Topic: Political Philosophy

Rothbard in the New Yorker

Here’s something you don’t see every day: A discussion of Murray Rothbard’s anarcho-capitalism in the New Yorker, in a broader review of books on “anarchism” emerging from the Occupy movement. Author Kelefa Sanneh writes:

In fact, there is one anarchist who could be considered influential in Washington, but he wasn’t among the activists who participated in the Occupy movement—he died nearly twenty years ago. His name is Murray Rothbard, and, among small-government Republicans, he is something of a cult hero. He was Ron Paul’s intellectual mentor, which makes him the godfather of the godfather of the Tea Party. Justin Amash, a young Republican congressman from Michigan and a rising star in the Party, hangs a framed portrait of him on his office wall.

Rothbard was an anarchist, but also a capitalist. “True anarchism will be capitalism, and true capitalism will be anarchism,” he once said, and he sometimes referred to himself by means of a seven-syllable honorific: “anarcho-capitalist.” Graeber thinks that governments treat their citizens “like children,” and that, when governments disappear, people will behave differently. Anarcho-capitalists, on the contrary, believe that, without government, people will behave more or less the same: we will be just as creative or greedy or competent as we are now, only freer. Instead of imagining a world without drastic inequality, anarcho-capitalists imagine a world where people and their property are secured by private defense agencies, which are paid to keep the peace. Graeber doesn’t consider anarcho-capitalists to be true anarchists; no doubt the feeling is mutual.

“Cult hero … among small-government Republicans” seems a real stretch. But maybe among Ron Paul and Justin Amash, which is more congressional fans than most economist-philosophers have. Author Sanneh no doubt learned about Rothbard when he wrote a long and fairly sympathetic profile of Ron Paul on the campaign trail.

At Libertarianism.org Aaron Powell examines the New Yorker’s examination of anarchism, both capitalist and anti-capitalist. Also at Libertarianism.org find out more about Murray Rothbard, including some exclusive videos.

IRS Chief, Who Defended Illegal ‘ObamaCare’ Taxes, also Denied Targeting of Tea-Party Groups

In 2011, members of Congress began criticizing a proposed IRS rule implementing ObamaCare’s health insurance tax credits. They claimed that the proposed rule violated the clear language of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as well as congressional intent, by issuing those tax credits in states that declined to establish a health insurance “exchange.” In effect, they claimed the proposed rule would result in the federal government taxing, borrowing, and spending hundreds of billions of dollars without congressional authorization. 

At the time, then–IRS commissioner Douglas Shulman leapt to his agency’s defense. He wrote that various provisions of the statute “support” the rule. He wrote that the “relevant” legislative history doesn’t show that Congress didn’t want the IRS to tax, borrow, and spend those hundreds of billions of dollars. He wrote that the proposed rule is “consistent with the language, purpose, and structure” of the law. The only thing he didn’t do was cite a provision of the law authorizing the rule, or even creating any ambiguity about the rule’s illegality.

The IRS finalized that illegal rule in May 2012. You can read all about it in my article with Jonathan Adler, “Taxation Without Representation: The Illegal IRS Rule to Expand Tax Credits Under the PPACA.”

It is worth noting that Shulman also leapt to the IRS’s defense against another charge that the agency was abusing its power. In 2012, conservative groups complained that the IRS was targeting them for audits. Shulman issued a forceful and categorical denial:

IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman told Congress in March 2012 that the IRS was not targeting groups based on their political views.

“There’s absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back and forth that happens to people” who apply for tax-exempt status, Shulman told a House Ways and Means subcommittee.

Shulman was wrong. Today, the IRS admitted it has been targeting conservative groups for audits

Perhaps some Friday afternoon hence we will be treated to an IRS admission that their tax-credit rule violates the Administrative Procedures Act and the PPACA, as two lawsuits now allege. I won’t hold my breath.

Shades of Nixon: ‘IRS Apologizes for Targeting Conservative Groups’

From the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Internal Revenue Service is apologizing for inappropriately flagging conservative political groups for additional reviews during the 2012 election to see if they were violating their tax-exempt status.

Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS unit that oversees tax-exempt groups, said organizations that included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status were singled out for additional reviews.

Lerner said the practice, initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati, was wrong and she apologized while speaking at a conference in Washington.

