Showing posts with label Murray Rothbard. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Murray Rothbard. Show all posts


Secession, Slavery and the Civil War: Causation, Correlation or Mass Confusion?

The Ludwig von Mises Institute recently hosted their annual get together in Houston on the heroically controversial theme of secession.  Mises Institute President Jeff Deist opened the morning with a speech advising us to secede in our local capacity, starting at the individual level.  Dr. Brian McClanahan detailed America's rich history of secession, from the 13 colonies' war of secession from Great Britain to Texas' war of secession against Mexico.  Lew Rockwell contrasted the rich libertarian history of secession to the regime libertarians' knee-jerk reaction to such an unapproved opinion.  After lunch, New York Times best-selling author Tom Woods highlighted the absurdity of viewing secession as blasphemous while the decision to kill half a million children is a matter of public policy.  Finally, Dr. Ron Paul closed out the afternoon by speaking of secession as just one tool to be used in the greater contest for liberty.

It was a wonderful opportunity to meet with so many like-minded people from all over the country that chose to travel long distances for a one-day seminar on a topic that is viewed by the mainstream as antiquated and unorthodox at best.  In retrospect, the most amazing part of the event is how we were able to have a rational, thoughtful dialogue on this topic without ever bringing up the elephant in the room: slavery and the civil war.  It's like we all took it for granted that everyone was familiar with the works of authors like DiLorenzo and didn't need to rehash the history taught in public schools that Lincoln heroically fought the civil war to free the slaves and save the Union against the traitorous secessionists of the South.  We didn't need to waste time analyzing that myth; we could immediately jump to more productive and enlightening dialogue.

However, the sad reality many of us faced traveling home was that it is nearly impossible to continue that rational conversation on the merits and challenges of secession with most of our coworkers, friends and family.  Raise the specter of secession and the Pavlovian responses of "racism", "slavery" and even "neo-confederate" predictably follow.  But what else should we expect in a society with 12+ years of government indoctrination and a mainstream media that foams at the mouth and is undeniably dishonest when someone has the gall to question the necessity of the war considering that slavery was peaceably ended in every other country without requiring the loss of 620,000 lives and billions in damages and debt.

The civil war was fought to free the slaves.  The secessionists were traitors.  These are the commonly held myths we must dismantle before the rest of society can join us in a reasonable and common-sense discussion on the right of secession.

Why was the Civil War fought?

The government-approved history of the Civil War goes something like this: the Southern states illegally seceded from the United States to protect their institution of slavery.  This prompted a Civil War, causing a tremendous loss of life and property on both sides, but ultimately ending with Lincoln fulfilling his quest by preserving the Union and freeing the slaves.

This narrative may seem undisputable but it suffers from fatal errors once you scratch the surface.  On the first point concerning the cause of secession there is no major disagreement.  While the Southern states did have grievances against the Federal Government like protective tariffs that unfairly benefited the North at the expense of the South, the major reason cited in the state's secession documents was the issue of slavery.  Thomas Fleming's A Disease in the Public Mind points to the colliding forces of unrelenting abolitionism in the North and the South's fear of a race war which made it impossible to find an agreeable end to the system of slavery.

So while seven of the Southern states seceded over the slavery issue, the reason for the war given by Lincoln himself was not slavery, but to prevent secession.  As Lincoln repeatedly said,
"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.  If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.  What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union."
Lincoln made this point numerous times such that it cannot be directly challenged by regime historians, but what happens instead is a logical fallacy built under the guise of the familiar mathematical axiom that if a = b and b = c, then a = c.  In other words, "if the cause of secession was slavery, and to prevent secession was the reason for the war, then the reason for the war was slavery".  This may seem a trivial point, but it is imperative that the undisputed good of ending slavery is not used to cloud our judgment when considering the true motivations for the ugly and brutal war that preceded it.  Any fantasy that the North was fighting a war of racial justice must be dismantled so that we can objectively look at the agreed upon reason for the war, secession, in an unbiased light.

First of all, if the Civil War was about slavery, why would there have been 7 slave states that stayed loyal to the Union while the Confederacy was formed?  The fact is, the people of the North were largely no better or even worse than the southerners when it came to racial equality.  The Northerners enforced fugitive slave laws, kept child slaves for 25+ years during manumission, denied free blacks suffrage, and generally did all they could to make their states white only.  Conversely, Fleming noted that only a small minority of Southern men owned slaves or otherwise had a direct financial incentive in the practice - so why would they fight over it and risk their lives and everything they owned?  The simple answer is they wouldn't.  So what would they fight for?  Of the seven slave states that originally stayed in the Union, four of those states only seceded after Lincoln had put out calls to raise an army of invasion and the first shots were fired at Ft. Sumter.  If it war was over slavery, can we imagine that Lincoln would have called it quits if the seceded states had freed their slaves?  Of course not!  It wasn't slavery that drove Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee out; Lincoln made it clear he had no quarrel with that institution in any loyal state.  They joined the confederacy and fought out of disbelief that Lincoln would declare war and invade the southern states which they believed had every right to peaceably withdraw from their government, just as their great-grandfathers had done 90 years earlier from King George III.  It might have been slavery that prompted the first 7 states to leave, but that's not why 11 states fought a long and brutal war - they fought for self-government.

Unbelievably, it is the fine print of the Emancipation Proclamation itself that best shines a light on the dubious claim that Lincoln freed the slaves.  Proving Lincoln to be the master politician, that document only applied to the states in rebellion, specifically exempting the states that had stayed loyal! So the slaves that Lincoln had the power to free were to remain slaves, but he supposedly freed the slaves in states that had already left the Union and formed their own country.  H.L. Mencken said it best,
"Even his handling of the slavery question was that of a politician, not that of a messiah... An Abolitionist would have published the Emancipation Proclamation the day after the first battle of Bull Run.  But Lincoln waited until the time was more favorable - until Lee had been hurled out of Pennsylvania, and more important still, until the political currents were safely running his way.  Even so, he freed the slaves in only a part of the country: all the rest continued to clank their chains until he himself was an angel in Heaven."
Ultimately, there are many contending theories of precisely why the Federal government invaded the Confederacy.  While Thomas Fleming discusses the "diseases in the public mind" that fueled the Civil War, Thomas DiLorenzo unmasks the real Lincoln, showing how his ideology favoring a strong central state led him to launch an unnecessary and illegal war to destroy the doctrine of state's rights.  John Avery Emison takes just about everything we were taught about the Civil War and turns it on its head, first showing us that it would be more accurate to call it America's second war of secession, and from there demonstrating how our first "total war" paved the way for the horrors of the 20th century's world wars and set the precedent for the most egregious violations of federal power today.  As if it couldn't get any worse, John Graham makes the case that it wasn't historical accidents that caused the War for Southern Independence, but "antagonisms… deliberately agitated during the 1850s by great international banking houses with a preconceived motive of provoking secession" to generate unpayable debts and establish the financial empire that still rules this country.  Regardless of these various theories, we should all be able to agree with Walter Williams when he unequivocally states, the Civil War wasn't about slavery.

Were the Secessionists traitors?

With the end of slavery properly understood as a happy by-product of the Civil War, but not at all the reason that 620,000 fought and died, we can examine the legitimacy of the war through fresh eyes.  Was Lincoln justified in waging a war against the Confederacy to preserve the Union, and just what did he preserve?

First, it might be instructive to take a step back and examine the points made by Emison concerning just what we should call this decisive event in American history.  Unlike the civil war in Spain, the American Civil War was not a battle of two competing factions fighting for control over a common central government.  The Southern states had no dictates to the North, no terms other than to be left alone.  Jefferson Davis even sent a peace delegation to promote friendly ties between the two countries, which Lincoln refused to see.  So what do we call a war when one side has formally withdrawn and entered into a state of self-government and the other side invades that country to bring it into submission?  A war of independence or a war for secession certainly fits the historical circumstances better than a civil war.

At this point our government indoctrination might be kicking in - am I possibly making the argument that the traitorous South had the moral high ground in this war, the exact opposite of what the victorious Federal Government has led us to believe?  Indeed, Murray Rothbard concluded that there are only two American wars that have met the criteria for a "just war", that being the first war of secession against Great Britain, and the second war of secession of the Southern states.

