Letter to a Political Agnostic

Last week I found myself in a political discussion with an in-law.  I know, bad move, but I honestly didn’t start it!  The next day I received a link to this video from the person I had spoken with:

During our discussion, I felt like I wasn’t given an opportunity to clearly present my position so I wrote the  letter below as a response….

(Spoiler Alert: skip the fourth and fifth bullet points at the end if you haven’t finished reading The Hunger Games trilogy)

Forgive me for sending you so long a letter, which perhaps you did not at all need, but I have long wished to express  my views on this question. I even began a long article about it, but I shall hardly have time to finish it before death comes, and therefore I wished to get at least part of it said. Forgive me if I am in error about anything.

– Leo Tolstoy

There are certain things in life that simply don’t make sense unless you first establish the correct principles or guiding philosophy to explain your observations.  Physics has relativity and Newtonian motion.  As Theodosius Dobzhansky said, “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”  Medicine has the germ theory of disease.  Economics doesn’t make sense unless you understand the framework established by the Austrian School.  By that same token, many of the things politicians do don’t make sense until you start viewing government as a “gang of thieves writ large” (Rothbard).

As I mentioned, my guiding philosophy is the non-aggression axiom, which states that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else except, of course, in self-defense.  As Murray Rothbard explains, the Libertarian political philosophy, which all stems from this statement, is the only one that is consistent:

In current terminology again, the libertarian position on property and economics would be called “extreme right wing.” But the libertarian sees no inconsistency in being “leftist” on some issues and “rightist” on others. On the contrary, he sees his own position as virtually the only consistent one, consistent on behalf of the liberty of every individual.  For how can the leftist be opposed to the violence of war and conscription while at the same time supporting the violence of taxation and government control?  And how can the rightist trumpet his devotion to private property and free enterprise while at the same time favoring war, conscription, and the outlawing of noninvasive activities and practices that he deems immoral?  And how can the rightist favor a free market while seeing nothing amiss in the vast subsidies, distortions, and unproductive inefficiencies involved in the military-industrial complex?

– Murray Rothbard, For a New Liberty

After watching the video you sent, I must admit that I’m somewhat confused.  If you understand what was presented in the video, why was there a disagreement about welfare programs, for example?  The idea that the state can provide security and eliminate risk out of life is, as we agreed, a total fallacy.  The best you can hope to do is to provide a system which enables the maximum opportunities for success.  This has been conclusively proven to be free-market capitalism.

The ideas of socialism/fascism*/collectivism have been widely and thoroughly repudiated. It’s not as though there aren’t enough examples.  Greece is one.  But the world has also had wide-scale, open-air experiments using people of similar education, upbringing, and cultural values called East/West Germany and North/South Korea that demonstrate what scholars such as Ludwig von Mises and F.A. Hayek had been telling us all along – that by necessity, these systems lead to totalitarianism, poverty, and enslavement.  For some reason, the average American believes that to fix our current socialist/fascist* institutions we need more of the same, good and hard.  They believe that somehow we will finally figure out how to accomplish what no other society in the history of civilization has: how to enable everyone to live at everyone else’s expense. (Bastiat)

When we spoke, you were also troubled over Social Security.  Social Security is the very definition of a Ponzi scheme.  What happened to people who were taken in by Bernie Madoff?  They made a bad bet and paid the price.  If someone is betting their retirement on the hope that they will be able to cash out before the scheme implodes, that’s their fault.  Ah, but you say that SS is compulsory, they have no choice – and in doing so, you have just shown why it is immoral and evil.  People who might have otherwise successfully saved or invested the money are at risk of being destitute because the scheme they were forced into, under threat of violence, WILL fail.  At least with Madoff, it was a voluntary transaction.  Oh sure, the government may try to meet their obligations by printing money, but once you go far enough down that road you end up with Weimar Germany or Zimbabwe – plenty of currency that can’t buy anything. (Although, for a variety of reasons this is unlikely to happen, but it’s not impossible.)

A major problem that we have is the ideological inconsistencies of Democrats and Republicans that Rothbard alluded to in the quote above.  Republicans are supposedly for smaller government – although history shows that they have done nothing but expand it greatly – but also want to maintain a belligerent empire.  You can’t have it both ways.  Frankly, arguing about needing more fiscal responsibility and smaller government while supporting an empire and constant war is inconsistent at best and idiotic at worst.  War and militarism are synonymous with a large and tyrannical government.  I have no hope of liberals abandoning their welfare programs – this is how they ensure their constituency.  My only hope is that true conservatives will wake up and realize that you can’t have any of the other things you purport to value while starting wars all over the world.  EVERY empire crumbles – anyone with even a passing knowledge of history knows this.

