Category Archives: Conservatism

Story of An Election

It’s a contentious election year. The Republican party is deeply divided. An insurgent conservative is trying desperately to become the Republican nominee for President, but the odds are long against him. In a late, some say desperate move, and at any rate an unusual one, he’s named his preferred Vice Presidential running mate before he has secured the nomination. His opponent’s point man on stopping that insurgent campaign is Kremlin stooge and career criminal Paul Manafort. Does this all sound familiar?

I am, in fact, describing 1976.

If I were the sort of religious man who didn’t believe in coincidences, I’d be one hundred percent convinced that if this isn’t Ted Cruz’s year, then in 2020, he will be elected President of the United States, just as Reagan was four years after narrowly losing the nomination to Gerald Ford. The circumstances are all strikingly similar. Indeed, I wonder if Cruz is evoking the circumstances of 1976 on purpose, since he is I think the sort of guy less inclined than I am to believe in coincidences.

As it stands, I am not yet ready to write this election year off. I still hope that Hillary Clinton isn’t elected President of the United States, and I especially hope that she is not elected President of the United States in July, by just under thirteen hundred Republicans. But on the unlikely chance Donald Trump, the likely nominee, somehow defeats Clinton, he will do so without my help or my vote. Or indeed the votes of any of my immediate family members. The Republican party is not entitled to my vote, and I will never be brow-beaten into voting for an unacceptable nominee again. I hated Mitt Romney and John McCain, but they were at least Republicans. It was often hard to understand why but they were, of a sort anyway. Donald Trump defies ideological description, indeed he has contempt for the idea of having ideas-that’s not what “winners” do you see. Winners “make deals.” More over, he has clearly signaled that he will not work with conservatives. He will however work with the Mitch McConnells of the world to continue screwing over the American people. But that’s mostly moot. Donald Trump will not be President, and you should probably bet money on that, to anyone who will take you up on the offer.

I do, however, feel that even when we are ready to write this election off, we should not abandon all hope. Reagan’s comeback after 1976 just for years later provides a useful model for the potential future of the conservative movement. Twelve straight years of bad left wing policies will inevitably produce disastrous results. But what really finished Carter in 1980 was a combination of a weakening economy and the Iranian hostage crisis. That Hillary Clinton will continue the sort of feckless interventionism in foreign policy of Obama, that has all the negatives of both adventurism-neoconservatism and none of the countervailing positives of actual direction and purpose and, you know, that quaint notion of American interest, is basically beyond doubt. That style of foreign policy was invented by the Clinton administration. So that she will likely have equivalent problems to the hostage crisis tp deal with, is fairly easy to see. An increasingly isolationist American public may find arguments from a Rand Paul type Republican more amenable on those issues, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that less libertarian Republicans can credibly attack her on those issues in 2020. More importantly, there are good reasons to think Hillary Clinton may contend with a bad recession in the middle of her Presidency, and she will certainly not pursue policies that will actually be helpful in alleviating it. Even if she did, getting reelected in the near immediate aftermath of a bad recession, without the ability to credibly blame the economic crisis on the opposition, is a tall order. If there is a recession in 2018 or there abouts, I expect 2020 to be a Republican year.

For many of you, this message that we must remain in the political wilderness a bit longer, will be a bitter pill to swallow. But during that time, we may begin to regard this as strong, hopeful medicine.

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Donald Trump Is The Republican Obama

I remarked to my mother a few weeks (a month or so?) ago, that Donald Trump is “The Republican Candidate for the Low Information Voter.” In retrospect I believe I’ve underestimated him. Trump is something even more insidious than that. Donald Trump represents, I now believe, two distinct phenomena in the modern Republican Party, neither of which seem like good developments no matter how you look at it-at least, assuming you come at it from a perspective that cares even a bit about either the Republican Party or the Lockean political tradition in America (I care increasingly more about the latter than the former). The first, I do not wish to dwell on here, except to make a quip of it: Donald Trump is, for some on the American Right, their “Then Let Me Be Evil” moment. The second is more interesting, and disturbing. Dilbert comic creator Scott Adams, who seems to be a bit of Trump fan, has highlighted what I want to note specifically:

Now review Trump’s empty sentence: We need to take America back.

From whom? Notice the intentional lack of detail? In this case, the lack of detail is the powerful part of the sentence.

The media’s political filter automatically goes to immigration, and that interpretation is probably somewhat right. The problem is that it is only 10% of the explanation. The other 90% is what is happening in voters’ heads when they get an open-ended suggestion that someone has somehow stolen the country.

