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September 10, 2012

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: The Best is Yet to Come

The new issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies will be on its way to subscribers within the next couple of weeks. And with it comes an announcement of a major breakthrough for the journal and for Rand scholarship as well.

First, let's take a look at the new issue, which is coming out in the thick of the U.S. Presidential campaign, and which includes a few essays that try to make sense of contemporary politics:

Preface - The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies: The Best is Yet to Come - Chris Matthew Sciabarra

The Logic of Liberty: Aristotle, Ayn Rand, and the Logical Structure of the Political Spectrum - Roger E. Bissell

Ayn Rand Shrugged: The Gap Between Ethical Egoism and Global Capitalism - Andre Santos Campos

A Defense of Rothbardian Ethics via a Mediation of Hoppe and Rand - Cade Share

Ayn Rand and Deducing ‘Ought’ from ‘Is’ - Lachlan Doughney

The Childs-Peikoff Hypothesis - Dennis C. Hardin

New JARS! Volume 12, Number 1

The JARS website features both abstracts and contributor biographies.

In keeping with our current policy of archiving back issues, fully accessible and free of charge to all those who visit our website, today marks the online debut of Volume 11, Number 1 (PDFs for each of the essays in that issue can be found at that link). That issue, dedicated to the memory of one of our founding Advisory Board members, philosopher John Hospers, features provocative essays by James Montmarquet, Samuel Bostaph, Robert Hartford, Walter Block, Robert L. Campbell, and Fred Seddon.

Our online publication of any issue lags behind the current issue by a full volume (about a year). Which means that those who wish to read the new JARS need to subscribe today!

The new issue includes a Preface, written by me, announcing a major breakthrough for the journal: a trailblazing partnership with Pennsylvania State University Press that will greatly expand the journal's scholarly reach. Here is what I have to say in the Preface (a PDF link to the full Preface can be found here):

In the Fall of 1999, the first issue of The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies (JARS) was published, beginning a biannual scholarly discussion of Ayn Rand: her work, her life, her impact, and her legacy. Since then, we have published over 250 essays, written by over 130 authors, working across many disciplines and specialties. Our essays have covered subjects in aesthetics, anthropology, biography, business ethics, computer science, cultural studies, economics, epistemology, ethics, feminist studies, history, intellectual history, law, literary craft, literature, metaphysics, methodology, ontology, pedagogy, philosophical biology, philosophical psychology, general philosophy, philosophy of mind, philosophy of religion, political economy, political philosophy, political theory, psychology, and sociology. We have featured symposia on Rand’s ethics and on Rand’s aesthetics, on Nietzsche and Rand, on Rand and Progressive Rock, on Rand’s literary and cultural impact and on “Rand Among the Austrians” (that is, the Austrian school of economics, which includes such thinkers as Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, Murray Rothbard, etc.). Our content is now abstracted and indexed, in whole or in part, by nearly two dozen abstracting and indexing services, expanding our scholarly and institutional visibility.
Moreover, the journal has built a unique scholarly forum that welcomes those working from remarkably diverse interpretive and critical perspectives. Just a cursory look through our back catalogue reveals essays by such writers as the late libertarian philosopher John Hospers, laissez-faire economist George Reisman, and market anarchist Sheldon Richman, on the one hand, and the writings of American literary critic Gene Bell-Villada, philosopher Bill Martin (a self-described Maoist), and radical leftist Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, on the other hand [names linked to JARS essays].
This new issue of our periodical begins our twelfth year of publication with the announcement of a major breakthrough that has the potential to enhance the quality of this publication and increase its scholarly reach. It will also guarantee the long-term historical preservation of our entire catalogue of back issues for the benefit of future generations of scholars.
The JARS Foundation and the Pennsylvania State University Press (PSUP) have entered into a formal collaborative agreement, commencing with the publication in 2013 of Volume 13, Number 1 (Issue 25), covering five years—and beyond.
Our Editorial Board will continue to solicit new articles and attract new writers, working closely with authors and peer readers toward the publication of essays of the finest quality and capacity for intellectual provocation. PSUP will take over the business end of the journal, while the Editorial Board will focus exclusively on the intellectual side of our project. PSUP will manage all aspects of distribution and subscription fulfillment in both print and online journal editions. Our arrangement with PSUP will also provide a more systematic framework for quality control, which will structure our workflow for the submission, double-blind peer review, and tracking of articles as they make their way to publication. And once our editorial work is done, we will submit approved, completed essays to the PSUP production department, which will provide a second level of copyediting and the typesetting of all content.
PSUP will set all institutional and individual pricing, which includes print-only, online-only, or print-and-online subscriptions, inside and outside the United States. There will be options for article downloads on a newly developed website. Indeed, a robust online edition of the journal will have the added, indispensable features and services on which the scholarly community relies, including XML codes on all files, which will be used to produce printable PDFs, as well as PDFs and html files for the web, all fully searchable.
PSUP has partnered with Project Muse and with JSTOR (both its Current Scholarship Program and back issue archive), making possible the extensive digital dissemination of PSUP journals. JARS will be potentially available to thousands of new readers from private and public, domestic and international institutions, corporations, and agencies.
The most important aspect of our collaboration, however, is our plan for the preservation of the journal and its trailblazing content. PSUP participates in CrossRef and all of its journals are now archived at Stanford’s CLOCKSS (Controlled Lots of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe). In essence, JARS, including all of its back issues dating from its 1999 inception, will be a part of the dark archive at Stanford that will preserve its content for the use of scholars and historians in perpetuity.
The good news for subscribers is that there will be only a modest rise in subscription rates. Our domestic rates have been the same since our very first issue in 1999, and JARS will remain affordable for all those whose support we have valued deeply.
We will always be profoundly indebted to those who made this journal possible, especially to the late Bill Bradford [PDF link], whose vision continues to inspire us. We know that our new partnership with PSUP will vastly increase our exposure in the international community of scholars, providing a means for preserving all of the contributions of our authors, and a context for the ever-growing electronic dissemination of our content.

