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King Canute vs. the Climate Planners

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“Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings.”

Oh really?

This claim comes from French foreign minister Laurent Fabius as he banged his gavel at the close of the Paris climate summit. To the cheers of bureaucrats and cronies the world over, Fabius announced the deal that the press has been crowing about for days, the one in which “humanity” has united to stop increases in global temperature through the transfer of trillions of dollars from the rich to the poor, combined with the eventual (coercive) elimination of fossil fuels.

“The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society — a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.”

And thus did he bang his gavel. To his way of thinking, and that of the thousands gathered, that’s all you have to do to control the global climate, cause the world to stop relying on fossil fuels, and dramatically change the structure of all global industry, and do so with absolute conviction that benefits will outweigh the costs.

One bang of a gavel to dismantle industrial civilization by force, replace it with a vague and imagined new way of doing things, and have taxpayers pay for it.

Markets Yawn

Interestingly, the news on the Paris agreement had no notable impact on global markets at all. No prices rose or fell, no stocks soared or collapsed, and no futures responded with confidence that governments would win this one. The climate deal didn’t even make the business pages.

[Read the full story here, at Foundation for Economic Education]

Investors and speculators are perhaps acculturated to ignoring such grand pronouncements. “The Paris climate conference delivered more of the same — lots of promises and lots of issues still left unresolved,” the US Chamber of Commerce said in a statement. And maybe that’s the right way to think, given that the world is ever less controlled by pieces of paper issued by government.

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“Historians have challenged the point of the story. The only account we have of this incident, if it occurred at all, is from Henry of Huntingdon. He reports that after the sea rose despite his command, the King declared: ‘Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.’”

Still, breathless journalists wrote about the “historic agreement” and government officials paraded around as planet savers. Meanwhile, the oil price continues to fall even as demand rises, and the Energy Information Administration announced the discovery of more reserves than anyone believed possible. As for alternatives to fossil fuels, they are coming about through private sector innovation, not through government programs, and successful only when adopted voluntarily by consumers.

“He did and said this, say modern experts, to demonstrate to his courtiers and flatterers that he is not as wonderful and powerful as they were proclaiming him to be. Instead of subservience to his own person, he was urging all citizens to save their adoration for God.”

It’s a heck of a time to announce a new global central plan affecting the way 7 billion people use energy for the next century. Anyone schooled in the liberal tradition, or even slightly familiar with Hayek’s warning against the pretensions of the “scientific” government elites, shakes his or her head in knowing despair.

“His point was that power — even the absolute power of kings — has limits. During his rule, King Canute was enormously popular and evidently benefitted from the common tendency of people to credit authority for the achievements of the spontaneous evolution of the social order itself. His sea trick, if it happened at all, was designed to show people that he is not the man they thought he was.”

The entire scene looks like the apotheosis of the planning mentally — complete with five-year plans to monitor how well governments are doing in controlling the climate for the whole world and do so in a way that affects temperature 10-100 years from now.

King Canute?

The scene prompted many commentators to compare these people celebrating in Paris to King Canute, who ruled Denmark, England, and Norway a millennium ago. According to popular legend, as a way of demonstrating his awesome power, he rolled his throne up to the sea and commanded it to stop rising.capture

It didn’t work. Still, the image appears in many works of art. Even Lego offers a King Canute scene from its historical set.

[Read the full test here, at Foundation for Economic Education]

Historians have challenged the point of the story. The only account we have of this incident, if it occurred at all, is from Henry of Huntingdon. He reports that after the sea rose despite his command, the King declared: “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.”

He did and said this, say modern experts, to demonstrate to his courtiers and flatterers that he is not as wonderful and powerful as they were proclaiming him to be. Instead of subservience to his own person, he was urging all citizens to save their adoration for God.

His point was that power — even the absolute power of kings — has limits. During his rule, King Canute was enormously popular and evidently benefitted from the common tendency of people to credit authority for the achievements of the spontaneous evolution of the social order itself. His sea trick, if it happened at all, was designed to show people that he is not the man they thought he was.

The Pretensions of the Planners

Lacking a Canute to give us a wake-up call, we might revisit the extraordinary speech F.A. Hayek gave when he received his Nobel Prize. He was speaking before scientists of the world, having been awarded one of the most prestigious awards on the planet. Read the rest of this entry »

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James Grant Explains ‘The Forgotten Depression’

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Mr. Grant confronts the subjectivity of economic measurement head-on in his book in an enlightening discussion of whether the 1921 depression was, in fact, a depression at all.

