In The Journal of Libertarian Studies, Dr. Walter Block argued with his libertarian colleague Frank van Dun over the issue of lying and criminal law. In an earlier article, Van Dun had offered the case of a man under the bridge who lies to some hikers about the safety of the bridge. The poor folks die, and it’s a very sad story. For Van Dun, the lying scum should be held guilty for his cold and seemingly murderous act. Block argued, however, that it is not a crime to give bad information or even to maintain silence, which also would have resulted in the hikers’ deaths. “His analysis implies either compulsory good Samaritanism or truth telling,” Block said.
Walter Block argued that the only scenario in which the man should be guilty is if the hikers had paid him for the information and he had been “contractually obligated” to tell them the truth. “Then he would be guilty of a contract violation that resulted in death, a very serious matter indeed.”
A lie is not a threat of violence. You might use my bad information to get yourself into trouble, but, if I had no legal obligation to give you “good” or accurate information, then it is simply up to you to weigh my advice against other kinds of information. People are sometimes helpful, sometimes competitive or mischievous. This is how life works; you are responsible for your own life and property.
Block, Walter. “Reply to Frank van Dun’s ‘Natural Law and the Jurisprudence of Freedom’” Journal of Libertarian Studies. Vol. 18, No. 2, Spring 2004. pp. 65-72.
Christian pastors typically tell their churches that it is important for them to obey the government because of the teachings in Romans 13. Some churches are led by absolute warmongers, but many others have leaders who are simply trying to stand up for law and order, perhaps naively in some cases.
It is important for Christians and all decent people to be respectful to others. This good cheer should even extend to people in authority- but only because they are people, not because of their power. The issue has nothing to do with one’s position; just be a decent person to everybody.
Christians typically agree that it is wrong to break criminal and contract law. But then there are “laws” that go way beyond criminal and contract laws. In these cases, where the legitimacy of the laws are open to debate, Christians should obey the state’s laws only as a practical matter. For example, the income tax protesters might have some rather convincing intellectual points, but who wants to spend their life in jail? Of course, there can sometimes be cause for resistance against unjust laws. This is up to the conscience of each individual. It is up to each person to navigate his way through this world of ideas, careers, relationships, money and horses. Just don’t hurt other people; serve other people. That will make you rich and happy. The liberal soul is made fat. By watering others we water ourselves (Proverbs 11:25).
Now it is true that the State has been the greatest enemy of Christians throughout history. The persecuted Christians in the Roman Empire were never asked to worship Jupiter. The axe-men worked ’round the clock chopping off Christian heads because they would not worship the State. The whole of the religious life in the pagan world was administered by the State. The Bible rejects this program in its entirety. The great Christian battle has been against those who would make man into God, and this has been done most successfully by giving people a new God in the State. This doctrine of “Statism” leads to totalitarianism because it is based on the belief that the State is the ultimate authority on earth. Statism is the great rival religion competing against Christianity in the West.
Christians are supposed to look to God as the ultimate authority in the world, not the State, which is simply a man-made replacement for God and His laws. The Bible portrays God as autonomous; the State portrays man as autonomous. Acts 5:29 commands Christians to obey God rather than man. Too many Christians today have found it easier to subvert the authority of God than to subvert the authority of powerful men. All Christians should oppose the logic of total State power as lethal to Christian values and the freedom required to live them out.
As a Christian, it is a matter of following God’s commandment to love other people. Whilst some people worship the State as a kind of earthly salvation for the problem-of-the-month, the Bible teaches people to look to God for values, peace and hope.
Mother Russia’s Ugly Population Stats
The Russian population declined by 7 million (5%) from 1992 to 2009. This is an incredible depopulation bomb – unheard of in peacetime— that is being caused by rising mortality.
Russia has one of the lowest birthrates in the world: 1.61 (compared to 2.01 in the U.S.). UN data from 2010 showed that Russia had the highest abortion rate in the world. And how about a third factor: rising mortality rates. According to the mortality research of Nicholas Eberstadt, the life expectancy of 15-year-old males in Russia is worse than their peers in Somalia and Ethiopia (2006 figures). Truly unimpressive. No wonder Russia is losing population.
