Liberty & Power: Group Blog
David T. Beito
Also, Damon Root, at Reason, has has this to say about my most recent book (co-authored by Linda Royster Beito):
But my vote for the year’s best book goes to David and Linda Beito’s landmark biography Black Maverick: T.R.M. Howard’s Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power. Howard was a wealthy doctor, entrepreneur, and mutual aid leader who championed civil rights, capitalism, and armed self-defense amidst the lawlessness and state-sanctioned violence of Jim Crow Mississippi. As Black Maverick convincingly shows, no history of the civil rights movement is complete until it acknowledges Howard’s indispensable contributions.
The twist is that I cannot in good conscience represent my list as one that contains the best books of the past decade. My reading is much too limited for me to make up such a list, and I have no doubt that many excellent books were published that I did not read. However, I have read some excellent books that were published between 2000 and 2008, and I list them here with brief notations in order to bring them to the attention of readers who may not have read them. I present them not with an endorsement of everything they assume, affirm, or argue, but as the works of intelligent, thoughtful, and careful authors. Most of these books are works of exceptionally deep scholarship.
I list them chronologically, but I do not order or rank them here in any other way.
1. Robert B. Stinnett, Day of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor (New York: Free Press, 2000). Stinnett carried out an extraordinarily dogged search, involving many interviews with people directly involved and many years of digging in archives, formerly classified documents, and other sources, for answers to the two great questions: who knew what, and when did they know? Members of the Establishment will not like his answers, but they cannot accuse Stinnett of bias against Roosevelt: even after finding compelling evidence that U.S. leaders knew the Japanese attack of December 7, 1941, was coming, he continues to believe that the president acted properly by deliberately bringing the United States into World War II through the “back door.”
2. Aaron L. Friedberg, In the Shadow of the Garrison State: America’s Anti-Statism and Its Cold War Grand Strategy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000). I have argued that the crisis of World War II did much to promote statism in the United States. Friedberg argues, with impressive scholarship, that this outcome might have been much worse, and he explains in great detail why it wasn’t.
3. Chris Matthew Sciabarra, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism (University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000). Sciabarra’s deeply-learned book ranges from Aristotle to Murray Rothbard. If you think of dialectics as grist only for block-headed Hegelians and other odd ducks, this book will change your mind. The greater part of it is given over to what is arguably the most sophisticated analysis ever made of Rothbard’s oeuvre.
4. Thomas Fleming, The New Dealers’ War: F.D.R. and the War within World War II (New York: Basic Books, 2001). War, said Clausewitz, is the continuation of politics by other means, but war does not bring politics by the usual means to an end. Indeed, if anything, it sharpens and enlarges normal politicking because the stakes are greater than during peacetime. Because Fleming is not a Roosevelt idolater, but he is an exceptionally good historian, his book offers a refreshing antidote to the countless hagiographical works that have glorified Roosevelt and his lieutenants for their actions during the greatest of all wars.
5. Derek Leebaert, The Fifty-Year Wound: The True Price of America’s Cold War Victory (Boston: Little, Brown, 2002). A highly informed, wide-ranging survey by an author who writes with an insider’s familiarity and an outsider’s detachment. Even if you disagree with his interpretation from time to time, as I did, you are certain to learn a great deal.
6. Charlotte A. Twight, Dependent on D.C.: The Rise of Federal Control over the Lives of Ordinary Americans (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002). How exactly did the politicians bring us during the past century into our current inextricable entanglement in the welfare state? The road was paved with a great deal of lying and scheming by self-serving politicians. Twight’s forte is extraordinarily careful and complete documentation, combined with a novel analytical framework of her own design.
7. Randall G. Holcombe, From Liberty to Democracy: The Transformation of American Government (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press, 2002). The Americans of the late eighteenth century fought a revolution for liberty, but during the centuries that followed, the revolutionaries’ descendants tended to substitute democracy for liberty, until, in our day, they had greatly expanded the former and greatly diminished the latter. Holcombe’s account carries us smartly from the colonial era to the twenty-first century.
8. Chris Hedges, War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning (New York: Random House, 2002). Journalist Hedges spent a great deal of time at the scene of wars. What he saw, though occasionally relieved by acts of humanity, was for the most part vile and disgusting, and hardly any different from vicious criminality writ large. If you’ve ever imagined war as glorious or uplifting, you need to read this book.
9. Thomas Fleming, The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I (New York: Basic Books, 2003). The prolific Fleming brought out this book only two years after the publication of his book on World War II, but it rests on reading and thinking that must have been done over a long period. Of all of the great mistakes that American “statesmen” have made, plunging the United States into the cauldron of the Great War was arguably the worst, because of the horrible train of events it set in motion in many parts of the world.
