Power & Market
The arrest of Julian Assange has produced rapturous cheering from the American political elite. Hillary Clinton declared that Assange “must answer for what he has done.” Unfortunately, Assange’s arrest will do nothing to prevent the vast majority of conniving politicians and bureaucrats from paying no price for deceiving the American public.
“Truth will out” is a phrase that is routinely recited to keep Americans paying and obeying. Politicians and editorial writers toss this phrase out to simmer down any fears that the government might be conspiring against the people. Actually, “truth will out” is the biggest fairy tale in Washington.
The phrase “truth will out” is first recorded in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Often in Shakespeare’s plays, truths come out only after almost everyone has been conned, stabbed, or screwed. It’s not much better nowadays.
When it comes to politics, “truth will out” should be confined to sarcasm and satire, not to serious pontificating.
Consider the assassination in 1963 of John F. Kennedy. The Johnson administration rushed the Warren Commission to issue a verdict approving the official story of the killing. But the commission announced that the key records would be sealed for 75 years. Truth would out — but not until all the people involved in the coverup had gotten their pensions and died. In 1992, Congress (responding to the uproar provoked by Oliver Stone’s movie on the assassination) shortened the disclosure schedule, but federal agencies are still conniving to withhold key evidence.
The following year, Johnson was running against Barry Goldwater. Folks were warned back then that if they voted for Goldwater, the United States would get involved in a massive land war in Asia. Well, Johnson won and he dragged the United States into the Vietnam War on the basis of totally false claims about the Gulf of Tonkin incident. The Johnson administration built entire pyramids of lies about that war — actually, they were funeral pyres, not pyramids. As philosopher Hannah Arendt noted, during the Vietnam War “the policy of lying was hardly ever aimed at the enemy but chiefly if not exclusively destined for domestic consumption, for propaganda at home and especially for the purpose of deceiving Congress.” CIA analysts did excellent work in the early period of the Vietnam conflict. But “in the contest between public statements, always over-optimistic, and the truthful reports of the intelligence community, persistently bleak and ominous, the public statements were likely to win simply because they were public,” she observed.
Fast-forward a few decades to 2003. The Bush administration was claiming that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that he was tied to the 9/11 attacks. Both of those charges turned out to be complete hokum — but they were enough to justify dragging the United States into another pointless war against Iraq. A few years later, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared, “Ultimately the truth gets out, notwithstanding people’s efforts to the contrary.” For Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, truth was simply another bomb to drop on opponents, at home or abroad. Los Angeles Times columnist William Arkin noted that Rumsfeld’s redesign of military operations “blurs or even erases the boundaries between factual information and news, on the one hand, and public relations, propaganda, and psychological warfare, on the other.” As reported in the New York Times on May 24, 2006, army officers under Rumsfeld’s command bribed Iraqi journalists to produce favorable newspaper and television reports about U.S. military operations. The campaign was aided by psychological warfare experts authorized to use “doctored or false information to deceive or damage the enemy or to bolster support for American efforts.” The program’s exposure spurred momentary outrage in Washington, after which it resumed on a larger scale.
While some people were shocked by Rumsfeld’s manipulations, he was following hallowed Pentagon traditions. During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Assistant Defense Secretary Arthur Sylvester announced, “It’s inherent in [the] government’s right, if necessary, to lie to save itself. News generated by the actions of the government … [are] part of the arsenal of weaponry that a President has.” But, as the Pentagon Papers showed, that weapon cripples citizens’ ability to control their government.
The U.S. government became far more secretive after the 9/11 attacks. The federal government made almost 50 million decisions to classify information last year. Politicians and federal agencies have long recognized that “what people don’t know won’t hurt the government.”
U.S. troops are now fighting in 14 foreign nations: will the Pentagon tell us all about it? The chances are slim and none and, as Dan Rather liked to say, “Slim just left town.” And how about our chances of learning the sordid details surrounding the U.S. government’s dealings with the Saudi regime, despite its atrocities at home and abroad?
For an even bigger pipe dream, when do you think we’ll learn the facts of U.S. policy in Syria? The U.S. government has massively intervened in Syrian civil war since 2011. U.S. policy has always been a tangle of contradictions and absurdities: Pentagon-backed Syrian rebels actively battled against CIA-backed Syrian rebels. Maybe backing both factions guaranteed that the U.S. would be on the eventual winning side? When U.S.-backed rebels launch a chemical-weapons attack on civilians, the U.S. government usually simply ignores it: “Oh those boys.” The New Yorker reported in November that the U.S. military is building up its forces in Syria in preparation for a conflict with Iran. I don’t recall that that issue was on the ballot — or on the radar — for the 2018 congressional midterm elections. Will Donald Trump use secrecy to drag the United States into another pointless Middle East war?
