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Archive for the ‘Communism’ Category

Civil disobedience is a powerful and traditional way for Americans to resist bad government policy.

The most famous example is the way civil rights leaders used disobedience (and armed self defense) to help end the Jim Crow laws imposed by state governments.

It’s also encouraging that gun owners have no intention of obeying bad gun control laws, with evidence of massive resistance to bad laws in states such as Connecticut, Colorado, and New York.

And motorists ended the use of speed (i.e., revenue) cameras in Arizona in part by simply ignoring the fines that arrived in the mail (folks in Houston needed to use a referendum).

These are encouraging stories, but we also need to be realistic about the fact that most Americans meekly comply with lots of other bad laws and regulations imposed by greedy and overbearing governments.

The regulatory burden in the United States has become absurd, for instance, but it’s difficult to envision a successful strategy to resist various bureaucratic impositions.

Until now.

The great scholar Charles Murray has a column in the Wall Street Journal about fighting back against the regulatory state.

He begins with a very depressing assessment.

America is no longer the land of the free. We are still free in the sense that Norwegians, Germans and Italians are free. But that’s not what Americans used to mean by freedom. It was our boast that in America, unlike in any other country, you could live your life as you saw fit as long as you accorded the same liberty to everyone else. …with FDR’s New Deal and the rise of the modern regulatory state, our founding principle was subordinated to other priorities and agendas. What made America unique first blurred, then faded, and today is almost gone.

In some sense, we’ve been buried by red tape.

…consider just the federal government. The number of federal crimes you could commit as of 2007 (the last year they were tallied) was about 4,450, a 50% increase since just 1980. A comparative handful of those crimes are “malum in se”—bad in themselves. The rest are “malum prohibitum”—crimes because the government disapproves.

This is something that we’ve already discussed. I made the distinction just the other day between real crimes (which involve an infringement on someone else’s life, liberty, and property) and innocent behavior that is criminalized by government.

But it’s even worse when folks have no idea how to be compliant.

Everyone knows how to obey the laws against robbery. No individual can know how to “obey” laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley (810 pages), the Affordable Care Act (1,024 pages) or Dodd-Frank (2,300 pages). We submit to them. The laws passed by Congress are just the beginning. In 2013, the Code of Federal Regulations numbered over 175,000 pages.

Especially when constitutional protections are weakened.

It gets worse. If a regulatory agency comes after you, forget about juries, proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, disinterested judges and other rights that are part of due process in ordinary courts. The “administrative courts” through which the regulatory agencies impose their will are run by the regulatory agencies themselves, much as if the police department could make up its own laws and then employ its own prosecutors, judges and courts of appeals.

And the insult to injury is that many regulations make no sense.

Regulations that waste our time and money are bad enough. Worse are the regulations that prevent us from doing our jobs as well as we could—regulations that impede architects from designing the most functional and beautiful buildings that would fit their clients’ needs, impede physicians from exercising their best judgment about their patients’ treatment, or impede businesses from identifying the best candidates for job openings. …Public-school teachers typically labor under regulatory regimes that prescribe not only the curriculum but minutely spell out how that curriculum must be taught—an infantilization of teachers that drives many of the best ones from the public schools.

So what’s the solution?

You can fight these bureaucrats in their kangaroo courts, or maybe even force the case into a real court.

But Murray acknowledges that this is prohibitively expensive.

…when the targets of the regulatory state say they’ve had enough, that they will fight it in court, the bureaucrats can—and do—say to them, “Try that, and we’ll ruin you.”

Charles has an idea of how to overcome this problem.

…the regulatory state is the Wizard of Oz: fearsome when its booming voice is directed against any single target but, when the curtain is pulled aside, revealed as impotent to enforce its thousands of rules against widespread refusal to comply. And so my modest proposal: Let’s withhold that compliance through systematic civil disobedience. Not for all regulations, but for the pointless, stupid and tyrannical ones.

More specifically.

…it should be OK to ignore the EPA when it uses a nonsensical definition of “wetlands” to forbid you from building a home on a two-thirds-acre lot sandwiched between other houses and a paved road…there’s no reason for the government to second-guess employer and employee choices on issues involving working hours and conditions that don’t rise to meaningful definitions of “exploitation” or “unsafe.” …Let’s just ignore them and go on about our lives as if they didn’t exist.

