America’s transportation system will continue to grind to a halt under President Obama’s pick for transportation secretary, Anthony Foxx. Currently mayor of Charlotte, N.C., Foxx strongly supports streetcars and other obsolete forms of transit.
It is a measure of the glacial pace of America’s political system that Obama had nearly 16 months’ notice that current Secretary Ray LaHood planned to step down at the end of Obama’s first term, yet the president required another three months before finding a replacement. If the administration has anything to say about it, American travelers will move at the same glacial pace: the streetcars that Obama, LaHood, and Foxx want to fund are slower than most people can walk.
Transit advocates often point to Charlotte as an example of a successful lightrail line (more accurately described as a “low-capacity-rail line”). With success like this, I’d hate to see failure: the line cost more than twice the original projection; generates just $3 million in annual fares against more than $20 million in annual operations and maintenance costs; and collects of an average of just 77 cents per ride compared with nearly a dollar for other light-rail lines. Now Charlotte wants to extend the line even though a traffic analysis report predicts that the extension will dramatically increase traffic congestion in the corridor (see pp. 54-56).
Foxx believes rail transit “drives economic development,” says George Washington University Professor Christopher Leinberger approvingly. “The goal of any transportation system, especially rail transit, is not to move people,” Leinberger argues. “The goal is economic development at the stations.”
Anthony Foxx certainly believes that. “If we didn’t do streetcar,” he asked the Charlotte city council during a debate, “does anybody have an idea how we’re going to revitalize” downtown Charlotte?
Rail advocates claim that Charlotte’s low-capacity-rail line helped revitalize neighborhoods along the line. However, a study by transportation expert David Hartgen concluded that most of the billions of dollars of development that was planned along the line was never built. Of the developments that were built, most would have taken place without the line, Hartgen found, though not necessarily in exactly the same locations.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: transportation spending generates true economic growth only if it results in lower-cost, faster, and/or more convenient movement of people and goods. Streetcars and low-capacity rail are more expensive, slower, and for all but a tiny number of people less convenient than the alternatives, whether buses or cars. Even if you reduce transit rider costs by subsidizing them to the hilt, someone has to pay the subsidies and that slows economic growth.
Foxx is blissfully unaware of this and we can expect him to continue LaHood’s policy of giving away as much money as possible for transit projects that are as expensive as possible and move few people while creating more congestion for everyone else.
View full post on Cato @ Liberty
Rich got richer, everyone else got poorer during first two years of U.S. recovery: Report
Top 7 per cent of Americans owned 63 per cent of nation’s household wealth, Pew Research Center says.
By: Pauline Jelinek The Associated Press, Published on Tue Apr 23 2013
WASHINGTON—The richest Americans got richer during the first two years of the economic recovery while average net worth declined for the other 93 per cent of U.S. households, says a report released Tuesday.
The upper 7 per cent of households owned 63 per cent of the nation’s total household wealth in 2011, up from 56 per cent in 2009, said the report from the Pew Research Center, which analyzed new Census Bureau data released last month.
The main reason for the widening wealth gap is that affluent households typically own stocks and other financial holdings that increased in value, while the less wealthy tend to have more of their assets in their homes, which haven’t rebounded from the plunge in home values, the report said.
Tuesday’s report is the latest to point up financial inequality that has been growing among Americans for decades, a development that helped fuel the Occupy Wall Street protests.
A September Census Bureau report on income found that the highest-earning 20 per cent of households earned more than half of all income the previous year, the biggest share in records kept since 1967. A 2011 Congressional Budget Office report said incomes for the richest 1 per cent soared 275 per cent between 1979 and 2007 while increasing just under 40 per cent for the middle 60 per cent of Americans.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Tue Apr 23, 2013 11:05 am
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If the economy is getting better, then why does poverty in America continue to grow so rapidly? Yes, the stock market has been hitting all-time highs recently, but also the number of Americans living in poverty has now reached a level not seen since the 1960s. Yes, corporate profits are at levels never seen before, but so is the number of Americans on food stamps. Yes, housing prices have started to rebound a little bit (especially in wealthy areas), but there are also more than a million public school students in America that are homeless. That is the first time that has ever happened in U.S. history. So should we measure our economic progress by the false stock market bubble that has been inflated by Ben Bernanke’s reckless money printing, or should we measure our economic progress by how the poor and the middle class are doing? Because if we look at how average Americans are doing these days, then there is not much to be excited about. In fact, poverty continues to experience explosive growth in the United States and the middle class continues to shrink. Sadly, the truth is that things are not getting better for most Americans. With each passing year the level of economic suffering in this country continues to go up, and we haven’t even reached the next major wave of the economic collapse yet. When that strikes, the level of economic pain in this nation is going to be off the charts.
The following are 21 statistics about the explosive growth of poverty in America that everyone should know…
1 – According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately one out of every six Americans is now living in poverty. The number of Americans living in poverty is now at a level not seen since the 1960s.
2 – When you add in the number of low income Americans it is even more sobering. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 146 million Americans are either “poor” or “low income”.
3 – Today, approximately 20 percent of all children in the United States are living in poverty. Incredibly, a higher percentage of children is living in poverty in America today than was the case back in 1975.
4 – It may be hard to believe, but approximately 57 percent of all children in the United States are currently living in homes that are either considered to be either “low income” or impoverished.
5 – Poverty is the worst in our inner cities. At this point, 29.2 percent of all African-American households with children are dealing with food insecurity.
6 – According to a recently released report, 60 percent of all children in the city of Detroit are living in poverty.
