“Peace” on the march

December 17, 2010

In further news on the warfare state,

The Obama administration plans to further step up attacks on Al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents in the tribal areas of Pakistan, to address one of the fundamental weaknesses uncovered in its year-end review of its Afghanistan war strategy.

Administration officials said the increased attacks across the Afghan border would help offset the Pakistani government’s continued refusal to move against the Qaeda leadership and their extremist allies, especially the Haqqani network. From havens in Pakistan’s North Waziristan region, those groups have carried out deadly assaults against American troops and have plotted attacks against the West, officials say.

In announcing on Thursday that the 97,000 American troops now in Afghanistan have made some fragile gains in the past year, President Obama said Pakistan was “increasingly coming to realize that the Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders who have been given safe havens pose a threat to Pakistan as well as the United States.”

We’re extending the war into Pakistan.

But the real strategy appears to be for the United States to do most of the work itself — at least until the Pakistanis step up. That means even more strikes using Predator and Reaper drones in Pakistan’s tribal areas, and possibly carrying out Special Forces operations along the border.

These are the same strategies and tactics employed by the previous administration, so criticized by then candidate Obama.  In fact, Obama has been far more aggressive than even Bush was regarding Pakistan and missile strikes.

Warfare is the life of the state.  I guess when the welfare state fails, one can always turn to war.  That’s what the nobel peace prize is about.


Con-law time

December 15, 2010

I’m not a professor of constitutional law, and thankfully so.  I think it goes without say that as we have one in the white  house currently, the last thing we’d need is any more.  But, that does raise for me at least, a very interesting question: If he’s a professor of constitutional law, I’d love to know which constitution.

The recent case regarding the obamacare mandate has sparked tremendous debate about its constitutionality.  In a case brought by Virginia (ah yes, Virginia, home to Jefferson, the Virginia resolutions nullifying the Alien and Sedition acts) a court threw out the mandate as beyond the powers of Congress.  This is but the first of many battles, one I’m going to wager here, will end up in a decision in the affirmative for the forces of the state.  The only victory over this monstrosity will be willful refusal by individuals and states.  Right now, we are voluntarily servile.

If one needs a JD from an Ivy League school to discuss the constitution, then we truly are doomed.  In fact, the writing down of laws and posting publicly thereof, is sort of, kind of, an old tradition.  The whole point is that anyone should be able to read, know, understand, and discuss the laws.  Obfuscation and arbitrary laws are, how we say it, tyranny.

The crux of the argument is the “necessary and proper” clause in the constitution.  So, to begin with, let’s examine the actual text:

To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

I don’t claim to be a legal expert, nor can I cite from the vast number of decisions on this excerpt.  Perhaps the most famous case of the N and P clause was McCulloch.  I’m sure there are many others, including Wickard v. Filburn, the most heinous of decisions that allowed the government to prohibit farmers from growing wheat for their own use.  I guess property rights are the first things to vanish in dictatorships!!

So, this isn’t intended to be a full blown discourse on the N and P clause history.  In fact, it shouldn’t need to be.  What is “necessary and proper” is for citizens to be able to read and understand the words as written.  If we need specially trained lawyers to do that for us, then we’re no longer a republic.

First, let’s look at the relevant parts: “carrying into Execution the foregoing powers” and “all other powers vested by this Constitution”.  That alone ought to end the debate.  Clearly, the only things that the government can do must be entirely related to those powers specifically spelled out in the constitution.  Nothing more.  (It’s also why I have no faith in the courts.  95% of what the federal government does in unconstitutional and they’ve upheld all of it.  Why stop at the remaining 5%.)

Now, it also states that this applies to the government, or any “department or officer thereof”.  This surely means that the government, or any departments or officers must only execute those constitutionally authorized powers.  Nothing more.

Anything else the government does, anything that is beyond the scope of its constitutionally authorized powers, is null and void.  And in a sane world, that would be the end of it.

For instance, the principle of implied powers assumes that since only the federal government can make treaties and establish relationships with foreign governments, it ought to be able to provide the ambassadors travel and living expenses.

Another power is the admittance of new states into the union.  Oddly enough, the issue of leaving the union was never addressed.  I guess it required a bloodthirsty dictator to make union a one-way ticket.

