Hans Hoppe’s Property and Freedom Society annual meeting for 2018 looks like an interesting lineup of speakers and topics. Nice that Jeff Deist is attending, with a great topic. Interesting that Michael Malice got an invite. The great Paul Gottfried is back and I always love hearing what he has to say.
I dream of one day attending this. I would gladly attend– membership is by invite only, however.
The great economists were harbingers of new ideas. The economic policies they recommended were at variance with the policies practiced by contemporary governments and political parties. As a rule many years, even decades, passed before public opinion accepted the new ideas as propagated by the economists, and before the required corresponding changes in policies were effected.
It was different with the “new economics” of Lord Keynes. The policies he advocated were precisely those which almost all governments, including the British, had already adopted many years before his “General Theory” was published. Keynes was not an innovator and champion of new methods of managing economic affairs. His contribution consisted rather in providing an apparent justification for the policies which were popular with those in power in spite of the fact that all economists viewed them as disastrous. His achievement was a rationalization of the policies already practiced. He was not a “revolutionary,” as some of his adepts called him. The “Keynesian revolution” took place long before Keynes approved of it and fabricated a pseudo-scientific justification for it. What he really did was to write an apology for the prevailing policies of governments.
This explains the quick success of his book. It was greeted enthusiastically by the governments and the ruling political parties. Especially enraptured were a new type of intellectual, the “government economists.” They had had a bad conscience. They were aware of the fact that they were carrying out policies which all economists condemned as contrary to purpose and disastrous. Now they felt relieved. The “new economics” reestablished their moral equilibrium. Today they are no longer ashamed of being the handymen of bad policies. They glorify themselves. They are the prophets of the new creed.
George Reisman’s wife Edith Packer has recently passed and he published his eulogy for her here.
Couple interesting tidbits:
Edith was born in a small city called Ushorod. According to her passport, Edith was born in the Ukraine. Actually, she was born in what was then the eastern-most province of Czechoslovakia, called Carpatho-Russia. The Munich Pact in 1938, when Edith was 14, gave that province to Hungary, which held it until 1945, when it became part of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union made it part of the Ukraine, which was it’s second-most important territory.
From 1920 until April of 1944, Hungary was ruled by a Regent, Admiral Horthy, whose administration could generally be compared to that of Mussolini in Italy. From 1938 to early 1944, Jews could still live in Hungary, but only in an increasingly oppressive environment. They were banned from practicing various professions; Jewish students had to sit in the back of the classroom. Edith, who had been elected president of her class in Gymnasium, was removed from that position because she was Jewish. Toward the end of the period, Jews were compelled to wear yellow stars of David on their clothing. Young Jewish men were drafted into labor battalions, where many of them died, including one of her older brothers, who had been a lawyer and who had been prohibited from practicing his profession. In April of 1944 the conditions of Jews changed from bad to horrible: the Holocaust came to Hungary. Under the direction of Adolf Eichmann, the Hungarian government began rounding up the Jews for deportation to concentration camps and death.
At the age of 19, Edith saw the death camps coming. She urged her parents and the rest of her family to flee. She kept hammering at them with the question of how would the Germans feed them? Why would they feed them? Her family, particularly her parents, had the opportunity to flee. But they chose to stay, stuck like deer in the headlights of an oncoming truck. According to Edith, her mother stayed because she couldn’t bear to give up such things as the familiarity of her home, and her father stayed because he was the leader of the Jews in Carpatho-Russia and believed that leaving would be a betrayal of his fellow Jews.
But Edith fled. And despite his own choice to stay, her father supported Edith’s decision for herself and had a special pair of shoes made for her, which contained a supply of gold coins and diamonds, so that she would not suffer want during her flight. She also found help from a Hungarian senator, who provided her with false papers. This senator became her first husband, and the father of her first child, Eva.
Edith, being blonde and blue-eyed and with false papers was able to avoid being identified as a Jew and succeeded in saving her life. She hid out for the remainder of the war first in Budapest and then across the border in Romania. But she felt guilty about having left her parents. I thought she had overcome the guilt many years ago, but it came back in her final days. I say that any guilt should have belonged to them, not to her. It was they who did wrong in refusing to leave, in refusing not just at the last minute, when it really was too late for them, since, not being blonde and blue eyed, they could easily have been identified as Jews, but much earlier, when the facts were already clear and they chose to ignore them. Edith, did absolutely right in leaving and thus living, not dying.
