About This Blog

Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) was the greatest economist of my time. His greatest works can be accessed here at no charge.

Mises believed that property, freedom and peace are and should be the hallmarks of a satisfying and prosperous society. I agree. Mises proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that the prospect for general and individual prosperity is maximized, indeed, is only possible, if the principle of private property reigns supreme. What's yours is yours. What's mine is mine. When the line between yours and mine is smudged, the door to conflict opens. Without freedom (individual liberty of action) the principle of private property is neutered and the free market, which is the child of property and freedom and the mother of prosperity and satisfaction, cannot exist. Peace is the goal of a prosperous and satisfying society of free individuals, not peace which is purchased by submission to the enemies of property and freedom, but peace which results from the unyielding defense of these principles against all who challenge them.

In this blog I measure American society against the metrics of property, freedom and peace.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Rodney King and Barack Obama

On May 1, 1992, as Los Angeles burned, Rodney King stepped before the TV cameras and made the following rambling appeal to his rampaging neighbors:

"People, I just want to say . . . can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids? . . . We've got enough smog here in Los Angeles, let alone to deal with the setting of these fires and things. It's just not right. It's not right, and it's not going to change anything. We'll get our justice. They've won the battle but they haven't won the war. We will have our day in court and that's all we want. . . . I'm neutral. I love everybody. I love people of color. . . . I'm not like they're . . . making me out to be. We've got to quit. We've got to quit. . . I can understand the first upset in for the first two hours after the verdict, but to go on, to keep going on like this, and to see a the security guard shot on the ground, it's just not right. It's just not right because those people will never go home to their families again. And I mean, please, we can get along here. We all can get along. We've just got to, just got to. We're all stuck here for awhile. . . . Let's try to work it out. Let's try to work it out."

