Power & Market
Leonard Read, founder, leader and long-time heart and soul of the Foundation for Economic Education, and one of liberty’s most insightful adherents, took seriously his belief that the purpose of one’s life was to grow. He sought out sources of light, wherever he could find them, and incorporated them into his thoughts.
Those familiar with Read, whose works are now easily available online, know that he peppered quotations throughout his work. Those quotations provide us an added window into his thoughts. The person Read quoted most frequently in his books was Edmund Burke, which reveals a great deal about Read. In How Do We Know?, Read said “I am often criticized — in a friendly way — for so copiously quoting those whose wisdom is far superior to mine, Edmund Burke, for instance…why not share the wisdom of seers—those who have seen what most of us have not—with freedom aspirants!”
So as we mark Burke’s January 12 birthday, consider some of the words that inspired Leonard Read to cite Burke so copiously:
He who profits of a superior understanding, raises his power to a level with the height of the superior understanding he unites with.
How often has public calamity been arrested on the very brink of ruin, by the seasonable energy of a single man? Have we no such man amongst us? I am as sure as I am of my being, that one vigorous mind without office, without situation, without public function of any kind, I say, one such man, confiding in the aid of God, and full of just reliance in his own fortitude, vigor, enterprise, and perseverance, would first draw to him some few like himself, and then that multitudes, hardly thought to be in existence, would appear and troop about him.
No government ought to exist for the purpose of checking the prosperity of its people or to allow such a principle in its policy.
It is a general error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.
It is not only our duty to make the right known, but to make it prevalent.
I hope to see the surest of all reforms, perhaps the only sure reform—the ceasing to do ill.
Example is the school of mankind. They will learn at no other.
But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, [your representative] ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living…They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither…is safe.
Power gradually extirpates from the mind every human and gentle virtue.
Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing on the rights of others, he has a right to do for himself.
All men have equal rights, but not to equal things.
The great difference between the real statesman and the pretender is, that one sees into the future, while the other regards only the present; the one lives by the day and acts on expediency; the other acts on enduring principles and for immortality.
Depend upon it, the lovers of freedom will be free.
Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity; in proportion as their soundness and sobriety is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.
Tell me what are the prevailing sentiments that occupy the minds of your young men and I will tell you what is to be the character of the next generation.
Having looked to government for bread, on the very first scarcity they will turn and bite the hand that fed them.
The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.
All who have ever written on government are unanimous that among a people generally corrupt liberty cannot long exist.
If circumspection and caution are a part of wisdom, when we work only upon inanimate matter, surely they become a part of duty too, when the subject of our demolition and construction is not brick and timber, but sentient beings, by the sudden alteration of whose state, condition and habits, multitudes may be rendered miserable…the true law-giver ought to have an heart full of sensibility. He ought to love and respect his kind, and to fear himself.
Leonard Read quoted Edmund Burke in roughly two-thirds of his books. And when you consider those quotes in connection to Read’s work, you can see why Read held Burke in such high esteem and echoed so many of his views.
In The Path of Duty, Read commented on Burke’s views of the American experiment in liberty — “He was sympathetic to and promotive of the American colonies and had no hesitancy in proclaiming his position. Stalwart! He was blest with foresight, seeing into the future: America, home of the free and land of the brave! Here was found the purest practice of freedom in world history, and Burke’s support was based on ‘enduring principles and for immortality.’ In my reading of history, never before or since his time has there been a greater statesman.” In The Freedom Freeway, Read wrote “Edmund Burke has put the solution for disunion better than anyone known to me.”
Swiss news site The Local reports that new laws taking effect this month will make it even more difficult for immigrants to obtain citizenship.
It has apparently been established law for some time that immigrants collecting social benefits are barred from naturalization. The new law, however, now also prohibits naturalization if an applicant has accepted social benefits at any time during the previous three years.
An exception is made if the benefits "are paid back in full."
On the other hand, applicants for citizenship now must only have resided in Switzerland for ten years instead of 12, as was the case before the new law took effect.
