FEE

Adam Smith’s Concept of Justice

by Dr. Vernon Smith

One of the best-known quotations from Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations (1776) defines natural liberty: “Every man, as long as he does not violate the laws of justice, is left perfectly free to pursue his own interest his own way, and to bring both his industry and capital into competition with those of any other man.”

Smith inserted the condition “so long as he does not violate the laws of justice” ahead of the directive because it was central to his conception of liberty. What everyone remembers is “free to pursue his own interest,” with the last often turned into “self-interest.” But Smith’s conception of human sociality and economy—I like the word “humanomics”—was far deeper than modern utilitarianism.

Justice is the infinite set of permissible actions remaining after specifying the finite limited set of prohibited actions and corresponding penalties.

What did Smith mean by justice, and why is it so important for understanding his message? The carefully articulated answer was in his first book: The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759, pp. 78-91).Justice for Smith was the negative of his proposition on injustice, which stated that improperly motivated (that is, intentionally) hurtful actions alone deserve punishment because they are the objects of a widely shared sense of resentment.

Rules that punished in proportion to resentment emerged naturally in pre-civil society as a means of defense only against real positive evil and to secure innocence and safeguard justice.

Hence, justice is a residual. Justice is the infinite set of permissible actions remaining after specifying the finite limited set of prohibited actions and corresponding penalties.

Imagine a large playing field in which people explore, discover, and innovate, but with well-defined foul boundaries that people are not to breach without penalty; these boundaries will change, based on consent, with experience, culture, and technology.

Smith saw society as seeking human socio-economic betterment through the control of actions that our common experience leads us to judge as hurtful rather than through collective actions designed to achieve future conjectured benefits. The latter is uncertain and fraught with unintended consequences; moreover, history is littered with examples of grandiose failures. The former relies on natural impulses for individuals and assemblies to pursue betterment, risking only their own resources; this framework led him to oppose slavery, colonialism, empire, mercantilism, and taxation without representation at a time when such views were unpopular.

His policy views derive from his belief that every person’s socio-economic achievements should depend as much as possible on merit and as little as possible on privilege.

Reprinted from the Independent Institute

Read more

Everyone Loves This Book But Who Has Actually Read it?

After years of avoiding Hayek’s Road to Serfdom, I have decided to dedicate the next sixteen days to liveblogging each chapter.
 

I have never actually completed F.A. Hayek’s, The Road to Serfdom. I am completely comfortable admitting that. Still, like many who are intrigued with Hayek’s ideas but lack the willpower to read the entire book, I alway list The Road to Serfdom as one of my most influential readings.

To be sure, I had read the few chapters that were assigned to me by my school’s token libertarian political science professor. I assumed I had accurately interpreted its message. The three chapters I read were full of highlights and great quotes about the importance of the individual. But with all the other books out there in the world, why was finishing this one book so important?

Hayek makes it clear that this path refers to society’s “progressive” rejection of individualism.

It was not until my current mentor called me out on my inability to follow through on one of the most economically relevant books of all time, that I realized that I had robbed myself of an education by not finishing Hayek’s important work.

As a matter of millennial pride and also wanting to reclaim the knowledge I foolishly pushed aside as an undergrad student, I decided to dedicate the next sixteen days to both reading and liveblogging The Road to Serfdom.

The Individual Built the Modern World

Proponents of laissez faire capitalism and libertarian thinkers alike constantly throw around the phrase,” the road to serfdom.” And while most understand its general negativity towards socialism, the phrase is so ingrained in liberty speak that few often take the time to really explore what Hayek was trying to tell us.

In the book’s opening chapter, “The Abandoned Road,” Hayek makes it clear that this path refers to society’s “progressive” rejection of individualism. More importantly, he goes on to describe how this rejection of the sanctity of the individual has, and will continue to have, negative impacts on the society.

For a period of time, the western world had flourished under the 19th-century ideals of free market capitalism. For the first time in history, an individual was allowed to follow his own desired path without the status of his birth holding him back. All he needed was an idea and the ambition needed to make that idea a reality.

As a result we saw a revolution in thought and an industrial revolution incomparable to anything the world had ever experienced. In fact, even with the advent of the internet, the world has still never progressed quite as dramatically as it did during this laissez faire revolution.

And while this period brought the world the wisdom of Adam Smith and the rebellion of the American Revolution, it did not maintain its momentum of popularity as the 20th century approached.

As Hayek points out:

“We still believe that until quite recently we were governed by what are vaguely called nineteenth-century ideas or the principle of laissez faire…But although until 1931 England and America had followed only slowly on the path which others had led, even by then they had moved so far that only those whose memory goes back to the years before the last war know what a liberal world has been like.”

If in 1944, Hayek thought the world had already forsaken and forgotten true liberalism, I can scarcely imagine what he might say today. And it’s true that he was writing about a period of wartime economic planning both in the US and the UK. Prices and wages were controlled. Censorship was in place. Rationing and quotas governed the production and distribution of all essential goods and services. But even given all this, government consumed a far smaller degree of overall national production than today.

So far removed are we in 2017, that the individual is not even a consideration when contemplating economic policy. In fact, the “greedy” “selfish” individual is often the villain in modern economics, as he seems to always operate contrary to the whims of the collective. Now, terms like “individual mandates” are used to convey each person’s “social responsibility” to care for the collective.

As common as this anti-individualist sentiment has become, it wasn’t always this way. As Hayek reminds us in this opening chapter, the most tremendous strides towards human and economic progress were taken during a time when the individual was allowed to innovate and create without worrying about interference from the state on the grounds of protecting the greater good. But even though the positive implications of a pro-individualist society were proven by the innovations created during that time, society had still been steadily moving away from it.

“We are rapidly abandoning not the views merely of Cobden and Bright, of Adam Smith and Hume, or even of Locke and Milton, but one of salient characteristics of Western civilizations…Not merely the nineteenth- and eighteenth- century liberalism, but the basic individualism inherited by us from Erasmus and Montaigne, from Cicero and Tacitus, Pericles and Thucydides, is progressively relinquished.”

So far removed are we in 2017, that the individual is not even a consideration when contemplating economic policy.

Again, I have to wonder what Hayek might say if he were alive today and around to see how groupthink and collectivism have shaped our modern policies.

This chapter, then, sets the stage. He names liberalism as the system that gave birth to the greatest of human achievements ever seen in history. It was individualism that caused the most spectacular effect. If you understand that–and vast numbers today do not understand this–you are prepared to see how the abandonment of this system and idea leads to not only the unraveling of liberty but even what we call civilization.

So, yes, this book is a warning, not just against one party but all ideological positions that reject individualism for one or another version of the planning state.

Now onward to chapter two!

Read more

The Core of Liberty Is Economic Liberty

By Deirdre McCloskey

Since the rise during the late 1800s of socialism, New Liberalism, and Progressivism it has been conventional to scorn economic liberty as vulgar and optional—something only fat cats care about. But the original liberalism during the 1700s of Voltaire, Adam Smith, Tom Paine, and Mary Wollstonecraft recommended an economic liberty for rich and poor understood as not messing with other peoples’ stuff.

Indeed, economic liberty is the liberty about which most ordinary people care. 

Adam Smith spoke of “the liberal plan of [social] equality, [economic] liberty, and [legal] justice.” It was a good idea, new in 1776. And in the next two centuries, the liberal idea proved to be astonishingly productive of good and rich people, formerly desperate and poor. Let’s not lose it.Well into the 1800s most thinking people, such as Henry David Thoreau, were economic liberals. Thoreau around 1840 invented procedures for his father’s little factory making pencils, which elevated Thoreau and Son for a decade or so to the leading maker of pencils in America. He was a businessman as much as an environmentalist and civil disobeyer. When imports of high-quality pencils finally overtook the head start, Thoreau and Son graciously gave way, turning instead to making graphite for the printing of engravings.

