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Guest Author Baleigh Scott wrote this article to convince people that, principally, “government is the disease for which it claims to be the cure.” In order to inform her blogged opinions (The Indisputable Dirt), this Public Policy Analyst reads political editorials and classical literature. Her background is in Economics and Creative Non-fiction, so her writing is directed to an interest in Money and Story-telling. The welfare state is her perfect subject. Enjoy.

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If the wall is strong enough to restrict big businesses within, it is most certainly strong enough to keep smaller, not-yet-in-existence businesses out.

When I mention the dangers of regulating business (as I do incessantly)— of giving a panel of flawed human beings the power to create and enforce arbitrary rules and standards within an industry— people tend to assume that I’m going to focus, not on “proper” regulation, but on its evidently corrupted human manifestation.

The expected argument goes something like this:

We can’t expect people, including regulators, not to act in their own self-interest. If we grant government agencies the special power to regulate businesses, the biggest and most powerful businesses will inevitably find ways to use their wealth to influence those regulatory agencies. In one way or another, the given regulatory agency will become no more than a puppet for the industry’s big wigs. As a result, the very agencies designed to prevent huge companies from using their size and influence— at others’ expense— will end up granting the wealthiest companies more power and freedom than the free market ever could. Thus, if our goal is to curb the power of big businesses, we’d be better off without the regulatory agencies in the first place.”

There is a lot of truth to this.

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Today marks the 175th birthday of the founder of Austrian economics, Carl Menger. Born to a wealthy Austrian family in 1840, Menger studied at the Gymnasium in Austria and went on to Prague and Vienna to study law. After school, he worked as a journalist, analyzing the market economy. It was through this work that Menger noticed a discrepancy between the classical Smithian economic doctrine and real-world conditions.

Menger became noted in the field of economics when he published Principles of Economics, by which he was noted as the first economist to identify marginal utility,  a concept which is now widely acknowledged by mainstream economists as a fundamental aspect of the workings of supply and demand. Instead of Adam Smith’s and David Ricardo’s  classical view that prices are determined by the cost of production, the marginal utility theory stated that the value of a good or service decreases as more units of the good or service are provided. For example, as a person eats more, one’s desire for additional units of food diminishes, so it may follow that one devalues food more than if one is hungry. In this scenario, even assuming the cost of production is constant for all units, the value placed on each unit by each consumer may vary, based on personal preference, price, and other, innumerable factors.

Shortly after publishing Principles of Economics, Menger returned to the University of Vienna, where he joined the law faculty and became their chair of economic theory at 33 years of age. He even worked with Austrian nobility, tutoring Archduke Habsburg on political economy and statistics, and later advising the nation on monetary policy.

Plaque of Menger at the University of Vienna.

Menger’s work paved the way for other well-known Austrian economists such as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek. Although the latter two economists and many other, more contemporary, Austrian economists are better-known and more frequently read than Menger, he nonetheless deserves credit for laying the foundation for those who followed in the Austrian School of economics.

I had the fortune of visiting the University of Vienna myself in July 2012 during my summer abroad; there, Menger is immortalized on a wall in the campus square. The University was a great place to visit, and continues to be renowned for its quality academics. I was excited to pay tribute to his academic homeland. Even after nearly a century of circulation, Menger’s work continues to influence economists of all types around the world

Further Resources:

Mises Institute: Carl Menger Pioneered ‘Empirical Theory’

Principles of Economics, full text

The Center exists to further the education of the American people and American policymakers on topics of money and banking. only organization in Washington dedicated to monetary reform Dr. Paul’s views on monetary policy will remain in the public eye

“The Center exists to further the education of the American people and…policymakers on topics of money and banking…
[CMC is] the only organization in Washington dedicated to monetary reform… [and exists to ensure that] Dr. [Ron] Paul’s views on monetary policy will remain in the public eye.”

Disclaimer: I do not  claim that the movies listed below are the most libertarian movies released in 2014, as I have not even seen every movie released in 2014. However, I have seen all the movies nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.

On a scale of one to Hayek, if libertarians could make the final vote based on the films nominated by the Academy, the results would go like this. . .