But how could this be?  The Southern states seceded for slavery, the act of depriving individuals from exercising their free will, one of the greatest crimes that man can commit.  Doesn't this fact tarnish secession?  But consider the reverse scenario.  If secession is to be judged by the worst vices of those that endorsed it, shouldn’t we also look at the crimes of those that did not believe in secession but instead in an all-powerful central government?  Adolf Hitler himself wrote in Mein Kampf that secession was illegal because "it was the Union which formed a great part of such so-called states."  Similarly, the violence wrecked by omnipotent central governments that were no fans of secession counts some 200 million dead in the 20th century alone.

Rather than only focusing on the worst qualities of those that believed in secession, let's recall that one of our most famous founding fathers was explicitly in favor of secession and nullification to combat the growth of centralized government in the Principles of '98.  Thomas Jefferson postulated that it was "not very important to the happiness of either part" of the country if the United States broke up.  In a live and let live fashion, he said that in separation "God bless them both, and keep them in the union if it be for their good, but separate them, if it be better".

At the time Lincoln invaded the South there were five living ex-presidents, every one of which opposed the war in one way or another.  Some did not agree with the decision to secede and did their best to convince the Southern states to remain in the Union, but they ultimately believed in the right of secession.  After all, Vermont seceded from New York, Texas seceded from Mexico, and West Virginia seceded from Virginia during the Civil War itself.  And as previously mentioned, the United States itself seceded from Great Britain in the Revolutionary War.  You'd think that would count for something.

Historical precedents aside, we can also look at this logically and constitutionally.  An established precedent of law is known as legislative entrenchment, meaning that what one legislative body has the power to do, another can do or undo.  A prior legislative body cannot rule from the grave and if the state legislature of 1787 has the power to ratify the constitution, so then can the state legislature of 1861 choose to repeal that ratification.  Indeed, Virginia's secession document explicitly stated it was a lawful repeal of the ratification of the Constitution.  Can we imagine that the 13 colonies, having just had their full sovereign nature individually acknowledged by Great Britain, really joined a union that they could never leave?  Every historical precedent from the federalist papers to the state ratifying conventions says otherwise.

The Southern states were not traitorous when they seceded; they had every right to do so.  The only traitor was Lincoln, who declared war without congressional approval and violated a hundred other constitutional provisions and laws of human decency in his battle to "preserve the Union".  He may have reclaimed the Southern states as captured provinces, but he certainly didn't preserve our republic.  What we had was a voluntary association of independent states united under the contract of the Constitution.  Lincoln's war of aggression most assuredly killed that system of government for all the states, replacing it with the federal leviathan that knows no boundaries and gives no thought to the consent of the governed.  He won the war and we still suffer the losses.

What is Secession?

Secession - it was the foundation of the American Revolution against King George III.  Even today, it is the most radical concept of the last 500 years.  As stated in Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, when a government is destructive to the ends of the people that created it, it is their duty to institute a new government.  That wasn't an idle threat; secession is the means to do so.  It is the true enforcement mechanism to ensure that we have government by consent.

Just think of what a glorious preventative check the threat of secession is to the limitless goals of our federal masters.  Imagine the contrast with a "marriage union".  Even though it is a document signed "till death do us part", all modern states recognize the right of divorce, the equivalent of secession.  As Emison questioned, would an abusive husband treat his wife better or worse in a society where divorce was legal or illegal?  The question answers itself, and it also explains why the federal government is able to propose increasingly egregious legislation on battered, defenseless states that have nowhere to run and no hope of retaliation.

How bizarre that in a country founded on the principle of secession time has allowed this cornerstone of liberty and bedrock of freedom to be marginalized and disgraced.  After all, as Tom Woods noted in his speech at the Mises Circle, its practical effect is nothing more than to say, "maybe this imaginary line should be drawn up here instead of over there."

Lew Rockwell defined secession in more human terms, reminding us of the moral obligation we have to our fellow men and the responsibility we carry when we endorse our political agents to carry out violence in our name.  He summed up the the libertarian perspective this way:
"It is morally illegitimate to employ state violence against individuals who choose to group themselves differently from how the existing regime chooses to group them. They prefer to live under a different jurisdiction. Libertarians consider it unacceptable to aggress against them for this."
View the right of secession as a moral imperative to not aggress against others that want to go in peace.  Recognize the arbitrary nature of all government boundaries and the absurdity in going into hysterics if one of those lines should change.  Acknowledge secession as the foundation of this very country and think of how it could be a very realistic solution to the issues we face today.  But above all, rescue secession from the dustbin of history that ignorance has placed it.  Secession is a noble, practical and moral idea that deserves our attention and respect.


Around the world people want freedom and if they can't have that, a more representative government will do.  The CIA and military industrial complex provides us with all kinds of "approved" secessions and revolutions around the world from despots who have inexplicably leaped from the ally to the enemy category - but dare suggest that Texas may be better of seceding if the federal government continues its unsustainable path, or that the citizens of California would be better represented if certain counties seceded to create new states - well you must be a closet racist!  This hypocrisy and doublethink can’t go on forever.

As Thomas DiLorenzo recently documented, secession is a global phenomenon that isn't going away:
"There are 32 secessionist movements in Africa; 114 secessionist movements in Europe; 20 secessionist movements in North America; 83 secessionist movements in Asia; 11 secessionist movements in South America; and 26 secessionist movements in Oceania.  Neo-Confederates are everywhere!"
However, the most exciting thing about secession isn't just the prospect of replacing one government with another one, but the larger philosophical impact for the libertarian movement.  Followed to its logical conclusion, when the state can secede from the country, and the county from the state, and the town from the county, we can envision a practical path to our anarcho-capitalist utopia.  But ultimately, if the right of secession is accepted and respected, we could imagine a government that has an actual incentive to stay within its delegated boundaries, a government that actually serves its supposed purpose of contributing to the happiness of the people instead of to their destruction.  It may be impossible to keep the state with its monopoly on violence within the boundaries set by those that consented to its jurisdiction, but if it were to be possible, it is certainly only so in a society where the right of secession is alive and well.  Let us fight to create such a society, not through violence - that is the government’s specialty, but in the war of ideas.


A Libertarian Party Platform for Libertarians

I recently spent a weekend locked in an Indianapolis Hotel with 20 other libertarians from around the country.  We were either appointed by the Libertarian National Committee or sent as delegates from our state parties to create a report of recommended changes to the Libertarian Party Platform to be submitted to the delegates at the upcoming national convention.  Organized within the framework of Roberts Rules of Order and Parliamentary Procedure, we debated how libertarian principles, policy recommendations and marketing strategy should guide our party platform.  While serious points of contention revolved around grammar, style and the use of oxford commas, there were many fierce debates that got to the heart of what libertarianism is and isn't, putting our very name on the line.

I volunteered to be the representative for the Texas Libertarian Party not because I feel passionate about any particular planks I want to see changed in the current platform, but because I pretty much like it the way it is.  I've previously written on the dilemma that many principled libertarians face, which is whether or not to vote or otherwise engage in the political process.  The authors that contribute to the best-read libertarian website in the world seem to be almost unanimous in condemning political action, even within the LP.  I'm of the opinion that as long as the Libertarian Party does not misrepresent their core message to appeal to the masses and truly deserves the name "the party of principle" then the majority of the arguments against joining and supporting the LP don't hold water.

This gets to the heart of another topic on which I've written, whether the Libertarian Party should take a principled or a practical approach in the political process.  This foundational decision has many implications that don't always fall down the anarchist vs. minarchist party line.  What is the primary purpose of the Libertarian Party, to spread libertarianism or to get candidates elected?  Who is our target audience, libertarians or non-libertarians?  God help us, there are some that even disagree on what libertarianism is!  Only when those questions are answered do you have the framework for creating a cohesive and consistent Libertarian Party Platform - and when the delegates and leaders of the party are sharply divided on these issues we are setting ourselves up for some interesting debates in June.

What is Libertarianism?

George Orwell prophetically wrote on how language and the meaning of words can be used as a weapon in the political arena.  If you are able to influence culture enough to change or confuse the meaning of words you can thereby narrow the spectrum of allowable opinion and guide the masses without them ever realizing it.  One example of this phenomenon is the term liberal.  Thomas Jefferson's liberalism aligned to small governments, free markets, and natural rights while today's liberal supports big government, economic regulations, and privileges granted by "society".

Taking this lesson from history to heart, it is vitally important for the libertarian movement to not allow our brand to be misrepresented.  Without assigning motives to people I don't know, there are some trying to expand the term libertarianism to include things with which it has no concern, thereby diluting the core message into meaninglessness and creating contradictions where there should be none.

