Power & Market
Last year, we told you about a new book from Andreas Marquart and Philipp Bagus titled Wir schaffen das – alleine! (“We can do it – alone!”). The subtitle says: “Why small states are just better.” (Read an interview about the book here.)
Unfortunately for English-language readers, the book remains only available in German.
The authors, however, have now launched an Indiegogo campaign to fund the translation of the book into English.
The book is an important addition to the scholarship of decentralization and secession.
Building permits for private housing units in the US dropped by 5.5 percent in August, which was the largest drop recorded in more than two years. The last time housing permit activity dropped by a larger amount was during June of 2016 when permits fell by 12.3 percent.
The trend in all permits (seasonally adjusted):
The decline was driven by a drop in multifamily permits. In fact, single-family permit growth didn't drop below zero at all — although single-family permits grew at the weakest rate (2.1 percent) recorded since May of 2014.
The trend in single-family permits (seasonally adjusted):
The general trend here, since early 2017, is one of stalling growth rates in permit activity.
If you're like me, though, you're not a huge fan of seasonally-adjusted numbers. So let's look at the non-adjusted permit totals.
Given that permit activity does tend to be highly seasonal, it's helpful to compare this past August with other Augusts. So, if we look at each month of August since 2005, we find that August 2018 was the first August in eight years during which permit activity (for all units) actually turned negative when compared to the previous August. August 2018's permit activity was down 5.9 percent, year over year.
Total permits reported for August of each year:
As with the seasonally-adjusted data, the decline was driven largely by a drop in multifamily permits. Looking at permits for building with 5 or more units, we find that permit activity in August 2018 was down 21 percent from the previous August. To find a larger drop in August, we have to go back to 2009.
Multifamily permits reported for August of each year:
Meanwhile, single-family permits were up by 1.6 percent in the non-adjusted data, comparing August 2017 to August 2018. This was the smallest August increase in single-family permits in four years. Nevertheless, it was an increase.
In short, we're seeing a similar trend in the August non-adjusted data that we see in the adjusted data: single-family permits are more or less flat, and growing at a weak rate.
Unlike single-family permits, though, multifamily permits aren't growing at all, and in August, they dropped off by the largest amount seen since the last recession.
Why Might Permit Activity Be Dropping?
Given that permits tend to be an indicator of future building activity, these numbers suggest that builder confidence is slipping. This could be due to at least two factors. One factor is likely rising mortgage rates . In August, the average 30-year fixed rate was the highest it has been since 2011. That's likely to put downward pressure on demand for both single-family homes and condos in multifamily buildings.
Secondly, thanks to the Trump tariffs, the cost of both lumber and steel has risen, driving up construction costs. This means builders won't be able to deliver units at a prices that are likely to attract as many buyers as might have been the case without the tariffs.
On the other hand, it's possible that the weakness in the August numbers are a fluke and and that permit activity will bounce back. If both construction and borrowing costs continue to go up, though, sustaining demand will require greater growth in incomes.
Last December, Krissy Noble (then going by her maiden name Tran) shot and killed a man who broke into her apartment and attacked her. She was 11 weeks pregnant at the time.
As ABC News described the incident:
[When her attacker was] inside, the man tackled her and began trying to cover her mouth with his hand, which she thought smelled of chemicals, the report states. He then started hitting her in the face with his fist.
After she was able to break free, Noble grabbed a pistol off the coffee table and shot the man three times before running to her neighbor's apartment and telling her to call 911, according to the report.
Noble told police that "she feared not only for her safety but for the safety of her baby, and felt that she had no other option in this situation, according to the report.
Authorities have ruled that Noble’s use of force was justified, however she now faces 24 years in jail for her actions. Why? She previously pled guilty to a felony marijuana charge.
"Right now I'm looking at the max, 24 years, that's my baby's life. I mean, I'm going to miss 24 years of my child... I won't even, I won't even know my child, I'll miss out on everything.”
The tragedy of Nobles’s story has several layers.
The first is that a marijuana possession is a felony charge in the state of Arkansas. It’s worth noting that there is nothing particularly unusual about Noble’s case: her and several friends were found with an ounce of marijuana and drug paraphernalia during a routine traffic stop. Since no one claimed ownership, all faced criminal charges. Facing jail time, Noble accepted a plea deal that gave her a suspended sentence and barred her from possessing a fire arm.
