Available Now! (click cover)

America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Thoughts on Palestine

Senior White House Adviser Ivanka Trump gestures as she stands next to the dedication plaque at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, during the dedication ceremony of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun[/caption]
  • For the record, the children of Abraham didn't exactly acquire Canaan through Lockean homesteading. Joshua (assuming the fable is true) was a genocidal conqueror.
  • Revs. Robert Jeffress and John Hagee opened and closed the U.S. embassy dedication in Jerusalem. What's that make Netanyahu?
  • The Jewish and Christian Zionist alliance: for each side, a pact with the devil.
  • When you humiliate or ignore your nonviolent victims, don't act appalled or surprised when some of them turn violent.
  • When one group mistreats another group as the Israeli Jews have mistreated the Palestinians, the first group probably wants to cultivate extremism. The reason is no mystery.
  • If it quacks like a canard and waddles like a canard, chances are it's a canard.
  • Blaming the victim: the last refuge of a scoundrel.
  • Meet the new swamp, same as the old swamp.
  • Murder in Gaza, American groveling in Jerusalem.

Friday, May 18, 2018

TGIF: Shabbos with Zaide

In March 1989 the estimable magazine The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (WRMEA) published my article "Grandfather Sparks Interest In Debate Over Zionism" in its "Seeing the Light" series. (It was subsequently included in the WRMEA book Seeing the Light: Personal Encounters With the Middle East and Islam, edited by Richard H. Curtiss and Janet McMahon.)

The surrealism of this week's contrasting scenes in the Gaza Strip, where Israeli soldiers were murdering dozens and maiming many hundreds of unarmed Palestinians, and Jerusalem, where smarmy representatives of the Trump administration -- led by Donald Trump's daughter and son-in-law -- flattered Israel's rulers while dedicating the new U.S. embassy, prompted me to post my 29-year-old article (plus an afterword), with the gracious permission of the Washington Report.

Read TGIF at The Libertarian Institute.

TGIF (The Goal Is Freedom) appears on Fridays. Sheldon Richman, author of America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is executive editor of The Libertarian Institute. He is also a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.

Become a Free Association patron today!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Nakba Day, 2018

Palestinian_refugees

Yesterday was Nakba Day, the day set aside to remember the catastrophe that befell the Palestinian Arabs in 1948 in connection with the creation of the “Jewish State” of Israel. Over 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes and villages, and many massacred, in an ethnic-cleansing operation that should shock the conscience. Hundreds of villages were erased and replaced by Jewish towns. The Arabs who remained in the Israeli state that was imposed on them by Zionist military forces have been second-class citizens, at best, from that time.

Since 1967 the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, many of whom were refugees from the 1948 catastrophe, have lived under the boot of the Israeli government. Their day-to-day lives are under the arbitrary control of the Israeli government. Gaza is an open-air blockaded prison camp subject to periodic military onslaughts (recently the Israeli miltary has been shooting unarmed Palestinians who get too close to the fence but also bombing), while the West Bank is relentlessly gobbled up by Jewish-only settlements and violated by a wall that surrounds Palestinian towns and cuts people’s homes off from their farms. For the Israeli ruling elite, the so-called peace process is a sham. Benjamin Netanyahu, who is now in his unprecedented fourth term as prime minister and who has the full backing of the Trump adminisration, rejects any realistic plan to let the Palestinians go -- that is, have their own country on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. He insists that they must recognize Israel as the Jewish state, that is, as the state of Jews everywhere, even though it sits largely on stolen property (PDF) -- which raises an interesting question: Is subjugation of the Palestinians an instantiation of Jewish values or is it not? If it is (as apparently most of its supporters believe), then what does that say for Jewish values? If it is not, then what does that say for Israel's purported status as the Jewish State?

Again, I note that the best short introduction to the catastrophe is Jeremy Hammond’s The Rejection of Palestinian Self-Determination: The Struggle for Palestine and the Roots of the Israeli-Arab Conflict. Further, Hammond debunks the myth that the United Nations created the state of Israel.

