Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Decentralized Society: Church Towers Bear Witness

I again make reference to “A History of Medieval Europe: From Constantine to Saint Louis (3rd Edition)”, by R.H.C. Davis

Davis uses the architectural styling of various church towers built throughout Europe to illustrate the decentralization of society that began with the decrease in Roman influence.  He begins with a review of monumental architecture during the time of general Roman rule, preceding the early Middle Ages:

Under Roman rule the general style of monumental architecture had been recognizably uniform in all the provinces of the Empire, from Britain to Africa and from Spain to Syria.  In the Dark Ages, something of that uniformity had been maintained…the buildings of the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Lombards, and Franks were built as imitations (though sometimes poor imitations) of the Roman or Byzantine style.  But in the period from 900 to 1250 this uniformity ceased completely…in the Latin West there was a whole medley of different styles.

One factor in this change, occurring over centuries, certainly could have been the lack of communication amongst the various tribes when compared to Roman times.  However, it certainly seems reasonable to expect that it is also the result of a lack of a centralizing, top-down government.

He offers, as a means of verification of his statement, that one takes a road trip:

It is only necessary to travel across Europe, watching one type of church-tower give place to another as one passes from province to province, or sometimes even from valley to valley.

He then goes on to describe the differences: from Saxony, to the Rhineland, to Lombardy, to Rome, and France:

They stand as monuments to the intense localism of the High Middle Ages, when every man’s ‘country’ (patria) was not the kingdom, duchy, or county in which he lived, but his own town or village.  An echo of this sentiment may still be caught by the French peasant who refers to his village as mon pays [my country], but in the Middle Ages it was all pervading.

Even in this period during the tenth century, when the beginnings of what would be known to German historians as the first Reich, the decentralizing tendencies were controlling.  This Reich was formed under Henry I, and later his son, Otto the Great.

Yet the Reich was not a kingdom – not in any modern sense.  There were very distinct regions, each with distinct identities and customs.  The Saxons, Franks, Swabians, and Bavarians each constituted different duchies, and each claimed a distinct tribal origin.  A fifth duchy, Lotharingia, while not claiming tribal origin, survived from the time of its partition to Lothar II, the great-grandson of Charlemagne.  It too maintained a unique identity, and the people did not hesitate to call themselves Lotharingians (in the area of Lorraine, German Lothringen).

The distinctions, region by region, extending to the area of law:

Even the law might change from village to village; a thirteenth-century judge pointed out that in the various counties, cities, boroughs, and townships of England he had always to ask what was the local customary law and how it was employed before he could successfully try a case.  The legal uniformity of the Roman Empire had disappeared completely, and law, like the architectural style of the church-towers, varied from parish to parish.

Davis describes medieval civilization as “firmly rooted.  It grew out of the earth, as it were.”

By the middle of the thirteenth-century, these distinctions began to fade, although even by this point there remained two distinct cultural traditions in Latin Christendom: one in the north and west (primarily French), and the other in the central and southern regions (German and Italian).

Italy and Germany, besides being home to both the Papacy and Empire, maintained something similar to Carolingian feudalism – considered backwards from the French point of view.  In contrast, France and England developed along the lines of feudal monarchies and ultimately nation-states.

As we have seen the results of nation-states in the wars of the 20th century (and the European colonialism in the centuries preceding this), perhaps it was not the Germanic tradition that was “backwards.” 

The decentralized form of political organization, a form of panarchy, if you will, relied on local culture, tradition, laws and justice.  Not a perfect solution certainly (check heaven for that), but in a world made up of individuals – each with his own characteristics and desires – one size certainly does not fit all, and decentralization offers to each the opportunity to find a home – and to feel at home.

Dueling Buffets, or The Apple Falls Far From the Tree

All know of the famous investor, Warren Buffet.  His father, while not so famous, was a man with a character different than that of his son. 

Howard Homan Buffett (August 13, 1903 – April 30, 1964) was an Omaha, Nebraska businessman, investor, and four-term Republican United States Representative. He was the father of Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor.

According to Warren Buffett biographer Roger Lowenstein:
“Unshakably ethical, Howard refused offers of junkets and even turned down a part of his pay. During his first term, when congressional salary was raised from $10,000 to $12,500, Howard left the extra money in the Capitol disbursement office, insisting that he had been elected at the lower salary.” His wife said he considered only one issue when deciding whether or not to vote for a bill: “Will this add to, or subtract from, human liberty?”