What is Killing Them? No Hope!?
Eberstadt found that Russian depopulation occurred three other times in the 20th century: after the Russian Civil War (1917-23), during the murder and starvation of two million in Russia and Ukraine (1933-34), and during WWII when 27 million Russians died.
After ruling out smoking, drinking, health care spending and other factors, Eberstadt wondered what could be the cause of rising mortality in Russia. Without a definitive explanation, he assumes there is a “relationship” between mortality and psychological well-being. A loss of hope and belief in the future.
Gary North agrees with Eberstadt’s assessment: the Russians are dying from a loss of hope. North tied rising mortality rates to a loss of faith in Communist post-millennial eschatology. Post-millennialism is basically a belief in the future, a belief in progress; that the best is yet to come. This eschatology was not a feature of the thousand-year-old Russian Orthodox Church. It was a feature of Communist utopianism. Russian life expectancy has dropped dramatically since the collapse of Communism. By seven years.
“The Soviet Union imposed a new eschatology onto the people of Russia. This new eschatology was intensely postmillennial. It substituted long-term evolutionary progress for the final judgment. It preached a doctrine of judicial theology, but it made the state God. If men believed in the state, meaning the state as run by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, their lives would improve. If they obeyed the bureaucracy, their lives would improve. All of history was to be understood only by the principles of scientific socialism. The people were told that the principles of scientific socialism guaranteed the expansion of Communist society across the face of the earth. This, in turn, would create a new mankind. Adherence to Marxism, as applied to national politics, would lead to the regeneration of society. This was an article of faith.
This had to do with the religion of revolution. The belief was simple to state: proletarian revolution is inevitable throughout the world, and this revolution, which was inherently sacrificial and bloody, would transform mankind over time. This was taught systematically throughout the entire educational system of the Soviet Union for 70 years.”
The religion of revolution turned out to be a hallow religion for the Russian people. And they have been the special victims of totalitarianism.
Masha Gessen of the New York Review of Books, writes:
“In (the book) ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’ Hannah Arendt argues that totalitarian rule is truly possible only in countries that are large enough to be able to afford depopulation. The Soviet Union proved itself to be just such a country on at least three occasions in the twentieth century—teaching its citizens in the process that their lives are worthless. Is it possible that this knowledge has been passed from generation to generation enough times that most Russians are now born with it and this is why they are born with a Bangladesh-level life expectancy?”
George Orwell (1903-1950) was a socialist writer who had tried very hard to make a neat separation between economic freedom and political freedom. He thought you could control the production of the body without controlling production of the mind. But, ultimately, he changed his mind. He was an idealist, a communist. He came to see that Marxists were not believers in utopia, but merely power-seekers who did and said whatever needed to gain power – then use it!
Orwell’s far left publisher, Victor Gollancz, accused Orwell of being too pessimistic about the future of the totalitarian state in “Inside the Whale,” an essay in which he uses the story of Jonah inside the whale as an image of accepting the world without trying to change it. Orwell responded to Gollancz’s concern on January 4, 1940: “You are perhaps right in thinking I am over pessimistic. It is quite possible that freedom of thought etc. may survive in an economically totalitarian society. We can’t tell until a collectivized economy has been tried out in a western country (13).”
Orwell saw capitalism as a system in which wealthier people exploit workers. So he didn’t have a high view of economic freedom and, thus, didn’t see why economic freedom would be necessary in a free society.
But Orwell changed his mind a year later. In his BBC radio talked “Literature and Totalitarianism,” Orwell argued that literature would be impossible in the future totalitarian world. In his talk he admitted the inescapable tie between economic and political freedom. “It was never It was never fully realised that the disappearance of economic liberty would have any effect on intellectual liberty. Socialism was usually thought of as a sort of moralised liberalism. The state would take charge of your economic life, and set you free from the fear of poverty . . . but it would have no need to interfere with your private intellectual life. . . . Now, on the existing evidence, one must admit that these ideas have been falsified (15).”