Many conservative groups complained during the election that they were being harassed by the IRS. They said the agency asked them an inordinate number of questions to justify their tax-exempt status.

Certain tax-exempt charitable groups can conduct political activities but it cannot be their primary activity.

Let’s all recall what President Obama told Ohio State University graduates just days ago:

Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems. Some of these same voices also do their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny [is] always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because what they suggest is that our brave, and creative, and unique experiment in self-rule is somehow just a sham with which we can’t be trusted.

We have never been a people who place all our faith in government to solve our problems. We shouldn’t want to. But we don’t think the government is the source of all our problems, either. Because we understand that this democracy is ours. And as citizens, we understand that it’s not about what America can do for us, it’s about what can be done by us, together, through the hard and frustrating but absolutely necessary work of self-government.

“Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together,” says Barney Frank. Like persecute our political enemies.

President Ashcroft

President Obama has drawn some fire for telling Ohio State University graduates, among other things:

Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems; some of these same voices also doing their best to gum up the works. They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices.

His critics included my colleagues Roger Pilon in the Wall Street Journal, who deplored Obama’s conflation of the family and the federal government, and Gene Healy in the Washington Examiner, who noted the president’s attempt “to reframe skepticism toward overweening federal power as “cynicism.’”

I was reminded of another political official’s warning back in 2001:

To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty; my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists - for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America’s enemies.

That was attorney general John Ashcroft testifying before Congress on the Patriot Act and the Bush administration’s exercise of power after 9/11. It’s a standard theme of those in power: If you question our actions, if you protest the expansion of government and the loss of freedom, you’re aiding the enemy. You’re undermining our faith in government.

The Founders of this nation had a different view. James Madison warned us that since men are not angels, we can’t entrust them with unlimited power. And Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Kentucky Resolutions against the Alien and Sedition Acts, 

that it would be a dangerous delusion were a confidence in the men of our choice to silence our fears for the safety of our rights: that confidence is everywhere the parent of despotism–free government is founded in jealousy, and not in confidence; it is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited constitutions, to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power: that our Constitution has accordingly fixed the limits to which, and no further, our confidence may go….In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.

That’s the spirit of freedom and self-government: Jealous of our rights and liberties, confident in our Constitution, and skeptical about power and about the men and women who seek it.

As for the president’s much-quoted attack on “individual ambition,” I addressed that in the Wall Street Journal back in 2008 when he made a similar argument to Wesleyan grads.

This Month at Cato Unbound: The Future of Right-Libertarian Fusionism

This month our online ideas journal Cato Unbound boasts an all-new design, with new software to make reading and navigating a whole lot more intuitive.

Our latest issue tackles the topic of fusionism – the old-new idea that libertarians belong on the right side of the political aisle.

Fusionism has a long history. But will it play to millennials? That could be one of the most important questions in American politics.

Young voters are a lot less conservative on social issues like gay marriage and drug policy. In this, they echo previous generational trends on questions like interracial marriage and pornography, neither of which are live political issues anymore. Younger Americans also seem more skeptical of corporate influences in politics. That fact may tilt them to the left, but it could also pave the way for a less corporatist free-market movement, if only we can make the case to them. And some millennials might not even remember a time when America was at peace – a thing we can’t say about any previous generation.

How does the old right-libertarian alliance fare in this new environment? We decided to ask some young activists who’ve given some thought to the question.

Making the case for fusionism is Jacqueline Otto of the American Enterprise Institute’s Values and Capitalism Project. Economic liberty unites us, she says – and we ought not to let the rest divide us.

And contra, we have Jeremy Kolassa, a writer for United Liberty. He argues that libertarians haven’t gotten much from their old alliance with the right, and it’s time to stand on our own. Libertarians should offer good ideas to whoever will listen and form coalitions wherever specific issues allow it.

Over the next few days we’ll also have essays from Clark Ruper of Students for Liberty and Jordan Ballor of the Acton Institute. Also be sure to stop by our Facebook page and follow us on Twitter as the conversation develops.

Heritage’s Flawed Immigration Analysis

In the Washington Post today, Jim DeMint and Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation invoke the free-market pantheon in arguing their anti-immigration stance: “The economist Milton Friedman warned that the United States cannot have open borders and an extensive welfare state.”

