Tag: Friedman

Are American Libertarians Inherently Consequentialists?

Atilla Sulker | United States

At the superficial level, libertarianism is split into two main camps regarding a moral doctrine. There is the old Aristotelian natural law tradition, sometimes referred to as deontological libertarianism, which draws some of the most passionate libertarians, including the likes of Ron Paul, Andrew Napolitano, Murray Rothbard, and Ayn Rand. And there is the consequentialist (often called utilitarianism) approach to libertarianism, advocated by many pillars of libertarianism including, Ludwig Von Mises, Milton Friedman, and David Friedman. The former group believes that libertarianism is valid because initiating force in any way is morally wrong. The latter on the other hand supports libertarianism simply because, in their minds, it leads to the greatest prosperity.

But the adherence to any form of libertarianism in America makes for a perplexing phenomenon. America has the greatest total wealth in the world and is the hallmark of the great machine that is capitalism. Surely there is some amount of freedom in America, despite the squabbles of libertarians. If not, the great works of entrepreneurial enterprise and competition would not be present to provide the average American with such goods as cars and electric ovens, products once classified as “luxury goods”.

Yet at the same time, the State tramples on the liberties of its citizens every minute. Wiretaps are initiated whenever the president feels like doing so. The state drafts young men to fight in territories unknown to them, showing how frugal its citizens are in its menacing eyes. Bureaucrats interfere with progressive efforts espoused by communities to take back control of their schools. Mandatory minimums tear apart families and lead to the mass incarceration of individuals who are supposedly detriments to society. Regardless of how you assess this claim from a moral standpoint, the argument could be strongly made that government in this day in age has become a far greater detriment to society than any drug lord.

Despite the mass regulations enforced by the state, the great bulwark of capitalism cannot be stymied. Sure, competition is slowly dying off and the Fed creates a false illusion of the growth of prosperity. But despite the destruction created by the Keynesian saga, prosperity still thrives to a much greater extent in America than most other nations around the world, further validating the extent of the notion that entrepreneurship drives the improvement in the material quality of our lives. Indeed the machine of entrepreneurship is far more powerful than the government. The great technological revolution of the late 20th century shows how the hindrances established by the government could not stop the glorious consequences of a market economy.

Now here’s a head-scratcher. Does an increase in the quality of goods in the market due to competition in the private sector necessarily signify an increase in liberty? Does a vibrant capitalist economy necessarily fall in line with a free world? Quite obviously not, as our country represents a good case study of this seemingly paradoxical phenomenon. But only superficially does it occur to be perplexing, for going beyond the layer of gloss shows that the situation is not that complicated.

A larger amount of wealth simply means a larger amount of capital for the state to exploit in its nefarious affairs. It means government simply has more wealth to steal and hence more wealth to fund the welfare-warfare state. This is evident with such tragedies as the growth of the military industrial complex and the bureaucratization of education. Lew Rockwell sums up this phenomenon:

In reality, the State is far more dangerous in a productive, capitalist society than it is in an impoverished, socialized society, simply because it has far more private resources to pillage and loot for the State’s own benefit. Availing itself of the vast fruits of private production, the State engages in self-aggrandizement, expansion, and, inevitably, imperialism.”

In retrospect, we see that much of the past imperialist adventures were supported through the exploiting of private capital, e.g. FDR’s redirecting of resources to support World War Two, or the rapid proliferation of nuclear arms during the Cold War. Indeed a capitalist economy could well be a catalyst for the expansion of the state. And more importantly, a desensitized public needs to be conditioned to express obedience. Think of the state as a block of sodium and the capitalist economy and obedience as a tub of water. Without the water, the sodium remains stable, but when put in the water, it becomes volatile. This is how the state works, it works parasitically- the more blood there is to suck, the bigger it becomes.

Comparing the United States to a garden variety third world country, we discover something interesting. While the former professes to be the beacon of the free world, it is so bloated and volatile that it tramples on the liberties of its people daily. The latter advertises itself as a monstrous entity that will drop the guillotine on any dissenters but is often so poor that it can’t actually enforce these codes.