On the other side, Democrats generally want more welfare programs, and Obama has given it to them while simultaneously expanding the war in Afghanistan, starting another completely illegal one in Libya, and increasing drone strikes in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia (which have killed far more innocents than combatants creating, according to former General Stanley McChrystal, 10 new enemies for each innocent death).  Leftists like to think of themselves as caring and benevolent people, but let me ask, does this seem like a moral, effective, or even financially viable plan?  It’s easy enough for them to deflect attention away from these unpleasantries, I suppose – all they have to do is buy votes by expanding the welfare state to show just how righteous they are.  At the end of the day, however, their guy is the one that unilaterally decided to execute three American citizens (including a 16 year old) without a trial or even formal charges and maintains a “kill list”, signed the NDAA effectively deleting the 5th amendment, and killed hundreds of innocents via robot.  Besides, it’s considered compassion when you reach into your own pocket to help, not when you reach into someone else’s.  Theft, murder, and cronyism -the hallmarks of both parties.

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Endless expansion of welfare and warfare does not a prosperous country make.   Ironically, if the US wasn’t so busy creating enemies around the globe, there might actually be a chance of paying for some of these domestic programs.  The only reason we have been able to get away with all this for longer than some of the EU countries is that we enjoy the privilege of having the world’s reserve currency and the machine that prints it.  Eventually, that won’t be good enough.

And this brings me to the engine that is driving all of the welfare, warfare, debt, and ultimately the country off a cliff: the Fed.  The Federal Reserve Bank, untethered by a gold standard, is free to create as much currency as they want all so that some politician can start wars, buy votes, redistribute money to favored industries or constituencies, bail-out and/or nationalize “too big to fail” firms, or all of the above.  Since the Fed’s creation in 1913, the dollar has lost over 97% of its value.  The founding fathers knew this would happen and that’s why the Constitution does not allow a central bank.  It’s also why the first two times it was tried it was dissolved.  There are many reasons why you can’t call our current economic system free-market capitalism, but the most important is the Fed’s manipulation of the money supply prevents the rational decision-making required in a free market.  He who controls money controls the economy.

When I said, “either you believe in Liberty and freedom or you don’t,” you said I was making the issue black and white.  I contend that this is not an over simplification.  The moment you accept the principle the that government has rights that we do not have as individuals – to enslave people (and call it conscription), steal from people (and call it taxation or inflation), counterfeit money (and call it monetary policy), murder people (and call it foreign policy) – you can justify virtually any expansion of this power, as we have seen throughout our own history and indeed world history.  Every government wants to become totalitarian – it is in their nature.  The only thing that restrains them is the unwillingness of the people to go along with their power-grabs.  This changes during times of crisis when the people clamor to be led to safety.  As Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel famously stated, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”  This is why there is always a war to be fought or bogeymen to hunt.  Freedom and Liberty can only survive with unwavering dedication to their principles.

By the way, what were your takeaways from “The Hunger Games” trilogy?  In my mind, that trilogy is basically an anti-war, anti-government, libertarian manifesto:

  • Kids, without any mutual grudges, are forced to kill one another to effect a consolidation of power within the governing elite – i.e. war.
  • Districts are pitted against one another as a form of the age old imperial tactic of divide and rule – i.e. destabilize the middle east and let the various sects fight it out.
  • When the citizens are allowed to insert additional instances of their name into the tribute lottery in exchange for grain, it is a form of welfare and equates to slavery and death.  Katniss’ self-reliance and resourcefulness means freedom and life.
  • The Capitol and District 13 represent the logical conclusions of right-wing and left-wing ideologies, respectively.
  • Prim’s death was described almost exactly like the US drone strikes on first-responders in Pakistan.

I know by now you are probably thinking, “this guy is crazy.”  To that charge, I answer with a quote from Homer Simpson: “In a world gone mad, only a lunatic is truly insane.”

*When I use the term “Fascism”, it is not hyperbolic.  It’s true that this is typically a term of derision in our lexicon, however, it does represent an actual economic system that describes what we currently have better than anything else.

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