Christian: n,

A person who believes in Jesus Christ, God incarnate who came to Earth and became flesh to die on the cross, sinless for our redemption.

libertarian: n,

"A person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being, or to advocate or delegate its initiation. Those who act consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they realize it or not. Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim."

-- L. Neil Smith

Friday, November 16, 2007

Individualism, Collectivism, and Other Murky Labels

I'm lazily borrowing from Sheldon Richman of the Foundation for Economic Education for my blog post today.

The Goal Is Freedom: Individualism, Collectivism, and Other Murky Labels

November 16, 2007

by Sheldon Richman

Sheldon Richman is the editor of The Freeman and "In brief." TGIF appears Fridays. Comments welcome.

Imagine the following person. He believes all individuals should be free to do "anything that's peaceful" and therefore favors private property, free global markets, freedom of contract, civil liberties, and all the related ideas that come under the label "libertarianism" (or liberalism). Obviously he is not a statist. But is he an individualist and a capitalist or a socialist and a collectivist?

It sounds like an easy question, but on closer inspection it's not. Much depends on the context, or the level of analysis at which the question is directed. An answer appropriate at the level of personal ethics may not be appropriate in a discussion of political economy. Take the word "individualist." There are many senses in which the person described above could be called an individualist. If in his personal life he habitually and ultimately relies on himself to make decisions (although he seeks information and wisdom from others) and does not slavishly follow fashion, he could appropriately be called an individualist. He likewise is a methodological individualist if he believes that only individuals act and create; only individuals have intentions, values, and preferences. He understands that when a group "acts," it's really just individuals acting in concert.

What about at the level of political economy? Is this person also an individualist in that context? Here the labels get murkier. He certainly is an individualist in the political-legal sense; that is, he favors a system in which individuals' titles to honestly acquired property are respected. Group ownership would have to be traceable to contracts among collections of individuals. (But for a libertarian theory of nonstate public property, see Roderick Long's "A Plea for Public Property.")

This seems to yield the conclusion that a libertarian is categorically an individualist. Not so fast. The term "individualist," let's recall, was a pejorative aimed at people of the libertarian persuasion. It was meant to stigmatize them as anti-social. The adjective "rugged" or "atomistic" was later added to drive the point home. In some minds, Theodore Kaczynski, who lived alone in a shack in the wilderness, was the quintessential individualist. But libertarian philosophy is the furthest thing from being anti-social. That would be a peculiar way indeed to describe a philosophy that embraces -- with gusto! -- the global division of labor and free trade across property, city, county, state, and national lines. (Yes, I left out planetary -- for now.)

Collective Intelligence

There are other senses in which "individualist' is far off the mark and in which "socialist" and even "collectivist" are closer. The Austrian tradition in economics has long emphasized that the chief advantage of the market process over central decision-making lies in the market's embodiment of a social, or collective, intelligence that is denied to any individual mind or small. This doesn't mean that a collective mind literally emerges, only that the social process and the price system combine in such a way that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The market "knows" more than any of us do alone. (The same point can be made for a broader context. The philosopher Wittgenstein argued that language itself, without which there is no thought, is essentially social.)

Further, Ludwig von Mises often emphasized that under laissez faire, consumers, not individual business people, determine who owns the means of production and what will be produced. When you trace out the implications of this, things get interesting. Consumers constantly make this determination through their buying and abstention from buying, but the outcome is never the intended result of conscious decision-making. Business people may legally own their capital and capital goods, but if consumers don't like what they do with those assets, owners face bankruptcy and loss of control. It is a social, or collective, process. As Mises wrote in Human Action,

The direction of all economic affairs is in the market society a task of entrepreneurs. Theirs is the control of production. They are at the helm and steer the ship. A superficial observer would believe that they are supreme. But they are not. They are bound to obey unconditionally the captain’s orders. The captain is the consumer. Neither the entrepreneurs nor the farmers nor the capitalists determine what has to be produced. The consumers do that. If a businessman does not strictly obey the orders of the public as they are conveyed to him by the structure of market prices, he suffers losses, he goes bankrupt, and is thus removed from his eminent position at the helm. Other men who did better in satisfying the demand of the consumers replace him.

