Is the United States a patriarchy?

When someone — whether laypeople, like Jill Soloway or the writers at Buzzfeed, or academics, like bell hooks — describes the United States as a “patriarchy,” it is unclear to me what they intend to mean. Maybe this sounds irreverent, but women serve in every level of government — executive, judicial and legislative, at this point only never occupying (and losing only by a close margin) the upper echelons of the presidency. Just this week in Georgia, a woman won a House seat in an election where her opponent was a well-financed white male. If we look at influential powers beyond government, women own some of the largest hundred-billion dollar corporations in the west. Women are the majority of teachers, arguably one of the most influential concentrations of quasi-political power in a democratic republic. As a voting bloc they’ve had much sway in all elections since suffrage. 

So, to understand what someone means when they insist that the States is still a patriarchy, it might be appropriate to ask: Would the United States still be a patriarchy if Hillary Clinton had won the election? 

It’s a yes or no question. There are two possible responses. 

If the answer is “No, the United States would have no longer been a patriarchy,” then we’ve clarified something — we’ve singled out a condition under which the States would cease to be a patriarchy (namely, φ: electing a woman to the highest position of executive power). Someone answering “No” stipulates that there is a certain achievable goal under which patriarchy would cease. Now, why did Clinton lose the election? Not, as some people would like to believe, because of pervasive American sexism — rather, because of a variety of complicated reasons that can in no way be reduced to misogyny. Donald Trump did not win simply because Clinton was a woman. That was not a decisive factor. However, now that the individual has clarified under what condition (φ) the state of patriarchy could be dissolved, and we know that this (sufficient) condition could be achieved at any given election cycle — that men only occupying the presidency for the last few terms has been a purely contingent state of affairs — then we know that the term “patriarchy” only trivially applies to the United States. We know that, essentially, use of the term “patriarchy” is only appropriate because a male currently sits in the Oval Office. It might follow from this answer that were Clinton in office, America would even be a matriarchy. Now, by designating φ as nullifying the term “patriarchy,” the person has demonstrated that the term, applied now, can hardly condemn at all (as it only specifies one stage in a democratic process), and all the baggage it carries loses much of its weight. A woman could occupy the presidency at any time. If she does, then the patriarchy will be dissolved. Thus, the patriarchy could be dissolved at any time, the U.S. is not innately a patriarchy, and the term carries only taxonomic weight. (Not to say it may not carry particular emotional weight, but it does not carry damning weight.) 

However, the person is unlikely to answer this way. Few agreed that racism ended when President Obama took office, and of course it didn’t. The two are not the same, but let’s examine what happens when they choose the other response.

The other possible answer is “Yes, the United States would still be a patriarchy if Clinton had won.” If this is the case, then we know, first of all, that a woman occupying the most powerful position in the world would still not be enough to end patriarchy. Certain consequences follow from this. There would seem to be less incentive for believers in a patriarchy to work to elect female politicians, or female board members, or encourage female participation in science or engineering — women in power, just in and of itself, is not enough. Presumably, it has to be the right kind of woman power; the people that answer this way don’t think of Clinton as feminist or progressive enough; her engagement with politics is no better than another conservative man’s political engagement. What these people want is large-scale cultural and political change. Patriarchy is not about women holding power, it is about the “mental, social, spiritual, economic and political organization/structuring of society produced by… sex-based political relations… reinforced by different institutions… to achieve consensus on the lesser value of women” (A. Facio, “What is Patriarchy?”). Or more simply, it is a “social system that values masculinity over femininity” (M. Watanabe, Feminist Fridays). 

I rarely encounter succinct definitions of patriarchy (much less in terms through which progress can be made), yet it is still nonchalantly applied in certain political circles. Often, when parts of the definition do make sense, they’re false. Modern-day societies — at least capitalist ones — are not “organized” in any way intelligible by Facio’s definition; political relations are rarely, in the Western world, defined by sex or gender. One element that seems central to a definition is the over-valuing of “masculine” qualities over “feminine.” Glossing over the problem of defining these (even discussing them seems to be submitting to gender stereotypes), the value a society places on certain qualities is only the aggregate values of its individual members. Different people have different preferences. The idea that a society might completely equalize its values — why would we ever expect that to be possible or desirable? — seems to suggest superimposing someone’s idea of a perfect value set onto all others. Regardless, it’s unclear why, from some estimation of sexism in a culture, we need the introduction of a political term, using “-archy.” There must be more to it to make that term appropriate. It’s still unclear.

The problem of answering the question with “Yes” is that we still lack a condition, e.g. φ, by which we can dissolve the patriarchy. Under what circumstances will that word no longer apply? Otherwise, it is meaningless. Many of the proposed explanations evoke “institutions” — things never explicitly defined, and when critically examined, are revealed to be either nonexistent or too heterogeneous to dub patriarchal. If these institutions in America are supposed to be, say, the legal system or the education system, and these institutions are supposed to give America its organizational status, then in fact America is a matriarchy, due to the distribution of power present in these systems. If income-bracket is supposed to be an institution, then there might be a case to be made; men, on average, earn more (because they are in higher-paying positions), but this is probably not because they are men, or because our civilization favors them so, but rather certain contingent factors (such as career choice). This, again, would show America to not be innately patriarchal, “institutionally,” but temporarily, accidentally.

Sexism exists, to a much higher degree toward women than toward men. Does this mean we have to call America a patriarchy? No. The term “patriarchy” could do with some clarification, and not just from the ivory tower — with the same methods of analysis that we use to identify a system as a republic, dictatorship, or whatever — or be put to rest. The term is so abstract as to defy any analytic understanding, and its only coherent definition — a society or government run by males — either does not fit the United States or fits it only trivially. 

Explicando a eleição de Trump para brasileiros

Para qualquer um que acompanhou as notícias pela grande mídia brasileira (leia-se especialmente Globo e Globonews) a eleição de Donald Trump para a presidência dos EUA parece ter sido em primeiro lugar uma surpresa imprevisível e em segundo lugar a maior desgraça que poderia se abater sobre aquele país e o mundo, quando ao mesmo tempo estes perderam a chance de serem agraciados com a primeira mulher presidente dos EUA, a imaculável Hillary Clinton. Para responder a esta avaliação, faço aqui algumas observações a respeito do sistema político e eleitoral dos EUA.

Há basicamente dois partidos políticos nos EUA: Democratas e Republicanos. Diferente de algumas bobagens que vi nos principais canais de notícias, o Partido Democrata não remonta a Thomas Jefferson. Remonta sim a Andrew Jackson, primeiro presidente populista dos EUA e notório assassino de índios. Ao longo do século 19 o Partido Democrata foi o grande defensor da escravidão, e com a abolição desta nefasta instituição tornou-se o grande defensor da segregação. Woodrow Wilson e Franklin Delano Roosevelt, famigerados presidentes democratas, muitas vezes tratados como grandes heróis da democracia, foram grandes expansores do governo federal e enfraquecedores da economia americana. Na década de 1960 o Partido Democrata criou uma versão norte-americana de Welfare State que desde então mais prejudica do que ajuda os mais pobres. Do século 19 ao 21, o Partido Democrata está sempre ao lado dos mais poderosos e contra os mais pobres, não importa se dizem o contrário.

A origem do Partido Republicano é menos antiga. O GOP (grand old party), como é chamado, foi formado pela união de vários movimentos abolicionistas, e seu primeiro presidente foi Abraham Lincoln. Em resposta à eleição de Lincoln, estados escravistas do sul dos EUA romperam com a União, dando início à Guerra Civil. Embora a história do GOP esteja cheia de controvérsias, o fato é que ao longo do tempo este partido foi mais inclinado ao livre mercado, defensor mais forte dos direitos individuais e menos populista do que seu adversário Democrata.

Para além dos partidos, a população dos EUA se divide basicamente em duas correntes políticas: liberais e conservadores. Diferente do que ocorre no Brasil ou na Europa, o termo liberal é utilizado nos EUA para indivíduos de esquerda. O termo liberal passou por uma mudança na virada do século 19 para o 20, sendo adotado por indivíduos do movimento progressivista (notoriamente o já citado presidente Woodrow Wilson), que defendia a expansão dos poderes do estado e menor liberdade de mercado. Eventualmente o termo liberal tornou-se associado aos Democratas.

Conservadores nos EUA são as pessoas que querem conservar o país como este foi fundado no final do século 18. Conservadores são mais constitucionalistas do que os liberais, defendem um governo mais limitado e maior liberdade de mercado. Em outras palavras, conservadores são liberais clássicos, enquanto que liberais deturparam este termo, quando deveriam se chamar de progressivistas (embora seja altamente questionável se sua posição promove algum progresso). Eventualmente conservadores também se tornou um termo ligado a cristãos, embora esta ligação seja menos necessária do que possa parecer. Conservadores estão particularmente ligados ao Partido Republicano.

