Liberty & Power: Group Blog
Given so many strengths to classical liberal and libertarian thought, why the toleration for Republicans and the ultra thin skin for Democrats and the lunacy towards environmentalists?
The answer I arrived at has two dimensions. First, and least important in the long run, was a flawed political analysis on the part of classical liberals who allied themselves with conservatives after WWII. This matter was made worse by the shift within American conservatism from a quasi-Burkean approach more or less compatible with classical liberalism to a Southern based approach rooted in the only culture within our country to explicitly repudiate the liberal principles underlying our Declaration of Independence.
More importantly in the long run, over time liberal thinking in all its forms has developed ever narrower conceptions of what matters for human beings. This includes classical liberals, who have tended to reduce human beings to consumers and entrepreneurs in their analysis. Second, the classical liberal insight about spontaneous orders, developed by Mises and especially Hayek, was never seriously investigated as a tool for understanding the world. It served primarily as a (very good) weapon against socialist planning rather than an indicator that there might be something new about liberal societies.
The result of my musings is a paper somewhat over 20 pages long, space and a half per line. I want to make this paper available to any one on this listserve, asking only that if I send it to you at your request, you do me the kindness of sending me as thoughtful a reaction as you have time to give. It is a primarily internal critique of classical liberalism, and liberalism more generally, in an effort to re-establish liberal thinking on a sounder foundation than is presently the case.
My email is ‘gdizerega’ followed by that little connector symbol, and then 'gmail.com.'
I am provoked to make these observations not merely by having been exposed to the mainstream news media for the past fifty years or so, but also, just this morning, by having blundered across an Associated Press article headlined “Obama Seeks to Overhaul Financial Rules.”
Of course, the headline can’t be accurate. Barack Obama knows nothing about finance, so he would not have the foggiest idea where to start in overhauling the existing financial rules. But let’s be generous. The story attributes to the emperor himself a project that is actually being carried out by his scheming lackeys in the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve System, and other parts of his vast bureaucracy. These faithful (and some, no doubt, not-so-faithful) servants are of course acting in the emperor’s name, whether or not he understands the details of their machinations.
“The goal,” the article informs us, “is to prevent a recurrence of the economic crisis that erupted in the United States and exploded last fall with devastating consequences still reverberating around the world.” This claim cannot be right. My best guess is that the actual goal is to give the impression of taking actions that will prevent a recurrence of these recent troubles, the better to shift the blame away from the actual perpetrators—various government officials and their harmful policies—and thereby in effect to place the blame on various financial actors and institutions in the private sector (if indeed there remains much of a truly private financial sector in the wake of all the recent government takeovers).
The article goes on to say that “in devising new regulations and oversight, the administration is looking to address four perceived weaknesses in the current system.” Let us briefly consider them.
First alleged weakness:
The need for an all-seeing government entity to detect institutional stresses that threaten the entire financial system. Think of the mortgage-backed securities that are still weighing down bank balance sheets.
Should we laugh or cry? “An all-seeing government entity to detect institutional stresses”? Unless this expression is meant as a joke, the reporter here reveals either terrible incompetence or shameful complicity in spreading government propaganda. The idea that a government agency, or a hundred government agencies all rolled into one gigantic can of red-tape worms, can be “all seeing” in its purview of the country’s financial transactions is ludicrous. We have miles and miles of financial laws and regulations on the books now. Most of them have been in force for decades. We have thousands of lawyers, accountants, economists, and other charlatans working for dozens of government agencies at every level who are, and long have been, charged with ensuring that nobody engages in financial hanky-panky. Did anyone in this kingdom of jobbery foresee the financial debacle that reached crisis proportions late last summer? Did not all of these supposed watchdogs, instead, devote themselves to proclaiming ceaselessly for years on end that everything was hunky-dory and that they had matters well in hand. Are we supposed to believe that these people will now, inexplicably, develop an acute case of competence?
Second alleged weakness:
The inability to step in and unwind large and complex institutions before they fail and become the thread that unravels the fabric of the system.
