American Shift on Foreign Policy

There was an article run by the Guardian (also linked via that describes an American shift on foreign policy.  When I say “American”, I actually mean the American people and not the government.  However, perhaps the government is also starting to shift a little, partially because of public opinion and partially because it is running out of money.

The article cites a study that says a majority of Americans now believe that the U.S. plays a less important and powerful role in the world than it did 10 years ago.

The poll cited also indicates that more Americans than before now believe that the government is going too far in providing protection from terrorism.

While it is overall good news, there were still some rather disappointing figures, showing that there is much work still to be done on the libertarian front.  For example, 55% of those polled said Edward Snowden had harmed the public interest when he blew the whistle on the NSA’s spying program.

Also, rather surprising to me is that only 14% said that drones strikes in Pakistan make the U.S. less safe, while half say that drone strikes make the U.S. safer.

I can perhaps see the angle of some of the 36% or so who didn’t have an opinion one way or the other, or thought drone strikes make no difference.  I am completely baffled that half of those surveyed still believe that drone strikes somehow make us safer.  I am hoping that it is just ignorance and that these people just don’t understand the damage these drone strikes do and the fact that they typically kill innocent people.  Even the so-called terrorists who are killed probably never would have been motivated to do any harm to any Americans if the American empire were not occupying and drone bombing their country in the first place.

As libertarians, we just have to keep preaching peace.  We have to point out that wars and drone strikes result in innocent people dying.  It isn’t the fault of those people for living in a relatively poor country and they don’t deserve to die.  It is a collectivist notion to paint everyone in one country with a broad brush.  Just the same, I wouldn’t want someone living in Pakistan to think I am evil just because the U.S. government has done bad things to their country.

I think it is also important to show conservatives the contradiction of their beliefs (in a friendly way).  Many conservatives will go on about freedom and about how we need smaller government.  They will talk about how corrupt and incompetent the government is at running almost anything.  But then, as soon as it comes to the military, it is the greatest force of good on earth.  It can do no wrong and it has great people and it is completely competent.  Maybe I am exaggerating a little, but really not that much.

Conservatives must realize that putting on a military uniform doesn’t all of a sudden make government competent and great.  It is still inept.  It is still corrupt.  At times, it is still evil.

In conclusion, I am glad there seems to be a little bit of a shift in public opinion, at least in wanting less intervention overseas.  I had already detected this shift when the war that seemed inevitable in Syria was stopped.  Let’s hope that this shift towards more peace will continue.

Washington DC to Raise the MInimum Wage

It almost looks inevitable that Washington DC will raise the minimum wage, perhaps as high as $11.50 per hour.  This would put it higher than any of the 50 states.

I suppose the DC council can afford to make these ridiculous gestures because there is almost $4 trillion per year flowing into DC.  While most of the U.S. has experienced a struggling economy over the last 5 or more years, DC is on top of the world.  It is booming.  When everything else seemed to be going bust, a new bubble was forming in DC.  That bubble is in government.

And while the states and cities have to balance their budgets, or at least come something close to it, DC just turns to its digital printing press operated by the Federal Reserve.  There has been no recession in DC.

Since DC is booming so much, we may not see significant immediate effects from the minimum wage.  I doubt we will see mass layoffs.  It will hurt people on the margin.  Perhaps some businesses will not hire as many employees in the future, or may hire more skilled workers.  Perhaps some businesses will not fill positions through attrition.

If the minimum wage were raised to $11.50 per hour in Arkansas, there would be a major problem and it would be noticeable quickly.  There would likely be mass layoffs.  I’m not sure that will happen in DC because it is a boom town right now.  The effects will be more subtle.

Of course, the people who will be hurt the most will be unskilled workers.  It will be teenagers and those with minimal education and minimal skills.

The minimum wage is only a minimum if you actually have a job.  The real minimum wage in all cases is zero.  And the more that the official minimum wage is raised, the more people that will be making the real minimum wage of zero.

Washington DC really is a microcosm of almost everything that is wrong with this country.  It is public officials making laws that are passed in the name of the poor, yet actually helping the rich at the expense of the poor and middle class.  If you are part of the elite class in DC, you are doing really well.  If you are someone with minimal work skills, it is probably the wrong place to be.

Politicians who pass minimum wage laws are just praying on uninformed voters.  They are taking advantage of economic ignorance.  This type of nonsense will only stop when a large percentage of Americans become better informed.  Unfortunately, the lessons of economics may come the hard way in the form of higher unemployment, higher inflation, and an economy that continues to struggle.