Evidentemente é impossível que a população de um país grande como os EUA se encaixe perfeitamente em somente dois partidos políticos ou duas tendências ideológicas. Os liberais em geral defendem liberdades sociais (como legalização das drogas e união civil de homossexuais), mas são contra liberdades econômicas (como contratos livres entre trabalhadores e empregados). Conservadores são contra liberdades sociais e favoráveis a liberdades econômicas. Pessoas favoráveis aos dois tipos de liberdade sentem-se pouco representadas nos dois principais partidos, e, embora em geral optem pelo GOP, também tem como opção o Partido Libertário ou o movimento Tea Party (não um partido político formal, mas sim um movimento de protesto contra o crescimento do estado, em favor do retorno aos parâmetros constitucionais). Há também socialistas, ambientalistas, comunistas, e todo o tipo de tendência política nos EUA. O fato é apenas que somente dois partidos possuem uma representatividade nacional.

O fato de que os EUA possuiriam somente dois partidos políticos expressivos foi previsto bastante cedo por James Madison, um dos Pais Fundadores e principal autor da Constituição. No final do século 18, Madison previu que devido ao tamanho do país (ainda pequeno se comparado com as dimensões atuais) e sua diversidade, um partido de projeção nacional precisaria evitar extremismos e se focar em posições moderadas, que pudessem atender à população como um todo. Foi o que aconteceu. Ao longo de toda a sua história os EUA tiveram um sistema bipartidário, variando apenas os partidos que compõem este sistema. Republicanos e Democratas tem sido estes dois partidos desde meados do século 19.

Na primeira metade do século 19 outros partidos compuseram o sistema bipartidário previsto por Madison. Mudanças variadas levaram partidos antigos a perder relevância e serem substituídos por novos. É possível que o mesmo fosse ocorrer com Democratas e Republicanos, mas mudanças na lei eleitoral realizadas especialmente na década de 1970 tornaram mais difícil a entrada de competidores nas eleições. Estas mudanças são em parte responsáveis pela animosidade de grande parte do eleitorado, que não se sente representado por nenhum dos partidos, e consequentemente não se importa em votar. Este quadro é um alerta para pessoas que defendem uma genérica reforma política no Brasil, particularmente uma que limite a entrada de novos partidos.

Há em geral uma grande distância entre o que políticos falam em uma campanha e o que fazem uma vez nos cargos. Isto é particularmente verdade a respeito de Hillary Clinton. Graças à sua vasta experiência em cargos públicos, podemos dizer com segurança que Clinton é uma política profissional que busca angariar votos com argumentos que não necessariamente irão guiar suas ações uma vez no cargo. Trump é um político novato, e assim esta mesma avaliação torna-se impossível de fazer, mas há a impressão de que sua campanha foi conduzida como um dos reality shows de que ele fazia parte anos atrás: trata-se de uma realidade produzida com o objetivo de alcançar audiência, não de realidade real. É bastante provável que Trump presidente seja bem mais moderado do que Trump candidato, para o bem ou para o mal. Simpatizantes de Hillary podem se impressionar, assim como eleitores de Trump podem se sentir traídos.


To Women Voters:

I take the liberty to point out a small number of issues that I am told are important to women. I do it because I used to be a respectable social scientist and because I have been retired for ten years which gives me plenty of time to stay informed.

Women voters have been misled for years by propaganda explicitly pointed at them. It wasn’t necessarily a conspiracy though but a kind of uncritical cultural convergence. Many of those who spread misinformation believe it themselves. So, in a way, they are morally innocent. That’s no reason to follow them down the wrong path, and down the cliff. Below are five topics about which you may have received false information that has been repeated over and over until it sounded true.

The first female president

There is a widespread feeling among American women that it’s time finally to elect a female president. For some, it’s a sort of symbolic restitution. I can’t speak to this because I am only a man. Other voters, both females and males, seem to think that a female presidency would result in significant improvements in the lives of American women. A relevant reminder: Eight years ago, Americans elected the first African-American president. For many, it was a vote filled with hope for positive change in the area of race. After two Obama administrations, almost eight years later, it’s time to take stock. However you evaluate the Obama administrations in general, two facts stand out. First, race relations in American have not improved (to say the least). Second, African-Americans are not better off than they were eight years ago. In fact, they are slightly worse off economically. (My own position on having a woman President is straightforward: I would vote for Stanford Professor Condoleeza Rice, for President, in a heartbeat.)


The 1973 Roe vs Wade decision made abortion on demand available throughout the territory of the United States. Candidate Trump has provided a list of potential nominees to the Supreme Court . Some of those nominees are pro-life. This raises the question of what would happen in the unlikely event that Roe vs Wade were overturned by a new Supreme Court. You may have been led to believe that abortion would become illegal. That’s simply not true. Legislation on abortion – if any – would revert to the individual states as the Constitution requires (same as murder, theft, sequestration, and spitting on the sidewalk). The likelihood that all fifty states would forbid abortion on demand is simply zero. The likelihood that half of them would is also zero, I believe. The worst case scenario is that abortion would become geographically inconvenient. (In case you wonder, I believe, just like former President Bill Clinton, that abortion should be legal, safe, and rare.) There is no chance that not electing Mrs Clinton will make abortion illegal.

Pay disparities

We have been told that women received interior pay for equal work for so long that it has almost become the truth. Even my local female Republican candidate for Congress uses this line. It’s not the truth. The reality is that women receive unequal pay for unequal work. There are various reasons why this is. (A broader treatment of this matter is on my blog and accessible through these two links.) In fact, paying women unequal pay for equal work has been against federal law for more than thirty years. Doing it is an invitation to costly class action suits. It’s probably important not to vote for someone on the basis of “facts” that are not facts at all. And then, there is the issue of why anyone would mislead you so badly. (Myself, I am going to vote for the Republican lady candidate for Congress although I think she should check her facts better.)


Candidate Clinton has said clearly that she is is for open borders. This may come from a generous heart. Yet there are too many people from poor countries who want to come to the US to live. Even, if all of them are good people, the USA is like a lifeboat: If too many climb aboard, the boat capsizes and everybody drowns, the original passengers (Americans as well as existing immigrants) and the newcomers (would-be immigrants). To remain a decent society, a generous society, the US has to somehow restrict admission. Open borders is not a possible policy, it’s a dangerous fantasy. (In case you are wondering: I am an immigrant myself, so is my wife.)


Candidate Trump bragged – thirteen years ago – about making crude sexual gestures. There has not been a single formal complaint or any charge brought against him on this account. That’s although – unlike former Pres. Bill Clinton at the same stage – he has temptingly deep pockets, the kind of pockets that would give fighting courage to any moderately aggressive attorney. Candidate Trump often also has a filthy mouth, and he occasionally uses sexist language, that’s a fact. Candidate Clinton is good friends with and approves of, and patronizes artists who routinely sing of perpetrating gross sexual violence on women (including in the last days of her campaign). They too use obscene words. They do so routinely, every time they perform. (I don’t use such language myself but my wife of forty years does, another story, obviously.)

Please share this and ask your friends to share.

An undignified part of me (of which I am ashamed)

There is a part of me, an undignified part of me of which I am ashamed. That part thinks that it would be poetic justice for Mrs Bill Clinton’s lifelong presidential ambitions, intricately tied to primitive feminism, awkwardly paired with her husband’s sexual assaults, to founder because of the actions of a notorious public penis shaker.

It would be a twisted take on the Gospel according to Matthew:

“Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword shall perish by the sword” (Matthew 26: 52).

A “don’t rock the boat” theory of political change

You’d think that as long as we’ve known Trump and Clinton it would be more obvious which is better (okay, least bad). But here we are. That said, I largely agree with Brandon’s thoughts: Hilary is the better of the two. If we’re thinking about the trajectory of freedom in this country, it’s like we had been climbing an upward path till 9/11 gave military-industrial complex a new project. Clinton is offering to keep leading us down a gentle incline and Trump is saying “let’s go through that thicket of poison oak!”

I stand by my old advice that a vote for the big two parties is a wasted vote.  People will argue that in swing states it might be close and you might regret your vote. Those people are really arguing that you might regret the vote of hundreds-thousands of strangers. Your vote still is not decisive. Even if you convince a thousand strangers in a swing state to vote your way, you’re still highly unlikely to affect the outcome.

I think, in terms of voting, you do much more good by sending a Johnson signal than you do by slightly increasing the margin by which Clinton wins (or slightly decreasing the margin by which she loses depending on your state).

But my advice is given in the context of a world where Johnson is expected to get 6% of the vote. That affects my cost-benefit calculus. What would it mean for the long-run success of liberty if Johnson were to actually win?

To build on Brandon’s third point (“Clinton is a lawyer and she knows how our government is supposed to work”), this isn’t just a competition to get into the white house. It’s a sales pitch that requires buy in from the electorate. If Johnson won the election, he’d be in the position of some newfangled gadget America bought on a whim. He could catch on, like the microwave, or sink like the Segway.

Onward, to freedom!

Truthfully, I’m not sure that scenario would be that good for freedom–I think Johnson is a pretty good voice for liberty, and a great third party candidate. But if he actually won, I think he might be too different from the environment he’d have to operate in. It could turn people off of libertarianism for another generation.

