Roofs or Ceilings: the San Francisco earthquake of 1906

SanFranHouses1906On this day in 1906, a great earthquake struck San Francisco and the coast of Northern California at 5:12 a.m.

One of the worst natural disasters in US history — and the single greatest loss of life in California’s history — the quake and the resulting fires killed at least 3,000 people and destroyed over 80 percent of San Francisco.

More than half the city’s survivors were left homeless.

Why is this natural disaster part of our tradition, the tradition of liberty?

Because 40 years later, in 1946, the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) published 500,000 copies of a pamphlet arguing against continuation of wartime rent-control laws, using the great earthquake as historical evidence for how a homeless population can quickly find shelter in a free market.

MisesLastKnightOfLiberalismThis pamphlet — called “Roofs or Ceilings,” and written by two young Chicago economists named Milton Friedman and George Stigler — was 20-year-old Murray Rothbard‘s introduction to FEE. It drew him into the movement, such as it was. He continued to read FEE’s publications and began attending their conferences, but a year and a half later Rothbard had still never heard of Austrian economics.

FEE only became Austrian later in the decade, and only because of Ludwig von Mises.

What was the pre-Misesian movement like? Friedman and Stigler’s pamphlet is a good indication.

Read more in “The Tepid Movement before Mises.”

historical irony: the Economist magazine prefers Great Britain to Little England

TheEconomistCover20131109I blogged the other day about the double meaning of the term "Little Englander" and how its two meanings are really at odds with each other:

See Wikipedia and Wiktionary for example, where the primary definition is anti-imperialist, followed by the "colloquial" usage that means xenophobic. ("An Idiot’s Guide to Little Englanders")

One recent article from the Economist seems to use the term in both ways simultaneously ("Great Britain or Little England?").

Because the magazine does not give the author’s name, I assume the piece is meant to represent the editorial position of the Economist itself, opposing drastic budget cuts while recognizing a general need for the British state to shrink and the market to grow. Who, then, are the Little Englanders according to the Economist? Euroasceptics and anti-immigrationists.

"Britain is on the way to becoming more solvent but also more insular," the Economist frets. "The trick for Britain in the future will be to combine a smaller, more efficient state with a more open attitude to the rest of the world."

Apparently, a "more open attitude" would take the form not of voluntary exchange between free individuals across international borders but rather of precisely the sort of governmental intervention that George Washington disparaged as "foreign entanglement."

One great irony is that the Economist is itself a descendent of the original Little Englanders. The magazine traces its lineage back to the Anti–Corn Law League, the early free-trade manifestation of the Manchester School.

The classical-liberal Manchester School is remembered most for its opposition to protectionism, which was rightly perceived in the 19th century as a way to tax the poor to benefit the landed aristocracy. The Economist has not remained a liberal publication in this historically libertarian sense, but it has generally honored its free-trade roots. Has it lost track of the other side of the Manchester coin — opposition to war, imperialism, and foreign entanglements?

Was FDR a socialist?

I love Anthony Gregory.

And some of his stuff is just too good to be confined to Facebook.

Here’s a meme that the political Left has been promoting:

"They called me a socialist..."

Now, I’d probably have responded to that by pointing out that

  1. while the Fed and President Hoover may have created the Great Depression, FDR made it far worse and made it last far longer than it would have without the New Deal, or
  2. the so-called name calling that labels FDR a socialist is based on an accurate assessment of his policies, which were consistent with both the left- and right-wing socialisms of Western Europe, if not the big red menace of the East…

And that would have been boring and familiar, even if technically correct.

Instead, the brilliant Anthony Gregory innocently accepts the Left’s point and explores it further:

"They also called him a fascist when he threw people in concentration camps based on race, and a warmonger when he firebombed civilians by the hundreds of thousands, and a hypocrite when he oversaw legalizing alcohol only to turn around and ban weed, and a corporatist when he suspended antitrust to force businesses to merge and created the modern military-industrial complex, and a monster when he destroyed crops as people went hungry, and a liberal when he did it all with a smile." ~ Anthony Gregory

“Black Death and Taxes” at the Freeman



Black Death and Taxes

They had more to do with each other than you might think

NOVEMBER 25, 2013

The plague and the Little Ice Age didn’t do Europe any favors. But the excesses of the State amplified the damage.

Who destroyed the first golden age of television?

In his comments on my recent blog post "lowbrow," Scott Lahti points us to this article from the Atlantic:

"Why Is the Golden Age of TV So Dark?"

I hadn’t realized there was such a consensus that we are now in a new golden age of television, but if the current age stretches back 10 or 15 years, I have to agree. TV writing is so much smarter, funnier, and more compelling now than it was when I was growing up, watching way too much of it.

If now is the new golden age, when was the previous one? The established wisdom, apparently, is that TV viewers were their most fortunate in the 1950s.

Paul Cantor talks about that original "Golden Age of Television" in his lecture series "Commerce and Culture" and Wikipedia confirms that the term refers to an era that "began sometime in the late 1940s and extended to the late 1950s or early 1960s."

Why these peaks, and why the trough in the years between? Read more of this post

price theory a la Rupert Murdoch

RupertMurdochRupert Murdoch was buying up online properties in the mid 1990s, trying to do with the newly commercial Internet what he had done with FOX television during the previous ten years or so. One of his new acquisitions was a gaming company here in Charlottesville. My friend and I became the two "web guys" for the company. It was my first full-time job in the private sector.

When I was discussing my yet-to-be-submitted laugh-track article with Paul Cantor and I mentioned that it was competition from HBO and FOX that pushed canned laughter into retreat, Professor Cantor recommended the book The Fourth Network: How FOX Broke the Rules and Reinvented Television by Daniel M. Kimmel.

He says it was his main source for this lecture:

"When Is a Network Not a Network?" (It’s a great talk!)

I said, "You know, I used to work for Rupert Murdoch."

"Don’t you realize," Cantor quipped, "at some point EVERYBODY has worked for Rupert Murdoch."

Charlottesville, perhaps like most university towns, is famously left-wing. Rupert Murdoch was infamously right-wing long before FOX News became the unofficial media arm of the Republican Party. So I sensed a definite ambivalence, sometimes defensiveness, among my co-workers about the guy in charge. Read more of this post

Capitalism and Spirituality

DollarSunriseOne advantage a libertarian author has when working with Invisible Order is that we in the Order are well read in the relevant literature and have worked extensively with both scholarly and popular texts.

For example, one writer recently asked us what Ludwig von Mises would have to say about a passage he had found online:

Schelling recognized that genuine democracy is only possible given a citizenry aware of the cosmological, anthropological, and theological complexities of authentic freedom. Without a philosophical culture capable of sustaining inquiry into the cosmic and spiritual depths of human nature, the equality rightly demanded by democratic societies can only devolve into the leveling homogenization of consumer capitalism, where freedom is reduced to the ability to identify with the corporate brand of one’s choice. The trivialization and inversion of freedom inherent to “democratic” capitalism makes human beings forgetful of their divine-cosmic ground, functioning not only to alienate individuals from their communities, but humanity from earth.

Here is my reply:

Read more of this post