Monday, November 7, 2016

How to Feel Good About this Election (or... "The Silver-Lining You've Probably Missed")



So, this post comes on the heels of a very rough week, for me. The past several days have been probably among the toughest and most challenging experiences I've lived through.

It started for me when some people I know,... members of a certain hacktivist group you've heard of, unless you've been living under a rock for the last several years... started talking about an information dump that was coming in the (then) immediate future. It was something coordinated with Wikileaks, that had originally been intended as part of the "October Surprise." It had been delayed, when those compiling the information discovered that what it contained was several shades darker than anyone had anticipated, and they wanted to give their sources a chance to get out of the country before going public with it.

That information has since come out.

I was immediately blown away by what it contained. It turned my stomach worse than anything I've ever read, but I committed myself to doing my research and publishing a trio of articles here, examining the information in stages.

However, as I commenced with my research, I found that it was making me physically ill to keep focused on it. Initially, I put in a good eight hours of work, after which I felt dizzy, nauseous and unable to continue. I took to bed for the night. Since then, I've only been able to work in very short, (thirty-minute to one-hour,) sessions and ultimately, I just ended up feeling evicted from the work. I simply could not continue to put my eyes to it. I couldn't get my fingers moving on the keys. I had to stop.

Then, I checked into social media, (Facebook & Twitter are my primaries, which makes me as unique as your average Bic pen.) Predictably, everybody's talking about tomorrow's election, and every last post that I so much as glanced at stirred up my stomach again.

The only way I can describe the feeling was an intense and pervading sense of dread. It was a certainty that no matter what happens tomorrow, it's going to be bad. I shut off my computer, and my phone. I climbed into bed and just shut down.

Today, I've found... quite by necessity, a new outlook.

I still intend to push forward with my work on the John Podesta email-dump, but for the time being, I thought I would focus on something more positive. Because I realized that there is a silver-lining to this election, and it's one that is absolutely guaranteed to happen. "Silver" isn't even the right word for it. It is incandescent! It shines with a light all its own, more brightly than the sun on a clear day.

No matter what happens tomorrow; whether Trump's landslide is publicly acknowledged by the powers that be, or the Axis of the DNC, the Clinton Campaign and the Mainstream Media completely obscure it to pilfer the election,... a gleaming upside will remain.

The real takeaway that we should all be very happy with, from this entire, year-long ordeal of debates and mudslinging and propaganda is this: Realizing that we have now moved completely into and are living in the Information Age, (that is; the era of information is no longer "being built" or "having its foundation poured," but is now fully established, fully in effect and cannot be stopped...) the previous, undisputed rulers of Information... have been deposed.

No one trusts the Mainstream Media anymore. In fact, it's actually become something of an oxymoron to refer to them by that term. Public trust in the MSM is at a historic low. It is now below 6%. That means that over 94% of the American public no longer trust CNN, C-SPAN, MSNBC, FOX, The Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, etc. The true "Mainstream" of the media is now what has been heretofore referred to as "Alternative Media," or simply "New Media."

Here's what this has to do with feeling good about the election;... No matter what happens tomorrow, November 8th, 2016... the (previously) "Mainstream" Media will never, and can never... recover from this shattering of the American people's faith in them.

Their handling of this election has become the final nail in the coffin containing what's left of their public-trust.

If Trump wins, it will only confirm that the MSM has been straight-up lying about their polling data, their consumer feedback studies, and their reporting on the public-reaction to the debates and news-items. If Trump wins the election, after six-straight months of media pundits telling us, firstly that he has "absolutely no chance to win," and secondly that they're basing that assessment on real figures and data-points,.. (for a great example, listen to the pundit discussions before the last of the three Presidential Debates; it was nothing but, "Trump can't win," "It's over," "Get used to saying 'Madam President," etc.) If, after all of that, Trump ends up winning, it will officially be the end of anyone buying into Mainstream Media narratives ever again.

"But," you're probably asking, "what if the election goes to Clinton?"

It's a real possibility. A lot of people are saying that "she's going to win, whether she actually wins or not," ...and I think that's an astute assessment of how things are working in Washington right now.

So, it's a fair question; If the election goes to Hillary, won't that just confirm everything the MSM has been saying for the last year?

Well,... no.

See, here's the thing... full disclosure; I'm not a Trump fan. Prior to this election, I've never followed Donald Trump, particularly. I read his book, "The Art of the Deal," years ago. But, I'm not a big Trump guy. I don't think he's nearly the ridiculous monster that many others do, but that's not to say that I'm a "fan."

That having been said, there is something pretty major that I have in common with at least 99.9% of the people in this picture...



And, to be fair... it's something that I'll bet I have in common with everybody in this picture too...



...and it is this: I HAVE FUNCTIONING SENSES!

See, the MSM has been talking up how nobody likes this Trump-guy, he's got less than no chance to win the election, his Mommy dresses him funny, he's got weird hair, and he said "Pussy" once, tee hee hee... etc.

All the while, THIS...



...has been the actual reality of the physical universe we occupy for the last twelve months.

Donald Trump was drawing crowds of between 200,000 and 300,000 people per rally.

Hillary Clinton drew a total of just over 25,000 people at all of her rallies combined!

That's right! Hello! Good morning, everybody! Reality check! The magician isn't *actually* pulling a magical rabbit out of a hat! The emperor is wearing no clothing at all! Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and toaster-pastries that don't taste like chalk are figments of your imagination!

...And Hillary Clinton is *nowhere near* Donald Trump in terms of popularity with voters.

So, no... if the election goes to Hillary it won't "prove the MSM right." It will actually prove Trump's assertion that the electoral system has been rigged and that the Mainstream Media is bullshitting you!

That is your silver-lining: The Mainstream Media in the United States of America in 2016 AD, has performed the single greatest instance of painting oneself into a corner, in the history of man. They have no way out of this exposure. They did it to themselves. They lifted their own curtain. The bell cannot be un-rung.

Whatever else the future might hold in store... the straight-up terrorist, propaganda and indoctrination institution known as the "Mainstream Media" has been broken. The people of this country are demonstrably,... deafeningly... tired of a government that treats them like they are the enemy. It is a system that uses and abuses them, while charging them for the privilege and demonizing them for good measure, all because their interests don't align with that of the ruling elite-class. The media has been trumpeting the virtue of this wholly perverse and lecherous system, in open condescension and defiance of the will and awareness of the people. Watch the Presidential Debates again. They're all available, in full, on YouTube. They're not even hiding their bias for the left, nor their pure, elitist contempt for the "unwashed masses," that are their vision of the American public, anymore.

They have devoted billions of dollars toward focusing on a candid conversation that took place on a bus, over a decade ago... to the complete exclusion of literally thousands of pages of revelations of criminal activity on the part of the Clintons and their inner-circle! They have held their narrative line of "violent, rioting Trump supporters," in open denial of the revelations about George Soros' funding of Clinton supporters to riot at Trump rallies! They have maintained their stance on fraudulent polling practices, and voter fraud, in open denial of the Project: Veritas video evidence showing said fraud happening right in front of all three-hundred million pairs of American eyes!

And now, most recently? We've got reams of evidence, straight from the Clinton campaign themselves, that the Clintons and John Podesta have participated in Satanic, Cannibalistic rituals involving pedophilia and child-sex-slave trafficking... and the MSM has flat-out, openly refused to cover it!

Their defense?

"B-b-but... 'grab 'em by the pussy, they let you do it," ...remember, guys?

