expect no content or results from education at any level.

[…]

A hundred years ago, a person who proposed such a system would have been considered a socialist. Today, he is a “libertarian public policy expert.” If what you desire is true free-market reform, don’t call it privatization. We need to stop the present racket. Under real market reforms, no one would be looted and no one would be guaranteed anything. The slogan should be: stop the theft.

Note: I personally don’t mind the word “privatization.” It just needs to be defined correctly to represent the private ownership –which includes the decision making authority– of goods and services. In these sense then, the “privatization” of public services, is not really privatized in the most meaningful sense, but is only privatized nominally and strategically to enforce, not to challenge, the statist status quo.

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On It’s Way: Reformed Libertarian Store (coffee mugs ready for order)

Although it’s been quiet around here, I have by no means been lazily sitting on the couch. Mostly, I’ve been busy with my financial advisory practice and starting some other business projects as well (announcements to come). Happily, most of the grunt work related to those is out of the way and I can now dedicate some more time to The Reformed Libertarian (maybe even the podcast?).

Right now, I have about 5 TRL branded products I want to offer and, eventually, books and some libertarian/economics guides as well. So I set up a store. It is not live yet. But it will be very shortly. The link will be store.reformedlibertarian.com.

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Only $13 smackers! (–Tom Woods)

But I already have one product ready to go and since I already have them ordered, I am ready for people to start claiming them. Until the store goes live though, we have to do without it. Thus, you can order the TRL coffee mugs via my donation PayPal link.

Just go to this link, enter exactly $16.50 ($13 mug + $3.50 shipping), check the box that you are paying for a product, and enter your shipping address. IMPORTANT: In the optional note section, write “TRL mug” so I know this isn’t a random donation.

Make sure you order soon because I only ordered 50 of them to test the waters and I don’t want you to be stranded without a mug!

One more thing: since the entire order has been placed, but not yet received here at my house, I think it may take 2-3 weeks before you receive them. Just a heads up so you don’t break into a cold sweat.

This will only be the process for this first item. Once the store is up we can do everything more seamlessly at that point. I just want to start getting these things out there.

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Quick Notes on Romans 13

I’ve touched on Romans 13 often over the years; after all, it is probably the most important passage of the Bible relating to matters of politics and state. And while I’ve attempted to write an in-depth consideration of the chapter elsewhere, it needs to be updated to reflect further reflection I’ve had since then. The other problem is that it is way too long. Nobody reads things that long. So I am in need of a more succinct article of the problems and solutions of Romans 13.

This post is not that article. What it is, though, is a simple set of thoughts that I can link to in the future when the same old objections to our political theory come up. Often, people will cite Romans 13 as if I’ve never read it. Trust me. I have. So let me just add a thought or two per verse so that it can serve only as a reference point for others. It is not a defense of my position. Only a summary statement of my position.

1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 

God has ordained everything. From evil things to good, nothing exists, even the state or the devil, outside of God’s ordaining plan. Not all things ordained are morally good (God’s will of command), but all are according to God’s will of decree. Paul is describing to the readers that God ordained Roman tyrants. We should “be arranged” (hypotassō) under the authorities because we are generally to turn the other cheek and not live rebellious lives.

Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. 

This is the logical implication of verse 1. If God appointed the authorities, then to resist the authorities is to resist what he appointed. It is to remind us to think about God’s sovereign plan before we act out against evil rulers. Sometimes acting out is fine, and acting out will incur the state’s judgement. Nothing could be so obvious.

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, 

Rulers are a terror to those who do what the ruler considers bad. This can be anything from stealing to operating a free market business to preaching the Bible, depending on the regime. If you want to be free from the ruler’s wrath, you’d have to do what he considers good, not what he considers bad. However, sometimes, we ought to fear God more and do what God commands, even if the ruler considers it bad (preach the gospel).

for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. 

