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July 02, 2018

TDS vs. TWS: Two Sides of the Same Coin

There are a lot of folks out there who are still fighting the 2016 election: those who seem to wholeheartedly believe that Trump is Satan Incarnate and who are typically affected by "Trump Derangement Syndrome" and those who seem to believe there is nothing Trump can do wrong. Let us call this "Trump Worship Syndrome." In my view, both sides of this false alternative fundamentally misunderstand the problem. The problem is that whether Demon or Deity, no one man can alter the trajectory of the system, because the system itself is fundamentally committed to traveling down "the road to serfdom."

Ironically, this morning, I wake to a fabulous quote posted by Anoop Verma, written by Edith Efron, which goes to the core of what I'm driving at. It speaks implicitly to the need to think dialectically, that is, to think in terms of understanding and changing the larger context, upon which political and economic issues depend. Here is that eloquent quote that Anoop has shared with us this morning:

[The libertarian cultist] gulps down a few books by libertarian writers, and rushes to change this society before he has understood either this society or the books. He tends to restrict himself to a shrunken conceptual repertoire. It generally consists of a one-note opposition to the evil of government intervention, and frequently this is the only aspect of social reality of which he seems to be aware. Monumentally important political, social, cultural and intellectual problems leave the cultist indifferent. He is only concerned with government misdeeds. His "thinking", consequently, is eternally out of context, and his value system flattened and hostile. His disconnection from what he often refers to as "the real world" leaves him ignorant of the workings of this society. ~ Edith Efron in Secular Fundamentalism

I know that Anoop and I have had some differences in terms of our evaluation of Trump, but I agree fundamentally with what he is trying to convey in that Efron passage. I shared the post on Facebook, and added a "tongue-in-cheek" comment: "Sounds like the makings of a 'Dialectics and Liberty Trilogy' :) "

I have often argued on the basis of what I have called a "Tri-Level Analysis of Social Relations"---that is a tri-level model of understanding how power is exercised, and, consequently, the kinds of strategies that are needed to fundamentally alter that structure of power. I used it to describe the ways in which Ayn Rand typically approached the analysis of any social problem, but it is a model that one should keep in mind whether or not one accepts Rand's analysis in any specific instance.

The Tri-Level Model of Social Relations of Power

TriLevelModel.jpg


Readers interested in a fuller explication of the model should look at Part Three of my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical and throughout my book, Total Freedom: Toward a Dialectical Libertarianism. But the approach is outlined briefly in my essay, "Dialectics and Liberty." In the context of how Rand used the model, I state in that essay:

In her examination of any social problem, Rand focused on the reciprocal connections among personal factors (Level I), that is, a person’s methods of awareness, or "psycho-epistemology," and ethics; cultural factors (Level II), that is, ideology, pedagogy, aesthetics, and language; and structural factors (Level III), that is, politics and economics. For Rand, each level of generality offers both a microcosm and a differential perspective on the growing statism of the mixed economy that was the object of her criticism. (Rand saw that system as an instance of the "New Fascism.") She traced the mutual implications and reciprocal interconnections among disparate factors, from politics and pedagogy to sex, economics, and psychology.
In terms of the implications for a dialectical-libertarian analysis, the important point here is that Rand never emphasized one level of generality or one vantage point to the exclusion of other levels or vantage points. So, for example, even when she'd focus attention on Level III---the nightmarish labyrinth of government taxes, regulations, prohibitions, and laws constraining trade---she was quick to dismiss those who thought that an attack on the state was a social panacea. In the absence of an alteration of Level I and Level II social relations, which have a powerful effect on the character of political and economic practices and institutions, a change in Level III is not likely to be sustainable. For Rand, then, just as statism exerts its nefarious influence on all the levels of human discourse, so too must freedom be understood as a multidimensional achievement.Think Russia or Iraq---where, in the absence of a culture of individualism, all the "democratic" procedural rules in the world are not likely to bring about a free society.
Much like Hayek, Rand proclaimed herself a radical "in the proper sense of the word: 'radical' means 'fundamental.'" And as a "radical for capitalism," Rand argued that "Intellectual freedom cannot exist without political freedom; political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom; a free mind and a free market are corollaries."

And this is why that passage from Edith Efron's Secular Fundamentalism resonates with me.

