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 is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future,” says a proverb often attributed to Yogi Berra. Imagine the world of freedom, or lack of it. Who could foresee the technologies that make our lives so rewarding and convenient? The same technologies have us all under the government’s giant microscope. Thankfully, the brave have turned the microscope around.
In the months since Edward Snowden revealed the nature and extent of the spying that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been perpetrating upon Americans and foreigners, some of the NSA's most troublesome behavior has not been a part of the public debate.
National Treasury Union President Colleen M. Kelly recently described the 2014 IRS budget allocation as “woefully inadequate.” But the agency has not proven itself to be an efficient steward of taxpayer dollars. Here are ten ways the IRS lost the trust of the American people.
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.
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 problem for NSA apologist is that when guys like Snowden disclose that the government conducts comprehensive surveillance in ways that would have made 1984’s O’Brien drool, it puts the entire progressive agenda in jeopardy.
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 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 […]
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 […]
In times of war and national emergency, it’s sometimes necessary to sacrifice civil liberties to secure vital gains in public safety. In those cases, we may have to accept a loss of privacy or freedom rather than invite mass slaughter of Americans.The National Security Agency’s domestic phone records collection is not one of those.Never have […]
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 […]
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, […]
Do you trust your doctor? Most patients assume their doctor is working in their best medical interests whenever he or she orders a diagnostic test or recommends a particular treatment. Customers might wonder whether an unscrupulous auto mechanic is being truthful when he recommends a brake job or a new transmission. But most patients trust […]
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 […]
“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 […]
It seems that the president is frustrated with Congress. What kind of legislature is this, he asks, that fails to immediately enact the will of the executive? The executive has been using a slightly different approach these days: He uses an executive order. Forget all that stuff you have read in the civics texts about checks and balances and the branches of government. The executive order bypasses them all.
The White House even has a name for this: “We Can’t Wait.” There is even an official .gov website. Hey, if you are going to shred the Constitution and pass laws like a dictator, the best approach is to do it out in the open. “If Congress refuses to act,” he says, “I’ll continue to do everything in my power to act without them.”
To be fair, he is hardly the first. The president before him did it, and the president before that and so on back to World War I and before. Every new guy cites the precedent of the old guy, as if that alone provides justification. Defying the Constitution has a long tradition, don’t you know.
But you know what this tells me? What this country needs is a good theory of law. We even lack the language to talk about what is happening to us. One party denounces the other but only in ways that exempt itself from criticism. As a result, the “man on the street” is not even prepared to talk about fundamental questions.
Example: Where did law come from, and what should it do? Sure, people get annoyed at the police, irritated by the TSA or startled to read about periodic injustices of public policy. One party gets annoyed when the other party’s president enacts laws without regard to any constitutional conventions.
But what is the law, and what should it be? These are the bigger questions that are not part of public consciousness.
The same was true in the time of Frédéric Bastiat (1801–50). At the very end of his life, he wrote an impassioned plea on the topic. He tried to get people to think hard about what was happening and how law had become an instrument of plunder, rather than a protector of property.
It is not true that the function of law is to regulate our consciences, our ideas, our wills, our education, our opinions, our work, our trade, our talents or our pleasures. The function of law is to protect the free exercise of these rights, and to prevent any person from interfering with the free exercise of these same rights by any other person.
This is from Bastiat’s The Law, one of the great political essays to emerge from the whole Continental world of the 19th century. it vanished into obscurity in France, was resurrected in late 19th century English, and then disappeared again, only to reappear in the United States in the 1950s, thanks to the efforts of the Foundation of Economic Education.
This essay asks fundamental questions that most people go through life never having thought about. This book is part of Laissez Faire Books’ set of new works that seeks to find what is essential in the literature and distribute it in new ways. (It also has the coolest cover ever for this book.)
The problem is that most people accept the law as a given, a fundamental fact. As a member of society, you obey or face the consequences. It is not safe to question why. This is because the enforcement arm of the law is the state, that peculiar agency with a unique power in society to use legal force against life and property. The state says what the law is — however this decision was made — and that settles it.
Bastiat could not accept this. He wanted to know what the law is, apart from what the state says it is. He saw that the purpose of law is, most fundamentally, to protect private property and life against invasion, or at least to ensure that justice is done in cases in which such invasions do take place. This is hardly a unique idea; it is a summary of what philosophers, jurists and theologians have thought in most times and places.
Then he takes that next step, the one that opens the reader’s eyes as nothing else. He subjects the state itself to the test of whether it, the state itself, complies with that idea of law.
He takes notice, even from the first paragraph, that the state itself turns out to be a lawbreaker in the name of law keeping. It does the very thing that law is supposed to prevent. Instead of protecting private property, it invades it. Instead of protecting life, it destroys it. Instead of guarding liberty, it violates it. And as the state advances and grows, it does this ever more, until it becomes a threat to the well-being of society itself.
Even more tellingly, Bastiat observes that when you subject the state to the same standards that the law uses to judge relations between individuals, the state fails. He concludes that when this is the case, the law has been perverted in the hands of the governing elites. It is employed to do the very thing that the law is designed to prevent. The enforcer turns out to be the main violator of its own standards.
The passion, the fire, the relentless logic have the power to shake up most any reader. Nothing is the same. This is why this monograph is rightly famous. It is capable of shaking up whole systems of government and whole societies. What a beautiful illustration of the power of the pen.
But take notice of Bastiat’s rhetorical approach here. His conclusion is at the beginning. Why? He did not have that much time (he died not long after writing The Law). He knew that the reader didn’t, either. He wanted to raise consciousness and persuade in the most-effective way. Even from a stylistic point of view, there is much to learn from his approach.
Laissez Faire Books is honored to give new life to this remarkable document in this edition, which revives the translation by Dean Russell. It also includes an introduction by Bill Bonner, who gets my vote for the most-underrated voice in defense of old-style liberalism in the world today. He explains how Bastiat’s essay opened his eyes to see the world in a new way.
It is a habit of every generation to underestimate the importance and power of ideas. Yet the whole world that we live in is built by them. Nothing outside pure nature exists in this world that did not begin as an idea held by human beings. This is why a book like this is so powerful and important. It helps you see injustices that surround us, which we are otherwise inclined to ignore. And seeing is the first step to changing.
That’s why it continues to be printed and circulated and why every living soul should read it. If we are to see a renewed appreciation of the idea of liberty in our lifetimes, this monograph written so long ago in a country so far away will deserve a great deal of the credit.