Who did this awful thing???

Is it the top one-percenters who stole all the country’s money?

Is it the liberals?

Is it the politically-correct people?

Is it the immigrants who are taking jobs?

Is it the wrong-headed people in general?

Is it the minorities? The women?

Is it just our reputation in the world that we lost?

Was it our former greatness we lost?

See how the open-ended suggestion works? Every voter is free to fill in the topic of their own greatest fear. Your brain is a movie that creates your personal history, and when the movie finds a gap, your imagination fills it in. It happens automatically and bypasses rational thought. As with the salesperson who has already made the sale, Trump says nothing you can dislike while giving you the freedom to fill in the blanks in the way that influences you the most.

Frighteningly true. But doesn’t this pattern sound eerily familiar? It should. This was the exact implicit strategy behind the “Hope and Change” campaign of Obama in 2008. Adams doesn’t point this out, and I’m not sure he’s even realized it (probably hasn’t?) but the Obama strategy was pretty much exactly to say things that allowed people to impute to Obama all their own grievances and preferred solutions, to imagine that what he meant by change was changing the things they felt needed changing. To fill in the blanks in the way that influences them the most while saying nothing they can dislike.

As it turns out the average Republican voter has nothing to be smug about over the libtards and low-fo voters after all. Trump is the Republican Obama, and Republicans are as effectively duped as everyone else. Doubt me? There’s some disturbing proof.

As noted by Hotair’s Allahpundit, polling proves that the mere imprimatur of Trump is all that it would take to turn a sizeable portion of the Republican electorate on to the non-existent merits of socialist medical care-among rather a lot else. In this respect Trump is like Obama in yet another way. For Trump’s supporters, his positions and policies, what he is actually after are unimportant, in much the same way it isn’t important what Indiana Jones is after in Raiders or Temple of Doom. For Trump’s supporters he is the protagonist, the hero of the great epic of our time, and it’s more important that he’s fighting the “bad guys” and winning than it is what he’s actually fighting for. To criticize Trump, even from the perspective of one who disdains “The Establishment” is to be, in the eyes of his supporters, part and parcel thereof. And why, exactly? Well, because The Establishment is also against Trump. Well I suspect the Republican Establishment-The “Washington Cartel” to borrow the phraseology of Senator Ted Cruz-is opposed to many people. That the enemy of thine enemy is ipso facto thy friend is in fact a very dangerous fallacy.

I want to say something else, though, too. There is something to be said for having this effective of a political entrepreneur on the Right. Donald Trump is not on the Right, but nevermind that. If Donald Trump is the only person who has learned anything from the Obama strategy, then the shame is on the rest of us, not on him. Sure he’s a clownish buffoon, and worse than that, a Leftist, but rather than play “ain’t it awful” about the stupidity of the American electorate imagine what other Republicans might have accomplished if they’d realized what he has-how to manipulate people. Oh, sure I can hear some of you thinking, it’s morally wrong to manipulate people. And I agree. But morality is not a suicide pact. Some on the Right should at least consider the idea rather than ride the moral high ground straight to abysmal depths-if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor. And here’s the problem I have with some of the smartest observers on the Right: they have either been taken in by Trump completely (See Ann Coulter, who, in 2011, seemed to recognize Trump as, at least, a political non-starter on par with Newt Gingrich) or they reserve for him such a degree of vitriol-combined unfortunately with an understandable singlemindedness that nevertheless recalls Churchill’s definition of a fanatic-as one scarcely sees from even them for all but the most contemptible of Democrats (See, for example, in an otherwise good column by Jonah Goldberg, the er, colorful suggestive that Trump has a reversed digestive tract, almost anything written lately by Kevin D Williamson (even though again, these are usually quite good), or George Will’s virtual paean to open borders which makes essentially zero effort to disguise basically calling Trump a Nazi-a piece of essentially no redeeming value whatsoever, from the Elder Statesman of Libertarian Conservatism no less). To me this seems the entirely wrong approach to dealing with the Trump phenomenon, but I sadly admit to not knowing the right way. The more unhinged Trump’s opponents on the Right sound, the more desperately the flail to bring their friends and fellow travelers back to sanity, the more they raise suspicion in the eyes of Trump supporters, and the less they listen. Again, the right way to deal with this I do not know.

