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.
Given how poorly states like California and Illinois have funded the pension funds for their own employees, one would think that this would stop dead in its tracks any plan to have the government assist in managing private sector funds too. The spate of recent activity, however, suggests otherwise.
The financial world is plodding along like a drunken sailor avoiding debt collectors by keeping no cash in his wallet. It’s not the kind of calm that’s going to last or end well. But the storm will have to wait until after the Olympics.What a game! We’ve never watched ice hockey closely before. But watching […]
“When they come for my gun, they will have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands,” is a common refrain I often hear from the Neo-Cons when there is a threat, credible or otherwise, that the U.S. government is going to take their firearms.And, when I hear this crazy talk, I agree with […]
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 […]
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 […]
Amidst all the revelations about how the American people, many of whom are absolutely convinced they live in a free society, have their telephone calls, emails, website visits, and who knows what else under surveillance by their own government, let’s not forget the massive infringements on financial privacy that have gone on for decades.Consider, for […]
Image: ShutterstockBitInstant CEO Charlie Shrem, along with alleged co-conspirator Robert Faiella, was arrested by federal authorities last week for allegedly laundering more than $1 million worth of Bitcoins. This is a tiny amount compared to the largest drug-and-terrorism money laundering case ever. Yet when British bank HSBC was found guilty in 2012 of laundering billions, […]
The exercise had an awesome name, inspired by the movies: “Quantum Dawn 2.”On July 18, scads of U.S. banks, stock exchanges and government agencies took part in a digital fire drill — a practice run in the event all of Wall Street came under massive cyberattack.This isn’t the first time banks have come under an […]
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 […]
So you’ve maneuvered the Obamacare website, plugged in your top-secret information and found out how much you are forced to pay to avoid a fine.And for some of you, it turns out you qualify for a government subsidy — making the premium sound like a bargain. But signing on that line to accept the government’s […]
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 […]
Bitcoins are largely considered digital currency (or “crypto currency”) so you’d expect it to be treated like currency on a retail web site. But the Internal Revenue Service might not think so.
Politicians — elected officials — are street smart rather than book smart.If you care about influencing government policy it helps to know how they think.Forbes contributor Nathan Lewis argues that:“Too much is done today on the oral tradition. That is, literally, what it is. In this post-Gutenberg age, we have some better alternatives.“Thus, we need […]
Bitcoin has been making headlines for months now. Extreme price fluctuations have sparked a vigorous debate: Is it a currency or a scam? Is Bitcoin viable in the long-term, or are we witnessing a bubble waiting to burst?The answers to these questions are simple: Yes, Bitcoin is a currency, but we cannot know if it […]
The Silk Road was an undercover website where you could buy or sell illegal goods — drugs mainly. I believe passports were changing hands for about $6,000, and I understand weapons were also sold, but that was ceased in response to the spate of shootings in the U.S. over the summer. The essence of the […]
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 […]
[Ed. Note: This article originally published on Jan. 24, 2013]Stocks up. Gold down. Bitcoin… waaay up.The S&P 500 busted through the 1,500 mark this morning. Stocks haven’t been this expensive since 2007… right before they got a whole lot cheaper… for a whole lot longer. Gold, meanwhile, dipped a tad. This, despite central bankers of […]
Now, this is sheer entertainment. The Chicago branch of the Federal Reserve has addressed the great monetary question of our day. A researcher has taken a detailed look at the prospects for market-based crypto-currency, with a special focus on Bitcoin. It concludes that Bitcoin is not a viable replacement for the dollar. The report includes […]
The standard version of how money came to be goes like this: First, there was barter. (A handful of nails for a pint of ale!) Then, along came various forms of money. An evolutionary derby eventually crowned gold and silver as the supreme money. And finally, credit (or debt) was born. This is the apex […]
2013 represents another turning point in the demise of the American Empire. If you view it in economic (rather than ethical or moral) terms, the high water mark of Empire was probably in the late 1990s.But the Internet bubble and bust marked an important turning point. It coincided with the birth of the euro, a […]
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 […]
My community in the Deep South prides itself on friendship, community feeling, and an overall happy spirit. So it was a bit strange for all of this to be utterly smashed and obliterated in the course of a few calamitous weeks in which friend turned against friend, colleagues became antagonists and enemies, and families were […]
A new assessment of state pension obligations suggests the problem is even worse than it already appears.How much worse?EMPTY COOKIE JAR: Pension liabilities are worse than many states’ official figures indicate.Using a more conservative method of accounting for financial gains in the marketplace, there is a $4.1 trillion gap between assets and liabilities — known […]
I dreamed I saw Bernard von NotHaus, alive as you or me.Said I, “But Bernard, you’ve been jailed two years.”“I never was,” said he.Bernard has been the called the Rosa Parks of the alternative money movement. More than 10 years ago, he had this idea that he would make his own money — not the […]
Is there anything that we can do to stop the government’s data mining of our email, phone calls, and other digital habits?
I moderated an entire panel on this subject during FreedomFest in Las Vegas last week. The room was packed from front to back, standing room only. Clearly, there is a great deal of interest in the topic.
Or maybe “fear” is a better word.
No matter how much people have come to expect that government is not really protecting us, it is still destabilizing to realize that our government is conspiring against the rights, liberties, and privacy of the public.
It’s true that for years, we’ve heard rumors that the government had been spying on our private online activities. But the revelations from the Edward Snowden files have been alarming, to say the least. Every few days, there are more. It’s not just you and I who are upset. Diplomats and politicians the world over are rocked at the news that the U.S. is spying on their emails as well.