The income tax, the life’s blood of statism, required a constitutional amendment.  Ought that fact alone prove the point.  If it was “necessary and proper” to tax the incomes of people, then an amendment wouldn’t have been “necessary”.

If one looks honestly at the constitution and still argues that the federal government can force someone to buy something, that they believe that somehow this fits into “necessary and proper”, then that person is either a liar or a fool.  In fact, if anyone with such lofty credentials hold such a view, that speaks volumes on the credentialing institutions.

I don’t want to hear recitation of the litany of court cases supporting this, opposing that, of particular of arcane legal proceedings.  It simply doesn’t matter.  This is just using flawed statist logic to support even more flawed statist logic.  Am I to believe that I am unable to read the document and understand it in its entirety, both its meaning and intent.  The words are actually quite clear.

There is no power granted to regulate the individual health of any citizen.  There is no power in the entirety of the  constitution to force anyone to do anything.  As such, there is absolutely nothing necessary nor proper about doing such.

This is really a very simple and easy problem.  However, we live in a world where the most intelligent and enlightened can’t read.  Or at the least, they cannot understand the clear and simple written word.


Lakedaemon

November 2, 2010

It’s awfully hard for a libertarian to defend Lakeaemon, or as more commonly known, Sparta.  They were a military state, children taken from their parents at 7 and enrolled in the agoge, a compulsory military training school.  Any physically unfit babies were cast off a cliff.  Their lives, upon becoming a Peer (or similar or Spartiate) were constant training for the battlefield.  They were permitted no other job.

They held slaves, the helots of Messenia.  They had no trade, allowed no possessing or use of money, and waged war for sport.  They were a monarchy and individualism was beaten out of them, literally.  They were the model society for Plato as well as Roussaeu.  Both idealized them and it served as the model for their ideal state.

Their entire life was lived for the moment when they would die in battle for the state.  Their lives meant nothing, but only victory on the battlefield.  It is the glorification of the state.  It’s an ideal that would be sought two millenia later in Nuremburg.  Their helmet and cuirass could be lost without penalty, as they were for the protection of the individual.  Their shields, if lost, meant loss of citizenship.  For the hoplon was meant to protect your peer in the ranks.

Yet…

Yet, I’ve been reading more of them, most notably Cartledge’s The Spartans and even though a novel, Pressfield’s Gates of Fire.  And of course, the accounts of Herodotus, Xenophon, Thucydides, et al.  And I find them to be terribly intriguing as well as inspiring.

How could that be?  Certainly the scarlet and lambda were not signs of peaceful cooperation, non-aggression, and liberty.  But one cannot help but admire them as a most “individualistic” group, if ever the case could exist.

They lived as they chose, and fought to live that way.  There is no gain from war, yet they really never sought gain from war.  Oddly enough, when they did, as under the reign of Lysander, they suffered and eventually were destroyed.  Upon victory over Athens in 404, they began to assert their dominance over the rest of Hellas.  This would be their undoing not much more than a generation later, when two Thebans, Epaminondas and Pelopidas, would do what had never been done before: bring an army into the heart of Lakedaemonia.

In is ironic then that it was exactly their desire for empire which was their downfall, the one thing they never sought prior.

But why are they so inspiring.  Well, without a doubt, there is a romantic vision of the Spartans.  Once one looks past their militarism and slave holding, there is an oddly endearing sort of life.  Women of Athens, even the noblewomen, were second class citizens at best.  Rarely were they alone outside the house.  Never could they own property.  Yet Spartan women were in many respects the ones who ran Sparta.  Aristotle was very critical of the role of women in Spartan society.

There they could own property.  There they were in most respects the equals of men.  And no, this isn’t feint praise, nor is it feminist agitprop.  Women were never treated as less than full citizens. Maybe their main role, birthing the next generation of warriors, was not what some might call liberating.  Yet, their brashness, their boldness, their openly womanliness which earned them the epithet “thigh flashers”, was unique in all of Hellas.  Plutarch has some notable sayings of Spartan women.  I do not know of any other Greek women who have earned such immortality.  And, their beauty was renown in all of Greece.  Helen was said to be Lakedaemonian.

