Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Living with the Exponential - I

Before the middle of this century, the growth rates of our technology— which will be indistinguishable from ourselves— will be so steep as to appear essentially vertical. From a strictly mathematical perspective, the growth rates will still be finite but so extreme that the changes they bring about will appear to rupture the fabric of human history. That, at least, will be the perspective of unenhanced biological humanity.
Kurzweil, Ray. The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, September 26, 2006  

Massive debt is sealing the fate of governments and central banks.   As the cards collapse, radical developments in diverse areas of technology, combined with free market entrepreneurship, will destroy and rebuild the existing social order.
Smith, George Ford. The Fall of Tyranny, the Rise of LibertyJanuary 21, 2017 

My purpose in "Living with the Exponential" series is to get our thinking oriented to the supercharged future that awaits us.  One sample of this future has already arrived when it was reported a month ago that AlphaGo Zero defeated AlphaGo in the game of Go, 100 games to none.  A few months earlier AlphaGo had topped the best human player.  Unlike AlphaGo, AlphaGo Zero taught itself to play Go.

In 2011, IBM's Watson computer defeated the two best Jeopardy! players.  Watson has since gone to medical school to assist doctors in their diagnoses.

Chess programs that run on desktop computers or even smartphones routinely beat human grandmasters.

The tech industry has spawned billionaires by selling to the masses.  Tech titans aim to eliminate disease itself, including aging

But the radical future isn't limited to digits, as we're seeing with Brexit and Catalonia.  

The world is changing fast, and it will change much faster in the years ahead.  Let's try to stay on top of it.


Medicine

Gene Editing

“We cut your DNA, open it up, insert a gene, stitch it back up. Invisible mending,” said Dr. Sandy Macrae, president of Sangamo Therapeutics, the California company testing this for two metabolic diseases and hemophilia. “It becomes part of your DNA and is there for the rest of your life.”

It’s like sending a mini surgeon along to place the new gene in exactly the right location.

The experiment was done Monday in California on 44-year-old Brian Madeux. Through an IV, he received billions of copies of a corrective gene and a genetic tool to cut his DNA in a precise spot.

Signs of whether it’s working may come in a month; tests will show for sure in three months.

See AP Exclusive: US scientists try 1st gene editing in the body  (11-15-2017)


Surgical Training using Virtual Reality (VR)

We wiil need to double the number of surgeons by 2030 to meet the needs of the developing world.

Dr. Shafi Ahmed wants to train them simultaneously using VR.

"Ahmed made a splash back in 2014 when he reached 14,000 surgeons across 100 different countries by using Google Glass to stream a surgical training session. In 2016, Ahmed took this a step further by live-streaming a cancer surgery in virtual reality that was shot in 360-degree video while he removed a colon tumor from a patient."

He also streamed Twitter's first live operation.

Ahmed: “Forget one-to-one. My idea is one to many. I want to share knowledge with the masses.”

See Virtual Reality Is Reshaping Medical Training and Treatment (11-12-2017)


Treating babies born with jaundice

About 60 percent of babies are born with jaundice—a yellow tint to the skin and whites of the eyes.

The color is a sign that the baby’s blood has too much bilirubin—a byproduct of the body replacing old red blood cells.

The liver normally flushes bilirubin out of the body, but a newborns’ organ often can’t get the job done efficiently.

Newborns being treated for jaundice must often lie naked under therapeutic blue light for hours at a time.

New light-emitting pajamas could give parents a more comfortable, portable option for their babies. 

See Light-Up Pajamas to Treat Babies With Jaundice  (11-8-2017)


Reversing Aging

A team led by Dr. Dongsheng Cai from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine pinpointed a critical source of aging to a small group of stem cells within the hypothalamus.

Like fountains of youth, these stem cells release tiny fatty bubbles filled with mixtures of small biological molecules called microRNAs. With age, these cells die out, and the animal’s muscle, skin and brain function declines.

