Why Presidents Want You Scared

Why Presidents Want You Scared

10/31/2018James Bovard

The media is railing about Trump for fearmongering ahead of the midterm elections.  Like this never happened before?  Like this is not the job description of modern politicians? Like Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton did not fearmonger whenever they could profit by spooking Americans?  Trump is continuing a tradition that was firmly established by Woodrow Wilson.  Fearmongering is simply another proof of the rascality of the political class – and another reason why their power should be minimized. Here’s a 2011 piece I wrote on the topic, excerpted in part from Attention Deficit Democracy.

Fear-Mongering and Servitude

In his 1776 essay, “Thoughts on Government,” John Adams observed, “Fear is the foundation of most governments; but it is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.” The Founding Fathers hoped the American people would possess the virtues and strength to perpetuate liberty. Unfortunately, politicians over the past century have used trick after trick to send Americans scurrying to politicians to protect them.

President Woodrow Wilson pulled America into World War I based on bogus idealism and real fear-mongering. Evocations of fighting for universal freedom were quickly followed by bans on sauerkraut, beer, and teaching German in government schools. H. L. Mencken observed in 1918: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed and hence, clamorous to be led to safety—by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” In Mencken’s time he was often considered cynical. Subsequent developments have proven Mencken to be a prophet.

The Democratic Party relied heavily on the fear card in the 1920 presidential race. On the eve of the November vote that year Democratic presidential candidate James Cox declared: “Every traitor in America will vote tomorrow for Warren G. Harding!” Cox’s warning sought to stir memories of the “red raids” conducted in 1919 and 1920 by Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, during which thousands of anarchists, communists, and suspect foreigners were summarily jailed and in many cases deported. The American people rejected Cox and embraced Warren Harding’s promise of a “return to normalcy.”

President Franklin Roosevelt put “freedom from fear” atop the American political agenda in his 1941 State of the Union address. But FDR’s political legacy—especially Social Security—has institutionalized fear-mongering in presidential and congressional races. Democrats perennially portray Republicans as planning to yank life support from struggling seniors.

For almost 50 years American politicians have used television ads to spur dread, most famously in the 1964 “Daisy” ad for Lyndon Johnson’s campaign. The ad showed a young girl, in the words of Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times, “picking the petals off a daisy before the screen was overwhelmed by a nuclear explosion and then a mushroom cloud and Mr. Johnson declared, ‘These are the stakes.’” The ad did not specifically claim that Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee, would annihilate the human race, but the subtle hint wafted through. Though this ad only aired once, it instantly became a legend.

Whipping up fear was the flipside of President Bill Clinton’s “feeling your pain” political style. Clinton fanned people’s fear of guns, militias, and life without medical insurance. At the same time, the Clinton administration stretched the power of government on all fronts—from concocting new prerogatives to confiscate private property to championing FBI agents’ right to shoot innocent Americans to bankrolling the militarization of local police forces. Clinton was the Nanny State champion incarnate, teaching Americans to look to government for relief from every peril of daily life—from unpasteurized cider to leaky basements. As long as the President seemed to care about average Americans, his abuses were largely forgotten. (The 1996 Republican presidential candidate, Sen. Bob Dole, also promised to provide voters with “freedom from fear” via untying “the hands of the police.”)

Fear and Bush

The 2004 race was the most fear-mongering presidential campaign in modern American history. In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, George W. Bush referred to terror or terrorism 16 times. Bush reelection campaign television ads showed firemen carrying a flag-draped corpse from the rubble at Ground Zero in New York and a pack of wolves coming to attack home viewers as an announcer warned that “weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm.” (One commentator suggested that the ad’s message was that voters would be eaten by wolves if John Kerry won.) Just before Election Day a senior GOP strategist told the New York Daily News that “anything that makes people nervous about their personal safety helps Bush.” People who saw terrorism as the biggest issue in the 2004 election voted for Bush by a 6 to 1 margin. Moises Naim, editor of Foreign Policy, observed that the Bush campaign was “using the fear factor almost exclusively. This is a highly researched decision with all the tools of public opinion management. It’s nothing but a reflection that it works.”