That’s the economic liberal deal. You get to offer in the first act a betterment to customers, but you don’t get to arrange for protection later from competitors. After making your bundle in the first act, you suffer from competition in the second. Too bad.

In On Liberty (1859) the economist and philosopher John Stuart Mill declared that “society admits no right, either legal or moral, in the disappointed competitors to immunity from this kind of suffering; and feels called on to interfere only when means of success have been employed which it is contrary to the general interest to permit—namely, fraud or treachery, and force.” No protectionism. No economic nationalism. The customers, prominent among them the poor, are enabled in the first through third acts to buy better and cheaper pencils.

Economic liberty, that is, is part of liberty. Of course.

Mussolini and Hitler won elections and were popular, while vigorously abridging liberties.

Indeed, economic liberty is the liberty about which most ordinary people care. True, liberty of speech, the press, assembly, petitioning the government, and voting for a new government are in the long run essential protections for all liberty, including the economic right to buy and sell. But the lofty liberties are cherished mainly by an educated minority. Most people—in the long run foolishly, true—don’t give a fig about liberty of speech, so long as they can open a shop when they want and drive to a job paying decent wages. A majority of Turks voted in favor of the rapid slide of Turkey after 2013 into neo-fascism under Erdoğan. Mussolini and Hitler won elections and were popular, while vigorously abridging liberties. Even a few communist governments have been elected—witness Venezuela under Chavez.The protagonist of Forever Flowing by Vasily Grossman (1905–1964), the only example of a successful Stalinist writer who converted wholly to anti-communism, declares that “I used to think liberty was liberty of speech, liberty of the press, liberty of conscience. Here is what it amounts to: you have to have the right to sow what you wish to, to make shoes or coats, to bake into bread the flour ground from the grain you have sown, and to sell it or not sell it as you wish; . . . to work as you wish and not as they order you.”

The blessed Adam Smith was outraged by interferences in 1700s Britain in the right of workingmen to move freely to find profitable work. “The property which every man has in his own labor, as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable. To hinder him from employing this . . . in what manner he thinks proper without injury to his neighbor, is a plain violation of this most sacred property.” Not as they order you.

And economic liberty, surprisingly, has massively enriched the world in goods and services. How much? In 1800 the income per person of a country like Sweden or Japan, expressed in 2018 prices, was about $3 a day. Now it is over $100 day, a 3,200 percent increase. Not one hundred percent or even two hundred percent, but thirty-two hundred percent. The enrichment was not a factor of two, as had been routine from time to time in earlier spurts, such as the glory of Greece or the prosperity of Song China, to fall back to $3 a day. It was a factor of thirty-three. No starvation. Taller people. Doubled life expectancy. Bigger houses. Faster transport. Higher education. If you doubt it, see the late Hans Rosling’s startling videos at Gapminder.

We became rich by giving ordinary people their economic liberty.

The usual explanations of the Great Enrichment from economists and historians don’t compute. Accumulation of capital or the extractions of empire were not the causes. Ingenuity was, and the ingenuity was caused in turn by a new liberty after 1800. The liberal plan of equality, liberty, and justice made masses of people bold–first the free and wealthy men, then poor men, then former slaves, then women, then gays, then handicapped, then, then, then. Make everyone free, it turned out (the experiment had never been tried before on such a scale), and you get masses and masses of people inspired and enabled to have a go. “I contain multitudes,” sang the poet of the new liberty. And he did. He and his friends had a go at steam engines and research universities and railways and public schools and electric lights and corporations and open source engineering and containerization and the internet. We became rich by giving ordinary people their economic liberty.And now the “we” has extended far beyond its heartland in northwestern Europe. China after 1978 and India after 1991 began to abandon the illiberal European theory of socialism, devised in the middle of the 1800s and exported by the 1970s to a third of the globe. The result of turning towards economic liberalism was that the annual growth of goods and services per person available to the poorest in China and India rose from its socialist level of 1 percent a year, and sometimes negative, to 7 to 12 percent per year. At such rates, it will take only two or three generations for both countries to have European standards of living. Such a prospect for this four in ten of humans is no pipe dream. Similar enrichments were achieved over a similar span in Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan, with other startling success stories for new liberalism and a reasonably honest government in Ireland and Botswana.

An economically illiberal government can, of course, borrow from countries honoring liberty. The USSR did from 1917–1989, for example, and for a long time even many economists in the West believed its fairy tale that Central Planning Worked. When communism fell in 1989 we discovered decisively that planning did not work, not for the economy or the environment or for other liberties. Singapore is sometimes cited as an example of intelligent tyranny. And so is China, dominated still by an elite of communist party members. Both, however, practice substantial economic liberty, despite their lamentable practice of jailing political opponents.

And enrichment, in the end, leads to demands for all liberties, political as much as the economic liberties, as it did in Taiwan and South Korea. Enriched people will not long put up with serfdom. And anyway the average record of tyrannies is economically disastrous, such as in Zimbabwe, next door to prosperous Botswana, or for that matter in the long and dismal history of illiberalism worldwide from the invention of agriculture down to 1800.

The ethical habits of commerce are expressed daily in the way an American shopkeeper greets his customer: “How can I help you?”

The Christian gospel says properly, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” The claim against economic liberty has always been that even if we gain the world in goods, we lose our souls. We are told from the radical left that free exchange is intrinsically evil. Any extension will merely extend the evil. From the radical right, we are told that free exchange is ignoble compared with the glories of rank and war. But the radical left and right, and also the middle complaining about “consumerism,” are mistaken. The evidence is that economic liberty does not corrupt us, but rather makes us rather virtuous as well as very rich. It enriches in both senses, material and spiritual.For one thing, mutually advantageous exchange is not the worst ethical school. It is better than the violent pride of aristocrats or the violent insolence of bureaucrats. And in economic liberalism, the human desire to excel is provided millions of honorable paths, from model railway building to show business, as against in illiberal societies the narrow path to eminence at the court or politburo or army. We do not lose our souls in commerce, but cultivate them. The military, admired nowadays even in liberal societies, is commended daily for its “service.” But every economic act among consenting adults is service. The ethical habits of commerce are expressed daily in the way an American shopkeeper greets his customer: “How can I help you?”

The upshot? The concert halls and museums of well-to-do countries are full, the universities are flourishing, and the seeking of the transcendent, if not in the established churches, is expanding. One cannot attend much to the transcendent of art or science or baseball or family or God when bent over in a paddy field from dawn to dusk.

Protection of existing jobs has created worldwide a massive and politically explosive unemployment of youths.

The best way to make people bad and poor is the illiberality of communism and fascism, and even the slow if sweet socialism of over-regulation. Women among the theocratic despots of Saudi Arabia are quartered at home, unable to flourish so much as driving an automobile. The economic nationalism of the new Alt-Right is impoverishing, and anyway closes us to ideas from the wide world. If betterment is slowing in the United States—a widely held if doubtful claim—we need the betterment coming from newly enriching countries such as China or India, not cutting ourselves off to “protect jobs” at home. Protectionist logic would have us make everything in Illinois or Chicago or our local street. Breakfast cereal. Accordions. Computers. It is childishly silly as economics, though stirring as nationalism.At the heart of communism and fascism, and the regulating impulse from the middle of the spectrum of governmental compulsion, is massively messing with other people’s stuff. In the United States, over one thousand occupations require licenses from the government. Opening a new hospital requires the existing hospitals to grant a certificate of need. In Tennessee, if you wish to open a new furniture moving company—two men and a truck—you are required by law to ask permission of the existing moving companies. Protection of existing jobs has created worldwide a massive and politically explosive unemployment of youths. One-quarter of French people under 25 and out of schooling are unemployed. It’s worse in South Africa.

