Liberty & Power: Group Blog
David T. Beito
As David Bernstein and Jim Powell have pointed out, the minimum wage and other regulations of the National Recovery Administration (NRA) created incentives for white racists to discriminate against low wage black labor.
Many of Rogers' cartoons show a good understanding of this as well as perceptive appreciation of the unintended consequences of legislation on human behavior. Perhaps he read Frederic Bastiat.
In the cartoon (see above) from January 27, 1934, the first panel shows a father telling his wife and family cheerily:"Dear, the old factory is now a member of the 'NRA' which means I'll get better wages and better hours."
The second panel shows the father and other dejected workers standing outside a closed factory under a sign reading"NOTICE: Under the 'NRA' this factory shall advance wages and minimize hours of all employes. Henceforth we shall employ white help only."
I quote from Glenn Greenwald’s summary of the decision: “…alien detainees with no…connection [to the US](the overwhelming majority of detainees…) would have no…right” to habeas corpus, whether under statute or the US Constitution.
In other words: “What is so…indescribably regressive is…Congress' enactment of a law which expressly denies habeas rights to everyone in the world other than U.S. citizens.” The implication: “…we will start to see more and more actual cases of human beings who -- as a result of the MCA -- face life imprisonment under the most inhumane conditions imaginable based on nothing more than George Bush's unreviewed accusation that they are Guilty of Terrorism.”
This is a recrudescence of the infamous ‘lettres de cachet’ of the French monarchy. Political opponents were imprisoned indefinitely without trial, as part of the Divine Right of the French monarch. Vive le roi Americaine!
Undoubtedly, Friedman’s decision to interact with officials of repressive governments creates uncomfortable tensions for his libertarian admirers; I could, and often do, wish he hadn’t done it. But given what it probably meant for economic wealth and liberty in the long term for the people of Chile, that’s a selfish reaction. Pinochet’s economic policies do not ameliorate his crimes, despite what his right-wing admirers say. But Friedman, as an economic advisor to all who’d listen, neither committed his crimes, nor admired the criminal.
Cross-posted at Free Association.
David T. Beito
I had to say something about the passing of Chris Hayward, who was partly responsible for two of my childhood heroes, Rocky and Bullwinkle. I never missed a show and was proud that the main characters lived in my home state as residents of Frostbite Falls, Minnesota.
As I grew older, my affection for the duo grew even stronger when I came to understand the subversive nature of the show. I vaguely remember one episode that featured a visit to Earth by Martians. As the Martians made their rounds, the camera repeatedly cut away to a U.S. Senator who declared to the press that their visit was"a Communist plot." After hearing this several times, Bullwinkle finally asked,"Why do you think that this is a Communist plot?" Without missing a beat, the Senator responded,"I think that everything is a Communist plot."
David T. Beito
Republican leaders left behind just enough spending authority to keep the government operating through mid-February, less than halfway through the 2007 fiscal year that began Oct. 1. Democrats have signaled that when they take control of Congress in January they will extend that funding authority for the remainder of the year based largely on the previous year's spending levels, which will result in many cuts in programs.
"A lot of people will be left short," Rep. David R. Obey said.
The Democrats also will do something that is certain to anger many lawmakers but cheer critics of excessive government spending: They will wipe out thousands of lawmakers' pet projects, or earmarks, that have been a source of great controversy on Capitol Hill. In the past, lawmakers have peppered individual spending bills with earmarks benefiting special interests. But the funding resolution the Democrats intend to pass in lieu of spending bills will be devoid of earmarks.
Via David E. Bernstein.
