Lincoln Predicted How Americans Would Lose Their Freedoms

In 1839 Abraham Lincoln, a young twenty-eight year old lawyer, was asked by the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois to address the group on “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions”. The result elevated Lincoln’s stature in the growing community and, according to his future law partner William Herndon, made him known for the first time in a much wider area. Lincoln scholars generally consider it to be Lincoln’s first “great” speech. Lincoln’s warning is appropriate to our times of unprecedented powers assumed by different levels of government in the US, especially state governments, in addressing the coronavirus crisis.

 

In his opening remarks, Lincoln charged his generation with transmitting to the next the civil and religious liberties bequeathed to them by the Founding Fathers. His generation inherited liberties hard won by others. The same can be said of our current generation; i.e., we inherited the benefits of liberty; we did not secure them ourselves. Therefore, Lincoln’s warning of threats to our liberties is as apt today as it was almost two hundred years ago.

 

In an early stirring paragraph Lincoln said that America could not be conquered militarily in a thousand years. The threat to our political institutions would come, if it did come, from within ourselves. There are two potential sources of this threat. One is mob rule; i.e., the people resorting to acts of violence to redress what they believe to be threats too great to be remedied by the slowly grinding process of legal procedure.

 

The second threat, and one which Lincoln considered to be a successor to mob rule, was that ambitious men would seize the weakened respect for law as a platform for satisfying their outsized egos. Not content with the daily process of protecting what has already been bequeathed by others, they would promise to make the country anew. According to Lincoln, there is no place in government for the overly ambitious man who desires that his name be transmitted to future generations as were those of the Founding Fathers. America’s political institutions had been gained at huge cost, and all honor should naturally be accorded those who gained them. The maintenance of that hard won and costly legacy afforded no such honors to future generations. Their task was one of maintenance of our liberties. But mob rule weakened respect for the law and opened the door for such dangerous men.

 

Thus we arrive at America in the year of the coronavirus. Ambitious men seem little bothered and probably are mightily thrilled by the prospect of “combating” the virus and going down in history as heroes. Thus, they have grasped upon the wildly suspect predictions of experts that millions will died worldwide and many hundreds of thousands in the US alone unless our civil liberties are suspended. Ah, what ambitious man could not feel the hand of fate upon his shoulder, beckoning him to assume sweeping powers to close private businesses, restrict public gatherings, prohibit travel, even forbidding citizens from venturing from their own homes? Hang the Constitution! Hang the Bill of Rights! Hand me my special pen to assume sweeping powers over others!

 

Sadly the people have accepted this infringement of their liberties with few complaints, leading to the conclusion that the US has passed Lincoln’s first stage on the road to permanent loss of our freedoms–disrespect for the law. One cannot point to outbreaks of mob rule, so what has happened to weaken the public’s respect for liberty and due process?

 

Fifty years ago the US went off the final, weakened link of the dollar to gold, which had limited government’s ability to spend. New projects could be funded only by increasing taxes, cutting some current spending, or increasing borrowing. All three methods had adverse consequences for the public. No one wants his taxes increased. No one wants his current federal boon to end. And increasing debt must always lead to higher interest rates, which would ultimately have a recessionary effect on the economy.

 

Ending the link to gold appeared to remove these natural barriers to government overspending. Now the government could print dollars out of thin air. The adverse consequences of doing so, higher prices and robbing savers of their retirement dollars’ purchasing power, are masked for some time. When these consequences can no longer be ignored, government lackeys blame others–greedy capitalists, foreign governments, etc.–and government spending continues to grow. Over the years the federal government’s role in the economy has increased immensely both in terms of spending and in terms of regulation. The public, especially the young, has grown to believe that government, and not their own personal efforts, has responsibility and capability for providing a certain quality of life, from universal healthcare to free higher education. The link between personal responsibility and the achievement of one’s goals and dreams has been weakened year by year. In the past several months we have witnessed one presidential candidate after another making outlandish promises to shower the electorate with free (fill in the blank) and even a guaranteed annual income.