Bogus terror alerts might have made the difference in the 2004 election. Robb Willer of the Sociology and Small Groups Laboratory at Cornell University examined the relationship between 26 government-issued terror warnings reported in the Washington Post and Bush’s approval ratings. “Each terror warning from the previous week corresponded to a 2.75 point increase in the percentage of Americans expressing approval for President Bush,” Willer concluded. Bush beat Kerry by 2.4 percentage points in the popular vote. Former Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge later admitted that many of the 2004 alerts were unjustified. The Cornell study also found a “halo effect”: Americans’ approval of Bush’s handling of the economy also rose immediately after the announcement of new terror warnings, Willer reported. Apparently the more terrorists were allegedly poised to attack America, the better job Bush was doing.

Voters in 2004 could choose whether they would be killed by terrorists if they voted for Kerry or whether they would be left destitute and tossed out in the street if they voted for Bush. Boston University professor Tobe Berkovitz commented to the Washington Post: “It’s not surprising that both campaigns are looking for the leverage point: scaring the hell out of the American public about what would happen if the other guy wins.” But the more an election is about fear, the more the winner will presume to be entitled to all the power he claims to need to combat the threat.


In his 2005 State of the Union address Bush declared: “We will pass along to our children all the freedoms we enjoy. And chief among them is freedom from fear.” The Founding Fathers would have derided the notion of politicians giving citizens “freedom from fear.” And they would have denounced the notion that this new-fangled freedom is superior to the freedoms the U.S. government had pledged to respect for more than 200 years.

After promising freedom from fear, a politician can always invoke polls showing widespread fears to justify seizing new power. The natural result of making freedom from fear the highest freedom is that any policy that reduces fear can be portrayed as pro-freedom. Bush claimed that to keep Americans safe he had to suspend habeas corpus and detain any suspected terrorist in perpetuity based solely on his unproven assertions. Bush authorized the CIA to use waterboarding and other methods of torture on detainees. He ordered the National Security Agency to launch a massive illegal wiretapping program that eavesdropped on thousands of Americans’ phone calls and emails without warrants. Yet Bush remained a great champion of freedom—at least in the eyes of his supporters.

The political mass production of insecurity is a dominant trait of our age. The easiest way for rulers to destroy the leashes the Constitution imposed on them is to make voters think they must choose: “We can obey the Constitution or we can prevent you from all being killed. What is it going to be?”

Rising fear can also undermine the freedom of speech that is a bulwark against government abuse. To the extent people desperately cling to faith in the leader to save them from all perils, they develop an intolerance to anyone who points out government follies or falsehoods. The Bush 2004 reelection campaign did all it could to fan such intolerance. Stumping around the nation for Bush, former New York City police commissioner Bernie Kerik told audiences in the final months of the campaign: “Political criticism is our enemy’s best friend.” As criticism is suppressed government becomes more incorrigible. Eventually the mistakes that could have been corrected cheaply early on become catastrophic national failures.

Fear and Obama

President Obama has picked up the fear-mongering relay baton with his attempts to frighten Americans about health care, global warming, economic collapse, and government shutdowns. Obama has also invoked the fear card to sanctify bombing bad guys anywhere and everywhere.

Government fear-mongering creates a downward politico-psychological spiral. The more fearful people become, the more gullible they will be. British philosopher John Stuart Mill warned in 1842: “Persons of timid character are the more predisposed to believe any statement, the more it is calculated to alarm them.” It is almost irrelevant whether 10 or 20 or 30 percent of the citizenry can see through government’s fraudulent warnings. In a democracy, as long as enough people can be frightened, all people can be ruled.

In the same way that some battered wives cling to their abusive husbands, the more debacles the government causes, the more some voters cling to rulers. The craving for a protector drops an iron curtain around the mind, preventing a person from accepting evidence that would shred his political security blanket. In the days after the 9/11 attacks polls showed a doubling in the number of people who trusted government to “do the right thing.” The media fanned this blind faith—as if trust in government was the high road to public safety. The Bush administration exploited the trust to unleash itself at home and abroad, and the nation is still paying the costs of its post-9/11 infatuation with government.