Let us suppose that the scale of values of the possessor of an apple, a pear, and a glass of lemonade, is as follows:
1. An apple
2. A piece of cake
3. A glass of lemonade
4. A pear
If now this man is given the opportunity of exchanging his pear for a piece of cake, this opportunity will increase the significance that he attaches to the pear. He will now value the pear more highly than the lemonade. If he is given the choice between relinquishing either the pear or the lemonade, he will regard the loss of the lemonade as the lesser evil. But this is balanced by his reduced valuation of the cake. Let us assume that our man possesses a piece of cake, as well as the pear, the apple, and the lemonade. Now if he is asked whether he could better put up with the loss of the cake or of the lemonade, he will in any case prefer to lose the cake, because he can make good this loss by surrendering the pear, which ranks below the lemonade in his scale of values. The possibility of exchange introduces considerations of the objective exchange value of goods into the economic decisions of every individual; the original primary scale of use-values is replaced by the derived secondary scale of exchange values and use-values, in which economic goods are ranked not only with regard to their use-values, but also according to the value of the goods that can be obtained for them in exchange. There has been a transposition of the goods; the order of their significance has been altered. But if one good is placed higher, then—there can be no question of it—some other must be placed lower. This arises simply from the very nature of the scale of values, which constitutes nothing but an arrangement of the subjective valuations in order of the significance of the objects valued.
But the analysis in the foregoing paragraph seems to turn the linear hierarchy of values into a mobius strip: If we accept that the free exchange of a pear for a piece of cake means that the two are equal in value, and that the one has risen just as the other has fallen, then where do the two terms of this equality stand in relation to lemonade?
Every time I look at (lemonade versus [cake or pear]), I am convinced that I see an inequality. It's just a different inequality every time I look. It is clear, I think, that outside the market I still prefer the cake to the lemonade, in that I fear the loss of the former more keenly. Within the market, this reverses. Likewise, I introspectively prefer the lemonade to the pear, and again, within the market, this reverses.
This conflict, between the exchange values set in the market and the values I hold within myself, is arguably what impels the individual into the market in the first place. Yet from where I stand, it also creates confusion in my values, for once I enter the market, have I not reached a self-contradictory position: How, after all, can we construct a hierarchy of values in which I desire a piece of cake and a pear both equally, but in which I desire a glass of lemonade some intermediate amount, with the cake above and the pear below?
I suspect, by the way, that I know the answer to this question, one that my husband Scott suggested to me last night. Assuming he is correct, here are two hints:
Hint 1: The solution does not rest on the division between use and exchange values.
Hint 2: It's surprising that Mises of all people would have missed this one.
Thanks:Discussion continues on Question VII; commenters AMW and Quasibill -- both clearly know their economics -- have been tremendously helpful in particular, and I thought I would take the opportunity to thank the many commenters who have contributed so far. Without you, I'd be talking to myself.
As to returning to a commodity currency, it appears that in some cases we already have: Both nickels and pennies now have more commodity value than they do exchange value -- that is, melting them down for their metals is a profitable proposition (n.b.: Yes You Can Do This At Home."Wow," notes the author of the page, who recommends using a blast shield).
Unaccustomed to handling real money, the U.S. Mint is floundering:
Effective today, the U.S. Mint has implemented an interim rule that makes it illegal to melt nickels and pennies, or to export them in mass quantities...
"We are taking this action because the Nation needs its coinage for commerce," said U.S. Mint Director Edmund Moy in a statement."Replacing these coins would be an enormous cost to taxpayers."
How big a cost? Moy told ABC News that if just 1 percent of all the nickels and pennies that are in circulation were melted down, taxpayers would have to foot a $43 million bill.
This is rubbish. The"nation" clearly does not need this coinage for commerce. We cannot possibly need the small change if we're willing, collectively, to melt down our coins and turn a profit. What the market tells us here is that we need the coins for copper and zinc (note that both of these are, perhaps obviously, articles of commerce as well). Whatever the case may be, we don't need these coins chiefly for their exchange value, or -- if we did -- we'd still be using them for money.
Also, I fail to see how taxpayers need to foot any sort of bill here: The U.S. Mint should simply decline to issue coins of these commodity values. It's become a losing business proposition, and any sane business would refrain from throwing its money away in this manner. Perhaps the U.S. Mint could take the opportunity and re-denominate the lowest tiers of the currency, creating a two-cent piece and a ten-cent piece out of the erstwhile penny and nickel. Or they could let the value of the coins float in relation to the dollar, which should solve the melting problem overnight.
