Mob rhetoric about Iran begins….

I don’t have to do any promotion on this book. Read the news and you can’t get away from the theme of “Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets.”

Here’s the mob mind at work in the President’s latest speech on Iran. Haven’t we heard it all? Lies, damn lies, and not even a statistic in sight. It’s WMD in Iraq, Volume 2. No mushroom clouds this time — the threat is nuclear holocaust, nothing less. Who could possibly believe this? It’s not even clear where the Iranians have got in their nuclear research; meanwhile the U.S. has enough nuclear weapons to blow up the planet several times over. But no — the government tells us we need to be afraid — oh so, afraid.

Why do people buy this stuff? Over and over?

Here’s Glen Greenwald at Salon, via blogger, Firedoglake (thanks for the tip to Ali Eteraz)
George Bush, speaking before yet another military audience, yesterday delivered what might actually be the most disturbing speech of his presidency, in which he issued more overt war threats than ever before towards Iran:

The other strain of radicalism in the Middle East is Shia extremism, supported and embodied by the regime that sits in Tehran. Iran has long been a source of trouble in the region. It is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. Iran backs Hezbollah who are trying to undermine the democratic government of Lebanon. Iran funds terrorist groups like Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which murder the innocent, and target Israel, and destabilize the Palestinian territories. Iran is sending arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan, which could be used to attack American and NATO troops. Iran has arrested visiting American scholars who have committed no crimes and pose no threat to their regime. And Iran’s active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust. Iran’s actions threaten the security of nations everywhere. And that is why the United States is rallying friends and allies around the world to isolate the regime, to impose economic sanctions. We will confront this danger before it is too late (Applause.)

Leave aside all of the dubious premises — the fact that the U.S. is supposed to consider Iran “the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism” because of its support for groups that are hostile to Israel; that Iran is arming its longstanding Taliban enemies; that Iran is some sort of threat to Iraq’s future even though it is an ally of Iraq’s government; and that Iran’s detention of American-Iranians inside its own country is anything other than retaliation for our own equally pointless detention of Iranians inside of Iraq, to say nothing of a whole slew of other provacative acts we have recently undertaken towards Iran. Leave all of that aside for the moment. Viewed through the prism of presidential jargon, Bush’s vow — “We will confront this danger before it is too late” — is synonymous with a pledge to attack Iran unless our array of demands are met. He is unmistakably proclaiming that unless Iran gives up its nuclear program and fundamentally changes its posture in the Middle East, “we will confront this danger.” What possible scenario could avert this outcome?

By now it is unmistakably clear that it is not only — or even principally — Iran’s nuclear program that is fueling these tensions. As Scott Ritter and others have long pointed out, the fear-mongering warnings about an Iranian “nuclear holocaust” (obviously redolent of Condoleezza Rice’s Iraqi smoking gun “mushroom cloud”) is but the pretext for achieving the true goal — regime change in Tehran. Bush all but said so yesterday:

We seek an Iran whose government is accountable to its people — instead of to leaders who promote terror and pursue the technology that could be used to develop nuclear weapons.

In other words, we “seek” a new government in Iran. Are there really people left who believe, with confidence, that Bush is going to leave office without commencing or provoking a military confrontation with Iran? Bush also added: “I have authorized our military commanders in Iraq to confront Tehran’s murderous activities.” To underscore the fact that this is not mere rhetoric, the U.S. military in Iraq, following Bush’s speech, arrested and detained eight Iranian energy experts meeting in Baghdad with the Iraqi government — handcuffing, blindfolding, and interrogating them — only to then release them when the Iraqi government protested. The path we are on — with 160,000 of our troops in Iran’s neighbor, escalating war-threatening rhetoric, and increasingly provocative acts — is obviously the path to war….”

Wilton Alston on why he doesn’t care….

Over at Lew Rockwell, Wilton Alston ponders the under-rated virtues of not caring:

“…consider again what the term ‘market’ can refer to. Once we descend from the academic world of idealized types to the real world of human experience in which action is always subject to some form of regulation, the only useful conception of the market would be one that referred to the realm of human activity free from political regulation. This would mean that the market is correctly understood not as the realm of unregulated voluntary transactions, but as the realm of voluntary transactions subject to the regulation of ethics, custom, and spontaneously evolved law.”

~ John Hasnas, “The Privatization Depoliticization of Law

I have concluded something very important recently. (OK, so maybe not very important, but mildly interesting anyway!) I just don’t care about a lot of stuff that used to really excite me. For instance, I don’t care:

  • That Karl Rove resigned;
  • That Alberto Gonzales resigned;
  • That they haven’t caught Osama bin Laden yet;
  • Who gets selected for the Supreme Court;
  • If George Bush (or any other President) gets impeached;
  • Who gets elected President of the United States.