7 – The number of children living on $2.00 a day or less in the United States has grown to 2.8 million. That number has increased by 130 percent since 1996.
9 – Family homelessness in the Washington D.C. region (one of the wealthiest regions in the entire country) has risen 23 percent since the last recession began.
10 – One university study estimates that child poverty costs the U.S. economy 500 billion dollars each year.
11 – At this point, approximately one out of every three children in the U.S. lives in a home without a father.
12 – Families that have a head of household under the age of 30 have a poverty rate of 37 percent.
13 – Today, there are approximately 20.2 million Americans that spend more than half of their incomes on housing. That represents a 46 percent increase from 2001.
14 – About 40 percent of all unemployed workers in America have been out of work for at least half a year.
15 – At this point, one out of every four American workers has a job that pays $10 an hour or less.
16 – There has been an explosion in the number of “working poor” Americans in recent years. Today, about one out of every four workers in the United States brings home wages that are at or below the poverty level.
17 – Right now, more than 100 million Americans are enrolled in at least one welfare program run by the federal government. And that does not even include Social Security or Medicare.
18 – An all-time record 47.79 million Americans are now on food stamps. Back when Barack Obama first took office, that number was only sitting at about 32 million.
19 – The number of Americans on food stamps now exceeds the entire population of Spain.
20 – According to one calculation, the number of Americans on food stamps now exceeds the combined populations of “Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming.”
21 – Back in the 1970s, about one out of every 50 Americans was on food stamps. Today, close to one out of every six Americans is on food stamps. Even more shocking is the fact that more than one out of every four children in the United States is enrolled in the food stamp program.
Unfortunately, all of these problems are a result of our long-term economic decline. In a recent article for the New York Times, David Stockman, the former director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan, did a brilliant job of describing how things have degenerated over the last decade…
Since the S&P 500 first reached its current level, in March 2000, the mad money printers at the Federal Reserve have expanded their balance sheet sixfold (to $3.2 trillion from $500 billion). Yet during that stretch, economic output has grown by an average of 1.7 percent a year (the slowest since the Civil War); real business investment has crawled forward at only 0.8 percent per year; and the payroll job count has crept up at a negligible 0.1 percent annually. Real median family income growth has dropped 8 percent, and the number of full-time middle class jobs, 6 percent. The real net worth of the “bottom” 90 percent has dropped by one-fourth. The number of food stamp and disability aid recipients has more than doubled, to 59 million, about one in five Americans.
For the last couple of years, the U.S. economy has experienced a bubble of false hope that has been produced by unprecedented amounts of government debt and unprecedented money printing by the Federal Reserve.
Unfortunately, that bubble of false hope is not going to last much longer. In fact, we are already seeing signs that it is getting ready to burst.
For example, initial claims for unemployment benefits shot up to 385,000 for the week ending March 30th.
That is perilously close to the 400,000 “danger level” that I keep warning about. Once we cross the 400,000 level and stay there, it will be time to go into crisis mode.
In the years ahead, it is going to become increasingly difficult to find a job. Just the other day I saw an article about an advertisement for a recent job opening at a McDonald’s in Massachusetts that required applicants to have “one to two years experience and a bachelor’s degree“.
If you need a bachelor’s degree for a job at McDonald’s, then what in the world are blue collar workers going to do when the competition for jobs becomes really intense once the economy experiences another major downturn?
Do not be fooled by the fact that the Dow has been setting new all-time highs. The truth is that we are in the midst of a long-term economic decline, and things are going to get a lot worse. If you know someone that is not convinced of this yet, just share the following article with them: “Show This To Anyone That Believes That ‘Things Are Getting Better’ In America“.
So what are all of you seeing in your own areas?
Are you seeing signs that poverty is getting worse?
Please feel free to post a comment with your thoughts below…
View full post on The Economic Collapse
Cato Challenges the Supreme Court to Decide that Congress Doesn’t Have Unlimited Jurisdiction Over Everyone
Last year’s partial victory in the Obamacare case is already being applied to new cases reaching the Supreme Court. Recall that, in that case, the Court accepted our argument that the government cannot use the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses to compel someone to purchase health insurance. The Court held that allowing Congress to compel commerce into existence would be an improper use of a great and limitless power. In United States v. Kebodeaux, the Supreme Court will once again address an assertion of power that, if upheld, could give Congress nearly limitless power.
In 1999, Anthony Kebodeaux was sentenced to three years in prison for statutory rape. He served his time, was freed from any post-release parole or probation requirements, and ended his relationship with the federal government in the matter of criminal law. Years later, when Kebodeaux moved intrastate from San Antonio, Texas to El Paso, Texas, he failed to update his change of address within the three-day period as required by the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) of 2006. Even though Kebodeaux was unconditionally released from custody before SORNA was enacted, he was sentenced to one year in federal prison. The Fifth Circuit overturned his conviction en banc, meaning that every judge on the Fifth Circuit heard the case rather than the traditional three-judge panel. They found the registration requirement unconstitutional because Congress lacked jurisdiction over Kebodeaux after they unconditionally released him from custody.
The government’s arguments to the contrary, the court held, would permit not just “unending criminal authority” over Kebodeaux but unending authority over every American who was once in federal jurisdiction, which is, of course, every American.
In a sense, the government is now arguing for the “Hotel California” theory of jurisdiction: you can check out, but you can never leave.
