‘Anarchist’ Idiocy

The Washington Post splashes a story about "anarchists" in Greece across the front page today. The print headline is "Into the arms of anarchy," and a photo-essay online is titled "In Greece, austerity kindles the flames of anarchy." And what do these anarchists demand? Well, reporter Anthony Faiola doesn't find out much about what they're for, but they seem to be against, you know, what the establishment is doing, man:
The protests are an emblem of social discontent spreading across Europe in response to a new age of austerity. At a time when the United States is just beginning to consider deep spending cuts, countries such as Greece are coping with a fallout that has extended well beyond ordinary civil disobedience. Perhaps most alarming, analysts here say, has been the resurgence of an anarchist movement, one with a long history in Europe. While militants have been disrupting life in Greece for years, authorities say that anger against the government has now given rise to dozens of new “amateur anarchist” groups.
Faiola does acknowledge that the term is used pretty loosely:
The anarchist movement in Europe has a long, storied past, embracing an anti-establishment universe influenced by a broad range of thinkers from French politician and philosopher Pierre-Joseph Proudhon to Karl Marx to Oscar Wilde.
So that's, let's see, a self-styled anarchist who was anti-state and anti-private property, the father of totalitarianism, and a witty playwright jailed for his homosexuality.
Defined narrowly, the movement includes groups of urban guerillas, radical youths and militant unionists. More broadly, it encompasses everything from punk rock to WikiLeaks.
And what are these various disgruntled groups opposed to?
The rolling back of social safety nets in Europe began more than a year ago, as countries from Britain to France to Greece moved to cut social benefits and slash public payrolls, to address mounting public debt. At least in the short term, the cuts have held back economic growth and job creation, exacerbating the social pain. And Greece is not the only place in which segments of society are pushing back.
So these "anarchists" object that the state might cut back on its income transfers and payrolls. That is, they object to the state reducing its size, scope, and power. Odd anarchists, as George Will told the crowd at the 2010 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty dinner:
It leads to the streets of Athens, where we had what the media described as "anti-government mobs." Anti-government mobs composed almost entirely of government employees going berserk about threats to their entitlements!
Lots of talk in the Post article about anarchists:
“They are taking everything away from us,” [19-year-old law student Nikolas] Ganiaris said. “What will happen when I finish law school? Will I only find a job making copies in a shop? Will I then need to work until I’m 70 before I retire? Will I only get a few hundred euros as pension? What future have I got now?” A radical minority is energizing the anarchist movement, a loose network of anti-establishment groups.... Since then, experts say, the economic crisis has helped the movement thrive, with anarchists positioning themselves as society’s new avengers. Long a den of anarchists, the graffiti-blanketed Exarchia neighborhood is alive anew with dissent. Nihilist youths are patrolling the local park, preventing police from entering and blocking authorities from building a parking lot on the site. On one evening at a local cafe, an anarchist group was broadcasting anti-government messages via a clandestine radio station using a laptop and a few young recruits.
The last vignette in the story is about 20-year-old Nikos Galanos, who has joined the anarchist movement in anger over his mother's losing her government job and his father's being the victim of a 15 percent salary cut in his own government job.
“I don’t support violence for violence’s sake, but violence is a response to the violence the government is committing against society,” Galanos said. He later added, “It is now hard for any of us to see a future here. I feel it’s my duty to fight against the system.”
In fact, the government has been committing violence against society for decades, by taxing people, overregulating business, and spending money it didn't have. No wonder youth unemployment is 35 percent. And what is the actual "system" that Mr. Galanos wants to fight? Greek journalist Takis Michas described it at a Cato Forum:
In Greece, the fundamental principle that has been dictating economic and political development since the creation of the Greek state in the 19th century is political clientelism. This is a system in which political support is provided in exchange for benefits. In this situation, rent-seeking — the attempt by various groups and individuals to influence the location of political benefits — becomes paramount. The origins of political clientelism can be traced back to the origins of the Greek state in the 1830s. As a left-wing political historian puts it, "The fundamental structure of Greece has never been civil society. Ever since the middle of the 19th century, nothing could be done in Greece without its necessarily passing through the machinery of the state."... The largest part of public expenditure was directed, not to public works or infrastructure, but to the wages of public service workers and civil servants.... What makes the case of Greece interesting is that Greece can be said, in a certain sense, to provide the perfect realization of the left's vision of putting people above markets. Greek politicians have always placed people (their clients) above markets, with results we can all see today.
Real anarchists, of either the anarcho-capitalist or mutualist variety,  might have something useful to say to Greeks in their current predicament. But disgruntled young people, lashing out at the end of an unsustainable welfare state, are not anarchists in any serious sense. They're just angry children not ready to deal with reality. But reality has a way of happening whether you're ready to deal with it or not.