All of this raises an interesting point:
The public can offer comments to the U.S. Mint on the regulations for the next 30 days. Moy will take those comments into consideration and then issue the final rule within 120 days.
Given that my formal economics training amounts to a single undergraduate micro class, I'm not exactly qualified to make a recommendation. But I'm sure that some of my readers are.
[Crossposted at Positive Liberty.]
While Cohen praises the author’s acumen as a student of drug prohibition he takes strong exception to Trebach’s support of Israel. Cohen writes “I happen to be one of those Jews who thinks that the creation of Israel is one of the desperate mistakes that came out of WW2. No concentration camp and no Nazi horror legitimizes that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were chased out of their homes and farms to make the existence of Israel possible.” Now, it is important to point out that the overwhelming majority of the people living in Israel today were either small children or not even born when the events of that state’s founding took place. They cannot possibly bear any moral responsibility for any wrongs committed at that time, yet, it is they who will be slaughtered if the leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah achieve their most cherished goal.
Yes, the government of Israel sometimes acts in stupid, brutal, or unjust ways, but, we must remember that it is the only government in the world whose populace lives under the constant threat of extinction by it neighbors. When the leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran talk about driving the Zionists into the sea they are not speaking about regime change, they are talking about genocide. And, it is not as though there are no historical precedents for mass killings of Jews.
Though the focus of Cohen’s comment is almost exclusively on Israel, Trebach’s manuscript is much more concerned with the wider threat to the world in general. The word Israel is mentioned on only fifteen of three hundred ninety eight pages. Instead, he deals with such subjects as the 9-11 commission, assassinations in the Netherlands, bombings in London, the often violent intimidation of voices speaking out against any aspect of Islam, and the inculcation of the philosophy behind the terror.
Lastly, it is implied in both the review itself and Cohen’s comments that Trebach seeks to replace the war on drugs with a war on terror. This can not be true because the war on terror, or more correctly the terrorist’s war on us, exists independently of drug policy. People in New York City, Madrid, and London have terrible first hand experience that Islamic terrorism is indeed very real. Trebach’s point is that we need to use all of our available resources to deal with it competently. It is too important not to.
Cross posted on The Trebach Report
Roderick T. Long
[cross-posted at Austro-Athenian Empire]
Now Ill readily grant that Barr was one of the more libertarian-minded Republicans on the Hill; and maybe the LP should be congratulated for landing such a high-profile member.
Still, as I recall Barr was very strongly in favour of the war on drugs, and Ive seen no mention of his having changed his mind on that issue. Does his star power really outweigh the downside of having a drug warrior on the LNC?
When John Kerry came back from fighting in Vietnam, he famously inquired, How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a mistake? Regarding the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group (ISG), a lot of people would like to know, How do you ask a man to be the last to die for a bipartisan compromise?The rest of my op-ed "Death by Consensus" is at the website of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
Cross-posted at Free Association.
For reasons unknown, these comments have since disappeared: I have a top-level post referencing the discussion in another post, but this second post has no comments at all.
Now, whenever a commenter writes something to me, I tend strongly to remember it. And as much as a year and a half later, I may want to reference it. So whatever is going on is unacceptable. Can any more technically adept readers help me?
In any case, a commenter made the following arguments, which I am going to have to summarize from memory, as they are quite relevant to a discussion of Mises' Theory of Money and Credit.
We can't possibly go back to a gold standard. Here are the reasons why:
1. Serious difficulties would arise in industries requiring gold. These are not limited to jewelry, which would vanish, but also high-tech communications and electronics, which would likewise become too expensive for the average person's budget.
2. The U.S. government could never afford to buy enough gold to cover every U.S. dollar now in circulation. Doing so would entirely wreck the American economy, to say nothing of the rest of the world.
3. There is so much economic activity, and so much economic value, that using gold to mediate all of our exchanges would make for prohibitively small currency units. Even at current gold prices -- that is, before the multi-trillion dollar gold grab needed to return to a gold standard -- one U.S. dollar would be less than 1/500th of a troy ounce.