Yesterday, Cato filed an amicus brief, joined by Ilya Somin, Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law, arguing that it would be improper under the Necessary and Proper Clause to permit Congress to have unending authority over all Americans. Congress already lacks a general power to punish criminals, much less monitor previously released criminals and impose new and onerous restrictions on them at will. Moreover, there is nothing constitutionally special about sex offenders as a class. Congress should not be allowed to designate a sub-class of people within its jurisdiction as “special” and then assert perpetual jurisdiction over them. These type of assertions of power are precisely what the “proper” element of the Necessary and Proper Clause is supposed to protect against–ones that, even if “necessary,” would give Congress unbounded power.
Indeed, if the Court rules in favor of the government’s position, it will give Congress virtually unlimited power to regulate nearly all Americans. In essence, it would justify the gradual imposition of endless new requirements on anyone who had previously been subject to federal jurisdiction. Cumulatively, these federal impositions amount to unlimited federal authority over anyone who has ever been held in federal custody or otherwise in federal jurisdiction. This cannot be a power vested in a Congress with “few and defined” powers. As the Supreme Court held in the Obamacare case, Congress doesn’t have the power to “regulate an individual from cradle to grave.”
View full post on Cato @ Liberty
Alessandro Acquisti is one of my favorite privacy researchers, and a quote he gave the New York Times about consumer privacy is all Acquisti, right down to the Italian-born locution.
“Should people be worried? I don’t know,” he said with a shrug in his office at Carnegie Mellon. “My role is not telling people what to do. My role is showing why we do certain things and what may be certain consequences. Everyone will have to decide for themselves.”
Alas, Times reporter Somini Sengupta did not report on Acquisti as neutrally as Acquisti reports on privacy.
We don’t always act in our own best interest, his research suggests. We can be easily manipulated by how we are asked for information. Even something as simple as a playfully designed site can nudge us to reveal more of ourselves than a serious-looking one.
It is just as plausible that people mouth a desire for privacy but then act more consistently with their self-interest when they reveal information that provides them fuller interaction, free Internet content, and broader commercial choices.
Read more of Acquisti on his Economics of Privacy page.
View full post on Cato @ Liberty
Everyone Is Talking About Platinum … But For The Wrong Reason
By: John Manfreda
Over the past decade, gold and silver have garnered all the attention when it comes to precious metals. And, this is not surprising. In April of 2011, silver climbed to almost $50 per ounce. Not to be outdone, gold traded above $1,900 an ounce the following September.
Recently, another precious metal has stepped into the spotlight…platinum.
If you followed the news lately, you likely heard the mainstream press talking about minting a one trillion dollar platinum coin (containing less than one ounce of platinum), which would stay uncirculated in order to back U.S. treasury bonds. This stunt was suggested as a way to avoid painful discussions regarding the debt ceiling…as opposed to actually dealing directly with the debt issue and the hard decisions that come with it.
The idea generated numerous headlines, but it did not last long as the Treasury and the Federal Reserve claimed the one trillion dollar platinum coin was unrealistic. In the end, this amounted to nothing more than a political ploy. But, it did get people talking about platinum even if it was for the wrong reason.
The real reason to be talking about platinum is the potential benefit owning this rare precious metal can bring to your portfolio.
We believe platinum could be a great addition to your precious metals allocation because of the combination of its rarity and the current price anomaly – trading at a discount to or at par with gold for the past year and a half.
Platinum is 30 times more rare than gold. However, despite that fact, the price is currently almost on par with gold, even though it traditionally trades at a premium to gold. Going back to 1972, platinum has generally traded 1.35 times greater than the price of gold.
In order for you to understand how rare platinum is, you first have to learn the history and fundamentals of the metal. When it comes to gold and silver, people understand their use as money since the beginning of recorded history; there’s been enough gold and silver for liquidity purposes, but not so much the market is saturated. This allows these metals to maintain a stable store of value.
However, platinum is so rare that it is infrequently mentioned in the ancient history books. In fact, very little was known about platinum before the 1600’s.
The word platinum comes from the Spanish word "platina" – meaning silver. Platinum wasn’t even introduced to European scientists until the 18th century. 1751 was the year the human race finally found a way to actually melt this metal using arsenic.
In 1820, Colombia was the only known source of platinum, but as production declined there, a new source of platinum emerged. This source was found in the Ural Mountains of Russia. Russian mines became the principle source of platinum for the next 100 years. Today, Russia holds 13% of the global supply of platinum, and is the second largest producer of the metal.
Platinum was not widely used until the end of World War II. But, the first massive increase in the uses of platinum came in the petroleum industry. The use of platinum was introduced to this field so producers would be able to increase the octane rating of gas, as well as manufacture important petrochemicals such as plastics, synthetic rubbers and polyester fibers.
Platinum’s use in jewelry did not become accepted until 1960 in Japan. Since then, jewelry demand for platinum increased due to the purity, color and prestige of the metal. Today, jewelry is the second largest demand driver for this white metal.
Generally, when people think of the 1970’s, the last great bull market in precious metals comes to mind. Yet, during this time, another notable event occurred with precious metals that is rarely talked about. Specifically, I am referring to the use of platinum in the automobile sector. Today 33 percent of platinum’s demand comes from the automobile industry, constituting the largest demand segment for the metal. The use of platinum in catalytic converters allows vehicles to convert noxious gases into harmless byproducts.
These new uses paved the way for investor demand. Prior to 1980 platinum bars and coins were not available for investing purposes. Platinum was only sold in sheets made for industrial consumption.
Another demand driver for the use of platinum is for medical uses. Currently, platinum is used to help fight a wide range of cancers. Platinum is also being used frequently in biomedical devices due to platinum’s inertness and electrical conductivity.
