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Reformed Libertarian Blog Posts

Guido Hulsmann on Religion and Liberty

A little glimpse of the personal perspective held by Jorg Guido Hulsmann on religion and liberty, as written in the forward to Ralph Raico’s book The Place of Religion in the Liberal Philosophy of Constant, Tocqueville, and Lord Acton.  It’s always neat to read little things like this from economists that have greatly impacted you.

Religion and liberty—few issues are more controversial among current-day libertarians. At least four positions can be distinguished. One well-known position holds that religion and liberty are separate spheres that are almost hermetically sealed from one another, while any historical point of contact is purely accidental or contingent. According to another wide-spread position, religion and liberty are outright antagonistic. These advocates see in religion the most deadly foe of individual liberty, an even greater enemy of mankind than the state. A third position contends that religion and liberty are complementary: on the one hand, pious men facilitate the workings of a society with minimal or no government and, on the other hand, political liberty facilitates religious life as each one sees fit. Finally, some thinkers defend a fourth position, namely, that religion—and in particular the Christian faith—is fundamental for individual liberty, both as far as the historical record is concerned and on the conceptual level.

In our thoroughly secularised culture, the third position is held to be daring and the fourth insolent. Yet today, I do believe that they are both true and that the third is a skin-deep statement of the truth, while the fourth goes to the root of the matter. Once a pagan interventionist, I first saw the truths of libertarian political theory, and eventually I started to realize that the light of these truths was but a reflection of the encompassing and eternal light that radiates from God through His Son and the Holy Spirit.

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Bloomberg: Help! Prices May Fall!

An article at Bloomberg expresses deep concern over the fact that, recently, the United States has experienced a strong dollar, relative of course to the world’s other fiat currencies.

While the steel industry has been fading in the U.S. for decades, things have gotten worse recently. A strong U.S. dollar, combined with a slowing Chinese economy, is bringing unprecedented amounts of cheap, foreign steel to the U.S., swamping domestic producers.

Stop. Reflect.

>”Things are getting worse.”

>”unprecedented amounts of cheap, foreign steel to the U.S.”

For real? Consider:

Jones: “Things are getting worse in my household financial situation”

Smith: “Oh yeah? What’s going on?”

Jones: “Well everytime I go to the store things are getting cheaper and now I am able to purchase unprecedented levels of goods.”

Smith: “Yikes. I’ll keep you in my prayers.”

The doctrine of mercantilism weighs economic success by the ability of the domestic producers to lead the industry worldwide.  Thus, when foreign producers are able to produce things cheaper, the mercantilist panics.  For this means that the domestic producers are not able to compete.  But why is it inherently better for economic progress is the domestic producers in one industry maintain control of the industry?  There is no reason for this.

Economic prosperity and progress depends on the division of labor.  It depends on the fact that some people are better, more efficient, at producing some things than others.  And it is good for the economy that those who are best at something specialize in it and those who are not as good at something find another role in society.  While Bloomberg panics that the Chinese are able to produce more cheaply, they should be thrilled: for now the American consumer of steel can save money, invest what he would have spent, and thereby direct scarce resources into productive activities in the domestic area.

Bloomberg complains: “The recent devaluation of the yuan could make Chinese steel even more attractive to U.S. buyers.”  This is exactly right. And this is the lesson that the entire mainstream economic commentator profession needs to understand: Chinese devaluation is not a boon for China… it is a boon for the US consumer!  China, far from “cheating” by devaluing, are merely hurting themselves and their own consumers.  The US citizen is the primary beneficiary!


“U.S. producers have had no choice but to pull back. Andrew Lane, an analyst at Morningstar, expects U.S. steel production to come in at around 85 million metric tons this year, down from 98 million in 2007. “I don’t think we’ll get back to that level until 2020,” Lane says.”

There is nothing wrong with this. Obviously those employed in the steel industry will be negatively affected. But those in the importing industries, as well as those in the industries that will suddenly receive more money from the savings of the American consumers who will no longer be spending as much money on steel, will be positively affected.  Economics, as Bastiat and Hazlitt taught, is a matter of considering the bigger picture; not just the immediate and obvious consequences.


Nice Email from Lawrence Reed of FEE

Lawrence Reed, President of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), sent along a nice email thanking us for sharing his article on Presbyterian stalwart J. Gresham Machen.  He basically said that he was previously unaware of the site but is excited to look around and even stated that he may become one of our biggest fans “based on the name itself!”

It’s always such a pleasure to receive supportive emails from people like Reed and Walter Block.  If you haven’t yet read the Machen article, make sure you do. And look around FEE’s site for some great resources in the free market economics tradition.  FEE is one of the older libertarian foundations and was founded in 1946 with money from the Volker Fund, which was instrumental in funding important books that are now cornerstones of the modern libertarian movement.

Many very important players in the early development of the modern libertarian movement went through FEE, including people like Henry Hazlitt, Hans Sennholz, and FA “Baldy” Harper.  Murray Rothbard, in “The Private Volker Fund Memos,” wrote the following:

With the formation of the Foundation for Economic Education in 1946, the libertarian movement turned a corner and began its postwar renaissance. […]

[FEE] gathered together the many isolated and loose strands of the libertarians, and created that crucial open center for a libertarian movement. It not only disseminated libertarian literature; it provided a gateway, a welcoming place, for all hitherto isolated and neophyte libertarians. It launched the movement.