Ah, yes, we must empower the government to mount preemptive attacks against the greatly dreaded dragon of systemic risk. In this case, however, St. George seeks the power to slay a dragon that exists more in the hyperbole of government press agents than in reality. We have been told repeatedly that the financial system contains a number of large boulders, any one of which might set off a world-crushing avalanche if it were allowed to begin rolling down the hillside freely. But scientific evidence of such potentially destructive big rocks is as rare as hen’s teeth. The tale makes a splendid accompaniment, however, to a raid on the Treasury by a big bank or other mega-institution that, seeing its chance, seeks to snatch trainloads of money while the snatching is good.
Even if systemic risk does exist, why should anyone believe that the fakers and time-servers employed by a government regulatory agency will have the ability to gauge its magnitude and to identify the specific firms that must be eased away from the precipice—always, of course, at the great expense of taxpayers and holders of dollar-denominated assets?
Let’s be frank: systemic risk is the greatest—and perhaps the phoniest—excuse for unwarranted bailouts ever devised by the mind of man. After all, who wouldn’t prefer to cough up hundreds of billions of dollars to ill-managed banks, rather than enduring the collapse of the world economy?
Third alleged weakness,
The undercapitalization of large financial institutions. Heading into the financial crisis, too many banks were leveraged with significantly more debt than equity.
And why, pray tell, did the bank managers think that they did not need more equity? Might the answer have something to do with the various explicit and implicit ways in which the government has placed itself in readiness to bail out a big bank whose ultra-risky bets turn sour? Might government deposit insurance explain why depositors continued to hand their money over to banks run by high-stakes gamblers? If people had known that their own funds were always at risk and that they, and they alone, would have to bear fully any losses that arose, they would not have behaved as they did between 2002 and 2007. Government actions and promises to take the risk out of risky behavior produced exactly what any thinking person would have expected: massive moral hazard. Now, the government’s huge bailouts are validating all the expectations that the banking gamblers and others entertained during the boom, thereby setting the stage for the next destructive, government-induced boom in malinvestments. Moreover, the same government officials who were fundamentally instrumental in making possible the malinvestments of the past decade (and in some cases their chosen successors in office) have the gall to pretend that they are now fixing the system, even as they actually do nothing but reinflate the same ill-fated bubble.
Fourth alleged weakness,
Consumers and lenders whose unwitting or reckless credit and borrowing decisions placed families under staggering debts and contributed to the instability of the financial system. Obama [sic] is likely to recommend creation [of] a financial services consumer protection body with oversight powers over mortgages and credit cards and other consumer financial products.
I tell you, these guys could do stand-up; they’re hilarious. They have the outrageous chutzpah to imagine that they—the most financially irresponsible parties in the history of the world, the very people who control a government whose unfunded obligations run in excess of several times the country’s gross domestic product, the same people who whipped and goaded Fannie, Freddie, and the banks to dish out these dodgy mortgage loans in the first place—will henceforth oversee how private lenders and borrowers conduct their transactions, to insure that everyone acts with becoming prudence and responsibility. Ha ha ha ha—I’m rolling with laughter, I tell you. Does anybody take such drivel seriously? Really, anybody?
Well, okay, maybe the reporters for the mainstream media do. At least, they continue to file their reports with straight faces. But behind the scenes, Barney Frank, Chris Dodd, Chuck Schumer, and the rest of the congressional carnival barkers have to know better. They also have to know, however, that even though they played key roles in shoving first the financial system and then the whole economy over the brink, they have emerged from the mess that they made smelling like roses. They still have their power; the campaign contributions from the fat cats keep pouring into their coffers; and they continue to drive the Obama administration’s make-believe financial-reform bills through the congressional maze toward their ultimate enactment as the next round of bad financial law—the selfsame sort of bad law under which this country has suffered ever since Ben Cohen, James Landis, and Tom Corcoran fired up this destructive locomotive during the early New Deal.
Don’t expect the financial reporters to make any sense of all this, however. The evidence seems overwhelming that they are either clueless or co-opted by the government—and quite possibly they are both.