Last year, Asset Strategies International (ASI) published this Alert about the rare opportunity platinum presented since late September 2011. Since then, platinum has risen in value almost $150 per ounce, despite market volatility. ASI recognized this opportunity due to the rare ratio in which platinum was trading to gold. Platinum was trading at a $150 discount to gold at the time.
The good news is, it’s not too late for you to capitalize on the opportunity in platinum. Currently, platinum is trading at an almost even 1:1 ratio with gold, still below the historic average of 1.35 times the price of gold. Platinum has also generated new headlines because of major supply shortages and labor unrest at platinum mines in South Africa. As a result, there is the possibility new demand along with increasing supply stressors may drive it past the traditional gold to platinum ratio.
If you follow the recent events in South Africa, you may be familiar with the news of the mine strikes. Currently, 73 percent of the world’s platinum production comes from South Africa. Just a couple weeks ago, Amplats in South Africa announced they would close several mines, leaving 14,000 workers unemployed. Amplats supplies 40% of the world’s platinum demand, yet they are shutting down mines at an alarming rate. Four have shut down as of January 15, and another mine is pending closure.
Due to the harsh conditions of platinum mining in South Africa, the miners are demanding higher pay and benefits. In turn, production costs are climbing for the world’s leading producer. In any business, cost increases usually precede (and lead to) price increases. And, the platinum industry is not immune to supply and demand fundamentals.
If you look at the main demand drivers and uses mentioned previously, all of them demand drivers are increasing. Combine this with a decreasing supply in South Africa where 73 percent of the worlds known production is located, and you see the opportunity we see in platinum right now.
Platinum is a real alternative investment option.
At ASI, we are not financial advisors, but we are in the business of helping you Keep What’s Yours. While we cannot say we know what is going to happen for sure, we think you can agree, the platinum story is one worth telling…and worth acting upon.
So, how can you get some platinum?
Here are a few simple options…
1.Direct physical ownership –
2.Perth Mint Certificates – Purchase 100% government guaranteed and fully insured platinum in the form of unallocated bullion. For over a decade and a half, Perth has offered this safe, cost-effective method of platinum ownership to investors just like you.
Statistics: Posted by DIGGER DAN — Fri Jan 25, 2013 2:37 am
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The economic implosion of Europe is accelerating. Even while the mainstream media continues to proclaim that the financial crisis in Europe has been “averted”, the economic statistics that are coming out of Europe just continue to get worse. Manufacturing activity in Europe has been contracting month after month, the unemployment rate in the eurozone has hit yet another brand new record high, and the official unemployment rates in both Greece and Spain are now much higher than the peak unemployment rate in the United States during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The economic situation in Europe is far worse than it was a year ago, and it is going to continue to get worse as austerity continues to take a huge toll on the economies of the eurozone. It would be hard to understate how bad things have gotten – particularly in southern Europe. The truth is that most of southern Europe is experiencing a full-blown economic depression right now. Sadly, most Americans are paying very little attention to what is going on across the Atlantic. But they should be watching, because this is what happens when nations accumulate too much debt. The United States has the biggest debt burden of all, and eventually what is happening over in Spain, France, Italy, Portugal and Greece is going to happen over here as well.
The following are 20 facts about the collapse of Europe that everyone should know…
#1 10 Months: Manufacturing activity in both France and Germany has contracted for 10 months in a row.
#2 11.8 Percent: The unemployment rate in the eurozone has now risen to 11.8 percent – a brand new all-time high.
#3 17 Months: In November, Italy experienced the sharpest decline in retail sales that it had experienced in 17 months.
#4 20 Months: Manufacturing activity in Spain has contracted for 20 months in a row.
#5 20 Percent: It is estimated that bad loans now make up approximately 20 percent of all domestic loans in the Greek banking system at this point.
#6 22 Percent: A whopping 22 percent of the entire population of Ireland lives in jobless households.
#7 26 Percent: The unemployment rate in Greece is now 26 percent. A year ago it was only 18.9 percent.
#8 26.6 Percent: The unemployment rate in Spain has risen to an astounding 26.6 percent.
#9 27.0 Percent: The unemployment rate for workers under the age of 25 in Cyprus. Back in 2008, this number was well below 10 percent.
#10 28 Percent: Sales of French-made vehicles in November were down 28 percent compared to a year earlier.
#11 36 Percent: Today, the poverty rate in Greece is 36 percent. Back in 2009 it was only about 20 percent.
#12 37.1 Percent: The unemployment rate for workers under the age of 25 in Italy – a brand new all-time high.
#13 44 Percent: An astounding 44 percent of the entire population of Bulgaria is facing “severe material deprivation”.
#14 56.5 Percent: The unemployment rate for workers under the age of 25 in Spain – a brand new all-time high.
#15 57.6 Percent: The unemployment rate for workers under the age of 25 in Greece – a brand new all-time high.
#16 60 Percent: Citigroup is projecting that there is a 60 percent probability that Greece will leave the eurozone within the next 12 to 18 months.
#17 70 Percent: It has been reported that some homes in Spain are being sold at a 70% discount from where they were at during the peak of the housing bubble back in 2006. At this point there are approximately 2 million unsold homes in Spain.
#18 200 Percent: The debt to GDP ratio in Greece is rapidly approaching 200 percent.
#19 1997: According to the Committee of French Automobile Producers, 2012 was the worst year for the French automobile industry since 1997.