Posted on May 14, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

More Hayek Sightings

The long Hayek Week continues, a full two weeks after Cato's all-star panel on The Constitution of Liberty. The Washington Post today features George Mason University professor Russell Roberts and his Hayek-Keynes rap videos. And by reading the actual print edition of the New York Times Book Review, I discovered that the same issue that included Francis Fukuyama's review of the The Constitution of Liberty last Sunday also included a letter from one David Beffert of Washington, D.C., coincidentally responding to a review of Fukuyama's own new book. Beffert wrote:
I enjoyed Michael Lind’s April 17 review of Francis Fukuyama’s important new book, “The Origins of Political Order.” But even as someone who prefers John Maynard Keynes and Karl Polanyi to F. A. Hayek, I still feel compelled to defend Hayek from Lind’s mischaracterization. While I agree with Fukuyama’s argument that, as Lind puts it, “a strong and capable state has always been a precondition for a flourishing capitalist economy,” Hayek can hardly be accused of trying “to explain society in terms of Homo economicus.” A doctor of law and political science, Hayek afforded the state a central role in his philosophy — specifically, he saw the Rechtsstaat, constitutional government enforcing the rule of law, as a guarantor of liberty and a functioning capitalist order. In that sense he, like Fukuyama, is closer to the 19th-century sociological tradition than to neoclassical economists, who would appear to be Lind’s real target.
Speaking of misconceptions about Hayek, if you Google "soros hayek," the first item that comes up is a page of letters in the Atlantic Monthly taking Soros to task for misunderstanding Hayek -- in 1997. Tadd Wilson argues:
Soros cites Hayek as an advocate of laissez-faire and then goes on to reject laissez-faire economics on the grounds that it is a dogmatic system at once claiming and demanding perfect knowledge and equilibrium. Of course, Hayek's major contribution to economics was his critique of scientific assumptions in equilibrium-based economics. In a nutshell, Hayek argues that the market process relies on contextual, personal knowledge to coordinate the activities of millions of individual participants -- a vaguely Popperian notion. Soros misses Hayek's crucial point.
This is much the same criticism that Bruce Caldwell made of Soros's understanding of Hayek two weeks ago. Considering the many complaints that were raised about Fukuyama's understanding of Hayek, we can only ask: Why can't the Times get someone like, say, David Beffert or Tadd Wilson to review Hayek? By the way, if you Google Hayek, you'll discover that it's a big week for Salma Hayek, too. They're not related, but you can find a slightly dated comparison here.

Posted on May 12, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

The King’s Speech

His Royal Highness Prince Charles, who lives, well, like a king, off wealth that his ancestors stole, appears at a Washington Post conference to tell his still-recalcitrant former subjects to change their economic system. As befitting a hereditary aristocrat, coming from a long line of people used to issuing orders, with little interest in spontaneous order or actual economic growth, he finds an
urgent need for . . . the willingness of all aspects of society — the public, private and NGO [non-governmental organizations] sectors, large corporations and small organizations — to work together to build an economic model built upon resilience and diversity.
Sure thing, guv'nor, we'll get right on that.