On an un-Trump related note, kind of, but giving you more reason to be pessimistic: I don’t think the Republicans are going to win this next election. Not just that there’s an out-sized chance they won’t deserve to (though there is, since if ever there was someone who deserves to join the esteemed ranks of failed Presidential Candidates it is Jeb Bush) but that the prediction markets seem to be fairly confident that the odds favor the Democrats at this point, and they have been confident and consistent on the degree to which this is true for some time. Why exactly? If I had to guess it looks like the markets believe the Republicans are more likely to nominate a candidate with poor chances of winning than they are someone with good chances of winning. I say that because there are candidates individually that the markets think could, if nominated, win (unfortunately, Jeb Bush is, in fact, one of them, which suggests a good mantra for the Republican Establishment: vote for the least conservative candidate who can win-but on the other hand, Rand Paul’s odds of winning on the slim chance he is nominated are also better than not, which suggests he is, in fact, the Most Conservative Candidate Who Can Win). What candidate who can’t win might they think the Republicans likely to nominate?

Oh yeah.

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In Praise of Libertarian Cosmopolitanism

While I have no patience whatsoever for those libertarians who advocate for unrestricted immigration into the United States of the present day, I want to be clear that I am not opposed to freedom of human movement in general. In fact I quite support it. Communist China in the present and the Soviet Union in the not to distant past are countries that would have benefited greatly-if not their governments-from open borders. Indeed, any country which does not have some form of democratic government-whether a representative republic or a direct democracy-never has any good reason for not permitting essentially totally free migration across its national boundaries. And my patriotism is not nationalism, I am instead fundamentally loyal to a set of philosophical ideas-the closest to the platonic ideal of which ever extant in this world is more or less embodied in the Constitution of the United States of America. I call this “Conservatism”-but not because I am a Status Quoist. The most direct cause for my insistence on using “Conservative” to describe a set of ideals which at their earliest articulation in the English Language would have been called “Liberal” is that is what my mother taught me to call them. Who taught her? Ronald Reagan. There’s a chain of such usage I could probably trace back through many people, among them Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley. But I think only my mother uses “Conservative” in precisely the sense I mean it. But I strongly identify with many libertarians or libertarian leaning individuals who prefer to call themselves “liberal” or “classical liberal,” harkening back to an older use of the term. And I believe that sound economic reasoning has proved for centuries that the restrain of trade in the name of National Wealth improvishes both the nation exercising it and the people of the world as a whole. More than that, I agree with the libertarians in their economic cosmopolitanism-their moral critique of economic nationalism; attempting to gain as a nation at the expense of the people of the rest of the world is morally wrong. The economic well-being of all human beings has equal claim on our attention, morally and as a matter of thoughtful analysis. So can only respond to Mr. Dinerman’s call for a little less internationalism, a little more “pro-America” interventionism, on the part of “Conservatives” with open contempt. Protectionism, f**k no.

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Some people are confused

I have often wondered at the fact that Libertarians are so prone to smug finger-wagging at Conservatives who allegedly fail to consistently apply skepticism about government, who moreover consider the American Conservative a strange alien creature they do not recognize. For my own part I recognize my cousins, most of the time, and merely feel they fail to grasp some important aspects of the Right-Radical world view. But every now and then I see that Libertarians allow antipathy to the State, even when justified, to distract them from reality. And at no time in my recent memory has this been clearer than reading a recent reaction to the now infamous cause celebre in Ferguson, Missouri. As usual when this happens, out of respect for the commentator in question, someone whose opinion I usually regard as quite worthwhile, I will not say who they are nor will I quote them directly. And in fairness to this individual, they primarily quoted someone else, rather than giving in depth analysis of their own. In even greater fairness, I believe we would agree on the substance of all their concerns, about police violence and the police state in general. I only disagree with the desire to tie a worthy cause to a case to which it bears no relation: Michael Brown was not killed by a police officer in a tank provided by the US Federal Government. Nor was he killed by Asset Forfeiture. Nor drug laws. This was not a result of over-empowered Police authority at all-though such a thing surely exists. An anarcho-capitalist Private Security Firm worker would have done the same thing Darren Wilson did.  Brown was killed by his own foolishness. About the only thing that could have saved his life would have been to disarm the Police entirely, and the result would have been that Darren Wilson would be dead, rather than Brown.

