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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.

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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 »

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But Silencing Will Do Just Fine

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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]


Survey: How Libertarians Fit In the GOP

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Kevin Glass  reports:  The Brookings Institution‘s Public Religion Research Institute conducts what they call the “American Values Survey,” and this year have focused particularly on how libertarians fit into the American political fabric. Libertarians are traditionally thought of as being “on the right” and presumed to be most accurately represented, of the two major parties, by the Republican Party.

But is that really true?

PRRI finds that libertarians constitute a very small segment of the GOP and have difficulty making common cause with the other ideological strains of the Republican Party. Specifically, libertarians are repelled by the religious right, which still makes up a significan portion of the conservative movement.

As Brookings’ Ross Tilchin writes:

Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Milton Friedman on Socialized Medicine

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[VIDEO] Six The Movie — Helen Smith

Dr. Helen Smith writes:

“I often get requests to see my video Six about a group of teenagers who killed a family in East Tennessee. I am no longer selling the documentary, but PJM has been kind enough to upload it to YouTube so that PJM readers can watch it if they wish. It is now almost a decade old but much of the complexity of mass murder still holds true today. I hope my readers find it of interest.”

With recent crimes and mass shootings, the national debate has shifted to questions of mental health, parenting, and the ability of the legal system to deal with troubled youths. These are all issues that PJ Media contributor Dr. Helen Smith addressed in an award-winning 2003 documentary. Her film “Six,” featured in programming on A&E and WeTV, tells the story of a group of Kentucky teens who murdered a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses despite clear warning signs. Though many want to blame violence on guns, the factors involving violence are much more complex than simply blaming a weapon. Watch the documentary, and see what happens when the system fails, as it all too often does.

http://www.sixthemovie.com/

Six The Movie — YouTube


Lefties Contemplate the Pain of “Cyberlibertarianism,” Wonder Where They’ll Ever Find a Centralized World to Manage Choice and Behavior

 writes: David Golumbia writing at Jacobin is steamed at the supposed “deletion of the left” by supposedly dominant “cyberlibertarians.”

He starts off going wrong with a rather gross misunderstanding of what being “of the left” in American terms means these days:

The digital revolution, we are told everywhere today, produces democracy. It gives “power to the people” and dethrones authoritarians; it levels the playing field for distribution of information critical to political engagement; it destabilizes hierarchies, decentralizes what had been centralized, democratizes what was the domain of elites.

Most on the Left would endorse these ends. The widespread availability of tools whose uses are harmonious with leftist goals would, one might think, accompany broad advancement of those goals in some form. Yet the Left today is scattered, nearly toothless in most advanced democracies. If digital communication technology promotes leftist values, why has its spread coincided with such a stark decline in the Left’s political fortunes?

What the left really wants is a centralized elite authority that pursues particular ends it claims to desire, often allegedly on behalf of “the people”; people who really want dethroned authority, free flow of information, and decentralization are libertarians.

Why would a left that wants to see a world shaped to its own particular desires–about income distribution, market and personal choice and behavior, and forced change in people’s transportation, energy, and consumption choices, embrace a world of greater decentralization and choice?

Read the rest of this entry »


30 Common Fallacies Used Against Libertarians

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Max Borders writes:  By now you have probably heard of Bryan Caplan’s “rational irrationality.” The idea is that if the cost of holding irrational beliefs is low enough, there may be more irrationality demanded. Indeed, if holding an irrational view makes someone feel better about himself or keep membership in some in-group—but holding the view doesn’t directly harm the holder—she may very well stick with that view.

Caplan contrasts this with the idea of “rational ignorance,” which is more familiar to our readers. That simply means the cost of acquiring enough information to have a truly informed opinion about some issue is generally high, so people remain ignorant.

Both of these behaviors certainly play a role in the preponderance of dumb policies and dumb views. But are there corollaries in debate tactics?

Most libertarians find they’re arguing in social media these days. So they’re not only finding new people on whom to test their ideas, they’re finding new fallacies in response. And sometimes these fallacies work, despite being fallacious, which is probably why they’re so commonplace. This is especially true on social media, where one can quickly learn that the real point of these exchanges is to play to the audience, to provide them with an excuse to withdraw into whatever biases they already hold. Still, maybe it’s possible to raise the costs of employing these fallacies—at least a little.

We’ve decided to offer you a fun list of them, which you can use as a handy guide in the process of engaging in well-mannered, reasoned discourse online.

