Author Archive for Gary Galles

Leonard Read’s Freedom Philosophy

Leonard E ReadLeonard Read is not a household name today.  That is unfortunate, because, according to biographer Mary Sennholtz, he was “one of the most notable social philosophers of our time. His name will forever be associated with the rebirth of the freedom philosophy.” In Gary North’s words, “The libertarian movement…can be traced to Read and Read’s vision.”

Read’s most formative moment came in a 1933 meeting with W.C. Mullendore, who taught Read his “best lesson ever” in liberty.  In response, Read wrote his first book—The Romance of Reality (1937)—to develop and clarify the belief in self-ownership and the solely voluntary arrangements it enabled, which he would hone for over four decades.

Read developed into a pro-freedom crusader, which led him to leave a lucrative career to create an organization promoting freedom in 1946, when its prospects in the world were bleak. The Foundation for Economic Education became “The granddaddy of all libertarian organizations,” according to Gary North, inspiring many others throughout the world.

As FEE’s founder and leader, Leonard Read wrote prolifically and traveled widely to advance individual liberty. Bettina Bien Greaves described his core message:

He reasoned that if it is moral to respect the life and property of individuals, then it is immoral to violate their rights to life and property; if it is moral to deal peacefully with others, then it is immoral to use force, fraud, or threat of force to impose one’s wishes on others; if voluntary transactions among private-property owners are moral, then to hinder or prevent voluntary transactions among willing traders is immoral. No one… should take property by force or coercion from one person for the benefit of another.

As Jacob Hornberger put it:

He argued that man’s purpose on earth, whatever it is, requires the widest possible ambit for human growth and maturation. Therefore, he believed, a person should be free to do whatever he wants in life as long as it is peaceful.

On his September 26 birthday, an excellent place to begin understanding Leonard Read’s wisdom is with “The Promotive Effects of a Good Government,” in The Romance of Reality.

[A] good government…is a servant of all the people. It takes no sides.

A government cannot be good when its officers and administrators feel that their interests are different from those of the people, any of the people, they represent.

A good government recognizes that the best interests of the people are served when government keeps itself to the very minimum compatible with actual necessities.

A good government will resist to the utmost the efforts of any groups to use the government as a vehicle to their own ends.

A good government will be a government of laws and not of men. A people must never be subjected to a “Do this. Do that” order, insured in a government of men, impossible in a government of laws.

A good government does not meddle in the legitimate affairs of any or all of its citizens. It merely keeps the arena in good shape for playing the game.

Certainly, no good government…would usurp any powers or prerogatives not specifically delegated to it by its citizens.

Government intervention into the fields of private enterprise would not be so much as entertained.

[In] good government…Everyone would have to engage…in the production and distribution of goods and services. These being the only elements of wealth, everyone would be engaged in producing and distributing wealth.

A good government…engages in no practices that either unjustly absorb or take away from the citizen that which he has earned for himself. Thus… man’s energies are released…

[E]conomic voluntarism, under which so many other factors absolutely essential to economic welfare are nestled, can exist at its fullest only under a good government

The United States, today, is the wealthiest nation all history has ever known, not because government created the wealth but because… several hundred millions of individuals, working competitively and cooperatively, have made contributions to a startling aggregate of wealth. They have left as their heritage to succeeding generations an amazing array of…essential instruments to future welfare.

[American] free spirits, protected against the ravages of criminal individuals and predacious governments, built our national edifice.

“[W]hat plan have you to offer in its stead?”…The answer is, “We do not want nor can the people prosper under any form of governmental planned economy.”…all we want in the way of a plan is…to release to the fullest the potential productive capacities, the energies, the enterprising attributes, the virtues and the genius of the individual.

Politicians today define good government as whatever they want to do. Leonard Read recognized good government as very different, doing only those things that made it “a servant of all the people,” with all else left to “economic voluntarism.” That would “release to the fullest the potential productive capacities, the energies, the enterprising attributes, the virtues and the genius of the individual.” There is no better time than Read’s birthday to adopt his wisdom.

Adapted from Gary Galles, The Apostle of Peace: The Radical Mind of Leonard Read, Laissez Faire Books, 2013

Emerson and Read

imagesMay 25 marks Ralph Waldo Emerson’s birthday. “The Sage of Concord,” called “the outstanding representative of romantic symbolism in the English speaking world,” was a major poet and influence on 19th century America. He was also an essayist who emphasized individualism and challenged traditional authority. He worked for women’s rights and against slavery. According to Barbara Solowey, “He inspired many of the best minds of his age to quest for authentic freedom…[He] embodied much of what is noblest and most admirable in our national character.”

