What positive steps can we take? The energy that is now expended by well intentioned, freedom-seeking individuals on the destructive course of politics can be turned into powerful steps that will have a positive effect on the future. All are moral, right and just. None require aggressing. Consider the following...
The Affordable Care Act creates a new health insurance marketplace (the exchange). But because of the great uncertainty about what buyers will enter the market and who will buy what product, the law creates three vehicles to reduce insurance company risk.
Politicians and bureaucrats are notorious for manufacturing euphemisms -- clever but deceptive substitutes for what they really mean but don’t want to admit. That’s how the phrase “revenue enhancement” entered the vocabulary. Some of our courageous friends in government couldn’t bring themselves to say “tax hike.”
It’s easy to be negative about the U.S. economy these days. Find a glint of silver, and folks come running to point out all of the dark clouds looming about. This, of course, is what we got last week when the monthly jobs report was released from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Folks pooh-poohed the number of jobs and whining that they’re not enough or that it’s less than a bunch of economists thought that it might be. But you know what? Stuff ’em.
Facts are easy. You can check facts. What supporters of the Affordable Care Act are doing, on the other hand, transcends factual bungling. It’s far more advanced: a warping of reality so debauched it looks like something out of a tale by H.P. Lovecraft.
The east coast and parts of the southern U.S. were to varying degrees paralyzed by blizzards a few weeks ago. The snow as expected rendered the roads treacherous, and in anticipation of slick streets, shoppers flocked to the grocery stores in advance.The rush into grocery stores, and its aftermath, offers worthwhile lessons in economics.First up, […]
The highest form of charity, argued the 12th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, is when the help given enables the receiver to become self-sufficient.But our systems of state charity — aka welfare — have too frequently had the opposite effect: They have actually created dependency. It is time to rethink the way we help people.I’m going to […]
Last year was quite the year for Bitcoin. We’ve seen exponential growth in Bitcoin’s exchange rate and extensive coverage in the media. Another phenomenon we have witnessed is the proliferation of alternative cryptocurrencies, five of which we’ve provided below.What all of these cryptocurrencies have in common is that they rely on a decentralized network to […]
President Obama crowed in his State of the Union speech about the economy, even mentioning “a rebounding housing market.” Maybe he was referring to friends in high places, like the seller of Penthouse One in New York, which just closed for $50.9 million, all cash. Millions of mere-mortal homeowners likely wanted to throw something at […]
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is acting in a bipartisan way to cover up the biggest single threat to the bipartisan political alliance that is stripping America of its wealth: the United States Congress.There is no question that the following policy is bipartisan. Democrats and Republicans in Congress are completely agreed that the following information […]
Recent difficulties with implementing the Affordable Care Act have increased opposition to the program. A majority of Americans now oppose it. Problems with the HealthCare.gov website are in all likelihood temporary. However, there are serious long-term problems, particularly considering long-term finance and labor supply issues. Given the mounting difficulties with and growing concerns about the […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”As the inequality gap grows, there is an ideological battle unfolding in the West.On the one hand, there are those who think government can fix things. It must do more, tax more, […]
On Feb. 7 the United States will once again reach its statutory debt limit, meaning it cannot legally borrow any more money. Since the obvious option of cutting spending to match the amount of revenue that the government collects is off the table for some inexplicable reason, Congress will have to pass a new, higher […]
The New York Times published an interminable article on health care recently. Plenty of facts — how scrupulous are these journalists! — but the article displayed absolutely no comprehension of the basics of cause and effect. I was left wondering about the whole point.The article details how the health care system rewards specialists to an […]
The Largest Company in History:“The United States Corporation of Government (USCOG)”I follow global social and commercial networks, looking for entrepreneurial opportunities.Innovation surges when industry and government models change. Buggy whips. Landline phones. Railroads. The Soviet Union. Apartheid South Africa. All marked social and commercial innovation, both bad and good.We are witnessing a new form of […]
We’d like to give the banks in Australia some credit. They’ve finally gone and done it. They have caught up with 1960s technology. They’ve figured out how to use PIN numbers.How to only use PIN numbers, that is. They’re considering scrapping signatures on credit cards to cut down on fraud. Apparently, having to verify your […]
We put in a good-citizen call to the SEC the other day.“There’s a massive scheme to manipulate stock prices,” we told the friendly agent.“I have to tell you that your call is being monitored so that we can better serve the public,” he replied.“Oh, don’t worry about that. The NSA is tapping our call anyway.”“Are […]