This great feat of FEE in launching the libertarian movement is testimony to the enormous need for a functioning “open center” for libertarians. For not only did this open center provide a channel and gateway for people to enter the libertarian ranks; not only did its agitation convert some and find others; it also, by providing an atmosphere and a “center” for like-minded students of liberty, pro- vided the atmospheric spark for rapid advance from old-fashioned laissez-faire to 100 percent liberty on the part of much of its staff and friends. In short, FEE, by its very existence, exerted an enormous multiple leverage in creating and advancing and weaving together the strands and people in the libertarian cause. For this may it always be honored!

Thanks Lawrence Reed for the email!

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Patrick Barron on Cash Elimination

I thought Patrick Barron’s response to the Financial Times on cash was especially fantastic.  He wrote:

Dear Sirs:

I was appalled at your supposed “case” for eliminating cash, which you yourselves describe as the peoples’ “go-to safe asset”. And what IS your case?

One, “cash…limits the central banks’ ability to stimulate a depressed economy.” Really? Although I am not in favor of debasing money as a path to prosperity, I see no limit to the central banks’ ability to hit the “enter” key on their computer screens in order to manufacture out of thin air as much money as they dare. Two, banks cannot impose a negative interest rate–what we common folk call stealing–on the cash in one’s pocket. Your preposterous goobledygook that a negative interest rate is required by central banks in order to have sufficient “ammunition” when tightening from a “lower band” is as vacuous a statement, although often heard, that one can imagine. Three, that unlike electronic money, cash cannot be tracked…to which I answer “so what?” and “thank God for that!” Four, that former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, Kenneth Rogoff, thinks eliminating cash is a wonderful idea. Let’s set the record straight. The IMF gets its money from sovereign states, who tax their people against their will in order to give the money to the IMF to squander and give bad advice around the world. Any self-respecting economist would try to hide the fact that he had anything to do with such an institution; therefore, I find little comfort in Mr. Rogoff’s endorsement of the cash-confiscation scheme. Four, the state can more easily levy a Value added tax in order to make tax collection easy. Oh, how nice! Here…let me put my cash in the bank in order to make it easier for government to tax it away. Ah, but then you conclude your support of the cashless society with the caveat that we minions might, just might, be allowed to carry some cash…but at a cost. Our cash could carry an expiration date, for example. As you state: “The benefits of cash are significant–but they need not be offered for free.” A more Orwellian statement would be hard to find.

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My Favorite H.L Mencken Quotes

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) was one of the most important social critics and columnists in American history. His prose and ability to craft remarkable sentences are now of legend.  He was well known for covering the Scopes trial (it is popularly known as the “monkey trial” –this was Mencken’s doing). Here is Murray Rothbard’s essay on Mencken: “H.L. Mencken: The Joyous Libertarian.”  While Mencken was well known as an agnostic and for his harsh words against religion (which, if applied to the right religious groups –the moralist Progressives and the anti-philosophy Arminian fundamentalists– are entirely agreeable), he had much respect for a hero of this website: J. Gresham Machen. Here is a quote from Mencken’s obituary of Machen. Keep in mind that this is coming from someone who generally despised religion:

What caused [Machen] to quit the Princeton Theological Seminary and found a seminary of his own was his complete inability, as a theologian, to square the disingenuous evasions of Modernism with the fundamentals of Christian doctrine. He saw clearly that the only effects that could follow diluting and polluting Christianity in the Modernist manner would be its complete abandonment and ruin. Either it was true or it was not true. If, as he believed, it was true, then there could be no compromise with persons who sought to whittle away its essential postulates, however respectable their motives.

Thus he fell out with the reformers who have been trying, in late years, to convert the Presbyterian Church into a kind of literary and social club, devoted vaguely to good works. Most of the other Protestant churches have gone the same way, but Dr. Machen’s attention, as a Presbyterian, was naturally concentrated upon his own connection. His one and only purpose was to hold it [the Church] resolutely to what he conceived to be the true faith. When that enterprise met with opposition he fought vigorously, and though he lost in the end and was forced out of Princeton it must be manifest that he marched off to Philadelphia with all the honors of war.

And finally, here are my favorite quotes of Mencken’s:

  • “A professional politician is a professionally dishonorable man. In order to get anywhere near high office he has to make so many compromises and submit to so many humiliations that he becomes indistinguishable from a streetwalker.”urgetosavemencken1
  • “Democracy is an art of governing the circus from the monkey’s cage.”
  • “The men the American people admire most extravagantly are the most daring liars; the men they detest most violently are those who try to tell them the truth.”
  • “The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself… Almost inevitably, he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, and intolerable.”
  • “The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.”
  • “I believe that it is better to be free than to be not free, even when the former is dangerous and the latter safe. I believe that the finest qualities of man can flourish only in free air– that progress made under the shadow of the policeman’s club is also progress, and of no permanent value. I believe that any man who takes the liberty of another into his keeping is bound to become a tyrant, and that any man who yields up his liberty, in however slight measure, is bound to become a slave.”
  • “The truth, indeed, is something that mankind, for some mysterious reason, instinctively dislikes. Every man who tries to tell it is unpopular, and even when, by the sheer strength of his case, he prevails, he is put down as a scoundrel.”
  • “When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental — men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost… All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre….”
  • “As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”
  • “The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.”mencken-dressed-up1024x675
  • “The typical lawmaker of today is a man wholly devoid of principle — a mere counter in a grotesque and knavish game. If the right pressure could be applied to him, he would be cheerfully in favor of polygamy, astrology or cannibalism.”
  • “It is [a politician’s] business to get and hold his job at all costs. If he can hold it by lying, he will hold it by lying; if lying peters out, he will try to hold it by embracing new truths. His ear is ever close to the ground.”
  • “Public opinion, in its raw state, gushes out in the immemorial form of the mob’s fear. It is piped into central factories, and there it is flavoured and coloured and put into cans.”
  • “I believe that all government is evil, and that trying to improve it is largely a waste of time.”
  • “The state… consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can’t get, and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time it is made good by looting ‘A’ to satisfy ‘B’. In other words, [the state] is a broker in pillage, and every election is a sort of advanced auction on stolen goods.”
  • “Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.”
  • “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins.”
  • “The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naive and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.”
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Hans-Hermann Hoppe on the Long-Term Capital Effects of Taxation

From The Economics and Ethics of Private Property

Taxation is a coercive, non-contractual transfer of definite physical assets (nowadays mostly, but not exclusively money), and the value embodied in them, from a person or group of persons who first held these assets and who could have derived an income from further holding them, to another, who now possesses them and now derives an income from so doing. How did these assets come into the hands of their original owners? Ruling out that this was the outcome of another previous act of taxation, and noting that only those assets can be taxed that have not yet been consumed or whose value has not yet been exhausted through acts of consumption (a tax-gatherer does not take away another man’s garbage but rather his still valuable assets!), three and only three possibilities exist: They come into one’s possession either by one’s having perceived certain nature-given goods as scarce and having actively brought them into one’s possession before anyone else had seen and done so; by having produced them by means of one’s labor out of such previously appropriated goods; or through voluntary, contractual acquisition from a previous appropriator or producer. Only through these types of activities is one capable of acquiring and increasing valuable—and hence taxable—assets. Acts of original appropriation turn something which no one had previously perceived as a possible source of income into an income-providing asset; acts of production are by their very nature aimed at the transformation of a less valuable asset into a more valuable one; and every contractual exchange concerns the change and redirection of specific assets from the hands of those who value their possession less to those who value them more.

From this it follows that any form of taxation implies a reduction of income a person can expect to receive from original appropriation, from production, or from contracting. Since these activities require the employment of scarce means—at least time and the use of one’s body—which could be used for consumption and/or leisure, the opportunity cost of performing them is raised. The marginal utility of appropriating, producing, and contracting is decreased, and the marginal utility of consumption and leisure increased. Accordingly, there will be a tendency to shift out of the former roles and into the latter ones.

Thus, by coercively transferring valuable, not yet consumed assets from their producers (in the wider sense of the term including appropriators and contractors) to people who have not produced them, taxation reduces producers’ present income and their presently possible level of consumption. Moreover, it reduces the present incentive for future production of valuable assets and thereby also lowers future income and the future level of available consumption. Taxation is not just a punishment of consumption without any effect on productive efforts; it is also an assault on production as the only means of providing for and possibly increasing future income and consumption expenditure. By lowering the present value associated with future-directed, value-productive efforts, taxation raises the effective rate of time preference, i.e., the rate of originary interest and, accordingly, leads to a shortening of the period of production and provision and so exerts an inexorable influence of pushing mankind into the direction of an existence of living from hand to mouth. Just increase taxation enough, and you will have mankind reduced to the level of barbaric animal beasts.

Hans-Hermann Hoppe (0101-01-01T00:00:00+00:00). The Economics and Ethics of Private Property (Kindle Locations 438-463). Ludwig von Mises Institute. Kindle Edition.

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New Murray Rothbard Book Emerges

Writes Bob Wenzel:

A new book by the great economist and social philosopher Murray Rothbard has emerged, Science, Technology, and Government.

From the blurb:

In this previously unpublished manuscript, found in the Rothbard Archives, Rothbard deftly turns the tables on the supporters of big government and their mandate for control of research and development in all areas of the hard sciences. What R&D should be encouraged and funded, what inventions should be supported, and what areas should be given research grants, etc.? These decisions can only be decided by markets unburdened by government meddling and intervention. Rothbard shows that science best advances under the free market: the claims to the contrary of the centralizers are spurious. The best course of action for government is to get out of the way.

Here’s the preface to the book written by David Gordon:

When Murray Rothbard wrote “Science, Technology, and Government” in 1959, supporters of the free market needed to confront a challenge that remains relevant today. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched its “Sputnik” satellite, thereby defeating the United States in the race between the two countries to be first into space. Did this victory show, or at least suggest, the superiority of Soviet centrally-planned science to the American market economy? Critics of the free enterprise system like John Kenneth Galbraith (one of Rothbard’s least favorite economists) claimed that scientific research and development required government planning and control. The free market, these critics claimed, could not carry out the vast efforts research now required. Could private enterprise have built the atomic bomb? The Soviets have long since departed, but the fallacies in the arguments for centrally-controlled science live on today. Government spending on science and technology has increased far beyond its level in 1959.