Leonard Read, the founder of the Foundation of Economic Education, in almost 30 books, also quoted Emerson more than any other person, except Edmund Burke, Read’s model of a philosopher-statesman. In fact, Read’s single most frequently quoted line was from Emerson: “Cause and effect, means and ends, seed and fruit, cannot be severed; for the effect already blooms in the cause, the end pre-exists in the means, the fruit in the seed.” Knowing some of what Read gleaned from Emerson doesn’t just give us a window into Leonard Read’s thoughts, but something well worth thinking for ourselves.

Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than material force, that thoughts rule the world.

What you are speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.

Look not mournfully to the  past—it comes not back again; wisely improve the present—it is thine; go forth to meet the shadowy future without fear, and with a manly heart.

There is a persuasion in the soul of man that he is here for a cause, and that he was put down in this place by the Creator to do the work for which He inspired him; that thus he is an over-match for all the antagonists that could contrive against him.

Thought must take the stupendous step of passing into realization.

[N]o man thoroughly understands a truth until first he has contended against it.

Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.

Trust men and they will be true to you.

We lie in the lap of Immense Intelligence which makes us receivers of its truth and organs of its activity. When we discern justice, when we discern truth, we do nothing of ourselves but allow a passage of its beams.

America is another name for opportunity. Our whole history appears like a last effort of divine Providence in behalf of the human race.

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Debunking Free Market Materialism

800px-Margilan_marketplaceMurray Rothbard once noted that “One of the most common charges leveled against the free market is that it reflects and encourages unbridled ‘selfish materialism’…it distracts man from higher ideals. It leads man away from spiritual or intellectual values and atrophies any spirit of altruism.”

Ludwig von Mises may have laid out the issue even more clearly in Liberalism.

Liberalism is a doctrine directed entirely towards the conduct of men in this world. In the last analysis, it has nothing else in view than the advancement of their outward, material welfare and does not concern itself directly with their inner, spiritual and metaphysical needs. It does not promise men happiness and contentment, but only the most abundant possible satisfaction of all those desires that can be satisfied by the things of the outer world.

Liberalism has often been reproached for this purely external and materialistic attitude…There are higher and more important needs than food and drink, shelter and clothing. Even the greatest earthly riches cannot give man happiness; they leave his inner self, his soul, unsatisfied and empty. The most serious error of liberalism has been that it has had nothing to offer man’s deeper and nobler aspirations.

At first glance, Mises seems to be adding fuel to the fire of the selfish materialism allegation against freedom. But that is not so. At issue is whether the allegation is true. To that, Mises answered with a resounding “no.”

[T]he critics who speak in this vein show only that they have a very imperfect and materialistic conception of these higher and nobler needs. Social policy, with the means that are at its disposal, can make men rich or poor, but it can never succeed in making them happy or in satisfying their inmost yearnings. Here all external expedients fail. All that social policy can do is to remove the outer causes of pain and suffering…It is not from a disdain of spiritual goods that liberalism concerns itself exclusively with man’s material well-being, but from a conviction that what is highest and deepest in man cannot be touched by any outward regulation. It seeks to produce only outer well-being because it knows that inner, spiritual riches cannot come to man from without, but only from within his own heart. It does not aim at creating anything but the outward preconditions for the development of the inner life. Read More→

National Popular Vote Nonsense

Wooden_ballot_box_-_SmithsonianNew York has just joined the national popular vote (NPV) compact. In the name of democracy, it would pledge each adopting state’s electoral votes to whoever received the largest national vote, if enough other states do the same. It brings adopters to 165 out of 270 state electoral votes necessary to impose their agreement.

Unfortunately, NPV fails to achieve its core rationale–fixing supposed disenfranchisement of voters in “safe” states. And beyond sidestepping the Constitution, it would undermine, rather than enhance, the perceived legitimacy of a close election victor. There would always be plausible claims that close races were stolen, since fraud or cheating or other forms of running up the vote anywhere could swing such an election. It could create the Florida Bush-Gore controversy nationwide.

If the real issue was disenfranchisement, states have an alternative, clearly constitutional, approach available–assigning electoral votes to each district’s winner (plus two to the state vote winner) rather than a state winner-take-all system. Every district could affect Electoral College totals. Yet only two states have adopted it. Most legislatures have strenuously fought the idea.