Was he right? Personally, I find 1) unconvincing. I find 2) serious enough now, that it seems plain to me a government cannot be the entity to return us to a commodity money. I am inclined to find 3) a technicality; flakes of gold can easily be encased in a larger substrate that would make them the mechanical equivalent of coins. (Or could they even be integrated into paper money?)
Consider the following as you answer the above challenges:
A) We might easily pick another commodity to serve as our commodity currency; gold is by no means the only choice.
B)"We" in the above sentence should almost certainly not be the government; if a true commodity currency were to re-emerge, it could well be through a process of market selection among bartered goods, as Mises sketches in TM&C Part 1 chapter 2 section 2:
Now all goods are not equally marketable. While there is only a limited and occasional demand for certain goods, that for others is more general and constant. Consequently, those who bring goods of the first kind to market in order to exchange them for goods that they need themselves have as a rule a smaller prospect of success than those who offer goods of the second kind. If, however, they exchange their relatively unmarketable goods for such as are more marketable, they will get a step nearer to their goal and may hope to reach it more surely and economically than if they had restricted themselves to direct exchange.
It was in this way that those goods that were originally the most marketable became common media of exchange; that is, goods into which all sellers of other goods first converted their wares and which it paid every would-be buyer of any other commodity to acquire first. And as soon as those commodities that were relatively most marketable had become common media of exchange, there was an increase in the difference between their marketability and that of all other commodities, and this in its turn further strengthened and broadened their position as media of exchange.
Thus the requirements of the market have gradually led to the selection of certain commodities as common media of exchange. The group of commodities from which these were drawn was originally large, and differed from country to country; but it has more and more contracted. Whenever a direct exchange seemed out of the question, each of the parties to a transaction would naturally endeavor to exchange his superfluous commodities, not merely for more marketable commodities in general, but for the most marketable commodities; and among these again he would naturally prefer whichever particular commodity was the most marketable of all. The greater the marketability of the goods first acquired in indirect exchange, the greater would be the prospect of being able to reach the ultimate objective without further maneuvering. Thus there would be an inevitable tendency for the less marketable of the series of goods used as media of exchange to be one by one rejected until at last only a single commodity remained, which was universally employed as a medium of exchange; in a word, money.
What this one commodity might be today is anyone's guess, although it is likely to still be a metallic element, and it might end up being gold after all. Metals are durable, divisible, uniform, portable, and impossible to counterfeit. Other suggestions are welcome, however.
C) This emergence of a new commodity currency could only take place if legal tender laws were abolished. I think this speaks for itself, and if not, the comments at Liberty and Power were quite decisive.
D) I can't really link any of this to allergic reactions suffered after drinking Goldschlager. But they did turn up in some of my research queries, so here you go.
Now then... Commodity currency: Possible? Impossible? Worth the trouble? I know that this post is asking some questions that are well beyond my (and probably most others') technical competence, so I promise that my next post will offer a dilemma that anyone can take a shot at -- albeit a dilemma that seems central to the modern understanding of economics all the same.
[Crossposted at Positive Liberty.]
David T. Beito
If you think that forcing Sadr out of the Iraqi government will be a win-win situation, think again. The likely result will be to give this scary dude even more power.
David T. Beito
RESOLUTION OPPOSING THE USE OF SPEECH CODES TO RESTRICT ACADEMIC FREEDOM
Whereas, The American Historical Association has already gone on record against the threat to academic freedom posed by the Academic Bill of Rights;
Whereas, Free and open discourse is essential to the success of research and learning on campus;
Whereas, Administrators and others have used campus speech codes and associated non-academic criteria to improperly restrict faculty choices on curriculum, course content, and personnel decisions; and
Whereas, Administrators and others have also used speech codes to restrict free and open discourse for students and faculty alike through such methods as"free speech zones" and censorship of campus publications; therefore be it
Resolved, That the American Historical Association opposes the use of speech codes to restrict academic freedom.
If the AHA takes a clear stand on this issue, it will send a powerful message that historians value academic freedom across-the-board.
Because it will be an uphill battle to get it passed, make sure, if you are member of the AHA, to come to the business meeting and urge your colleagues to do likewise.