Taking a page from the songbook of Ol' Blue Eyes, I know that, for The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, "The Best is Yet to Come."

Announcement also posted on the Liberty & Power Group Blog.

October 01, 2008

A Crisis of Political Economy

Oy, what a mess.

The "mess" of which I speak is, of course, U.S. Political Economy. And make no mistake about it: We are talking about political economy.

One of the things that I have long admired about Austrian-school theorists, such as Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, and Murray Rothbard, is their understanding of political economy, a concept that conveys, by its very coupling, the inextricable tie between the political and the economic.

When Austrian-school theorists have examined the dynamics of market exchange, they have stressed the importance not only of the larger political context within which such exchanges take place, but also the ways in which politics influences and molds the shape and character of those exchanges. Indeed, with regard to financial institutions in particular, they have placed the state at the center of their economic theories on money and credit.

Throughout the modern history of the system that most people call "capitalism," banking institutions have had such a profoundly intimate relationship to the state that one can only refer to it as a "state-banking nexus." As I point out in my book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism:

A nexus is, by definition, a dialectical unity of mutual implication. Aristotle (On Generation and Corruption 2.11.338a11-15) stresses that "the nexus must be reciprocal ... the necessary occurrence of this involves the necessary occurrence of something prior; and conversely ... given the prior, it is also necessary for the posterior to come-to-be." For Aristotle, this constitutes a symbiotic "circular movement." As such, the benefits that are absorbed by the state-banking nexus are mutually reinforcing. Each institution becomes both a precondition and effect of the other.

The current state and the current banking sector require one another; neither can exist without the other. They are so reciprocally intertwined that each is an extension of the other.

Remember this point the next time somebody tells you that "free market madmen" caused the current financial crisis that is threatening to undermine the economy. There is no free market. There is no "laissez-faire capitalism." The government has been deeply involved in setting the parameters for market relations for eons; in fact, genuine "laissez-faire capitalism" has never existed. Yes, trade may have been less regulated in the nineteenth century, but not even the so-called "Gilded Age" featured "unfettered" markets.

One of the reasons I have come to dislike using the term "capitalism" is that it has never, historically, manifested fully its so-called "unknown ideals." Real, actual, historically specific "capitalism" has always entailed the intervention of the state. And that intervention has always had a class character; that is, the actions of the state have always, and must always, benefit some groups differentially at the expense of others.

Mises understood this when he constructed his theory of money and credit. For Mises, there is no such thing as a "neutral" government action, just as surely as there is no such thing as "neutral" money. As he pointed out in his Theory of Money and Credit (pdf at that link), "[c]hanges in the quantity of money and in the demand for money . . . never occur for all individuals at the same time and to the same degree and they therefore never affect their judgments of value to the same extent and at the same time." Mises traced how, with the erosion of a gold standard, an inflation of the money supply would diffuse slowly throughout the economy, benefiting those, such as banks and certain capital-intensive industries, who were among its early recipients.

One of the reasons a gold standard was abandoned is that a gold standard is incompatible with a structural policy of inflation and with a system heavily dependent on government interventionism.

The profiteers of systematic inflation are not difficult to pinpoint. Taking their lead from Mises, Hayek, and Rothbard and such New Left revisionist historians as Gabriel Kolko and James Weinstein, Walter Grinder and John Hagel III point out in their classic article, "Toward a Theory of State Capitalism: Ultimate Decision-Making and Class Structure" (pdf at that link):

Historically, state intervention in the banking system has been one of the earliest forms of intervention in the market system. In the U.S., this intervention initially involved sporadic measures, both at the federal and state level, which generated inflationary distortion in the monetary supply and cyclical disruptions of economic activity. The disruptions which accompanied the business cycle were a major factor in the transformation of the dominant ideology in the U.S. from a general adherence to laissez-faire doctrines to an ideology of political capitalism which viewed the state as a necessary instrument for the rationalization and stabilization of an inherently unstable economic order. This transformation in ideology paved the way for the full-scale cartellization of the banking sector through the Federal Reserve System. The pressure for systematic state intervention in the banking sector originated both among the banks themselves and from certain industries which, because of capital intensive production processes and long lead-times, sought the stability necessary for the long-term planning of their investment strategies. The historical evidence confirms that the Federal Reserve legislation and other forms of state intervention in the banking sector during the first decades of the twentieth century received active support from influential banking and industrial interests. ...
Most importantly, however, cartellization of banking activity permits banks to inflate their asset base systematically. The creation of assets made possible by these measures to a great extent frees the banking institutions from the constraints imposed by the passive form of ultimate decision-making exercised by their depositors. It thereby considerably strengthens the ultimate decision-making authority held by banks vis a vis their depositors. The inflationary trends resulting from the creation of assets tend to increase the ratio of external financing to internal financing in large corporations and, as a consequence, the ultimate decision-making power of banking institutions increase over the activities of industrial corporations. Since the capital market naturally emerges as a strategic locus of ultimate decision-making in market economies, it is reasonable to assume that, by virtue of their intimate ties with the state apparatus, banking institutions will acquire an additional function within the state capitalist system, serving as an intermediary between the leading economic interests and the state.