Since we have been discussing political and economic issues on the Facebook thread to which I posted, any Level III focus must take into account all that is entailed in the "political" and the "economic" (which is why I label that level "structural"). Even if one is attempting to alter the political and economic trends in this country, these trends cannot be changed without grasping the fundamental structures that both reflect these trends and sustain them.

On the eve of celebrating Independence Day, it might be worth remembering that this was a country "conceived in liberty"; it has traveled so far away from the origins of its conception such that the actions of one man cannot possibly change the systemic and dynamic complexities of a system that has been built up over the last century, one that embraces "perpetual war for perpetual peace" and that requires several key institutions that are only the tip of the "Deep State," unresponsive to the electorate, and firmly entrenched to serve the systems they were designed to protect. Three key institutions that must be mentioned in this context are:

1. The Federal Reserve System, which sustains a "state-banking nexus" that, in its policies of boom and bust, redistributes wealth to the most politically potent debtors (the biggest of which are financiers and big businesses that depend on both inflationary policies and government assurances that they are "too big to fail");

2. A National Security State, which even President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address about the growing power of the "military-industrial complex"; and

3. A regulatory apparatus that, since the late nineteenth century, was designed and maintained to benefit the very businesses to be regulated, who have used its various tools to destroy competition and wield control over markets.

With all this in mind, I reproduce below my comments on the various threads dealing with some of the issues surrounding the Trump presidency---issues that go to the core of why a "welfare-warfare state" will not weaken, whether one believes Trump to be a Demon or a Deity.

My first Facebook musings yesterday were posted in response to an essay written by Jim Peron, which effectively dispensed with some of the more idiotic views of journalist David Brooks: "The Enemies of Individualism: Conservatism, Collectivism, and Tribalism." Brooks essentially argues that it is the "atomism" of individualism that leads to the tribalism that is now consuming our political culture. In fact, it is the exact opposite, as Peron argues. I wrote:

Just an aside, Jim: You mention Nathaniel Branden in your essay and, if I can use the phrase, Branden was among the more "dialectically"-minded thinkers within libertarianism who explicitly and completely rejected the so-called "atomism" with which individualism had been slurred. First, Branden attacked the notion that "efficacy" was some sort of Western-biased term:
. . . the need for cognitive efficacy is not the product of a particular cultural "value bias." There is no society on earth, no society even conceivable, whose members do not face the challenges of fulfilling their needs---who do not face the challenges of appropriate adaptation to nature and to the world of human beings. The idea of efficacy in this fundamental sense (which includes competence in human relationships) is not a "Western artifact." . . . We delude ourselves if we imagine there is any culture or society in which we will not have to face the challenge of making ourselves appropriate to life. (Branden, "The Power of Self-Esteem", 1992)
Branden added further:
There are a thousand respects in which we are not alone. . . . As human beings, we are linked to all other members of the human community. As living beings, we are linked to all other forms of life. As inhabitants of the universe, we are linked to everything that exists. We stand within an endless network of relationships. Separation and connectedness are polarities, with each entailing the other. (Branden, "The Psychology of Romantic Love", 1980)
If anything, Branden argued---as did Rand---it was statism and tribalism, not individualism and tribalism, that were reciprocally related to one another. I discuss the statist-tribalist connection in my essay, "Statism and Tribalism: Fraternal Twins"

I contributed an additional comment to that thread, in response to Jim's argument that Trump suffered from a typical narcissistic disorder that helped to explain his "authoritarian personality":

I agree that Trump has all the markings of a person with an authoritarian personality, but since I can't get inside that mind of his---and wouldn't dare try---I can do the next best thing: Look at his actions, and to me, there is nothing that he has done to fundamentally alter the trajectory of U.S. political economy. As an economic nationalist or neomercantilist, his "pragmatic" approach to policy is fully in keeping with how Rand described the U.S. political economy: a neofascist mixed economy, which has been rigged historically to benefit certain interests (mostly financiers and larger capital-intensive industries) at the expense of others. Moreover, I have always accepted the truth of Hayek's proposition that the more politics comes to dominate social and political life, the more political power becomes the only power worth having---which is why "the worst get on top."
Since the institutions of power---be it the Fed, the National Security State, or the regulatory apparatus---have not (and most likely cannot) be altered fundamentally in the absence of a huge cultural shift in this country, anyone who gets into a position of power (even those who profess commitment to Rand's ideas; see my essay, "The New Age of Rand? Ha!") is more likely to become a very part of the swamp they are claiming to be at odds with. And so it goes with Trump. I have absolutely no trust in him or any other politician to be a part of the solution; and as the old adage goes---if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.
On the "narcissistic" aspects of Trump's personality, Jim Peron posted a provocative link, and I understand where he is coming from: all I'm saying is that ultimately, I don't have to wade into the muddy waters of anybody's mind. All I have to do is evaluate what they are doing in practice, and believe me when I tell you: That's enough for me!

