The Ideological Push for Legalization

The Ideological Push for Legalization

05/11/2018Mark Thornton

Austrian economists have an great frustration of not being able to quickly change public policy in the short run despite having great theoretical insights on economics and policy.  However, we know that in the long run that we can help change public policy when we can use scientific insights and theories to change public opinion or ideology which in turn changes public policy. A good case in point is cannabis or marijuana which has been illegal nationally since the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 which became a prohibition and eventually landed cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug in the same class as heroin. America was exposed to a century of propaganda against cannabis. Most famously, movies in the 1930s such as Reefer Madness made fictional claims that consuming cannabis could turn good people into murderers, drive them insane and result in their death. In 1972 only 12% of Americans supported legal cannabis. This experience has ruined millions of lives and it will surely go down in history as one of the greatest blunders in human history.

Of course more recently many states have legalized medical and recreational cannabis. Now more that 62% of Americans support legalizing recreational marijuana and almost no one opposes medical marijuana. Scientists have long been leery to weigh in on this issue. Dr. Sanjay Gupta reversed his position to endorse cannabis and that probably changed  many peoples minds. Today we have the announcement that Fiona Godlee, editor in chief  of the prestigious British Medical Journal confirmed the journal's position that illegal drugs should be legalized and regulated from a public health perspective. I chronicle economists written views on drug policy here

Her statement in full:

Some numbers in this week’s journal bear reflection. The war on drugs costs each UK taxpayer an estimated £400 a year. The UK is now the world’s largest exporter of legal cannabis, yet recreational and medicinal use are criminalised. Scotland has the EU’s highest rate of drug related deaths, double that of 10 years ago. The global trade in illicit drugs is worth £236bn, but this money fuels organised crime and human misery. Why should it not instead fund public services?

A growing number of countries are taking a more enlightened route, say Jason Reed and Paul Whitehouse (doi:10.1136/bmj.k1999). In Portugal, where non-violent possession of drugs has been decriminalised, consumption hasn’t increased but drug related deaths have fallen considerably. In the Netherlands, the USA, and now Canada, regulated markets for the sale of cannabis generate substantial tax revenues.

Meanwhile, in the UK vast sums are spent on prosecuting individuals and trying vainly to interrupt the flow of drugs into cities, carried along “county lines” by vulnerable children. Reed and Whitehouse speak for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, which calls for legalisation and regulation. They say that the money could instead be spent on quality control, education, treatment for drug users, and child protection. Revenues could be diverted from criminal gangs into government coffers.

When law enforcement officers call for drugs to be legalised, we have to listen. So too when doctors speak up. Last month the Royal College of Physicians took the important step of coming out in favour of decriminalisation, (doi:10.1136/bmj.k1832) joining the BMA, the Faculty of Public Health, and the Royal Society of Public Health in supporting drug policy reform (doi:10.1136/bmj.j3461.)

This is not about whether you think drugs are good or bad. It is an evidence based position entirely in line with the public health approach to violent crime. In their Editorial, John Middleton and Jonathan Shepherd say that the UK’s epidemic of gun and knife crime is in part due to the increased availability of fentanyl and crack cocaine (doi:10.1136/bmj.k1967). The UK government’s newly released Serious Violence Strategy acknowledges the link between drug prohibition and violence, but it proposes spending £40m on prohibition related policies. Reed and Whitehouse say it will do nothing to tackle drug related crime.

The BMJ is firmly behind efforts to legalise, regulate, and tax the sale of drugs for recreational and medicinal use. This is an issue on which doctors can and should make their voices heard.

 

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"Concentration Camp" Is Not a Pejorative Term

11 hours agoRyan McMaken

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 authorizing military personnel to lock Americans of Japanese descent in concentration camps that are often euphemistically called “internment camps.”

To this day, some apologists for the internment camps — and the harsh measures carried out by the Roosevelt administration — contend that the term "concentration camp" is needlessly provocative and makes the Japanese confinement took worse than it was.

Yet, the term "concentration camp" is not a pejorative term. Using the term to describe the camps for Japanese-Americans is both appropriate and properly descriptive.