Writing in the conservative academic quarterly journal Modern Age, Arthur Eckstein called this an “astonishing passage” and a “complete reversal” from Orwell’s earlier denial of the necessity for economic liberty. Eckstein chastised Orwell for never being honest enough to return to this inescapable idea in his later writings. “The implications of this view of the social impact of capitalist economics made Orwell the socialist very uncomfortable, challenging his most cherished ideals about how a ‘just’ society should look.” (16)
Eckstein is right: Orwell should have developed the implications of this insight– regardless of the soft feelings of his socialist buddies or his own attachments to vague socialist utopianism. Nevertheless, Orwell recognized the dead-end of the totalitarian state and painted an unforgettable picture in his book Nineteen Eighty-Four, published shortly before his death. He was very much a liberal in his writing, rather than a socialist. He believed strongly in freedom of thoughts. Here is the way Orwell set up the fundamental conflict of civilization: “(1) Society cannot be arranged for the benefit of artists; (2) without artists civilization perishes” (p 18). Orwell offered no solution to this dilemma. He didn’t offer socialism as a solution.
The story of Herbert Dow, the founder of the Dow Chemical Company, provides a wonderful case study against the efficacy of “predatory pricing” in the free market. In the early 20th century, Mr. Dow used the free market – not some state regulatory agency – to outsmart the Bromkonvention, a price-cutting cartel of 30 German chemical companies.
The case centers on the chemical bromine, which was used to produce film and used as a sedative. The German cartel set the global price at 49 cents a pound. American companies, including Dow Chemical, sold bromine for only 36 cents. The cartel told them to stay in the American market; Dow took his bromine abroad in 1904.
The Bromkonvention attempted predatory pricing to drive Dow out of the market. It started selling bromine in the American market at 15 cents a pound, taking a loss at the extraordinarily low price. Dow simply purchased hundreds of thousands of pounds at 15 cents and sold them back to Germany and England for 27 cents – a nearly 100% profit. The Germans couldn’t figure out why American demand was so high; they further cut the price down to 10.5 cents a pound, simply increasing Dow’s already incredible margins.
Dow later challenged the Germans in many other markets during the WWI era. He produced indigo, aspirin, Novocain and phenol, which was used to make explosives during the war.
Dow’s bromine war shows the free-market solution to the problem of predatory pricing posed by cartels at home and abroad. Those who huddle together and agree on artificially high prices are by definition the lazier and stupider of the companies; they are running away from work and intelligence. The way to break them up is to outsmart them and laugh at them.
China and India are the two most populous countries in the world. Both have the potential to become the most important economy in the next generation or two. Both are highly bureaucratic, but, as economist Gary North pointed out, India is a Keynesian bureaucracy and China is a Communist bureaucracy. North argues that India has a brighter economic future than China because its Keynesian bureaucracy is more in line with Western bureaucracies. But what exactly does this mean?
Keynesian Bureaucracy vs. Communist Bureaucracy
Both kinds of bureaucracy gets funding by extracting money from the taxpayers. But only in a Communist bureaucracy do the bureaucrats actually have the power to imprison and torture citizens. In such a system, the state can do whatever it wants because it owns the courts. The state owns every individual person and all property. This is called totalitarianism. Both are systems of centrally planned economies, but only the Communists carry people off and execute them in the night.
Dr. Gary North said that the chief difference between these two systems is that Western Keynesian bureaucracies respect the right of self-ownership. An individual person is a separate legal entity and not just a small, insignificant part of the state, as under Communism. “Keynesianism rules indirectly, by positive incentives mostly, and by the threat of interference from time to time.” At least Keynesians are somewhat predictable in their actions and incentives.North continued, “In a Keynesian bureaucracy, the state is not the primary owner of the means of production. The government directs the economy primarily through indirect means, such as low-interest loans, certain kinds of subsidies, the regulatory system, control over the central bank, and various kinds of sanctions, both positive and negative. In the United States, the central bank is legally independent from the federal government. It usually cooperates with the federal government, but it does not have to. In a Communist society, the central bank has to cooperate.”