A defender of Trump's policies took exception to my placing him in the "neofascist" swamp, in which virtually every politician swims, and I replied:

I think you're missing my point: The point I'm making is that it is the system that needs to be taken down. No one man, not even one with the rhetorical gifts of Ronald Reagan, who made it okay to talk about "free markets" again, and who called the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire," and who stood at the Bradenburg Gate and said, "Mr. Gorbachev, Tear Down This Wall!", was able to do anything to stop the U.S. path down the "road to serfdom." And he actually liked the works of Hayek!
Reagan appointed a Rand acolyte, Alan Greenspan, to run the Federal Reserve System. A "Rand acolyte" would have acted to dissolve the Fed, rather than embrace its inflationary powers to create a bubble that ended in the "Great Recession." My point is that once you get into a position of power, you are a part of the system, and even though you claim to fight it, you do nothing to alter the locus of control, the "state-banking nexus" upon which the Fed generates cycles of boom and bust, the "National Security State" that even Eisenhower warned against in his farewell speech about the "military-industrial complex," and the institutions of the regulatory apparatus that were created and supported by the very businesses to be regulated, who used that apparatus to crush competition. We have ended up with a "permanent war economy"---"perpetual war for perpetual peace" as Harry Elmer Barnes once described it---and not even a President with a moral compass can dismantle it. I'm afraid that tinkering around the edges will do nothing to fundamentally alter the course of national decay. And that's why I maintain that Mr. Trump, especially in his embrace of neo-mercantilist policies of economic nationalism---even if one wishes to believe that these are actually his way of using the "art of the deal" to compel all countries to embrace "free markets" (highly doubtful)---has crawled into the swamp he seeks to drain.

I also added a note about a newly published collection of essays by Murray Rothbard that dealt with the origins of the modern U.S. political economy in the Progressive Era:

BTW, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that a new collection of essays, written years ago by the late Murray Rothbard, has been gathered in a book called The Progressive Era," with a foreword by Judge Andrew P. Napolitano. The book largely confirms your points, Jim, about the illiberal roots of Progressivism, whether it was used to further "conservative" or "liberal" state incursions into the lives of individuals. It follows the emergent history of Progressivism from the age of the railroads, the conflict between Pietists and Liturgicals, the collapse of laissez-faire politics, the rise of corporatism and of "war collectivism"---which ultimately served as a model for many of the welfare state institutions that emerged in the post-World War I era.

Since I'm likely to have more to say in the give-and-take, I'll update my commentary here, as time warrants. But before pursuing any further discussion, I might as well reproduce another comment I made on an entirely different FB thread, initiated by Aeon Skoble, where he bemoans the incivility of the dialogue on many threads, especially those devoted to current political and economic issues:

Well you don't have to convince me about the incivility of posting on public forums, which is why I shut down comments on my blog, never post on any public forums and only cross-post entries from Notablog here, where comments go out to folks who have been "friended"---and I expect that "friended" means civility, or, I'm "movin' out." Life is too short to be aggravated over that kind of incivility.

With that said, I refuse to be dragged into the TDS versus TWS boxing ring. The problems I am focused on here go far beyond the terms of the debate as framed by that false alternative.

Of course, my FB post elicited responses, and I'll devote the space below just to expanding on the comments I have already made on this topic.

On using tariffs as a response to countries that place tariffs on U.S. goods, I replied:

Even when your trading partners erect trade barriers, raising your own tariffs achieves two things: it penalizes American consumers who are forced to purchase imported goods at higher prices, and it artificially raises profits for domestic industries protected by the tariff. The "free market" is not of a bygone era---it is an era that has yet to come.
Don't take my comments to mean that I endorse NAFTA or any other government-arranged trade "deals": the U.S. government has been engaged in large-scale transfers of money to "friends" and "foes" alike, and often, what these programs require is that the money be spent to enrich U.S. producers (that has always been the basis of "foreign aid"---in essence, the global expropriation of American taxpayers to benefit U.S. producers of military hardware and other goods, who receive these funds circuitously). The whole system is rigged.
If Trump can use his "art of the deal" to try to "un-rig" the system, more power to him: But what I've been emphasizing is once you are part of the system, it is the system's dynamics that overtake the man, whether you believe him to be a Demon or a Deity.