Yet true and humane liberals are not anarchists (Greek an-archos, no ruler). One can admit that it can be good to abridge economic liberty a little to the extent of taxing the well-to-do to give a hand up to the poor, such as publicly financed education. No serious argument there—Smith and Mill and even Thoreau agreed. (True, big government routinely gives also a hand up to the rich and powerful, such as protections for farmers in the U.S. and the Common Market. Big governments follow the nasty version of the Golden Rule, namely, those who have the gold, rule.) And one can admit that if the Canadians invade the United States, economic liberty might usefully be abridged for the duration, if prudent for defense. No argument there, either. (Yet big governments routinely break the peace for glorious conquests. Fear those Canadians.)

Better keep the government leashed.

The solution, liberals believe, is to restrict the power of government, even when the government is popular. Fascism often and communism sometimes, unhappily, are popular. Moderate versions of both, in nationalism and socialism, are very popular, until they go wrong. People favor for the nonce the alleged glory of governmental aggressions against foreigners (see Europe in August 1914) and the alleged free lunches of governmental control of the economy (see Venezuela in August 2017).Better keep the government leashed. Of the 190 or so governments in the world ranked in honesty from New Zealand at the top to North Korea at the bottom one might generously take the top 30 as adequately honest for the task. Spain is the marginal case. Britain and the United States qualify. Italy, ranked 75th, just above Vietnam, does not. But the top 30 moderately honest governments serve merely 13 percent of the world’s population. That is to say, 87 percent of the world is governed corruptly and incompetently, by a relaxed standard of goodness. The calculation shows why the optimism among amiable people on the left and among not so amiable people on the right about extending the illiberal powers of government is naïve. Thoreau wrote, in true liberal style, “I heartily accept the motto,—‘That government is best which governs least,’ and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically.”

Yes, with a few modest exceptions.

This essay will appear in a volume for the Renew Democracy Initiative. 

Read more

The Power of Making Friends with Ideological Enemies

“How can people hate me, when they don’t even know me?”

This is the question that drives the subject of a fantastic new documentary on Netflix called “Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race, and America,” directed by Matt Ornstein.

For the past 30 years, soul musician Daryl Davis has been traveling the country in search of an answer in the most dangerous way possible for a black man in America: by directly engaging with members the Ku Klux Klan.

He’s invited KKK members into his home, he’s had countless conversations, and as unlikely as it seems, now considers a number of them to be his friends.

Daryl might say that he’s not really even doing anything special besides treating his enemies with respect and kindness in the hopes of actually dissuading them from their hateful views.

Some people now take this approach for even trivial and academic disagreements.

Yet, that’s something almost no one else has the courage to do, even when the risks are considerably lower.

Disagreements are stressful and difficult, and the more horrifying someone else’s viewpoint is, the easier it is to dismiss the people who hold those beliefs as inhuman garbage who simply can’t be reasoned with. Social media has also made dehumanizing people considerably easier, as we all get to interact with people from around the world without ever seeing their faces or considering their feelings.

As a result, we live in an increasingly polarized time when a lot of people are saying that the only answer to hate and awful ideas is to meet them with even more hate, more anger, outrage, and even violence.

And it’s not just a problem when dealing with the worst ideas in human history like racial supremacy and fascism. Some people now take this approach for even trivial and academic disagreements.

Don’t like a speaker coming to campus? Silence them and prevent them from getting into the auditorium.

Don’t like what a Facebook friend has to say? Block them.

And of course, if you think someone you meet is a white supremacist or a neo-Nazi, the only thing left to do is punch them in the face.  

Punching Doesn’t Work

But consider that most of human history is filled with people allowing their disagreements to turn into bloody, horrific warfare; it’s only our commitment to dealing with our adversaries peacefully through speech and conversation that has allowed us to become more civilized. So escalating conflicts into violence should be seen as the worst kind of social failure.  

And besides, punching people who disagree with you doesn’t actually change their minds or anyone else’s, so we’re still left with the same deceptively difficult question before and after:

When people believe in wrongheaded or terrible things, how do we actually persuade them to stop believing the bad ideas, and get them to start believing in good ones instead?

Judging by social media, most people seem to believe that it’s possible to yell at people or insult and ridicule them until they change their minds. Unfortunately, as cathartic as it feels to let out your anger against awful people, this just isn’t an effective strategy to reduce the amount of people who hold awful ideas.

People’s amygdalas can actually bypass their rational minds and create a fight-or-flight response when they feel attacked.

In fact, if you do this, your opponents (and even more people who are somewhat sympathetic to their views, or just see themselves as part of the same social group) might actually walk away even more strongly committed to their bad ideas than they were before.

The evidence from psychology is pretty clear on this.

We know from studies conducted by neuroscientists like Joseph LeDoux that people’s amygdalas — the part of the brain that processes raw emotions — can actually bypass their rational minds and create a fight-or-flight response when they feel threatened or attacked. Psychologist Daniel Goleman called this an “Amygdala Hijack,” and it doesn’t just apply to physical threats.

The existing research strongly supports Daryl Davis’ approach.

People’s entire personal identity is often wrapped up in their political or philosophical beliefs, and a strong verbal attack against those beliefs actually creates a response in the brain of the target similar to a menacing lunge.

Even presenting facts or arguments that directly conflict with people’s core beliefs or identities can actually cause people to cling to those beliefs more tightly after they’ve been presented with contrary evidence. Political scientists like Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler have been studying this phenomenon for over 10 years and call it the “Backfire Effect“.

And when the people whose minds we desperately need to change are racists and fascists (or socialists and communists, for that matter), a strategy that actually backfiresand pushes more people towards those beliefs is the last thing we need.

Principles of Persuasion

The good news is that in addition to knowing what doesn’t work, we also know a lot about how to talk to people in ways that are actually persuasive — and the existing research strongly supports Daryl Davis’ approach.

In the psychologist Robert Cialdini’s book, Influence, he describes what he calls the “Principles of Persuasion.”

One of these principles is called “reciprocity”, and it’s based on the idea that people feel obliged to treat you the way you treat them. So, if you treat them with kindness and humility, most people will offer you the same courtesy. On the other hand, if you treat them with contempt, well…..

Another principle Cialdini describes is the idea of “liking”.

It’s almost too obvious, but it turns out that if someone likes you personally and believes that you like them, it’s easier to convince them that your way of thinking is worth considering.  One easy step towards being liked is to listen to others and find common ground through shared interests. This can be a bridge — or a shortcut — to getting other people to see you as a friend or part of their tribe.

Many of those robes now hang in Daryl’s closet.

You might think somebody like Daryl Davis would have nothing in common with a KKK member, but according to Daryl, if you “spend 5 minutes talking to someone and you’ll find something in common,” and if you “spend 10 minutes, and you’ll find something else in common.”

In the film, he connects with several people about music, and you can see these connections paying off — breaking down barriers and providing many Klan members with a rare (and in some cases only) opportunity to interact with a black man as a human being worth respecting instead of an enemy.