In this brilliant monograph, Rothbard deftly turns the tables on the supporters of big government. In doing so, he displays his unique combination of mastery of theoretical principles and commanding knowledge of the empirical evidence and scholarly literature on every subject he addresses. He shows that science best advances under the free market: the claims to the contrary of the centralizers are spurious.

Here is the Amazon Link.

On a related note, there is even another Rothbard book in the works and Justin Raimondo is currently editing it. This book is a collection of old newspaper columns from the 1960s:

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Quote from Guido Hulsmann’s Mises Biography

I’ve read bits and pieces of it, but now I’ve committed myself to reading in whole, Guido Hulsmann’s massive biography of Ludwig von Mises, entitled “Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism.”  Liberalism, of course, referring to the Old Liberalism, or classical liberalism, (pre-American Progressivist/socialist “liberalism.”) which taught the freedom of the individual against statism and political power– and more importantly at a historical level, developed the economic case for free trade and the market system.

The following was pulled from the very beginning of the Preface.  I enjoyed it because it succinctly captures the difficult political context in which Mises developed his socio-economic thought.  The end of the quote makes mention of Mises’ audacious stance on epistemology, which was quite unacceptable during his time with the rise of logical positivism.  And today too, embracing logic to the extent Mises had done is considered “old fashioned” and un-“scientific.”41v+FKNfYyL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_

In the summer of 1940, with Hitler’s troops moving through France to encircle Switzerland, Ludwig von Mises sat beside his wife Margit on a bus filled with Jews fleeing Europe. To avoid capture, the bus driver took back roads through the French country- side, stopping to ask locals if the Germans had been spotted ahead—reversing and finding alternative routes if they had been.

Mises was two months shy of his fifty-ninth birthday. He was on the invaders’ list of wanted men. Two years earlier, they had ransacked his Vienna apartment, confiscating his records, and freezing his assets. Mises then hoped to be safe in Geneva. Now nowhere in Europe seemed safe. Not only was he a prominent intellectual of Jewish descent; he was widely known to be an arch- enemy of National Socialism and of every other form of socialism. Some called him “the last knight of liberalism.”

He had personally steered Austria away from Bolshevism, saved his country from the level of hyperinflation that destroyed inter- war Germany, and convinced a generation of young socialist intellectuals to embrace the market. Now he was a political refugee headed for a foreign continent.

The couple arrived in the United States with barely any money and no prospects for income. Mises’s former students and disciples had found prestigious positions in British and American universities (often with his help), but Mises himself was considered an anachronism. In an age of growing government and central planning, he was a defender of private property and an opponent of all government intervention in the economy. Perhaps worst of all, he was a proponent of verbal logic and realism in the beginning heyday of positivism and mathematical modeling.

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Crime is in Terms of the Individual

Crimes are those actions which have as their victims actual individual human beings. There is no abstract “crime against society” as the Progressives want you to think; nor is there a “crime against the state” as fascists want you to think. Rather, a crime is something which actually aggresses the person or property of one’s neighbor.

In this way, actual justice has to do with crimes and there is no such thing as “social justice,” much to the disdain of the socialist or liberal Christian. Any crime which aggresses hundreds of people is a “crime against many individuals,” not a “social crime.” Society has no rights, for society is not a thing in itself. We must speak in terms of the individual, lest collectivism creep in unannounced.

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Ryan McMaken on Non-state Civil Governance

In pursuit of precision, I have time and again aimed to differentiate between civil government and the state.  Unfortunately, many in the Austro-libertarian tradition have not been quite as precise but Hans Hoppe (and his disciple Stephen Kinsella) is an exception, and so is the later Rothbard.  In summary, the state is an institution that has, over the course of modern times, monopolized the role of civil governance. There has been civil governance without states historically but there has never been a state that did not first take up the role of a civil government.  Some might dismiss this as a meaningless distinction. But in fact, without this distinction, one easily forgets that there is indeed civil laws and civil order without the state.  That this is a historical observation, not merely a linguistic one, is vital.

In as succinct a blogpost as possible, I attempted to move beyond the anarcho-capitalist/minarchist problem by pointing out that the former does not reject law and order as the latter claims it does; but rather, ancapism merely claims that law and order must logically be handled by “civil government” agencies that are specifically not states.  Of course, one should read the previous linked article to understand why I am completely dogmatic about my rejection of the word “anarchism;” primarily because it falls on ears that have not considered a difference between state and civil governance.

Well, Ryan McMaken uses this same distinction in a recent blogpost when he comments on a historical book on the development of the “competitors” of the state. First, McMaken writes:

While many writers on the state have noted the coercive nature of states, few have taken the time to really explore the distinctions between the type of civil government known as “a state” and other types of civil government. Critics of anarcho-capitalism often wrongly assume that the absence of a state would mean the absence of civil government, but serious proponents of anarchism have never claimed that civil government can or should disappear. Opponents of the state merely assert that a civil government that relies on a monopoly on coercion is illegitimate. This is of course different from asserting that all types of civil government are illegitimate.

