Power & Market
Today is Ron Paul's 83rd Birthday! Dr. Paul is not only a Distinguished Counselor for the Mises Institute, but a founding member and perhaps the most influential advocate for Austrian economics the world has ever seen.
In 1984, Dr. Paul wrote about the role Austrian economics and Ludwig von Mises played in his deciding to pursue politics, and how it equipped him with the "intellectual ammunition" he needed to stand up to the pressures of Washington, D.C.:
[U]nder the predominance of interventionist ideas, a political career is open only to men who identify themselves with the interests of a pressure group.... Service to the short-run interests of a pressure group is not conducive to the development of those qualities which make a great statesman. Statesmanship is invariably long-run policy; pressure groups do not bother about the long-run. - Ludwig von Mises, Human Action
I decided to run for Congress because of the disaster of wage and price controls imposed by the Nixon administration in 1971. When the stock market responded euphorically to the imposition of these controls and the closing of the gold window, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and many other big business groups gave enthusiastic support, I decided that someone in politics had to condemn the controls, and offer the alternative that could explain the past and give hope for the future: the Austrian economists’ defense of the free market. At the time I was convinced, like Ludwig von Mises, that no one could succeed in politics without serving the special interests of some politically powerful pressure group.
Although I was eventually elected, in terms of a conventional political career with real Washington impact, he was absolutely right. I have not developed legislative influence with the leadership of the Congress or the administration. Monies are deliberately deleted from routine water works bills for my district because I do not condone the system, nor vote for any of the appropriations.
My influence, such as it is, comes only by educating others about the rightness of the free market. The majority of the voters in my district have approved, as have those familiar with free-market economics. And voters in other districts, encouraged by my speaking out for freedom and sound money, influence their representatives in the direction of a free market. My influence comes through education, not the usual techniques of a politician. But the more usual politicians in Congress will hardly solve our problems. Americans need a better understanding of Austrian economics. Only then will politicians become more statesmanlike.
My introduction to Austrian economics came when I was studying medicine at Duke University and came across a copy of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom.
After devouring this, I was determined to read whatever I could find on what I thought was this new school of economic thought—especially the work of Mises. Although the works were magnificent, and clarified many issues for me, it was more of a revelation to find intellectuals who could confirm what I “already knew”—that the free market is superior to a centrally planned economy. I did not know how a free market accomplished its work, and so the study of economics showed me this, and how to build a case for it. But, like many people, I did not need to be convinced of the merits of individual freedom—for me that came naturally.
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be free from government coercion in any form. All my natural instincts toward freedom were inevitably challenged by the established school system, the media, and the government. These systems tried to cast doubt on my conviction that only an unhampered market is consonant with individual liberty. Although reassured that intellectual giants like Mises agreed with a laissez-faire system, I was frustrated by knowing what was right, while watching a disaster developing for our economy. The better I came to understand how the market worked, the more I saw the need to implement these ideas through political action. Political action aimed at change can, of course, take various forms. In 1776, in America, it was a war for independence from British oppression. In 1917, in Russia, violence was used to strengthen oppression.
Fortunately, it is possible to accomplish the proper sort of change through education, persuasion, and the democratic process. Our rights of free speech, assembly, religion, petition, and privacy remain essentially intact. Before our rights are lost, we must work to change the policies of 70 years of government interventionism. And the longer we wait the harder it will be.
Because of my interest in individual liberty and the free market, I became closely associated over the years with friends and students of Mises, those who knew the greatness of Mises from a long-term personal friendship with him. My contact, however, was always through his writings, except on one occasion. In 1971, during a busy day in my medical office, I took a long lunch to drive 60 miles to the University of Houston to hear one of the last formal lectures Mises gave—this one on socialism. Although 90 at the time, he was most impressive, and his presentation inspired me to more study of Austrian economics. My subsequent meetings and friendship with the late Leonard Read and his Foundation for Economic Education also inspired me to work harder for a society unhampered by government intrusion into our personal and economic lives. My knowledge has been encouraged and bolstered through the extraordinary work of the Mises Institute, with its many publications and conferences, and its inspiring work among students choosing academic careers.
My friendships with two important students of Mises, Hans Sennholz and Murray Rothbard, were especially helpful in getting firsthand explanations of how the market functions. They helped me to refine my answers to the continual barrage of statist legislation that dominates the U.S. Congress. Their personal assistance was invaluable to me in my educational and political endeavors.