With regard to remaining friends on Facebook, despite disagreement, I added:

Oh, for God's sake, I know that [it's okay to remain friends and disagree on issues]. None of us is perfect, and I'd be the last one not to engage in a respectful civil dialogue---or to encourage one---when I advocate something called "dialectical libertarianism", and "dialectic" had its root in the art of conversation, the art of engaging different points of view (long before I defined it as "the art of context-keeping").
If we can't disagree, in good spirit, then what's the point? Life would be very boring. And the moment we can't disagree, it will be a sign that "Time's Up"---in more than one way. I appreciate all this.

With regard to someone who remarked that I went "overboard" in my praise of Reagan and that my post went on a bit long, I responded:

[With regard to Ronald Reagan] I was only talking about the rhetorical Reagan: I think in the long run, he did shift the political culture a bit, but ultimately, the critiques of his administration offered by folks like David Stockman, are spot on. As for length: Jeez... that's to be expected from a guy who had to write three books to make one essential point.

In response to somebody who accepted the irrationality of those suffering from both TDS and TWS, but who argued that the TDS folks were far louder and numerous, I responded:

I think that the TDS folks are louder---but I think this is to be expected. When an administration is in power, it is the opposition that is always louder.
Do a mental experiment. Let's just say that Clinton was elected. Given that the electorate was practically split, do you not think that some folks who chanted "Lock Her Up" at the GOP convention would not be suffering from CDS ("Clinton Derangement Syndrome")---especially since Trump was "trumpeting" that if Clinton had won, it would only be because the election was "rigged"?
I can't offer an alternative reality, but I do suspect that if Clinton had won (and let me make one thing clear: I did not vote for Clinton OR Trump), the GOP-dominated House and Senate would have embarked on committee after committee hearing into everything from her "lost" emails to the machinations of the Clinton Foundation to reopening the Benghazi incident. And given the "Lock Her Up" sentiment among Clinton's opposition, I think we may very well have faced as divided and belligerent a dialogue as we are seeing now.

June 05, 2018

RFK Assassination: Fifty Years Ago

I was only three years old when President John F. Kennedy, had been shot and killed in Dallas on November 22, 1963 [graphic YouTube link]. I was at my grandmother's house that day; she had fallen, and my mother took me in her arms and ran to the house to help out. While there, "As the World Turns" was on TV, and Walter Cronkite had interrupted the broadcast with a series of special reports about the JFK shooting in Dealy Plaza. For days thereafter, all the TV networks devoted 24-hours of coverage leading up to the funeral and burial at Arlington Cemetery. Among the shocking events that unfolded before my young eyes was to witness live, on television, the shooting of the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, Jr., by Jack Ruby [graphic YouTube link].

This was my introduction to the 1960s. Those who speak much today about how polarized our society is tend to suffer from a case of historical amnesia. I don't think I ever lived through a more turbulent period than that which lasted from 1963 through the mid-1970s.

By the time I was 8, I had already seen a President shot, followed by years of nightly news coverage of civil rights and antiwar protests, both violent and nonviolent, along with scenes of carnage coming from Southeast Asia and thousands of body bags of U.S. soldiers returning to American soil each week. Within a few years, there were revelations of government lies about that war coming to light from the "Pentagon Papers," followed by all the lies that could be summed up in one word: "Watergate." Trust in government institutions was at an all-time low. Sound familiar?

On April 4, 1968, I felt bewildered by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We watched as the special reports came in on television, around the time of the evening news, with regard to King's assassination [YouTube link]. That night, Robert F. Kennedy gave a famous speech about the assassination in Indianapolis, Indiana [YouTube link], as cities across the United States were lit up with riots and violence. I returned to my neighborhood school the next day; it was P.S. 215, and our principal's name was Morris H. Weiss, and we were all encouraged to talk about the events of the previous day. (By the time I had graduated from that school, it had been renamed the Morris H. Weiss School!) But I remember all-too-well, the sadness that I saw in the eyes of one of my classmates. Her name was Wanda and she was a young, bright, African American girl. She said to me: "One of your kind of people shot one of my kind of people." And I said to her: "That white guy was a bad man. Not all white people are bad. There are good and bad in every group." And she seemed to relax after I had said that. What I said wasn't as profound as the speech RFK had given, but it seemed to have had a similar effect.