Rulers are servants in the sense that everyone is God’s servant because everyone is a tool that God uses to accomplish his ultimate end. Even the evil ruler Nebuchadnezzar was God’s servant (Jer. 43:10). God uses them sometimes to mold us, to turn our attention to him, to make us invest in eternal things. Sometimes they are for our benefit because they make just decisions, other times they are for our benefit because, in making an unjust decision, they focus our attention on the true Just King. God has given the ruler ordaining permission (not necessarily moral permission) to exercise wrath. Hitler was given God’s permission in time and space to carry out wrath on Jewish people, for instance. This does not mean what Hitler did was morally sound (obviously).

Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. 

Therefore, generally be arranged under the ruler for the sake of peace. Don’t live too obviously in rebellion or otherwise you will be threatened by the state. Live under the radar and don’t attract the state’s attention.

For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.

Whether taxes are actually morally legitimate, this is besides the point. Just pay them. You don’t want to go to jail or have your family threatened. Yes, taxation is theft and these resources aren’t owned to the Congress or President just because they want them. Pay them anyway. Don’t cause a commotion and put yourself in danger.

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I’m Still Alive

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything. I’ve been very quiet throughout the blog here and also the Facebook group, where I’m usually pretty active. The good news is that I’m still alive. The better news is that my time away from the internet has been quite fulfilling. I needed a break. I needed to focus on some new projects.

I’m building another business with my brother and a few others. So that’s taken most of the time. Then I had some hospital stuff with one of my kids. Which also took time. Work and family. That’s about it. I haven’t even read a book in a month. It’s weird. Once my business is really up and running I’ll have more time. But between my new business and my financial advisory practice, my ability to write throughout the day has been completely destroyed.

Just wanted to give everyone an update on things. I hope to be around more soon enough. Almost done. I created my own personal site too as a hub for all my various projects.

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There’s No Difference Between a Kind Capitalism and a Greedy Capitalism

I’m responding specifically to sentiments I’ve seen expressed in the conservative Christian world as of recent. I’ve noticed there’s been a large injection lately of attempts to piously criticize a sort of “greedy” or “profit-oriented” capitalism. All of this is nonsense on stilts, built on the foundation of what Mises called the “Anti-capitalist mentality.” It is cautious toward pure and unfettered capitalism either because it does not understand capitalism, or it does not understand total depravity.

Capitalism is a social arrangement in which the means of production are privately owned; where the employment of said means is done according to the will of the consumers, as communicated via the price mechanism. Whether this employment of scarce capital is due to the capitalist being “kind” (and therefore doing as the consumer wants) or “greedy” (and therefore, in order greedily acquire a profit, doing as the consumer wants), it makes no difference. Perhaps we would want a man to be kind, and not greedy, but this has nothing to do with the existence of capitalism.

Man has an incalculable number of motivations for acting as he does, and no man, by praxeological definition, acts contrary to his own interests. In this sense, as Christians such as John Piper and Gordon Clark have observed, man is entirely self-interested. Indeed, we were created to be this way. But self-interest expresses itself in a capitalist system by enabling man to gain what he desires only if he first contributes to the gain of his fellow man. This is what economists have referred to as a “coincidence of wants.” A kind man does not automatically provide for his fellow man better than the greedy man.

Whether this is “greed” or not is too difficult to judge. In any case, the benefits of Capitalism don’t care whether a man is greedy or kind. Or whether a man is lustful or compassionate. Capitalism is the arrangement wherein each man acts according to his own mental state and results in a growth in prosperity and a betterment of the masses. As Mises writes:

Capitalism is essentially a system of mass production for the satisfaction of the needs of the masses. It pours a horn of plenty upon the common man. It has raised the average standard of living to a height never dreamed of in earlier ages. It has made accessible to millions of people enjoyments which a few gen- erations ago were only within the reach of a small élite.

Economic interventionism against greed, regulation which aims to “protect” consumers,  regresses this glorious trend and not only puts back on the path to serfdom, but it also hampers the opportunity that the masses and the impoverished would have had to participate in the rising standards of living. It is a roadblock, a detriment, to the common man.

