Liberty and Power

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  • An Insight on the SCOTUS Obamacare Decision

    by Wendy McElroy

    Michael B. wrote to comment, If you're looking for some good news, the SCOTUS blog just noted:


    "The rejection of the Commerce Clause and Nec. and Proper Clause [as the Constitutional basis for Obamacare] should be understood as a major blow to Congress's authority to pass social welfare laws. Using the tax code -- especially in the current political environment -- to promote social welfare is going to be a very chancy proposition."

    Meanwhile, Ryan W. McMaken has a different take on the site.


    SCOTUS voted 5-4 to uphold Obamacare and have concluded that the Constitution actually empowers the government to force people to buy things.

  • Anna Jacobson Schwartz (November 11, 1915–June 21, 2012)

    by Robert Higgs


    Anna Schwartz was one of the best economic historians of the past century. With Milton Friedman, she wrote (among many other works) that century’s most influential economic history book, A Monetary History of the United States, 1867-1960 (1963). Although not an economic theorist of Friedman’s caliber, she was a fine economist in her own right. Friedman’s statement that “Anna did all of the work, and I got most of the recognition” was not a mere expression of false modesty, but an honest confession that the immense body of historical evidence meticulously collected, compiled, annotated, and displayed in their landmark books was overwhelmingly the product of Anna’s efforts.

    Although I never knew Anna personally, I felt as if I did because I knew so many people who knew her well and because she was always friendly and helpful when our paths intersected.

  • Happy Flag Day

    by Sheldon Richman

    If you're not convinced that nationalism is cultish, look up the rules for the proper handling of an American flag. My favorites:

    The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.

  • Social Science 101: Three Ways to Relate to Other People

    by Robert Higgs

     Many years ago, in a book I’ve lost along the way (I believe it was A Primer on Social Dynamics), Kenneth Boulding described three basic ways in which a person, in the quest to get what he seeks, can approach other people. He can, as it were, say to them:

    (1) Do something nice for me, and I’ll do something nice for you.

    (2) Do something nice for me, or I’ll do something nasty to you.

    (3) Do something nice for me because of who I am.

    The first approach is that of peaceful, mutually beneficial exchange, of “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours,” of positive reciprocity. It is the method by which we conduct the bulk of our economic affairs.

    The second approach is that of coercion, of threats to harm others unless they do as we wish, regardless of their own preferences. This is, among other things, the realm of government as we know it.

  • Politics and Markets: A Highly Misleading Analogy

    by Robert Higgs

    Proposition: Putative “public demand,” especially as expressed by voting, drives the political-governmental system. Elected officials and hence the bureaucracy subordinate to them may be viewed as perfect agents of the electorate.

    Adherence to this proposition characterizes the bulk of all analysis dealing with the growth of government in the West, regardless of analytical tradition or ideological leaning. (Specific citations seem unnecessary, but see virtually any issue of Public Choice, as well as the widely cited articles by Meltzer and Richard [1978, 1981, 1983], Peltzman [1980, 1984, 1985], Becker [1983, 1985], and Borcherding [1977, 1985]. The most recent and most extreme contribution along these lines is by Wittman [1989].)

  • Axioms of Political Geometry

    by Robert Higgs

    1. Straight talk cannot get a politician from a current point A to the point B at which he really wishes to arrive.

    2. To extend a growth-of-government line, project it indefinitely in a line straight to hell.

    3. To describe how politicians approach the real solution to a social or economic problem, trace the circle described by a fixed radius of substantial length from the solution point.

    4. All right and left angles are morally equal to one another.

    5. Politics and morality are parallel lines and never meet.

    6. Democratic and Republican policies that are essentially equal to the same thing are also equal to one another.

    7. If equal amounts are added to the government’s debt by Republicans and Democrats, the increases in the debt are equally inconsistent with the general public interest (if any exists).

    8. If equal amounts of economic rationality are subtracted from economic policy, then the number of incumbents reelected to Congress is equal to the number reelected in the previous election.

    9. Politicians who coincide with one another, such as Republicans and Democrats who support “bipartisan” measures, are equally dishonorable.

    10. The whole of society is greater than the part that government officials can comprehend, and much greater than the part that they can manage for the attainment of a desirable end.

  • Peace, Not War

    by Sheldon Richman

     "We perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices." --Paddy Chayefsky, The Americanization of Emily  

  • Spencer, Hodgskin, and Land Rights

    by Roderick T. Long

    As “everyone knows,” Herbert Spencer was a reactionary defender of capitalism and an opponent of socialism, while Thomas sHodgskin was a proto-Marxian defender of socialism and an opponent of capitalism; so what should one expect from Hodgskin’s review (now online) of Spencer’s Social Statics?

    The right answer, it turns out, is almost total agreement: “there are very few conclusions or remarks to which we are disposed to object.” And the one point for which Hodgskin does take Spencer to task is Spencer’s rejection of private ownership of land.

    It’s almost as though traditional political categories are mistaken somehow ….

  • Screw the Vote

    by Sheldon Richman


    So the people get to vote on who may marry? And this pleases conservatives? I thought they disliked mobocracy.

  • Want to Rip Off Your Neighbor? Form a Government

    by Robert Higgs

    Facts of the case: My wife and I live in an area with one neighbor nearby. One day, I knock on my neighbor’s door and demand that he give me $10,000. He wants to know what the devil I am talking about.

    I explain that the people—most of them, in any event—in our area have seceded from St. Tammany Parish, the state of Louisiana, and the United States of America and formed a new government whose territory comprises his property and ours. We have also written and ratified, with our own votes of approval, a constitution for the new country, which we have decided to call Southland. We have also conducted elections in which a 2/3 majority of the eligible voters elected Elizabeth and me to fill all of the new government’s offices, including tax collector (I won this vote myself).

    My neighbor protests that he has never heard of any of these developments and wants nothing to do with them, to which I reply that he has no choice in the matter because the constitution of Southland gives its government the power to tax, I am the duly elected tax collector, and he is at fault for not following the news more closely and not participating in public affairs.

  • The Systematic Organization of Hatreds

    by Robert Higgs


    In the mid-1970s, I began to do consulting work in addition to my academic work. By that time, I had become familiar with how economists generally analyze cooperation and competition, in both the economy and the political realm. Economists put great weight on gains from trade. Nobody, they like to say, walks past a $20 bill he sees lying on the sidewalk. If a situation contains the potential for a trade or other arrangement that will bring gain to a decision-maker, he will embrace that trade or arrangement. This market process leads, in the theoretical extreme, to the happy condition known as the Pareto Optimum—the situation in which all potential gains from trade have been captured.

    Notice that this view of mankind causes us think of people as self-interested, but not as vicious. Individuals are seen as, in effect, indifferent to the welfare of their trading or cooperating partners, but intent on making themselves as well-off as possible. They do not seek to harm others, but only to benefit themselves (and those about whom they happen to care).

    As I launched into my consulting work, which involved various efforts by Washington state and the U.S.

  • The Question of Value

    by Sheldon Richman

    Labor (including mental labor) does not bestow utility on an automobile; consumers do that. Rather, labor bestows utility on the disparate factors of production by transforming them into an automobile.
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