That’s sounds nice, but how does one overcome the risk of discriminatory and abusive prosecution and persecution by miffed bureaucrats?

Here’s the clever proposal Charles has for the private sector.

Let’s treat government as an insurable hazard, like tornadoes. …let’s buy insurance that reimburses us for any fine that the government levies and that automatically triggers a proactive, tenacious legal defense against the government’s allegation even if—and this is crucial—we are technically guilty. Why litigate an allegation even if we are technically guilty? To create a disincentive for overzealous regulators. The goal is to empower citizens to say, “If you come after me, it’s going to cost your office a lot of time and trouble, and probably some bad publicity.”

People presumably will be willing to fight if they have some free talent coming to their defense.

I propose…a legal foundation functioning much as the Legal Services Corporation does for the poor, except that its money will come from private donors, not the government. It would be an altruistic endeavor, operating exclusively on behalf of the homeowner or small business being harassed by the regulators. The foundation would pick up all the legal costs of the defense and pay the fines when possible.

Here’s the bottom line.

The measures I propose won’t get the regulations off the books, nor will they improve the content of those regulations, but they will push the regulatory agencies, kicking and screaming, toward a “no harm, no foul” regime. They will be forced to let the American people play.

And if you want to see this strategy in the form of a picto-graph, this is a very helpful depiction.

I mentioned yesterday that I was in Poland for a Liberty Fund conference.

After the conference, I had the opportunity to visit the Solidarity Museum, which commemorated the 1980 protests against communism at the Gdansk shipyards.

Here’s an image that warmed my heart. One of the rooms had a tape of Poland’s communist dictator announcing martial law. Here’s a screen capture of him saying there’s no turning back from socialism.

Gee, that didn’t turn out to be the case.

Indeed, Poland is now a reasonably good example of how markets enable higher living standards.

And that speech should be a permanent memorial about the evil of communism. And if you want further reminders, click here, here, and here.

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Is Obama a socialist?

If you’re asking whether he’s a big-spending interventionist, the answer is yes.

But if you’re asking whether the President believes in government ownership of the means of production (which is the defining issue in the socialist economic platform), the answer is no (though the White House surely won’t like how Thomas Sowell describes Obama’s ideology).

But I generally don’t care about these word fights. Big government is bad because it hurts people and relies on coercion, and that’s true whether we’re talking about socialism, communism, Nazism, corporatism, or other forms of statism.

But I do care for historical accuracy and honesty.

Writing for the U.K.-based Telegraph, Dan Hannan of the European Parliament explains that the German National Socialists of the Hitler era were….well, socialists.

Goebbels never doubted that he was a socialist. He understood Nazism to be a better and more plausible form of socialism than that propagated by Lenin. Instead of spreading itself across different nations, it would operate within the unit of the Volk. So total is the cultural victory of the modern Left that the merely to recount this fact is jarring.

Anti-capitalist propaganda from the Nazis

Not that today’s leftists should be surprised. Unless, of course, they’re historically illiterate. After all, the Nazi political vehicle was the National Socialist German Workers Party.

Subsequent generations of Leftists have tried to explain away the awkward nomenclature of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party as either a cynical PR stunt or an embarrassing coincidence. In fact, the name meant what it said. Hitler…boasted, adding that “the whole of National Socialism” was “based on Marx”. Marx’s error, Hitler believed, had been to foster class war instead of national unity – to set workers against industrialists instead of conscripting both groups into a corporatist order. His aim, he told his economic adviser, Otto Wagener, was to “convert the German Volk to socialism without simply killing off the old individualists” – by which he meant the bankers and factory owners who could, he thought, serve socialism better by generating revenue for the state. …authoritarianism was the common feature of socialists of both National and Leninist varieties, who rushed to stick each other in prison camps or before firing squads. Each faction loathed the other as heretical, but both scorned free-market individualists as beyond redemption. Their battle was all the fiercer, as Hayek pointed out in 1944, because it was a battle between brothers.

In other words, Soviet-style socialism and Nazi-style socialism were both evil forms of statism, but one attracted people by fomenting class envy and the other sought recruits by demonizing non-Aryans.

Hannan hastens to add that he doesn’t think that modern self-proclaimed socialists are closet Nazis, but he does object to leftists who try to put National Socialists on the right side of the political spectrum.