#20 2 Million: Back in 2005, the French auto industry produced about 3.5 million vehicles. In 2012, that number dropped to about 2 million vehicles.
One thing that these shocking numbers cannot convey is the tremendous amount of pain that many average Europeans are living through on a daily basis at this point. To get a peek into what life is like in Greece these days, check out this short excerpt from a recent Bloomberg article…
Anastasia Karagaitanaki, 57, is a former model and cafe owner in Thessaloniki, Greece. After losing her business to the financial crisis, she now sleeps on a daybed next to the refrigerator in her mother’s kitchen and depends on charity for food and insulin for her diabetes.
“I feel like my life has slipped through my hands,” said Karagaitanaki, whose brother also shares the one-bedroom apartment. “I feel like I’m dead.”
For thousands of Greeks like Karagaitanaki, the fabric of middle-class life is unraveling. Teachers, salaries slashed by a third, are stealing electricity. Families in once-stable neighborhoods are afraid to leave their homes because of rising street crime.
All over Europe, people that have lost all hope are actually setting themselves on fire in a desperate attempt to draw attention. Millions of formerly middle class Europeans have lost everything and are becoming increasingly desperate. Suicide and crime are skyrocketing all over southern Europe and massive street riots are erupting on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, this is just the beginning. Things are going to get even worse for Europe.
Meanwhile, those of us living in the United States smugly look down our noses at Europe because we are still living in a false bubble of debt-fueled prosperity.
But eventually we will feel the sting of austerity as well. The recent fiscal cliff deal was an indication of that. Taxes are going up and government spending is at least going to slow down. It won’t be too long before the effects of that are felt in the economy.
And of course the reality of the situation is that the U.S. economy really did not perform very well at all during 2012 when you take a look at the numbers. The cold, hard truth is that the U.S. economy has been declining for a very long time, and there are a whole bunch of reasons to expect that our decline will accelerate even further in 2013.
So if you are an American, don’t laugh at what is happening over in Europe at the moment. We are headed down the exact same path that they have gone, and we are going to experience the same kind of suffering that they are going through right now.
Use these last few “bubble months” to prepare for what is ahead. At some point this “hope bubble” will disappear and then the time for preparation will be over.
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Instead of a Review: A Commentary on Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know, by Jason Brennan, Part 2
In Part 1 of this commentary, I indicated that my remarks about Jason Brennan’s book, Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know, would consist of two parts. But having read the book again, and having concluded that my disagreements with Brennan run deeper than I initially believed, I have decided to extend my commentary to at least three parts, possibly more. This is necessary if I am to do even a modicum of justice to a number of important issues, such as Brennan’s defense of “positive liberty.”
Before diving into those deep philosophical waters, I will first address some of Brennan’s points about the origins of “hard libertarianism,” as well as his comments about Ayn Rand.
Brennan (p. 94) claims that hard libertarianism (i.e., what most people think of when they think of libertarianism) “originated with three women: Ayn Rand, Isabel Patterson [sic], and Rose Wilder Lane.” This is incorrect, of course; hard libertarianism preceded Rand, Paterson, and Lane by more than a century. Indeed, it would not be stretching the point to trace the origins of hard libertarianism to the English Levellers of the mid-seventeenth century.
In contrast to Rand, neither Paterson nor Lane originated much of anything. One might as well say that some of their male libertarian contemporaries, such as A.J. Nock, originated hard libertarianism. That statement would be equally false; such early to mid-twentieth century writers popularized libertarian ideas that had been around for a long time. Although they sometimes drew from different currents of libertarian thought, such as Jeffersonian individualism (in the case of Paterson) and Georgism (in the case of Nock), they were not original theoreticians, for the most part. It was with good reason that Nock characterized himself and other libertarians of his day as the “remnant.”
Ayn Rand falls into a different category, for she was far more than a popularizer of earlier libertarian ideas. But if anyone deserves to be called the originator of modern (hard) libertarianism, that person would be Murray Rothbard, not Ayn Rand. It is primarily to Rothbard that we owe the integration of various elements into what we now associate with libertarianism. These elements include the natural-rights thinking of Lockean liberalism; the radical individualism of Spooner and Tucker; the economic theories of Menger, Mises, and other Austrians; the anti-militarism of eighteenth-century Radical Whigs; the anti-imperialism of nineteenth-century Cobdenites and other “Little Englanders”; and the isolationism of the Old Right in America.
It is exceedingly odd that Rothbard is mentioned only once (p. 11) in Brennan’s book—and then only in passing, as an example (along with Rand and Nozick) of a hard libertarian. Rothbard’s name does not even appear in Brennan’s discussion of libertarian anarchism (pp. 57-60), even though Rothbard was the principal architect and advocate of that position. Nor are any of Rothbard’s writings, such as For a New Liberty, listed in “Suggestions for Further Reading.” Paterson’s The God of the Machine—an eccentric treatment that quickly faded into oblivion and had virtually no lasting influence—made the list of five recommended books under the heading “Hard Libertarianism,” but we find nothing by Rothbard.
Let us now turn to Brennan’s treatment of Ayn Rand, who is mentioned numerous times in his book.
It is clear that Brennan is not a fan of Ayn Rand. This is fine, of course, but it does not excuse some of his remarks about her. In the Introduction (p. xiv), Brennan writes:
Chapter three investigates issues about personal morality and ethics. It is largely meant to correct mistakes about libertarianism, in particular, the mistake of thinking that most libertarians are followers of Ayn Rand.