However, when the team transplanted these stem cells from young animals into a middle-aged one, they slowed aging. 

In a groundbreaking paper published in 2013, Cai found that a molecule called NF-kappaB increased in the hypothalamus as an animal grew older. Zap out NF-kappaB activity in mice, and they showed much fewer age-related symptoms as they grew older.

The animals also better preserved their muscle strength, skin thickness, bone and tendon integrity.


See Breakthrough Stem Cell Study Offers New Clues to Reversing Aging  (8-6-2017)


Artificial Intelligence

Ray Kurzweil: 

[When] a girl in Africa buys a smartphone for $75, it counts as $75 of economic activity, despite the fact that it's literally a trillion dollars of computation circa 1960, a billion dollars circa 1980. It's got millions of dollars in free information apps, just one of which is an encyclopedia far better than the one I saved up for years as a teenager to buy. All that counts for zero in economic activity because it's free. So we really don't count the value of these products.

Technology is always going to be a double-edged sword. Fire kept us warm, cooked our food, and burned down our houses. . .   It's only continued progress particularly in AI that's going to enable us to continue overcoming poverty and disease and environmental degradation while we attend to the peril.

I'm a believer that the Turing Test is a valid test of the full range of human intelligence. . .  I've been consistent in saying 2029 [will be the year an AI passes the Turing Test].

See Ray Kurzweil on Turning Tests, Brain Extenders, and AI Ethics  (11-13-2017)


Integrated Circuits

Most wearable electronic devices that are currently available rely on rigid electronic components mounted on plastic, rubber or textiles. These have limited compatibility with the skin, are damaged when washed, and are uncomfortable to wear because they are not breathable.

University of Cambridge researchers have developed a process that is scalable and according to the researchers, there are no fundamental obstacles to the technological development of wearable electronic devices — both in terms of their complexity and performance.

The printed components are flexible, washable, and require low power — essential requirements for applications in wearable electronics.

The technology is being commercialized by Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialization arm.

See Integrated circuits printed directly onto fabric for the first time  (11-10-2017)


Government

The United States was founded upon the concept of secession. Not once, but twice. First, in 1783, when colonies seceded from the British Empire. Second, in 1788, when states seceded from the United States. 

Within eight years of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, the first secession movement arose.

It flared up, again, in 1800 when Jefferson was elected the third President of the United States.

And, again, in 1803 when President Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon.

New England States would seek secession from the United States again in 1811 over the admission of the State of Louisiana into the Union, and again in 1814-1815 over “Mr. Madison’s War.”

In the 1850s, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, called “the middle states”, represented 40 percent of the U.S. economy. A powerful secessionist movement arose in these states calling for them to form a separate country.

When the seven “Deep South” states seceded in 1860-61, many Northern newspapers upheld their legal right to secede and advocated a peaceful separation.

Secessionist movements continue in the United States to this day.

See Secession is as American as apple pie  (11-6-2017)



Thursday, November 9, 2017

When will free markets emerge?

If someone asked you to define “free market,” could you?  Could you do it on the spot without recourse to dictionaries or other crutches?

There’s an old tale about the origin of the term “laissez-faire” that gets to my point.  Here’s the write-up in Wikipedia:
The term laissez faire likely originated in a meeting that took place around 1681 between powerful French Comptroller-General of Finances Jean-Baptiste Colbert and a group of French businessmen headed by M. Le Gendre. When the eager mercantilist minister asked how the French state could be of service to the merchants and help promote their commerce, Le Gendre replied simply "Laissez-nous faire" ("Leave it to us" or "Let us do [it]," the French verb not having to take an object).
Given the meeting with a known mercantilist, Le Gendre probably intended his comment in a restrictive sense, meaning he was refusing the state’s offer of protection from foreign competition.  In later years others have expanded “laissez-faire” to mean the state should be restricted to “upholding the rights of private property and individual liberty.”  In Human Action, Mises defined a laissez-faire economy as one unhampered by state interference; it means upholding “the individuals' discretion to choose and to act.” [Mises, The Meaning of Laissez Faire, excerpted from Human Action]

Most libertarians would agree with this broader interpretation.  The problem is any state that actually took a hands-off policy towards the economy wouldn’t be a state.  States are, by design, predatory and parasitical.  They exist for the purpose of accruing power and pelf.  Libertarian visions of domesticating the state are fantasies.  