King's emotional statement is posted on YouTube here.
King's speech was moving and sincere, but ultimately pathetic. Why? Because King attempted to persuade looters, thugs and murderers to love each other, to just "get along" and "work it out." He didn't understand the contradiction inherent in what he was asking.
Barack Obama's speech to students at George Washington University last Wednesday was riddled with the same nonsense. When a society blurs the line between "what is yours" and "what is mine," property in that society disappears and, consequently, so does freedom and peace. Such a society is organized on the very principle of war: taking what you want from the other guy by beating his brains out, or at least threatening to do so.
Isn't it obvious that war is not a peaceable pasttime? Sure, war is started cordially and reverently by august bodies of harmless-looking, half-senile politicans. But wars always end in death and destruction for those individuals who actually fight in them or are caught up in them. This is not mere opinion. As any rational human being can attest, this is fact.   
Americans are odd fellows. They organize their society on the same basis as war, i.e., on the principle of conking Peter on the head and robbing him in order to pay Paul, and then they expect Peter and Paul to get along famously together after the assault and robbery. Is any idea more absurd?
Obama plays the statesman. He is young, vigorous and mentally astute. Certainly, his vision of society is one based on peace and goodwill, not war. Yet, Wednesday he proposed a plan to fund $-trillions of dollars worth of "key investments in our future" by imposing new and confiscatory tax increases on the American public. Obama's progressive allies claim that his plan really does not amount to Paul declaring economic war on Peter. They insist taxes really are not theft.
In my book any exchange of property between individuals that is not mutually voluntary is theft. I grant that when we agree to live in society, in order to take advantage of the economic miracle of the division of labor, we must agree to certain ground rules that govern our behavior toward each another. We must agree, for instance, not to kill each other with impunity. We must also agree not to take from one another willy-nilly. Think about it. What real advantage would a society offer an individual if murder and theft were not taboo?
Still, we in society make allowances for certain types of killing and stealing which we regard as justified. Killing another in self-defense, for instance, is not taboo in many societies. Taking from another by means of taxation is not taboo in American society. However, the more exceptions made to the rule, the fuzzier the line becomes between killing and murder, taking and theft. How the exceptions are determined also makes a significant difference.
Contrary to what many believe, in American society property is not sacred. If Americans don't fork over their annual property taxes, their city government will legally confiscate their home. If Americans don't cough up their annual income taxes, the IRS will seize their wages, take their property and put them in jail. Moreover, the level of these property and income taxes is not written in stone, and it is the level of these taxes which determines how likely it is that Americans will lose their property to government bureaucrats or keep it for themselves.
In America the level of taxes is determined by duly elected politicians acting on behalf of their constituents. There is no Constitutional protection that guarantees a proper level of taxes. Politicians can hike the level of taxes as high as they want so long as a majority of politicians agrees and so long as their constituents tolerate the hike. I ask you, dear reader, how secure is your right to property when the next gang of politicians to win election is legally able to raise the level of taxes to extreme levels, say 100%? I contend that under such a system you have no right to property at all because the line between "what is mine" and "what is theirs" is blurred beyond recognition.
Imagine a society in which the next elected band of political cutthroats had the power not only to hike taxes to whatever level it liked, but also was able to kill whomever it wished, legally, and with impunity. Imagine Saddam Hussein's Iraq or Kim Jong-il's North Korea, if your imagination requires a tangible example. Americans -- I trust-- would not tolerate such a system of legalized murder, yet they tolerate their system of legalized theft by taxation.
Progressives will object again, saying that Obama is proposing to steal only from the rich who can more than afford the loss of property. Moreover, as Obama said in his speech, the rich don't care if they're taxed to death. "I believe most wealthy Americans would agree with me," he said. "They want to give back to their country...."
But such an objection is illogical and beside the point. "Most" does not mean "all." If it did, Obama would not be talking about a tax. He would be talking about a "gift." Furthermore, the level of taxes is still being arbitrarily determined by a band of elected politicians. Obama arbitarily taxing "millionaires and billionaires" today only validates the principle that he is able to arbitrarily tax you tomorrow.
But let's consider Obama's proposals in a wider context. When the federal government in Washington spends money on anything, it is money first obtained by taxing some individuals, whether millionaires, billionaires or you. By the process of taxing and spending the government takes away from you that which was formerly your private property. Had the government not taken your property, you would have had the freedom to do with that property what you wished. If you no longer have that property, you no longer have that freedom. Because of the government's taxing and spending, you no longer have the freedom to decide. The government decides for you. And expects you to like it!
Why do you suppose Obama said that "most wealthy Americans would agree" with his proposal to tax them? He also said that rich people "want to give... ...It's just Washington hasn't asked them to." Why did he say this?
Because most Americans understand that a voluntary exchange is morally superior and eminently more satisfying than a forced confiscation. Voluntary exchange between individuals is a principle of peace. Millions of individuals make billions of peaceful and voluntarily exchanges everyday. Such is the norm in societies where property, freedom and peace are respected. On the other hand, Americans understand that forced confiscation is a recipe for conflict and a principle of war. By couching taxation in the language of voluntary exchange Obama was trying to pass off a sow's ear as a silk purse.
But such verbal deception is the norm for Washington politicians. They perceive that voters want them to cut "spending," so they attach the Orwellian label "spending" to tax cuts and tax deductions. The property you own that goes untaxed is, by the government's twisted logic, spending that they must cut! They call taxation "investment." They call increases in appropriations that are less than desired "spending cuts." They call grants, subsidies and transfer payments "gifts" or "benefits." They call Social Security "insurance." All this official doublespeak is intended to hijack the language of free and voluntary exchange and, thereby, pawn off legalized theft as acceptable and sensible to moral people.
The whole of Obama's speech was an attempt to make Americans believe that their country was founded on the principle of robbing Peter to pay Paul, instead of on the principle of free and voluntary exchange! His visionary American Dream is of a time when virtually all property is forcefully expropriated from American individuals by the federal government, then spent by the federal government as it sees fit, not as the former owners of that property see fit.
The beautiful irony of Obama's vision -- as he sees it -- is that Rodney King was right after all. We can "work it out!" How? By simply working together! We can just "get along."
*Sigh* Personally, I didn't think Obama's speech to the nation on Wednesday was as moving or sincere as Rodney King's speech to his neighbors in 1992. But you know what?
It was every bit as pathetic!

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