Their problem is that this is not the 1930s. They don't decide what information the public eye has access to, anymore. The internet exists. The information is out there, widespread and decentralized. The marketplace of ideas remains a FREE-market, whether-the-fuck they like it or not! We can find this information, and we can put our eyes on these things. So, the big "news" networks are only further torching their own credibility, when they pretend that they can suppress information by sticking their collective heads up their asses.

Well,... we've seen them for the propagandists that they are, now. No one believes them, and no one is interested in their spin anymore.

New Media has, over the course of the last few years, risen to not only "compete with," but to replace... the MSM. Viewership for New Media outlets is screamingly high, and it only continues to rise, as public trust in the MSM continues to wither away to nothing.

The power of the elite to obscure and spin the truth has all the horsepower of a motorized flea-circus.

That is going to remain true, no matter what happens tomorrow.

So,... to liberty minded people, I say this; Keep speaking truth to power.
Your audience has never been larger.



*****

Monday, October 24, 2016

Review: The Walking Dead - S7 Premiere - **NO SPOILERS**

Don't worry if you haven't seen the Season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead. I won't spoil anything here.



The episode definitely stung,... a lot. It left a very sour taste. It left me, as a fan, uncertain of how I felt about it.

But, that's exactly how they want us to feel at this point. The episode, (again, without spoiling anything) is devastating. If you have anything to do which requires a cool and clear head, don't watch this episode right before it.



I Love Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Everything I've ever seen him in, he is both entertaining and completely convincing. Good actors can give you one or the other of those things. It takes a great actor to give you both,... and a superb actor to do so, consistently.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan is a superb actor.

His portrayal of the Comedian in Watchmen, made me Love the character I liked the least (and even hated) in the comic. I can't picture anyone else playing any of the characters he's played; from John Winchester in Supernatural to Clay in The Losers. He makes every role his own. Negan is no exception to this. From start to finish, I absolutely believe in how utterly cruel, remorseless, and psychopathic the character is.

I have this problem with TV dramas. It's a pretty big one and it's certainly pervasive throughout the medium and the genre; with very rare exceptions, the villains suck. They just never convince me. They're just not dark-dangerous-foul enough to get me to genuinely worry about the heroes. The villains thus far on The Walking Dead have been,... ok, I guess. But, they've always been a trade-off of factors. Some were almost dark enough, but didn't have the chops to do anything about it. These psychopaths were usually dangerous only because of circumstances beyond their direct control that facilitated an opportunity for them to act on their hateful urges and pose a real threat. On the other hand, those villains that were capable enough to be dangerous without a Deus ex machina putting the gun in their hand, weren't nearly dark or evil enough to make their talents scary.

Negan is the first TV-villain I've seen in a long time that actually scares me. What's lurking just out of sight, behind that razor-blade smile, is more sinister than all of the other villains who've appeared on the show, combined. What's worse, he is not a mere beneficiary of circumstances. He is a creator of them. For the entirety of his screen-time, he is in utter control of the universe. His people, Rick's people, even entire hoards of walkers, are to Negan, nothing more than tools which he turns to his own designs, seemingly without notable effort. Even those actions and events that occur outside of his control, end up serving his purposes, and *not by chance,* but by the way he adapts himself to them. He is unflappable.

He is a threat to our heroes in every conceivable way. He manipulates everyone and everything around him to accomplish his goals. Nothing is ever out of hand, for him. And again,... the guy is just pure, psychopathic evil personified.

What I'm saying is that it's good that the episode's sting is as harsh as it is, and it is, in fact a must-watch.

Good TV-villains are black diamond-rare. They're also commensurately expensive. Speaking in the currency of narrative, it will (and should) cost something to establish such a show-stealing threat. Into every pot of chili, a few scoops of spice must fall. Otherwise, the longer it's on the fire, the weaker it will become.

At the outset of the show's seventh season, I'd say it's a good time to reach for the Japanese Ghost Peppers.

***

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Don't Lose Friendships Over Politics

Has election season always been this rough on friendships?

Friendships and families are actually too precious to throw away for transient reasons.So many people I know are getting into Facebook fights, Twitter wars, Instagram arguments, and Snapchat squabbles. What begins as an ideological dispute ends in bitterness. People are provoking others, demanding those who do or don’t support their candidate leave their networks, cutting ties with friends and family, and all because of political differences.

I can’t even imagine what the Thanksgiving table will be like this year!

People perceive the stakes this year to be that high. To be sure, political philosophy does matter and does carry high stakes. However, the partisan struggle for the control of the state apparatus by this or that temporary manager doesn’t matter as much as election season seems to suggest. You might be being manipulated, and friendships and families are actually too precious to throw away for transient reasons.

It’s a pity to cause permanent rifts, and so unnecessary. The people who rearrange their personal relationships for the election imagine that they are taking control of their lives. They don’t seem to realize that they are actually letting strangers control their lives – strangers who care nothing for them in a system that actually seeks to divide people so it can conquer them. To permit politics to fundamentally alter something so important as friendship is to give politicians more importance than they deserve.

Trolling and Banning

To isolate yourself, and hate others for their views plays into exactly what the political system wants for you to do.Now, of course there is a proviso here. If there is someone in your network who is deliberately trolling you, harassing you, and goading you to respond, the best possible response is to block them. Not talk back. Not engage in a tit for tat. Just quietly block, without drama or announcement, much less denunciation.

Most public people I know have blocked as many as one hundred plus people over the past year, simply because this election season has been so contentious, with the alt-right and alt-left (who oddly agree on so much) battling it out on social media. Blocking is the far better path than engaging them. Vicious back and forths on the Internet can be life-consuming and draining. People who are trying to do that to you deserve exclusion from your conversation circle.

Apart from these cases, it strikes me as pointless to hurl someone out of your life because of political differences.

First, by denying yourself access to different points of view, you risk isolating yourself from a critic who might teach you something you need to know, maybe about anything in life, but maybe even about politics.

Second, talking to people with different opinions keeps you making sense and speaking in a civil way, addressing others in a way that could persuade them.

Third, and most critically, to isolate yourself, hate others for their views, and regard people with different points of view as less deserving of dignified treatment, plays into exactly what the political system wants for you to do.

But Aren’t They Aggressors?

A counter to my point was offered by a friend of mine last year. Speaking as a libertarian, he said, he regards anyone who supports some government action – even just casually and without much thought – as wittingly or unwittingly contributing to an opinion culture that supports rising political violence. The only friends he believes deserve the time of day from him must hold steadfastly to his voluntarist perspective, else he regards them as a direct threat to his life and liberty.

Now, this strikes me as vastly too severe. The truth is that most people who support some government action do not regard themselves as violent people. They believe that they are favoring something that is good for others, perhaps fostering the better life for the community.

For example, if a person favors higher spending on public education, they believe that they are pushing for policies that are good for others, not calling for violence against taxpayers to support unworkable programs. How can you possibly persuade them otherwise if you cut off all ties?

And it’s not just libertarians who can be this way. A good friend of mine was a casual lefty and, like most from his tribe, he was dead serious about the issue of climate change. I had no idea until the subject came up over coffee. I expressed some doubt that the science was truly settled concerning all causes and effects, solutions, costs and benefits, and so on. I was actually very measured in my comments, but somehow they caused him to blow up, call me a science-denying, tin-foil-hat-wearing capitalist apologist, and then actually leave the conversation. And that was it.

The politics of identity is causing precisely these sorts of irrational and pointless splits among us.I was stunned. I was merely disagreeing with him, however cautiously. But somehow, he had come to believe that anyone who disagreed with him bears some responsibility for the rising sea levels, the melting of the polar ice caps, and the gradual disintegration of the planet, even though I’ve written very little on the topic at all.