Reminds me of the story philosopher Norman Malcolm told about Wittgenstein:
When in very good spirits he would jest in a delightful manner. This took the form of deliberately absurd or extravagant remarks uttered in a tone, and with the mien, of affected seriousness. On one walk he"gave" me each tree that we passed, with the reservation that I was not to cut it down or do anything to it, or prevent the previous owners from doing anything to it: with those reservations they were henceforth mine.Cross-posted at Free Association.
David T. Beito
David T. Beito
He was in good company that day. Other guests on the show were the"other" Scott Horton from Harper's Magazine and Juan Cole. Those of you have not listened to Horton's radio show at antiwar.com are missing out.
Apparently, the police in upstate New York had a suspect – a suspect, nothing more – that they wished to obtain a DNA sample from. The suspect – a suspect, nothing more – refused. So the police used a taser gun on him until he complied. Read that last sentence again.
Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza ruled that what the police did was perfectly acceptable, because it wasn’t done “maliciously, or to an excessive extent, or with resulting injury”.
Is there a way to use a taser gun in a non-malicious manner?
On the other hand, modern pharmaceutical companies do sell drugs to children, some of them with suicide warning labels on the bottle. These large corporations also spend millions upon millions of dollars pushing their drugs on the American people. Just turn on any television or radio station and you will find advertisements for drugs to be ubiquitous. And, the trend has been to market these kinds of drugs to younger and younger people.
This pattern continues as an article in The Washington Times reports that the “Food and Drug Administration is reviewing drugs from AstraZeneca PLC, Eli Lilly & Co. and Pfizer Inc. for use in patients between the ages of 10 and 17. The drugs - already approved to treat schizophrenia and bipolar mania in adults - had combined sales of more than $7.4 billion last year, according to IMS Health.” A look at a list of the supposed symptoms of bipolar disorder (click on the whats in this article link for list) in adolescents covers a very wide range of behavior and seems to be saying that if you are not happy all of the time or you are not sad all of the time then you have this disease. So the customer base will be very large. Never mind saddling a ten year old with the proven side effects of weight gain and high blood sugar these drugs need to pushed, $7.4 billion is not enough.
David T. Beito
By this time in her history, the formerly warlike Romans could do little more than cringe and beg for mercy against any invader. The once proud Roman Republic had degenerated over the centuries to little more than a totalitarian shadow of her glory.
The rulers of Rome during 455 A.D. seemed far more intent in sticking swords into each other than in rallying the city for its defense. The year started out with Valentinian III, scion of a long time sleazy political family, in charge. Yet, having murdered another political well-connected one named Aetius he would soon be murdered himself by a follower of his victim, and served him right.
Petronius Maximus ascended to the imperial purple and, as the story goes, forced Eudoxia, the former emperor’s widow, to marry him, or maybe to his son, depending on what source you consult. Little matter who she was forced to marry because her marrying anyone at all seemed to anger Gaiseric, who may have had a funny name but had a large Vandal army and fleet at his disposal. He sailed for Rome to show his displeasure.
Emperor Maximus more than likely loved to wear the emperor’s purple, but not enough to fight to keep it. He attempted to flee from the city as the Vandal army approached and the Roman people, embarrassed that this poltroon was their leader, stoned him to death, thus ending his reign after a glorious, very eventful 70 days.
As barbarian sackings go, history records this one as rather tame. Legend tells that Pope Leo I had far more courage than Maximus, and he personally pleaded with Gaiseric to spare the city a bloodbath. Gaiseric consented, under the provision that he and his men could steal anything that wasn’t nailed down. Having lived under a long line of Roman Emperors who did the same, the cowering citizens of Rome were thrilled with the bargain.
The Vandals looted for two weeks, than sailed back home with ships groaning under the weight of their stolen treasure. Back home, they ever after told all their friends, “Oh, you’re going to Italy this summer?!? Do make sure to sack Rome……….