The business meeting will be held on Saturday, January 6, 2007 in the Hilton Atlanta's Fulton/Cobb Rooms beginning at 4:45 p.m.
When Ludwig von Mises wrote The Theory of Money and Credit, it was unclear to him whether any country had ever employed a purely fiat currency -- that is, a currency that was neither a commodity nor a promise to pay a commodity. The year was 1912; virtually all monies were then either actual commodities (ie, coins made of real gold or silver) -- or they were credit money (ie, a promise to pay real gold or silver). Fiat currency existed for small change alone, while the gold standard predominated for everything else.
Today, however, I am fairly certain that there are no commodity currencies left, and that no major currency even entails a promise to pay a commodity. Fiat money is ubiquitous.
Now gold money is good both as a generic exchange commodity, or just as gold, which may be employed in art or industry. Paper money is good only as money; it is useful for very little else. How did we go from the one to the other, and what holds a system of fiat money up without a commodity support?
This is a difficult question: If I had a promissory note from you, under which you were obligated to pay me a kilogram of gold, then I should treat that note with almost precisely the same care that I would treat a kilogram of gold itself. Provided I knew that you would hold to your word, the two would be equivalent, except, of course, that the note would be more portable, which can often add to its convenience.
Yet if some court were to void the note, for example if it were found that you were not of a sound mental state when you issued it, then that note would be worthless to me. I might very well discard it, which I would never knowingly do to a kilogram of gold. Why do we not do the same to our paper money, when we know that it has ceased to be a promise of any commodity at all?
Using the scant data that he had, Mises answered the question of how a state might transition from commodity to fiat money by arguing that all monies must begin as commodities with an objective use value; without this value, there is no reason that anyone would come to use them as a commodity of exchange.
These monies may then proceed to become credit monies, as banks or governments issue promises to deliver a commodity which are printed on paper or on relatively valueless tokens which are then substituted for the commodity. Finally, at the end of the process, the promise to pay a commodity may be withdrawn, leaving a purely fiat money in the banks and pockets of the citizens.
But users of the money do not abandon it: The money retains its exchange value, even if its commodity value is nil.
At least in this volume, Mises seems to skip lightly over the question of what becomes of all of the gold that the state acquires in this transaction. Yet surely it must rank among the greatest of thefts ever perpetrated -- unless, that is, nearly all of the worth of gold resides in its exchange value, while almost none of it resides in its commodity value. This seems highly doubtful to me, as the price of gold is still quite dear. Was the commodity value of all the gold in the world's money supply stolen when the major nations abandoned the gold standard?
I am not sure, meanwhile, that exchange value makes any sense as an explanation for why fiat money is sufficient unto itself. Consider the following example:
"I'd like to buy this new car," I say.
"Certainly," answers the dealer."What can you pay me with?"
[Rummaging through pockets.]"Dryer lint! I'll pay you in dryer lint. And crumpled-up tissues!"
"You can't be serious," says the dealer.
"But I am," I answer."Don't you see that there's a value in just being able to trade stuff in the market, and that that this is what makes money so very valuable? Why, I'm doing you a favor by giving you this lint, because I am helping the economy to exchange goods and services."
"Sorry, I only take U.S. dollars," he answers.
So I produce from my pocket a quantity of plant fibers that are only somewhat different in their physical appearance, chemical composition, and origin. I hand them over and the sale is made.
One might object, perhaps, that lint is more easily manufactured than counterfeit money, that it is thus in greater supply than passable U.S. banknotes -- and therefore the exchange value will rapidly approach nil. Very well -- so we must choose something besides lint or old tissues, something harder to counterfeit and in limited supply. Let us use baseball cards, perhaps, at the following exchange rate: Any card manufactured prior to last year shall be equal to one dollar of U.S. money.
If"objective exchange value" were really what made fiat currency work, shouldn't this work just as well? (The so-called"Tinkerbell Effect," in which a legal institution only works because everyone believes it works, is not to be discounted here. But is it to be understood that this is a collective fantasy, and not a genuine source of value?)