But then, the point of your vote isn’t to pick the winner, it’s to express your political beliefs. You’ll do a much better job of voting by voting your conscience than by trying to vote strategically. So vote for Johnson, but root for Hillary… this time.

A libertarian case for Hillary Clinton

I have abstained from commenting on the American presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (sorry Rick) for so long because I just wasn’t very interested in it. I’m still not that interested in it, but the topic has come up quite a bit lately here at NOL so I thought I’d throw in my two cents.

First, though, I thought I’d use up a couple of paragraphs to explain why I don’t really follow American presidential elections, even though most intelligent people, in most parts of the world, do. American presidents simply don’t have a lot of power in domestic American politics. Congress controls the purse strings, makes the laws, and, in the case of the House of Representatives at least, is closer to the People than is the President. The Supreme Court is in charge of deciding which laws are good and which are not, and in some cases even has the power to create laws where Congress or the People simply aren’t getting the job done (Proposition 8 in California comes to mind). To me, that makes the executive branch the most boring branch of government.

The one area in American politics where the head of the executive branch does have a lot of leeway, foreign policy, is one area where I’m not particularly worried about either candidate. I’m not worried because both, despite holding views of the world I strongly disagree with, are not advocating anything radical or unpredictable. I’d rather have a presidential candidate advocate the same old garbage of getting in Russia’s face and keeping troops in South Korea because that way I know they’re ignorant and, more importantly, I know they know they’re ignorant on such matters because they defer to the Washington Consensus.

Libertarians don’t like statists and we don’t like statist policies. Some of us don’t even think voting is worth the effort (or even a good idea). I think there is a case to be made, though, for Libertarians and libertarians to get out and vote this fall for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. My case rests on 3 hugely important facts (at least to libertarians and Libertarians).

Fact #1: Thanks to the recent wikileaks revelations, we know for sure that Hillary Clinton is in favor of free trade. This is THE most important reason to vote for Hillary Clinton in the fall. Imagine if the United States, led by Trump’s isolationism, were to begin breaking its trade agreements with the rest of the world. Yikes. Free trade has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty over the last 30 years, but because the majority of beneficiaries to trade liberalization have happened to not be American citizens, demagoguery ensues. I understand that Clinton has expressed skepticism in US free trade agreements on the campaign trail, but when you’re in a party that is vying for potential voters who feel they have been hurt by free trade, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.

Regardless of what Clinton says to the masses, her record on free trade while holding political offices is impressive (a ‘No’ vote on CAFTA notwithstanding). Free trade, or trade liberalization, is one of the fundamental tenets of libertarianism. Individual liberty cannot be realized or even partly realized without markets that are free from the constraints of governments and the factions that manipulate them. Donald Trump, like Bernie Sanders, wants to reverse decades of trade liberalization and the benefits that such a policy has bestowed upon humanity.

(Digression: Libertarians and libertarians are so adamant about free trade not only because it loosens the grip of the state over peoples’ lives, but also because it makes everybody – not just fellow countrymen – better off. When libertarians and Libertarians hear protectionist sentiments from the political class, you will often see or hear us point out that the Great Depression of the 1930s was hastened not only because of central banking policies but also because of the isolationist tariffs that Congress threw up as a response to the economic downturn caused by the new central bank’s policies. Free trade is a BFD.)

Fact #2: Hillary Clinton is much more individualist than Donald Trump. Women’s rights is an individualist issue, and always has been, even though Clinton has made a mockery of the historical movement by playing the “gender card” and defending (and pledging to expand) subsidies in the name of women’s rights. Trump wants to “make America great again,” but Hillary just wants your vote, any way she can get it. If that ain’t individualist, I don’t know what is.

Hillary Clinton is not a racist, either. She marched against The State’s oppression of black Americans in the South and against The State’s discrimination against black Americans in the rest of the country throughout the 1960s. (For what it’s worth, I don’t think The Donald is a racist. Businessmen rarely are, for reasons that should be obvious to any fair-minded person, but his rhetoric on race is absolutely toxic, and he knows it. His deplorable actions bring to mind a certain F-word I won’t mention here.)

Trump may or not be a racist – I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt – but I don’t know for sure. Clinton is definitely not a racist.

Fact #3: Hillary Clinton is a lawyer and she knows how our government is supposed to work (even if she doesn’t like it). One could make the case that Trump knows how our federal system of government works, too, given his braggadocio about buying off politicians, but his is a vulgar understanding of what is, after all, a magnificent example of compromise and diplomacy over our more primal urges. Lawyers make better politicians than businessmen. As Alexis de Tocqueville remarked way back in his 1831 ethnography of the United States:

“the authority [Americans] have entrusted to members of the legal profession, and the influence which these individuals exercise in the Government, is the most powerful existing security against the excesses of democracy […] When the American people is intoxicated by passion, or carried away by the impetuosity of its ideas, it is checked and stopped by the almost invisible influence of its legal counsellors, who secretly oppose their aristocratic propensities to its democratic instincts, their superstitious attachment to what is antique to its love of novelty, their narrow views to its immense designs, and their habitual procrastination to its ardent impatience.”

Lawyers, Tocqueville observed, make up a sort of informal aristocracy in America because their training in the field of law requires them to have a deep respect for precedent and “a taste and a reverence for what is old.” Businessmen are not used to the clumsy, inefficient coalition-building necessary for good governance. That’s why businessman George W Bush was such a failure and attorney Bill Clinton was such a success. Any good libertarian needs to acknowledge the benefits that come from specialization and the division of labor. Any really good libertarian, the kind that has actually read a little bit of FA Hayek’s work, knows that change in the political and institutional arena needs to be done slowly, and preferably through the legal system (no matter how imperfect it may be).

I know all about the bad stuff that Hillary has supported and voted for in the past (especially on foreign policy, and even more especially on foreign policy in Africa). I get it. I really do. But Donald Trump represents a very nasty strain of thought that has swept into power of the country’s Right-leaning political party. His nationalism is antithetical to libertarianism in a way that Clinton’s typical corruption and condescension is not: libertarianism has a long history in this country of dealing with Clinton-esque figures. The American polity was forged by consensus and thus has recourse, perhaps more so than any other presidential system, to constrain exactly this type of persona. This persona is egotistical and out for personal glory and prestige, but libertarians, progressives, conservatives, and others here in the United States have institutions and networks that were created specifically for presidencies run by people like Clinton.

We’re small in number, too small to have a significant impact if we all voted for Clinton, but we have an outsized impact in the realm of ideas and policy. Get behind Clinton in any way that you can, because more of the same ain’t all that bad.

The trade offs of Hillary vs Donald

An interesting thing to talk about is whether one ought to support the Donald or the Hillary. And it’s my impression that those who are marginally in favor of Donald and vice versa do that with a completely different view on the risks associated with either of them.

People who favor Hillary have something like this in mind:

Hillary will continue with the status quo that started with George W. Bush (especially foreign policy) and continued under Obama (who added domestic trends such as Obamacare). Trump, on the other hand, is a complete wild card who will transform the (fragile) political institutions we have into something of an even more authoritarian system. And having an authoritarian figure with his fingers on the red button just seems like a very bad idea.

People who favor the Donald are seemingly thinking something like this:

Hillary will continue with the status quo that started with George W. Bush (especially foreign policy) and continued under Obama (who added domestic trends such as Obamacare). Trump, on the other hand, will be such a weak politician that he will get almost nothing done. Even in his own party, he is so unpopular that he won’t get executive discretion even if he asked for it. He won’t be able to achieve anything and he might even get impeached. But regardless, he will be an overall failure of a politician, and that’s a good thing relative to the trend that Hillary started.

I could be wrong, of course, but this seems like the trade off that people are making. We know, with a reasonably high certainty margin, what kind of policies Hillary will favor. Trump, however, is a complete wild card. Some people think the wild card will accomplish very little (and thereby show a high confidence in the current workings of the American governmental system), so therefore he is preferable to Hillary. Other people think he will accomplish a lot (and thereby showing very little confidence in the current workings of the American governmental system.)

I think this trade off is basically right: where you stand on Hillary versus Trump depends on your view in the likelihood they’ll achieve what you think their plans are. Which of these have the correct view, I do not know. But it’s an interesting question nonetheless.

Sexism, Trump, and American Media

Almost everything has been said about that rather boring first presidential debate on Monday. One observation missing: It’s amazing how the progressive-liberal narrative categories have invaded even Republican understanding and vocabulary. Two examples.

During the first presidential debate, the moderator unambiguously presented as racist the “birther” preoccupation, the belief that Mr Barack Hussein Obama was not born in the US. It makes absolutely no sense why this should be considered racist. If a presidential candidate of Polish ancestry with blue eyes etc… had presented himself for years through his literary agent as born in Cracow, there would be those who would doubt aloud his constitutional qualification to be president. Those so inclined would be considered racist? If the answer is “no,” are we facing a situation where any negativity toward a black person is by definition racist? If a black-looking person steals a parking spot from me and I call him an “asshole” that makes me a racist although that’s exactly what I have called several white persons who have done the same to me in the past? Are we drowning in absurdity? Have we collectively lost the ability to recognize simple sense? In the parking case example above, a better case could be made, given my intemperate verbal habits, that not calling the black driver an asshole would be racist.