10. Bruce Caldwell, Hayek’s Challenge: An Intellectual Biography of F. A. Hayek (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004). Hayek’s interpreters tend to be disciples or opponents. Caldwell, in contrast, approaches Hayek’s thought with a true scholar’s outlook. His book is replete with detail, context, and nuance. To my knowledge, it is by far the best work available for conveying an understanding of what Hayek accomplished and failed to accomplish as a social thinker.
11. Andrew Bacevich, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005). A retired Army officer with a Ph.D. in history from Princeton, Bacevich combines an insider’s understanding with adherence to scholarly standards and a genuine passion for saving the country from the disasters that spring from its current love affair with militarism and from the U.S. military’s global interventions. Although his misunderstanding of the international economics of oil demand and supply leads him astray in places, he has for the most part an excellent grasp of the socio-political role the military now plays in American life.
12. Jörg Guido Hülsmann, Mises: The Last Knight of Liberalism (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2007). If I said I don’t love this book, I’d be lying. Not only do I wish I had written it; I wish that I had the talents and intelligence to have written it. Alas, I can only recommend this beautifully written volume to everybody as one of the very best books I’ve ever read: the product of deep and wide scholarship, it presents a fascinating account of the life, times, and intellectual activity of the twentieth century’s greatest economist. You can also learn a great deal from the book besides what it teaches you about Mises himself.
13. Nicholson Baker,Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008). Few books have moved me as deeply as this one. An unusual work, it is a sort of organized scrapbook of brief news accounts, excerpts from letters, and other contemporary sources in which the actors, great and small, speak for themselves. Baker intrudes only occasionally to set the scene. As the reader goes along, he comes to appreciate the great extent to which the horrible tragedy we call World War II was driven almost willfully by “statesmen” on both sides whose distinguishing qualities were viciousness, foolishness, vanity, overweening lust for power, utter irresponsibility, and recklessness. Some say that we get the leaders we deserve, but I refuse to believe that, on the average, we the people are nearly as evil as the “great men” who lead us.
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.
I have no desire to claim that the government never hides bad news—indeed, the extent of its blatant lies and outrageous propaganda ought to have provoked public outrage a long time ago—but in the present instance, I believe the critics are the ones who are misrepresenting the situation.
If the government is hiding the bad news about unemployment that the critics are courageously “revealing,” it is hiding that bad news in plain sight. Since 1940, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has provided a variety of information on the population’s employment status derived from the Current Population Survey, a rather complicated, stratified random sample of approximately 60,000 households conducted each month. A BLS website explains how the data are collected. From these data, various measures of the rate of unemployment may be, and routinely are, computed. Again, a BLS website lays out these measures for all the world to see, and it makes available the component figures for anyone who wishes to compute a differently defined rate.
Thus, in October 2009, the most recently reported month, the rate designated U-3, which is defined as “total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force (official unemployment rate),” stood at 10.2 percent. The persons classified as unemployed in this measure, the most commonly reported one, are basically those who are not currently working but who have made an attempt to find a job in the past four weeks. By adding other categories of persons to those regarded as unemployed in the U-3 measure, one may arrive at greater rates.
The broadest such measure, designated U-6, is defined as “total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers.” This rate stood at 17.5 percent in October 2009. A note attached to the BLS table of unemployment rates explains: “Marginally attached workers are persons who currently are neither working nor looking for work but indicate that they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the recent past. Discouraged workers, a subset of the marginally attached, have given a job-market related reason for not looking currently for a job. Persons employed part time for economic reasons are those who want and are available for full-time work but have had to settle for a part-time schedule.”
One does not need to devote a lifetime to studying how these statistics are defined and measured to realize that in many ways they tend to overstate how dire the unemployment situation really is. For example, the persons classified as in the labor force but currently unemployed must have actively sought a job during the past four weeks, but a wide variety of actions qualifies as evidence that they have actively sought a job, including: (1) “contacting: an employer directly or having a job interview; a public or private employment agency; friends or relatives; a school or university employment center”; (2) “sending out resumes or filling out applications”; (3) “placing or answering advertisements”; (4)”checking union or professional registers”; and (5) “some other means of active job search.” So, if you are out of work and tell the CPS data collector that three weeks ago you asked Uncle Charlie whether he knew of any job openings, then you qualify as officially unemployed, even though you made no other effort to find employment. Many of those classified as “marginally attached workers” and included in the U-6 measure are even more questionable. After all, they admit that they are neither working nor doing anything to find work. Merely saying that “they want and are available for a job and have looked for work sometime in the recent past,” though not in the past four weeks, does not evince much genuine interest in employment.
