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The COVID-19 “Lockdowns” Are What Twenty-First-Century Mob Rule Looks Like

The COVID-19 “Lockdowns” Are What Twenty-First-Century Mob Rule Looks Like

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As of April 6, forty-one states have statewide “stay-at-home” decrees in place. These orders vary widely from place to place. In some states, there are long lists of exempted industries including marijuana dispensaries, liquor stores, hardware stores, and of course, grocery stores. In some states with these edicts, public lands, state parks, and beaches remain open. In some states, city parks are more crowded than ever as local residents, with little else to do, attempt to recreate. In other places—such as California—one can be arrested for paddleboarding all alone in the ocean.

Yet in all of these places, the current regime of rule by decree will have—and already has had—a devastating effect on many small and medium-sized businesses and their employees. As governments have created new arbitrary definitions of what constitutes an “essential” business, some businesses find themselves forced to close. Employees have lost these jobs. The owners of these enterprises will likely lose far more as debts mount and business investments are destroyed. As unemployment and poverty increase, the usual pathologies will arise as well: suicides, child abuse, and stress-induced death.

Yet the politicians—mostly state governors, mayors, and unelected bureaucrats—remain popular. In New York State, where the lockdown orders are among the most draconian in the nation, it is now claimed that 87 percent of those polled approve of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s handling of the situation. As Donald Trump’s administration has recommended ever harsher government limits on the freedom of Americans, his poll numbers have only improved. 

Meanwhile, among critics there appears to be a misconception of these lockdowns (which are very often only partially imposed or enforced) as being imposed over the howls of the local population, which is being silenced and cowed by jackbooted local police.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How the US Wages War to Prop up the Dollar

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How the US Wages War to Prop up the Dollar

At Counterpunch, Michael Hudson has penned an important article that outlines the important connections between US foreign policy, oil, and the US dollar.

In short, US foreign policy is geared very much toward controlling oil resources as part of a larger strategy to prop up the US dollar. Hudson writes:

The assassination was intended to escalate America’s presence in Iraq to keep control of the region’s oil reserves, and to back Saudi Arabia’s Wahabi troops (Isis, Al Quaeda in Iraq, Al Nusra and other divisions of what are actually America’s foreign legion) to support U.S. control of Near Eastern oil as a buttress of the U.S. dollar. That remains the key to understanding this policy, and why it is in the process of escalating, not dying down.

The actual context for the neocon’s action was the balance of payments, and the role of oil and energy as a long-term lever of American diplomacy.

Basically, the US’s propensity for driving up massive budget deficits has created a need for immense amounts of deficit spending. This can be handled through selling lots of government debt, or through monetizing the debt. But what if there isn’t enough global demand for US debt? That would mean the US would have to pay more interest on its debt. Or, the US could monetize the debt through the central bank. But that might cause the value of the dollar to crash. So, the US regime realized that it must find ways to prevent the glut of dollars and debt from actually destroying the value of the dollar. Fortunately for the regime, this can be partly managed, it turns out, through foreign policy. Hudson continues:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How to Avoid Civil War: Decentralization, Nullification, Secession

How to Avoid Civil War: Decentralization, Nullification, Secession 

It’s becoming more and more apparent that the United States will not be going back to “business as usual” after Donald Trump leaves office, and it is easy to imagine that the anti-Trump parties will use their return to power as an opportunity to settle scores against the hated rubes and “deplorables” who dared attempt to oppose their betters in Washington, DC, California, and New York.

This ongoing conflict may manifest itself in the culture war through further attacks on people who take religious faith seriously, and on those who hold any social views unpopular among degreed people from major urban centers. The First Amendment will be imperiled like never before with both religious freedom and freedom of speech regarded as vehicles of “hate.” Certainly, the Second Amendment will hang by a thread.

But even more dangerous will be the deep state’s return to a vaunted position of enjoying a near-total absence of opposition from elected officials in the civilian government. The FBI and CIA will go to even greater lengths to ensure the voters are never again “allowed” to elect anyone who doesn’t receive the explicit imprimatur of the American intelligence “community.” The Fourth Amendment will be banished so that the NSA and its friends can spy on every American with impunity. The FBI and CIA will more freely combine the use of surveillance and media leaks to destroy adversaries.

Anyone who objects to the deep state’s wars on either Americans or on foreigners will be denounced as stooges of foreign powers.

These scenarios may seem overly dramatic, but the extremity of the situation is suggested by the fact that Trump — who is only a very mild opponent of the status quo — has received such hysterical opposition. After all, Trump has not dismantled the welfare state. He has not slashed — or even failed to increase — the military budget.

