Friday, April 28, 2017

The “Future” of Whose “Freedom” Foundation?

Apparently Pope Francis made the unforgiveable mistake of comparing something – anything – to the suffering of those held in Nazi concentration camps.  In this case, the Pope was speaking of the refugees in Europe.  This didn’t sit well with some:

“The conditions in which migrants are currently living in some European countries may well be difficult and deserve still greater international attention, but concentration camps they certainly are not,” said David Harris, the [American Jewish Committee’s] chief executive. “The Nazis and their allies erected and used concentration camps for slave labor and the extermination of millions of people during World War II. There is no comparison to the magnitude of that tragedy.”

The author of the Op-Ed, Dawn Eden Goldstein, a “Jewish convert to Catholicism,” thinks that the Pope’s words may not be such a stretch:

Calling the living conditions at sites such as Moria, the place on the Greek island of Lesbos that Francis called a “concentration camp,” merely “difficult” diminishes the gravely inhumane treatment that men, women and children are suffering for no other crime than wanting freedom and a better life.

Of course, one can feel sympathy for such refugees; one is free to aid and assist them if they choose.  But such feelings will stem from sources other than “freedom” – at least my freedom. 

Examine the statement: they “are suffering for no other crime than wanting freedom and a better life.”  To paraphrase Ayn Rand: “You demand a ‘better life’?  From whom?” Blank-out.

Want” in such a context cannot be viewed in any way other than a positive right – a “right” that demands a violation of the freedom of those upon whom the burden of satisfying the “right” is placed. 

I have many “wants.”  In what way, consistent with freedom, are these wants to be satisfied?  The only answer, consistent with libertarian theory, is simple and straightforward: my “wants” are to be satisfied by the sweat of my brow; my “wants” are to be met by the voluntary transactions in the market (to include, of course, the possibility of voluntary charity). 

There is no other method available to the philosophically consistent libertarian as a libertarian.

Of course, I don’t expect Pope Francis to follow this reasoning; his role, as errantly as he often performs it, is as a Christian leader.  Clearly, Dawn Eden Goldstein does not follow this reasoning. 

I bet right about now you are wondering why I have even bothered writing something on this topic: non-libertarians writing non-libertarian things.  As Captain Renault would say: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!  Just before his winnings are stuffed in his pocket.

Well, I will tell you…. Where did I find this tidbit of news?  After all, I am not a regular reader of the New York Times.  Did it pop up on Google News?  A CNN headline?  Some socialist, left-leaning website?

It came in my email – the daily email sent by

The Future of Freedom Foundation was founded in 1989 by FFF president Jacob Hornberger with the aim of establishing an educational foundation that would advance an uncompromising case for libertarianism in the context of both foreign and domestic policy.

The mission of The Future of Freedom Foundation is to advance freedom by providing an uncompromising moral and economic case for individual liberty, free markets, private property, and limited government.

I can understand such a message distributed by a relief organization, a Christian group, even a government agency.  But I do not understand the connection to a foundation dedicated to “uncompromising…libertarianism.”


Francis’ remarks on refugee camps are indeed shocking, but they are shocking for a purpose: to challenge the world, and every one of us personally, to take action for the good of souls and bodies.

A nice sentiment; taken voluntarily, very Christian.  A perfectly reasonable approach to be taken by many organizations with such a mission.  But a sentiment not to be found in libertarian theory.

There is no freedom to be found in positive rights; positive rights are the last refuge of a…well, you know.  If this is the future of freedom – my freedom, my “individual liberty” – well…I do not understand the definition of these terms.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Odds and Ends

As the Trump Turns

I have been thinking more on the turning of Trump.  I read and listen to those who boldly and loudly paint the best possible interpretation of his complete 180 degree U-turn on several major statements Trump made during the campaign: getting further involved in Syria, coming to agreement with China, etc.

I won’t go through the reasons / excuses / multi-dimensional chess that only a grand master can comprehend.  Pick your own best possible interpretation: what good comes from a complete about-face?  People want to see leadership.  Think about your job – do you consider as a leader a boss who says one thing and does another?  Or do you – and everyone else who wants to deal in honest terms – view him as a flake, untrustworthy, dishonest?

People want to deal with those who are felt to be consistent.  Who gains by inconsistency in discussion and negotiation?

Good cannot not come from doing evil.  Lying and bombing cannot produce anything good.