Unfortunately, district representation is compromised by gerrymandering, designed to create as many “safe” districts as possible. But gerrymandering, not the Electoral College, is the cause, by which politicians supposedly against disenfranchising Presidential voters disenfranchise voters in House and state legislature elections.

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Reducing the American citizen to a status of subject

Frank Chodorov

Frank Chodorov

When the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified just over a century ago, there was no concern that IRS abuses would extend to 501c4 applications for nonprofit status from groups “unfriendly” to the administration in power. Such tax code proliferations were never anticipated. Careful observers of the income tax from the perspective of American ideals and history, such as Frank Chodorov, focused on how income taxation would undermine Americans’ liberty. As he put it in The Income Tax: Root of all Evil:

 The American Revolution…[established] a government based on a new and untried principle, namely, that the government has no power except what the governed have granted it…in 1913, when the government was invested with the power to confiscate private property…this power…put into the hands of the American government a means of liquidating the sovereignty of the citizenry.

While Chodorov’s focus was on how the income tax would undo the American Revolution’s central protection of citizens and their property against federal violations, he also saw that enforcement of the income tax would bring evils in its train. April 15 reminds us of that fact. But those predictable evils also coincide strikingly with the IRS’ targeting of groups who object to the abuses it enabled, as if Chodorov was writing about these “new and improved” abuses six decades ago.

 [T]he Sixteenth Amendment, enacted to increase the government’s revenues, has spawned another police department, another means of forcing the citizen into line.

“The imposition of the [income] tax will…necessitate a swarm of officials with inquisitorial powers…and cannot be fairly imposed¼” -REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT ADAMS, January 26, 1894.

The Internal Revenue Bureau quite sensibly takes the view that every one of us is a potential lawbreaker…it must make use of…espionage, deception, and force…

[T]he inevitable consequence…is the use of income taxation to undermine the principles of republican government and to make a mockery of our tradition of freedom.

The Internal Revenue Bureau is a self-operating inquisitorial body. It has the means of harassing, intimidating, and crushing the citizen who falls into its disfavor...Therefore, whenever the Bureau has reason to “get” somebody it has ample means at its disposal.

This is what the late Senator Schall of Minnesota had to say…“The one glaring governmental agency that constitutes a menace to the citizens is the Income Tax Bureau, which often goes outside the constitutional limitations and frequently harasses citizens by unjust exactions and by the oppressive conduct of its agents…it even dares to attack the citizens…without substantial pretext or cause¼The bureau is inquisitorial…Its forces swarm over the country…Agents, spies and snoopers annoy and plague the citizens…[it] permits and promotes, if it does not direct, a species of blackmail against the American citizen.”

There have been cases…where citizens who have offended the party in power were suddenly visited by agents of the Bureau and subjected to interrogation and examination. Of course…there is no proof that the citizens’ views prompted these special investigations. It cannot be proved that the purpose was to silence opposition. But the practice is so well known that men…have scrupulously avoided involvement in movements critical of the Administration, even though privately they are in sympathy with such movements.

[I]f individuals persist in trying to circumvent the political establishment…or if they preach doctrines inimical to the interest of the ruling group, then…freedom of thought must be suppressed.

Despite all the stonewalling, denials and rhetorical dancing offered by the Obama Administration, it is clear that the IRS employed abusive and intimidating tactics against “Tea Party” and other groups unfriendly to their employer’s agenda.  And it is hardly a surprise that the IRS’ power has been used yet again on behalf of big government. It is just one more mechanism by which the power of the income tax has, in Frank Chodorov’s words “reduced the American citizen to a status of subject.”

Political Means and Economic Means

B577March 30 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of someone who introduced a crucial distinction in understanding political reality–sociologist Franz Oppenheimer. In The State (my English translation of which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year), he contrasted the “political means” and the “economic means.”

There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man…is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one’s own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others…I propose…to call one’s own labor and the equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others, the “economic means”…while the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others will be called the “political means.”

Oppenheimer directed his distinction toward developing the conquest theory of the state.

All world history…presents…a contest…between the economic and the political means…The state is an organization of the political means…forced by a victorious group of men on a defeated group, with the sole purpose of regulating the dominion of the victorious group over the vanquished.

Oppenheimer drew some very important conclusions about the relationship between the nature of society and the nature of the State.

[A]lways, in its essence, is the “State” the same. Its purpose…the political means… Its form…dominion.

