Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Why government?

Adam is someone who cares deeply about his country, so much so he weighs carefully the statements of the presidential candidates, selects one who seems most favorable to his views, and casts a vote for him or her on Election Day.  

Even if Adam is a small-government libertarian he will vote.  He will vote because he believes government has a legitimate role in our lives.  In that respect he's in the mainstream of political opinion.      

Would you consider Adam a responsible American?  Most people would. 

Most people have the impression that government exists to protect and further our well-being.  This is a democracy, the argument goes, and voters have the ultimate say in how it is run. Therefore it is their responsibility to do their part and vote for the captain who will steer the ship of state in the right direction.  

If Adam's candidate doesn't win, he lives with the consequences until the next election and tries again.  

And that's how this great country of ours evolves.  

Any questions?  I see you have a few.  
Well, look, even if we've abandoned our founding principles we can still try to nudge the government back to its original purpose which as Jefferson wrote was to secure our inalienable and often-trampled rights.  

What's that?  You say you don't hear any of the current candidates talking about founding principles?  Except the LP candidate?  Who won't win.  So you vote for him, or perhaps you decide to risk a vote on a mainstream candidate who once dropped a hint or two about reigning in government.  Either way, government continues its inexorable growth.  

It's not a warm feeling, is it -- voting.  But the good news is, in spite of things such as the income tax, the perpetual shooting wars, the various social wars -- drugs and poverty in particular, the Fed-induced booms and busts, Obamacare, the spy agencies, the TSA, low or negative interest rates, the student loan disaster, bad public education, and other such horrors -- we get by.  "Getting by" here means staying alive.  

Of course it's more than that.  We have endless entertainment, highlighted this year by the presidential campaigns.   We have smartphones.  We have the Internet.  We can play the lottery.   We can heap insults on politicians and not be arrested.  If we're innovative and ambitious we can start a company and possibly get rich.  Maybe very rich.  We can fall in love, get married, raise families, get a job, get a better job, write a novel, grow old and die with negligible government involvement.  

We have our lives and hanging over our heads we have the government, like storm clouds intruding on a weekend outing.  Yet the clouds stay and grow darker year-round. 

If we can do so much in our private lives without government involvement, what is the argument for having any government at all?

Why have we not adopted anarchy?

Stefan Molyneux explores these and other questions in his book, Everyday Anarchy: The Freedom of Now.  The statist, he says, 
looks at a problem and always sees a gun as the only solution – the force of the state, the brutality of law, violence and punishment.  
The anarchist – the endless entrepreneur of social organization – always looks at a problem and sees an opportunity for peaceful, innovative, charitable or profitable problem-solving. . . . 
if human beings are in general too irrational and selfish to work out the challenges of social organization in a productive and positive manner, then they are far too irrational and selfish to be given the monopolistic violence of state power, or vote for their leaders.
There is a contradiction in the foundation of our social order, he asserts.  Through the vote we assign to some people the authority to do what we have no moral right to do as individuals.  Neither you nor I can delegate to another the authority to shoot a man in cold blood, unless we have a government badge.  If I approach you with a gun and demand your money, I'm acting in a criminal manner.  But if I work for the IRS I'm cleared. 
To the statist there is no contradiction.  It's a matter of facing facts:  
Without a government, everyone would be at each other’s throats, there would be no roads, the poor would be uneducated, the old and sick would die in the streets etc. etc. etc.
If democracy represents the will of the people, and the people don't care about the poor, then democracy is a lie.  But people generally do care about helping the poor.  Why did we let government take this away from us and make a mess of it?