Such friendships are valuable, but the reassurance that sound thinkers were on my side was inspirational. It gave me the confidence I needed to intellectually defend my political and economic positions on the campaign trail and on the House floor....
Austrian economics has provided me with the intellectual ammunition to support my natural tendency to say “no” to all forms of government intervention. Mises provides an inspiration to stick to principle and to argue quietly and confidently in favor of the superiority of a decentralized, consumer-oriented market, in contrast to a bureaucratic centrally planned economy.
Mises is clear about the responsibility we all have in establishing a free society. He concludes Socialism with this advice: Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders; no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way out for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interests, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle. None can stand aside with unconcern; the interests of everyone hang on the result. Whether he chooses or not, every man is drawn into the great historical struggle, the decisive battle into which our epoch has plunged us.
And in Human Action he states:
There is no means by which anyone can evade his personal responsibility. Whoever neglects to examine to the best of his abilities all the problems involved voluntarily surrenders his birthright to a self-appointed elite of supermen. In such vital matters blind reliance upon “experts” and uncritical acceptance of popular catchwords and prejudices is tantamount to the abandonment of self-determination and to yielding to other people’s domination. As conditions are today, nothing can be more important to every intelligent man than economics. His own fate and that of his progeny is at stake.
I’m convinced, as was Mises, that the solutions to the crisis we face must be positive (which is just one reason I am so pleased by the establishment of the Ludwig von Mises Institute). He stated in The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality that the “anti-movement” has “no chance whatever to succeed” and that “what alone can prevent the civilized nations of Western Europe, America and Australia from being enslaved by the barbarism of Moscow is open and unrestricted support of laissez-faire capitalism.”
Without Austrian economics, I would not have had my political career. The strongest motivating force in my political activities is to live free since I was born free. Liberty is my first goal. The free market is the only result that can be expected from a free society. I do not accept individual freedom because the market is efficient. Even if the free market were less “efficient” than central planning, I would still prefer my personal freedom to coercion. Fortunately, I don’t need to make a choice. Austrian economics upholds the market’s efficiency, and that reinforces my overwhelming desire and right to be free. If no adequate intellectual explanation existed as to the efficiency of the free market, no political activism of any sort would be possible for any pro-freedom person. Our position would only be a theoretical pipe dream.
I see no conflict however between a utilitarian defense of the market economy and the argument for a free market as a consequence of a moral commitment to natural God-given rights, for there is no conflict.
The economist’s approval of the market for purely utilitarian reasons actually becomes a more “objective” analysis if not approached from a natural rights standpoint. But when combined with a natural-rights philosophy, it is even more powerful. No choice must be made. The utilitarian argument does not exclude the belief that life and liberty originates with the Creator. When they are added together they become doubly important.
When one argues for the free market on utilitarian grounds, one starts with particular actions by the individual. In starting with a natural rights argument the “a priori” becomes “the gift of life and liberty” as natural or God-given.
The utilitarians may be neutral or antagonistic regarding the origins of life and liberty, but this in no way weakens their explanation of the technical advantages of a free economic system. However, those who accept a natural rights philosophy have no choice whatsoever but to accept laissez-faire capitalism.
Mises’s utilitarian defense of the market opens political careers for those who believe in liberty, courage, and even dares one who truly believes in the system to present it in political terms.
Mises in Human Action says:
The flowering of human society depends on two factors: the intellectual power of outstanding men to conceive sound social and economic theories, and the ability of these or other men to make these ideologies palatable to the majority.Ludwig von Mises certainly provided sound economic and social theories. I hope that my modest success in politics may encourage others to try it, and help prove Mises “wrong,” showing that a political career is open to men and women who do not identify themselves with the interests of a pressure group, but with the liberty of all.
Excerpted from Mises and Austrian Economics: A Personal View
An electoral weakness for anyone who advocates more freedom—i.e., smaller government—is that such a position can be easily demagogued as a selfish threat to many voters. Their continued government benefits depend on the continuation of someone else being forced to pay for them, typically “the rich,” making any rollback in “coercive charity” almost impossible politically. Yet, ironically, the result of such demagoguery is counterproductive, because more freedom offers the best hope--and the only just one--for those struggling economically.