George Reisman himself is an interesting intellectual. One of the very few living students of Mises himself, he has sought to produce a synthesis between classical economics and Austrianism. David Gordon opines— and I agree with him– that his attempt was unsuccessful. In this way, he is probably not accurately categorized as an Austrian purist. Nevertheless, I very much do appreciate his hard hitting insights and his remarkably blunt attacks against any sign of socialistic narrative. Reisman was very close with another Mises student, historian Ralph Raico, until the two of them split as Raico followed Rothbard out of Ayn Randian circles as Reisman stayed committed. Rand circles, interestingly enough, were where he first met Edith, as he mentions in the eulogy:
Sometimes people ask where I first met Edith. I met her in Ayn Rand’s living room. We were both students in a series of lectures Ayn Rand was giving on non-fiction writing.
Reisman also expresses his Randian-esque hard-shell reflection on death, with an underlying brokenness:
As I’ve said, Edith’s passing has left a great void in me. And my knowledge and commitment to reality and rationality have only made it worse. I know that Edith no longer exists as any kind of actual being. All that physically remains of her is a small pile of ashes. She no longer has eyes and so she cannot see me. She no longer has ears and so she cannot hear me. There just is no longer any “she.” But nevertheless, I pretend that in some way, she still exists and that she can still see and hear me, and so I still talk to her every day. And when I’m alone, out of anyone else’s hearing, I talk to her out loud. So I now need Edith more than ever—as my psychotherapist, in addition to everything else.
But you know what. Until just this last Sunday, I did talk to Edith out loud, in reality, practically every day, for almost half a century. And so it feels much more normal to go on talking to her, even if only in pretense, than to slam into the brick wall of the fact that she simply is no more. So what I think I’m doing is trying to tap the brakes gently, so to speak, and come to a smooth stop, if that’s possible. I don’t think that’s actually unreasonable.
I did some leisurely reading last night, which I haven’t done in some time. I read some essays from Lew Rockwell’s “The Left, The Right, & The State.” I’ve read it before, but it’s always good to go back to the basics. Here are some excerpts from the essay “Freedom is Not ‘Public Policy.'”
Among the greatest failures of the free-market intellectual movement has been allowing its ideas to be categorized as a “public policy” option. The formulation implies a concession that it is up to the state—its managers and kept intellectuals—to decide how, when, and where freedom is to be permitted. It further implies that the purpose of freedom, private ownership, and market incentives is the superior management of society, that is, to allow the current regime to operate more efficiently.
This kind of thinking has been around a while. Murray Rothbard had noted back in the 1950s that economists, even those favoring markets, had become “efficiency experts for the state.” There is a small step from that unfortunate stance to providing a free-market rhetorical cover for the state to do what it wants to do anyway, which is surely the ultimate compromise.
Such was at the heart of the Reagan Revolution, when tax cuts were first proposed as a tool to bring in more revenue. Who said that the purpose of freedom was to ensure more lavish funding for the state? And what if the funding didn’t materialize? Does that mean that the tax cuts failed? Twenty years later, of course, we see that the strategy was a disaster because it turned out that there is a far surer way to collect more revenue: to collect more revenue.
There are many examples of this awful concession operating today. In policy circles, people use the word privatization to mean not the bowing out of government from a particular aspect of social and economic life, but merely the contracting out of statist priorities to politically connected private enterprise.
School vouchers and Social Security “privatization” are the most notorious examples at the national level. At the state and local levels, any government contract awarded to a grafting business interest is deemed “privatization.” A Washington think tank recently proposed that the CIA could become more efficient by contracting out to Washington think tanks.
What’s at stake is the very conception of the role of freedom in political, economic, and social life. Do we regard freedom as a useful device within the existing structure, or as an alternative to the current political system? This is not a matter of bickering libertarian sects. The very future of the idea of free markets is at stake.