Then there's war, which for the U. S. government brings countless benefits.  War is expensive -- that's why we have the income tax.  It's also one reason we have a government-blessed counterfeiter manufacturing dollars.  Isn't it a coincidence both the 16th Amendment and the Federal Reserve Act became law just prior to war in Europe.  
Without the money to fund a war – and pay the soldiers, whether they are drafted or not – war is impossible. The actual violence of the battlefield is a mere effect of the threatened violence at home. 
I have read many books and articles on the root of war – whether it is nationalism, economic forces, faulty philosophical premises, class conflict and so on – none of which addressed the central issue, which is how war is paid for.
If we have success in so many areas of our life where anarchy rules -- anarchy in the sense he refers to -- why are we so afraid of it in political matters?  
In the category of “causing deaths,” a single government leader outranks all anarchists tens of thousands of times. . . . 
Even outside war, in the 20th century alone, more than 270 million people* were murdered by their governments. Compared to the few dozen murders committed by anarchists, it is hard to see how the fantasy of the “evil anarchist” could possibly be sustained when we compare the tiny pile of anarchist bodies to the virtual Everest of the dead heaped by governments in one century alone.
Molyneux notes the consistent failure of political "solutions."  Long ago American consumers were told "bigness" in business was a threat to their welfare, even as prices steadily declined.  (To this day, of course, the Fed insists a little inflation -- rising prices -- is healthy and strives to create it.)  A little later the U. S. president announced he was drafting the youth of the nation to fight a "war to end all wars."  And the IRS and Fed were right there to help.  A decade later came the Fed-created Crash, which the Hoover administration took as an invitation to meddle. Then we got New Deal meddling when FDR took over.  Americans loved him.  He threatened them with fines and imprisonment if they continued to use gold coins for money, which the intellectual high priests said was delaying recovery, but they still loved him.  The "surprise" of Pearl Harbor gave him the excuse to draft men into the military, which solved his unemployment problem.  Then we had the Cold War, Korea, the assassinations, Vietnam, Nixon's killing the last trace of the gold standard, the inflation of the 1970s, etc. 

Hence the reason governments insist on educating children.  They want people saluting, not rebelling.  Freedom without government is anarchy, and anarchy is bad, bad, bad.  

Molyneux offers a different perspective:
The government does not expand its control because freedom does not work; freedom does not work because the government expands its control.
Government -- the popular institution serving those it exploits, asking for your vote to keep it legitimate.   

* Molyneux's figure of 270 million is high. See Death by Government, Chapter 1, 20th Century Democide by R. J. Rummel, 

Friday, April 8, 2016

The real Untouchables

Jacob Hornberger has written an engaging ebook — The CIA, Terrorism, and the Cold War: The Evil of the National Security State — that exposes a government not found in the Constitution.  Hornberger refers to it as a “fourth branch of government having unbelievable powers of invasion, assassination, torture, and fomenting coups and regime-change operations.” But since, as he says, it is untouchable by the three constitutional branches, I think it is more accurate to regard it as an autonomous government acting in the name of the one created by the Constitution.  

It’s a government not affected by voting, budget debate, or popular opinion.

It is an Orwellian creature, consisting of the military-industrial establishment and the vast CIA-led intelligence network, justifying its actions on the basis of “national security.”  Since it needs vast amounts of funding independent of the legislative process, I would include the Fed in this mix, too.  

“National security” trumps everything.  As Hornberger points out, the protections detailed in the Constitution — “Due process of law, right to counsel, grand-jury indictments, trial by jury, search and seizure, cruel and unusual punishments, bail, speedy trial” — are subordinate to “national security,” which is never really defined.  In practice, “national security” is anything that keeps the national security establishment whole.

We’ve heard World War II described as “the good war.”  It was certainly good for the bloated military establishment, which became a permanent fixture in American life, as did the CIA after Harry Truman signed the National Security Act into law in 1947.  The pretext for the build-up of the national security state was the threat of communism.  The Soviet Union, the government’s ally in World War II, was determined to conquer the world, American officials believed.  We could no longer afford the luxuries promised in the Constitution.  We had to be like them to beat them.  And the Soviets were ruthless.

Hornberger, though, rejects the idea that the Soviets were a threat at the end of the war. 
The Soviets had just lost more than 20 million people in the war. The entire nation, including its economy, was devastated. Moreover, the U.S. government had sent a powerful message to the Soviets regarding U.S. military might with the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 
What about the continued Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe? The reasoning was no different in principle from that of the U.S. government, which fiercely opposed any communist regimes in Latin America. After two world wars, the Soviets wanted puppet regimes in Eastern Europe to serve as a buffer against future invasions by Germany.
In an essay published in 1945, George Orwell said the “the surface of the earth [was] being parceled off into three great empires, each self-contained and cut off from contact with the outer world, and each ruled, under one disguise or another, by a self-elected oligarchy.”  And when they each had the bomb, they would be in a permanent state of “cold war” with its neighbors.

When the Soviets became the second nation to detonate a nuclear device on August 29, 1949, it heightened the political and military tension between the USSR and the US that had begun at the end of World War II.  