I cannot say who makes this mistake, since Brennan does not tell us, but he does concede (p. 21) that Rand “is influential.” Nevertheless,
Rand does not represent the mainline of libertarian or more broadly classical liberal thinking. Rand was a “hard libertarian,” and hard libertarianism is not the mainline of libertarian thinking.
In other words, it is false to say that “most libertarians are followers of Ayn Rand” because Brennan identifies the “mainline” of libertarian thinking with classical liberalism, not hard libertarianism. If one accepts this view, which I do not, then there is no effective objection to be made against Brennan’s linguistic coup.
The fact is that when most people talk about Rand’s influence on the libertarian movement, they are thinking specifically of hard libertarianism, not of a diffuse tradition called “classical liberalism.” Nevertheless, even most hard libertarians do not view themselves as followers of Ayn Rand. To be influenced by a philosopher does not make one a “follower” of that philosopher. Despite my disagreements with Rand, I have been influenced by her and I admire her, but I don’t consider myself one of her “followers.”
Many hard libertarians would say the same thing. It was therefore unnecessary for Brennan to make his point by defining “libertarianism” so broadly as to relegate hard libertarians to a minority status within libertarianism.
Brennan (p. 21) has more to say about Rand.
In her later years, Rand styled herself as a philosopher, but most philosophers, including most libertarian philosophers, regard her philosophical work as poor.
The first thing that struck me about this remark is why Brennan decided to include it. It seems a gratuitous swipe that reflects little more than a camouflaged way of stating Brennan’s personal opinion.
Although I don’t know where Brennan got his information, he is probably right about how “most philosophers” view Rand. It is also quite possible that most philosophers regard libertarianism itself as a poorly reasoned and unjustifiable political philosophy.
Such speculations cause me to wonder why any libertarian should care about what most philosophers believe about these matters. After all, we are dealing, in the main, with a class of state-subsidized intellectuals whose economic interests frequently conflict with the free-market educational proposals of libertarians—proposals that would almost certainly bring about a dramatic thinning of the quasi-monopolistic herd of credentialed academics in philosophy, sociology, and other “soft” disciplines, whose primary beneficiaries are the teachers, not the students. (Adam Smith made a similar point in his Wealth of Nations.)
In short, I would no more expect to find a high opinion of Rand in a typical academic philosopher than I would in a typical government bureaucrat.
I am far more skeptical about Brennan’s claim that even most libertarian philosophers have a low opinion of Rand’s philosophical work. That may be true of Brennan’s small band of “neoclassical liberals,” but it is not true of many libertarian philosophers, such as John Hospers, Tibor Machan, Randy Barnett, Eric Mack, Doug Rasmussen, Doug Den Uyl, Ellen and Jeffrey Paul, and many more.
Given Brennan’s low opinion of Rand, we might expect his summary treatment of her ethical theory to be less than satisfactory. And we would not be disappointed.
It’s difficult to characterize Brennan’s presentation of Rand’s egoism. Although not exactly wrong, technically speaking, on some points, it is slanted in a manner that makes her egoism seem wholly implausible. Consider this passage (p. 44-45):
Rand argues that selfishness is a virtue. She believes that every person has only one moral obligation: to promote his or her own self interest. On its face, this theory of ethics is clearly false. If ethical egoism were true, then, if torturing babies would benefit me ever so slightly, I would be permitted to do so. However, it’s clearly wrong for me to torture babies to get a slight benefit for myself, and so ethical egoism is false.
This sort of facile analysis, complete with the specter of torturing babies, is something we might expect from an undergraduate student who knows nothing about the history of ethical egoism, but I was surprised to find it stated by an accomplished philosopher.
It is not true that ethical egoism is clearly false on its face, just as it is not true that utilitarianism is clearly false on its face because it might justify the sacrifice of innocent people for the sake of the greatest happiness for the greatest number. It could also be said that philosophy is useless on its face, because philosophers merely discuss the same problems over and over again while rarely reaching a consensus on vital issues pertaining to morality and politics.
Brennan goes on to say: “However, this may not be fair to Rand.” May not? He continues: “Rand has an esoteric conception of self-interest.” On the contrary, Rand’s conception of self-interest is quite similar to that found in many earlier philosophers, especially among the so-called British Moralists of the eighteenth century.
Brennan then writes: “She does not seem to mean what most people mean by ‘selfish.’” True enough, but then Brennan does not seem to mean what most people mean by ‘libertarian”—so the problem of using terms in a somewhat idiosyncratic fashion was not confined to Rand.
Brennan continues: “For instance, Rand seems to believe it is logically impossible for a person to benefit on net from taking or acquiring something he does not deserve.” This is just flat wrong. Rand never characterized such possibilities as logically impossible. Nor, contrary to Brennan, did Rand believe that it was “logically impossible for a person to benefit on net from aggressing against, abusing, or exploiting others.”
Brennan’s slipshod manner of summarizing Rand’s theory of egoism indicates, to me at least, that he didn’t make much of an effort to understand her ideas. Fortunately, his subsequent remarks—e.g., that “Rand thinks selfishness requires that we respect others’ rights”—are more accurate.
To be continued…
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Among the introductions to libertarianism that have been published since the advent of the modern movement, three of the best are Libertarianism (Nash, 1971), by John Hospers; For a New Liberty: The Libertarian Manifesto (Macmillan, 1973; rev. ed., 1978), by Murray N. Rothbard; and Libertarianism: A Primer (The Free Press, 1997), by David Boaz.
