Liberty & Power: Group Blog
David T. Beito
I saw a huge new billboard in San Francisco the other day—part of the $350 million ad campaign supporting this year’s $14 billion Census—picturing an American Indian in full regalia against a black background, apparently in the process of worshiping the sky, with the stylized text “Tell your story.”
If he’s wise, he might want to think twice about thereby providing information that can be used against him.
As examples, 1940 Census data was released and used to locate and intern Americans of Japanese, Italian and German descent, as outlined in these stories from Scientific American, “Confirmed: The U.S. Census Bureau Gave Up Names of Japanese-Americans in WW II: Government documents show that the agency handed over names and addresses to the Secret Service,” and USA Today, “Papers show Census role in WWII camps.”
Charles W. Nuckolls
The Dream Team of lawyers assembled for Simpson’s defense had a problem: It was pretty clear their guy was guilty. Nicole Brown’s blood was all over his socks, and that was just the beginning. So Johnnie Cochran, Robert Shapiro, Alan Dershowitz, F. Lee Bailey, Robert Kardashian et al. decided to attack the process, arguing that it put Simpson’s guilt in doubt, and doubt, of course, was all they needed. Hence, those days of cross-examination about exactly how Dennis Fung had transported blood samples, or the fact that Los Angeles detective Mark Fuhrman had used racial slurs when talking to a screenwriter in 1986.
If anything, they were actually helped by the mountain of evidence. If a haystack gets big enough, the odds only increase that there will be a few needles hidden inside. Whatever they managed to find, they made the most of: In closing arguments, for instance, Cochran compared Fuhrman to Adolf Hitler and called him “a genocidal racist, a perjurer, America’s worst nightmare, and the personification of evil.” His only real audience was the jury, many of whom had good reason to dislike the Los Angeles Police Department, but the team managed to instill considerable doubt in lots of Americans tuning in on TV as well. That’s what happens when you spend week after week dwelling on the cracks in a case, no matter how small they may be.
Similarly, the immense pile of evidence now proving the science of global warming beyond any reasonable doubt is in some ways a great boon for those who would like, for a variety of reasons, to deny that the biggest problem we’ve ever faced is actually a problem at all. If you have a three-page report, it won’t be overwhelming and it’s unlikely to have many mistakes. Three thousand pages (the length of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)? That pretty much guarantees you’ll get something wrong.
Indeed, the IPCC managed to include, among other glitches, a spurious date for the day when Himalayan glaciers would disappear. It won’t happen by 2035, as the report indicated—a fact that has now been spread so widely across the Internet that it’s more or less obliterated another, undeniable piece of evidence: Virtually every glacier on the planet is, in fact, busily melting.
Similarly, if you managed to hack 3,000 emails from some scientist’s account, you might well find a few that showed them behaving badly, or at least talking about doing so. This is the so-called “Climategate” scandal from an English research center last fall. The English scientist Phil Jones has been placed on leave while his university decides if he should be punished for, among other things, not complying with Freedom of Information Act requests.
Call him the Mark Fuhrman of climate science; attack him often enough and maybe people will ignore the inconvenient mountain of evidence about climate change that the world’s scientific researchers have, in fact, compiled. Indeed, you can make almost exactly the same kind of fuss Johnnie Cochran made—that’s what Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) did, insisting the emails proved “scientific fascism,” and the climate skeptic Christopher Monckton called his opponents “Hitler youth.” Such language filters down. I’m now used to a daily diet of angry email, often with subject lines like the one that arrived yesterday: “Nazi Moron Scumbag.”
If you’re smart, you can also take advantage of lucky breaks that cross your path. Say a record set of snowstorms hit Washington, D.C. It won’t even matter that such a record is just the kind of thing scientists have been predicting, given the extra water vapor global warming is adding to the atmosphere. It’s enough that it’s super-snowy in what everyone swore was a warming world.
For a gifted political operative like, say, Marc Morano, who runs the Climate Depot website, the massive snowfalls this winter became the grist for a hundred posts poking fun at the very idea that anyone could still possibly believe in, you know, physics. Morano, who really is good, posted a link to a live webcam so readers could watch snow coming down; his former boss, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), had his grandchildren build an igloo on the Capitol grounds, with a sign that read: “Al Gore’s New Home.” These are the things that stick in people’s heads. If the winter glove won’t fit, you must acquit.
