The Cato Institute has released my Briefing Paper titled "Herbert Hoover: Father of the New Deal." I try to cover all the major evidence for Hoover's role as precursor to FDR and why connecting him with laissez-faire is simply wrong. Here's the Executive Summary:
Politicians and pundits portray Herbert Hoover as a defender of laissez faire governance whose dogmatic commitment to small government led him to stand by and do nothing while the economy collapsed in the wake of the stock market crash in 1929. In fact, Hoover had long been a critic of laissez faire. As president, he doubled federal spending in real terms in four years. He also used government to prop up wages, restricted immigration, signed the Smoot-Hawley tariff, raised taxes, and created the Reconstruction Finance Corporation—all interventionist measures and not laissez faire. Unlike many Democrats today, President Franklin D. Roosevelt's advisers knew that Hoover had started the New Deal. One of them wrote, "When we all burst into Washington ... we found every essential idea [of the New Deal] enacted in the 100-day Congress in the Hoover administration itself."
Hoover's big-spending, interventionist policies prolonged the Great Depression, and similar policies today could do similar damage. Dismantling the mythical presentation of Hoover as a "do-nothing" president is crucial if we wish to have a proper understanding of what did and did not work in the Great Depression so that we do not repeat Hoover's mistakes today.
That's this week's column at the Freeman Online. A snippet:
Since 9/11 the biggest threat to the American people is not radical Muslim terrorists, nor deranged domestic terrorists, but the terrorists with the blue uniforms, badges, and body armor. Their weapons of mass destruction are not bombs, but state-approved guns, latex-gloved hands, and a profound disregard for our rights.
Earlier today I participated in a conference call with a handful of bloggers chatting with the libertarian Republican presidential candidate former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. I wanted to share some of his comments on economic and other issues as well as a few reflections of my own.
First, the format was really nice as it was just a handful of us and Johnson was almost totally "unhandled." It was not unlike being at a conference table with him as opposed to a more formal context. It also struck me that he's learning to talk to a libertarian audience as his use of language seemed pretty consciously chosen in places and he's developing a sense of which buttons to press with that audience. He also comes across as pretty smart and surprisingly intellectually curious, as in an answer to a question on same sex marriage he admitted that he'd like to know more about the constitutional issues involved before he decides for sure what, if any, role the federal government should have in overruling state marriage laws.
On to substance...
I asked him about monetary policy and his summary answer was: "I would abolish the Fed given the chance to do so. I would propose a balanced budget for 2013 and I would not raise the debt ceiling." I don't think he called for a balanced budget amendment at any point during the conversation, but it wouldn't surprise me if he supported it, especially being a former governor.
In response to a more general question about regulation and markets, he said "I really am a free market guy" and launched into a decent defense of the importance of markets and the problems of regulations. What I liked was that he was invoking the idea of unintended consequences quite a bit in talking about how what we think are good ideas usually backfire. He was strongly opposed to cap and trade and called it an "economy killer." He also talked about how he applied cost-benefit analysis to a variety of regulations while governor and that he would bring that mindset if he were elected.
He also mentioned business cycles and noted that the Fed and monetary policy exacerbates whatever smaller fluctuations markets naturally might have. He also noted that we're better off letting depressions cure themselves. He said he would not have favored any of the QEs including any more beyond QE2. He clearly does not have Ron Paul's knowledge of economics or ability to communicate economic ideas, but he said many of the right things though not as concisely and as eloquently as I think he will need to. In general, he needed more really good one-liners.
On some other issues of interest to Liberty and Power readers (and these are paraphrases):
- "I favor abolishing all foreign aid, but I think military alliances are still important."
- "If I had been president in 2001, I would have never have established the TSA and I would have left security to the airlines and the airports."
- "I used to support the death penalty until I thought seriously about the ways in which government screws up prosecutions and makes real mistakes. Now I oppose it."
- On illegal immigrants: "There's a difference between 'amnesty' and 'citizenship'. I want to make it easier for them to get a work visa and then get on the path to citizenship. Amnesty means giving them a two year period to get that visa without being kicked out. No one should jump the line, but they're here and let's get them working legally. That's how you secure the border."