Quoting from a recent article by Laurence Vance on this very topic, "Libertarianism is a political philosophy concerned with the permissible use of force or violence."  But that can be said of all forms of government, as government is defined as a monopoly on the use of violence, and therefore the type of government you have guides how violence may be legally used.  Democracies adhere to majority rule, such that 51 people can vote to use violence against 49 others.  A Monarch can use violence against any of his subjects with impunity.  Under communist rule any individual can be aggressed upon if it benefits the commune in the eyes of the communist leadership.

Thus, Murray Rothbard defines libertarianism within this context:
“The only proper role of violence is to defend person and property against violence, that any use of violence that goes beyond such just defense is itself aggressive, unjust, and criminal.  Libertarianism, therefore, is a theory which states that everyone should be free of violent invasion, should be free to do as he sees fit except invade the person or property of another.” 
That is all libertarianism is about: when you can and cannot use violence or the threat of violence.  Because of this limitation some criticize libertarianism for not being what it is not and has not ever been: a comprehensive moral philosophy.  Libertarians are typically characterized as sexists, racists, bigots, homophobes and elitists because we do not believe in outlawing these types of behaviors.  Libertarianism says what you must not do, not what you should do.  We stand for the freedom of association, including the freedom not to associate.  We stand for the freedom of speech, including unpopular speech.  We stand for self-ownership, including the right to do things to your body that may be harmful.  Because of our principled stance to always protect individual liberty, even when liberty is used in ways some may disagree with, we are painted as endorsing these vices.  However, libertarians have a wide range of non-aggressive responses to vices.  Unfortunately, in this day of omnipotent government there are only two options for any given behavior, it should either be forced or forbidden, both carrying the threat of being locked in a cage or worse for disobedience to the state.

It is one thing to find this misunderstanding to be pervasive among the average voter, but it is far more serious and disappointing when people calling themselves libertarians display this same ignorance towards the most fundamental concepts of their professed ideology.  Sometimes it may be from lack of knowledge but at other times it is a deliberate misrepresentation.  At the Libertarian Platform Committee meeting suggestions were made to add and remove language to our platform planks to make them more appealing to the voters.  There is nothing wrong with being brief instead of wordy, using plain words instead of libertarian-insider words, and using proven salesmanship approaches - but only as long as you do not distort your message in the process.

One misguided idea that came up several times was to add qualifying terms in reference to who could and could not exercise certain rights.  For instance, plank 1.6 Self-Defense very boldly defends the right of individuals to own and use firearms in self-defense and correctly calls out our opposition to all laws that would infringe upon this right.  This is as libertarian as it gets - the right to own property, including firearms, is only limited by the duty not to infringe on the equal rights of others and any action to pre-emptively violate this right is itself an aggressive, unjust, and criminal action. Despite my best protests the committee voted to recommend a change in the current language from "individual" to "peaceful adult".  This might seem like a sensible substitution that doesn't materially change the plank, but let's explore the ramifications of this seemingly innocuous appeal to common-sense.

When we say that a right can only be exercised by a "peaceful adult" or use any other qualification it ceases to be a right and becomes a privilege.  The new language didn't say the use of firearms must be peaceful, that would be implied by the term "self-defense".  It described the type of individual who may exercise this right without prior-restraint through law.  Now we must define what is "peaceful" and what makes someone an "adult".  We are a political party concerned with the use of violence, so when we qualify a right in our capacity as libertarians we are not strictly speaking of the criteria we would impose in our private lives.  We're not simply saying, "it's a good idea for gun owners to have a history of being peaceful and mature enough to know the impacts of their decisions with firearms."  We are saying that only "peaceful adults" may exercise the "right" to gun-ownership, and others will be violently prevented from doing so.  When we beg the question of what is peaceful and don’t define it ourselves we are implying that government will define the answer - and today that answer is non-felons. When scholars report that the average person commits 3 felonies a day, tens of thousands of which are non-violent, we end up nullifying our entire plank with those two simple adjectives.  But even if we narrow our lens to felons with a history of violence, I believe that once they are freed from their cages they regain their right to own firearms and use them in self-defense.  In other words, I think that the current system whereby a mistake when you're 18 means you can't defend yourself or your family for the rest of your life is unjust and patently un-libertarian.  When you don't defend the rights of the marginal groups of society you strip those rights from everyone.  If this change is adopted it amounts to us saying that we defend the right of gun-ownership for some individuals, as long as the government says it's OK.  That is hardly a stance worthy of the name "the party of principle".

What is the Libertarian Party?

When all the libertarians in the LP understand the implications of our principles and are willing to defend them, even the unpopular ones, we still have some big questions to answer in the realm of tactics and strategy.  How do we market ourselves?  Who do we market to?  What are our goals?  These questions have very real impacts to how one constructs a party platform.

I believe that our primary goal is to spread libertarianism.  Unlike other libertarian groups that share this same goal, we explicitly use the political process, the political party, and candidates for political office as the channels for our message.  Every voting season there are millions of dollars worth of free publicity in newspapers, radio, and television.  Considering that libertarians are characterized for annoyingly pushing their message to unreceptive hosts at social gatherings, we must take advantage of every opportunity when we have an invitation to talk about libertarianism.  Journalists and special interest groups will invite libertarian candidates to speak to them and explain what libertarianism is and how it would solve our problems - and the only cost for this unprecedented opportunity is the time to fill out some paper work!

With our primary goal of spreading libertarianism and our means of the political process established our secondary goals naturally follow.  First, we need brave souls willing to run for office.  Candidates can spread libertarianism by speaking to voter groups, being interviewed by the press, and participating in debates.  In order to magnify the candidate's impact libertarian activists can help with their time and money.  This can take the form of block-walking a voting district, helping with a phone banking initiative, writing letters to the editor, or merely talking to friends and co-workers about why they are voting for the libertarian candidate when that question naturally arises.  For those that are short on time to donate, money can be used to buy advertising, mailers, yard signs, voter lists, and automated calling services.  Unfortunately, both time and money are needed in many states to collect signatures and fight lawsuits to get libertarians on the ballet, but this is worthwhile because it is a prerequisite to our means of engaging in the political process to achieve our goal of spreading libertarianism.

In order for the LP to do justice to the term libertarianism this prioritization of goals must be adhered to.  Unfortunately, a sizable number disagree with this approach.  During the Platform Committee meeting one member stated "I don't care about educating people, I want to get elected so I can make a difference."  Another member explicitly stated that the #1 goal of the LP should be to get candidates elected and pointed to the Indiana LP's "purpose and principles" as a reference, which states, "The mission of the Libertarian Party is to move public policy in a libertarian direction by electing candidates of the Libertarian Party to public office."

Let's consider the implication of this reversal of priority.  If the primary mission is to get candidates elected then any secondary goals must necessarily align with the primary goal or be sacrificed, by definition.  So if the voting population is not ready to accept the message of libertarianism, if a candidate who promotes a libertarian message cannot win a majority vote, then the candidate's message must be "softened" to increase the odds of electability.  But now we find ourselves indistinguishable from candidates of the two major parties - power hungry office-seekers who have no core beliefs but will modify their positions at the drop of a hat based on the latest polls.

Maybe that's a little harsh, but it is the logical implication of setting the primary goal as "winning".  As the saying goes, if we sacrifice our message we are more likely to lose twice, first because we won't win the election and second because we won't get our message out.

But let's suppose we do elect candidates with this "sneak attack" method.  Assume we have candidates who will adhere to their libertarian principles once in office but will water down their message when electioneering in order to trick the majority into giving them their vote.  In this scenario the elected closet-libertarians reveal their true intentions after taking office, after which they immediately roll back government excess and increase liberty in their district, in other words, "making a difference".  Based on the prosperity, peace, and other social goods that libertarianism provides, the voters then reflect that libertarianism is pretty great after all and are converted based on the experience of libertarianism, rather than by rhetoric and logic in the abstract.

In the best case scenario we can see this is a short term victory.  If we gain libertarians that like the utilitarian benefits of liberty but do not understand how the principles of self-ownership and non-aggression are the logical and economic pre-requisites, then have we really created an ally that's in for the long haul?  What happens when the opposing party promises more goodies?  Without the foundational understanding and truly creating a change in thinking and culture the best we could hope for is a few years of material improvement before regressing back to our current predicament.