Why we don’t want to believe in climate change
The climate deniers come with a few built-in advantages. Thanks to ExxonMobil and others with a vested interest in debunking climate-change research, their “think tanks” have plenty of money, none of which gets wasted doing actual research to disprove climate change. It’s also useful for a movement to have its own TV network, Fox, though even more crucial to the denial movement are a few right-wing British tabloids that validate each new “scandal” and put it into media play.
That these guys are geniuses at working the media was proved this February when even The New York Times ran a front page story, “Skeptics Find Fault With U.N. Climate Panel,” which recycled most of the accusations of the past few months. What made it such a glorious testament to their success was the chief source cited by the Times: one Christopher Monckton, or Lord Monckton as he prefers to be called since he is some kind of British viscount. He is also identified as a “former advisor to Margaret Thatcher,” and he did write a piece for the American Spectator during her term as prime minister offering his prescriptions for “the only way to stop AIDS”:
... screen the entire population regularly and ... quarantine all carriers of the disease for life. Every member of the population should be blood-tested every month ... all those found to be infected with the virus, even if only as carriers, should be isolated compulsorily, immediately, and permanently.
He speaks with equal gusto and good sense on matters climatic—and now from above the fold in the paper of record.
Access to money and the media is not the only, or even the main, reason for the success of the climate deniers, though. They’re not actually spending all that much cash and they’ve got legions of eager volunteers doing much of the internet lobbying entirely for free. Their success can be credited significantly to the way they tap into the main currents of our politics of the moment with far more savvy and power than most environmentalists can muster. They’ve understood the popular rage at elites. They’ve grasped the widespread feelings of powerlessness in the U.S., and the widespread suspicion that we’re being ripped off by mysterious forces beyond our control.
Some of that is, of course, purely partisan. The columnist David Brooks, for instance, recently said: “On the one hand, I totally accept the scientific authorities who say that global warming is real and it is manmade. On the other hand, I feel a frisson of pleasure when I come across evidence that contradicts the models ... [in part] because I relish any fact that might make Al Gore look silly.” But the passion with which people attack Gore more often seems focused on the charge that he’s making large sums of money from green investments, and that the whole idea is little more than a scam designed to enrich everyone involved. This may be wrong—Gore has testified under oath that he donates his green profits to the cause—and scientists are not getting rich researching climate change (constant blog comments to the contrary), but it resonates with lots of people. I get many emails a day on the same theme: “The game is up. We’re on to you.”
When I say it resonates with lots of people, I mean lots of people. O.J.‘s lawyers had to convince a jury made up mostly of black women from central city L.A., five of whom reported that they or their families had had “negative experiences” with the police. For them, it was a reasonably easy sell. When it comes to global warming, we’re pretty much all easy sells because we live the life that produces the carbon dioxide that’s at the heart of the crisis, and because we like that life.
Very few people really want to change in any meaningful way, and given half a chance to think they don’t need to, they’ll take it. Especially when it sounds expensive, and especially when the economy stinks. Here’s David Harsanyi, a columnist for The Denver Post: “If they’re going to ask a nation—a world—to fundamentally alter its economy and ask citizens to alter their lifestyles, the believers’ credibility and evidence had better be unassailable.”
“Unassailable” sets the bar impossibly high when there is a dedicated corps of assailants out there hard at work. It is true that those of us who want to see some national and international effort to fight global warming need to keep making the case that the science is strong. That’s starting to happen. There are new websites and iPhone apps to provide clear and powerful answers to the skeptic trash-talking, and strangely enough, the denier effort may, in some ways, be making the case itself: If you go over the multi-volume IPCC report with a fine-tooth comb and come up with three or four lousy citations, that’s pretty strong testimony to its essential accuracy.
Clearly, however, the antiseptic attempt to hide behind the magisterium of Science in an effort to avoid the rough-and-tumble of Politics is a mistake. It’s a mistake because science can be—and, in fact, should be—infinitely argued about. Science is, in fact, nothing but an ongoing argument, which is one reason why it sounds so disingenuous to most people when someone insists that the science is “settled.” That’s especially true of people who have been told at various times in their lives that some food is good for you, only to be told later that it might increase your likelihood of dying.