- He opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning and thinks Libya is unconstitutional. He was okay with Afghanistan at first but thinks we should have been out after 6 months. No way we should still be there today.
- He would support Supreme Court justices who support "original intent."
- On abortion: "I fully support a woman's right to choose up to the point of fetal viability. I did sign a late-term abortion law in NM and I do support counseling and parental notification laws."
- On same-sex marriage: "I support gay unions and think they should be legal, though I still think this is a states rights issue. However, I'm open to the argument that this is like civil rights in the 60s and that there's a constitutional justification for a federal role. I simply don't know enough about the issues involved yet and I'm interested in learning." He also said "I'd like the federal government to be out of the marriage business altogether."
It was an interesting conversation. I don't think he or his campaign has thought enough about how to reach what I think is a large group of young "latent libertarians" who would support him if they knew him and his positions. If they can figure out how to use social media and technology really well, they could reach that group and possibly rally them around him as he's got a youthful image that they would find attractive.
Is he a perfect candidate from a libertarian perspective? Nope. At least not mine. But he might be as good as one could ever expect from a major party. I'm going to pass on the comparison to Ron Paul, other than to say again that RP's knowledge of economics and his comfort level in communicating it is a real advantage. On the other hand, I think GJ is better on social issues and does not have RP's history and the baggage it brings. I think it's much harder to pin the "kook" label on Johnson.
As a pro-choice, pro-gay union, pro-immigrant candidate, his odds of winning the GOP nomination are near zero unless he can motivate a whole bunch of young voters to get into the primaries. Ironically, as he said in the conference call, he won the NM governor's race by persuading people that he would be the strongest Republican in the general election. That may well be true nationally also.
If you're going to vote in 2012, he's worth a look. You could do a lot worse.
Cross-posted at Coordination Problem.
The June issue of The Freeman is out and I have a piece on nation building and state building, riffing off the work Chris Coyne. A snippet:
Although the phrase “nation-building” sounds much more constructive and well-intentioned than the destruction and death that have normally accompanied the use of American power, the reality is that attempts to build nations are likely to fail. What the nation-builders overlook is a distinction made by Ludwig von Mises almost 100 years ago: A nation is not necessarily the same as a “state.” In his underappreciated little book Nation, State, and Economy, Mises argued that “nations” are defined not by geography or by political institutions, but most fundamentally by language and other similar cultural institutions that provide a basis for “mutual understanding.”
Therefore the nation, Mises argued, cannot be understood as a static object that we can manipulate as we wish: “Nations and languages are not unchangeable categories but, rather, provisional results of a process in constant flux; they change from day to day, and so we see before us a wealth of intermediate forms whose classification requires some pondering.”
Top row: Steve Horwitz, t1, t2, t3, Dave Prychitko, Pete Boettke
Middle row: m1, Ralph Raico, Leonard Liggio, Walter Grinder, Emilio Pacheco
Bottom row: b1, b2, b3
If you can fill in the blanks, please put the info in the comments by putting name to the identifying space (e.g:"t1 = Adam Smith"). Thanks! (I've cross-posted this to The Austrian Economists as well.)
In a column in Saturday’s Guardian, Amanda Marcotte tries to play, in her words, “Mercutio” in the ongoing TSA drama by being part of the “progressive civil libertarians” who object to the TSA’s new procedures but who are not in favor of “privatizing” them. Her dismissal of the conservative criticisms as mere cover for outsourcing to private companies what the TSA is doing ignores the very different criticism being made by libertarians like myself.
We agree with her that the question is not who should grope us, but whether such gropings should happen at all or are even necessary. I have certainly raised the question of whether or not the scanner/pat-down combination is effective in providing actual protection against terrorism, or whether it’s just “security theatre.” In addition, I’ve made the point that any intrusive form of “security” is likely to discourage people, on the margin, from flying, inducing them into the far more dangerous option of driving. The new procedures, whether done by the TSA or a private firm, are ineffective, privacy violating, and will cause American deaths.