Dr. William C. Padgett is a retired optometrist who has been trying to bring an elderly care facility to Beaufort County, North Carolina, for over a decade.“Our senior citizens,” he laments, “are finding that it is difficult and in many cases impossible to find an appropriate long-term care facility locally.” Though he has received several […]
If you don’t have the angst out of your system concerning Wall Street banksters, Government Sachs, and the Affordable Care Act, settle in with Matt Taibbi’s Griftopia to make your blood boil one more time.Investors should be reminded of 2008 as they shrug their shoulders and put their money back in the stock market. The […]
What do 8 of the 10 wealthiest people in the U.S. have in common?Aside from being able to fly in private jets, the common thread is that each of them has made their fortune thanks to a start-up.Let me explain…From tech titans like Bill Gates and Larry Ellison (founders of Microsoft and Oracle, respectively), to […]
“Inequality is the defining challenge of our time,” according to President Obama. It’s certainly the topic of the day for Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz and a whole raft of liberal pundits.But have you noticed that hardly anyone else is talking about it? When is the last time you heard a shoeshine person or a taxi […]
In December of last year, I left my career to travel the world for one year.My plan was to visit as many countries as possible on my Star Alliance Around-the-World ticket in the first nine months, then, for the remaining three months, return back to the country that most caught my eye and my curiosity.Nine […]
Economic history is primed to repeat in the nastiest of ways unless the government stops distorting the price of something we use every day.Every product, good, or service has a price, which is essential to rational decision-making. We use prices every day as vital data that guide us. Without true prices, prices not distorted by […]
A new survey from Harvard University found a large majority of young Americans do not believe the law will save them money, do not believe it will improve their health, and do not intend to sign up for insurance through the new exchanges.
Uh-oh!The new pope, Francis from the Pampas, has just warned us to beware the “tyranny” of capitalism.Each man worships his own gods. Some worship at the altar of Jesus of Nazareth. Some at the altar of the Almighty Dollar. The capitalists don’t bad-mouth Francis’ god. You’d think he would cut them the same slack.Bad-mouthing Catholicism […]
The market has selected different things as money throughout history. Some of these items have served as money in isolated places for specific periods of time — for instance, cigarettes in prisoner-of-war camps. Cigarettes continue to be a currency in prisons if allowed, but if not, according to Wikipedia, “postage stamps have become a more […]
The great debate between capitalism and socialism suffers from a lack of clarity about definitions. This is why when Walter Block lectured in Brazil this past week, he was very careful to distinguish between crony capitalism and authentic capitalism. And it’s why when I was interviewed, the question came up immediately: What precisely do you mean by capitalism?
Every day, for example, we read how the European economic mess is a “crisis of capitalism.” Huh? It’s been more than a century since governments let these economies grow on their own without bludgeoning them with regulations, taxing and looting the public, littering financial systems with fake money, cartelizing producers, shoveling welfare benefits, funding gigantic public works and the like.
Some advocates of market liberty believe that the term “capitalism” should be jettisoned permanently because it causes confusion. People might think that you favor using the state to back capital against labor, using public policy in a way that supports prominent producers over consumers or pushing political priorities that advance business over labor.
If a term elucidates an idea with accuracy, great. If it causes confusion, change it. Language is constantly evolving. No particular arrangement of letters embeds an immutable meaning. And what is at stake in this debate about market freedom (or capitalism or laissez-faire or the free market) is a substance of profound importance.
It’s the substance, not the words, we should care about. Civilization really does hang in the balance.
Here are five core elements to this idea of market freedom, or whatever you want to call it. It is my short summary of the classical liberal vision of the free society and its functioning, which isn’t just about economics but the whole of life itself.
Volition. Markets are about human choice at every level of society. These choices extend to every sector and every individual. You can choose your work. No one can force you. At the same time, you can’t force yourself on any employer. No one can force you to buy anything, either, but neither can you force someone to sell to you.
This right of choice recognizes the infinite diversity within the human family (whereas state policy has to assume people are interchangeable units). Some people feel a calling to live lives of prayer and contemplation in a community of religious believers. Others have a talent for managing high-risk hedge funds. Others favor the arts or accounting, or any profession or calling that you can imagine. Whatever it is, you can do it, provided it is pursued peacefully.