 

The public, especially the so-called millennial generation, fails to understand that money is a medium of exchange that links hard work to economic rewards. Production must precede consumption. Consumption cannot continue for very long without prior production. What appears to be free goods can only be consumption of previously saved production that now forms the capital base of the economy or robbing some of the fruits of their current labors. Do not for one minute believe that any economy can function efficiently for long by following this model, which has grown like a cancer after delinking money to gold.

 

Last week the government passed a $2.2 trillion “stimulus” bill, which will shower helicopter money on American citizens and certain businesses. As of the end of February 2020, the monetary base was $3.5 trillion. So this massive spending bill will increase the monetary base by sixty-three percent to $5.7 trillion. No one in government understands that printed money does NOT represent real goods and services. Millions of Americans are coercively prevented from working. Allowing them to go back to work is the only stimulus that America needs or that will work. The loss suffered by the coercively mandated shutdowns is a dead weight loss, meaning that it can never be regained. It especially cannot be regained by printing money, which will only cause higher prices and complete disruption of the structure of production within our very complex economy. It may cause our trading partners, who currently hold $5.5 trillion of long term treasury debt to shed themselves of all treasury debt, which could cause hyperinflation along the lines of post WWI Germany.

 

My friends, Lincoln’s prediction has come true. I end with an exact quote from early in Lincoln’s speech. The emphasis on the last three words is mine.

 

As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

Patrick Barron

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Two Distinctly Different Approaches to Crisis Resolution

There are two very distinct approaches to crisis resolution. One is the socialist approach, adopted by most governments of the world in the latest coronavirus crisis. The other is the individualistic approach, used by few if any of the world’s major nations.

 

The Socialist Approach

 

Here are some of the main elements of the socialist approach:

 

  • Centralized decision making to which all must comply
  • Temporary loss of civil liberties
  • Suspension of property rights
  • Large, perhaps even totalitarian, government
  • Reliance on data and statistical models
  • Reliance on expert opinions and recommendations

 

The Decentralized/Individualistic Approach

 

Here are some of the main elements of the individualistic approach:

 

  • Radical decentralized decision making even to the individual level
  • Defense of all civil liberties
  • Defense of property rights
  • Limited government
  • Skepticism of data and statistical models, especially early in the crisis
  • Skepticism of experts, especially early in the crisis

 

The Look of the Two Different Approaches

 

We know what the socialist approach looks like, since it has been adopted by all the world’s major nations during what is called the coronavirus crisis. The president closed our borders to international travelers (but not goods). Many state governors have restricted the people’s right to assemble, the right to work, the right to open their businesses as normal, and even the right to leave their own homes except for “permitted purposes”. The financial and personal cost of these measures is beyond calculation. Government justifies these measures by reliance on expert advice that to allow citizens to go about their lives as they see fit will cause a medical catastrophe. These experts rely upon data and statistical models to justify their recommendations. One of the problems with reliance upon experts who, in turn, rely upon data and models, is that the data and the models constantly change and may even become suspect. For example, the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) reported on March 25, 2020 that the Oxford-based Our World in Data had stopped using World Health Organization data for the coronavirus reporting, citing errors. Another problem is assessing when the data and expert advice should trigger the suspension of civil and property rights, if ever. Is it not interesting that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts that 12,000 will die of the “normal” flu this year in the US and that 61,000 died in the 2017/2018 flu season? Yet the US has taken draconian action only this year in reaction to the 804 who have died with the coronavirus as of March 25, 2020. (Note the qualifying preposition “with”.) What changed to warrant such action and are we to expect similar draconian responses in the future?

 

The individualistic approach is well known. It is the approach taken heretofore following other major flu-type outbreaks in the fairly recent past. But let us pursue a thought experiment somewhat. What action might individuals and businesses take on their own in response to this media hyperbole? We know that some people with medical conditions or those who simply don’t want to take a chance are self-quarantining themselves or venturing out in public much less than normal. Furthermore, some stores are open and people seem to be taking precautions. They are maintaining a safe distance from one another in public. Hand sanitizers are being used in some stores to clean public shopping baskets and for customer use. Some stores are asking customers not to use cash. My local Ace Hardware Store has blocked off a six foot distance between the customer and checkout clerks. These are just some common sense actions taken by a self reliant people. But what might be the response if  businesses who were forcibly shutdown were allowed to open? I’ll use my local dental office for a thought experiment.

