Tuesday, February 27, 2018

What About Liberty?

So now it’s time to start looking at the “other essays.”  This one is entitled Left and Right: The Prospects for Liberty.  Rothbard covers much ground in this essay.  I intend to focus on two aspects: the first is Rothbard’s view regarding the foundation necessary for liberty; the second is the connection of libertarianism and communism. 

Fair warning: I hold some disagreement with Rothbard on the first; however, at the end of this piece, I will bring in a guest libertarian far more qualified than I am to make this point. 

On the second, his analysis confirms a conclusion I reached some time ago (and is also supportive of the reasons behind my disagreement with the first): libertarianism and communism hold common roots that many libertarians might not care to admit.  I suggest that it is imperative for libertarians to understand this relationship in order to understand the hazards to avoid.

The Foundation

Perhaps I should add “or the lack thereof.”  Bear with me.

The Conservative has long been marked, whether he knows it or not, by long-run pessimism: by the belief that the long-run trend, and therefore time itself, is against him.

This belief drives the Conservative to liberty-crushing political action, both at home (left-wing statism) and abroad (the fight against communism).

Pessimism, however, both short-run and long-run, is precisely what the prognosis of conservatism deserves, for conservatism is a dying remnant of the ancien régime of the pre-industrial era, and, as such, it has no future.

To get the right timeframe and context: 

The Ancien Régime (French for "old regime") was the political and social system of the Kingdom of France from the Late Middle Ages (circa 15th century) until 1792, when hereditary monarchy and the feudal system of French nobility were abolished by the French Revolution.

Returning to Rothbard: 

In its contemporary American form, the recent Conservative revival embodied the death throes of an ineluctably moribund, fundamentalist, rural, small-town, white Anglo-Saxon America.

I know you are thinking: “Wait a minute.  How is Rothbard writing about the election of 2016?  Is high-speed internet provided in the after-life?”

I am just pulling your leg; Rothbard wrote this essay in 1965.  I can’t comment on the situation regarding “Conservative” at the time Rothbard wrote those words; however, could these words come from any mainstream, East Coast, establishment, liberal newspaper regarding the flyover country that elected Trump?

What, however, of the prospects for liberty?

And here is where I begin to part ways with Rothbard on this topic.  Because if there is to be any type of move toward liberty in contemporary America, it will come from people who live precisely in this flyover country; most certainly it will not come from places like New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, or Seattle – the places where they write those kinds of words.

The absolute monarchs were the Old Order writ large and made even more despotic than before.  Capitalism, indeed, flourished earliest and most actively precisely in those areas where the central State was weak or nonexistent: the Italian cities, the Hanseatic League, the confederation of seventeenth-century Holland.

I have two thoughts on this: first, Rothbard rightly rails against the old order that existed in the west before the eighteenth century; he sees the triumph of the liberal revolution at this time as the turning point – on this point, I don’t fully agree. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Dying Days of Empire

Between 1908 and 1913, the Ottoman Empire faced grave internal and external threats.

That’s putting it mildly.  The Young Turk Revolution; domestic reformers; European Imperial Powers; the Balkan Wars; Armenians and Arabs seeking greater autonomy.

On July 23 1908, Sultan Abdülhamid II convened a cabinet meeting.  The Ottoman army in Macedonia demanded a return to the constitution of 1876.  Some background on the Ottoman Constitution:

…Western educated Armenians of the Ottoman Empire drafted the Armenian National Constitution in 1863. The Ottoman Constitution of 1876 was under direct influence of the Armenian National Constitution and its authors. The Ottoman Constitution of 1876 itself was drawn up by Western educated Ottoman Armenian Krikor Odian, who was the advisor of Midhat Pasha.

The constitution remained in effect for two years.  Both before and immediately after adoption of the constitution, the empire was in turmoil: the treasury declared bankruptcy in 1875; the first session of the newly elected Ottoman parliament was held on 19 March 1877; war with Russia began shortly thereafter.

The edges of empire: Russian and Ottoman (and in prior years, Persian).  Russia viewed itself as the successor to Byzantium, protector of Orthodox Christendom; perhaps more important to Russia: the Straits and access to the Mediterranean.