Legacy of Common Law
There are other reasons why North believes India has a brighter future than China. The reasons are related to the fact that India was ruled by the British for 250 years. Now, hundreds of millions of educated Indians speak fluent English and are well-acquainted with a common law system. The common law system is closer to a free and rational legal system than the tyrannical Communist system practiced by the Russians and Chinese. Common law, or customary law, is the part of law that comes from custom and judicial precedent rather than statutes written up by a legislature.
“If we’re talking about betting on the future,” North writes, “I would bet on India over China. That is because I believe in liberty. The Chinese have a degree of economic liberty, but they do not have the basics of what we in the West regard as a free society… India is bureaucratic, but it is a Western bureaucracy, not a Communist bureaucracy. That makes all the difference.”
Should We Be Impressed with China?
Perhaps Westerners are overly impressed by the economic growth numbers seen in China over the last several years. North wondered if people were impressed by the wrong things: “They are impressed with central banking, massive bureaucracy, hostility to common law, hostility to freedom of the press, rigged statistics, government-owned commercial banks, and in the case of China, the biggest real estate bubble in history. That bubble is going to pop, and there will be social turmoil in China when it happens.”
If we project out to the year 2050, when India has the world’s largest population and China’s population has stagnated, it seems likely that India will be the bigger economic powerhouse. China does have a big real estate bubble and rapidly aging population. And Dr. North’s argument about the significance of common law and the superiority of Western Bureaucracies certainly add fuel to the argument for preeminence of India.
Charles Hugh Smith is an economist and blogger who writes primarily on his Of Two Minds blog. He published his book “Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy” this year to help job-seekers navigate career planning in the newly emerging economy.
Today’s Emerging Economy
Charles Hugh Smith paints a picture of today’s emerging economy as one that is based on using new technologies to deliver more value at lower costs. His premise is that, since many business sectors and especially governments are grossly inefficient and expensive today, there must be a reversal of the trend to constantly spend more and consume more. Indefinite expansion of consumption is the core problem because it is unsustainable. In fact, it has not really been “sustained” for several years. The enormous consumption has been based increasingly on debt. The rising interest payment on the debt will lead to insolvency of dinosaur industries and government services that protect themselves only by political power and not by economic efficiency.
What are these new technologies that are supposed to lower costs and enable increases in production? They are referred to as DSFRA technologies (digital-software-fabrication-robotics-automation). Smith sees the opportunities both in the new sectors created by technology and also in the traditional industries that can take advantage of the DSFRA technologies to become more efficient (27). There is opportunity to improve upon the services currently performed by highly centralized bureaucracies, where labor costs are way too expensive considering their inefficiency.
Economist Joseph Schumpeter famously used the term “creative destruction” to talk about the tendency of innovation to destroy the traditional economy and its various monopolies. Capital must expand; the only way for capitalists to find productive investments is to neglect and destroy less productive investments. There is a constant battle between security and innovation. Free-market capitalism is despised by those who want to maintain the status-quo in the economy – who want to protect fat monopolies because they are on the “inside” and benefiting from them. The free-market provides opportunities for those who don’t depend on the status-quo.
Smith talks about the difference between free-market capitalism and state-cartel capitalism. These are two combating sides of capitalism. They are not even close to the same ideology. He does a good job explaining why people either love or hate free-market capitalism. “Those who see it disrupting oppressive social and economic arrangements view it as liberating, while those whose security depended on inefficient, corrupt, obsolete systems maintaining power indefinitely view it as destructive” (31). Those latter folks who love security and turn a blind eye to inefficiency are supporters of state-cartel-capitalism. Perhaps the supporters of increasing consumption and increasing debt should be labeled as the “conservatives” of today.