 

My dental office has been forced to close, but what if it were not? It could close voluntarily anyway, of course. That would be my dentist’s decision. But if she closed and others remained open, she might lose many customers permanently. Or she could remain open. Then customers could decide whether to see her for their regular checkups, etc. or not. If some did go, they might assess what steps the dentist was taking to protect herself and her patients. If they were not comfortable with her measures, they might try another dentist, in which case my dentist would risk losing a customer permanently if the other dentist adopted better protective measures. We could go on and on about the choices that both my dentist and her customers might take, but the point is that there are lots of options available to both my dentist and her customers. Individuals and businesses may rely on data somewhat, but the data is just one input to guide their action.

 

Conclusion

 

The Austrian school of economics explains that humans are guided by preferences, and preferences are NOT quantifiable. They are subjective. They differ from one person to another and change often within the same person. It is impossible for government to draft rules and restrictions that can satisfy the subjective preferences of ALL people all the time on how to respond to a crisis. Pretending that it knows what’s good for over three hundred million people is ludicrous. Better to adopt the individualistic approach and let each of us decide for himself.

Patrick Barron

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My letter to the NY Times re: Government money and banking policies con hapless borrowers

Re: The Great Wall Street Housing Grab, by Francesca Mari
Dear Sirs:
Ms. Mari’s long and very detailed report of the role played by Wall Street property firms following the great 2008 real estate crisis fails to explain the underlying source of the crisis that ruined the dreams of so many. The 2008 crisis was fueled by massive government money printing–in order to drive down the interest rate–and unprecedented interventions into direct lending through its captive lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Ms. Mari notes early in her report that one borrower put down only $15,000 as a down payment on a $840,000 property, for a down payment ratio of under two percent! No responsible, privately owned bank would make such a loan and stay in business for long. Yet this irresponsible loan does not rate a further mention as the foundation of all the sorrow that followed. Unfortunately Ms. Mari focuses the rest of her report on how Wall Street real estate investment sharks took advantage of government’s sloppy and amateurish practices. No one should be surprised that Wall Street firms, whose principals could legally earn millions, ran circles around overworked government bureaucrats. The important lesson here is to understand that the government purposely encouraged hapless thousands to take on debt that neither they nor their bankers would have considered under a sound and private money and banking culture. The final tragedy is that nothing has changed.
Patrick Barron
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My letter to the NY Times re: Another True Believer

Dear Sirs:
After World War Two blue-collar philosopher Eric Hoffer tried to make sense of the mass movements that had led to the deaths of hundreds of millions of people. In The True Believer he identified the “misfit”, (Hoffer’s own word), who seeks to submerse himself in some movement that he considers greater than himself and to which he can pledge complete allegiance and cease all critical thinking. We have a new true believer in James Traub, who seeks to pledge his allegiance to the cause of radical environmentalism. Pardon me if I continue to express my skeptism that giving government the power to tell me how many times I may fly and how many real hamburgers I may consume will fix or delay anything that may or may not be happening. But I am certain that such a policy will open the floodgates to true totalitarian government. Furthermore, it seems to me that Mr. Traub has set the bar rather low in picking an all-knowing leader in teenager Greta Thunberg. Ms. Thunberg may not be anyone’s idea of a threat to our liberties, but the jackbooted boys surely are waiting in the wings to carry out her juvenile flights of fancy.
One more thing…Mr. Traub dismisses John Stuart Mill’s “no harm” principle, because the great philosopher/economist lived in an era without socialized medicine. I have no doubt that Mill would never have supported socialized medicine or any other form of socialism. Unlike Mr. Traub, Mill understood the dangerous power of Moral Hazard and The Tragedy of the Commons.
Patrick Barron
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My letter to the NY Times re: Review of Dark Tower (a book about Deutsche Bank)

