Archive for the 'Democracy' Category

South Africa and Ending Apartheid: W. H. Hutt and the Free Market Road Not Taken

December 14, 2013

William Hutt (left) with F.A. Hayek.

William Hutt (left) with F.A. Hayek.










by Richard M. Ebeling*

The public eulogies marking the passing of Nelson Mandela at the age of 95 on December 5, 2013 have refocused attention on the long struggle in South Africa to bring about an end to racial discrimination and the Apartheid system.

Forgotten or at least certainly downplayed in the international remembrance of Mandela’s nearly three decades of imprisonment and his historical role in becoming the first black president of post-Apartheid South Africa is the fact that through most of the years of his active resistance leading up to his arrest and incarceration he accepted the Marxist interpretation that racism and racial discrimination were part and parcel of the capitalist system.

Mandela was a member of a revolutionary communist cohort who were insistent and convinced that only a socialist reorganization of society could successfully do away with the cruel, humiliating, and exploitive system of racial separateness.

With the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the communist model of socialist transformation was too tarnished and delegitimized to serve a as a guidebook for post-Apartheid South Africa by the time that Mandela assumed office as the first black president in that country in May 1994.

Instead, Mandela’s government followed the alternative collectivist path of a highly “activist” and aggressive interventionist-welfare state, with its usual special interest politicking, group-favoritism, and its inescapable corruption and abuse of power. Its legacy is the sorry and poverty-stricken state of many of those in the black South African community in whose name the anti-Apartheid revolution was fought.

But this did not have to be the road taken by South Africa. There were other voices that also opposed the racial and Apartheid policies of the white South African government, especially in the decades after the Second World War.

These voices argued that racial policies in that country were not the result of “capitalism,” but instead were precisely the product of anti-capitalist government interventionism to benefit and protect certain whites from the potential competition of black Africans.

One of the most prominent of these voices was economist, William H. Hutt. Hutt had come to South Africa from Great Britain in 1928 and taught at the University of Cape Town until the 1970s, when he moved to the United States where he died in 1988. Born in 1899, he had attended the London School of Economics and studied under Edwin Cannan, the noted historian of economic thought and liberal free trade economist. Read the rest of this entry »

The Government Shutdown and the Debt Default Issue: The Dreadful Lesson

October 18, 2013

by Mario Rizzo

I grant that the government “shutdown” and the perceived threat of default on the debt was a public relations disaster for the Republican Party. I think that the shutdown problems, like those of the Sequester, were grossly exaggerated by the traditional media and as well as by various left-wing hysterics. Neither of these spending or service adjustments affected the overwhelming majority of our (excessive) government spending.

The default problem could have been much worse. It would have presented the following options: Delay payments to bond holders, axe discretionary spending, and/or cut entitlement spending. Another possibility would have been to continue borrowing anyway, perhaps provoking a Constitutional problem. I believe that had this continued for only a few days not much would have happened that would not have been quickly undone afterwards. However, none of this activity would have served the interests of reducing the size and scope of government.

So what is the “dreadful lesson”? It is this. We do not know how to reduce the size of our Leviathan state. Tea Party critics are correct, for example, that the longer ObamaCare stays unaltered or unrepealed the harder it will be to get rid of it. This is not because it will suddenly turn out to be good but because, as with so many other laws, special interests will benefit and will not easily yield.  How well have the efforts to find alternatives to Social Security and Medicare gone?

Provoking crises will not work. The current Republican Party does not seem competent enough to devise clever political methods to accomplish the goal of smaller government, even if it were truly willing to do so. (And that is debatable.)

So we are left, politically speaking, with nothing. How dreadful.

Congress Should Grow a Pair

June 17, 2013

by Roger Koppl

I was thinking of the NSA scandal while jogging through Rome’s Park of the Aqueducts  this morning. I guess it was that setting that made me think of our new computer-geek overlords as a virtual Praetorian Guard.  Augustus created the original Praetorian Guard about 27 BCE to protect the emperor. It quickly came to exercise independent power, once even auctioning off the empire to the highest bidder.  This outrage led the Roman general Septimius Severus to march on Rome and displace Emperor Julianus who had won the Praetorian bidding war. Severus disbanded the old Preatorian Guard only to set up a new Praetorian Guard, which quickly achieved a similar authority, power, and autonomy. The “intelligence community” of the US government seems to be playing a similar role today.

