Liberty & Power: Group Blog
Jonathan J. Bean
In two decades of teaching, I have worked with exceptionally bright undergraduates. Once they enter graduate school, however, they conform to the smelly little orthodoxies” of theory and the jargon-ridden writing of their discipline. I’ve always despised jargon that deadens prose and will be passé by the time these young conformists hit old age. Future generations will have to decipher why words and phrases such as “subaltern,” “post-structuralist,” “late capitalism” meant to the scribbling class of early 21st century academics.
The advice Orwell gives is similar to advice Winston Churchill gave on good writing. This passage says it best (from Orwell, “Politics and the English Language”)
“Orwell leaves us with a list of simple rules:
* Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
* Never use a long word where a short one will do.
* If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
* Never use the passive where you can use the active.
* Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
* Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
I am posting this advice for my own students and as a reminder to myself (fallen creature that I am).
David T. Beito
For this reason, and others, my sympathies were generally with Gates when he alleged abuse by the Cambridge Police Department. My main criticism of Gates was that he needlessly alienated potential support by failing to emphasize that many whites are also victims of this practice.
Gates, again, shows his willingness to think creatively in this piece for the New York Times:
But the sad truth is that the conquest and capture of Africans and their sale to Europeans was one of the main sources of foreign exchange for several African kingdoms for a very long time.....
Did these Africans know how harsh slavery was in the New World? Actually, many elite Africans visited Europe in that era, and they did so on slave ships following the prevailing winds through the New World. For example, when Antonio Manuel, Kongo’s ambassador to the Vatican, went to Europe in 1604, he first stopped in Bahia, Brazil, where he arranged to free a countryman who had been wrongfully enslaved....
Under these circumstances, it is difficult to claim that Africans were ignorant or innocent.
Given this remarkably messy history, the problem with reparations may not be so much whether they are a good idea or deciding who would get them; the larger question just might be from whom they would be extracted.
For a change, the Mets are winning. I’ve got my New York Times, leisurely smoke, and try to ignore the bees as best I can so as to read about the people of Arizona. Unlike the Mets, they are not winning and what they’ve done, if left to stand, can drag us all down with them.
Click To Read The Rest
David T. Beito
The Lancet's editor was also pressured to postpone publication until a date"after critical fundraising meetings" for several women's advocacy groups. "Activists perceive a lower maternal mortality figure as actually diluting their message," he told The Associated Press on Wednesday. Advocacy can sometimes get in the way of science."
"The U.N. has a track record of inflating disease figures to keep the aid money flowing, so I'd probably place more faith in the figures which show a lower disease burden," said Philip Stevens, of International Policy Network, a London think tank."This is yet more confirmation that whoever paints the most apocalyptic picture gets the most cash, even if they have to manipulate and spin the data."
For more commentary, please visit WendyMcElroy.com.
Amy H. Sturgis
According to the blog This is FYF," citing security concerns that bikes might be secret pipe bombs, NYPD officers clipped the locks of hundreds of bikes along Houston Street this morning in preparation for President Obama's speech at Cooper Union. The bikes were unceremoniously put in the back of the truck. Onlookers were not given information as to what would become of the bikes. Happy Earth Day!"
For pictures of the bike seizure, destruction of locks and chains, and more information, see here.
This week, in a move that reveals the judicial system to be a sad farce, Mitchell recanted his guilty plea on the grounds that he did not believe a trial would be fair. (I wonder how many trials he has testified at? Those proceeding were sufficiently fair for Mitchell to be a participant. When he is a defendant, however, the system suddenly is unjust.) Bnd.com reports:
Illinois Trooper Matt Mitchell was under oath on Monday when he testified in civil court that he lied to a judge when...pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated reckless driving and reckless homicide. So, why isn't he charged with perjury? Perjury is the charge of making false statements under oath. And Mitchell was not under oath before St. Clair County Circuit Judge Jan Fiss on Friday when he pleaded guilty in criminal court in connection with the deaths of Jessica and Kelli Uhl in 2007.
The hearing on Monday was part of a $24 million case filed against the state of Illinois by the dead girls' parents. Although the state has sovereign immunity, it can be be held liable if Mitchell is found to have been negligent. As part of Mitchell's guilty plea, the Illinois attorney general's office signed a stipulation that he was"acting in the course of his employment as an Illinois state trooper" when the accident occurred, which makes him virtually immune from financial consequences from the suit. (As far as I know, the only way he would pay personally is if the parents successfully sued him in federal court and received punitive damages; in those circumstances, I believe he would be responsible for the punitive part...but I could be wrong.)
