Power & Market
[Editors note: Mr. Luddy will be giving the Henry Hazlitt lecture at this year's Austrian Economics Research Conference. Click here to learn more.]
The most important issue facing America today is the national debt and increasing federal deficits. Our national debt now exceeds yearly gross domestic product (GDP).
The U.S is the wealthiest country in the world, but our government has the largest spending deficits and national debt in recorded history.
The budget deficit in FY 2018 was $800 billion, but the debt increased by $1,300 trillion, and is now $21,500 trillion dollars. Government accounting (oxymoron) allows for spending and loans outside of the budget. The practice of underreporting deficits is fraud and is not legal in the private market.
Note the US Debt Clock (here).
In simple terms, the national debt consistently increases more than the federal deficit, which will cause a devaluation of the dollar and eventually, a major financial crisis.
In FY 2019, the federal budget projects the following:
- Total revenue $3,422 trillion or 17% of GDP
- Total spending $4,407 trillion or 21% of GDP
In the best of times, regardless of tax rates, the federal revenue rarely exceeds 18% of GDP. This means based on projected spending, we cannot grow or tax our way out of the deficit because spending is projected at 22% of GDP.
To balance the federal budget in FY 2019, it would be necessary to cut all spending by 22%.
Read the full article at The American Spectator
President Trump’s frustration with the Federal Reserve’s (minuscule) interest rate increases that he blames for the downturn in the stock market has reportedly led him to inquire if he has the authority to remove Fed Chairman Jerome Powell. Chairman Powell has stated that he would not comply with a presidential request for his resignation, meaning President Trump would have to fire Powell if Trump was serious about removing him.
The law creating the Federal Reserve gives the president power to remove members of the Federal Reserve Board — including the chairman — “for cause.” The law is silent on what does, and does not, constitute a justifiable cause for removal. So, President Trump may be able to fire Powell for not tailoring monetary policy to the president’s liking.
By firing Powell, President Trump would once and for all dispel the myth that the Federal Reserve is free from political interference. All modern presidents have tried to influence the Federal Reserve’s policies. Is Trump’s threatening to fire Powell worse than President Lyndon Johnson shoving a Fed chairman against a wall after the Federal Reserve increased interest rates? Or worse than President Carter “promoting” an uncooperative Fed chairman to Treasury secretary?
Yet, until President Trump began attacking the Fed on Twitter, the only individuals expressing concerns about political interference with the Federal Reserve in recent years were those claiming the Audit the Fed bill politicizes monetary policy. The truth is that the audit bill, which was recently reintroduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and will soon be reintroduced in the Senate by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), does not in any way expand Congress’ authority over the Fed. The bill simply authorizes the General Accountability Office to perform a full audit of the Fed’s conduct of monetary policy, including the Fed’s dealings with Wall Street and foreign central banks and governments.
Many Audit he Fed supporters have no desire to give Congress or the president authority over any aspect of monetary policy, including the ability to set interest rates. Interest rates are the price of money. Like all prices, interest rates should be set by the market, not by central planners. It is amazing that even many economists who generally support free markets and oppose central planning support allowing a government-created central bank to influence something as fundamental as the price of money.
Those who claim that auditing the Fed will jeopardize the economy are implicitly saying that the current system is flawed. After all, how stable can a system be if it is threatened by transparency?
Auditing the Fed is supported by nearly 75 percent of Americans. In Congress, the bill has been supported not just by conservatives and libertarians, but by progressives in Congress like Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sanders, and Peter DeFazio. President Trump championed auditing the Federal Reserve during his 2016 campaign. But, despite his recent criticism of the Fed, he has not promoted the legislation since his election.
As the US economy falls into another Federal Reserve-caused economic downturn, support for auditing the Fed will grow among Americans of all political ideologies. Congress and the president can and must come together to tear down the wall of secrecy around the central bank. Auditing the Fed is the first step in changing the monetary policy that has created a debt-and-bubble-based economy; facilitated the rise of the welfare-warfare state; and burdened Americans with a hidden, constantly increasing, and regressive inflation tax.
The online magazine Aeon currently features an outstanding article from our scholars Peter Klein and Nicolai Foss on the trend toward "bossless" business structures. Far from being redundant middlemen, they argue, good managers are needed more than ever even in firms that aspire to flat, decentralized, and democratic organization.