Why data isn’t enough
I work at Middlebury College, a topflight liberal arts school, so I’m surrounded by people who argue constantly. It’s fun. One of the better skeptical takes on global warming that I know about is a weekly radio broadcast on our campus radio station run by a pair of undergraduates. They’re skeptics, but not cynics. Anyone who works seriously on the science soon realizes that we know more than enough to start taking action, but less than we someday will. There will always be controversy over exactly what we can now say with any certainty. That’s life on the cutting edge. I certainly don’t turn my back on the research—we’ve spent the last two years at 350.org building what Foreign Policy called “the largest ever coordinated global rally” around a previously obscure data point, the amount of atmospheric carbon that scientists say is safe, measured in parts per million.
But it’s a mistake to concentrate solely on the science for another reason. Science may be what we know about the world, but politics is how we feel about the world. And feelings count at least as much as knowledge. Especially when those feelings are valid. People are getting ripped off. They are powerless against large forces that are, at the moment, beyond their control. Anger is justified.
So let’s figure out how to talk about it. Let’s look at ExxonMobil, which each of the last three years has made more money than any company in the history of money. Its business model involves using the atmosphere as an open sewer for the carbon dioxide that is the inevitable byproduct of the fossil fuel it sells. And yet we let it do this for free. It doesn’t pay a red cent for potentially wrecking our world.
Right now, there’s a bill in the Congress—cap-and-dividend, it’s called—that would charge Exxon for that right, and send a check to everyone in the country every month. Yes, the company would pass on the charge at the pump, but 80 percent of Americans (all except the top-income energy hogs) would still make money off the deal. That represents good science, because it starts to send a signal that we should park that SUV, but it’s also good politics.
By the way, if you think there’s a scam underway, you’re right—and to figure it out just track the money going in campaign contributions to the politicians doing the bidding of the energy companies. Inhofe, the igloo guy? Over a million dollars from energy and utility companies and executives in the last two election cycles. You think Al Gore is going to make money from green energy? Check out what you get for running an oil company.
Worried that someone is going to wreck your future? You’re right about that, too. Right now, China is gearing up to dominate the green energy market. They’re making the investments that mean future windmills and solar panels, even ones installed in this country, will be likely to arrive from factories in Chenzhou, not Chicago.
Coal companies have already eliminated most good mining jobs, simply by automating them in the search for ever higher profits. Now, they’re using their political power to make sure that miners’ kids won’t get to build wind turbines instead. Everyone should be mighty pissed—just not at climate-change scientists.
But keep in mind as well that fear and rage aren’t the only feelings around. They’re powerful feelings, to be sure, but they’re not all we feel. And they are not us at our best.
There’s also love, a force that has often helped motivate large-scale change, and one that cynics in particular have little power to rouse. Love for poor people around the world, for instance. If you think it’s not real, you haven’t been to church recently, especially evangelical churches across the country. People who take the Gospel seriously also take seriously indeed the injunction to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless.
It’s becoming patently obvious that nothing challenges that goal quite like the rising seas and spreading deserts of climate change. That’s why religious environmentalism is one of the most effective emerging parts of the global warming movement; that’s why we were able to get thousands of churches ringing their bells 350 times last October to signify what scientists say is the safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere; that’s why Bartholomew, patriarch of the Orthodox church and leader of 400 million eastern Christians, said, “Global warming is a sin and 350 is an act of redemption.”
There’s also the deep love for creation, for the natural world. We were born to be in contact with the world around us and, though much of modernity is designed to insulate us from nature, it doesn’t really work. Any time the natural world breaks through—a sunset, an hour in the garden—we’re suddenly vulnerable to the realization that we care about things beyond ourselves. That’s why, for instance, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts are so important: Get someone out in the woods at an impressionable age and you’ve accomplished something powerful. That’s why art and music need to be part of the story, right alongside bar graphs and pie charts. When we campaign about climate change at 350.org, we make sure to do it in the most beautiful places we know, the iconic spots that conjure up people’s connection to their history, their identity, their hope.
The great irony is that the climate skeptics have prospered by insisting that their opponents are radicals. In fact, those who work to prevent global warming are deeply conservative, insistent that we should leave the world in something like the shape we found it. We want our kids to know the world we knew. Here’s the definition of radical: doubling the carbon content of the atmosphere because you’re not completely convinced it will be a disaster. We want to remove every possible doubt before we convict in the courtroom, because an innocent man in a jail cell is a scandal, but outside of it we should act more conservatively.