This political tactic is far from new. But one of the most insightful analyses is nearly as old as the War on Poverty. That is Leonard Read’s “Coping With Poverty,” currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, which emphasized the frequent failure of those who favor liberty to make clear that it is also the source of the greatest possible benefits to the poor, as well as other market participants, in his 1968 Accent on the Right.
Millions of Americans…[labor] under the misapprehension that the philosophy of individual liberty is little more than an intellectual apology for entrenched wealth, a rationale for persons who have no concern for those below their own dollar stations.
Most of us who stand for liberty…So firmly embedded in our own minds is the fact that liberty is the poor man’s best ally that we mistakenly assume a like awareness on the part of everyone else. Failing to identify the free market and related institutions with kindly sentiments and noble objectives--such as a better life for the poor--we fumble the ball, so to speak, allowing the opposition to run with it.
The era of free and willing exchange extends, roughly, over [America’s history]. In no other period of history have so many raised themselves out of poverty. Why, then, are those of us who champion free and willing exchange--the only antipoverty device in man’s possession--so seldom credited with relieving the poor man of his burden? Quite frankly, it is because such relief is not the major end we have in view. Freedom and wide-open opportunity for all is the prime objective. But--and this is the point--the fastest possible elimination of poverty is one of the inescapable byproducts of this liberty…And this effect cannot be achieved in any other way.
Unfortunately, when we keep an eye on freedom as our prime objective, we tend to omit…relief from poverty as its by-product...authoritarians grapple on to it and assume the role of the poor man’s champion, all because we have failed to identify the politically attractive by-product of freedom with freedom itself.
It is as much of a delusion to expect that government can end poverty as to expect that the local policeman can make us rich. Government has nothing at all on hand to dispense except what it has garnisheed from taxpayers--what it forcibly subtracts from private ownership…the opposite of capital formation on which productivity rests and on which relief from poverty depends. It is all political give-away--redistribution--
with absolutely nothing formative, productive, or creative about it.
But regardless of how faulty their theories, the political authoritarians proclaim themselves the champions of the poor. They have fastened onto the poverty banner and placed themselves in the vanguard of “the down-trodden.” They have gained a considerable following because many people wish to believe in these easy promises and the champions of freedom [have failed] to make their own case.
The popular view [is] that free market practices generally favor those of affluence and generally neglect the interests of the poor…wholly superficial, and false.
When champions of the free market recognize and correct this erroneous concept, they will have found the key to explain how freedom best serves the interests of all--especially the poor. Not until that is done may the poor be expected to look to liberty for their material well-being.
Here is the overlooked fact: The unprecedented practice of freedom in our country has…catapulted many millions of “the masses”--including you and me--into a state of affluence previously unknown to history.
The reason that the free market, private ownership, limited government philosophy is popularly regarded as an apology for affluence rather than as a boon for the poor is that its practice has made possible such affluence. If we note only the accomplishment, as if it were automatically due us, we lose all sight of its genesis: liberty!
The alleviation of poverty is a by-product--a lifesaving benefit--along man’s way toward the higher ideal of liberty. The benefit springs from no other source than liberty.
Restore and preserve the practice of free market, private ownership, limited government principles; and one of the by-products will be as much removal of poverty as possible.
Doubtless, we have been negligent about accenting this important dividend of liberty: it is a boon to the poor. However, if we set the alleviation of poverty as our highest goal we shall, by thus lowering our sights, not only spread poverty but lose our freedom.
Leonard Read recognized that economic liberty gives every member of society the best possible incentives to indirectly benefit themselves by developing and applying whatever resources and skills they possess—great or small—in a manner most beneficial to others. In short, the pursuit of liberty is the most effective means of helping the poor economically, because it is the most effective means of helping everyone in society economically. But that was not his primary concern. He was most concerned with how coercive government redistribution undermined recipients’ growth as self-responsible, creative and productive individuals. But the pursuit of freedom is the most effective means of achieving that, as well.
President Donald Trump followed his announcement of steel and aluminum tariffs with a declaration that “trade wars are good, and easy to win” -- a stance economists and members of his own political party immediately challenged. Not long after the U.S. announced its tariffs, international trading partners threatened retaliatory fees against American goods such as bourbon, blue jeans and Harley-Davidson.