For the record I endorse wholeheartedly the idea of agents of the state having to have their activities in that capacity monitored by surveillance. Therefore I have no objection to requiring Police Officers to wear cameras, apart from questioning how those suggesting it intend to pay for this expense. But let’s face reality, here: if Darren Wilson had been wearing a camera, all that would have resulted would be that he would have been exonerated of any wrong doing immediately. The reality challenged protestors in the streets of Ferguson with their violent thuggery, and the peaceful, free speech exercising, lie promulgating Football players and Congressmen and women, to say nothing of the President of the United States or the Attorney General, would still have forced him out of his job and ruined his life through their “protest” against the facts. It is embarrassing to see Libertarians I respect participate in this, and of all things to wag their fingers at Conservatives for believing in the Police! More than that they do themselves and their beliefs a disservice by associating their cause with a hoax.

Libertarians like to speak of why they are not conservative. This sort of foolishness is why I am not a libertarian.

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The Money War

The Conservative and Libertarian movements in the United States today seem to be experiencing something a bit like the Democratic party did in the late 19th Century, when, bafflingly, they went from one election running the sound money Goldbug, small government candidate Grover Cleveland to, a mere four years later, nominating William Jennings Bryan, who advocated for the inflationary insanity of Bimetalism, which was just the beginning of his out and out Socialism. The key word here is seem, because the way I’ve just stated it is a bit of an unjustifiable overstatement. Sure enough, beneath the notice of most of the public I imagine, there is an at times vitriolic dispute over the basic question of whether we should have more or less inflation, and many questions which amount to this exact same question phrased in a different way. Sure, it’s disturbing as hell to me to see guys like James Pethokoukis wage jihad against the gold standard, repeat Hoover’s libel of his own Treasury Secretary, falsely insinuating there is an ounce of daylight between “pre war” and “post war” Austrian thinking, and complaining that inflation isn’t high enough…actually, holy shit does reading the things he writes lately scare the crap out of me. Reading the comment sections (to say nothing of the posts) on blogs of certain Monetarists (who shall remain nameless) is guaranteed to give one a strong sense of dyspepsia. The only thing that makes it better, in a perverse sort of way, is the counterbalancing effect of the Rothbardian Internet Neckbeard Troll. For these guys, banking is fraudulent, an embezzlement scheme masquerading as warehousing. And one strongly suspects that much of the unpleasantness coming from the likes of the inflationist right is, in part, the result of pushing too hard back against these types, albeit on the wrong points. That being said, I think both sides are missing one another’s points to a significant extant. Let me see if I can summarize, in briefest possible terms, what I think the strongest arguments seem to be for “we need more inflation” and “we don’t.”

First, the pro-inflation side: People’s current plans for future economic activity are based on an expectation of a certain level of inflation. To the extent that actual inflation falls short of that, people will make errors in their decisions about allocation of resources: in short, it hurts the economy.

Second, the anti-inflation side: There is no long term benefit to increasing the supply of money above and beyond the quantity demanded. There are, in fact, significant long term costs.

As I see it, there is no obvious inconsistency between these two points. In the short term, demand to hold money may be such that maintaining real growth requires that the Central Bank err, at least temporarily, on the side of inflation-it’s at least possible that we may have little choice, in the short term, to accommodate people’s already formed expectations. But in the long term, economic stability is best fostered by eliminating the authority that is required to so err in the first place. Ceterum censeo Subsidium Foederati esse delendam. Let’s be clear on one thing though: the argument for growing NGDP back to it’s prior long term growth path, is not that Monetary Equilibrium requires this. It’s the view that labor market discoordination is more important at this stage than the coordination of savings and investment. What’s required for the former is keeping long term labor contracts (to a lesser extent, extant long term debt contracts) for fixed nominal wages (fixed nominal interest rates) consistent with market clearing real wage rates (or, in the case of debt contracts, consistent in the sense that, if they’d known how prices were going to behave, people would still have agreed to the debt contracts). What’s required for the latter, on the other hand, is fixed nominal spending-that is all. These two goals cannot be simultaneously achieved, not at the moment. Economics is like that, though: it’s about choosing between options, not having everything you want. Outcomes are scarce, just as resources are (while writing this, I discovered someone (A guy at George Mason who I haven’t heard of before) in fact uses the term “policy possibilities frontier!”). But some scarcities are artificial, and others are natural. It’s my view that the downward rigidity of wages largely reflects the rational belief of typical workers that inflation that has been going on for many decades now almost uninterrupted, and that, essentially, there is no reason to think it won’t continue in perpetuity. This rational belief is essentially equivalent to the the knowledge that one lives under a Central Bank that manages fiat currency. Note that the rate of average nominal hourly earnings growth is almost exactly the same as the rate of price inflation the Fed claims to be aiming for-2%. Of course, the Fed aims for 2% in a particular index, and thus 2% weighted average of a certain subset of prices-the “Personal Consumption Expenditures” index. There are other measures of inflation, for example the index published by MIT’s “billion prices project” which tracks online prices in real time. By that measure, the inflation rate is already above 2%, but then, it’s measuring prices, evidently, that the Fed implicitly wants a greater than 2% inflation rate in. Which should given one pause about the whole idea of targeting a rate of inflation, frankly: the fact that different indices show inflation at different rates means that the phenomenon of price inflation is not something for which an objective measure exists.