Electoral College: Why We Must Decentralize Democracy

Electoral College: Why We Must Decentralize Democracy

Although it was long assumed that the electoral college favored Democrats — and this assumption continued right up to election night 2016 — Democrats in the United States have now decided the electoral college is a bad thing. Thus, we continue to see legislative efforts to do away with the electoral college, accompanied by claims that it’s undemocratic.

Not All Democracy Is Created Equal

In fact, the electoral college is neither more nor less democratic than the electoral college system. It’s unclear by what standard winning the presidency through 50 separate state-level elections is “less democratic” than winning one large national election.

What makes the electoral college different, however, is that it was born out of recognition that the interests, concerns, and values of voters can differ greatly from place to place. Moreover, the system anticipated the phenomenon in which people in large densely populated areas would have different political values from people in other areas. The electoral college was designed to make it less likely that voters from a single region — or small number of regions — could impose their will across the entire nation.

In contrast, one large national election — as envisioned by the critics of the electoral college system — could hand national rule over to a small number of cities and regions.

But even the electoral college system is too much slanted in favor of national politics and large majorities. Far better strategies for governance can be found Swiss democracy. Thanks to the presence of a multi-lingual, culturally diverse population, the creators of the Swiss confederation sought to ensure that no single linguistic, religious, or cultural group could impose its will nationwide. Thus, Swiss democracy includes a number of provisions requiring a “double majority.” That is, not only must an overall majority of Swiss voters approve certain measures, a majority of the voters in the majority of Swiss cantons must also approve.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Creepy Line: A New Documentary on the Immense Power of Tech Giants

The Creepy Line: A New Documentary on the Immense Power of Tech Giants

The Creepy Line, a new documentary by director M.A. Taylor, is now streaming at Amazon Prime. It takes a disturbing look at how Google and Facebook influence their users’ view of the world, and how the companies have pioneered new ways of doing business. It’s a business model in which personal data harvested from users is exploited so as to offer targeted advertising to third parties.

The Creepy Line takes its title from a description of Google once uttered by Google executive Eric Schmidt who said Google’s mission was to “get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.”

In truth, though, by pioneering the “surveillance business model,” Google has been been stepping over “the creepy line” for years.

Is is perhaps in its basic explanations of how the surveillance model works that The Creepy Line is most interesting: the filmmakers explain in simple terms how a small number of companies have come to compile extensive data profiles of many hundreds of millions of human beings, and how that data is the real product sold and used by the companies that collect it.

This, of course, has always been the plan, although it was arguably much more modest at one time.

The Surveillance Model

There’s a lot of money to be made by helping advertisers target specific potential customers. But first you need a lot of data on the people you’re targeting. Successful tech giants can offer this data — and huge amounts of it.

In order to offer advertisers data on potential customers, though, a company first has to collect it. And in order to collect it, the company must offer some sort of bait for the users to seize upon, thus leaving behind their personal data.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

No, Voting Doesn’t Mean You “Support the System”

No, Voting Doesn’t Mean You “Support the System”

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Listen to Ryan McMaken’s commentary on the Radio Rothbard podcast.

I admit it. I voted

In my home state of Colorado, all voting is by mailed paper ballots. That means, if you’re a registered voter, the county clerk sends you a ballot every election.

And then — at least in my case — it sits there on a table near my desk.

One is supposed to fill it out and then mail it back. Or drop it off in one of the mailbox-like boxes scattered around the city.

Sometimes I do it.

This time around, as the ballot sat there on the table, I kept thinking about the proposed tax increases I could vote “yes” or “no” on.

Like many states in the Western half of the United States, this state makes frequent use of ballot initiatives and referenda in elections. Voters are asked to vote up or down any number of regulations and taxes which the policymakers will be more than happy to implement if they can muster a “yes” from the majority of voters.

I’m certainly not willing to stand in line at a polling place, and I don’t care about getting an “I Voted!” sticker. But I had to admit the opportunity cost of sending in the ballot was really quite low. So, as I am not a big fan of new taxes, I filled out the ballot according to my whims, and sent it in.

Does Voting Mean You Support the Regime?

Nothing about this little anecdote would strike most people as remarkable in any way.

Since at least the nineteenth century, though, there has been a debate over whether or not voting somehow means the voter has agreed to submit to — or even support — whatever the state does.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

No Matter How You Vote, Politicians Don’t Represent You

No Matter How You Vote, Politicians Don’t Represent You

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One of the most foundational assumptions behind modern democracy is that the elected officials somehow represent the interests of those who elected them.