But that thought experiment assumed something that would never happen in the first place.  A "liberty friendly" message that avoids the logical consequences of libertarianism for reasons of political expediency will never win under the banner of the Libertarian Party.  Wayne Alan Root was the most visible proponent of this "big tent" strategy, where he openly called for only appealing to disgruntled republicans and avoiding our beliefs that would not align with this voter block.  I attended Freedom Summit in 2009 where Judge John Buttrick debated this strategy head-on and pointed out its flaws.

Judge Buttrick's most compelling argument appealed to common sense and asked us to put ourselves in the position of a liberty-friendly disgruntled-republican.  Given all the options for spending one's time and energy, in what vehicle will such a person get the greatest returns for their activism buck?  Will they go to a party that fights to get more than 1% of the vote in a Presidential election and hasn't earned an electoral vote since 1972? Clearly not.  They will join Ron Paul and work to reform the Republican Party from the inside.

Making the primary goal of the LP to "get candidates elected" is a death-sentence for our party.  Not only will it cause us to fail in what our mission should be, to spread our message and increase the number of libertarians, but it will also never be successful in getting candidates elected by misleading the public into giving us their vote.  As Lew Rockwell pointed out in his essay what libertarianism is and isn't, "if we expect to trick people into becoming libertarians, we will fail."  Instead of trying to appeal to the masses we should stick to our principles, even the unpopular ones.  This leads me to a novel idea: the Libertarian Party should focus on libertarians.

Guiding Principles for a Libertarian Party Platform

Some believe libertarianism should include things that don't pertain to the permissible use of violence but fall in the category of fairness and egalitarianism.  A sizable number of LP leaders believe the primary goal of the Libertarian Party is to get candidates elected so we can pass bills and "get things done".  Both of these beliefs directly impact how one approaches what the LP party platform should contain, how it should be written, and who it should cater to.  For those that share my position about libertarianism and the Libertarian Party, I offer the following principles that drove my thought process when serving on the LP platform committee and will guide my voting at the convention this June.

Platform planks should logically flow from self-ownership and non-aggression.  Why do we oppose the war on drugs?  For the same reason we oppose taxation.  It's the same reason we support freedom of speech, the right to contract, and the right to associate: self-ownership and non-aggression.  There are plenty of causes, beliefs, and opinions that libertarians hold in their private lives but if they do not pertain to the use of violence in society they should be left out of our platform.  Yes, individual libertarians may believe that it is moral to donate to charity, offer fair wages, and operate without discrimination, but unless we are opposing government violence from forcing us to do these things we have nothing to say in our capacity as libertarians concerning what individuals should do in their private lives.

Platform planks should speak to timeless principles, not to specific policies or bills.  We are against aggression, and therefore theft, and therefore taxation.  We are not for "the fair tax", the "50 payer tax", excise taxes, or other taxes that would be less bad than what we currently have.  As individuals or even as candidates we might support these half-measures to ease our suffering.  However, we'd support them not in our capacity as libertarians, but as victims of current aggression that we would like to be relieved of, if even partially.  We are in the position of a concentration camp victim that would gladly take the opportunity to sign up for work under the supervision of a sympathetic guard instead of a psychopathic one known for his cruelty.  In this way we are not confusing the libertarian message by claiming that we are for "low taxes" when libertarianism is logically opposed to all forms of taxation.

Platform planks may be aligned with the Constitution, but that is not why we support them.  We are not the Constitution Party, we are the Libertarian Party.  It is one thing to say "Libertarians support the rights recognized by the Fourth Amendment", it is another to say that we support the Constitution unilaterally or to imply that we support a right because it is in the Constitution.  We don't need a piece of paper to guide our decisions, we have something far more powerful.

Abide by the Dallas Accord.  Frankly, non-aggression and government are polar opposites.  The only permissible "government" that would be logically consistent with libertarian principles is one where all services would be paid for voluntarily and any violence executed would be defensive in nature.  Of course, one could argue that in that case you are no longer describing governments but private businesses that are in the defense and arbitration industry.  It seems a fair compromise to ignore this bit of double-think in exchange for remaining silent on the need or "legitimate purpose" of governments and always allowing for an interpretation of no government without saying so explicitly.  Not everyone is ready to go full-blown an-cap so we should welcome the minarchists by allowing for the fantasy of the non-coercive "government".  At the same time, we should not turn away our most logically-consistent and principled demographic, the anarchists.

Golden rule: don't make candidates oppose the platform.  Some candidates might only support a bill that would repeal a tax completely, some might vote for one that would reduce taxation, but both operate under the same principle that taxation is inherently immoral and un-libertarian.  Some candidates might rest easy with a night-watchman state and others may not be satisfied until we live in our anarcho-capitalist paradise, but both can agree on the maximum role of government, because technically, a maximum without a minimum can give us a role of nothing.  The goal is to give libertarians a platform that teaches by example how our principles of self-ownership and non-aggression logically guide us to all of our policy positions, and from there give candidates the freedom to get more specific within the guidelines we've set.  Because the principles of liberty are timeless, an ideal platform would be as relevant and powerful 100 years from now as today.


The positions I've set forth would cause some to label me a "purist".  While I proudly wear that badge of honor, there is unfortunately some truth to the negative connotation that comes with it.  Many of the "purists" lack basic tact and social skills to such an extent that it seems they might actually enjoy arguing with people just for the sake of disagreeing.  If talking to a democrat they'll talk about gun rights, if talking to a republican they'll bring up gay marriage.  Instead of finding common ground and educating, they will latch on to the biggest point of contention and revel in being marginalized.

It doesn't have to be this way.  This is not a black or white issue.  It is a false choice between upholding a pure and consistent libertarian message and adhering to basic social etiquette.  We can utilize proven persuasion and marketing skills when speaking to the public without watering down our message and confusing our brand.

Having spent two years as a door to door salesman, and currently working in the consulting field, I have a few suggestions that apply to all areas of sales, including selling the message of libertarianism.

Instead of talking, listen.  Try to do twice as much listening as talking.  Then three times as much, then four.  The harder this is for you, the more important it is to work on it.  If your goal is truly to wake up minds and change people's perspective, you first need to make them feel understood before they will actually hear your feedback.

Speak their language.  In other words, be adaptive to their interests.  It's perfectly alright to talk about "fiscally conservative" issues with republicans and "socially tolerant" issues with democrats.  The opportunity to educate comes with first finding that common ground and using that as an opportunity to explain how the principles of self-ownership and non-aggression align with their beliefs.

People hate to be sold, but they love to buy.  This has a lot to do with listening instead of talking.  Don’t push your ideas on people.  You may be 100% correct, but if the other person isn't listening to you because they feel like they are being sold something against their will then what good does it do?.  Ask questions, then listen to what the other person has to say.  What do they think about a certain problem that they are passionate about?  Why do they think it occurs?  What do they think should be done about it?  If the answer is "there should be a law against it" then the answer isn't to call them a statist.  Ultimately this person has the same end goals as everyone else - peace, prosperity and a higher standard of living.  When you find the opportunity to answer a question and explain how libertarian principles result in these social goods, you have created the condition where they might just want to buy what you have to sell.

Ultimately, the biggest lesson I've learned in my activism career is that the only person I can educate is myself.  Oftentimes when someone "wakes up" to the libertarian message they are so excited by this new world view that nothing seems more important than sharing this epiphany with everyone, all the time. This urge, while commendable, should be resisted.  The first step is to educate yourself, not just on your pet issue that aligns with libertarianism, but on all of the hard cases too.  Walter Block's Defending the Undefendable is a classic libertarian book that takes up this challenge head-on.  Of course, Murray Rothbard's For a New Liberty and The Ethics of Liberty are must-reads for setting the foundation and exploring the full spectrum of libertarianism.  When hard topics like environmental protection and child-labor comes up, we have the shoulders of intellectual giants at our disposal, and we would be foolish not to use them.


The Libertarian Response to Vices

Looking back on my run for State Representative, my most rewarding experience was being invited to speak about libertarianism to a class of gifted students at a local high school.  I started by handing out the Worlds Smallest Political Quiz and gave a brief overview of what libertarianism is all about.  Then I opened the floor for questions, and no one can accuse the students of pulling any punches.  We discussed many different topics, but I clearly remember that one of the main subjects that kept coming back was drugs.  Several students challenged my support of legalizing drugs, telling me that drugs are bad, they destroy families and communities, etc.  How could I support the use of deadly drugs that cause so much harm?