He was letting politics control his life and even determine his friendships. Both of us are spiritually poorer as a result of this friendship loss.

And consider the toxic effect the rising politics of personal identity – on the left and the right – are having on the ability of people to find value in each other. Imagine how you would make me feel if you believed my whiteness represents a continuing stain on the world order. There is no chance for any kind of engagement; after all, I cannot change my race. Or what if I believe your blackness or gayness or atheism or whatever is leading to demographic or cultural destruction – how can we possibly be civil to each other? The politics of identity is causing precisely these sorts of irrational and pointless splits among us.

What Is the Point of Friendship?

What the libertarian and the lefty I mentioned above do not realize is that they are guilty of the same error of allowing politics to invade the conduct of their lives and determine the conditions of their personal happiness. Once this kind of thing starts, there is truly no end to it.

Must everyone agree with you on every jot and tittle of your ideology to be your friend? Must there be zero tolerance for even the slightest difference in outlook, priority, application, and goal of your particular political outlook? In other words, must all your friends believe exactly as you believe?

If this is your perspective, you might consider: there is not much point to being friends and engaging in conversation with someone who has the exact same view on all things that you have. It seems rather boring. Might as well stay home and reflect on your own infallibility.

If we long for a better world of mutual understanding and peace, one way to help achieve it is to live as if it already exists.I like to think of friendship much the way we think of economic exchange. In economics, goods and services do not exchange in the presence of perfect sameness. They exchange because each party to the exchange believes himself or herself will be better off than he or she was before the exchange. It is only in the presence of unequal expectations that exchange becomes mutually rewarding.

It is the same with friendship. We need to hear different points of view. We need the insights of others. Even if we don’t accept them in total, we can still hope to understand people and the world better by considering what others have to say – with sincerity, warmth, and honesty. In other words, friendships like this help us have an open mind and keep us all humble and teachable.

Candidates Will Betray You

Neither is it a good idea to give up a friendship based on loyalty to a particular candidate. The top two contenders for the presidency have held many different and conflicting views on a huge range of political issues, from taxation to immigration to war. These people are wired to be adaptable based on the polls. To follow one or the other all the way to the point that it affects your associations is to risk compromising your own intellectual integrity.

Neither is worth that.

One of the great tragedies of politics is that it can take people who in real life would be peaceful and loyal and loving friends and turn them into bitter enemies. I’m always struck by this when I see a political rally, with face offs between backers and protesters. What exactly is gained by this? If you put these same people in a shopping mall or movie theater or restaurant, they would have every reason to get along and no reason to be screaming obscenities at each other.

We should hold on to that realization. Each of us is a human being with feelings, hopes, dreams, and a vision of a life well-lived – every single person, regardless of race, religion, gender identity, or ideology. Politics should change nothing about that.

If we long for a better world of mutual understanding and peace, one way to help achieve it is to live as if it already exists. Above all, that means never letting politics get in the way of rewarding human relationships.

Jeffrey Tucker
Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Hillary Will Tax You to Death... and Then Tax You for Dying

What’s the worst possible tax hike, the one that would do the most economic damage?

Raising income tax rates is never a good idea, and there’s powerful evidence from the 1980s about how upper-income taxpayers have considerable ability to change their behavior in response to changes in incentives.

But if you want to know the tax hikes that do the most damage, on a per-dollar raised basis, it’s probably best to focus on levies that boost double taxation of saving and investment.

The Tax Foundation ran some estimates on five different tax increases, for instance, and found that worsening depreciation rules (an arcane part of the tax code dealing with the degree to which new investment is taxed) would do the most damage, followed by a higher corporate tax rate, and then higher individual income tax rates.

But I wonder what they would have found if they also modeled the impact of a higher death tax. That levy is particularly destructive because it directly requires the liquidation of capital. The assets of investors, entrepreneurs, farmers, small business owners, and other victims take a big hit as politicians grab as much as 40 percent of what they’ve worked for during their lives.

This is bad for the economy because it directly reduces the capital stock. Sort of like harvesting apples by cutting down 40 percent of the trees in an orchard. The net result is that the economy’s ability to generate future income is undermined.

But it’s also bad for the economy because it reduces incentives for successful taxpayers to both earn and invest while they’re alive. Why bust your rear end when the government immediately will take at least 39.6 percent (actually more when you consider Medicare taxes, state taxes, and double taxation of interest, dividends, and capital gains) of your income, and then another 40 percent of what you’ve saved and invested when you kick the bucket?

Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton doesn’t seem to care about such matters. She actually just decided to double down on her destructive tax agenda by endorsing an even bigger increase in the death tax.

I’m not joking.

The editorial page of the Wall Street Journal is not exactly impressed by Hillary’s class-warfare poison.

On Thursday she decided that her proposal to raise the death tax to 45% from 40% isn’t enough and endorsed even higher levies that would apply to thousands of estates. Though she defeated Bernie Sanders in the primary, she is adopting the socialist’s death-tax rate structure. She’d tax all estates over $10 million at 50%, apply a 55% rate on estates over $50 million, and go to 65% on assets above $500 million. The 65% rate would be the highest since 1981 and is another example of how she is repudiating the more moderate policies of her husband and the Democrats of the 1990s. …the Sanders plan that Mrs. Clinton is copying did not index exemption levels for inflation. …Mrs. Clinton would also end the “step-up in basis” on stock valuations for many filers, triggering big capital gains taxes for a much broader population.

Wow, this is class warfare on steroids. And the part about this being more like Bernie Sanders than Bill Clinton hits the mark. Economic freedom actually increased in America between 1992 and 2000.

Hillary, by contrast, is a doctrinaire and reflexive statist. I’m not aware of a single position she’s taken that would reduce the burden of government.

By the way, here’s a bit of information that won’t shock anyone familiar with the greed and hypocrisy of the political class.

Hillary and her friends will largely dodge the tax, which mostly will fall on small business owners who lack the ability to create clever structures.

…most of her rich friends will set up foundations, as she and Bill Clinton have, to shelter most of their riches from the estate tax. …In any case, Mrs. Clinton is now promising total tax hikes of $1.5 trillion over a decade if elected President.

Gee, knock me over with a feather.

The Tax Foundation may not have included the death tax when it compared the harm of different tax hikes, but it has looked at how the death tax hurts the economy by discouraging capital formation and capital accumulation.

…an estate tax increase would cause economic production to be allocated away from business equipment, reducing the quantity of business equipment in the economy. …Many of the assets that fall under the estate tax, such as residential structures, commercial structures, and business equipment, enhance productivity, or gross domestic product (GDP) per hour worked. …The relationship between these assets and productivity is the focus of one of the most common models in economics, an equation called the Cobb-Douglas production function, which describes how workers and capital goods together produce economic output. Under this model, more capital increases output or income, even as the number of workers is held constant. It therefore increases GDP per hour worked, making people richer. Under such a model, reallocating economic production away from the capital goods that enhance output would reduce GDP in the long run. This is an effect that one might expect to see in a macroeconomic analysis of the estate tax.

Amen. If you want more output and higher living standards, you need to boost worker pay by increasing the quality and quantity of capital in the economy.

Here are the estimates of what happens to the economy with a 65 percent death tax.

So what would happen if lawmakers instead did the right thing and abolished this wretched example of double taxation?

The Tax Foundation has crunched the numbers. Here’s the impact on the overall economy.

And here’s what happens to federal revenue over the same period.

By the way, the Wall Street Journal editorial cited above did contain a bit of good news.