But, having said that there might be a basis for thinking there may be continued, short term grounds for more inflation, I’m still inclined to think otherwise. But, you may ask, isn’t it true that unemployment is still higher than a frictional, natural level? Isn’t it true that the official unemployment rate actually understates this? And, couldn’t a little bit of inflation help that? I’d answer maybe, yes, and no to those questions. For the second question: it’s true that since 2008, whereas the working age population (16-64) increased by 3.4%, the labor force grew a mere 0.8%-effectively, more people retired early, remained in school, left the work force for the welfare rolls, and so forth, than the actual increase in people below the retirement age and above the age of 16. An aging population cannot explain that. If the labor force had grown as it had between 2000 and 2008 after 2008, but as many people were working today as are, the unemployment rate would be 11.3%, not 5.9%-not much of an improvement over an adjusted peak of 12.8% versus an unadjusted peak of 10.0%, and worse than any official rate since the great depression. So aren’t we clearly somewhere on the short run Phillips curve where a higher rate of inflation could, at least temporarily, decrease the unemployment rate? Well, that depends on whether the issue of the remaining unemployment is one of labor demand or labor supply. And I don’t think that that extra 5.4% can be considered a demand problem per se (there are problems that primarily impact labor demand, but they don’t really relate to insufficient spending: for example, strictly speaking, labor is demanded in hours, not persons, and Obamacare has disincentivized hiring people for full time work. Of course, that doesn’t actually impact the unemployment rate, adjusted or not.) rather, the problem, for people who have given up on finding work entirely, seems more likely to be for one, that even if they would be willing to work for lower wages, they lack the skills that employers now want-during the boom, people were drawn into certain industries, and became specialized to those particular lines of work, and now the composition of labor demand has shifted, employers now want workers with different sets of skills…but the skill sets of people have a significant inertia to them. In short, the problem is not that there is insufficient labor demand period, but rather that the kinds of labor demanded don’t match the kinds of labor that could presently be supplied. Another labor supply end issue is the fact that, labor being onerous, increased government benefits, including extended unemployment insurance, among other things, raise the level of compensation that would be necessary to make labor more attractive than leisure for many individuals. If one has to choose between working for a check, or a check of equal or greater value without having to do any work, there are people, I think it should be obvious, who would choose the latter. Saying this usually elicits cries of outrage at the mere suggestion that anyone, anyone prefers leisure to labor, no matter how unpleasant the labor and how unsatisfying the compensation is. But if you’ve ever met anyone who has complained about their job, I suggest you shut up: that’s who I’m talking about. If that person is at all sincere in being dissatisfied with the amount of work they do and how much they are compensated for it, then all it would take to get them to quit would be to offer them a more favorable trade off between effort and reward-which, if the effort on on offer is zero, merely requires you to find the minimum compensation for doing nothing they would accept to quit. If they’re sincere in not liking their job, the level of compensation they would accept to quit will be less than what they presently receive. To say that some people will take various forms of welfare instead of working is not even to say that much, because benefits may potentially exceed, for some individuals, what they could get for the labor they are able to offer. I can’t believe I have to defend such an obvious notion, but people have a knee jerk reaction to this issue. Okay, but coming back to the question, to which I answered maybe, isn’t the (portion of remaining unemployment that is not a structural supply issue) above the long run rate of frictional unemployment? My answer is “maybe” because it’s hard to say what that level actually is, and whether it has perhaps shifted higher as a result of the poor performance of the economy. This is important because one could hypothetically move on the short run Phillips curve to a lower level of unemployment, without merely causing a shift to a higher short run Phillips Curve, if one managed to hit the long run Phillips curve. Remember that the lesson of the 1970’s was that the long run Phillips curve is a vertical or nearly vertical positively sloped curve-there was no permanent tradeoff between the rate of inflation and the rate of unemployment. The average (official) unemployment rate in the last 20 years has been about 6%. If that represents where the long run Phillips curve currently lies, we are already as low as we can go-lower, in fact-in terms of unemployment, without simply causing the Phillips curve to begin to shift upwards. And this is why I’m inclined to answer in the negative to the question, “couldn’t a little bit of inflation help with the unemployment situation?” In fact, in some work I will probably elaborate on further later, I find that in the history of the United States, the period of the best economic performance, in terms of growth, estimate unemployment, and price stability, was during the “classical gold standard”-during which, in fact, there was in fact very little long term change in the price level, and alternately a low deflation rate and a low inflation rate in the first and second halves of the period, respectively. The average employment rate I estimate over the entire period? 3.3%. That’s better than we see during peaks of housing bubbles these days. This was the Long Boom-except that’s not quite right, as that implies this was an inherently unsustainable level of growth. The point is that at one point in our history, we were able to do a lot better than presently with, first of all, better policy on the supply side (no income tax, among other things), a small, limited Federal Government, and monetary policy effectively set automatically by the Gold Standard. Which brings me back to what I was talking about at the start of this post: In the late 19th century, the Democrat party went from supporting all of those things, to opposing all of them, in the span of one Presidency. And most especially, they came to oppose the monetary policy that insured the stability of the economy of the time-in spite, I would add, of destabilizing banking regulations being responsible for most of the actual problems, what little there actually were.

