Mexico: A basket-case study in the evils of Prohibition

April 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

MEXICAN DRUGLORD Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is ranked #1,140 on Forbes’  Billionaires List, tied with many others. Ominously, he fares even better in the ranking of the most powerful people in the world,  ranking as #60 among the top 68. (Mexico’s president, by contrast, doesn’t even make the list.)

His high power owes not only to his billion-plus bucks, but the reign of terror into which he, a rival cartel, and the Mexican government have plunged the hapless country in recent years.

A Houdini-like manipulator who managed to disappear from a maximum-security prison in 2001, Guzman “could convince God to sit down with the devil,” one journalist said. Guzman once bragged of spending $5 million a month on bribes to police. Though he can’t exactly write it off on his taxes, this appears to be a very worthwhile business expense for El Chapo.

Meanwhile, the head of Interpol in Mexico and the nation’s top antidrug official were arrested and accused of conspiring with the cartels.  The #2 police official in Ciudad Juarez, too, was caught smuggling marijuana into the U.S. Half the police force was found to be working for the gangs. (Reminds me of a similar case in a suburban Chicago village!)

Judging from the state of things in Mexico, this sort of official corruption is more the rule than the exception. The drug cartels use hordes of dirty cops and other officials, luring them with the big-time money and all the other perks that go with their illegal trade. Their ranks include some of the elite, highly-trained Mexican special-forces commandos. Ironically, some of these cops and commandos-turned-gangsters were probably recruited for the express  purpose of fighting drugs–under the assumption that outlawing things people want will make them go away. « Read the rest of this entry »

The government union battle: ‘Stupid greed and false philanthropy’

April 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

READERS MAY HAVE NOTICED that there’s an attack happening against public-sector unions. Or is it public-sector workers? Or is it unions? Or is it workers?

Hmm…

The truth gets a little murky. Well, while we sift through the propagenda(s), and hidden agendas, and ulterior motives on both sides of this convoluted battle, and try to spot the spin, and un-spin it, let’s note one thing right up front.

As they say, there are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth.

In this issue, there’s stink coming from just about every direction. Many entities are to blame for the fiscal mess this republic, the States, the cities, are in. This blog is going to look at some of the fundamental issues underlying this growing divide in America, spread the blame to all deserving parties, and examine solutions where everybody (well, almost everybody) could emerge as winners.

Today, we’re going to take on the government labor unions. (We’ll take on Big Business Republicans and their anti-labor animus in a future post.)

The most remarkable commentary I’ve read about the Wisconsin insurgency was written 160 years ago. Well, it’s not about the Wisconsin situation per se. But it does address the identical issues, the same arguments. Because the arguments for and against special-interest privilege, and for and against government control of things such as education, are not new arguments. Nor is the urge to put the state in charge of activities that the state has no business being involved in. French legislator Frederic Bastiat confronted these same issues back in 1850 in his penetrating work The Law, rightly revered as a gem of liberal political thought. Let’s see what he had to say, trying to keep it condensed. (If you want to go on to read the full version of this treatise, we’ll include the link below.)

First, Bastiat traces some fundamental principles that we don’t often think about:

  • What government is, 
  • What it’s for,
  • Where it gets its authority, and
  • What are its rightful limits.

The context in which Bastiat wrote was remarkably similar to that in America today. Bastiat was resisting the movement within France toward full-fledged socialism — or state control of everything, in the name of justice or other virtues.

Bastiat felt a need to re-establish the proper grounds of government. The collective wisdom inherited from modern Western philosophers – including the Englishman John Locke, the “Father of Liberalism” who went on to become the unofficial philosopher of the Enlightenment and of the American Revolution – held that, once the pretensions of monarchs to “divine right” were swept away, the remaining legitimate functions of government were few and simple. Man was naturally free*, and government’s job was no more and no less than to safeguard that freedom. Our notes follow below.

THE LAW

WE HOLD FROM GOD the gift which includes all others. This gift is life — physical, intellectual, and moral life.

But life cannot maintain itself alone. The Creator of life has entrusted us with the responsibility of preserving, developing, and perfecting it. In order that we may accomplish this, He has provided us with a collection of marvelous faculties. And He has put us in the midst of a variety of natural resources. By the application of our faculties to these natural resources we convert them into products, and use them. This process is necessary in order that life may run its appointed course.

Life, faculties, production–in other words, individuality, liberty, property — this is man. …

Life, liberty, and property [* that is, manmade products –ed.] do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place. …

What, then, is law? It is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense.

Each of us has a natural right–from God–to defend his person, his liberty, and his property. These are the three basic requirements of life, and the preservation of any one of them is completely dependent upon the preservation of the other two.