Russia declared war on the Ottomans in April 1877 and attacked through the Balkans and also through the Caucasus.  By January 1878, Russia had reached the outskirts of Istanbul; an armistice was accepted.  In February, the Sultan suspended the Constitution.  A result of the subsequent peace treaty: the Ottoman Empire lost two-fifths of its territory (in the Balkans and in eastern Anatolia) and one-fifth of its population.

Shortly thereafter, Britain secured Cyprus, France occupied Tunisia, and Britain placed Egypt under colonial rule.  These events convinced the Sultan that he needed to rule with an iron hand.  And this iron hand brought forward revolutionary elements, most importantly the Young Turks and its secret society, the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP).

This movement was born in Macedonia, and it was due to the agitation of members of this movement that the aforementioned cabinet meeting on 23 July 1908 was held.  The end result was the restoration of the Constitution.  The Young Turks were seen as leaders of this revolution.  The leaders were best known as Cemal, Talat and Enver. 

Banners in every city proclaimed “Justice, Equality, and Fraternity.”  This in an empire that included Muslims (both Shia and Sunni; Turkic, Arab and Kurd), Christians (of different communions), and Jews.  This in an empire where non-Muslims were treated as second-class by both the law and by the broader Muslim population. 

It was a slogan that would both raise expectations in the minorities and be seen as a threat to the majority.  And the consequences for the minorities was less than pleasant, to say the least.  But I am getting ahead of the story.

The Young Turk revolution inspired hope and freedom for many – Muslim and Christian alike.  For the most part, the raised hopes ended in disillusionment.  No major changes in the government – as the Sultan was also the caliph, or spiritual head, of the Muslim world, he was left in place; the poor economy did not improve – it worsened, as lost confidence in the currency drove price inflation of 20 percent in two months.

Turkey’s European neighbors – far from supporting this move toward parliamentary democracy – took advantage of the turmoil to annex even more Ottoman territory: Bulgaria declared independence, the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina, Crete announced union with Greece.

As the initial joy waned, the previously-existing political circles and influential elements of society increased their opposition to the changes.  Counter-revolution followed revolution; the Sultan took control for a short time – until the Ottoman Third Army in Macedonia once again exerted control.  Martial law was declared; the Sultan was deposed, replaced by his younger brother.

The back-and-forth-and-back again exposed the deep rifts in Ottoman society, most significantly the Turkish-Armenian antagonism.  Muslims crowds massacred thousands of Christian Armenians in the southeastern city of Adana.  Such atrocity had roots in earlier years, but within a few short years would grow into what is referred to as the first genocide of the twentieth century.

The fear was that the Armenians had a nationalist agenda.  Certainly, the Armenians had a distinct faith, ethnicity, and language.  They lacked only one thing that would be somewhat necessary – they were not concentrated in one geographic area; they were dispersed in parts of the Russian and Ottoman Empires.  The largest concentration was in Istanbul. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

American Dupes*

Kathleen Parker, Washington Post, on the hypnotic trance via social media on American voters:

Unfortunately, the minds of social media users are likely becoming more, not less, malleable. Demographically, the largest increase in news consumers on social media has been among older, nonwhite, less-educated people, according to Pew. Except for the nonwhite part, this would seem a boon to the GOP, whose constituents, though whiter than the Democratic National Committee’s, tend to be older and slightly less educated than those of Democrats.

Charles Blow, New York Times on the lower voter turnout of black Americans in the election:

…this attack appeared to be particularly focused on young black activist-minded voters passionate about social justice: The “Woke” Vote.

Referencing actual voter suppression, [the indictment of 13 Russians] says that “in or around the latter half of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through their personas, began to encourage U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or to vote for a third-party U.S. presidential candidate.”

Now, it can surely be argued that the numbers for women and other minorities might have been even higher had it not been for the suppressive efforts, but at least their turnout numbers didn’t decline. For black people, they did.

What happened in this election wasn’t just a political crime, it was specifically a racialized crime, and the black vote was a central target.

Heart of Texas and Blacktivist were phony groups, part of a sweeping Russian disinformation campaign that was funded with millions of dollars and carried out by 80 people operating out of St. Petersburg, Russia.

In mid-October, Woke Blacks, an Instagram account run by the Internet Research Agency, carried the message “hatred for Trump is misleading the people and forcing Blacks to vote Killary. We cannot resort to the lesser of two devils. Then we’d surely be better off without voting AT ALL.”