Bogus fears can produce real servitude. The Founding Fathers expected the American people to bravely stand up for their rights if their rulers trampled the law. Citizens cannot cower on cue without forfeiting any possibility of keeping government on a leash. If America is to have a rebirth of liberty, it must begin with a rebirth of courage.

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The Austrian School at the European Parliament

01/16/2019Max Rangeley

Last year we at the European branch of the Ludwig von Mises Institute (Europe) organised the first ever Austrian school event in the European Parliament. Member of the European Parliament Amjad Bashir — a great supporter of free enterprise within the Parliament — kindly sponsored the event, which was set up to coincide with the release of one of the best books on the Austrian school in recent years, Banking and Monetary Policy from the Perspective of Austrian Economics.

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As well as me, the other two speakers were Member of the European Parliament Professor Joachim Starbatty MEP, and Brendan Brown, Chief Economist of Mitsubishi Bank, arguably the largest bank in the world by assets other than China’s state banks. While there have been other pro-enterprise and free market events in the European Parliament, they have all neglected the “money issue” so far, at least as those within the Austrian school would see it. Professor Starbatty MEP gave an eloquent outline of the Austrian business cycle theory, while Brendan Brown brought Austrian principles to bear on current issues in the banking sector. I decided to speak about the current bubble and how this can be explained with Austrian concepts. This event also reinforces the place of the Ludwig von Mises Institute (Europe) as one of the premier think tanks in Europe; within a few months we have published a defining textbook and introduced the Austrian school within the European Parliament itself.

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In my experience, more and more free market thinkers are tending towards the Austrian School, and it is the farce of years of zero percent interest rates that has achieved this. When the current Super Bubble bursts, we must be prepared to provide answers to how this bubble was created as many will blame the “free market” and demand the government “take action”.

Below you can see my speech in which I outlined how central banks’ policies of zero percent interest rates and quantitative easing have created the largest bubble in all of human history. The West has had a Faustian Pact with the central banking system for an entire generation, with each recession being responded to by creating an even larger debt bubble with ever lower interest rates -- and of course ever worse debt dependency.

Max Rangeley Speech in the European Parliament on the Coming Economic Collapse

The book “Banking and Monetary Policy from the Perspective of Austrian Economics” is published by Springer, one of the best academic publishers. The Ludwig von Mises Institute (Europe) did the excellent work of gathering contributors for the book, which includes Jesus Huerta de Soto, Walter Block, Guido Hulsmann and Gunther Schnabl as well as other great contemporary Austrian School thinkers. Annette Godart-van der Kroon, President of LvMI-Europe, edited the book. If you are a student or lecturer see if you can persuade your institution to get a copy.

Let’s hope the trend can continue with policy-makers taking an interest in the Austrian School. We have to be patient in explaining some of these issues, but more and more minds are open to explanations for how central banks distort the economy.

Incidentally, two days later I also gave a speech at the “Future of Money Conference” at the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management. People from the Bank of England, European Central Bank and Swedish Riksbank among others were discussing how money will develop over the next generation, including so-called Central Bank Digital Currencies (CBDCs, of which you will no doubt hear more over the coming years). I had the pleasure of hearing William White, former chief monetary economist at the Bank for International Settlements and Chief Economist at the OECD, give a terrific speech about the bubble created by radical monetary policy. Bill has had distinct Austrian tendencies during his time at the top of the global monetary establishment, citing Hayek and others in his work.

The intellectual tectonic plates within economics are shifting, and the Austrian School is well placed to provide explanations for the coming bursting of the Super Bubble.