Wherever opportunity offers, and man possesses the power, he prefers political to economic means…

By the “State,” I do not mean the human aggregation…as it properly should be. I mean…that summation of privileges and dominating positions which are brought in to being by extra economic power…I mean by Society…all purely natural relations and institutions between man and man…

The “state” is the fully developed political means, society the fully developed economic means…in the “freemen’s citizenship,” there will be no “state” but only “society.”

The “state” of the future will be “society” guided by self-government.

Franz Oppenheimer’s insights were particularly influential on Albert Jay Nock. Particularly in Our Enemy the State, Nock expanded on them, arguing that the State (in contrast with the voluntary arrangements people make to live together, which he called government) was based on theft, so that “the State is fundamentally anti-social.” Read More→

More on Unions and Freedom of Association

Space limitations for my “Labor Unions and Freedom of Association” Daily Article today required that some of the references to the clear understanding of the issues by individualists connected to the Austrian school of economics had to be edited out. But three of those contributions, from Auberon Herbert, Sylvester Petro, and Friedrich Hayek, are worth noting here.

Auberon Herbert, in his “The True Line of Deliverance, written over a century ago, wrote:

[M]ake the free‑trade footing universal for all. I do not mean that A and B should accept work on any terms other than those that they themselves approve; but that they should throw no dam round their labor by preventing C from…accepting terms which they decline. That is the true labor principle, universal individual choice…leave every man free to settle his own price of labor…In the case of a serious disagreement between an employer and his men, the union would remove all such men as wished to leave…But there would be no effort to prevent the employer obtaining new hands…There would be no strike, no picketing, no coercion of other men, no stigmatizing another fellow‑workman…because he was ready to take a lower wage. All this would be left perfectly free for each man to do according to what was right in his own judgment. If the employer had behaved badly, the true penalty would fall upon him; those who wished to leave his service would do so…That would be at once the true penalty and the true remedy.  Further than that in labor disputes has no man a right to go. He can throw up his own work, but he has no right to prevent others accepting that work.

Sylvester Petro, in his 1957 The Labor Policy of the Free Society, also wrote extensively about this issue from an Austrian perspective:

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Remembering Mr. Libertarian on his birthday

RothbardSmileMarch 2 marks the birth of Murray Rothbard. Given his importance to the cause of liberty (The Libertarianism.org website said he “mounted the most comprehensive intellectual challenge ever attempted against the legitimacy of government. During a career that spanned more than 40 years, he explained why private individuals, private companies and other voluntary associations can do whatever needs to be done”), it is worth marking the occasion by remembering a few of Mr. Libertarian’s words.

 There can be no truly moral choice unless that choice is made in freedom; similarly, there can be no really firmly grounded and consistent defense of freedom unless that defense is rooted in moral principle.

The State, by its very nature, must violate the generally accepted moral laws to which most people adhere.

[The] essential activities of the State necessarily constitute criminal aggression and depredation of the just rights of private property of its subjects.

I define anarchist [society] as one where there is no legal possibility for coercive aggression against the person or property of any individual. Anarchists oppose the State because it has its very being in such aggression…

Of all the numerous forms that governments have taken over the centuries, of all the concepts and institutions that have been tried, none has succeeded in keeping the State in check.

Since the State necessarily lives by the compulsory confiscation of private capital, and since its expansion necessarily involves ever-greater incursions on private individuals and private enterprise…the state is profoundly and inherently anti-capitalist.

All of the services commonly thought to require the State—from the coining of money to police protection to the development of law in defense of the rights of person and property—can be and have been supplied far more efficiently and certainly more morally by private persons. The State is in no sense required by the nature of man; quite the contrary.

In a truly free society, a society where individual rights of person and property are maintained, the State, then, would necessarily cease to exist. Its myriad of invasive and aggressive activities, its vast depredations on the rights of person and property, would then disappear. At the same time, those genuine services which it does manage badly to perform would be thrown open to free competition, and to voluntarily chosen payments by individual consumers.

The libertarian creed, finally, offers the fulfillment of the best of the American past along with the promise of a far better future… libertarians are squarely in the great classical liberal tradition that built the United States and bestowed on us the American heritage of individual liberty, a peaceful foreign policy, minimal government, and a free-market economy.

Murray Rothbard’s New York Times obituary called him “an economist and social philosopher who fiercely defended individual freedom against government intervention.” At times like his birthday, it is worth remembering the power of his ideas.