  1. Argument ad KochBrotherium: This fallacy is a cousin to the genetic fallacyand guilt by association. The twist, of course, is that anything that the Koch Brothers ever say, said, fund, funded, might fund, came close to funding, could have funded, will fund, walked by, looked at, support, think about, or mention is invalid by virtue of, well, “Koch Brothers! Boo!”
  2. The Unicorn: You’ll recognize this fallacy from the question, “Why does no libertarian country exist anywhere in the world?” Embedded in the question is the assumption that libertarian countries don’t exist because they are fantastic creatures, like unicorns. Of course, just because something doesn’t exist yet does not mean it can’t exist. Indeed, the Internet in 1990 and the American Republic in 1775 beg to differ. And the unicorn fallacy fundamentally confuses the libertarian worldview with some “L”ibertarian platform that might be the product of some electoral processes—processes most libertarians reject. Michael Lind and E. J. Dionne have brandished this fallacy rather shamelessly, and have had it parried rather effectively by better minds.
  3. Nut-Picking: This fallacy has nothing to do with Jimmy Carter. In this style of argument, the arguer finds the kookiest or most insane person who self-identifies as libertarian and then ascribes all of that person’s beliefs or claims to all libertarians. (This one could also be called the Alex Jones fallacy.) This is a tough one to counter simply because there are plenty of nuts to pick from, and plenty of them use the l-word.
  4. Must Be Scared/Have No Answer: This one’s pretty simple really, and a unique creature of “debate” via social media. The libertarian leaves his computer or signs off for a while and the opponent accuses the libertarian of not being able to answer his or her FB claims, which the libertarian simply never saw or had no time to answer.
  5. The Tin Man: This fallacy was identified and named by Cole James Gentles (here) who inspired this article. With the tin man the arguer either concludes or falsely assumes that the libertarian “has no heart” because she argues against some favored policy. This cousin of the straw man (scarecrow) fallacyassumes a direct line between sympathies and outcomes. Any failure to support some means amounts to a failure to support the wished-for end.
    Read the rest of this entry »

Reality Check: Free Market Myths Debunked

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Just as there are timeless truths, there are also timeless falsehoods.

Here are a few of the latter that I’ve recently encountered, but there are, of course, plenty more. Some libertarians may not agree with me (at least at first) on all of them.

1) The free market creates scarcity and higher prices. In any economic system—socialist, interventionist, or free market—the quantity of a good will typically not be enough to satisfy demand when the price is zero. In a free market, in which people trade their legitimate claims to those resources, prices will tend to rise or fall to the level where the quantity supplied equals the quantity demanded, and in that way prices help us to cope with scarcity. Not only that, the free market, via a system of profit and loss, gives entrepreneurs an incentive both to supply more of scarce resources and to discover alternatives to them. (But not all “trade” is conducted this way. See No. 4 below.)

2) The free market means the government gives businesses special privileges. This is a very common belief based on the idea that pro-market means pro-business. But the free market is free precisely because it denies special legal privileges to any person or group. People sometimes define “privilege” as any advantage a person or group may have over others. Certainly such advantages exist today and would exist in a free market—you may be born into a wealthy family or have superior drive and resourcefulness—but these advantages are consistent with the absence of privilege in the libertarian sense, as long as you acquired such advantages without fraud or the initiation of physical violence against the person or property of others.

3) The pre-Obamacare healthcare industry was a free market. Actually, it was a highly interventionist market, as John C. Goodman explains. Similarly, the failures of the housing and financial markets were hardly the result of “free-market policies,” and the same could be said for practically every other sector of the American economy. The free market is free of legal privileges and discrimination; it is whatever happens in the absence of aggression and within certain “rules of the game”—for example, private property, freedom of association, and the rule of law. Again, it’s not pro-business, pro-consumer, or pro-anything if that means using political power to intentionally help some and hurt others.

Read the rest of this entry »


Libertarian Jesus

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Dan Mitchell writes:  Most of my political humor is designed to mock statists. That’s true whether I’m sharing cartoons, videos, jokes, or one-liners…

I think you’ll agree that “Libertarian Jesus” is worth a laugh or two. I like this poster because it makes the very important and serious point (which Cal Thomas has succinctly explained) that it’s not compassion when you use coercion to spend other people’s money.

Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Professor of Economics Walter Williams talks about the Encroachment of Government

Walter E. Williams is the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute. He is an expert on discrimination, labor policy, regulation, and South Africa as well as a well-known columnist and the author of South Africa’s War Against Capitalism (1989), The State Against Blacks (1982), and More Liberty Means Less Government (1999).