The guilty plea impacted him financially in quite another manner, however. Mitchell could not face"administrative action" -- meaning he could not be fired nor have his pay terminated -- while there was an open criminal case against him. Lt. Scott Compton of the State Police explained"it took so long" to suspend Mitchell's pay and to file a complaint that moves toward his dismissal"because the agency had to wait until the criminal proceeding was adjudicated." Now they may have to wait a little bit longer. They may even have to reinstate his $67,000 annual salary and keep paying out as they did over the two preceding years while Mitchell's attorney delayed and delayed and delayed. The timing of the cases are interesting. The civil one has already opened while a hearing on the criminal one -- presumably to consider the new 'wrinkle' -- has been pushed forward to open on May 3rd.
This is cynical maneuvering by Mitchell, pure and simple. Like most cops I know. either personally or through research, he will lie and prostitute the judicial system whenever it is to his advantage. During his guilty plea in criminal court, Mitchell claimed he would"forever regret" the deaths. On Monday, in a civil proceeding, Mitchell refused even to admit he had caused the collision, claiming he had used"reasonable care" and resurrecting the widely -discredited"white car" that had cut him off. This is a game he is willing to play with the corpses of teenagers in the presence of grieving parents. The father's testimony at the civil hearing was particularly wrenching, On his way to work, he detoured around the crash site that was his daughters' death scene but did not find out about them until he arrived at work. The man described his response,"I screamed and I screamed and I yelled at God."
The only aspect of this unfolding story that is not literally sickening is the response of the State Police. They are obviously hanging Mitchell out to dry. SLToday reports, "Former Illinois State Police Director Larry Trent testified this morning [Tuesday] in a wrongful-death case against the state that Trooper Matt Mitchell's actions were irresponsible and reflected poor judgment....'It's indefensible,' Trent testified before a hearing officer for the Illinois Court of Claims. Trent was director when the crash occurred in late 2007." Why would law enforcement be willing to jeopardize its own immunity? There are at least four explanations, none of which are mutually exclusive:
1) The cops and judicial system may be enraged at Mitchell. He is playing by the same"fast-and-loose" rules with them that they play with average people; he is turning their weapons against them.
2) So much public outrage surrounds this case that it is rubbing off on the entire police and judicial system of Illinois. They may want to distance themselves at a double-trot.
3) Perhaps their attitude is"What the hey! Ultimately, it is just tax-payer's money."
4) There is a good chance Mitchell will be found 'not guilty.' Last Friday, he became the first copy in Illinois to be found guilty of a felony while on duty. Tradition in the law and corruption in the Illinois justice system are on his side.
I swear...I cannot tell if Mitchell's maneuvering reflects his arrogant, thuggish personality or whether he has extremely good legal advice.
Of one thing I am certain, however. The legal and so-called justice system is an engine of injustice and misery to the innocent.
For more commentary, please visit WendyMcElroy.com.
Jane S. Shaw
David T. Beito
Here is a segment from my all-time favorite"Outer Limits" episode. Some think that it was the inspiration for"The Terminator." The episode focuses on a soldier who comes from a future world dominanted by war where"the state is all." The writing reflects the fear of an all powerful government which was often apparent in science fiction shows during the 1960s such as the"Twilight Zone." Sadly, a modern writer would probably change this theme to something like"the corporation is all."
Aeon J. Skoble
Aeon J. Skoble
"Assault weapon" confiscation turns violent in Boston
Scores Killed, Hundreds Injured As Para-Military Extremists Riot
BOSTON, April 19 - National Guard units seeking to confiscate a cache of recently banned assault weapons were ambushed on April 19th by elements of a paramilitary extremist faction. Military and law enforcement sources estimated that 72 were killed and more than 20 injured before government forces were compelled to withdraw.
Speaking after the clash, Massachusetts Governor Thomas Gage declared that the extremist faction, which was made up of local citizens, has links to the radical right-wing tax protest movement. Gage blamed the extremists for recent incidents of vandalism directed against internal revenue offices.
The governor, who described the group's organizers as "criminals," issued an executive order authorizing the summary arrest of any individual who has interfered with the government's efforts to secure law and order.
The military raid on the extremist arsenal followed wide-spread refusal by the local citizenry to turn over recently outlawed assault weapons. Gage issued a ban on military-style assault weapons and ammunition earlier in the week. This decision followed a meeting in early April between government and military leaders at which the
governor authorized the forcible confiscation of illegal arms. One government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, pointed out that "none of these people would have been killed had the extremists obeyed the law and turned their weapons over voluntarily."
"Government troops initially succeeded in confiscating a large supply of outlawed weapons and ammunition. However, troops attempting to seize arms and ammunition in Lexington met with resistance from heavily-armed extremists who had been tipped off regarding the government's plans.
During a tense standoff in Lexington's town park, National Guard Colonel Francis Smith, commander of the government operation, ordered the armed group to surrender and return to their homes. The impasse was broken by a single shot, which was reportedly fired by one of the right-wing extremists. Eight civilians were killed in the ensuing
Ironically, the local citizenry blamed government forces rather than the extremists for the civilian deaths. Before order could be restored, armed citizens from surrounding areas had descended upon the guard units. Colonel Smith, finding his forces overmatched by the armed mob, ordered a retreat.