I am inclined to think the real reason that a fiat money continues to work over the long term is one that Mises did not understand, as he did not live under a fiat money system: Fiat money works because, with almost every purchase we make, and with every dollar we earn, we are obliged to pay taxes. And these taxes must be paid in fiat money. If we consistently refuse to pay our taxes, or if we attempt to pay them with anything other than the fiat money, then large, surly men with guns will come along and put us in a small, unpleasant room for a very, very long time.
What is the objective use value of fiat money? It's the ability to keep the tax collectors at bay. It is interesting, if a little revolting, to contemplate that our shared commodity of exchange is not gold or silver or even cowrie shells, but rather in steps from the prison cell door. And this leads me to my question: If, under a regime of fiat money, the obligations of the citizens to the government were somehow reduced to zero, would the value of the currency collapse?
Certainly its objective use value would drop to nothing. (Or would it? You could not defer indefinitely a promise to pay a given sum of fiat money, or the men with guns would arrive and lock you up for a different offense.) But at any rate, one very significant use of the fiat currency would disappear, and it is hard to see how this could fail to have an effect on the supply of money. Would it retain its exchange value? Or would it go the way of baseball cards and pocket lint? And if the latter, what would replace it?
(I will turn to some considerations on commodity money in my next post in this series, but in the meantime I would like to hear others' thoughts on the system of fiat money, and particularly on my questions above. Bear in mind that I am still learning about monetary history, and that there is a good deal I do not know in this area.)
[Crossposted at Positive Liberty.]
"Pinochet was admitted late to the plot that led to the coup against President Salvador Allende on September 11 1973. His genius was to appropriate power to himself and to use terror, both to eliminate opponents on the left and to intimidate those members of the armed forces who upheld constitutional rule. The dictatorship he installed was not the bloodiest in Latin America. It was shocking because it happened in a country proud of its democratic traditions."
"More than two centuries after the construction of the US constitution, almost eight centuries since Magna Carta, Americans are at the mercy of a new king, who can jail without charges and torture at will.
"The rationale? A war that has no definable end. The constitution itself declares that habeas corpus is inviolate except in cases of invasion or rebellion. But under this president, the constitution no longer applies. You want proof? Remember Jose Padilla. No one in Washington has."
"Strong countries can bomb and invade weak ones but not conquer them. They can sow destruction but not ordain peace. America will have humiliated only itself in this region and will not return for a long time. While its withdrawal from Europe would have been dreadful during the cold war, its withdrawal from this debacle can only be welcome.
"The horror of this war may just induce the rulers of Iran, Pakistan, Syria and the Gulf states to seek common cause in guaranteeing Iraq's integrity. They may recover their self-esteem and feel more secure in curbing their jihadist hotheads and Al-Qaeda cells — as they are not now. That is the only hope.
"Over the past five years hundreds of thousands have died and tens of billions of dollars been wasted that could have done so much good in the world. The Fourth Crusade has been restaged largely at the behest of one man, Osama Bin Laden. It will end, as everything in history ends. But was there ever such a mistake?"
Smiley's book is based on historical reality and at the time of both the beginning of this warm period and its end there were no significant amounts of man made carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. Yet, climate change with profound consequences occurred and not for the first time in the earth’s history. These periodic shifts in global temperature could have had their origin in any number of phenomenon. Perhaps, small variations in our planet’s orbit, sunspot activity, or alterations in background cosmic radiation effecting cloud cover caused these changes. Moreover, one thing is certain, the climate did not turn back then because people switched from driving gas guzzling SUVs to ethanol powered or electric cars.
In order to believe in Global Warming, and Global Warming is not just about whether it is getting warmer it is about why it is getting warmer, you must believe that the factors which changed the climate in past centuries are not relevant today. This is contrary to the scientific method which requires you to prove your hypothesis by seeking the null. Those calling for action on human induced global warming have not fulfilled this responsibility. Before they start to take people’s jobs away from them, and make no mistake that is their ultimate objective, they need to prove that the present climate change is not caused by orbital variation, sunspots, or cosmic radiation. It is unscientific and immoral for them to be pursuing solutions, to something that more than likely is not causing the problem, irregardless of the consequences to others.
