Introducing the Ron Paul Institute

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for Peace and Prosperity.

Ron Paul kicked off his newest initiative with this press conference earlier in the week. This message is truly a non-partisan one and I look forward to seeing the sort of information that is put out by this institution.

The inclusion of former congressman Dennis Kucinich in this venture is case in point. As I have said before (and echoing Murray Rothbard), I believe that the libertarian message on war and personal liberties is central to the whole philosophy. The non-aggression principle does not only apply to landlords for rent control or employers for the minimum wage. It must also be applied to instances where real matters of life and death are at stake.

Building coalitions with people who share similar ideas on issues is a necessity in moving the needle on strictly partisan issues such as this. The recipe has long been that those in power support the extensive and invasive foreign policy decisions of the president while the minority party decries its abuses, only to switch positions after the next election. This clearly will not do. A useful coalition must move beyond this superficial partisan bickering and trading of votes. I believe an institute that is steadfastly dedicated to the principles of peace and prosperity will certainly help in getting that started.

The Disincentives of Welfare

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One of the realities of welfare that is certain to garner the most scorn for bringing up is that these programs provide a very real disincentive for the recipient to find work. ‘Why that’s preposterous to say that someone receiving welfare benefits would ever cause them to not accept a better job or work more if given the opportunity!’ proponents of these programs often claim.

However, the reality is people receive welfare payments in an inverse and non-proportional relation to their income. That is, as people’s incomes rise there are thresholds at which earning an additional dollar of income will actually reduce a person’s overall combined total payout of income plus welfare benefits.

The Disincentives of Welfare

This chart, produced by the American Enterprise Institute, illustrates the adverse effect that welfare programs have on people searching out jobs and earning additional income. When taking into account all of the various welfare benefits, a person earning $29,000 a year is actually bringing home closer to $57,300 in total benefits plus income. This net payout of $57,300 would require that same person earning a mere $29,000 to find a job that pays closer to $69,000 to achieve the same financial outcome.

Furthermore, the chart also points out the existence of several “Welfare Cliffs” in which earning just one additional dollar in income drastically reduces the benefits received.

These are very real disincentives and are certainly contributing factors to the booming welfare state.

Crisis and Liberty– Robert Higgs

This lecture series given by economist, Robert Higgs, is a systematic examination of how times of social and economic crises lead to predictable and sustained increases in the scope of government power at the expense of individual freedom.  At the basis of Higgs’ analysis is what he refers to as the “ratchet effect”.  This, he explains, is the process by which the state expands its powers in all realms during a crisis, and yet never fully relinquishes them after the turbulence has subsided.  Even if the bulk of the newly grasped powers are not carried over after the crisis the size and scope of government never returns to its starting point, thus leading to a government that perpetually grows over time.  With each subsequent crisis the government inches its way into more and more areas, diminishing personal freedom along the way.  

In these lectures, Higgs’ traces the growth of the American state throughout history.  All ten lectures can be downloaded as an mp3, and while each is approximately an hour and a half long, I found it quite manageable during car rides to and from work over the course of a few weeks.  

You can find them here.

Want Liberty in Our Times?

This is an excellent speech given by Lew Rockwell at a Young American for Liberty convention.  It is well worth the 15 minutes it takes to listen, and I encourage you to do so.

[audio http://www.lewrockwell.com/lewrockwell-show/wp-content/uploads/361_LRS_Speech.mp3]

Transcript:

This talk was delivered to the Alabama state convention of Young Americans for Liberty in Auburn, Alabama, on April 6, 2013.

I’ve had the privilege of knowing Ron Paul for 37 years. I worked as his chief of staff during his early years in Congress, and he played an important role when I opened the Mises Institute, where he has served as our distinguished counselor ever since.

He’s the same person in private life that he is in public: thoughtful, decent, humble, self-effacing, and generous in acknowledging his intellectual debts.

These are not qualities people associate with political figures. That’s part of the reason Ron became such a phenomenon.

More than anything else, Ron has been a teacher throughout his years in public life. In his articles and speeches, and even in the bills he introduced, he sought to convey the philosophy of liberty and what that philosophy implies for our daily lives. His books, which include numerous bestsellers, have done the same thing. Compare Ron’s books to Mitt Romney’s, and you’ll see what I mean.

But as the person who reached more people with the message of liberty than anyone in our time, Ron has also taught us how that message can and must be spread. I want to talk about five of these lessons tonight.

#1 The subject of war cannot, and should not, be avoided.

First and foremost, Ron is a critic of the warfare state.

The war in Iraq, which was still a live issue when Ron first ran for the Republican nomination, had been sold to the public on the basis of lies that were transparent and insulting even by the US government’s standards. The devastation – in terms of deaths, maimings, displacement, and sheer destruction – appalled every decent human being.

Yes, the Department of Education is an outrage, but it is nothing next to the horrifying images of what happened to the men, women, and children of Iraq. If he wasn’t going to denounce such a clear moral evil, Ron thought, what was the point of being in public life at all?

Still, this is the issue strategists would have had him avoid. Just talk about the budget, talk about the greatness of America, talk about whatever everyone else was talking about, and you’ll be fine. And, they neglected to add, forgotten.

But had Ron shied away from this issue, there would have been no Ron Paul Revolution. It was his courageous refusal to back down from certain unspeakable truths about the American role in the world that caused Americans, and especially students, to sit up and take notice.

While still in his thirties, Murray Rothbard wrote privately that he was beginning to view war as “the key to the whole libertarian business.” Here is another way Ron Paul has been faithful to the Rothbardian tradition. Time after time, in interviews and public appearances, Ron has brought the questions posed to him back to the central issues of war and foreign policy.