That Noble would face a felony from such an incident speaks to the absurdity of the continued war on drugs. It may also explain why 66 of Arkansas’s 75 counties see unusually high opioid prescriptions.
The second is how over criminalization leads to a dangerous loss of basic individual rights. In the case of Noble, the gun used to defend herself was owned by her husband, who serves is the Arkansas National Guard. In the eyes of the Arkansas “Justice” system, Noble being caught with marijuana last December meant she had no right to use her husband’s firearm to defend herself from a brutal attacker. The law would leave her a defenseless victim.
Luckily there does seem to be momentum towards restoring gun ownership rights to non-violent offenders that have been caught up in America’s justice system. Legislators at both the state and federal level have relevant pushed bills in recent years, while federal courts have also found some that blanket bans for all felons are unconstitutional.
Unfortunately for Noble, this precedent won’t apply to her case as she was still under her five year suspended sentence.
Recently Mark Spitznagel, Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Universa Investments, joined Bloomberg to discuss the lessons learned from the 2008 financial crisis.
"What [the 2008 financial crisis] taught us ultimately is that interventionism - monetary interventionism - is a Faustian bargain. It gives us short term gains, and longer term pains."
This morning on The Wasatch Report on the Cerberus Radio Network, Suzanne Sherman and I discussed how the US Supreme Court has become far more powerful than was ever intended. We also looked at the problem with the common American idea that the Supreme Court exists to limit federal power, or that its judges are impartial and non-political, seeking only a reasoned, legal interpretation of the laws. This has never been true, but the political nature of the court is far more damaging now because so much power has now been concentrated in the federal government.
You might not particularly care if the Senate confirms Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court or not, but we should care very much about the spectacle playing out in the press and social media. The overall effect is to remind us of Washington DC's status as the center of the universe, how Supreme Court justices necessarily and justifiably wield tremendous power over our lives, and why we should feverishly vote this fall to make sure the bad guys don't win and inflict their judges on us for the next fifty years.
It's hysterical, and demeaning. But people understandably feel forced into treating the Supreme Court makeup as a life and death political struggle.
All of this diverts attention from what should be a key issue, if not the key issue, in Kavanaugh's nomination: the 4th Amendment. Judge Andrew Napolitano, who knows and likes the nominee, makes the damning case that his views regarding the misnamed Patriot Act, FISA courts, search warrants, and domestic surveillance are deeply illiberal and dismissive to constitutionalism.
Kavanaugh's legal opinions are nothing short of terrible when it comes to an individual's basic right to live free of government searches, snooping, or seizures of property without specific proof that rises to the level of reasonable suspicion. His record is not one of "originalism," but rather undue deference to the wishes of a rapacious executive branch.
His nomination will not turn on this, however.
Instead it appears we will be subject to lurid testimony before the Judiciary Committee about the nominee's alleged high school groping, delivered by his accuser, in a dramatic turn that can only result in two segments of the country adamantly believing and disbelieving her. Are Senators on that committee prepared to act as would-be judges in what amounts to an accusation of criminal conduct? Are they competent triers of fact in a he said/she said scenario from 30 years ago?
These hearings showcase several particularly American phenomena. They're televised, which turns every Senator into a grandstanding showman intent on bolstering a national image. They're voyeuristic, taking us inside the presumably boring personal lives of federal judges: Mr. Kavanaugh apparently drinks beer, uses credit cards, holds season tickets to the Washington Nationals, and is either a sexual assaulter or unassailable soup kitchen volunteer. Above all, they inject the phoniest of politics into what should be a simple inquiry into the nominee's basic fitness as a judge. Even when that nominee is a native of DC, a true company man who has been around the federal government all his life (Kavanaugh worked a stint in the Bush I administration), his Senate interrogators have to make a big show of some imagined clash of worldviews.
Three clear lessons emerge from the Kavanaugh fiasco:
First: the politicization of the Supreme Court is total and cannot be undone. You'd be hard pressed to find an American who views the Court as anything other than an unelected super-legislature that issues sweeping "laws" governing everything from abortion to guns to healthcare mandates to government surveillance and spying. There's a reason people say any given court decision is "the law of the land." Justices are black-robed tenured monarchs, selected by presidents as a form of political spoils to carry out a political agenda. They are Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, and rule accordingly-- starting with their intended political result in any given case, and working backward to fashion a legal argument justifying that result. Judicial activism is triumphant, and no pretense of impartiality remains regardless of the shifting "philosophies" offered for statutory interpretation.