Besides which, states work for certain people — they enable politicians to buy votes and other support needed to keep the racket going.  As for voters, who needs freedom when you can get free handouts?  Though citizens gripe about taxes and corrupt politicians, they’ve grown comfortable with the devil they’ve always known.  They’re okay with the state’s willingness to assume responsibilities they refuse to accept.  They want the state to pave their roads and educate their kids.  They want the state to pay for their health care.  They want the state to pay for the safety nets of life.  Who better to do the paying than the state, which will never run out of money?  Even a failed state like socialist Venezuela has yet to flatline because of its grip on power and propaganda, even as its people descend into cannibalism and prostitution for survival.

Where did states come from?

In Common Sense, Thomas Paine, in writing about the “race of kings,” far from having an honorary origin, considered the first of them “nothing better than the principal ruffian of some restless gang” whose purpose was to plunder the defenseless.  Eventually, as Murray Rothbard tells us, the gangs realized the “time-span of plunder would be longer and more secure, and the situation more pleasant if the conquered tribe were allowed to live and produce, with the conquerors settling among them as rulers exacting a steady annual tribute.”

If a conquered people is the garden from which we expect free markets to grow we’re deluding ourselves.  As painful experience has taught us, attempting to bind a state to the terms of a constitution is another exercise in folly.  States have allies, none more important than the opinion makers, the intellectuals.  Intellectuals, in return for “a secure and permanent berth in the State apparatus,” as Rothbard notes, will provide the needed rationale for the state’s predations.  Thus, to pick examples at random, we have “court historians” and others providing the necessary cover for the blood-bath known as World War I, a famous Keynesian telling us the debt explosion of World War II ended the Great Depression, a “political cross section of prominent economists” expressing their opposition to the Paul-Grayson Audit the Fed bill (seven of the eight of whom have Fed connections), and the wholesale lying that characterizes national elections. 

Most states, being parasites, have learned to park their depredations somewhere between freedom and despotism.  Paine recognized this when he wrote,
The portion of liberty enjoyed in England, is just enough to enslave a country more productively than by despotism; and that as the real object of all despotism is revenue, a government so formed obtains more than it could do either by direct despotism, or in a full state of freedom, and is therefore, on the ground of interest, opposed to both.  [Rights of Man]
In a “full state of freedom” there would be no government “so formed.”

In 1939 Albert Jay Nock published an essay expressing astonishment at the surprised reaction of “all our institutional voices” over the barbarism and betrayals of various foreign States.  As he put it,
The history of the State being what it is, and its testimony being as invariable and eloquent as it is, I am obliged to say that the naive tone of surprise wherewith our people complain of these matters strikes me as a pretty sad reflection on their intelligence. Suppose someone were impolite enough to ask them the gruff question, "Well, what do you expect?" — what rational answer could they give? I know of none. 
Polite or impolite, that is just the question which ought to be put every time a story of State villainy appears in the news. It ought to be thrown at our public day after day, from every newspaper, periodical, lecture platform, and radio station in the land; and it ought to be backed up by a simple appeal to history, a simple invitation to look at the record.... 
Also, in order to keep down the great American sin of self-righteousness, every public presentation ought to draw the deadly parallel with the record of the American State. The German State is persecuting a minority, just as the American State did after 1776; the Italian State breaks into Ethiopia, just as the American State broke into Mexico; the Japanese State kills off the Manchurian tribes in wholesale lots, just as the American State did the Indian tribes; the British State practices large-scale carpetbaggery, like the American State after 1864; the imperialist French State massacres native civilians on their own soil, as the American State did in pursuit of its imperialistic policies in the Pacific, and so on. 
The headlines from Nock’s day to ours — to say nothing of previous history — suggests he’s been overwhelmingly ignored.  States are not mankind’s benefactors.  With nuclear technology at their command they could end up turning the planet over to the insects.