“The great irony of free-market capitalism,” Smith wrote, “is that the only way to establish an enduring security is to embrace innovation and adaption, the very processes that generate short-term insecurity” (36). To put it in a more Darwinian way, “Eliminating risk eliminates the possibility of successful adaptation.” The implication for the jobseeker is this: no risk, no reward.
Smith predicts that these inefficient status-quo bureaucracies will be replaced by “do-ocracies,” where an individual’s influence will be based on how much of value a person does. Influence will be earned.
Beyond Centralized Bureaucracy
Smith blames hyper-consumerism as the source of modern-day alienation in the workplace. But it’s not just the workers – it’s also the employers who are interchangeable and commoditized today. He builds on the analysis of cultural historian Christopher Lasch, who examined the alienating factors in American society in the late 1970s. Smith gave a brilliant summary of these factors discovered by Lasch: “A narcissistic personality crippled by a fragile sense of self that sought solace in consumerist identifiers and a therapeutic mindset that saw alienation not as the consequence of large-scale, centralized commoditization and financialization but as individual issues to be addressed with self-help and pop psychology” (69).
Rather than viewing ever-increasing centralization as the solution to modern-day alienation, Smith identifies it as the cause of alienation. People are less equipped with self-confidence and self-reliance because of centralization, and thus less able to take the personal responsibility necessary to overcome alienation. The therapeutic mindset sells people on the idea that their happiness and success depends on some protracted relationship with a highly-centralized organization.
Create Value That Solves Problems
Graduating from high-school or even college is no guarantee that you will have the hard or soft skills necessary to thrive in today’s economy. The skills of professionalism will not appear magically as students go through their coursework. These skills would include things like the ability to communicate clearly, to be accountable to others and to self-manage. Smith argues that these kinds of professional skills need to be learned systematically by job-seekers and students.
It is important for people to learn how to create value that solves problems. Charles Smith wrote, “The ultimate purpose of education is to learn how to acquire human and social capital, and the ultimate purpose of human and social capital is mastery of the skills needed to solve problems” (73).
If educators want to prepare students for the work-place, Smith says they should teach them two things: how to learn and the values/behaviors needed to develop human and social capital. Human capital includes personal attributes such as knowledge, abilities and personal attributes. Social capital refers to the economic benefits of social cooperation (trust, information-sharing, providing assistance to community members). In a word, human capital is personal ability or knowledge and social capital is the ability or knowledge of a social network.
Top 8 Professional Skills
- Career-long learning
- Cross-applying knowledge to different fields
- Adaptability to different work environments
- Accountability for work
- Effective Collaboration (online and offline)
- Clear communication
- Constantly developing human and social capital
- Knowledge of financial records and project management
Ethical Values Create Economic Value
In addition to these professional skills, job-seekers need strong ethical values to be productive. This is far more important than education; ethical values actually determine how much human and social capital you develop at any level of schooling. And ethical values are fashioned in the home and the community, especially during childhood. Smith identified some of the key ethical values needed for success: self-discipline, protracted focus and deferred gratification for long-term goals. Unethical people tend to have low self-discipline and gratify their appetites immediately – despite the long-term deterrents working against their decisions (jail-time, always being broke, undeveloped talents, general monotony).
After giving an analysis of the higher education cartel’s ability to raise prices even as the value of degrees goes down, Smith offers a solution to the job-seeker who wants to avoid paying extortionist prices for the credentials that will help get him hired: accredit yourself.
Essentially, this process involves mastering the eight professional skills cited earlier, mastering new skills and then demonstrating your abilities to solve real problems for real organizations. Put these projects online and distribute them to networks so that your abilities are easy to verify by potential employers.
Overall, the book does a good job of showing job-seekers how to spend their time: getting busy doing projects and publicizing them online with measurable results and easy-to-demonstrate proof. Smith calls this “self-accreditation.” Smith identifies centralization as the great problem in today’s economy, especially in the top-heavy sectors that have a lot of waste, such as government, healthcare, education and security.