Indeed, every society has had some type of civil government, but not every society has used states as part of its system of civil government. Law can exist in an anarchic system, and we see this everyday in the international sphere which is anarchic and yet also governed, however imperfectly, by law and third-party arbitration.

In reading Martin van Creveld’s magnificent history of the institution of the state, I was intrigued by all the examples that are used to explain non-state justice and court systems.  But Creveld mainly focuses on tracing the rise and decline of the state itself, per the book’s title. However, Ryan McMaken cites another book which has at its focus all the civil governance “competitors” with the state, and traces their developments.  This book The Sovereign State and Its Competitors by Hendryk Spruyt, argues that:

Those who are unfamiliar with the literature on the middle ages rely primarily on what they see in movies to lead them to the conclusion that everything about the middle ages must have been awful. But, we know at least that the lack of sovereign states did not prevent economic growth since, as Spruyt notes, “in the later stages of the eleventh century, the economy began to expand dramatically” and that towns and trade began to expand quickly as well.

Spruyt notes that states were not necessary to protect these new sources of capital, and the Hanseatic League, for example, which was non-territorial, had no system of centralized hierarchy, and was based on a defense-for-members model that led to a high degree of prosperity and economic success for its members. Conflict between members were not decided by any state that enjoyed a monopoly on coercion, but on negotiation and arbitration.

The Feudal system was similar in that power was decentralized, and conflicts were resolved through complex systems of contracts and arbitration. Warfare was expensive and depended on valuable and highly-specialized knights whose terms of service were restricted by private agreements.

Of course, we aren’t trying to “bring back feudalism” (can’t wait until the New York Times gets ahold of this one); the point is that not all civil governments and civil orders rely on the state.  That is, there really is a difference between governance/law/order and the state as an specific type of institution.

I will try to get to this book sometime this year.


By way of historical interest for my Reformed readership, one of the things I have noticed in learning the history of the state is the mistake that some of the Protestants made in their positive goal of removing civil duties from the Church’s jurisdiction.  While it is completely understandable given the context of persecution against the religious dissenters from the Roman Church’s iron fist, the Protestants took refuge in the –at the time– young state which promised protection against the Church.  There was a mighty battle for power between the Roman Church and the various states, as Rome still at the time considered it her role to exercise authority over both the ecclesiastical and civil needs.  The states, desirous of power as is always the case, reached out to the Protestants– that is, they sought more support from a then powerless group.  This is how states tend to grow and permeate throughout society.

The Protestants, very rightly claiming that the Church should not oversee civil affairs, clung to the state for protection. This is why John Calvin wrote his forward in the Institutes as a letter to the Prince.  While they were right to reject the church as the proper agency of overseeing civil affairs, they did not foresee the dangers of statism– of embracing an agency with the monopoly use of coercion.  It was not until much later with the rise of separatism and the English Independents and the particular Baptist dissenters, that the context was ready for the American experiment of complete individual liberty.

And here we are 500 years later in our post-“Moral Majority” and “Religious Right” years, still learning about the dangers for the church when we get too cozy with the state.  The temptation is always before us.

While Charles Hodge was not familiar with the more modern expressions of precise libertarian formulations of political theory (and therefore does not make a distinction between civil government and state), his historical insights on the development from Constantine to the American experiment are interesting and helpful.  And Sam Waldron’s history of the development of a Christian political theory is relevant here as well. Especially in comparing Calvin’s understanding of the relationship to church and state with the much later advocates of the separation of church and state (which is the Reformed Libertarian view, dissenting from Calvin’s).

For more on the nature of the state, please consider Murray Rothbard’s Anatomy of the State.

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David Stockman on Pearl Harbor

It brings me immense pleasure that David Stockman doesn’t buy the textbook version of Pearl Harbor, which is that FDR and the American Government were sitting back twiddling their thumbs and then all of a sudden Japan bombed.  Stockman (this excerpt is from an article having mostly to do with the markets, I just thought this was a neat portion):

This was another tumultuous week to nowhere in the stock market. In fact, two days of robo trader enthusiasm based on headlines that Greece and China are fixed got us all the way back, well, to exactly where the market was last December 7th.

That was seven months ago, and come to think of it that was also Pearl Harbor Day. Perhaps the metaphor is a tad more than apt.

After all, FDR and his advisors claimed they didn’t see the great Japanese fleet’s 12-day steam to Hawaii. According to the textbooks it was a dastardly “sneak attack” without warning.

Not exactly. While the Japanese fleet was enroute, the Roosevelt Administration tightened its embargo on Japan and cut off oil supplies for even civilian use. The Japanese archives make clear that it was the final straw. The attack was executed because war hawks in the Japanese government were finally able to prove that negotiations aimed a lifting a two-year US embargo on oil, scrap steel and other crucial industrial commodities were futile.

So FDR wasn’t surprised by the Pearl Harbor attack. He knowingly brought it on.

Sacred Cows now slaughtered.

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Greece Should Repudiate!