In this lecture given at a Libertarian Party of Georgia event in 1991, Williams talks about libertarianism generally and relates his own moral arguments against state coercion. Williams also briefly suggests a few things he thinks libertarians should be doing if they want the libertarian movement to grow.

 


Poll: Republicans embracing libertarian priorities

The poll offers validation for this trio of libertarian-leaning Republican senators. | AP Photos  Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2013/09/poll-republicans-libertarian-96576.html#ixzz2ebzKgiOL

The poll offers validation for this trio of libertarian-leaning Republican senators. | AP Photos

A new poll confirms a libertarian renaissance in 2013.

FreedomWorks commissioned a national survey of registered voters last month,shared first with POLITICO, that finds 78 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents self-identify as fiscally conservative and socially moderate. Read the rest of this entry »


Capitalism Is Cooperation

page_2012_williamson_square_0Kevin Williamson writes: I wonder if Bloomberg has any intellectual standards at all. (The news service, I mean; we already know about the mayor.) Consider this column from Nick Hanauer and Eric Liu, titled “Libertarians are the new communists.” Thesis: “Where communism was adopted, the result was misery, poverty and tyranny. If extremist libertarians ever translated their beliefs into policy, it would lead to the same kinds of catastrophe.” Attention conservatives: “Extremist libertarian” here means an admirer of Ted Cruz.

The problem with libertarians, according to these gentlemen, is that they misunderstand the human condition: “Like communism, this philosophy is defective in its misreading of human nature, misunderstanding of how societies work and utter failure to adapt to changing circumstances. Radical libertarianism assumes that humans are wired only to be selfish, when in fact cooperation is the height of human evolution.”

But radical libertarians do not assume that humans are wired only to be selfish, nor do they reject cooperation. The opposite is the case. In fact, one of those radical libertarians — me — just this summer published a book arguing that (see if this sounds familiar) “cooperation is the height of human evolution.” (note: I’m currently reading this book, and a fine book it is–Butcher) A taste: Read the rest of this entry »


Progressive Think Tank Demos Targets “Libertarian Right”

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Was it only yesterday that I suggested that a country ravaged for the past dozen-plus years by Big Government on steroids (plus whatever else A-Rod’s been shooting) was on the cusp of a glorious “Libertarian Era”?

As part of my case I pointed to recent fulminations across the political spectrum aimed at libertarians.

Long derided as inevitably male, pasty-faced, bitter-clingers to their Ayn Rands and their slide rules, libertarians for decades have been written off as a subset of all-powerful and oh-so-serious conservatives, as Republicans who smoke pot or have gay friends, and less. (Read “5 Myths About Libertarians,” my recent piece in the Washington Post, for some perspective.)

But now, in the words of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, libertarians are not just irrelevant but downright “dangerous” – and infecting both major parties. You know, because libertarians actually seem to give a rat’s ass about civil liberties, mindless military adventuring, and actually cutting government spending (which Christie has not done since taking office). Read the rest of this entry »


Freedom: The Unfolding Revolution

The libertarian idea is the only truly new political idea in the last couple thousand years.

By  Jonah Goldberg

‘Why are there no libertarian countries?”

In a much-discussed essay for Salon, Michael Lind asks: “If libertarians are correct in claiming that they understand how best to organize a modern society, how is it that not a single country in the world in the early twenty-first century is organized along libertarian lines?”

Such is the philosophical poverty of liberalism today that this stands as a profound question.

Definitions vary, but broadly speaking, libertarianism is the idea that people should be as free as possible from state coercion so long as they don’t harm anyone. The job of the state is limited to fighting crime, providing for the common defense, and protecting the rights and contracts of citizens. The individual is sovereign; he is the captain of himself.

It’s a little bizarre how the Left has always conflated statism with modernity and progress. The idea that rulers — be they chieftains, kings, priests, politburos, or wonkish bureaucrats — are enlightened or smart enough to tell others how to live is older than the written word. And the idea that someone stronger, with better weapons, has the right to take what is yours predates man’s discovery of fire by millennia. And yet, we’re always told that the latest rationalization for increased state power is the “wave of the future.”

It’s true, no ideal libertarian state has ever existed outside a table for one. And no such state will ever exist. But here’s an important caveat: No ideal state of any other kind will be created either. America’s great, but it ain’t perfect. Sweden’s social democracy is all right, but if it were perfect, I suspect fewer cars would be on fire over there.