Second example. At the very end of the debate, when he placed the accent on the fact that Mrs Bill Clinton is the first female candidate nominated by a major party, the moderator qualified as sexist the Trump statement that Mrs Clinton does not have the stamina to be president. Same problem of logic. If Mr Trump had said this of any male opponent it would have been considered legitimate. Making the statement about a female candidate makes the statement automatically sexist. But the statement is sexist only because it concerns a female. It posed the question of whether there exists any negative statement about a female politician that is not sexist? I think the answer is quickly becoming “No!”

The wing of the Democratic Party now on the ascendant is deeply totalitarian. It shows in the small things, as in the two examples above. It knows no dissent that is legitimate when it comes down to it. It’s important to stop them even if we have to take the considerable risks inherent in the Trump candidacy. One sure thing about Donald Trump: He is not coherent enough to become a Mussolini.

The Cruel, Conceited Follies of Trump’s Colonialist Foreign Policy

I typically prefer to abstain from writing too extensively on electoral politics. For one, it’s not my area of expertise and I simply don’t enjoy it that much, but also I think the type of issues that come up in electoral politics are a sensationalist distraction from the meaningful policy debates that actually go on in the back rooms of congress and think tanks, as well as the deeper and more important philosophical, economic, and cultural issues that plague our political situation. Thus, I prefer to write in more detail about public policy or more theoretical economic and philosophical issues rather than the day-to-day drudgery of superficial political news. However, the recent discussion on foreign policy on the campaign trail surprisingly has the potential to become at least mildly substantive, so it is in my mind worth analyzing in greater depth. It should be noted that I am far from an expert in foreign policy, so apologies in advance for any errors and if this article as a whole is a farce.

The purpose of this article is to lay out and critically assess Donald Trump’s foreign policy. It is my contention that Trump does have some fairly consistent underlying instincts, if not principles, on foreign policy that may be inferred from his public comments on the issue. This may be characterized by a concerning belief that the ultimate end of foreign policy should be to aggressively promote America’s interests abroad, akin to a radical, new type of Jacksonian colonialism. If I am right about Trump’s underlying views on foreign policy, a Trump presidency would result in disaster. It would mean massive violations of humanitarian rights and would fail to meet the goals even Trump himself is seeking to attain.

Clinton on Trump’s Foreign Policy

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton delivered a major speech ostensibly criticizing Trump’s foreign policy. Unfortunately, most of her speech was more of an attack on the narrative of Trump’s campaign and Trump himself than his actual foreign policy. This is largely because she thinks Trump doesn’t really actually have a foreign policy; his positions, Clinton thinks, are incoherent, ignorant, or just not even positions at all. This is probably the most quoted passage of the speech:

Donald Trump’s ideas aren’t just different — they are dangerously incoherent.
They’re not even really ideas: just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds, and outright lies. He’s not just unprepared, he’s temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility. This is not someone who should ever have the nuclear codes — because it’s not hard to imagine Donald Trump leading us into a war just because somebody got under his very thin skin.

Clinton’s strongest case against Trump was that he is “temperamentally unfit to hold office.” She makes this case even more persuasively elsewhere in the speech:

Imagine Donald Trump sitting in the Situation Room, making life-or-death decisions on behalf of the United States. Imagine him deciding whether to send your children into battle. Imagine if he had not just his Twitter account at his disposal when he’s angry, but America’s entire arsenal.

Do we want him making those calls – someone thin-skinned and quick to anger, who lashes out at the smallest criticism?

…I’ll leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his affection for tyrants. I just wonder how anyone could be so wrong about who America’s real friends are. But it matters. Because if you don’t know exactly who you’re dealing with, men like Putin will eat your lunch.

I typically don’t find these types of arguments convincing. After all, it doesn’t matter so much the character of public officials as the institutional incentives they face. But in matters of foreign policy problems of temperament and character do matter because the social situation between foreign leaders in diplomacy can often make a huge difference. Bad manners can and have caused wars (eg., there’s an argument to be made that Jefferson’s bad manners towards British diplomat Anthony Merry helped lead to the War of 1812). These points are confirmed by the fact that world leaders are terrified by Trump and how the intelligence community is afraid he could spill security-sensitive confidential information. (Of course, Clinton also has a less-than-optimal track record on the matter of intelligence security).

What is Trump’s Foreign Policy?

However, Clinton is only partially correct in claiming that Trump’s ideas on foreign policy are “incoherent” or that he doesn’t really have a foreign policy at all. It is true that, as with every other issue save immigration and free trade, Trump switches his positions a lot. But underneath the prime facie incoherence is an overarching vision for a foreign policy that is both somewhat coherent and terrifying.

First, a common misconception needs to be clarified about Trump’s foreign policy views. The press commonly treats Trump as if he’s more of a dove on war and foreign intervention than Clinton, citing his recent criticisms of the Iraq War and Libya. This myth is particularly peddled in pro-Trump “libertarian” circles (with an emphasis on the scare quotes). It is widely accepted that Trump’s foreign policy are less interventionist than Clinton’s fairly hawkish views. However, this is decidedly not the case.

Zach Beauchamp has persuasively made the case that Trump is, in fact, more hawkish in some sense than Clinton. The most consistent point that Trump has made for years now is that America should be waging, in Beauchamp’s words, “colonial wars of conquest” for the purpose of taking resources from other countries. Beauchamp notes:

He first debuted this plan in an April 2011 television appearance, amid speculation that he might run for the GOP nomination. In the interview, Trump seemed to suggest the US should seize Iraqi oil fields and just operate them on its own.

“In the old days when you won a war, you won a war. You kept the country,” Trump said. “We go fight a war for 10 years, 12 years, lose thousands of people, spend $1.5 trillion, and then we hand the keys over to people that hate us on some council.” He has repeated this idea for years, saying during one 2013 Fox News appearance, “I’ve said it a thousand times.”

Trump sees this as just compensation for invading Iraq in the first place. “I say we should take it [Iraq’s oil] and pay ourselves back,” he said in one 2013 speech.

As Beauchamp says, “To be clear: Trump’s plan is to use American ground troops to forcibly seize the most valuable resource in two different sovereign countries. The word for that is colonialism.”

This type of colonialism is even more extreme than the colonialism of American imperialism of the early twentieth century, where colonial wars of conquest were typically justified in terms of America’s “manifest destiny” to spread democracy throughout the world that would eventually benefit the conquered, often coaxed in racial terms (as typified by Kipling’s famous poem), rather than explicitly justified by looting natural resources.

Many people alleging Trump’s dovishness point to his recent criticisms of US intervention in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. The idea that Trump is a dove on these issues, however, is largely a myth. The actual record shows that what Trump’s comments over the past decade or so on foreign policy are largely in line with what Beauchamp sees as his colonialism.

As Beauchamp points out, Trump actually supported intervention in Libya at the time and called for even more aggressive intervention than the Obama administration engaged in (which, as a reminder, included Hillary Clinton at that point):

In a March 2011 vlog post uncovered by BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski and Christopher Massie, Trump full-throatedly endorsed intervening in the country’s civil war — albeit on humanitarian grounds, not for its oil.

“Qaddafi in Libya is killing thousands of people, nobody knows how bad it is, and we’re sitting around,” Trump said. “We should go in, we should stop this guy, which would be very easy and very quick. We could do it surgically, stop him from doing it, and save these lives.” In a later interview, he went further, endorsing outright regime change: “if you don’t get rid of Gaddafi, it’s a major, major black eye for this country.”

Shortly after the US intervention in Libya began in March 2011, Trump criticized the Obama administration’s approach — for not being aggressive enough. Trump warned that the US was too concerned with supporting the rebels and not trying hard enough to — you guessed it — take the oil.

“I would take the oil — and stop this baby stuff,” Trump declared. “I’m only interested in Libya if we take the oil. If we don’t take the oil, I’m not interested.”

What to make, then, of Trump’s more recent comments where he says he “would have stayed out of Libya”? He’s either incoherent, as Clinton claims, or he’s lying. The first possibility has largely been explored and, though plausible, is uninteresting for present purpose. Therefore, I’ll focus here on the latter (and, in my mind, more likely) possibility. I would argue that Trump is engaging in what could be called, in Arthur Melzer’s understanding of Straussian terms, a sort of dishonest perversion of political esotericism. But unlike the political esotericism of early modern political philosophers who sought to make the world more tolerant, Trump seeks the exact opposite ends. He’s recently been hiding his colonialist views in anti-war rhetoric to attract votes from Americans fatigued with perpetual nation-building through the Bush and Obama administrations. In reality, one of the only sincere substantive positions he’s retained throughout the years is a colonialist desire to wage war for oil. He could not be much further from an anti-war candidate.