The most unique contribution Smith makes is at the beginning of the book with his rather sophisticated economic analysis of the emerging economy and the different forms of capitalism operating in the world today. His points on the importance of professional skills and the strategy of self-accreditation are spot-on, even if these are not completely new ideas.
Smith, Charles Hugh. “Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.” Charles Hugh Smith, 2014.
A survey by the National Conference on Citizenship found that Washington DC residents ranked last in the nation in “trusting all or most neighbors.” But Washingtonians certainly have trust for their rulers. Their trust in the media is number one in the country. And, as good consumers of the media, they ranked first in voter turnout in 2012.
DC is in the bottom half of the nation in terms of charitable giving. The survey even said they don’t care much about eating together as families (based on Census answers).
Ilir Zherka, Executive Director of the National Conference on Citizenship, remarked, “As compared to the rest of the country, D.C is the most politically active, but also the most socially disconnected place in the country.”
Real life is lived in the local community. True service can only be offered face-to-face to other humans. National politics is not about serving people; it is about lining the pockets of lobbyists and politicians and ruling over millions of nameless people.
In a speech at Mises University in 2011, the legendary Austrian economist Hans-Hermann Hoppe argued forcefully that Austrian economics cannot be treated merely as a hypothesis. It is not an empirical science that must be tested out in the world, but rather a working out of logical principles. It must be true. It rests on principles that cannot be untrue.
Hoppe called his speech Praxeology: The Method of Economics. Austrian economics rests on praxeology, which is the study of human action. And human action is a person’s pursuit of valued goals using finite means including time. If the real economics rests on the implications of human action, then one needs to start out with some basic axioms on purposeful human action. Actually, it is more than a start; Austrians argue that a firm understanding of logically-necessary human action should serve as the basis for economic thought. Sure, empirical study will confirm the theory, but the theory doesn’t depend on it. Common sense will do the trick.
What, then, are the implications of praxeology?
- No one can purposefully not act
- Every action is aimed at an improvement over what otherwise would have happened
- A larger quantity of a good is preferred over a smaller quantity
- What is consumed now can’t be consumed again
- If the supply is lowered, either the same quantity or more is bought
- Prices fixed below market-clearing prices lead to shortages
- Without property, prices are impossible. And without prices, cost-accounting is impossible
- An increase in property titles without a corresponding increase in real property does not raise social wealth – but leads to a redistribution of existing wealth
- If the minimum wage is increased to $1,000 per hour, then massive unemployment will result
- Every voluntary exchange benefits both exchange partners
- Every coercive exchange has a winner and a loser
These examples are not hypothetical. They are firmly based in the “laws” of behavior and incentives, or what is called “a priori knowledge.” These things must be true, if you just stop and think about it. While a priori knowledge may not tell us very many things, it does tell us some important things.
Hoppe argued that the examples above are different from truly hypothetical questions that you would have to test, such as “Do people prefer McDonald’s or Burger King?” Logical positivists deny there is a difference between these two kinds of knowledge; they neglect common sense and say that everything is just hypothesis and could possibly be negated. I call balderdash and so does Hoppe. To negate any of the implications above should strike you as absurd. To think it is possible that raising minimum wage to $1,000 could increase employment should strike you as absurd. Logic will hold under all circumstances and should be respected rather than questioned at every turn.
Now this does not mean that the specifics of human actions can be predicted scientifically; for this is the job of entrepreneurs. Making predictions about future behaviors is more of an art than a science. The entrepreneur’s job is to predict the preferences of potential customers to make a profit. Hoppe explained that we cannot predict our future levels of knowledge until we actually have them. There are no “empirical constants” that can predict what people will do in the future.