Re: What Broke Deutsche Bank, by David Enrich, reviewed by Roger Lowenstein
Dear Sirs:
Roger Lowenstein’s review of David Enrich’s book about Deutsche Bank’s descent from a pillar of sound banking to one of the most reckless banks on the planet fails to mention the most important event in German post war banking history; i.e., that Germany gave up its own currency, the Deutsche Mark, for the euro on January 1, 1999. The Deutsche Mark was the soundest currency in the entire world, with the possible exception of the Swiss Franc. The euro has proven to be one of the least sound currencies. The fact that Deutsche Bank embarked on a path of reckless, but apparently perfectly legal, lending and trading after the conversion cannot be passed off as a mere coincidence. Both Mr. Enrich and Mr. Lowenstein need to dig deeper than recounting the personal character flaws of Deutsche Bank’s leadership to understand the real forces at work.
Patrick Barron
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Why I Want China to Stop Manipulating Its Economy

Why I Want China to Stop Manipulating Its Economy

(Psst…It’s probably not what you might think)

by Patrick Barron

 

In his State of the Union Address–February 4, 2020–President Trump outlined his reasons for punishing nations like China that manipulate their economies in order to achieve some internal policy goal. The president claimed that such manipulation was unfair and harmful to its trading partners. The president’s main concern is that by manipulating its economy China “steals” jobs. It does this in several ways.

 

  1. By keeping the yuan at a lower exchange rate with other currencies–meaning that the People’s Bank of China gives more yuan for each dollar than would occur in a free currency market–Chinese goods are cheaper in terms of foreign currency than they would be otherwise.

 

  1. By subsidizing its industries, Chinese goods can be offered at a lower price.

 

  1. By erecting tariffs against some imported goods, China prevents foreign companies from producing more and employing more people than they would otherwise.

 

The president claimed that his policies were working…that manufacturing jobs were returning to the US and have created a “Blue Collar Boom” with unemployment statistics at very low levels for many politically sensitive segments of the labor market.

 

I agree with the president in his desire that China cease manipulating its economy, but my reasons are not the same as his. More importantly, I would not recommend reciprocal interventions to punish China. Instead I would follow the Barron maxim of “minding our own business and setting a good example”. I would point out the following consequences of Chinese economic interventions.

 

  1. China itself pays for the interventions, not its trading partners. In fact, Chinese economic interventions constitute a transfer of wealth from China to its customers overseas. Goods that previously cost X in the US market now cost less than X. Americans pocket the difference which increases our wealth. The Chinese people pay high taxes or higher prices. China’s subsidies to business distort the Chinese economy away from producing other more desirable products. (If this were not the case, there would be no need for subsidies.) Its tariffs on imported goods reduce supply within China, leading to higher prices and/or shortages within China. In other words, Americans and the rest of the world benefit at the expense of the Chinese people.

 

  1. In the short run this is good for Americans, so why should we complain? Remember that I pointed out in number one above that Chinese economic interventions are good for Americans in the short run. What about the long run? By intervening in its economy China weakens its productive capital base. It is this capital base that will pump out the many things desired by Americans in the future. Anything that weakens a trading partner’s capacity to generate wealth means that its trading partners will be less wealthy too. Therefore, even loyal Americans should advise China to eschew economic manipulations that benefit them in the short run. No one ever explained this phenomenon better than Frederic Bastiat in his classic essay That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen. Henry Hazlitt brought Bastiat’s insights up to date in Economics in One Lesson. There actually are two lessons. The first is that one must consider the consequences of an economic act not only upon those who will benefit but also those who will be harmed. Of course, it is usually easy to point out those who will benefit. It is difficult if not impossible to quantify those who are harmed, especially if the harm constitutes benefits that never occurred but would have absent the intervention. Hazlitt’s second lesson is that one must look not only to the short term benefit of an economic act but also to the long term costs. For example, steel import restrictions may result in a boom for the US steel industry with no apparent short term consequences. But if US steel were already competitive in terms of price, quality, and service, there would be no need for import restrictions. Therefore, we can conclude through economic logic that steel prices, quality, and/or service will deteriorate, harming Americans in the long run.