A Libertarian Battle Over Bitcoin

There is a bit of a battle going on in the libertarian community about Bitcoin.  The price of one Bitcoin recently hit $1,000, which is probably the reason it is being discussed to such an extent.  Gary North recently came out with a scathing article about Bitcoin, or at least against it being considered money.  There are also those who disagree with Gary North (see here and here).

If you search around the web, you can find many people taking positions for and against Bitcoin.  It is not surprising that it is a hot topic in libertarian circles because most libertarians and Austrian school followers are highly critical of government fiat money and would prefer an alternative.

I think it is important to point out that the biggest disagreements are about definitions (such as the definition of money) and about the future prospects of Bitcoin.  I haven’t read or heard any libertarian who says that Bitcoin should be illegal or that it is somehow fraudulent.

While I tend to side more with Gary North on this debate, I can’t fully support his initial arguments.  I disagree with the use of the term Ponzi scheme.  I don’t really consider Bitcoin to be a Ponzi scheme.  North defines Ponzi scheme in his article and it seems his definition differs from what most people would consider a Ponzi scheme.

Social Security is a Ponzi scheme.  It relies on future participants to keep the system afloat.  Bitcoin could technically keep being used if no new participants entered the market.  While it would not likely survive, it is still technically possible.  With Social Security, a true Ponzi scheme, the system would have to fail without future participants.  It will probably fail even with participants.  If Bitcoin is a Ponzi scheme, then so is a bad stock.  I just prefer not to describe Bitcoin with this term, especially since it implies fraud.

My one other quibble with North is his use of absolutes.  He is essentially guaranteeing that Bitcoin will fail.

While I think there is a high probability that Bitcoin will fail in the long run, I can’t say that it is impossible for it to one day be widely used as money.  As Austrian economics teaches us, human action is unpredictable.  We can guess what humans are likely to do and how they will likely react to certain situations.  But I can’t be certain of what millions of people are going to decide to do.

Bitcoins became popular in Cyprus when people’s bank accounts were being confiscated.  If the Federal Reserve were to make some ridiculous announcement about expanding QE and the U.S. dollar took a nosedive, who knows what people will turn to?  While I think gold and silver would be more likely to take hold, I can’t say for certain that people won’t turn to something like Bitcoin.

With that said, I am generally on the side of Gary North here in thinking that this is a massive bubble that is about to pop.  I have no problem with Bitcoin and people investing in it.  I am happy that people are trying to find alternatives to government fiat money.  At the same time, I am doubtful that Bitcoin will last.

Despite what some Bitcoin defenders say, it is not a widely used medium of exchange.  It is a medium of exchange with certain merchants and small markets.  But try walking into Walmart and paying with Bitcoins.  Try going to the grocery store and paying with Bitcoins.  Try to buy a house with Bitcoins.  Try to get your employer to pay you in Bitcoins.  Try to make a long-term contract denominated in Bitcoins.

Actually, the last point is probably the biggest.  Who would make a contract denominated in Bitcoins right now, unless the payment were immediate?  Could you imagine a car dealership selling a car for 20 Bitcoins and giving a loan?  If the Bitcoin market crashes, the car dealership could end up selling the car for 20 bucks.  As North points out, there is no stability right now, which makes it a bad prospect for money.

There is a reason everyone is talking about the “price” of Bitcoins.  It is all in terms of the U.S. dollar, which really is money.  Libertarians may not like the fact that the dollar is money, but it is in fact the most widely used medium of exchange.

In conclusion, I have nothing against Bitcoin and I can’t say that it is impossible that it will one day be widely used as money, but I have my strong doubts.  I think the more likely scenario is that it is in a major bubble right now.  It should be treated as an investment.  The price may go up a lot more before it crashes.  But bubble tops are hard to predict.  We don’t know how far they will go.  If you are going to use some U.S. dollars to buy Bitcoin, then you should consider it a speculation and you should realize that it is highly risky at this point.

Jesse Ventura, Rand, Paul, and Hillary Clinton

What do Jesse Ventura, Rand Paul, and Hillary Clinton all have in common?

Answer: They are all potential candidates for the 2016 presidential election.  That is about the only thing that all 3 have in common.

I recently watched an interview with Jesse Ventura.  The interviewer was trying to nail down Jesse Ventura on whether he would run for the presidency in 2016.  Ventura could not be coaxed into saying he would run, but he also wouldn’t deny that he was considering it.  If he ran, he would definitely not run as a Republican or Democrat.  I don’t know if he would consider running on the Libertarian Party ticket (if he could even get the nomination), but I think the most likely scenario is that he would run as an independent or “no party affiliation”.