As governments clash in big battles, small businesses are left to worry about how they might be affected by a trade war. The White House claims it’s acting in the interest of American businesses and is willing to put tariffs on more than $500 billion of imported goods (per CNBC), but not all American companies benefit from nationalistic policies. The Washington Post reports that farmers, for example, will receive $12 billion in federal aid to offset any negative effects of this trade war.
Many companies will need to pass costs on to consumers, as reported by The New York Times. These increases might seem small at first, but small price hikes across the board will leave consumers' wallets thinner from every purchase. This will be particularly problematic for individuals who cannot afford to buy American-made products and instead purchase cheap goods from China, the Atlantic reports.
For entrepreneurs, trade wars create an uncertain and often problematic situation. Which endeavors will succeed, and which will feel the tariff squeeze? How can small business owners protect their livelihood? Thankfully, entrepreneurs don’t have to wait to find out. Through proactive management, entrepreneurs can persevere in an economically volatile climate
Read the full article at Entrepreneur.com
In 1958, Foundation for Economic Education guiding light, Leonard Read, presented a series of lectures in Argentina against the backdrop of an economy decimated by mis-government which shares a great deal with the same country six decades later. The lectures became a small book-- Why Not Try Freedom?—an excellent encapsulation of Read’s thought.
Particularly interesting is his first chapter, “Government—An Ideal Concept,” because in a world where “each man must actually live his own answer to the challenges posed by his existence,” knowing the appropriate ideal for government is an indispensable guide to growth and social cooperation. Sixty years later, that deserves revisiting, as the ideal is almost unrecognizably distant from current reality.
The problems of man, society, and government are approached most constructively…within a moral and spiritual frame of reference.
Man’s purpose is…to come as close as he can to the realization of those creative potentialities peculiar to his own person.
Any behavior, personal or collective, which tends to retard man in his pursuit of the ideal life is, in my judgment, ipso facto bad, evil or immoral. Any behavior, personal or collective, which tends to promote or complement this objective is, in my judgment, ipso facto good, virtuous or moral.
Any person has a moral right to inhibit the destructive action of another or others. However, no person has a moral right to forcibly direct or to control what another shall invent, create, or discover; no right to dictate where he shall labor, how long he shall work, what his wage shall be, what and with whom he shall exchange, or what thoughts he shall entertain. No single person has any such moral right. No combination of persons has any such moral right. No agency, political or otherwise, has any such moral right.
There are no moral sanctions for government to intervene in any manner whatsoever with productive or creative actions. The moral sanction for establishing government springs from the right of the individual to inhibit or prohibit or restrain the destructive actions of others.
It is necessary to know why government should exist--what it is for--in order to gain an awareness of what it is not for. We must know government and its purpose…to limit it to its purpose.
An ideal theory of government and liberty is to be derived from the necessity for the free, uninhibited flow of all creative human energy .
We are all dissimilar. However, we have …one common necessity if we are to live and progress. It is that prohibitions against, or restrictions upon, the release and exchange of our creative energies be at the lowest minimum possible…this removal of inhibitory influences--the kind imposed by man on men--serves to benefit all of us in common.
Each individual in his own upgrading…builds only upon free will and volition.
Inhibitory influences are fraud, violence, misrepresentation, and predatory practices. All are immoral, be they done legally or illegally. The problem here is to remove inhibitory actions. This can be accomplished by restraining aggressive force.
No individual has the moral right to use aggressive force against any other individual. He has the moral right to use only defensive or repellent force.
If a person has a right to life…he has a right to protect and to sustain that life, the sustenance of life being nothing more nor less than the fruits of one’s labor—one’s honestly acquired property…the rights to the fruits of one’s own labor involves the restraint or the removal of obstacles to…one’s own exchange, but also the obstacles to other people’s exchange.
If one has a right to life and livelihood, every other person has a similar right… the requirement that life and livelihood be protected are coterminous with society .
The source of all creative and variable human energy…rests in…the individual, in such voluntary and cooperative actions as he may freely choose to take. This is the province of the individual and not of society. This is the vast, unlimited area of liberty, of self-reliance, and of self-discipline.