Then, just days before Americans went to the polls, another Instagram account controlled by the Russians — called Blacktivist — urged its followers to “choose peace” and vote for Ms. Stein, who was expected to siphon support from Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.

Months before Election Day, Russian trolls “began to encourage U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 US. presidential election or to vote for a third-party US. presidential candidate.”

At the heart of the Russian fraud is an essential, embarrassing insight into American life: large numbers of Americans are ill-equipped to assess the credibility of the things they read.


I can agree with much of this, albeit for different reasons.  Once the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the New Yorker meet their just fate as fish-wrap, maybe Americans can finally hold an honest conversation.

Apparently it was primarily blacks that were duped.  Look, I didn’t say it, they did.  Is this turning into a (so-called) civil rights matter?

* Thanks to Stephen F. Cohen at the John Batchelor Show for the sources.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Trees

There is unrest in the Forest
There is trouble with the trees
For the Maples want more sunlight
And the Oaks ignore their pleas.

-        The Trees, Rush

This book is a compilation of sixteen essays by Murray Rothbard.  The title of the book is also the opening essay: Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature.  It is this opening essay that I will examine in this post.

For well over a century, the Left has generally been conceded to have morality, justice, and “idealism” on its side; the Conservative opposition to the Left has largely been confined to the “impracticality” of its ideals.

With this, Rothbard sets the stage.  The Conservatives have ceded the moral ground; by doing so, they have created an environment where the Left can achieve gradual change – over the long run “practicality” cannot succeed against “moral” and “ethical.”

Rothbard describes the “impracticality” argument as one that holds up economic considerations against the Left’s ideals.  I find this a tremendously important point.  In how many arguments in favor of libertarian (or supposedly libertarian) ideals are the economic justifications raised, while moral and ethical considerations are deemed secondary – if even considered?

The trouble with the Maples
(And they’re quite convinced they’re right)
They say the Oaks are just too lofty
And they grab up all the light

Regarding the value judgment on behalf of “equality,” Rothbard asks:

Is there no requirement that these value judgments be in some sense valid, meaningful, cogent, true?

How is one to judge what is “valid, meaningful, cogent, true?”  From the Introduction to the First Edition, Rothbard writes:

Libertarianism is a new and emerging discipline which touches closely on many other areas of the study of human action: economics, philosophy, political theory, history, even – and not least – biology.

“True” is found in the reality of humanity.  Essentially, the student of libertarianism cannot ignore the reality of the world around him, the reality of humans as they are, the reality of the successes and failures in history and the causes of these.  The better grounded the student of libertarianism is in this reality, the better grounded his advocacy in this reality, the more seriously will his ideas be considered.

But the Oaks can’t help their feelings
If they like the way they’re made
And they wonder why the Maples
Can’t be happy in their shade?

Rothbard asks: “should equality be granted its current status as an unquestioned ethical ideal?  In response, he offers:

Thursday, February 22, 2018

An Impossible Task

Tell him to buy me an acre of land,
Between the salt water and the sea sand,
Tell him to plough it with a ram's horn,
And sow it all over with one peppercorn,
Tell him to sheer't with a sickle of leather,
And bind it up with a peacock's feather,
Tell him to thrash it on yonder wall,
And never let one corn of it fall,
Then he shall be a true lover of mine.

-        Female Part, Scarborough Fair

John Mauldin has written a piece on the task of the Federal Reserve.  The title is sufficient to disabuse anyone of the idea of central planning money and credit – although the title only tells part of the story: Data-Dependent ... on Imaginary Data.

He begins with the oft-stated mantra by the Fed: “our decisions are data dependent!”

…how could their policy choices not be data-dependent? The only alternatives would be that they made decisions randomly or that there was an a priori path already determined by previous Fed policymakers that they were forced to comply with.

Or that they make decisions politically….

He asks: are they looking at the right data?  Is the data accurate?  We know the answer to the first: it isn’t the right data because it can’t be the right data – the right data can’t be measured; the right data is tens of millions of individual decisions every day, not yet even know to the actors, let alone to the Fed.