We hear that if we “privatize” the schools with vouchers and other gimmicks, they will be cheaper to run and test scores will go up. We are told that if we “privatize” Social Security, it will produce higher returns for seniors. Here, the establishment libertarian policy people are saying: socialism is possible after all, so long as it is run by private enterprise!
In truth, if the education sector were ever completely in private hands, nothing like the current system would continue to exist. Most administrators would be without jobs in the school system. The schools themselves might become retail centers. Education would be radically decentralized and mixed with private enterprise. Schools would come and go. Teacher salaries would probably plummet. No one would have a right to an education guaranteed by the state. The state could ask for and expect no content or results from education at any level.
A hundred years ago, a person who proposed such a system would have been considered a socialist. Today, he is a “libertarian public policy expert.” If what you desire is true free-market reform, don’t call it privatization. We need to stop the present racket. Under real market reforms, no one would be looted and no one would be guaranteed anything. The slogan should be: stop the theft.
Note: I personally don’t mind the word “privatization.” It just needs to be defined correctly to represent the private ownership –which includes the decision making authority– of goods and services. In these sense then, the “privatization” of public services, is not really privatized in the most meaningful sense, but is only privatized nominally and strategically to enforce, not to challenge, the statist status quo.
HL Mencken from his article More of the Same, original published in the American Mercury in 1925:
When a private citizen is robbed a worthy man is deprived of the fruits of his industry and thrift; when the government is robbed the worst that happens is that certain rogues and loafers have less money to play with than they had before. The notion that they have earned that money is never entertained; to most sensible men it would seem ludicrous. They are simply rascals who, by accidents of law, have a somewhat dubious right to a share in the earnings of their fellow men. When that share is diminished by private enterprise the business is, on the whole, far more laudable than not.
The intelligent man, when he pays taxes, certainly does not believe that he is making a prudent and productive investment of his money; on the contrary, he feels that he is being mulcted in an excessive amount for services that, in the main, are useless to him, and that, in substantial part, are downright inimical to him. He may be convinced that a police force, say, is necessary for the protection of his life and property, and that an army and navy safeguard him from being reduced to slavery by some vague foreign kaiser, but even so he views these things as extravagantly expensive – he sees in even the most essential of them an agency for making it easier for the exploiters constituting the government to rob him. In those exploiters themselves he has no confidence whatever. He sees them as purely predatory and useless; he believes that he gets no more net benefit from their vast and costly operations than he gets from the money he lends to his wife’s brother. They constitute a power that stands over him constantly, ever alert for new chances to squeeze him. If they could do so safely they would strip him to his hide. If they leave him anything at all, it is simply prudetially, as a farmer leaves a hen some of her eggs.
States are criminal organizations. All states, not just the obviously totalitarian or repressive ones. […] I intend this statement to be understood literally and not as some form of rhetorical exaggeration.
The argument is simple. Theft, robbery, kidnapping and murder are all crimes. Those who engage in such activities, whether on their own behalf or on behalf of others are, by definition, criminals.
In taxing the people of a country, the state engages in an activity that is morally equivalent to theft or robbery; in putting some people in prison, especially those who are convicted of so-called victimless crimes or when it drafts people into the armed services, the state is guilty of kidnapping or false imprisonment; in engaging in wars that are other than purely defensive or, even if defensive, when the means of defence employed are disproportionate and indiscriminate, the state is guilty of manslaughter or murder.
Casey, Gerard. Libertarian Anarchy: Against the State (Think Now) (p. 1). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.
Clearly he is echoing Rothbard from For a New Liberty:
The libertarian, in short, insists on applying the general moral law to everyone, and makes no special exemptions for any person or group. But if we look at the State naked, as it were, we see that it is universally allowed, and even encouraged, to commit all the acts which even non-libertarians concede are reprehensible crimes.
The State habitually commits mass murder, which it calls “war,” or sometimes “suppression of subversion”; the State engages in enslavement into its military forces, which it calls “conscription”; and it lives and has its being in the practice of forcible theft, which it calls “taxation.” The libertarian insists that whether or not such practices are supported by the majority of the population is not germane to their nature: that, regardless of popular sanction, War is Mass Murder, Conscription is Slavery, and Taxation is Robbery.