So one of the major consequences of inflation (especially in a monetary system stripped of a gold standard) is a shift of wealth and income toward banks and their beneficiaries. But this financial interventionism also sets off a process that Hayek would have dubbed a "road to serfdom," for inflation introduces a host of distortions into the delicate structure of investment and production, setting off boom-and-bust, and "a process of retrogression from a relatively free market to a system characterized by an increasingly fascistic set of economic relationships," as Grinder and Hagel put it.

Just as the institution of central banking generates a "process of retrogression" at home, engendering additional domestic interventions that try to "correct" for the very distortions, conflicts, and contradictions it creates, so too does it make possible a structure of foreign interventions. In fact, it can be said that the very institution of central banking was born, as Rothbard argues in The Mystery of Banking (pdf at that link), "as a crooked deal between a near bankrupt government and a corrupt clique of financial promoters" in an effort to sustain British colonialism. The reality is not much different today, but it is a bit more complex in terms of the insidious means by which government funds wars, and thereby undermines a productive economy. (Of course, the funding itself benefits certain interests too, but we'll leave our sermon on the "military-industrial complex" for another day.)

So where does this leave us today?

Much has already been said about the most recent financial crisis, viewed from a radical libertarian and Austrian perspective, which helps to clarify its interventionist roots (see, for example, the links in "The Bailout Reader"). The seeds for this particular crisis were planted some years ago but the interventionist policies now being proposed and implemented have been around even longer. They are tried and true methods of further concentrating the power of "ultimate decision-making" in the state-banking nexus. (Indeed, as Robert Higgs notes, even the Federal "authority" to take over AIG is rooted in a Depression-era law. See also this post by David Theroux and the links therein, as well as commentary by Ron Paul and Sheldon Richman.)

On the current crisis, Steven Horwitz has written a superb open letter to those on the left, from which I'd like to quote at length. It explains the origins of the housing bubble in the creation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and places that crisis in a wider political-economic context shaped by governmental and Federal Reserve policies. By all means, read Horwitz's whole essay, and follow the links therein as well, which are missing in the passage cited here:

For starters, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are "government sponsored enterprises." Though technically privately owned, they have particular privileges granted by the government, they are overseen by Congress, and, most importantly, they have operated with a clear promise that if they failed, they would be bailed out. ... In 1995, Fannie and Freddie were given permission to enter the subprime market and regulators began to crack down on banks who were not lending enough to distressed areas. ... In addition, Congress explicitly directed Fannie and Freddie to expand their lending to borrowers with marginal credit as a way of expanding homeownership. What all of these [policies] did together was to create an enormous profit and political incentives for banks and Fannie and Freddie to lend more to riskier low-income borrowers. However well-intentioned the attempts were to extend homeownership to more Americans, forcing banks to do so and artificially lowering the costs of doing so are a huge part of the problem we now find ourselves in.
At the same time, home prices were rising making those who had taken on large mortgages with small down payments feel as though they could handle them and inspiring a whole variety of new mortagage instruments. What's interesting is that the rise in prices affected most strongly cities with stricter land-use regulations, which also explains the fact that not every city was affected to the same degree by the rising home values. ...
While all of this was happpening, the Federal Reserve, nominally private but granted enormous monopoly privileges by government, was pumping in the credit and driving interest rates lower and lower. [Ah... one way to keep those funds flowing for the Iraq war... --CS] This influx of credit further fueled the borrowing binge. With plenty of funds available, thanks to your friendly monopoly central bank (hardly the free market at work), banks could afford to continue to lend riskier and riskier.
The final chapter of the story is that in 2004 and 2005, following the accounting scandals at Freddie, both Freddie and Fannie paid penance to Congress by agreeing to expand their lending to low-income customers. Both agreed to acquire greater amounts of subprime and Alt-A loans, sending the green light to banks to originate them. From 2004 to 2006, the percentage of loans in those riskier categories grew from 8% to 20% of all US mortgage originations. ... The banks were taking on riskier borrowers, but knew they had a guaranteed buyer for those loans in Fannie and Freddie, back[ed], of course, by us taxpayers. Yes, banks were "greedy" for new customers and riskier loans, but they were responding to incentives created by well-intentioned but misguided government interventions. It is these interventions that are ultimately responsible for the risky loans gone bad that are at the center of the current crisis, not the "free market."
The current mess is ... clearly shot through and through with government meddling with free markets, from the Fed-provided fuel to the CRA and land-use regulations to Fannie and Freddie creating an artificial market for risky mortgages in order to meet Congress's demands for more home-ownership opportunities for low-income families. Thanks to that intervention, many of those families have not only lost their homes, but also the savings they could have held onto for a few more years and perhaps used to acquire a less risky mortgage on a cheaper house. All of these interventions into the market created the incentive and the means for banks to profit by originating loans that never would have taken place in a genuinely free market.
It is worth noting that these regulations, policies, and interventions were often gladly supported by the private interests involved. Fannie and Freddie made billions while home prices rose, and their CEOs got paid lavishly. The same was true of the various banks and other mortgage market intermediaries who helped spread and price the risk that was in play, including those who developed all kinds of fancy new financial instruments all designed to deal with the heightened risk of default the intervention brought with it. This was a wonderful game they were playing and the financial markets were happy to have Fannie and Freddie as voracious buyers of their risky loans, knowing that US taxpayer dollars were always there if needed. The history of business regulation in the US is the history of firms using regulation for their own purposes, regardless of the public interest patina over the top of them. This is precisely what happened in the housing market. And it's also why calls for more regulation and more intervention are so misguided: they have failed before and will fail again because those with the profits on the line are the ones who have the resources and access to power to ensure that the game is rigged in their favor.