And, so….

Supporting Trump a Mistake?

Keep in mind my definition of support – much broader than voting for or donating to.  It could include nothing more than pointing out areas of agreement, or areas of distinction between Trump and Clinton.

With this said…the Saker offers seven reasons “Why voting for Trump was the right thing to do.”  He writes this in the wake of all of the 180 degree turns in the last weeks.  While I say nothing about the “voting” part, regular readers know my view on the “supporting” part.

Saker’s seven reasons are all good and worth keeping in mind; here, I will only offer his conclusion:

So while “Monday morning quarterbacking” is fun, it is also absurd. Those who now tell us “I told you so” are right but for the wrong reasons, whereas those who supported Trump were wrong, but for the right reasons. Trump betrayed his campaign promises, but those who voted for him could not simply assume that he would do that, especially not when there was no reason at all to believe that Hillary would betray hers: does anybody seriously believe that after being elected on a promise of war she would have turned into a dove of peace? Of course not.

Simply put: Hillary was guaranteed bad. Trump was possibly bad. The logical choice was therefore obvious, especially when ‘bad’ would most likely mean nuclear war.

Of course, putting one’s head in the sand is also an option.

Vive la France

Euphoria in the markets: France avoided the dreaded Le Pen / Mélenchon run-off.  Each of these two wanted out of the EU and the Euro.  Instead, alongside Le Pen will be Macron – a young, seemingly conformist, candidate.  He likes the EU and the Euro.

The markets feel pretty good regarding the idea that Macron will win the run-off in a couple of weeks.  So…all is well…

But, of course, it isn’t all well.

Between Le Pen and Mélenchon, something over 40% voted for candidates who wanted out of the EU.  Include Macron, and well over 60% voted for candidates that are not from the two parties that have controlled French politics for sixty years.

Oh…by the way…none of the issues that are the cause for French (or, more broadly, European) angst are going to get any better – sure, Macron might have a trick or two up his sleeve to delay the inevitable…but the inevitable is inevitable.

The EU will decentralize, and along with this, the common currency.

Some Mad Bugger's Wall

…after all it's not easy

Banging your heart against some mad bugger's wall

-          Pink Floyd

Supposedly the US government is going to be shut down at the end of this week, all because Trump wants to include funding for his big, beautiful wall…and the democrats don’t like that idea.

Now, I am as a big a fan of a government shut-down as the next guy…a real shutdown, not the nonsense of only slowing down on the so-called “non-essential” services.  In any case, the drama is always fun to watch.

But the wall?  Trump had many crazy ideas during the election campaign; this is one of the craziest.  Of course, it won’t work toward the advertised ends – this should be reason enough to drop the idea.

There are much more effective ways to accomplish what Trump supposedly wants to accomplish.  Start with a law that distinguishes citizens from non-citizens in terms of “benefits” from the state.  Force congress to vote on this issue.

Win or lose, this will energize those who supported Trump.  The symbolism is much more compelling than any symbolism to be found in a worthless, one-thousand mile long, make-work project.

A Sale is a Sale

There has been much written about the United Airlines fiasco; there are those who offer that United sold a seat and the passenger has the right to the seat (or some version of this).  A sale is a sale!

It got me to thinking: what about the other side of that coin?  An airline could ensure no one gets bumped; an airline could commit to selling only as many seats as were available on the plane – no overbooking…if…

…if…a sale is a sale…well…how about no cancellation by the passenger.  Whether you fly or not, you pay for the ticket.

But, of course, the passenger today is allowed to cancel – with no charge if a (more expensive) refundable ticket was purchased, with a charge if a (less expensive) non-refundable ticket was purchased.

Which, if you think about it, is more or less the same position that the airline is in: the party who changes his mind pays a cost.  A passenger can pre-pay the cost by purchasing a more expensive refundable ticket, or pay the cost only if cancelling a flight reserved via a non-refundable ticket.  And the airline pays the cost if it cannot accommodate the passenger.

United’s mistake was that it didn’t choose to follow its contract; it didn’t choose to pay the cost in a non-violent manner.