If the purpose of man on earth is self-realization…it follows that the law, the book of rules and prohibitions for social administration, can logically serve only the purpose of deterring man’s destructive actions for the sake of giving full flower to his creative actions…no just object beyond removing social obstacles to the release of the human spirit. An organized arm of society, within its proper bounds, can be but the handmaiden of liberty; government, within its proper bounds, can be but the protective servant of all individuals equally against antisocial marauders.
Cooperation for creative purposes must be left to voluntary action. Men can cooperate to use force, but they cannot be forced to cooperate…However, cooperation for creative purposes requires, as an auxiliary, cooperation to annul destructive purposes. Cooperation for creative purposes requires that inhibitory influences against creative action be neutralized.
Society’s political apparatus…[is] to inhibit, repel, restrain, penalize. [Members] can do everything else better outside the apparatus than in it. What should be inhibited, restrained, penalized? Those actions of man which are characterized by aggressive force, namely, those actions which themselves inhibit, restrain, destroy, or penalize creative effort. Defensive force may be used to neutralize aggressive force, and such a use of forces serves a social end. This use of defensive force should be the guiding principle of the political agency.
Cooperation is required among members of society to perform the negative function of prohibiting obstacles to production, communication, and exchange… limited to those actions which have a common benefit to creative effort. Ideally, the only dissenters would be those who want to live by predation.
Any logical and just organization by society derives its existence from…the common need for every man to protect himself against those who would limit his creative opportunities. Every human being is born with as much right to live his life creatively as any other man. Man, however, is incapable of protecting his life as a personal, individual project, and at the same time of realizing his human potential…By reason of this social circumstance, he is committed, in principle, to cooperating with his fellow men in the protective project…that should make no distinction whatever as to persons…where all ought to be regarded as equal… where special privilege should be unknown.
In short, the law’s limitation inheres in its justification. Force is a dangerous thing. Therefore, society's organized arm is a dangerous instrument. It is not, as some assert, a necessary evil. When limited to its proper defensive scope, it is a positive good. When exceeding its proper limitations and becoming aggression, it is not a “necessary” but a positive evil.
Aggressive force…is always evil. There are no exceptions. No man has any moral right to use aggressive force against any other man. Nor have any number of men, in or out of societal organizations, any moral right to use it.
One of the most distressing fallacies having to do with government and liberty is the assumption that the State, an agency presumably of the people, has rights beyond those possessed by the people…no reasonable person can logically believe that any such control belongs to a multitude of citizens…It has no derivation. It is an arrogation.
Any person has the natural and moral right to use repellent or defensive force against any other person who would aggress against him. No person on this earth has any moral right of control over any other person superior to the defense of his own life and livelihood.
Every living human being…has a vested interest in the creative emergence of every other human being…in the free, uninhibited flowing and exchange of the energies thus released; the true interests of all, therefore, are in harmony…every individual has a vested interest in common with all other men in restraining all inhibitory influences to creative energy and creative energy exchanges. All else is individual, voluntary, and cooperative as individuals may choose; for all else is creative.
Leonard Read provides a valuable touchstone—the universal liberty to grow or emerge--to understand what should ideally characterize a government of self-owning individuals. That, in turn, reveals a sharp contrast with “What Is and What Should Never Be,” (apologies to Led Zeppelin) about government and its impositions in our lives. We have, in many ways, moved farther from the ideal in the 60 years since Read articulated it. But he continues to offer us the wisdom necessary to retrace our mis-steps and reopen “the vast, indeed, the infinite, area of emergence” that is possible to us. And we have a lot to gain if each of us would convert our “massive potential for growth,” as Bill Murray put it in Stripes, into reality.
In the year 2018, it is not remotely shocking to see media attention shift seamlessly from reality show villains to former CIA directors. The Trump Administration’s announcement that it has revoked the security clearance for John Brennan, America’s former Communist-sympathetic spymaster, naturally resulted in a race to see who among the professional political class could be most dramatic in their condemnation.
Many, including Brennan himself, bizarrely argued that the Trump Administration’s action was a “1st Amendment violation.” As Jim Bovard quipped on Twitter, “Can someone show me the asterisk in the First Amendment that says that former govt. officials have a divine right to confidential inside govt. info in perpetuity?”
Most entertaining was the response from ex-VP and amateur masseuse Joe Biden, who tweeted:
In Washington, you can always identify how dependable an ally is by the size of the lies they are willing to tell in your defense.