How do we End the State?

There are few voices calling for an end to the state — a reflection of its propaganda prowess — but this doesn’t mean our future is bleak.  On the contrary, most people will see major improvements in their lives in the coming years.  

There are two unmistakable trends working in liberty’s favor: Massive government debt and exponentially advancing technology.   You won’t have confidence in this claim unless you read the essay at the link, Ray Kurzweil’s seminal The Law of Accelerating Returns.  It would also help to have an understanding of the acronym TANSTAAFL as well as a grasp of monetary fundamentals.

As I wrote in an earlier essay,
Technology is ripping a hole in centralized social control and its Keynesian underpinnings, bringing power and freedom to individuals the world over.  
Both Keynesianism and technology are on a cusp. One is on a road to collapse, while the other is about to kick into high gear. . . .
[With a fiscal gap in excess of $200 trillion,] government promises will be broken. The bill for the Keynesian free lunch will come due, and the government check will bounce. 
Where will that leave us? With a weakened and discredited government, and the bogus Keynesian ideas that supported it, we will have to become more self-reliant. The cry of “Do something!” to the government will be answered with an echo. Free markets will emerge where they’ve been suppressed because much of government will be ineffective or no longer exist. A free market in combination with a revolution in technology will remake our world. [The Fall of Tyranny, the Rise of Liberty]
We need to do with the state what we’ve done with slavery.  We can govern ourselves without a coercive sovereign.  Truly free markets will emerge when the state is gone.  




Wednesday, October 25, 2017

An outrageous proposal — or not

A cry could be heard from somewhere in the room.

No one was surprised.  This had been an unthinkable outcome for those in attendance, and a sense of quiet shock had overtaken everyone.  This was not a G7 or a G20 summit.  It was a meeting deliberately without a label.  It would never again happen.  It couldn’t.

The leaders of the world’s states had gathered to find solutions to the problems they feared were threatening human life on earth.  They were reminded of the incessant wars, the likelihood of a recession far worse than the last, the enormous levels of family, student, and government debt, the increasing deterioration of the world’s currencies, the immigration problems, the reciprocal relationship between money spent on eradicating problems and the results obtained, the vast, increasing corruption of government officials and the mainstream media, the failure of the public schools, the various racial, ideological, and religious hostilities, the increasing vulnerability to the planet from end-of-days scenarios, and so many more a sudden outbreak of headaches postponed further discussion.

Later, when the subject of solutions came up, they were reminded that without solutions that worked governments would eventually have no one to govern.  With no one to govern their laws and decrees would be meaningless.  With no one to govern governments would have no source of revenue.  With no one to govern it would be pointless to debauch the currency.  With no one to govern the vast bureaucratic arrangement of government would churn to a halt.  

“With no one to govern our problems would be solved,” added one, to the amusement of the others.

Immediately another replied, “Could it work the other way?”  All heads turned to him.  “What if we removed our institutions from society?  What if we closed shop, as the Soviet Union did in 1991?  What if we eliminate government from the face of the earth and leave people free to deal with the mess we’ve made?  It’s their future that’s at stake.  I think they’ll find ways to fix things peacefully.”

And after debate that raged for six hours, this is what they — incredibly —agreed to do.  Some no doubt had visions of instituting even stronger governments after the peons grew tired of robbing and killing one another.

The preceding was a fantasy intended to raise a critical issue.  We do need government.  But do we need what we've known as government, i.e., government as a coercive monopoly? 