Ideals are called ideals for a reason: They’re ideals. They’re goals, aspirations, abstract straight rules we use as measuring sticks against the crooked timber of humanity.In the old Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and today’s North Korea, they tried to move toward the ideal Communist system. Combined, they killed about 100 million of their own people. That’s a hefty moral distinction right there: When freedom-lovers move society toward their ideal, mistakes may be made, but people tend to flourish. When the hard Left is given free rein, millions are murdered and enslaved. Which ideal would you like to move toward?

Lind sees it differently. “If socialism is discredited by the failure of communist regimes in the real world, why isn’t libertarianism discredited by the absence of any libertarian regimes in the real world? Communism was tried and failed. Libertarianism has never even been tried.”

What an odd standard. You know what else is a complete failure? Time travel. After all, it’s never succeeded anywhere!

What’s so striking about the Lind standard is how thoroughly conservative it is.

Pick a date in the past, and you can imagine someone asking similar questions. “Why should women have equal rights?” some court intellectual surely asked. “Show me anywhere in the world where that has been tried.” Before that, “Give the peasants the right to vote? Unheard of!”

In other words, there’s a first time for everything.

It’s a little bizarre how the Left has always conflated statism with modernity and progress. The idea that rulers — be they chieftains, kings, priests, politburos, or wonkish bureaucrats — are enlightened or smart enough to tell others how to live is older than the written word. And the idea that someone stronger, with better weapons, has the right to take what is yours predates man’s discovery of fire by millennia. And yet, we’re always told that the latest rationalization for increased state power is the “wave of the future.”

That phrase, “the wave of the future,” became famous thanks to a 1940 essay by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She argued that the time of liberal democratic capitalism was drawing to a close and the smart money was on statism of one flavor or another — fascism, Communism, socialism, etc. What was lost on her, and millions of others, was that this wasn’t progress toward the new, but regression to the past. These “waves of the future” were simply gussied-up tribalisms, anachronisms made gaudy with the trappings of modernity, like a gibbon in a spacesuit.

The only truly new political idea in the last couple thousand years is this libertarian idea, broadly understood. The revolution wrought by John Locke, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, and the Founding Fathers is the only real revolution going. And it’s still unfolding.

Indeed, what’s remarkable about all of the states Lind identifies as proof that libertarianism doesn’t work is that they are in fact proof that it does. What made the American experiment new were its libertarian innovations, broadly speaking. Moreover, those innovations made us prosper. Even Sweden — the liberal Best in Show — owes its successes to its libertarian concessions.

I’m actually not a full-blown libertarian myself, but it’s an ideal I’d like America to move closer to, not further away from as we’ve been doing of late — bizarrely in the name of “progress,” of all things.

— Jonah Goldberg is the author of The Tyranny of Clichés, now on sale in paperback. You can write to him at goldbergcolumn@gmail.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO. © 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

via National Review Online


Libertarians sure are mysterious

Interesting item from Emily Esfahani Smith – Washington Times:

If youve ever observed a group of libertarians at a bar — perhaps discussing objectivism, the Second Amendment, or marijuana, all with reverence — then you know that they are a species of political being unlike the rest of us.

But they are an important group to understand this election cycle, as topics such as the economy, the size of government and entitlements take center stage and “Atlas Shrugged: Part II” opens in movie theaters nationwide. According to Gallup, libertarians make up about 20 percent of the electorate — and they are a vocal and influential minority, as the tea party movement has shown.

The ascent of the “Atlas Shrugged”-loving Paul Ryan to the Republican ticket is another indication that the libertarian movement may be in the midst of its political moment.

But what exactly do libertarians believe?

Psychologists Ravi Iyer, Spassena Koleva, Jesse Graham, Peter Ditto and Jonathan Haidt set out to answer this very question in the largest study of libertarians to date, “Understanding Libertarian Morality,” published recently in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

After surveying nearly 12,000 self-identified libertarians, the researchers determined that libertarians have a set of moral values that are distinct from those held by ordinary conservatives and liberals…

>> More

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Libertarian Personalities Dissected

“…All Americans value liberty, but libertarians seem to value it more. For social conservatives, liberty is often a means to the end of rolling back the welfare state, with its lax morals and redistributive taxation, so liberty can be infringed in the bedroom. For liberals, liberty is a way to extend rights to groups perceived to be oppressed, so liberty can be infringed in the boardroom. But for libertarians, liberty is an end in itself, trumping all other moral values…”

In a recently published paper, Ravi Iyer from the University of Southern California, together with Dr. Haidt and other researchers at the data-collection platform YourMorals.org, dissect the personalities of those who describe themselves as libertarian…

via Matt Ridley on Libertarians | Mind & Matter – WSJ.com