After all, Brennan’s tenure at the CIA was rampant with dishonesty, unaccountability, and hypocrisy – and that’s before looking at Brennan’s long record of support for war crimes.
It was Brennan’s CIA, after all, that was found guilty of spying on Senate computer servers and threatened to prosecute Intelligence community staffers investigating CIA interrogation practices. He then lied about it repeatedly until investigation into the matter made doing so indefensible.
The conduct of Brennan’s CIA wasn’t limited simply to the Senate. Though in his current capacity as an MSNBC contributor, Brennan is now a passionate defender of the 1st Amendment and free press, his agency also hacked and spied on American journalists reporting on CIA torture.
As the McClatchy reported at the time:
The CIA got hold of the legally protected email and other unspecified communications between whistleblower officials and lawmakers this spring, people familiar with the matter told McClatchy. It’s unclear how the agency obtained the material.
Of course it is understandable that Brennan was so interested in keeping CIA torture practices as hidden as possible, particularly since he himself was an advocate for them. These included waterbordering, rectal feeding, beatings, and other sometimes fatal practices. Additionally the CIA’s conduct during this period was without any sort of accountability, keeping other government agencies and even the White House in the dark. Inevitably many innocent people became ensnared by the actions of America’s rogue spy agency.
Naturally the media and the anti-Trump left would now treat a defender of these practices as a moral defender of American democracy.
If Trump really wanted to act on the Deep State, he wouldn’t settle for simply revoking John Brennan’s security clearances. He should move to strip his pension and have him prosecuted for his past actions. While it's fair to question whether the current legal system would actually allow anything to happen to Brennan, doing so would force renewed focus on his past actions and help highlight the dangers of leaving the CIA unchecked. Trump is a fan of spectacles, let this one play out for the nation to see.
Then he should do the same for James Clapper.
The Colorado Civil Rights Commission is at it again. It's going after Masterpiece Cake Shop owner Jack Phillips for refusing to "make a cake with a pink inside and a blue outside, celebrating a gender transition from male to female."
This comes only months after the US Supreme Court ruled against the Commission's regulatory attack on Phillips for not baking a cake for a gay wedding.
Although the Supreme Court ruled in Favor of Phillips, it nevertheless took a very narrow view.
Instead of criticizing the very existence of laws that trample on property rights by mandating that people be forced — under threat of state violence — to provide services for certain privileged groups, the Court only took issue with the reasoning employed by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission when it ruled against Phillips.
When the ruling came down, I commented on the specifics of the Court's narrow ruling:
The US Supreme Court today ruled 7-2 in favor of a Denver small business owner who has been threatened, sanctioned, and ultimately driven out of business by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. The controversy arose when the cake shop owner, Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cakeshop, refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding, claiming to be motivated by religious beliefs.
The cake shop was hauled up before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission where the commission ruled that the shop must "change its company policies, provide 'comprehensive staff training' regarding public accommodations discrimination, and provide quarterly reports for the next two years regarding steps it has taken to come into compliance and whether it has turned away any prospective customers."
Justices Kennedy, Roberts, Alito, Breyer, Kagan, Gorsuch and Thomas all voted to overturn the earlier appeals court's decision to uphold the Commission's ruling against Phillips. Only Ginsburg and Sotomayor dissented.
In the decision , authored by Justice Kennedy, much of the reasoning centered on the fact that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had demonstrated an apparently obvious bias against religious people, even though "neutrality" is legally required in such cases. The ruling states:
As the record shows, some of the commissioners at the Commission’s formal, public hearings endorsed the view that religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, disparaged Phillips’ faith as despicable and characterized it as merely rhetorical, and compared his invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust.
The SCOTUS ruling also noted that both the Commission and the appeals court largely ignored and glossed over the fact that the Commission had on three prior occasions ruled in favor of bakers who had refused to bake cakes with anti-gay slogans on them. There was an enormous double standard at work.
As Kagan notes in her concurring opinion, the Civil Rights Commission was abandoning neutrality in favor of making decisions “based on the government’s own assessment of offensiveness.”
In other words, the Commission was deciding, based on the members' own personal prejudices and biases, who shall be forced to bake cakes, and who shall not.