(Disclaimer: I think Ron Paul is a fine human being and a man of honor. I can say that without ever meeting him, due specifically to his great commentary on LRC and the type of principled people who rally to his support. I sincerely hope that his candidacy provides a platform from which a thousand ships of libertarian truth are launched. I actually get a rush of pride when I see him “school” losers like Jailiani about, well, anything. That said, I still don’t care about the presidency itself.)

Now, where were we?

Why don’t I care about the things I list? I could take each of these separately, and I will embellish on a few of my reasons, but basically it comes down to this. I’m an anarchist.

Sometimes we like to refine this description with terms like anarcho-capitalist, and that’s accurate as well, but let us be clear. I don’t want a better government; I want no coercive political government. I don’t want a more efficient TSA; I want no (publicly funded) TSA. I don’t want a better FDA; I want no FDA. I don’t want policemen who only stop every third brother caught DWB (driving while black); I want to be able to switch providers when the security service “hired” with my tax money wastes it while simultaneously shooting at people like me. Before anyone jumps to a conclusion and pulls a muscle, let me clear something else up. Does all this mean that I want no rules in my life? Why of course not.

As Hasnas lays out in marvelous detail in the paper linked above, civilization has always existed with rules or laws, as some may designate them. A peaceful life and the pleasant interactions between human beings have always been and will always be based upon some understanding of what is ethical and what is not. Furthermore, some of these rules will not be derived from consent. I’m cool with that. Ostrowski’s wonderful working paper provides what I think is the most useful definition of self-government with:

Self-government – no state with final authority; each person governs himself or herself; disputes among people are resolved by private courts and arbitrators; resort to private courts is encouraged by self-interest, social pressure, boycott, ostracism and market forces such as the denial of insurance and of access to real estate to those with a history of improper self-help.

When I say anarchy, this definition describes what it is that I mean. Furthermore, I’d assert that this is what most anarchists mean. But anyway, what all this leads up to is my reasons for not caring about any of the listed items.Why I Don’t Care That Rove ResignedRove was a worker. He is, at best, a symptom. Let’s assume, for a minute, that he’s the best in the history of time at what he does. Let us further assume that “what he does” is get people elected to public office. I already said I don’t want public offices. Public office – like the State generally – allows evil to find flower. It allows an individual to off-load the costs of any personal desire onto those he almost never has to face while they simultaneously pay for his acts. He plays; they pay. Until we can fire all of them, having one here and there quit of their own accord, and likely just slither to some other cold, dank cavern under the public trough, is applying a Band-Aid to an arterial gusher.Why I Don’t Care That Gonzales ResignedGonzales is simply the latest in a long, long, long line of lying, make-up-the-law-as-we-go people who Bush apparently has on speed dial. How many comically unqualified people of, at best, questionable morals does Bush have in his trick bag? (Bootsy Collins used to sing about having a “ghostly haberdashery” from which his funk would spring. Bush has a ghastly haberdashery. You can fill in the rest.) At what point do we stop thinking, “Okay, that’s as low as he can go”? In the limbo game of cronyism, George W. Bush is a Jedi master! I can virtually assure you that if anyone can find someone whose behavior will have us waxing nostalgic about the “good old days” when we only had to worry about Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, it is this president.

The Making of MOBS

“Mobs, Messiahs, and Markets” is coming out next week in the book stores.

Pretty exciting.

And the end of a year-long saga.

Bill and I began work on the book in July, 2006.

Well, sort of.

In fits and starts.

We couldn’t fit in what both of us wanted to say and we got a late start… September 2006, to be exact.

The late start came about because Bill convinced me (he is a powerful persuader) that I ought to transport myself to South America to help write the manuscript somewhere on his 250,000 acre ranch in the terrain beyond the colonial university town of Salta (it might have been twice that much — I’ve lost count of the zeroes), lost in the north-western mists of Argentina, near the border of Peru.

It says something, I suppose, that I seriously planned on doing it.

Although I don’t speak Spanish and had never set foot in South America before.

But I ended up hanging out in Buenos Ayres.

Not a bad place to hang out, by the way.

And no, I did not live in one of Agora’s magnificent French apartments on Nuevo de Julio, but that’s another story.
Getting back to the book. Bill is a prolific author, as anyone who knows him would say. Churning out words is not a problem for him. And I believe I am not lacking in loquacity either. Of course, we could cull material from his financial columns. But this book was not really only – or even mostly – about finance. It’ s on something very central to Bill’s thinking —  “public thinking” — the kind of pseudo-thinking about big issues that dominates the newspapers.

We ended up working in a bit of a frenzy.

The result was that between late September and the end of December ‘06, while we thought we’d put together a manuscript of about 500 pages, we turned out to have been counting in single- spaced pages — which meant we actually had on our hands some 1000 pages, almost three times the length of the usual financial book.

It was, needless to say, a singularly tedious January for me…..

But, finally, we did manage to turn in the finished product right on deadline in the first week of February.