The idea that Nazism is a more extreme form of conservatism has insinuated its way into popular culture. …What is it based on, this connection? Little beyond a jejune sense that Left-wing means compassionate and Right-wing means nasty and fascists are nasty. When written down like that, the notion sounds idiotic, but think of the groups around the world that the BBC, for example, calls “Right-wing”: the Taliban, who want communal ownership of goods; the Iranian revolutionaries, who…seized industries and destroyed the middle class; Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who pined for Stalinism. The “Nazis-were-far-Right” shtick is a symptom of the wider notion that “Right-wing” is a synonym for “baddie”.

Citing the comprehensive work of Jonah Goldberg, Hannan’s column then makes a key point about government coercion.

Authoritarianism – or, to give it a less loaded name, the belief that state compulsion is justified in pursuit of a higher goal, such as scientific progress or greater equality – was traditionally a characteristic of the social democrats as much as of the revolutionaries. Jonah Goldberg has chronicled the phenomenon at length in his magnum opus, Liberal Fascism. Lots of people take offence at his title, evidently without reading the book since, in the first few pages, Jonah reveals that the phrase is not his own. He is quoting that impeccable progressive H.G. Wells who, in 1932, told the Young Liberals that they must become “liberal fascists” and “enlightened Nazis”.

To be fair, this doesn’t mean Wells was a horrible person, at least in the sense of embracing Hitlerism. In the early 1930s, the fascist policies of Mussolini and Hitler were simply about government intervention. At that point, few people recognized that racism and anti-Semitism were part of the fascist program.

I’m much more likely to be critical of people who make excuses for communism still today. Do they really want to romanticize an ideology that killed tens of millions of innocent people?!?

And it’s disgusting that people wear Che Guevara t-shirts when he was a brutal enforcer of Cuba’s totalitarian regime.

P.S. On a lighter note, here’s the “bread-ish” difference between socialism and capitalism.

P.P.S. Regarding European socialism, we have great (although technically inaccurate) cartoons from Glenn Foden and Michael Ramirez.

P.P.P.S. Here’s socialism for kids, though it’s really class warfare for kids.

P.P.P.P.S. And here’s what happens when you try socialism in the classroom.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Closing on a serious note, John Mackey and Steve Horwitz agree with Thomas Sowell about Obama’s real economic ideology.

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Nope, the answer isn’t smoking. Or fatty food. Or 16 oz. sodas.

And it’s not alcohol, driving too fast, or standing between politicians and a TV camera.

Che Mercedes

Why is murder “chic” for some people?

In the past 100 years or so, the biggest cause of premature death has been government.

Back in 2011, while criticizing the Baltimore Symphony for using the Soviet hammer and sickle in a promotion, I linked to a website showing how many millions of people were murdered by the dictators who ruled the Soviet Union.

You’ll find similar data in this video, as well as some equally shocking numbers for other examples of democide (death by government).

I don’t know if all the numbers in the video are right. I don’t even know if the government bought 1.6 billion hollow point bullets. And I certainly hope our tax dollars didn’t help finance Pol Pot’s democide in Cambodia.

But I fully agree that government is the greatest killer of all time.

This doesn’t mean, by the way, that I think all governments are equally evil. I wouldn’t even make the claim that there’s a link between big government and democide (though that’s probably true given the track record of National Socialists in Germany and Soviet Socialists in China and the Soviet Union).

Instead, I’ll simply regurgitate some of what I wrote back in August.

…be thankful that there are some libertarians willing to raise a stink about government even if the rest of the world thinks we’re a bit odd. As we’ve seen dozens of times, most recently with the IRS and NSA, bureaucrats and politicians have a compulsive tendency to grab more power and make government more intrusive. …I’ll end today’s post by mentioning the fable of the frog that gets put in a pot of water and doesn’t jump out because the temperature feels comfortable. But then the heat is slowly raised and the frog no longer has the energy to escape when he finally figures out he’s being cooked. Well, libertarians are the ones who loudly complain when the government puts us into pots.

In other words, governments are less likely to do really awful things if there are some of us fighting when they do mildly bad things.

Don’t forget that when enough mildly bad things occur and you get economic stagnation, one result is the kind of social chaos and rioting that has occurred in some European nations.

And those are the conditions that sometimes lead to takeovers by the types of governments that do really awful things.

Let’s close with two bits of satire. First, here’s something I saw on Twitter. It’s for the statists who claim that communism is a good theory, but that it hasn’t been properly implemented.