I distinctly remember defending my position along empirical grounds.  I explained that while "drugs are bad" the effects from prohibition are the main cause of the problems associated with drug use.  I made a parallel to alcohol prohibition, explaining that our experiment with outlawing booze resulted in increased alcoholism, deadlier and lower quality alcohol (moonshine), higher prices attracting criminal mobsters, an increase in violence as those mobsters fought the police and each other for territory, and the corruption of the police.

However, one thing I don't remember explaining is the moral argument, the "who am I to judge" argument.  I'm not sure if I was bold enough to propose that drug use is a vice and not a crime.  Perhaps the students were familiar with the phrase, "I may disagree with what you have to say, but I will defend your right to say it".  But if they were, many of them didn't draw the parallel between offensive language and offensive behavior.

Lysander Spooner defined vices as "those acts by which a man harms himself or his property… simply the errors which a man makes in his search after his own happiness.  Unlike crimes, they imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property."  Today we live in a world where many vices are outlawed, and the price for breaking these laws include fines, imprisonment, and even death.  Libertarianism is often portrayed as an extreme ideology, where the libertarian position of being opposed to drug prohibition is seen to imply favoring drug use.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

This blog will show that endorsing a vice and using government violence to combat a vice are two extreme positions on a spectrum that includes other options, including tolerance and the use of ostracism.  We will see that libertarians adopt these median options as the proper response to various vices, and consequently show that libertarianism is actually the moderate position compared to irresponsible promotion of self-destructive behavior on the one hand, and the use of aggressive violence by government agents on the other.

The spectrum of possible responses to other people's vices

Starting from the far left of my "Responses to Vices Spectrum", we can think of a few scenarios where someone would be inclined to endorse, support, and approve of another person's vices.  One scenario would be when a person himself suffers from the vice that he endorses.  People that are considered addicted to a drug or a behavior like gambling often surround themselves with people that share the same vice.  This mutually reinforcing support network allows them to both normalize their destructive behavior because "everyone else is doing it", while also creating an example that allows them to legitimize their behavior, "Yes I just got my second DUI, but at least I haven't gotten a fourth one like Bob.  Now he really has problems."

On the flip side, there are countless examples of promoting vices where the person or organization making the endorsement does so for self-interested reasons.  The pimp that convinces a confused girl to sell herself for money and the drug pusher that encourages a teenager to sample his products to ensure a new customer are examples of endorsing illegal vices.  However, let us not forget that, thankfully, many vices are not illegal.  One can't watch more than a few minutes of television without being bombarded with countless endorsements of vices, whether outright commercials or strategic product placement.  The abuse of alcohol, cigarettes, and pharmaceutical drugs cause far more social damage than many illegal drugs, especially compared to marijuana.  Even the over indulgence of junk food and soda would rate higher on a social damage scale in terms of health costs, yet commercials promoting endless consumption of these products populate our billboards and rank as our favorite super bowl commercials.

Even when you don't have a specific product to sell we see vices glamorized in American culture, including promiscuity and gambling.  But don't think private greed is the only source of this endorsement, as the government also has its hands in the dirty pot when encouraging the poor and mathematically ignorant into spending their few precious dollars on state-sponsored lotteries.

Moving rightward on my spectrum, the next logical option for responding to a vice is tolerance.  In this case, an individual may not personally approve of the behavior, may even actively try to persuade others against the particular vice, but nonetheless they tolerate those that engage in the vice and keep a place for them in their lives.  These scenarios could include the permanent designated driver that responsibly handles alcohol and drives his booze-hound friends from bar to bar, the person that goes to Vegas and takes in a few shows while a friend loses his life savings, or a religious fundamentalist that believes homosexuality to be a sin but maintains a loving relationship with an openly gay family member.

As we move from tolerance to intolerance, the next non-aggressive response to a vice is ostracism.  In this case the person believes the vice to be so dangerous that they don't want anything to do with the vice, nor with those that engage in it.  According to Wikipedia, the word ostracism comes from the Greeks and described a procedure where a citizen would be expelled from Athens for ten years.  Ostracism could be practiced for the benefit of the ostracized, where a parent realizes they have been enabling destructive behavior by condoning a hopelessly alcoholic or drug-abusing child, and decide to "cut them off" from the family until they get their lives back on track.  On the other hand, the parent could ostracize the "prodigal son" not for his own well-being, but for the sake of sparing the negative influence from the other children.

At last we arrive at the option available to the State, the use of aggressive violence against someone because of their vices.  Remember, we are not talking about a response to crimes, where the committer of theft, rape, assault, or murder is the aggressor and a government or private security company is acting in the defense.  No, this is the unfortunately common response used today that when someone doesn't approve of the behavior of another, including a mutually beneficial voluntary arrangement between two or more other people, and they respond by passing a law.  Even if the penalty is merely a small fine, we must remember the price of non-compliance and escalation with the State.  To resist a fine can mean imprisonment, and to resist imprisonment can mean death.  As law enforcement officers, formerly known as peace officers, become increasingly militarized, it should become more and more clear how crazy it is to employ state violence against those that "imply no malice toward others, and no interference with their persons or property."

Unfortunately, the use of violence by government to respond against men and their vices has a long history in America.  As I found in Murray Rothbard's Conceived in Liberty, many of the pre-revolutionary colonies were much more oppressive than the British, where the price for exposing too much skin or missing church included fines, whipping, and locking people up.  While we no longer outlaw those specific infractions, we have not evolved much past our Puritan ancestors.  Instead, we have replaced every religious law with a thousand or ten-thousand regulatory laws.  Selling raw milk, more than 16 oz. of soda, or a toilet that uses more than 1.6 gallons per flush can land you in the crosshairs of the State.  Books like Paul Craig Robert's The Tyranny of Good Intentions and Harvey Silverglate's Three Felonies A Day are two of my favorites that expose the outrageous extent to which we have criminalized people's vices, and the danger that we have put ourselves in now that the precedent has been set.

Now that we have defined the four major categories of how a person can respond to another's vice, we can explore how a libertarian might respond to some of the hot-button issues facing America today that are so often misrepresented in the public.

Drug Use

Undoubtedly, drug use is a vice and not a crime.  On the one hand we have those that abuse drugs, both the pharmaceutical and illegal variety, which harms no one but themselves.  On the other hand, we have the pushers of drugs qua drug pusher, where they are guilty of nothing but voluntarily offering a product which the person is free to accept or reject.  After quickly reviewing the empirical arguments for repealing prohibition (I highly recommend Mark Thornton's The Economics of Prohibition, available at for free) we can turn to the libertarian solutions to this vice in a world that has rejected the government-violence response.

First, let's remember that a world where drug possession and selling is not illegal would look very different from the one we have today.  Many illegal drugs come from naturally growing plants and have no patents or intellectual property rights associated with them.  Absent this artificial monopoly, we would see the prices for these drugs plummet.  Absent enormous profits, we would see the violence and corruption associated with drugs disappear.  Criminal gangs would not be interested in selling marijuana for the same reason they are not engaged in selling wheat or rice, as their strategic advantage only applies in the trade of illegal products with the accompanying need to evade or bribe government agents.

However, we would still be left with the problem of the abuser of drugs.  The poor soul who cannot take responsibility for his actions and finds himself making one mistake after another due to his short time-preference and inability to resist the highs and lows of drugs would still exist.  What to do with him?  First off, we have already done a great service to this person by reclassifying him from a criminal to a person in need of help.  If he already has a drug addiction problem, the last thing that would help is throwing him in a cage with violent criminals.

Under the category of tolerance, we can predict that for-profit and charitable rehabilitation centers would cater to drug abusers and their families.  These institutions would compete by offering the lowest costs and the highest quality service, trying to win the business and donations of others by advertising the best recovery rates.

Finally, considering that mandatory minimum sentencing for drug "crimes" have exploded our prison population beyond capacity, forcing jails to release truly dangerous criminals while keeping millions of non-violent drug offenders performing slave labor, I hope the libertarian solution is looking less radical and more sane.


Racism, or any kind of unjust discrimination for that matter, is a practice that most people find disgusting, and many would probably end a friendship with someone who suddenly revealed themselves as some kind of hateful racist or bigot.  Yet the libertarian views this as a moral issue, not a legal issue.  The right to associate implies the right to not associate.  So far at least, it is not a crime to choose friends or lovers based on race or some other superficial characteristic, yet it is a crime calling forth the violence of the state to choose private employees and customers based on being a member of a government recognized minority group.