Regardless of what a country’s government may proclaim itself to be, whether a slaughterer of masses or a liberator of worlds, to truly judge how free it is, we must focus on the actual situation of the country, i.e., the effectiveness of its means in realizing its desired ends.

Economic historian Robert Higgs adheres to this view, and used it to make a case for leaving the United States in search of another country. In a speech he gave, Higgs said:

If I were in your position, I would consider seriously getting out of this country, not because I think any other country is a paradise by the way. But because I think no other country has the means (emphasis added) that the government of this country has to carry out these horrifying surveillance programs, and other measures of state tyranny. So, I’m going to move. I’d suggest you might consider moving somewhere else.”

Higgs himself moved to Mexico in October of 2015.

So if one proclaims himself to be a natural rights libertarian, wouldn’t he be contradicting this assertion if he continues living in the United States? Natural rights libertarians are defenders of liberty even if it leads to economically inefficient outcomes. It would then follow that if they truly hold this to be true if they are truly the bleeding heart natural rights supporter that they claim to be, they would move to another country that does not have the means to enforce such control as our own.

I don’t believe that any libertarian can be classified as fully of the natural rights tradition or fully a consequentialist. Surely a consequentialist would become inclined to believe in some sort of natural rights if the government began to kill members of his family. He wouldn’t oppose it only on the grounds that it disturbs order and leads to disutility.

Now certain issues may invoke a more natural rights based defense. Such issues may include abortion and the defense of the second amendment. It would be hard not to be rooted in the natural law tradition to an extent, yet be an ardent supporter of the second amendment or the right to life.

Based on the actions of libertarians here in America however, on the economic front, the consequentialist doctrine trumps any belief that they may have in natural rights, not fully, but to an extent that libertarians have decided to stay here rather than follow the Higgsian vision. It would be foolish to try and sit here and say that we would defend liberty even if it didn’t lead to economically sound outcomes, yet live in a country in which the means to the destruction of liberty are far greater than most any other country in the world.

It is clear that we enjoy the fruits of entrepreneurship and capitalism as present in this country. For the American libertarian, the loss of this great prosperity in exchange for a more free lifestyle is not a convincing trade-off. Let’s face it, we all enjoy the constant new innovations in technology, in medicine, etc. We wouldn’t be willing to give up our cellular devices or our polio-free bodies in exchange for a more libertarian way of going about our lives.

America can be seen as a coin, having a free side to it, and an unfree side. As Lew Rockwell explains:By way of illustration, in the US today, we have two economies, one free and one unfree. The free one has given us the great abundance of consumer goods, the widest distribution of wealth, and the fastest pace of technological innovation known in the history of man. The unfree one—characterized by the two trillion dollar federal budget and the more than one-quarter of that spent on apparatus that builds and administers weapons of mass destruction—has produced what we have been reading about in the headlines for the last two months. Military Socialism, which exists by pillaging the free economy, is responsible for a brutal and immoral war on a civilian population halfway around the world—the destruction of hospitals, churches, nursing homes, residential neighborhoods, and town squares.”

So yes, it is the prosperity in the capitalist economy that keeps us here in this country. It is the reason why we enjoy the economic freedom present in this country. The atrocities committed by our government won’t drive us away, but the market economy keeps us latched. It thus follows that the American libertarian is inherently, to an extent, a consequentialist.

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Milton Friedman: One of the Great Libertarians

By Roman Bilan | United States

Murray Rothbard was born in 1926 and died in 1995. Milton Friedman was born in 1912 and died in 2006. Their careers almost entirely overlapped, yet one left a lasting influence on the free world, while the other died in more or less absurdity. Rothbard only influenced his own cult-like following, yet many of his anarcho-capitalists rather “throw out” Friedman’s libertarian legacy.

When it comes to twentieth century figures within the libertarian movement, there may no greater figure when it comes to influencing economics, the public, American public policy and the lives of millions.