In the long run, the climate deniers will lose; they’ll be a footnote to history. (Hey, even O.J. is finally in jail.) But they’ll lose because we’ll all lose, because by delaying action, they will have helped prevent us from taking the steps we need to take while there’s still time. If we’re going to make real change while it matters, it’s important to remember that their skepticism isn’t the root of the problem. It simply plays on our deep-seated resistance to change. That’s what gives the climate cynics ground to operate. That’s what we need to overcome, and at bottom that’s a battle as much about courage and hope as about data.
David T. Beito
Clearly, there were some very, very odd transactions that went down which may, or may not, have been abnormally facilitated by the Fed. Was this a normal Fed wire, or something more convoluted? My sense has always been that there was something a bit extraordinary about the way the funds went through the Fed system. It does smell, for sure, and to ask about it is not bizarre.
We’ve all been told, of course, that the real gross domestic product has fallen from its peak in the second quarter of 2008. The data show a fall of nearly 4 percent by the second quarter of 2009. Although this drop bears no serious comparison with the precipitous decline of real GDP during the Great Depression—about 30 percent between 1929 and 1933—it has certainly entailed a great deal of difficulty and frustrated expectations in a situation where many people had made plans based on their anticipation of ongoing economic growth. Between the second quarter and the fourth quarter of 2009, real GDP grew by about 2 percent, making up for roughly half of the preceding decline.
To see why the recession has brought out the doomsayers in such great numbers during the past two years, notwithstanding the rather slight decline in national output, we must examine, among other things, the national product’s components. Doing so, we find, for example, that as usual in an economic slump, private consumption spending has held up much better than private investment spending: the former fell by less than 2 percent, and most of the decline was erased during the third and fourth quarters of 2009, so that by the final quarter of last year, real private consumption spending was less than 1 percent below its previous quarterly peak.
So, judging by what has happened to GDP and to private consumption, one might conclude that the recession has been only a minor dip—how much difference can it make in our style of life if our consumption falls by 2 percent for a short while?—and we might be tempted to conclude that getting out of the present troubles will be a task easily accomplished in the next few quarters.
Reaching such a conclusion, however, would be a mistake, because despite what the news media are always telling us about the preeminent importance of consumption spending in the determination of GDP, consumption does not drive genuine economic growth except in the very short run in a depressed economy. Real economic progress turns on a high rate of investment—primarily business purchases of structures, equipment, software, and additions to inventories—and on this front the news has been much bleaker and the prospects for quick recovery much less encouraging.
Gross private domestic investment peaked in 2006. Between the first quarter of that year and the second quarter of 2009, it fell by almost 34 percent. During the following two quarters, it rose by only 10 percent, so that late last year it was still (when measured at an annual rate) running about 29 percent below its level early in 2006. Such a huge shortfall in investment spending portends an extended period of slow economic growth in the next few years, and perhaps in an even longer run. Worn-out equipment, obsolete software, ill-maintained structures, and depleted inventories are not the stuff of which rapid, sustained economic growth is made.
The current investment drought does not simply reflect the housing bust consequent to the boom that drove residential investment to a peak in 2005. To be sure, real residential investment has fallen tremendously, by almost 53 percent between 2005 and 2009, with especially rapid declines during the past three years. Yet, real nonresidential investment also fell greatly last year, by 18 percent from its peak in 2008. Even real investment in equipment and software—a category only loosely connected to the housing boom and bust—declined last year by 17 percent, after occupying a high plateau during the preceding three years. Business firms have also fled from inventory investment, trimming their holdings by an unprecedented $125 billion in 2009, after lopping off $35 billion in 2008.
If real investment spending has taken a huge hit, however, federal government spending has raced ahead in high gear. Between 2007 and 2009, federal purchases of newly produced final goods and services—the federal government’s “contribution” to GDP—increased by more than 13 percent in constant dollars. Unfortunately, whereas private investment is the engine of economic growth, government spending (despite what generations of Keynesian economists have asserted) is the brake. Although increased government purchases by definition increase the measured national product, their substantive effect on the process of sustained economic growth is decidedly detrimental.
To understand this negative relationship, we need only to scrutinize how the federal government’s spending is determined, namely, by political processes devoid of economic rationality, and to examine the overwhelmingly adverse effect of government’s growth on the private economy’s functioning. In this light, we can appreciate that enhanced government spending does not actually bulk up the economy—it does not simply compensate for “leakages” from the circular flow of income generation, as the Keynesians imagine. Nor does it merely crowd out worthwhile private activity. Instead, it undercuts, penalizes, and distorts everything that private parties attempt to do to create genuine wealth. Beefed-up regulations, additional taxes, and government takeovers are the known killers of the economic growth process.