Nowadays, many people rightly are repulsed by the idea of concentration camps because they have become closely associated with the Nazi concentration camps which were often also extermination camps. Historically speaking, however, the term has not implied that the purpose of the camps in question are necessarily to carry out purposes of mass murder.

This is no doubt partly why Chief Justice John Roberts officially referred to the Japanese camps as concentration camps last year when Roberts wrote: "The forcible relocation of U. S. citizens to concentration camps, solely and explicitly on the basis of race, is objectively unlawful and outside the scope of Presidential authority."

Roberts is surely aware that the camps for Japanese-Americans were dissimilar to Nazi camps in a variety of ways. Yet, he still employed the term "concentration camp."

After all, the term — and the concept — both predate World War II by decades. The term was first used to describe camps used by the Spanish government against dissidents in the late nineteenth century. The term was then later used to describe camps used by the British Empire during the Boer War.

In both cases, these camps were unsanitary places where food was scarce. Disease spread easily. But, in both cases, it does not appear those who created camps intended to murder large numbers of women and children — as was the case with the Nazi camps. In the case of the German camps, for example, many witnesses reported seeing large numbers of potential camp residents executed on arrival. This alone would distinguish them from other types of deadly camps where death was usually the result of disease and malnourishment.

Moreover, in the Spanish and British cases, it appears the deadly conditions were often due primarily to a lack of funding and a lack of effort on the part of officials to keep the camp residents well supplied. Extermination need not have been a true motivation.

In the case of the Japanese camps in the United States, the residents benefited from a general and relative abundance of food which the United States in general enjoyed during the Second World War. Moreover, after 1941, at no time was the US losing the war in any meaningful sense. The US always enjoyed an advantage in terms of industrial capacity, and the physical security of the continental United States. This reduced the incentive to carry out reprisals against the camp's residents.

It's not a coincidence, for example, than many of the worst excesses against dissidents and "enemies of the state" in Nazi Germany took place after the devastating losses for the German regime at Stalingrad. As the war turned against the Germans, paranoia and internal revanchism increased, leading to an escalation of reprisals against all perceived domestic enemies.

The US did not experience a comparable situation.

So, while the American camps were relatively safe and healthy, it would be unwise to attribute to assumed American generosity. The fact is the US regime could afford to feed the residents while the general population more less forgot about them. Had the US experienced something like Stalingrad, the Roosevelt Administration — which was not above prosecuting peaceful Americans under the Espionage Act — may have turned to harsher measures against interned populations.

As it turned out, the American camps were decided non-deadly by historical standards up to that time. This, of course, did not protect the residents from the effects of confinement. Most residents lost their businesses and property since they were unable to pay rent or make mortgage payments during internment.

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Social Justice Warriors: It's Not Just About Economics

If you think that the “tax the rich” rhetoric from the left-wing of the Democratic Party is primarily about economics you would be sadly mistaken. After all, there isn’t enough tax revenue in the highest income bracket, even with a 90% marginal rate, to fund anyone’s pet social program for more than 48 hours. Do progressives know this? Of course they do.

The same observation holds true for the so-called ”Green New Deal” legislation recently proposed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the outrageous media darling from Queens. It’s true that this grab bag of environmental regulation, if enacted, would likely cost trillions and produce a systemic change in the American life-style. But you miss the deeper message if you think that the actual purpose of this legislative monstrosity is to save the planet before it expires in 12 years.

No, the current wave of extreme progressivism has a far more nefarious goal than simply higher taxes on the super-rich or carbon taxes to scrub down the environment. Indeed, the long-run objective of the new socialists and the gang of social justice warriors (SJW) is to gradually delegitimize the very foundations of modern capitalism by obliterating conventional notions of property rights, fairness and justice. If this sounds far-fetched you have not really been paying attention.

It is often assumed that capitalism is founded rock solid on economics. Not necessarily. Strictly speaking, economic considerations, though important, are secondary. Instead, it’s the relatively unique system of individual property rights that primarily legitimizes all capitalist institutions.

Take, for example, the most obvious and essential capitalist institution: the private stock corporation. It is solidly rooted in the notion that individuals have rights; that these rights include the right to incorporate; the right to instruct managers of corporations to maximize profits; and the right of owners to sell their shares. These individual rights (entitlements) are the “moral” foundation for the existence and operation of all modern business organizations.