Even better, over time, forming these relationships has had an interesting side-effect.

In the last couple decades alone, over 200 of America’s most ardent white supremacists have left the Ku Klux Klan and hung up their robes and hoods for good.

Many of those robes now hang in Daryl’s closet.

And in a lot of cases, these individual conversions have much bigger consequences and end multi-generational cycles of bigotry. When a mother or a father leaves the darkness of the Klan, they’re also bringing their kids into the light with them. A few of these cases are profiled in “Accidental Courtesy”, and they’re indescribably moving.

Daryl Davis can be a model for how to change people’s minds and with everything that’s going on in the world today, we need successful models now more than ever.

Making Friends From Enemies

There’s another point to all of this that I think often goes unsaid.

The way to deal with wrong or evil ideas isn’t shouting them down or starting a fight.

Unlike Daryl, most of us aren’t actually interacting with KKK members or trying to change people’s minds away from truly evil ideologies, and yet we all fall to the temptation of yelling and name-calling, and using all those techniques of influence that have the opposite of our intended or desired effect.

It’s easy to allow outrage and emotion carry us off into treating other people as inhuman enemies to be crushed rather than human beings to be persuaded.

But if Daryl’s techniques can work to convince die-hard white supremacists that a black man — and perhaps eventually all black people — are worthy of respect, imagine how effective they can be when disagreements crop up with your friends, neighbors, and co-workers who don’t actually hate you or the things you stand for.

Who knows, if you have more genuine conversations with people outside your bubble, you might even find yourself changing a little bit for the better as well.

“Accidental Courtesy” teaches us that the way to deal with wrong or evil ideas isn’t shouting them down or starting a fight; it’s having the courage to do what Daryl did and making a friend out of an enemy.

Read more

Money Is the Real Social Contract

By Baudoin Collard

Despite major inconsistencies, the social contract theory remains one of the most prominent founding myths of our societies. Is it possible to revisit this dogma to correct its deficiencies?

The social contract theory finds its origins during the Enlightenment era in the 18th century. In the context of challenging royal institutions, philosophers like Rousseau and Hobbes sought to answer the following questions: How are societies born? Why do humans decide to live together? Where do governments derive their legitimacy?

According to Rousseau, an implicit contract binds men together to form a society. Through this contract, men relinquish some of their freedom to the state. In return, the state provides justice and security. This way, the general welfare is protected from special interests through the legislature, elected by the people.

The social contract theory has had a major influence on Western philosophy. As attractive as it is, the theory suffers from fundamental flaws.

First, no one has ever signed such a contract. One can argue that elections represent a tacit renewal of the contract. But in this case, abstention should be considered. And what about countries like Belgium where voting is compulsory?

Second, history teaches us that human societies emerged well before the institutions that govern them. It is the society that begets the institutions and not the reverse. Moreover,  these institutions have been set up in bloody wars and revolutions.

Lastly, according to Rousseau, since the parliament represents the people, the minority must accept any decisions taken by the majority in the name of a nebulous “general interest.” In the 19th century, Alexis de Tocqueville had already mentioned the risk associated with this belief. Such a system drifts into a tyranny of the majority.

If we looked closer, we would see an institution inseparable from the human society that could perfectly fulfill this role of the social contract: money.

Is Money a Social Contract?

Money is proper to man. Historically, no society could develop without the support of some form of money. Conversely, the concept of money is meaningless when taken out of its social context. It is from its acceptance by users that money derives its legitimacy and value. Men voluntarily adopt money because they benefit from it.

By facilitating exchanges, money allows specialization — the source of new technological developments. As a store of value, it allows users to save, which is the source of investment and protection against the hazards of life. Investment and technological progress both generate growth. This is the fundamental reason why men unite: in order to draw greater benefit from each other’s labor.

Currency Manipulation

If money is the cement that binds society together, what happens when this cement disintegrates? The German hyperinflationbetween 1921 and 1924 is certainly one of the most tragic examples of monetary collapse, but it is far from an isolated case.

Given its critical role, it may be tempting for a minority to manipulate the currency to its advantage. If the phenomenon is not new, it has also become more complex over time.

An early example occurred with the use of minted coins.

Originally, coins ensured the weight and quality of the currency. But gradually, the right to mint coins has become a state monopoly. This has allowed governments to control currency and extract a rent (seigniorage and sometimes debasement).

The invention of the banknote was a major technological evolution. Originally introduced to facilitate increased trade, banknotes have gradually become a monopoly of the power in place. As a striking example, Napoleon Bonaparte gave the monopoly of printing bank notes to the Bank of France, of which he was a major shareholder.

The creation of central banks is the logical continuation of the state’s growing influence over money. Under the pretext of stabilizing money issuance and protect depositors from banking crises, the creation of central banks actually greatly facilitated state indebtednesswar funding, and ultimately inflation.

Speaking of inflation, here is precisely what Keynes said about it:

By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens. By this method they not only confiscate, but they confiscate arbitrarily; and, while the process impoverishes many, it actually enriches some.”

From Social Contract to Social Control

But inflation is not the only stab to the social contract of money. From the moment the money is imposed by the government rather than freely chosen by citizens, it loses its legitimacy. Initially acting as a social contract, money in state hands becomes a tool of social control. It allows a minority to exploit their privileged position for profit and power.

The states impose the use of their currency in more or less subtle ways. In the most authoritarian countries like China, the currency is subject to strict controls.

Exchange rates are set by the government and capital movements are tightly monitored. In the so-called democratic countries, the currency is imposed through legislation and numerous regulations. For example, the official currency is the only one allowed for the payment of fines and taxes. Banking and insurance regulations require individuals to invest a proportion of assets in state bonds, to inform the government of all transactions above a certain amount, etc.

In terms of social control by the currency, governments can be very creative. One example is the introduction of price and wage controls. Another example is the introduction (and increasingly pervasive use) of the food stamp program.

A more pernicious threat now hangs over the money with the disappearance of cash so desired by our governments. The abandonment of cash threatens to increase our dependence on the banking system. It also increases the stranglehold of states over their citizenry by facilitating the establishment of taxation on savings accounts or even an outright confiscation of bank accounts, as was the case in Cyprus.

Freeing the Money

All monies do not fulfill their social contract equally. Among fiat currencies, large differences exist, depending on the objectives of central banks and economic policies. So if we compare the consumer price index (a proxy for inflation), we observe that the US Dollar has lost about 54 percent of its purchasing power over the last 30 years.

The Swiss Franc saw a decline in purchasing power when it was limited to 31 percent and then 14 percent for the Japanese Yen. At the same time, the currency’s purchasing power fell by more than 99 percent in Mexico, Turkey, and in many countries of the former Soviet Union.

Gold and precious metals enjoy a lasting credibility because these commodities are difficult to manipulate. Precious metals have also provided an effective hedge against inflation and other monetary turpitudes throughout history. Gold is still a reserve currency of choice for central banks.

Finally, a new form of currency has recently emerged: the cryptographic currencies among which Bitcoin is undoubtedly the most famous. Bitcoin appeared in 2009, at the height of the subprime crisis and bank bailouts by the taxpayers. If they have often aroused disbelief in their infancy, these cryptocurrencies now enjoy a combined capitalization largely exceeding $100 billion.

More fundamentally, cryptocurrencies are the perfect illustration of the competitive bidding of private currencies. This is similar to what was proposed by Friedrich Hayek in his book “The Denationalization of Money.” 