The United States Does Not Conquer for Territory

I found this to be cute:

"I am aware of a car bomb attack at one of the gates in the U.S. base, but we are not allowed there to get more details," [Mubarez Mohammad Zadran, a spokesman for the provincial governor of Afghanistan's eastern province of Khost] said.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Block Responds on Abortion

Walter Block has written his promised response to my challenges to his concept of “evictionism”; this being the term he uses for abortion.  Despite his insistence to the contrary, it is a distinction without a difference – as Block himself admits.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

Abortion Once Again: a response to Feser, Goodwin, Mosquito, Sadowsky, Vance and Watkins

Only a libertarian would think to base an analysis of the abortion controversy on private property rights. The present paper does just that. On that basis, it concludes that evictionism is the only policy compatible with libertarianism.

I agree on discussing this on the basis of property rights; I disagree, of course, that evictionism is compatible with libertarian property rights.

I will deal with Block’s criticism of the views of Goodwin and Mosquito…well, because the two are one.  Block references three of my posts on this topic (here, here, and here), albeit only two (and the lessor two) made it onto the list of references; I believe this is because I sent him one of the posts as a document and neglected to also send the link.  In any case, I find all of his cites to be accurate and represented sufficiently in context.

I will not go point by point; there are a few key points on which the disagreement lies.  I will focus on these.


I must get a minor annoyance out of the way first: In rebutting the position of Goodwin / Mosquito, Block offers the difficult issue of rape eight times (if I count correctly) as an argument against my position.  Guess how many times I made an argument in the case of rape in the essays cited:  zero.

Now, one might call me a coward for not going there.  Well enough.  I left it out for a simple reason: if agreement cannot be reached in the relatively simple and overwhelmingly more common case of consensual intercourse (my quick and unscientific search reveals that less than 1% of abortions in the US are pregnancies due to rape or incest), there is absolutely no chance of reaching agreement with the added complication of rape.  No one launched a rocket into space without first passing Algebra 1.

It was very distracting to read Block’s rebuttal while having to dodge rebuttals to points I never made.

The Distinction Without a Difference

However, even in this introduction of his, [Goodwin] writes: “Both have written in favor of abortion (Block via his concept of ‘evictionism’)…” The problem here is that this conflates eviction and abortion, two very, very different concepts. The first means, merely, that the woman can expel, detached from, separate herself from, the fetus, and leaves it as an entirely open question as to what will happen to her baby afterward. At present technology, the baby first becomes viable when treated in this manner in the third trimester. Abortion, in very sharp distinction, is entirely a separate matter. It combines two different acts: the first, eviction, and the second, outright murder.

Block does not like conflating “eviction and abortion, two very, very different concepts.”  Let’s see if even Block “leaves it as an entirely open question as to what will happen to her baby afterward.”

Morally, Block describes abortion – specifically partial-birth abortion in the third trimester – as “outright despicable murder.”  Murder, of course, being a violation of the non-aggression principle.  But what of the first two trimesters, when the unborn child is not “viable”?  What sayest thou, Sir Walter the Evictionist?

In saying this, I reveal where my own heart is at: strongly with the pro-life side of this debate. However, this perspective is incorrect, since it would not allow eviction in the first two semesters [sic], when the fetus cannot live outside of the womb, and this is justified under evictionism.

Take a look at the ream of paper in your printer.  Don’t look at the ream: look at a specific space between two specific sheets of paper.  If you need a magnifying glass or the Lawrence Berkeley National Labs $27 million electron microscope, feel free.  The space between those two sheets is wider than the space between evictionism and abortion, certainly in the first two trimesters.

As Block accepts (as do I) that the unborn child is “human” from conception, that would make it…murder.  Consider the first two trimesters as the context for his statement, with one slight modification:

In saying this, I reveal where my own heart is at: strongly with the pro-life side of this debate. However, this perspective is incorrect, since it would not allow eviction in the first two semesters[sic], when the fetus cannot live outside of the womb, and [murder] is justified under evictionism.

Murder, of course, being a violation of the non-aggression principle. 

Let Me Tell You ‘Bout the Birds and the Bees and the Flowers and the Trees…

Block cites Goodwin: “However, the woman did take an action in the situation the act of becoming pregnant.”  An incontrovertible point, I thought.  Apparently not for those who find a Grand Canyon’s worth of space between those two sheets of paper.  Block offers:

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Rothbard: Concluding Remarks

This will be my final post reviewing the compilation of Murray Rothbard’s essays for the Rothbard-Rockwell Report, entitled “The Irrepressible Rothbard.  This has been both an entertaining and enlightening read; further, it has provided a walk down memory lane – the national politics of the early 1990s.