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Ryan McMaken on National Parks on the Lions of Liberty Podcast

01/16/2019Mises Institute

On the Lions of Liberty podcast, Marc Clair and Ryan McMaken discuss the government shutdown and the need to decentralize the national parks:

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Joe Salerno on "The Truth About F.A. Hayek"

01/16/2019Mises Institute

Joe Salerno recently joined Tom Woods to discuss the legacy of F.A. Hayek.  From the site:

F.A. Hayek, illustrious member of the Austrian School of economics, won the Nobel Prize in 1974, and wrote prolifically on both economic and non-economic topics. He has been a source of controversy within libertarian circles because of some aspects of his work. Joe Salerno helps us sort everything out about this central figure. Read the original article at TomWoods.com.

The Truth About F.A. Hayek

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Are There Libertarians in Slovakia?

01/16/2019Atilla Sulker

Last summer, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Jozef Martiniak at the 2018 Mises University. Dr. Martiniak came to Auburn all the way from Slovakia and he had many great stories to tell about his experience growing up in a Cold War era Czechoslovakia. My conversations with Dr. Martiniak not only revealed an interesting story from the perspective of someone who experienced socialism firsthand, but it also sparked my interest in the politics of Slovakia. He mentioned that there was a libertarian oriented party in Slovakia, and so in this article, I endeavor to examine the movement in Slovakia, analyzing its scope, significance, and authenticity.

The main vessel of Slovak libertarianism nowadays is the political party “Freedom and Solidarity” (SaS). Economist Richard Sulík founded the party in 2009, himself being the mastermind of the Slovakian flat tax. In February of that year, the 10,000 required signatures for the establishment of the party were collected. Sulík was elected chairman.

According to their website, the party claims to run on a platform free of the typical populist propaganda loaded with catchy slogans. It also claims to be run by experts from various different fields, rather than “ideologists”.

The party is also centered around offering specific solutions in which the amount of money required to fund proposed programs is laid out, rather than putting out “unrealistic promises”. It also asserts that the armed forces must have clearly defined objectives. This sort of reform effort in pursuit of creating a government that has clearly defined objectives puts too much trust in the state, something that is inherently very tough to reform.

Though SaS never explicitly claims to be anchored in the chief tenets of libertarianism, the non-aggression principle and property rights, it puts heavy emphasis on the free will and individualism. The party draws a connection between individual freedom and the individual’s happiness. From this, the party asserts that it is against economic intervention.

The party emphasizes a more consequentialist argument regarding the effects of freedom on the collective population.

One interesting thing I learned through my conversations with Dr. Martiniak was that the “passion” that is present in many libertarians in America was not present in Slovakia. Rather the form of libertarianism in SaS is more so “contra the state” instead of a true moral, Rothbardian form.

SaS lists the promotion of “basic solidarity” as one of its keys tenets in Article II of its charter. This sort of concept is manifested in the “euro-realist” stance of the party. The party sees the European Union as an idea with great potential, but also one that demands significant reform as of now. The party also asserts however, that is seeks to curb the bureaucracy and regulations enforced by the EU. Its perception of the EU however, is one that is flawed. SaS believes that the EU should be kept for its promotion of the ideas of free trade and free movement of people, but in regards to this, a classic Bob Murphy argument comes into play.

In his article “But Wouldn't Warlords Take Over?”, Murphy comes to the conclusion that if a society based on small government can be set up and maintained peacefully, these same peace seeking individuals should be able to live together peacefully without a government. In the same way, if member countries of the EU really want free trade and movement, why would there be the need for a political union such as the EU? Even if the EU were to be reformed, it would gradually centralize power over time due to its inherent nature to do so.

In an article published by The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead describes the sentiment of party founded Richard Sulík. Sulík is often criticized by others for being a nationalist, but Armitstead articulates that he is rather “the hero of all discontented Europeans”. This certainly demonstrates the growing resentment in Europe for government. It underscores the borderless nature of freedom, its universal application. It is not something that remains contained within a single country, but spreads. It is not tied to nationalism.

In my humble opinion, the efforts of SaS do not effectively line up with libertarianism in the way that I see it. Sure, the party is pro-market, anti-centralization, pro-civil liberties, etc., but at the same time, due to the fact that it is not grounded in property rights and the NAP, its attempts become blurred. This is why it is so important that any attempt at libertarianism be grounded in these axioms, otherwise the message strays from being genuine. SaS embodies the more “pragmatic libertarianism” present in those such as Gary Johnson, rather than genuine Misesian or Rothbardian aesthetic.