Midwife to the Child Independence

220px-JamesOtisJr_by_BlackbarnJames Otis, though “one of the most passionate and effective protectors of American rights,” is little remembered. The reason is sad. At the peak of his influence, mental illness took virtually everything from him.

Otis was an advocate general in the vice-admiralty court. His duties included prosecuting smuggling, which Britain’s onerous trade restrictions had turned many to. Then the Crown created writs of assistance, broad search warrants enabling customs officials to enter any business or home without advance notice, probable cause or reason in search of contraband, to crack down. Otis, who considered them unconstitutional, resigned his post.

Afterwards, Otis represented Boston merchants’ efforts to stop the writs. For five hours, he argued that the writs violated citizens’ natural rights, putting them beyond Parliament’s powers. A young John Adams listened to Otis’ oration, at which “the child independence was then and there born.” Adams also said “I have never known a man whose love of country was more ardent or sincere, never one who suffered so much, never one whose service for any 10 years of his life were so important and essential to the cause of his country as those of Mr. Otis from 1760 to 1770.”

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Remembering Rand

There are few more controversial people in political circles than Alisa Rosenbaum. But few people have heard of her, because the apoplectic responses are reserved for the new name she gave herself after she left Russia for America–Ayn Rand.

Rand has persistently been among the most demonized persons in America. Yet she sold over 30 million books, and still sells hundreds of thousands of copies every year, decades after her 1982 death, and Atlas Shrugged has been ranked behind only the Bible as a book that influenced readers’ lives.

Some are devotees of everything Rand. Others use her name as a pejorative. Still others find some of her ideas insightful while rejecting others (e.g., anarcho-capitalists, who reject Rand’s minarchism and some Christian libertarians, who reject her lifestyle or insistence on atheism). What readers find most inspirational are her views on individualism, rights, liberties and government. So, for her February 2 birthday, consider some of those words.

 The moral justification of capitalism is man’s right to exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself; it is the recognition that man–every man–is an end in himself…not a sacrificial animal…

The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence. A proper government is only a policeman, acting as an agent of man’s self-defense, and, as such, may resort to force only against those who start the use of force…a government that initiates the employment of force against men who had forced no one…reverses its only moral purpose…

Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law.

The recognition of individual rights entails the banishment of physical force from human relationships…no man or group may initiate the use of physical force against others. Read More→

Minimum Wage Mendacity

6451220883_9b5e3a914fWith President Obama’s State of the Union Address and its associated campaign prominently featuring increased minimum wage, tired arguments for raising the minimum wage are being once again retreaded. Unfortunately, they compound failures of logic, measurement and evidence.

It would stimulate the economy. If I pay $1 more than necessary to hire a worker, I get $1 less in services for my money. The increase in the workers’ consumption enabled by that $1 is a transfer from me to them, not a net gain.

It would increase others’ wages as well. Unfortunately, higher minimum wages reduce available jobs, and fewer alternatives don’t create higher wages. Unions and other competitors would see wage hikes, because alternatives become more costly, but other workers get fewer goods and services in exchange for their labor —i.e., decreased real wages.

It would make work more attractive, reducing government dependence. That would require additional jobs became available at a higher wage. However, fewer jobs will be available, so fewer people would be able to work their way out of dependence.

The minimum wage hasn’t “kept up” with inflation since the 1960s. This presumes without justification that the 1960’s minimum wage was economically justified. However, it was a Great Society aberration that coincided with a virtual stop in progress against poverty.

It also ignores that much of employers’ compensation goes to Social Security, Medicare, workmen’s compensation, new Obamacare mandates, etc., rather than as wages. As government- mandated employment costs ballon, the minimum wage substantially understates compensation.

The claim uses the CPI, widely known to overstate inflation, to calculate “real” wages. And the bias was even larger in the past. So going back to the 1960s for comparison mainly introduces a half century of compounded overstatements of inflation to dramatically understate real wage growth.

It would decrease the number of families in poverty. Unfortunately, as labor economist Mark Wilson put it, “evidence from a large number of academic studies suggests that minimum wage increases don’t reduce poverty levels.” One reason is that most minimum wage workers are secondary workers in non-poor households, while very few are heads of households.

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To solve the free-rider problem, end monopoly unionization

Mandatory union dues are again at issue. On the heels of contentious “right to work” disputes, the Supreme Court heard arguments challenging an Illinois mandate requiring home healthcare workers to pay representation fees to a union they did not want. Harris v. Quinn could even challenge the Court’s 1977 Aboud precedent upholding mandatory union dues for public sector workers.