On the empirical side, Peter Schiff has made excellent arguments calling for the repeal of racial discrimination laws.  From the perspective of a customer and a Jewish American, Schiff has claimed that he'd rather a business be free to discriminate against him so that he can in turn identify the racist / bigoted employer and cease doing business with him.  This is an example of the ostracism approach to racists.  Today we have no idea which business owners are racist or not, but allow them to expose themselves and we'll be able to ostracize the racist and even lead boycotts against him.  The consequence will be that racist store owners will be put out of business, while non-racist businessmen will gain market share.  As Walter Block has said, the only color a smart businessman sees is green, and if racist behavior causes him to lose money, this could in itself cause him to change his tune without the need to bring in the violence of the state.

Peter Schiff has also made the case for repealing racial discrimination laws from the perspective of an employer, as he has made a compelling case that these laws can create racist behavior in a person who would not be racist absent these laws.  Anyone who has hired or supervised an employee can testify that not every employee works out.  Sometimes people lie on their resumes, slack on the job, or reasons having nothing to do with the particular employee require a business man to let someone go.  Knowing that hiring any employee carries the risk of firing them in the future, the non-racist employer will rationally respond to the fact that there are some people who have the potential to sue them under racial / minority discrimination laws.  Hence, the employer may choose the white straight male over a more qualified member of a minority because the former cannot sue him, while the latter has that option available.  Even if the lawsuit is totally without merit, the time and cost of fighting and winning such a lawsuit can certainly influence the business decision that would be about pure dollars and cents absent these laws.

Thus, by rejecting the government-violence response to the vice of racism, we may not end racism overnight, but at least we will unleash market incentives to punish racist employers with ostracism and refusing to do business with them, while abandoning the perverse incentives that may cause a non-racist employer to engage in racist behavior that exist today.


The Libertarian Party platform states,
"Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration."
At the risk of opening up a controversial can of worms, I'd like to explore this hot-button issue, as it is often the single issue that people vote on.  The 1988 Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate Ron Paul is Pro-Life, endorsing laws that would define life at conception and outlawing abortion.  Many other libertarians are Pro-Choice, including 2012 Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson, supporting a woman's right to choose.

Having libertarian representatives on opposite sides of this polarizing issue may seem schizophrenic, but there is a libertarian position that doesn't have a simple label and requires a little explaining.  One can be Pro-Life in their capacity to influence and persuade those around them, including the choice they would personally make in the position of choosing life or death for the fetus developing in the womb of the mother.  At the same time, this person can be Pro-Choice in that they reject using the government-violence response of locking up women who make this questionable choice and the doctors who offer this service.

As all libertarian positions logically flow from our principles of Self-Ownership and Non-Aggression, it is not surprising to find Murray Rothbard frame the issue in this manner in For a New Liberty (free pdf):
"If we are to treat the fetus as having the same rights as humans, then let us ask: What human has the right to remain, unbidden, as an unwanted parasite within some other human being's body?  This is the nub of the issue: the absolute right of every person and hence every woman, to the ownership of her own body."
Thus, we are separating the moral issue from the legal issue.  Just as I might oppose what someone does to their body when it comes to the drugs they ingest, I might be extremely opposed to the choice a woman makes to abort her baby.  However, as a libertarian I will not endorse the use of government violence as the proper response to this decision.  I can try to persuade the woman out of the decision, I can donate money to an organization that pays women to keep their babies and finds good homes for them, I could even use the ostracism response and decide to not associate with abortion doctors and the women who make this choice, but what I won't do is lock them up in a cage or endorse a government agency to do so in my name.

"The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools " -Herbert Spencer
I hope that my "Responses to Vices Spectrum" can be a useful aid when explaining the libertarian options that are aligned with the non-aggression principle.  Libertarians are portrayed in the media as having extreme positions, as our policy recommendations do not fit into the left / right narrative where there are two and only two choices presented, where often both choices are two versions of the government-violence response.

Just because we libertarians don't want to initiate violence against others for their vices, including stealing their money, locking them in a cage, and killing them, mainstream opinion seems to imply that we seek a world where 12 year olds are addicted to heroin working for a dollar a day in a coal mine for racist employers.  This is not the case.  We want peace and prosperity for ourselves and our children, we just believe there is a better way to deal with social issues then the extreme position of government violence.  The cost of freedom is personal responsibility, and we believe that allowing people to learn from their mistakes is not only the best way to promote personal growth, but that non-aggressive methods of responding to the vices of others is morally superior than trying to combine two wrongs and somehow arriving at a right.


Give me the facts!

A few months ago I realized how much time I was wasting commenting on articles and debating strangers on Facebook.   The revelation prompted me to cut myself off cold turkey.   I began to enjoy the automatic emails from Facebook, pleading with me to sign in because of all the important status updates I was missing.   God only knows how many pictures of desert and political memes I missed out on.   Not only did I discover how much more productive time I had, but I felt happier overall because I was no longer bummed out over my inability to convert the masses.

But alas, last weekend I couldn't resist commenting on an article in my alma maters' newspaper, the Iowa City Press Citizen, which reported that Obama would be coming to the University of Iowa to speak on the subject of the increasing burden of student loan debt.   It is one of my favorite topics because it's a timely issue and a great opportunity to highlight the unintended consequences of good intentions and government subsidies.

Knowing from past experience that most people won't read a comment if it's longer than a few sentences, I tried to make it short and sweet.

Of course nothing I said was original or from my own mind.  I stole the whole argument from Peter Schiff, and concluded my intellectual piracy by quoting Harry Browne.

If you haven't heard the argument that the reason college tuition is out of control is due to the unintended consequences of government guaranteed student loans, I highly recommend you listen to the below 20 minute clip from the Peter Schiff show. He interviews Kelli Space, a young woman that graduated with an astounding $200,000 in debt after graduating from Northeastern University with a degree in sociology. Rather than continue to steal his thunder, I'll leave it up to you to listen while I move on to the point of this blog.

So one of the responses my comment provoked challenged me to give evidence, calling it "those nasty little facts that get in the way".  While I had no intention of reverting back to my old time-wasting habit of battling strangers on the internet, I saw that someone else accepted his challenge in my place.  He proceeded to give my opponent "the facts", including quoting CPI numbers, claiming that since 1986 the overall inflation rate has been 115%, while the price of tuition has risen 498%.

This was exactly the line of argument I was trying to avoid, and for good reason.  It didn't have any impact on my opponent, instead he chided my supporter for pulling biased "facts" from a Google search, and invited him to recommend similarly biased "facts" from the NRA the next time a gun control article is published.

This exchange epitomizes one of the biggest problems we have in this country.  While I tried to keep my argument grounded on logic, analogy, and economic theory, he wanted hard numbers, the "facts".  When my supporter gave him those "facts", he was arguing by an appeal to authority.  Problem: my opponent did not respect that authority, he has his own authority with his own set of "facts".  Neither my supporter nor my opponent learned anything from each other, they both walked away with the continued belief that their set of "facts" from their respective authority figures are right, and the other side has been duped by charlatans.

Like most people that identify themselves as being on the left or the right, they have mutually exclusive world views.  The right has think tanks that supply them with "facts", and the left has theirs.  My "facts" are your propaganda, and vise versa.  Just about the only thing they have in common is they have both renounced the use of logic, particularly deductive reasoning.  And that is a big problem.

Start with a true premise, and if you reason correctly, you will arrive at a true conclusion.
Right now humans aren't much better at this than penguins.

Logic: the science of correct reasoning

Ludwig von Mises encouraged all of his economic students to first read a book on logic.  In particular, he recommended An Introduction to Logic by Morris R. Cohen and Ernest Nagel.  This is because the Austrian school is based on a priori knowledge and deductive reasoning.  A priori knowledge comes independent of experience.  "All bachelors are unmarried".  The truth of this statement is implied in the definition of the word bachelor.  There is no experiment to be done, nothing to prove or disprove.  Deductive reasoning transmits truth from premises to conclusion, such that if you start with a true premise and reason correctly, your conclusion is guaranteed to be true as well.