Since the use of these currencies is free, their value fluctuates according to the interest they generate and the resulting demand. Their course is closely linked to the services they can provide, as a means of payment, and their credibility, as a store of value. The proliferation of these cryptographic currencies is a full-scale laboratory experiment for the future of money.

Money Guarantees a Free Society

Money, even more so than democracy, embodies the essence of the social contract. Its legitimacy comes from its acceptance, freely chosen by all users. 

The fundamental role of money in exchange explains its catalytic action in the seeding of the development of human societies, long before the emergence of democratic institutions. Finally, currency manipulation inevitably causes the decline of a society,as democratic as it may be.

Nothing better sums up money that Ayn Rand’s quote:

“Money is the barometer of a society’s virtue.”

Money is a tremendous source of emancipation for the society. It promotes cooperation and peaceful exchanges between humans, no matter their views, gender, origin or preferences. It is the conductor that imperceptibly regulates the human action.

Conversely, anyone who aims to suppress money should be prepared to substitute it by a planned economy with cohorts of bureaucrats who impose by force. Anyone who denounces the dictatorship of money should recall that the worst tyrannies are those where citizens were deprived of their currency. And if money is regularly accused of being the root of all evil, it is all too often the victim of those who control it. Rather than blaming the money, let’s blame those who corrupt it.

Perfect currencies do not exist. As the brainchild of fallible humans, monies are bound to constantly face primal temptations. Failing to find such an illusory ideal, the freedom to choose currencies is the best guarantee of having sound money in a free society.

 

Republished from FEE.org

Read more

Millennials Are in a Love Triangle with Capitalism and Socialism

By Andrew Taylor

There’s been a lot of talk recently about how Millennials – the generation born between roughly 1980 and 2000 – think about economics. Much of it was sparked by the fanatical support for self-described “Democratic Socialist” Bernie Sanders from young people in the Democratic primary for president last year.

Gallup found in April 2016 that, whereas Hillary Clinton had a net favorability rating of -23 among 18-24 year-olds, Sanders’s score was +39.

Harvard University poll administered at about the same time revealed how this has been translated into policy views. The survey reported that only 42% of Millennials supported capitalism. According to a contemporaneous Gallup poll, that was about 10 percentage points lower than the general population. The Harvard survey showed 33% of Millennials wanted socialism.

So Millennials have economic attitudes that are different from older Americans. But is their economic behavior different? Do they walk the socialist walk?

Here, the evidence is decidedly mixed.

Health Care

Socialists tend to embrace public goods because all citizens can consume them. Millennials certainly like them. A Pew Research Center poll from June revealed 45% of 18–29-year-olds favored a single-payer health care system. This was 14 percentage points higher than any other single age group.

Census data show Millennials adopted health insurance more rapidly than any other age cohort when Obamacare began in 2014-15. I’m not entirely sure what kind of political philosophy this behavior illustrates, but it does seem to suggest Millennials embraced the Affordable Care Act, legislation most people believe moved health care in this country solidly to the left.

Recycling and Personal Consumption

Socialism, unlike capitalism, makes a virtue of constrained personal consumption. A major reason for this, of course, is that it is less suited to production. But the connection has helped fuse ecology to socialism in the platforms of left-wing parties across the globe.

You may have heard the argument that Millennials are more environmentally conscious than the rest of us – they don’t use plastic shopping bags or flush the toilet, etc. A survey commissioned by Rubbermaid reported earlier this year that two-thirds of Millennials would give up social media for a week if everyone at their company recycled.

Interestingly, however, the data on behavior do not bear this out. A 2014 Harris poll conducted for the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) revealed that whereas roughly a half of respondents over thirty said they “always” recycled, only a third of the younger group did.

Millennials talk about saving the planet for humanity, behavior a socialist mindset deems heroic, but they do not seem to be doing more than anyone else to secure our world’s survival.

Transportation

Millennials also use public transportation much more than other groups. Over one-fifth ride a bus or train on a daily or almost-daily basis according to a Pew survey from late 2015. This was nearly double the proportion of any other age group.

Indeed, younger people seem to have much less love than their elders for that ultimate of American private goods, one’s own car. The number of licensed drivers in both the 24-29-year-old and 30-34-year-old cohorts decreased by about 10% between 1983 and 2014 according to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. The drop for 18-year-olds was a fifth. At the same time, everyone over 45 continues their love affair with the automobile.

This seems consistent with the socialist rejection of material goods, but whether this is correlation or causation is unclear.

Sharing Economy

Moreover, Millennials have almost single-handedly nurtured the “sharing” economy – a marketplace in which peer-to-peer transactions are facilitated by a software platform that permits participants to divide consumption, as exemplified by Uber and Airbnb. According to Vugo, 57% of all ridesharing customers are aged 25 to 34.

The sharing economy may sound quite socialist because it seems to eschew private ownership. But as Duke professor Mike Munger has pointed out, people, in general, wish to consume the services that tangible goods provide, not the goods themselves. The sharing economy, in fact, provides access to the services of more material goods than the user would otherwise have – whether that’s a five-minute ride in a car or a two-day stay in a house. Its fundamental principles, therefore, are capitalist.

Entrepreneurialism

A 2014 Bentley University survey of Millennials reported that two-thirds of respondents expressed a desire to start their own business. But Millennial behavior is different. An analysis by the Wall Street Journal last year found that the proportion of Americans under 30 who own a business has dropped by 65% since the 1980s. Millennials might say they want to be Mark Zuckerberg, but they’re not particularly entrepreneurial.

There does exist therefore a disconnect between Millennial economic attitudes and behavior. What explains it? The generation is intrigued by the idea of socialism. It embraces many of its values and the public policies that would bring it about. But Millennials’ behavior is ambiguous. Entrepreneurship in private enterprise is not a particularly appealing career path to them in practice.

Additionally, Millennials’ reduced consumption is probably as much a function of economic necessity as it is a sacrifice of their personal wants to some grand social plan. The Great Recession has left them playing financial catch-up. A Pew analysis of census data reveals 15% of 25-to-35-year-olds still live with their parents. Traditionally that fraction has been around one tenth. A 2016 study by the left-leaning Center for American Progress found that Millennials make less than Gen Xers did in their early 30s. They only earn about the same as Boomers, who are 30 years older and 50% less likely to have graduated from college.

So perhaps there’s another explanation: When they appear to be rejecting capitalism, it’s often because Millennials are simply adjusting America’s core economic principles to new technologies and economic realities.

Reprinted from Learn Liberty.

 

Andrew J. Taylor

Andrew J. Taylor is professor of Political Science in the School of Public and International Affairs at NC State University. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut and teaches courses in American politics, including Introduction to American Government, the Presidency and Congress, the Legislative Process, Public Choice and Political Institutions, and the Classical Liberal Tradition.

Read more

The Regulatory State Is the Enemy of Economic Mobility

By David Boaz

Why are Americans less likely to move to better opportunities than they used to be? The Wall Street Journal reports:

When opportunity dwindles, a natural response—the traditional American instinct—is to strike out for greener pastures. Migrations of the young, ambitious and able-bodied prompted the Dust Bowl exodus to California in the 1930s and the reverse migration of blacks from Northern cities to the South starting in the 1980s.

Yet the overall mobility of the U.S. population is at its lowest level since measurements were first taken at the end of World War II, falling by almost half since its most recent peak in 1985.

In rural America, which is coping with the onset of socioeconomic problems that were once reserved for inner cities, the rate of people who moved across a county line in 2015 was just 4.1%, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis. That’s down from 7.7% in the late 1970s.