As for Iraq, Trump has repeated the claim that he opposed the Iraq war from the beginning many times. Just yesterday, in reaction to Clinton’s speech, he repeated this yet again. “Crooked Hillary said, ‘Oh, Donald Trump, his finger on the button,’,” he said. “I’m the one that didn’t want to go into Iraq, folks, and she’s the one that stupidly raised her hand to go into Iraq and destabilize the entire Middle East.”

In reality, Trump himself wanted to stupidly go into Iraq at the time. In a 2002 interview with Howard Stern he said he supported invading Iraq, adding “I wish the first time it was done correctly.” How did he think it should have been done? Though he wasn’t specific in that interview, his later comments suggest he thinks a “correct” invasion of Iraq would be more aggressive and, of course, focus on taking their oil. Despite being sharply critical of the war later in the Bush administration (though note how he critiques the way it was “handled,” not getting involved in the first place), he supported McCain’s position in favor of the Troop Surge when endorsing him in 2008, claiming, though he wanted to pull out as soon as possible, he wanted to pull out with a victory. Even his most recent comments “critical” of the war, when viewed in the context of his overall foreign policy motivations, aren’t really dovish at all. As he said in 2013, “When I heard that we were first going into Iraq, some very smart people told me, ‘Well, we’re actually going for the oil,’ and I said, ‘All right, I get that.’ [But] we didn’t take the oil!”

Recent comments by Trump against the Iraq War, I think, are well explained by his aforementioned dishonest political esotericism. The record shows Trump disagreed with Bush’s Iraq policy because the motivations were too humanitarian and weren’t aggressive enough prior to the surge. Indeed, Trump’s dishonest claim to dovishness on Iraq has been widely proven false in the press (and yes, each different word links to a different source saying the same thing).

Beauchamp points out that Trump’s views on Syria can’t be described as doveish, as he is largely in agreement with Hillary Clinton:

But the two of them support more or less the same military escalation in Syria. Both Clinton and Trump have proposed carving out “safe zones” in the country, which means clearing out a chunk of its territory and protecting it from aggressors.

Trump sees this as the answer to the Syrian refugee crisis — if you can keep the Syrians there, they won’t have to come over here (or to Europe). “What I like is build a safe zone, it’s here, build a big, beautiful safe zone and you have whatever it is so people can live, and they’ll be happier,” he said in a campaign appearance. “I mean, they’re gonna learn German, they’re gonna learn all these different languages. It’s ridiculous.”

Similarly, both candidates have emphasized the need to bomb ISIS in Iraq and Syria — with Trump famously summarizing his policy as “bomb the shit out of” ISIS. But the way in which Trump plans to wage war on ISIS is far more aggressive — and illegal — than anything Clinton proposed.

He goes on to show that Trump endorses killing the families of suspected terrorists and supports torture for detainees, both of which are illegal war crimes. The killing of suspected terrorists’ families, in particular, is far more extreme than anything Clinton’s proposed and a violation of international law.

Trump essentially views other countries in one of two ways, the way he seems to view people: either as enemies to be defeated economically (eg. China and Mexico) and militarily (eg. Lybia and Syria) or assets to be exploited for American interests via colonial conquest (eg. Iraq). Indeed, he combines the worse elements of neoconservative interventionism with the worst elements of isolationism that my fellow Notewriter Brandon Christensen points out. Like isolationists, he opposes international organizations like NATO and the UN, is generally skeptical of alliances, and fiercely opposes trade agreements; but he also supports costly, unnecessary, and unjust foreign wars and efforts to intervene in other countries’ affairs like neoconservatives. He manages to be both an isolationist, thinking the American government should only protect its own interests at the expense of the citizens of other people, and an interventionist, thinking the government should wage unjust wars to that end, at the same time.

Beauchamp notes how Trump’s foreign policy positions can best be described as Jacksonian:

But historically, there are lots of other forms of American hawkishness. Trump fits well with one of those — one that Bard College scholar Walter Russell Mead calls the “Jacksonian tradition,” after President Andrew Jackson.

Jacksonians, according to Mead, are basically focused on the interests and reputation of the United States. They are skeptical of humanitarian interventions and wars to topple dictators, because those are idealistic quests removed from the interests of everyday Americans. But when American interests are in question, or failing to fight will make America look weak, Jacksonians are more aggressive than anyone.

… Unlike neoconservatives or liberal interventionists, who have well-fleshed-out foreign policy doctrines, many Jacksonians think about war and peace more instinctively. “With them it is an instinct rather than an ideology — a culturally shaped set of beliefs and emotions rather than a set of ideas,” Mead writes. Sound familiar?

Of course, Trump is Jacksonian in more ways than just his foreign policy. His general populism and affection for strong-man leadership are very Jacksonian through and through. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson’s criticisms of Andrew Jackson himself could just as easily be leveled against Trump today (and echo Clinton’s words):

I feel much alarmed at the prospect of seeing General Jackson President.  He is one of the most unfit men I know of for such a place.  He has had very little respect for laws and constitutions, and is, in fact, an able military chief.  His passions are terrible.  When I was President of the Senate, he was Senator; and he could never speak on account of the rashness of his feelings.  I have seen him attempt it repeatedly, and as often choke with rage.  His passions are, no doubt, cooler now; he has been much tried since I knew him, but he is a dangerous man.

A Critique of Trump’s Foreign Policy

Besides the obvious criticism made very persuasively by Clinton that Trump is temperamentally unfit to engage in diplomacy, what is wrong with foreign policy? In a word: everything. But for the purposes of this post, I’ll confine my criticism to three points.

First, Trump’s style of Jacksonian foreign policy is largely responsible for most of the humanitarian atrocities committed by the American government. Second, Trump’s economic foreign policy is antithetical to the entire spirit of the liberal tradition; it undermines the dignity and freedom of the individual and instead treats the highest good as for the all-powerful nation-state (meaning mostly the politicians and their special interests) as the end of foreign policy, rather than peace and liberty. Finally, Trump’s foreign policy fails for the same reasons that socialism fails. If the goals of foreign policy are to represent “national interest,” then the policymaker must know what that “national interest” even is and we have little reason to think that is the case, akin to the knowledge problem in economic coordination.

On the first note, Beauchamp quotes Dr. Mead on how the Jacksonian tradition in America has resulted in some of the most atrocious abuses of human rights in American history:

In the last five months of World War II, American bombing raids claimed the lives of more than 900,000 Japanese civilians—not counting the casualties from the atomic strikes against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is more than twice the total number of combat deaths that the United States has suffered in all its foreign wars combined…

Since the Second World War, the United States has continued to employ devastating force against both civilian and military targets. Out of a pre-war population of 9.49 million, an estimated 1 million North Korean civilians are believed to have died as a result of U.S. actions during the 1950-53 conflict. During the same war, 33,870 American soldiers died in combat, meaning that U.S. forces killed approximately thirty North Korean civilians for every American soldier who died in action. The United States dropped almost three times as much explosive tonnage in the Vietnam War as was used in the Second World War, and something on the order of 365,000 Vietnamese civilians are believed to have been killed during the period of American involvement.

This is because the Jacksonian view dictates that we should use full force in war to advance our interests and the reasons for waging war are for selfish rather than humanitarian purposes. We have good reason to think human rights under Trump will be abused to an alarming degree, as his comments that we should “bomb the hell out of” Syria, kill the noncombatant families of suspected terrorists, and torture detainees indicate. Trump is literally calling for the US to commit inhumane war crimes in the campaign, it is daunting to think just how dark his foreign policy could get in practice.

As mentioned earlier, many “libertarians” such as Walter Block seem to be under the delusion that Trump’s foreign policy is somehow compatible with the liberal tradition’s aspirations of individual liberty and peace. As he wrote when he endorsed Trump and created the oxymoronically named group “Libertarians for Trump:”

When put in this way, it is clear that The Donald is the most congruent with our perspective. This is true, mainly because of foreign policy.

…We readily concede Mr. Donald Trump is no Ron Paul on foreign policy or anything else for that matter. However, compared to his Republican alternatives, the Donald stands head and shoulders above them. He has said, time and time again, things like “Look at what we did in Iraq. It’s a mess. Look at what we did in Libya. It’s a mess there too. And we’re going to repeat our mistakes in Syria? Not on my watch.” …Yes, future President Trump wants a strong military, but with only a few exceptions, fewer than the other Republican candidates, only to defend our country.

Ignoring the glaring factual inaccuracy that Trump’s criticisms of Iraq and Libya were that we weren’t fierce enough and the main reason why he wants war is not to defend our country but to loot oil, nothing could be further from the truth that Trump’s foreign policy views are anywhere near to congruent with libertarianism.