Marcotte should take seriously the libertarian alternative, which is to turn security over to the airlines themselves. Aside from the very obvious fact that the airlines have the most to lose if a plane gets blown up, which provides them with strong incentives to get it right, the airlines would not want to create a security system that discourages people from purchasing their product. What profit-seeking entity would want to enrage its potential customers with intrusive methods such as nude scanners and intimate body searches? Only an institution that had no incentive to care what its “customers” think, nor any way of figuring out what trade-offs they would accept, would do so. And that institution is the government or any other monopoly provider.
Any airline who adopted the TSA’s policies would quickly find that the competition would have every reason in the world to develop a more customer-friendly and safe way to protect their customers and their millions in physical capital. As I have also pointed out several times in the last week, the Israelis seem to do just fine without scanners and officially-sanctioned gropings, so there’s no reason to think airlines couldn’t do the same. It’s interesting that the “progressive civil libertarians” who were (rightly) so skeptical of the government’s ability to get correct information on WMDs in Iraq and to “rebuild” that country aren’t equally skeptical of the government’s ability to ever get airport security right. If Iraq was all about “the show,” why should we ever believe government-provided airport security will ever be anything more than “security theater?”
Rather than “privatizing” the TSA and putting it in the hands of equally unresponsive, even if private, government contractors, why not let the airlines themselves compete to provide the mix of security and passenger comfort that the American public wants? If people really do want security theater, airlines who don’t provide it will have a reason to do so. And if others want a different trade-off, because we don’t want intrusive pat-downs or ineffective and equally invasive machines, we’ll find an airline that provides it.
The progressive left claims to be skeptical of top-down, large scale, one-size-fits-all solutions to social problems, preferring, they say, the bottom-up and local. They are also supposedly opposed to monopolies like the TSA. Okay, let’s see if they mean it. Libertarians are equally suspicious of those sorts of solutions, and there’s nothing more one-size-fits-all and top-down than the TSA. Right now that size is not fitting an increasing number of American fliers. Why not join us libertarians in supporting not the “privatization” of the TSA, but the de-monopolization of airport security and the end of the TSA? What reason does the left have to think “this time” government will get privacy issues right?
Let the discovery process of decentralized market competition work to figure out the trade-off that Americans want. And let’s put an end to state-sanctioned nude photos and gropings, whether they are done by the TSA or a “private” monopoly contractor.
I do not recall any interview in which he was asked if he was prejudiced or about his views of non-whites. In fact, in all the interviews I've seen, he's made it clear that he personally finds racism to be unacceptable etc..
What's under debate are his views on political economy and constitutional theory. Right or wrong, those are a separate issue from his views on race, I would think.
For example, could not an African-American think that the right to free association means that firms have the right to serve who they wish? Would that make said person a racist for holding perhaps the same views that Paul is being criticized for?
It's fine to say"Rand Paul thinks white store owners should be able to deny service to black customers." But that makes the store owners the racists not Rand Paul, yet no one wants to point that out. What's worse is that Paul, from what I've seen, thinks it would be a bad thing if a white store owner did that. He just thinks it's a worse thing to for government to interfere with people's rights of property and association to address it.
Again, whatever one thinks of that argument, it runs square in the face of most people's assumption that every social problem must be, and is best, solved by government. Thus opposing government as the solution to the problem in question must mean that one does not think it's even a problem. The idea that there are other ways to address the problem that might work better isn't even in play.
So opposing government action to redress racism means one thinks racism is fine, which makes one a racist. QED.
That's how far statist assumptions have penetrated our national discourse.
My very busy schedule at APEE prevented me from jumping in on the very interesting debate over women's liberty, coverture laws, and the more general status of human freedom over the last 150 years that was kicked off by David Boaz's column at Reason. I can't possibly point to all of the contributions to the debate since then, but I particularly liked Will Wilkinson's contribution here and Bryan Caplan provides his usual contrarian perspective here, here, here, and here.
The brief recap: Boaz argued that libertarians frequently make the mistake of being nostalgic about how free Americans were in, say, 1850 or 1880 and how the last 150 years has been a steady decline in human freedom. The mistake, he argues, is that such comparisons seem focused on the experience of (property owning) white males and forget the ways in which blacks (certainly before the Civil War!) and women and other groups were denied important freedoms by the state. In fact, Boaz argues (and with the support of libertarian historians, as opposed to economists), the last 150 years has largely involved an increase in human freedom when we properly account for the ways in which non-white, non-males have seen substantial increases in their freedom, even as all of us probably have less economic freedom than that select group of white males did in the past. Boaz argued we need to stop engaging in the"decline of freedom" narrative as it's just not true when we take into account the enormous gains in freedom for these other groups.