The Forgotten Depression: 1921 — The Crash That Cured Itself, by James Grant, Simon & Schuster, 2014.

Joseph Calandro Jr. writes: To better understand the current economic environment, financial analyst, historian, journalist, and value investor James forgottendepressionGrant, who is informed by both Austrian economics and the value investing theory of the late Benjamin Graham, analyzes the Depression of 1920–1921 in his latest work, The Forgotten Depression: 1921 — The Crash That Cured Itself.

[Order James Grant’s book “The Forgotten Depression: 1921: The Crash That Cured Itself from Amazon.com]

Grant understands that despite the pseudo-natural science veneer of mainstream economics the fact remains that economic value is inherently subjective and thus economic measurement is also subjective. Mr. Grant confronts the subjectivity of economic measurement head-on in his book in an enlightening discussion of whether the 1921 depression was, in fact, a depression at all.

Was It a Depression?

Grant concludes it was a depression, but mainstream economist Christine Romer, for example, concludes it was not a depression. As Grant observes, Ms. “Romer, a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, presented her research, titled ‘World War I and the Postwar Depression,’ in a 1988 essay in the Journal of Monetary EconomicsThe case she made for discarding one set of GNP estimates for another is highly technical. But the lay reader may be struck by the fact that neither the GNP data she rejected, nor the ones she preferred, were compiled in the moment. Rather, each set was constructed some 30 to 40 years after the events it was intended to document” (p. 68).

In contrast, Mr. Grant surveys economic activity as it existed prior to and during 1920–21 and as it was evaluated during those times. Therefore, five pages into chapter 5 of his book, which is titled “A Depression in Fact,” we read that:

A 1920 recession turned into a 1921 depression, according to [Wesley Clair] Mitchell, whose judgment, as a historian, business-cycle theorist and contemporary observer, is probably as reliable as anyone’s. This was no mere American dislocation but a global depression ensnaring nearly all the former Allied Powers (the defeated Central Powers suffered a slump of their own in 1919). “Though the boom of 1919, the crisis of 1920 and the depression of 1921 followed the patterns of earlier cycles,” wrote Mitchell, “we have seen how much this cycle was influenced by economic conditions resulting from the war and its sudden ending. … If American business men were betrayed by postwar demands into unwise courses, so were all business men in all countries similarly situated.”

So depression it was … (p. 71)

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Interestingly, there are a variety of similarities between “The Forgotten Depression” of 1921 and “The Great Recession” of 2007–2008. For example:

  • War finance (the currency debasement and credit expansion associated with funding war) has long been associated with economic distortion including World War I, which preceded “The Forgotten Depression.” Such distortions unfortunately continue to the present day.
  • Scandal is also associated with booms and busts; for example, the boom preceding “The Forgotten Depression” had Charles Ponzi while the boom preceding “The Great Recession” had Bernie Madoff.
  • The booms preceding both financial disruptions also saw governmental banking regulators not doing a very good job of regulating the banks under their supervision.
  • Citibank famously fell under significant distress in both events.
  • Both eras had former professors of Princeton University in high-ranking governmental positions: Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States at the beginning of “The Forgotten Depression” while Ben Bernanke was chairman of the Fed during “The Great Recession.”
  • On the practitioner-side, value investor Benjamin Graham profited handsomely from the distressed investments that he made during “The Forgotten Depression” while his best known student, Warren Buffett, profited from the distressed investments that he made during “The Great Recession.”

The Crash That Cured Itself

Despite similarities, there are noteworthy differences between these two financial events. Foremost among the differences is the reason why “The Forgotten Depression” has, in fact, been forgotten: the government did nothing to stop it. Not only were interest rates not lowered and public money not spent, but interest rates were actually raised and debt paid down. The context behind these actions is fascinating and superbly told and analyzed by Mr. Grant. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] REWIND: Friedrich Hayek: Why Intellectuals Drift Towards Socialism 

Irving Howe, Stanford University, 1962

Irving Howe, Stanford University, 1962

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Venezuela’s Road to Literal Serfdom

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Friedrich Hayek’s classic book The Road to Serfdom describes the popular delusions that have led to the breakdown of civil society in Venezuela.