Max Lerner

I begin with Rothbard’s examination of Max Lerner and his advice, described by Lerner as "the fusion of Wilsonian idealist ends with realistic Hamiltonian means."  This advice is offered within the context of the disintegrating Soviet Union:

And what does this fusion entail?  First, "heroic alliance measures" (English translation: massive subsidy and control) "to shore up the new Russian republics"…

What does Lerner mean by “shore up”?

Here it comes: "against plunging into a 'Russia first' ethnic and anti-Semitic nationalism." …Lerner has outlined for us with great clarity the neocon version of the New World Order: an order where not only any America First trend is stamped out, but also any "Russia first" or anyones else first movement everywhere in the world, in order to eradicate all nationalisms and "anti-Semitism."

Because stamping out the culture that is inherent in the national ushers in one world government.  Well, stamping out all but one:

All nationalisms must be stamped out, it seems, but one.  For Israel must be supported to the hilt and beyond.

Norman Podhoretz

Rothbard moves to Norman Podhoretz:

He also says that the paleos are "fanatical nativists," to whom "immigration from anywhere except Western Europe (or perhaps only England)" is a great threat to "the health and integrity of American Society.

Noting that Podhoretz doesn’t get this quite right, Rothbard suggests:

Paleos, including Pat Buchanan, have no quarrel with immigration from any section of Europe, West or East…. Paleos are all committed to a Euro-American culture as a vital groundwork of the American Republic.

Rothbard apparently agrees that a proper and specific culture is necessary for liberty to thrive.


Rothbard moves on to left-libertarians, and their view “that everyone must have some sort of "equal access" to government facilities…”

Forgive the following lengthy cite, but I find it tremendously valuable for many subjects in the libertarian political debate:

But why?  All of libertarian political thought follows from the non-aggression principle: that no one, including the government, can aggress against someone else's person or property.  Since according to libertarian theory, there should be no government property since it is all derived from coercion, how does any principle whatever of government property use follow from libertarian theory?  The answer is, it doesn't.  On the question of what to do about government property, libertarians, apart from calling for privatization, are set adrift, in short, with nothing but their common sense and their attunement to the real world, of which libertarians have always been in notoriously short supply.

I have written the same when it comes to libertarian theory and the question of state borders (including that “notoriously short supply” part) – libertarian theory does not offer an answer because it cannot offer an answer.


You can know a man by the friends he keeps.

Monday, April 17, 2017

If Not Contract, What?

Charles Goyette has written a piece on the United Airlines debacle: The Small Print vs. The Big Issue.

I have been both surprised and disappointed to discover that so many of the people I esteem as great defenders of free people and free markets have written to defend United’s right to deny a seat to the holder of a paid ticket.  The “involuntary denied boarding” clause is in the contract, they say, and it rules.  It is in there fair and square, they say, and the passenger should have known it.

Nobody books a flight and pays for it and is then told by the airline that it will honor the ticket only when it deems it convenient. But that is the practical effect of the “contract of carriage” fine print.

Before getting to the big question, a couple of thoughts.  First, United did not follow its own “small print” in this case, at least not from what I have read.  Second, anyone who flies with any regularity knows that flights can be oversold and volunteers are requested.  It isn’t merely a question of the “’contract of carriage’ fine print.”  Fliers know this happens without ever reading the contract.  Call it “custom.”

Goyette describes the overbooking practice:

Some explain in needless detail all the reasons that airlines overbook flights.  Those reasons are compelling for airlines, but they are a needless and irrelevant sidebar.

Of course, this is also beneficial to the travelling public – as airlines can ensure full flights with this practice, tickets prices, on average, are lower than they otherwise would have been. 

Now to the big question: if not the contract, what should govern?  A contract represents an agreement between two individuals; it gets no more “libertarian” than this.

What should “great defenders of free people and free markets” suggest instead of the contract?

Of course, custom and culture can govern – and much of our lives are “governed” this way.  Not perfectly libertarian, but beneficial if one wants to minimize or avoid the next possibility.

Alternatively, a government can govern: regulations, laws, legislation, etc.  Completely non-libertarian.

My fellow free-marketeers are correct that United Airlines only hurt itself by its thuggish behavior.

Sure, some contracts are burdensome, onerous, etc.; some companies display thuggish behavior.  If this is overly so, markets tend to resolve the issue.  As has happened in this case.