They’re halfway right about that. What Friedman actually said was that immigration is “a good thing for the United States…so long as it’s illegal.” He meant that open immigration is highly beneficial to the economy, provided those productive but inexpensive laborers do not have access to welfare. Friedman later wrote that, “There is no doubt that free and open immigration is the right policy in a libertarian state.” Friedman’s problem was with the welfare state, not immigration. His remarks are fundamentally at odds with the position Heritage is trying to argue. 

It’s not the first time that I’ve questioned the free-market credentials of my friends at Heritage lately, and that’s making me sad.

On Monday, Heritage released a new study entitled “The Fiscal Cost of unlawful Immigrants and Amnesty to the U.S. Taxpayer” by Robert Rector and Jason Richwine, PhD.  I criticized an earlier version of this report in 2007, arguing that their methodology was so flawed that one cannot take their report’s conclusions seriously.  Unfortunately, their updated version differs little from their earlier one.

I’m joined in this view by a host of prominent free-marketeers. Jim Pethokoukis at AEI, Doug Holtz-Eakin at American Action Forum, Tim Kane at the Hudson Institute, and others have all denounced the fundamentals of the Heritage report.

The new Heritage report is still depressingly static, leading to a massive underestimation of the economic benefits of immigration and diminishing estimated tax revenue.  It explicitly refuses to consider the GDP growth and economic productivity gains from immigration reform—factors that increase native-born American incomes. An overlooked flaw is that the study doesn’t even score the specific immigration reform proposal in the Senate.  Its flawed methodology and lack of relevancy to the current immigration reform proposal relegate this study to irrelevancy. 

Even worse, the Heritage study recommends a “solution” to the fiscal problems it supposedly finds. It suggests:

Because the majority of unlawful immigrants come to the U.S. for jobs, serious enforcement of the ban on hiring unlawful labor would substan­tially reduce the employment of unlawful aliens and encourage many to leave the U.S. Reducing the number of unlawful immigrants in the nation and limiting the future flow of unlawful immigrants would also reduce future costs to the taxpayer.

Professor Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda of UCLA wrote a paper for Cato last year where he employed a dynamic model called the GMig2 to study comprehensive immigration reform’s impact on the U.S. economy. He found that immigration reform would increase U.S. GDP by $1.5 trillion in the ten years after enactment.

Professor Hinojosa-Ojeda then ran a simulation examining the economic impact of the policy favored by Heritage: the removal or exit of all unauthorized immigrants. The economic result would be a $2.6 trillion decrease in estimated GDP growth over the next decade. That confirms the common-sense observation that removing workers, consumers, investors, and entrepreneurs from America’s economy will make us poorer. 

Would decreasing economic growth by $2.6 trillion over the next ten years have a negative impact on the fiscal condition of the U.S.?  You betcha. 

Do the authors consider the fiscal impact of their preferred immigration policy?  Nope.

For those of us who “grew up” on the fine policy analysis long produced by Heritage, the immigration report is a supreme disappointment. No one has done more than Heritage to promote the importance of dynamic scoring, which is critical to understanding the true effects of government activity on the marketplace. For that organization to have seemingly abandoned its core principles for this important debate is a stinging blow to those of us who crave an honest, data-driven debate on the fiscal merits of policy.

Prophets of the Communist Police State

In a review of five books on the Soviet police state, David Satter notes this prophetic volume:

Landmarks

By Nikolai Berdyaev, et. al (1909)

The year was 1909. Terrorists were murdering not only czarist ministers but provincial officials and police. It was in this atmosphere that “Landmarks” was published in Moscow. The contributors, all of them Russian Orthodox believers, called on the intelligentsia to reject materialist moral relativism and return to religion as a means of grounding the individual. Their essays, with stunning foresight, described all of the characteristics of the coming Soviet state. The religious philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev explained the roots of its contempt for the individual. He said that the revolutionary intelligentsia hungered for a universal theory but was only prepared to accept one that justified their social aspirations. This meant the denial of man’s absolute significance and the total subordination of spiritual values to social goals. Bogdan Kistyakovsky wrote that the intelligentsia’s predilection for formalism and bureaucracy and its faith in the omnipotence of rules were the makings of a police state. A hundred years later these essays are still among the best arguments ever made against revolutionary fanaticism, political “correctness” and the drive to create “heaven on earth.”

Sounds like a book I should have heard of before now.