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Media Accuses Rand Paul of Hypocrisy for Visiting Canadian Hospital: Turns Out It's a Private Hospital

01/14/2019Tho Bishop

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul recently announced he was receiving hernia surgery as a result of being blindsided in an attack from his neighbor. While a senator undergoing common surgery is of questionable newsworthiness, one may expect that the reminder that the Senator is still suffering from the 2017 incident as cause for sympathy. Instead, major media outlets decided to try to use the news as an example of hypocrisy on the part of Paul due to the fact he is receiving treatment at a Canadian hospital.

As published in USA Today:

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, one of the fiercest political critics of socialized medicine, will travel to Canada later this month to get hernia surgery....

He is scheduled to have the outpatient operation at the Shouldice Hernia Hospital in Thornhill, Ontario during the week of Jan. 21, according to documents from Paul's civil lawsuit against Boucher filed in Warren Circuit Court....

Paul, a Republican, often argues for private market solutions to American's health care woes.

In Canada, medical care is publicly funded and universally provided through the country's Provincial Ministry of Health, and everyone receives the same level of care.

Paul has called universal health care and nationalized options "slavery."

Of course, if the author had decided to do a two second internet search for “Shouldice Hernia Hospital,” they would have found that it is one of few private hospitals that were grandfathered in prior to the government’s takeover of Canadian healthcare.

Oops.

Of course, the same media outlets that jumped to cry "hypocrisy" at Senator Paul are also guilty of ignoring the very real consequences of Canada’s socialist healthcare system. For example, patients dying due to a lack of access to basic medical supplies such as hospital beds

For more on the disaster of Canada's socialized healthcare system, check out this series by (Canadian author) Lee Friday:

1. The Myth They Used to Pass Canada's Universal Healthcare

2. Universal Health Care in Canada: A Colossal Government Failure

3. The Solution to Canada’s Failed Universal Health Care System: Consumer and Physician Freedom

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Discussion: Austrian Economics in America

This month’s Liberty Matters forum is a discussion of the American economist Frank Fetter. Though he is neglected today, Fetter made vital contributions to Austrian economics and was a major force in spreading the ideas of the early Austrians in the United States (see here and here). In my contributions to the discussion, I explain why Fetter’ work is important and how it can continue to provide fresh insights to contemporary economists. So far, the focus of the essays has been on key elements of economics, especially foundational concepts like price, market, equilibrium, capital, and rent. I’m joined in the conversation by Joseph Salerno, Peter Lewin, and Geoffrey Hodgson.

The first essays and responses in the discussion have now been published, and the forum will remain open for the rest of the month for short rejoinders by all the participants. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read through some of the contributions. Here is the abstract for the discussion:

Matthew McCaffrey, assistant professor of enterprise at the University of Manchester, explores the economic and political work of the “forgotten giant” of economics, the Indiana-born Frank Fetter. At the height of his career in the early 20th century, Fetter was one of the most respected, cited, and debated economists in the United States. He taught for over 40 years at prestigious universities, including Stanford, Cornell, and Princeton, and his research appeared in practically every major publication in economics and political science. Yet today he is virtually forgotten outside a small group of Austrian economists. In his opening essay, McCaffrey explores two aspects of his thought in particular: his contributions to theoretical economics and their relationship to Austrian ideas, and his political views as they relate to the philosophy of classical liberalism. He is joined in the discussion by Geoffrey M. Hodgson, Research Professor of Business Studies in the University of Hertfordshire, Peter Lewin is Clinical Professor in the Jindal School of Management, University of Texas, Dallas, and Joseph T. Salerno, professor of economics in the Finance and Graduate Economics Department in the Lubin School of Business of Pace University in New York.