(For those who were at APEE, Yoram Brook engaged in precisely this rhetoric in his debate with Jim Otteson, at one point saying just how much freer we were in the 19th century. It was all I could do to not interrupt him right there!)
As Will put it:
"It’s just plain wrongheaded to cast the libertarian project as the project of restoring lost liberties. Most people never had the liberties backward-looking libertarians would like to restore. I know the rhetoric of restoration can be very seductive, especially in country unusually full (for a wealthy liberal democracy) of patriotic traditionalists. But restoration is a conservative project and liberty is a fundamentally progressive cause."
I'll put my own cards on the table by reprinting a comment that I made to a discussion on a libertarian professors' email list then adding some later observations below. All are below the fold.
First the lengthy comment:
The way I see this is that we're trying to answer the question"Are we
more free?" To do so, we need to address both the"we" and the"free"
pieces. I read David as making two points: 1) We need to think
carefully about the"we" and recognize, as we all have noted, the major
gains in freedom for non-white, non-males (and maybe non-Christians
too). 2) But he was also saying there are more freedoms in the
calculus than the economic. Even white men are freer along a number of
dimensions than they were in the 19th century, when one takes the
social realm seriously. Some folks have noted those.
My own view is that one can look at this in the economist's old tool: the 2 x 2 matrix. Apologies in advance for formatting issues:
economic freedoms social freedoms
White men notable losses good-sized gains
Others huge gains huge gains
I think by any accounting, the NW quadrant is smaller than the sum of the others. We can debate over how much smaller, but if we could somehow aggregate these freedoms, I think there's no question the total amount of freedom per capita is bigger today than"before."
Let me add one other point that some have touched on: not all restrictions on freedom come from the state. Just consider the immense gains in freedom women have had because of the changes in the way we view domestic violence and marital rape, not to mention the demise of coverture laws. The"rights" that men had over their wives dramatically limited the freedom of women for centuries and the inclusion of married women in the sphere of protection of negative rights against coercion has been transformational in the last 100 plus years. I would put it only second to the end of slavery in terms of total gains in freedom to the population as a whole.
I could make a very similar point about the ways in which children have been treated, and it's interesting that THEIR increased freedom has not made an appearance in this discussion yet. (Although one could point out that the freedom of parents qua parents has fallen over the same time. Interesting to weigh that one.)
Any accounting of our increased or decreased freedom should also include the ways in which"private" restrictions on freedom countenanced by the state have dramatically receded.
And now an additional observation. Bryan argues that women perhaps had more options in the past than we are willing to given them credit for and that the actual enforcement of the more draconian laws wasn't as severe as we might think. I'm not convinced of that, but I will provide a tad of support for his second point shortly.
First, whatever else we say, there is no doubt that women at the time perceived marriage to be a major loss of liberty. I've been slowly making my way through Lawrence Stone's The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800, which is an 800 page"magesterial" history of the family, rightly regarded as a classic in history, even as it has been at the center of much debate. Stone's use of primary sources is amazing, and those sources make the case for liberty denied to married women. Stone himself is very clear about the fact that coverture laws, and marriage more generally, denied married women important liberties and he gives no sense that such laws were not enforced. And as a woman writing in the late 1700s wrote:
"The two sexes seem to be very unequally situated in the marriage state. The man only ventures the loss of a few temporary pleasures: the woman, the loss of liberty and almost the privilege of opinion. from the moment she is married she becomes the subjet of an arbitrary lord, who has her person, her friendship, her fortune, her time at his disposal. Even her children, the pledges of their mutual affection, are absolutely under his direction and authority. Severity of every kind is in his power, and the law countenances him in the use of it."