Posted on May 11, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Clinton, Obama, and Hayek

President Obama has been saying that if the United States government can find and eliminate Osama bin Laden after ten years of searching, it can do anything:
Already, in several appearances since the raid, Obama has described it as a reminder that “as a nation there is nothing that we can’t do,” as he put it during an unrelated White House ceremony Monday. On Sunday night, during his first comments about the operation, he linked it to American values, saying the country is “once again reminded that America can do whatever we set our mind to.”
This is, of course, nonsense. Finding bin Laden, difficult as it proved to be, was an incomparably simple task compared to using coercion and central planning to bring about desired results in defiance of economic reality. You can't deliver better health care to more people for less money by reducing the role of incentives and markets, even if you set your mind to it. As Russell Roberts said about a similar concept, "If we can put a man on the moon, then...":
Putting a man on the moon is an engineering problem. It yields to a sufficient application of reason and resources. Eliminating poverty is an economic problem (and by the word "economic" I do not mean financial or related to money), a challenge that involves emergent results. In such a setting, money alone—in the amounts that a non-economic approach might suggest, one that ignores the impact of incentives and markets—is unlikely to be successful.
Obama should listen to Bill Clinton, who last fall seemed to be channeling Hayek:
Friedrich Hayek, The Fatal Conceit: “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.” Bill Clinton, 9/21: “Do you know how many political and economic decisions are made in this world by people who don’t know what in the living daylights they are talking about?"

Posted on May 11, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

When the Government Lobbies Itself

"National Public Radio (NPR) is paying the lobbying firm Bracy, Tucker, Brown & Valanzano to defend its taxpayer funding stream in Congress, according to lobbying disclosure forms filed with the Secretary of the Senate," reports Matthew Boyle at the Daily Caller. Once again, a government-funded entity is using its taxpayer funds to lobby to get more money from the taxpayers. When the bailouts and takeovers started in 2008-9, I noted that there was lots of outrage in the blogosphere over revelations that some of the biggest recipients of the federal government’s $700 billion TARP bailout had been spending money on lobbyists. And I wrote:
It’s bad enough to have our tax money taken and given to banks whose mistakes should have caused them to fail. It’s adding insult to injury when they use our money — or some “other” money; money is fungible — to lobby our representatives in Congress, perhaps for even more money. Get taxpayers’ money, hire lobbyists, get more taxpayers’ money. Nice work if you can get it.
At the same time, Dan Mitchell wrote that companies that received government money and then lobbied for more "deserve a reserved seat in a very hot place." Taxpayer-funded lobbying is a scandal, but it's a scandal that has been going on for decades:
As far back as 1985, Cato published a book, Destroying Democracy: How Government Funds Partisan Politics, that exposed how billions of taxpayers’ dollars were used to subsidize organizations with a political agenda, mostly groups that lobbied and organized for bigger government and more spending. The book led off with this quotation from Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty: “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.” The book noted that the National Council of Senior Citizens had received more than $150 million in taxpayers’ money in four years. A more recent report estimated that AARP had received over a billion dollars in taxpayer funding. Both groups, of course, lobby incessantly for more spending on Social Security and Medicare. The Heritage Foundation reported in 1995, “Each year, the American taxpayers provide more than $39 billion in grants to organizations which may use the money to advance their political agendas.” In 1999 Peter Samuel and Randal O’Toole found that EPA was a major funder of groups lobbying for “smart growth.” So these groups were pushing a policy agenda on the federal government, but the government itself was paying the groups to lobby it. Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to pay for the very lobbying that seeks to suck more dollars out of the taxpayers. But then, taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to subsidize banks, car companies, senior citizen groups, environmentalist lobbies, labor unions, or other private organizations in the first place.

Posted on May 10, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Attention Students: Internships and Cato University

What's harder to get into than Harvard? The Cato Institute summer internship. Harvard just announced that "an all-time low of 6.2 percent of applicants were offered admission to the Harvard College Class of 2015, beating records for the sixth consecutive year." Harvard's acceptance rate is slightly lower than the rate at Princeton, Stanford, and Columbia. But not lower than the Cato summer internship rate! Cato's incoming interns survived an application process more selective than Ivy League universities, with about 4 percent of applicants offered an internship. The process is a little less competitive for Fall and Spring internships, and we encourage students to check out the application deadlines for those upcoming classes. Also note: There are no more summer internships available, but you can still apply for a scholarship to Cato University this summer until Friday. Of course, non-students are also welcome at Cato University, which is being held this year in beautiful and historic Annapolis, Maryland, the city where George Washington returned his military commission to the Continental Congress and became, in the words of George III, "the greatest man in the world" by giving up power and establishing the new country on the firm path to republican government. We'll have a mix of people of all ages from all over the country and indeed the world, and we hope you'll sign up today. More on Cato's internships here, including last year's comparative acceptance rates.