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Trump's "Gut Feeling"

01/12/2019Doug French

Speaking to the Washington Post, President Trump said, “My gut tells me more sometimes, than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.” This comment generated scoffs aplenty, as people imagine the receptacle of a daily intake of gallons of Diet Coke and multiple Big Macs somehow provides anything intelligent. However, this classic Trump quip has some merit after reading John Coates’s The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: How Risk Taking Transforms Us, Body and Mind.

Part II of the book is titled “Gut Thinking,” and the book’s thesis is that our minds and bodies are connected in our actions. Coates focuses his story on treasury bond traders who successfully act by instinct gained from experience. He writes, “Thinking, one could say, is something we do only when we are no good at an activity.”

“There are few phenomena in finance more remarkable, even mysterious,” Coates writes, “than this close linkage between market and body.”

The fact is, our bodies react to news and risks quicker than our brains do. Conscious thought is left in the dust when we react and especially when we take risks. Of course neoclassical economists would poo-poo the notion of our bodies reacting to threats and risks, after all, we’re all rational beings, doing what’s rational at all times. Yeah, right.

While the above is essentially Coates’s contention, he later writes,

Lifting the hood of our brain does not reveal the netherworld of Kant’s unsayable, nor the volcanic will of Nietzsche’s superman, nor yet the hellish subterranean den of Freud’s subconscious. It reveals something that is a lot closer to the inner workings of a BMW.

Not everyone’s brain is of BMW quality, not to mention the various levels of body quality. Traders, Coates contends, must have IQs that are “high enough,” but more important is “a hearty appetite for risk and a driving ambition.” Also important is physical stamina. He points out that many traders are ex-athletes.

Certainly, the president, has the ambition and risk appetite. His gut feelings, as Coates describes gut feelings generally, “act powerfully,” and “are not only real; they are essential to rational choice.”

The author contends the gut “has its own ‘brain.’ The vagus nerve, the main nerve in the rest-and-digest nervous system, links the brain stem, voice box, lings, heart, pancreas and gut. In total, 80 percent of its fibers carry information back to the brain, mostly from the heart and gut.”

As the book progresses, the focus turns to dopamine, testosterone, and cortisol. Dopamine modulates levels of motivation, how eagerly humans (or animals) want things. Dopamine drives humans to try new things and solve F.A. Hayek’s knowledge problem. “The knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form,” explained Hayek, “but solely as the dispersed bits of incomplete and frequently contradictory knowledge which all the separate individuals possess.”

Trying new things involves taking risks and that’s where testosterone comes in. Traders and entrepreneurs are driven by testosterone. Coates worries that testosterone lowering obesity, “may be dimming the gut feelings and entrepreneurial drive upon which our prosperity and happiness depend.”

Winning trades increase testosterone while market crashes deplete the hormone, sometimes for years. Testosterone feedback, unfortunately, can lead to traders and entrepreneurs to believe themselves invincible. And thus, rallies turn into bubbles. Coates mentions ill-conceived takeovers and record-breaking skyscrapers, providing biological support to Mark Thornton’s work on The Skyscraper Curse.

Cortisol is testosterone’s opposite. As markets crash, cortisol is released “causing [the] body and brain to hunker down for a long term.” Cortisol essentially immunizes the body against trauma, suppressing testosterone production, while being a powerful anti-inflammatory.

Cortisol levels rise with volatility. Coates speculates that this hormone forms “the physiological foundation of the derivatives market.”

Cortisol and CRH (a chemical produced during stress) lead traders (and everyone else one can assume) to be vulnerable “to rumor and suspected conspiracy.” Coates writes, “Each rumored catastrophe is now given as much credence, and has as much effect on markets, as hard economic data.”

“Cortisol is the molecule of irrational pessimism,” explains Coates. Older folks are especially susceptible because they stop producing testosterone and produce high levels of cortisol.

While professional traders and investors have high amounts of testosterone flowing through them, amateurs have “chronically raised cortisol levels.” The constant anxiety forces them to bail out of what could be winning trades.

The November 30th edition of the Elliott Wave Financial Forecast cited examples of the financial press attempting to keep individual investor spirits high. This was before the December downdraft in stock prices. For example, “Ignore the Gloom,” USA Today said.