To reiterate: Trump’s foreign policy views are just a particularly nasty version of imperialism and colonialism. Mises dedicated two entire sections of his chapter on foreign policy in Liberalism: The Classical Tradition to critiquing colonialism and revealing just how contrary these views are to liberalism’s commitment to peace and liberty. In direct opposition to Trump’s assertions that we should go to war to gain another country’s wealth and resources and that we should expand military spending greatly, Mises argues:

Wealth cannot be won by the annexation of new provinces since the “revenue” deprived from a territory must be used to defray the necessary costs of its administration. For a liberal state, which entertains no aggressive plans, a strengthening of its military power is unimportant.

Mises’ comments on the colonial policy in his time are extremely pertinent considering Trump’s calls to wage ruthlessly violent wars and commit humanitarian crises. “No chapter of history is steeped further in blood than the history of colonialism,” Mises argued. “Blood was shed uselessly and senselessly. Flourishing lands were laid waste; whole peoples destroyed and exterminated. All this can in no way be extenuated or justified.”

Trump says the ends of foreign policy are to aggressively promote “our” national interests, Mises says “[t]he goal of the domestic policy of liberalism is the same as that of its foreign policy: peace.” Trump views the world as nations competing in a zero-sum game and there must be one winner that can only be brought about through military conquest and economic protectionism, Mises says liberalism “aims at the peaceful cooperation between nations as within each nation” and specifically attacks “chauvinistic nationalists” who “maintain that irreconcilable conflicts of interest exist among the various nations[.]” Trump is rabidly opposed to free trade and is horrifically xenophobic on immigration, the cornerstone of Mises’ foreign policy is free movement of capital and labor over borders. There is no “congruence” between Trump and any classically liberal view on foreign policy matters in any sense; to argue otherwise is to argue from a position of ignorance, delusion, or to abandon the very spirit of classical liberalism in the first place.

Mises wasn’t the only classical liberal critical of Trump-style colonialist foreign policy. The classical liberal editor of The Nation Edward Lawrence Godkin was also sharply critical of the imperial foreign policy of the progressives and populists in his time. In a 1900 article entitled “The Eclipse of Liberalism,” in which he lamented the decline of the liberal emphasis on limited government, Godkin wrote:

Nationalism in the sense of national greed has supplanted Liberalism. It is an old foe under a new name. By making the aggrandizement of a particular nation a higher end than the welfare of mankind, it has sophisticated the moral sense of Christendom. Aristotle justified slavery, because Barbarians were “naturally” inferior to Greeks, and we have gone back to his philosophy. We hear no more of natural rights, but of inferior races, whose part it is to submit to the government of those whom God has made their superiors. The old fallacy of divine right has once more asserted its ruinous power, and before it is again repudiated there must be international struggles on a terrific scale. At home all criticism on the foreign policy of our rulers is denounced as unpatriotic. They must not be changed, for the national policy must be continuous. Abroad, the rulers of every country must hasten to every scene of international plunder, that they may secure their share. To succeed in these predatory expeditions the restraints on parliamentary, even of party, government must be cast aside. [Emphasis mine]

Though Godkin’s broader arguments against the “inferior races” argument for imperialism may not apply to Trump himself per se, it certainly does apply to some of Trump’s dangerously backward white nationalist supporters (at least one of whom Trump has publicly appointed) who are helping to drive his rise.

It wasn’t just Godkin in the United States, an entire organization was formed to oppose these policies: The American Anti-Imperialist League, which formed specifically in opposition to the Spanish-American War and the annexation of the Philippians and Cuba. Though it was certainly a diverse collection of anti-imperialists with a wide variety of motives, many of them were classical liberals. Their platform emphasized the incompatibility of small government and imperial conquest:

We hold that the policy known as imperialism is hostile to liberty and tends toward militarism, an evil from which it has been our glory to be free. We regret that it has become necessary in the land of Washington and Lincoln to reaffirm that all men, of whatever race or color, are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We maintain that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. We insist that the subjugation of any people is “criminal aggression” and open disloyalty to the distinctive principles of our Government.

Trump’s incompatibility with classically liberal goals is not of unique interest to libertarians. In many ways, both neoconservatives and liberal interventionists aim for a similar end of peace among nations in foreign policy for which classical liberals aim (or at least, I hope they share such an aim). The three viewpoints just disagree on the best policy means to reach those ends. Trump decidedly does not take peace as the end of foreign policy. He takes the ruthless promotion of America’s economic interests to be the goal, often at the expense of peace and at the expense of the lives of innocent people.

Additionally, even if we take Trump’s nationalist ends as given, the policy means Trump prefers of violent military intervention likely will not be successful for similar reasons to why socialism fails. Christopher Coyne has argued convincingly that many foreign interventions in general fail for very similar reasons to why attempts at economic intervention fail, complications pertaining to the Hayekian knowledge problem. How can a government ill-equipped to solve the economic problems of domestic policy design and control the political institutions and culture of nations abroad?  Coyne mainly has the interventionism of neoconservatives and liberals in mind, but many of his insights apply just as well to Trump’s Jacksonian vision for foreign policy.

The knowledge problem also applies on another level to Trump’s brand of interventionism. Trump assumes that he, in all his wisdom as president, can know what the “national interest” of the American people actually is, just like socialist central planners assume they know the underlying value scales or utility functions of consumers in society. We have little reason to assume this is the case.

Let’s take a more concrete example: Trump seems to think one example of intervention in the name of national interest is to take the resource of another country that our country needs, most commonly oil. However, how is he supposed to know which resources need to be pillaged for the national interest? There’s a fundamental calculation problem here. A government acting without a profit signal cannot know the answer to such a problem and lacks the incentive to properly answer it in the first place as the consequences failure falls upon the taxpayers, not the policy makers. Even if Trump and his advisors could figure out that the US needs a resource, like oil, and successfully loots it from another country, like Libya, there is always the possibility that this artificial influx of resources, this crony capitalist welfare for one resource at the expense of others, is crowding out potentially more efficient substitutes.

For an example, if the government through foreign policy expands the supply of oil, this may stifle entrepreneurial innovations for potentially more efficient resources in certain applications, such as natural gas, solar, wind, or nuclear in energy, for the same reasons artificially subsidizing these industries domestically stifle innovation. They artificially reduce the relative scarcity of the favored resource, reducing the incentive for entrepreneurs to find innovative means of using other resources or more efficient production methods. At the very least, Trump and his advisors would have little clue how to judge the opportunity cost of pillaging various resources and so would not know how much oil to steal from Libya. Even ignoring all those problems, it’s very probable that it would be cheaper and morally superior to simply peaceably trade with another country for oil (or any other resource) rather than waging a costly, violent, inhumane war in the first place.

Of course, I’m probably giving Trump way too much credit in that critique. Chances are, given Trump’s (nonexistent) economic literacy, he is just under the delusion that more resources always mean a better economy no matter what–opportunity costs, resource allocation, and entrepreneurial innovation be damned–and that government policy can be run just like a business.

Not only is it difficult for policy makers to know what the national interest is, as Christensen has argued it is unclear what “national interest” even means to begin with. He defines national interest as “an excuse for a policy or set of policies that should be taken in order to strengthen a state and its citizens (but not necessarily strengthen a state relative to other states…).” He further claims, “There’s no such thing as a national interest.” I’d take it even one step further: the rhetoric of “national interest,” it seems to me, is just an ideology (in the critical theory sense) for the foreign policy elite and their lobbyists to justify using coercive force to advance their arbitrary private interests rather than the (largely indeterminate) interests of the public or the country at large. Even if the “national interest” does have any meaning other than as a rhetorical ideology for the military industrial complex, the only way such a concept could become known is via the spontaneous process of the voluntary interchange of individuals, often time between citizens and non-citizens, and will likely never be known by a single individual mind. At the very least, there’s a public choice problem here: how is Trump realistically to differentiate his personal interests and those of his cronies from those of the general public? Given the fact that Trump likely has narcissistic personality disorder, I don’t have faith that he will.

The only positive potential to foreign policy under a Trump administration is the possibility that he will wisely not intervene in foreign affairs when no argument can be made that such an intervention would be in the national interest or give us oil. But given Trump’s record on the matter, and the arbitrary and elusive nature of the concept of “national interest,” I doubt that this will be a major factor in the way Trump actually implements foreign policy.

Trump vs. Clinton on Foreign Policy: Who is Preferable?

It is clear that underneath the prima facie inconsistencies in Trump’s comments on foreign policy, there is an underlying consistency that he thinks the goal of foreign policy is to quite aggressively promote US interests. This goal is impossible to reach as it represents a naïve understanding of the knowledge public leaders can possess, and generally represents a selfish, reckless, nationalist disregard for human dignity. The means he wants to undertake for this end are unnecessarily cruel and would likely constitute massive human rights violations. They contradict the high (and in my mind correct) aspirations of classical liberals of peace and individual liberty, and they’ll likely fail to accomplish their stated goals.

However, none of this necessarily means that Clinton’s foreign policy will be all that much better. Sure, Clinton’s motives are likely purer, but her record shows that the means she undertakes are uncannily similar to Trump and fail for similar reasons. She’s shown a similar lack of judiciousness in her handling of classified materials, just what the intelligence community fears of Trump. Her record shows her diplomatic skills yield mixed results at best, and she’s widely a progressive interventionist on foreign policy matters whose policies will subvert the liberal goals of peace and individual liberty. It is somewhat ironic that the Democrats have such great opportunity to go after Trump on foreign policy, but have chosen the absolute worst person in their party to make that case as their nominee (akin to Republicans and Romney on ObamaCare in 2012).

