President Trump is Taking Obama’s Foreign Policy to the Next Level

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump got attention from Old Right conservatives and libertarians alike by expressing many non-interventionist, anti-war foreign policy ideas. The evidence for this is threefold: his opposition to the Iraq war, continuing criticisms of NATO, rightly concluding that the U.S. ought not to be the “world’s policeman”, and support for a renewed alliance with Russia. All three of these views were met with the predictable outrage of the political establishment and foreign policy community, though, whose goal, it seems, is to keep us all in perpetual war.

While it is true that President Trump did show some signs of being favorable to military interventionism during the 2016 presidential campaign, after all, who can forget his epic exchanges with Senator Rand Paul over the Geneva Convention and the killing of the children of suspected terrorists? His support for non-interventionist stances even led some brilliant libertarians, as well as conservatives skeptical of military intervention to support Trump for president against confirmed warmonger Hillary Clinton.

So now that Trump is at the helm of a trillion-dollar global war machine, how is he faring? Has he repudiated President Obama’s policies of unconstitutional drone bombing, killing of unarmed, civilian non-combatants, and assassinations of American citizens overseas without warrant or due process or has he continued these policies of death, destruction, and inevitable blowback? Unfortunately, it appears the latter is true, as Trump is more than picking up where Obama left off.

President Trump was inaugurated on January 20th. One week later, on January 27th, reports from Yemen surfaced that an U.S. led airstrike, approved by President Trump, on a suspected military compound had also killed as many of 30 civilians, including 10 women and children.

Nor does it appear that Yemen is alone in feeling the wrath of President Trump’s military escapades. Last week, the New York Times reported that an investigation is underway to into reports that up to 200 civilians have been killed in recent U.S. airstrikes in Mosul, in northern Iraq. Couple that news with reports out of Syria claiming U.S. airstrikes killed dozens of civilians in Raqqa and it is easy to see why those of us who support non-interventionism have soured on Trump’s handling of foreign policy.

An even more terrifying prospect is that it seems President Trump is not only continuing Obama’s insane and unconstitutional drone strike campaigns, he is, in fact, escalating them by granting the CIA a new, secret authority to carry out their own drone strikes on suspected terrorists.

Per the Independent,

“The new authority – said to have been granted shortly after Mr Trump’s inauguration – takes drone strikes out of the sole control of the military, sparking fears about accountability.

Under the drone policy of the Obama administration, the CIA could find a suspect, but the armed forces would carry out the actual strike.

Unlike the Pentagon, the CIA does not need to disclose drone strikes — or any resulting civilian casualties.”

As despicable as the previous administration’s drone policy was, at least they were being carried out by the Pentagon and in full view of both public and Congress. The idea that the CIA can now identify and carry out airstrikes on their own, without documentation or oversight, should send chills up the spine of any reasonable thinking human being. This is, of course, the same CIA that can secretly hack smartphones, televisions, computers, personal assistants such as the Amazon Echo, and even cars.

In just the first two months of his administration, President Trump is pushing the envelope on executive military power even further than President Obama did, just as he did with his predecessor George W. Bush.  Where is Congress in all of this, one may ask? By abdicating their constitutional war powers and essentially handing them over to the president, they are attempting to insulate themselves from criticism. For example, how can they be held responsible for civilian casualties when it’s the president unilaterally carrying out the drone strikes?  There may, though, be a bright side: now that the president is a Republican, the media and the anti-war left have come out of hibernation to criticize and hold the Trump administration accountable. Better late than never, I guess.

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Pillars of Libertarianism: The Non-Aggression Principle

In the second part of this series on the pillars of libertarianism, we’re going to focus on the Non-Aggression Principle (NAP). Along with strong private property rights, the NAP makes up the foundation of libertarianism. At its core, the NAP answers the most fundamental political question: when is it justified to use force?

In For a New Liberty, Rothbard strongly makes the case. “The Libertarian creed rests upon one central axiom: that no man or group of men may aggress against the person or property of anyone else.” Included in this definition of aggression are direct threats of violence with intent to follow through. Don’t hurt people and don’t take their stuff. It’s a pretty simple idea, really. It’s an idea that most would agree with as a matter of course.  But when the principle is applied to interactions with the state, problems instantly arise.