[But] the law has placed the collective force at the disposal of the unscrupulous who wish, without risk, to exploit the person, liberty, and property of others. It has converted plunder into a right, in order to protect plunder. And it has converted lawful defense into a crime, in order to punish lawful defense. …

The law has been perverted by the influence of two entirely different causes: stupid greed and false philanthropy.

Under the pretense of organization, regulation, protection, or encouragement, the law takes property* from one person and gives it to another; the law takes the wealth of all and gives it to a few — whether farmers, manufacturers, shipowners, artists, or comedians. … the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime. …

Now, legal plunder can be committed in an infinite number of ways. Thus we have an infinite number of plans for organizing it: tariffs, protection, benefits, subsidies, encouragements, progressive taxation, public schools [* OH NO HE DI – IN’T! –ed.], guaranteed jobs, guaranteed profits, minimum wages, a right to relief, a right to the tools of labor, free credit, and so on, and so on. All these plans as a whole –with their common aim of legal plunder — constitute socialism. …

As long as it is admitted that the law may be diverted from its true purpose — that it may violate property instead of protecting it — then everyone will want to participate in making the law, either to protect himself against plunder or to use it for plunder. Political questions will always be prejudicial, dominant, and all-absorbing. There will be fighting at the door of the Legislative Palace, and the struggle within will be no less furious. … [!!! – ed.]

Since the law organizes justice, the socialists ask why the law should not also organize labor, education, and religion.

Why should not law be used for these purposes? Because it could not organize labor, education, and religion without destroying justice.

But when the law, by means of its necessary agent, force, imposes upon men a regulation of labor, a method or a subject of education, a religious faith or creed — then the law is no longer negative; it acts positively upon people. It substitutes the will of the legislator for their own wills; the initiative of the legislator for their own initiatives. When this happens, the people no longer need to discuss, to compare, to plan ahead; the law does all this for them. Intelligence becomes a useless prop for the people; they cease to be men; they lose their personality, their liberty, their property. …

You say: “There are persons who lack education,” and you turn to the law. … In this matter of education, the law has only two alternatives: It can permit this transaction of teaching and learning to operate freely and without the use of force, or it can force human wills in this matter by taking from some of them enough to pay the teachers who are appointed by government to instruct others, without charge. But in this second case, the law commits legal plunder by violating liberty and property. …

Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.

We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain. …

These socialist writers look upon people in the same manner that the gardener views his trees. Just as the gardener capriciously shapes the trees into pyramids, parasols, cubes, vases, fans, and other forms, just so does the socialist writer whimsically shape human beings into groups, series, centers, sub-centers, honeycombs, labor corps, and other variations. And just as the gardener needs axes, pruning hooks, saws, and shears to shape his trees, just so does the socialist writer need the force that he can find only in law to shape human beings. For this purpose, he devises tariff laws, tax laws, relief laws, and school laws.

They assume that if the legislators left persons free to follow their own inclinations, they would arrive at atheism instead of religion, ignorance instead of knowledge, poverty instead of production and exchange. …

In all of them, you will probably find this idea that mankind is merely inert matter, receiving life, organization, morality, and prosperity from the power of the state. [* As some statists are wont to say: “A Great National Purpose.” — ed.] And even worse, it will be stated that mankind tends toward degeneration, and is stopped from this downward course only by the mysterious hand of the legislator. … Patriotism, prosperity, inventions, husbandry, science — all of these are given to the people by … the rulers. All that the people have to do is to bow to leadership. …

[Quoting Rousseau:]
“He who would dare to undertake the political creation of a people ought to believe that he can, in a manner of speaking, transform human nature; transform each individual — who, by himself, is a solitary and perfect whole — into a mere part of a greater whole from which the individual will henceforth receive his life and being. … In short, the would-be creator of political man must remove man’s own forces and endow him with others that are naturally alien to him.

 …[the socialists] desire to set themselves above mankind in order to arrange, organize, and regulate it according to their fancy. …

Ah, you miserable creatures! You who think that you are so great! You who judge humanity to be so small! You who wish to reform everything! Why don’t you reform yourselves? That task would be sufficient enough.

We shall never escape from this circle: the idea of passive mankind, and the power of the law being used by a great man to propel the people. … The strange phenomenon of our times — one which will probably astound our descendants — is the doctrine based on this triple hypothesis: the total inertness of mankind, the omnipotence of the law, and the infallibility of the legislator.