Milton the Economist

Milton Friedman’s contributions to the science of economics cannot be understated. He was the figurehead of the Chicago School, a free market oriented school of economic thought based out of the University of Chicago. Alongside him were his prominent colleagues, Frank Knight, Ronald Coase, and Robert Lucas, to name a few.

The entire field owes a huge debt to Friedman and his crew. He overturned many of the prevailing errors brought about by the Keynesian Revolution: most notably with his critique of the Phillips Curve. Even Paul Krugman admits that Friedman did the science a great service with his contributions and critique of former Keynesian orthodoxy:

“Friedman’s critique of Keynes became so influential largely because he correctly identified Keynesianism’s weak points… I regard him as a great economist and a great man.”

-Paul Krugman

Regardless of how you feel about his political inclinations, he believed in them because of his economic thought. And his thought is arguably one of the most profound things to be produced in the 20th century. It is completely unfair to dismiss, much less “throw out,” someone because of minor disagreements on theory. Friedman is one of the greatest intellectuals of his time and libertarians should wholeheartedly embrace him as one of their own.

Milton the Public Intellectual

As was written in his obituary for FEE, “Friedman did more than any single person in our time to teach the public the merits of deregulation, privatization, low taxes, and free trade. His work inspired the economic agendas of President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, as well as the liberalization of economies in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.”

Take Capitalism and Freedom, for example. Read by over half a million in eighteen different languages, it introduced ideas like school vouchers and pushed for lower and flatter taxes.

Similarly, Free to Choose was the best selling nonfiction book in 1980 and was watched by millions. Only F.A. Hayek could boast a similar public reach for a libertarian.

Additionally, Friedman wrote over 300 op-eds for Newsweek, 121 op-eds for the Wall Street Journal and another twenty-two for the New York Times. But maybe he would have been been better off preaching to the libertarian choir instead of engaging with the public at large?

Milton Ends the Draft

In 1940, the United States began its third and final draft. On March 27, 1969 President Richard Nixon formed the Gates Commission to look at the possibility of an All-Volunteer Armed Forces– Friedman was one of its most prominent members. The commision of fifteen members had five members in favor of an all-volunteer armed forces while the other ten were split evenly between being against the idea and neutral towards it. In less than a year, the Commission came to a unanimous 14-0 recommendation (one member was unable to vote on the specifics, although he did support an all-volunteer military) to end the draft.

Three years later, the draft was gone.

Milton Influences Estonia

On August 20, 1991, Estonians left the darkness of the Iron Curtain and joined the free world as the Republic of Estonia replaced the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic. Mart Laar was the first Prime Minister of Estonia after the interim government. He led from 1992 to 1994 and again from 1999 to 2002. As noted in Foreign Policy,

“In barely two years, from 1992 to 1994, the radical reforming Estonian government of Mart Laar introduced a flat tax, privatized most national industry in transparent public tenders, abolished tariffs and subsidies, stabilized the economy, balanced the budget, and perhaps most crucially, restored the prewar kroon and pegged it to the rock-solid deutsche mark. As a result, Estonia became one of the most open and transparent economies in Europe, and with growth came political stability: Russian troops left the Baltic region by 1994, fears of Balkan-style ethnic conflicts receded, and Soviet noncitizens in Estonia and Latvia began to assimilate.”

Before Laar became Prime Minister he read one book: Free to Choose by Milton Friedman. A few years later, he was in D.C., talking with US Representative Dick Armey. Armey asked how the Estonian government was able to be so successful with their free market reforms. Laar’s answer was simple, “We read Milton Friedman and F. A. Hayek”.

Milton Friedman: Common Complaints

No, Milton Friedman was not an Austrian, but Austrian Economics is not synonymous with libertarianism. Libertarians can be non-Austrian and Austrians can be non-libertarian.

No, Milton Friedman did not believe in Praxeology, but Praxeology is also not a necessity for libertarianism, nor is its veracity without question. Even F.A. Hayek, Ludwig Von Mises’s greatest student, broke from Praxeological orthodoxy.