Governor Gage has called upon citizens to support the state/national joint task force in its effort to restore law and order. The governor has also demanded the surrender of those responsible for planning and leading the attack against the government troops. Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and John Hancock, who have been identified as "ringleaders" of
the extremist faction, remain at large.
Today, however, as I was working along, my mind seized on something I had never dwelt upon. Numbers, data checking , mathematical operations—these things are abstract and in themselves completely lifeless, regardless of the human qualities or quantities to which they sometimes relate. One can work on the figures themselves without being drawn, perhaps unwillingly, into reflections on distressing things: loss, disappointment, pain, desperation, sorrow, death. Perhaps this disjunction between the black-and-white of numbers and numerical computations, on the one hand, and the exquisitely varied coloration of human life and death, on the other, explains the origin of the expression “cold, calculating killer.”
At this point in my reflections, I could not help recalling Robert Strange McNamara. (Was it simply a coincidental family oddity – his mother’s maiden name – that denominated him strange, or was his middle name divinely ordained to serve as a warning?) McNamara was a promising young man, but the big impetus to his later career achievements came during World War II, when he impressed his superiors while serving in the air force as a bombing efficiency expert. I wonder if he ever thought, while examining his data on the results of the U.S. incendiary bombing of the highly flammable Japanese cities, about the human beings – the old women, the infants and little kids, and all of the others who had done so little to deserve their fiery fate – who were suffering the unimaginable agonies of being terribly burned or of seeing their loved ones burned to death and torn apart by blasts. Or did the up-and-coming young officer think only about the ratio of X to Y during his working hours, and then stop by the officers’ club for a stiff drink or two before dozing off between clean sheets?
I don’t pretend to know what passed through his mind, or through the minds of countless other men who played similar roles amid the madness of war. I do know that many people have the capacity to keep troubling thoughts out of the forefront of their minds, to avoid dwelling on things they tell themselves they cannot do anything about in any event, and thus to steer clear of speaking or even thinking about exactly what they are doing. This self-protective evasiveness may explain why soldiers so often speak not of causing horrific deaths and destruction, but of “getting the job done” so they can return home for a slice of blueberry pie with their wives or sweethearts.
Data, then, may serve as soporifics — medicinal tablets that keep our minds off things about which we dare not think too hard or too long. Even then, however, we may be left with Hamlet’s ominous worry, for in that sleep, what dreams may come? Whether nightmares disturbed McNamara’s slumber during World War II or later, when he was secretary of defense during the Vietnam War, with responsibility for the B-52s employed to turn immense swaths of land into carpet-bombed hell, I do not know.
I do know, however, that in the 1960s he surrounded himself with “whiz kids” who were devoted to bringing their “planning, programming, and budgeting system” to bear on getting “more bang for the buck.” People who knew McNamara’s background were surely not surprised. “Cold, calculating killers” – can anyone honestly deny that this term applies in an altogether literal way to these men. And who would have expected anything else? Hadn’t they already honed their skills while working for the RAND Corporation, where they had learned to speak “rationally” of megadeaths and to conclude with numerical precision that if in a nuclear exchange with the Soviets, we suffered 100 million deaths and they suffered 150 million deaths, we would have “won the war”?
Data are fine things; I’ve devoted much of my professional life to their examination and analysis. Yet it behooves all of us to realize that data may sometimes clothe madness or veil inhumanity, and to beware the power of numbers to lull us into an immoral sleep.
My very busy schedule at APEE prevented me from jumping in on the very interesting debate over women's liberty, coverture laws, and the more general status of human freedom over the last 150 years that was kicked off by David Boaz's column at Reason. I can't possibly point to all of the contributions to the debate since then, but I particularly liked Will Wilkinson's contribution here and Bryan Caplan provides his usual contrarian perspective here, here, here, and here.
The brief recap: Boaz argued that libertarians frequently make the mistake of being nostalgic about how free Americans were in, say, 1850 or 1880 and how the last 150 years has been a steady decline in human freedom. The mistake, he argues, is that such comparisons seem focused on the experience of (property owning) white males and forget the ways in which blacks (certainly before the Civil War!) and women and other groups were denied important freedoms by the state. In fact, Boaz argues (and with the support of libertarian historians, as opposed to economists), the last 150 years has largely involved an increase in human freedom when we properly account for the ways in which non-white, non-males have seen substantial increases in their freedom, even as all of us probably have less economic freedom than that select group of white males did in the past. Boaz argued we need to stop engaging in the"decline of freedom" narrative as it's just not true when we take into account the enormous gains in freedom for these other groups.
(For those who were at APEE, Yoram Brook engaged in precisely this rhetoric in his debate with Jim Otteson, at one point saying just how much freer we were in the 19th century. It was all I could do to not interrupt him right there!)