Needless to say, I can’t see the appeal of a theory that says we are slaves to each other. But the point of this poster is that real-world communism is always about murder and oppression.

Communism in Real Life

Second, this is a good opportunity to emphasize one of the messages from the end of the video.

A common trait of dictators is that they want the citizenry disarmed.

This poster is the fourth-most viewed post I’ve ever produced. But not because I said anything clever.

Instead, people like this poster and share it with their friends because it makes a very important point about the dangers of unlimited state power.

So what’s the moral of the story? I guess the message is that small government is tolerable. Medium-sized government is bad. And unlimited government is horrible.

Actually, George Washington said the same thing with much greater clarity: “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

P.S. I suppose this shouldn’t be a joking matter, but here’s an amusing look at communist efficiency from the Beijing Olympics.

P.P.S. And the fourth video at this link has some great examples of Reagan’s use of humor against communism.

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I spoke earlier today at the 2013 Liberty Conference in Lausanne, Switzerland. But I don’t think anybody is going to remember my speech about the collapse of the welfare state, even though I presented lots of powerful data from the BIS, OECD, and IMF, and also shared a very funny cartoon showing what happens when there’s nothing left for interest groups to steal.

Escaped the North Korean gulag

At a normal conference, my remarks may have resonated, but I freely admit that I was completely overshadowed by the presentation of Shin Dong-Hyuk, who is the only person to have successfully escaped from the North Korean gulag.

In the future, if I ever get discouraged and think the fight for freedom is too difficult, I will watch this video and realize that nothing in my life will ever compare to the horror of living under communism. It’s not nearly as powerful as today’s first-person presentation, but the video will give you some sense of the utter barbarity of the North Korean government.

If you want more information, here is his Wikipedia entry, but I also suggest you watch this short speech by Blaine Harden, a journalist who wrote the story of Shin’s escape.

Keep in mind, by the way, that North Korea is an awful and repressive country even for the people who aren’t in the gulags. Malnutrition is such a problem, for instance, that children are stunted and the North Korean army had to lower its requirements to allow soldiers as short as 4’8″.

So perhaps now you understand why I get so upset when people in the west glorify communist thugs such as Che Guevara, or use the Soviet hammer and sickle as a cutesy marketing gimmick.

I hope nobody would ever think to wear a Hermann Göring t-shirt or use the swastika in a value-neutral fashion, so why should it be okay to whitewash and/or rehabilitate communists?

P.S. I was never a fan of former Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, but he deserves lasting applause for seeking to protect children from the anti-western, soft-on-communism crap published by the late historian Howard Zinn.

P.P.S. Since today’s post is about a very dour topic, let’s close with a bit of humor about  the communist version of efficiency.

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Some of the world’s most disgusting and evil regimes restricted the right to emigrate, including the imposition of exit taxes designed to fleece those who did want to escape.

Given the evils of communism, you won’t be surprised to learn that the Soviet Union had such a policy. Here’s an excerpt from a 1972 story in the Palm Beach Post.

…citizens have been refused permission to leave the Soviet Union unless they pay a new tax… Nearly 500 Jews signed a letter to U.N. Secretary General Kurt Waldheim calling the tax an illegal “ransom” and an extreme injustice. Jews trying to emigrate to Israel have been the main victims of the new tax imposed by a decree… However, the tax is applied to anyone trying to emigrate from the Soviet Union.

Not surprisingly, the Nazis also used the same approach. Here are the relevant passages from a report by the World Jewish Congress.

… nearly a third of the German war effort was paid for with money stolen from Jews according a new study about the role of the German Finance Ministry during the ‘Third Reich’. …Ministry officials robbed an estimated 120 billion reichsmarks [the equivalent of nearly US$ 20 billion today] by looting and through stringent confiscation laws. …Tax laws discriminated against Jews from 1934, while some who managed to leave Germany before the Holocaust had much of their wealth seized through an ‘exit tax’.

Unfortunately, exit taxes still exist, and I’m embarrassed to say that the United States is one of the few countries to impose such a levy.

There’s no anti-Semitic motive for the tax. Instead, politicians have imposed exit taxes because some Americans decided to emigrate to jurisdictions with better tax law.  And rather than interpret this as a sign that the tax code was too onerous and should be replaced with something like a flat tax, they decided to enact a law to ransack people as they crossed the border.