But let us not dwell on generalities when specifics lie so close at hand. Consider food. As all travelers have learned, the authorities strictly forbid passengers from bringing onboard an aircraft any food that has not been purchased in the airport outlets available to them after they have successfully navigated past the checkpoints. Moreover, U.S. authorities forbid travelers entering the United States from bringing various food items into the country with them. Nevertheless, because the Turks make scrumptious candies and pastries - I particularly recommend the baklava with finely ground pistachio nuts - we decided to bring some of these treats home with us despite the security prohibition, being confident that the security employees’ abysmal level of competence gave us a good chance of success in the commission of this forbidden act. Suffice to say that our packages of candy and pastries sailed though all of the checkpoints ever so smoothly.
To compound the absurdity of the enforcement apparatus, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent with a sniffing dog stopped by our bags as we were collecting them after entering the United States at the Atlanta airport. Uh, oh, I thought, as the dog took a distinct interest in our luggage and would not move along on his appointed rounds. The agent asked, “Are these your bags.” I confessed that they were. “You have any food in them?” “Yes, we have some sweets.” “Okay.” Still the dog would not move on. “You have any pets at home?” “Oh, yes, we have tons of pets at home - cats, and dogs, and what have you.” “Okay,” he said, dragging the unfortunate Gestapo-pooch away from our luggage. We were greatly relieved, first that the airport thugs had not gunned us down on the spot for our admitted violation of the no-food rule, and second, for our good fortune in getting the cherished treats to their intended destination in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, where we have been enjoying them for the past several days. (Note to unfriendly readers: don’t bother to report us; by the time the gendarmes get here, we certainly shall have eaten all of the evidence.)
Not all airport security is created equally idiotic. I hereby award the blue ribbon to the Charles de Gaulle International Airport outside Paris, where we transferred from one aircraft to another on our trip from Istanbul to New Orleans. Many people think of Paris as a romantic place. Get over it. It’s actually an asylum for persons deemed incapable of holding down a real job, as opposed to a job in airport security. The queues seemed interminable - at least the ones into which we were herded, notwithstanding that nearby queues had hardly anyone in them. This lop-sided arrangement was probably a test setup arranged by a security expert with a minor in queuing theory (his identity will be revealed, no doubt, when he is awarded a future Nobel Prize in Economic Science). The French authorities seemed to be mightily exercised about the threat posed by swine flu, completely overlooking the greater threat posed by the fool flu that was manifestly running rampant at the airport.
My wife Elizabeth was traveling with a lead-lined bag, approximately six inches by ten inches in size, to shield her photographic film from damage by the X-ray machines. When an X-ray machine produces an image of such a bag, it shows up on the screen as a large totally black rectangle, a fact that induces some of the less idiotic airport-security personnel to panic and inquire into what it is, and even to open it and paw through the rolls of film in search of those containing plastic explosive, fuses, and timing mechanisms. Shoe bombs are passé; film-pack bombs are now all the rage among fashionable terrorists. To make my story short, I can state for the record that the Parisian X-ray personnel blinked not an eye upon seeing a large black blob on their screens. Move along, mes amis; you may proceed with your parcel of explosives and whatever other hidden items your black blob contains. Bon voyage!
It would be droll to maintain that we did enjoy a Ibonne journée, but the imperative of telling the truth forbids me from maintaining that we did so. The time spent - in truth, more suffered than merely spent - in enduring our passages through three of the world’s more prominent security theaters guaranteed that whatever other indignities might have dimmed the sunlight of our travels, the airport Gestapos in themselves were more than adequate to ruin the entire experience. Elizabeth declared most emphatically that she will never travel again, except by ship.
Like Paris, foreign travel used to be seen as romantic, or at least as interesting and enjoyable. Gone are the days. Today’s world traveler is little more than a guinea pig in a diabolical experiment designed to determine how much abuse the masses will take before either lapsing into complete madness or taking up pitchforks and torches and coming after the Dr. Frankensteins who created these “security” monstrosities.
“Mankind,” declared the American revolutionaries of 1776, “are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the Forms to which they are accustomed.” I submit that the mass endurance of “airport security” illustrates the truth of this statement. The American Declaration, however, went on to say: “But when a long Train of Abuses and Usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.” Amen, brothers and sisters. Moreover, if not us, who? If not now, when?