The most obvious example of this is taxation. Libertarians all love to  share memes on social media that emphasize that taxation is theft, but the fact remains: taxes are not voluntary donations. If you don’t believe me, stop paying them and see what happens. Nor are taxes the price you pay for living in a civilized society. That logic is absurd. Is war is the price we pay for peace? Are economic crashes the price we pay for prosperity?

Another example is war. Again we return to Rothbard, “And since war, especially modern war, entails the mass slaughter of civilians, the libertarian regards such conflicts as mass murder and therefore totally illegitimate.” Related to war is conscription, or the draft, which is when young men and women are involuntarily enlisted into the service of the State, which almost always means fighting and dying as a part of the armed forces.  If that young person decides not to join they are thrown in jail. What is conscription other than slavery on a national level?

What these examples show in stunning clarity is twofold. First, there is no organization in the whole of human history that has oppressed, marginalized, abused, tortured or downright murdered more people than the State. The body count in the twentieth century alone is over a quarter billion. Second, most people seem perfectly willing to give to the State the moral license to do things that any private group or individual would never be allowed to do.  This is why the statist apologist mentality is so dangerous; once you’re able to comfortably make excuses for the worst excesses of the government, you can use it to justify all sorts of atrocities.

A libertarian makes no such distinctions. Likewise, libertarians make no apologies for the moral bankruptcy of the State. If it is illegal or immoral for a group to steal the property of an individual, the fact that the group calls itself a government matters little. Same goes for

One common argument against the non-aggression principle is that it is a pacifistic doctrine. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fundamentally libertarian private property norm states that you own your own body first and foremost. This includes an irrevocable right to self-defense.  The same is true at the global level. There are legitimate reasons to go to war. The real problem is that the usual reasons politicians give to their constituents never rise to that level.

To clarify this point, imagine this scenario: you are walking down the street and see Mr. A approach Mr. B. After a brief argument, Mr. A physically takes the watch off the wrist of Mr. B and walks away.  Surely Mr. A has violated the NAP with regard to Mr. B and his personal property. But this is not necessarily the case. It very well could be the case that Mr. A is aggressing against Mr. B by stealing his watch, but perhaps the watch belongs to Mr. A and he was simply taking it back from Mr. B who stole it the day before, which is well within his rights under established private property norms.

Another common argument against the NAP is that it is an inflexible doctrine that fails to adequately deal with real world situations. There are of course many incredibly complex private property disputes in our society and no system, including libertarian anarchism, will solve every situation perfectly. Anarchists don’t claim their system is a utopia, only that it establishes the most equitable way to resolve the inevitable clashes that occur over scarce resources.

Pollution disputes are a good example of this argument. Rothbard effectively argued that pollution, in the forms of water, air, and even noise, are of a type of trespass and thus a clear violation of the NAP. Matt Zwolinski argues that then means that any amount of smoke from a chimney that passes over the property of another is aggression and subject to retaliatory self-defense. What he fails to recognize is that the NAP doesn’t apply in a vacuum. The NAP is an ethical guideline used to justify the use of force within the established legal framework of that society. If Mr. A’s chimney blows smoke over Mr. B’s property, it is highly unlikely that would justify Mr. B in blowing up Mr. A’s house. Mr. B would instead have to show real damage to property and any restitution would be proportionally awarded. Zwolinski’s argument ends up being a bit of a straw man.

The non-aggression principle and strong private property rights work hand in hand to establish and protect an individual’s right to life, liberty and property. They also provide the most equitable determination of when force is justified when disputes over resources do occur. And all of this is done voluntarily and without coercion. That alone makes it an upgrade over our current system.

How the Government Undermines Job Creation

During the 2012 presidential campaign, President Obama caught some flak for a speech in which he claimed that businesses aren’t responsible for their own success. Using convoluted logic, Obama said that business owners ought instead thank the government, by way of the taxpayers, for developing the business environment that allows them to succeed.

Two years later, Hillary Clinton famously remarked, “Don’t let anybody tell you that it’s corporations and businesses that create jobs. You know that old theory, trickle-down economics. That has been tried, that has failed. It has failed rather spectacularly.” She later tried to walk back that claim, saying she meant to say ‘business tax breaks’ don’t create jobs.