Hammond

Additional reading: "Why the Inconvenient Truths of the Nakba Must Be Recognized," by Tom Pessah; "The Anti-Semite's Best Friend," by Jonathan Cook;  "Israel Must Recognize Its Responsibility for the Nakba, the Palestinian Tragedy," by Saeb Erekat; and "The sacking of Jaffa during the Palestinian Nakba, as narrated by three Omars," by Allison Deger.

(Versions of this post appeared previously.)

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Does Anyone Really Know What Time It Is?



George Carlin was a brilliant observer of and commentator on our times. He was also a brilliant analyst of American English. But he didn't get everything right. No shame there.

In his funny routine about time he said we "invented" it -- that before we invented it, time did not exist: "We made that whole thing up. There is no time."

I can't agree. It is true we invented something relevant to time, but it wasn't time itself. What we "invented" was a labeling system, conveniently synced with the movement of the earth and moon, so we could organize our lives. Now it's light; whoa, now it's dark. It's not both at once. (No reason to belittle that, which I think Carlin wanted to do.) It is no point in his favor that different civilizations have had different labeling systems. They are all labeling the same thing; they just started at different points or had different methods of labeling.

But what we all label is real because even without a labeling system, there would still be past, present, and future; then, now, and not yet. Did we invent dogs because we "invented" the word dog? Would dogs not exist because a civilization had no word for them? Does it matter that different languages have  different words that mean "dog"? I don't think so.

We don't get born, live our lives, and die all at once. Each show Carlin did, like each of his bits, had a beginning, middle, and end. At every one of his appearances, there were jokes he told, was telling, and would tell. We didn't imagine that. Who would have paid big bucks for tickets if everything had happened at the same -- dare I use the word? -- time? There was a kind of real "space" (but not physical space) between each of the things I've mentioned.

Many things happen in sequence; that is, they require time. Even light has a speed limit, which means instantaneity is not absolute; as Einstein showed, it is relative to one's frame of reference. By the way, if time slows down as the speed of light is approached, it must be real.

Duration can be too small to notice, but it is there. I don't mean to say that things can't happen at the same time. You and I drop can watermelons at the same time, but they will need time to reach the ground.

Time is real, George, not an invention. I love you and miss you, but in this case you uncharacteristically sacrificed the truth for a laugh, for which I am happy to forgive you.

PeterMac Show Interview

The other day I was on the PeterMac Show. We discussed a most important topic: the source, or lack thereof, of political authority. We also discussed how to talk to nonlibertarians.

Listen here.

Friday, May 11, 2018

TGIF: To UBI or Not to UBI?

My son, Ben, asked for my take on Scott Santens's article "If You Think Basic Income is 'Free Money' or Socialism, Think Again," so here it is. 
Read TGIF at The Libertarian Institute.

TGIF (The Goal Is Freedom) appears on Fridays. Sheldon Richman, author of America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is executive editor of The Libertarian Institute. He is also a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.

Become a Free Association patron today!

Friday, May 04, 2018

TGIF: A Public Choice Perspective on Trade

Let's say you could make a strictly economic case for government interference with people's trading activities, that is, with their ability to cooperate freely with others across the world. (I have no idea what "strictly economic case" even means, but stay with me.) Would we free traders have to give up? No way.

Why not? Because we could deploy solid persuasive public choice arguments against such interference. I like to think of the Public Choice school of political economy (Buchanan, Tullock, et al.) as emphasizing the incentive problem inherent in government policymaking. Where the Austrians emphasize varieties of the knowledge problem -- policymakers cannot know what they must know to plan our economic activities intelligently -- the Public Choice school focuses on, among other things, the perverse incentives that policymakers, bureaucrats, and citizens face.

Before public choice came along, people tended to operate on a public-interest model of policymaking. They simply assumed that when a man or woman moved from the profit-seeking private sector to the (misnamed) public, or political, sector, he or she suddenly became single-mindedly devoted to the public interest. Egoism gave way to altruism. (Note the additional assumptions that there is such a thing as the public interest and that "public servants" know what it is.) This devotion need not be examined or even questioned; it was axiomatic. If a politician was exposed as corrupt, he was merely an outlier, like the supposed lone "bad apple" who slaughtered noncombatants at My Lai during the U.S. government's war in Vietnam.