The long history of slavery — and government

Robert Higgs opened his scholarly Crisis and Leviathan with these words: “We must have government.”  Higgs, a libertarian, went on to document how crises, especially war, excused the rapid expansion of the federal government — never mind that the crises developed because of government meddling.  When the crises ended the government retained some of the new powers it grabbed during the emergency.  Next time you look at your pay stub and see the taxes withheld remember that withholding was passed as a “temporary measure” as well as an alleged benefit to taxpayers to fund US involvement in WW II.  (See Rothbard’s comments here.)

Later in life Higgs moved ideologically from a minarchist libertarian to an anarchist libertarian, explaining that 

"I believe it is wrong for anyone – including those designated the rulers and their functionaries – to engage in fraud, extortion, robbery, torture, and murder. I do not believe that I have a defensible right to engage in such acts; nor do I believe that I, or anyone else, may delegate to government officials a just right to do what it is wrong for me – or you or anyone – to do as a private person."

He also brought attention to the long history of slavery and the even longer history of government “as we know it,” meaning “the monopolistic, individually nonconsensual form of government that now exists virtually everywhere on earth.”  Proponents of slavery once had a list of arguments that went virtually unchallenged.  Today almost no one respects those arguments.  Yet they would be offered any day of the week in defense of government “as we know it.” Higgs:

Slavery is natural.
Government (as we know it) is natural.

Slavery has always existed.
Government (as we know it) has always existed.

Every society on earth has slavery.
Every society on earth has government (as we know it)

The slaves are not capable of taking care of themselves.
The people are not capable of taking care of themselves.
etc.

Jim Powell in Greatest Emancipations: How the West Abolished Slavery offers these comments on slavery:

"It had been around for thousands of years, hardly anybody had opposed it in all that time, and powerful interest groups—including established churches—supported it. . .  The very idea of emancipation was widely viewed as a threat to the social order."

Substituting “coercive government” for “slavery” fits perfectly.  Almost no one opposes it, it's supported by powerful interests, it's been around for thousands of years, and its abandonment would be viewed as a threat to the social order.

Chattel slavery and coercive government have much in common.  There were brutal slaveowners.  There were also slaveowners who treated their slaves decently, almost as if they were family members.  Today's coercive governments vary in their treatment of citizens as well.  Some tolerate conditions of relative freedom, while others will murder or imprison anyone or any group perceived as a threat.  Still, “kinder, gentler”coercive governments have sent millions of young men to their deaths after conscripting them into the military.  And they stand ready to do it again.  Those same governments lose little sleep imposing on other states sanctions that cause civilian deaths, including the slow death of children.

Political scientist R. J. Rummel has estimated that governments in the 20th century killed 262,000,000 people under their rule, with most of those occurring in Soviet Russia, Communist China, Nationalist China, and Nazi Germany.  So-called democracies, where citizens exert a degree of control on government policies, are far less likely to murder its citizens.  Democracies commit most of their murders against foreigners.

Whether democratic or otherwise, government as we've known it has two defining traits: It claims a monopoly of rule over a defined geographic area, and it secures this monopoly with the threat of violence.  Within its domain it allows no competitors.   

With a superiority of force, governments as we’ve known them have secured their revenue through extortion, though under different names.  When obedient citizens pay their taxes, it's not an exchange for services in a market sense.  Governments may say they will do certain things with the revenue collected but that’s as far as it goes.  There is no contract with the taxpayers.  They are not customers government works hard to satisfy.  There is no need to. 

Throughout history coercive governments have always supplemented their tax revenue by debasing or counterfeiting the currency.  In modern times government central banks have made this process almost impenetrable, while the Keynesian-dominated economics profession has deluded the public into believing it’s in their interest.

So, at base we have an institution that is violent, a monopoly, an extortionist, and a counterfeiter.  It’s also a murderer, kidnapper, and a liar.  And it’s running our lives. 

We ought to be able to do better.