Much of the government’s “contribution” to GDP, of course, is pure waste, even if the recipients of the payments do nothing more to stand in the way of real progress: the government simply increases the compensation of its legions of drones and wreckers, or it spends money on items for which no private person, if he had any choice in the matter, would pay.
Worst of all, the investors’ famine and the government’s feast are not merely coincidental, but causally connected. The explosion of the federal government’s size, scope, and power since the middle of 2008 has created enormous uncertainties in the minds of investors. New taxes and higher rates of old taxes; potentially large burdens of compliance with new energy regulations and mandatory health-care expenses; new, intrinsically arbitrary government oversight of so-called systemic risks associated with any type of business—all of these unsettling possibilities and others of substantial significance must give pause to anyone considering a long-term investment, because any one of them has the potential to turn what seems to be a profitable investment into a big loser. In short, investors now face regime uncertainty to an extent that few have experienced in this country—to find anything comparable, one must go back to the 1930s and 1940s, when the menacing clouds of the New Deal and World War II darkened the economic horizon.
Unless the government acts soon to resolve the looming uncertainties about the half-dozen greatest threats of policy harm to business, investors will remain for the most part on the sideline, protecting their wealth in cash hoards and low-risk, low-return, short-term investments and consuming wealth that might otherwise have been invested. If this situation continues for several years longer, the U.S. economy may well suffer its second “lost decade” for much the same reason that it suffered its first during the 1930s.
As a side note, the author urges readers to"blend black history into American history" rather than treat it as a separate category.
David T. Beito
The crowd reflexively laughed at Dr. No's perceived looniness and pundits have already depicted his concerns as"wild" and"odd."
Well, it seems that Paul may have been onto something...or at the very least raised legitimate questions that deserve investigation. A few minutes on google news produced this 1982 story from the Milwaukee Sentinel by Richard Bradee of the paper's Washington Bureau:
"Police who searched the room the Watergate burglars used found $4,200 in $100 dollar bills, all numbered in sequence. Proxmire asked the Federal Reserve Board where the money came from. As he explained in a letter to the late Rep. Wright Patman (D-Tex.), chairman of the House Banking Committee:"I got the biggest run-around in years. They ducked, misled, lied, and gave me the idiot treatment."
Jane S. Shaw
Meanwhile Brewer notes that World history doesn't look too secure either; it may become"World Studies 1945-Present."
David T. Beito
David T. Beito
Before Monty Python, South Park, and Sam Kinison, there was Bob and Ray. The comedy team became a legend in the 1950s through their radio skits. Particularly hilarious in this sampling of their routines is an interview of an American history who admits that his book is a"sloppy piece of work." It begins at about 6:54 into the audio.
David T. Beito
"The British government has long denied that wartime air raids on German cities were intended to kill as many civilians as possible. In fact, the raids, led by Arthur Harris, were motivated largely by a desire to hit back and destroy indiscriminately."
"Far from being unfortunate or freak occurrences, [the raids on Hamburg and Dresden] represented the ultimate fruition of British air policy. Bomber Command's entire strategic offensive seems to have been based on the belief that the Nazi regime could be destroyed through wholesale, indiscriminate killing of Germany's urban population."
"Both during and after the war, the government maintained that it was never Britain's policy to carry out carpet bombing of civilian targets. 'We have always adhered firmly to the principle that we attack none but military objectives,' declared Archibald Sinclair, the secretary of state for air, in the Commons in October 1943. The mounting toll of civilian deaths was presented as a regrettable consequence of raids against factories, energy plants, transport networks or military installations, not as an end in itself.
"Even after victory was achieved, this unconvincing line was maintained. In one lecture, Charles Portal, the chief of the Air Staff for most of the war, said that it was 'a curious and widespread fallacy that our bombing of the German cities was really intended to kill and frighten Germans and that we camouflaged this intention by the pretence that we would destroy industry. Any such idea is completely and utterly false. The loss of life, which amounted to some 600,000 killed, was purely incidental.' But as a study of wartime archives demonstrates, both Sinclair and Portal were being dishonest with the public. Urban destruction through 'concentrating bomb-loads on the densest and most vulnerable areas of cities', to quote one Air Staff paper, was the primary goal of Britain's air offensive over Germany."