Trump’s gut has it right. The stock market is in trouble and he knows he needs to blame someone — Fed Chair Jerome Powell — early and often.

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Still Fighting the Last War Against Socialism

01/11/2019Jeff Deist

Why does support for socialism persist?

The short answer may be simple human nature, our natural tendency toward dissatisfaction with the present and unease about the future. Even in the midst of almost unimaginable material comforts made possible only by markets and entrepreneurs—both derided by socialists—we cannot manage to conclusively defeat the tired but deadly old arguments for collective ownership of capital. We're so rich that socialists imagine the material wealth all around us will continue to organize itself magically, regardless of incentives.

It's a vexing problem, and not an academic one. Millions of young people across America and the West consider socialism a viable and even noble approach to organizing society, literally unaware of the piles of bodies various socialist governments produced in the 20th century. The fast-growing Democratic Socialists of America, led by media darlings Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, now enjoy cool kid status. Open socialist Bernie Sanders very nearly won the Democratic Party's 2016 nominee for president before being kneecapped by the Clinton machine. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio helpfully announces "there is plenty of money in this city, it's just in the wrong hands." He freely and enthusiastically champions confiscation and redistribution of wealth without injury to his political popularity.  

Rand Paul and Thomas Massie are outliers on the Right. Ocasio-Cortez and de Blasio are not outliers on the Left.   

How is this possible, even as markets and semi-capitalism lift millions out of poverty? Why does socialism keep cropping up, and why do many well-intentioned (and ill-intentioned) people keep falling for something so patently evil and unworkable? Why do some battles have to be fought over and over?

The Soviet Union collapsed and the Berlin War fell decades ago. The Eastern Bloc discovered western consumerism, and liked it. Bill Clinton declared the era of Big Government over, and Francis Fukuyama absurdly pronounced that Western ideology had forever won the day. Even China and Cuba eventually succumbed to pressure for greater economic freedoms, not because of any ideological shift but because it became impossible to hide the reality of capitalist wealth abroad.

Yet economic freedom and property rights are under assault today in the very Western nations that became rich because of them.

Today's socialists insist their model society would look like Sweden or Denmark; not the USSR or Nazi Germany or Venezuela. They merely want fairness and equality, free healthcare and schooling, an end to "hoarded" wealth, and so forth. And they don't always advocate for or even know the textbook definition of socialism, as professors Benjamin Powell and Robert Lawson learned by attending socialist conferences (see their new book Socialism Sucks: Two Economists Drink Their Way Through the Unfree World). In many cases young people think socialism simply means a happy world where people are taken care of. 

Never mind the Scandinavian countries in question insist they are not socialist, never mind the atrocities of Stalin or Mao or Pol Pot, and never mind the overwhelming case made by Ludwig von Mises and others against central economic planning. Without private owners, without capital at risk, without prices, and especially without profit and loss signals, economies quickly become corrupted and serve only the political class. Nicolás Maduro feasts while poor Venezuelans eat dogs, but of course this isn't "real" socialism.

History and theory don't matter to socialists because they imagine society can be engineered. The old arguments and historical examples simply don't apply: even human nature is malleable, and whenever our stubborn tendencies don't comport with socialism's grand plans a "social construct" is to blame.

These most recent spasms of support for the deadly ideology of socialism remind us that progressives aren't kidding. They may not fully understand what socialism means, but they fully intend to bring it about. Single-payer health care, "free" education, wealth redistribution schemes, highly progressive income taxes, wealth taxes, gun bans, and radical curbs on fossil fuels are all on the immediate agenda. They will do this quickly if possible, incrementally if they have to (see, again, the 20th century). They will do it with or without popular support, using legislatures, courts and judges, supranational agencies,university indoctrination, friendly media, or whatever political, economic, or social tools it takes (including de-platforming and hate speech laws). This is not paranoia; all of this is openly discussed. And say what you will about progressivism, it does have a central if false ethos: egalitarianism.