No, Milton Friedman is not an anarcho-capitalist. He believes in a state, but anarcho-capitalism is only one part of the broader libertarian ideology. As Hayek said, “Our general views on what is desired and what is not are almost identical until we get on to money.”

The greatness of a libertarian should not be defined by their purity, but by how much they advance liberty. Libertarians like Murray Rothbard win the purity test but do little to advance libertarianism. As Paul Krugman wrote in 1994, Friedman waged a campaign “Goliath of Big Government” that “eventually bore fruit in radical changes in both economic ideology and real-world economic policy.”

Whether it be his direct or indirect influence on Republican administration, pushing free market policies in other countries, advocating for drug legalization, getting the state out of education, loosening licensing laws, giving less power to central banks or cutting taxes and spending, Milton Friedman’s legacy is one of promoting freedom and liberty. Thus, libertarians should be proud to share an intellectual home with him.

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Throw Out Milton Friedman

By Mason Mohon | @mohonofficial

I think it’s pretty clear that Friedman is a statist. -Murray Rothbard

Milton Friedman is popular, and not just “libertarian popular” (although he is) but mainstream popular. His book Capitalism and Freedom has over half a million sales and Free to Choose has also had its fair share of economic and political influence. I have spoken to many fellow lovers of the free market and many have stated he was their primary influence in pushing people towards libertarian ideology.

Continue reading “Throw Out Milton Friedman”

Bitcoin’s Forgotten Hero: Ross Ulbricht & The Long Silk Road

By Spencer Kellogg | USA

I want to use economic theory as a means to abolish the use of coercion and aggression amongst mankind. Just as slavery has been abolished most everywhere, I believe violence, coercion and all forms of force by one person over another can come to an end. (DPR)

This past month, Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies saw a parabolic rise in price speculation due to a massive wave of new users and the promise of serious mainstream adoption. With a total market cap surging over half of a trillion dollars we can safely say that crypto has officially arrived. While some celebrated the feat with “I told you so” calls to loved ones and others with cocaine parties on the roofs of newly acquired Cambodian penthouses, I couldn’t help but think of the man that everyone seems to have forgotten. The slim Texan who stood on the philosophical shoulders of Satoshi Nakamoto and Milton Friedman seemed like your average, run of the mill San Franciscan transplant in the age of the tech boom. At home, however, under the name of Dread Pirate Roberts, he was busy actualizing the ideas of absolute economic freedom and personal liberty for the powerless. Alone, and through the alleged safety of the decentralized anonymous browser Tor, he built a free marketplace in the image of the world’s greatest ever trade route and then went about showing the masses how they could have it for themselves. So much of the success of Bitcoin as a commodity and practical application can be traced back to its early uses on the dark web marketplace Silk Road. There, under a guise of privacy, users bought illegal drugs, opened an armory to trade guns and even participated in Austrian Economic influenced bookclubs to discuss the underlying free-market ideas of their collective enterprise.

Silk Road was founded on Libertarian principles and continues to be operated on them. It is a great idea and a great practical system… It is not a utopia. It is regulated by market forces not a central power. No one is forced to be here. The same principles that have allowed Silk Road to flourish work anywhere human beings come together. The only difference is the state is unable to get its thieving murderous mitts on it.  (DPR)

The FBI called it “the most sophisticated internet site in the business of selling hard drugs including heroin, cocaine, and LSD” and at its height, The Silk Road generated over 1 billion dollars in adjusted sales. Today Ross Ulbricht, or Dread Pirate Roberts, sits in a maximum security prison in Colorado serving 2 life sentences plus 40 years for charges of fraud, tampering and a plot to kill. Much of the true story of what transpired in those final, paranoid filled days as the feds closed in on DPR is mired in mystery. While the government accused Ulbricht of hiring a hitman to kill an outed seller on the site, friends and family believe this was an orchestrated set up to make Ulbricht appear to be a violent mastermind and strengthen the case against him ever seeing freedom again. On the welcome page for The Silk Road, for example, Ulbricht had outlined some basic rules that all users were expected to follow. True to his philosophy of non-aggression he outlawed the sale of child pornography and hired assassinations. He believed in the freedom of the individual but made it abundantly clear through his messaging that use of force against another human being was totally unacceptable. His writings on the site belayed a soft natured man who was fond of the liberty documents that have preserved our civil society and distrustful of the forceful, oligarchical governments and corporations that have streamlined existence and freedom into the arbitrary choice of Pepsi or Coke.