The advocates of this doctrine also profess to be social. So far as they are democratic, they place unlimited faith in mankind. But so far as they are social, they regard mankind as little better than mud. …

When it is time to vote, apparently the voter is not to be asked for any guarantee of his wisdom. His will and capacity to choose wisely are taken for granted. … But when the legislator is finally elected — ah! then indeed does the tone of his speech undergo a radical change. The people are returned to passiveness, inertness, and unconsciousness; the legislator enters into omnipotence. …

Apparently, then, the legislators and the organizers have received from Heaven an intelligence and virtue that place them beyond and above mankind; if so, let them show their titles to this superiority. …

Please understand that I do not dispute their right to invent social combinations, to advertise them, to advocate them, and to try them upon themselves, at their own expense and risk. But I do dispute their right to impose these plans upon us by law — by force — and to compel us to pay for them with our taxes. …

In addition to being oppressive and unjust, this desire also implies the fatal supposition that the organizer is infallible and mankind is incompetent. But, again, if persons are incompetent to judge for themselves, then why all this talk about universal suffrage?

Law is justice. In this proposition a simple and enduring government can be conceived. And I defy anyone to say how even the thought of revolution, of insurrection, of the slightest uprising could arise against a government whose organized force was confined only to suppressing injustice. …

And let it not be said — as it continually is said — that under this concept, the law would be atheistic, individualistic, and heartless; that it would make mankind in its own image. This is an absurd conclusion, worthy only of those worshippers of government who believe that the law is mankind. …If we are free, does it follow that we shall no longer recognize the power and goodness of God? [* Alien as it may sound to secular American ears, Bastiat equates the old idea of merging church and state with that of merging education and state — noting that the very same logic undergirds both policies — ed. ] Does it follow that we shall then cease to associate with each other, to help each other, to love and succor our unfortunate brothers, to study the secrets of nature, and to strive to improve ourselves to the best of our abilities?

God has given to men all that is necessary for them to accomplish their destinies. He has provided a social form as well as a human form. And these social organs of persons are so constituted that they will develop themselves harmoniously in the clean air of liberty. Away, then, with quacks and organizers! Away with their rings, chains, hooks, and pincers! Away with their artificial systems! Away with the whims of governmental administrators, their socialized projects, their centralization, their tariffs, their government schools, their state religions, their free credit, their bank monopolies, their regulations, their restrictions, their equalization by taxation [* in the context, he must mean equalization of result — ed.], and their pious moralizations!

And now that the legislators and do-gooders have so futilely inflicted so many systems upon society, may they finally end where they should have begun: May they reject all systems, and try liberty; for liberty is an acknowledgment of faith in God and His works.

(Frederic Bastiat, The Law )


* In The Law, Bastiat obliquely but quite unmistakably omitted land and natural resources  from his definition of property. This is for good reason. Classical economics — and the pre-Revolutionary French school of Physiocracy, which originated the term “laissez-faire” –distinguished between manmade (personal) property and natural  (landed) property. In theory, at least, classical economic principles showed that permitting absolute and unfettered appropriation of land as property was unsustainable and incompatible with liberty and justice. In fact, land and valuable resources have been the greatest targets of the sort of “legal plunder” that Bastiat deplored in The Law.

As classical liberal philosopher Herbert Spencer showed early in his career — and Henry George amply proved years later — the absolute treatment of land and natural resources as private property are at the root of the economic inequity and instability that the socialists decry. The unionists don’t know it, but all the very real or perceived economic injustices which fuel the fervor of themselves and their supporters, originate with inequalities in land and resources. 

Bastiat was correct that in the form of Earth and her wealth — and the faculties which we apply to land to produce and trade the necessities of life — God has given to men all that is necessary. Yet, some men have appropriated much more wealth than they need, by the very systems of plunder to which Bastiat alludes. To his credit, he opposes all future plunder – or at least, its obvious forms, accomplished via taxation and regulation of labor and its fruits. Yet in this particular work, he offers no remedy for past plunder. While he does affirm (by omission) that land is not the same as personal property, he could have gone much further and echoed the earlier Physiocrats  — or anticipated the American economist Henry George — in maintaining that the earth itself belongs equally to every one, and could without harm be monetized via a land rental fee  (Land Value Recovery:  to the Physiocrats, “l’impot unique”; to George, the “Single Tax”). The revenue could be invested in the few legitimate governmental needs. The remainder would be distributed directly to individuals, who could choose their own services (such as education for their children) rather than be forced to support self-serving bureaucracies. Under such a system of real justice, no one would be forced to tolerate the injury of being taxed to support failing systems — or the insult of being told they’re not smart enough to make better choices for themselves and their families. 

Full Version: The Law


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