In a piece describing his ambivalence about the idea that climate change is a product of human activity, Sheldon Richman lists some “environmental nightmare scenarios” of dubious value such as overpopulation panic and predictions of resource exhaustion. He then argues, “But a series of bad predictions doesn't mean the latest environmental prediction is necessarily wrong. For one thing, atmospheric scientists who warn about climate change are not necessarily the same people who warned about overpopulation and resource depletion.” However, many of these same atmospheric scientists did tell us, not so long ago, that human released carbon dioxide would cause a new ice age.
Kenneth R. Gregg
i fell in love with a carnival manHistory Blog Carnivals are up and running and there are more than ever which touch on historical matters! Here is a selection of some of the carnivals, new and old:
slick as glass
bold and brass
" carnival man" by Carole Z. Spinelli
- 2nd Amendment Carnival
- Asian History Carnival
- Biblical Studies Carnival
- Carnival of Bad History
- Carnival of Bent Attractions
- Carnival of Citizens
- Carnival of Divided Government
- Carnival of Geneology
- Carnival of Metaphysics
- Carnival of the Capitalists
- Carnival of the Godless
- Carnival of the Liberals
- Carnival of the Liberated
- Catholic Carnival
- Christian Carnival
- Carnival of Democracy and Dignity
- Economics and Social Policy
- History Carnival
- Lutheran Carnival
- Philosopher's Carnival
- Philosophia Naturalis
- Skeptics Circle
- The Carnival of Islam in the West
- The Carnival of the Decline of Democracy
- The Radical Progressive Carnival
- Tropaion's Carnival
Roderick T. Long
[cross-posted at Austro-Athenian Empire]
The government gives us our rights.
Or so many Americans have been taught to believe.
Now the authors of the U. S. Constitution were far from perfect to put it mildly. But they would never have dreamed of claiming that they were giving people rights. Alexander Hamilton, for example, wrote that
natural liberty is a gift of the beneficent Creator to the whole human race, and that civil liberty is founded in that; and cannot be wrested from any people, without the most manifest violation of justice. Civil liberty, is only natural liberty, modified and secured by the sanctions of civil society. It is not a thing, in its own nature, precarious and dependent on human will and caprice; but is conformable to the constitution of man ....
The other framers expressed similar sentiments. But nowadays its common to hear that the Constitution gives us such rights as freedom of the press, the right to a jury trial, and so forth.
Not only does this doctrine promote the deification of the state as something beyond the bounds of ordinary morality, but it also helps to inculcate the idea that since our rights are government issue rather than rights of humanity those beyond our borders dont have the same rights we do.
Which helps to explain this incident, in which U.S. troops in Iraq crush a taxi by driving a tank over it, in order to punish its driver for looting wood. Theres nary a sign in sight of any legal proceedings to determine what counts as looting wood, whether the driver was in fact guilty of this terrible offence, or whether destroying his only means of livelihood was an appropriate response. Nor is there any sign that he was allowed counsel on his behalf. Instead, the soldiers acted as legislators, prosecutors, judges, juries, and executioners, unprofessionally laughing and grinning as they indulged in wanton destruction.
Wouldnt any one of those soldiers have been outraged if, back in the States, he had been accused of, say, shoplifting and, without any trial, some cops had simply settled things by torching his car?
Ah, but our rights come from the Bill of Rights, that magic piece of paper in Washington, and dont apply to Iraqis (even though the alleged purpose of U.S. presence in Iraq is precisely to bring democracy and freedom to the Iraqis).
But wait, I may be told, this is war. You cant expect the application of legal niceties in wartime.
But even leaving aside the awfully convenient doctrine that we can escape the burden of respecting peoples human rights simply by going to war against them isnt such a response an admission that U.S. troops are, indeed, at war with the Iraqi people? That admission seems to undercut the official story that the U.S. is a friend to the Iraqi people, that it has helped them establish a democratic government, and that its just there to help the new government keep the peace.