The libertarian, in short, is almost completely the child in the fable, pointing out insistently that the emperor has no clothes.
Ethically, we have in the State, as defined above, a contradiction in terms. For if the State is the means by which private property is supposed to be ultimately defended, and yet the State declares, independent of the will of the property owner, what the property owner must pay him or be recipient of violent expropriation, then the private property itself, rather than being defended, is threatened. As Hoppe notes: “However, a tax-funded life-and-property protection agency is a contradiction in terms: an expropriating property protector.”
Moreover, if the State claims unto itself the right to act as the sole provider of its services and actively seeks the elimination of any competitors, then in driving other competitors out of business, here too it contradicts its very intended role. Any State that allows its citizens to choose another criminal punishment corporation if they desire, that is, any State that does not consider itself as the sole provider of its “services,” cannot last as a State any longer than the citizens allow it. And thus, being essentially a voluntary organization, it loses its status as a State; for States are force, not cooperation. Therefore, a State must, to retain its label, actively seek the eradication of all jurisdictional competitors; and in doing so, it contradicts its role of defender of private property. For it must violate the private property of its competitor in order to eliminate it.
The private-law society is one in which all individuals are bound by the same law and there is none who is legally allowed to exempt himself. There is no “public property,” and every owner of property is the ultimate decision maker over the use and restrictions of his property. There are no public officials who can for “the public interest,” expropriate wealth from the property owner, restrict by force the entrepreneurial activity of the owner in the form of regulations, or create tax-funded bureaucracies, for whatever purpose he has in mind. No one is allowed to acquire property except by way of original appropriation or voluntary trade; neither is anyone allowed to “prohibit anyone else from using his property in order to enter any line of production he wishes and compete against whomever he pleases.” (Hoppe).
I commented on a Wall Street Journal article which was about the fact that Apple Music subscribers were set to surpass Spotify subscribers in the US. Seeing the number of anti-Apple leftists commenting, and having a couple minutes to spare, I laid the bait:
I love Apple in every way. Can’t get enough of their products. This news makes sense.
First response, by some guy in a fedora:
You are their perfect customer.
He took it. I went in for the kill, armed with an actual understanding of praxeological economics:
I am indeed. And they are my perfect producer. It’s a great relationship.
He was mad:
You do realize they just want your money, right?
Again, I’ve thought about the nature of exchanges for more than 60 seconds in my life, so my response was simple:
I do. They work hard to get that money. They pour billions into research, development, transportation, and so on just to satisfy me. I’m honored tbh [to be honest]. In any case, you realize that I want their devices more than the money they receive from me right? Perhaps you think I took advantage of them?
No response from Dr. Fedora.
Round two was less exciting. The commenter, this one not wearing a Fedora, thought this was a worthy response:
You’re a sheep.
What is meant by this, presumably, is that I do not think when I walk robot-like to the store to purchase a new Apple device. Au contraire! I am a rational agent, a decision maker, who determines whether I value Apple products over a specific number of dollars, in light of all my other values, plans, and financial commitments. These lefties, apparently, deny human beings their very human nature in making loud proclamations about the motivations of man.
In any case, I responded with this:
[Laughing emoji]. You guys act like I don’t enjoy their products out of my own will and because they gratify me.
I like this first part of the preface of Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism, brilliantly researched and written by Jorg Guido Hulsmann. It really captures Hulsmann’s appreciation for Mises, and touches on Mises’ contributions to the freedom philosophy.
IN THE SUMMER OF 1940, with Hitler’s troops moving through France to encircle Switzerland, Ludwig von Mises sat beside his wife Margit on a bus filled with Jews fleeing Europe. To avoid capture, the bus driver took back roads through the French countryside, stopping to ask locals if the Germans had been spotted ahead—reversing and finding alternative routes if they had been.
Mises was two months shy of his fifty-ninth birthday. He was on the invaders’ list of wanted men. Two years earlier, they had ransacked his Vienna apartment, confiscating his records, and freezing his assets. Mises then hoped to be safe in Geneva. Now nowhere in Europe seemed safe. Not only was he a prominent intellectual of Jewish descent; he was widely known to be an archenemy of National Socialism and of every other form of socialism. Some called him “the last knight of liberalism.”
