Economics is the science of human action. Below is a link to a list of introductory articles to help you learn about some of the most fundamental and most important concepts in economics.
Click Here to Explore our Liberty Library
In Freedom Unfiltered's Liberty Library
you will find links to some of our favorite educational resources on the topics of sound economics and individual liberty.
Having an understanding of basic economic concepts will help you better understand public policy and make more informed decisions in your own life.
Check out the Economic Concepts
page in the Liberty Library for several great introductory articles.
"It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a 'dismal science.' But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance." - Murray Rothbard
Education is not the same as schooling. Professor Steven Davies explains the origins of the modern school system, and its original purpose in this new LearnLiberty.org
"It is time to move away from the idea that schools are the only, or even the best, way to deliver education."
Chances are you do. Government debt (treasuries, bills, bonds, notes) are a major component of most investment strategies. Is owning government debt a good idea? It might reduce risk in your portfolio. Some people like the low-risk return. However, investing in government debt comes at a price. It helps to fund some very bad things
; things that you might not feel good about supporting with your money
. Also, the only way the government can repay the debt (principle + interest) is to tax your neighbors, friends, and family.
Personally, I think there are better ways to earn a return on the market without forcing others pay for my investment decisions. I choose not to invest in government debt and would encourage others to do the same. Writing in 1870
, Lysander Spooner was less kind about people who choose to profit by investing in government debt:
"Who, then, created these debts, in the name of "the United States"? Why, at most, only a few persons, calling themselves "members of Congress," etc., who pretended to represent "the people of the United States," but who really represented only a secret band of robbers and murderers, who wanted money to carry on the robberies and murders in which they were then engaged; and who intended to extort from the future people of the United States, by robbery and threats of murder (and real murder, if that should prove necessary), the means to pay these debts.....They lend money to be expended in robbing, enslaving, and murdering their fellow men, solely because, on the whole, such loans pay better than any others. .... This business of lending blood-money is one of the most thoroughly sordid, cold-blooded, and criminal that was ever carried on, to any considerable extent, amongst human beings. It is like lending money to slave traders, or to common robbers and pirates, to be repaid out of their plunder. And the men who loan money to governments, so called, for the purpose of enabling the latter to rob, enslave, and murder their people, are among the greatest villains that the world has ever seen. And they as much deserve to be hunted and killed (if they cannot otherwise be got rid of) as any slave traders, robbers, or pirates that ever lived." - Lysander Spooner
What do you think? Are you helping to fund robbery and even murder by investing in government debt?
Learn more about the economics and ethics of government debt and taxation in the Freedom Unfiltered Liberty Library
Does taxation really depend on threats of violence? Isn't taxation part of the social contract? "You Can Always Leave" is the new video from the creator of George Ought to Help:
Does libertarianism have airtight definitions and foundations? Are there limitations to the liberty maxim? In an essay titled The Ways of John Gray
, Daniel B. Klein writes:
"Libertarianism is a reform agenda cursed also by its own strength. The extent to which sensible libertarians regard the liberty maxim as well defined, widely applicable, and widely desirable is much greater than the extent to which those in other ideological camps regard their leading maxims as well defined, widely applicable, and widely desirable. In a sense, it is a curse to be the most in anything, because it arouses accusations of being entire. The cogency of the liberty maxim in the libertarian's mind often leads others to think that he regards it as an axiom that is always clearly defined, everywhere applicable, and always desirable. Critics such as Gray condemn libertarianism for pretending to possess airtight definitions, absolutes, and foundations, and therefore they attempt to dispose of libertarianism on formalistic grounds rather than engaging the substantive arguments offered for the reform agenda.
Libertarians might deter slights and hectoring by emphasizing the limitations of the liberty maxim and expressing its virtues in comparative terms."
I would argue that advocates for liberty need not eschew its limitations. Liberty is not Utopia. Likewise, critics should be careful not to reject libertarianism outright because it falls short of some Utopian ideal. There is no such thing as a perfect solution. What we want is incremental progress in the direction of human flourishing. That is something only the free market of voluntary exchange can offer.Explore the Liberty Library to learn how the market process might be able to address some of our most difficult challenges.
In The Economics and Ethics of Private Property
, Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains that taxes "...invariably reduce production, the consumers standard of living, obstructs wealth formation, and creates relative impoverishment."