Comparing the two candidates point-by-point, therefore, is very difficult. Though there are many underlying consistencies to Trump’s comments on foreign policy and Clinton is still largely right that his stated positions have been somewhat incoherent. Unlike Trump, we have a record of Clinton actually implementing foreign policy and our only knowledge of the Donald’s policies only comes from occasionally off-the-cuff and contradictory remarks about others’ policies. Thus there is a degree of uncertainty as to what Trump’s foreign policies will actually look like and, though I think his comments reveal there is a high probability they will be atrocious, there is a small chance that they could be marginally better than Clinton’s (whose record shows she will implement almost certainly failed foreign policies). Trump’s very concerning comments on foreign policy alone do not make a slam-dunk case that Clinton is preferable on these matters.

Having said that, I’d still argue Clinton’s foreign policy is at least marginally preferable to Trump’s. With Trump we risk not only a fairly high probability of atrocious policies—quite possibly worse than Clinton’s—based off of his comments, we also risk the added problem of regime uncertainty in foreign policy. Also, some of the concrete policies Trump has called for—like torture and the murdering of families—are a cause for serious concern. Further, Clinton is likely to be far more diplomatic and will be less likely to offend other leaders and alienate the US from the world. Her point that Trump is “temperamentally unfit to lead” is very well taken, and was only confirmed by Trump’s response to her speech which in which he largely stuck to the non-substantive screaming of insults in his typical childish fashion. None of this at all means anybody should vote for either candidate as there is a lot more to voting than the issues of foreign policy. For what it’s worth (which is very little), I for one will most likely not be voting in the next election. If I were forced to, it would be for the Johnson/Weld ticket.

The News: Fair and Unbiased

Reminder: Favorite Democratic presidential candidate Clinton (H.) must be considered innocent until she is found guilty by a court of law. Be patient!

The Obama Air Force bombed a Doctors Without Borders clinic in Afghanistan, killing about twenty people including doctors and underage patients. White House spokesperson: “We are still the best!” (Learning how to write headlines liberal style.)

I looked at a picture of the Oregon mass killer. He looked African-American to me. I am not an expert on race but I am pretty sure he would not have been seated at a Sears lunch counter in Mississippi in 1956. I wonder if he too was a white supremacist.

The police found thirteen of his firearms, all perfectly gun controlled (legal, in other words).

It seems to me that the statistics that matters the most with respect to homicides is type of homicide for 100,000 people. For the period 2000-2014 the US stands high in the ranking of deaths per hundred thousand within the context of a mass killings. It ranks number four, behind Norway, Finland, and….Switzerland. N. S.! (From the Wall Street Journal of 10.3 4 2015 reporting on an academic study.) I think a fourteen year period is significant. It does not look like cherry picking to me but I am open minded.

This all makes me muse about how raw figures are presented to the public. We all know the US homicide rate is high. (I don’t have the numbers at hand but there is no disagreement about the general statement.) I wonder what the US ranking would be if we deducted from the US homicide total count all homicides committed by African-Americans in areas administered by Democrats for a long time, say, more than ten years. I am thinking Chicago and Baltimore, for example. Just imagining.

From the Comments: What do progressives think of Hillary Clinton?

This comes from Professor Terry:

I suspect I’m the only one around here that spends significant time on progressive blogs etc so let me tell you what it’s like over there….Progressives seem depressed but resigned. HRC will be the nominee. There are no other viable candidates. Sanders will be entertaining, O’Malley not so much….there’s no one on the sidelines. Prof. P’s [‘P’ is for ‘Pinocchio’ – bc] lust driven fantasy about Sen. Warren aside, no last minute candidacy from her.

Progressives take some solace in not having someone from the Republikan Klown Kar selecting Supreme Court nominees but that’s about it. Progressives take it for granted that the Democratic nominee will win the general election [they can read the electoral map and count]. They aspire to take back the senate but have no illusions about the House of Representatives so no significant new legislation will happen.

In my opinion scenario 3 is inevitable, I will dearly miss the Obama administration and it will happen sooner than I’ll like…

Thanks Dr A. This is excellent insight, and I am curious about the names of these progressive blogs. Who knows: some of them might even end up on NOL‘s vaunted blogroll. Professor Terry, by the way, teaches and researches up at a fancy business school in Toronto.

I still don’t have a solid definition of what ‘progressive’ means, though. It’s Left-wing. It’s anti-racist (or purportedly, anyway, as it can be argued that identity politics is itself racist, but I digress). Aside from those qualities, I don’t see much about it that is progressive. They are protectionists. They love big government except when they don’t. They are Democrats, or at least anti-GOP, but doesn’t necessarily approve of the Democratic leadership (especially when it works with Republicans). This leads me to suspect that progressivism is a political movement rather than ideological or intellectual one. This deduction, in turn, suggests to me that progressives are the US’s reactionaries (conservatives). I would be happy to change my tune about progressives once I get a solid definition of what they actually believe in, but again I don’t have one and reactionaries are usually defined by what they oppose (in this case Republicans) rather than what they stand for.

Anyway, NOL‘s blogroll – one of the best, if not the best blogroll out there in my humble opinion – has a bunch of Leftist group blogs on it, including: Angry Bear, Crooked Timber, Disorder of Things, Duck of Minerva, JHIBlog, Lawyers, Guns & Money, the RBC, Monkey Cage, and Mischiefs of Faction. None have coughed up a definition of ‘progressive’ yet, but Professor Terry has an open invitation to do just that here at NOL.

Every society needs its reactionaries, of course. It would just be nice of progressives to actually, honestly identify themselves as the reactionary party here (and as the Tories do in the UK), rather than deceive themselves by referring to their reactions as “progressive.” The Progressives of the 19th century (different bag of reactionaries than today’s progressives) did the exact same thing when they started calling themselves “liberals” in order to make their policies more palpable to the general voting public, and look how that turned out.

Liberty is what creates progress, not legislation. Just ask all of those progressives currently resigned to voting for HRC because she’s “better than the alternative.”

The Wicked Witch

Ordinary, rational Americans are watching with nervous disbelief the unfolding of the Clinton tragedy and low comedy combined. We all think the same thing: “Can’t last. Something is going to stop them. The Democratic Party will come to its senses eventually.” The columnist Peggy Noonan, who often comes up with original and credible analyses, said in last weekend’s issue of the Wall Street Journal that the Clintons are protected by their well-established corruption: Everyone already knows they are corrupt; there is nothing they do that will add measurably to this knowledge. This is an explanation that makes a sort of perverse sense. I dare not subscribe to it completely because it feels self-indulgent; this is a viewpoint few hard-line Republican partisans would dare publicize. It’s too good to be true! It’s too bad to be true!

Hillary Clinton, so far the only Democratic candidate to replace President Obama, is moving on slowly and apparently unperturbed. It matters not that she is a phony, so phony that she can’t even make her hand gestures match her words. She has told numerous lies, some of them transparent. She has lied on matters that could easily be verified, such as landing on a foreign airport under sniper fire. This kind of lie usually indicates mental imbalance; it’s fundamentally different from the ordinary CYA lie. Hillary Clinton failed to come through to protect her own subordinates and their CIA protectors in Libya. Then, she lied, covered up, and minimized the importance of their deaths. She gave constitutional Congressional authority the finger by destroying her email records. Reminder: This is something that never happens to anyone else that you or I know, right? Even the mid-level Obama IRS executive in charge of persecuting Obamanemies, she who took the Fifth Amendment, had the common decency to state that her emails were lost by mistake.

Hillary Clinton has teamed up with her husband in their family foundation to extract money from the most unlikely sources. The foundation pays out about 10% of what takes in. Its main outlays go to reward Clinton friends and facilitators and enablers, and also to help support the couple’s lavish life style. (This, although they don’t get paid a salary by the foundation; they use it it as an expense account.). The latest reports make it sound like the Clintons used Hillary’s term as Secretary of State to bring the US down to the level of your regular banana republic, where lavish gifts buy you influence for anything. “Lavish gifts ” go to the Clinton Foundation but they also include $500,000 speaking fees for Mr Clinton, for example, all in one single motion. I ask, how he can say anything worth half a million dollars when he is not even able to include the adultery and sexual abuses segments of his past?

When I mention”unlikely sources,” I mean, for example, the likes of the Algerian government, an oil and natural gas-ed state plutocracy. You would think that government would have plenty of worthy causes right at home in Algeria where the unemployment rate is “down to” about 10%. There are even better opportunities to spend Algerian oil money right south of the country, in the miserable Sahel countries. Why would it donate munificently to an ex-president’s foundation unless it were also because it was a current Sec. of State’s foundation? When his attention was drawn recently to such unseemly gifts, Mr Clinton’s only response was that there were no proofs, “no evidence.” How low can you get?