Barry Brownstein writes: In his classic 1841 book on financial bubbles, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, Charles Mackay observed, “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

“In societies turning to socialism, there is no appreciation of scarcity. There is no appreciation that ‘things cannot all be done at the same time, that anyone of them can be achieved only at the sacrifice of others.’”

Mackay covered religious and political delusions, too. “We see one nation suddenly seized, from its highest to its lowest members, with a fierce desire of military glory; another as suddenly becoming crazed upon a religious scruple,” he recounts, “and serfdomneither of them recovering its senses until it has shed rivers of blood and sowed a harvest of groans and tears, to be reaped by its posterity.”

[Order Friedrich Hayek’s classic “The Road to Serfdom” from Amazon.com]

Venezuela is sowing its harvest of “groans and tears.” Due to the breakdown of civil society in the country, even war-plagued Syrians feel more safe in their homes than do Venezuelans. Venezuelans are so hungry that they cried at the sight of food in Columbia. Recently the hungry broke into a zoo to kill a horse for its meat. Literally, they have become serfs that may be required to work 60 days or more in agricultural fields.

“The hard to give up delusion of socialists is that there are coercive plans that will benefit all. Venezuelans have seen the means of production nationalized in the name of the common good and with every intervention their standard of living fell further.”

Venezuela has the world’s worst rate of economic growth, and the worst inflation rate. It has become like “a gangster state that doesn’t know how to do anything other than sell drugs and steal money for itself.” Socialism has virtually destroyed civilization in Venezuela making it seem like a “hurricane [has] swept things away.”

[Read the full text here, at Foundation for Economic Education]

When the history of this tragic period in Venezuela is written, the population will have plenty of “culprits” to blame. In blaming many will eschew their own responsibility. Some will blame Chavez; others will blame Maduro. Some will follow their beloved leaders and continue to blame the “elite” and the capitalists. The true believers will continue to insist there is no inherent flaw in socialism; they will simply say mistakes were made that will not be made again.

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“Believing that the “coercive or arbitrary intervention of authority,” can coordinate and adjust our individual activities is delusional. With this delusion comes disbelief that a market economy can solve problems and advance society. Those who cherish such delusions may find themselves hungry.”

We are not the victims of the world we see. Our delusions, our beliefs have consequences. The fact that our delusions are often invisible to us does not make them any less powerful or any less consequential. Again, Mackay observed that a population subject to delusions “only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.”

The new idea of freedom “gave the socialists another word in common with the liberals and they exploited it to the full.

suffering-venezuela

Venezuelans have not yet recovered their “senses.”  Caracas radio host Glen Martinez stubbornly insists that the “reforms” that Chavez instituted will never be reversed. “We are not the same people we were before 1999,” Martinez said. Many share Martinez’s sentiments; daily the true believers still march and  promise to spill their blood in support of the government.

“The fact that our delusions are often invisible to us does not make them any less powerful or any less consequential.”

There is no better book than Friedrich Hayek’s classic The Road to Serfdom to explain the popular delusions that helped to virtually eliminate the market economy and civil society in Venezuela. Writing during the depths of World War II, Hayek intended his book as a warning “to the socialists of all parties.” What happened in Venezuela can happen wherever a critical mass of the population begins to hold certain delusionary beliefs.

Popular Delusion 1: Freedom Means Freedom from Necessity

Hayek points out that freedom in Western countries traditionally meant “freedom from coercion, freedom from the arbitrary power of other men.”

Socialists point to a “new freedom” which is “freedom from necessity” which releases us “from the compulsion of the circumstances which inevitably limit the range of choice of all of us.”

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Hayek adds, “the demand for the new freedom was thus only another name for the old demand for an equal distribution of wealth.”

Believing that these two types of freedom can be combined is delusional. Hayek points out that the new idea of freedom “gave the socialists another word in common with the liberals and they exploited it to the full….Few people noticed [that the word freedom was being used differently] and still fewer asked themselves whether the two kinds of freedom promised really could be combined.”

Popular Delusion 2. Only Coercive Planning Can Coordinate Activity

Almost every individual and organization plans. Writes Hayek, there is no “dispute about whether we ought to employ foresight and systematic thinking and planning our common affairs.”