Klein and Foss challenge the idea that managers will become obsolete, replaced by self-directed and super connected knowledge workers:
This movement is gaining steam for a couple of reasons. First, the bossless-company model arguably captures some tendencies, however inaccurately. Second, it is very much part of the 21st-century Zeitgeist in its emphasis on personal development, resilience and fulfilment through empowering employees, and decentralised and democratic decision processes. There is also a strong moralistic and political undertone to the narrative; in Private Government (2017), the philosopher Elizabeth Anderson argues that firms are effectively totalitarian states, enjoying rights and privileges that would be unconstitutional for ordinary states to impose on their citizens. The historian Caitlin Rosenthal has argued that the factory system, hierarchy and managerial authority are partly derived from the slave system. What can be more morally defensible than getting rid of the remnants of slavery?
Unfortunately, the bossless-company narrative is dead wrong. It misunderstands the nature of management, which isn’t going away, and it is based on questionable evidence. Given these fundamental defects, this narrative is potentially harmful to managers, students and policymakers.
Are the benefits of technology in assembling and organizing modern firms oversold?
While technological miracles such as the internet, cheap and reliable wireless communication, Moore’s law, miniaturisation and information markets have induced sweeping changes in manufacturing, retail, transportation and communication, the laws of economics are still the laws of economics. And human nature hasn’t changed. The basic problem of management and business – how to assemble, organise and motivate groups of people and resources to produce goods and services that consumers want – is still the same. Since the industrial revolution, entrepreneurs have been organising extremely complex activities in firms that are neither completely centralised nor completely flat. Imagine the complexity involved in operating a national railroad, a steel mill or an automobile assembly plant in the 19th and early 20th centuries. These were all ‘knowledge-based activities’ and were conducted in teams organised in various structures. Are things so different today?
In short, today’s business landscape features exciting developments in information technology, networking and collaboration that have led to new forms of organisation, production and distribution. Far from making management obsolete, however, these changes make good management more important than ever. The shift from management as direction to management as making and enforcing the rules is slowly entering the management literature and the business-school curriculum. That’s a paradigm shift worth embracing.
This is a must-read article for anyone interested in the very hot topic of business management in the 21st century.
It is now commonly recognized that the majority of the economics profession for about four decades held an erroneous view of the nature of the “socialist calculation debate.” In particular, the nature of the arguments put forward by Mises and Hayek were misconstrued.
Revisionism took off in the mid 1980s with the work of Peter Murrell (e.g., here) and Don Lavoie (e.g., here). From a mainstream perspective, Murrell argued that the Austrians had developed sophisticated insights in property rights economics and the agency problem and had applied these insights to the problem of socialist calculation. Lavoie highlighted the distintive Austrian knowledge argument in the calculation debate, in particular emphasizing Hayek’s contribution. A bit later, Salerno and others emphasized the distinctiveness of Mises’ contribution. Thus, whereas Mises stressed the need for a distributed process of entrepreneurial judgment in the context of a private ownership economy characterized by uncertainty, Hayek put more of an emphasis on the impossibility under socialism of harnessing and processing massive amounts of knowledge, particularly under dynamic conditions.
Between the 2nd Wold War and these works, there are four decades in which the dominant opinion held that the Austrians had been thoroughly defeated by the formal demonstration, particularly in Oskar Lange’s work, of the possibility of combining socialism and efficient allocation. A pertinent question is whether there were (non-Austrian) dissenters from this dominant view. To those well steeped in libertarian social theory, names such as Trygve Hoff and G. Warren Nutter come to mind. But apart from these, it would appear that it is not until the mid 1980s that the distinctiveness of the Austrian arguments in the calculation debate concerning knowledge becomes recognized.
However, an early contribution, unknown to most economists, that fully recognized the distinctiveness of the Austrian arguments, is the 1958 book Organizations by James G. March and Herbert A Simon, a book that many would regard as the seminal contribution to organizational theory and a milestone in the evolution of organizational theory (I have heard organization theory scholars remark that all org theory in the last five decades is just variations over March & Simon themes).
The discussion of the socialist calculation debate takes place in the final chapter, “Planning and Innovation in Organizations,” the main purpose of which is to “… contrast the concept of rationality that has been employed in economics and statistics with a theory of rationality that takes account of the limits on the power, speed, and capacity of human cognitive faculties” (1958: 172) — in other words, bounded rationality.