Well, if it isn’t the right data, it doesn’t really matter if it is accurate, does it.  But it isn’t accurate, either.

Mauldin cites an op-ed by Jared Bernstein (bolded by Mauldin):

Recent events have exposed a hole in the middle of economists’ knowledge of key economic parameters: We know neither the unemployment rate at full employment nor the potential level of gross domestic product (GDP).

Recent events?  What about 2008?  What about every bust since 1913?

In any case, that’s a problem if you want to centrally plan money and credit.  But no respectable writer will label the Fed’s work as communist-style central planning.  As is pointed out often enough to me, I am no respectable writer.

Mauldin continues by offering several ways by which such economic statistics are little more than guessing.  He doesn’t offer that they are guesses about wrong things, but in many cases this is also true.  For instance, why is GDP considered to measure the health of the economy?  Do you measure your economic well-being by how much you spend?  Is it irrelevant what you spend your money on and why?

The various hurricanes and fires of the last year have been a boon to GDP – a boon to spending.  What does this say about the health of the economy?  The best case is a return to where we were before these tragedies.  Does the broken window fallacy come to mind?

GDP is good for one thing: it measures state-accessible-product.  Much of taxation is dependent on economic activity, and GDP measures economic activity.  That’s it.

Mauldin accepts that the Fed must act on such whimsical data; this despite comparing the Fed to your doctor or an airplane pilot: would you trust either of these professionals with your life if all they had was data as useless as GDP and unemployment?  Of course not:

All this is very obvious to people who lack graduate degrees, yet for some reason the economics profession persists in thinking it knows things it simply does not. Economists have physics envy. They want their profession to be a hard science, when it is probably one of the softer of the soft sciences.

If the market is competent to set long-term rates or LIBOR, then maybe we should trust the market to set short-term rates.

This is the closest I have heard Mauldin come to suggesting an end to the Fed.  But he doesn’t.  The Fed governors should be more humble, but central planning should not be discarded:

That doesn’t mean there would be no role for the Fed. There are points in the economic cycle when the Fed can be quite useful, typically during a liquidity crisis that follows hard on the heels of too much irrational exuberance.

Irrational exuberance.  Let a few major money-center banks go belly up (along with the wealth of its stockholders, bondholders and executive management) next time and you will go a long way toward purging the system of irrational exuberance.  In other words, if there is some reason for the Fed to exist, it shouldn’t be to bail out stupid banks.


Think about this: 12 people sit around a table, chew the fat over masses of data and metadata, and then set the price for the most important commodity in the world: the US dollar, the world’s reserve currency.

Yes, think about this.  It doesn’t take much thought to conclude that this is a power no small group of people should have; it is a responsibility that is impossible to carry out.  It is central planning “for the most important commodity in the world.”

I have a better idea: End the Fed.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Fall of the Ottomans

In this book, Eugene Rogan tells the story of the Great War in the Middle East – not from the side of the Great Powers, but from the side of the Ottomans.

He begins with the story of his great-uncle, Lance Corporal John McDonald.  His great-uncle was born in a small Scottish village.  Along with his friend, Charles Beveridge, McDonald enlisted with the 8th Scottish Rifles (the “Cameronians”) when war broke out.

They said farewell to friends and family on 17 May 1915, headed to the eastern Mediterranean.  They arrived at the Greek island of Lemnos, the staging post for British and Allied forces, on 29 May – one month after the fighting on Gallipoli had broken out.  By mid-June they sailed onward to the peninsula.

Passing some who had returned from the fighting, the fresh-faced recruits would shout out: “Are we downhearted?  No!”  In reply, “some Australian wag” shouted back, “Well you damned soon will be.”

On 14 June, the battalion was safely ashore, and four days later they were headed up Gully Ravine to the fighting.  On 28 June, following two hours of bombardment from the sea, the 8th Scottish Rifles came out of their trenches and attacked.  Within five minutes, they were wiped out.  McDonald died in the camp hospital; the body of his friend Beveridge was never found, assumed to be in the unidentifiable conglomeration of remains buried in a mass grave only after the war.

The author, Rogan, went to Gallipoli in 2005 to see firsthand this place of infamy – and the site of his great-uncle’s death.  He was accompanied by his mother and his son, the first family visitors in nine decades.  While trying to find the Lancashire Landing Cemetery, they took a wrong turn and ended up at the Nuri Yamut Monument – a memorial to the Turkish war dead of the same battle in which his great-uncle died.