Let's think about why that is the case.
"Taxation is a coercive, non-contractual transfer of definite physical assets (nowadays mostly, but not exclusively money), and the value embodied in them, from a person or group of persons who first held these assets and who could have derived an income from further holding them, to another, who now possesses them and no derives an income from so doing.” - p 35
Think about the ways in which a person can acquire a valuable good? Hoppe explains there are four and only four ways:
1.Original Appropriation Through Homesteading
2.Production (mix of one's labor and previously appropriated goods)
4.Forcefully Expropriation / Theft
Option 4, of which taxation is a part, decreases the marginal utility of activities 1-3 and increases the marginal utility of consumption and leisure:
“Taxation raises the time preference...in the direction of an existence of living hand to mouth. Just increase taxation enough and you will have mankind reduced to the level of barbaric animal beasts.” p 36
“Contrary to any claim of a systematically “neutral” effect of taxation on production, the consequence of any such shortening of roundabout methods of production is a lower output produced. The price that invariably must be paid for taxation, and for every increase in taxation, is a coercively lowered productivity that in turn reduces the standard of living in terms of valuable assets provided for future consumption. Every act of taxation necessarily exerts a push away from more highly capitalized, more productive processes in the direction of a hand-to-mouth-existence.” p 42
In addition to being incredibly inspiring and insightful, the latest Speak Liberty Now interview with Mike Shanklin
is the perfect opportunity for me to introduce you to two wonderful informational resources:
1) Speak Liberty Now strives to be the premier venue for the grassroots liberty activist, writer, advocate and thinker willing to speak out in advocacy of individual liberty.
The mission is simply to broaden the audience for those who wish to voice their opinions on this important philosophy and related current events topics.
2) Mike Shanklin is the creator of VoluntaryVirtues.com
, a website dedicated towards advancing the message of a free society. Mike also has one of the best YouTube channels around: http://www.youtube.com/mikeshanklin
Mike has created or helps run several excellent Facebook pages you should go like right now.
I hope you enjoy Michael Shanklin's Liberty Alliance Interview with Speak Liberty Now
as much as I did.
Recently, Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader (D-CA), publicly argued that any cuts to congressional pay would undermine “…the dignity of the job that we have rewarded.”
It is mildly amusing that Pelosi would point to the job that she and the rest of Congress are doing as her support for not cutting congressional pay while the rest of us suffer under the crushing weight of the fiscal leviathan and bloated federal bureaucracy. However, Pelosi is simply echoing what civic religion teaches: All good citizens should revere members of government with an extra-special kind of dignity because of their position.
I admit that “dignity” and “Nancy Pelosi” might not be my first pairing in a word association exercise, but her comments did get me thinking about the concept. What is dignity? Is it something you can earn or lose? Do some people deserve (or have) more dignity than others?
As usually understood, dignity is a concept pertaining to worth and value. It is often used to signify that someone has a certain right to be valued and her treatment by others should reflect this right. Moreover, the term is frequently used to suggest that a person is not receiving the respect deserved, as exemplified by the Congresswoman’s comments that forced congressional pay cuts are beneath her ‘dignity’.
Nancy Pelosi is correct that dignity is closely related to our ideas about respect. But how and why are the concepts of respect and dignity related?
Let’s start by exploring two popular, but unsatisfactory, views about dignity that are both based on the idea that human value is a comparable value, kind of like prices at the supermarket. The first is the idea that dignity is something to be deserved according to individual accomplishments, wealth, title, status, or social rank. In this view, certain people are alleged to have more innate value than others because of who they are or the merits of what they do.
The second is the idea that human value, and ultimately dignity, is dependent upon the judgment of others. This would mean that people derive their value as human beings from how they are valued by other people.
Note that both of these views rest on the idea that human beings can and should be valued differently from one another and that the value of individual people can change from one point in time to the next. Put simply, this notion holds that some people are worth more than others. That seems strange to me.
In fact, the primitive idea of comparable human worth has been used throughout history to justify some of the worst acts of humanity. Oppression, slavery, and even genocide have occurred when enough individuals in society grant credence to the idea that some people are worth more than others and can be used as mere means to some higher ends.