Second: judicial overreach has not limited executive or legislative overreach. The doctrine of judicial review is specious at best, with no support in Article III of the Constitution. Our understanding of Marbury v. Madison is deeply flawed. Yet millions of American kids escape high school believing the Supreme Court is supreme not only over lower federal courts, but also over the other branches of government.
Has this extra-constitutional power assumed by the Court served to limit the unconstitutional actions of those branches? Hardly. Congress runs roughshod over Article 1, section 8, while cravenly refusing to declare war; the General Welfare Clause and Commerce Clause are interpreted laughably; economic substantive due process--read "property rights"-- hasn't been recognized for nearly a century; the 9th and 10th Amendments are dead letters, the 4th Amendment is on life support; and the entire 20th century serves as stark evidence of the Court's willingness to rubber stamp unchecked executive power.
Judicial review serves as legal cover for government power, not a check on it.
Third: centralized judicial power is as damaging to liberty as centralized executive and legislative power. Having a single court run by nine humans make top-down decisions for 320 million people is a recipe for disaster. Common law is inherently decentralized; it evolves locally and slowly creates universal precepts (i.e. prohibitions on murder) only when there is near unanimity of agreement across time and geography. The gradual imposition of positive civil law in America, along with the federalization of vast areas of law that once were determined locally, created a federal judiciary that is unworkable and unresponsive to millions of Americans. For the vast majority of us, recourse against the federal government for its lawless acts is an illusion-- we don't have 10 years and millions of dollars for lawyers.
The divisive nature of Supreme Court nominations is a feature and not a bug of our federal politics and government.. Truth, justice, and fairness, the hallmarks (or at least goals) of a decent legal system, must give way to tribal war and endless "whataboutism" in any culture where politics predominates. This is what politics does to all of us, and to a judiciary that is supposed to constrain the politicians.
I have known Guido a long time, and when he was working on the book, I used to goad him by asking frequently, “When are you going to finish that Mises book?” I had no idea what a tremendous project that research was or what magnificent fruit it would bear. After reading it, I wrote to Guido as follows:
“I have finally finished reading your great book about Mises. When I use the word ‘great,’ I mean not simply that it weighs at least a kilo and contains more than 1,000 pages. I mean most of all that it is a magnificent scholarly achievement. I can’t remember when I have taken more pleasure from a book. It is a joy to read, in every way. The English is precise and polished, and everything is put just right. The research is amazingly broad, yet deep, too. The judgments are sensible and mature. The coverage–from the personal details to the content of Mises’s ideas to the context in which he lived and worked–is extraordinary, and the organization puts everything into comprehensible order. The bibliography is more than impressive. All in all, the book is simply an amazing accomplishment, and a fitting tribute to its great subject.
The Mises Institute deserves great credit, too, not only for its support of your work on this project, but also for producing a book that is a fine example of the publisher’s art: the typeface is clean and clear, and large enough to permit effortless reading; the layout is spacious and proper; the footnotes are where they should be, and they, too, are large enough to be read without a magnifying glass; the illustrations are splendid complements to the text; and the indexes are terrific. The work is thus not simply beautiful intellectually, but beautiful physically, as well.
If I had ever written anything half so wonderful–and I recognize that I lack the abilities to do so–I would consider my career a complete success, and feel myself justified in taking my ease, to rest on my laurels. I do not perceive that you have this plan in mind for yourself, and therefore the world will be the better, not only for your great book on Mises, but also for all the great achievements that lie in your future. I salute you, my friend, not without a touch of envy, but with my whole heart.”
(Hardcover and Audio book available now at the Mises Bookstore.)
The federal government is running a massive deficit right now. American wages are stagnant. The US is involved in multiple costly wars with no apparent objective. And the president raises taxes on Americans at will through his tariff policy.
But fortunately the Congress is getting down to what is really important. Federalizing laws banning the sale of cat and dog meat.
The silliness of Congress's involvement in the matter is so obvious that even CBS news begins its article on the topic with a snide comment:
The government shuts down at the end of the month, and Democrats and Republicans seem unable to make a deal to keep it open. They are, however, united in trying to stop people from eating pets.