Advocates for the political status quo flog this position repeatedly, claiming that taxation and the regulatory state are all morally legitimate because the voters are “represented.” Even conservatives, who often claim to be for “small government” often oppose radicalism of any kind — such as secession — on the grounds that political resistance movements such as the American Revolution are only acceptable when there is “taxation without representation.”The implication being that since the United States holds elections every now and then, no political action outside of voting — and maybe a little sign waving — is allowed.

This, position, however, rests on the idea that elected officials are truly representative. If taxation with representation makes government legitimate — as some argue — then we must first establish that the government’s claims of representation are believable.

On a theoretical level, Gerard Casey has already cast serious doubt on these claims. Casey draws on the work of Hanna Pitkin, who admits it is plausible that:

Perhaps representation in politics is only a fiction, a myth forming part of the folklore of our society. Or perhaps representation must be redefined to fit our politics; perhaps we must simply accept the fact that what we have been calling representative government is in reality just party competition for office.

After all, as Casey points out, representation in the private sector usually means there is an agent-principal relationship in which the agent is legally bound to attempt to represent the material interests of a clearly defined person or group of people.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why Bad Economics Makes Such Good Politics

Why Bad Economics Makes Such Good Politics

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As the election nears, politicians will more and more frantically point out what wonderful favors they’ve done for the voters — or what favors they will do for the voters, if elected.

Of course, they never mean all the voters. They mean groups or individuals within the voting population who believe they benefit from laws, taxes, regulations, and spending programs supported by the politician in question.

Two such examples of these sorts of favors are tariffs and minimum wage laws. Both impose costs on both producers and consumers overall, while benefiting a small sliver of the population that is able to take advantage of the government mandate.

The economics of each of these, or taxation and business regulation in general, have already been addressed numerous times in these pages.

It must suffice to point out that these policies, for which politicians think they deserve accolades, potentially benefit only very specific interest groups. Nevertheless, these policies can prove to be politically popular, and may help a politician get elected.

But why should policies that help so few — and impose many costs on even those they purport to help — be politically popular?

Hazlitt and Mises on the Popularity of Bad Economics

Answering this question was one of the main reasons that Henry Hazlitt wrote his perennially popular bookEconomics in One Lesson.

In the very first chapter, Hazlitt notes that economic science is prone to so many errors because people are motivated to believe an incorrect version of economics that supports their own economic interests. Or as Hazlitt put it, economic errors “are multiplied a thousandfold … by the special pleading of selfish interests.”

Sometimes, these attempts to throw good economics in the garbage are spectacularly successful. After all, for decades, no insignificant number of Americans believed the claim that “what’s good for General Motors is good for America.”1

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Fed’s Easy-Money Policies Aren’t Helping Income Growth

The Fed’s Easy-Money Policies Aren’t Helping Income Growth

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Back in August, Bloomberg interviewed Karen Petrou about her research on quantitative easing and the Fed’s policies since the 2008 financial crisis. What she has discovered has not been encouraging for people who aren’t already high-income, and in recent research presented to the New York Fed, she concluded “Post-crisis monetary and regulatory policy had an unintended but nonetheless dramatic impact on the income and wealth divides.”

This assessment is based on her own work, but also on a 2018 report released by the Minneapolis Fed.1  The report showed that both income and wealth growth in the US have been much better for higher-income households in recent decades

Notably, when indexed to 1971 (the year Nixon ended the last link between gold and the dollar) we can see the disparity between the top wealth groups and other groups:

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 Petrou continues:

What did we learn [from the Minneapolis Fed report]? This new dataset shows clearly that U.S. wealth inequality is the worst it has been throughout the entire U.S. post-war period. We also know now that the U.S. middle class is even more “hollowed out” than we thought in terms of income, with any gains made by the lower-middle class sharply reversed after 2007.

Indeed, the report concludes: “…half of all American households have less wealth today in real terms than the median household had in 1970.”

A closer look at income data also suggests that income growth has been especially anemic since 2007. Using data from the Census Bureau’s 2017 report on income and poverty, we find that incomes for the 90th percentile are increasingly pulling away from both the median (50th percentile) income and from the 20th-percentile income.2

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 The household income for the 20th percentile increased 70 percent since 1971, while it has only increased 20 percent at the 20th percentile.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

When LBJ Assaulted a Fed Chairman

When LBJ Assaulted a Fed Chairman

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In his column today, Ron Paul mentions that those who insist the Fed functions with “independence” tend to forget — or at least not bring up — the numerous historical episodes in which the Fed did not exercise any such independence.