The book by John Hospers, written while he was head of the USC philosophy department, was the first overview of its kind. It is perhaps a sign of the innocence of the libertarian movement during the early 1970s that a “special Libertarian Party” paperback edition was printed by Reason Press and then distributed as part of Hospers’s 1972 presidential campaign. Although presidential candidates often publish books (most are ghostwritten), I doubt if any presidential campaign, before or since, has issued a book that runs nearly 500 pages and devotes 40 pages to a discussion and critique of “anarcho-capitalism,” not to mention other fine points of political philosophy.
Although Hospers’s Libertarianism has much to recommend it, its length, slow pace, and (relatively) conservative tone render it problematic as an introduction for readers who are not already somewhat familiar with libertarianism. More fiery, more radical, and more substantive (especially in terms of its historical perspective) is Murray Rothbard’s For a New Liberty. I have often recommended this book to newbies, but I have done so selectively. Since it explicitly defends Rothbard’s version of anarchism, I have found that it appeals mainly to young persons who have already embraced some form of radical political philosophy, such as Marxism or left-anarchism. But, in my experience, it is not a book that appeals to the average Republican or Democrat.
If the libertarian porridge of Hospers is too cold for some newbies, and if that offered by Rothbard is too hot, I have found David Boaz’s Libertarianism: A Primer to be just right. It is the book that I have most often recommended when asked what someone should read for a good overview of libertarianism.
With the recent publication of Jason Brennan’s Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know comes a new addition to my list of recommended introductory texts. This is part of Oxford’s “What Everyone Needs to Know”series, which began in 2008 with a book about Kosovo, followed by books on Cuba, Burma/Myanmar, Food Politics, Animal Rights, Drugs and Drug Policy, Overfishing, Energy, Health Care Reform, and many other topics.
I cannot say what everyone needs to know about these and sundry other topics, but I suspect that some books in the Oxford series present more information than most people want to know. I cannot imagine what I need to know about overfishing, for example, and some other titles exude the stench of political correctness so much that I would avoid reading them altogether, regardless of my supposed needs, unless I were in a masochistic mood or they came highly recommended by someone I respect.
My surly remarks here reflect a personal prejudice against books that present themselves as what “everyone needs to know” about a given topic, especially when such books deal with controversial subjects. What we typically get is not what everyone needs to know about a topic but what a given writer wants to tell us, as written from his or her own value-laden perspective.
Another reason I have shied away from books in the Oxford series is owing to their Q&A format, which can result in a highly artificial organization of material, unnecessary repetition, and questions that no one would ever ask but which have been constructed after the fact, for no reason other than to conform to a prefabricated structure.
I have mentioned my personal prejudices in order to explain why I was initially reluctant to review Jason Brennan’s latest book, Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know. I am glad to report that I was pleasantly surprised—very pleasantly surprised. Brennan — Assistant Professor of Ethics, Economics, and Public Policy at Georgetown University, and a contributor to the Bleeding Heart Libertarianism website—has given us a splendid introduction to libertarianism.
Nevertheless, I remain reluctant to review Brennan’s book. Why? Because I agree with most of it, and to compile a laundry list of its many merits would quickly become tedious, at least for me and possibly for many of my readers, most of whom are already libertarians.
I have therefore decided to focus on those areas in which I disagree with Brennan. I shall do this in a two-part commentary. Before proceeding, however, I should give an indication of how his book is structured.
Brennan’s book is divided into nine chapters and consists of replies to 105 questions. The chapters are: The Basics of Libertarianism, The Nature and Value of Liberty, Human Nature and Ethics, Government and Democracy, Civil Rights, Economic Freedom, Social Justice and the Poor, Contemporary Problems, Politics: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.
The replies vary considerably in length, running from a couple paragraphs to informative mini-essays on topics such as “Are there different kinds of libertarians?” and “Are libertarians themselves unusually selfish?”
The latter question illustrates a valuable feature of Brennan’s Libertarianism, namely, that it addresses topics that are not normally covered in treatments of libertarianism. Although I suspect that Brennan felt the constraints of writing in the Q&A format, he admirably overcame many of the shortcomings of that format and produced an overview that covers not only the usual topics but also numerous topics that are rarely discussed.
So much for my review-like comments. (For more information, see the Amazon preview.) Before proceeding with my critical remarks, which may suggest that I disagree with Brennan more than I actually do, let me be clear: This is a first-rate introduction to libertarianism, and I recommend it highly. Indeed, the fact that it contains substantive points that merit critical consideration is a testimony to the value of the book. Unlike many surveys that consist of nothing more than bones, Libertarianism: What Everyone Needs to Know also contains a good deal of meat. Parts of the book will therefore be of interest to veteran libertarians who know the standard libertarian catechism by heart.
Brennan divides libertarians into three general categories: classical liberals, hard libertarians, and neoclassical liberals. By “hard” libertarianism, Brennan means what most people have in mind when they “think of libertarianism,” such as the ideas of Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, and Robert Nozick. Brennan goes on to say that “hard libertarianism does not represent the mainline of broadly libertarian thinking. In some respects, it is an aberration inside classical liberal thought.”
This rather peculiar claim is credible only if one defines “libertarianism” so broadly as to be indistinguishable from classical liberalism, and then treats the latter as the norm. This is apparently what Brennan wishes to do. He points out, for example, that some modern classical liberals are reluctant to call themselves “liberals” of any sort, given how the label has changed meanings since the late nineteenth century, so they call themselves “libertarians” instead.