So fearful were US officials of the threat of Soviet communism they “began enlisting former Nazis into the service of the U.S. government,” Hornberger writes.  
The U.S. embrace of Nazi functionaries signaled what would become a guiding motif for the U.S. national-security state: The end justifies the means. . . It was a motif that would ultimately lead to the embrace of policies that, ironically, characterized totalitarian regimes, including Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.
In the 1950s agents of the national security state replaced democratically-elected leaders in Iran (Mohammed Mossadegh) and Guatemala (Jacobo Arbenz) with military dictators on the grounds they were saving the countries from communist takeover and therefore stopping the spread of communism.   In 1963, weeks before JFK was murdered, the CIA supported a military coup that ousted South Vietnamese president, Ngo Dinh Diem, from power.  The Diem regime was so brutal it increased the likelihood of communist takeover, Hornberger says.
Often pro-U.S. dictatorships were more brutal than communist ones. Like the shah’s pro-U.S. regime in Iran, the pro-U.S. dictatorships in Latin America, especially the military dictatorships, brutalized their own people — torturing them, “disappearing” them, and killing them with U.S.-trained military and intelligence forces.
Back home, Americans themselves came under close scrutiny.  People were illegally spied upon, investigated, and accused without regard to their rights — Gestapo and KGB tactics that were justified on the grounds of “national security.”

Let’s get rid of Castro

Following Castro’s overthrow of the Batista regime in 1959 and his friendly relations with the Soviet Union, the US national security state attempted to remove him by assassination, blockade, terrorism, and counter-revolution, notably the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in April 1961 that had been planned under Eisenhower but executed under Kennedy shortly after his election to office.   Bay of Pigs was a CIA project intended to be seen as solely carried out by Cuban exiles who wanted to free their country of communist rule.  Kennedy, the CIA, the military, and other officials were expected to lie to the country about the CIA’s role.

The CIA’s big plans were exposed on January 10, 1961 when the New York Times ran a front-page story about the US training an anti-Castro force in Guatemala.  It prompted Kennedy to call CIA director Allen Dulles and Deputy Director for Plans Richard Bissell to the White House to discuss details.  “Noise,” they told Kennedy, was essential to a successful mission, and the noise should be provided by US aircraft running bombing missions over the Bay of Pigs area, after which the 1,300 CIA-trained exiles would take the beach.  Since Castro had 200,000 troops at his disposal it would be necessary for the US to unload troops from offshore battleships to secure the victory.  Kennedy provided scant air support, and the invasion failed.

Following the botched attack, Castro pursued closer relations with the Soviet Union, at least partly for Cuba’s “national security.”  He had Soviet missiles installed with authority given to commanders to fire them in the event of an invasion.  Hornberger:
In the end, Castro’s strategy succeeded. While it appeared that Kennedy had caused the Soviets to back down and withdraw their nuclear missiles from Cuba, the price for doing that was twofold: one, Kennedy promised that the United States would not invade Cuba, a promise that earned him the deep enmity of the Pentagon, the CIA, and Cuban exiles; and, two, Kennedy promised to remove nuclear missiles aimed at the Soviet Union that were installed in Turkey, which bordered the Soviet Union.
It should be noted that Congress has never declared war on Cuba.  In the 50 years of heated conflict, the US has been the aggressor every time.  

Regime change comes home

According to the Warren Commission report, President Kennedy was murdered by a lone nut, Lee Harvey Oswald.  Hornberger, a trained lawyer who’s done extensive research into the assassination and authored several books on it, argues that Oswald was only a patsy for another national security state regime change operation.  In fact, when Oswald was arrested, he told police he had been a patsy.  If he was a loser seeking glory, as some claim, why would he shoot the president then deny it?

The CIA had hated Kennedy since the Bay of Pigs fiasco, and Kennedy felt likewise toward the agency for having set him up, promising to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds.”  He thought the US and Soviet Union could coexist without a Cold War, just as we do today with China and Vietnam.
As part of Kennedy’s vision, he entered into a nuclear test-ban treaty with the Soviets, over the fierce objections of the military and the CIA. He also ordered the withdrawal of a thousand U.S. troops from Vietnam, and he told close friends that he intended to pull out all troops from Vietnam after his reelection in 1964.
Without the Cold War, how would the national security state justify its existence?  Trillions of dollars in future revenue was at stake.

Then there was Kennedy’s numerous extramarital affairs, which communists could use to blackmail him.  One of his affairs was with anti-CIA peacenik, Mary Pinchot Meyer.  The “evidence is overwhelming that Meyer introduced Kennedy to marijuana and, very likely, also to LSD.”  Picture a Soviet attack while the president was high on a psychedelic drug.  