As an example, Paul mentions the time President Lyndon Johnson

summoned then-Fed Chairman William McChesney Martin to Johnson’s Texas ranch where Johnson shoved him against the wall. Physically assaulting the Fed chairman is probably a greater threat to Federal Reserve independence than questioning the Fed’s policies on Twitter.

For those unfamiliar with the episode, I thought it might be helpful to look at some of the historical context surrounding the situation. In his book The Man Who Knew: The Life and Times of Alan Greenspan, Sebastian Mallaby writes:

Johnson had pushed Kennedy’s economic policies to their logical extreme. In 1964, he had delivered a powerful fiscal stimulus by signing tax cuts into laws, and he had proceeded to bully the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates as low as possible. When the Fed made a show of resistance [in 1965], Johnson summoned William McChesney Martin, the Fed chairman, to his Texas ranch and physically showed him around his living room, yelling in his face, “Boys are dying in Vietnam, and Bill Martin doesn’t care.”

This was the 1960s version of “you’re either with me or you’re with the terrorists.

Of course, Johnson didn’t stop at pushing around a central banker. Mallaby continues:

If the tax cuts and low interest rates caused inflationary pressure, Johnson believed he could deal with it with more bullying and manipulation. When aluminum makers raised prices in 1965, Johnson ordered up sales from the government’s strategic stockpile to push prices back down again. When copper companies raised prices, he fought by restricting exports of the metal and scrapping tariffs so as to usher in more imports.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Three Economics Lessons I Learned from My Dad

Three Economics Lessons I Learned from My Dad

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As long as I’ve known him, my father has always been the entrepreneurial type. Even now, in his seventies, he picks up side jobs both to keep busy and to have a little extra spending money.

Throughout my childhood and youth, he had always been an independent insurance broker and salesman. He often employed one or two people to help with the phones and the paperwork. But also often just worked alone.

Growing up, the idea of going to work for a big company for 30 or 40 years, and then retiring to a golf course or rocking chair somewhere, was something completely alien to me. People my age nowadays mostly expect to work full time until age 75 or more. We can forget about pensions and Social Security. But even when a multi-decade retirement seemed like a viable option in the old days, that wasn’t something to aspire to in my house.

In short, Dad has always been part of a small minority group in America: people who make their living from running their own business. It is estimated that only about 10 percent of Americans actually make their living from businesses they own. The numbers are higher if we look at people who have some small-business income on the side. But when we’re talking about people whose main source of income is their own business, the numbers are smaller.

Not surprisingly, people who are in this minority group have a different way of looking at the world.

For them, there’s no boss or manager to complain about when your income isn’t as high as you like. If there’s not enough money to make payroll at the end of the month, business owners stare failure in the face, and they know they may even be taking some other families down with them.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

In a Stateless World, Can You Grow Veggies In Your Front Yard?

In a Stateless World, Can You Grow Veggies In Your Front Yard?

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The Miami Herald reports that a local couple is going all the way to the state supreme court to fight a local ordinance banning front-yard vegetable gardens: 

Hermine Ricketts and her husband Tom Carroll may grow fruit trees and flowers in the front yard of their Miami Shores house…

Vegetables, however, are not allowed.

Ricketts and Carroll thought they were gardeners when they grew tomatoes, beets, scallions, spinach, kale and multiple varieties of Asian cabbage. But according to a village ordinance that restricts edible plants to backyards only, they were actually criminals.

“That’s what government does – interferes in people’s lives,” Ricketts said. “We had that garden for 17 years. We ate fresh meals every day from that garden. Since the village stepped its big foot in it, they have ruined our garden and my health.”

These sorts of stories pop up several times a year. They are often discussed at free-market oriented and libertarian sites to illustrate just the myriad of ways that the state interferes in our daily lives. Many times, they intervene to prohibit totally innocuous activities like growing a front-yard garden.

What articles like these often fail to point out of course, is that these laws didn’t appear out of nowhere. They are often passed because some voters demanded the city council or the county commission pass laws prohibiting front-yard gardens, or backyard chicken coops, or other non-violent activities deemed by some to be a nuisance to the neighborhood. These laws then persist over time because the majority of voters either agree with the laws, or don’t feel strongly enough about the matter to demand a change.

In Miami Shores, the law against front-yard gardens was likely passed because at least a few people felt that front yard gardens were not so innocuous after all.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Europe’s Secession Problems Aren’t Going Away

Europe’s Secession Problems Aren’t Going Away

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Earlier this week, The New York Times noted that movements for greater local autonomy appear to be spreading throughout Europe. In some ways, the conflict in Catalonia is just the tip of the iceberg. The Times reports:

Coming on the heels of the Catalan vote, the Lombardy and Veneto referendums are yet another signal of the homegrown conflicts that persist in many of the European Union’s member states. Separatist movements are also simmering in Britain — where voters in Scotland rejected independence in a 2014 referendum but continue to debate the issue — as well as France, Germany, Belgium and Romania.