The US government did everything in their power to grind The Silk Road to a halt. While our media and politicians worked in hysterical tandem to denounce the site as a violent, lawless zone for big-time drug crime, it could be argued that the Silk Road did more to curb than accentuate the worse aspects of drug culture. By providing an open free market for sellers and users to trade on the shadow web, much of the physical gang violence associated with the distribution of those very drugs was immediately removed. Furthermore, as in any free market, there was an abundance of choice and the sellers who offered good quality product rose to prominence while buyers came to count on potent and safe drugs from the top-rated sellers. I witnessed first hand the efficiency of this model as strong, cheap ecstasy flooded my college campus during The Silk Road’s heyday. Every week, packages would ship into the university mailbox and students would run with glee to pick up the ambiguous looking loot. The entire campus that spring pulsated and loved to the electric rhythm of those cheap blue pills. No one died. No one went to jail. The price was fair and the product was even better. The local government had no idea. We laughed and played to our heart’s content. We danced until the moon fell far away into the looming dawn. Our inclinations and desires, all our own. And then one day, The Silk Road, its founder and the reality of that undisturbed liberty went offline forever.

What we’re doing isn’t about scoring drugs or sticking it to the man, it’s about standing up for our rights as human beings and refusing to submit when we’ve done no wrong. Silk Road is a vehicle for that message. All else is secondary.  (DPR)

On October 1st, 2013 Ulbricht was arrested in a San Francisco Public Library, his laptop still logged into The Silk Road. The trial was considered one of the great shams in the history of our judicial system with a prejudiced court sentencing Ulbricht to more than 2 centuries of prison time. Controversially, while sitting in a prison cell, Ulbricht’s accounts were logged into and his Bitcoin seized by the feds opening a fair debate regarding the supposed privacy of the blockchain and the rights of property ownership as defined by our constitution. What would our founding fathers think of this situation? They were men who feared the paternalistic and coercive force of centralized power and they believed that an active citizenry was key in upholding and defending the fundamental roots of our democracy. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Who decides what that happiness entails? Men like Jefferson and Henry believed that the free citizens of this country should have every right and power to engage in trust-based contracts without the watchful eye and demonstrative power of the all-consuming state. They also believed in freedom of currency and would be rolling in their graves if they knew the power of our Federal Reserve and the worthlessness of our FIAT engineered money. If alive today, I believe our founders would want to know why our government is in the business of punishing non-violent citizens by sitting them in a cold grey cell for exploring their most singular and rightful property – their own consciousness. And I imagine they would rightfully point to a for-profit prison system that has grown in exponential size while enriching the coffers of the state and the courts while breaking individuals and communities of free thought apart.

