Socialism at Jamestown by David Boaz

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank chides Dick Armey today for having said that socialism caused starvation at Jamestown.  "Who knew they had socialists in 1607?" Milbank asks. Actually, lots of people know this. As I wrote three years ago:
Four hundred years ago today 105 men and boys disembarked from three ships and established the first permanent English settlement in North America. They built a fort along what they called the James River, in honor of their king. The land was lush and fertile, yet within three years most of the colonists died during what came to be known as "the starving time." Only the establishment of private property saved the Jamestown colony. What went wrong? There were the usual hardships of pioneers far from home, such as unfamiliar diseases. There were mixed relations with the Indians already living in Virginia. Sometimes the Indians and settlers traded, other times armed conflicts broke out. But according to a governor of the colony, George Percy, most of the colonists died of famine, despite the "good and fruitful" soil, the abundant deer and turkey, and the "strawberries, raspberries and fruits unknown" growing wild. The problem was the lack of private property. As Tom Bethell writes in his book The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity through the Ages, "The colonists were indolent because most of them were indentured servants, expected to toil for seven years and contribute the fruits of their labor to the common store." Understandably, men who don't benefit from their hard work tend not to work very hard.
But a new governor arrived and instituted a system of private property.
And then, the Virginia historian Matthew Page Andrews wrote, "As soon as the settlers were thrown upon their own resources, and each freeman had acquired the right of owning property, the colonists quickly developed what became the distinguishing characteristic of Americans – an aptitude for all kinds of craftsmanship coupled with an innate genius for experimentation and invention." John Rolfe, the husband of Pocahontas, said that once private property was instituted, men could engage in "gathering and reaping the fruits of their labors with much joy and comfort."
I gotta go with Milbank, not Armey, though, on another point of contention: Alexander Hamilton was a big-government man. At least by the standards of 1787; no doubt he'd be appalled at the size, scope, and power of today's federal government, though he might approve the imperial trappings and authority of modern presidents.

Posted on March 16, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

More on the Last-Shot Strategy by David Boaz

Related to my post below on whether last-second shots with time expiring, while good for basketball, might be bad for governance, Steven Horwitz offers a compelling hypothetical in academic governance at Coordination Problem:
...Nonetheless, the leadership insists this curriculum change is crucially important to the future of the institution and if only the Faculty Senate would pass it and put it in place, the faculty and students would then realize just how good it is.  In fact, the faculty leadership, working with the clear approval of the president and VPAA, are now scouring Roberts Rules of Order to find a series of sure-to-be controversial parliamentary maneuvers to get the Faculty Senate to approve the new curriculum without it ever going to the full faculty, and possibly without the Faculty Senate ever actually taking a clean vote on it.  The president, meanwhile, is going around to students and alumni telling them how important this new curriculum is and, in the process, criticizing the faculty opponents by charging they have self-interested reasons for defending the status quo, even as the new curriculum proposal contains the aforementioned special deals for some of the faculty supporters. The faculty as a whole and the student body continue to oppose the new curriculum by a consistent majority. Having considered this hypothetical scenario, here are my questions for you my friends:
  • Would you consider this a legitimate way to pass a new curriculum?  If the faculty leadership in conjunction with the administration were to ram this through by questionable parliamentary procedure and over the objections of a clear majority, do you think this new curriculum would have any legitimacy? ...
  • Posted on March 15, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

    Last-Second Shots by David Boaz

    On Sunday the University of Kentucky Wildcats saved their SEC tournament championship on a second-chance shot with 0.1 seconds left on the clock. That's a great way to win a basketball game, but not a good way for Congress to impose 2000 pages of federal rules on one-seventh of the American economy.

    Posted on March 15, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

    Axelrod Is Shocked, Shocked to Find Corporate Money in Elections by David Boaz

    White House senior advisor David Axelrod continued the administration's campaign against the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision on ABC's This Week:
    But thinking about Teddy Roosevelt, I wonder what he would think about a bill that essentially allows for a corporate takeover of our elections, or a court decision. And that's what we're dealing with here. Under the ruling of the Supreme Court, any lobbyist could go into any legislator and say, if you don't vote our way on this bill, we're going to run a million-dollar campaign against you in your district. And that is a threat to our democracy.
    He was of course echoing and defending President Obama's declaration in the State of the Union address:
    With all due deference to separation of powers, last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests, including foreign corporations, to spend without limit in our elections. I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests or, worse, by foreign entities. They should be decided by the American people.
    Axelrod and Obama are horrified at the idea of corporate contributions to elections. Who can imagine the impact? It's too horrifying to contemplate. Except -- it turns out that Axelrod and Obama don't have to imagine a political system wracked by corporate contributions. They're already intimately familiar with such an undemocratic system. Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman points out:
    But consider a state where corporations are already allowed to spend as much as they want on elections: Illinois.
    That is, Obama and Axelrod spent their entire political careers in a state where corporations can make direct political contributions. Chapman isn't impressed with the corporations' impact:
    Here, companies have established beyond doubt that this prerogative, when combined with $2.25, will get them a ride on the bus. Illinois is something short of a corporate paradise. It ranks 30th among the states in its friendliness toward business. The Tax Foundation, which did the survey, complains of excessive sales, property and unemployment insurance taxes. Illinois is one of a minority of states requiring employers to pay more than the federal minimum wage. It is notorious for heavy workers' compensation costs. It puts no limits on the punitive damages a company can be assessed. All this evidence should dispel the fear that future congressional debates will pit the senator from Exxon Mobil against her distinguished colleague from Bank of America. It turns out that where corporate expenditures are allowed, corporations a) don't do much or b) don't get much for what they do.
    Whether or not that's true, someone should ask Obama and Axelrod whether they accepted corporate contributions in Illinois, whether they fought to end that system, and whether they think democracy still exists in Illinois. But as far as I can tell, no one has, including ABC, NBC, and CNN, all of whom interviewed Axelrod this morning.