The debate exists even amongst libertarians: should Greece try to get out of their debt obligations to the IMF? Some say yes, because the centralized banking system in which they participate has led to economic destruction in Greece (this is true); others say no, because “they” chose to borrow the money, and therefore “they” should pay it back. I am in the yes camp, and I think that the flaw in the “no” reasoning is that it conflates public and private debt. Murray Rothbard explains:

Most people, unfortunately, apply the same analysis to public debt as they do to private. If sanctity of contracts should rule in the world of private debt, shouldn’t they be equally as sacrosanct in public debt? Shouldn’t public debt be governed by the same principles as private? The answer is no, even though such an answer may shock the sensibilities of most people. The reason is that the two forms of debt-transaction are totally different. If I borrow money from a mortgage bank, I have made a contract to transfer my money to a creditor at a future date; in a deep sense, he is the true owner of the money at that point, and if I don’t pay I am robbing him of his just property. But when government borrows money, it does not pledge its own money; its own resources are not liable. Government commits not its own life, fortune, and sacred honor to repay the debt, but ours. This is a horse, and a transaction, of a very different color.

For unlike the rest of us, government sells no productive good or service and therefore earns nothing. It can only get money by looting our resources through taxes, or through the hidden tax of legalized counterfeiting known as “inflation.” There are some exceptions, of course, such as when the government sells stamps to collectors or carries our mail with gross inefficiency, but the overwhelming bulk of government revenues is acquired through taxation or its monetary equivalent. Actually, in the days of monarchy, and especially in the medieval period before the rise of the modern state, kings got the bulk of their income from their private estates — such as forests and agricultural lands. Their debt, in other words, was more private than public, and as a result, their debt amounted to next to nothing compared to the public debt that began with a flourish in the late 17th century.RothbardRepudiates

The public debt transaction, then, is very different from private debt. Instead of a low-time-preference creditor exchanging money for an IOU from a high-time-preference debtor, the government now receives money from creditors, both parties realizing that the money will be paid back not out of the pockets or the hides of the politicians and bureaucrats, but out of the looted wallets and purses of the hapless taxpayers, the subjects of the state. The government gets the money by tax-coercion; and the public creditors, far from being innocents, know full well that their proceeds will come out of that selfsame coercion. In short, public creditors are willing to hand over money to the government now in order to receive a share of tax loot in the future. This is the opposite of a free market, or a genuinely voluntary transaction. Both parties are immorally contracting to participate in the violation of the property rights of citizens in the future. Both parties, therefore, are making agreements about other people’s property, and both deserve the back of our hand. The public credit transaction is not a genuine contract that need be considered sacrosanct, any more than robbers parceling out their shares of loot in advance should be treated as some sort of sanctified contract.

Any melding of public debt into a private transaction must rest on the common but absurd notion that taxation is really “voluntary,” and that whenever the government does anything, “we” are willingly doing it. This convenient myth was wittily and trenchantly disposed of by the great economist Joseph Schumpeter: “The theory which construes taxes on the analogy of club dues or of the purchases of, say, a doctor only proves how far removed this part of the social sciences is from scientific habits of mind.” Morality and economic utility generally go hand in hand. Contrary to Alexander Hamilton, who spoke for a small but powerful clique of New York and Philadelphia public creditors, the national debt is not a “national blessing.” The annual government deficit, plus the annual interest payment that keeps rising as the total debt accumulates, increasingly channels scarce and precious private savings into wasteful government boondoggles, which “crowd out” productive investments. Establishment economists, including Reaganomists, cleverly fudge the issue by arbitrarily labeling virtually all government spending as “investments,” making it sound as if everything is fine and dandy because savings are being productively “invested.” In reality, however, government spending only qualifies as “investment” in an Orwellian sense; government actually spends on behalf of the “consumer goods” and desires of bureaucrats, politicians, and their dependent client groups. Government spending, therefore, rather than being “investment,” is consumer spending of a peculiarly wasteful and unproductive sort, since it is indulged not by producers but by a parasitic class that is living off, and increasingly weakening, the productive private sector. Thus, we see that statistics are not in the least “scientific” or “value-free”; how data are classified — whether, for example, government spending is “consumption” or “investment” — depends upon the political philosophy and insights of the classifier.

And while we’re at it, the solution to the US sovereign debt crises is, again, repudiate. “We” didn’t agree to this.

The State did.


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J. Gresham Machen on Jaywalking Laws

J. Gresham Machen on Jaywalking laws:

“These anti-pedestrian laws are intended either for the protection of the pedestrian, or for the convenience of the motorist. In either case . . . they are wrong. If they are intended to protect the pedestrian from himself, they are paternalistic. I am opposed to paternalism.”

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Fan Mail from Walter Block

Writes Walter Block to me last night:

Dear Jay (if I may):

This is one of THE best defenses of libertarianism I have ever read. Really magnificent. And, it is so necessary in this day and age of Cato, Boaz, Charles Murray, Sheldon Richman, Roderick Long, Charles Johnson, John Tomasi, Zwolinski, dozens of Bleeding Heart “Libertarians” and others who wish to hijack our beloved philosophy. Magnificent work on your part:

Engel, C. Jay. 2015. “What Libertarianism is Not: A Case Study.” May 15;

I only have a slight reservation about this excellent article of yours; you say:

“Okay, but this has nothing whatsoever to do with libertarianism and so to push themes such as that under a title that reads “Libertarian Perspectives” leads one to the conclusion that either our author misunderstands what libertarianism is, or else is being purposefully deceitful.  My guess is the former..”