Hayek thought that to plan or not to plan is not “the real question.” Instead, we should ask if “the holder of coercive power should confine himself in general to creating conditions under which the knowledge and initiative of individuals is given the best scope so that they can plan most successfully; or whether a rational utilization of our resources requires central direction and organization of all our activities according to some consciously constructed ‘blueprint.’”

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Those who cherish such delusions may find themselves hungry.

The humanitarian disaster in Venezuela has been a long time in the making. In 2010, the hungry waited while “2,340 shipping containers with more than 120,000 tons of rotting food (estimated to feed 17 million people for one month)” sat at the government run port of Puerto Cabello. Read the rest of this entry »


Essential Hayek: Who is F.A. Hayek? 

In this video, we provide an overview of Hayek’s life, his accomplishments, and the events that influenced his thinking.

Source: Libertarianism.org


[VIDEO] Remember America’s First Experiment with Socialism? 

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Ed Morrissey in last week’s Hot Air:

…The University of Dayton history professor tells the tale of two colonies that nearly failed thanks to a dalliance with commue-based economics, which fell victim to the same sadly predictable consequences seen when 20th-century nations tried the same model on vast scales. The Jamestown colony in particular suffered through two years of famine and death before Captain John Smith called a halt to the attempt at imposing a Utopia:

The early colonists began their adventure with what they thought was a beautiful idea. They set up a common storehouse of grain from which people were supposed to take what they needed and put back what they could. Lands were also held in common and were worked in common. The settlers owned no land of their own. Though there was no name for this system, it johnsmithwas an ideal socialist commune. And you can probably guess what happened. It began to fall apart almost immediately. As the colonists learned, when everyone is entitled to everything, no one’s responsible for anything. A colonist who started his workday early or stayed late received the same provision of food as a colonist who showed up late, went home early, or didn’t work at all.

[Read the full text here, at Hot Air]

After about two years, the settlement was reduced to eating shoelaces and rats. Half of them died of starvation. Captain John Smith (of Pocahontas fame) took control of the colony and scrapped the socialist model. Each colonist received his own parcel of land. Private property had come to the New World. “He who won’t work, won’t eat!” Smith told them, citing the Biblical admonition. Well they worked. And they ate. And the colony was saved. Read the rest of this entry »


Mark J. Perry: The Essential Hayek

 writes: Nobel laureate economist Friedrich Hayek (1899 – 1992) is one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century and his work still resonates with economists and scholars around the world today. Two decades after Hayek’s death, his ideas are increasingly relevant in an era where governments grow ever larger and more interventionist.

Hayek

Essential Hayek is a project of the Fraser Institute (Canada’s leading public policy think tank) and includes a new book by George Mason Professor Don Boudreaux (The Essential Hayek, with a forward by Vaclav Klausavailable here), an Essential Hayek website including a great collection of Hayek resources and a series of videos (watch two below and there are more here), that aim to explain Hayek’s ageless economic ideas in common, every-day language. Read the rest of this entry »


EXCLUSIVE: Leaked List of Osama Bin Ladin’s Top-Secret Conservative Book Collection

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Bin Laden’s Right-Wing Reading List Goes Viral

editor-commen-deskThe list includes an archive of radical right wing books, history books, humor texts, and conservative philosophy belonging to the former al-Qaeda chief, some of which are still being withheld by the U.S. government, but leaked online this afternoon.

Among the volumes of books on law and military strategy that were publicly released this week, are a not-yet-declassified list of books by popular conservative authors such as Ann Coulter, Jonah Goldberg, and Andrew Breitbart, as well as scholarly texts by Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, and Friedrich von Hayek. The collection includes:

The End Is Near and It’s Going to Be Awesome by Kevin D. Williamson

Ideas Have Consequences by Richard M. Weaver

Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change by Jonah Goldberg

Mugged: Racial Demagoguery from the Seventies to Obama by Ann Coulter

The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich von Hayek

Capitalism and Freedom by Milton Friedman

God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom by William F. Buckley, Jr.

Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save the World! by Andrew Breitbart

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill

Human Action, The Scholar’s Edition by Ludwig von Mises

The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945 by George Nash

Witness by Whittaker Chambers

The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot by Russell Kirk

Ethnic America: A History by Thomas Sowell

Natural Right and History by Leo Strauss

The leak comes shortly after the fourth anniversary of Bin Laden’s death at the hands of US special forces…

developing…


Mollie Hemingway on Media Illiteracy

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Media Ignorance Is Becoming A Serious Problem

This reminds me of Donald Rumsfeld’s abstract musings on “known unknowns” and “unknown unknowns”. But then, Zach CarterThe Huffington Posts senior political economy reporter–would have to know who Donald Rumsfeld is.

mollieMollie Hemingway rocks. Read the whole thing here.