So is the Republican Party in danger of undergoing a similar transformation? Hardly, I think. Oh, to be sure, I worry about the inflationists, especially in the long run. And sure, you could say, the Republicans today are not exactly as pro Laissez Faire as their rhetoric might lead you to sometimes believe. But what else is new? Remember that a couple of generations ago, Newt Gingrich was considered radically right wing, just because he was not content to wake up in the morning and repeat the Bob Michel mantra “You’re going to be a loser” in front of the mirror. A few generations ago, Nixon and Ford attempted to fight inflation by “breaking the thermometer”-instituting wage and price controls! The Mitch McConnells and John Boehners of the modern day are a far cry from that. But that’s no reason to be complacent. There are also the Jeb Bushes, the Mitt Romneys, and the Crass Crustys out there. And I begin to understand what Hayek meant by rejecting the label “conservative” (in favor of “Old Whig“) and seeing “conservatives” as averse to change, when I think of the Paul Ryans of the world, who don’t want to dismantle the welfare state, regardless of what the left says, but to preserve it from itself. I’m not a conservative of that sort, either. This, I must say, is why I am 100% behind Rand Paul as my #1 choice for the Republican Presidential nominee. If any of the Republicans would be open to a principled case for monetary Laissez Faire, it’s unlikely to be anyone else.

EDIT: I was quite remiss in failing to point out, having started a post about Monetary Policy discussing the battle over that issue in the late 19th Century, and in particular William Jennings Bryan’s role in that battle, to neglect to mention his role in the creation of the Federal Reserve. Please forgive this, I think, or hope, uncharacteristic oversight.

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Neo-Free Soil

In 1848, Salmon P. Chase coined a simple slogan for the Free Soil Party, which later became a core part of the Republican Party.

Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor and Free Men

I believe that something similar is in order today. In fact, many of these very same brief summaries of positions would be adaptable to present day policy debates in parallel with past ones, and naturally align with the American Conservative/Right-libertarian positions, with a few additions:

Free Soil

The Government lays claim to large swaths of land in the American West. Their claim to property rights over this territory is theoretically dubious; indeed, from a Lockean perspective, it is totally illegitimate. As such, while it might be pragmatic to pay down the debt by selling off public land, it is bad law to do so. My suggestion would be to pass a new Homestead Act, whereby this property could transition to private ownership from non-ownership, through use. Economic activity on and development of this land would be encouraged by temporary exemption of all State, Local, and Federal taxation therein. Some portions could be set aside for the establishment of private parks and nature preserves, with the provision for ownership changed from any use, to exclusively use as parks where the owners would be free to charge whatever fees for access they see fit, on condition that they maintain the land well (Not that they attempt to keep the land in a static state, it must be said) . Legal authority (ie law enforcement jurisdiction) within the territory is to belong solely to the States or the relevant Local Government, but all property rights are to be private, and certain state regulations are to be considered abrogated within the property at least for the duration of the development period. This is a program that not only restores the right notion of property rights to our laws, but will also spur economic development and growth, as reopen the once closed frontier.