My guess would be the latter. But this is only a slight cavil. I suspect you would agree with me, but are just too nice to take the alternative view.

Have you written more along these lines? If so, would you please, Please, PLEASE share these publications of yours with me?

I have written dozens, no, scores of articles along these lines over the years, trying to defend libertarianism against those who would water it down, or misunderstand it or hijack it. I won’t bore you with all of them, but I can’t resist sharing this one with you:

Block, Walter E. 1994. “Libertarianism and Libertinism,” The Journal of Libertarian Studies: An Interdisciplinary Review, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp. 117-128;

Are you aware of the really wonderful work the Bionic Mosquito has done along these lines? See:

Best regards,


I responded with a thank you, some previous blogposts I had written on these themes (1, 2, 3, 4), and an affirmation that I had of course heard of Bionic Mosquito, who graciously lets me republish his blogposts. It is always encouraging to see such big names in the libertarian movement reading what I write. I enjoy Dr. Block, especially his continual emphasis that libertarianism is solely about aggression, and not all these popular “libertine” trends that seem to have invaded the libertarian doctrine.  Thanks for the fan mail Dr. Block (hope you eventually come around on the abortion issue 😛 )!  I surely appreciate it.

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Jeff Deist on ‘Junk English”

This is a great little video by the new President of the Mises Institute Jeff Deist. He gives a basic overview of what he calls “Junk English” and its dangerous use in conversations pertaining to economics.

It really is an important point. Even beyond economics, we ought to recognize it whenever and wherever we hear it. Definitions are important for the meaning of words propel us forward. Without meaning, we have nothing.

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Robert Wenzel and Ilana Mercer

I’m a big fan of paleolibertarian writer Ilana Mercer.  Robert Wenzel has a nice interview with her on his show. They talk about Rand Paul, immigration, and more.


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Tom Woods: The “Pay Equity” Racket (2001)

By Thomas E Woods Jr. (November 2001)

Most of us probably thought the feminist demand for so-called “comparable worth” legislation had died out sometime in the 1980s. The idea was that occupations traditionally held by women should have wage rates raised by government fiat in order to correspond with those of “comparable” male-dominated jobs. Surely no one is advancing this idea any longer. Surely!

But on June 22 of this year, Maine became the first state in the Union to promulgate rules requiring both public-  and private-sector employers to pay a comparable rate to men and women who work at what the government determines to be “comparable” jobs.

This year alone, 67 similar bills have been introduced in 30 different states. In addition, the Fair Pay Act, which is pending in the US Congress, would criminalize differential wage rates in non-identical jobs that the government deems “equivalent.”

The endlessly repeated claim, which has helped give rise to all this legislation, is that women are paid 72 cents for every dollar paid to men. Now it obviously cannot be the case that women are paid 72 percent of what men are for doing the same work, not only because that violates the Equal Pay Act of 1963, but also because in that case any employer in his right mind would simply fire all his male employees and hire women at the lower wage rate.

There is no need to assume anything sinister is at work in the fact that women’s incomes are lower than those of men.

Many women who enter the labor force are aware that at some point they will have to interrupt their careers, probably for a matter of years, to take care of their children. Naturally, then, women are more likely than men to seek jobs with slow obsolescence rates that allow them to take time off without finding that their skill or knowledge has become outdated by the time they resume their careers. Married women tend to seek flexible working hours to accommodate their schedules. Many work only part time. Many would like to work near their homes. And so on.

These requirements place some restraints on what women are likely to earn vis-à-vis men. For one thing, such highly paid occupations as law and medicine are extremely difficult to leave and re-enter after a multi-year absence. Second, since many women seek the job criteria listed above, the result is a great many women competing for the narrow range of jobs that fit these criteria. Somewhat lower wages in these jobs are merely a reflection of supply and demand–the only rational way of allocating labor efficiently.

It turns out, incidentally, that single, never-married women of comparable education and experience and who work full time have the same incomes as their male counterparts. The so-called wage gap completely disappears once we stop comparing apples and oranges. Diana Furchtgott-Roth, President Bush’s chief of staff for his Council of Economic Advisors, makes this point in Women’s Figures: An Illustrated Guide to the Economic Progress of Women in America. So have many, many other economists who have bothered to study the data (and use common sense).

Even some feminists and labor leaders, apparently, realize this. But Karen Nussbaum of the AFL_CIO’s Working Women Department, when presented with these figures, simply replied: “Great. OK. If you live a pristine life where nothing interferes, then you can have equal pay. We thought it might be better if it had a more broad definition.” A fanatic has sometimes been described as someone who, once his goal has been reached, redoubles his efforts. What Nussbaum is saying, in effect, is that now that unmarried women of comparable background have reached effective pay equality with men, it’s time to expand the concept into cases where it makes no sense.