This is precisely correct; indeed, there are those of a certain political bent, who might seek to place blame for the current financial crisis on the recipients of subprime mortgages, particularly those in minority communities. But if elements of the current housing bubble can be traced to Clinton administration attempts to appeal to traditional Democratic voting blocs, it's not as if the banks were dragged kicking and screaming into lending those mortgages. This is, in a nutshell, the whole problem, the whole history, of government intervention, as Horwitz argues. Even if a case can be made that the road to this particular "housing bubble" hell was paved with the "good intentions" of those who wanted to nourish an "ownership society," their actions necessarily generated deleterious "unintended consequences." When governments have the power to set off such a feeding frenzy, government power becomes the only power worth having, as Hayek observed so long ago. If our Presidential candidates wish to end the influence of Washington lobbyists, they should consider ending the power of Washington to dispense privilege. Because that privilege will always be dispensed in ways that benefit "ultimate decision-makers."

It is not simply that intervention breeds corruption; it's that corruption is inherent in the process itself.

It is therefore no surprise that the loudest advocates for the effective nationalization of the finance industry are to be found on Wall Street; at this point, failing financiers welcome any government actions that will socialize their risks. But such actions that socialize "losses while keeping the profits in private hands" are a hallmark of fascist and neofascist economies. They are just another manifestation of "Horwitz's First Law of Political Economy": "no one hates capitalism more than capitalists."

In the end, the proposed Paulson Plan is nothing more than a "heist," as Robert P. Murphy argues, "a grand scheme in which the public will end up owing hundreds of billions of dollars to holders of new debt claims issued by the US Treasury." Such a plan will only compound the problem. As Frank Shostak explains, government policies that try to prevent

a fall in the stock market cannot prevent a fall in the real economy. In fact, the real economy has already been damaged by the previous loose monetary stance. All that the fall in the stock market does is inform us about the true state of economic conditions. The fall in the price of stocks just puts things in a proper perspective. The fall in the stock price is just an acknowledgment of reality.

By not allowing market participants to work through the distortions therein created, government might very well plunge "the economy into the mother of all recessions."

Of course, there is a lot more that needs to be done to correct this economy structurally, but have no fear: Such structural change will not come to this economy without fundamental intellectual and cultural change. That, my friends, is not on the menu. The chefs who prepare the current menu of "choices" belong to a loosely defined political-economic class, centered around that "state-banking nexus" I mentioned earlier. The "choices" they offer might modify the regulations here or there, free up some institutions, while regulating others more heavily. They can only hope that their limited choices will guide them out of the current crisis, while still enabling them to retain their hold on "ultimate decision-making." And they have been, in the past, remarkably effective at steering a course between "extremes," which is why the system has never toppled. (With regard to the "stability" of the current system, I strongly recommend a book by Sanford Ikeda on the Dynamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism, though it might make you feel that we're doomed and that nothing will ever change fundamentally.)

If all of this sounds diabolically conspiratorial, well, it is, in a sense, even if the "ultimate decision-makers" are not getting together in a single room trying to hatch the next great conspiracy. In fact, the reality is uglier: The culture of conspiracy is such that these plans are being hatched, ad hoc, by those within that state-banking nexus, presented to the public as the next great "rescue plan" for the "common good." Yet nobody inside or outside that nexus has the knowledge to coordinate any centrally-guided plan to "correct" the economy. But try to "correct" it, they will. Lord help us.

That's why, I maintain, it does not matter one iota who gets elected President. The emphases might vary slightly under Obama or McCain, but the fundamentals of U.S. political economy, and, I should add, U.S. foreign policy, will not change. Indeed, even for those of us who view the current Bush administration as the worst in our history, well, certainly the worst in our lifetime.... it is clear that nothing proposed by Obama or McCain is going to change the structural defects of this system.

It is the government's monetary, fiscal, and global policies that have created insurmountable debt and record budget deficits, speculative booms and bubble bursts. In such a "crisis of global statism," nationalizations and bailouts are not the only goodies in this "rescue package," being wrapped up as an unwanted gift for taxpayers. And because there is an organic link between domestic and foreign policy, be prepared for even more tragic fiscal and monetary irresponsibility at home, and an ever-expanding institutionalized war abroad.