The instant formal government is abolished, society begins to act: a general association takes place, and common interest produces common security.” 
— Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, Part Second





Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Were Americans ever fit for stateless government?

Jacob Hornberger recently posted an article discussing his reasons why he considers the advent of the US national security state to be the worst thing the government has ever done.  Bad as they are, the income tax, the federal reserve act, and government schooling don’t come close.  His reason: The US national security state has “the power to kill Americans (and others) without risk of any criminal or civil liability. . . . All that US officials have to do is relate the killing to ‘national security’ and that’s the end of the matter.”

He’s correct.  According to a Department of Justice white paper, any “informed, high government official,” not necessarily the president, can kill anyone, without any due process.  As Glenn Greenwald wrote in 2013, during the Obama administration, 
The president's underlings compile their proposed lists of who should be executed, and the president - at a charming weekly event dubbed by White House aides as "Terror Tuesday" - then chooses from "baseball cards" and decrees in total secrecy who should die. The power of accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner are all consolidated in this one man, and those powers are exercised in the dark.
According to the New York Times the government asserts that the “Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process [is] satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.” 

Do you suppose that’s a little-known footnote in the Constitution?  Possibly it’s an outgrowth of the unratified Living Constitution, possessing “properties of an animate being in the sense that it changes.”  Somehow it always changes in favor of the state.

As a restraining power on government, the Constitution began to buckle as soon as Alexander Hamilton took office as Treasury Secretary under Washington.   Lincoln outlawed it during the “Civil War,” and Wilson, FDR, and Truman put the finishing touches on it during their administrations.  Bush and Obama have expanded government power under cover of 9/11, the “new Pearl Harbor” longed for by globalists.  As John Pilger wrote in December, 2002:
One of George W Bush’s “thinkers” is Richard Perle. I interviewed Perle when he was advising Reagan; and when he spoke about “total war”, I mistakenly dismissed him as mad. He recently used the term again in describing America’s “war on terror”. “No stages,” he said. “This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq... this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war... our children will sing great songs about us years from now.”
But our children have been singing about the likes of Perle for many years.  Perhaps he’s not listening.

The American public, outraged over 9/11, has since turned indifferent to the never-ending slaughter and mayhem in the Middle East.  They don’t care what the troops do “over there.”  To care and speak openly about it runs risks, as we’ve seen with certain whistleblowers.  Chelsea Manning served seven years in a military prison and admitted recently that “things have gotten worse” since she released classified documents.  

If her intention was to tap the brakes on government criminality it didn’t work.  Manning is widely regarded as a pariah, if not a traitor.  Even to innocently question the legality of government actions is to invite Nancy Pelosi's response when asked if ObamaCare squared with the law of the land: “Are you serious? Are you serious?” 

How did the government get so bad?

When an institution assumes a legal monopoly on violence, it can only go one way — and it’s not good.  Government as it exists is the original Bad Seed — a smiling psychopath.  And its citizens are trained from childhood to revere this psychopath.

Most libertarians correctly see the Fed as the enemy of peace and prosperity.  They see the income tax as a combination of legal plunder and government violations of privacy.  They know how government schools indoctrinate the public, with the mainstream media re-enforcing the indoctrination in their everyday lives.  Libertarians are well aware they hold a minority viewpoint, in spite of mountains of material produced in support of their position.

But few of them would do without government — the state — altogether.  Somehow, there must be a way to make it work.   

In a letter to Henry Lee dated October 31, 1786, George Washington, upset over what he had been told about the protest movement known as Shays’s Rebellion, concluded “that mankind when left to themselves are unfit for their own Government.”

Without taking Washington’s statement too literally — if mankind is unfit, who’s left to govern? — there is ample American history to believe otherwise.