I’ve been an investigative journalist for more than 35 years. I have fought many federal agencies to get the facts of what they are doing. Sometimes I get some dirt, sometimes I get a smoking gun — or a few whiffs — but most government coverups succeed.
I have been using the federal Freedom of Information Act since the early 1980s. This law is supposed to make Americans think the government is transparent — federal agencies are bound by law to reply within 20 business days to requests for documents and other information.
Some years ago, I sent out a bunch of FOIA requests to federal agencies to see what they had in their files about me. The FBI replied that they had nothing — even though FBI chief Louis Freeh publicly condemned my articles on Ruby Ridge. No records? The FBI told a lot of lies about the Randy Weaver case — enough to con much of the media — but they got whupped by a brave Idaho jury. There are some federal agencies that routinely and wrongfully deny FOIA requests, presuming that people are not seriously seeking information until they sue the agency in federal court.
I wrote a lot about trade policy in the 1990s and clashed at times with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. I filed a FOIA to get their files on me, including the uproar after I rattled them by acquiring a secret copy of the U.S. tariff code that they had denied existed. Their response came back — “We have no records on Kevin Bovard.” This was not even “close enough for government work,” but it was typical of the charades of disclosure practiced by many agencies.
I have been slamming the Transportation Security Administration for 15 years, so I sent them a FOIA request for their records on me. The TSA chief had publicly condemned an article I wrote in 2014 but their response to my request contained no information on that. Was I supposed to believe that TSA boss John Pistole had typed his retort in an online portal that the newspaper provided, leaving no internal trace?
After a tussle with the TSA at Reagan National Airport back in March, I filed a FOIA request for the videos of that encounter. I have received nothing on that incident and remain sitting on the edge of my chair waiting. Admittedly, I did already whack the TSA on that ruckus in the Los Angeles Times. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reprinted that article with the headline “TSA: the world’s most incompetent agency” — I wonder if that will show up the next time I file a FOIA request with TSA.
Government coverups became a hot issue in November when a Justice Department snafu revealed that the U.S. government had secretly indicted WikiLeaks whistleblower Julian Assange. We do not yet know the specific charges against Assange but the U.S. government has had him in its crosshairs ever since he released scores of thousands of documents exposing U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010. During the 2016 presidential campaign, WikiLeaks released emails from the Democratic National Committee showing that its nominating process was rigged to favor Hillary Clinton. During the final month of the campaign, WikiLeaks disclosed emails from Clinton campaign chief John Podesta. At the same time, the Obama administration had been illegally denying FOIA requests for years that had sought Hillary Clinton’s emails from her four years as secretary of State. But there was no danger that a secret indictment would look into that trampling of the law. The ACLU warned that prosecuting Assange for WikiLeaks’ publishing operations would be “unconstitutional” and would set a “dangerous precedent for U.S. journalists, who routinely violate foreign secrecy laws to deliver information vital to the public’s interest.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has denounced WikiLeaks as a “non-state hostile intelligence service” and labeled Assange a “fraud,” “coward,” and “enemy.” He warned, “To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for.” But “our great Constitution” never intended for Washington to keep endless secrets from the American people.
If Assange is going to be indicted, it should be for lèse-majesté —which has not formally been a crime in this part of the world since 1776. Any prosecution of Assange would ultimately rest on a presumed divine right for the federal government to deceive the American people. Assange is a heretic to people who believe the feds have a right to be trusted.
Attorney General Ramsey Clark declared in 1967, “Nothing so diminishes democracy as secrecy.” If someone had massively leaked U.S. government documents on Iraq in January 2003, the Bush administration campaign for war might have been thwarted. If Americans had known the full extent of George W. Bush’s torture regime and domestic spying, he might have failed to win reelection in 2004. If Americans had known that Obama’s National Security Agency was illegally vacuuming up their email, he might have gotten tossed out by voters in 2012.
Myths about truth empower liars. The more people assume that truth automatically outs, the easier it becomes to cork it up. Americans must realize that they will not receive even token disclosures without whistleblowers, journalists, and activists vigorously fighting the political-bureaucratic system.
This article was originally published in the February 2019 edition of Future of Freedom.
The Notre Dame cathedral in Paris isn't the first historically significant church to go up in smoke. The Basilica of Saint Paul's Outside-the-Walls — after standing for more than 1,400 years — was almost totally destroyed by fire in 1823. It housed the tomb of the Apostle Paul, and was a major basilica, second only to St Peter's as a pilgrimage site. Thanks to a construction worker, the church was accidently set on fire.
Its destruction was a great disaster at the time, and an international appeal went out for assistance in its reconstruction. The world responded and the church was rebuilt to the original design. Today, it is a beautiful church, and it remains the site of the Apostle's tomb. It also still contains many works of art preserved from the Middle Ages and other elements from the original church.