How can one not read of Gorgo’s quip

Being asked by a woman from Attica, “Why is it that you Spartan women are the only women that lord it over your men,” she said, “Because we are the only women that are mothers of men.

and not wish that all women were of such fiber. And what a much freer society we’d have.  (Consider the progressive era, the temperance movement, and so much of the modern welfare state, the “nanny” state, if you will.  Hate to say it, but womens’ suffrage has been the great bane of liberty.)

But Sparta was much more than her women.  And I guess that much, of not most, of the Spartan legacy is from the Hot Gates, Thermopylae.  The three hundred, hand picked and all knowing they were marching to their deaths, are the ultimate of never giving in and hold steadfast to your ideals. I sometimes think of the ostracism of Mises, Rothbard, and others, how they were relegated to second class status in the university.  Yet they stood firm in their beliefs.  They never sold their souls or intellectual integrity.

Libertarians live in a world filled with interventionism, where it takes great strength and courage to defend liberty.  We seem to be a 300, getting slammed by a million “lotus eaters” and eventually falling victim to the weapon of cowards, the ballot box.  (archers did in the remaining knights, where for us, the nameless state and its apparatchiks, serving the “god” democracy are the great destroyers of liberty)

The Spartans sent the rest of the Hellenes home, choosing to fight and die rather than live under another’s rule.  Offered by Xerxes to be masters of Greece, to be wealthy beyond all measure, they instead chose obedience to their laws.  One cannot but admire to the fullest such an act, even with what their laws were.

It is easy to see why they were held in such reverence of the ideal society, that if ever a whole could be mustered into a single sovereign, then this was it.  Obedience to the laws was in Sparta, true liberty, and why Rousseau thought similar obedience such in his ideal as well.  But Sparta was unique in so many ways,  proving itself the exception to the rule.

Maybe we should more admire Athens, a commercial state, one much more open and free.  But it too sought empire, and did so through force.  There is much to admire in Athens, birthplace of western philosophy.

No state is ever ideal, and well that is the case.  Maybe “no state” is the ideal.  It’s just that there is something special to admire in Sparta, that given all their faults, is still worthy.


Contra inflationists

October 18, 2010

Was looking around the other day for information on gas prices and came up with this (.xls) from the US Energy Information Administration.  And, since it’s from the government, it must be true.

Here’s a chart showing the nominal gas prices from 1919 to 1973.  For those not clear about what nominal means, it is the price unadjusted for inflation.  It is the actual physical dollars and cents amount one pays for an item.

Why this is so important is that modern economists love to use the term “real” which simply means adjusted for inflation.  Why should it matter really, if you’re paying the same relative amount?  Isn’t it purchasing power that’s significant?

First, notice that nominal gas prices in 1920 and 1960 were the same.  In forty years, what you paid to fill up your car was exactly the same as what your grandfather paid to fill up his car.

Of course, there’s some differences.  One, the car you’d be driving was substantially better and you’d have a multitude more places to go and things to do.  And the number of cars had multiplied many time.

We’d certainly expect gas prices to fall during the depression and the war.  And we’d expect gas prices to rise after the war as millions new cars and drivers entered the market.  But notice how prices rose gradually and eventually settled.

This would be wholly consistent with Austrian theory as obviously consumer preferences had shifted, the price system reflected such, and producers moved resources into those areas more demanded.  Given that gas production is very capital intensive, and a much higher order level of production, that prices rose over a several year period until settling would make perfect sense.

And then for over a decade, gas prices remained unchanged.  Though not shown on the graph, the “real” price of gas fell by well over a third.

Back to the problem of “real” prices.  Austrians stress the importance of the non-neutrality of money.  Stressing “real” prices, i.e. adjusted for inflation, masks the true problem.  Prices do not all rise at the same rate, nor at the same time.  This distorts the economic calculations of entrepreneurs as well as consumers.  That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to show nominal prices.

The other reason is of course that even without inflating fuel prices, the automobile sector of the economy flourished.  And there was no lack of gas stations to fill those cars.  Inflation is not required for growth.

I could go on, but suffice to say, isn’t it interesting at the least to see how gas prices, the actual amount paid, remained virtually unchanged for 60 years.