One particular problem with today’s immobility is that people find themselves in areas where jobs are dwindling and pay tends to be lower. Why don’t they move to where the jobs are? This comprehensive article for the Journal by Janet Adamy and Paul Overberg points to a few factors:

For many rural residents across the country with low incomes, government aid programs such as Medicaid, which has benefits that vary by state, can provide a disincentive to leave. One in 10 West Branch [Mich.] residents lives in low-income housing, which was virtually nonexistent a generation ago.

And then there are regulations that discourage mobility:

While small-town home prices have only modestly recovered from the housing market meltdown, years of restrictive land-use regulations have driven up prices in metropolitan areas to the point where it is difficult for all but the most highly educated professionals to move….

Another obstacle to mobility is the growth of state-level job-licensing requirements, which now cover a range of professions from bartenders and florists to turtle farmers and scrap-metal recyclers. A 2015 White House report found that more than one-quarter of U.S. workers now require a license to do their jobs, with the share licensed at the state level rising fivefold since the 1950s.

Brink Lindsey wrote about both land-use regulations and occupational licensing as examples of “regressive regulation”—regulatory barriers to entry and competition that work to redistribute income and wealth up the socioeconomic scale—in his Cato White Paper, “Low-Hanging Fruit Guarded by Dragons: Reforming Regressive Regulation to Boost U.S. Economic Growth.”

The Journal notes that:

The lack of mobility has become a drag on the entire U.S. economy.

“We’re locking people out from the most productive cities,” says Peter Ganong, an assistant professor of public policy at the University of Chicago who studies migration. “This is a force that widens the urban-rural divide.”

Ganong made similar points in a Cato Research Brief, “Why Has Regional Income Convergence in the U.S. Declined?

Declining mobility hurts U.S. innovation and economic growth and widens the rural-income culture gap. Government regulation plays a major role in declining mobility. But as Lindsey noted, those regulations are “guarded by dragons”—”the powerful interest groups that benefit from the status quo, all of which can be counted upon to defend their privileges tenaciously.” Despite the potential for agreement by right, left, and libertarian policy analysts on the problems with regressive regulation, all those wonks together may be no match for organized dentists, barbers, massage therapists, and homeowners who perceive that they benefit from keeping others out.

 

Reprinted from FEE.

David Boaz

David Boaz is the executive vice president of the Cato Institute and the author of The Libertarian Mind: A Manifesto for Freedomand the editor of The Libertarian Reader.

Read more

Corruption Rises as Economic Freedom Falls

By Richard M. Ebeling

The corruption of government officials seems to be as old as recorded history. For example, the ancient Roman senate passed laws against such political corruption in the first century, B.C. They defined a corrupt act as “whenever money is taken and a publicly-conferred duty is violated.”

Local magistrates in the Roman Empire were permitted to legally receive cash gifts of up to 100 gold pieces a year, but anything beyond this amount was considered “filth.” There was also a separate criminal category against what was called concussio, or the “shakedown” and “extortion.” A Roman official might claim to have a legal order against someone and demand a bribe not to enforce it against the individual’s person or property.

Emperor Constantine issued one of the strongest decrees against corruption during this time in A.D. 331. Those found guilty of such crimes might be exiled to an isolated island or a far-off rural area, while others might even be condemned to death. A judge, for example, might be executed if he had acquitted someone guilty of murder for the right price.

Ranking Corruption

Today, high levels of political corruption remain one of the major problems people confront around the world. While most of us think of such corruption as primarily impacting the hundreds of millions who live in the underdeveloped and developing parts of the globe, it touches those of us fortunate enough to live in the industrially developed Western democracies.

The Berlin-based non-profit organization, Transparency International (TI), annually surveys various forms of corruption around the world by various measures and types. A score of 100 in their 2016 Corruption Perception Index means the absence of any political corruption. A score approaching zero suggests a society in which little happens or gets done without layers of governmentally corrupt processes for people to get through in their daily lives. TI points out that “No country gets close to a perfect score” on the index.

However, according to Transparency International many of the least corrupt nations around the world are in the European Union and North America. In fact, Denmark ranks the least corrupt worldwide, followed by New Zealand. Among the remaining top ten of least corrupt countries are: Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Singapore, the Netherlands, Canada and Germany. All of them have scores of 80 or better on TI’s scale of 100 having zero corruption.

The United States, however, is only ranked 18 with a score of 74. That placed America just below Belgium, Hong Kong and Austria. But the U.S. did rank above Ireland, Japan and Uruguay. And, happy to report, America is above France, which had a score of only 69.  

The most corrupt nations of the EU, perhaps not surprisingly, are in Eastern Europe, in those countries that had been part of the former Soviet bloc. Poland only scored 62, followed by Slovenia (61), Lithuania (59), Latvia (57), Czech Republic (55), Slovakia (51), and Hungary and Romania (58).  On the other hand, Greece, a longtime member of the EU, only earned a score of 44.

Former Soviet republics further to the east are even worse. The Russian Federation and Ukraine only scored 29, with the former Soviet republics in central Asia – Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, for instance – barely making it above the low 20s range on the scale.

Africa, Asia, and Latin America

The lowest TI scores are generally earned in Africa and parts of the Middle East and Asia, with some other very corrupt countries in Latin America. The most corrupt countries on the planet, according to TI, are Somalia (10), South Sudan (11), North Korea (12), Syria (13), Yemen (14), Sudan (14), Libya (14), and Afghanistan (15). But in corruption depravity, Venezuela, Iraq, and Haiti are not far behind them.

In fact, on the Transparency International scale there are hardly any countries in Asia, the Middle East, Africa or Latin America that make it even to the 40s mark on their political corruption scale. The vast majority of the countries in these parts of the world are in the 30s and 20s, or less levels under TI’s scale.

As part of their annual survey on global corruption a few years ago, TI also asked people the frequency with which they had to pay bribes to government officials of one type or another in attempts to get by in their daily lives. In North America, one percent of Canadians surveyed said they bribed someone in government. In the United States that reply was given by two percent of the people asked.

But even in countries that have long been members of the EU bribery was reported. The worst occurred in Greece, where 27 percent of the people said they paid bribes during the preceding year. In most of Western Europe the bribery level was around 2-3 percent of the population, though the number was 6 percent in Luxembourg. (The bribery question was not asked in Germany and Italy.)

Bribery is far more endemic in the rest of the world. Africa suffers from political bribery the most, with 42 percent of all those in the countries surveyed saying they had paid bribes. The most extreme case was found by TI in Cameroon, where 79 percent – almost four out of every five people – admitted paying bribes, with the number being 40 percent of the people in neighboring Nigeria.

Bribing the Police

In Asia, the overall rate of bribe giving was reported to be 22 percent of the population. The highest rates were found in Cambodia (72 percent), Pakistan (44 percent), the Philippines (32 percent), Indonesia (31 percent), India (25 per- cent), and Vietnam (14 percent).

Finally, in Latin America, the average bribery rate was recorded at 13 percent of the people. But as in the rest of the world, it varies from country to country. Among the handful of Latin American countries surveyed, the highest rate was in the Dominican Republic with 28 percent. Bolivia followed with 27 percent.

Around the globe, the most bribes are paid to the police. In Africa, 47 percent of the respondents said they bribed the police; in Asia, 33 percent; in Latin America, 23 percent; and in Eastern Europe, almost 20 percent. Worldwide, about 17 percent of the people in the survey paid bribes to the members of law enforcement.

Bribing people in the judicial system came next, with the global response being about 8 percent of all those surveyed. About the same percentage around the world said they bribed government agents for business licenses and permits, though again the highest rates were in Africa (23 percent) and Asia (17 percent). But even in the United States and Canada, around 3 percent admitted paying such bribes.