Today, few pilgrims to Saint Paul's are much perturbed by the fact it is not entirely the original fourth-century structure. Most ancient churches are really a mixture of (relatively) new and much older elements. Old Saint Peter's Basilica, built by Emperor Constantine, stood for 1,200 years before being shamefully neglected and knocked down by the popes. It was replaced by the new basilica now known as (new) St Peter's. Although I personally wish the old basilica had been rebuilt — and the new basilica never constructed — few people nowadays complain about the new St Peter's value as a work of art. It has itself now become "ancient." When it comes to important churches, renovations and changes take place. It's not the end of the world.
But maybe the destruction of Notre Dame is different. Those who built the new Saint Peter's figured they were perfectly capable of building something even better than what came before. They had Michelangelo.
But what about today? Perhaps many observers of Notre Dame's destruction suspect modern artists and architects aren't up to the task of recreating or surpassing the artisans of the thirteenth century. That would be a grim realization, indeed.
What strikes me as especially significant about Notre Dame, however, is that its reconstruction will have to take place in a world colored by a worldview that is far, far removed from the one that produced the original. Notre Dame was built in the High Middle Ages — an era when Europe invented the University. It was the time of Aquinas, and of Francis of Assisi. It was a time of immense interest in new technologies and new types of learning. Much of which made Notre Dame possible. It was also, of course, a time of widespread Christianity.
Europe today, however, has largely rejected Christianity and mocks it regularly in Europe's artwork, politics, and scholarship. Thus, the worldview that created Notre Dame is anathema to the modern European mind. Europeans may value the physical building that is known as Notre Dame, but Europeans have been happily burning down Notre Dame in spirit for centuries.
Given the widespread disdain for the medievals who built it, why do we hear so much about what a wonderful thing Notre Dame is today?
The answer lies in the fact that modern Europeans have redefined the building as a safe, watered-down version of what it was meant to be.
We're told Notre Dame is just a symbol of France, and of Europe. We're told it's a work of art, and that it's a great place for people watching. It gives us "a sense of community." And perhaps most importantly, it's a world famous tourist attraction.
Some who have pledged to rebuild the structure have been explicit in this. One wealthy donor announced today: "Notre Dame is an extraordinary landmark and an immeasurable symbol of Paris. It represents love and unity, bringing people together from all over the world no matter who they are and where they come from."
Nevertheless, for all the attempts to redefine Notre Dame today as something of non-religious importance, the fact remains the building was constructed as a church. It was made as a place to say Mass, to pray to what Christians regard as the eternal God, and to confect the Eucharist. That is, the building was created primarily to provide a holy place for the priests to participate in the process of making Christ physically present in flesh and blood on the altar. The artwork, structure, and design were all made to focus the senses and attention of visitors on this reality.
Yes, Notre Dame was also built to showcase and advertise the wealth and power of those who built it. But this wealth and power could have been equally well advertised through the construction of palaces, and military outposts, and other civil buildings.
The fact that so many resources and so much artistic fervor were put into the construction of a church, however, reminds us that European civilization — many within it, at any rate — took their religion seriously, even if their devotion was hampered by vices such as the usual human desires for prestige and bragging rights.
But those who will rebuild the church are likely to regard New Notre Dame as something far different from a monument to an ancient deity. In reading the words above about the rituals Notre Dame was designed for, most modern day Europeans and Americans will scoff at the very idea that anyone believed in all that superstitious "god stuff." Words like "Eucharist" and "Mass" are quaint relics from absurd notions passed down by semi-barbarian medievals. (Ironically, moderns will mock medieval Europeans for their alleged ugly backwardness, even while praising their beautiful churches in the next breath.)
The contempt for the idea of Notre Dame as a place good for anything loftier than civic pride and tourism has been recently illustrated in the fact the mass media and the global pundits assign virtually no value at all to other French churches. For example, most media outlets have largely ignored the fact that French churches are increasingly targeted by vandals. According to the International Business Times:
A total of 875 of France's 42,258 churches were vandalized in 2018, with a small fire set to the Saint-Sulpice church in Paris in March, according to French police.
In the same week that the fire broke out at the Saint-Sulpice church, another 11 churches were vandalized. According to the Ministry of the Interior, a total of 1,063 anti-Christian acts were recorded in 2018 alone.
We only hear about Notre Dame because its famous. It's status as a church is of little importance.
And this, ultimately, is what sets the reconstruction of Notre Dame apart from the reconstruction of St. Paul's or St. Peters. It will be rebuilt and placed in a culture that regards it primarily as a museum or a community center. Notre Dame has been domesticated. It's been made ideologically safe.