Sudden and swift demise

October 18, 2010

(ht Steven Horowitz)

Niall Ferguson gave a great lecture on the unsustainability of our current situation.  Two great points he makes:

What are the ways out of a debt crisis? That surely should be the burning question in the western world today, on both sides of the Atlantic. What do we do now that we are in this situation? Well, ladies and gentlemen, in theory, there are six ways out, which I will share with you now. One is to raise the growth rate of your economy. The second is to lower the interest rate on your borrowing. The third is to get bailed out by somebody. That’s the route that at the very last minute the Greeks were able to go down. The fourth, of course, is fiscal pain. You increase taxes or you cut public spending and you try to run a primary budget surplus; you start, if you possibly can, to pay off the debt. The fifth is that you print money. That fancy term seigniorage is just a fancy term for printing money in order to inflate the debt away. And the sixth option is to default. There are all kinds of wonderful words for default that you need to know because they’ll be appearing in the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times quite frequently in the months ahead. You can have repudiation, standstill, a moratorium, restructuring, rescheduling, and so on. But it all boils down to changing the terms of the original loan—default.

Unfortunately, I have to strike out three of these six options right away because certainly from the vantage point of the United States, they’re very unlikely to materialize. It’s very hard for me to believe, given our present predicament, that we’re going to see a sudden upsurge in economic growth in the United States. I think one consequence of the financial crisis has been to lower the growth path of the United States. At this point we’ve seen some slight recovery in the US 10-year yield, but that, of course, reflects a flight to safety as investors have exited Europe. At the moment the view persists that US treasuries are a safe haven, the safe haven for investors. But as I pointed out in the Financial Times some months ago, US treasuries are a safe haven the way Pearl Harbor was a safe haven in 1941; safe but not for much longer.

The nasty fiscal arithmetic sooner or later catches up with all sovereign borrowers no matter how strong they feel themselves to be—which just leaves fiscal pain, inflation, or default.

Cut, print, or default. Ladies and gentlemen, history affords only one example of a country that managed to get itself out from excessive debt-to-GDP burden without either inflating or defaulting. The only case that I can find is Britain after 1815. For a long century, Britain paid down its debt through growth and through running primary budget surpluses. There was no default. There was no inflation. But this, unfortunately, is the only case that history offers us. And remember Britain did have some unusual advantages at that time. It was, of course, the first country to enjoy an Industrial Revolution. It also had the world’s biggest empire to draw on, and it had a nondemocratic franchise throughout the period, which meant the propertied were represented and the propertyless essentially were not. That makes it much easier to make tough fiscal decisions, believe me.

So that just leaves us with two options: printing, and that’s much easier for a country with monetary sovereignty like the United States or the United Kingdom (it’s impossible for Greece, unless Monsieur Trichet agrees to print for them); or alternatively default, which I believe not only Greece but other eurozone economies will ultimately do because no bailout can essentially achieve the drastic contraction in fiscal policy that the Greeks have committed themselves to undertake. And I don’t believe that that contraction is politically viable.

And in conclusion, he makes the great observation that when it happens, it’s very quick.  There’s simply not going to be a long slow decline.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me revert to Thomas Cole’s great life Course of Empire. The point that I’m trying to make is very simple. It’s not a thousand years that separates imperial zenith from imperial oblivion. It’s really a very, very short ride from the top to the bottom.

Ferguson’s an historian, one well schooled in economic theory.  I’ve no idea if he’s an Austrian in any sense, but one needn’t be an Austrian to fully grasp the depths of the disaster that looms.


The Power of Ideas

September 16, 2010

Studying history requires one to study the history of ideas.  I know that ought to sound so obvious, but to many, probably most,  it isn’t.

The 20th century was witness to the most horrible acts of inhumanity and destruction, acts that were driven almost entirely by ideas.

Fascism and Bolshevism, while appearing to be opposites, are actually almost identical.  They are both a fanatical belief in the greater good, the community as a whole, the supremacy of the state over the individual.  The only thing that separates the two was one was based on ethnic/national identity, the other on class.