Isn't that social, or collective, control of the means of the production? Does that make libertarians socialists or collectivists? This fact about the market is worth passing along to our good-faith opponents who decry any system that does not allow the mass of people a say in matters than affect them. The irony is that the free market accomplishes this, while avowedly socialist systems do not. But it is necessary to stress that Mises's point applies fully only under laissez faire -- meaning a free market without coerced privileges of any kind. Historically, government intervention in the market has aimed to shelter the privileged (owners of land and capital who benefited from political favoritism) from the demands of regular people -- consumers and workers -- the very ones whose voices are most effective in a truly free market. That is why the struggle for freedom, including economic freedom, has always been a struggle against privilege. (Libertarians who forget this espouse what "free-market anti-capitalist" Kevin Carson calls "vulgar libertarianism," or "faux 'free market' analysis that consists of an apologetic for big business.")

In summary, the great political debate is not between individualists and collectivists, but between those who see the coercive state as the locus of authority and those who see voluntary society as that locus. Liberals from Adam Smith to Herbert Spencer to F.A. Hayek have emphasized the benefits of free, spontaneous social (market) processes (including the common law) and how those processes are disrupted by the state. Advocates of the supremacy of state over society are properly called statists. Wouldn't it follow that advocates of the supremacy of society over state should be called socialists? In this regards, I recall that the libertarian James Dale Davidson, founder of the National Taxpayers Union, long ago wrote a book (The Squeeze, as I remember) that called for a "socialization of rules." By that he meant that the rules and customs of everyday life should be generated, bottom-up, by society, not imposed, top down, by legislators.

Pure Manchesterism

Be assured, I am not suggesting that libertarians start calling themselves socialists. I am saying that a reconsideration of labels can clarify understanding. Nevertheless, as a historical matter I think Mises was mistaken when he wrote, "The notion of socialism as conceived and defined by all socialists implies the absence of a market for factors of production and of prices of such factors." This can't be true because some earlier American advocates of laissez faire -- pure Manchesterism -- called themselves socialists, most prominently, Benjamin Tucker, editor of Liberty magazine, 1881-1908. In the view of Tucker and his allies, "capitalism" meant government interference in the market (tariffs, the banking cartel, patents, and the land monopoly) on behalf of capital to the detriment of the rest of society. His solution was a completely free and competitive market void of privilege; only that system would restore to workers the just earnings taken through government intervention. He called it socialism (or anarchism) and distinguished it from from state socialism, including Marxism. In 1884 he wrote:

Socialism [in his conception] says that what's one man's meat must no longer be another's poison; that no man shall be able to add to his riches except by labor; that in adding to his riches by labor alone no man makes another man poorer; that on the contrary every man thus adding to his riches makes every other man richer; that increase and concentration of wealth through labor tend to increase, cheapen, and vary production; that every increase of capital in the hands of the laborer tends, in the absence of legal monopoly, to put more products, better products, cheaper products, and a greater variety of products within the reach of every man who works; and that this fact means the physical, mental, and moral perfecting of mankind, and the realization of human fraternity. Is that not glorious? Shall a word that means all that be cast aside simply because some have tried to wed it with authority? ("Socialism: What It Is")
When you include in "labor" what entrepreneurs do, Tucker's description of a free society is virtually indistinguishable from those offered by Frederic Bastiat, Ludwig von Mises, and Leonard Read.

Today socialism means state, not social, control. But for many people here and abroad, "capitalism" means not laissez faire, but rather corporatism, or what the great libertarian Albert Jay Nock called "the Merchant-state." It behooves us to make sure our labels communicate clearly. Otherwise we will never bring the mass of people to the cause of liberty.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Bible is a great source for cliche's.