Congress is starting to push back against President Obama’s stealth death tax increase. Rep. Warren Davidson (R., Ohio) read our recent editorial about Treasury plans to raise taxes on minority stakes in family businesses by artificially inflating their value, and he’s drafted a bill to stop Treasury’s tax grab as a violation of the separation of powers. …A former owner of several businesses, Mr. Davidson says the U.S. economy needs owners focused on “growing assets, not structuring them for life events.” He explains that many farms in particular may carry high values but hold little cash, and so the death tax triggers land sales to pay the IRS. “The whole concept of a death tax is immoral,” Mr. Davidson says, and he’s right. The tax confiscates assets that have already been taxed once or more when first earned, and it punishes a lifetime of investment and thrift.

I wrote about this issue the other day, so I’m glad to see that there’s pushback against this Obama Administration scheme to unilaterally boost the burden of the death tax.

P.S. Politicians are not the only beneficiaries of the death tax.

Republished from Dan Mitchell's blog.

Daniel J. Mitchell
Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review. 

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Monday, September 26, 2016

You Never Go Full Keynesian

When I was younger, folks in the policy community joked that BusinessWeek was the “anti-business business weekly” because its coverage of the economy was just as stale and predictably left wing as what you would find in the pages of Time or Newsweek.

Well, perhaps it’s time for The Economist to be known as the “anti-economics economic weekly.”

Writing about the stagnation that is infecting western nations, the magazine beclowns itself by regurgitating stale 1960s-style Keynesianism. The article is worthy of a fisking (i.e., a “point-by-point debunking of lies and/or idiocies”), starting with the assertion that central banks saved the world at the end of last decade.

During the financial crisis the Federal Reserve and other central banks were hailed for their actions: by slashing rates and printing money to buy bonds, they stopped a shock from becoming a depression.

I’m certainly open to the argument that the downturn would have been far worse if the banking system hadn’t been recapitalized (even if it should have happened using the “FDIC-resolution approach” rather than via corrupt bailouts), but that’s a completely separate issue from whether Keynesian monetary policy was either desirable or successful.

Regarding the latter question, just look around the world. The Fed has followed an easy-money policy. Has that resulted in a robust recovery for America? The European Central Bank (ECB) has followed the same policy. Has that worked? And the Bank of Japan (BoJ) has done the same thing. Does anyone view Japan’s economy as a success?

At least the article acknowledges that there are some skeptics of the current approach.

The central bankers say that ultra-loose monetary policy remains essential to prop up still-weak economies and hit their inflation targets. …But a growing chorus of critics frets about the effects of the low-rate world—a topsy-turvy place where savers are charged a fee, where the yields on a large fraction of rich-world government debt come with a minus sign, and where central banks matter more than markets in deciding how capital is allocated.

Inflation and Unemployment

The Economist, as you might expect, expresses sympathy for the position of the central bankers.

In most of the rich world inflation is below the official target. Indeed, in some ways central banks have not been bold enough. Only now, for example, has the BoJ explicitly pledged to overshoot its 2% inflation target. The Fed still seems anxious to push up rates as soon as it can.

The preceding passage is predicated on the assumption that there is a mechanistic tradeoff between inflation and unemployment (the so-called Phillips Curve), one of the core concepts of Keynesian economics. According to adherents, all-wise central bankers can push inflation up if they want lower unemployment and push inflation down if they want to cool the economy.

This idea has been debunked by real world events because inflation and unemployment simultaneously rose during the 1970s (supposedly impossible according the Keynesians) and simultaneously fell during the 1980s (also a theoretical impossibility according to advocates of the Phillips Curve).

But real-world evidence apparently can be ignored if it contradicts the left’s favorite theories.

That being said, we can set aside the issue of Keynesian monetary policy because the main thrust of the article is an embrace of Keynesian fiscal policy.

…it is time to move beyond a reliance on central banks. …economies need succour now. The most urgent priority is to enlist fiscal policy. The main tool for fighting recessions has to shift from central banks to governments.

As an aside, the passage about shifting recession fighting “from central banks to governments” is rather bizarre since the Fed, the ECB, and the BoJ are all government entities. Either the reporter or the editor should have rewritten that sentence so that it concluded with “shift from central banks to fiscal policy” or something like that.

Small-Government Keynesianism?

In any event, The Economist has a strange perspective on this issue. It wants Keynesian fiscal policy, yet it worries about politicians using that approach to permanently expand government. And it is not impressed by the fixation on “shovel-ready” infrastructure spending.

The task today is to find a form of fiscal policy that can revive the economy in the bad times without entrenching government in the good. …infrastructure spending is not the best way to prop up weak demand. …fiscal policy must mimic the best features of modern-day monetary policy, whereby independent central banks can act immediately to loosen or tighten as circumstances require.

So The Economist endorses what it refers to as “small-government Keynesianism,” though that’s simply its way of saying that additional spending increases (and gimmicky tax cuts) should occur automatically.

…there are ways to make fiscal policy less politicised and more responsive. …more automaticity is needed, binding some spending to changes in the economic cycle. The duration and generosity of unemployment benefits could be linked to the overall joblessness rate in the economy, for example.

In the language of Keynesians, such policies are known as “automatic stabilizers,” and there already are lots of so-called means-tested programs that operate this way. When people lose their jobs, government spending on unemployment benefits automatically increases. During a weak economy, there also are automatic spending increases for programs such as Food Stamps and Medicaid.

I guess The Economist simply wants more programs that work this way, or perhaps bigger handouts for existing programs. And the magazine views this approach as “small-government Keynesianism” because the spending increases theoretically evaporate as the economy starts growing and fewer people are automatically entitled to receive benefits from the various programs.

A Claim With No Evidence

Regardless, whoever wrote the article seems convinced that such programs help boost the economy.

When the next downturn comes, this kind of fiscal ammunition will be desperately needed. Only a small share of public spending needs to be affected for fiscal policy to be an effective recession-fighting weapon.

My reaction, for what it’s worth, is to wonder why the article doesn’t include any evidence to bolster the claim that more government spending is and “effective” way of ending recessions and boosting growth. Though I suspect the author of the article didn’t include any evidence because it’s impossible to identify any success stories for Keynesian economics.

  • Did Keynesian spending boost the economy under Hoover? No.
  • Did Keynesian spending boost the economy under Roosevelt? No.
  • Has Keynesian spending worked in Japan at any point over the past twenty-five years? No.
  • Did Keynesian spending boost the economy under Obama? No.

Indeed, Keynesian spending has an unparalleled track record of failure in the real world. Though advocates of Keynesianism have a ready-built excuse. All the above failures only occurred because the spending increases were inadequate.

But what do expect from the “perpetual motion machine” of Keynesian economics, a theory that is only successful if you assume it is successful?

I’m not surprised that politicians gravitate to this idea. After all, it tells them that their vice of wasteful overspending is actually a virtue.

But it’s quite disappointing that journalists at an allegedly economics-oriented magazine blithely accept this strange theory.

P.S. My second-favorite story about Keynesian economics involves the sequester, which big spenders claimed would cripple the economy, yet that’s when we got the only semi-decent growth of the Obama era.

P.P.S. My favorite story about Keynesianism is when Paul Krugman was caught trying to blame a 2008 recession in Estonia on spending cuts that occurred in 2009.

P.P.P.S. Here’s my video explaining Keynesian economics.

A version of this article first appeared on Dan Mitchell's blog.

Daniel J. Mitchell
Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review. 

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Daily Show's Trevor Noah Accidentally Debunks Gun-Free Zones

I like when leftists accidentally make the case for limited government.