The way Notre Dame is treated today is not unlike what many political theorists do when they regard religion as superstitious nonsense, but nonetheless tolerate it for its supposed societal benefits. Religion, they cynically claim, can have its advantages. It keeps the rubes in line by imposing on them a moral code. It distracts the mob from their troubles. It's all fine so long as it doesn't challenge the status quo.
And who can be surprised that a French church is popularly regarded in such a way? Only 51 percent of the French population claim to be Catholic at all. Among those, only five percent attend Mass regularly. In other words, virtually no one in France is much interested in Notre Dame beyond it's mundane perks.
None of this is to say I oppose the reconstruction of the church. It's a good thing if the Church is rebuilt. It is good to have a beautiful church in the center of Paris. It's good that many people value the church on some level, even if they mock what it was intended to be.
But as I'm lectured by pundits and columnists about the need to value Notre Dame as a symbol, I can't help but think of the Catholic novelist Flannery O'Connor who took exception to the idea that the Eucharist was a mere symbol, and not the flesh and blood of the Christian God:
Well, toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the Host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the ‘most portable’ person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, ‘Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it.’ That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”
This sort of radical devotion on the part of O'Connor will strike most modern Westerners as unpleasantly radical. Perhaps even extreme. Or worse yet: intransigent. We're not supposed to have convictions like this anymore, or take religious propositions seriously. That's all for a past "dogmatic" age we're now supposed to condemn. And it is condemned, by exactly the sorts of people now singing the praises of Notre Dame. They tell us the most important thing about Notre Dame is that it's a symbol. Flannery O'Connor might have disagreed.
While Republicans continue to profess their opposition to socialism, their love of socialism is being demonstrated in the healthcare arena. Do you remember when they were campaigning for control over Congress and the presidency with full-throated calls to repeal Obamacare? Not anymore. According to an article in the Washington Post, Republicans have come to love and adore President Obama’s signature achievement as president. More important, of course, is their deep-seated, unwavering devotion to Medicare and Medicaid, the two socialist programs enacted during the leftist regime of President Lyndon Johnson.
The Post’s article states:
Even Republicans who furiously fought the creation of the law and won elections with the mantra of repeal and replace speak favorably of President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement.
“Quite obviously, more people have health insurance than would otherwise have it, so you got to look at it as positive,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a recent interview….
“For the people who are in that tranche of expanded Medicaid, I think it has been very helpful,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.)….
The public’s increasing reliance on the ACA was reflected in the dramatic failure of congressional Republicans to roll back the law or even unify around a plan to replace it as it has grown in popularity.
Even President Trump is caving:
Bowing to pressure from some in his own party, Trump recently backed off a new pledge to take another crack at eliminating the ACA and said a vote on a GOP health plan — still unformed — would be delayed until after the 2020 election.
This is one of the horrific consequences of socialism: It creates mindsets of dependency on the government, much like going on heroin. Once people go on either heroin or socialism, they’re done. At that point, they cannot imagine life without their narcotic. And they come to love it.
President Franklin Roosevelt, who ushered in America’s welfare-state way of life, understood this phenomenon perfectly. He knew that if he could just make people dependent on governmental largess, the federal government would own them. That’s what Social Security, the crown jewel of American socialism, was all about it. FDR knew that once he got seniors on the dole, he and successor regimes would own them.
Roosevelt’s protégé, Lyndon Johnson, learned this lesson well from his mentor. Give seniors not only a welfare retirement dole but also free or heavily subsidized healthcare, and they would thereafter belong to the federal government.
That’s how we have ended up with entire generations of older people who have been scared to death of losing their Socials Security and Medicare and absolutely convinced that they would die without them. Equally important, you’ll never see any seniors, except libertarian ones, who dare to challenge the federal government at a fundamental level. They’re too scared that the government will retaliate by threatening to cut off their retirement and healthcare doles.
The Post article says that one reason why Republicans have become enamored with Obamacare is their fear of what will happen if it is repealed. This fear was expressed by former Ohio Governor John Kasich, one of the leading Republicans to embrace parts of Obamacare, who stated that ending the program would bring “total chaos.” Kasich reflects the conservative mindset — that socialism equals stability and that freedom and the free market equal chaos.
In fact though, government involvement in healthcare, including Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, occupational licensure, insurance regulation, and income-tax manipulation, have brought America a healthcare system that is best described as “planned chaos.” The Post article hints at the real situation: “Democrats have often acknowledged that the ACA is not a perfect law and can be improved….”
Indeed, if Obamacare was the panacea it was made out to be, there would be no reason for Democrats to now be advocating an expansion of Medicare to everyone in the country. The reason they are doing that is because despite (or because of) Obamacare, the healthcare crisis just keeps getting worse. And the reason it continues getting worse is because each new government reform makes the situation worse.