You are the chooser, but in your relations with others, “agreement” is the watchword. This implies maximum freedom for everyone in society. It also implies a maximum role for what are called “civil liberties.” It means freedom of speech, freedom to consume, freedom to buy and sell, freedom to advertise and so on. No one set of choices is legally privileged over others.
Ownership. In a world of infinite abundance, there would be no need for ownership. But so long as we live in the material world, there will be potential conflicts over scarce resources. These conflicts can be resolved through fighting over things or through the recognition of property rights. If we prefer peace over war, volition over violence, productivity over poverty, all scarce resources — without exception — need private owners.
Everyone can use his or her property in any way that is peaceful. There are no accumulation mandates or limits on accumulation. Society cannot declare anyone too rich, nor prohibit voluntary asceticism by declaring anyone too poor. At no point can anyone take what is yours without your permission. You can reassign ownership rights to heirs after you die.
Socialism is not really an option in the material world. There can be no collective ownership of anything materially scarce. One or another faction will assert control in the name of society. Inevitably, the faction will be the most-powerful society — that is, the state. This is why all attempts to create socialism in scarce goods or services devolve into totalitarian systems.
Cooperation. Volition and ownership grant the right to anyone to live in a state of pure autarky. On the other hand, that won’t get you very far. You will be poor, and your life will be short. People need people to obtain a better life. We trade to our mutual betterment. We cooperate in work. We develop every form of association with each other: commercial, familial and religious. The lives of each of us are improved by our capacity to cooperate in some form with other people.
In a society based on volition, ownership and cooperation, networks of human association develop across time and space to create the complexities of the social and economic order. No one is the master of anyone else. If we want to succeed in life, we come to value serving each other in the best way we can. Businesses serve consumers. Managers serve employees just as employees serve businesses.
A free society is a society of extended friendship. It is a society of service and benevolence.
Learning. No one is born into this world knowing much of anything. We learn from our parents and teachers, but more importantly, we learn from the infinite bits of information that come to us every instant of the day all throughout our lives. We observe success and failure in others, and we are free to accept or reject these lessons as we see fit. In a free society, we are free to emulate others, accumulate and apply wisdom, read and absorb ideas and extract information from any source and adapt it to our own uses.
All of the information we come across in our lives, provided it is obtained noncoercively, is a free good, not subject to the limits of scarcity because it is infinitely copyable. You can own it and I can own it and everyone can own it without limit.
Here we find the “socialist” side of the capitalist system. The recipes for success and failure are everywhere and available to use for the taking. This is why the very notion of “intellectual property” is inimical to freedom: It always implies coercing people and thereby violating the principles of volition, authentic ownership and cooperation.
Competition. When people think of capitalism, competition is perhaps that first idea that comes to mind. But the idea is widely misunderstood. It doesn’t mean that there must be several suppliers of every good or service, or that there must be a set number of producers of anything. It means only that there should be no legal (coercive) limits on the ways in which we are permitted to serve each other. And there really are infinite numbers of ways in which this can take place.
In sports, competition has a goal: to win. Competition has a goal in the market economy, too: service to the consumer through ever increasing degrees of excellence. This excellence can come from providing better and cheaper products or services or providing new innovations that meet people’s needs better than existing products or services. It doesn’t mean “killing” the competition; it means striving to do a better job than anyone else.
Every competitive act is a risk, a leap into an unknown future. Whether the judgment was right or wrong is ratified by the system of profit and loss, signals that serve as objective measures of whether resources are being used wisely or not. These signals are derived from prices that are established freely on the market — which is to say that they reflect prior agreements among choosing individuals.
Unlike sports, there is no end point to the competition. It is a process that never ends. There is no final winner; there is an ongoing rotation of excellence among the players. And anyone can join the game, provided they go about it peacefully.
Summary. There we have it: volition, ownership, cooperation, learning and competition. That’s capitalism as I understand it, as described in the classical liberal tradition improved by the Austrian social theorists of the 20th century. It is not a system so much as a social setting for all times and places that favor human flourishing.
It’s not hard to discern my political outlook then: If it fits with these pillars, I’m for it; if it does not, I’m against it. Now, you tell me: Is the European crisis, or the U.S.’ own, really a crisis of capitalism? On the contrary, an authentic capitalism is the answer to the biggest problems in the world today.