Each new leak adds to the picture. And the seriousness and truthfulness of it is further reinforced by the U.S. government’s response. In fact, they have not apologized, backtracked, or even shown an ounce of embarrassment about the program, let alone fixed the problem or put in guarantees that it won’t happen again. They are hounding the messenger and attempting to stop him from gaining asylum somewhere in the world.
This is the way that American imperial power is being used. Not to advance liberty, but to turn the big guns on people who expose hypocrisy and show the truth.
The panel began with entrepreneur Terry Easton, who gave a good roundup of the extent of the surveillance and suggested alternatives. Encrypted email, encrypted chat, alternatives search engines to Google that don’t track your online history, browsing in incognito windows, using Linux instead of Microsoft’s Windows or Apple’s iOS. All of these approaches figured into his solution set.
My only caution, which I shared as panel moderator, is that it is actually possible to be too paranoid about the surveillance. Not everything we do is necessarily private. Trying to make it that way might amount to a gigantic inconvenience with very little payoff. Familiarity with encrypted solutions is essential, but to throw your whole digital life into upheaval is giving into fear more than is probably necessary.
On the same panel, Anthony Gregory of the Independent Institute provided some historical perspective. Most governments in most times have spied on their citizens. They love the data. The more data the better. The first great wave of revelations of this in modern times came out in the 1970s, when it turned out that that Nixon had used the power of the surveillance state not to protect the citizens, but to spy on his political enemies.
The most surprising comments on the panel came from Georgetown University law professor Randy Barnett. He is interested in the path of litigation against government activities. He is the man who argued the suit against Obamacare in the Supreme Court.
As he explained, the first step in bringing such cases is to find the thing about the legislation or the activity that is unprecedented. If you can do that, you can get away from the endless bog of case law and have the law or practice judged on its own merits.
For example, in the case of the Obamacare lawsuit, he argued that the mandate that employers collect premiums for a particular privately provided program is unique in the history of legislation. Unfortunately, that argument didn’t carry the day in the end, but it at least gave the plaintiffs an excellent basis for challenging and arguing the suit. Barnett further drew attention to the public education benefits for even losing cases.
So how might he argue the case against the NSA’s indiscriminate spying? Here was a surprise: He said it is a blatant violation of Fourth Amendment protections against search and (in particular) seizure. Instead of physical property, the feds are searching and seizing digital property that should belong to us and those with whom we want to share it. He further pointed out that what the NSA is doing actually has no basis in any legislation.
Barnett thinks of courts and judges as highly politicized institutions that are often swayed by public opinion. If the public is seething mad about a topic, that fact alone can turn around a case. In this sense, it actually matters what people say and think about real-life political issues. Efforts at educating our fellow citizens, contacting representatives through digital swarms, and even wearing shirts of protest can actually make a difference.
I’m not one for the antics of political agitation and activism. So I found his point to be a real challenge to the way I tend to view the world. It comes down to three points: 1) judges and juries are hugely influenced by public opinion, 2) you can’t trust either to do the right thing, but 3) litigating in favor of freedom and human rights can make a real difference even if you end up losing the case in the short run.
How should we respond to the news that the surveillance state is all around us? Professor Barnett urged us not to give up and go live in caves. On the contrary, he said, we need to be more active and public and jealous of our rights than ever before. The government cannot, in the end, control the thoughts of everyone in the population, and the more people who refuse to be intimidated, the harder the job of the government becomes.
What about the rest of FreedomFest? It was a gigantic conference. What I reported above constituted a tiny fraction of this incredible event that attracted some 2,500 people. It drew many academics, journalists, activists of all ages, vendors, investors, and a huge variety of professionals in all fields. And of course, Laissez Faire Books was there in full force. The level of fun was totally over the top. But the content of every session I attended was just spectacular.
I spoke on many panels, did what seemed like dozens of interviews, and even appeared on the Stossel show, which airs this Thursday night on Fox News, at 9 p.m. EST. There’s too much to report, but I can’t pass up the chance to mention another of my favorite panels.
We did an entire session on Bitcoin. Doug French and I spoke along with legendary libertarian activist Amanda BillyRock and anarchist entrepreneur Jeff Berwick. Can Bitcoin replace government currencies? We all said yes, but… there will be many bumps on the road. Some related to the natural pace of economic development, but others entirely artificial and created by government.
This panel caused our new book on Bitcoin by James Cox to be a hot seller. It is short, technically sound, rhetorically friendly, and loads of fun. The name of the book is Bitcoin and Digital Currencies: The New World of Money and Freedom. It provides an excellent introduction to the current situation and the likely future of Bitcoin, explaining all the significance of this implausible success for our lives and freedom.
This was the first time that any FreedomFest panel had addressed such an edgy topic as this. Young and old, professional and activist, were buying this book. And people are learning that it is not as hard to own as you might think.
This panel really sparked some serious interest. An alternative to the dollar? “I’m in.” To me, this is an indication that digital currencies have not only arrived, but will continue to play an important role in the economic development of our times.
Special congratulations are due to Mark Skousen for putting together such a wonderful event. It is rather remarkable to consider how many hats he wears. He just completed an excellent book on investing and the Austrian School, A Viennese Waltz Down Wall Street, yet he has also been the visionary behind one of the greatest and more encouraging freedom-oriented events on the planet.
My final takeaway from this event: There is cause for hope, and plenty of it. The future is made not by the NSA, not by the Fed, not by the Department of Homeland Security, and certainly not by the Obama administration. It will be made by the insuppressible longing of the human spirit to live free and make a great world for ourselves.