America once had the finest healthcare system in the world, one that was based on free-market principles. Healthcare costs were reasonably priced, innovations were soaring, and doctors absolutely loved what they did in life.
Medicare and Medicaid succeeded in destroying that healthcare system. That’s when healthcare costs starting soaring, healthcare quality began decreasing, and increasing numbers of doctors began opting for early retirement.
Rather than repealing Medicare and Medicaid, American socialists, including conservatives, instead began enacting reform upon reform, hoping against hope that their healthcare socialism would finally succeed. Nothing worked. Each reform only made things worse. And it’s no different with Obamacare. The healthcare crisis will only get worse.
The same holds true if Medicare for All is adopted. At that point, American socialists, both Democrats and Republicans, will be calling for a full-fledged federal takeover of healthcare, with doctors working for the government and with the government in charge of people’s medical treatment and medical records.
No one should look to Republicans to save our country from socialism. They threw in the towel and made peace with the welfare state a long time ago. The only thing they have left is empty pro-capitalist rhetoric.
The only hope for the future of American healthcare and American liberty lies with libertarianism and libertarians. It is only we who have the correct diagnosis and the right prescription for America’s healthcare woes: Repeal Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare and end all governmental involvement in healthcare. Separate healthcare and the state, just as our ancestors separated church and state.
Yesterday's terrible fire at the Notre-Dame Cathedral reminds us how quickly centuries of accumulated "cultural capital" can be destroyed. Oak timbers dating from the 1200s in the roof and spire were lost forever; some priceless stained glass windows appear to have suffered damage. As the saying goes, France is the heart of the West, Paris is the heart of France, and Notre Dame is the heart of Paris—and as such the sight of the iconic church ablaze makes an uneasy if simplistic metaphor for the decline of the West.
"Cultural capital" here of course means something far broader than economic definitions of capital as financial wealth or factors of production. Even the broader Austrian view of capital as heterogeneous production goods, what Rothbard termed an "intricate, delicate, interweaving structure of capital goods," can't capture the sum of wealth in a society. Capital ultimately is measurable, reducible to units, while the value of Notre Dame to Catholics around the world cannot be measured. We cannot quantify the cost of its damage or destruction in purely economic terms. But we can recognize a loss. Hundreds of years of wealth bound up in the beauty of Notre Dame's roof and spire are now lost to us forever.
The blogger Bionic Mosquito reminds us that civilizational wealth compounds over time, and thus wealth can be material, cultural, spiritual, even civilizational:
...Think of wealth not just on a balance sheet, but wealth in terms of culture, accumulated wisdom and knowledge, the captured savings of time.
Accumulation and time are key. Healthy societies build and preserve wealth, which is to say they are made up of individuals who strive to create more than they consume. The people who built Notre Dame over two centuries, using rudimentary pulleys and scaffolding, certainly did not expect to see the end results of their work. In fact no single Pope, architect, financier, mason, artist, laborer, or French monarch saw the project through from start to completion. But they built something lasting, something of incalculable benefit to future generations. They created wealth lasting far beyond their lifetimes.
All healthy societies do this. The notion of being concerned with things beyond one’s lifetime is innately human. Humans are hardwired to build societies, and the most ambitious humans have always sought to build lasting monuments and modes of living. That’s not possible unless people work toward a future they will not enjoy themselves.
This was especially true for our ancient primitive ancestors, who lived very short and difficult lives. We can imagine how much they wanted to have lasting forms of sustenance: food, water, clothing, shelter — instead of having to produce that sustenance day after day.
In fact, this trait perhaps more than any other is the hallmark of civilization. We can call it many things, but we might just say healthy societies create capital. They consume less than they produce. This capital accumulation creates an upward spiral that increases investment and productivity, making the future richer and brighter. Capital accumulation made it possible for human populations to develop beyond subsistence misery. It made the agricultural, industrial, and digital revolutions possible.
Technical know-how, artistry, and craftsmanship also represent forms of wealth which can be lost over time, and apparently have been. This article questions whether Notre Dame really can be rebuilt in quite the same way:
While architects have enough detailed information about the cathedral to pull off a technically very precise reconstruction, the craftsmanship is unlikely to be the same. Today, the stone that makes up the cathedral would be cut using machinery, not by hand by small armies of stonemasons as in the 12th century. "Nineteenth-century and 20th-century Gothic buildings always look a little dead, because the stone doesn't bear the same marks of the mason's hand," Murray told Ars Technica.