What has happened to United is a huge victory for the free market – the discipline was swift and sure, and my guess is that it isn’t over. 

In the meantime, my guess is that the bureaucrats are working on “regulations” to address this issue.  Is this really preferred?


So I ask again, if not the market and contract providing regulation and feedback, what?

Investing in Defense Contractors

My question is, would it be a violation of the NAP or libertarian principles for anti-war libertarians to own stock in companies such as those, either through index funds or by purchasing individual shares in a brokerage account?

Would a libertarian be in violation of the NAP or libertarian principle by working for any of those companies as well, in a capacity not directly related to warfare?

Before specifically getting to Walter’s reply…I have dealt with this topic before, long ago in the very early days of bionic mosquito.  At the time, the point was raised by Richard Maybury at The Daily Bell.  I have a series of posts on this topic of investing in defense contractors, but offer the following as the most relevant:

Richard Maybury: The Ugly: This post expands, in a somewhat crude way given bionic was just a pup at the time, my initial comments on the view that it is not consistent with the NAP for a libertarian to own defense stocks.

Richard Maybury at The Daily Bell: this post furthers the dialogue, including a back-and-forth between bionic and whoever was dealing with feedback at The Daily Bell that day.  This post continues that same dialogue with TDB.

Now, on to Walter’s reply (condensed):

The problem with “owning stock” in a bad company is that you are sort of stuck. Stipulate that it is bad to do so. Well, then, what are you going to do? If you sell your shares, you besmirch the person who purchases them from you. Ditto for giving them away to someone else. How about if you just burn your stock certificates? Then, everyone else’s shares rise in value, with the same result. Stuck, I say.

I see no problem here.  What someone else does with his capital and given his principles is his business.  I am responsible for my own behavior; heaven help me if I am also responsible for the behavior of everyone else.

Yet, I see no answer to the underlying question; for example, what if I don’t own such stock today – therefore none of Walter’s concerns arise?  Is it a violation of the NAP to purchase such stock?

I offer one portion of my earlier posts, linked above; it should be noted, Marbury uses examples of handguns and the like when discussing the ethics of investing in Lockheed Martin or General Dynamics:

Maybury’s position on investing in things that do well in wartime is corrupt.  Maybury advocates profiting from the most hideous outward manifestation of the state: war.  Almost every weapon produced by such investments is one of mass destruction – not able to be aimed solely at the intended target (assuming you even trust the state’s judgment on the intended target, individuals half-way around the world that pose no harm to Americans).

One will say that the weapon cannot be immoral, only the operator.  This is correct for a rifle or bow and arrow.  It can be aimed at the intended target.  Not so for weapons of modern warfare.  All such weapons produce what is sanitarily called “collateral damage.”  These cannot be used in a moral manner.

I go on to cite a Rothbard passage on this same point.

Returning to Walter:

What about working for an evil firm, or, for the government? Well, I was employed by several public universities. One justification is that such schools are not evil per se, since colleges would also exist in the free society.

This is a confusing statement.  Why intersperse teaching at a university with the answer to the question at hand?  In any case, I generally agree with Walter’s conclusion – colleges would exist in a free society.  Further, as colleges are virtually all captured by the state, one who has a calling to be a professor has little choice about the funding nature of his employer; most colleges and universities receive significant state funding – directly and indirectly.

What about working for a governmental institution totally incompatible with liberty, such as the Fed or the CIA. Here, I would say that a libertarian could do so, but, only if he undermined the mission of these institutions, not promoted them.

I cannot disagree with this, although I am personally not very comfortable with this.  What can one say about an Edward Snowden, for example?  That such as he is so rare and that such efforts result in negligible fundamental change suggests how difficult it is to destroy from the inside. 

Otherwise, stay clear – there is nothing compatible with liberty here; such entities would never exist in anything even remotely resembling their current form absent government.

And I say the same for today’s defense contractors; and I conclude that investing in these is a violation of the NAP.


I offer below my responses to the nuanced portions of the original questions.  I realize these are delving deep into the gray areas, so I offer my replies with this caveat:

What about investing in defense contractors through an index fund?  If the index is a broad-based industrial index, I do not see an issue; if it is a focused defense and aerospace index, I think not.

What about taking a non-warfare-related position in a defense contractor?  If it is in the washing machine division, I see no problem.  If it is general corporate G&A or overhead, then I see it as a problem.