Preposterous as it may seem that anyone could still explicitly say that some persons are worth more than others, indeed all government officials, including Nancy Pelosi, maintain positions of political power precisely because most people at least implicitly believe exactly that.
Enough people in society have internalized the primitive thought that political status gives certain individuals the moral authority to rule over others. Similar to the days of rule by the divine right of kings, the perceived sanctity of political office affords today’s elected officials a higher-level of dignity not accessible to us mere mortals. We see evidence of this when we hear the average person deferentially referencing their “respect for the office” or when Nancy Pelosi is demanding the “respect for the office” she thinks she is owed.
In a moment I will explain why having respect for a government office may be misplaced, but presently I will merely suggest that whether or not our rulers are popularly elected has no bearing on the fact that political power is still used to treat some people as mere means to a higher ends in a system that establishes a hierarchical relationship of rulers and subjects.
The primitive idea that some people are worth more than others has maintained a stronghold on human thought for most of history. Fortunately, that is beginning to change.
We are beginning to understand, as the great 18th century German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, explains that human value and dignity are universal to all persons. For Kant, dignity is a distinctive kind of moral worth that all persons have. All persons are ends in themselves and the intrinsic value of one person cannot be compared against that of another. Dignity is an absolute and incomparable worth. It is not conditional. It is not a derivative of another higher value. For Kant, dignity is the supreme value.
Furthermore, dignity is closely related to our conceptions of personhood. Our rational capacities, as Kant argues, form the basis of our dignity (or absolute worth). As rational beings, we have the capacity to imagine different possible futures. We have the capacity to use our rational judgment to evaluate and choose. We have the capacity to act on reasons we believe to be our own. We have the capacity to value other rational beings as ends in themselves deserving of respect. Persons with rational capacities then are universally ends in themselves with an absolute dignity.
Robin S. Dillon, further explains Kant’s account of respect for persons is the “…acknowledgement in attitude and conduct of the dignity of persons as ends in themselves….They must never be treated merely as means, as things that we may use however we want in order to advance our interests, and they must always be treated as the supremely valuable beings that they are.”
In summary, Nancy Pelosi is not deserving of dignity because of her wealth, title, or position. She is a person with absolute dignity because of her status as a rational being and should be treated as such. Unfortunately, Nancy Pelosi and the rest of Congress do not recognize this universal principle in their interactions with other people.
Moreover, it is not just the current office holders that have failed in this regard. The essential feature of any State is predicated on a failure to recognize the absolute dignity of all persons. Instead of respecting individuals as ends in themselves having equal worth, the State is the anti-social arrangement whereby people are treated as having unequal worth with unequal dignity. Some people are rulers, and other people are ruled. Some people receive political privilege, while others do not. Some people expropriate wealth, while the wealth of others is expropriated. Individuals are not ends in themselves but rather mere means to satisfy the desires of those in power. All are subjected to the arbitrary power of the State.
Nancy Pelosi does not operate in a vacuum, but she does actively support the aggrandizement of the State apparatus. Nancy Pelosi’s blatant lack of respect for other human beings as moral equals is repugnant and deserves moral condemnation. That being said, we should neither say that Nancy Pelosi is underserving of dignity, nor that she has lost her dignity because of her reproachable behavior. We may, however, be perfectly justified in saying that she and the other members of Congress have failed to live up to that which dignity entails.
“Morality, and humanity as capable of it, is that which alone has dignity.” – Immanuel Kant
On March 1, about $85 billion in automatic, across-the-board federal spending cuts are scheduled to go into effect. For the last several weeks, members of the federal government and the media have touted the sequestration cuts as yet another looming fiscal crisis of doomsday proportions. Entire government departments will be brought to their knees. Layoffs will rip through the public sector. The members of Congress and their families will starve. Or, so we are told.
Interestingly enough, even after the “draconian” sequestration cuts, the government would still spend more this fiscal year than they did last fiscal year. Only in Washington D.C. could proposed decreases to the rate of future spending increases be twisted into meaning real, painful spending cuts. But, real spending cuts are exactly what we need. Below is a graph of federal spending since 1947.
Annual federal spending has more than doubled since 2000. The looming automatic cuts to future increases total about 2% of current spending levels. However, these cuts will not all happen at once on March 1st. The sequestration cuts will be phased in over a period of several months. In fact, only about $44 billion in cuts will take place this year. The remaining balance applies to spending obligations that extend over multiple years. Without question the sequestration cuts represent less than a drop in the bucket and fail to substantively address the issue of the massive fiscal leviathan that is the US government.