In Human Action, Mises says,
"Aprioristic reasoning is purely conceptual and deductive. It cannot produce anything else but tautologies and analytic judgments. All its implications are logically derived from the premises and were already contained in them. Hence, according to a popular objection, it cannot add anything to our knowledge."
Unfortunately, that popular objection has not lost clout.  Today, if logic is taught at all, it's done with an emphasis on mathematics for computer science majors.  The doctrine of Positivism took over the science of economics long ago, and it still maintains mainstream dominance.  Positivism views that all authentic knowledge comes only from experience, or sensory data, and the logical, mathematical, and statistical treatment of that data.

Hence, mainstream economics is a positivist doctrine that puts the science of economics in the same category as physics or the other natural sciences.  But is that where it belongs?

Ludwig von Mises believed that economics was a sub-category of praxeology, a term he coined which comes from the Greek praxis, meaning action, and logos, talk or speech.  Hence, praxeology is the deductive, aprioristic study of human action based on the action-axiom.  This self-proving axiom makes the radical suggestion that human beings purposefully utilize means over a period of time in order to achieve desired ends.  In other words, humans engage in purposeful behavior.   We are not billiard balls to be isolated in a lab and prodded with stimuli to scientifically generate a response.   We have goals that we strive towards, and while humans can have a difference of opinion as to what constitute worthwhile goals, and even though we can be mistaken about where our behavior will lead us, the fact remains that we engage in voluntary and purposeful behavior.

Therefore, rather than aligning economics with physics and the natural sciences, the Austrian School views economics as a specialized category of praxeology, such that it is the study of human action under conditions of scarcity.  The word economics itself implies scarcity.  What does it mean to 'economize'?  It means to conserve, to avoid waste, to use or manage with thrift, etc.  If you can imagine a world of immortal beings that can summon goods and desires from the power of their enlightened minds, then to economize would be without meaning, as nothing, not even time, would be scarce.

To learn more about praxeology, there is no better resource than Mises' magnum opus, Human Action.  This link takes you to the Ludwig von Mises Institute where you can read the book for free, and download it as pdf, epub, or even as an audio book.

Understanding that this topic can quickly get esoteric when speaking in the abstract, I'll try to elucidate the difference between the positivist and the praxeological approach to economics by analyzing a law of economics that is universally recognized among professional economists as well as laymen.

The law of supply and demand

The law of supply and demand is accepted by both the Austrian School of economics as well as the mainstream positivist economic schools of thought.  This law states that if the supply of a good rises, and the demand stays the same, then other things being equal, the price will fall.  It also implies that if the supply of a good falls, ceteris paribus (with other things the same), the price will rice.  Conversely, if we hold the supply of a good constant, and use demand as our independent variable, then the price will rise and fall in the same direction as the demand.

The difference between the mainstream positivist approach to economics and the Austrian's aprioristic deductive method will be made clear as we see how each school discovers this law.

For the follower of the Austrian school, we start with the above mentioned action-axiom, that human beings engage in purposeful behavior.  That is the only premise we need, and now we move on to our deductive reasoning.

Human beings engage in purposeful behavior, they use means to achieve ends.  A mean can be a good or service, such as using the means of food to obtain the end of nourishment, or the means of a vehicle to achieve transportation to a given destination.

The first unit of a good, the means, will be used to satisfy the most urgently felt desire, the ends.  This is true based on the meaning of the word "first" and "most", it is tautologically true.

It follows that the second unit of a good or service will be used to satisfy the second most urgently felt need.  The third unit will be used to satisfy the third most desired need, as well as the fourth, the fifth, ad infinitum.  This is true by definition.  Note that these rankings are ordinal numbers, not cardinal.  It makes no sense to say that you value the 10th unit of a good 10x more than the first.  These rankings are the order of preference expressed through human action.

Quoting Mises' most accomplished student, Murray Rothbard:
"The important consideration is the relation between the unit to be acquired or given up and the quantity of supply (stock) already available to the actor. Thus, if no units of a good (whatever the good may be) are available, the first unit will satisfy the most urgent wants that such a good is capable of satisfying. If to this supply of one unit is added a second unit, the latter will fulfill the most urgent wants remaining, but these will be less urgent than the ones the first fulfilled. Therefore, the value of the second unit to the actor will be less than the value of the first unit. Simi­larly, the value of the third unit of the supply (added to a stock of two units) will be less than the value of the second unit. It may not matter to the individual which horse is chosen first and which second, or which pounds of butter he consumes, but those units which he does use first will be the ones that he values more highly. Thus, for all human actions, as the quantity of the supply (stock) of a good increases, the utility (value) of each additional unit decreases."
Thus, starting with the action-axiom and following a trail of deductive reasoning, we have arrived at the law of marginal utility.  Also known as the law of diminishing returns, it states that each additional unit of a good or service will be subjectively less valued than the previous.  In praxeology speak, for a given individual, each additional unit of a specific good will be the means to satisfy an end of lesser and lesser importance, by definition.  Just as the definition of bachelor implies the property of being unmarried, we see that the premise of purposeful human action implies this law.

To assist our understanding, we can plot the ordinal ranking of ends against an increasing quantity of a specific good (means) for a given individual.  This graphic is taken from chapter 1 of Murray Rothbard's treatise Man, Economy, and State (Also available for free in pdf and epub):

By introducing the premise that there is more than one type of good that can serve as a means to accomplish the ends desired by men, we can consider how a given individual could rank two different goods that could satisfy a number of ends.  Starting with another graphic from Man, Economy, and State, I've made some improvements by color-coding the data points for supply goods X and Y, and combining the two graphs to reveal the resultant value scale for an individual when only considering these two goods.

When the individual whose preferences expressed by human action are graphed above has 0 units of supply goods X or Y and is given the choice of obtaining one, and only one unit of either, he will choose one unit of supply good Y to satisfy his most urgently felt need.  Given additional choices to add a unit of either good to his stock, we see the next three units of good X are subjectively valued progressively lower before our hypothetical individual comes to the point that he would rather have a second unit of good Y than a fourth unit of good X.

Another way to think about the implications of this graphic is presented in the scenario when the individual whose preferences are shown in this value scale already has 7 units each of supply goods X and Y in his stock.  Faced with the choice of giving up one unit of either good, he will first choose to give up his 7th unit of good Y.  His second least desired end that can be satisfied with the means of supply goods X or Y will be that satisfied by his 6th unit of supply good Y.  Upon the third and fourth choice to be made, this individual will give up his 7th and 6th units of supply good X.

This example limited to only two types of supply goods is just one potential value scale for a given individual, and an infinite variety of value scales can be imagined. By adding the premise that different human beings have different value scales for the means and ends they subjectively value, we are ready to continue our chain of deductive reasoning and think of the necessary conditions for two individuals to engage in voluntary exchange.

Murray Rothbard contrasted the pre-requisites of exchange when considering single unique goods or homogenous supplies of goods in Chapter 2 of Man, Economy, and State:
"If the goods in question are unique goods with a supply of one unit, then the problem of when exchanges will or will not be made is a simple one. If A has a vase and B a typewriter, if each knows of the other's asset, and if A values the typewriter more highly, and B values the vase more highly, there will be an ex­change. If, on the other hand, either A or B values whatever he has more highly than what the other has, then an exchange will not take place. Similarly, an exchange will not take place if either party has no knowledge that the other party has a vase or a type­writer.

On the other hand, if the goods are available in supplies of homogeneous units, the problem becomes more complex. Here, in determining how far exchanges of the two goods will go, the law of marginal utility becomes the decisive factor. If Jones and Smith have certain quantities of units of goods X and Y in their possession, then in order for Jones to trade one unit of X for one unit of Y, the following conditions have to be met: To Jones, the marginal utility of the added unit of Y must be greater than the marginal utility of the unit of X given up; and to Smith, the marginal utility of the added unit of X must be greater than the marginal utility of the unit of Y given up."
The first revelation to be noted from the necessary conditions of voluntary exchange is that both parties subjectively value what they are giving up less than what they will receive.  Both Jones and Smith walk away from the transaction better off, both feel wealthier than before, both now have the means to satisfy an end that ranks higher on their value scales than the end which could have been satisfied by the means they gave up in exchange.  While it would make no sense to say that both parties walked away with the "heavier good", as weight is an objective measurement, in contrast we see that in the minds of both Smith and Jones they each believe that he has gotten the better deal because of the difference in their subjective value scales.  Beauty is in the mind of the beholder.