  • The IMF, for instance, accidentally put together some solid evidence showing that a value-added tax is a money machine for bigger government.
  • A story in the New York Times, meanwhile, accidentally showed that politicians will hike taxes if they’re not constrained by tax competition.
  • And a statist in Illinois tried to argue that higher taxes don’t enable higher spending, but he accidentally showed that politicians raised taxes so they wouldn’t have to cut spending.
  • Another report in the New York Times accidentally acknowledged that genuine private savings is the best route to obtain a secure retirement.

You can look at more examples here, but you get the point.

Gun-Free Zones

And now we have another item for our collection.

Sean Davis of The Federalist must believe in taking candy from babies and in exploiting the weak and defenseless. I’m jumping to this uncharacteristic conclusion because he just body-slammed a very vulnerable target. To be more specific, he mocked Trevor Noah of the Daily Show for some amazingly vapid comments that inadvertently decimated the gun-free-zone argument of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

You should read the whole thing, but here are some of the more relevant portions of Sean’s article.

Trevor Noah, the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, accidentally destroyed the case for gun control during his show on Wednesday night. …The target of Noah’s ire was an ice cream shop owner in a small town southeast of St. Cloud, Minnesota — the site of a mass stabbing at a mall last weekend — who put up a sign outside of his restaurant that read, “Muslims Get Out.”

Sean then does something very unfair (at least in the mind of statists). He directly transcribes part of Noah’s diatribe so we can see his argument for ourselves (he also includes the video if you click through to see the full story from The Federalist). Here’s some of what Mr. Noah said.

…what’s also strange is this man genuinely thought people who go around blowing people up would be stopped by a sign? You realize you’re talking to terrorists, not vampires. They don’t need to be invited in, alright? Or maybe he’s onto something, because if you think about it, we’ve never tried that. We’ve never actually tried to repel terrorists with signs. Yeah, maybe that’s all the airports need is a sign that says “No Terrorists,” yes? Yeah, and then guys are going to be walking going, “Oh, I was going to blow up the airport, but the rules are rules and they said I can’t come in…”

If this was a play-by-play analysis, at this point I would say that Noah taped a sign to his own back that says “kick me.”

So Sean obliges with this understated observation.

Noah probably doesn’t know it, but he just accidentally made an airtight case against gun-free zones in particular and gun control in general. He is 100 percent correct: people hell-bent on murdering as many people as possible don’t really care about silly signs or laws that tell them not to murder people. A sign that says “No Guns” will no more keep a violent jihadi from gunning down a bunch of innocent people than will a sign that says “Muslims Get Out.”

Having exposed the giant flaw in Noah’s logic (if you could call it that), Sean then buries him under a pile of examples.

…how do we know that gun-free zones, nearly always marked with signs designating them as such, don’t deter murderous psychopaths? Because mass shootings, rather than happening at gun ranges or in gun stores, keep happening in gun-free zones. …The Sandy Hook massacre? Gun-free zone. Columbine? Gun-free zone. The Aurora movie theater shooting? Gun-free zone. The shooting last year at an Oregon community college? Gun-free zone. The shooting at a movie theater in Lafayette? Gun-free zone. The attack on a military recruiting center in Chattanooga? Gun-free zone. The Ft. Hood shooting? You guessed it: gun-free zone. The San Bernardino attack? Gun-free zone. And the massacre perpetrated by an ISIS enthusiast at an Orlando night club? Gun-free zone.

Being a generous soul, Sean concludes with some helpful advice.

A sign that says “Muslims Get Out” will do absolutely nothing to prevent radical Islamists from wreaking havoc. Trevor Noah understands this. If only he would learn to apply his logic to the argument from gun controllers that all we need to end violence are a few more signs telling terrorists not to use guns.

Reminds me of lesson contained in this Chuck Asay cartoon. Or in this amusing video.

Speaking of confused leftists, here’s a poster that is especially relevant given the racial unrest in Charlotte and elsewhere.

This young lady apparently is famous for appearing in Internet memes. She also showed up in this example of gun control satire.

Since we’re making fun of statists, let’s enjoy this story from the Boston Globe about a hack politician inadvertently boosting gun sales.

Massachusetts gun dealers sold more than 2,000 military-style rifles Wednesday — nearly one-quarter of the total sold last year — after Attorney General Maura Healey moved to bar semiautomatic rifles that have been altered slightly to evade the state’s assault weapons ban. The 2,251 assault rifles snapped up in a gun-buying frenzy represented a remarkable uptick from the 132 sold Tuesday and the 51 sold Monday, before Healey announced her ban. …The run on assault rifles raised questions about whether a policy designed to keep the high-powered weapons off the streets had instead unleashed a flood of them. …said Greg Malany, owner of GFA Arms TEC in Natick, which stayed open until just before midnight Wednesday to accommodate the line of customers that snaked out the door and onto the street. “We had to turn customers away,” he said.

Wow, makes you wonder whether Healey is actually an investor in the firearms industry.

The World's Most Sensible Nation

Let’s close with some good news on gun from overseas. It seems that there’s been an effort in Switzerland to discourage members of the militia from keeping guns at home. The only problem is that Swiss men don’t seem to share the anti-gun sentiments of “trade unions, churches, pacifists and centre-left parties.” Here’s some background.

All able-bodied Swiss men must do military service and have the option of keeping their army rifle at home. …Anti-gun campaigners have tried – and failed – on several occasions to ban military weapons from Swiss households. In 2011, Swiss voters rejected a controversial initiative on restricting access to firearms.

But a policy was implemented allowing men to store their guns outside their homes.

…since the beginning of 2010, members of the Swiss army have the option of storing their rifles, pistols and other weapons free of charge at arsenals or military barracks when they are not doing their military service.

So how many Swiss households took advantage of this opportunity?

As of the end of June 2016, only 789 army guns out of a total of 170,000 in circulation (0.5%) had been handed in to special military arsenals.

In other words, 99.5 percent of the militia did the equivalent of “voting with their feet” and chose to keep their weapons at home.

Now you can see why I call Switzerland the world’s most sensible nation.

Republished from Dan Mitchell's blog.

Daniel J. Mitchell
Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who specializes in fiscal policy, particularly tax reform, international tax competition, and the economic burden of government spending. He also serves on the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review. 

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Where Does the Term "Libertarian" Come From Anyway?

The word “libertarian” has gained new prominence due to the strange politics of our time. According to Google Trends, its use as a search term in the US is at a 10-year high.

It’s long. It’s awkward. It always needs explaining. In America, it’s a word for both a party and an ideology. And the wars over what it actually means never end.

What I haven’t seen is a serious investigation into the modern origins of the use of the term that might allow us to have a better understanding of what it means.

Thanks to FEE’s archiving project, we now have a better idea. As it turns out, libertarianism is not a strange new ideology with arcane rules and strictures, much less a canon of narrowly prescribed belief. It predates the Libertarian Party’s founding in 1972. The term came into use twenty years earlier to signal a broad embrace of an idea with ancient origins.

To be sure, if we go back a century, you will find a 1913 book Liberty and the Great Libertarians by Charles Sprading (reviewed here). It includes biographies of many classical liberals but also some radicals in general who didn’t seem to have much affection for modern commercial society. It’s a good book but, so far as I can tell, the use of the term in this book is an outlier.

Apart from a few isolated cases – H.L. Mencken had described himself as a libertarian in 1923 –  the term laid dormant on the American scene for the following 50 years.

The Liberty Diaspora

The pro-liberty perspective had been so far driven from public life that it had no name.Toward the end of World War II, a small group of believers in liberty set out to fight and reverse the prevailing ideological trends in media, academia, and government. During the war, the government controlled prices, wages, speech, and industrial production. It was comprehensive planning – a system not unlike that practiced in countries the US was fighting.