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Jim Grant Smashes an Apologist for Negative Interest Rates

What a zinger. Jim Grant obliterates Ken Rogoff’s lousy case for negative interest rates. Grant writes of Rogeff:

As for the campaign for zero cash in the service of negative interest rates, Mr. Rogoff’s brief is best seen not as detached scientific analysis but as a kind of left-wing crotchet. Strip away the technical pretense and what you have is politics. The author wants the government to control your money. It’s as simple as that.

Here’s another great quote:

A positive integer would almost seem inherent in the idea of interest. When most of us want something, we want it now. And if we don’t have the money to buy it now, we borrow. “Present goods are, as a rule, worth more than future goods of like kind and number,” posited the eminent 19th-century Austrian theorist Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk. He called this behavioral truism the core of his theory of interest.

Interest rates are prices. They impart information. They tell a business person whether or not to undertake a certain capital investment. They measure financial risk. They translate the value of future cash flows into present-day dollars. Manipulate those prices—as central banks the world over compulsively do—and you distort information, therefore perception and judgment.

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Reading Recommendations Galore!

I updated two reading recommendations pages on the Reformed Libertarian site.

The first is a “30 day reading plan” (if you are really ambitious) which serves as an introductory list of some basics people should understand if they are trying to learn about Austro-libertarian ideas. Here is the link.

The second is a holistic and complete book recommendation list categorized by subject matter and difficulty level. Here is the link.

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Murray Rothbard on Why the Paleo Movement was Founded

I am in the midst of the unenviable task of going through the pending FAQ page on the main site and answering each and every question. I came to this one, which I think would be good to answer: “Why do you call yourself a Paleo-Libertarian?” So in preparing my short answer, I reread Murray Rothbard’s essay on “Why Paleo?” (May, 1990).

Here is an interesting excerpt:

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 9.04.32 PMBut that is not the point, although I agree that liberty will tend to flourish most in a bourgeois, Christian culture. I am willing to concede that you can indeed be a good, hard-core libertarian and still be a hippie, an aggressive anti-bourgeois and anti-Christian, a drug addict, a moocher, a rude and intolerable fellow, and even an outright thief. But the point is that we paleos are no longer willing to be movement colleagues with these sorts of people. For two separate and powerful reasons, each of which would be good enough reason to form a separate and distinct paleo movement. One is strategic: that these sorts of people tend, for obvious reasons, to turn off, indeed to repel, most “real people,’ people who either work for a living or meet a payroll, middle class or working class people who, in the grand old phrase, enjoy “visible means of support.”

In the Libertarian Party, the prevalence of these sorts of people has kept the membership and the votes low and even declining. But also in the broader movement, these luffmensch types have almost succeeded in making the glorious word “libertarian” a stench in everyone’s nostrils, synonymous with nut or libertine. At this stage, the only way to save the glorious word and the concept of “libertarian” is to affix the word “paleo” to it, and thereby make the distinction and separation crystal clear.

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Alex Epstein Obliterates George Clooney

Alex Epstein, who wrote this book (which I need to read– as this post reminded me), issued a response to the following George Clooney statement on climate change:

Well it’s just a stupid argument. If you have 99 percent of doctors who tell you ‘you are sick’ and 1 percent that says ‘you’re fine,’ you probably want to hang out with, check it up with the 99. You know what I mean? The idea that we ignore that we are in some way involved in climate change is ridiculous. What’s the worst thing that happens? We clean up the earth a little bit?

The-Moral-Case-for-Fossil-Fuels
The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, Written by Alex Epstein

Epstein writes:

I am something close to terrified about Clooney’s comment: “What’s the worst thing that happens? We clean up the earth a little bit?”

Clooney is talking about the idea that we should “do something about climate change.” For Clooney’s environmentalist allies, that typically translates into: globally outlaw 80-95 percent of future fossil fuel use and force us to try to subsist on expensive, unreliable solar and wind energy.

And again:

For someone who understands that affordable energy is a life and death issue, this does not translate into “clean up the earth a little bit,” it translates into “making life on earth hellish for billions.” It would mean that the 1.4 billion people around the world who lack electricity—and thus have a life expectancy of 48—would not be lifted out of poverty, but would be joined by billions more.