This theme is taken through a number of variations, one of which is the theory of planning, understood as both “national planning and intrafirm planning” (p. 200). March and Simon (1958: 201) argue that even if motivational problems can be solved, there are still planning (coordination) problems remaining. They note, echoing Hayek (1945), that if one person or group of persons possessed “… all the relevant information connecting possible courses of action with the utilities resulting therefrom, he or they could discover which course of action was best for the organization” (p. 201). An alternative is to make use of the price mechanism, for example, through the Barone/Lange idea of consistent marginal cost pricing throughout the organization. March and Simon note a number of difficulties with this proposal, such as the requirement that externalities be absent. More seriously, perhaps, they note that it is not clear how to make a choice between the alternatives of central planning and pricing, since modern welfare economics, including the Lange/Barone proposal, does not give any positive reason for preferring the one to the other.
This is where the Austrian arguments in the socialist calculation debate enter the scene. These are placed under the heading “The principle of bounded rationality” (p. 203), and, accordingly, March and Simon note that the “… argument of von Mises and Hayek (we will use the latter’s version) depends crucially on the limits of information available to humans and their abilities to use information in their computations.” In other words, Hayek argues that “given realistic limits on human planning capacity” (italics removed) a decentralized system will work better than a centralized one.
Thus, March and Simon present a sympathetic reading of the Austrian — mainly Hayekian — positions in the socialist calculation debate. In the context of Organizations, March and Simon also criticize the “Robbinsian” characterization of decision-making in mainstream economics (to use Kirzner’s terms) – that is, the given’ness of means and ends — and they stress that the understanding of behavior should be broadened to include the process of discovering choice alternatives. These two observations are related, for it is arguably exactly because March and Simon are critical of the conceptualization of behavior in mainstream theory that they are so appreciative of the Austrian positions in the calculation debate.
[Reprinted from Organization and Markets.]
On the Lions of Liberty podcast, Marc Clair and Ryan McMaken discuss the government shutdown and the need to decentralize the national parks:
Last summer, I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Jozef Martiniak at the 2018 Mises University. Dr. Martiniak came to Auburn all the way from Slovakia and he had many great stories to tell about his experience growing up in a Cold War era Czechoslovakia. My conversations with Dr. Martiniak not only revealed an interesting story from the perspective of someone who experienced socialism firsthand, but it also sparked my interest in the politics of Slovakia. He mentioned that there was a libertarian oriented party in Slovakia, and so in this article, I endeavor to examine the movement in Slovakia, analyzing its scope, significance, and authenticity.
The main vessel of Slovak libertarianism nowadays is the political party “Freedom and Solidarity” (SaS). Economist Richard Sulík founded the party in 2009, himself being the mastermind of the Slovakian flat tax. In February of that year, the 10,000 required signatures for the establishment of the party were collected. Sulík was elected chairman.
According to their website, the party claims to run on a platform free of the typical populist propaganda loaded with catchy slogans. It also claims to be run by experts from various different fields, rather than “ideologists”.
The party is also centered around offering specific solutions in which the amount of money required to fund proposed programs is laid out, rather than putting out “unrealistic promises”. It also asserts that the armed forces must have clearly defined objectives. This sort of reform effort in pursuit of creating a government that has clearly defined objectives puts too much trust in the state, something that is inherently very tough to reform.
Though SaS never explicitly claims to be anchored in the chief tenets of libertarianism, the non-aggression principle and property rights, it puts heavy emphasis on the free will and individualism. The party draws a connection between individual freedom and the individual’s happiness. From this, the party asserts that it is against economic intervention.
The party emphasizes a more consequentialist argument regarding the effects of freedom on the collective population.
One interesting thing I learned through my conversations with Dr. Martiniak was that the “passion” that is present in many libertarians in America was not present in Slovakia. Rather the form of libertarianism in SaS is more so “contra the state” instead of a true moral, Rothbardian form.
SaS lists the promotion of “basic solidarity” as one of its keys tenets in Article II of its charter. This sort of concept is manifested in the “euro-realist” stance of the party. The party sees the European Union as an idea with great potential, but also one that demands significant reform as of now. The party also asserts however, that is seeks to curb the bureaucracy and regulations enforced by the EU. Its perception of the EU however, is one that is flawed. SaS believes that the EU should be kept for its promotion of the ideas of free trade and free movement of people, but in regards to this, a classic Bob Murphy argument comes into play.
In his article “But Wouldn't Warlords Take Over?”, Murphy comes to the conclusion that if a society based on small government can be set up and maintained peacefully, these same peace seeking individuals should be able to live together peacefully without a government. In the same way, if member countries of the EU really want free trade and movement, why would there be the need for a political union such as the EU? Even if the EU were to be reformed, it would gradually centralize power over time due to its inherent nature to do so.
