Adam Smith

Libertarianism is like the new communism, dude

Michael Hamilton is a libertarian writer living in Washington, D.C. His main interests are economics, drug legalization, immigration, and land-use policy.

Libertarianism is the new communism, at least if you ask Nick Hanauer and Eric Liu:

Most people would consider radical libertarianism and communism polar opposites: The first glorifies personal freedom. The second would obliterate it. Yet the ideologies are simply mirror images. Both attempt to answer the same questions, and fail to do so in similar ways.

This colorful lede suggested they might offer a new critique of libertarianism, but my hopes were quickly dashed. The authors end up retreading old arguments—seemingly unaware that others had done so many times before. Their failure to offer a substantive appraisal of libertarian ideas may stem from low familiarity with libertarianism itself.

Hanauer and Liu start with a decent definition of libertarianism, namely that it is “the ideology that holds that individual liberty trumps all other values.” This is fairly accurate characterization of the moral beliefs held by many libertarians. Unfortunately, the authors struggle to trace these moral foundations to basic philosophical  or policy positions held by actual libertarians.

Happy Birthday, Adam Smith

The author of The Wealth of Nations would have been 290 years old today, had we discovered warp capability in the 18th century.

Adam Smith

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages.

Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter II

It was in this work and in this passage that Smith first began to describe the “invisible hand” of the market — the way that the rational self-interests of individual actors in a market, acting in concert with each other, yield efficient allocations of resources.

By the design of some grand cosmic joke, noted George Mason University economist Don Boudreaux in 2011, today is also John Maynard Keynes’s birthday.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Scholars seek to reclaim the term “liberal” from governmentalists

laissez-faire

There is a push in libertarian circles to reclaim the term “liberal,” a word that once represented a hands off approach to government, from those who advocate for the “governmentalization of social affairs.”

Through Liberalism Unrelinquished, an effort spearheaded by Kevin Frei, a number of scholars are declaring that they will not surrender use of “liberal” to describe their views. The organizers of the statement hope to attract 500 or more signers.

The statement explains that “liberal” once represented the views of Enlightenment era, perhaps best identified through the work of Adam Smith, an 18th Century moral philosopher and the father of modern economics.

Smith laid the foundation for the moral case for capitalism in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and The Wealth of Nations (1776). The statement also points to Richard Cobden, William Gladstone, and John Bright — 19th Century British liberals who advanced laissez-faire economic views.

The American founders enshrined the liberal concepts of the Enlightenment era into the Declaration of Independence and, later, the United States Constitution.

“Especially from 1880 there began an undoing of the meaning of the central terms, among them the word liberal,” the statement reads. “The tendency of the trends of the past 130 years has been toward the governmentalization of social affairs. The tendency exploded during the First World War, the Interwar Years, and the Second World War.”

Was William Shakespeare the First Libertarian?

Written by Daniel J. Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. Posted with permission from Cato @ Liberty.

I’ve never been a big Shakespeare fan, but that may need to change. It seems the Bard of Avon may be the world’s first libertarian.

Some of you are probably shaking your heads and saying that this is wrong, that Thomas Jefferson or Adam Smith are more deserving of this honor.

Others would argue we should go back earlier in time and give that title to John Locke.

But based on some new research reported in Tax-news.com, we need to travel back to the days of Shakespeare:

Uncertainty over the likely future success of his plays led William Shakespeare to do “all he could to avoid taxes,” new research by scholars at Aberystwyth University has claimed. The collaborative paper: “Reading with the Grain: Sustainability and the Literary Imagination,”…alleges that, in his “other” life as a major landowner, Shakespeare avoided paying his taxes, illegally hoarded food and sidelined in money lending. …According to Dr Jayne Archer, lead author and a lecturer in Renaissance literature at Aberystwyth: “There was another side to Shakespeare besides the brilliant playwright - a ruthless businessman who did all he could to avoid taxes, maximize profits at others’ expense and exploit the vulnerable - while also writing plays.”

In that short excerpt, we find three strong indications of Shakespeare’s libertarianism.

  1. What does it mean that Shakespeare did everything he could to avoid taxes? His actions obviously would have upset the United Kingdom’s current political elite, which views tax maximization as a religious sacrament, but it shows that Shakespeare believed in the right of private property. Check one box for libertarianism.
  2. What does it mean that the Bard “illegally hoarded food”? Well, such a law probably existed because government was interfering with the free market with something like price controls. Or there was a misguided hostility by the government against “speculation,” similar to what you would find from the deadbeats in today’s Occupy movement. In either event, Shakespeare was standing up for the principle of freedom of contract. Check another box for libertarianism.
  3. Last but not least, what does it mean that Shakespeare “sidelined in money lending”? Nations used to have statist “usury laws” that interfered with the ability to charge interest when lending money. Shakespeare apparently didn’t think “usury” was a bad thing, so he was standing up for the liberty of consenting adults to engage in voluntary exchange. Check another box for libertarianism.

Rand Paul explains NDAA vote

Rand Paul

Last year, the blogosphere lit up over the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which contained a provision that could be interpreted by courts to allow for the indefinite detention of American citizens. We covered this White House-backed provision extensively at the end of last year.

Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI) and Adam Smith (D-WA) tried to push through an amendment earlier this year to fix the muddied language, but it was rejected.

On Tuesday, the Senate passed the 2013 version of NDAA. This year’s version of the bill included an amendment, a bipartisan effort from Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Mike Lee (R-UT), to clear up the language indefinition detention provision.

Unfortunately, there does seem to be some confusion about the the bill that ultimately passed. In a post today at his Facebook page, Sen. Paul, who voted for this year’s version of NDAA, sets the record straight:

I have noticed that many are confused by my vote for NDAA. Please allow me to explain.

First, we should be clear about what the bill is. NDAA is the yearly defense authorization bill. It’s primary function is to specify which programs can and can’t be funded within the Pentagon and throughout the military. It is not the bill that spends the money—that comes later in an appropriations bill.

Because I think we should spend less, I will offer amendments to cut spending. I will likely vote against the final spending bill. This wasn’t it.

Adam Smith and the Follies of Central Planning

See Video

Happy birthday, Adam Smith

On June 16, 1723, Adam Smith, whose book, The Wealth of Nations, became the foundation for capitalism, was born in Scotland. Smith’s book and philosophy brought us the basics for the free market and free trade and also laid the first moral case for these ideas.

Via a couple of videos from Learn Liberty, Prof. James Otteson briefly explains what Smith believed and how he viewed his economic theories as the best way to help lift the poor out of poverty:

And a brief explanation of the “invisible hand”:

Indefinite detention not the only problem with NDAA

Much has been made over the “indefinite detention” language included in the National Defense Authorization Act. As Ron noted earlier, an effort to fix the legislation — the Amash-Smith Amendment — was defeated by the House, which opted for much less clear language.

But the failure to get rid of the indefinite detention provision isn’t the only thing to be concerned about. The NDAA for FY 2013 includes a provision, sponsored by Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), who sponsored the language to axe the indefinite detention provision, that would allow for taxpayer-funded propaganda to influence Americans:

An amendment that would legalize the use of propaganda on American audiences is being inserted into the latest defense authorization bill, BuzzFeed has learned.

The amendment would “strike the current ban on domestic dissemination” of propaganda material produced by the State Department and the Pentagon, according to the summary of the law at the House Rules Committee’s official website.

The tweak to the bill would essentially neutralize two previous acts—the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987—that had been passed to protect U.S. audiences from our own government’s misinformation campaigns.

The bi-partisan amendment is sponsored by Rep. Mac Thornberry from Texas and Rep. Adam Smith from Washington State.

Persons, Citizens, and Indefinite Detainment under NDAA

Late last week the House passed the 2013 NDAA. Last year during this process, allowances were made that allowed for the indefinite detainment – without trial – of people in the U.S. who were suspected of participating in terrorist activities or associating with people who did.

Keep in mind we’re talking about people merely suspected of a crime. Also keep in mind that the verbiage was so broad that it would be fairly easy for someone to accidentally fall into that category.

Cries came from civil libertarians over due process, and Michigan Congressman Justin Amash took the lead fighting the NDAA’s unconstitutionality on the Republican side of the aisle. He partnered with Democrat Adam Smith of Washington to offer an amendment to change the law to follow the Constitution. The GOP leadership pushed a competing amendment from Louie Gohmert of Texas. It passed the vote, and the Smith-Amash failed.

I asked my Congressman, Tom Graves, for an explanation of his opposition to the Smith-Amash amendment, and he referred me here. The concern from Graves was that “[the Smith-Amash] amendment would extend Constitutional rights and the right to judicial review to anyone apprehended in the United States,” something the Republicans are hesitant to do.

Except that’s how the process is supposed to work.

The concerns over the 2012 NDAA touched on a large portion of the Bill of Rights – arguably the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments,  and most definitely the Sixth Amendment. The disagreement between the GOP leadership and Amash’s position is whether the Constitution protects citizens or persons.

Consider these amendments. (The emphasis in these quotes is mine.)

Indefinite Detention and the NDAA

Should our government be able to indefinitely detain and deny a trial to American citizens suspected of a crime? Given the Constitutional guarantee of due process, that question could seem a bit absurd. Yet late last year the House and Senate gave us new provisions in the NDAA, one of which is the allowance of indefinite detention of American citizens.

This isn’t some heavy handed attack on freedom levied by the Democrats. It’s not even some measure that passed narrowly in the House before Harry Reid forced it on us in the Senate. No, this attack on freedom carries much bipartisan support. Both Republicans and Democrats support this insanity.

You can see the House’s roll call on the 2012 NDAA here and the Senate’s roll call on it here.

Last month I wrote a piece about Justin Amash, the Congressman from Michigan who is fighting to fix the indefinite detention provisions in the NDAA. Amash has been outspoken on this issue, and his time to fight is coming soon.

The answer to Amash’s concerns over the 2012 NDAA was to reinforce habeas corpus “for any person who is detained in the United States.” Though that sounds pretty good, Amash addresses this answer in a letter to his Republican colleagues:


The views and opinions expressed by individual authors are not necessarily those of other authors, advertisers, developers or editors at United Liberty.