Like Catalonia — and unlike Scotland — the Lombardy and Veneto regions of Italy are among the wealthiest regions, and send enormous amounts of tax revenue to Rome. Italy’s southern regions, which are significantly poorer than northern Italy, have benefited from Northern wealth ever since Italians were all forced into a single nation-state in the late nineteenth century.

This has never been forgotten by Italians from Veneto, many of whom participated in a referendum in 2014 to declare Independence. Naturally, the Italian government in Rome declared the vote invalid. At the time, however, I interviewed one of the organizers Paolo Bernardini about the referendum. (See “Inside Venice’s Secession Movement.”) At the time, secessionists liek Bernardini appeared to be pursuing immediate and total independence from Rome, while remaining inside the EU:

A tiny majority of Veneto people are in favor both of the EU and of the Euro as a currency. So I envisage a little, rich state, playing a major economic and political role in the EU, a stabilizing role. It will interact naturally with other rich and similar states, Bavaria (still part of Germany), Austria, and the Netherlands. It will be a Finland in the Adriatic.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

In a Cashless World, You’d Better Pray the Power Never Goes Out

In a Cashless World, You’d Better Pray the Power Never Goes Out

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When Hurricane Maria knocked out power in Puerto Rico, residents there realized they were going to need physical cash — and a lot of it.

Bloomberg reported yesterday that the Fed was forced to fly a planeload of cash to the Island to help avert disaster:

William Dudley, the New York Fed president, put the word out within minutes, and ultimately a jet loaded with an undisclosed amount of cash landed on the stricken island…

[Business executive in Puerto Rico] described corporate clients’ urgent requests for hundreds of thousands in cash to meet payrolls, and the challenge of finding enough armored cars to satisfy endless demand at ATMs. Such were the days after Maria devastated the U.S. territory last month, killing 39 people, crushing buildings and wiping out the island’s energy grid. As early as the day after the storm, the Fed began working to get money onto the island,

For a time, unless one had a hoard of cash stored up in one’s home, it was impossible to get cash at all. 85 percent of Puerto Rico is still without power, as of October 9. Bloomberg continues: “When some generator-powered ATMs finally opened, lines stretched hours long, with people camping out in beach chairs and holding umbrellas against the sun.”

In an earlier article from September 25, Bloomberg noted how, without cash, necessities were simply unavailable:

“Cash only,” said Abraham Lebron, the store manager standing guard at Supermax, a supermarket in San Juan’s Plaza de las Armas. He was in a well-policed area, but admitted feeling like a sitting duck with so many bills on hand. “The system is down, so we can’t process the cards. It’s tough, but one finds a way to make it work.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Neoconservatives Have Declared War on the Realists

The Neoconservatives Have Declared War on the Realists

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In recent years, I’ve increasingly suspected that when it comes to foreign policy, the realists offer some of the most sane observations.

These suspicions were confirmed earlier this year when after the election of Donald Trump, John Mearsheimer, one of modern realism’s current standard bearers, wrote in The National Interest that Trump should “adopt a realist foreign policy” and outlines a far better foreign policy agenda that what we’ve seen coming from Washington.

And what is this realist foreign policy? For Mearsheimer, some main tenets include:

  • Accepting that the US attempt at nation building in Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen “has been an abject failure.”
  • “Washington [should] respect the sovereignty of other states even when it disagrees with their internal policies.”
  • “Spreading democracy, especially by force, almost always fails.”
  • Understanding that “America’s terrorism problem … is fueled in part by the U.S. military presence on Arab territory as well as the endless wars the United States has waged in the greater Middle East.”
  • “The Trump administration should let local powers deal with ISIS.”
  • Recognizing that Russia poses no real threat to the United States: “Even if Russia modernizes its economy and its population grows in the years ahead — big ifs — it will still be unable to project significant military power beyond eastern Europe.”
  • “A Syria run by Assad poses no threat to the United States”
  • “The new president should also work to improve relations with Iran. “
  • “Encourage the Europeans to take responsibility for their own security, while gradually reducing the remaining U.S. troops there.”

Against Liberal Hegemony

There are some specific recommendations, but in a larger context, Mearsheimer is reflecting what has been building for years among realists led by Barry Posen, Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Harvey Sapolsky, among others: an opposition to so-called “liberal hegemony”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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