As Will put it:
"It’s just plain wrongheaded to cast the libertarian project as the project of restoring lost liberties. Most people never had the liberties backward-looking libertarians would like to restore. I know the rhetoric of restoration can be very seductive, especially in country unusually full (for a wealthy liberal democracy) of patriotic traditionalists. But restoration is a conservative project and liberty is a fundamentally progressive cause."
I'll put my own cards on the table by reprinting a comment that I made to a discussion on a libertarian professors' email list then adding some later observations below. All are below the fold.
First the lengthy comment:
The way I see this is that we're trying to answer the question"Are we
more free?" To do so, we need to address both the"we" and the"free"
pieces. I read David as making two points: 1) We need to think
carefully about the"we" and recognize, as we all have noted, the major
gains in freedom for non-white, non-males (and maybe non-Christians
too). 2) But he was also saying there are more freedoms in the
calculus than the economic. Even white men are freer along a number of
dimensions than they were in the 19th century, when one takes the
social realm seriously. Some folks have noted those.
My own view is that one can look at this in the economist's old tool: the 2 x 2 matrix. Apologies in advance for formatting issues:
economic freedoms social freedoms
White men notable losses good-sized gains
Others huge gains huge gains
I think by any accounting, the NW quadrant is smaller than the sum of the others. We can debate over how much smaller, but if we could somehow aggregate these freedoms, I think there's no question the total amount of freedom per capita is bigger today than"before."
Let me add one other point that some have touched on: not all restrictions on freedom come from the state. Just consider the immense gains in freedom women have had because of the changes in the way we view domestic violence and marital rape, not to mention the demise of coverture laws. The"rights" that men had over their wives dramatically limited the freedom of women for centuries and the inclusion of married women in the sphere of protection of negative rights against coercion has been transformational in the last 100 plus years. I would put it only second to the end of slavery in terms of total gains in freedom to the population as a whole.
I could make a very similar point about the ways in which children have been treated, and it's interesting that THEIR increased freedom has not made an appearance in this discussion yet. (Although one could point out that the freedom of parents qua parents has fallen over the same time. Interesting to weigh that one.)
Any accounting of our increased or decreased freedom should also include the ways in which"private" restrictions on freedom countenanced by the state have dramatically receded.
And now an additional observation. Bryan argues that women perhaps had more options in the past than we are willing to given them credit for and that the actual enforcement of the more draconian laws wasn't as severe as we might think. I'm not convinced of that, but I will provide a tad of support for his second point shortly.
First, whatever else we say, there is no doubt that women at the time perceived marriage to be a major loss of liberty. I've been slowly making my way through Lawrence Stone's The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800, which is an 800 page"magesterial" history of the family, rightly regarded as a classic in history, even as it has been at the center of much debate. Stone's use of primary sources is amazing, and those sources make the case for liberty denied to married women. Stone himself is very clear about the fact that coverture laws, and marriage more generally, denied married women important liberties and he gives no sense that such laws were not enforced. And as a woman writing in the late 1700s wrote:
"The two sexes seem to be very unequally situated in the marriage state. The man only ventures the loss of a few temporary pleasures: the woman, the loss of liberty and almost the privilege of opinion. from the moment she is married she becomes the subjet of an arbitrary lord, who has her person, her friendship, her fortune, her time at his disposal. Even her children, the pledges of their mutual affection, are absolutely under his direction and authority. Severity of every kind is in his power, and the law countenances him in the use of it."
It's true that these limitations were most constraining if the marriage was a bad one, but that doesn't mean they were not constraining at all otherwise. And it's also true that this was late 1700s. Coverture laws did begin to disappear through the 19th century, but as Ilya Somin makes clear in his email exchange with Bryan, even as the restrictions they imposed on property and contract disappeared by late in that century, other elements of coverture remained. The degree of freedom gained depends on what the exact date of comparison is here.
Second, Stone does, however, discuss at least one way that entrepreneurial women tried to get around these restrictions through something like a pre-nuptial trust. What women with the access to such knowledge and the resources to make use of the courts were doing was transferring their property to a"feoffee" before marriage. Feoffees were something like a modern"trustee." Moving legal ownership this way, but with a document drawn up that still enabled the wife-to-be to have access to the property, particularly should her husband-to-be die, assured that she would not have to give up all of said property upon marriage. This was very clever, as Stone notes. But he also adds:"For the vast majority of the population, including all the poor, the limited safeguards offered to wealthy women were unknown." He goes on to endorse, in his own words, the observation of Mill (in 1869) that"the legal position of most women in England [was] one of total dependence on their husbands. In terms of property, they could acquire nothing which did not automatically become their husbands'."