This particular theory of property rights was made explicit in the 18th and 19th centuries by philosophers such as Adam Smith, John Locke and John Stuart Mill. It holds generally that it is morally appropriate for individuals to own property including, of course, their own labor; to exclusively determine its use; and to enjoy the benefits (income or otherwise) earned from production or exchange. Adam Smith, who taught “moral philosophy” (not economics) at Glasgow University in Scotland termed these rights “natural” and once famously observed that free markets and voluntary exchange were morally appropriate because they were “consistent with liberty and justice. ”

Modern progressives and socialists reject this classical approach to rights theory. They hold, instead, that rights to property (and capitalist institutions such as the corporation) are arbitrary constructs of an elite and conservative legal system; that there is nothing “natural” or legitimate about them; and that, therefore, they have no special moral status. But if they have no special moral status, then neither does the income and privileges that these “rights” currently generate for owners. Indeed, government may now alter these arbitrary property arrangements and redistribute income and privileges to, say, anyone in the name of fairness and social justice.

It is now apparent that this radically different approach to property rights can be employed by critics to rationalize higher taxes on the rich, a drastic reduction in CO2 emissions, an increase in the legal minimum wage to $15/hour, and even the federally chartering of corporations (an Elizabeth Warren pet proposal) in order to make them “socially responsible.” Indeed, there is almost no tax or regulation that cannot be justified from this perspective. And that’s precisely the point.

In conclusion, the social justice warriors and the new socialists are not primarily concerned with economics as such. The tragic lessons of, say, Venezuela are not their concern. Instead, their objective is to continue to delegitimize the classical foundations of property rights and then implement, through legislation and the courts, a radically different theory of justice in social affairs. Whether such a program will be successful has yet to be determined.

Originally published at LewRockwell.com.

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The Transportation Boom Ends

02/16/2019Doug French

Sales of Class 8 trucks (18-wheelers) hit the ditch in January, with orders down 58 percent from a year ago hitting a level not seen since October 2016, near the end of the transportation recession, “when Class-8 truck orders had plunged to the lowest levels since 2009, and truck and engine manufacturers responded with layoffs,” writes Wolf Richter.

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The other day I posted about the plunge in the Baltic Dry Index and now news is the Cass Freight Index dropped in December. The Cass “index covers shipments of merchandise for the consumer and industrial economy but does not include bulk commodities, such as grains or chemicals. It was the first year-over-year decline since the transportation recession of 2015 and 2016 — and trucking companies have seen this coming for months:”

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Baltic Dry Index

Shipping indexes provide a barometer for how the economy is doing. Less shipping means less buying, selling, and producing. Government interference in the form of low interest rates and the threat of tariffs pulled economic activity forward. However, now the economy is digesting that bubble (malinvestment) of activity. Richter explains,

The trucking business is a barometer of, and dependent on, the goods-based economy. In late 2017 through the summer of 2018, demand for transportation services, such as shipping by truck, surged under the simultaneous impact of a strong goods-based economy led by red-hot e-commerce; a buildup of inventories; pandemic front-running of potential tariffs, a resurgence of drilling activity in the oil patch that required equipment and supplies to be trucked in, etc. Freight rates spiked. Squeezed shippers wheezed in their earnings reports about these spiking transportation costs, while truckers were on Cloud-9 and ordered new trucks to meet the demand, and truck manufacturers were swamped with orders.

Now shipping activity has cooled off and trucking capacity has improved.

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The Flatbed Monthly Load-to-Truck Ratio by DAT tracks demand-capacity imbalances. After skyrocketing, the industry figured out how to deal with ELDs just as a slowdown in the industrial sector set in, particularly oil & gas. Now, the average load-to-truck ratio has plunged, down 41% from December a year ago.

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Donald Trump's Democratic Wall

02/15/2019Tho Bishop

After a month of “will he, won’t he” drama fitting for reality television, Donald Trump has announced his plans to declare a national emergency in order to get the funding he desires for his border wall. While the wall itself invites debate on subjects such as practical immigration policy, eminent domain, and government contractors – the use of a national emergency has brought a renewed look at executive power.