For The Federalist writes:

Last week, conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt interviewed Zach Carter, who is The Huffington Posts senior political economy reporter. The interview’s purpose was to discuss Carter’s negative response to Hewitt’s previous interview of former Vice President Dick Cheney. The interview was lively and interesting but it did not go well for Carter, who was forced to admit his ignorance of the historical context of the situation in Iraq.

Looked at one way, the interview might almost seem like pointless point-scoring. In response to Hewitt’s questions, Carter admitted he didn’t know who Alger Hiss was and that he hadn’t read The Looming Tower. Those two questions are standard questions for Hewitt’s interviews.

 …he was unaware that Bill Clinton had bombed Iraq in 1998…Screen-shot-2011-02-03-at-11.47.30-AM

But then Carter said he hadn’t read various other books, such as Bernard Lewis ’Crisis of Islam, Robin Wright’s Dreams and Shadows, or Thomas P. M. Barnett’s The Pentagon’s New Map. He said he hadn’t read Dexter Filkins’ The Forever War but that he’d “read a lot of the stuff that he’s written for The New Yorker.” Filkins joined The New Yorker in 2011. He said he does not read politician’s memoirs, including Cheney’s or George W. Bush’s. That he was unaware that Bill Clinton had bombed Iraq in 1998 or that Gadhafi had reportedly disarmed in 2003. He admitted he doesn’t know who A. Q. Khan, the father of the Pakistan bomb and godfather of Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, is.

“I give him credit for sticking through the entire interview.”

It’s such a display of ignorance that it seems almost unfair. But looked at another way, it’s simply a good interview where Hewitt seeks to establish Carter’s background and breadth of knowledge in order to help listeners know on what basis he critiqued Cheney.

“But it speaks to a larger problem we face with our media, which is that they frequently are not well read and, more importantly, they do not realize it.”

[Over at SlateDavid Weigel, who takes issue with Mollie’s lament in a defensive, sarcastically-titled article “We Gotcha Gotcha Gotcha We Gotcha Gotcha Gotcha “, complains:

 “He then asked the 31-year old Carter if he knew who Alger Hiss was. I’ve been on Hewitt’s show before—he can be a fantastic interviewer, especially of politicians—but this was unusual.”Hiss2

Unusual? Call me old-fashioned, but let’s not pretend Alger Hiss was an “obscure” figure in American history, an unfair “gotcha” question to ask of a 31-year-old college graduate.

Alger Hiss was a high-ranking U.S. State Department official and Secretary-General of the United Nations founding conference. He was convicted of perjury in 1950 after denying involvement in Soviet espionage. Hiss partisans and many on the ideological left for many years hotly disputed the jury’s verdict in the case, putting forward a variety of conspiracy theories. The overwhelming consensus among historians today is that Hiss was guilty.

Note: If history had revealed Alger Hiss to be not guilty, every child in America would be subjected to endless Alger Hiss Day classroom assignments, “Alger Hiss Day” would be registered as a national holiday, and there would be a monument in Washington D.C. honoring his noble sacrifice.

ugust 1948, Washington, DC, USA --- Alger Hiss, accused of Communist espionage, takes an oath during hearings before the House Committee on Un-American Activities.  He denied Whittaker Chambers' accusation that he was a Communist. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

1948, Washington, DC, USA — Alger Hiss, accused of Communist espionage, takes an oath during hearings before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He denied Whittaker Chambers’ accusation that he was a Communist. Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Back to Mollie

I don’t mean to pick on Carter, who was a good sport. If anything, I give him credit for sticking through the entire interview. But it speaks to a larger problem we face with our media, which is that they frequently are not well read and, more importantly, they do not realize it.

My favorite line was when Carter was asked if he’d heard of George Weigel and he replied, “I’ve heard of Dave Weigel.”

Read the rest of this entry »


The New Marxism

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A prominent liberal economist contends capitalism will inevitably increase inequality.