The absence of a voice of political support for Ulbricht during all of this is telling of the agreement on both political aisles that Bitcoin and its emerging markets are challengers to their power and wealth. Make no mistake, the book was thrown at Dread Pirate Roberts because he was a tangential threat to comfortable existence. To them, Ulbricht represented a new form of market and culture that dared to stand alone outside the control they assert through force. Here, the Libertarian Party was and still remains dismally quiet as an alternative. The government’s case (or lack of one) against Ross Ulbricht should be the rallying cry for the Libertarian Party and Libertarians across the country. Sadly, as with much of the idolatry of the Libertarian Party, the leadership seem concretely behind on the subject of digital currency and its intrinsic relationship to the principles set forth by Rothbard and Mises. Ulbricht is rarely mentioned and only the hard-line rebels of the membership promote his freedom and the practice of his agorist principles. In reality, Dread Pirate Roberts should be the face of every poster that the LP prints and his words in the paragraphs of every letter they write. He alone, with nothing more than a computer and internet access, accomplished more in half a decade than the entire Libertarian Party has even attempted in 45 years of scamming members money to fund their next lame duck ‘campaign’. But the Libertarian Party has never been about action and their tepid intellectualism continues to dismiss those thinkers who are ready to put the ideas of Mises to the test. Men like Samuel Edward Konkin III, Hans Hermann-Hoppe, and Adam Kokesh are disregarded and met with outright disdain by the lily-white cabal and Ulbricht has become synonymous with the fringe of the party when he should be at the ideological center. In one of Ulbricht’s messages to his users, he laid out one of the most cogent and important arguments for advancing Libertarianism I have ever read:

For years I was frustrated and defeated by what seemed to be insurmountable barriers between the world today and the world I wanted. I searched long and hard for the truth about what is right and wrong and good for humanity. I argued with, learned from and read the works of brilliant people in search of the truth. I found something I could agree with whole heartedly. Something that made sense, was simple, elegant and consistent in all cases. I’m talking about the Austrian Economic theory, voluntaryism, anarcho-capitalism, agorism etc. espoused by the likes of Mises and Rothbard before their deaths and Salerno and Rockwell today. From their works, I understood the mechanics of liberty and the effects of tyranny. But such vision was a curse. Everywhere I looked I saw the State, and the withering effects it had on the human spirit. It was horribly depressing. Like waking from a restless dream to find yourself in a cage with no way out.

But I also saw free spirits trying to break free of their chains, doing everything they could to serve their fellow man and provide for themselves and their loved ones. I saw the magical and powerful wealth creating effect of the market and the way it fostered cooperation, civility and tolerance. How it made trading partners out of strangers or even enemies. How it coordinates the actions of every person on the planet in ways too complex for any one mind to fathom to produce an overflowing abundance of wealth where nothing is wasted and where power and responsibility are directed to those most deserving. I saw a better way, but knew of no way to get there.

I read everything I could to deepen my understanding of economics and liberty, but it was all intellectual, there was no call to action except to tell the people around me what I had learned and hopefully get them to see the light. That was until I read “Alongside Night” and the works of Samuel Edward Konkin III. At last the missing puzzle piece! All of the sudden it was so clear: every action you take outside the scope of government control strengthens the market and weakens the state. I saw how the state lives parasitically off the productive people of the world, and how quickly it would crumble if it didn’t have its tax revenues. No soldiers if you can’t pay them. No drug war without billions of dollars being siphoned off the very people you are oppressing.

For the first time I saw the drug cartels and the dealers, and every person in the whole damn supply chain in a different light. Some, especially the cartels, are basically a defacto violent power hungry state, and surely would love nothing more than to take control of a national government, but your average joe pot dealer, who wouldn’t hurt a fly, that guy became my hero. By making his living outside the purview of the state, he was depriving it of his precious life force, the product of his efforts. He was free. People like him, little by little, weaken the state and strengthen the market. (DPR)

When I think of Ulbricht, I think of a man who loved people and wanted more than anything, a peaceful society without the use of force to weaken and disenfranchise peaceful people. He was obviously well read in the foundational ideas of our country and his Silk Road was a rubber meets the road moment that few have thought of let alone attempted. He brought disparate factions together using free market strategies to promote peace and harmony. Ulbricht was a true American patriot who had the courage to walk into that grey territory of real freedom and lead where others cowered before the crushing weight of the state. At his trial, Ulbricht told the judge that he did not build the site out of greed but that: “I wanted to empower people to make choices in their lives and have privacy and anonymity.” As we all enjoy the reformation of economic power that cryptocurrency has ushered in, let us not forget the original hero of Bitcoin:

Ross Ulbricht, Dread Pirate Roberts of The Silk Road.

(for more information on the case and how you can help, please visit Free Ross)