The basic premise behind “comparable worth,” the centerpiece of the Maine legislation, is that jobs done primarily and historically by women are systematically “undervalued” by the market. Presumably with a straight face, the US Civil Rights Commission once determined that librarians and chemists were of equal “value” to society, since both earned 493 points on the Commission’s rating scale, and thus it was unjust for the former (mostly women) to be paid less than the latter (mostly men).

But the implementation of comparable worth, by raising the salaries of jobs traditionally occupied by women, will make it more difficult for women interested in these occupations to find employment at all. Artificial increases in wage rates (that is, increases not justified by increased productivity) in, say, secretarial work will simply translate into fewer secretaries hired.

Economist Anita U. Hattiangadi, author of A Closer Look at Comparable Worth, found that the unemployment rate for women jumped nearly 5 percent after Minnesota initiated an equal pay system for state government workers–an increase more than four times as great as that for men. There have also been cases in Minnesota’s experiment with comparable worth in which women have actually tried to overturn the state’s mandated wage increases because they feared unemployment.

According to the Maine law, if employees who are being paid less than another group believe they are being discriminated against because their work is of equal “value,” they can file class action lawsuits seeking unlimited damages. Before year’s end, quite literally every Maine businessman will be subject to ruinous legal action based on a completely arbitrary standard. It is hard to overstate how ill-considered, irrational, and potentially destructive this plan is.

And the idea is only gaining momentum. “I think that equal pay is probably the most potent and underrated political issue out there,” Nussbaum said in a recent interview. “It comes out right at the top of every poll that gets taken. We’re beginning to see it at the state level. In New York, there are about 20 bills; every legislator out there wants to get his or her name on this thing.”

Naturally, under such a scenario, since everyone would be well aware of the arbitrary nature of comparable worth rulings, the result would be a mad frenzy of appeals to the state authority as to why this or that profession deserves higher wages. Wage rates would begin to reflect not worker productivity, but rather the skill at political jockeying and maneuvering on the part of lawyers and other representatives of various professions–not a particularly sanguine development for a free society.

There is an obvious irony in all this, one that reveals the sheer irrationality of feminist “economics.” Why do feminists support comparable worth, whose higher wages for traditionally female occupations would encourage women to remain in such occupations, when feminists claim to want to see women break through barriers and compete with men for traditionally male-dominated work?

Of course, the notion of “pay equity,” of state bureaucrats assigning points to various occupations, is the kind of absurdity we would have laughed at had it been done by Soviet commissars. But if the feminists and their allies in the labor movement continue to register these successes, no one will be laughing.


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The Horror of Falling Prices

Gary North writes (behind a paywall):

Three days ago, Google announced a spectacular price cut in cloud storage. It cut prices to 2.6 cents per gigabyte. That was bad news for Amazon, and good news for users.

Here was the sequence of events. On March 25, Google cut the price to 2.6 cents per gigabyte. I went to Amazon to check prices. Lo and behold, I discovered that the price was 8.5 cents/GB. In other words, Amazon had already cut prices by a third since September. On March 27, I checked again with Amazon S3, and I found that, as of April 1, the price will be 3 cents/GB.

This means that, in a period of seven months, the price of an indispensable cost of doing business has declined by 76%. This is incredible. Here is a service that large companies use 24×7, and without any prior warning, the cost of purchasing this service declined by 76%.

“Good news for users” indeed.  And yet, mainstream economists, professional Fed watchers, and political shills, speak of the dire consequences of falling prices.  Falling prices are a good thing.  Of course, a bust which follows a boom is painful, but the idea that the central bank should take it upon itself to generally “stabilize prices,” that is, not let them fall, is silly.  Falling prices make happy customers.

Nobody goes to the store hoping to buy less with their money.


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John Robbins on the Root of Freedom

John Robbins:

“The attempts of libertarians, classical liberals, and conservatives to preserve freedom and civilization over the past 50 years have failed because they have not been based on any sound understanding of the philosophical and theological pre-conditions for freedom and civilization.

Many conservatives, libertarians, and classical liberals are opposed to the ideas of the Protestant Reformers; they want the fruits of the Reformation – freedom and civilization – but they reject the root of freedom and civilization, Biblical Christianity.”

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Joe Sobran: The Right to Secede

Joe Sobran

How can the federal government be prevented from usurping powers that the Constitution doesn’t grant to it? It’s an alarming fact that few Americans ask this question anymore.

Our ultimate defense against the federal government is the right of secession. Yes, most people assume that the Civil War settled that. But superior force proves nothing. If there was a right of secession before that war, it should be just as valid now. It wasn’t negated because Northern munitions factories were more efficient than Southern ones.

Among the Founding Fathers there was no doubt. The United States had just seceded from the British Empire, exercising the right of the people to “alter or abolish” — by force, if necessary — a despotic government. The Declaration of Independence is the most famous act of secession in our history, though modern rhetoric makes “secession” sound somehow different from, and more sinister than, claiming independence.

The original 13 states formed a “Confederation,” under which each state retained its “sovereignty, freedom, and independence.” The Constitution didn’t change this; each sovereign state was free to reject the Constitution. The new powers of the federal government were “granted” and “delegated” by the states, which implies that the states were prior and superior to the federal government.


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