This axiomatic truth of mutual benefits to both parties of all voluntary exchanges is of critical importance to libertarian public policy, as it would apply to everything from laws that purport to "protect the consumer" to violations of the right to contract such as a minimum wage law.  Not to get distracted when we are so close to arriving at the law of supply and demand, we can now consider the second scenario described by Rothbard and consider how the value scales of Smith and Jones will determine how many exchanges they will engage in, and the implications to be considered when one of them no longer sees a benefit in exchange and they arrive at a point of equilibrium.

At T0, the time before any exchanges have been made, we have Smith possessing 5 units of Y, with his 1st, 5th, 6th, 8th and 10th most urgently felt needs being satisfied, but completely lacking in units of X that could satisfy his 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 7th, and 9th most urgently felt wants.  Alternatively, Jones has 5 units of X and no Y, and a completely different value scale than Smith.

Because of their mutually unequal subjective value scales, they can both benefit by exchange, as Smith will sacrifice the means to satisfy his 10th most urgently felt need (Y5) in order to receive his first unit of X which will satisfy his 2nd most urgently felt need.  Jones is just as eager to engage in trade, as he is able to get rid of his 5th unit of X, which satisfies his 10th most urgently felt need, and in exchange will receive his first unit of Y, which will satisfy his 3rd most urgently felt need.

At T1 we see how both Smith and Jones are in higher positions on for their respective value scales, both are now satisfying a need that ranks higher than they were before entering into exchange.  Their value scales allow an additional trade, such that at T2 Smith now has 2 units of X and 3 units of Y, satisfying his top 3 needs, while Jones concludes with 3 units of X and 2 units of Y, with his top 5 most urgently felt needs all being satisfied.

It is at T2, after two exchanges have taken place, that another trade is no longer possible.  Smith would be eager to trade his 3rd unit of Y for a third unit of X, which would move him up his value scale from satisfying his 6th to his 4th most urgently felt need.  However, Jones will not make this trade, as he values his third unit of X more than a third unit of Y, and he will not sacrifice the means to satisfy his 5th most urgently felt need for the means to satisfy his 7th.  Their two man, two good economy has reached a point of equilibrium.

For simplicity's sake the X price of Y and the Y price of X maintained a 1 to 1 ratio, but based on the value scales above we could have imagined other scenarios whereby Smith could have offered his 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th units of Y for just 1 unit of X, sacrificing the means to satisfy his 5th, 6th, 8th and 10th most urgently felt needs in order to raise his position on his value scale and satisfy his 2nd most urgently felt need.  Hence, we could have had the Y price of X rise to 4, and the X price of Y fall to 1/4.

As more people enter the economy of X and Y who have an even wider variety of value scales, we will see exchanges continue to be made amongst the most eager buyers and sellers.  When the market participants are aware of each other and the exchanges willing to be made, we will see one common price start to dominate the market.  While a given individual may be willing to sacrifice 4 units of Y for 1 unit of X, he would much rather sacrifice just 1 unit of Y if he can find a capable seller willing to do so.

In Murray Rothbard's example, he used barrels of fish and horses as his X and Y, and ended up with the above equilibrium price, where 5 horses will each be traded for a price of 89 barrels of fish per horse.  He summarized his horse-fish economy with the following,
"We began with a stock of eight horses in existence (and a certain stock of fish as well), and a situation where the relative positions of horses and fish on different people’s value scales were such as to establish conditions for the exchange of the two goods. Of the original possessors, the “most capable sellers” sold their stock of horses, while among the original non-possessors, the “most capable buyers” purchased units of the stock with their fish. The final price of their sale was the equi­librium price determined ultimately by their various value scales, which also determined the quantity of exchanges that took place at that price. The net result was a shift of the stock of each good into the hands of its most capable possessors in accordance with the relative rank of the good on their value scales. The ex­changes having been completed, the relatively most capable pos­sessors own the stock, and the market for this good has come to a close."
With the market at equilibrium, only a change in the relative demand and supply schedules of the market participants can re-open the market for exchange.  In that situation, or in a market that is constantly changing such that an equilibrium price is never firmly set, a change in the demand or supply schedules for a given market will result in consequences that are guaranteed to follow certain laws based on the tautological truths arrived at earlier.

For instance, if the demand schedule for a good increases, then we know that relative to the previous point of reference, the market participants subjectively value that good for the need that it will satisfy higher than before.  This could come about from the previous market participants experiencing changes in their individual value scales, or from new players entering the market and displacing previous market participants with their higher demand.  If we know that in addition to the demand schedule increasing, that the supply schedule has decreased or remained the same, then the equilibrium price is guaranteed to increase.  If Smith's value scale has increased such that he is now willing to sacrifice his entire stock of Y in order to fulfill the need fulfilled by one unit of X, then he could pay up to 5 Y for 1 X, but Jones would certainly not accept less than the 1 Y price previously arrived at, as the seller always prefers the highest possible selling price for his good.

We can also make conclusions about the quantity of exchanges that will be made based on the supply schedule.  If the supply schedule increases than either the previous market participants have become more capable or specialized in their field, or new players are entering the market and competing with the Jones' of the world in the supply of X.  If the supply schedule increases while the demand schedule increases or stays the same, then we are guaranteed to have more exchanges taking place.  At a price of 1 X to 1 Y each possible exchange will only occur if the ranking of the additional unit of X ranks higher than the loss of one unit of Y.  If Jones or his competitor can now sell 5 X for 1 Y, then more exchanges will take place then ever before.  When something is on sale you buy more of it.  Think of 2 for 1 deals or the low profit high volume sales strategy.

Thus, starting with a few self-evident premises and using deductive logic to explore the implications, we have arrived at the law of marginal utility, the necessary conditions for voluntary exchange, and the necessary consequences to equilibrium price and quantity exchanged given changes in the demand schedule or supply schedule, also known as our long awaited Law of Supply and Demand.  I'm stealing one last graphic from Rothbard's Man, Economy, and State to list the full matrix of possible permutations for this law.

Google, or better yet Startpage, "Law of Supply and Demand proof" and you'll find resources and papers with dozens of equations and complex formulas.  While a mathematical proof may resemble the sequence of deductive logic employed here, only the Austrian school explicitly derives its conclusions from the premise of purposeful human action.  The graphics used here are to assist in understanding, plotting ordinal rankings expressed in the moment of action, we do not confuse the role of the actor who chooses to buy, sell or abstain from the graph that models that behavior.

How would someone "show me the facts" that relied on positivist economics and appeals from authority?  Maybe you could record the price of all exchanges of a good for a given population and time, archiving all the buyers and the sellers, examining their behavior and comparing it to a curve predicted by a mathematical equation?  Of course you'd have to get visibility to buying patterns and consumer preferences, perhaps through historical surveys or consumer reports.  You'd also have to factor how complementary and substitute goods could have influenced the market price and quantity sold of this specific example good.

Without a theory to guide your selection of facts, just about any hypothesis could be proposed and any theory could be arrived at.  You'd be free to cherry-pick your data points and extend your imaginary line that supposedly models "perfect competition" until you are prepared to recommend the perfect rate of interest or quantity of stimulus in order to achieve a 2.1% increase in job growth.  This is the height of absurdity.  The pretense of knowledge knows no bounds.


Just for the record, I'm not afraid of math.  I had to master all the techniques of vector calculus, matrix algebra, and differential equations on my path to an electrical engineering degree.  While some of those techniques were hard to get my head wrapped around in the abstract, it all came together when I had to apply those lessons in my physics and electric circuits classes.  It 'clicked' when I saw that these mathematical concepts truly do govern physical phenomenon in our world.

But does it make sense to apply those techniques in the sphere of human action?  Is it correct to use the positivist and empirical scientific techniques one uses to discover the law of gravity or the behavior of electronic circuits to the question of how to govern and influence the behavior of free thinking human beings?

While the positivist schools of thought may claim to be more scientific and able to predict a 2.4% growth in GDP based on an $80 billion stimulus, it is the Austrian school that should get the credit in the sphere of making accurate predictions.  After a few more premises and lines of deductive reasoning we could arrive at the Austrian Business Cycle Theory (ABCT), which has been used by various Austrians to predict every major boom-bust cycle from the Great Depression, the post WWII recovery, the end of the Bretton Woods system, the Japanese lost decade, the dot-com bubble, and the housing bubble.

To learn more about the Austrian School of Economics, the best books to read are the economic treatises by Mises and Rothbard, respectively, Human Action and Man, Economy and State.  Gene Callahan's Economics for Real People is a good introductory book to the Austrian School.  Tom Woods has also assembled an impressive collection of free books and online videos at
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...