With this ruling, the court took a small step in the right direction by taking exception to the Commission's claim that freedom of religion doesn't exist. As noted by Justice Kennedy, the Commission essentially dismissed the very idea that religious conviction could be a valid reason to claim an exemption from the Commissions rules and regulations.
The Court came back and slapped down this reasoning, but it left the Commission plenty of leeway to rule against Phillips using different reasoning.
Thus, as long as the Commission can manufacture a different rationale for ruining Phillip's business, it is free to do, as far as the US Supreme Court is concerned.
The court's limited approach here illustrates the problem with the Court's strategy on the matter of anti-discrimination law has always been problematic.
By limiting Philipp's free use of his property only to cases in which he can prove some sort of religious conviction, the Court — and the law in general — relies essentially on mind reading in determining whether or not Phillips should be allowed to use his property as he sees fit:
This has led to a number of absurd legal and legislative acrobatics in which property owners must prove that their business decisions are motivated by artistic choices or religious conviction, but not by some other motivating factor. Thus, government commissions and courts are required to read the minds of business owners and determine whether or not their internal feelings and religious views fall under some government-approved motivation for refusing some sort of business service.
Proving or disproving internal motivations, of course, has always been an extremely sketchy way of doing things. After all, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission concluded that Phillips was using his religious views to justify unlawful discrimination. This, of course, requires that the commission members somehow have certain knowledge about the thoughts in Phillips's head.
This sort of reasoning also has the habit of working against business owners who hold views that are held only by small minority or otherwise might be considered especially idiosyncratic. One might argue that one is religiously opposed to providing some sort of service. But unless those views are recognizable to judges and bureaucrats as part of a known religious movement, the business owner is likely to be accused of simply making up an ad hoc religion to "mask" unlawful discrimination.
Ultimately, this sort of subjectivity invites just the sort of corruption and bigotry we see on the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.
There's a far less complicated way of protecting rights in these cases, however, we should stop talking about "freedom of religion," and focus on ordinary property rights instead. In practice, freedom of religion can only be truly protected by protecting property rights overall. After all, all rights — including freedom of speech and freedom of religion — depend on the ability to exercise control of one's own body and property.
As Murray Rothbard has demonstrated, rights to religious expression and speech are simply types of property rights. Consequently, religious liberty and free speech can be protected with a more general respect for property rights. By saying that Phillips ought to be forced to bake a cake, the Commission is asserting that Philipps does not enjoy ownership over his own body, or the shop and tools he acquired by using his body to perform labor.
Having refused to acknowledge these property rights, though, the Supreme Court has empowered the Colorado Civil Rights Commission to continue its war against small-time bakery owners who are no threat to anyone and impose their views on no one. The Commission already knows how it's going to rule. Its hostility to Phillips is apparent, and there's not reason to believe the Commission will stop until it has succeeded in ruining him. The challenge the Commission faces, however, is in reverse engineering a ruling that can survive a legal challenge. I'm sure that with the help of a sufficient number of taxpayer-funded lawyers, the commission can succeed in this endeavor.
This week President Trump signed the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, increasing America’s war budget to a whopping $717 billion. For comparison, this is roughly equal to the next 11 highest military budgets combined.
In fact, the $107 billion increase from last year alone is roughly equal to the total military spending of Russia and Germany together.
Congress isn’t done spending taxpayer money yet though. Next up is a spending bill that will fund the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Defense, because the Pentagon apparently can’t get by with a humble $717 billion. This will be the third “minibus” to pass Congress in 2018, the result of which has been the US running its highest deficits in years.
Of course reckless Federal spending isn’t anything new. What is particularly noteworthy about Congress’s recently behavior is that it has now become extremely efficient at passing these spending bills.
Congressional budgets are broken up into 12 different bills. When this next package clears the Senate – as expected – it will have passed 9 of the 12. As Axios notes, the Senate “has already passed the majority of spending bills by early August for the first time since 2000.” Should Congress continue on this pace and complete all 12 budgets by October, it will be the first time this has occurred since 1996.
None of this is surprising. As Ryan McMaken noted prior to the 2016 election, no one spends money more liberally than a Republican-controlled Federal government. Ideas like fiscal responsibility (and political decentralization) makes for great rhetoric in a political minority, but are extremely inconvenient when in a position of political power.