"The Bible is full of contradictions." How many times have we heard that? But, it's true. For people who don't want to expend the time and effort to learn the Bible, or who want to use it to suit their agenda, it can be full of contradictions. There are hundreds of passages which, taken by themselves without regard for context, can be used to say just about anything. The best intentioned of us fall for it. There's even some stuff that we've made up ourselves. "The Lord helps those who help themselves." It's not even in the Bible. I have no idea where people come up with some of this stuff. The fact is that without honest objective study, you can make the Bible say just about anything you want it to. Look at all the people who use Romans 13 as their justification for government's sordid actions. Ecclesiastes, Acts, the whole of the Old Testiment, you name it, a cliche' can be found to support almost any position. If it's your desire to use the Bible to support your agenda, I can all but guarantee that you'll find exactly what you're looking for. If, on the other hand you're using the Bible to find the truth, the fact is that you probably won't like what you find. We are all selfish and sinful human beings. What we want and what the Bible says are seldom the same thing. I like this cliche'. If you don't pass the devil every day, you're probably headed in the wrong direction.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Capitalism, Wealth and Salvation

Capitalism, it seems, is a very misunderstood term. Apparently misunderstood even by the person who is credited with creating the word. Karl Marx, the founder of modern socialism, observed the economic system around him and the problems which arose from it. He incorrectly diagnosed the problem as being directly related to the ownership of "capital."

Capital, is really nothing more than private property. It is that which you own, the disposition of which you have the absolute right to determine so long as that action does not violate the equal negative rights of others. I own an old pick-up. That, among my few other worldly possessions, is my capital. My property right to that truck is either absolute or it is violated. I have the right to use it, save it, destroy it, trade it, or give it away. It is mine. Capital, understood in this sense, is neither bad nor good. It is inanimate and therefor cannot be the cause of the problems Marx attributed to it. What Marx saw was the limited variety of economic systems which had been around in various forms and degrees throughout modern history. These systems were, as they've always been, based on the ability of the wealthy to violate the rights of the poor by buying privilege from governments or by the wealthy simply being the government. Such was the case with feudalism, where the nobles made it illegal for commoners to own alodial titles to land. Marx targeted the thing, capital, rather than the human sin, as the problem much like people today will say that guns kill people. It wasn't property, but the ability to fraudulently legitimize violations of the rights of others that was the problem.

So what is capitalism, really? Capitalism isn't an economic system. It is the recognition of each individuals absolute private property rights and the disposition of that property without violation by others. It is the market in it's natural state without the use of any system of coercion imposed upon it - without the legitimized fraud, threat of murder, theft, or slavery. Capitalism has never been given a fair shake. It's been allowed in small doses throughout history, but no government has ever allowed the market to work absolutely free of at least some form of taxation, tariffs, quotas, guilds, professional licensure, price controls, regulation, and of course control over "legal tender."

We must remember that wealth is not inherently bad, it is the method by which we attain it and what we choose to do with it that makes the difference. Many people misquote the Bible by saying that money is the root of all evil, but the quote is really that the love of money is the root of all evil. Many Christians also interpret Christ's analogy of a wealthy man entering the Kingdom of Heaven being as probable as a camel passing through the eye of a needle to mean that the wealth is the problem, not the sin. Allow me to relate this to my personal experience. For most of my adult life I worked as a flightline service technician in corporate aviation. I had the opportunity to rub shoulders with the kind of people that wealthy people call wealthy people. These are people who own jets worth tens of millions of dollars and can still afford the operating costs on top of that. It occurred to me that over the years not a single one of them that I could remember came by his wealth without the use of some form of government coercion. Large corporations depend on the government to limit liability, to control competition through tariffs, quotas, licensing, and regulation and to steal through taxation, eminent domain and manipulation of monetary policy. Many of these customers were Christians who owned billions worth of material wealth but would only sacrifice a relatively small portion to help others. Most would practice fake benevolence by advocating government programs instead where theft, the state, and the members of government replace voluntary sacrifice, God and Christian compassion. God does everything for a reason and the command to attend to those less fortunate is no exception. We are not called to do these things just so the poor can have food in their bellies, clothes and shelter. We are so called to give glory to God through our personal sacrifice in that the unsaved might see Christ in us. When Christians selfishly pass that responsibility on to government, those who have the fruit of their labor taken by force feel contempt for the poor rather than compassion. The poor see those more fortunate as greedy individuals who wouldn't lift a finger for them if the government did not force them to and rather than being grateful for God's mercy, they begin to see the ill gotten gain as an entitlement that those who earned it do not deserve. The government, which uses fraud, coercive force, murder, theft and slavery becomes their god. Christians who do not want to give up their comfortable lives, who abdicate their responsibility to the illegitimate means of the state bear the burden of those souls who never saw Christ as a result.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Democracy: n, government by the people, instead of God.