Civilization is far more than just economics, but it needs economics. Mises cautions us that it "will and must perish if the nations continue to pursue the course which they entered upon under the spell of doctrines rejecting economic thinking." So when we consider the sad spectacle of Notre Dame burning, we should ask ourselves whether the politics and economics of our age encourage or discourage building wealth for future generations. Even if one reduces the inheritance of western countries today to material well-being, the threat of losing what makes us rich certainly concerns us all. Short-term political thinking, coupled with demand-driven mania in fiscal and monetary policy, can consume our future just as fire consumed the roof of Notre Dame.
Since when are industriousness and hard work criticized? The New York Times op-ed page. Alissa Quart complains,
this nouveau moonlighting continues to be exalted as cool, empowering or freeing. This mantra is false: Side hustles are not simply a new version of working as a “wage slave” so that we can do what we love in our off hours. Instead, far more often, people take on second or third side hustles because of wage stagnation or low pay at their full-time jobs.
So, what’s another word for wage stagnation but inflation. However, Ms. Quart, the author of Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America, doesn’t mention the Federal Reserve or increases in the supply of money.
Quart’s Sunday Times piece is entitled “The Con of the Side Hustle.” People taking on multiple jobs refer to them as “side hustles.” Which is kind of cute. Uber is recruiting online, not with the tagline “do you have to have a second job to pay your bills” but rather something cool, like, “Get your side hustle on.”
It just so happens I’ve had occasion to use Uber lately and usually engage the driver in conversation. None were complaining about making a little money on the side even though they have “day jobs.” One was a blackjack dealer who said he made $47,000 last year dealing. When he gets off work he’s bored, so he drives and makes extra money.
Another was a financial planner whose wife just had a baby. He said he was driving to cover the new baby expenses but also to meet potential clients. My favorite driver is a Vice President of Player Development at a large local casino. He was driving his wife’s “shift” because he lost a bet between them. His wife drives because she’s home with their toddler and likes to drive a few hours both for the money but also for adult conversation.
Ms. Quart is far more exercised about these guy’s side hustles than they appeared to be.
Later in her piece, Ms. Quart really cranks up her ire,
Yet this sales pitch for the “side hustle” takes what we once called, more drably, another job and gives it a gloss, with a tiny shot of Superfly, disguising unstable working hours and a lack of bargaining power as liberation. You can see the twisted alchemy of what Reddit’s founder Alexis Ohanian has called “ hustle porn. ”
All this hand wringing is about prices rising faster than incomes and people having the time and willingness to pursue work and pay for more goods and services rather than live with less and enjoy more leisure time. Murray Rothbard wrote in the “Mystery of Banking,”
The essence of inflation is the process by which a large and hidden tax is imposed on much of society for the benefit of government and the early receivers of the new money. Inflationary increases of the money supply are pernicious forms of tax because they are covert, and few people are able to understand why prices are rising. Direct, overt taxation raises hackles and can cause revolution; inflationary increases of the money supply can fool the public — its victims — for centuries.
Of course, Ms. Quart casts no stones at the government or the central bank. It’s private businesses that are to blame. She implores us to never use the words “side hustle,” be more truthful, and most importantly, “we can agitate to raise wages. If we do that, we won’t need cute euphemisms to cloak the chaotic truth of working life in today’s America.”
The truth of the matter is, the Fed makes most all of us poorer, including businesses, while enriching the government. Bravo to those with the gumption to have a side hustle.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo just approved a $175.5 billion budget, boasting it as the “broadest, most sweeping state plan that we have done.”
Hoping to spend $19.6 billion on Medicaid and healthcare alone, a 3.6 percent raise from last year, New York’s lawmakers also passed a new “mansion tax,” targeting properties worth more than $2 million. In addition, the state added a new online sales tax to the books, which officials hope will raise enough revenue to allocate $320 million to help with New York City’s transit system, a new vape pen tax, and a ban on plastic shopping bags, which gives counties the freedom to charge 5-cent fees on paper bags.
But are all these efforts enough?
New York, out of all states, should have learned its lesson once affluent residents packed up and left. After all, it was Cuomo himself who announced the state’s income tax revenue had plummeted by $2.3 billion since his budget plan was announced. But despite the backlash, Cuomo doubled down, dismissing the loss in tax-based cash as a product of the 2017 federal tax reform and its $10,000 limit on state-and-local tax (SALT) deductions.
Prior to President Trump, there were no limits on SALT deductions. Naturally, Cuomo believes New Yorkers suffered greatly with the cap imposition. But the problem goes way beyond the change imposed by Trump, as SALT’s goal is to help relieve residents of high-tax states. If local taxpayers didn’t have to deal with such a high tax burden in the first place, there would be no reason to leave.
As The Wall Street Journal editorial board put it, averting more damage is the best anyone can hope for — in the time being. In the long run, however, unwinding the state’s bureaucracy is the only solution to the Empire State’s problems.