Little did I know that almost two months later, to the day, Robert F. Kennedy would fall to another assassin's bullets. It was June 5, 1968, around 3:30 a.m., fifty years ago today, when the phone rang. Usually, when a phone would ring at that hour in our home, it could only be bad news. It was my Aunt Georgia, who was a late night TV watcher, back in the days when Johnny Carson was hosting "The Tonight Show" on WNBC and WCBS was showing movie after movie with something it dubbed "The Late Show" and "The Late Late Show," and so on. She told us to turn on the TV: "Robert Kennedy was shot!" [graphic YouTube link].

We turned on our black-and-white television, and what we saw was pure pandemonium [YouTube link], but I remember seeing photos of RFK laying in a pool of blood. I don't recall going to school after daylight arrived, and the following day, June 6th, was Brooklyn-Queens Day, when schools in Brooklyn and Queens were closed. And it was in the early morning hours of that day, nearly 26 hours after being mortally wounded, that Robert F. Kennedy was pronounced dead.

We watched the RFK funeral, which took place at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York City on June 8th, and I remember well the eulogy given by another Kennedy brother, Ted, as he spoke through his tears [YouTube link]. Ted quoted RFK's words, which were actually a paraphrase from a work of George Bernard Shaw. It is a quote etched on the side of a building in downtown Brooklyn, once belonging to the Brooklyn Paramount, taken over in 1954 by Long Island University: "Some men see things as they are, and say 'Why?' I dream things that never were and say 'Why not?'".

It was an inspiring quote to me at the time. And I suspect that with all the intense news coverage that I watched as a child, my interest in history and politics took root. It was not all doom and gloom, because I was also a kid enthralled with the space program, and the images of seeing Neil Armstrong taking his first steps upon the moon on July 20, 1969 [YouTube link], were heroic enough to make me truly realize that the things that never were, could be.

And so I mark today's fiftieth anniversary of RFK's assassination. It makes no difference if you were a fan or an opponent of his politics or the politics of other public figures who were shot down in the 1960s. I mark this date because, like other moments from that difficult time period, it was one of the defining events that shaped my own political consciousness and that of a generation to come.

November 23, 2016

George Smith on Rand's Insights on the U.S. "Slide Toward Fascism"

Just wanted to alert readers to a fine article penned by George Smith, "Ayn Rand Predicted an American Slide Toward Fascism" on the FEE website.

I was especially happy to see this discussion resurrected since Rand herself has often been tagged by her detractors as a "fascist"; my own essays on Rand's insights into the U.S. tendencies toward neofascism ("The New Fascism," as she called it) are indexed here. The discussion is particularly important in the days since the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States. Following Rand and others in the libertarian tradition, I've argued that the system of "crony capitalism" or what Roy Childs and others once called "liberal corporativism," is the system that exists in this country; it is not a free market and whether it is peppered with the authoritarian rhethoric (and policies) of the left or of the right, it all comes down to a civil war of pressure groups, each vying for special privileges at the expense of one another, a "class" warfare that not even Karl Marx could have imagined. For as F. A. Hayek so powerfully observed, once political power becomes the central means of gaining social control, it becomes the only power worth having. That is why he argued, in The Road to Serfdom, "the worst get on top." I've expressed my concerns for months now, but it remains to be seen just how much worse this tendency will be manifested in the new administration. Whatever the campaign rhetoric, time will tell. (Ed: And I am reminded by a colleague that in a country where, within a single week, the Chicago Cubs can win the World Series and Donald J. Trump can win the White House, anything is possible!)

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the United States; I want to wish all my readers a Happy Thanksgiving [YouTube link]. Be thankful that, for now, at least in some crucial aspects, this country remains, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, "a republic, if you can keep it." Which makes Rand's insights into the degeneration of the American republic all the more trenchant.