Hat Tip to Kenny Rodgers
One way in which communities tried to forge an economic network was through issuing private currency; Josiah Warren's experiment with Labor Notes and a Time Store is a prime example. I was reminded of it today while reading an article in MSN's Money entitled "Struggling towns printing their own cash." It opened,
Last year, two Detroit tavern owners were sitting at the bar, sampling their beverages and bemoaning the local economy -- no one in the city had cash, and when they did, they spent it in the suburbs. Then the pair hit on a solution: Print their own money. It is, after all, perfectly legal for anyone to issue currency, as long as it doesn't look too much like a U.S. dollar. Thus was born the Detroit cheer, a local scrip accepted by a handful of city businesses, including a pizzeria, an electrician and a doggy day care center....
The western Massachusetts berkshare is accepted by an estimated 400 businesses and has circulated to the tune of $2.5 million -- not bad for a region with 20,000 residents. The hours currency, issued in Ithaca, N.Y., is so entrenched that the local transit system is planning to accept it. Still, University of Southern Maine sociologist Ed Collum says his study of 82 local currencies revealed a disheartening 20% survival rate. Collum favors an increasingly popular twist on local currencies: the time bank, which has residents swapping labor hours rather than cash. This newer solution lets the unemployed participate without spending money.
I've always been fond of Warren's Labor Notes even though I believe the economic principles they reflect are fundamentally flawed. It is similar to the positive predisposition I have toward Mennonite communities or other peaceful ways of organizing that buck the trend and express a different worldview. Warren is a particularly interesting figure in the history of utopian movements because he was intimately involved with several communities. He was both a radical individualist and a communitarian to his core; he spent most of his life trying to integrate those two ideals.
Warren confronted the problem of how to achieve the social advantages of community without sacrificing individual rights and choice. His quest for a just society had started in February 1826 when he became one of the original settlers of the famous Owenite community of New Harmony. Other experimental communities had followed through which Warren had observed how social theories operated when they were put to the test of functioning in the real world.
When Warren began publication of The Peaceful Revolutionist (1833) -- the first Individualist-Anarchist periodical to appear in America -- it called for a voluntary society that was based on individual autonomy and that operated in accord with the labor theory of value. The latter sounds odds to the ears of modern libertarians but the labor theory of value was commonly accepted economic theory among the 19th century crowd. The specific expression was called"Cost the Limit of Price"; this was a version of the labor theory of value, which Warren believed was a necessary prerequisite to ensure an equitable reward for labor to the laborer.
For better or worse, Warren adopted the economic doctrine of cooperation that was expressed through the formula of “labor for labor.” But Warren realized that just having each man claim his own labor and its products would not lead to an advanced society. There had to be a medium of exchange: that is, society needed some form of currency that would enable it to rise above the level of brute barter or the need of each person to provide for his own needs. Warren believed that part of the answer lay making labor the basis of a circulating currency that he called “labor notes.”
In using cost as the limit of price, Warren was specifically objecting to the use of value as a standard of measurement. If subjective value were the limit of price, he believed that a good would rise to whatever level the seller was able to charge. Price would be determined by the desperation of the buyer. For example, a loaf of bread might cost ten thousand dollars to a starving man, or a bottle of medicine might cost twenty thousand to a mother who needed it for her child. To Warren, this seemed unjust. Thus, instead of subjective measure setting the price, Warren wanted cost to be the objective measure and the limit. For a loaf of bread, a baker should charge only what it had cost him to make, including such costs as the labor expended, the “rent” of his oven and other tools, taxes, etc. Cumulatively, these factors constituted the entire cost of the bread, which was its price. To Warren, this made price into an objective, scientific matter.
And, as always, Warren sought to test his theory in a real community.
On May 18, 1827, in Cincinnati, Warren opened what he called a Time Store. The libertarian historian James J. Martin has dubbed it “the first scientific experiment in cooperative economy in modern history.” Warren’s store worked on the basis of exchanging staple commodities, such as flour, priced at his own cost for the labor notes of customers. Upon opening his Time Store, with three hundred dollars worth of staple goods within, Warren posted a bill for public view, stating what each good had cost him and adding a 7 percent fee for overhead expenses such as shipping. This posted bill constituted the cost of the goods. In exchange, Warren received a labor note from the pur-chaser, which represented an equitable amount of the purchaser’s time. One of the advantages of the system was that people were far less inclined to bargain at length over prices because they were paying for the shopkeeper’s time. Warren explained the process: “A clock was in plain sight to measure the time of the tender in delivering the goods which was considered one-half of the labor, and purchasing, etc. the other half.”