Taxation: Beneficial Only to the Politician
As Frank Chodorov wrote in the classic Income Tax: The Root of All Evil , the U.S. government hit the jackpot when it succeeded in making an “obnoxious” law, such as the temporary taxation of income, a feature of the American way of life, effectively turning the country’s founding principles into a “collectivistic doctrine.”
After that, everything became fair game.
As explained by Chodorov, when 42 states ratified the tariff bill featuring an income-tax amendment in 1913, the 16th Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution, “[reducing] the American citizen to a status of subject, so much so that he is not aware of it; [enhancing] Executive power to the point of reducing Congress to innocuity; and [enabling] the central government to bribe the states, once independent units, into subservience.”
As Cuomo exemplifies with his never-ending campaign to destroy the New York state economy, income tax (or any tax for that matter) only benefits politicians. As the idea of taxing those who have property appeals to those who do not have any or at least as much as others.
It is “political ambition and the sin of covetousness,” as Chodorov put it, that help to perpetuate the idea that government has a right to confiscate property in the name of the common good. And politicians bank on it, using it to boost political clout.
Suppose someone wanted to misrepresent a public policy to you. How could they do so most effectively? And who can help you resist?
It’s certainly a believable hypothetical. With two major parties who seem to disagree on everything, multiple intra-party fault-lines, and a plethora of interests who wish to turn laws and regulations in their favor, whipped together by a press in search of partisan scandal and ratings, it is hard to see how it could be otherwise. In fact, for almost every issue, it seems very likely that some, if not many, groups, will be tempted to promote their interests using techniques ranging along the spectrum from “putting one’s best foot forward” to bald-faced lies.
There are plenty of common political tricks that fall short of outright lying. For instance, one can bury desired changes in the paper avalanche of an omnibus bill, as in the Minnesota legislature’s recent attempt to sneak in enactment of the National Popular Vote project. Or one can pass vague legislation that passes the buck for what it will mean in practice to executive agencies and the courts. But such forms of subterfuge are not my interest here.
I wish to ask how people would misrepresent things in the open, rather than behind such political camouflage? As I warn my public policy students, the general principle is that people will lie to you in whatever areas you are most vulnerable.
If you are American, one of those weak spots is typically mathematics, and particularly statistics, which is why it earns its place of shame along with lies and damned lies. That is why the tricks for how to misrepresent statistics discussed in Darrell Huff’s How to Lie with Statistics still keep the book selling 65 years after its initial publication.
However, widespread ignorance goes deeper than the science of statistics itself. Very few people have a clear idea on what the data involved actually measures, under what assumptions and limitations, which can lead to careless and irresponsible usage. For instance, few people can articulate why both the employment and unemployment rates could go up at the same time, and which would be a more reliable economic indicator in such a case, when their names suggest it shouldn’t be possible.
Thomas Sowell , in his most recent book, Discrimination and Disparities, describes the problem as “overlooking simple but fundamental questions as to whether the numbers on which… analyses are based are in fact measuring what they seem to be measuring, or claim to be measuring,” which, in order to defend ourselves against misrepresentation, requires “much closer scrutiny at a fundamental level.” But far too few apply such careful, fundamental scrutiny.
However, there are a few people who do yeoman work in this area, providing valuable “insurance” against errors others would encourage us to make. They deserve our appreciation for toiling in that underserved area, and I would like to express thanks to several whose efforts I have particularly benefitted from.
Thomas Sowell is one such author who has provided a great deal of clarification over decades of prolific publication. For example, one common theme of his is the need to distinguish between what happens to a particular category of people (e.g., “the rich” or “the poor”), interpreted as a stable group, which lends itself to class-based conclusions, and the very different experiences of real people who move in an out of such categories over time, which upsets such analyses.
Discrimination and Disparities reiterates that theme from his earlier books. But my favorite illustration is his discussion of the famous Card and Krueger minimum wage study, which purported to overturn the conclusion that raising the minimum wage increases unemployment. It surveyed the same employers, asking how many employees they had before and after a minimum wage increase. The problem is that “you can only survey the survivors.” Anyone who went out of business, and the jobs that consequently disappeared, would not be included, so even if surveyed survivors did not reduce employment, many jobs invisible to their approach could still have been lost. To reinforce the image, he notes that a similar before-and-after survey of those who played Russian Roulette would show that no one was hurt, and cites a quip by George Stigler that if it had been used in a survey of American veterans in both 1940 and 1946, it would “prove” that “no solider was mortally wounded” during the war.
Another very prolific watchdog for statistical malfeasance is Mark J. Perry . He points out so many useful “red flags” in multiple outlets that I look forward to what is almost a one-a-day pleasure. A good example is his evisceration of “Equal Pay Day” discussions that attribute differences between median yearly incomes to unjustifiable discrimination against women “doing the same work as men.” He points out that the data fails to adjust for differences in “hours worked, marital status, number of children, education, occupation, number of years of continuous uninterrupted job experience, working conditions, work safety, workplace flexibility, family friendliness of the workplace, job security, and time spent commuting,” each of which would lead men to be paid more, on average.