 

Conclusion

 

The president measures economic progress by an increase in employment and/or a decrease in unemployment rather than an increase in wealth. Laboring more is not necessarily a sign of economic progress. Communist countries, such as the former Soviet Union, had zero unemployment! The state chose a job for everyone. But no one would claim that decades of full employment made the unfortunate citizens of the Soviet Union wealthier. The opposite occurred. In a free market economy without the burden of onerous labor laws, high taxes, and other interventions, there is no barrier to full employment for the simple reason that there is no limit to economic satisfaction. Even a frugal person who desired no additional economic goods certainly would be pleased that he need labor less to achieve and maintain his current level of economic satisfaction.

 

The greater China’s capital base, the greater the potential for a further expansion of the division of labor to employ this additional capital more productively. We Americans should wish that the entire world were free market capitalist economies, so we would have access to cheaper, better, and more varied products and services. China’s integration into the world economy has benefited Americans tremendously. So, Mr. President, I also want China to end its economic interventions, but I do not want to punish China through tariffs and other means for doing so. Our response should be to declare unilateral free trade. Let’s lead the world by setting a good example and look forward to a world of peace and prosperity.

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My letter to the NY Times: Why the Predictions of Luddites Never Happen

In the closing paragraph of her review of Daniel Susskind’s A World Without Work, Alana Semuels writes…
“The dire predictions of workers losing their jobs to machines have not come true in the past. That doesn’t mean they never will.”
If economics were an empirical science, Ms. Semuels would have a point. But economics is a deductive/a priori science. As such we can know without a doubt that increased productivity is a result of savings to accumulate capital in order to invest in processes to reduce the human effort and cost per unit of production of an economic good. Economic science is as true for labor as for any other scarce resource; i.e., man aims to economize its use. Unemployment, especially chronic unemployment, has other causes, mostly the result of policies recommended by Mr. Susskind, such as redistributing wealth through higher taxes. The most laughable of Mr. Susskind’s concerns is that government must “create leisure policies to help people occupy themselves in a world without work.” Is Mr. Susskind REALLY a fellow in economics at Oxford? I find that hard to believe.
Patrick Barron
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Central Banks: Enemies of Freedom

 

Central banks are enemies of a free and prosperous society. Let me count the ways.

 

  1. Like the military, central banks are creatures of the state. Suggestions of them being independent are pure fantasy.

 

  1. There is a symbiotic relationship between central banks and the state. Central banks are created by legislatures with the full understanding that they will finance the state’s spending, primarily war and welfare.

 

  1. Since the main threat to freedom comes not from foreigners but from the state itself, central banks are willing accomplices in the state’s attack on freedom.

 

  1. Central banks are the source of fiat money expansion in society. In other words, central banks create money out of thin air. We commoners call this counterfeiting. Well, so does the state if done by anyone except the central bank.

 

  1. As the source of money expansion in society, central banks are responsible for the boom-bust credit cycle. Main stream media falsely calls a central bank induced credit cycle as a                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          business cycle, implying that it is business or free market capitalism that is to blame. Alasdair Macleod has explained in many essays why central banks and only central banks are to blame.

 

  1. Central banks are responsible for excessive state debt. In a sound money environment, state spending is limited by two factors, both of which are natural. One, the state can raise taxes to pay for new spending, but the public’s tolerance of increased taxes has a natural limit. Two, the state can borrow to pay for new spending, but it must compete for funds in the bond market to do so. Either it must outbid other borrowers and/or induce a shift in public sentiment from spending to savings. Either tactic causes the interest rate to rise. Spending falls and the cost of capital increases, causing a reduction in investment in the future prosperity of the nation. (Note that this scenario is opposite of the one touted by Keynesian economists, who view government spending as beneficial, especially when an economy goes into recession due to previous money and credit expansion by the central bank.)