A flurry of books appeared that urged a dramatic change. In 1943, there was Rose Wilder Lane’s Discovery of Freedom, Isabel Paterson’s The God of the Machine, and Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead. In 1944, there was F.A. Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, Ludwig von Mises’s Omnipotent Government, and John T. Flynn’s As We Go Marching.

These powerful works signaled that it was time to counter the prevailing trend toward the “planned society,” which is why Leonard Read established the Foundation for Economic Education in 1946. It was the first institute wholly dedicated to the cause of human freedom.

As of yet, no word was used to describe the ideological outlook of this group of thinkers. To understand why, you have to put yourself back in the confusing period in question. The war had entrenched the New Deal and dealt a serious blow to those who wanted the US to stay out of foreign entanglements. The political resistance to the New Deal was completely fractured. The attack on Pearl Harbor had driven the anti-war movement into hiding. The trauma of war had changed everything. The pro-liberty perspective had been so far driven from public life that it had no name.

Resisting Labels

The term liberalism was taken from them, and they were now homeless.Most of these dissident thinkers would have easily described themselves as liberals two decades earlier. But by the mid-1930s, that word had been completely hijacked to mean its opposite. And keep in mind that the word “conservative” – which had meaning in the UK (referring to the Tories, who were largely opposed to classical liberalism) but not in the US – had yet to emerge: Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind wasn’t published until 1953.

In addition, Leonard Read resisted labeling the pro-freedom ideology, and for good reason. An ideological system with a name seems also to indicate a plan for how society ought to be managed and what a nation ought to strive for in detail. What he and others favored was exactly the opposite: the freedom for each individual to discover the right way through an emergent process of social evolution that never stops. There was no end state. There was only a process. They rightly believed labels distract from that crucial point.

We Need a Word

And yet, people will necessarily call you something. The problem of what that would be vexed this first generation after the war, and the struggle was on to find the right term. Some people liked the term “individualist,” but that has the problem of de-emphasizing the thriving sense of community, and the vast and intricate social cooperation, that result from a free society.

Libertarian is a synonym for what was once called liberal. It meant no more and it meant no less.Kirk’s book on “conservatism” appeared in 1953, but this term frustrated many people who believed strongly in free markets. Kirk had hardly mentioned economics at all, and the traditionalism he highlighted in the book seemed to exclude the classical liberal tradition of Hume, Smith, Jefferson, and Paine. The book also neglected the contributions of 20th century advocates of freedom, who had a new consciousness concerning the grave threats to liberty from both the right and left. 

In 1953, Max Eastman wrote a beautiful piece in The Freeman that discussed the reversal of the terms left and right over the course of the century, and deeply regretted the loss of the term liberalism. Among other suggestions, Eastman proposed "New Liberalism" to distinguish them from the New Deal liberals. But in addition to being awkward in general, the phrase had a built-in obsolescence. He further toyed with other phrases such as “conservative liberal,” but that had its own problems.

We are Liberals but the Word Is Gone

They were all struggling with the same problem. These people were rightly called liberals. But the term liberalism was taken from them, and they were now homeless. They knew what they believed but had no memorable term or elevator pitch.

A solution was proposed by Dean Russell, a historian of thought and a colleague of Read’s who had translated many works of Frédéric Bastiat. In May 1955, he wrote the seminal piece that proposed that the term libertarian be revived:

Many of us call ourselves “liberals.” And it is true that the word “liberal” once described persons who respected the individual and feared the use of mass compulsions. But the leftists have now corrupted that once-proud term to identify themselves and their program of more government ownership of property and more controls over persons. As a result, those of us who believe in freedom must explain that when we call ourselves liberals, we mean liberals in the uncorrupted classical sense. At best, this is awkward and subject to misunderstanding.

Here is a suggestion: Let those of us who love liberty trade-mark and reserve for our own use the good and honorable word “libertarian.””

So there we have it: libertarian is a synonym for what was once called liberal. It meant no more and it meant no less. It is not a new system of thought, a new ideology, a new revelation of some highly rarified political outlook with detailed answers to all of life’s problems. It was proposed as nothing more than a term to describe a tradition of thought dating back hundreds of years in the West and with even ancient origins.

Liberalism = Libertarianism

Liberalism is a term that describes the general conviction that freedom is the best solution to the whole problem of social interaction. Put another way, liberalism celebrates the primacy of freedom and rejects power and central authority as both ineffective and morally corrupting.

Russell then goes into specifics. Libertarianism is “the opposite of an authoritarian. Strictly speaking, a libertarian is one who rejects the idea of using violence or the threat of violence—legal or illegal—to impose his will or viewpoint upon any peaceful person.”

A libertarian believes government should “leave people alone to work out their own problems and aspirations.”

It did not refer to a narrow doctrine but to a general tendency, exactly the same as liberalism itself. A libertarian, continued Russell, “respects the right of every person to use and enjoy his honestly acquired property—to trade it, to sell it, or even to give it away—for he knows that human liberty cannot long endure when that fundamental right is rejected or even seriously impaired.” A libertarian “believes that the daily needs of the people can best be satisfied through the voluntary processes of a free and competitive market” and “has much faith in himself and other free persons to find maximum happiness and prosperity in a society wherein no person has the authority to force any other peaceful person to conform to his viewpoints or desires in any manner. In summary: “The libertarian’s goal is friendship and peace with his neighbors at home and abroad.”

Chodorov Weights In

He must have made a persuasive case. Frank Chodorov came on board, making exactly the same point in an essay in National Review, printed on June 20, 1956:

“The bottle is now labeled libertarianism. But its content is nothing new; it is what in the nineteenth century, and up to the time of Franklin Roosevelt, was called liberalism — the advocacy of limited government and a free economy. (If you think of it, you will see that there is a redundancy in this formula, for a government of limited powers would have little chance of interfering with the economy.) The liberals were robbed of their time-honored name by the unprincipled socialists and near socialists, whose avidity for prestige words knows no bounds. So, forced to look for another and distinctive label for their philosophy, they came up with libertarianism — good enough but somewhat difficult for the tongue.”

Read Comes Around

Even Leonard Read himself came around to using the term. In 1962, Leonard Read wrote The Elements of Libertarian Leadership. He again made the point that a libertarian is no more or less than a substitute for the term liberal:

“The term libertarian is used because nothing better has been found to replace liberal, a term that has been most successfully appropriated by contemporary authoritarians. As long as liberal meant liberation from the authoritarian state, it was a handy and useful generalization. It has come to mean little more than state liberality with other people’s money.”

A Big Tent

The endless fights over who is and who isn’t a libertarian are beside the point.There you have it. The content is nothing new. It is a broad umbrella of people who put the principle of freedom first. In its inception, libertarianism included: constitutionalists, believers in limited government, objectivists, anarchists, localists, agorists, pacifists, brutalists, humanitarians, and maybe monarchists too. It included deontologists, consequentialists, and empiricists.

The term was designed to apply to everyone who was not a partisan of central planning. It did not refer to a narrow doctrine but to a general tendency, exactly the same as liberalism itself. And that liberal principle was that that individuals matter and society needs no overarching managerial authority to work well.

Nor does it need to refer only to people who have a consistent and comprehensive worldview. Let’s say you want lower taxes, legal pot, and peace, and these are the issues that concern you. It strikes me that you can rightly call yourself a libertarian, regardless of what you might think on other issues once pressed.

For this reason, the endless fights over who is and who isn’t a libertarian are beside the point. There are better and worse renderings, better and worse arguments, better and worse implications, and it is up to all of us to do the hard work of discovering what those are. Whatever the results, no one can lay exclusive claim to the term. There are as many types of libertarians as there are believers in liberty itself.