Nearer to home, ideas matter every bit as much.  We’ve just seen that with the disastrous stimulus bill, and it’s little siblings like cash for clunkers.  We’re poorer because if it, we’re deeper in debt, and farther from real recovery.  The Fed is still wed to the inflationist model, still pushing interest rates as low as possible, flooding the economy with money.

Now, one might argue that “they’re policy measures”.  But those policy measures are based on ideas: spending drives an economy, you can inflate your way to prosperity, etc.

Ideas matter, and they matter more when they’re put into the hands of people with the power to implement them.  By all standards, a “bohemian corporal” and failed artist, who happened to harbor some very extreme views, would be completely anonymous to history.  Unless of course, he was in a position of power.  And we know the rest.

We have people in positions of power today, in the current administration, with very dangerous ideas.  To compare them of course the worst horrors of mankind is ludicrous, but I won’t spend my anger on them.  They are fools at best, tools at worst.

No, the real criminals are those who use and abuse their authority to promote ideas they have to know are wrong at best, terribly destructive at worst.  There are “economists”, and I use that term loosely, who promote ideas such as deficits and debt are not harmful, inflation is a good thing, et al.  They have to know, they cannot not know, that those ideas are dangerous.

My real anger is directed towards those who sit in ivory towers, moonlight as newspaper columnists, are bestowed international honorifics, and command the attention of those in power.  They must know, absolutely must know, the terrible price of debt and inflation.

They must know that debt destroys wealth, that it transfers wealth upwards, from the productive to the idle.  They must know that it impoverishes, that the only way out is inflation.  They must know that inflation likewise is destructive, that it destroys wealth and savings, retards real growth and investment, and impoverishes a nation.  No nation, ever, in the annals of history, has ever trod the path to prosperity through debt and inflation.  In fact, if history is any guide, as well it ought to be, debt and inflation are the path to ruin.

They must know this as they are not unintelligent nor are they ignorant.  And that is why I hold them in such contempt.  It is precisely because they use their authority in nefarious ways.  I can almost excuse the fools who hear and believe, even those who once taught constitutional law (Of course, one has to wonder, which constitution!!).  And I can excuse, almost, those who are not knowledgeable in economics who listen and believe despite everything even common sense must tell them.

Yet they push forward their ideas in what must be a grand and selfish indulgence.  They see an outcome they desire, and a means to that end.  Though neither is possible, they act as though they are.  The abuse of their titles is no different from a prince or potentate who would do the same.


Wisdom from the ancients

January 8, 2010

One can learn much from the ancients.  Thucydides tells us much about human nature, as does Aristotle.  The great Greek playwrights probed the human psyche and provide still the best analyses.  Economics, though strictly speaking, was not a discipline they examined, with the exception perhaps of Xenophon.

Two great ancient Roman historians, Livy and Tacitus,  give great insight that all libertarians ought to treasure.

Livy wrote volumes on the early history of Rome, though sadly much has been lost to us today.  One of most remarkable tracts was History of Rome.  In the 5th century BC, Rome was still small yet growing, constantly at war with her neighbors, under threats from the likes of the Volscani, Aequi, Veneiti and others.  There was to be a recurring theme: internal strife caused by sharp class divisions temporarily suspended by warfare.

One of the serious early concerns was agrarian reform, which was really tantamount to land redistribution.  Here’s the account of re-elected consul Aemilius and his attempt to curry favor with the plebians:

Aemilius had already in his former consulship advocated the grant of land to the plebeians. As he was now consul for the second time, the agrarian party entertained hopes that the Law would be carried out; the tribunes took the matter up in the firm expectation that after so many attempts they would gain their cause, now that one consul, at all events, was supporting them; the consul’s views on the question remained unchanged. Those in occupation of the land-the majority of the patricians complained that the head of the State was adopting the methods of the tribunes and making himself popular by giving away other people’s property, and in this way they shifted all the odium from the tribunes on to the consul. (3.7)

So, it is not just in modern times that governments use threats of force and distribution of stolen property as a means of ensuring their power.

A few years later, the tribune Terentillus challenged the consul’s authority and urged passage of a law that stipulated that all power of the consuls comes from the people, that the consuls (though they were supposed to adhere to the law, and were by no means “kings”, they still still ruled for the most part by fiat) cannot rule according to their whims.  This would be in essence what we would consider constitutional governance.