Strange to say, many commentators have insisted, from the very onset of the current recession, that we are plunging into a second Great Depression. Perhaps we are, but the evidence to date does not confirm such a plunge. Yes, by taking an extremely loose view of what constitutes unemployment, we can say that perhaps one worker in six is now out of work. But in 1933, the official rate of unemployment was nearly 25 percent, and perhaps another 25 percent of the labor force comprised persons working part-time who wanted to work full-time, so the U-6 rate at that time (long before the requisite data for such an estimate were routinely collected) was in the neighborhood of 50 percent—and that at a time when workers’ earnings and assets were much less than they are now and hence long spells without work correspondingly more frightening. Small wonder if a typical scene from the early 1930s shows dejected workers standing on the sidewalk in a soup line, whereas the typical queue nowadays is more likely to show cheerful customers waiting to be seated in an upscale restaurant. The year 2009 may not be the best of years, but it’s miles away from 1933.
David T. Beito
Kozak concludes that “In the weeks following the Malmedy massacre, U.S. troops clearly broke the rules of the Geneva Conventions. Justified or not, they were technically guilty of war crimes.”
Hat Tip, William Stepp.
David T. Beito
Fast forward to December 2009, when I gave a talk at the Progressive Forum in Houston Texas. ... The next day another popular blog concluded that I deserved capital punishment. Web chatter on this topic, including indignation that I was coming to Texas, led to a police escort.
How did we devolve to this state? Any useful lessons?
Hansen has legitimate reason to be upset. Nobody deserves capital punishment for expressing an opinion. Let's turn to Hansen's more general question, however. What"useful lessons" can we draw from this incident? We need look no further than Hansen's own past comments. According to an article in the Guardian from 2008:
James Hansen, one of the world's leading climate scientists, will today call for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature, accusing them of actively spreading doubt about global warming in the same way that tobacco companies blurred the links between smoking and cancer.
Or, as Brad at WendyMcElroy.com puts it"as ye sow, so shall ye reap." Brad also notes:
Mind you, the"high crime" isn't producing CO2, it is"spreading doubt." Hell of an attitude for a so-called scientist.
Here's his recent essay on Britain after the Romans left."It took centuries to reconstruct networks of specialisation and exchange comparable to those of the Roman period."
Here's his immensely interesting and entertaining interview about the fall of the Roman empire. And here's a review of his book, The Fall of Rome: And the End of Civilization (Oxford University Press, 2005; paperback, 2006).
Snow in Louisiana
Turn up thermostat
Health care reform hoax
Splendid investment they say
Fog will lift next year
Soldiers in cold winter fight
Widows wearing black
Change you can believe
Dark clouds on the horizon
Night comes on quickly
Frightened birds take flight
False hopes fall down suddenly
Democrats on throne
Republicans hunker down
What goes round comes round
Global warming soon
Peer review makes no mistakes
Cold winter this year
In truth, any “constitutionally protected rights” you are now exercising exist solely at the pleasure and convenience of the rulers. The minute the continuation of your life or liberty no longer pleases them, they will, as the Court’s decision makes clear, simply declare you an unperson to be dealt with as they choose, whether they choose to torture you, confine you in a steel cage for the rest of your life, or peremptorily kill you. They recognize NO rights in anyone (except themselves, of course) that they are bound to respect.
This horror is the end to which a brave experiment has come. If the rulers can, at their pleasure, declare ANYONE THEY SELECT a legal unperson, the notion that the United States is a free country is nothing but the sickest of sick jokes.
Don’t tell me I’m hysterical because most people don’t have their doors kicked in and suffer having themselves or their relatives dragged off into legal oblivion. The USSR and Maoist China did not drag away most people, either. The government, for its own support, needs most people to continue producing goods and services. The point is the principle on which the government will act, and that principle is now plainly that the rulers will act however they wish. Those who resist may simply be “disappeared.”
Congratulations, fellow Americans. Your beloved country has now become Argentina at its worst.
David T. Beito
The New York Timesstory on the controversy quotes Micah Daigle, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy as saying that, “They never gave us any indication that there was any problem with our organization qualifying. Now they’re completely stonewalling me.” The paper also reports that the two above groups “believe that Chase disqualified them over concerns about associating its name with their missions.”
Cross posted on The Trebach Report
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."