The exchange was more sophisticated than a mere hour for hour basis, however. Warren exchanged what he called “equivalent labor.” He wrote, “I have placed emphasis on the idea of equivalent labor, because it appears that we must discriminate between different kinds of labor, some being more disagreeable, more repugnant, requiring a more COSTLY draft upon our ease or health than others. The idea of cost extends to and em-braces this difference.” Interestingly, this led Warren to the conclusion that the most disagreeable work, such as cleaning sewers, should be among the highest paid in society. Of course, factors such as “repugnance” were subjective matters—embodying the same subjectivity that Warren objected to in value as the measure of price. This meant that each individual must set the price for his own labor because each person is best able to estimate his own costs.
Warren uses the example of coat making. Two coat makers with different levels of skill and working habits would probably set entirely different prices for a new coat. A fast working coat maker who produced a mediocre product might charge twenty hours of labor for a new garment. A slower coat maker who produced an exceptional garment might charge forty hours.
Warren also seems to have considered the problem of opportunity costs regarding interest: namely, if someone loans out money to another, he is thereby foregoing other investment opportunities for that same capital. “If you sacrifice twenty dollars (to which you are equitably entitled) in lending me a hundred, then . . . twenty dollars, or twenty per cent together with pay for your labor would be your proper compensation.”
Despite such problems, Warren believed that labor notes—and Cost the Limit of Price in general—would guarantee both equitable reward for the laborer and a harmonious society. “Costs being the limit of price, everyone becomes interested to reduce cost,—to lighten each other’s burdens! Then, every man’s hand acts with instead of against every man, and HUMAN INTERESTS ARE HARMONIZED!”
Warren closed the Time Store after three years, convinced (along with many others) that “labor for labor” and Cost the Limit of Price had proven to be a viable economic arrangement.
For more commentary, please visit wendymcelroy.com.
David T. Beito
The point that must not go unacknowledged is that there is no way University of Alabama- Huntsville students can feel safe on campus until professors are permitted to bring guns to faculty meetings. Apparently, David Beito agrees.
Well, thank goodness somebody’s finally thinking about the children.
In reality, the question of whether professors should bring their .45s and glock nines to faculty meetings has very little bearing on student safety. But it would definitely raise the stakes for the discussion of whether to revise the Literature Before 1800 requirement of the English major.
In his amusing post, Bérubé has a single sentence (emphasis mine) opining that this question has"very little bearing on student [or faculty/staff?] safety." Perhaps he could elaborate.
How does he suggest we improve campus safety? If, for example, he believes in"gun free zones," what measures would he propose to better enforce them? Should universities install more metal detectors? Should they redouble the size of their campus security forces? We'd all like to know.
To move along the discussion, I'll elaborate on my views. I believe that Alabama's concealed carry law should trump the current"gun free zones" at government universities and colleges. As a believer in liberty and property rights, however, I oppose imposition of a"one best system" on private institutions. They should be free to set their own standards, mistaken or otherwise.
In his book "The Religion of Nature Delineated," the English philosopher William Wollaston (1659-1724) wrote, “I lay down this as a fundamental maxim, That whoever acts as if things were so, or not so, doth by his acts declare, that they are so, or not so; as plainly as he could by words, and with more reality.” He argued that actions have “significancy”, by which he meant that the actions themselves could be true or false. For example, theft is a denial of the truth of who owns the item stolen. Conversely, returning property to someone who has lost it is an acknowledgment of the truth of ownership. In short, Wollaston argues that actions make truth claims and can even"imply propositions." For the latter, he uses the example of one group of soldiers who fire upon another; the act of shooting, he claims, is the statement"the other group is the enemy."
He then argues that moral evil is the denial through action of truth and moral good is the affirmation of it through action.
I remember how impressed I was by this formulation of the relationship between values, action and facts. Undoubtedly the groundwork for being impressed was an earlier embrace of Ayn Rand's arguments connecting values to facts. For weeks I went around trying to translate moral actions into the truth or lie they were expressing. Quite apart from whether Wollaston is correct in his formulation, the exercise entertained me then and now...and led to some interesting conclusions. Give it a whirl.