“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 […]
My most surprising findings in Brazil, aside from the amazing fruits that I didn’t know existed because the U.S. government doesn’t think I need them, were the young American kids who have moved here to find economic opportunity. This I had not expected, but now fully understand.
Brazil is a marvelous and massive country where private wealth thrives without embarrassment, where well-protected and healthy familial dynasties form the infrastructure of social and economic life, where technology is popular and beloved by everyone, where the police leave you alone and where Americans can feel right at home.
The world is changing fast. Freedom in America is slipping away so quickly that we are already seeing a wave of young people leaving in search of new opportunities, just as people from the around the world once came to America to live the dream. Brazil is one of many countries benefiting from the generational emigration from the U.S.
Discovering this rattled me more than I might have expected. But the young people themselves are not unhappy, and I can see why. They are valued. They are earning good money doing interesting things. They have access to one of the most beautiful and exotic and friendly places on Earth. They eat well, live well and have rich social lives.
More than anything else, they have the sense of freedom.
Now, you might wonder how it is that people have to leave the “home of the free” to find freedom. Over the last 10 years, something horrible has happened to the United States. The police state has cracked down hard, not so much on “terrorists” or real criminals, but on regular citizens. The news items spill out of my feed on an hourly basis, things that just shock and alarm those who are paying attention.
Maybe it is not so surprising. The U.S. military is larger than most of the world’s militaries combined. We have the largest prison population on the planet, and most are locked up for nonviolent crimes. The political culture focuses more on the need for security than for freedom. Add it all up and you have the perfect recipe for the emergence of a police state.
But most Americans are not entirely conscious of the change. It has been fast, but slow enough not to cause alarm. It hits you only once you leave. This happened to me two years ago when I went to Spain. I could move about and do what I wanted without bumping into authority at every turn. I felt it again in Austria last year. It is not something you can quite put your finger on, just a sense that you are not under constant surveillance in suspicion. You can breathe easily.
It was the same in Sao Paulo, Brazil, a happy and prosperous land of exotic fruits, thriving markets, consumer products that actually work and are not depreciated by regulatory mandates, and polite and warm people.
I received a very generous invitation to be a main speaker at the third conference on Austrian economics sponsored by Mises Brasil, a young organization with a very bright future. It was founded only four years ago. Yet today, it has a gigantic presence in Brazilian intellectual life. The hunger for the intellectual basis of freedom is palpable.
Three hundred or more people were here to listen to lectures and engage in debates on ideas. The audience was a sea of young people, most everyone under 30. They were students, professionals, traders and workers of all sorts, all passionate about freedom and the economic answers provided by the Austrian tradition of Ludwig von Mises, F.A. Hayek and Murray Rothbard.
What most excited them was the classic idea of laissez faire — that is, the idea that society can thrive on its own in the absence of central management and that the government operates as a drain on society. The culture of the group was certainly more intellectual and educational than political. They were invigorated by ideas and given hope by the idea of freedom. Apparently, nothing like this organization existed in Brazil until recently. Now the group’s website is one of the most heavily trafficked in the country.
My hosts were enormously generous with their time, and they knew exactly what I really wanted to do on the first day: see the delights of the open-air markets. I was told they are in the center of town. If you had seen a map of Sao Paulo, you would know just how odd it is even to imagine such a thing. The city seems to be everywhere in sight, everywhere you turn, going on forever. It is like 100 New Yorks.
Driving here is not for the faint of heart. The street layout makes no rational sense at all. I could have been driven the short distance between the hotel and the conference center a hundred times and still not have had the slightest clue about the layout. I was told that it would take at least two years of living here to gain a sense that you really know the place.