To be sure, there are still plenty of problems with the term. It is still too long, and it is still too awkward. It will do for now, but notice something: the left-wing partisans of state planning don’t seem to embrace the word liberalism as they once did. They prefer the term progressive – a misnomer if there ever was one!.

Does that leave the word liberal on the table for the taking? Maybe. That would be some beautiful poetry. I say again, let’s take back the word liberal.

Jeffrey Tucker
Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Why Does Propaganda Work? Some People Want It.

There’s a principle in hypnotism that goes like this: A person cannot be hypnotized against his will. He must be a willing subject. He must be fully cooperative.

So it goes with propaganda. For propaganda to be effective, it requires submissive subjects. As Professor Nicholas O’Shaughnessy wrote, propaganda is a “co-production in which we are willing participants.”

Propaganda is typically defined as the dissemination of particularly biased information in support of a political or ideological cause. In his 1965 book Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, philosopher Jacques Ellul provided us with some of the basic characteristics of propaganda: it thwarts dialogue, it is geared toward the masses, it utilizes various media, it is continuous, it is not intended to make one think.

Disable the Brain

If these are the characteristics of propaganda, then it is no exaggeration to say that we are surrounded by it today. Most news organizations have become partisan shills and propagandists. They provide viewers with a steady stream of videos, audio clips, images, and articles—most lacking nuance and of dubious intellectual merit—that serve the intended purpose of promoting an ideology while fueling disdain for the “opposition”. And they have become very successful doing it.

The reason they are successful, I fear, is that most people today want to be propagandized—though they would never admit it. Most people want to be given ideological marching orders and talking points from an authority. Most people have zero interest, and see little value, in engaging with arguments put forward by those who hold differing positions, unless it’s to ridicule them. Most people want to simply choose the news media organizations that best fit with their selected ideological camps and immerse themselves in their informational streams.

This realization is unfortunate, but not really surprising. Over the past few hundred years we’ve had a massive democratization of public discourse and higher education in the West. A continually larger percentage of the population has gone to school for longer and longer periods of time, and has been given the impression that, as a result of this education, they are enlightened “critical thinkers” whose opinions have as much value as the next person’s.  

Yet, at the same time, we must confront the question raised by Dorothy Sayers in her famous 1947 essay “The Lost Tools of Learning”:

“Has it ever struck you as odd, or unfortunate, that today, when the proportion of literacy throughout Western Europe is higher than it has ever been, people should have become susceptible to the influence of advertisement and mass propaganda to an extent hitherto unheard of and unimagined?”

The fact is, though everyone goes through the education system today, most are not provided with the building blocks of thought. Most are no longer taught logic. Most are not shown how to engage in rational debate.

Avoiding Complexity

And even if these skills were better taught in today’s schools, I highly doubt that our situation would be that much better. If history and experience are any indicators, the difficult reality is that most people either don’t possess the intellectual chops for doing battle with complex and controversial ideas, or they choose not to undertake the discipline necessary to acquire this skill.  

In the past, when confronted with new or different ideas, people who did not achieve the heights of formal education had the values and traditions embedded in their communities to fall back on. These provided them with a foundation—a “common sense”—by which to assess the merit those opinions that may differ from their own.

But today, hyper-individualism, increased urbanization, the breakdown of the family, and ideological divisions have caused a decline in the formative influence of community, and reduced our access to the “common sense” that it can provide.  

Intellectually insecure and socially uprooted, many people are now desperate for some authority to cling to, someone who will give simple expression to the inklings of thoughts and instincts to which they can neither give adequate voice nor adequately live out.   

Is it any wonder, then, that so many people would seek out propaganda today, and that its providers would be so happy to oblige? 

This piece originally appeared in IntellectualTakeout

Daniel Lattier
Daniel Lattier

Dan is the Vice President of Intellectual Takeout. He received his B.A. in Philosophy and Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas (MN), and his M.A. and Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. You can find his academic work at Academia.edu.

 

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Five Anti-Capitalist Movies that Backfired

The life of commerce is far more dramatic, engaging, and even thrilling than its reputation suggests. There are clear signals to follow (prices and profitability), which make it easy to determine success. There is energy and the action of competition. There is a reward for intelligence and foresightedness. And there is plenty of risk.

Under the right conditions, enterprise can be an extreme sport. It’s not just personally rewarding. As the theorists of the Scottish Enlightenment were first to suggest, it also benefits the whole of society. The winner gets the gold, but so does everyone else.

It’s not easy to make a movie that demonizes all of this, not if it is realistic. The very act of presenting the drama of enterprise – complete with huge rewards – can inadvertently serve as a recruitment tool into the world of commerce. One of the reasons is that so few movies treat business life at all. They are so rare that just to get a peek into this world is thrilling by itself, even if the intention is to cast aspersions.

I can think of at least five movies that have done exactly that. Rather than turning viewers into raving socialists, the opposite happens: the romance of capitalism becomes the lasting impression.

Wall Street (1987)

Oliver Stone made this wonderful movie to deal the final blow to the “decade of greed” and the criminality it unleashed. But there was a real problem. All the characters seemed rather awesome to the viewer: great lives, epic jobs, smart dealings, high taste in all things, and so on. To go along with Stone’s intended narrative, you had to sympathize with regulators hounding smart stock traders for their noncompliance with arcane regulations.

The issue was “insider trading,” but it turns out to be difficult to show people what precisely is wrong with having more knowledge about something than your competitors. It was so difficult to do so that Stone had to arrange for the aspirational trader Bud Fox to break into an office and illegally copy files – which is, of course, a crime, regardless of insider trading rules.

The movie also failed to generate anti-capitalist hysteria because Gordon Gekko was so awesome (perfectly rendered by Michael Douglas). He was driven, sporty, sexy, and wore the greatest men’s fashions ever seen on the big screen. Then there was his famous speech, the one that supposedly incriminated him but strangely hits upon a truth everyone knows:

Now, in the days of the free market, when our country was a top industrial power, there was accountability to the stockholder. The Carnegies, the Mellons, the men that built this great industrial empire, made sure of it because it was their money at stake. Today, management has no stake in the company!

All together, these men sitting up here own less than 3 percent of the company. And where does Mr. Cromwell put his million-dollar salary? Not in Teldar stock; he owns less than 1 percent. You own the company. That’s right — you, the stockholder. And you are all being royally screwed over by these, these bureaucrats, with their steak lunches, their hunting and fishing trips, their corporate jets and golden parachutes.

Teldar Paper, Mr. Cromwell, Teldar Paper has 33 different vice presidents, each earning over 200 thousand dollars a year. Now, I have spent the last two months analyzing what all these guys do, and I still can’t figure it out. One thing I do know is that our paper company lost 110 million dollars last year, and I’ll bet that half of that was spent in all the paperwork going back and forth between all these vice presidents.

The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the unfittest. Well, in my book you either do it right or you get eliminated. In the last seven deals that I’ve been involved with, there were 2.5 million stockholders who have made a pretax profit of 12 billion dollars. Thank you.

I am not a destroyer of companies. I am a liberator of them!

The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed — for lack of a better word — is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms — greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge — has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed — you mark my words — will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.

Other People’s Money (1991)

Somehow I missed this when it first came out, but I watched it recently. I’m almost certain that it was designed to illustrate the dangers of rapaciously capitalistic takeover artists. The technology in the film is a kick because this was before the web – traders use terminals on their desks and by their beds to stream stock prices by satellite.