Medical care is also a major area for such corruption. In Africa, 24 percent of the respondents said they paid bribes for access to medical services; in Asia, the response was 10 percent; in Russia and Ukraine, 13 percent; in Eastern Europe, 8 percent; in the EU, almost 5 percent; and in North America, 2 percent.

The Cause of Corruption

Political corruption, clearly, is found everywhere around the world and people, regardless of where they live, do not expect it to go away anytime soon. Yet, in spite of its global dimension, corruption pervades some parts of the world more than others and permeates certain corners of society to a greater degree. Why?

Part of the answer certainly relates to issues surrounding ethics and culture. The higher the degree of personal honesty and allegiance to ethical codes of conduct, the more we might expect people to resist the temptations of offering or taking bribes. However, economic and business analyst, Ian Senior, in his, Corruption – the World’s Big C: Cases, Causes, Consequences, Cures (2006), concluded that there were no significant correlations between high degrees of personal honesty and religious practice and less bribe-taking around the world.

A far stronger explanation can be found in the relationship between the level of corruption in society and the degree of government intervention in the marketplace. In a generally free market society, government is limited to the protection of the citizenry’s life, liberty, and honestly acquired property. The rule of law is transparent and assures impartial justice for all. Any other functions taken on by the government are few in number, such as a variety of public works projects.

Under these circumstances, government officials have few regulatory or redistributive responsibilities, and therefore they have few special favors, privileges, benefits, or dispensations to “sell” to some in the private sector at the expense of others in society.

The smaller the range of government activities, therefore, the less politicians or bureaucrats have to sell to voters and special interest groups. And the smaller the incentive or need for citizens to have to bribe government officials to allow them to peacefully go about their private business and personal affairs.

Influencing Market Outcomes

On the other hand, the very nature of the regulated economy in the interventionist state is to short-circuit the free market. The interventionist state goes beyond protecting people’s lives and property. Those in power in the interventionist state intervene by using government authority to influence the outcomes of the market through the application of political force.

The government taxes the public and has huge sums of money to disburse to various programs and projects. It imposes licensing and regulatory restrictions on free and open competition. It transfers great amounts of income and wealth to different groups through sundry “redistributive” schemes. It controls how and for what purpose people may use and dispose of their own property. It paternalistically imposes legal standards influencing the ways we may live, learn, associate, and interact with others around us.

Those in the government who wield these powers hold the fate of virtually everyone in their decision-making hands. It is inevitable that those drawn to employment in the political arena often will see the potential for personal gain in how and for whose benefit or harm they apply their vast life-determining decrees and decisions. Some will be attracted to such “public service” because they are motivated by ideological visions they dream of imposing for the “good of humanity.”

Some will see that bribing those holding this political power is the only means to attain their ends. This may be to restrict or prohibit competition in their own corner of the market or to acquire other people’s money through coercive redistribution. For others, however, bribing those who hold the regulatory reins may be the only way to get around restrictions that prevent them from competing on the market and earning a living.

The business of the interventionist state, therefore, is the buying and selling of favors and privileges. It must lead to corruption because by necessity it uses political power to harm some for the benefit of others, and those expecting to be either harmed or benefited will inevitably try to influence what those holding power do with it.

The Correlation between Freedom and Corruption

For 23 years the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., has sponsored an annual Index of Economic Freedom (IEF). The IEF tracks a series of 10 measured indicators that include the following:

(1) business freedom; (2) trade freedom; (3) level of fiscal burden; (4) size of government; (5) degree of monetary stability; (6) investment freedom; (7) financial freedom; (8) protected private property rights and the general rule of law; (9) flexible labor markets; and (10) freedom from corruption.

The premise is that the greater the degree of individual freedom, the more secure property rights, the smaller the size and intrusiveness of government in the marketplace, and the greater the open competitive market environment at home and in foreign trade, then the more likely a society will experience rising prosperity and higher standards of living over time.

No country in the world is free from some degree of government intervention and regulation. Unfortunately, the nineteenth-century era of relative laissez-faire is long gone. But the extent to which governments intrude into the economic, social, and personal activities of their citizens does vary significantly around the globe. This includes the extent to which citizens are protected by an impartial enforcement of the rule of law, have the freedoms of association, the press, and religion, and the right to democratically participate in the selection of those who hold political office.

The Index of Economic Freedom, in its 2017 edition, estimates that based on composite scores of all ten indicators, the greatest amount of economic freedom can be found in the following parts of the world: Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Switzerland, Australia, Estonia, Canada, the United Arab Emirates, Ireland, and Chile. The United States ranks only 17 in the world by the Index of Economic Freedom benchmarks. Ten years ago, before the Barack Obama presidency, America ranked fourth in the world.

Regionally, North America, Western Europe, and Australia/New Zealand are estimated by Transparency International to be the areas of the world in which the lowest rates of corruption are to be found. The Index of Economic Freedom also ranks these parts of the globe as generally having the greatest amount of economic freedom or the least intrusion of government intervention (broadly defined) within the marketplace.

On the other hand, Africa, Asia, and Latin America are the parts of the globe with the highest reported amounts of bribery, and are also the areas that IEF estimates as far lower in the global rankings for degrees of economic freedom. Among the 180 countries included in the Index of Economic Freedom, many (though certainly not all) of the ones that Transparency International estimates as having particularly high levels of corruption are ranked at the bottom one-third in terms of economic freedom from government intrusion.

The correlation between a global low ranking in terms of economic freedom and a high reported rate of political corruption is certainly not one-to-one. There are many variables at work, including the extent to which different types of freedom used in the IEF surveys are restricted in the respective countries. Thus, domestic property rights might be legally more secure in one country compared to others, but that country may have a higher rate of price inflation and more restricted labor markets, resulting in it having a lower economic freedom ranking in the index compared to other nations.

But the assertion can be safely made that the wider and more intrusive the degree of government intervention, the greater the likelihood of a higher level of experienced and perceived corruption. The more the government interferes with marketplace transactions (e.g., through price and production controls, or import and export restrictions and quotas, or business licensing and permit rules, or high, complex, and arbitrary taxation), the more need and incentive for people to bribe those in political power to free or reduce the heavy hand of government over their lives.

Ending global political corruption in its various “petty” and “grand” forms, therefore, will only come with the removal of government from social and economic life. When government is limited to protecting our lives and property, there will be little left to buy and sell politically. Corruption then will be an infrequent annoyance and occasional scandal, rather than an inescapable aspect of today’s social and economic life around the world.

This piece was culled from FEE.org

Richard M. Ebeling

Richard M. Ebeling is BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. He was president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) from 2003 to 2008.

 

Read more

A Liberty Reading List to Finish Up Your Summer

Summer is the perfect time to settle into a slower pace of life and savor a great book, whether it’s an old favorite that you continue to enjoy or an unfamiliar one with new ideas to ponder. And so before the summer ends, I have a challenge for you: I’m going to share five of my favorite books and essays with you, and I’m hoping you’ll read at least one before the beginning of the semester.

Not only are these fun summer reads, they are classic works that were foundational to my intellectual journey as an economist. They will shape the way you think about society while helping you articulate your beliefs about how to effect human prosperity and liberty across the world.