What makes this all the worse is that the GOP’s fiscal irresponsibility will inevitably result in blow back for some of its better policy victories, such as last year’s tax cuts.
Already progressive outlets are trying to peg last year’s reforms as the reason for historically high deficits, even though tax cuts have (unfortunately) increased government revenue. As such, when the Democrats next find themselves in political power, we can count on a push for tax increases to address America’s fiscal ills – likely while advocating for a new list of new government programs.
This cycle will continue to play out until the power to spend is taken away from Washington. The question is whether it will be due to a debt and monetary crisis, or pro-active restraints placed on it from the states.
Recently Mark Thornton joined the Tom Woods Show to discuss his new book The Skyscraper Curse, and How Austrian Economists Predicted Every Major Economic Crisis of the Last Century.
The mission of the Mises Institute, as presaged by Ludwig von Mises in his 1962 review of Murray Rothbard's Man, Economy, and State:
If we want to avoid the destruction of Western civilization and the relapse into primitive wretchedness, we must change the mentality of our fellow citizens. We must make them realize what they owe to the much vilified "economic freedom," the system of free enterprise and capitalism. The intellectuals and those who call themselves educated must use their superior cognitive faculties and power of reasoning for the refutation of erroneous ideas about social, political and economic problems and for the dissemination of a correct grasp of the operation of the market economy. They must start by familiarizing themselves with all the issues involved in order to teach those who are blinded by ignorance and emotions. They must learn in order to acquire the ability to enlighten the misguided many.
The entire review is fantastic, and demonstrates the degree to which Mises considered the young Rothbard an eminent and pioneering economist — nothing less than an "epochal" contributor to the science of praxeology. High praise indeed.
h/t Bob Robert.
Are President Trump’s senior cabinet members working against him? It’s hard not to conclude that many of the more hawkish neocons that Trump has (mistakenly, in my view) appointed to top jobs are actively working to undermine the president’s stated agenda. Especially when it seems Trump is trying to seek dialogue with countries the neocons see as adversaries needing to be regime-changed.
Remember just as President Trump was organizing an historic summit meeting with Kim Jong-Un, his National Security Advisor, John Bolton, nearly blew the whole thing up by making repeated references to the “Libya model” and how it should be applied to North Korea. As if Kim would jump at the chance to be bombed, overthrown, and murdered at the hands of a US-backed mob!
It seems that Trump’s appointees are again working at cross-purposes to him. Last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that he was invoking a 1991 US law against the use of chemical weapons to announce yet another round of sanctions on Russia over what he claims is Putin’s involvement in the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the UK.
The alleged poisoning took place in March and only now did the State Department make its determination that Russia was behind it and thus subject to the 1991 sanction law. Was there new information that came to light that pointed to Russian involvement? According to a State Department briefing there was none. The State Department just decided to take the British government’s word for it.
Where do we get authority to prosecute Russia for an alleged crime committed in the UK, by the way?
President Trump’s own Administration is forcing him to accept the State Department determination and agree to sanctions that may well include, according to the 1991 law, a complete break of diplomatic relations with Russia. This would be a de facto declaration of war. Over unproven allegations.
Trump has authority to reject the imposition of new sanctions, but with his Democrat opponents continuing to charge that he is in league with the Russian president, how could he waive sanctions just before the November US Congressional elections? That would be a windfall for the Democrats seeking to take control of the House and Senate.
The only way Russia could avoid the second, most extreme round of these sanctions in November is to promise not to use chemical weapons again and open its doors to international inspections. What government would accept such a demand when no proof has been presented that they used chemical weapons in the first place?
Certainly it is possible that President Trump is fully aware of the maneuverings of Bolton and Pompeo and that he approves. Perhaps he likes to play “good cop, bad cop” with the rest of the world, at the same time making peace overtures while imposing sanctions and threatening war. But it certainly looks like some of his cabinet members are getting the best of him.
If President Trump is to be taken at his word, that he welcomes dialogue “without pre-conditions” with leaders of Russia, North Korea, Iran, and elsewhere, he would be wise to reconsider those in his employ who are undermining him every step of the way. Otherwise, it is hard to believe the president is sincere. Let’s hope he does choose dialogue over conflict and clips the wings of those under him attempting to push him in the other direction.