I like the term 'natural law.' That term sticks in the craw of some Christians because they think of natural law as being opposed to God's law. I believe that before God created the heavens and the Earth and gave it the big spin, he had a lot of calculations to make so that it all worked right. God, being God, didn't have to sit down with a pencil, slide rule and eraser for a few eons. He got it all perfect the first time in a blink of an eye. But, if you think about getting the distance of each planet from the Sun just right and the rotation on the Earth and gravity and, the physics of making everything here work like it does is miraculous, literally. All the things which occur 'naturally' do so because that's the way God designed it. Saying that something is natural simply means that it exists in the state in which God intended it to. I believe the logic that tells Christians to separate God from that which He created is a lie told by the great deceiver. (That's Satan, not George Bush. George Bush is just Mini Deceiver.) The laws of nature, whether physical, economical, or otherwise function according to a fixed set of rules. That's what makes them laws rather than theories. Understanding and obeying these laws yields a benefit whereas ignoring them or violating them always results, (eventually), in negative consequences. Natural law recognizes the God given equal negative rights of each individual solely within the context of human interaction. Some will say that discussions of rights ignore God's position. I believe that to place God on the playing field of rights, as if to imply that some comparison of human rights to those of the omnipotent Creator and Ruler of all is even possible, is blasphemous. How do we know God gave us rights? He told us not to steal, murder or bear false witness, for a start. The number of times possessive pronouns are used throughout the Bible must have meaning as well; his, hers, mine, yours, theirs, ours. I don't think that's a Biblical Faux Pas.

"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Yep, that's ALL. That's me and you and our pastors, politicians, friends, family, and everybody else, no human exceptions. What is sin? It's every time we put ourselves in God's place, every time we think we know better than God. When we are self governing, which each of us does every day in regard to thoughts and actions too numerous to consider, we choose to act on those thoughts, based on what we believe God would have us do or to ignore God and do things our way. Because we're fallible humans our discernment in this area misses the target more often than not and we rarely hit the bull's eye. However, the damage we cause can be minimized by limiting our desire to use coercive force to impose our imperfect will on others. We have our perfect example in Jesus Christ. God came to Earth as a man and lived a sinless life. He came during the Roman Empire which had the use of coercive force down to a science. Christ however, was humble. He wasn't the mighty warrior that Israel expected. But, of course when God fails to meet our expectations we always believe ourselves instead of Him. Israel was no different. They figured, this dude was obviously not the Messiah and they needed to do something about it. But Christ, who had the power to destroy the universe, did not even threaten to use that power. As a Christian, I am called to Christ's example. He didn't turn the Roman legions against His enemies. He did not employ the power of the Roman State as a means to any Earthly ends. Christ chose persuasion over coercion. He chose compassion and mercy for His enemies over the threat of violence. To use the initiation of force or to delegate its use to the state for our own personal, social, political or economic goals, regardless of our good intentions, is un-Christian. Democracy, government by the people, is un-Christian.