For me, this is a no-brainer. The last 150 years has largely respresented an increase in the total sum of human freedom in the Western world as the losses suffered by those who had such rights back then are dwarfed by the gains in freedom by those groups who had few or no rights back then. This surely doesn't mean that we can't rightly protest the ongoing losses in economic liberty that we are all suffering, particularly in the last few years, but when looked at with the broader historical perspective, those losses are a small setback in what has largely been an expansion of freedom to more and more people, as well as an expansion of more kinds of freedom to even those who have lost some.
A nostalgic libertarianism will not get us very far. A progressive libertarianism is not only a better strategy in a world where we need to expand our appeal beyond the very white males at the center of this debate, it is also true! History has been on the side of freedom and its expansion to more and more people. That's what progressivism should mean and we should rightly recognize that history and argue that this century's decline in economic freedom represents not the triumph of progressive ideas, but their slow demise. Classical liberalism was historically about expanding freedom to more and more groups and modern libertarians should recognize our victories and frame our current battles in terms that put us on the side of forward-looking progress, not backward-looking nostalgia.
In fiscal year 2009, which ended last September, the Pentagon spent $636.5 billion. Lodged elsewhere in the budget, however, other lines identify funding that serves defense purposes just as surely as—sometimes even more surely than—the money allocated to the Department of Defense. On occasion, commentators take note of some of these additional defense-related budget items, such as the Department of Energy’s nuclear-weapons program, but many such items, including some extremely large ones, remain generally unrecognized.
Since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, many observers probably would agree that its budget ought to be included in any complete accounting of defense costs. After all, the homeland is what most of us want the government to defend in the first place.
Other agencies also spend money in pursuit of homeland security. The Justice Department, for example, includes the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which devotes substantial resources to an anti-terrorist program. The Department of the Treasury claims to have “worked closely with the Departments of State and Justice and the intelligence community to disrupt targets related to al Qaeda, Hizballah, Jemaah Islamiyah, as well as to disrupt state sponsorship of terror.”
Much, if not all, of the budget for the Department of State and for international assistance programs ought to be classified as defense-related, too. In this case, the money serves to buy off potential enemies and to reward friendly governments who assist U.S. efforts to abate perceived threats. About $5 billion of annual U.S. foreign aid currently takes the form of “foreign military financing,” and even funds placed under the rubric of economic development may serve defense-related purposes indirectly. Money is fungible, and the receipt of foreign assistance for economic-development projects allows allied governments to divert other funds to police, intelligence, and military purposes.
Two big budget items represent the current cost of defense goods and services obtained in the past. The Department of Veterans Affairs, which is authorized to spend about $124 billion in the current fiscal year, falls in this category. Likewise, a great deal of the government’s interest expense on publicly held debt represents the current cost of defense outlays financed in the past by borrowing from the public.
To estimate the size of the entire de facto defense budget, I gathered data for fiscal 2009, the most recently completed fiscal year, for which data on actual outlays are now available. In that year, the Department of Defense itself spent $636.5 billion. Defense-related parts of the Department of Energy budget added $16.7 billion. The Department of Homeland Security spent $51.7 billion. The Department of State and international assistance programs laid out $36.3 billion for activities arguably related to defense purposes either directly or indirectly. The Department of Veterans Affairs had outlays of $95.5 billion. The Department of the Treasury, which funds the lion’s share of military retirement costs through its support of the little-known Military Retirement Fund, added $54.9 billion. A large part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s outlays ought to be regarded as defense-related, if only indirectly so. When all of these other parts of the budget are added to the budget for the Pentagon itself, they increase the fiscal 2009 total by nearly half again, to $901.5 billion.
Finding out how much of the government’s net interest payments on the publicly held national debt ought to be attributed to past debt-funded defense spending requires a considerable amount of calculation. I added up all past deficits (minus surpluses) since 1916 (when the debt was nearly zero), prorated according to each year’s ratio of narrowly defined national security spending—military, veterans, and international affairs—to total federal spending, expressing everything in dollars of constant purchasing power. This sum is equal to 67.6 percent of the value of the national debt held by the public at the end of 2009. Therefore, I attribute that same percentage of the government’s net interest outlays in that year to past debt-financed defense spending. The total amount so attributed comes to $126.3 billion.
Adding this interest component to the previous all-agency total, the grand total comes to $1,027.8 billion, which is 61.5 percent greater than the Pentagon’s outlays alone.
In similar analyses I conducted previously for fiscal 2002 and for fiscal 2006, total defense-related spending was even greater relative to Pentagon spending alone – it was 73 percent greater in fiscal 2002 and 87 percent greater in fiscal 2006. In fiscal 2009, the ratio was held down in large part by the reduced cost of servicing the government’s debt, owing to the extremely low interest rates that prevailed on government securities. This situation cannot last must longer. As interest rates on the Treasury’s securities rise, so will the government’s cost of servicing the debt attributable to past debt-financed defense outlays.