He had personally steered Austria away from Bolshevism, saved his country from the level of hyperinflation that destroyed interwar Germany, and convinced a generation of young socialist intellectuals to embrace the market. Now he was a political refugee headed for a foreign continent.
The couple arrived in the United States with barely any money and no prospects for income. Mises’s former students and disciples had found prestigious positions in British and American universities (often with his help), but Mises himself was considered an anachronism. In an age of growing government and central planning, he was a defender of private property and an opponent of all government intervention in the economy. Perhaps worst of all, he was a proponent of verbal logic and realism in the beginning heyday of positivism and mathematical modeling. No university would have him. Margit began to train as a secretary.
Over the next decade, they would slowly rebuild and Mises would find new allies. He would also publish his most important book, Human Action. It would earn him a following whose admira- tion and devotion were beyond anything he had known in Europe.
When he died in October 1973, he had only a small circle of admirers and disciples, but this group became the nucleus of a movement that has grown exponentially. Today his writings inspire economists and libertarians throughout the world, and are avidly read by an increasing number of students in all the social sciences. There is an entire school of “Misesian” economists flourishing most notably in the United States, but also in Spain, France, the Czech Republic, Argentina, Romania, and Italy. This movement is testimony to the lasting power and impact of his ideas.
The purpose of the present book is to tell the story of how these ideas emerged in their time. It is the story of an amazing economist, of his life and deeds. It is the story of his personal impact on the Austrian School and the libertarian movement. It is above all the story of a man who transformed himself in an uncompromising pursuit of the truth, of a man who adopted his ideas step-by- step, often against his initial inclinations.
Once a student of the historical method in the social sciences, he would become the dean of the opposition Austrian School and humanistic social theory. He went from left-leaning young idealist in Vienna to grand old man of the American Right. Dismissive of “the metallists” early in his career, he became an unwavering spokesman for a 100 percent gold standard. His example inspired students and followers, many of whom would take his message and method farther than he himself would go.
Left wing populists, such as the increasingly followed Robert Reich, have recognized that the US economic and political system is basically controlled by the well-connected elite. These corrupt persons operate on the framework of leveraging the Federal government for their own economic and political empowerment. However, by not having a proper understanding of rights and true liberty, the left-wingers offer as a solution the democratic “will of the people” as the standard by which government should make its decisions.
The problem of elite-rule from Washington, which might be labelled a “plutocracy,” is not that it doesn’t reflect the “will of the people,” or the will of the majority, or any other democratic segment of society.
The problem exists to the extent that these elite advocate, encourage, and actively work to direct resources to themselves by breaching the rights of non-consenting individuals. There are myriad examples of this, but two might include: 1) subsidies to their businesses via taxes (that is, when the recipients are net tax-receivers) and 2) the regulation of their industries which puts their competition in an uncompetitive scenario such that the elite and well-connected achieve increased profits.
In leveraging the state to their end, they breach the rights of other individuals in society.
However, what the proponents of increased democratization and “power to the people” are seeking is a shift of the beneficiaries of breaching the rights of individuals. That is, they still seek to leverage the state for their ends and breach the property rights of others in society; the only difference is that they want the beneficiaries of such breaches to shift from the cronyist wealthy to the poor or even middle classes.
Rather than recognizing the principles of justice inherent in the recognition of private property rights, they continue to ignore property rights and economic conclusions. The “democratic will of the people” should not be a replacement of the crony 1% in regards to the decisions being made in government.
Instead, we ought to completely reject the state as a legitimate tool of redistribution and deny to it the legal ability to direct resources to whomever is in control. The state, as Bastiat pointed out, is “the great fiction through which everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everyone else.” The state is the cause of social division and regression.
I’m pleased to announce that Austro Libertarian now has a podcast. The format is simple: myself and a cohost, Ben Lewis, will conduct interviews and conversations relating to Austro Libertarian ideas and themes, sometimes perhaps current event commentary. We welcome suggestions and feedback.
In fact, I’m considering adding a suggestion box/form on the site for convenience.