The union and allies reiterate the claim, accepted in Aboud, that “union security” rules are needed to prevent workers from unfairly opting out of paying for union services. But that claim is seriously flawed.

“Union security” rules are clear violations of workers’ liberty, particularly their freedom to not be forced to associate with certain groups, which unions ironically steamroll in the name of freedom of association. So unions defend coercion to impose employment terms violating government’s primary role–protecting individual rights—with a “free- rider” argument.

Labor laws have made unions exclusive representatives for groups of workers. Therefore, unions assert that that every worker must be forced to pay for their representation, or they will be able to “free ride” on those services. That is, workers’ rights must be abrogated to prevent non-members’ unethical behavior.

But free-riding on unions is not the fundamental problem. Mandatory exclusive representation–monopoly unions (so obviously monopolies that pro-union legislation exempted unions from antitrust laws, or they would have been illegal)—imposed to the detriment of those not in the majority is the fundamental problem.

Given majority approval in a certification election, all affected workers are required to submit to union representation and pay the union’s price for it. Those terms are imposed not only on workers who voted for the union, but for those who supported another union, those who preferred remaining union-free and those who did not vote (including those hired after the union is certified, who never get an effective chance to vote). Workers and employers are prohibited from negotiating their own arrangements, including labor-management cooperation not controlled by the union and “yellow-dog” agreements requiring abstention from union involvement (which, before labor laws eliminated such rights, the Supreme Court called “part of the constitutional rights of personal liberty and private property”).

The supposed “free-riding” workers are those who would refuse union representation, but are not allowed to. They are harmed by the imposition, revealed by their unwillingness to pay the “price” for those services. They are not free-riding on the union. They are “forced riders,” required to abide by, and pay for, violations of their rights and interests, to benefit unions. That violation of workers’ rights, not their attempts to minimize the harm imposed on them, is the central issue.

Despite their rhetoric, unions don’t really want to solve the “free rider” problem they hang their argument on, because it is easily fixable, but unions stop at nothing to prevent the solution. All it would take is ending exclusive union representation. If workers were allowed to choose representation by different unions, or negotiate for themselves, the problem would disappear. Each union would only negotiate for its voluntary members, eliminating free riders. But unions have fought with tooth, nail and their members’ wallets to impose and maintain exclusive representation, knowingly harming all dissenters and thereby creating the “free rider” problem. And their recent behavior, as in Michigan, reveals how far they will go to maintain that power to circumvent competition in the labor markets they control, now largely in the public sector.

Requiring exclusive union representation violates America’s founding principles, unfairly transferring dissenting workers’ rights to union leaders. Only those who benefit from that abuse—unions that harm dissenting workers, non-union workers and consumers (taxpayers, in public sector employment)—can object to restoring those workers’ rights. That is why Harris v. Quinn, which offers the Court another chance to see through the “free-rider” smokescreen to the central issue, presents an opportunity for a reform that would benefit the vast majority of Americans.

Photo Credit: Mike Fleming

A Spoonful of Spooner

spoonersepiaIn recent years, Americans have been burdened with an historic expansion in government control. Further, the proliferation of fees, regulations, bans, czars, bureaucracies, mandates and programs are increasingly justified by the desire to control vice (in the government’s eyes), which violates citizens’ inalienable self-ownership, rather than to deter crime, to protect citizens’ self-ownership. Whether it involves controlled substances, mandatory helmets, how large a soda someone is allowed to buy, whether trans-fats will be banished or a host of other uninvited impositions, government has increasingly been transformed into a nanny-state bully.

This externally-enforced “self-control” justifies reconsidering Lysander Spooner. Spooner laid out why our natural right of self-ownership, combined with the right to enter into voluntary arrangements with other self-owners, made government coercion of peaceful people illegitimate. Further, that moral principle is not in any way vitiated because someone with political power considers others’ choices to be vices. Since we are now accelerating away from that ethical standard, we need to rediscover his vision, which he spelled out in his 1875 Vices Are Not Crimes; A Vindication of Moral Liberty. A spoonful of Spooner’s insight would help government abuses go down.

Vices are those acts by which a man harms himself or his property. Crimes are those acts by which one man harms the person or property of another…In vices, the very essence of crime–that is, the design to injure the person or property of another–is wanting.

Unless this clear distinction between vices and crimes be made and recognized by the laws, there can be…no such thing as individual right, liberty, or property; no such things as the right of one man to the control of his own person and property…

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