For fiscal 2010, which is still in progress, the president’s budget estimates that the Pentagon’s spending will run more than $50 billion above the previous year’s total. Any supplemental appropriations made before September 30 will push the total for fiscal 2010 even farther above the trillion-dollar mark.
Although I have arrived at my conclusions honestly and carefully, I may have left out items that should have been included—the federal budget is a gargantuan, complex, and confusing collection of documents. If I have done so, however, the left-out items are not likely to be relatively large ones. (I have deliberately ignored some minor items, such as outlays for the Selective Service System, the National Defense Stockpile, and the anti-terrorist activities conducted by the FBI and the Treasury.
For now, however, the conclusion seems inescapable: the government is currently spending at a rate well in excess of $1 trillion per year for all defense-related purposes. Owing to the financial debacle and the ongoing recession, millions are out of work, millions are losing their homes, and private earnings remain well below their previous peak, but in the military-industrial complex, the gravy train speeds along the track faster and faster.
National Security Outlays in Fiscal Year 2009 (billions of dollars)
Department of Defense 636.5
Department of Energy (nuclear weapons & environ. cleanup) 16.7
Department of State (plus intern. assistance) 36.3
Department of Veterans Affairs 95.5
Department of Homeland Security 51.7
Department of the Treasury (for Military Retirement Fund) 54.9
National Aeronautics & Space Administration (1/2 of total) 9.6
Net interest attributable to past debt-financed defense outlays 126.3
Source: Author’s classifications and calculations; basic data from U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal Year 2011 and U.S. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970.
Amy H. Sturgis
"[B]aking surveillance, control and censorship into the very fabric of our networks, devices and laws is the absolute road to dictatorial hell."
Read Cory Doctorow's article in The Guardian.
David T. Beito
Although the issue of extradition will be decided by political means it is Canadian politics not American ones that count. In this respect Emery can rely on a tremendous amount of support. In March, members of the Liberal, Conservative, and New Democratic parties presented petitions to Parliament containing 12,000 signatures asking that Emery remain in Canada. Later the French speaking Bloc Quebecois also called for the extradition to be blocked. Emery believes that the “government does want to extradite me, but the public pressure not to do it is substantial. There is nothing to be gained by extraditing me, and it will piss off a couple of million voters in the next election."
If Emery were to be sent to the United States for incarceration it would be not only unjust but also highly ironic as the evidence of a rapidly changing attitude towards marijuana use in America is abundant. In just the most recent issue of the Drug War Chronicle we learn that people caught in the city of Philadelphia with less that 30 grams of cannabis will now face a summary offense instead of a criminal misdemeanor. Meanwhile the legislature in Maine approved a law allowing for medical marijuana dispensaries. Also, a new medical marijuana bill has passed through the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee in Maryland. The town of Nederland in Colorado passed a measure with 54% of the vote that legalizes adult possession of cannabis. Lastly, in Alabama a house legislative committee vote favored medical marijuana legislation. What a terrible twist of fate it would be if Marc Emery was imprisoned for conducting a political battle that he now beginning to win.
Cross posted on The Trebach Report
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Los acontecimientos actuales requieren de los analistas económicos, entre otras cosas, una teoría económica sólida, amplitud de miras y una buena dosis de humildad, para adentrarse en el frondoso bosque de los complejos fenómenos y datos económicos, y salir de él con una aceptable comprensión de lo que está pasando. Pero además, el conocimiento detallado de la historia económica puede ayudar notablemente a tener una mejor y más amplia perspectiva de los hechos recientes. No en vano, la crisis actual ha sido comparada con otros periodos anteriores, como la Gran Depresión de los años 30, o ha sido calificada en más de una ocasión como la crisis más grave desde la Segunda Guerra Mundial.
Todas estas cualidades son las que cumple a la perfección el economista e historiador norteamericano Robert Higgs, a quien entrevistamos en exclusiva. Él es investigador sénior en economía política del think-tank californiano The Independent Institutea, y es autor de numerosas obras relacionadas con la historia económica norteamericana y la evolución y desarrollo moderno del gobierno estadounidense, de entre los que destacan Crisis and Leviathan (“Episodios críticos en el crecimiento del gobierno norteamericano”) y Depression, War, and Cold War (“Cuestionando los mitos sobre el conflicto y la prosperidad”).
Orígenes de la crisis
P. Los analistas no se ponen de acuerdo sobre las causas de la crisis. Unos culpan a la política monetaria demasiado laxa de la Fed, otros a políticas gubernamentales de fomento de la propiedad inmobiliaria, al exceso de ahorro de países asiáticos o a la desregulación financiera, los complejos derivados… ¿Qué interpretación encuentra más sólida? ¿Por qué?
No consensus on the causes and origins of the crisis. Some blame the Fed’s expansionary monetary policy, government policies on fostering homeownership (Fannie, Freddie, CRA…), others the Asian savings glut, others financial deregulation and complex derivatives… Which position, if any, is the most solid? Why?