Meyer, incidentally, was found shot to death less than a year after Kennedy’s assassination.  Her murder remains unsolved.
The drug use and sexual affairs, the support for the Civil Rights movement, and his willingness to negotiate with the communists, all make it likely that the national-security state regarded him as a grave threat to national security. And the overwhelming weight of the evidence suggests that the national-security state removed that threat by assassinating him.
Even if you don’t agree with Hornberger’s conclusion — and I do —  just the possibility that he might be right would deter criticism of the national security state, especially from those in the upper ranks of government.  JFK was a popular president and still is.  According to Gallup, he has the highest retrospective rating of the 11 presidents who have held office since Eisenhower.  As recently as 2010, 85% of those polled said they approve of the way he handled his job as president. 

Which of the major party candidates in 2016 promise “to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces”?  None, of course.  They’ve seen the Zapruder film.

Solution?  Stay away from the polls on election day

Hornberger concludes that 
The national-security state is a cancer on the body politic. It’s time to dismantle it. It’s time to close all the bases, bring the troops home and discharge them, and abolish the CIA. 
I agree and would go much further, but how do we get rid of it, short of a complete economic collapse?  My suggestion: As a start boycott voting.  Don’t give the government the legitimacy it seeks.

Good reads are hard to find.  Great reads are harder still.  That’s why I recommend Hornberger’s book enthusiastically.  

Friday, March 18, 2016

From here to anarchy

It’s surprising to me that libertarians take presidential campaigns as an opportunity to promote small government candidates — or in some cases establishment candidates with a sprinkling of libertarianism in their rhetoric — when they could be using this time to advance their vision of a stateless society.  One reason they don’t, of course, is that many of them don’t support a stateless society.  They want the state, but much less of it.  Coercion in small doses is just fine. 

Another reason is the perennial one: How do you peacefully attain a stateless society?  It’s not as if it’s on the ballot or ever will be.

Yet another reason is the election season is so full of juicy stuff to write about.  Trump’s “outrageous” faux pas grab the spotlight, but there are others:   Who’s the biggest warmonger?  Is Sanders a socialist or a Keynesian on steroids, as Gary North describes him?   And then there’s the “outsider” theme of this campaign, with Trump and Sanders but especially Trump causing major turmoil within the party elite.  It’s possible Trump could end the neocon reign in the GOP, and for libertarians this is cause for rejoicing. 

And if it happened it would be.  But why set our sights so low?

No job openings for politicians

If there is any clarity in this campaign season it is that people are fed up with Washington.  They’re fed up with Wall Street welfare, fed up with Main Street stagnation, fed up with the neocon war machine, and most of all fed up with the political class that is responsible for it all.  Instead of choosing someone new to be fed up with, why not get to the source of the problem instead?  People are in a throw-them-out mood.  Why not give them reasons to throw out the government jobs themselves, so that there would be no need to vote anyone into office?

No one raises the question of state legitimacy.  We just try to make it work in our favor, by electing politicians we like.  This has not proven to be a winning strategy.

Dictionaries tell us anarchy means disorder, lawlessness, and chaos resulting from a lack of government; it is society without governing authorities.  

But they also tell us it is a community organized by the voluntary cooperation of individuals.  Could it be that such a community would eliminate many of the problems we experience now?

If so, how do we convince people that a society without government-as-we-know-it — without a ruling authority — is best for our interests?

Why does the state have the right to coerce us?

Michael Huemer, a professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado-Boulder, provides us with extensive intellectual ammunition in The Problem of Political Authority: An Examination of the Right to Coerce and the Duty to Obey (2013).  

Huemer breaks his discussion into two parts: One, can the state be justified on the basis of commonly-held moral convictions?  His answer: No.  Most people believe stealing, murder, and kidnapping are wrong, and that a person should keep his promises.  The state is notoriously in violation of all of these.  The state therefore lacks moral authority, yet we’re all trained to obey it.  How did that arrangement come about?  

Second, if the state cannot be justified on moral grounds, can society function without it?  His answer: Yes.  Society can function without state authority.  Huemer here presents a justification for anarchy, or more precisely, anarcho-capitalism.  

Huemer, in other words, starts from uncontroversial premises and arrives at controversial conclusions, which are:
  1. Authority is illusory
  2. Society can function without government
  3. Anarchy is attainable
He reaches these conclusions based on an axiom: Individuals have a prima facie right not to be subjected to coercion — what libertarians would call the non-aggression principle. 

What results from an analysis of government when we apply the individual’s right to be free of coercion?  Here are the conclusions Huemer reaches, each one discussed at length in his book:

1.  No deliberative process suffices to erase individuals’ rights against coercion.

2.  In common-sense morality, majority will does not generate obligations to comply or entitlements to coerce.

3.  Subjects of a government satisfy the conditions for the development of the Stockholm Syndrome and also show some of its symptoms.