Indeed, the "ultimate decision-makers" of U.S. political economy have a host of new battlefields on which to wage war, both literally and figuratively, in their efforts to stabilize the ship of state. None of the choices being offered will challenge their hegemony or topple them from their positions of power.

But a war beckons; it is primarily an intellectual and cultural one, and it must begin by questioning the fundamental basis of the current system---in any effort to overturn it.

Mentioned at L&P and Mises.org.

August 26, 2008

DNC, Moore, and Laissez-Faire Capitalism

The Democratic National Convention began last night, providing a few high moments for the party faithful. But I got a few chuckles while catching up on my reading last night.

Michael Moore tells the New York Daily News: "At this point, we need to try anything---and Obama is anything. And if he doesn't do the job we can throw the bum out in four years." (Just don't forget the old maxim: the job of the new president is to make the last president look good. Granted, a President Obama would have to go a long way to achieving that goal.)

Oh, and in a very interesting NY Times magazine article on "Advanced Obamanomics," David Leonhardt calls Obama a "free-market loving, big-spending, fiscally conservative, wealth redistributionist." A study in contradiction. What else is new? The article contains this classic howler:

The government has deregulated industries, opened the economy more to market forces and, above all, cut income taxes. Much good has come of this---the end of 1970s stagflation, infrequent and relatively mild recessions, faster growth than that of the more regulated economies of Europe. Yet, laissez-faire capitalism hasn't delivered nearly what its proponents promised. It has created big budget deficits, the most pronounced income inequality since the 1920s and the current financial crisis.

Laissez-faire capitalism? Laissez-faire capitalism?

It's a fairly typical exercise by contemporary political pundits; every so often, just "free-up" the mixture of regulation and market forces in the everyday see-saw of mixed economic policies and then blame laissez-faire capitalism for the mess.

Anyway, after some truly rousing Olympics in Beijing, the real political Olympics have only begun; pass the popcorn.

Cross-posted to L&P.

August 23, 2008

The More Things "Change"...

As we stand on the eve of our every-four-year national two-week circus, which, truthfully, I will watch with popcorn and soda at arm's length (hey, I'm already watching the Obama-Biden sideshow today!), I am utterly amazed at how enthusiastic some political commentators have been over the upcoming Democratic and Republican Presidential nominating conventions. The coronation of Barack Obama and John McCain as their respective party nominees will give us a spirited debate about ... nothing. That is nothing fundamental. We've heard a lot about "change" over the past year, but in reality, there is nothing that either major party will do to "change" anything about our current political-economic system.

I was looking back over a few older posts of mine, and decided that it would be an entertaining task to re-post some of that material here, with a few "changes" of my own. Back on November 1, 2004, I posted an entry on the "Liberty & Power Group Blog," entitled "A Vote for Nobody Because It Won't Matter." Let's see how some of the changes look:

For the first time in my life, however, I'm profoundly unenthused and/or fully disgusted by the choices. I have voted for major party candidates in previous elections, and am not opposed to it in principle. And I have also voted for the Libertarian Party candidates, at times, just to register my protest, but the Two-Party system is so entrenched that the prospect of even a symbolic third-party challenge is virtually nil. In any event, after reading [about] ... the LP convention ... , I just get the shivers seeing so many libertarians acting like politicians.
I must confess that my mind shifts among various levels of perversity: A part of me feels that [John McCain should] ... be [elected], only because his administration [would be an extension of the Bush years] and ... [the GOP still] ought to stick around and be held fully accountable for the disastrous policies they've instituted, though clearly we will all be paying the price for that. ...
On the other hand, if [Obama] wins, I am not at all hopeful. U.S. policies [abroad] have now been institutionalized. [Obama] gives no indication that he will change anything fundamentally, except, perhaps, his views, depending on which way the political wind blows.
Here in New York, of course, a Blue State by Definition that [Obama] will carry, my vote won't count one way or the other. I will go into the voting booth, vote defensively on a few local races and on various bond issues, and proudly walk out without having cast a single vote for President. As the old adage goes: It only encourages them.

Here's a bit more. How about this entry from November 5, 2004: "A Pox on Both Their Houses." Again, I'll just make a few modifications:

Since I now have a little track record for my soothsaying, I'll make another prediction, though this one is a lot easier: The Democrats will never present any radical alternative to the GOP. And those who think it possible are deluding themselves. ...
Nobody is going to get rid of FDR's "legacy," because it is now part of the American Third Way, one that repudiates both capitalism and socialism, while finding more "efficient" ways to deliver welfare programs. Let's not forget that this President [George W. Bush] has presided over the most expansive extension of Medicare since the days of Lyndon Baines Johnson. In fact, Bush has a lot in common with LBJ: ... he has endorsed all the "conventional Democratic planks: an expanding welfare state, budget deficits, and a war abroad." And let's not forget that the Democrats ... lined up like ducks on a lake to give this President the authority to go to war in Iraq. Democratic duplicity or, worse, self-delusion, is everywhere.
Gone is fiscal conservatism. Gone is opposition to the welfare state. Gone is any opposition to the warfare state, which was so much a part of the Old Right (like that Grand Old Republican, Robert Taft). ... Boy, American politics is God-awful, isn't it? ... [Yes,] even Bill Clinton declared famously "that 'the era of big government is over.'" Alas, it's not over. What is over, however, is the illusion of the limited-government Republican. George W. Bush has succeeded, partially, because he is a Big Government Conservative. [And so is John McCain.] ... One might say that the GOP success owes something to the ability of that party to absorb, rather than to repudiate, the legacy of Wilson, FDR, and LBJ. ...
[Democratic and Republican] positions start to morph into one another, and nobody, nobody on either side of this divide is repudiating Big Government. In the end, with both parties having mastered various forms of pragmatic moral appeasement, each remains a full-fledged defender of the activist state. Their constituencies may differ, their rhetorical emphases may shift, but neither party is questioning the fundamental premises upon which this politico-economic system is based. And neither will present the kind of bold, secular alternative upon which freedom might flourish.

