Nightcap

  1. Franklin D. Roosevelt Jackson Lears, London Review of Books
  2. Memoir of captivity in Iran John Tamny, RealClearMarkets
  3. Towards decentralization Andy Smarick, National Affairs
  4. Did humans tame themselves? Melvin Konnor, the Atlantic

RCH: America’s WWII internment camps

Folks, I forgot to link to last weekend’s piece at RealClearHistory. It was about World War II internment camps in the US. An excerpt:

As a quick historical reminder, the United States government, under the direct orders of Democratic president Franklin D. Roosevelt, imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Americans and recently immigrated foreigners for the crime of being Japanese or German (the Italians got some flack, too, but less so than the other two), or for having a Japanese or German surname.

The vast majority of these imprisoned people were Japanese or Japanese-American. In fact, the total amount of interred German or German-American prisoners was roughly 11,000, and the number of Italian or Italian-Americans much smaller than that.

Please, read the rest.

Alguns mitos, equívocos e objeções comuns ao capitalismo parte 2

Continuando um post antigo, seguem mais alguns mitos, equívocos e objeções comuns ao capitalismo.

Três mitos a respeito da Grande Depressão e do New Deal

Mito #1: Herbert Hoover praticava o laissez-faire, e foi sua falta de ação que levou ao colapso econômico.

Na verdade Herbert Hoover era tremendamente intervencionista na economia. Sua intervenção cooperou para o início da depressão e sua continuada intervenção evitou que a economia se recuperasse logo.

Mito #2: o New Deal trouxe fim à Grande Depressão.

Longe de ser uma série de medidas coerentes contra a depressão, o New Deal foi uma tentativa de Frank Delano Roosevelt de demonstrar que estava fazendo alguma coisa. As medidas do New Deal apenas agravaram e prolongaram a crise. Países que adotaram uma postura menos intervencionista se recuperaram da crise mais rápido do que os EUA.

Mito #3: A Segunda Guerra Mundial deu fim à Grande Depressão.

Talvez este seja o pior mito de todos: a produção industrial no contexto da Segunda Guerra gerou empregos, aumentou o PIB, e com isso acabou com a Depressão. Conforme Friedrich Hayek afirmou, “da última vez que chequei, guerras apenas destroem”. Este mito é uma aplicação da falácia da janela quebrada, observada por Frédéric Bastiat. Guerras não produzem riqueza. Na verdade elas a destroem. O exame cuidadoso dos dados históricos demonstra que a economia dos EUA só se recuperou realmente quando a Segunda Guerra Mundial já havia acabado.

Mais alguns mitos, equívocos e objeções comuns ao capitalismo:

1. Capitalismo é racista e sexista

Considerando o capitalismo economia de livre mercado, onde indivíduos são livres para escolher, nada poderia estar mais longe da verdade. O capitalismo assim definido é cego para raça ou gênero. O que importa é a troca de valores. Para ficar em apenas um exemplo, as lideranças políticas do sul dos EUA pressionavam os donos de empresas de ônibus a segregar os passageiros com base na cor da pele. Os próprios empresários de ônibus queriam ganhar dinheiro com transporte de pessoas, independente da cor da pele. Apenas uma observação: recusar serviço com base em cor de pele, gênero, orientação sexual ou qualquer outro motivo é uma prerrogativa do indivíduo dentro do capitalismo. Leve seu dinheiro para uma instituição que o receba. A instituição que recusa serviço está perdendo dinheiro, e neste sentido já recebeu a punição dentro do capitalismo.

2. Capitalismo tende a bolhas e pânico

Esta é uma observação presente tanto em Marx quanto em Keynes. Conforme observado nos mitos sobre a Grande Depressão e o New Deal, exatamente o oposto é verdade. Conforme a Escola Austríaca em geral e Friedrich Hayek de forma especial observaram, é a intervenção do governo, particularmente no setor bancário e financeiro, que produz bolhas e pânico. A tentativa do governo de estimular a economia através de juros baixos e outros artifícios apenas cria ciclos de crescimento e queda. Milton Friedman e a Escola de Chicago fizeram observações semelhantes. Deixada livre a economia é de certa forma imprevisível, mas através do sistema de preços podemos nos guiar sobre quando e no que é melhor gastar.

3. Capitalismo não investe em coisas importantes

É difícil saber o que seria um investimento importante. Somente indivíduos podem avaliar o que é importante para eles mesmos. O raciocínio aqui é que há investimentos de longo prazo, que custam muito dinheiro e não produzem resultado imediato. Capitalistas não investiriam em voos espaciais ou na cura de doenças, por exemplo. Mais uma vez observa-se a falácia da janela quebrada: investir em uma coisa significa não investir na próxima melhor opção. Exemplos recentes mostram que empresas atuando no livre mercado podem fazer mais, melhor e com menos desperdício do que governos, inclusive quando o assunto é exploração espacial.

4. Capitalismo leva a produção de coisas duvidosas

Mais uma vez este é um argumento de orientação subjetiva. Aquilo que é duvidoso para um individuo pode ser bom para outro. Há aqui a velha máxima de que “o capitalismo produz necessidades artificiais”. Conforme Voltaire respondeu a Rousseau mais de 200 anos atrás, este argumento não se sustenta. O que é uma “necessidade artificial”? Tesouras são necessidades artificiais? E sabão? E pasta de dente? Porque seres humanos viveram por séculos sem estas coisas. Conforme já foi observado por Joseph Schumpeter, a grande virtude do capitalismo é justamente trazer conforto a baixo preço não para reis e rainhas, mas para as pessoas mais simples em uma sociedade. Ainda que alguns possam considerar certos produtos de consumo duvidosos. Apenas não comprem.