October 20, 2016

Song of the Day #1397

Song of the Day: Nasty, words and lyrics by Jimmy "Jam" Harris III, Terry Lewis, and Janet Jackson, went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B/Hip Hop Singles charts. This 1986 Janet Jackson signature tune, from her #1 album, "Control," is a particularly appropriate "song of the day" today; last night in the final face-off between Benito and Evita, "Nasty Boy" Trumpster called Hillary a "Nasty Woman," and the phrase has now gone viral. Only the future of the republic is on the line, but I'm still chuckling over a comment made by my long-time colleague and friend, David Boaz, who, when asked, "If somebody held a gun to your head, and gave you the choice of The Don or Hillary?" replied: "Take the bullet." Whatever your political persuasion, most of us will look back on this 2016 Presidential campaign as having provided us with some "nasty" entertainment for months. There's only one thing left to do: "Gimme a Beat" (and you thought I was going to say: "Rock the Vote!"). Check out the video to this iconic Janet song [YouTube link] (and yes, in the video, you'll find a young Paula Abdul, who did the choreography).

September 11, 2016

WTC Remembrance: Fifteen Years Ago - Through the Looking Glass of a Video Time Machine

My annual series, "Remembering the World Trade Center," turns this year to my own personal reflections on the fifteenth anniversary of the day that my hometown was attacked in 2001, a day that changed our lives forever. These reflections emerge from my viewing of a series of VHS tapes that I used to record the tragic events of that day and the days, weeks, and months that followed. My focus for this essay is exclusively on the unfolding minute-by-minute television coverage from 8:46 a.m. to midnight on the day of terror that we commemorate today.

I have to admit that this essay was one of the most difficult, and yet cathartic, pieces I've ever written in my entire life. I invite readers to view the newest addition to my annual series here.

I also provide this index for those readers who would like easy access to the previous entries in this series:

2001: As It Happened . . .

2002: New York, New York

2003: Remembering the World Trade Center: A Tribute

2004: My Friend Ray

2005: Patrick Burke, Educator

2006: Cousin Scott

2007: Charlie: To Build and Rebuild

2008: Eddie Mecner, Firefighter

2009: Lenny: Losses and Loves

2010: Tim Drinan, Student

2011: Ten Years Later

2012: A Memorial for the Ages: A Pictorial

2013: My Friend Matthew: A 9/11 Baby of a Different Stripe

2014: A Museum for the Ages: A Pictorial

2015: A New One World Trade Center Rises From the Ashes: A Pictorial

2016: Fifteen Years Ago: Through the Looking Glass of a Video Time Machine


Never forget.

Postscript: Much appreciation to Ilana Mercer, who has noted the newest essay on her blog here. She writes:

I recall calling Chris Matthew Sciabarra around the time September 11 happened. Like the best of New York, Chris was hyper, in fight-but-never-flight mode. That’s my Chris. And he has commemorated the attack on the greatest city in the world—was I overcome by patriotism when I visited New York!—his hometown, in the most personal way each year.

Postscript 2: Much appreciation to Rational Review News Digest for making this the lead commentary in their September 11th edition. See here. Special thanks to long-time colleague and friend Thomas L. Knapp for noticing.

July 26, 2016

Song of the Day #1366

Song of the Day: Motownphilly, words and music by Dallas Austin, Michael Bivins, Nathan Morris, and Shawn Stockman, was the debut single from the Boyz II Men debut album, "Cooleyhighharmony," and it was featured yesterday afternoon in the opening gala of the 2016 Democratic National Convention taking place in the City of Brotherly Love. It went to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, and remains my favorite single from that Philly-based Motown-produced group, for its rhythmic, melodic, and harmonic sense. If nothing else, I will admit only to my partiality to the music featured at Democratic Party events versus Republican events. I guess it's due to my urban, gritty "New York values," the ones that Ted Cruz never tired of condemning during the GOP primaries. Well, it looks like two New Yawkers, one a native, the other one viewed by some as an interloper, are going to fight it out for the Presidency, and one of them is going to sit in the White House in 2017. A friend of mine has suggested that the televised debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton should be made into "pay-per view" events... you know, like Wrestlemania and such, for there is little doubt that the U.S. would be able to achieve a balanced budget, while paying off the national debt. Hmm... well, if we end up with two New Yawkers shouting over one another, I'll just turn up the volume on this song, and dance away from the TV. In the meanwhile, check out the original video for this wonderful 1991 R&B single [YouTube link] from the guys who came from the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, as well as their performance on yesterday's DNC opening [YouTube link], probably the most melodic thing we'll hear from that stage this week.

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."