4.  It is not in the government’s interests to solve social problems, since governments get more money and power when social problems get worse.

5.  It is not in the interests of the news media to keep close watch over the government.

6.  The government cannot be trusted to enforce the Constitution against itself.

7.  Different branches of government have no incentive to restrain each other.

His conclusion about government: “Constitutional democracy with separation of powers is much better than totalitarianism, but it does not eliminate political predation.”

The stateless society

He then examines the nature of a society without a ruling authority.  

1.  A stateless society “differs from traditional government in that it relies on voluntary relationships and meaningful competition among security providers.”

2.  Since violence is extremely costly, security agencies would seek peaceful means of resolving disputes.

3.  The problem of interstate war is far greater than the problem of interagency war, because governments face much weaker obstacles to declaring unjust wars.

4.  Most industries are dominated by production for low and middle-income customers.  Protection agencies will provide services for low and middle-income customers.

5.  Government does little to protect the poor.

6.  Private protection agencies would provide higher quality, cheaper services than government police forces, for the same reasons that private provision of most other goods is cheaper and of higher quality.

7.  Criminal organizations would be financially crippled by the legalization of such goods and services as gambling, prostitution, and drugs.

8.  Competition prevents protection agencies from becoming abusive.

9.  In the protection industry, the most efficient size for a firm would be quite small.  This would enable many firms to coexist.

10.  Law is best made by contracts and by judges rather than by a legislature.

11.  The anarchist justice system would focus on restitution rather than punishment.

12.  The end of standing armies would come about through a global cultural shift and a gradual ratcheting down of military forces.

13.  Once the military was eliminated and courts and police privatized, someone would probably figure out how to make the politicians go home.

14.  Anarchy is most likely to begin in small countries or parts of countries.  If the results were promising, the idea would spread.

15.  The eventual arrival of anarchy is plausible due to the long-run tendency of human knowledge to progress and to the influence of ideas on the structure of society.


With politicians dominating the air waves in the forthcoming months it makes sense to tell people they don’t have to take them seriously, that there’s a better way to organize our world.  Instead of voting to give the current system legitimacy they should “vote” to remove the state from their lives.  If the number of nonvoters reaches some critical mass — and the public’s anger might be strong enough to achieve it — the state itself will be on trial.   Professor Huemer’s common-sense approach will help them understand the issues involved.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Vote outside the voting booth

I know positively who I will be voting for in November, and it won’t be either of the major party candidates.  Nor will it be a third party candidate or any other person who might want to occupy a political office.

Instead I will be voting for you — whoever you may be. 

I will not be voting to put you in power over my life.  I will be voting to free you of the power of others who occupy a political office.  I will be voting to put you in charge of your own life through your own initiative and cooperation with others.  I have great confidence in you, not necessarily from what I’ve seen but because I know how resourceful you can be when the situation calls for it.

The situation calls for it, now.

One outcome I seek is having as few people as possible participate in the government’s voting process — far fewer than in past elections.  

Let’s look at a few numbers.

In 2008, of the 231 million eligible voters in the U.S., 131 million cast ballots, leaving 100 million eligible voters who didn’t vote. 

The population in 2008 was 304 million, which means 173 million Americans — more than half the country — had no say in the election outcome, either by choice or by reason of being ineligible.  

The winner in 2008, Barack Obama, received 69 million votes — less than half of the 173 million who didn’t show up at the polls. 

Barack Obama promised “change,” but of course we got more of the same.  Perhaps some of the people who didn’t show up knew what was coming.

Perhaps they also knew that the candidates were carefully vetted so that anyone threatening to rock the establishment’s boat would be removed one way or the other, as Republican elites are trying to do now with Donald Trump.

Perhaps they also believed in the saying that those who count the votes decide everything.  

Perhaps they also knew that it wasn’t the popular vote that would elect the president, but the members of the electoral college.  

Wikipedia tells us that
The United States Electoral College is the institution that elects the President and Vice President of the United States every four years. 
Although ballots list the names of the presidential and vice presidential candidates (who run on a ticket), voters actually choose electors when they vote for president and vice president. These presidential electors in turn cast electoral votes for those two offices. 
The number of electors in each state is equal to the number of members of Congress to which the state is entitled. . .   
In total, there are currently 538 electors, corresponding to the 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 senators, plus the three additional electors from the District of Columbia.
How many of you even know the names of the electors in your state?  

Electors do not have to vote for the candidate who received the most votes, either.  

So, from a population of 304 million people, 538 of them actually decide the outcome of an election that was rigged from the start to favor a select group of candidates.

Keep this is mind if you vote in the government’s election.