8. Whiplash

 whiplashWhiplash tells the story of a driven student musician at a music conservatory, and his tough, asshole teacher. Personally, I loved this movie and would recommend you see it if you get the chance. That being said, it over romanticizes the idea that the ends justify the means to the point that it’s decidedly un-libertarian. The message seems to be that if someone has good intentions, but their methods are questionable, it’s OK. This is a mantra we often see in government. Yet, in life and in government, good intentions don’t always cut it.

On a scale of one to Hayek: Vladimir Putin.

 

 

7. Boyhood 

boyhood

Boyhood is a unique film shot over an 11 year period. It features the growth of  a boy, Mason, as he journeys through adolescence. While Mason grows up to be somewhat  libertarian, he’s more of that conspiracy theorist type that no one takes seriously. He doesn’t make any libertarian points that would make an audience say “huh, I never thought of it that way. Government is the worst.”  His father is also a hardcore anti-Bush guy, and there’s even a scene of he and the kids putting up Obama signs. Since most libertarians have a lot of problems with both Bush and Obama, the film ends in a draw in terms of any libertarian message.

On a scale of one to Hayek: A Prius with an Obama ’12 and an anti-war bumper sticker.

 
6. American Sniper

American sniper

Given its prominent displays of war, violence, and American nationalism, American Sniper is undoubtedly controversial. I think any political message a viewer takes away from this film has more to do with their own ideology than the movie itself. As a libertarian, I came out of the theater rather disturbed, which is a good thing because war is disturbing and a good war movie reminds us of that. However, the reasons and validity of the war taking place is never questioned. Chris Kyle’s motives for becoming a sniper are never questioned, and neither is his status as a hero  (is he really a hero?). Moreover, if you’re an advocate for “the War on Terror,” this movie isn’t going to make you rethink your position.

On a scale of one to Hayek: That kid in your class who hates Ayn Rand but can’t articulate why. He or she has also never read Ayn Rand.

 
5. The Theory of Everything

the theory of everything

The Theory of Everything is a romantic, biographical film based on the great Stephen Hawking. In this movie, there’s no portrayal of government or anything symbolic of government, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s nice to see Stephen Hawking overcome adversity and to see other characters help him voluntarily, outside of government (a subtle step in a libertarian direction). However, no one walking out of the theater is going to think “Man, that’s so great he did all that without the government’s help!” For that reason, some other nominees have been placed above The Theory of Everything in my list. 

On a scale of one to Hayek: That kid in your class that hates the government but can’t articulate why.

 
4. The Grand Budapest Hotel

budapest

The Grand Budapest Hotel is another knockout from Wes Anderson featuring unique cinematography and eccentric characters. The heroes spend a good portion of this movie flouting government authority, which is a good start. That being said, it’s usually for selfish reasons. There’s no moment where the main character, M. Gustave, stands up for the greater good or makes a point about how society in general would be better off if government had less power. Instead it’s “I want something, the government’s in my way, screw the government.” Sure there are some libertarian themes you could draw from the turmoil of war in the background of the film, but it isn’t overt. This places The Grand Budapest Hotel in the middle of the pack.

On a scale of one to Hayek: Actually exercising your 4th Amendment Rights when the police stop you.

3. Birdman

birdman

It’s difficult to pull a political message out of Birdman without using some high school-English-teacher level bullshit. Luckily, I’m competent in this artform. In Birdman, Riggan Thompson struggles between two identities; his former identity as a superhero and his current identity as a hasbeen who can barely keep the play he’s producing in production. If we’re reaching, this could symbolize the dichotomy between the idealized view government has of itself and the hot mess government actually is. The message is that we should all strive to do what we want, even when it’s not easy and even when it’s not what the masses would prefer. In that regard, Thompson reminds me of heroes like those Ayn Rand would write, which makes him OK in my book.

On a scale of one to Hayek: Using Uber as your only means of transportation.

2. Selma

selma

Of all the nominees, Selma is the most political, as it’s actually about a conflict between political activists and government. It portrays the importance of equality, civil rights, and anti-racism, as well as the use of non-violent means to effect change in government.  One of the great thing about Selma is that it serves as a lesson on how to make other libertarian dreams come true. To the conservatives refusing to see it because Oprah was involved, go read what Glenn Beck had to say about it. Selma could have easily been my number one in previous years, but in 2014 there was one other movie that edged it out.