Go to a high spot in the center of town and look around on all sides. Everywhere you see a beautiful thing, a world built by millions of human hands. No central plan could have made this. No single mind could have conceived of it. To anyone who is intellectually curious, the obvious questions are how does this place work? How is order achieved? The answer is one that few people in the United States seem to care about today. The miracle is obtained through the coordinating forces of the market itself, of millions of free people interacting in small ways toward their mutual self-betterment. This is the answer that inspires a lifetime of intellectual curiosity.
On the first lunch on my first day, my hosts took me to a place like I had never seen, and they are as unconscious of its significance as Americans would be startled by its very existence. Again, it seemed to be in the center of town. To obtain entry requires extensive security checks. But once you are in, a new world emerges: restaurants, soccer fields, gigantic swimming pools of many varieties and delights as far as the eye can see.
This is a city within a city. But it is entirely private, what Americans would call a “country club,” but of a particularly elaborate type. It is not hidden away in some alcove on the outskirts of town. It is right there in the city for everyone to see — something nonmembers can also take pride in. It is marvelous in every way, a living monument to the possibility of orderly, privately owned anarchist communities.
One thing kept gnawing at me during my entire visit. I kept coming across people who were members of large and extended families with roots very far back in Brazilian history. They were impressive entrepreneurs, but the wealth was more robust than you would find in a place like Silicon Valley. It reminded more of Gilded Age families in the United States, people who carried themselves with grace and confidence born of excellent breeding and material security.
As I thought about it more, the ingredients were unusual by American standards: large and extended families, protected wealth, well-bred youths, a predominantly young population. What was the reason for this? I developed a quick, back-of-the-napkin theory. It had something to do with the inheritance tax. So I asked my hosts, “What are estate taxes like in this country?” The answer came fast: There are none. Some areas charge 3%, maybe 6%, but it is rather easy to escape even those minimal charges.
This contrasts with the United States, where estate taxes can be as high as 35%. We’ve been looting our best families for 100 years. We’ve gouged and smashed the richest generations of American capitalists upon death ever since the Progressive Era. We’ve been living one generation at a time. Time horizons have fallen. Large-scale, privately held capital accumulation has been discouraged, even made illegal. Families have shrunk in size. The population has become ever more aged.
This tax policy has eaten the heart out of the desire of a free people to create dynasties. So our wealthy have to hide. They are encouraged to give their money away to causes, rather than to children. We live one generation to the next. Children are perceived as an economic burden, rather than a path to immortalizing a legacy.
In Brazil, the time horizon extends beyond the single lifetime. And this is what has given rise to the dramatic cultural, social and economic differences between our countries. These dynasties serve as robust intermediating institutions between the individual and the state. We have ever fewer such things in the United States. Maybe this is what accounts for the incoherent sense that this is a freer country than the U.S.
There are other factors, too. The military consumes only a tiny percentage of wealth, and Brazilians dread wars because they know that they will be roped into supporting whatever wacky war the U.S. starts. What’s more, the police are well-known to be as likely to commit as prevent or punish crime, so they are not trusted.. Security is extremely important in Brazil, but everyone knows that it is a private function and not anything anyone would entrust to the state.
The beautiful thing about Mises Brasil as an organization is that it is working to further encourage these instincts and spread an intellectual culture that openly embraces liberty as a model of life itself. They publish books and monographs, hold conferences and spread the liberal tradition far and wide among an idea-hungry generation. This is all about the future, and Mises Brasil is right to have confidence in it.
As I waited in the customs line to enter the U.S. again, we were all shown a film designed to introduce America to new visitors. The film featured kids in ballet class, people riding horses, barn raisings, people water surfing, dances from coast to coast, smiling people of all ages, all against the backdrop of an exciting Coplandesque musical score.. It ended with the Statue of Liberty. It was wholly inspiring, but there was something missing: The government was nowhere to be seen.
How I wish this film were the whole truth about our country. It once was. But the American dream is not about geography; the American dream is an idea that moves like a spirit around the world, landing wherever people are willing to embrace it and confess it as creed. That spirit has landed in Brazil, and it was a great honor to be witness to it.