Oh... for those who think that some of the above doesn't apply to Obama because he "opposed" the Iraq war... well, okay. He actually never voted on it one way or the other because he wasn't in the Senate at the time, but even if he had voted against the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, he has shown absolutely no desire to move against the core of U.S. foreign policy. He will not change the structure of U.S. foreign policy or the interests that drive it; he will not change the system that contextualizes virtually every political and economic decision made by Democratic and Republican administrations alike. A promise to shift or "redeploy" some of the resources (human resources) within that system is not an attack on the system as such.

For those who need to be reminded about the essence of that system, let me reiterate another old post, this one from February 4, 2005, "'Capitalism': The Known Reality":

U.S. capitalism as such is ... "crony capitalism" or ... the "New Fascism": the intimate involvement of the U.S. government in the protection of business interests at home and abroad through politico-economic and military intervention. ... [This] is what exists and it is what has existed, in an ever-increasingly intense form, from the very inception of modern "capitalism." Indeed, one of the most insidious forms of state intervention has been in the area of money, banking, and finance. And if Austrian economists are correct that the boom-bust cycle itself is rooted in the state-banking nexus, then that nexus and its destabilizing effects have been around in various incarnations ever since "capitalism" was given its name.

Whether we call it "crony capitalism," "political capitalism," neomercantilism, or neofascism, or "liberal" corporatism, the reality is the same: an evolved and sophisticated organic unity of warfare state and welfare state in which each aspect mutually reinforces the other.

I will have more to say about all this in the coming weeks and months... but for now, I just wanted to put a few things on record. If ever another old adage were true, it is this: The more things "change," the more they stay the same.

Mentioned at L&P.

November 01, 2006

Mid-Term Elections, 2006

I've received a bit of email from people who were wondering why it is I have not commented on the upcoming mid-term elections. "Sciabarra, you're a political scientist, for Chrissake! What do you think?"

Well, let's leave aside the question of how much science goes into politics: It's always nice to know that some people find value in what I say. But with all due respect: There's not a dime's worth of difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. I have not changed my views of this two-party, two-pronged attack on individual freedom by one iota: A Pox on Both Their Houses! In truth, however, the modern Democratic Party has always been honest about its Big Government agenda. But the "small-government" GOP has long embraced the politics of Big Government. As the majority party, they are a total, unmitigated disaster for individual liberty, whether they are religious rightists or so-called "progressive conservatives"—who are actually much truer to the GOP's 19th-century interventionist roots than so-called "Goldwater" or "Reagan" Republicans (those who embraced the rhetoric of limited government, while still paving the way for a growth in the scope of government intervention). You have to chuckle when even Hillary Clinton sees the hypocrisy: "The people who promised less government," she said, "have instead given us the largest and least competent government we have ever had."

Still, I must admit that my political perversity would like very much to see the Bush administration get a royal slap across the face, such that the Democrats take the House of Representatives and, at the very least, close the gap in the GOP-controlled Senate. This is purely a strategic desire: Party divisions can have utility in frustrating the power-lust on both ends. In any event, I think it's probably true that the GOP will suffer a setback, and I have been saying so for over a year.

Please understand, however: THIS WILL DO NOTHING TO CHANGE THE CURRENT DOMESTIC OR FOREIGN POLICY DISASTERS. I don't mean to shout, but with regard to foreign policy alone: The Democrats handed this administration the current foreign policy debacle on a silver platter. They will not challenge one inch of the Bush administration's Iraq policy or its ideological rationalizations for that policy: that "democracy" can be imposed on societies that have little or no appreciation of the complex cultural roots of human freedom.

Either way, I'll be watching the results of politics-as-bloodsport on Tuesday, November 7th.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted at L&P.

November 18, 2005

The Illusion of the Epoch

President Bush and his VP have been railing against the "Democrats" for "rewriting" the history of the 2002-2003 march toward war. (Some good commentary on this can be found here, here, and here.)

In the meanwhile, the critics keep a comin' and most of them, indeed, were former champions of the war. Vietnam combat vet, and current Democratic Congressman John P. Murtha, who supported the war, now calls it "a flawed policy wrapped in an illusion..."

The flaws have been legion. And the illusion? Well, H. B. Acton once spoke of communism as "the illusion of the epoch." For me, the biggest illusion of this epoch is a neoconservative one: that it is possible to construct a liberal democracy on any cultural base whatsoever. Now, I'm not looking to re-open the tired debate over whether it was right or wrong to go to war in Iraq; but even the politicians realize that the time has come for a debate about the future of that war.