On a scale of one to Hayek: That kid in your class who hates the government, CAN articulate why, and is capable of convincing the rest of the class to agree with him (so basically, all you SFL activists).

 

1. The Imitation Game
imitationSet during World War II, The Imitation Game follows the story of Alan Turing, a cryptanalyist who helped solve the Enigma Code. By the end of this movie, the audience is mad at Nazis, Soviets, and the Brits. It wins libertarian movie of the year because it makes a statement about how all government has its dark side, rather than a statement about one specific government that’s wrong on one specific issue, as Selma does. It may be a war movie, but unlike American Sniper, there’s a strong emphasis on ending the war once and for all. It also emphasizes that the way to win a war is not to simply be more violent than the other side, but to outsmart them. The Imitation Game also touches on the stupidity of the lesser-of-two-evils foreign policy seen through comparisons of Germany, The U.S.S.R., and Britain. There’s also an overt push for LGBT equality and gender equality present in the film. No other Best Picture nominee has a major female character that isn’t 1) related to a central male character or 2) the love interest of a central male character. (Selma‘s portrayal of Annie Lee Cooper probably comes closest, but she doesn’t get enough screentime to qualify as a major character).  Further, the film touches on issues of LGBT rights given that Alan Turning is prosecuted for homosexuality. By talking about the various social injustices of this time period, the horrors of war, and non-violent methods of ending a war, The Imitation Game earns my vote for most libertarian Best Picture nominee at the Oscars.

On a scale of one to Hayek: Same-sex married couples growing their own cannabis and defending it with guns they bought with Bitcoin.

For many people, libertarian or otherwise, Ayn Rand’s iconic novel, Atlas Shrugged, A) teaches/enlightens and B) takes forever-and-a-half to read. As I mentioned in my previous blog, I just attended my second International Students for Liberty Conference. The difference between what I knew in 2014 concerning libertarianism, and what I know now is enormous! One of these main differences is the journey from not knowing what Ayn Rand’s Objectivism is, to having almost finished Atlas Shrugged, her fourth and final novel (Journals of Ayn Rand). Here is a little bit about what I now think of Objectvism, and about Atlas Shrugged in general: why I love its radical, controversial, and thought-provoking language; why I understand the arguments other readers make against it; and my thoroughly positive reaction to her remarkable, original, and daring philosophy. I promise I won’t spoil anything.

I actually began reading Rand’s whopper of a novel (there are 1060 pages in my edition) all the way back in August, after alm10-badass-ayn-rand-quotes-9-638ost every Campus Coordinator swarmed me during the retreat in July, telling me that “I have to read it.” Fast forward five months later, I haven’t finished it, but I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have about 200 hundred pages left and I believe I’ve met most of the characters, or at least the most important ones. The night-and-day quality of the differing opinions in the book so far is abundantly clear. Rand certainly liked her sarcasm, but also her detailed and extremely comprehensive explanations. On one hand, we have the “good guys”: Dagny Taggart, Hank Rearden, John Galt, Francisco d’Anconia; the list goes on.These characters consist of businessmen (and one woman), hard workers, philosophers, bankers, and professors, to name a few. They all believe in a very specific moral code that: “man is an end in himself, and not the means to any end of others.” They do not beg, grovel, nor ask for alms from from other people because they believe that, in order to live a truly “moral life,” man cannot do so by mooching off the means of another.

It is a very noble reasoning, at first thought. Nothing should come to anyone for free, and an exchange of goods will always cost the traders something, monetary or otherwise. This ideology falls under attack when people ask: what if one truly cannot help oneself? I find this argument easily countered, especially considering most, if not all, of the “moochers” Rand portrays, are rich, and have become so by collecting and living on the income of other people. Never does Rand mention anything about refusing to help people who literally cannot help themselves, whether because of a physical disability, or some other circumstance. Obviously, families operate by this code— parents take care of unable children, and sometimes the elderly.

Ultimately, to care for “those less fortunate” is a choice, and man should be free to choose to take care of others, not to be forced by taxes or guilt.

Rand’s overall attitude was that capitalism is a moral virtue, and her novels illustrate that human relationships must give and take. One poignant example is the relationship between Dagny, a hero, and her brother, Jim, a leech if there ever was one. He states that he expects to be loved for nothing; he should simply be loved for the sake of a “feeling” of love. Rand condemns him for asking for love in return for nothing.