Gaius Terentilius Harsa was a tribune of the plebs that year. Thinking that the absence of the consuls afforded a good opportunity for tribunitian agitation, he spent several days in haranguing the plebeians on the overbearing arrogance of the patricians. In particular he inveighed against the authority of the consuls as excessive and intolerable in a free commonwealth, for whilst in name it was less invidious, in reality it was almost more harsh and oppressive than that of the kings had been, for now, he said, they had two masters instead of one, with uncontrolled, unlimited powers, who, with nothing to curb their licence, directed all the threats and penalties of the laws against the plebeians. To prevent this unfettered tyranny from lasting for ever, he said he would propose an enactment that a commission of five should be appointed to draw up in writing the laws which regulated the power of the consuls. Whatever jurisdiction over themselves the people gave the consul, that and that only was he to exercise; he was not to regard his own licence and caprice as law. (3.8)

To put down the threat of losing power, as is the case with modern governments as well, to what ends did the consuls turn?

The following year the new consuls, P. Volumnius and Ser. Sulpicius, were confronted by the proposed law of Terentilius, which was now brought forward by the whole college of tribunes. During the year, the sky seemed to be on fire; there was a great earthquake; an ox was believed to have spoken–the year before this rumour found no credence. Amongst other portents it rained flesh, and an enormous number of birds are said to have seized it while they were flying about; what fell to the ground lay about for several days without giving out any bad smell. The Sibylline Books were consulted by the `duumviri,’ and a prediction was found of dangers which would result from a gathering of aliens, attempts on the highest points of the City and consequent bloodshed. Amongst other notices, there was a solemn warning to abstain from all seditious agitations. The tribunes alleged that this was done to obstruct the passing of the Law, and a desperate conflict seemed imminent.

As though to show how events revolve in the same cycle year by year, the Hernici reported that the Volscians and Aequi, in spite of their exhaustion, were equipping fresh armies. Antium was the centre of the movement; the colonists of Antium were holding public meetings in Ecetra, the capital, and the main strength of the war. On this information being laid before the senate, orders were given for a levy. The consuls were instructed to divide the operations between them; the Volscians were to be the province of the one, the Aequi of the other. The tribunes, even in face of the consuls, filled the Forum with their shouts, declaring that the story of a Volscian war was a prearranged comedy, the Hernici had been prepared beforehand for the part they were to play; the liberties of the Roman were not being repressed by straightforward opposition, but were being cunningly fooled away. It was impossible to persuade them that the Volscians and Aequi, after being almost exterminated, could themselves commence hostilities; a new enemy, therefore, was being sought for; a colony which had been a loyal neighbour was being covered with infamy. It was against the unoffending people of Antium that war was declared; it was against the Roman plebs that war was really being waged. After loading them with arms they would drive them in hot haste out of the City, and wreak their vengeance on the tribunes by sentencing their fellow-citizens to banishment. By this means–they might be quite certain–the Law would be defeated; unless, while the question was still undecided, and they were still at home, still unenrolled, they took steps to prevent their being ousted from their occupation of the City, and forced under the yoke of servitude. If they showed courage, help would not be wanting, the tribunes were unanimous. There was no cause for alarm; no danger from abroad. The gods had taken care, the previous year, that their liberties should be safely protected.

War.

Next we turn to Tacitus and his examination of early Imperial Rome in his Annals.  During the reign of Tiberius, Rome was wealthy and powerful.  It’s senators basked in ostentatious wealth and grandeur and governed with almost unlimited power.  The emperors ruled by dictate and lived in palaces that would make the Bourbons jealous.  Intrigue at the royal court was a game of intense rivalry and violence.

In this passage, Tacitus displays brilliant insight into the degrading of the human condition that state largesse has.