I worked out two scenarios about the future of the Clinton candidacy. Both are nightmare scenarios.

First, the upper reaches of the Democratic Party may be allowing things to take their course with Hillary in a sort of passive bait-and-switch. They let her gather attention on their party in the context of the 2016 presidential election and will persuade her to step down in time for a surprise candidate. That candidate is likely to be Elizabeth Warren. After all, she is a woman too; she is a Senator; she does not carry much baggage. The only significant piece of luggage is her identifying herself as American Indian, 1/16th or was it 1/32th? Democrat voters will easily forgive this whether it’s true or not because that was said to help her obtain an academic job she deserved anyway and that she might have been denied otherwise because she is a woman. Still with me? Besides, self-serving lies that are hard to contradict do not indicate mental imbalance, like an untruth about landing under sniper fire does, for example. Moreover, Ms Warren, unlike Ms Clinton, is a genuine leftist, not a pure opportunist. Besides, some centrist voters might be so relieved to be spared the walking Clinton debacle that they might become blind to Ms Warren’s small pimples. Nothing to lose there.

The second scenario implies that Democrat strategists know something ordinary, politically conscious people like me don’t know. It may just be that they are making the bet that nothing disgusting anyone will bring up or discuss will do any harm to Ms Clinton’s candidacy for president. Just take for granted a union vote of 80% for any Democratic presidential candidate, of 90% for African-Americans (98% for black union members), 65% for Latinos promised a quick path to citizenship for illegals (whom they think – wrongly – are mostly theirs). (All figures made up but entirely realistic.) Then, think of the millions of female voters, and potential female voters who rarely or never vote, who take no interest in politics, who don’t know anything except that the candidate is a woman. How unlikely is it that such people can be made to vote this one time? With the frame of mind I am imagining, it’s even probable that any attack on Ms Clinton, no matter how justified, even direct, open sale of favors will be viewed as bullying, as ganging up on the girl.

Many women, even literate women, actually think that it’s the turn of a woman to be president. The affirmative action fallacy that gave us the Obama presidency may just be about to be repeated.

It may be too late for rational people to do much of anything against the broader fallacy of phony identity politics. It seems to me that they can gnaw at its edge – this time – by tirelessly contradicting the now common false premise that Ms Clinton is well qualified for the job of president. Even ignoring her many failures, she did not achieve anything either as Senator or as Secretary of State, no legislation, no international agreement, no treaty, nothing. Unlike the current president, she was not even good at being elected. She got her Senate seat from the Democratic machine from a safe district where she ran essentially unopposed. Her appointment as Secretary of State was such an obvious debt repayment between Democrat factions that anyone but a Clinton would have been embarrassed.

The pessimist in me nourishes a further nightmare: There will be a time soon when I miss the Obama presidency.

Cruz Barn Burner: Strawman or Paper Tiger?


Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) burned the barn to the ground with his 21 hour ‘fauxlibuster’ this week on the Senate floor.  Supporters of Cruz’ increasingly libertarian voice relish his statesmanship and clarity, and conversely, no doubt detractors and skeptics dismissed much of the material content addressed due to Cruz’ rhetorical devices, not limited channeling statist icon Darth Vader while lampooning Senator Mike Lee (R-UT).

The usual political hay has already been spun by the  pundits, including Limbaugh and Coulter, providing color commentary and cold shots alike.  Senator Cruz’ profile is quickly rising, and he is being touted as a quill for the young libertarian porcupine within the halls of congress — alongside the likes of Marco Rubio and Rand Paul.  Indeed, Cruz is more than likely positioning himself for a cabinet post in potential Paul campaign 2016, bidding the GOP base against New Jersey’s increasingly progressive Chris Christie.

It is assumed Hillary Clinton will be the ochlocratic candidate.

Rafael Cruz (Ted’s father) makes impassioned appeals to the ideals of Americana-brand liberty for large crowds of supporters, evoking support from the base of the GOP with the family’s brand; scathing indictments of our Republic’s current state, drawing parallels to Bautistas’ fascist, then Castro’s communist Cuba and the horror of living under a totalitarian regime two times over.  Rafael Cruz escaped Castro and fled to the liberty and free markets in Canada, then here in the US, finding success through a technology connection to the petroleum industry — a familiar Horatio Alger-esque tale — Millitary Fascism to Communism and to Corporate Fascism in less than a generation..

…and then there is  Mrs.Heidi Nelson-Cruz, the senator’s wife.  Ted and Heidi met in the Bush White House, while she was working for Condi Rice.  A Claremont-McKenna and Harvard Business grad, Heidi Nelson-Cruz currently works for Goldman-Sachs as a Vice President.

Texas seems to have a GOP senator with strong ties to petroleum, the Bush White House and good ol’ Goldman-Sachs through his wife.  These observations, coupled with the current political landscape may provide insight the origin and intent of the Senator from Texas’ dazzling libertarian all-nighter.

Cruz may need to spend another 21 hours in an attempt to burn down his own straw man — free markets or corporatism?  If his wife works for the self-same Goldman-Sachs that profited from the TARP bailout rammed through the halls of Congress at the tail end of the Bush regime and spilling into the Obama regime; the Goldman-Sachs that boasts both parties’ presidents and cabinets in their pockets going back to (at least) the Clinton administration, would that not be a conflict of interest?  Cruz made open comment about the excellent health insurance provided Heidi’s Vice-Presidency with Goldman-Sachs.  The banking cartel’s involvement in  and subsequent manipulation of the political sphere is a common link between both ends of the popular political spectrum, and to assume that a politician’s libertarian common sense would be immune to the pressures and normalcy bias of the human condition would be naive.

Ted Cruz talks a good game.  He offers the concepts and economic pedigree libertarians have been waiting to hear from a GOP Senator other than Ron Paul, and presents these concepts in a clear and relatable way.  His voting record as a Senator approaches perfection.  Unfortunately, many of the Tea Party Rockstars* who held great promise for the cause of liberty have proven to be paper tigers.  However liberated Ted Cruz’ economic policy could be, the rigor of skepticism cannot be abandoned by liberty-minded citizens just yet.

As Patrick Henry, liberty lover and skeptic of government, famously remarked of the Constitutional Convention, I smell a rat…and hope on the bones of Lysander Spooner for our Republic’s sake, that I am wrong about the Senator from Texas.

*Rockstar Brand Tea flavored energy beverage is not endorsed by publisher or any so-called Tea Party Rockstars.

Qui Bono,

L.A. Repucci

The Predictable Failure of the Iraq War

I’ve gone over the knowledge problem associated with foreign policy before, and I believe it is sufficient to say that libertarians were right in deflating predictions by hawks that the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq would go over smoothly. Hawks on both the Left and the Right oversimplified the situation in the Middle East. Their condescending tone towards both the Iraqi people and the broader Middle East guaranteed failure from the outset. Anybody who believes that a state – no matter how wealthy and powerful – can just waltz in to another state – no matter how poor and weak – and impose its will upon it is a fool.

Gene Healy reports from DC:

In a 2001 debate on Iraq with former CIA Director James Woolsey, my Cato Institute colleague, then-Chairman William Niskanen, argued that “an unnecessary war is an unjust war” and one we would come to regret having fought.

Niskanen was right. A new report from the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University tallies up the costs: nearly 4,500 U.S. troop fatalities, an eventual budgetary cost of some $3.9 trillion and more than 130,000 civilians as “collateral damage.”


Bill Niskanen, who passed away last year at the age of 78, never tired of reminding conservatives that war is a government program — and an especially destructive one at that.

If you add up the harsh economic sanctions imposed upon the Iraqis by the Democrats earlier in the decade, the 130,000 civilian toll increases significantly (to about half a million, most of whom were children).

Only a foreign policy based around commerce, peace and honest friendship will succeed in both the short and the long runs. Luckily for us, it appears that there is a growing consensus on this argument among the population of the United States. It helps that most advocates of the war are either remorseful or they are becoming more and more discredited by the day. From Hitlery Clinton to Dubya to John McCain, the old guard is steadily giving way to a breath of fresh air. Air that is more suitable for a republic dedicated to individual liberty.

Hillary Clinton on Somalia: More of the Same

Hillary Clinton has recently called for more effort on the part of the West in the War on Terror’s Horn of Africa region by issuing threats of sanctions and more military troops in the region recently (ht John Glaser).

The threats of sanction, which libertarians consider an act of war, have been issued to states who don’t cooperate with the West in their efforts to eradicate al Shabaab, an Islamic group linked to al Qaeda that controls much of the southern territory of Somalia and, until recently, sections of Mogadishu as well.

The underlying argument put forth by the West is that the Somali state itself, a creation of the West, needs to be upheld and maintained by an inclusive, democratic regime in order for stability, prosperity and an end to terrorist activities to take place in the Horn of Africa.

This is tactic is incredibly wrong, and instead of accomplishing the West’s stated aims, actually contributes to its continued failure. Continue reading