 

  1. The central bank funds an almost unlimited confiscation of resources by the state. Whether to finance war or welfare, in a sound money environment the people will begin to question the options to excessive government spending. Not so when the central bank creates money out of thin air. The consequences of central bank monetization of government debt are delayed and poorly understood. When these consequences can no longer be ignored–price inflation, unemployment, never-ending war, an expanding dependent class–the state will blame others. Furthermore, it is likely to recommend even more of the same poison that caused the crisis in the first place–increase government spending to continue war beyond the public’s tolerance, to save politically connected industries like banking, or to continue to buy votes through welfare expansion.

 

  1. A corollary to number seven above is the corruption of public understanding and need for limited government. Unlimited money via the central bank makes it appear that the state can fund anything, especially in the short run. Of course, all spending programs then become short run necessities, as if the lack of government funded, free healthcare was an existential threat; whereas, healthcare is one of many economic products for which the public must make individual, rational spending choices. After all, there is no magic limit to how much is appropriate spending on healthcare. It is a subjective personal choice of each individual in society.

 

 

In conclusion, central banking is not compatible with a politically free and economically prosperous society. Through money printing the central bank empowers the state to confiscate resources beyond what the people would accept if the true state of affairs were known, as in a sound money economy. This is NOT self-government or limited government. Furthermore, central bank credit expansion causes capital decumulation. Spending becomes the goal, not savings. Individuals understand intuitively the harmful effects of excessive spending. When our personal finances are strained, we would not entertain the idea that the way to restore them would be to take long, expensive trips, buy expensive cars, etc. Of course not. We reduce our spending to well within our income. The excess of earnings over spending is savings, which is the lifeblood of any economy. So simple for the individual to understand, yet the lesson is sneered at by Keynesian economists when applied to government spending. Time for getting back to basics and away from Keynesian fantasy.

Patrick Barron

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US Opposition to Nord Stream Two Is Wrong on Two Fronts

On December 20, 2019 President Trump authorized sanctions against companies and individuals who are participating in building Nord Stream Two, a pipeline under the Baltic Sea that will bring Russian natural gas to Western Europe, principally Germany. The pipeline is more than eighty percent completed. The sanctions were included in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which funds America’s huge military and will be difficult to overturn. Already a pipeline laying company has suspended its operations. Germany, the main beneficiary of this huge project, has denounced the US sanctions. These sanctions are wrong on two fronts and are very likely to backfire against US long term interests.

 

The Economic Case for Nord Stream Two

 

The economic case in favor of completing Nord Stream Two is simple. In a free market capitalist society investors decide which projects are likely to return profits, not politicians. The very fact that the pipeline is being built tells us that the investors expect it to be successful in replacing existing, higher priced energy sources and/or providing a solid, lower cost energy source for future economic growth in Germany and Western Europe. In fact, no one has claimed otherwise. The German government has been supportive of the project, because natural gas is a cleaner energy source than coal and is seen, rightly or wrongly, to be safer than nuclear energy. Germany plans to shut down all except eight of its coal-fired plants by 2030 and all of its nuclear power plants by 2022. So, Germany will be left with windmills, solar panels, and little else, which may be fine with its large environmental activist sector but will not provide enough power to support the nation. Natural gas appears to be the answer and Russia has large supplies for sale. Economically, this is the end of the controversy, since capitalists are much better than politicians at foreseeing the economic viability of such a project.

 

The Geopolitical Case for Nord Stream Two

 