For weeks Trump has been warned by Republican leadership about the dangers of the precedent being set by such a decision. Nancy Pelosi has already suggested that a Democratic politician could use a “national emergency” to enact gun policy.

While such concerns are justified, it’s amusing to see such objections being raised by conventional beltway-types as the long-standing trend within Washington has been the gradual expansion of the executive branch. What is the practical difference, for example, between a president going around Congress for a border wall and a president going around Congress for military action? Or President Obama’s own immigration-related executive order that granted protection to “Dreamers” after Congress refused to bend to his will?

One does not have to support Trump’s wall to identify hypocrisy. Once again, we see that Trump is at his worst when he simply continues long-standing political trends.

While the gradual expansion of the executive leviathan is concerning, it is also predictable given the 20th century deification of American political democracy.

After all, if we are to buy in to the idea that political action is validated through participation, then it makes sense for the single political office voted on by the entire country to gradually expand its power – particularly given the obstructions to majority rules the Constitution purposefully placed on the legislative branch. The preference for general majority rule at the expense of state-based representation is also what motivates the modern lefts interest in effectively abolishing the senate and Electoral College – both of which act as checks on the imperialism of democratic excess.

While the 20th century set the stage for the modern state, it was Andrew Jackson who was the first American president to understand how the promotion of democracy could directly feed an imperial presidency. While Jackson could be praised for his views on central banking and federal debt, his presidency offered some of the most flagrant examples of hostility towards both states rights and limits to executive power.

In his first address to Congress, he outlined his vision of a truly democratic executive. He called for the abolishment of the Electoral College, and criticized the role of a large legislature in frustrating popular rule. In his view, “the first principle of our system…[is] that the majority is to govern.” As the best representative of what he saw as the will of the people, he placed his own interpretation of the Constitution as equal to all other branches of government – best illustrated by his rejection of John Marshall’s decision regarding the property rights of Native Americans leading to the Trail of Tears.

While Trump has gone the furthest in openly inviting comparisons to “Old Hickory,” Jackson’s view of the democratic presidency has long prevailed. In the words of John Yoo, “Jackson remains one of the greatest Presidents because he reconstructed the office into the direct representative of the American people.”

Unsurprisingly, it was Yoo who provided the legal defense for many of the excesses of the George W. Bush presidency.

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A Family Connection

02/14/2019David Gordon

Mr. Mark Lautman has given me permission to share the following letter:

When I started reading Rothbard’s book, I gave the three-line summary to my wife. “It’s a book written by Murray Rothbard in the 1950s about libertarian economics. It’s published by the Mises Institute. Rothbard was a disciple of an Austrian economist Mises.”

“Mises?” she asked. “Ludwig von Mises?”

“Yes. Do you know about him?”

“Do you know who Ludwig von Mises was? He was my grandfather’s cousin!”

Sure enough, Paul Lourie, my wife’s grandfather, mentions Ludwig von Mises in his memoirs!

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Central Banks Buy Gold, Baltic Dry Index Sinks

02/13/2019Doug French

David Rosenberg tweeted a graph of the plunging Baltic Dry Index with the comment, “Is there a more deflationary chart than the Baltic Dry Index of global freight rates?”

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Perhaps, or there is the New York Times business headline, “ Some Central Banks Have Gold Fever, and It Might Be Sensible .”

However, central banks are notoriously bad in timing gold purchases.

Swaha Pattanaik slams gold enthusiasts while praising central bankers.

Gold bugs aren’t always rational. That’s not the case for central banks, whose purchases of the yellow metal last year were the highest since the United States broke the link between gold and the dollar in 1971.


Pattanaik gives us the numbers.

Central banks bought 651.5 tonnes of gold in 2018, the second highest annual total on record and up 74 percent from the year earlier, according to the World Gold Council. As in the past three years, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkey were significant buyers, but were last year joined by the likes of Hungary, India and Poland.

Gordon Brown’s infamous sale of UK gold cost the Bank of England nearly £5 billion.