Posted on May 9, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Hayek Day Turns into a Week

Last week I wrote about "Hayek Day," when Russ Roberts and John Papola released their second rap video about Hayek and Keynes, and Bruce Caldwell, Richard Epstein, and George Soros came to Cato to talk about the new edition of The Constitution of Liberty. Now, it's looking like Hayek Week. Yesterday, on the 112th anniversary of Hayek's birth, The Constitution of Liberty was reviewed in the New York Times. I write about the new review by Francis Fukuyama, and the original 1960 review by Sidney Hook, at the Britannica today. Since Fukuyama managed to mention Glenn Beck three times in 1100 words, I noted Hayek's view of conservatism, which can be found in the very book under review:
Reagan and Thatcher may have admired Hayek, but he always insisted that he was a liberal, not a conservative. He titled the postscript to The Constitution of Liberty “Why I Am Not a Conservative.” He pointed out that the conservative “has no political principles which enable him to work with people whose moral values differ from his own for a political order in which both can obey their convictions. It is the recognition of such principles that permits the coexistence of different sets of values that makes it possible to build a peaceful society with a minimum of force. The acceptance of such principles means that we agree to tolerate much that we dislike.” He wanted to be part of “the party of life, the party that favors free growth and spontaneous evolution.” And I recall an interview in a French magazine in the 1980s, which I can’t find online, in which he was asked if he was part of the “new right,” and he quipped, “Je suis agnostique et divorcé.”

Posted on May 9, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Soros, Epstein, and Caldwell on Hayek

Last Thursday must have been Hayek Day. In the morning was the release of the rap video, "Fight of the Century: Keynes vs. Hayek Round Two." And then in the afternoon a distinguished panel convened in the Cato Institute's F. A. Hayek Auditorium to discuss Hayek's great work The Constitution of Liberty, just released in a new definitive edition by the University of Chicago Press. The forum was moderated by Cato fellow in social thought Ronald Hamowy, who edited the new edition. Panelists were Hayek's intellectual biographer and editor of The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek, Bruce Caldwell; the brilliant legal scholar Richard Epstein; and the hedge-fund billionaire and Open Society Foundations founder George Soros. (Find video and transcript here; easier-to-search video here.) Read more...

Posted on May 5, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

"This time they said, ‘We’re not going.’"

“This time they said, ‘We’re not going.’” That was the quote that caught my attention in last week's PBS broadcast of "Stonewall Uprising," a documentary about the "Stonewall riots" that launched the gay rights movement in 1969. And it made me think of other people who finally said "no" to oppression -- like Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Alabama, and Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia. At the Britannica blog I look at the connections among these resisters and movements and ask:
What causes some acts of resistance to succeed? Is it historical inevitability, just the right moment for the dry field of hidden dissatisfaction to be set on fire by a spark? Some libertarian — and other — radicals wonder why Americans don’t revolt against what the radicals see as tyranny.

Posted on May 3, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

Ron Paul on Diane Rehm

Last week all the guests on NPR's Diane Rehm Show said Ron Paul was bad, very bad, to question the legitimacy of the Federal Reserve Board. (Very near the end of the show.) Diane responded by saying that Paul would be interviewed on the show the following week, but the show's website didn't confirm that. Now it does. Tomorrow, Tuesday, at 10 a.m. ET, Ron Paul discusses his new book Liberty Defined on the Diane Rehm Show. Expect tough questions and lots of callers. If taxes and inflation make it impossible for you to afford Paul's new book, you can always read his book The Case for Gold for free online.

Posted on May 2, 2011  Posted to Cato@Liberty

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