But, but . . .

But you vote because you feel the need to register your concern.  Not voting is taken to mean you don’t care.  But you do, perhaps passionately.

How do you register your concern, except by voting in the government’s election?

You’ve heard the expression “Think outside the box.”  Try voting outside the government’s voting booth.

Assume for the sake of argument that the number of eligible voters remains the same — 231 million.  If 200 million of those eligible voters don’t show up, what will the ruling elite do?  Can they claim legitimacy?

Boycotting the election is only half the fight.  Imagine if a fourth of those 200 million also voted to rid themselves of government as we know it.

Government as we know it is coercive, corrupt, wasteful, bullying, incompetent, divisive, invasive, and destructive.  It is a monopoly funded by theft and debt.  It is rule by unelected bureaucrats.  It is rule by rigged elections. 

And it is an arrogant liar, telling us we can’t live without it.

That’s the premise we have to reject.  

And we have to let them know this by voting — voting outside of government control.  

We can start down that road by affirming your agreement with this position.  

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The black-sheep founder

That phrase is a stark truth from the American Revolution, yet most people can’t tell you who said it and where.  It’s not as if it didn’t deserve better.

Even if you believe the Revolution was a bad idea, given the inflation that funded it and the Hamiltonian government that emerged from it, it would be hard to find words more influential in determining our history.  

The argument in their favor goes something like this: In late 1776 Washington’s troops were chased from New York City and fled across New Jersey, finally settling across the Delaware River near Philadephia. Not only the British but many colonists were certain of their surrender, and only a Christmas break and snow were delaying the inevitable.  Legend has it that while the troops were camped out waiting for their enlistments to expire, one of them, Thomas Paine, a British expatriate who had arrived in the colonies only two years earlier, borrowed a fellow soldier’s drum to use as a desk so he could pen an essay that General Washington had his officers read to the men.
THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.
Paine’s message got the troops standing tall again for an afternoon.  With Paine among them they crossed the ice-strewn Delaware, marched nine miles through the night in a blizzard to Trenton, and surprised a British detachment of hung-over German mercenaries on the morning of December 26, 1776.  The fight was over quickly, and the General had achieved his first victory in the war for independence.

A new thought suddenly emerged among the colonists: The war might not be futile.  Morale was temporarily restored among civilians and soldiers.  “The dramatic victory inspired soldiers to serve longer and attracted new recruits to the ranks.” (Wikipedia)

Paine had already achieved fame earlier that year for his pamphlet Common Sense, in which he argued persuasively that the colonies could govern themselves, and that George III was no more than the “Royal Brute of Britain” rather than some loving father who cares for his subjects.

“For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King,” Paine wrote.  In a Paine-style flourish he added:
O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! Every spot of the old world is overrun with oppression. Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. Asia, and Africa, have long expelled her.—Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart. O! receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind.
To attack the king in such manner was considered blasphemy and treason, but in the colonies it found a sympathetic audience.  Six months after publication the widespread popularity of Common Sense nudged the Continental Congress to draw up a Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Paine, in other words, ignited the drive for independence and kept it alive during its darkest hours.   

You might think Paine would deserve to be named among the country’s key Founding Fathers, at the very least.  Yet his name is usually not listed among them.  Most Americans have heard of Washington, Jefferson, and Adams — but Paine?  Some historians regard him as an unfortunate footnote in the country’s creation and nothing more.

The Age of Reason

Among the reasons for his diminutive stature was a three-volume book he wrote much later, The Age of Reason, which was openly critical of organized religion and the Christian Bible in particular.  Paine’s attack was based on his personal biblical scholarship and as such called for scholarly counterarguments by those who disagreed.  While there were rebuttals, most people seemed to regard him as Teddy "Bully Boy" Roosevelt did many years later, as a “filthy little atheist.”

Is Roosevelt’s charge legitimate?  Age of Reason opens with the “author’s profession of faith,” as Paine described it, written while he was living in France during the Terror of the French Revolution:
As several of my colleagues, and others of my fellow-citizens of France, have given me the example of making their voluntary and individual profession of faith, I also will make mine; and I do this with all that sincerity and frankness with which the mind of man communicates with itself. 
I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life. 
I believe the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy. 
But, lest it should be supposed that I believe many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them. 
I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church. 
All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.  
I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.
Is this is how a filthy atheist expresses himself?  You be the judge.  As one writer has observed,
When [Paine] had composed passionate defenses of freedom against political tyranny, the masses had loved him. But now that he had composed a passionate defense of freedom against religious tyranny, they hated him.
Paper Money