  1. “I, Pencil” by Leonard Read. This essay changed not only my views about the economy but my classroom teaching as well. It is timeless and action-packed. This short essay is written from the perspective of a pencil about how it came into being. There is so much economic thinking in this little story. It turns out that the ordinary pencil, which we take for granted and is seemingly so simple, is actually quite sophisticated: so much so that no one person, not even the CEO of the pencil company, knows how to make it. It is a story of the coordination of millions of strangers who come together to serve each other. If you haven’t read this essay, put it at the top of your list, and if you have, it’s a great one to read again!
  2. We the Living by Ayn Rand. Can you imagine the atrocities of living under Communist rule? This book takes us there, and it’s a great introduction to Rand if you are new to her work. We the Living remains my favorite Rand novel. It’s not a book about economics per say, but about economic systems and how they are so critical to whether we thrive or perish — both personally and socially.
  3. Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. I love this short, pithy book written in 1946 by American journalist Henry Hazlitt because of how easy it is to understand — it’s both accessible and timeless. Hazlitt begins by encouraging us to think like economists by seeing the unseen and forcing us to take the long-term perspective so that we fully account for the costs of our actions. I come back to this book every year and am reminded of the power of the economic way of thinking.
  4. Basic Economics by Thomas Sowell. This book does not disappoint and is loaded with stories and evidence to help elucidate the economic way of thinking. Economist and author Thomas Sowell takes us through the market system of prices, property rights, profits and losses, and the mechanisms for increasing human productivity and prosperity. Using stories and evidence throughout, he helps us see the follies of policies that don’t properly incorporate the fundamental economic realities of the world in which we live. I not only love reading this book time and again, but it makes a great holiday gift as well!
  5. “The Law” by Frederic Bastiat. What if the law becomes a method of theft and plunder instead of an instrument of protection? In this compelling essay, Bastiat helps us see the importance of the rule of law as the foundation of a productive society. He tears down the old notions of political theorists who thought that elected officials could disavow themselves of their self-interest and greed and put on the cloak of the people to serve the common good. Bastiat shows us that the law is a force for good only when political leaders must also submit to it. Otherwise, it is a source of plunder. Originally published in 1850, Bastiat foreshadows the rent-seeking culture and special interests who distort lawmaking today.

Summer is a great time to catch up on the classics – and to reread your favorites with a new perspective. These readings will help you get a jump on the school year and engage in articulate discussion about these issues with your professors and peers.

I hope you find this list to be a helpful starting place in understanding economics and liberty. Which books and essays would make your top 5 list? And if you’ve already read the ones I’ve listed here, why do you think others should read them?

Reprinted from Learn Liberty.

 

Anne Rathbone Bradley

Dr. Bradley is Vice President of Economic Initiatives at the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics.

Read more

Lawrence Reed: Thoughts on a Free Market

On Tuesday, March 28, Dr. Lawrence W. Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), was invited by Young Americans for Liberty to speak about free trade and protectionism at the Miller Learning Center. Reed began his talk by explaining some fundamental definitions concerning economics and followed by making arguments in favor of free trade over protectionism, tariffs, and quotas.

In the past year, the question of how the United States should approach international trade has become an increasingly divisive topic, especially among conservatives. Many in the Trump camp favor his retreat from trade deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and his push to renegotiate the North American Free-Trade-Agreement (NAFTA). Concurrently, Dr. Reed and many other conservatives believe that Trump’s approach is ultimately regressive.

In his talk on the University of Georgia campus, Dr. Reed puts forth the question that was asked centuries ago by famous author and economist Adam Smith: “What makes a nation wealthy?” Reed’s answer is goods and services. He asserts that more and better choices in the market, not full employment, make a nation truly wealthy. “This is the general argument against protectionism,” says Reed. “Tariffs and quotas do not necessarily improve goods and services.”

Dr. Reed presents three arguments in favor of freer markets, confidently noting that he would say the same to a Detroit auto workers union.


THE LIBERTY ARGUMENT

He refers to his first argument as the “liberty argument.” This one is more principled than pragmatic. It declares that all potential traders have the right to voluntary exchange and that tariffs and quotas handed down by the government obstruct this right. This line of thinking is consistent with many libertarian and conservative positions dealing with individual and property rights.


THE PEACE ARGUMENT

The second argument is dubbed the “peace argument.” Here, Reed references French economist Frédéric Bastiat:

“If goods don’t cross borders, armies will.”

Many wars and conflicts in history have been catalyzed by trade disagreements, and Reed contends that diplomacy is a much preferable and more effective alternative. This argument has a basis among other free market thinkers, as well as national security theorists. Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises touted a similar theory to debunk the Marxist-Leninist contention that capitalism was a catalyst for war. Where Lenin saw the spread of worldwide capitalism as the internationalization of the eternal conflict between labor and capital, Mises posited that the interconnectedness of international trade established strong, mutually-beneficial commercial networks between countries that often served as a countervailing force against calls for martial conflict among trading nations. Ironically, though perhaps not surprisingly, a World Socialist website seemed to confirm Mises’ point back in 1999 when it noted: “The pledge to restart the talks [with China] came after a barrage of lobbying pressure by U.S. companies alarmed over the prospect of losing the billions of dollars in trade and investment opportunities.”


THE ULTIMATE ARGUMENT

Dr. Reed appropriately calls his final argument the “ultimate argument,” in which he takes a more economic look at the effects of protectionism. This argument claims that tariffs and quotas harm consumers by giving them inferior products, fewer options, and higher prices. Other trading parties also have the ability to retaliate to protectionist action. Dr. Reed closes this argument by saying, “You cannot close the door to imports without closing the door on exports.” Dr. Reed’s economic point has historical basis in our hemisphere, where “import substitution,” a much more drastic variant of protectionism, took Argentina from one of the top ten wealthiest countries at the dawn of the 20th century to an economic also-ran today. Chile, on the other hand, drastically reduced tariffs and opened its economy to the world, and has become the model economy for the region.


Dr. Reed is clearly wary of President Trump’s rhetorical tendency towards isolationism, and with good reason. It is imperative to maintain a free market for the nation’s continued prosperity. However, various conservatives believe that some countries have taken advantage of the U.S. due to its recent trade policy and that certain tariffs would put a stop to that. Our unwavering commitment to free trade is little solace to an entrepreneur whose intellectual property has been stolen by a state-owned Chinese manufacturer. To combat this, Joanne Butler, a former staffer of the House Means and Ways Committee, offers some enforcement tools that, she believes, can curb the violation of American property and intellectual rights. Butler references a law nicknamed “Special 301” as a means to punish countries that regularly engage in piracy of software, technology, high-end designer goods and other products by imposing tariffs on imported goods.

Former House Foreign Affairs Committee member Dan Burton claims that Trump was absolutely right to pull the U.S. from the TPP and renegotiate NAFTA. Burton opposes massive multilateral trade agreements that, he argues, “ceded our constitutional authority and economic autonomy to international organizations such as the World Trade Organization.” Burton goes on to stress the danger of the shift in manufacturing from domestic to globalized production has made the nation more vulnerable to international crises.

The key word in most conservative arguments for increased protectionism seems to be “fairness.” Dan Burton is not anti-trade, but he emphasizes the fact that trade only benefits the U.S. if it is free and fair. Finding a compromise in this discussion can be tricky, especially when dealing with a new president whose capacity for compromise is, at the very least, unproven. The United States has the world’s largest economy, and should not subject itself to unfair and harmful deals. However, those who argue for and orchestrate this pullback must not forget the principles of the free market and the benefits of free trade that allowed America to become great in the first place.

Republished from Archconuga.com

— J. Thomas Perdue is a sophomore studying journalism. He is a regular contributor to The Arch Conservative

Read more