Daniel Shays and the Regulators

As historian Leonard Richards makes clear in his Pulitzer-Prize-deserving Shay’s Rebellion: The American Revolution’s Final Battle, people when left to themselves find ways to get along.  As Richards tells us, backcountry Massachusetts “formed town governments that were essentially their own masters. Indeed, ignoring orders from Boston was commonplace.”

As he explains,
In small towns, nearly everyone was in debt to someone who lived nearby. Often, these debts were circular. That is, one farmer owed two days of labor to his neighbor, who in turn owed three cords of wood to the minister, who in turn owed the wife of the first farmer for her services as a midwife. Eventually, all these debts were expected to be settled, but not by insistent dunning of the midwife’s husband or taking the neighbor to court. The whole local economy relied on a chain of trust, and creditors were expected to go to great lengths to settle neighborly problems out of court.
The elitist government that sat in Boston had turned to plundering these people, and they rebelled against it.  Farmers were expected to pay debts and taxes in hard money when no hard money was available.  They issued polite grievances to the state that were ignored year after year.  Finally, to get a response, they took to shutting down the courts.

It wasn’t debt that triggered Shays’s Rebellion, Richards argues, but the new state government and “its attempt to enrich the few at the expense of the many.”

The most glaring instance of this abuse was the decision of Massachusetts to consolidate its war notes at face value. Even when issued, the notes traded at about one-fourth par and later declined to about one-fortieth face value.

Many soldiers were paid in these notes and out of desperation sold them at about one-tenth their value. Boston speculators swooped up eighty percent of the notes, and forty percent of them were owned by just 35 men. Every one of those 35 men had either served in the state house during the 1780s or had a close relative who did. 

Legislators praised the speculators as “worthy patriots” who had come to the state’s aid in its time of need. But these men did not buy the notes directly from the government; they bought them from farmers and soldiers at greatly depreciated prices, who were now being taxed to redeem them at full value. The speculators, most of whom had stayed home during the war, would now benefit at the expense of veterans. 

As Richards observes, “Taxes levied by the state were now much more oppressive – indeed, many times more oppressive – than those that had been levied by the British on the eve of the American Revolution.”

George Washington, retired at Mt. Vernon, was given a different story.  Former aide David Humphreys living in Connecticut told him there was “a licentious spirit prevailing among the people: a levelling principle; a desire of change; & a wish to annihilate all debts public & private.”

The western protestors never referred to themselves as dissent debtors, rebels, insurgents, or Shaysites.  “Those were words pinned on them by their enemies. They saw themselves instead as ‘Regulators’ and made that explicit to all recruits.” As Regulators, they stood for the “Suppressing of tyrannical government in the Massachusetts State.”*

Shutting down the courts in Massachusetts had been a form of protest at least since 1774.  That summer in the western town of Great Barrington, 1,500 men shut down the Berkshire County Court in response to British oppression.  Patriot leaders applauded it. 

Why didn’t the rebellion succeed?  One reason: The clergy denounced the Regulation as the work of the devil, keeping thousands from joining with Shays.  But these same pastors also censured the state for its injustices.  They didn’t want to lose the support of their communities.

The rebellion, as we know, became a propaganda tool for stronger government.  

Conclusion

As Shays illustrates, there was a time when significant numbers of peaceful people who, when oppressed by state coercion, voluntarily came together and fought it.  In their everyday lives they had been getting along well without government dictates.  They showed us — but unfortunately not General Washington — they could provide for their defense when necessary, albeit in a losing effort, making them superbly fit for their own government.  

* For a detailed discussion of the Carolina Regulators, in whose name the Massachusetts protest was organized, see Murray Rothbard, Conceived in Liberty, Volume III.  









Thursday, September 14, 2017

Mises stands between us and 1984

On this day in 1949 Yale University Press published Ludwig von Mises’s economic treatise, Human Action. Later in 1949 another book appeared, George Orwell’s 1984

Almost everyone has at least heard of Orwell and 1984.  The same is unfortunately not true of Mises and Human Action.

