A great technology solves a problem that we didn’t know we had. It makes us aware of deprivations we didn’t know existed until we discover the new thing. Once discovered, we can’t go back.People in the 1950s, for example, never missed the smart phone. They were pleased to have a phone at all. But today, […]
Fifty years after the 1929 crash, a group of money managers and investment thinkers put together a collection of essays looking back at that experience. The result was a distillation of some pretty fine investment wisdom. Timely, I think, to review now.One of the contributors was Arthur Zeikel, then with Merrill Lynch. The title of […]
Although the mainstream media have turned its attention away from the wreckage of Obamacare, don’t think for a second that all is well.As the politicos in D.C. focus their attention on the midterm elections in November, now is a great time to study, prepare, and seek out the most affordable, accessible, and highest quality options […]
Turn on the tube and economic ignorance seems to be everywhere. There is constant shilling for more government. Business is demonized. Man is said to be trashing the environment. “Workers and women are oppressed” is the constant mantra.And members of the clueless media nod their heads in unison.Only John Stossel has provided the fresh air […]
In early July 1944, delegates from 44 countries gathered at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. A three-week summit took place, at which a new system was agreed to regulate the international monetary and financial order after the Second World War.The U.S. was already the world’s commercial powerhouse, having eclipsed the British […]
In the minds of many people around the world, including in the United States, the term “capitalism” carries the idea of unfairness, exploitation, undeserved privilege and power, and immoral profit making. What is often difficult to get people to understand is that this misplaced conception of “capitalism” has nothing to do with real free markets […]
Some people are saying it is just what the doctor ordered. Others are saying that the cure is worse than the disease.The Affordable Care Act? Reengagement in Iraq? Tea Party bullying in the GOP?Not this time. Just as protracted in the corridors of Congress and the White House is the debate over the proposed reform […]
In 2012, money mandarins running the European Union chose stagnation over restructuring. Here’s a consequence of that choice: expectations for a self-sustaining economic recovery keep getting crushed.Two years ago, European Central Bank (ECB) chief Mario Draghi promised to do “whatever it takes” to hold the eurozone together. He bluffed nervous investors into believing in a […]
People jacked up about income inequality can find a new hobby. The 1% are victims of a doomsday machine, and the countdown is ticking. Machine, thy name is “family.”This came to mind as I was reading a preview of Columbia Professor Andrew Ang’s forthcoming, must-read book on Asset Management. Ang is that oxymoron, an exciting […]
It might sound like the latest new product from Apple, but IPAB is actually the newest major legal challenge to Obamacare.Recently, a three-judge panel in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco heard arguments about the Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB, a 15-member panel created by the Affordable Care Act and empowered […]
Americans have come to believe that the IRS and the income tax are inevitable parts of our lives. After all, most everyone alive today has lived his entire life under federal income taxation.It wasn’t always that way. For some 125 years, the American people lived without having any tax imposed upon their income.The obvious question […]
Here’s a fun fact: Although we all hate the U.S. dollar, as it continues to hemorrhage wealth, its foothold as the world’s reserve currency isn’t going to disappear overnight.A Russian gas deal with China won’t change that — as we’ll highlight below.But before we get to the nitty-gritty, let’s dive into a story that’s right […]
Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously used the term “forgotten man” in a 1932 speech to describe those at the bottom of the economic pyramid who, he felt, government should aid.But the originator of the phrase “forgotten man” had a whole different meaning in mind. He aimed to expose the seeming good intentions of government to reveal […]
The Keynesian disaster recovery plan has been to lower rates, force people to take more risk in search of yield, and entice others to borrow and spend and, magically, more jobs will be created. If people won’t buy stocks, central banks will.Back in 2011, Ben Bernanke, when asked if QE2 was driving up stock prices, […]
I want to share some insight and give you a front-row seat to America’s next big shale play.Let’s get to it…Over the past 10 years, the U.S. has turned the ship around, quite literally.We’ve gone from a country that was expecting to import massive amounts of oil and gas — to a country that’s sitting […]
Whatever your views on the role of government, one thing is clear: There will be no way to pay for it if the economy doesn’t grow. And I’m not talking by a measly percentage point or two. If we can’t find our way back to 5% annual economic growth or above soon, America’s accumulated federal […]
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, consumer prices are rising at a 2.1% annual rate. This suggests to us that the current stock market boom will die with a bang, rather than a whimper.Fed economists say they don’t think inflation rates are rising. They think the most recent reading is a fluke. But why […]
Politicians love raising the minimum wage because they don’t have to ask voters to pay more in taxes. They just dump the costs onto shop owners. But they don’t act like politicians and go into debt to pretend like they have all the money in the world. They face real world situations. And sometimes that means replacing workers with more affordable options...
Regulation is supposed to keep you safe and make the economy function smoothly. At least that’s what they tell you in the news. But there’s another cost to regulation. One that you won’t hear about unless you have to deal with directly. And for the people in the economy who do, they’re the ones who have to pay the final cost.
The experts will tell you the recession is over, but they’re only torturing the data to hide the truth. The economy never recovered from the downturn it experienced. But the downturn happened in 2000, not 2008. The country’s been in the middle of a 14 year recession and hardly anyone knows the truth.
Every time Bitcoin crashes, it winds up at a price greater than it’s previous high. Yet the experts still call it a currency fad that will fade away. But a little over a year since it really took up, the digital currency is still going strong, and is once again seeing its price rise. But is there another reason why people are buying Bitcoins.
All paper currency has a shelf life. It could be 5 years or 500 years, but at some point, the value of any paper currency eventually reaches zero. That's why, for centuries, people have turned to one shiny metal to safeguard their personal store of wealth. And, as Jim Rickards explains, you still have that option. Read on...
According to some estimates, one man - whose name you're probably not familiar with - has saved over a billion lives. Who is he? And how has he influenced the current crop of innovators? Josh Grasmick explains...
It’s a destructive cycle that comes around everytime your politicians ask you to take to the polls. The government’s meddling creates unexpected problems that eventually overshadow the planners’ original intentions. But that only leads the way for even more interventions.
Politicians love inflation. It’s a way to pay for the government’s debts without upsetting the public by raising taxes, or their special interests by cutting government. So they’ll flood the economy with easy money and eat away at your savings. But that’s only part of the story...
You can count the number of people who went to jail over the 2008 financial crisis on one hand. Which is strange considering the U.S. loves to put people away in jail. But as one author discovered in his most recent book, having the right connections and a big enough bank account, can protect you from even the worst crimes.
Obama recently claimed this was the “Decade of the Brain”. But it not the first time the government made that promise. The last time they did it, they wasted millions of your tax dollars. Now they’re back for round two. But this time, their failure could mean more than squandered money. It could mean making Alzheimer’s even worse for those who suffer from it.
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.