The crisis has multiple causes. In the United States, the most important were the Fed’s easy-money policy between 2001 and 2005, which fueled the housing boom; the pressures many different government officials and agencies brought to bear on banks and other lenders to lower their mortgage-lending standards so that they would lend more to home buyers who lacked the qualifications to receive loans under traditional underwriting standards; the rapid growth of the highly leveraged government-sponsored enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as secondary mortgage purchasers and as issuers of securities to fund their own operations; the failure of the (officially privileged) ratings agencies to identify the actual risk associated with many of the financial derivatives based on the expected flow of future mortgage-loan repayments; and the failure of many financial institutions to recognize the actual risks of their investments and to avoid those risks or to hedge or insure against them properly. Of these causes, the first two—bad Fed policy and government’s various interventions in the housing-finance industry—were probably the most critical.
¿Rescates gubernamentales para salvar al capitalismo?
P. Se han justificado las masivas intervenciones públicas con el pretexto de salvar al capitalismo. El sistema financiero hubiera colapsado de no haber rescatado e intervenido el gobierno en numerosas entidades financieras, tal y como nos muestra la quiebra de Lehman Brothers; ello hubiera desencadenado un proceso de quiebras sistémicas, argumentan. ¿Hay algo de cierto en todo esto?
Massive public interventions have been justified on the grounds of saving capitalism. The financial system would have collapsed, many banking institutions would have gone bust, which would have brought about some disastrous consequences for the American people (as Lehman’s failure has shown). Is there some truth in all this?
Capitalism has not existed in the United States since the early twentieth century, so whatever the government might have imagined itself to be saving, it certainly was not capitalism. In fact, the government’s various interventions have focused on saving the insurance giant AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, big commercial banks and big investment banks, and the automobile manufacturers General Motors and Chrysler—all of which ought to have been liquidated—and on enriching members of the United Auto Workers Union, various government-employee unions, and other supplicants with political clout.
Systemic risk is greatly overblown, as a lobbying ploy; the entire system as such was never at substantial risk. If a market sector of the economy is to be preserved, it must be a system of private profit and private loss, not a system of private profit and public loss. The government’s interventions have created a large number of zombie firms, which are actually bankrupt but are kept in operation by infusions of government-supplied funds.
P. Los niveles de deuda y déficit públicos parecen haber llegado a niveles insostenibles, gracias a los estímulos fiscales. Está la cuestión de Grecia. ¿Cómo cree que puede evolucionar esto? ¿Conseguirá la administración Obama reducir significativamente su déficit en el corto-medio plazo?
Public debt and deficits seem to have reached unsustainable levels, due to fiscal stimulus. There is Greek question. How do you think this situation might evolve? Will Obama reduce significantly the debt and deficit in the short-medium term?
The current debt and the projected deficits create a substantial risk of default on the U.S. government’s debt service. Even if the current crisis had not occurred, the government’s promises to provide benefits for retired people and for health care cannot be kept much longer. The government will probably deal with this unsustainable situation by taking a series of marginal, often hidden steps to raise taxes and to chip away the promised benefits. Another possibility is rapid inflation, which would reduce the real value of the government’s interest payments on its debt and amount to a form of indirect default. Outright default is the least likely outcome, but it is conceivable. After all, the U.S. Treasury defaulted before, when the government abandoned the gold standard in 1933 and the Treasury refused to keep its promises to repay bond purchasers in gold as promised.
P. Los políticos, autoridades monetarias y buena parte de economistas temen la deflación como el peor mal posible, y actúan para evitarla casi a cualquier coste, apoyándose en lo que ocurrió en los 30 en EEUU y en la deflación japonesa para defender los estímulos monetarios. ¿Es la deflación tan peligrosa? ¿Se sostiene su evidencia empírica/histórica?
Politicians, monetary authorities and many economists are very fearful of deflation, claiming it is much worse than inflation, which has prompted them to act accordingly at almost any cost. They seem to base their opinions on what happened in the 1930s contraction (monetarist story), and in the Japanese deflation. Is deflation so dangerous? Is the empirical/historical evidence correct?
The modern fear of deflation is irrational. Gradual deflation that reflects ongoing improvements in productivity is for the most part a desirable condition. Between 1865 and 1897 gradual deflation reduced consumer prices by about 50 percent. During the same years, the United States experienced very rapid growth of real GDP per capita. Prices fell greatly between 1920 and 1922 and would have fallen further, had the Fed not acted (unwisely) to stabilize the commodity price level for the rest of the 1920s. However, rapid unexpected deflation caused by changes in the demand for or supply of money are not desirable and may cause substantial harm, as they did in the United States between 1929 and 1933. Nevertheless, constantly erring on the side of inflation, as the Fed has done since the 1930s, is bad policy because it results in secular loss of the dollar’s purchasing power. Since the Fed’s creation in 1913, the dollar has lost more than 95 percent of its purchasing power.