It's important to make a distinction here. The change in law is not saying the recipients on social welfare will be deported. It is merely closing them off from citizenship until they can demonstrate they do not require social assistance.
There is a difference here between residency and naturalization, and the two ought not to be confused. The state is quite flexible with legal residency. The rules for extending citizenship, though, are far more rigorous.
Indeed, Switzerland has a large number of foreign born residents, and its economy includes many immigrant workers.
Unlike many other nations, though, the Swiss recognize that the political system is distinct from the economic system, and admitting a migrant to the Swiss economic sphere does not necessarily mean the state must also grant access to the political sphere.
Moreover, in nearly all cases, immigrants residing in Switzerland have citizenship. They're simply citizens somewhere else. (Swiss law specifically protects immigrant residents from deportation in case of statelessness.)
This is true everywhere, of course. Non-resident immigrants residing in the US, for example, are already citizens. They're simply citizens somewhere else. This fact is confused by the usage of phrases like "illegal alien" or "undocumented worker" which ignore the actual citizenship status of these workers. In most cases, the term "foreign national" — which highlights the fact these people are not stateless — is really more useful than "illegal immigrant."
After all, the "illegality" of an immigrant is a totally arbitrary status made up by by government bureaucrats, and is no more morally legitimate than the term "illegal drugs." In both cases, the only difference between legal and illegal is some government paperwork.
On the other hand, there is no clear reason why foreign nationals residing anywhere ought to be given an easy path to citizenship, especially in cases where those residents rely on taxpayer funded services.
This position, by the way, need not violate the property rights of immigrant residents. After all, property rights exist everywhere, regardless of location, and a respect for property rights suggests that persons ought to be allowed to freely contract with others for employment, housing, and other goods — regardless of an arbitrary government decree of illegality.
In a 2017 column titled "Don't Confuse Immigration with Naturalization," I explore this topic further.
Preferably, access to the economic system is open to anyone with whom persons are willing to contract, whether they be employers, landlords, shopkeepers, and potential customers for new immigrant-owned businesses. Given that people tend to be quite open to economic ties with others, accessing the economic sphere has long been quite easy for immigrants to the United States. This is precisely because the economic sphere is relatively free and open in the US.
Granting access to the political sphere, however, opens up a variety of other problems, such as extending access to the ballot box, and encouraging the use of political power to enrich one's self or one's own group. This problem is hardly unique to immigrants, as I've explained here, but as the Swiss understand, restricting access to the political system in this case is often quite prudent. Thus, is makes sense to be open to migration, while being less open with the extension of citizenship privileges.
The ideal, of course, is to shrink the political sphere in such a way that citizenship ceases to be important. In a laissez faire economy where the state has only a tiny role in the regulation and ownership of property, then it would not be terribly important if one enjoys citizenship or not. The free exercise of one's property rights would be assured regardless.
It's been a bad few months for Steve Bannon. He was fired from his White House job in August. Then he supported Roy Moore and other political dead ends in an attempt to put himself forward as the leader of "Trumpism." Bannon then decided to provide a variety of juicy quotations denouncing Donald Trump in order to help Michael Wolff with his anti-Trump expose. Shortly thereafter, Bannon backtracked and apologized. After that, Bannon lost one of his most prominent sources of funding — the wealthy Mercer family. Finally, to cap it all off, Bannon was fired from his position as an adviser and radio host at Breitbart, where he had long enjoyed positions of leadership.
This year-long run of total failure comes at the end of a remarkably short period of fame for Bannon, who, prior to Andrew Breitbart's untimely demise in 2012, was neither especially influential or well known.
In his short period at Breitbart, Bannon did, however, manage to cozy up with Donald Trump and many within his movement, and turn this into an influential position at the White House. Bannon quickly faded as an influential figure in Washington.
In spite of Bannon's short and not-especially-notable tenure as a senior political adviser, Bannon continues to benefit from myths about his status as a kingmaker in Washington and around the nation. But, as Barbara Boland notes this week at The American Conservative, the myth was always just that — a myth.