It was by then a slimmer and a more toned opus, but even then, as Bill’s good friend, contrarian guru Marc Faber asked — who would want to read a 400- page book, when most people these days think they can become informed about everything everywhere in the world from 30-second TV spots?

Good question.

But, apparently, a lot of people do. A week before hitting the stores and with the marketing just gearing up, MOBS is already #4 on Amazon (it was briefly #3) and #1 in the business/finance section. (It’s actually backed off to #5 this evening).
That means it’s up there behind Harry Potter, a story by Khaled Hosseini set in Afghanistan, a memoir of a famous rock-and-roll trifecta (George Harrison-Patty Boyd-Eric Clapton), and a book about Mother Theresa.

Saints, Sinners, War — and Magic.

We, I suppose, must classify ourselves under Money.

But I rather think there’s really a bit of everything in the book. In a skewed helter-skelter fashion.

Money, of course. The genuine kind and the dubious stuff mounting up in gigantic heaps all over the planet like industrial waste.

War, course. That’s what empires do best. And we included a full complement of would-be saints and the herd of sinners who stumble after them.

The only thing we missed was magic. Although, come to think of it, we have a dollop of that too — in the chapters about central banks and paper money.

Talk about conjuring from thin air.

Hogwarts has nothing on the Bank of Bernanke.

Walter Block on economists who bite libertarian hands….

Walter Block in Lew Rockwell on Caplan, Bryan. 2007. The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press:

“These charges that Caplan launches against the Austrians are very serious; very serious indeed. How is it then that they come accompanied by not a single solitary footnote, reference or citation? Caplan is a very careful researcher. His book contains only 276 pages, and no fewer than 56 of them are devoted to reference, citations and footnotes. Yet, he could not spare even one of them to buttress his wild-eyed accusations against the Austrians. Why is this? Our answer can only be speculative, but a plausible explanation is that Caplan is only venting his own quasi-religious views, which are similar in character to those of which he accuses the great unwashed, the ignorant prejudiced voting public. It is difficult to reject this hypothesis. As good logical positivists, we need an empirical “test” for this contention. Here is the evidence: Caplan is himself guilty of engaging in market fundamentalism himself, throughout his book. (For example, he accepts the concept of “economic truism”; this sounds like “market fundamentalism” to me.) This suggests that he is indeed guilty of harboring motivations of this sort. He is a self-hater, in other words, who benefits from condemning vices he sees in himself.

In the view of Caplan, “A person who said, ‘All the ills of markets can be cured by more markets’ would be lampooned as the worst sort of market fundamentalist.” I, myself, would never make such a statement. But this is because I do not see any “ills of markets” in the first place. Did I but, then I would gladly embrace this statement. But are not markets plagued by imperfect information? Not a bit of it. Rather, this is a characteristic of the human condition, not markets. But are not markets plagued by products such as pornography, prostitution, addictive drugs, and other harmful goods and services such as French fries, tobacco, race car driving, alcohol, etc? Not at all. Rather, the existence of these goods and services are eloquent testimony to the efficacy of markets. If blame there is for such items, it must be laid at the proper door: not markets, but the choices of human beings. All “markets” consist of is the concatenation of all voluntary commercial interactions. Market “fundamentalism,” then, consists of no more than an appreciation of the fact that free trade promotes economic welfare, and is the only system compatible with economic liberty. If this be “market fundamentalism,” let opponents make the most of libertarian support for this system of “capitalist acts between consenting adults.”

According to Caplan, “Imagine if an economist dismissed complaints about the free market by snapping: ‘The free market is the worst form of economic organization, except for all the others.’ This is a fine objection to communism, but only a market fundamentalist would buy it as an argument against moderate government intervention.” Say what? What is this? “Moderate government intervention”? One wonders how Caplan squares his advocacy of “moderate government intervention” with his well-known support for anarcho-capitalism? It is also difficult to see how he can reconcile his opposition to “market fundamentalism” with this statement of his: “… like all trade, international trade is mutually beneficial…” But that is all that constitutes markets: trade between people on a voluntary basis.

A final point on this topic, and this by far the most astounding. Caplan and Stringham won a $25,000 Templeton Prize. And here is the abstract of their prize-winning paper: “The political economy of Ludwig von Mises and Frédéric Bastiat has been largely ignored even by their admirers. We argue that Mises’ and Bastiat’s views in this area were both original and insightful. While traditional public choice generally maintains that democracy fails because voters’ views are rational but ignored, the Mises-Bastiat view is that democracy fails because voters’ views are irrational but heeded. Mises and Bastiat anticipate many of the most effective criticisms of traditional public choice to emerge during the last decade and point to many avenues for future research.”

As can be seen by this admission, Caplan’s book, and the entire research program of this author on the drawbacks of democracy, owes a great self-confessed debt to that “market fundamentalist,” Ludwig von Mises. How, then, does he come to bite the (intellectual) hand that feeds him? Truly, amazing.

Welcome to the wonderful world of “market fundamentalism,” Caplan.”