Christopher Hope wrote for The Telegraph in January 2009,

The sale of more than half of the country's gold reserves between 1999 and 2002 has proved to be deeply controversial. Critics say that signalling such a large sale of bullion to gold traders helped to drive the precious metal to a 20-year low. In 17 auctions, Mr Brown as Chancellor of the Exchequer sanctioned the sale of 395 tonnes of gold.

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Markets are About Freedom, not Competition

02/12/2019Ryan McMaken

I really enjoyed Antony Sammeroff's article last month about how the distinguishing characteristic of markets is free and voluntary exchange. Although many people like to speak of "competition" as the defining characteristic of markets, they're wrong. There is competition for resources in every political and economic system. In markets, however, that competition for resources is more free and less violent than in other systems.

Sammeroff explains more in a recent interview with Tom Woods:

 

Ep. 1339 The Wrong Way to Argue for the Free Market

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Mark Thornton on Why Socialism Is Deadly and Dangerous

02/12/2019Mises Institute

Mark Thornton explains why socialism can never work, the history of the death and misery its caused and we discuss a better way to help everyone live a more free, peaceful and prosperous life. We need look no further than Venezuela.

The Chronically Human Podcast Ep 11 - Dr. Mark Thornton

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Powell Claims No "Elevated" Risk for US Recession, NY Fed Models Disagree

02/12/2019Tho Bishop

Today Jerome Powell got out of the beltway and enjoyed some southern hospitality at Mississippi Valley State University, speaking at the Hope Enterprise Corporation Rural Policy Forum.

Most of the Fed Chairman’s talk was dedicated to talking about how the Fed could the financial needs of rural areas, a questionable claim considering the direct role central banks have played in increasing wealth inequality. He did, however, provide some additional thoughts on the strength of the US economy as a whole.

In particular, when asked about future risk, he said he did not “feel that the probability of recession is at all elevated.”

What’s interesting is that this claim does not follow the models published by the NY Federal Reserve which shows the current risk of recession at the highest they’ve been since 2008.

NY Fed Recession Probability 2.12.jpg
(H/T @TexarkanaFed via Twitter)

Of course, given the poor track record of Federal Reserve models, perhaps more useful is that this rosy view of the US economy seems to contradict the recent policy trends from the Powell Fed.

This includes changes to recent FOMC statements and projections about the rate of future rate increases, as well as indicating a willingness to stall the slow normalization of the Fed’s balance sheet that is currently in process. As he said in late January:

We’re listening carefully with – sensitivity to the message that the markets are sending and we’ll be taking those downside risks into account as we make policy going forward...If we came to view that the balance sheet normalization or any other aspect of the normalization was part of the problem, we wouldn’t hesitate to make a change.

Though the statement was made in carefully managed “Fed Speak”, the message it communicated couldn’t have been more clear – particularly since Powell has long been an inner Fed voice concerned about the size of the Fed’s balance sheet.  The market understood that Trump finally got the Dovish Federal Reserve that he has spent the last year campaigning for. The day of the announcement was the first in Powell's tenure that the market reacted positively to one of his rate-setting announcements. 

Unfortunately for Powell, none of the arguments for “normalizing” monetary policy has changed since Powell first outlined his desires for a slow and gradual wind down. The economic data that the Fed claims to make its decisions off of continue to look strong and the dangers of facing a crisis with the monetary interventionists tools they desire have not gone away. So what has changed? Maybe, just maybe, it’s the perceived risk of a future recession that the Fed’s models, other signals, and a growing legion of economists are projecting.

Of course, in the Chairman’s defense, it would be a mistake to see the Fed’s top role as one of truth teller. The Fed’s job is necessarily a political one, to project an air of confidence and try to maintain confidence in the system. Unfortunately, hot air only goes so far, as Bernanke learned in 2007. 

Luckily for Powell, it pays to play the role of Baghdad Bob for the US economy, as Bernanke’s $1 million book deal and speaking fees illustrate.

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Rothbard and Salerno Quoted on Modern Monetary Theory

Brian Maher of the Daily Reckoning quotes Murray Rothbard and me in his incisive critique of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), which has lately been embraced by proponents of the "Green New Deal."

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