“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
One of the best features of the holidays is that many government offices are shut down. Peace on Earth, indeed. I’m travelling for the next few days. On the roads, the police presence is minimal to none.
Somehow we all get by. The private sector is humming and happy.
What is the private sector? It is an overarching order that emerges from the cumulative efforts of human actors to cooperate with each other toward the betterment of their lives. It is not only the places we shop. It is also the gatherings in our private homes, the houses of worship we attend, the businesses that give us time off to be with our families. It is the world we construct for ourselves through simple choices we make each day.
This is all part of the beautiful anarchy that human beings build when we are left alone to do so. By anarchy, I don’t mean chaos, but rather the opposite. It is orderly. It meets our needs. It is always developing and serving. And it all emerges without the coercion and compulsion inherent in government policy.
Of course, we take the blessings of the private sector for granted. All these businesses we visit during the holidays are there for us — selling us our turkeys and offering us gifts we can buy for others — and we can depend on them. I knew that as soon as I crossed the border from Louisiana to Texas, for example, I would find an excellent hotel at a great price that I could just drive up to and get a comfortable room in for less than $100 at night. I knew too that I would find a great place to eat.
I had never been to the IHOP in Marshall, Texas, but walking in was like being greeted by an old friend. Why did I come to IHOP? The AroundMe app on my smartphone listed many other local restaurants, but I had never heard of them and I seriously doubted that they would be open on Christmas Day. Plus, with IHOP, I knew what I would be getting. It has a reputation I can depend on. The menu is stable and predictable and the prices are right. Every item on the menu looks amazing.
The waitress was smiling and there to help in every way — hinting to me that I really should choose the ham and egg sandwich over the chicken-fried steak. I took her advice, and was happy I did.
I watched as she worked the room, making sure everyone’s coffee and water were filled, that the kids had their highchairs and that the food was hot and delicious. I asked her if she ever becomes annoyed at all the demands placed on her. She said she was just very happy to have a job.
I pressed further. I pointed out that all these demanding people who would cut her tips if she were only a minute late on filling up a water glass pay up to 40% of their income in taxes and comply with myriad government dictates every day without batting an eye. I asked her if she found it strange that the people in this room are kings while in her restaurant but serfs in their lives when dealing with the government.
She said that this was indeed odd, but that she had never really thought about it.
She added: “Would you like a refill on that hot chocolate?”
Texas right now is unusually cold and I didn’t pack the right clothing. So in a few minutes, I’ll head to Wal-Mart — in a town I’ve never been in — with a plan to buy a new turtleneck sweater for the rest of the drive to see my mother. I know there will be a Wal-Mart nearby. I know it will be open. I know they will have sweaters. And I know they will be priced in a way that will again surprise me for being surprising low. I will again wonder how this place makes money. I will again marvel at how great this store is.
Compare this with the uncertainty from government. One doesn’t know from one press conference to the next what Ben Bernanke is going to do. Every day the situation in Congress changes, and we don’t know for sure how much in taxes we will have to pay. The arbitrariness of government officials is alarming to business owners today. One never knows for sure when or if the bureaucrats are going to move in and shut the place down for whatever reason.
This is a factor that is forestalling economic recovery. On the margin, capital owners faced with regime uncertainty are choosing to hedge their bets. They are reluctant to jump in completely, fearing another crisis and uncertain whether the signs of life in some sectors are actually just signals of another bubble that is going to pop.
Once you see the contrast between the worlds the private sector has created and the mess the government makes, you see the challenge of our time. But seeing it is a problem. Most people go through their lives without taking notice. They shop and worship in the world of human volition. But they are unaware of just how compromised and truncated it is made by government impositions.
None of us is in a position to fully see the glorious complexity and fullness of the private sector that is global in scope. We see only what we ourselves experience. It takes a certain reflection on the bigger picture to get the point.
One of the most spectacular presentations of the sheer complexity of the private sector comes from the writings of F.A. Hayek. In the 1930s, he was teaching in London. The government planners at the time were eager to patch up the economy, which had fallen into deep decline. He tried to explain to them that they were powerless to do good and that their efforts would have only the reverse effect.
The structure of production, he wrote, is far too complex for government officials to control. It consists of an extended order of production and consumption built by heterogeneous plans of investors, each of which is carefully calibrated in time over an uncertain future. The plans are made by following the best clues available in the forms of prices and interest rates and woven together with contracts and expectations.
His diagrams appear in the Laissez Faire Club’s book release this week: Hayek’s Triangles, edited with an introduction by economist Mark Skousen. Reading through this, you gain an appreciation of a different form of beautiful anarchy — the orderly world of macroeconomic planning that occurs without the assistance of government agencies.
It is striking the extent to which the private sector thrives even in the face of so many attacks for so long, and the daily pummeling it receives from regulators, taxing officials, and central bankers. It is particularly poignant this season because the religious themes of this season nearly all draw on the triumph of light over darkness, the will to freedom over the despotic desire to control.
All the major religious holidays of this time of the year are rooted in the ancient practice of recognizing the changing season, when the shortest day of the year gives way to a new emerging light, and the days grow longer and the growing season begins anew. The change in the season occurs outside government control, and the traditions that take note of them are older and more far reaching than any existing regime.
This is another way in which this season should remind us what matters, what is really serving the cause of human flourishing, what is right and true. In the new year, let us all pledge to gain new awareness of the blessings that freedom grants us to claim ever more of those blessings for ourselves and our families.