He [Tiberius] also increased the incomes of some of the Senators. Hence it was the more surprising that he listened somewhat disdainfully to the request of Marcus Hortalus, a youth of noble rank in conspicuous poverty. He was the grandson of the orator Hortensius, and had been induced by Augustus, on the strength of a gift of a million sesterces, to marry and rear children, that one of our most illustrious families might not become extinct. Accordingly, with his four sons standing at the doors of the Senate House, the Senate then sitting in the palace, when it was his turn to speak he began to address them as follows, his eyes fixed now on the statue of Hortensius which stood among those of the orators, now on that of Augustus:- “Senators, these whose numbers and boyish years you behold I have reared, not by my own choice, but because the emperor advised me. At the same time, my ancestors deserved to have descendants. For myself, not having been able in these altered times to receive or acquire wealth or popular favour, or that eloquence which has been the hereditary possession of our house, I was satisfied if my narrow means were neither a disgrace to myself nor burden to others. At the emperor’s bidding I married. Behold the offspring and progeny of a succession of consuls and dictators. Not to excite odium do I recall such facts, but to win compassion. While you prosper, Caesar, they will attain such promotion as you shall bestow. Meanwhile save from penury the great-grandsons of Quintus Hortensius, the foster-children of Augustus.”

The Senate’s favourable bias was an incitement to Tiberius to offer prompt opposition, which he did in nearly these words:- “If all poor men begin to come here and to beg money for their children, individuals will never be satisfied, and the State will be bankrupt. Certainly our ancestors did not grant the privilege of occasionally proposing amendments or of suggesting, in our turn for speaking, something for the general advantage in order that we might in this house increase our private business and property, thereby bringing odium on the Senate and on emperors whether they concede or refuse their bounty. In fact, it is not a request, but an importunity, as utterly unreasonable as it is unforeseen, for a senator, when the house has met on other matters, to rise from his place and, pleading the number and age of his children, put a pressure on the delicacy of the Senate, then transfer the same constraint to myself, and, as it were, break open the exchequer, which, if we exhaust it by improper favouritism, will have to be replenished by crimes. Money was given you, Hortalus, by Augustus, but without solicitation, and not on the condition of its being always given. Otherwise industry will languish and idleness be encouraged, if a man has nothing to fear, nothing to hope from himself, and every one, in utter recklessness, will expect relief from others, thus becoming useless to himself and a burden to me.

These and like remarks, though listened to with assent by those who make it a practice to eulogise everything coming from sovereigns, both good and bad, were received by the majority in silence or with suppressed murmurs. Tiberius perceived it, and having paused a while, said that he had given Hortalus his answer, but that if the senators thought it right, he would bestow two hundred thousand sesterces on each of his children of the male sex. The others thanked him; Hortalus said nothing, either from alarm or because even in his reduced fortunes he clung to his hereditary nobility. Nor did Tiberius afterwards show any pity, though the house of Hortensius sank into shameful poverty. (Book II)

Does this sound all too familiar?  State diversion of resources, stealing property, and the end result: industry will languish.

Thucydides repeated throughout that “human nature being what it is…” and Livy wrote “Human nature, however, does not change…”  Greek tragedies have a familiar theme: a man, full of hubris, thinks he can do no wrong.  Filled with this, he sets about in pursuit of goals believing the he alone has the power to alter and transcend reality.  In the end, the nemesis appears, their hamartia or fatal flaw is revealed, the man becomes chastened, and ate’, the final fall occurs.

We are living today in a rebirth of Greek tragedy and Roman history.  We have leaders filled with such hubris, that they alone can reorder the economy and only through their wisdom can we be saved.  They believe that through bailouts, theft, redistribution, stimulus, printing money, and other acts of destruction, that a better end will result.

Obama’s fall is soon.  And does not this attitude resemble the entirety of Keyenesian and Monetarist economic ideas.  Just leave the economy to the wise masters, let them print the money, prime the pump, nationalize industries, inflate the currency, lower interest rates, and all will be well.  No market could possibly arrange and allocate resources nearly as well.

Except that it does.

And at the same time we are undergoing the greatest act of theft and stealing of others’ property in or nation’s history.  And to distract the nation, we get “enemies”: doctors who perform unnecessary procedures, protestors who simply wish to stop the theft, Fox is not a real news network (because it won’t repeat the party line), anyone who disagrees with the administration is racist, more escalation of wars, and  enshrinement and institutionalizing of destruction of liberty.

Does our senate today resemble the august deliberative body of a republic, or a corrupt institution of an empire?

The ancients provided the wisdom for us to learn from.  It’s time we do.


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