Paine had little in the way of formal education, yet his understanding of complex issues and his ability to articulate them clearly and passionately were without parallel in his lifetime, which is why he was the bestselling author of the 18th century.  One of his most profound essays addressed the nature of paper money
The pretense for paper money has been that there was not a sufficiency of gold and silver. This, so far from being a reason for paper emissions, is a reason against them. . . .
As to the assumed authority of any assembly in making paper money, or paper of any kind, a legal tender, or in other language, a compulsive payment, it is a most presumptuous attempt at arbitrary power. There can be no such power in a republican government: the people have no freedom — and property no security — where this practice can be acted . . . .
If anything had or could have a value equal to gold and silver, it would require no tender law; and if it had not that value it ought not to have such a law; and, therefore, all tender laws are tyrannical and unjust and calculated to support fraud and oppression. . . .
[If] money be made of paper at pleasure, every sovereign in Europe would be as rich as he pleased. But the truth is, that it is a bubble and the attempt vanity. Nature has provided the proper materials for money: gold and silver, and any attempt of ours to rival her is ridiculous….
It’s difficult to document Paine’s contributions to liberty in anything less than a book, but for more extended presentations please see “Thomas Paine: Liberty’s Hated Torchbearer” and “The Sharpened Quill.”  And for a script dramatizing his role in the nation’s founding, see Eyes of Fire: Thomas Paine and the American Revolution.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year from a prestigious thief

We think of thieves as conducting their work when no one is looking, such as breaking into a house while the owners are away.  But the most successful thieves have done their stealing in plain sight, on a grand scale, while the owners are home and often with their tacit approval, though with sleight of hand techniques that not one man in a million is able to detect.  Such a thief entered our lives when Woodrow Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act into law on December 23, 1913.  

A central bank such as the Fed has a remarkable character.  According to establishment boilerplate it’s purpose is to stabilize the economy and ensure prosperity and “full employment.”  The decision makers at the Fed are of necessity selected for their superhuman brilliance and neutrality of judgment, thus qualifying them to adjust the amount of money available to the banks so that they may in turn serve the interests of a public numbering some 322,267,564.  If for some reason certain members of the public don’t reap the benefits of this policy — or worse, end up losing their jobs, their savings, their businesses, and/or their homes — it’s not because the Fed itself is a bad idea.  How could it be?  Without the Fed as an emergency lender bankers threw the economy into Panics in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  No less than Ben Bernanke himself admitted this, telling Ron Paul the Fed exists to prevent Panics.  If economic problems arise, they won’t be Panics, and the culprit or culprits will be found somewhere other than in the Eccles Building.

There’s another side to the Fed’s character that is somewhat less wholesome than its public image and is best revealed by the manner in which it was founded.

The Bankers’s Dream

Before the Fed’s founding bankers in general and Wall Street in particular  complained about the lack of “elasticity” of U.S. currency.  “Elasticity” in this context is one of the great euphemisms of human history.  According to lore, this missing feature of “hard” money such as gold or silver was responsible for the Panics of 1873, 1884, 1893, and 1907.  The uncooperative coins that were behind the paper money substitutes couldn’t be increased in supply when needed.  They — gold and silver — were therefore said to be inelastic.  Because of this inelasticity, the legend persisted that banks were having trouble meeting the demand for farm loans at harvest time, as G. Edward Griffin explains*:
To supply those funds, the country banks had to draw down their cash reserves which generally were deposited with the larger city banks. This thinned out the reserves held in the cities, and the whole system became more vulnerable. Actually that part of the legend is true, but apparently no one is expected to ask questions about the rest of the story. Several of them come to mind. Why wasn't there a panic every Autumn instead of just every eleven years or so? Why didn't all banks— country or city— maintain adequate reserves to cover their depositor demands? And why didn't they do this in all seasons of the year? Why would merely saying no to some loan applicants cause hundreds of banks to fail? [Kindle, 7827]
The Morgan and Rockefeller bankers on Wall Street dreamed of having a central bank that could supply money when needed, as a “lender of last resort.”  A central bank would also control the rate of inflation of the banks under its control.  If bank reserves could be maintained at a central bank and a common reserve ratio established, then no one bank could expand credit beyond its rivals and therefore there would be no bankruptcies caused by the draining of currency from overly-inflationary banks.  All banks would inflate in harmony, and there would be tranquility and profits for all.   
All [banks] would walk the same distance from the edge [Griffin explains], regardless of how close it was. Under such uniformity, no individual bank could be blamed for failure to meet its obligations. The blame could be shifted, instead, to the "economy" or "government policy" or "interest rates" or "trade deficits" or the "exchange-value of the dollar" or even to the "capitalist system" itself.  [Kindle, 518-519]
With bankers off the hook, Griffin notes, “the door then could be opened for the use of tax money rather than their own funds for paying off the losses.”