    Posted on March 14, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

    O’Reilly: No Freedom, No How by David Boaz

    Bill O'Reilly teases an interview with John Stossel this way:
    Should Americans be able to use their body for any purpose? John Stossel says yes and joins us to explain!
    And Bill O'Reilly says no! No to legal prostitution, no to polygamy, no even to legal markets for vitally needed organs. Check it out: More Stossel videos on personal freedom here. Cato research on organ markets here. And don't forget to watch John Stossel every Thursday night at 8 on the Fox Business Network.

    Posted on March 10, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

    RIP Michael Foot, a Socialist Who Understood What Socialism Was by David Boaz

    "Michael Foot, a bookish intellectual and anti-nuclear campaigner who led Britain's Labour Party to a disastrous defeat in 1983, died [March 3]," reported the Associated Press. He was 96.
    Foot personified the socialist tendency in the Labour Party, which Tony Blair successfully erased when he won power at the head of a business-friendly, interventionist "New Labour." Yet Foot remained a respected, even revered, figure. "Michael Foot was a giant of the Labour movement, a man of passion, principle and outstanding commitment to the many causes he fought for," Blair said Wednesday. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Blair's partner in creating "New Labour," praised Foot as a "genuine British radical" and a "man of deep principle and passionate idealism."
    Michael Foot may have been the most serious intellectual ever to head a major Western political party. He wrote biographies of Labour politicians Aneurin Bevan and Harold Wilson, and of H.G. Wells, and a 1988 book on Lord Byron, "The Politics of Paradise," and he edited the "Thomas Paine Reader" in 1987. So when you asked Michael Foot what socialism was, you could expect a deeply informed answer. And that's what the Washington Post got in 1982, when they asked the Labour Party leader for an example of socialism in practice that could "serve as a model of the Britain you envision." Foot replied,
    The best example that I've seen of democratic socialism operating in this country was during the second world war.  Then we ran Britain highly efficiently, got everybody a job. . . . The conscription of labor was only a very small element of it.  It was a democratic society with a common aim.
    Wow. Michael Foot, the great socialist intellectual, a giant of the Labour movement, a man of deep principle and passionate idealism, thought that the best example ever seen of "democratic socialism" was a society organized for total war. And he wasn't the only one. The American socialist Michael Harrington wrote, “World War I showed that, despite the claims of free-enterprise ideologues, government could organize the economy effectively.” He hailed World War II as having "justified a truly massive mobilization of otherwise wasted human and material resources" and complained that the War Production Board was "a success the United States was determined to forget as quickly as possible." He went on, "During World War II, there was probably more of an increase in social justice than at any [other] time in American history. Wage and price controls were used to try to cut the differentials between the social classes. . . . There was also a powerful moral incentive to spur workers on: patriotism." Collectivists such as Foot and Harrington don't relish the killing involved in war, but they love war's domestic effects: centralization and the growth of government power. They know, as did the libertarian writer Randolph Bourne, that "war is the health of the state"—hence the endless search for a moral equivalent of war. As Don Lavoie demonstrated in his book National Economic Planning: What Is Left?, modern concepts of economic planning—including "industrial policy" and other euphemisms—stem from the experiences of Germany, Great Britain, and the United States in planning their economies during World War I. The power of the central governments grew dramatically during that war and during World War II, and collectivists have pined for the glory days of the War Industries Board and the War Production Board ever since. Walter Lippmann was an early critic of the collectivists' fascination with war planning. He wrote, "A close analysis of its theory and direct observation of its practice will disclose that all collectivism. . . is military in method, in purpose, in spirit, and can be nothing else." Lippman went on to explain why war—or a moral equivalent—is so congenial to collectivism:
    Under the system of centralized control without constitutional checks and balances, the war spirit identifies dissent with treason, the pursuit of private happiness with slackerism and sabotage, and, on the other side, obedience with discipline, conformity with patriotism. Thus at one stroke war extinguishes the difficulties of planning, cutting out from under the individual any moral ground as well as any lawful ground on which he might resist the execution of the official plan.
    National service, national industrial policy, national energy policy—all have the same essence, collectivism, and the same model, war. War is sometimes, regrettably, necessary. But why would anyone want its moral equivalent?

    Posted on March 8, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

    Civil Liberties Advocates, Not ‘Gun Advocates’ by David Boaz

    In this NPR story Nina Totenberg gives both sides their say.  But twice she refers to the people advocating Second Amendment rights as "gun advocates" (and once as "gun rights advocates"). That's not the language NPR uses in other such cases. In 415 NPR stories on abortion, I found only one reference to "abortion advocates," in 2005. There are far more references, hundreds more, to "abortion rights," "reproductive rights," and "women's rights." And certainly abortion-rights advocates would insist that they are not "abortion advocates," they are advocates for the right of women to choose whether or not to have an abortion. NPR grants them the respect of characterizing them the way they prefer. Similarly, NPR has never used the phrase "pornography advocates," though it has run a number of stories on the First Amendment and how it applies to pornography. The lawyers who fight restrictions on pornography are First Amendment advocates, not pornography advocates. And the lawyers who seek to guarantee our rights under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution should be called Second Amendment advocates, or advocates of the right to self-defense, or civil liberties advocates. Or even "gun rights advocates," as they do advocate the right of individuals to choose whether or not to own a gun. But not "gun advocates."

    Posted on March 2, 2010  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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