But that won't stop the administration from its tarring of critics, like Murtha, as a "Michael Moore ... liberal" because he is questioning the wisdom of the war. Except the charges won't stick this time, because even though the President doesn't read polls, apparently, the politicians in his own party are reading the handwriting on the walls of the Pew Research Center and the Gallop organization. The American people are becoming increasingly pissed off over this war and its conduct. And if current trends continue, the party in power, gerrymandering notwithstanding, is going to suffer in the 2006 midterm elections.

I'm tickled, of course, that the administration puts such a priority on "consistency" in its defense of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. As the ineffectual John Kerry said, effectively, during one of the 2004 Presidential debates: Consistency is great... but "you could be wrong!" Cheney is so busy reminding opponents of the war about how they've changed their positions that he doesn't even recognize how far he's come over the last decade or so.

Comments welcome. Cross-posted to L&P.

November 05, 2005

The Stink of New Jersey Politics

Anybody who lives in the New York metropolitan area will appreciate this post.

If you've ever been subjected to Election season around these parts, you must know that there is nothing filthier and more "negative" than the political commercials surrounding New Jersey campaigns.

At one time, I thought one of those Senatorial races involving Frank Lautenberg was tops in filth. But this year's Jersey governor's race between Jon Corzine and Doug Forrester just might take the cake. With Corzine's ex-wife featured in anti-Corzine commercials and Forrester being accused of having an extra-marrital affair, it's got to be one of sleaziest campaigns I've ever seen.

I can't wait till this year's Election Day is history... just so I don't have to watch these ads anymore!

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGHHHHHHHHHHH

Comments welcome.

April 27, 2005

Same-Sex Marriage and the 2004 Election

I've written ad nauseam about Election 2004, still of the conviction that the issue of same-sex marriage (and its connection to the broader issue of "moral values") had an important impact on the outcome. I have always believed "that other issues, especially the war, had an effect in shoring up Bush's winning coalition." Still, "the anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives were promoted by GOP strategists to bolster one aspect of the winning Bush coalition"; without "the socially conservative vote," which supported those initiatives, Bush could never have won such states as Ohioindispensable to his national electoral victory.

One recent analysis of the Presidential election comes to a similar though much more informed statistical conclusion. Gregory B. Lewis, in the April 2005 issue of PS: Political Science & Politics, concludes that the "same-sex marriage" issue "mattered ... less than some issues but more than most. ... At the state level, even after controlling for Bush's vote share in 2000 and the general conservatism of the state population, popular disapproval of homosexuality influenced Bush's share of the 2004 vote and may have contributed to party switches by New Hampshire and New Mexico." Lewis admits that "[t]he vote was close in Ohio despite relatively high disapproval of homosexuality." But the question remains: "Would it have turned out differently without same-sex marriage on the agenda?"

That question will inspire many different answers. But I think the evidence strongly suggests that without the support of socially conservative Protestant and Catholic voters, who came out en masse to vote against same-sex marriage, Bush would have lost to Kerry.

In the same issue of PS, even those with a dissenting view (such as Hillygus and Shields) argue that the "values-based appeals," though not the only crucial issue, served to reinforce Bush's appeal among his supporters. As I have argued for months, this was part of the Rove strategy: without that support among Bush's core constituency, Bush does not win re-election.

Whatever one's views on this subject, I think the implications are becoming clearer with each passing week. Social conservatives believe that the Bush administration owes them. Of greater importance is the apparent belief of the administration that social conservatives are owed.

Cross-posted to L&P. See L&P comments here and here.

Comments welcome on Notablog as well.

January 10, 2005

Election 2004, Ad Nauseam

An exchange with Bill Bradford in the February 2005 issue of Liberty and an article by Stephen Cox in the same issue inspire today's L&P post: "Election 2004, Ad Nauseam."

Update: See follow-up comments at L&P here.

December 08, 2004

Collecting on a Bet

I just came upon this hilarious Stephan Kinsella post at the LewRockwell.com blog: "Curse you, Raico!" Yes. Kinsella lost his bet on Election 2004. I do intend to collect.

November 24, 2004

SOLO HQ Election Postscript

I posted a few more comments on SOLO HQ in response to continuing threads on Election 2004. See here and here. I also post pre-Thanksgiving good wishes.

November 23, 2004

Hurd on Same-Sex Marriage

Michael J. Hurd has written a piece critical of "The Institution of Marriage." I comment on it at L&P: "Hurd on Same-Sex Marriage."

Update: Check out follow-up comments here and an essay here.

Doubting Thomas Doubts Again

George Cordero, who once before wrote me an open letter, has written "Yet Another Open Letter to Chris Matthew Sciabarra." And I respond to it here, all on the subject of the influence of religion on Election 2004.

Update: I have some further thoughts at SOLO HQ that explain my obsessive focus on fundamentalism and neoconservatism as the motivating ideologies of the current administration. See here.

November 22, 2004

SOLO Discussions on Election 2004

A developing discussion, similar to the one that ensued at L&P some weeks ago, is now taking place at SOLO HQ on the topic of Election 2004, an outgrowth of my "I Told You So" article. On the growth of a socially conservative religious bloc of voters, I contribute additional thoughts here, here, and here.