It is very easy to pull the sheep's skin off of the wolf that is democracy. It is only our selfish desire to ignore God's law that allows us to purposely ignore democracy's true nature. Here's what a few others thought about democracy;

"Democracy is the road to socialism." Karl Marx

"A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.
" Thomas Jefferson

"More socialism means more democracy, openness and collectivism in everyday life." "Democracy is the wholesome and pure air without which a socialist public organization cannot live a full-blooded life."
Mikhail Gorbachev

"Democracy is indispensable to socialism." Vladimir Lenin

"Democracy without morality is impossible." Jack Kemp

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." "I confess I enjoy democracy immensely. It is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing." H. L. Mencken

"Socialist democracy is not a luxury but an absolute, essential necessity for overthrowing capitalism and building socialism." Ernest Mandel

"A modern democracy is a tyranny whose borders are undefined." Norman Mailer

"Republics decline into democracies and democracies degenerate into despotisms." Aristotle

"Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide." John Adams

"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner." Benjamin Franklin

"And for well over a hundred years our politicians, statesmen, and people remembered that this was a republic, not a democracy, and knew what they meant when they made that distinction." Robert Welch

"The one pervading evil of democracy is the tyranny of the party that succeeds, by force or fraud, in carrying elections." Lord Acton

"Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme liberty." "Democracy passes into despotism." Plato

"The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." Winston Churchill

"Our country's founders cherished liberty, not democracy." Ron Paul

My definition of democracy is the oppression of the minority by the majority. It is a fraudulently legitimized method for government to give privilege to some by violating the rights of all the others.
Is democracy in the Bible? Not specifically by name, but definitely in action.

The first recorded use of democracy occurred before the earth was even created. One of God's angels got disgruntled and thought he should be equal to God. He and some of the other angels vote on it and God cast them out of Heaven. We've been on the downhill slide ever since. The first humans, Adam and Eve, were conned into democracy by Satan. The eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge got three yeas and one nay. Israel tried to ignore God so many times, you'd think they'd have eventually caught on. Moses went up to the mountain to receive God's commandments, but while he was gone, idolatry received the popular vote and everyone had to give up their gold to make a silly cow statue. They were probably pretty disappointed when Moses came back down with two stone tablets and no ballot box to voice their opinions. In Samuel 1:8 we see everybody wanting earthly government again, and God's warning against it, and once again the people got what they wanted, good and hard. Democracy's in the New Testament too. Vote for Barabbas or get four more years of Jesus! (Don't get me started on the false dichotomy of Repuplicrats Vs. Democrans.) Many people claim that Judas' replacement was democratically chosen. Whether he was or wasn't you never hear anything else about him.

The founders of these united States loathed and feared democracy. That's why they imposed a Constitutional Republic on us instead. If you search through the declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the US Constitution, you will not find the word democracy, not even once. Perhaps observing God's law and the teachings of Christ and respecting other's God given rights of life, liberty and property is better than using democracy as a means to violate those rights for some fallible human end.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Rights have as much to do with what you may not do as what you may.

You may not violate my negative rights, (life, liberty and property), because I may not violate yours. Notice that rights really have nothing to do with what one can do and everything to do with what one may do. The ability to do or obtain something is not synonymous with the right to it, nor does having the right automatically guarantee or entitle you to it. You have the ability to steal, murder, enslave and defraud others, but this does not mean you have that right. You have the right to life but that does not guarantee you protection from drowning or shark attack if you fall into the ocean, nor does it obligate anyone else to jump in or throw you a life preserver. You have the right to liberty but that doesn't mean someone else has to provide you the means of expressing yourself or a rope should you loose your liberty by falling down a well, nor does it mean you may trespass or do whatever you feel like while exercising the privilege of being on someone else's property. You have the right to property. In fact, your life and your liberty are yours and therefor fall under the umbrella of property. Your right to property, like the others, is not a guarantee. Your right to obtain property only extends to that property which you obtained without anyone else's rights being violated in the process. To illustrate that, I'll choose a popular fallacy. Here in the United Socialist States of America you have, "the right to an attorney." Somewhere along the road that mutated into, "you have the right to have the state use coercive force to violate someone else's property rights in order to supply you with an attorney." If we were honest, we'd call a spade a spade and change that to, "The state has granted you the privilege of an attorney by stealing the necessary funds from others." And where did the state get the right to appropriate those funds? They didn't. They granted themselves that privilege through the only means the state has; the fraudulently legalized monopoly on the use of force. Their toolkit for sustaining that monopoly includes only four tools; murder, theft, slavery, and fraud. Without these, the state would literally cease to exist.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Government - Size matters. So does power and selfishness.