It's true that these limitations were most constraining if the marriage was a bad one, but that doesn't mean they were not constraining at all otherwise. And it's also true that this was late 1700s. Coverture laws did begin to disappear through the 19th century, but as Ilya Somin makes clear in his email exchange with Bryan, even as the restrictions they imposed on property and contract disappeared by late in that century, other elements of coverture remained. The degree of freedom gained depends on what the exact date of comparison is here.
Second, Stone does, however, discuss at least one way that entrepreneurial women tried to get around these restrictions through something like a pre-nuptial trust. What women with the access to such knowledge and the resources to make use of the courts were doing was transferring their property to a"feoffee" before marriage. Feoffees were something like a modern"trustee." Moving legal ownership this way, but with a document drawn up that still enabled the wife-to-be to have access to the property, particularly should her husband-to-be die, assured that she would not have to give up all of said property upon marriage. This was very clever, as Stone notes. But he also adds:"For the vast majority of the population, including all the poor, the limited safeguards offered to wealthy women were unknown." He goes on to endorse, in his own words, the observation of Mill (in 1869) that"the legal position of most women in England [was] one of total dependence on their husbands. In terms of property, they could acquire nothing which did not automatically become their husbands'."
For me, this is a no-brainer. The last 150 years has largely respresented an increase in the total sum of human freedom in the Western world as the losses suffered by those who had such rights back then are dwarfed by the gains in freedom by those groups who had few or no rights back then. This surely doesn't mean that we can't rightly protest the ongoing losses in economic liberty that we are all suffering, particularly in the last few years, but when looked at with the broader historical perspective, those losses are a small setback in what has largely been an expansion of freedom to more and more people, as well as an expansion of more kinds of freedom to even those who have lost some.
A nostalgic libertarianism will not get us very far. A progressive libertarianism is not only a better strategy in a world where we need to expand our appeal beyond the very white males at the center of this debate, it is also true! History has been on the side of freedom and its expansion to more and more people. That's what progressivism should mean and we should rightly recognize that history and argue that this century's decline in economic freedom represents not the triumph of progressive ideas, but their slow demise. Classical liberalism was historically about expanding freedom to more and more groups and modern libertarians should recognize our victories and frame our current battles in terms that put us on the side of forward-looking progress, not backward-looking nostalgia.
Glenn Beck is what would happen if Billy Mays had read a few books on politics. Whatever that is, it's not a libertarian, and libertarians should not be buying his intellectual Mighty Putty.
But just to make the point clear, compare the following two statements:
"You’re dead; we know where you live; we’ll get you."
"We know who you are. We know where you live. We know where you work. And we be many, but you be few."
Both crazy right-wingers maybe? No, actually. The first was left on Bart Stupak's voicemail, according to reports. The second, however, is from a Greenpeace activist tired of the failure of democracy to pass climate change legislation and the"you" referred to includes anyone"who [has] spent their lives undermining progressive climate legislation, bankrolling junk science, fueling spurious debates around false solutions."
Yes, the first one has a more explicit threat of violence, but the similarity of the rhetoric and the implied threat of"we know where you live and work" cannot be overlooked.
It doesn't matter whether the shirts are perceived to be brown or green, the rhetoric of threats and violence should always be called out by people on both sides, but I'm not holding my breath for much from the media or the moderate left on this one.
(UPDATE: After looking through the comments section over there more thoroughly, I'm encouraged by the way in which folks have rejected that rhetoric (although often with nasty rhetoric of their own), so I withdraw my skepticism of the moderate left at least as far as the rank and file goes. The politicians and celebrities, however, remain to be seen.)
Like a rotting Granny Smith apple, this element of the environmental movement is green on the outside but looking kind of brown on the inside.
Santorum is among the worst of the social conservatives out there, not to mention an utter hawk on foreign policy issues. Beck, ought to be sued for fraud if he continues to call himself a libertarian. For a guy who claims to believe in smaller government, he's supporting a guy who would put it Americans' bedrooms as well as across the rest of the world.
Plus Santorum has already told us how much he hates libertarians.
This only leads me to conclude, again, that Glenn Beck is no libertarian, but he might be an idiot.