The site for this is media.austrolibertarian.com. There, you will find the podcast archives, with the newest episode always at the top. You will also find other media and videos, which might include various YouTube clips, outside conversations or events we have in video format, and so on.
All the subscription information (RSS, iTunes, etc.) can be found by clicking the subscribe menu option at the very top.
At this point, I have the podcast episodes going to iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Soundcloud, YouTube. And of course you can use the RSS for most major podcast readers/apps. If there are any other requests for other players, feel free to let me know.
Each episode-specific page contains the individual episode links to the major podcast players so if you visit the website for the content, you can simply find the link to play the episode wherever you’d like. I also have the Soundcloud version of it embedded right there in the post.
Podcast production and audio quality will likely improve over time!
Been thinking about one particular moment in the the Peterson-Newman standoff, in which Newman is questioning Peterson about why there are more male CEOs in the FTSE 100. Part of the reason for this, Peterson explains, is that men tend to have a personality better suited for adapting to the fierce nature of big business competition. It’s an incredibly pressuring world in which individuals do almost anything to get to the top– blood, sweat, tears, exhaustion, bribes, blackmail, and so on. That’s just the way it is. Not only do men seem to be more representative of people with such a personality, there seems to be an increased willingness by men, compared to women, to endure such conditions. Hence, the make-up of the gender representation in these positions. If women are going to achieve these positions and engage in the ferocious battles for corporate power, they need to adopt these traits. This is what Peterson was indicating he has helped women do. This means that Peterson is a realist. He sees the way things are, and he observes that he has prospective clients who want help adapting, and he helps them do it.
Cathy Newman, on the other hand, besides being flustered that Peterson had the audacity to explain the way things are, responded with something to this effect: well what if we can change the culture of the corporate world such that they adapted more of a feminine-friendly environment? Peterson responded as an objective scientist: go for it. I’m just dealing with things as they are.
But this idealistic tendency on Newman’s part really reflects what Thomas Sowell refers to as the Unconstrained Vision. Rather than think in terms of reality, she adapts the view that mankind itself can be changed so that the Ideal can be achieved. Isaac Morehouse sums up the Unconstrained Vision well:
Those with an unconstrained vision see everything as perfectible. We can eliminate scarcity (this is very different than simply “have an abundance of stuff”, as it assumes time and choice can also be eliminated), we can remake man into a perfect version, we can stop playing by old stuffy rules and simply rebuild a society without greed. If humans are flawed we can remake humans, instead of forming social orders that work around the flaws. We don’t need institutions that channel bad desires to good outcomes, we simply need to remove bad desires.
Newman doesn’t think in terms of how things are, she thinks in terms of changing humanity and human nature itself in order to achieve her own (socially Progressive) vision. She doesn’t think in terms of what women should do if they want to achieve a particular end, she thinks in terms of remapping the “social rules of the game” in order to bring about the outcome she has in mind. In doing so, she thinks of mankind as clay that can be molded to her liking; likely with media-driven retraining (a la 1984), social education, and long-term collectivist planning. She is, in other words, a representative of what should be called “cultural marxism.” She desires the creation of the New Socialist Man.
Consider Rothbard on the NSM:
The traditional socialist answer held that the socialist society would transform human nature, would purge it of selfishness, and remold it to create a New Socialist Man. That new man would be devoid of any selfish, or indeed any self-determined, goals; his only wish would be to work as hard and as eagerly as possible to achieve the goals and obey the orders of the socialist State. Throughout the history of socialism, socialist ultras, such as the early Lenin and Bukharin under “War Communism,” and later Mao Tse-tung and Che Guevara, have sought to replace material by so-called “moral” incentives. This notion was properly and wittily ridiculed by Alexander Gray as “the idea that the world may find its driving force in a Birthday Honours List (giving to the King, if necessary, 165 birthdays a year).” At any rate, the socialists soon found that voluntary methods could hardly yield them the New Socialist Man. But even the most determined and bloodthirsty methods could not avail to create this robotic New Socialist Man. And it is a testament to the spirit of freedom that cannot be extinguished in the human breast that the socialists continued to fail dismally, despite decades of systemic terror.
Hence, Peterson was right to controversially point out that these Progressive hold the same underlying philosophy of the deadly communists of the previous century.