But the kind of knowledge you can get from praxeology can have the great benefit of avoiding mass harm. For instance, Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) pointed out in 1920 that socialism could not possibly raise living standards. This is because it is impossible to make economic calculations under socialism. He said it was impossible because there is no private property for the factors of production. And without private property there can be no prices for the factors of production. And the absence of prices is the real problem: we cannot compare the input and output prices to calculate the relative efficiency of production and discover whether we will make money or lose it. “If this is a hypothesis,” Hoppe asked, “then what do we need to do in order to find out whether this is true or not?” The answer is as inescapable as it is horrifying: “We have to introduce socialism first.” And, as we know from history, even though it is proven empirically to fail its victims and lower their living standards, socialist apologists simply say the planners weren’t given enough controls! Hoppe mocked the idea, imagining what the partisans of coercion might say in defense of socialism: “It might be different if we also controlled the weather or if Stalin puts on a hat which he did not put on the year before or if he murdered a few more Ukranians – then it might work out perfectly or alright.”
So the problem with talking about “empirical economics” is that it enables power-mongers to try their ideas out on less powerful people. Unfortunately, trying out bad economics causes great evils against real humans and then nobody bothers apologizing to the families of the dead because they excuse their bad economic theories endlessly. They posture and say that it wasn’t a pure enough test for their perfect ideas and must be tried again, risking more lives.
It is better to require economics to be rational and true from the beginning; true from its basic axioms.
Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest men in the world, enjoyed the benefit of having a very Ron Paul-esque father. In fact, Howard Buffett was probably more like Ron Paul in his sound economic and liberal political views than any American politician until… Ron Paul himself in 1976.
Howard Buffett (1903-1964) served four times as a Republican Congressman in Nebraska during the decade between 1943 and 1953. Unlike almost all of his political peers in Congress, Buffett was a consistent defender of liberty. The taxpayer was the “forgotten man,” in Buffett’s eyes; the government kept using his money He stood against interventionism both at home and overseas, opposing the Cold War, foreign aid and military conscription. Buffett tied together conscription and freedom in 1962 when he wrote “When the American government conscripts a boy to go 10,000 miles to the jungles of Asia without a declaration of war by Congress…. what freedom is safe at home? Surely, the profits of U.S. Steel or your private property are not more sacred than a young man’s right to life.”
Buffett was not completely alone in the fight for liberty in the 1940s and 50s. He was part of a group of Republicans known as “Taftites.” They were part of the “Taft” wing of the Republican Party led by the Republican Senator from Ohio Robert Taft. The Senator was primarily driven by a desire to stop the imperialist and expansionist internationalism sweeping the United States after the Second World War. Taft opposed new internationalist alliances such as NATO, favoring instead a return to international law in world affairs. Besides Buffett, other Taftites included Rep. Ralph Swinn of New York, H.R. Gross of Iowa and then Rep. George Bender and Frederick Smith – both from Taft’s state of Ohio (McMaken, 7).
Howard Buffett was a critic of the Office of Price Administration (OPA), which had the job of putting price controls on retail consumer goods to “stabilize” the economy. Lower prices are cute – for a short time, before they lead to shortages and you cannot buy the goods at any price. Buffett blamed the OPA for shortages in lumber, soybeans and corn. He thought price-fixing had a particularly pernicious effect on small businesses, claiming that price regulations had caused half-a-million businesses to fail in just three years from 1941 to 1943.
And the government price controls didn’t even do the only good thing it was supposed to do: end inflation. Buffett told the New York Times in 1952 that imposing price controls is a “fake remedy” for inflation. It “makes inflation worse by concealing and postponing its effects. It will ultimately destroy the free market that is the base on which American freedom rests,” he said.
The gold standard was both an economic and political issue for Buffett. It was so important for individual political rights, he thought, because gold-backed money was welcome all around the world and, thus, gave people the freedom of movement – they were not trapped into their own government. But, with the abandoning of the gold standard, the American citizen became “dependent upon the goodwill of the politicians for his daily bread.” This is probably not a safe position for American citizens.
McMaken , Ryan. A Brief History of the Old Right: Libertarian and Conservative Critics of Foreign Interventionism. Ryan McMaken: 2002.