Statements like these reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the entrepreneur in the economy, particularly the entrepreneur’s role in job creation. Moreover, these sentiments, shared by virtually the entire establishment regardless of political ideology, grossly overstate the effectiveness of the government’s interventions in the labor market. In fact, there’s a strong argument to be made that when economies grow and jobs are created it’s despite government intervention, not because of it.

So how does the government undermine job creation? For the answer, we look to an article from economist Walter Block. In it, Dr. Block outlines a number of specific government interventions and explains how they negatively impact the economy. Some of the interventions have been covered here before, like occupational licensing. Others, such as minimum wage laws, deserve their own post and will be covered more in depth in the future.

We will cover each issue point by point because they are all important and give us a better understanding of the depth of government involvement in the economy.

Minimum Wage

Most economists, Austrian or mainstream, believe that minimum wage laws reduce employment.  More specifically, these laws reduce the employment opportunities for young and unskilled workers. These are often the workers that minimum wage laws are designed to help.

Comparable Worth

Comparable worth legislation is when the government decides that one lower paid occupation has the same social ‘worth’ or ‘value’ as a higher paid occupation and artificially adjusts the wages to match of the lower to the higher. This causes unemployment in the artificially adjusted occupation by pricing many of the lower skilled workers out of the market.

Working Conditions

Many people applaud the government’s intentions when legislating for better working conditions. We instantly think of the plight of the coal miner working 18 hour days in dangerous conditions. What we don’t often hear of are the ridiculous regulations masquerading as improved working conditions, like having to keep a restroom at 68 degrees.

Unions

Per Dr. Block:

When the government forces businesses to hire only union workers, it discriminates against non-union workers, causing them to be at a severe disadvantage or permanently unemployed. Unions exist primarily to keep out competition. They are a state-protected cartel like any other.

Employment Protection, Payroll Taxes, and Unemployment Insurance

Employment protection laws are intended to shield employees from undue termination. Instead, they give employers incentive to not to take a chance on borderline employees. When you add in payroll tax and unemployment insurance burdens, the cost to employ individuals goes up, as does unemployment.

Licensing

Occupational licensing laws and other barriers to entry overwhelmingly affect minority and lower class entrepreneurs. Block cites the example of the Florida woman whose home-based soup kitchen  was shut down for being an unlicensed restaurant. As a result, many homeless in the area go hungry. This is not an isolated incident.

Peddling

Laws against peddling hurt low income start up entrepreneurs and those that buy their wares, people that also tend to be low income. Dr. Block references that the most vocal and influential supporters of anti-peddling laws are established businesses and department stores.

Child Labor

For a young person with no skills, working can provide some pocket money, a sense of personal satisfaction, and all too important discipline and responsibility that pay off in spades when they are ready to join the labor force. Sadly, government has killed those opportunities. Paper routes, lawn mowing, and even lemonade stands are all but outlawed for ambitious children. Essentially, young people are being robbed of the chance to gain real skills, putting them at a disadvantage later in life.

The Federal Reserve

Maybe most importantly, Dr. Block addresses how the Federal Reserve, along with the government creates unemployment.

By bringing about the business cycle, Federal Reserve money creation causes unemployment. Inflation not only raises prices, it also misallocates labor. During the boom phase of the trade cycle, businesses hire new workers, many of whom are pulled from other lines of work by the higher wages. The Fed subsidy to these capital industries lasts only until the bust. Workers are then laid off and displaced.

Government interventions in the economy vary in scope and purpose. One thing they all have in common is that they create distortions in the market. Minimum wage laws, for example, distort the labor market via the pricing mechanism. Licensing, anti-peddling, and others distort the market by creating barriers to entry for new entrepreneurs, thus protecting existing firms.  These aren’t the type of actions that create and protect jobs no matter what Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton say.

 

John McCain and Rand Paul Clash Over NATO

Last Wednesday, Arizona Senator John McCain (R-AZ) slammed his Republican colleague, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) for not only “achieving the objectives of Vladimir Putin”, but directly “working for” the Russian President.  That’s a pretty serious charge to level against a United States Senator. The actual story, though, is much less controversial and really shows the level of petulance and lifelong war mongering of John McCain.