It would mean a far dirtier environment—only high-energy, highly-developed countries have clean environments. And it would mean a far more dangerous climate. While Clooney makes time to publicly declare his solidarity with the victims, he should take some time to think about what would have actually protected them: industrial development powered by affordable, reliable energy.

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Benjamin Keach Against Redemptive Egalitarianism

God is not an egalitarian.  He does not treat all sinners in the same way. But he does treat all sinners justly.  The modern battle cry of egalitarianism extends itself throughout the whole of Western society.  From religious concerns to political matters, there is a running, and false, assumption that inequality is a great and terrible thing.  In fact, this inequality is actually considered unjust. But this is not accurate.  God did not create all of man to be the same and in fact, created each to be different.  The free economy therefore will reflect both inequality and differences of outcome; but it certainly will not produce an egalitarian utopia.  Which is why the State, considering itself Almighty, deems itself chief provider of equality of outcome.

The modern push for egalitarianism has corrupted society and destroyed the true meaning of justice.

Indeed, even in salvation God is no egalitarian.  And contrary to modern definitions of justice, God cannot not be considered unjust for only electing a few sinners for salvation.  For all deserve His eternal wrath. In passing over many, he does not withhold from them something they deserved.  And in saving the few, he gives to them what Christ has won on their behalf.

Here is Benjamin Keach on the matter of God’s election.

200px-Benjamin_KeachGod’s special Love and Election is not from any Man’s willing, or running; it riseth not from Natural Powers improved, not from his Desires, Good Deeds, or Good Inclinations, or from the fore-sight of his Faith and Obedience; but from and of God’s mere Mercy, Sovereign Grace and Favor: The Truth is, to deny God to have the power of his own Free Act in dispensing his own Sovereign Bounty, is to Eclipse his Glory, and to render him to have less Sovereign Power than that which he hath given, and allowed to Mankind: May not a Man show his Favor and Goodness in redeeming a few Captives, out of a Multitude, who willfully brought themselves into Bondage, but he must redeem them all, or be unjust? Or cannot a Man give a bountiful Gift to One or Two poor Men in a Parish, but he must bestow like Bounty to all the Poor in the said Parish? Or, can’t a King contrive and enter into a Covenant of Peace for a few Rebels that have (with a Multitude of others) taken up Arms against him, but he must be charged with Injustice, because he did not extend like Favor in the said Covenant to them all; sure, no Man, in his right Senses, will deny him this Liberty: And now, Shall not GOD have like power to dispense his Sovereign Grace to whom he pleases, who is said to do all things according to the pleasure of his own Will, and eternal purpose in Jesus Christ?

-Taken from “The Display of Glorious Grace.” [Bold added]

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H.L. Mencken on the Government’s Money and Services

HL Mencken from his article More of the Same, original published in the American Mercury in 1925:

When a private citizen is robbed a worthy man is deprived of the fruits of his industry and thrift; when the government is robbed the worst that happens is that certain rogues and loafers have less money to play with than they had before. The notion that they have earned that money is never entertained; to most sensible men it would seem ludicrous. They are simply rascals who, by accidents of law, have a somewhat dubious right to a share in the earnings of their fellow men. When that share is diminished by private enterprise the business is, on the whole, far more laudable than not.

The intelligent man, when he pays taxes, certainly does not believe that he is making a prudent and productive investment of his money; on the contrary, he feels that he is being mulcted in an excessive amount for services that, in the main, are useless to him, and that, in substantial part, are downright inimical to him. He may be convinced that a police force, say, is necessary for the protection of his life and property, and that an army and navy safeguard him from being reduced to slavery by some vague foreign kaiser, but even so he views these things as extravagantly expensive – he sees in even the most essential of them an agency for making it easier for the exploiters constituting the government to rob him. In those exploiters themselves he has no confidence whatever. He sees them as purely predatory and useless; he believes that he gets no more net benefit from their vast and costly operations than he gets from the money he lends to his wife’s brother. They constitute a power that stands over him constantly, ever alert for new chances to squeeze him. If they could do so safely they would strip him to his hide. If they leave him anything at all, it is simply prudetially, as a farmer leaves a hen some of her eggs.

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