Free Speech

Freedom of Speech is under assault in America, make no mistake about that. Whether it be Harry Reid and his ilk seeking broad, sweeping power to ban the use of money by corporations to give the views of the people they are composed of a platform-including, it must be noted, all media corporations, between which there is no legal distinct or distinct of substance-or be it the effective nullification of anti-SLAPP laws for anyone who dares speak against a publicly funded High Priest of the New Religion, or State sponsored Universities have explicit or implicit speech codes and whereby in the latter case aggressive intimidaters can force Universities to suppress anyone from speaking there that they don’t agree with. American Conservatives/Right-libertarians must stand against all this, in favor of absolute, unequivocal freedom of speech.

Free Labor

We should favor the elimination immediately of the minimum wage-a barrier to entry in the labor supply market for unskilled, inexperienced workers. We should favor the elimination of most if not all occupational licensing. We should abolish the National Labor Relations Board that supports labor supply cartelization that could not survive in the market otherwise. We should pass a national right to work law forbidding and abrogating all closed shop clauses in labor contracts. The labor market must be competitive and free, as should be all other markets.

Free Banks

Banking has been substantially regulated in the US from it’s very earliest days. Monetary Laissez Faire was never allowed to prevail, even during the “free banking” era. Economic theory and historical experience both favor a free system of competitive note issue (historically, under a commodity standard, ie Gold) has produced far greater economic stability than a Central Bank could hope to achieve-indeed, Central Banks are the cause of much monetary disequilibrium and thus economic and financial instability. Scotland, the home nation of Adam Smith, offers particularly strong historical evidence in this regard, but the experience of our Canadian neighbors to the North are also especially informative, where during various periods Canadian banking was not subject to certain regulations and restrictions that were often plaguing the US, and escaped many of the associated problems. This amounts to a proposal for the eventual privatization of the Money Supply. As we recognized, the demand for a good is best met when competitive, private forces supply it to the public, meeting Demand for it by finding the appropriate price to clear the market. At present, however, a monopoly over meeting demand for money by the Government means that Supply is essentially arbitrary, and unsurprisingly shortages and surpluses result as always when the Government attempts to control the provision of a good. In this case it is the good that stands in for all others, or more precisely when we speak of money demand (that is, to hold, not spend, money, where the immediate demand is for money for it’s own sake, that is, for forgoing present consumption in favor of future consumption), the present good that stands in for future all possible future goods. Equally unsurprisingly, all manner of mischief results from this central planning of the Money Supply. A system of free, unregulated banking would all but eliminate business cycles caused by monetary disequilibrium, leaving only those cycles caused by real shocks, which are unavoidable no matter what the economic system. It would accomplish this by stabilizing nominal income (MV), and implicit monetary rule far superior to any difficult to implement Federal Reserve policy. And while historically these systems have involved Gold or other commodity standards, it would be possible to implement gradually and without having to first define statutorily the dollar as redeemable in gold-banks would, of course, be free to write contracts of that sort, but high-powered or base money could be used as reserves in the meantime-with the stock thereof being frozen. In the previously linked book on the Theory of Free Banking, economist George Selgin outlined how this could all be achieved, in addition to the many reasons such a program would be a great reform for our monetary system.

Free Markets

Myriad subsidies, taxes, bailouts, handouts, and other Government interventions in the marketplace should be ended. We must liberate the economy from the controls that are holding it back, the interferences that get in the way of real progress. If we are to restore our economy to a healthily growing state, this is an imperative.

Free Trade

End the Export Import Bank and unilaterally repeal all protective tariffs. Restricting free exchange of goods across an arbitrary boundary is just bad economics.

Free Men

Whether it’s government intrusion on our civil liberties, like listening in on all our phone conversations and storing massive amounts of information on us using illegal writs of assistance, or claiming upwards of half of our earnings in some States, and half our wealth upon death, or compelling us to purchase health insurance on penalty of prohibitive fine-sorry, “tax”-which must be paid or else one is a criminal, it is clear that our Government no longer sees us as citizens, but as serfs. The leaders of both parties seek to enfranchise the foot soldiers of an invading army of a hostile country-the so-called ally who teach their children that half of our country belongs to them, who continue to keep an American as a prisoner of war-effectively erasing our own right to vote by cancellation-and have the unmitigated cheek to accuse attempts to counter this of disenfranchisement! We must reject and reverse this. The people should be free, free to keep the fruits of their labor, and retain their basic freedoms from Government control and intrusion. And free to determine the form of their own Government, and not have it decided by enemy combatants given access to the ballot box.