Conservatives, by contrast, are not serious. They have no animating spirit. They don't much talk about liberty or property or markets or opportunity. They don't mean what they say about the Constitution, they won't do a thing to limit government, they won't touch entitlements or defense spending, they won't abolish the Department of Education or a single federal agency, they won't touch abortion laws, and they sure won't give up their own socialist impulses. Trumpism, though not conservative and thoroughly non-intellectual, drove a final stake through the barely beating heart of Right intellectualism, from the Weekly Standard to National Review. Conservatism today is incoherent, both ideologically and tactically incapable of countering the rising tide of socialism.

Generals always fight the last war, and politics is no different. We all tend to see the current political climate in terms of old and familiar divisions, long-faded alliances, and obsolete rhetoric. We all cling to the comfortable ideology and influences that help us make sense of a chaotic world. As one commenter recently put it, liberal Baby Boomers still think it's 1968 and conservative Baby Boomers still think it's 1985. Generation X and Millennials will exhibit the same blinders. It may be disheartening to keep fighting what should be a long-settled battle against socialism, but today we have no other choice.

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Mark Thornton Joins Glenn Beck to Talk Skyscraper Curse

01/10/2019Mark Thornton

Dr. Mark Thornton joined Glenn Beck for an interview on how Austrian economists have predicted every major crisis of the last century. 

The interview begins at the 44:50 mark.

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Trump's Neocons Reverse His Syria Withdrawal Plan

01/10/2019Ron Paul

I’m starting to wonder whether President Trump has any power over US foreign policy at all. Many people believe that the US president is just a figurehead, with actual foreign policy firmly in the hands of the deep state. Trump’s latest dramatic U-turn on pulling troops from Syria certainly feeds such theories.

When President Trump announced just a couple of weeks ago that the US was removing its troops from Syria and possibly reducing troops from Afghanistan, the neocons, the media, the military-industrial complex, and the left-wing “never-Trump” people were livid. They were silent when President Obama made the horrible decision to overthrow Assad in Syria and sent weapons to jihadists to do so. They never said a word when billions of dollars were committed to this immoral and dangerous “regime change” policy. They weren’t interested in the rule of law when President Obama thumbed his nose at Congress and sent troops into Syria.

But when President Trump declared the obvious – that ISIS was effectively defeated and that we had no business being in Syria – these above groups in unison declared that actually bringing US troops home was a “gift to Russia.” They said bringing US troops home would create instability in the regions they left. Well, is there any proof that occupation by US troops actually brings stability?

No sooner did President Trump announce our departure than his neocon advisors began walking his words back. First he had to endure a lunch with Sen. Lindsey Graham reading him the riot act, where, according to the Senator, Trump agreed to no timetables for departure. Then his National Security Advisor, John Bolton, and his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, began to tell the world that President Trump’s statements on troop pullout were just empty words, not US policy.

While Syrian Christians newly liberated from the rule of US-backed extremists celebrated Christmas for the first time in years, John Bolton dusted off the old warning to Assad that the US would attack if he “again” gassed his people. With the Syrian president personally taking part in some of the Christmas celebrations, does anybody really believe he’d go back to his office and order a gas attack?

Bolton then claimed that the US would shift troops from Syria to Iraq to continue fighting ISIS and that the US fully backs Israeli airstrikes on Syrian territory. Did President Trump even agree to any of this?

Even worse, Secretary of State Pompeo is embarking on a Middle East tour where he will essentially tell leaders in the region that the US president is a liar. According to one State Department official quoted in a report on Sunday, Pompeo’s message to the Middle East will be, “Despite reports to the contrary and false narratives surrounding the Syria decision, we are not going anywhere. The secretary will reinforce that commitment to the region and our partners.”

Calling the US president’s actual words on Syria “false narratives”? How is this not insubordination?

Will President Trump stand by and watch this coup taking place under his nose? Does he realize how his credibility suffers when he boldly announces a US withdrawal and the does a U-turn days later? Has he noticed recent polls showing that the majority of the American people agree with him? Why is he so intimidated by the neocons?

Reprinted with permission.

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