Worried about the budget? You can’t run an empire on the cheap. Concerned about TSA groping, or government eavesdropping, or cameras trained on you? These are the inevitable policies of a hegemon. In case after case, Ron pointed to the connection between an imperial policy abroad and abuses and outrages at home.

Inspired by Ron, libertarians began to challenge conservatives by reminding them that war, after all, is the ultimate government program. War has it all: propaganda, censorship, spying, crony contracts, money printing, skyrocketing spending, debt creation, central planning, hubris – everything we associate with the worst interventions into the economy.

Robert Higgs, in his classic book Crisis and Leviathan, showed how war left longstanding scars on American society, as power and wealth grabbed by the federal government during wartime were never relinquished in their entirety when hostilities ended. When Franklin Roosevelt launched his New Deal in the 1930s, he appealed to ideological and statutory precedents established during the American involvement in World War I.

But Ron Paul permanently changed the nature of the discussion on war and foreign policy. The word “nonintervention” rarely appeared in foreign-policy discussions before 2007. Opposition to war was associated with anti-capitalist causes. That is no longer the case.

Ron kept insisting that there was no real foreign policy debate in America because all we were allowed to do was argue over what kind of intervention the US government should pursue. Whether intervention itself was desirable, or whether the bipartisan assumptions behind US foreign policy were sound – this was not even mentioned, much less debated.

In exposing the fraudulent American foreign policy debate, Ron exposed an overlooked truth about American political life. The debates Americans are allowed to have are ones in which the real decisions have already been made: income tax or consumption tax, fiscal stimulus or monetary stimulus, sanctions or war, later war or war right away. With debates like these, it hardly matters who wins. Ron pulled back the curtain on all of it.

Keep reading…

Give Us Your Children!

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The progressive movement has long pushed for the collectivization of society. This is true in all areas of society as individual rights and responsibility have given way to the communal notion of shared responsibility and the common good. While the deconstruction of individualism has always been at the heart of the American progressive movement, it has seldom been so blatantly stated as in MSNBC’s Melissa Harris -Perry call for us to “break through our private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their family, and recognize that kids belong to the whole community.”

The collectivization of kids, in particular, is a central component of a communistic society, and this was recognized early on in the Soviet Union. Once the state (oh, I mean “we”) controls the education and formation of its children it can effectively groom a generation of like-minded supporters. At a congregation of Soviet educators in 1918 teachers were told “We must remove the children from the crude influence of their families. We must take them over and, to speak frankly, nationalize them”.

Education really is the key to a free society because free ideas will challenge and counter the monopoly a government-run education system seeks at its heart to achieve. Like the Soviet’s who sought to remove children from the influence of their parents and replace it with the influence of the state, the foundations of America’s modern public school system was founded on a similar mission. The “Father of American Education”, John Dewey was an ardent socialist and would appeal to similar notions of a collective good.

So while the notion that children are to be thought of as part of a collective is nothing entirely new, the boldness with which progressives now speak is an indication that they feel comfortable using obviously communistic language in the mainstream. (It should also be noted that MSNBC’s official slogan “Forward” is also quite reminiscent of Stalin’s propaganda campaign “Forward to Communism“).

Labor Participation Rate Plummets

To the casual observer, the most recent jobs numbers report may seem to indicate that the the economy is moving in the right direction.  After all, the reported unemployment rate dropped a tenth of a percentage point to 7.6%.  Compared to the recession level era of around 10% this seems like a remarkable improvement.

However, as with all aggregate measurements, the statistic is only as useful as the underlying components of its deriving equation are reflective of reality in the real world.  Any aggregate number like the unemployment rate, GDP, or the consumer price index can only be useful gauges of the economy if you really understand what the final number that is spit out of an equation actually represents.  In the case of the modern calculation of the unemployment rate, it is a reflection of the percentage of people who are currently actively looking for any type of employment and have been unable to find any work.  The official government (U3) measure of unemployment does not take into consideration people who are currently only employed in part time work but require full time employment, or people who have simply stopped searching for a job because they had not had any success in the past.  This second part is reflected in what is called the labor force participation rate, and in the most recent jobs report that statistic dropped to a 34 year low of only 63.3%.

Not taking this type of measurement into account allows for a jobs report where only half the number of new jobs that were expected were actually created to lead to a decrease in the overall unemployment rate.  The decrease is driven fully by fewer and fewer people actually searching for jobs, not any level of measurable economic growth.

Earn a Degree, Work for Minimum Wage

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Earn a Degree, Work for Minimum Wage

As a follow up to the previous post in which a McDonald’s store was requiring applicants for a cashier position to have a bachelor’s degree and two years work experience, the Wall Street Journal has reported a staggering number of college graduates who are working for minimum wage. In 2012 there were 284,000 workers with a bachelor’s degree in minimum wage positions. While this is down slightly from its 2010 peak of 327,000, the number is approximately 70% higher than a decade ago.

This sad statistic is further evidence of the long-inflating college bubble. As the cost of a traditional college education continues to skyrocket, the value of the degree is in decline. Aside from the 284,000 graduates in minimum wage jobs, the Center for College Affordability and Productivity reported earlier this year that 48% of the graduating class of 2010 held jobs that did not require a college education. Even worse, 38% of them were working in jobs where not even a high school diploma was necessary.

None of these facts have slowed down the cries for increased government spending on subsidized student loans or other programs designed to encourage every student in America to get a college education. As is a common theme in all things political, dire warnings of catastrophe are destruction are peddled to call for even more government money being funneled into the pockets of the universities. Ohio State University president, Gordon Gee has recently utilized this scare-tactic well when he stated “If we do not as a nation increase the number of graduates, then we risk the very foundation of the American Dream.”

Interesting. I wonder what American Dream he has in mind for all of these college graduates. It appears to be one of mountainous debt and low wage jobs while universities continue to skyhigh prices for near valueless pieces of paper.