The core of the IHS staff at the time is down front: Walter Grinder, Leonard Liggio, John Blundell. In front fo the porch on the right are Randy Barnett, Sheldon Richman, Jeremy Shearmur, and Ralph Raico. Students there include, that I can identify, Roderick Long, Pete Boettke, Dave Prychitko, myself, and I believe that's Emily Chamlee-Wright between Pete and Dave. I think I also see John Majewski down front and maybe Todd Zywicki as well. Folks can feel free to correct me or add names that I've missed in the comments.
We could write various bureaucrats and politicians, but that will do little. Choosing alternatives to flying is fine, but punishes the airlines more than the TSA and isn't always possible. It seems to me some mild civil disobedience is called for. Here's my suggestion, which folks can take or leave:
If you are on a flight where it is announced that you must remain seated with nothing in your lap for the last hour, wait for the announcement to finish then unbuckle your seat belt and stand up silently for 10 or 15 seconds. Then sit down and rebuckle.
Imagine what it would look like if something like this caught on. Imagine half a plane or more doing this. What exactly could anyone do about it? Are the flight attendants going to identify everyone's seat and turn them in? Are thousands of innocent Americans going to go on no-fly lists? (Imagine how the airlines would feel when their regular passengers are not able to fly anymore.)
I'm just so sick of what is really a kabuki theatre that has little to do with real safety, and so sick of the costs it involves, that I think it's time for some sort of message to be sent that says we don't think this works and we aren't going to be treated like cattle anymore.
My RSS reader this morning brought me this post from Marginal Revolution, which contains a spectacular close-up picture of a snowflake, taken from a book of such pictures. As I hope it does for you, just looking at that photo brought me up short and made me stop in awe, reverence, and wonder. The intricacy, detail, complexity, and sheer beauty of that product of nature cannot be captured in words. And when you stop to consider the uncountable number of snowflakes that fall each year (most of them on my driveway it would seem), all of that awe is upped an order of magnitude.
When I see that snowflake, it engages my reverence for the beauty of the undesigned order of the natural world. Look at the symmetry and detail of that snowflake, and then consider that it is the product of undesigned natural processes. I find it an object of awe that natural processes can produce a thing of such detail, complexity and beauty. It is said that only God can make a snowflake. Well for those who understand the science, or who are atheists, we know that you don't need God to do so. But even to an atheist like myself, the spontaneous order of nature can (and should!) generate the same awe, reverence, and wonder that the contemplation of God generates in those who believe. Unfortunately, whenever my wonder at the beauty of nature is engaged, it is with a tinge of frustration.
The frustration I feel is that so many smart and caring people seem unable to see and appreciate the identical processes of undesigned order in the social world. "Social snowflakes" are all around us, yet precious few seem to be able to understand and appreciate them to the degree we do the snowflakes found in nature. And too many people think that these "social snowflakes" require a "Creator."
That snowflake produces in me the same aesthetic-emotional reaction I have when I begin to think about Leonard Read's "I, Pencil," or when I ponder the intricate, detailed, complex, and beautiful processes by which Chilean grapes appear in my grocery store in rural New York in the middle of winter. The pencil and the grapes are "social snowflakes": they look simple, but when we hold them still and examine them with the analogous level of detail as that photo produces in the snowflake, they turn out to be the products of extraordinarily complex and intricate social processes that were designed by no one. My aesthetic reaction of awe and wonder is a response to what Pete Boettke, in a perfect turn of phrase, recently referred to as "the mystery of the mundane." What is more mundane than a snowflake? And yet what, it turns out, is more beautiful and complex than a snowflake? And in the way their mundane surface appearances hide processes of production whose awesome complexity was the product of human action but not human design, and should equally be a source of aesthetic and intellectual contemplation, the pencil and grapes are indeed "social snowflakes."
My fervent wish for the 21st century is that more smart and caring people can begin to see and appreciate "social snowflakes." People who are so willing to accept the existence and beauty (and benevolence!) of undesigned order in the natural world should be more willing to open themselves to the possibility that there are processes of undesigned order at work in the social world too. These people know that no one can make a snowflake, but seem blind to the fact that much of the innocent blood that was spilled in the last century was because too many people thought they could intelligently design the social world. Not repeating those mistakes will require a renewed aesthetic appreciation of, and deep desire to understand, the awesome beauty and complexity of the undesigned order of "social snowflakes."