The Public Choice school questioned the hitherto unquestionable. Perhaps, its proponents said, if we assume that people acting politically are similar to people acting privately, we could make better predictions about outcomes. This simple move exposed the conventional perspective as naive. Of course, people are people, whether acting privately or politically. All are interested in looking after themselves -- in raising their incomes, influence, and prestige. Political actors are not issued halos and wings when they enter government jobs. But the resistance to the public choice orientation has persisted, and you can detect the opposing model every day -- most especially from newscasters and pundits.

I should add that Robert Higgs makes an important point on this matter. Yes, people are indeed people, but people who are attracted to power are not exactly like the rest of us. Lord Acton famously said that "power tends to corrupt," but Higgs adds, in effect, that power also lures the already corrupted. This makes the public choice case even stronger.

Thus the public choice and Austrian critiques together deliver a one-two knockout punch to government interference with social cooperation. Contrary to the civics textbooks and pundits, politicians and bureaucrats lack 1) insight into what's really good for us who constitute the public and 2) the incentive to pursue it even if they knew what it was. Even if voters sincerely intend to benefit all of society and not just their own personal interests (as Bryan Caplan suggests), that doesn't mean those good intentions will be carried into policy. Human beings enact and execute policies.

Now let's talk about trade. Gather round, folks, and I'll tell you the story of the great Chicken War of the 1960s. In response to lobbying by special interests, France and Germany raised tariffs on cheap American chicken imports. To "retaliate," the U.S. government put a 25 percent tariff on (all countries') light trucks, potato starch, dextrin, and brandy. The truck tariff, which was known as the "chicken tax," was specifically targeted at Germany. The chicken war lasted from 1961 to 1964, and then it ended -- except for one aspect. The tariff on light trucks stayed in place and exists to this day. (For an accounting of the significant unintended consequences of this tariff, see Bryce Hoffman's "If You Aren't Worried about a Trade War, You Don't Know about the Chicken Tax.")

If the truck tax was retaliation for the European chicken tariff, and the chicken tariff disappeared, why does the truck tax still exist?

It's not hard to answer that question. Behind the truck tax was a powerful lobby that didn't give a hoot about America's chicken farmers. That lobby enjoyed its protection against foreign pickup trucks, not only German but also Japanese. So why would the automakers want to let go of their shelter from competition merely because the chicken farmers were freed from their foreign tax? They wouldn't, and they didn't. As a result, Americans pay more for pickups than should have to. (Bryce Hoffman notes that the tariff would have disappeared with the Trans-Pacific Partnership.)

Note the public choice lesson. Bad unintended consequences will likely flow from government policy, regardless of intentions, because it will be driven by concentrated and well-organized special interests and politicians who usually will be more sensitive to those interests, which can deploy money and votes, than to consumers, who are diffuse and unorganized. (We might say that the consumers' interest is the best approximation of the public interest.)

That's only part of the picture. Whenever the government has the power to interfere with our trade, it also has the power to exert leverage on others, including other governments, that may have nothing to do with trade. Thomas Jefferson loved to impose trade embargoes, which he called "peaceful coercion." This week Donald Trump delayed for 30 days the imposition of new tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from the European Union, Canada, and Mexico. He also moved toward canceling those tariffs for Australia, Brazil, Argentina. Is he seeking something in return for scrapping the tariffs? Is he telling the Europeans that if they do not support his hawkish position on Iran, he will go ahead with the trade restrictions? What did he get in return from the other countries?

We don't know. But if Trump has the power to restrict trade, he has the power to forgo restrictions in return for other things he wants -- and those other things are unlikely to be good for most Americans, not to mention the rest of the world.

David Hume said that in proposing government policy, we should assume that the people who will carry them out are "knaves." That of course means trade policy too.

TGIF (The Goal Is Freedom) appears on Fridays. Sheldon Richman, author of America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is executive editor of The Libertarian Institute. He is also a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com.

Become a Free Association patron today!