November 21, 2004

I Told You So (Again)

In the upcoming December 2004-March 2005 issue of The Free Radical, a distillation of my views on Election 2004 will be published. SOLO HQ has posted it today on its website because it will be ancient history in the new year (much as it's ancient history already!) Nevertheless, if you'd like a little index of my various writings on Election 2004, take a look at my article: "I Told You So." And take a look at the follow-up discussion, in which I participate. Noted at L&P as well.

November 12, 2004

The Force of Morality

In light of yesterday's "Saving Private Ryan" controversy, I discuss the problems of trying to force people to be "decent" and "moral." See my L&P essay: "The Force of Morality."

Update: In response to comments from Aeon Skoble and Jason Pappas, I write on "Moral Choices and Actions." Among those citing the essay and the comments are AgnostoLibertarianTechnoGeek.

November 10, 2004

Rednecks, Greenbacks, and Democracy

I posted two brief comments today at L&P. The first comment is in response to Roderick Long's essay, "Rednecks or Greenbacks?" The second comment is in response to Aeon Skoble's essay, "Quagmire Exit Strategy."

November 08, 2004

Post-Election Discussions Continue

Check out the ongoing, and fascinating discussions at Liberty and Power Group Blog on the election. I've added one point this morning on the GOP strategy in Ohio, which brought together both Protestant and Catholic voters on social issues, thus aiding the President's capturing of that state's electoral votes. See, also, some additional reader exchanges on Reagan vs. Bush.

November 07, 2004

Post-Election Talk Heats Up

The discussion continues at L&P, as Sheldon Richman, Arthur Silber, Irfan Khawaja and others here, here, and here, comment on the 2004 Presidential election.

I've added another lengthy reflection in response to all these comments: "The Base Secure ... Now Check Its Premises."

Update: Comments on my L&P essay can be found here and here.

November 06, 2004

Clarifying the Bush Victory: Understanding a Multi-Pronged Threat

I have had many public and private responses to my various post-election essays (including quite a bit of dialogue here). No electoral victory can be reduced to a single causal factor. But to minimize the evangelical vote, as some commentators are doing in response to an early media frenzy focusing on the religious bloc, is just plain wrong. I address this issue in my newest L&P essay: "Clarifying the Bush Victory: Understanding a Multi-Pronged Threat." And take a look at follow-up comments as well.

November 05, 2004

Post-Election Post-Mortem

I have a lot more to say about the election at Liberty and Power Group Blog. In a new post, I exclaim: "A Pox on Both Their Houses." My concern here is that there is no fundamental opposition to either the religious right or to the activist state that both Democrats and Republicans favor. (See follow-up comments here.)

I also have comments in response to various threads inspired by my "Declaring War on Religious Zealotry" post. On the issue of "Moderate Republicans," see here and here. With "thoughts on fundamentalism," and the relationship between libertarianism and cultural issues, see here. And a little discussion over what Irfan Khawaja calls "Garry Wills's Abject Hypocrisy," begins here.

I also weigh-in briefly at Washington Monthly, where Amy Sullivan guests for Kevin Drum's Political Animal, telling people to "Slow Down There," with regards to their view of the religious right's impact. See my comments here.

November 04, 2004

More "I Told You So's"

Follow-up discussion relevant to my "I Told You So" post-election essay can be found here and here.

November 03, 2004

I Told You So

I'm ecstatic over the results of yesterday's vote!

Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter won his first Gold Glove! (See follow-up "Go Jeter!" comments at L&P.)

As for that other race, the one in which President George W. Bush won four more years? Aside from a brief mention at SOLO HQ, read my lengthier, if preliminary, post-election analysis at L&P: "I Told You So." A PDF is available here. And check out follow-up comments here at L&P.

November 02, 2004

More Comments on "A Vote for Nobody"

Check out additional comments at L&P on yesterday's article, "A Vote for Nobody Because It Won't Matter."

Civility in Public Discourse

The discussion of U.S. foreign policy frequently degenerates into uncivil discourse. It's happened at SOLO HQ and many other forums. My SOLO HQ comments today (posted here) address discussion threads here, here, here, and here.

Update: The discussion continues, along with some comments about today's Election. See my follow-ups here and here.

November 01, 2004

A Vote for Nobody Because It Won't Matter

At L&P: "A Vote for Nobody Because It Won't Matter," followed by an exchange with Matt Barganier. Also see follow-up from David Beito and Steve Horwitz.

October 31, 2004

Election Prediction: Dracula Wins!

Read all about my "Election Prediction: Dracula Wins!" at Liberty and Power Group Blog!

October 28, 2004

All Bets Are Off!

Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox for their 4-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the 100th World Series! The Sox were a wild card team; they beat the 101-game winning Yanks and the 105-game winning Cards. What's the significance of this underdog victory? Check out my L&P essay, "All Bets Are Off!" ... and find out.

October 04, 2004

Neocon Newbie

In addition to some brief observations about the New York Yankees' post-season, I have some observations on another game: the game of politics. Check out my Liberty & Power (L&P) post on Kerry's growing affection for neoconservative foreign policy prescriptions: "Neocon Newbie."