The bankers who traveled a thousand miles to meet on Jekyll Island in November, 1910 understood they needed a cartel to bring their dream to life.  And a cartel meant they needed the threat of state violence to make it work.  Thus, included in their secret meeting were two politicians serving as the bankers’s advocates in Washington.  Together with the media they could slip their cartel on the American public over the Christmas holidays, though for political reasons it was delayed until 1913.  

The public would be a hard sell.  Americans were profoundly suspicious of Wall Street and cartels.  They distrusted anything big in business or government.  A central bank operating for the benefit of the big banks had no chance of becoming law, unless it was promoted as a way to shackle Wall Street itself.  This could be accomplished, it was widely believed, through a government bureaucracy of overseers.  

The Pujo Committee

Frequent speeches by Wisconsin Senator Robert LaFollette and Minnesota Congressman Charles Lindbergh brought public outrage over the “Money Trust” to a boil.  LaFollette charged that the entire country was under control of just fifty men; Morgan partner George Baker disputed the allegation, claiming it was no more than eight men.  Lindbergh pointed out that bankers had controlled all financial legislation since the Civil War, through committee memberships:  
These committees have controlled the nature of the bills to be reported, the extent of them, and the debates that were to be held on them when they were being considered in the Senate and the House. . .  No one, not on the committee, is recognized ... unless someone favorable to the committee has been arranged for. [Kindle, 8425]
Government, acting as the sword of justice, decided to take action, with most people oblivious to the fact that the executioner and the accused were one and the same.  From May 1912 until January 1913 it held hearings headed by Louisiana Congressman Arsène Pujo, then roundly considered to be a spokesman for the “Oil Trust.”  

The Pujo Committee hearings followed the usual pattern, bringing forth immense quantities of statistics and testimonies from bankers themselves.  Though the hearings were conducted largely as a result of the charges brought forth by LaFollette and Lindbergh, neither man was allowed to testify.  Gabriel Kolko explains:
The evidence seemed conclusive, and the nation was suitably frightened into realizing that reform of the banking system was urgent— presumably to bring Wall Street under control....  
The orgy of Wall Street was resurrected by the newspapers, who quite ignored the fact that the biggest advocates of banking reform were the bankers themselves, bankers with a somewhat different view of the problem.... Yet it was largely the Pujo hearings that made the topic of banking reform a serious one.  [Kindle, 8441]
Under the direction of Paul Warburg, the principal author of the Jekyll Island plan that in its essentials became the Federal Reserve Act, the banks provided 100% financing for something called the National Citizens League, the purpose of which was to create the illusion of grass-roots support for Warburg’s brainchild.  University of Chicago economics professor J. Laurence Laughlin was put in charge of the League’s propaganda, ostensibly to bring a measure of objectivity to the discussions.  John D. Rockefeller, whose representatives at Jekyll were Senator Nelson Aldrich and bank president Frank Vanderlip, had endowed the university with fifty million dollars.  [Kindle, 8476]

It should also be noted that Woodrow Wilson was an outspoken critic of the Money Trust in his 1912 presidential campaign, all the while receiving funding from the very Trust he was condemning.  Wilson:
I have seen men squeezed by [the Money Trust]; I have seen men who, as they themselves expressed it, were put “out of business by Wall Street,” because Wall Street found them inconvenient and didn’t want their competition.
When the Fed began operations in late 1914 the man in charge of the system was Morgan banker Benjamin Strong, Jr., one of the Jekyll Island attendees who served as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from its inception until his death on October 16, 1928.  Strong, in the Morgan tradition, was an anglophile who inflated the U.S. money supply from 1925-1928 to keep Britain from losing gold to the U.S.  Details of Strong’s reign and the pre-Crash conditions he created can be found in Murray Rothbard’s America’s Great Depression. 


The big bankers got what they wanted: A cartel run by and for the bankers.  From What is Money? by Gary North:
A central bank provides emergency money to commercial banks. This reduces the threat of bank runs. Central banks intervene to save large banks. This is why no large American bank went bust in the Great Depression, while over 6,000 small banks did.  
Central banks are the enforcing arm of the fractional reserve banking system. Central banks determine which banks survive and which do not in a national bank run. Their job is to protect the largest commercial banks.

* Mysteriously, the excellent Kindle version of Creature is not currently available.