All of this political posturing is nothing new. The sequestration debacle is politics as usual in Washington DC. Politicians package events like the Debt Ceiling Crisis, the Fiscal Cliff, and the Sequestration Crisis as individual crises to causelessly appear and then be miraculous adverted at the eleventh hour. The fact is that these are not separate issues but rather are symptoms of the same much larger problem. The government spends too much because it does too much. The government has grown to be involved in countless areas beyond its legitimate function. We need to fundamentally rethink the role of government.
However, the range of acceptable public discourse is confined to arguments about marginally raising taxes on particular groups or splitting hairs over benefits to other groups. Anyone who suggests meaningful reductions to the size and scope of government is deemed impractical. What is impractical is thinking we can continue down the current course that Republican and Democrat leadership insist on traveling. There is simply not enough wealth on planet Earth to pay for the obligations and promises that Uncle Sam has made.
Last week Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader (D-CA), publicly spoke out against the prospect of forced cuts to congressional pay because it would undermine the dignity of her job. In my next post I will share some thoughts I have about “dignity” and what it entails regarding Ms. Pelosi.
Long before the days of the gas turbine and the steam engine, vessels sailing the high seas relied almost entirely on the motive power of the wind. However, even during periods of total calm, a ship and its crew were far from helpless. In the absence of wind, the crew used their own muscle to manually thrust their oars into the water and propel the ship forward. Because the oars of this era were made primarily of white ash, the term "sailing by the ash breeze" was born. This expression is often used to describe people who blaze their own trails and make something for themselves of their own initiative. It has come to represent strength, determination, and independence.
For example, Nat Bowditch, the primary character in Jean Lee Latham’s 1955 Newbery Medal winning novel1 about a young man’s quest for learning, famously exclaims, “Only a weakling gives up when he's becalmed! A strong man sails by ash breeze!” While Mr. Bowditch’s words are meant to inspire the best from within, even the strongest among us can still feel anxious and helpless when the winds cease to blow.
What then can we average landlubbers learn from this old nautical expression, “sailing by the ash breeze”?
First, if ever we find ourselves stranded in becalmed waters, we might do well to pause and take inventory of our situation. Experienced navigators recognize the importance of being aware of their surroundings and assessing how the external conditions of their environment might impact their goals. All too often in life’s journey we become accustomed to traveling by whatever fills our sails. We should first attempt to understand what it is that we are counting on to move us forward.
Are we sitting idle, waiting for some external force to move us along? Are we waiting for our politicians, our boss, or maybe even our spouse to fill our sails with that motive power? While we are often fortunate to sail effortlessly along with the help of a strong breeze, the winds of fortune are not always there to move us in our preferred direction. Sometimes we have no other option than to move ourselves in the direction we want to travel. Instead of waiting for some external source of energy over which we have no control, why not look to our own internal strength?
The early travelers also knew the importance of finding the right balance between relying on external sources of energy for locomotion and creating their own opportunities. Fortunately, we know that the wind doesn’t stop blowing forever, but there are just some days when the wind refuses to cooperate. Often, we can afford to wait for the next breeze, but other times it is urgent to pick up the oars and start rowing right away. When the sails hung limp as the enemy was approaching, the sailors would not stand idle cursing the misfortune of poor external circumstance. They took action. There are simply times when we have to roll up our sleeves and put oar to water.
One final lesson we can garner from the early-day travelers who sailed by the ash breeze is that no single person has the strength to move the ship forward alone. It is when our individual effort is combined with that of others sharing the same goal that we are able to achieve amazing results. Moreover, we should also remember that during those times when it may seem that we are but a single vessel stranded in becalmed waters, our families, friends, communities, churches, and other organizations are there rowing alongside us; even when our individual strength falters. We are not sailing life’s journey alone.
Although we do not have a choice about the wind’s direction, we can control how we react. Instead of worrying about the things you can’t control, try focusing on the things you can. And, if you ever find yourself in becalmed waters, may you find the strength to sail by the ash breeze until the wind fills your sails again.
This article originally appeared in the 2012 Winter Issue of Peachtree Papers