While my great-uncle’s unit suffered 1,400 casualties – half its total strength – and British losses overall reached 3,800, as many as 14,000 Ottomans fell dead and wounded at Gully Ravine….All the books I had read on the Cameronians treated the terrible waste of British life on the day my great-uncle died.  None of the English sources had mentioned the thousands of Turkish war dead.

It was this Ottoman front that turned the European war into what we now call a World War.  Certainly there were other battle lines outside of Europe, but none as devastating and devastated.  As if to emphasize the “world” participants, the author offers:

Australians and New Zealanders, every ethnicity in South Asia, North Africans, Senegalese and Sudanese made common cause with French, English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish soldiers against the Turkish, Arab, Kurdish, Armenian, and Circassian combatants in the Ottoman army and their German and Austrian allies.

Battles were fought in the territory of the modern states of Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey, and Iran.

Of course, there was also an eastern front to the Ottoman war in which all of the same Ottoman combatants would fight against Russians and other minority populations of the Russian Empire.  It seems this region has been facing Armageddon for over 100 years – with armies from all around the world fighting over a few square miles of desert.

For the Ottoman Turks, this war was existential.  After reaching the peak of their power and territory in 1529, with Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent at the gates of Vienna, the Ottoman armies made their final push on Vienna in 1683 – with the empire spanning three continents.

Over the next two centuries, slowly and regularly, control over this territory was lost – Greece and the various Balkan provinces gained independence during the nineteenth century; Britain, France, and Russia controlled much of the rest.  The Ottomans were faced with internal and external threats – no longer the end of empire, but now facing the end of Turkish rule.

Now it is 1908.  We will pick up the story here next time.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Twenty-first Century Conservatism

I can hear the howls in the audience already, given the title of this post….

Jordan Peterson gave a presentation entitled “12 principles for a 21st century conservatism.”  While I will not cover all twelve, there are several that dovetail nicely with topics discussed here and with my views of the cultural soil required if one wishes to develop and maintain a reasonably libertarian social order.

As I am taking his comments from a video and not a transcript, I have done my best to capture the words and the intent.

The fundamental assumptions of western civilization are valid.  He determines this with simple, rhetorical questions: Which countries do people want to move away from?  Which countries do people want to move to?

What does he mean by “valid”?  He does not describe it in this presentation, however given what he has said elsewhere is seems to me that “valid” is something like that which sustains and improves life.  In other words, people aren’t moving to the west (and avoiding places like Africa and much of Asia) because they hope that their lives will worsen.

Peaceful social being is preferable to isolation and to war; this demands some sacrifice of individual impulse and idiosyncrasy.  Yes, I know this isn’t the NAP.  But without “peaceful social being,” there is no chance that a society will approach and / or remain reasonably close to a libertarian society. It requires something of each individual within that society – something that I have described as agreeing to live in a manner that accords with the generally accepted culture and traditions.

The idea of egalitarianism is folly.  I don’t think I need expand on this for this audience; in any case, I am thinking to write something on this topic in the next several days.

Borders and limits on immigration are reasonable.  He makes an interesting argument about borders: we have borders around everything – our property, our relationships, and our time (I hadn’t thought of that).  Without borders, everything mashes into untenable chaos.  As to immigration, he really put it well (paraphrased):

A complex system cannot tolerate extensive transformation over too short a time.  Arms-open-to-everyone immigration policy is rubbish.  It should not be assumed that citizens of societies that have not evolved functional individual rights-predicated polities will hold values in keeping with such polities.

[And in his dripping, sarcastic tone] Don’t assume that when they immigrate that they will have their innate democratic longings flourish.

Respecting the value of the traditional nuclear family.  It looks like that structure worked quite well for the duration of mankind, maybe we should leave it alone.

Government should leave each of us alone as much as possible.  He offers an argument similar to Hayek’s “The Pretense of Knowledge” speech. 


None really.  I know it isn’t plumb-line libertarianism, but it does support what I believe to be necessary if one wants to ever see something approaching that plumb-line libertarianism come to fruition.  Which you would think, after all, is the objective.