So that’s my simple slogan, and what it means to me. Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, Free Banks, Free Markets, Free Trade, and Free Men.

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Rand Paul’s Criticism of Reagan Is Unfair, Misplaced.

Recently-although not that recently, since I can’t work and keep totally on top of everything that happens in the world-Senator Rand Paul criticized the record of President Ronald Reagan on spending, comparing him unfavorably to Carter. I’m obviously saddened to hear this, as I’m actually a fan of Paul, and more obviously, and fan of Reagan. But I’m not afraid to criticize people I generally like when I think they’re wrong, even if their going astray really is a rare miss. Rand Paul cites statistics that are, as a matter of literal fact, accurate. However, Paul has fallen victim to a dangerous political myth: that of the All Powerful President. It is wrong to give all of the credit, or all of the blame, to the President of the United States for everything that happens during their term(s) in office. It is especially wrong to do so when the Congress is controlled by the opposition party. Although Republicans controlled the Senate from January 1981 to January 1987, at no point during Reagan’s Presidency-and indeed at no point from 1953 to 1995 did Republicans control the House of Representatives at all. You should consider that last point for a bit, also: the House of Representatives was at one point controlled by Democrats for forty two years. It is Congress, not the President, which ultimately possesses the power of the purse. And the House in particular is important in this regard. Measures for raising revenue-which in practice generally means the entire budget-must originate in the House of Representatives. So under the Reagan administration, a significant degree of the blame for increased spending should fall on Congress, with only a relatively small portion of the blame falling on Reagan for not fighting hard to restrain spending. Cynically, it is likely that doing so would have insured a Mondale Presidency-who would have basically run the country into the ground, to be perfectly frank. Similarly, Bill Clinton does not deserve the credit he is given for the restrained of Government growth in the 1990’s-the fact that Republicans regained control of the House for the first time in two generations-that’s 21 elections!-and fought impressively for an agenda today’s GOP wouldn’t dream of achieving, actually succeeding in achieving most of their ambitious goals. Clinton fought this every step of the way, but not quite to the bitter end the way Obama has proven frighteningly willing to. It is remarkable enough that Reagan managed to achieve as much as he did, in fact it’s likely that much of his agenda had to be achieved by giving spending to the House Democrats. But there is much, in retrospect, that we have learned from the Reagan years. Certainly not the lessons many people think we ought to have learned. But perhaps Paul has mostly learned the right lessons. For example, we have learned that deals to cut spending, traded for higher taxes, lead to higher taxes and higher spending-hence the familiar left wing talking point about how many times “Reagan raised taxes” (which, again, and even more strongly, is the responsibility of Congress and in particular the Democrats running the part of it from which revenue measures must originate. We have learned that “comprehensive immigration reform” meaning deals cut to secure the border traded for amnesty for illegal aliens, results in more illegal aliens and no actual border security-and leads, gradually, and unfortunately inevitably, to the demographic suicide of the United States of America. In short, we’ve learned what we should have known all along. The other side is evil and not to be trusted. You don’t compromise with the devil (speaking metaphorically here, butthurt atheists).

If you fault Reagan for anything, as a Conservative, or a True Liberal (rather than these Pre-Liberals who call themselves “Progressives” who would advance society by advancing an agenda to reconstruct Medieval society) it is being too compromising. Too willing to reach across the aisle and work with the other side. The struggle between individualism and collectivism is a fight between right and wrong, a moral battle. So I’d be quite pleased if, say, a President Paul would be unwilling to compromise in this fight. But be fair. Intellectually, I believe Reagan understood that. But unfortunately it is difficult to act like this in practice. The Leftists are our friends, our neighbors, our countrymen. As much victims of their own hateful, repugnant ideology as they are perpetrators. And Reagan was sentimental, and friendly to a fault. A man who could write, privately, of JFK being, underneath the boyish haircut, still old Karl Marx, but who never the less considered his adversary in Majority leader Tip O’Neill a friend. Hate the sin love the sinner, better Christians would say. These days it is easy to criticize that sort of sentimentality. The stakes are too high these days, to be that way anymore. Still, I really do think that Paul has erred, and done a disservice to Reagan and to history, with a criticism that is not really fair.

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