‘Karl Marx wasn’t wrong, just early. Pretty much. Sorry, capitalism. #inequalityforevah”

James Pethokoukis writes:  When trying to condense a sweeping, 700-page analysis of the past, present, and possible future of capitalism into an 85-character tweet, you’re bound to miss a few things. But the above Twitter-fication of economist Thomas Piketty’s much-awaited Capital in the Twenty-First Century captures the gist of the author’s argument.

“Piketty, a left-wing Frenchman who teaches at the Paris School of Economics, is hardly the only economist arguing inequality is headed inexorably higher…”

Piketty thinks the German progenitor of Communism basically got it right. It’s only that his essential insight — private capital accumulation inevitably leads to the concentration of wealth into ever-fewer hands — took a hiatus during the middle part of the last century thanks to depression and war hurting the fortunes of the well-to-do. But now Marxism’s fundamental truth is reasserting itself with a vengeance, a reality borne out in both Piketty’s own meticulously gathered data and in business pages replete with stories of skyrocketing wealth for the 0.001 percent and decades of flat wages for everyone else.

John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek famously squared off in the 1930s, Left versus Right. But when Keynes published his revolutionary General Theory in 1936, Hayek went silent….Who will make the intellectual case for economic freedom today?”

And it’s only going to get worse, Piketty concludes. Sure, the productive and innovative capacity of market capitalism will generate enough income growth for the masses to prevent revolution. He concedes Marx got that bit of apocalypticism wrong. But an “endless inegalitarian spiral” will create such wealth bifurcation that “the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based” will be undermined. The political process will be hopelessly captured by a tiny elite of rent seekers and trust-fund kids. America (and then the other advanced economies) will become what Occupy Wall Street types and Elizabeth Warren think it already is.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Mirage of Social Justice

Hayek

[Check out The Road to Serfdom: Text and Documents–The Definitive Edition (The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, Volume 2) at Amazon]


‘Neoliberalism’ – A Term Both Ubiquitous and Ill-Defined – is an Evolving Body of Market-Driven Ideas. Or a Conspiracy by Elites to Torment the Poor…

Margaret Thatcher arrives in Washington, November 1988 (courtesy Ronald Reagan Library)

Margaret Thatcher arrives in Washington, November 1988 (courtesy Ronald Reagan Library)

Spontaneous Order: Looking Back at Neoliberalism

Tim Barker  writes:  “The owl of Minerva,” Hegel famously wrote, “flies only at dusk”: historical events can be theoretically comprehended only in retrospect. Is this the case with neoliberalism? A term ubiquitous in the academy but scarcely used outside it, the concept is difficult to define with precision. A common shorthand identifies it as the economic and philosophical ideology behind the Reagan-Thatcher revolution; it is also often agreed that this ideology contributed somehow to the financial crisis of 2008. Now, with the recession technically over but recovery still ambiguous, two recent books attempt to describe neoliberalism’s historical origins and explore its current political implications.

Markets in the Name of Socialism: The Left-Wing Origins of Neoliberalism

by Johanna Bockman
Stanford University Press, 2011, 352 pp.

Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics

by Daniel Stedman Jones
Princeton University Press, 2012, 432 pp.

In Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics, Daniel Stedman Jones charts the rise of neoliberalism, which he defines as the “coherent, if loose, body of ideas” that underwrite our contemporary “market-driven society.” He begins with the intellectual biographies of three exiled Central European thinkers—Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Karl Popper—who challenged the industrial West’s consensus around social welfare programs, full employment, labor unions, and state intervention. This first, émigré generation (joined by kindred Americans and West Germans) were “neoliberal” in their opposition to central planning, but also “neoliberal” because they sought a reformed liberalism for the middle of the twentieth century, not a simple return to the laissez-faire of the nineteenth. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, for example, countenanced significant departures from laissez-faire, including universal health care.

Read the rest of this entry »


Uncertainty the Destroyer

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2013 brought little more than uncertainty to an already uncertain nation.

One of NRO‘s best guys, especially on economics, Kevin D. Williamson, writes:

2013 was an excellent opportunity to learn the lesson that we failed to learn in 185719331971, and 2008: Uncertainty is the destroyer. Economic growth remains unsteady, with a consensus among experts that the economy is slowing down as the year closes — Bloomberg calculates the average of economic-growth forecasts at a tepid 1.8 percent. Key figures remained negative in 2013, from the labor-force participation rate (down 2.7 percentage points since Barack Obama took office) to the employment-to-population ratio (down 2 percentage points during the same period). The most important of those economic indicators, at least so far as future growth is concerned, is net domestic private investment, which remains far away from returning to pre-crash levels.