But the new bill does provide a chance for politicians to crow about "accomplishing" something in Congress. Bill sponsor and Florida Democrat Alice Hastings released a glowing statement:
"The House of Representatives has voted to unify animal cruelty laws across the country, which would prohibit the slaughter of dogs and cats for human consumption," Hastings said. "I am proud to have championed this effort in Congress to explicitly ban the killing and consumption dogs and cats across the United States, and am greatly appreciative of my friend and colleague Congressman Buchanan for taking the 'Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act' across the finish line today."
Boy, without the federal government, who could possibly regulate such things? I mean, other than the county commissioners who could just as easily pass an ordinance on the matter? The sale and handling of dog meat is already illegal nearly everywhere in the US. The new federal law is being passed because it gives politicians a shiny object to distract the voters with on the campaign trail this fall.
Keep in mind also that if the feds plan to enforce the new regulations, it will require work from federal employees who will need to surveil, investigate, and prosecute any suspected lawbreakers. The people who do it will collect a federal salary and, eventually, a federal pension.
Needless to say, there's no section of the Federal Constitution that expresses the necessity of federal involvement in regulating cat meat. But such trifles don't concern Congress when there is good politicking to be had. After all, from the politician's standpoint, only a few odd eccentrics like yours truly are going to bother condemning the bill. Meanwhile, the bill's supporters will be able to make stump speeches to suburban moms and college activists about how "I am fighting for you" in Congress by making dog-meat boutiques illegal under federal law.
This leads us to ask the question of how widespread this black-market industry even is. If is is not widespread then why the need for federal legislation? And if consumption of dog meat is widespread, then this tells us that somewhere in America private citizens — presumably taxpayers — like to eat dog meat. So, the federal legislation is either pointless, or it's trampling on the property rights of someone somewhere.
In either case, the question must be answered: are we to believe that dog-meat lovers have no rights just because lots of people think dogs are cute? Yes, I get it, I have a dog too and she's swell. Barring a Venezuela-style apocalypse, I'm totally not going to eat her.
On the other hand, if some people somewhere like eating dog, why is it my place to sign off on threatening those people with fines imposed by federal agents for doing something I find distasteful.
At this point in the debate, of course, the opponents of dog meat will start repeating totally arbitrary reasons for why eating dog ought to be verboten. "They' cute, they're intelligent, they make good companions." And so on.
But as anyone who has worked with pigs knows, those animals are very intelligent, too. Some are even cute. Some people keep pigs as pets. And yet, many of the same people who sob over dog meat have few scruples about ordering a sausage pizza.
Hardliner animal rights people are, at least, consistent in this. They are against all animal slaughter. And that's a respectable position — although not one I agree with.1
Dog Meat vs. Horse Meat
Unfortunately, we've already been over this, and the federal government has already been blazing the trail for regulating meat slaughter and sales for quite some time. In fact, it was just late last year that the Congress was debating ending an existing federal ban on the processing of horse meat. And although I've been a personal fan of many horses I have met, I also came out against that federal ban.
[RELATED: "Do We Really Need a Federal Ban on Horse Meat?" by Ryan McMaken]
In that case, though, opponents of horse-meat bans had something more in their favor: Americans were still eating horse meat in the mid twentieth century. Even more recently, Americans were feeding horse meat — ironically, given the current debate — to their cats and dogs. Moreover, as I pointed out in the article, Western society has a long history of eating horse meat, although it was never especially popular in the United States. But in the case of horse meat, why ought the "rights" of horses trump those of private taxpaying citizens who happen to make their living from selling horse meat? Or who enjoy eating it?
With cats and dogs, of course, there is very little history of them being eaten in the US or in Europe.
Eating dogs, however, is apparently common in China, Indonesia, and Korea. Some immigrants from those places still eat dogs.
But, there aren't enough people in the US who like dog meat to make the pro-dog-meat lobby in the US politically significant. Congress simply doesn't have to worry about any of those people when campaigning for re-election this November. Those horrible foreigners and new arrivals who like dog meat? To hell with them. And if they get caught eating a dog or cat? Well then its a $5,000 fine. Xenophobia continues to be great politics, just not in the way you think. It's not the Trump voters in this case who are wanting to stick it to foreigners and immigrants. This time, banning dog meat is all about pandering to soccer moms and well-to-do twenty-somethings who refer to their dogs as their children. It's probably a winning strategy.
- 1. Unfortunately, with many hardcore animal rights activists, this admirable consistency often fails to extend to opposing the killing of human life pre-birth.