Referências:

3 Myths of Capitalism (YouTube)

Top 3 Myths about the Great Depression and the New Deal (YouTube)

Common Objections to Capitalism (YouTube)

Franklin D Roosevelt’s America: A Progressive’s View

Matt Yglesias is shocked that Americans think the 1940-1949 was one of the best decades of last century. His description of the presidencies of FDR and Harry Truman is the best concise version I’ve ever read:

Some salient facts about the 1940s: There was a big war. One participant in that war had an active policy of targeting enemy civilian population centers for wholesale destruction as a battlefield tactic. Initially they did this with large-scale bombing raids designed to set as many houses ablaze as possible. Eventually they developed nuclear weapons in order to massacre enemy civilians in a more pilot-intensive way. The country in question was allied with a vicious dictator whose political strategies included mass rape, large-scale civilian deportations, and the occasional deliberate engineering of famine conditions. And those were the good guys! We’re all very happy they won!

Indeed. Let us never forget that the “victory” of the US over Germany in World War 2 was a savage one. Let us not forget that if the tables had been turned, and Germany and Japan had somehow been able to conquer the United States, Washington would have been found to be guilty of horrific atrocities both at home and abroad.

The German people have largely been implicated in the crimes of the German state. The logic behind this goes as following: yes, some Germans may have been forced to do things for their state that they would not have otherwise done, but for the  most part, most Germans were happy to oblige Berlin and commit crimes in the name of the state. I tend to subscribe to this view. In fact, it is this view that makes me a libertarian. Americans today seem far too comfortable committing crimes in the name of their government. They point to Roosevelt’s administration as proof of America’s wholesomeness.

They are far too comfortable committing crimes in the name of their government that they would never, ever commit by themselves. How many of you would be comfortable bombing Syria? What if Washington bombed Syria under the auspices of humanitarianism? Of an undefined national interest?

FDR, Uncle Fred, and the NRPB

In Ayn Rand’s epic novel Atlas Shrugged, government officials regulate the economy through something called the Bureau of Economic Planning and Natural Resources. She clearly chose that name to reflect their belief that productive people were bound to produce just because of their “conditioning” and could therefore be treated pretty much like coal in the ground—as resources ripe for exploitation.

One wonders whether she had ever heard of the National Resources Planning Board (NRPB). The NRPB was a real agency, part of the kaleidoscope of bureaus that formed the New Deal. Its history is in some ways as dry as dust, but a closer look reveals some interesting and timeless insights into the planning mentality and the role of personalities in shaping history.

The philosophy underlying Roosevelt’s New Deal, if one can call it that, was to try something and if it didn’t work, try something else. In that same spirit the NRPB mission changed frequently; even its name changed four times before it was killed in 1943. It had been authorized as part of the National Industrial Recovery Act, but that program was ruled unconstitutional in 1935, leaving the National Planning Board, as it was called then, in danger of extinction. It was quickly rescued by FDR, however, and established as an independent agency. Casting about for a new name, one planner suggested “natural resources,” whereupon another commented that human beings were America’s most important resource. “National Resources” was suggested. The President chewed the phrase over a few times, then, pleased with its sound, grinned and announced, “That’s it. Get that down, boys, because that’s settled.” Continue reading

Class Warfare, Then and Now

These recent developments in labor relations show how changed market conditions offer welcome correctives to the New Deal approach. It is just these changes that are at risk under an Obama administration whose main agenda tracks Roosevelt’s early one: Vilify the rich as unproductive ciphers of society and work toward a progressive tax rate structure; be hostile toward the growth of international trade by denouncing firms that outsource jobs as the enemies of domestic labor; continue to work in favor of extensive agricultural subsidies for ethanol and other farm crops, no matter how great of a disruption these impose on domestic and foreign food markets; and insist upon a rich set of unsustainable healthcare benefits through Medicare and Medicaid.

This is from Richard Epstein. Okay, so Obama is a demagogue, a thief and a murderer. Is Mitt Romney really any better? Really?

I’m voting for Gary Johnson (if I vote at all).

Some Mistakes Have Been Made

I just finished up the readings for a class on the history of the modern Middle East. The main book issued is one conveniently written by the professor of the course (James Gelvin) and is aptly titled The Modern Middle East: A History. Below is an excerpt that I think sums up the problems facing the Middle East today:

American policy towards the Middle East [after World War 2] was instrumental in promoting both development and the civic order development was to sustain […] To promote development, the United States adopted a multifaceted approach derived, in good measure, from its own Depression-era wartime experiences.

Ooops.

Here is Murray Rothbard’s America’s Great Depression. Now, I know libertarians are infamous for condescending suggestions to “go read a book”, but I don’t think we can really help it sometimes. Hoover’s interventionist policies and Roosevelt’s New Deal were disastrous for the American economy. Most, if not all, of the Middle East’s problems today can be traced to the institutions currently in place, and these institutions in their turn were created and codified based upon models that had entirely failed the West.

For the record, the developmentalist approach led directly to, you guessed it, economic nationalism and political despotism. You can find a convenient ranking of the world’s states based off of GDP (PPP) per capita here. According to the IMF, the US ($48,387) is ranked 6th in the world (the US also repealed or rebuked many of the Depression-era policies of the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations; the few that remain are among the most pressing problems American society faces today). The world average is $11,489. Egypt is ranked 104th, Iraq is 128th, Iran is 69th (coming in slightly above the world average at $13,053), and Syria is 118th.