And there is a really good chance that Rand Paul and Hillary Clinton could run and possibly be the nominees of their parties.  Rand Paul has been positioning himself as the Tea Party conservative of his party.  He has taken watered-down positions of his dad, or sometimes worse.  He is trying to get the conservatives and he likely feels he needs to not take too strong of a peace stance.

Hillary Clinton has been planning her move into the White House since before she left it.  Her run for the Senator in New York was part of her stepping stone strategy.  Barack Obama derailed her plans a bit in 2008, but she is still determined to get back to the White House.

So what is a libertarian to do in 2016?  Let’s say that these three people are running in the general election.  Should a libertarian vote for any of them, and if so, which one?

I am not here to tell anyone how they should vote or if they should vote.  I just want to share my thoughts on the possibility and what I will consider.

First, I don’t think I need to talk about Hillary Clinton much.  I doubt there is one person on this earth who would vote for Hillary and still call themselves a libertarian.  There is probably an exception somewhere, but it isn’t worth the discussion.

Second, I am not directing this at people who refuse to vote.  I understand your position, but there is no point on discussing whether libertarians should even vote, at least for this discussion.  But I would like to point out that there are some people who refuse to vote who still supported Ron Paul’s candidacy just to spread the word of liberty, even if they didn’t actually cast a vote for him.  So these people may still be interested in this topic.

Third, I have no idea what will happen with the Libertarian Party or any other third party.  If the LP nominates a strong, principled candidate, this may alter the results.

So what about Ventura vs. Paul?  Who should a libertarian support, if either?  If it were Ron Paul, I think the choice would be easy.  But this is Rand Paul.

I have not been happy with many things Rand Paul has said and done.  He has not been as bad as the hardcore war hawks in the Republican Party establishment, but he does not have the peace tone of his father either.  He has supported big spending on the U.S. military and he has been only a light critic, if at all, on civil liberty invasions and U.S. wars and occupations.  I have no idea what a president Rand Paul would do, but I’m not convinced he would bring the troops home.

Rand Paul is somewhat good on economic issues, but even here, he is not nearly as strong as his father.  And, of course, if he continues to support the U.S. empire overseas, it is hard to be a fiscal conservative.

Jesse Ventura is a lot different.  He definitely has a libertarian streak when it comes to foreign policy and civil liberties.  But the things I like best about Ventura is that he is seemingly honest and he is not afraid to stand against the establishment.  This is a man who hosted a television show about conspiracy theories.  He will question the government on almost anything and he seems fearless at times.  I think Ventura would be excellent in being his own man and trying to take down the establishment, if he could survive.

There is a downside to Ventura.  He is ignorant when it comes to economics.  He doesn’t understand Austrian economics at all.  I am not saying he is comparable to Barack Obama in his understanding of economics.  He understands far more than Obama.  He probably understands far more than the average politician.  But libertarians should not fool themselves on this.  Jesse Ventura, even though he has a libertarian streak, is rather poor when it comes to free market economics.

As it stands right now, if Jesse Ventura and Rand Paul were both running in the general election, I think I would favor Ventura.  While his economics are poor at times, he is honest and he has a better chance of upsetting the establishment.  He has a better chance at exposing all of the government lies.

I do not trust Rand Paul at this point.  I am not saying he is bad.  I just don’t trust that he will stand up to the establishment.  He is trying too hard to fit in right now.  I could see him being like Reagan.  He would be good in much of his rhetoric, but we would still get more big government.

This is what made Ron Paul so unique as a candidate.  He is honest and he understands free market economics better than almost anyone.  He has both the character and the competency.

If there is a matchup between Ventura, Paul, and Clinton in 2016, it will be one for the record books.  I slightly favor Ventura right now, but I could easily decide to support the LP candidate or nobody at all.  It will depend on what the candidates are saying and how believable they are.  I would not be able to support Rand Paul unless he repudiated much of what he has said and done over the last couple of years.  I don’t know if his father would keep him straight, but I can’t depend on that happening.

Of course, the biggest fear would be Hillary winning with a plurality, much the way her husband did.  Hillary could get 40% of the vote and easily win with the other candidates getting around 30% each.

I hope Jesse Ventura does run.  If nothing else, he will call attention issues to the American people that they should be aware of.  And he would certainly make the debates interesting.