Buffett and [Murray] Rothbard corresponded for years, became friends, and commiserated with one another over the drift toward war, imperialism, and centralization, which was aided and abetted by the current leadership of the American right wing.

Corresponding with Rothbard!  Father Howard can be described as the Ron Paul of his day.  Son Warren can be described as, well, not that.

Let’s dig a bit further….

On military adventurism and foreign policy:


Buffett was a vocal critic of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan. Of the Truman Doctrine, he said: "Our Christian ideals cannot be exported to other lands by dollars and guns."  Buffett was also "one of the major voices in Congress opposed to the Korean adventure," and "was convinced that the United States was largely responsible for the eruption of conflict in Korea….”

Speaking on the floor of Congress, he said of military interventionism that

“Even if it were desirable, America is not strong enough to police the world by military force. If that attempt is made, the blessings of liberty will be replaced by coercion and tyranny at home….We cannot practice might and force abroad and retain freedom at home. We cannot talk world cooperation and practice power politics.”

In the summer of 1962, he wrote "an impassioned plea... for the abolition of the draft" in the New Individualist Review.  Buffett wrote: When the American government conscripts a boy to go 10,000 miles to the jungles of Asia without a declaration of war by Congress (as required by the Constitution) what freedom is safe at home? Surely, profits of U.S. Steel or your private property are not more sacred than a young man's right to life.


The billionaire investor just endorsed Hillary Clinton for President in 2016.  "I hope it's Hillary Clinton," Buffett, the fourth-richest man in the world, told CNN on Wednesday. "I like what she believes in.”

Safe to say, Hillary does not believe in what Howard believes in when it comes to foreign policy and the military….

On gold and a gold standard:


Howard Buffett strongly supported the gold standard because he believed it would limit the ability of government to inflate the money supply and spend beyond its means. 

“I warn you that politicians of both parties will oppose the restoration of gold, although they may outwardly seemingly favor it, unless you are willing to surrender your children and your country to galloping inflation, war and slavery then this cause demands your support.  For if human liberty is to survive in America, we must win the battle to restore honest money.  There is no more important challenge facing us than this issue -- the restoration of your freedom to secure gold in exchange for the fruits of your labors.”

“[W]hen you recall that one of the first moves by Lenin, Mussolini and Hitler was to outlaw individual ownership of gold, you begin to sense that there may be some connection between money, redeemable in gold, and the rare prize known as human liberty...Under such conditions the individual citizen is deprived of freedom of movement. He is prevented from laying away purchasing power for the future. He becomes dependent upon the goodwill of the politicians for his daily bread. Unless he lives on land that will sustain him, freedom for him does not exist."


His son Warren Buffett is not an advocate of the gold standard.

“It gets dug out in Africa or some place. Then we melt it down, dig another hole, bury it again and pay people to stand around guarding it. It has no utility. Anyone watching from Mars would be scratching their head.”

“Gold is a way of going long on fear, and it has been a pretty good way of going long on fear from time to time. But you really have to hope people become more afraid in a year or two years than they are now. And if they become more afraid you make money, if they become less afraid you lose money, but the gold itself doesn’t produce anything.”

Howard sees gold as a check on government and a tool for the protection of freedom for the common man, an invaluable utility; Warren sees it only as an investment of some sort, without utility.

On taxes and federal spending:


Far away from Congress is the real forgotten man, the taxpayer who foots the bill. He is in a different spot from the tax-eater or the business that makes millions from spending schemes. He cannot spend his time trying to oppose Federal expenditures. He has to earn his own living and carry the burden of taxes as well... The taxpayer was completely outmatched in such an unequal contest.


Buffett has been an outspoken advocate of raising taxes on the wealthy.

“I would suggest 30 percent of taxable income between $1 million and $10 million, and 35 percent on amounts above that.”

“We need to get rid of arrangements like “carried interest” that enable income from labor to be magically converted into capital gains. And it’s sickening that a Cayman Islands mail drop can be central to tax maneuvering by wealthy individuals and corporations.”

“Our government’s goal should be to bring in revenues of 18.5 percent of G.D.P. and spend about 21 percent of G.D.P.”

The Buffett Rule is named after American investor Warren Buffett, who publicly stated in early 2011 that he disagreed with rich people, like himself, paying less in federal taxes, as a portion of income, than the middle class, and voiced support for increased income taxes on the wealthy.

Howard: less taxes, less spending.  Warren: not that.