The main character is Lawrence Garfield, a corporate raider magnificently played by Danny DeVito. He seizes on an undervalued but overcapitalized mom-and-pop (literally) company and targets it for a takeover. He is voracious and measures his self worth according to his balance sheet. Even his love interest in the film is inspired by her willingness to play the takeover game with as much passion as his own.

He is loathsome, right? Not so much. He is smart, far-seeing, fearsome, and all-around kind of awesome. In his speech to the stockholders, he follows up an impassioned plea by the company’s founder to not throw away history and tradition, much less disregard worker rights. Given time, the company will come back in a big way. Garfield responds in a wonderful speech to the actual owners of the company:

Amen. And amen. And amen. You have to forgive me. I'm not familiar with the local custom. Where I come from, you always say "Amen" after you hear a prayer. Because that's what you just heard – a prayer. Where I come from, that particular prayer is called "The Prayer for the Dead." You just heard The Prayer for the Dead, my fellow stockholders, and you didn't say, "Amen."

This company is dead. I didn't kill it. Don't blame me. It was dead when I got here. It's too late for prayers. For even if the prayers were answered, and a miracle occurred, and the yen did this, and the dollar did that, and the infrastructure did the other thing, we would still be dead. You know why? Fiber optics. New technologies. Obsolescence. We're dead alright. We're just not broke. And you know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure.

You know, at one time there must’ve been dozens of companies makin’ buggy whips. And I’ll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company? You invested in a business and this business is dead. Let’s have the intelligence, let’s have the decency to sign the death certificate, collect the insurance, and invest in something with a future.

“Ah, but we can’t,” goes the prayer. “We can’t because we have responsibility, a responsibility to our employees, to our community. What will happen to them?” I got two words for that: Who cares? Care about them? Why? They didn’t care about you. They sucked you dry. You have no responsibility to them. For the last ten years this company bled your money. Did this community ever say, “We know times are tough. We’ll lower taxes, reduce water and sewer.” Check it out: You’re paying twice what you did ten years ago. And our devoted employees, who have taken no increases for the past three years, are still making twice what they made ten years ago; and our stock — one-sixth what it was ten years ago.

Who cares? I’ll tell ya: Me. I’m not your best friend. I’m your only friend. I don’t make anything? I’m makin’ you money. And lest we forget, that’s the only reason any of you became stockholders in the first place. You wanna make money! You don’t care if they manufacture wire and cable, fried chicken, or grow tangerines! You wanna make money! I’m the only friend you’ve got. I’m makin’ you money.

Take the money. Invest it somewhere else. Maybe, maybe you’ll get lucky and it’ll be used productively. And if it is, you’ll create new jobs and provide a service for the economy and, God forbid, even make a few bucks for yourselves. And if anybody asks, tell ’em ya gave at the plant.

And by the way, it pleases me that I am called “Larry the Liquidator.” You know why, fellow stockholders? Because at my funeral, you’ll leave with a smile on your face and a few bucks in your pocket. Now that’s a funeral worth having!

Pretty edgy stuff, but more compelling than it should be if the script writer intended people to side with the founders over the raiders.

Arbitrage (2012)

Richard Gere plays Robert Miller, a hedge fund manager addicted to leverage. And not just financial leverage – his tendency to live in the danger zone affects his personal life in profound ways, to the point that he is always on the verge of total ruin. One wrong move and it’s all over!

When the ruin doesn’t happen, he enjoys the reverse: universal acclaim as a brilliant savior of the world. The viewer is constantly amazed at his back-room deals, his quiet manipulations, his cover-ups and outright lies. It’s more anxiety and terror than almost any normal person could handle. And he does it all while looking fabulous.

The theme of the film seems to be about the illusions and delusions that modern finance capitalism requires. We are supposed to come away with a sense of disgust that the confidence game somehow works in the end. But rather than disgust, you can’t help but be impressed. It is also impossible not to root for the “bad guy” here simply because you love his derring-do.

There is no epic speech because so much of his dealings must remain private. But the drama is all there. And yes, Miller is shown to lose the respect and love of people who are very close to him, and we are supposed to come away thinking, “Wow, this kind of life is terrible and comes at too high a price.” And yet…

Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

This recent film is the most familiar to the current generation. And it is by far the most disgusting. The substance abuse, the filthy language, the ghastly misogyny, the promiscuity, is beyond belief. The portrayal of Wall Street and finance capitalism is ugly beyond description. I walked out in disgust at my first attempted viewing.

And yet, there are redeeming qualities. These people aspire to achieve. They are ambitious. They are highly competitive. They win at the game and enjoy massive public adulation for it. Leaving aside all the corruption and decadence, this feature by itself has merit. Director Martin Scorsese surely intended to create unmitigated revulsion at all the goings-on, but the portrayal of the main players was at times so funny and strangely admirable that it fails to demonize the system in the end.

I know personally of many millennials who have found great inspiration in this film. They look at the hard work, the willingness to make cold calls and start from the bottom in hopes of rising to the top, the promise of a wonderfully rich lifestyle, as a motivator. The film actually shocks a lazy and indifferent generation out of its stupor and into commercial life. Maybe I can be that wolf too!

Again, this anti-capitalist screed comes to be filtered by some people’s minds to become a model of achievement. Gag if you want, but it is true.

The Big Short (2015)

You know the narrative of the 2008 financial crises – that it was caused by greed, as if greed hadn’t existed before, as if government has any means to curb it through regulation, and as if nothing about the housing bubble was due to easy money or moral hazard created by regulators themselves. This film seeks to reinforce it at every stage. It’s a fascinating film that does a fine job explaining the trajectory of the housing crash, but nowhere deals with its actual cause. And this is extremely frustrating for those of us who know otherwise.

But you know what’s strange about this film? It makes heroes out of short sellers, those far-seeing speculators who bet that current prices are unsustainable. This is pretty much the opposite of the usual anti-capitalist script that treats short sellers as pariahs. It’s not even clear that the people who rally around this film understand what they are cheering.

But guess what? Short selling is part of the capitalist process. Every competitive market has optimists and pessimists. It takes both to make it work, and those who are right get the reward. Oddly, though the film implies that more regulations will save us from the next crisis, it shows that this one was exposed not by government but by attentive traders. In other words, the big short saved the day.

Bonus! Margin Call (2011)

This movie is not really anti-capitalist. It is far more ambiguous than that, and highly accurate, as a result. I’ve seen it probably ten times and I could watch it another ten. It is my all-time favorite. I’m adding it here just so I can post the speech delivered by Jeremy Irons, who plays the CEO of an investment banking firm that unloads all its mortgage securities products just before they tank to zero.

Over lunch, he explains his thinking:

So you think we might have put a few people out of business today. That it’s all for naught. You've been doing that every day for almost forty years Sam. And if this is all for naught then so is everything out there. It’s just money; it’s made up. Pieces of paper with pictures on it so we don't have to kill each other just to get something to eat.

It's not wrong. And it's certainly no different today than it’s ever been. 1637, 1797, 1819, 37, 57, 84, 1901, 07, 29, 1937, 1974, 1987 – Jesus, didn't that [eff] me up good – 92, 97, 2000 and whatever we want to call this. It's all just the same thing over and over; we can't help ourselves. And you and I can't control it, or stop it, or even slow it. Or even ever-so-slightly alter it.

We just react. And we make a lot money if we get it right. And we get left by the side of the road if we get it wrong. And there have always been and there always will be the same percentage of winners and losers. Happy foxes and sad sacks. Fat cats and starving dogs in this world. Yeah, there may be more of us today than there's ever been. But the percentages-they stay exactly the same.

 

Jeffrey Tucker
Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.