I sometimes feel like the faerie tale cobbler and wish that elves would sneak in by night and write my blog. Away from the computer, I can think the most beautifully eloquent thoughts, but upon sitting in front of it those thoughts seem to turn into incomprehensible primitive grunts bearing little resemblance to my original line of thinking. One of the subjects of which I have a great many convictions is government. I express myself so poorly in this area that most people who know me might even say I'm anti-government. Nothing could be further from the truth. I can place some of the blame for this on word usage. Government is a very general term which has become synonymous with "The State." I've read many anti-state articles where the word government is substituted in places where The State would be much more appropriate. Attempting to establish a definition of government can be a daunting task. renders the definitions listed here;

and gives us all of these;

So what is it anyway? Boiled down, it's the act of governing. Oh, thanks Einstein. How 'bout something we don't know. OK, then, what does it mean to govern?

Something in that first definition is very interesting. "to rule over by right of authority." So the first thing to establish might be whether or not the "government" in question even has the right of authority. What is a right? Where do you get one? Rights can be as difficult to explain as gravity. Hard to point to and say, "There it is," but if it's taken away you recognize that it's gone pretty dang quickly. I was trying to explain to someone last week the objectiveness of the existence of rights. He wasn't going to accept my argument until I could tell him where they came from. He didn't acknowledge the existence of a creator nor would he listen long enough for me to explain rights as they exist in nature. It was his contention that rights only exist because some human granted them. Of course, if people give people rights then people can take people's rights away just as quickly and if rights can be given and taken then they are subjective and cease to be rights at all. Rights must be inherent. They must be part of the state of nature or else they do not exist at all. In fact, so called rights which can be granted and taken away by people are actually not rights at all. They are privileges, sometimes referred to as "positive rights" because they require positive action on the part of someone else for their existence. As opposed to actual rights or "negative rights" which require nothing to exist except that no other person violates them. Human beings or groups of human beings cannot give or taken away rights. Humans can exercise, ignore, respect, defend, violate, subjugate, and voluntarily transfer rights but can not call them into or out of existence. So where does that leave us with respect to government? The exercise of the right to govern must only exist in the individual except that he grant someone else the privilege to govern him voluntarily and also retain the right to withdraw that privilege. At times government comes as the result of an exercise of privilege. (You may use my pencil, but you may not write dirty words with it.)

Legitimate governance can be granted through various routes. Self governance is the simplest example. Some governance comes as the result of one family member's dependency on another. If I have the privilege of living under Daddy's roof and consuming the fruit of his labor, then he has the right, within reason, to govern my actions. Some governance is by mutual agreement. An employer/employee has the right to dictate guidelines. I will work for you as long as you pay me an ounce of gold per week. You may work for me as long as you wear a clean shirt and don't spit on the customers. Voluntary association is very important. I remember asking an old friend, "What's the difference between a cult and a religion?" He replied, "The difference lies in the degree of difficulty involved in leaving." Friendship, church, the Moose Lodge, all have aspects of governance, sometimes articulated, sometimes just understood, but when violated, one must retain the right to disassociate.

It becomes obvious that the larger the entity, the more difficult it becomes to simply walk away. Sometimes it's not even an option. As the circle widens the association between the governor and the governed must, by nature become less voluntary and the degree of force used to maintain that association increase, and enter what we call, "The State."

Watch this and I'll continue this later...


What's in a Name?

I was looking in the Yellow Pages for the phone number of a local charity. The listing for 'Charitable Organizations' says, "See Social Service Organizations." Looks like INGSOC has been at work here. I guess individual responsibility and Christian compassion have been deemed double plus not good.