There are several (satirical) instances within the book that describe what critics think of Rand’s alleged lack of emotion. Several extras within the novel show their contempt of profit seekers, accusing Dagny and her peers of being cold-hearted, unfeeling, business-obsessed money-hoarders who act only via logical dictates, and not by “following their hearts,” to use a colloquialism. Honestly, I can see where they’re coming from. Indeed, the protagonists nonfiction asopenly admit they’re money-hungry. But at the same time, what Rand and her characters choose to feel is exactly that: a choice. They believe that it isn’t, in fact, right or moral to expect to be loved for nothing. This idea is so prevalent in our everyday lives. To elaborate, the things you or I would do for someone we love without thinking, such as going out of our way to remember important dates or favourite flowers, is relationship capital.

Rand’s philosophy says that working hard and being proud of one’s accomplishments is one of the strongest feelings out there. I personally don’t believe that Rand/her characters are unfeeling robots, but instead, what they choose to feel is unyielding, passionate self-respect and admiration, something I have no problem considering; one of the first lessons we learn as children, after all, is that loving yourself is the first step towards loving others. This does not mean it is impossible to love others; only that your well-being is just as important.

What is really so bad about wanting to gain wealth if you have the ability, the know-how, or the skill to do so? The main characters of Atlas Shrugged fuel the railroads, raw materials, and industry everywhere. They work hard for themselves, and ultimately are willing to share this wealth in the form of transport, railways, natural resources, and jobs. Is being proud of obtaining well-deserved wealth in fair exchange so terrible? Is loving someone for specific reasons, as opposed to loving blindly, such a horrible concept? Is looking out for yourself before others (to a certain extent) such an evil ideology? Personally, I answer “no” to all of these questions. In the long run, reading Rand’s work has given me a new and exciting angle from which to view the world and those who exist within it. I am not ashamed to put my well-being first; I am not ashamed to take every advantage of my talents and abilities; and I am not ashamed that I want to make a wealthier life for myself with these abilities and talents, monetarily and philosophically. Whether you love Atlas Shrugged or hate it, neither should you be ashamed of living a good life, and working hard to achieve it. One thousand sixty pages of Objectivism convinced me; will it do the same for you?just realized who is john galt w text

The following post is a guest blog by Young Voices Advocate Zachary Yost.

The 21st century US’ attempt at activism was disputedly “successful” because it made few specific demands to be met; is mass exposure on the scale for activist success?

Being a pro-liberty activist can be a frustrating endeavor. Despite all of your hard work, it is usually difficult to detect visible change happening as a direct result of your efforts. Any glance at the news seems to confirm the view that liberty is losing ground all over the world. Events like the worsening situation in Ukrainethe conviction of Ross Ulbricht, and the recent news that the FCC will attempt to regulate the Internet as a public utility all seem to reinforce the gloomy vision.

In the face of such gloom, it’s easy to lose perspective about the true state of things. Recently, Learn Liberty released a new video called “Acts of Resistance: Warsaw’s Blinking Lights

The video chronicles the overwhelming, albeit evidently nonexistent, success Radio Free Poland experienced during the Communist regime’s reign there. Radio Free Poland was run by the Romaszweski couple (although the video spotlights a family called Jaworski), who for years operated with major risk, and had no idea if all of their hard work and risk were effecting change. During a doubtful spell, they desired to quantify their reach, and broadcasted to everyone listening to flash the lights in their windows if they could hear them. When they looked outside, Warsaw had lit up like Times Square.

This incident has several important lessons for contemporary libertarians and our seemingly eternal struggle to free the world. Few things are more disappointing than putting a lot of work into an event, only to entertain a fraction of expected attendees. But, in any movement for social change, the very active and passionate people are always a minority. People simply care in varying degrees, and their actions reflect this. Few people cared enough to act as the Romaszweskis, handing out contraband fliers and running an illegal radio station. However, thousands of people were willing to flicker their lights in an act of defiance and solidarity. The Polish metric for success was not based on how many people they turned into full-fledged activists. However, they were wildly successful when they measured their social impact in terms of listeners.

College students are like the inhabitants of Warsaw; they might not be willing to come to meetings and events, but maybe they will stop at your table and take home a book, pamphlet, or idea. Large things have small beginnings.

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