We now have secret interpretations of public laws  that some members of Congress have obliquely warned of. Read the rest of this entry »

An Appreciation: James M. Buchanan (1919-2013)

January 22, 2013

by Shruti Rajagopalan* 

James M Buchanan, who died last week at age 93, was one of the most profound thinkers of our age. Few Indians would be familiar with his academic contributions or even recognize his name. Yet, the insights from his research would strike a chord with every Indian navigating the inefficiencies and excesses of government on a daily basis.

Buchanan, professor emeritus at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, won the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1986 for his contributions to the economic analysis of political decision-making. By bringing politics back into economics, Buchanan made economics more humane, realistic, interesting, and relevant. He challenged the economics orthodoxy, dared to be different, inspired his students and colleagues, and developed one of the most unique and creative research programs in economics at the Center for the Study of Public Choice at George Mason University.  Read the rest of this entry »

In Favor of Across-the-Board Cuts in Government Spending

January 3, 2013

by Mario Rizzo

I am not sure which is worse: superstitions based on science or superstitions pure and simple.

Many people would react to across the board cuts in government spending by saying something like: “This is crazy; some things are more important than others. We should cut the less important things first.” And, indeed, economists would seem to agree. After all, the equi-marginal principle was one of the first “discoveries” of the marginal revolution. No sense cutting programs in such a way that some will have very high returns, however measured, at the margin while others will have very low returns. Irrational!

However, what is rational for a household or an individual need not be rational policy for the government. Why is that? Read the rest of this entry »


December 11, 2012

by Mario Rizzo

Some people rest the case for representative democracy on the idea that its decisions express the “will of the people.” Those who believe this have never thought deeply about what they are saying. I am inclined, in response to these believers, to use my favorite paraphrase of Ludwig Wittgenstein, “You can mouth the words, but you cannot think the thought.”

What is the will of the people?  Whatever it is, it is certainly not without contradictions, illusions, misinformation, and wishful-thinking – just like a lot of individual thought. But as an aggregation of individual thought it is a construct used to justify all sorts of things. In some people’s minds, this construct has claim to moral authority. Read the rest of this entry »

Wisconsin Policy Lab

August 20, 2012

by Chidem Kurdas

Paul Ryan is said to be influenced by Milton Friedman, Friedrich von Hayek and Ayn Rand. One might add that as the representative for Wisconsin’s first congressional district, he is from a state that has often been in the vanguard of policy thinking. Read the rest of this entry »

Mitt Romney is Not a Tax Idiot

August 6, 2012

by Mario Rizzo

Let us begin with a famous quotation from Judge Learned Hand in a decision affirmed by the Supreme Court:

Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes. Over and over again the Courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everyone does it, rich and poor alike and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands.

Gregory v. Helvering 69 F.2d 809, 810 (2d Cir. 1934), aff’d, 293 U.S. 465, 55 S.Ct. 266, 79 L.Ed. 596 (1935)

Quite simply, I am really tired of hearing about Mitt Romney’s tax returns. Does Team Obama really want us to believe that if Mitt Romney took advantage of every legal option to lower his tax bill that he is somehow bad, out of touch with the majority of Americans, or unpatriotic (whatever that is supposed to mean)? Read the rest of this entry »

Who Should Audit the Fed?

July 30, 2012

by Chidem Kurdas

A few days ago the House passed with a veto-proof majority the bill known as “audit the fed” or more plainly as H.R. 459, sponsored by Ron Paul.  If it became law, it would open the Federal Reserve’s policy deliberations and decisions, certain operations and dealings with foreign banks and governments to scrutiny by the Congressional Government Accountability Office. The GAO currently audits the Fed’s financials but not its policy making.

A number of House Democrats supported the bill, though party chieftains are against it.  The critics of the measure, prominently including Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, argue that it will open the way to political interference with monetary policy, which is best conducted on purely economic grounds.

Both sides have a valid point. Read the rest of this entry »

Conversations Before Independence Day

July 2, 2012

by Chidem Kurdas

The July 3rd, 1776, letter John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, after voting for the declaration of independence, is justly famous for his prediction that the occasion will be celebrated “by succeeding Generations, …..solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

In fact the letter starts with a complaint about the ill effects of the decision being delayed for seven months. It ends with the admission that independence carries a high cost in “Toil and Blood and Treasure.” This is the sort of thing that gave John Adams the reputation of being grumpy.

Then you realize that his words are like gold, no matter how crotchety he gets. Between his pride in the declaration and annoyance that it took so long, he provides a model of how major national decisions should be made. Read the rest of this entry »


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