The publicly stated US case against Nord Stream Two is that it will leave Germany too dependent upon a potentially hostile power to fuel its economy. I say “public stated” because the US wants to sell liquefied natural gas to Germany, but at a cost that is estimated to be double that of pipeline gas from Russia. The US is taking it upon itself to decide what is best economically and geopolitically for the world’s third largest economy. Do our policy makers really have a better understanding of these matters than Germany’s own policy makers? I highly doubt it. Germany may be foolish in shutting down its coal and nuclear energy sources, but in this regard it is hostage more to its own radical environmental lobby than it will ever be hostage to Russia. In fact, one way to look at this issue is that Russia is saving Germany from its own foolishness. I predict that this environmental lobby will never be satisfied and will simply move on to campaigning against another pillar of German industry. Furthermore, Germany has many energy options even if it does shut down its coal and nuclear plants. It can import nuclear power from France and coal-fired power from Poland. Poland is campaigning to stop the new pipeline, too. A skeptical person would wonder whether it does so for geopolitical reasons or because it sees a loss of export revenue and/or a  loss of influence over a former enemy. In any event, this is Germany’s decision, not that of the US and especially not that of Poland.

 

The geopolitical case in favor of Nord Stream Two is as straightforward as the economic one. The German and Russian economies would become interdependent to some extent. If Germany  becomes dependent upon Russian natural gas, Russia will likewise become dependent upon export revenue from Germany. This interdependency theory for peace between former enemies was at the foundation of the European Union. Our post World War Two statesmen were wiser than our present bunch. They saw that Germany’s attempt at creating an autarkic state was a key element in its policy to control nature resources from its neighbors via invasion and annexation; such as wheat from Russian and oil from the Balkans. On the Western front, France had plentiful coal supplies and Germany had state-of-the-art steel mills.  By agreeing to join the European Coal and Steel Community France and Germany ended their century old and bloody competition to control the resources of the other. Such a simple thing to do and yet how many millions died and were enslaved to pursue the false god of economic autarky? Frederic Bastiat’s purported dictum was never so prescient; i.e., “When goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will.”

 

Conclusion

 

The great missed opportunity of our times is that Russia has not been welcomed back into the community of peaceful nations. Where does the blame lie? Some would say that Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 exposed its still expansionist goals. Others would say that expanding NATO to encompass most of the former Warsaw Pact nations is to blame. Economic integration and cooperation may not be a complete panacea for stopping a new Cold War, but the demise of Nord Stream Two almost guarantee that tension will increase. The US should not assume that Germany and the other countries of Western Europe who desire to purchase Russian natural gas will acquiesce in this affront to their sovereignty. If the US persists in enforcing sanctions, one can envision the eventual breakup of NATO itself. You heard it here first.

Patrick Barron

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Fiat Money and Socialism

The Hidden Link Between Fiat Money and the Increasing Appeal of Socialism Among the Young

by Patrick Barron

For some time now I have been mulling over the possible causes of what seems to be an increase in the desire for socialism among the young. For someone of my generation (an early post war baby boomer), it is inexplicable. Socialism was at the heart of two of the most despised totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century: Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Both regimes murdered millions and enslaved hundreds of millions. Although the young may not wear swastikas or the hammer and sickle, they seem completely enamored of the policies that underpinned these regimes; i.e., more state control of the economy and our lives in order to achieve some vaguely stated paradise on earth.

 

The market economy of sound money vs. the political economy of fiat money

 

I suppose each generation feels that it understands reality to a better extent than the following generation, and I admit to this phenomenon. My early years were enjoyable, but there was no question that the purpose of one’s youth was to prepare oneself for a life of economic challenge. In other words, my generation assumed that our primary goal was to figure out how we would integrate ourselves into the market economy. Oh, we did not espouse this goal in such terms. We simply said that we wanted to find jobs that both appealed to us and would pay our way in the world. Our success in life would depend upon finding our niche in the market economy of serving others. Our reward was a paycheck.

 

This visceral understanding of the way the world really works stands in stark contrast to the likes of the Extinction Rebellion movement. These young people have learned that there is an alternative means to success and one that does not involve meeting the legitimate needs of one’s fellow men in the marketplace. It is the political process, whose underpinnings are fiat money printed in whatever quantities that are desired. Members of Extinction Rebellion are convinced that they KNOW that the world will end unless capitalism is replaced by socialism. Furthermore, they are convinced that socialism definitely can work, despite its unbroken history of failure.