In an article published by The Telegraph, Louise Armitstead describes the sentiment of party founded Richard Sulík. Sulík is often criticized by others for being a nationalist, but Armitstead articulates that he is rather “the hero of all discontented Europeans”. This certainly demonstrates the growing resentment in Europe for government. It underscores the borderless nature of freedom, its universal application. It is not something that remains contained within a single country, but spreads. It is not tied to nationalism.
In my humble opinion, the efforts of SaS do not effectively line up with libertarianism in the way that I see it. Sure, the party is pro-market, anti-centralization, pro-civil liberties, etc., but at the same time, due to the fact that it is not grounded in property rights and the NAP, its attempts become blurred. This is why it is so important that any attempt at libertarianism be grounded in these axioms, otherwise the message strays from being genuine. SaS embodies the more “pragmatic libertarianism” present in those such as Gary Johnson, rather than genuine Misesian or Rothbardian aesthetic.
Media Accuses Rand Paul of Hypocrisy for Visiting Canadian Hospital: Turns Out It's a Private Hospital
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul recently announced he was receiving hernia surgery as a result of being blindsided in an attack from his neighbor. While a senator undergoing common surgery is of questionable newsworthiness, one may expect that the reminder that the Senator is still suffering from the 2017 incident as cause for sympathy. Instead, major media outlets decided to try to use the news as an example of hypocrisy on the part of Paul due to the fact he is receiving treatment at a Canadian hospital.
As published in USA Today:
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, one of the fiercest political critics of socialized medicine, will travel to Canada later this month to get hernia surgery....
He is scheduled to have the outpatient operation at the Shouldice Hernia Hospital in Thornhill, Ontario during the week of Jan. 21, according to documents from Paul's civil lawsuit against Boucher filed in Warren Circuit Court....
Paul, a Republican, often argues for private market solutions to American's health care woes.
In Canada, medical care is publicly funded and universally provided through the country's Provincial Ministry of Health, and everyone receives the same level of care.
Paul has called universal health care and nationalized options "slavery."
Of course, if the author had decided to do a two second internet search for “Shouldice Hernia Hospital,” they would have found that it is one of few private hospitals that were grandfathered in prior to the government’s takeover of Canadian healthcare.
Of course, the same media outlets that jumped to cry "hypocrisy" at Senator Paul are also guilty of ignoring the very real consequences of Canada’s socialist healthcare system. For example, patients dying due to a lack of access to basic medical supplies such as hospital beds.
For more on the disaster of Canada's socialized healthcare system, check out this series by (Canadian author) Lee Friday:
This month’s Liberty Matters forum is a discussion of the American economist Frank Fetter. Though he is neglected today, Fetter made vital contributions to Austrian economics and was a major force in spreading the ideas of the early Austrians in the United States (see here and here). In my contributions to the discussion, I explain why Fetter’ work is important and how it can continue to provide fresh insights to contemporary economists. So far, the focus of the essays has been on key elements of economics, especially foundational concepts like price, market, equilibrium, capital, and rent. I’m joined in the conversation by Joseph Salerno, Peter Lewin, and Geoffrey Hodgson.
The first essays and responses in the discussion have now been published, and the forum will remain open for the rest of the month for short rejoinders by all the participants. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read through some of the contributions. Here is the abstract for the discussion:
Matthew McCaffrey, assistant professor of enterprise at the University of Manchester, explores the economic and political work of the “forgotten giant” of economics, the Indiana-born Frank Fetter. At the height of his career in the early 20th century, Fetter was one of the most respected, cited, and debated economists in the United States. He taught for over 40 years at prestigious universities, including Stanford, Cornell, and Princeton, and his research appeared in practically every major publication in economics and political science. Yet today he is virtually forgotten outside a small group of Austrian economists. In his opening essay, McCaffrey explores two aspects of his thought in particular: his contributions to theoretical economics and their relationship to Austrian ideas, and his political views as they relate to the philosophy of classical liberalism. He is joined in the discussion by Geoffrey M. Hodgson, Research Professor of Business Studies in the University of Hertfordshire, Peter Lewin is Clinical Professor in the Jindal School of Management, University of Texas, Dallas, and Joseph T. Salerno, professor of economics in the Finance and Graduate Economics Department in the Lubin School of Business of Pace University in New York.