Weak private investment means weak growth and bleak long-term employment prospects. There is no way to finesse away that fact. The question is: Why are we still in this position, all these years after the end of the recession?

There is some debate on the right about whether President Obama is a fundamentally well-intentioned incompetent or a more Machiavellian figure so power-hungry that he is willing to kneecap key sectors of the U.S. economy in order to advance his political agenda. My own view is that the distinguishing feature of Obama’s ideology is the utter inability of the president and his partisans to distinguish between the national interest and their own political interests. (That is one problem with electing a messiah rather than a chief administrator.) If you believe that your guy is a uniquely gifted, once-in-a-lifetime transformational figure with a mandate to save the country, and that he is opposed by uniquely wicked servants of Mammon and partisans of unreason, then it follows that your political interests are identical to the national interest, and consequently you have such grey eminences as Bill Clinton, who has managed to secure for himself a career as an elder statesman without ever having been a statesman, insisting that Republicans are “begging for America to fail” — because they oppose large parts of the president’s health-care program, which the president now opposes, too, having set aside measures that are too unworkable or punitive to act on until some more politically opportune time.

Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Milton Friedman on Socialized Medicine

YouTube


Analysis: Why Government Doesn’t—and Can’t—Manage Resources Like a Private Business

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Government versus Private Resource Management: The Theory

Robert P. Murphy writes: According to a common but naïve worldview, there are objective, well-known techniques for producing various goods and services, and the consumer preferences regarding these outputs are also common knowledge. In such a worldview—which even many professional economists, in discussing policy, seem to hold—it seems only natural to conclude that government officials could improve upon the decentralized market outcome. After all, the government has access to the same “production function” as private firms, and if it decides to be the monopoly producer of a good or service, it can avoid wasteful advertising expenses and other redundancies. Such arguments were behind the proposals for outright “market socialism” in the era between World Wars I and II, and, to this day, they guide recommendations for heavy government regulation of “natural monopolies” such as utilities.

However, more-practical economists recognize the limits of their textbook diagrams with elegant marginal revenue and marginal cost curves. In reality, we operate in a world of uncertainty. The “least cost” method of producing a good or service is never obvious, nor is what consumers will be willing to pay for various items. In a famous lecture, “Competition as a Discovery Procedure,” Friedrich Hayek explained how markets in the real world stumble upon this hidden knowledge. Various people with access to different information make piecemeal discoveries and constantly modify their operations accordingly; they receive feedback from market prices in the form of profit or loss. Firms mimic particularly profitable innovations, and if a firm does not adapt quickly enough, it will go out of business. Hayek thus viewed competition as a process rather than a condition or end-state. The state of “perfect competition” described in the textbooks—which includes the property that all firms in an industry use the identical “least-cost” method of production—is actually something that would emerge over time onlybecause of the competitive rivalry between the firms, and only if the conditions in the real world remained static long enough for all firms to fully adapt.

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[VIDEO] F. A. Hayek on Social Justice

From Firing Line, William F Buckley Jr hosts a discussion on social justice with George Roche III (Hillsdale College) and Noble Laureate economist F. A. Hayek. http://www.LibertyPen

Note host William F. Buckley arguing the case for social justice and redistributionism, to drive the discussion. Not because Buckley personally embraces and defends collectivism, obviously, he’s merely conducting a revealing interview,  drawing out contrasting views. Artfully performing his role as moderator, Buckley’s does a surprisingly fair job of making the opposition (socialism) case, in order to probe Hayek’s and Roche’s positions. It’s a pleasure to watch. Hayek is brilliant.

The growth of central planning, and the concentration of power in the last several years makes the Johnson-era “Great Society” catastrophe of federal overreach and corruption look quaint by comparison. There’s no lucid counterpoint being made. The public debate is muddled by smaller minds. It makes me wish we had a respected public figure like Hayek in national media, in our time. This discussion is more relevant now than when it was recorded. Popular intellectuals of this caliber are sorely missing. The ideas expressed here are as fresh and vibrant–and consequential–today as they were then. And the stakes are just as high.

F A Hayek – Social Justice – YouTube