On fiat money:


But first let me clear away a bit of underbrush. I will not take time to review the history of paper money experiments. So far as I can discover, paper money systems have always wound up with collapse and economic chaos.


Warren Buffett Looks to Make 70% for Bailing Out Goldman Sachs

General Electric Co.’s (GE) gain of more than 20 percent this year is validating Warren Buffett’s $3 billion wager that the world’s largest maker of jet engines would rebound after the financial crisis.

In recent Berkshire annual meetings, Warren Buffett has praised Wells Fargo as one of his favorite investments.  It is ranked number one in the U.S. banking industry in total market value ($176 billion), even though it is only fourth largest by assets…. In 2008, it purchased Wachovia for $15 billion….

Expectations of a housing construction rebound and mortgage demand have even given some reason to expect that Wells Fargo may surprise on the upside for the remainder of 2012.

Of course, Buffett made preferred share investments in Goldman and Bank of America during the height of the crisis, but these were essentially super-safe loans that guaranteed a return and did not reflect his common stock plays.

Following the results of the U.S. Federal Reserve stress tests in March, it was many of Buffett’s investments like Wells Fargo, U.S. Bancorp, and American Express, which led the way on share buyback plans and dividend boosts. Wells Fargo boosted its dividend 83 percent and indicated accelerated buybacks to a program launched in 2011. American Express unveiled a $5 billion buyback program of $5 billion and upped its quarterly dividend. Meanwhile U.S. Bancorp boosted its dividend by 56 percent and targeted $3.3 billion in buybacks.

Howard sees fiat money as sowing the seeds of economic chaos; Warren sees it as sowing the seeds for his investment cultivation.




Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Terrible Tyranny of the Majority

The title is taken from Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451.  Unless otherwise noted, all identified quotations are sourced from here.

Here is the majority in action:

Taxing the rich remains a popular policy with the American people, according to a new poll by The Washington Post and ABC News.

Because it is determined by majority, this makes it appropriate?  It seems at least one authority thinks not:

Exodus 20:17: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Recently, Ron Paul identified the issue of envy as one of the two key human emotions that must be overcome if we are to have any sense of liberty and peace on this earth:

To achieve liberty and peace, two powerful human emotions have to be overcome. Number one is "envy" which leads to hate and class warfare.
― Ron Paul

Why speak of coveting and envy in a commentary about tyranny?  It is because envy is the root, the seed that gives life to the tyranny of the majority.  Democracy satisfies this covetous nature while sanitizing the evil – creating a false legitimacy to the end result of envy, that being theft and destruction.

Envy: a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another's advantages, success, possessions, etc.

Covet: to desire wrongfully, inordinately, or without due regard for the rights of others: to covet another's property.

One cannot speak of “the rights of others” absent the rule of law.  The concept of “rule of law” is meaningless unless at its root is property rights.  Without protection of private property, what is the point of any formal structure known as government?  It can only otherwise be theft and destruction, driven by envy and covetousness.

A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.
― Thomas Jefferson

There is no rule of law in democracy – it ends up as rule of the majority against the minority.  Consider this desire to tax the “rich.”  What if the majority had other objectives in mind?

Sixty percent of poll respondents said they supported higher taxes on annual incomes above $250,000, with 37 percent opposed.

Sixty percent of poll respondents said they supported disallowing medical care on people over 68 years old, with 37 percent opposed.   

Why not?

Policymakers in Washington are locked in a debate over weather [SIC] to increase the top marginal tax rate on incomes above $250,000, with President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats insisting the rate return to 39 percent and Republicans saying it should stay at 35 percent.

Policymakers in Washington are locked in a debate over whether to increase the age where health care will be disallowed, with President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats insisting on the age of 69 and Republicans saying it should be at 65 years of age.  

 Or 58, maybe?

Of course, the aim of a constitutional democracy is to safeguard the rights of the minority and avoid the tyranny of the majority. (p. 102)
― Cornel West, Race Matters

I expect the advocates of minority rights to speak loudly and strongly against the abuse of the minority by the majority in this case of taxation.  I’m still waiting….

People use democracy as a free-floating abstraction disconnected from reality. Democracy in and of itself is not necessarily good. Gang rape, after all, is democracy in action.

All men have the right to live their own life. Democracy must be rooted in a rational philosophy that first and foremost recognizes the right of an individual. A few million Imperial Order men screaming for the lives of a much smaller number of people in the New World may win a democratic vote, but it does not give them the right to those lives, or make their calls for such killing right.