P. Hablando de la recuperación económica y las previsiones, usted elaboró el concepto de “incertidumbre de régimen” para explicar por qué la Gran Depresión se prolongó durante tantos años. ¿Podría explicar el concepto? ¿Puede estar pasando algo parecido actualmente con las políticas de Obama?
Talking about the economic recovery and future forecasts (which I know you are rightly very skeptical about)… you elaborated the concept ‘regime uncertainty’ to explain why the Great Depression lasted so long. Could you explain it? Could that be happening again with Obama?
“Regime uncertainty” is the name I give to widespread fears that the nature of the economic order will be changed. This has to do mainly with fear that private property rights will be altered for the worse by higher taxes, more costly regulation, more hostile treatment by government functionaries of all kinds, and perhaps outright confiscation of private property. When investors feel regime uncertainty, they are reluctant to make long-term investments because they fear that they will be unable to receive the income those investments will generate and may even lose the capital itself. Between 1935 and 1940, many U.S. investors feared that the market-oriented U.S. economy was going to be transformed into fascism, socialism, or some other system dominated by the government. During the past two or three years, similar fears have arisen because of the many large-scale government interventions (or likely future interventions) into the financial markets, the health-care system, the regulation of carbon emissions, and the automobile industry, besides the imposition of higher taxes and more onerous regulations in general. However, because the U.S. economy is already subject to pervasive government intervention of many kinds, the present situation is not fully comparable to the situation in the late 1930s.
P. Entre estas políticas, Obama ha dado gran importancia a su reforma sanitaria. ¿Cuáles pueden ser las consecuencias de esta medida? ¿Ha tomado Obama una vía adecuada para incrementar la cobertura médica a los más necesitados y mejorar la eficiencia del sistema?
Amongst these policies, Obama has attached much importance to his healthcare reform. What can be the consequences of such a reform? Has Obama taken the good path to address the problems of the current American healthcare system (allegedly, high costs, low medical coverage for the poor…)
The health-care law just enacted will prove disastrous, both for the operation of the health-care industries and for the government’s finances. It will also lead to a great loss of freedom for the American people, tens of millions of whom will be forced to purchase health-care “insurance” that they do not want to purchase, or to pay large fines. Insurance companies will benefit in the short term by gaining millions of unwilling customers, but in the long run, the entire health-care insurance industry is likely to be taken over by the government because the “mixed” (fascist) arrangement will not work well and will lead to tremendous public dissatisfaction – which, strange to say, will be blamed on” the market system,” an institutional arrangement that has not existed in this area for decades because of pervasive interventions by state and federal governments.
Guerra contra el terrorismo
P. Usted también ha estudiado con detalle la cuestión de la guerra, tanto históricamente como en los episodios actuales, y es muy crítico con la política exterior norteamericana actual. ¿En qué se basa? ¿Había alternativa tras los ataques del 11S? ¿Es una estrategia de salida sensata salir inmediatamente de Iraq, como defiende Ron Paul, o ello generaría un ambiente de guerra total entre los iraquíes?
You have also worked on war issues, both in the past and recent events. You are very critical of the American foreign policy. What are your opinions on this based on? Was there an alternative to the 9/11 attacks? Is a sensible exit strategy for Iraq to leave it immediately, as for example Ron Paul defends, or would that create a horrible scenario of conflict for Iraqis at home?
Aggressive U.S. foreign policies have always been damaging to the interests of most Americans, but important political elites and crony capitalists have benefited from U.S. military engagements abroad and have promoted them as essential for U.S. national security. Since World War II, the U.S. government has maintained a vast, worldwide military presence, which it uses to intimidate various groups and governments and to create favorable conditions for the operation of foreign investors with close ties to the U.S. government, especially in the financial and petroleum industries. These foreign engagements create enemies, who occasionally strike back at the United States by terrorist acts, such as the attacks of 9/11. Those attacks ought to have been treated as criminal acts, not as excuses for a “war on terrorism” (a senseless concept in any event, because terrorism is a kind of action, not an enemy who can be killed). Police (of various countries) and private bounty hunters authorized by the government should have sought to capture the perpetrators and bring them to justice. Instead, the Bush administration used the 9/11 attacks as a pretext for attacking Afghanistan and Iraq, the latter of which had nothing to do with the attacks. These wars, which continue to drag on and on, have been disastrous for the people of Afghanistan and Iraq and a terrible burden, both economic and moral, for the American people. The sooner the U.S. government withdraws its military forces from Afghanistan and Iraq, the better the situation will be for almost everyone.
David T. Beito
One of the news reports ironically concluded that the country was in safe hands because Harry S. Truman was the"second best informed" person about the war. Of course, later historians, and Truman himself, have noted that a dying Roosevelt kept his veep almost completely in the dark about the progress of the war.