 

What causes such seemingly unfounded confidence in socialism? In the aftermath of the Second World War Eric Hoffer wrote The True Believer in which he suggested that certain people are psychologically insecure and seek an all-encompassing world view to which they can dedicate themselves. These misfits (Hoffer’s word) seek acceptance in a mass movement. Hoffer claimed that the nature of the mass movement did not matter as much as the fact that it offered a simple solution to all of life’s challenges without further thought. In post war interviews, Nazi propagandists said that the easiest people to convert to the Nazi creed were communists. It was simply a matter of shirking off one totalitarian belief for another.

 

 

Unlimited money engenders the myth of unlimited real resources

 

The world was on a watered down version of a gold standard until 1971 when the US abandoned its solemn promise–the 1944 Bretton Woods Agreement— to back the dollar with gold at $35 per ounce. Gold backing of a currency provided a solid intellectual foundation of reality that few even recognized existed within themselves; i.e., that we live in a world of scarcity and uncertainty. Furthermore, wealth has to be built. It cannot be conjured out of thin air, just as gold cannot be conjured out of thin air.

 

But fiat currency CAN be conjured out of thin air and in enormous amounts. The longer a fiat currency is the coin of the land, the more one is led to believe that nothing should be in short supply, since everything is bought with money and money need not be in short supply. The young, who know only unlimited fiat money, soon demand free healthcare and free higher education as a right. And why not? Unlimited money will pay for it. Into this never-never land comes demands for scrapping the fossil fuel underpinnings of our modern economy by youth who understand nothing of how an economy works. But, apparently one does not need to understand technical limitations, because there are no technical limitations. The “barbarous relic” (gold) had once limited the money supply and thusly seemed to limit the supply of vendible goods. Gold has been replaced by unlimited fiat money. Now it seems that unlimited aggregate demand can be funded by unlimited fiat money, leading to a world of plenty. Designer of the Bretton Woods Agreement Lord Keynes says so in this very insightful short video.

 

Fiat Money Turns the World Upside Down

 

The psychological impact of a lifetime within a fiat money economy cannot be underestimated. One’s world is turned upside down.  For many of the young financial success becomes prima facie evidence of exploitation of the masses rather than something to be admired and to which one could aspire also. Rather than integrate oneself into the capitalist, market economy, one is better served by integrating oneself into any number of politically oriented pressure groups. Rather than helping others achieve their dreams, thereby helping oneself achieve one’s own dreams, young people are more intent on thwarting others’ dreams. The envious young attribute the success of others to crass money grubbing or outright theft. Such a view may palliate their own relative lack of success. But success of life is a relative term and riches are not guaranteed. However, with proper foresight, hard work, and plain old fashioned civility one can go a long way toward fulfilling one’s dreams.  Contrast these eternal virtues with Extinction Rebellion’s tactics of tying up foot, car, and rail traffic in London recently. In a capitalist, market economy one attempts to provide benefits to others, not hindrances to everyday life.

 

Other state interventions contribute to the lack of civility, such as higher minimum wage laws that prevent the young from getting that first, even though low paying, job. A job…any job…teaches us so much about work place expectations other than performing the stated tasks–showing up on time, dressing properly, being pleasant to customers and fellow employees, willingness to assist in tasks, especially unpleasant ones, that may not be one’s own, etc. But little can match fiat money for undermining the very fabric of the social order. With more money seemingly available at the click of a computer button, only an Ebenezer Scrooge would deny funding the latest demand. But that is the very reason that fiat money is so subversive to the social order. In a sound money economy any new spending program can be funded only by an increase in taxes, an increase in debt, or by cutting existing funding. There is a real cost to each of these options. There is a real cost to printing money, too, but the cost is hidden. One does not see malinvestment at the time of money printing. Price increases are delayed and uneven, due to the Cantillon Effect whereby the early receivers of new money are able to purchase goods and services at existing prices. Later receivers or those who do not receive the new money at all suffer higher prices and a reduction in their standard of living. Even then most people do not link higher retail prices with a previous expansion of the money supply.

 

It would be hard to invent a more effective method for the destruction of modern society. As Pogo would say, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

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