Democracy is not a synonym for justice or for freedom. Democracy is not a sacred right sanctifying mob rule. Democracy is a principle that is subordinate to the inalienable rights of the individual.
― Terry Goodkind, Naked Empire

Well said, Mr. Goodkind.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Copyright Law: Standing in the Way of Progress

This subject was recently discussed at The Daily Bell, and thanks to feedbacker Abu Aaardvark for providing the first link to the reference material.

Did Germany experience rapid industrial expansion in the 19th century due to an absence of copyright law? A German historian [Eckhard Höffner] argues that the massive proliferation of books, and thus knowledge, laid the foundation for the country's industrial might.

In the early part of the 19th century Germany was still very much an agriculturally based and rural society, while England was well on its way to complete industrialization.

Höffner has researched that early heyday of printed material in Germany and reached a surprising conclusion -- unlike neighboring England and France, Germany experienced an unparalleled explosion of knowledge in the 19th century.

German authors during this period wrote ceaselessly. Around 14,000 new publications appeared in a single year in 1843. Measured against population numbers at the time, this reaches nearly today's level. And although novels were published as well, the majority of the works were academic papers.

Much of what was published in Germany during this time was technical, for example:

Sigismund Hermbstädt…a chemistry and pharmacy professor in Berlin, who has long since disappeared into the oblivion of history, earned more royalties for his "Principles of Leather Tanning" published in 1806 than British author Mary Shelley did for her horror novel "Frankenstein," which is still famous today.

In contrast to the situation in Germany, the volume of works published in England was rather miniscule:

Indeed, only 1,000 new works appeared annually in England at that time -- 10 times fewer than in Germany -- and this was not without consequences. Höffner believes it was the chronically weak book market that caused England, the colonial power, to fritter away its head start within the span of a century, while the underdeveloped agrarian state of Germany caught up rapidly, becoming an equally developed industrial nation by 1900.

England, which had almost a one century head start in industrialization, and a centuries-long advantage in international trade, was unable to maintain it superior industrial position as compared to Germany.

But it is the reason behind this, according to Höffner, that is the most interesting:

Even more startling is the factor Höffner believes caused this development -- in his view, it was none other than copyright law, which was established early in Great Britain, in 1710, that crippled the world of knowledge in the United Kingdom.

Germany, on the other hand, didn't bother with the concept of copyright for a long time. Prussia, then by far Germany's biggest state, introduced a copyright law in 1837, but Germany's continued division into small states meant that it was hardly possible to enforce the law throughout the empire.

The lack of copyright protection in Germany allowed for the easy proliferation of material, thus providing the material for the rapidly expanding knowledge in the German population.  This progress was seen, most directly, in the rapid industrialization of German society.

Further, the authors in Germany preferred the relative freedom that came with no copyright protection.  In reaction to the greater enforcement of copyright in Germany, some authors expressed “annoyance”:

Authors, now guaranteed the rights to their own works, were often annoyed by this development. Heinrich Heine, for example, wrote to his publisher Julius Campe on October 24, 1854, in a rather acerbic mood: "Due to the tremendously high prices you have established, I will hardly see a second edition of the book anytime soon. But you must set lower prices, dear Campe, for otherwise I really don't see why I was so lenient with my material interests."

As to the remuneration to authors for their work, Höffner indicates that authors in Germany enjoyed a higher relative income than did authors in England:

Great Britain: The average payment for a book was about a tenth of the yearly income of an academic member of the middle class.  Very few books were published and written (mostly classical canon and novels).  Copyright was not trivial, but harmed the average author.

Germany: The average payment for a book was about a quarter up to an half of the yearly income of an academic member of the middle class.  Many books on any topics were written, published and paid.

There are some ramifications to this episode that are applicable today.  It seems to be the case that copyright is useful to the gatekeepers – keeping the free flow of information out of the hands of the masses, and limiting the information (made available due to the handiwork of Gutenberg) only to those wealthy enough to pay the prices afforded by the resulting cartel.

It should be noted that the similar discussion is occurring today due to the internet.  This tool, allowing for the free-flow of conversation and ideas, is regularly under attack – certainly because it allows for non-mainstream dialogue.  However, the tool that will be deployed to limit conversation could very easily be the same one used in England – the copyright.

Copyright laws stand in the way of progress – the progress of expanding the dialogue outside of acceptable bounds.  It is this openness of dialogue that is the enemy of the elite, and it is in order to squelch the dialogue that copyright is enforced.