Andrew Biggs is another stickler for statistical responsibility, particularly in areas connected to retirement security and retirement plans. For instance, in Forbes , he showed that a recent GAO report concluding that 48% of U.S. households aged 55 and over in 2016 “had no retirement savings” was far different from reality, as 72% of people had such savings plan, when those with traditional defined benefit pensions are counted, and 83% of married households had such savings when including those where only one had a retirement plan. Just those two changes massively changed the conclusions. And he pointed out other biases, as well.
These three people have each helped me understand measurement issues far better than before, enabling me to avoid errors that would have undermined my analyses of policy issues. I owe them thanks. But readers might also give them more attention, for similar “tutoring.” Many others have also been of use to me, and as I continue to learn, perhaps I can give a shout-out to others in the future, especially as this labor pool is still far too shallow. But mainly I wanted to put out a serious warning about ignorance not only of statistical applications and presentations, but also of the data that is often misused in reaching policy conclusions.
Unmentioned in Assange arrest coverage — the US government after 9/11 dropped an Iron Curtain around itself. Wikileaks exposed US government crimes no one else would touch.
Julian Assange is charged with "conspiracy to commit computer intrusion." What about all the politicians and military officials who conspired to deceive Americans about the Iraq war?
The Assange arrest proves that no government critic "is above the law." But governments remain free to secretly trample the law as they please. Assange was labeled "our property" by same nitwit U.S. senator from West Virginia who wailed in 2016 that "due process is killing us."
Britain's foreign secretary whoops that Assange's arrest shows "no one is above the law." Except for the governments whose crimes Wikileaks and Assange helped expose.
The cheering by some of the US media on the Assange arrest vivifies how journalists no longer understand how government coverups destroy democracy.
Here's my USA Today piece from last November when reports surfaced of Assange’s indictment.
Formatted from @JimBovard on Twitter.
The so-called Green New Deal is only tangentially related to climate issues.
It’s best to think of it as the left’s wish list, and it includes a paid leave entitlement, government jobs, infrastructure boondoggles, and an expansion of the already bankrupt Social Security system.
But the most expensive item on the list is “Medicare for All,” which is a scheme concocted by Bernie Sanders to have the government pay for everything.
Would this be a good idea? In a column for Forbes, Sally Pipes of the Pacific Research Institute explains that government-run healthcare in the United Kingdom has some very unfriendly features.
Nearly a quarter of a million British patients have been waiting more than six months to receive planned medical treatment from the National Health Service, according to a recent report from the Royal College of Surgeons. More than 36,000 have been in treatment queues for nine months or more. …Consider how long it takes to get care at the emergency room in Britain. Government data show that hospitals in England only saw 84.2% of patients within four hours in February. …Wait times for cancer treatment — where timeliness can be a matter of life and death — are also far too lengthy. According to January NHS England data, almost 25% of cancer patients didn’t start treatment on time despite an urgent referral by their primary care doctor. …And keep in mind that “on time” for the NHS is already 62 days after referral.
If this sounds like the VA health care system, you’re right.
And both produce bad outcomes. Here’s some of the data from the British system.
Unsurprisingly, British cancer patients fare worse than those in the United States. Only 81% of breast cancer patients in the United Kingdom live at least five years after diagnosis, compared to 89% in the United States. Just 83% of patients in the United Kingdom live five years after a prostate cancer diagnosis, versus 97% here in America.
Just like I told Simon Hobbs on CNBC many years ago.
The best part of Sally’s column is that she explains how the flaws in the U.K. system are being copied by Bernie Sanders and other supporters.
Great Britain’s health crisis is the inevitable outcome of a system where government edicts, not supply and demand, determine where scarce resources are allocated. Yet some lawmakers are gunning to implement precisely such a system in the United States. The bulk of the Democratic Party’s field of presidential candidates — including Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren — co-sponsored Senator Bernie Sanders’s 2017 “Medicare for All” bill. That plan would abolish private insurance and put all Americans on a single government-run plan… Britons face long waits for poor care under their country’s single-payer system. That’s not the sort of healthcare model the American people are looking for.
The bottom line is that Medicare for All would further exacerbate the third-party payer problem that already plagues the health care system.
And that means ever-escalating demand, rising costs, and inefficiencies.
Taxpayers in the U.K. endure higher burdens than their counterparts in America, But they also suffer from the second option for dealing with the cost spiral, which is rationing.
Some of the data was in Ms. Pipes’ column.