Both books are attached to their authors as if they were extended surnames.  Orwell is 1984, Mises is Human Action.  

Among the many who’ve read it, 1984 is regarded as a premonition of what could happen if the proclivities of the state are not checked.   

Among those who have studied it, Human Action is understood as what would happen if the proclivities of the state are checked.

It’s the difference between a slave and a free man, war and peace, poverty and prosperity, misery and the potential for happiness.  

A person cannot breathe in Orwell’s fictional world.  Aside from a tiny ruling elite, members of the society live impoverished lives with no hope of anything better.  They are ciphers, expected to obey and spied upon constantly to ensure that they do.  Society’s history and language are whitewashed in conformity with the state’s mission of total control.  War and hate are directed to serve state interests.  State informers are everywhere.  At the end Orwell’s hero, Winston Smith, himself betrayed by confederates, betrays his love for a woman for a sheep’s existence under Big Brother’s watch.  Winston Smith, the individual with thoughts of his own, who had dared fall in love, exists no more.

Many people will say 1984 or something close to it is where we’re headed.  They don’t like that direction, but feel powerless to change it.  They feel powerless because they’ve listened to government mouthpieces. They’re told by politicians and their friends that everything’s really okay.  Nothing wrong with a $20,000,000,000,000 debt.  Or a federal tax haul of $3,248,723,000,000 (2015).  Life is expensive.  We’ve got enemies everywhere, welfare needs everywhere.  This is how modern civilization works — you work, government takes.  But you’re in on the deal, too.  

Something’s missing.  It’s missing from people’s thoughts.  As it turns out it’s staring us in the face.

In Human Action Mises provided a comprehensive treatment of why civilization flourishes only when liberty flourishes in every area of life.  He wrote an unapologetic defense of laissez-faire capitalism, otherwise known as the free market economy.

Unhampered markets stand between us and 1984.  

In a letter to a reader in 1944, Orwell wrote: “I believe very deeply, as I explained in my book The Lion and the Unicorn, in the English people and in their capacity to centralise their economy without destroying freedom in doing so.”

Like interventionists generally, Orwell had a flawed understanding of economics. Earlier in his career Mises demolished the arguments of those recommending state control of the economy.  Socialist states establish a means of distributing consumption goods, since all productive goods are state-owned.  A certain amount is allotted to each person, usually in the form of coupons for a definite quantity of specified goods.  People can directly exchange these coupons with others, as a form of barter, if they please.  Indirect exchange will develop and lead to a universal medium of exchange — money.

But unlike money in a market economy, socialist money can only be exchanged for consumption goods.  Since production goods cannot be exchanged for money, there is no way to price them.  There is no way of knowing whether some proposed project would cover expenses, whether it would be a waste of resources or not.  As Mises concludes, 
we have the spectacle of a socialist economic order floundering in the ocean of possible and conceivable economic combinations without the compass of economic calculation. . . .
We cannot act economically if we are not in a position to understand economizing.
Under socialism, freedom is the freedom accorded a slave to obey or not.  As Mises writes in Human Action, “it means the unrestricted centralization and unification of the conduct of all affairs in the hands of one authority.”

In a tribute to Mises and Human Action delivered at the Mises Institute on this day in 1999, Lew Rockwell pointed out that at the time of publication 50 years earlier, it was widely believed FDR had saved the world from the Nazis and the Depression by entering World War II.  Given enough power, the state could do anything.
Ruling the land was a regime characterized by regimentation in intellectual, social, and political life. Human Action appeared in this setting not as polite suggestion that the world take another look at the merits of free enterprise. No, it was a seamless and uncompromising statement of theoretical purity that was completely at odds with the prevailing view.
If humanity has a future it will because people change their thinking and learn why freedom and free markets are indivisible, that any form of coercion is our enemy, especially when it pours forth from a monopoly institution.  The works of Ludwig von Mises, especially Human Action, will be indispensable for a civilized society.














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