Bannon — always a relentless self-promoter — also managed to create the impression that he was the purveyor of some new kind of insightful and revolutionary political plan and vision. The idea was that he was going to create a Republican majority that would persist for generations.
Upon closer inspection, however, there was never anything especially insightful, creative, or unique about this vision. It has always been nothing more than a re-tread of economic populism in which the Republicans would buy votes with lavish government spending on pensions and other social programs that are allegedly attractive to the "working classes." This would be coupled with economic nationalism opposed to free trade and devoted to aggressive foreign policy.
David Stockman explains how Bannon's position was just the usual warfare-welfare state vision dressed up in nationalist and culture-warrior rhetoric:
The last thing America needed was a conservative/populist/statist alternative to the Welfare State/Warfare State/Bailout State status quo. Yet what Bannonism boiled down to was essentially acquiescence to the latter — even as it drove politicization deeper into the sphere of culture, communications and commerce.
Stated differently, the heavy hand of the Imperial City in traditional domestic, foreign and financial matters was already bad enough: Bannonism just gave a thin veneer of ersatz nationalism to what was otherwise the Donald's own dogs' breakfast of protectionism, nativism, xenophobia, jingoism and strong-man bombast.
As Stockman correctly notes, Bannon never exhibited any real understanding of how central banking, Wall Street cronyism, and economic policy were driving the American cultural and economic trends that Bannon so often condemned.
Instead, Bannon took to blaming people who do understand economics — i.e., Austrian-school economists and various free-market activist types — for various national ills, and for leading the Republican party astray. Says Bannon:
And then the Republicans, it’s all this theoretical Cato Institute, Austrian economics, limited government — which just doesn’t have any depth to it. They’re not living in the real world.
Later, Bannon returned to the theme, claiming that free-market ideas don't matter, and that "it is workers, not libertarian theorists, who are the backbone of the country.” (It's unclear if Bannon intends to imply that all libertarians are pie-in-the-sky "theorists" or if he is willing to admit that many libertarians do, in fact, work for a living.) This sort of right-wing Leninism-Maoism functions on the idea that "the working man" is all that matters, and that entrepreneurship, capital, and markets, are all somehow at odds with ordinary people being able to make a living. Not surprisingly, Bannon proposed to prop up the working classes with prohibitions on free trade, on migration, and by protecting federal social programs — thus expanding the debt burden and tax burden on everyone.
The realities of economics matter little, though, when your political ideology relies primarily on sentimentalism. Bannon bases much of this position on his own nostalgia for the good ol' days in "an observant Catholic family" in a working class neighborhood.
For Bannon, though, his devotion to this worldview never gets much beyond politics. Indeed, Bannon has an odd way of expressing his supposed devotion to the Catholic social milieu he praises. Divorced three times, Bannon apparently couldn't be bothered to personally do much toward creating the “typical fifties-sixties Americana neighborhood” that he says he wants to re-create. And this well illustrates the problem with turning to politics to cure every social ill. Erecting trade barriers and trashing immigrants isn't going to rehabilitate the American family, or convert people to a devout religious life. That sort of thing requires a lot of difficult non-political action. Were Bannon committed to getting government off the backs of people so they could pursue these goals voluntarily — via decentralization or other practical measures — that would be a good thing. But that has never been Bannon's goal.
The Hill reports today that the Vermont Senate has voted to approve the legalization of recreation marijuana for users over 21 years of age.
With its passage in the Senate, the law proceeds to the governor's desk where he is expected to sign.
While eight states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington) have already legalized recreational marijuana, Vermont will be the first state to legalize via action of the state legislature. All other states that have legalized have done through statewide referenda or voter initiative.
Since 2012, when Colorado voters approved recreational marijuana, state-level voters have repeatedly shown indifference toward federal drug law — which, of course, is in violation of Article I of the Constitution, and the Tenth Amendment.
But now, for the first time, a state legislature and governor have joined the movement. This comes, we might note, mere weeks after US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he plans to ratchet up the Drug War against marijuana users.
Apparently, Vermont legislators are happy to disregard him.