“Classical liberals,” according to Brennan, “were the first libertarians.” Well, yes and no; it all depends on how we view classical liberalism. If, like Brennan, we view David Hume as a classical liberal and then identify classical liberalism with libertarianism, then we will have cast a net that is so wide and inclusive as to transform many political philosophers over the past several centuries into libertarians. By this standard, a figure like Murray Rothbard may appear to be an “aberration” from “the mainline of broadly libertarian thinking”—but it is also possible that Brennan has painted libertarianism with a brush that is too broad.
I don’t wish to get bogged down in a debate over political labels, but I do wish to point out that classical liberalism should be viewed as a general tradition, one that included a broad range of diverse ideas and thinkers, rather than as a specific ideology. But even if this is what Brennan meant in referring to “broadly libertarian thinking,” it is still misleading to depict “hard” libertarianism as an aberration within that tradition.
More accurate would be to characterize “hard” libertarianism as the radical wing of classical liberalism. Many influential classical liberals, such as Thomas Hodgskin, Herbert Spencer, Auberon Herbert, and Gustave de Molinari, would qualify as hard libertarians by Brennan’s standard. These and many similar figures were scarcely aberrations within classical liberalism, and if they seem such to modern historians, this is largely because they have been neglected in standard histories of political thought, which typically focus on more wishy-washy liberals, such as J.S. Mill.
Another factor we should keep in mind is that the label “libertarian” was typically applied during the nineteenth century to radical individualists, including anarchists, rather than to classical liberals per se. The label retained its radical edge well into the twentieth century, when it was adopted by the likes of Frank Chodorov, Murray Rothbard, and other members of the Old Right. The broader meaning of “libertarian,” which has made it virtually synonymous with “classical liberal,” is a relatively recent development.
My disagreement with Brennan on this point is a fairly minor issue; it does not substantially affect anything of substance in his book. Indeed, it is quite possible that our disagreement is more apparent than real, and that it stems from the limitations of the Q&A format, which did not permit Brennan to discuss this matter in detail.
Far more problematic is Brennan’s third category of libertarians, namely, “neoclassical liberals.” Brennan says of this group:
Neoclassical liberals share many of the same concerns of the classical liberals. However, what separates them from the older classical liberals is that they have an explicit, foundational concern for social justice.
Many libertarians get their hackles up whenever they encounter the term “social justice,” and I confess to sharing that reaction. On a superficial level the term is guilty of nothing more than redundancy. The concept of “justice” pertains to a moral relationship between two or more persons, so justice is an inherently social concept. We must therefore wonder what it means to speak of social justice specifically, when all justice is social in nature. One cannot, after all, commit an unjust act against oneself. All unjust acts are necessarily acts committed against other people.
Brennan discusses social justice in Chapter 7 (“Social Justice and the Poor”). He writes:
Social justice, or distributive justice, is a moral standard by which some people judge political and economic institutions. Advocates of social justice believe the moral justification of our institutions depends on how well these institutions serve the interests of the poor and least advantaged. The basic institutions of society must sufficiently benefit all, including the least advantaged and most vulnerable members of society.
Brennan is well aware of the libertarian objections to distributive justice when employed as a political standard, as illustrated by his excellent summary of the criticisms presented by Robert Nozick in Anarchy, State, and Utopia. But Brennan also points out that Nozick’s entitlement theory of justice applies only when original property titles were justly acquired. He then notes that “the history of acquisitions and transfers has been highly unjust.” A good deal of land, for example, “was seized by conquest from people who had themselves seized it through conquest”; and many corporations “receive bailouts, subsidies, and loans from governments and use the power of eminent domain to seize land and property from the poor for their own benefit.”
Such observations are nothing new, of course. Murray Rothbard and many other “hard libertarians” have discussed similar problems in considerable detail. What puzzles me is not that Brennan also regards past injustices as important but why he uses this issue as a springboard to launch a category of libertarianism that precious few libertarians have ever heard of, whose advocates he dubs “neoclassical liberals.”
How, exactly, do neoclassical liberals differ from hard libertarians? Brennan explains:
Neoclassical liberals agree with hard libertarians that everyone has a right to acquire and use property. However, they add that reasonable dispute the exact nature and scope of property rights. Property rights are sets of conventions, and there are many different conventions any group of people could live under….Neoclassical liberals say that it would be unreasonable to demand that everyone accept and abide by these conventions unless they had a sufficient stake in them. Thus, if one set of property rights conventions tended to immiserate the poor or leave innocent people without any wealth or opportunity, that would be reason to reject those property right conventions.
It is much too facile to treat property rights as “conventions,” especially given the broad meaning that libertarians have traditionally given to the term “property”—a meaning that has permitted them to speak not only of property in one’s person (i.e., self-proprietorship, or self-ownership) but also of property in one’s conscience and labor, and even (as with James Madison) of property in one’s time. That there are some conventional aspects to external property rights is obvious—the same is true of contracts and other features of libertarian theory—but what exists at the margins of a theory does not necessarily permeate to the core.
Theoretical problems aside, however, I am unclear about the identity of Brennan’s neoclassical liberals, and I am skeptical about whether they are numerous enough to qualify as a distinct school or tradition of libertarian thought comparable to classical liberalism and hard libertarianism. I could be wrong, but I suspect that neoclassical liberalism is confined to a handful of academic philosophers whose influence on the general libertarian movement has been minimal, at best.
After twelve years of participating in various Internet forums on libertarianism, and after writing posts that number in the tens of thousands, I do not recall encountering even one self-identified libertarian who called himself a “neoclassical liberal” or who has defended the views that Brennan attributes to that school of “libertarian” thought.
To be continued….
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