But even this reprehensible policy isn’t enough for some of the clowns in Washington. Senator Barbara Boxer, the empty suit from the formerly Golden State, has decided that basic liberties such as the presumption of innocence are an impediment to tax enforcement. As such, she’s attached an odious provision to a transportation bill that would restrict the right to travel.

"Ihren papieren, bitte?"

A bill…that could potentially allow the federal government to prevent any Americans who owe back taxes from traveling outside the  U.S. is one step closer to becoming law. Senate Bill 1813 was introduced back in November by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-LosAngeles)… Section 40304 of the legislation states that any individual who owes more than $50,000 to the Internal Revenue Service may be subject to “action with respect to denial, revocation, or limitation of a passport”. … there does not appear to be any specific language requiring a taxpayer to be charged with tax evasion or any other crime in order to have their passport revoked or limited — only that a notice of lien or levy has been filed by the IRS.

The good news, at least relatively speaking, is that Boxer is only motivated by greed and statism. But the end result is still a reprehensible restriction on the liberty of people disfavored by the ruling elite.

If Barbara Boxer is any sort of example, no wonder California is such a mess, losing jobs and investment to other states.

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Like its evil twin of Nazism, communism is an utterly despicable ideology that explicitly elevates the state over the individual.

That’s actually the nicest thing that can be said about this barbaric system. If you want to begin to understand the human cost of communism, watch this short Reason TV video featuring Lee Edwards.

Sometimes, it’s helpful to mock this disgusting philosophy with humor, as Reagan did so effectively (see the fourth video at this link and the first video at this link). Or we can use jokes like this doctored image.

And we can point out that communism is so inefficient that you wind up with rationing of everything from food to toilet paper.

But let’s not forget that communism isn’t just a sad page from history. Some people are still suffering under the yoke of Bolshevik tyranny.

Here are some excerpts from a report in the Australian.

North Korea has reduced the minimum height requirement for military conscripts because the current generation facing call-up was stunted by a deadly 1990s famine, a new report says. …the military has cut the minimum height to 142 centimetres from 145 cm. All able-bodied North Korean males aged 16-17 must begin mandatory service that lasts about a decade. Women deemed fit must also serve for a shorter period in the 1.2 million-strong military, the world’s fourth largest. …North Korean boys facing conscription this year were born in the mid-1990s – at the height of the famine that devastated the impoverished communist state and killed hundreds of thousands. …UN agencies, after a visit to the North, estimated last November that three million people would need food aid in 2012. UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, after a separate visit last October, said that in northern regions almost one in two children were chronically malnourished.

The passages above illustrate evil on so many levels, including famine and militarization. Imagine how awful it would be to be trapped in a sinister place like North Korea.

This is why I am so quick to attack institutions, ranging from the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to Mercedes-Benz, that demonstrate moral blindness to the evils of communism.

By the way, even though I freely admit it’s unfair, I can’t resist adding this link revealing who the head of the Communist Party has endorsed for 2012.

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Along with many others, I complained a couple of days ago that Mercedes-Benz was morally bankrupt for using the image of a notorious racist, communist, and murderer as part of a marketing gimmick.

Well, the company has backed down. We won. It’s only symbolic, but let’s enjoy a small victory.

Here are some excerpts from a Foxnews.com story.

Daimler AG, the German company that manufactures Mercedes-Benz luxury cars, called its promotional use of an image of Marxist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara a “thoughtless” and “stupid” decision that was not intended to offend people. …In a statement sent to FoxNews.com, Daimler said it “was not condoning the life or actions of this historical figure or the political philosophy he espoused.”

That’s probably not the most heartfelt and sincere apology ever issued, but it will have a positive impact. Somewhere at Daimler AG, there’s a marketing executive that is going to lose a bonus (and maybe even a job). Other people in the fields of advertising and public relations will have seen the backlash and be much less likely to make similar mistakes.

And perhaps a few people who were ignorant will actually learn a bit about history and begin to understand the evil nature of communism.

I doubt this will have any impact on the empty-headed kids who wear Che t-shirts, but you can’t have everything.

From a personal perspective, the best thing about this episode is that I’ve been attacked by a water-carrying apologist for totalitarianism.

In my line of work, one way to measure whether you’re doing a good job is the degree to which you get criticized by bad people.

Being called a “dickhead” by this tool may be even better than the time a left-wing British columnist called me a “high priest of light tax, small state libertarianism.”

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