First for some background. To say that the history between the two senators is rocky would be an understatement. In 2013, McCain took shots at Paul over his filibuster of the nomination of CIA director John Brennan. Sen. Paul was critical of the idea that the then Obama Administration would be able to use drone strikes to murder American citizens on American soil. Also in 2013, as Sen. Paul was preparing to run for the Republican Presidential nomination, McCain said that if the 2016 Presidential race was between Rand Paul and Hillary Clinton, he’d have a hard time making up his mind. Senator Paul shot back at McCain, calling him “stale and moss covered”.

The fact is that the men have radically different views on foreign policy matters. Rand Paul, much like his father Ron, is a non-interventionist. This means he is skeptical of interference into the external affairs of other sovereign states, especially military interference. Non-interventionists prefer to use diplomacy and avoid any wars that are not explicitly in self-defense. Fundamentally, non-interventionism is the Non-Aggression Principle applied to sovereign states.

John McCain, on the other hand, is a warmonger, more commonly called a defense hawk, who has never met a war he didn’t like. In 2003, McCain slammed then President George W. Bush for not committing enough troops to Iraq. Per Ted Carpenter of the Cato Institute, McCain “has also advocated hardline policies toward Iran, Syria, and North Korea, and has even staked out confrontational positions toward such major powers as China and Russia. The evidence suggests that a McCain administration would be even more reckless and aggressive than the current [George W. Bush] one.” And just in case you’ve lost track of all the countries that McCain wants to bomb, here’s a handy map.

Fast forward to last week. This current dustup between the two senators occurred over a resolution put forth by McCain to expand the NATO alliance to include the former Yugoslav republic of Montenegro. For a country to be added to NATO, the senate needs a unanimous vote. When the voting started, Sen. Paul walked into the chamber, voted no, and promptly left.

McCain wasted no time in attacking Sen. Paul and, without proof of any kind, claimed he was ‘working for Vladimir Putin”. To McCain, because Paul left after objecting to the inclusion of Montenegro he had zero valid reasons for his opposition.

This is clearly not the case as Paul explained in a later statement, “Currently, the United States has troops in dozens of countries and is actively fighting in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen (with the occasional drone strike in Pakistan). In addition, the United States is pledged to defend 28 countries in NATO. It is unwise to expand the monetary and military obligations of the United States given the burden of our $20 trillion debt.”

It’s obvious that this kind of logical thinking is too much for McCain to handle. It seems that no price is too high to pay for escalating aggressions with Russia.

It didn’t take long for Sen. Paul to strike back, saying, “We’re lucky John McCain is not in charge” and that what McCain says should be taken with a “grain of salt” because “John McCain’s the guy who’s advocated for war everywhere.”

Senator Paul will get no arguments from us there.

Trump’s First Budget A Mixed Bag

Last week, the Trump Administration released their 2018 budget blueprint to criticism from both left and right. The budget is essentially a $54 billion dollar increase for Defense and Homeland Security, offset by sharp double-digit cuts to Education, Health and Human Services, State, Agriculture, and the EPA. Budget Director Rick Mulvaney, a fiscal hawk when he was a South Carolina congressman, defended the plan as “fairly compassionate”.  The response from the left has been typical, even to the point of calling Mulvaney “pure evil.” Surely there’s no hyperbole there!

It should surprise no one that the left and big government Republicans are joined in being apoplectic over Trump’s cutting of some of the budget.  For example, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are eliminated in their entirety.  Per NPR, the “CPB received $445 million in federal funding in the last fiscal year; the NEA and NEH got about $148 million each — a tiny portion of the roughly $4 trillion federal budget.” Proponents of the NEA and CPB claim that since these programs represent such a small portion of the total budget, it makes no sense to cut them. Take this quote from Patricia Harrison, the President and CEO of CPB, “There is no viable substitute for federal funding that ensures Americans have universal access to public media’s education and informational programming and services.” She called public media “one of America’s best investments,” costing “approximately $1.35 per citizen per year.”

This line of reasoning is embarrassing and shows the absolute lack of critical thinking and problem solving skills that characterize so much of the political and economic landscape today. There absolutely is a viable substitute to federal funding, it’s called private donations. If there is a market need for the types of services provided by public broadcasting and the NEA, then the people who want them should pay for them. Patricia Harrison and her ilk can claim they are helping the poor all they like, but what they are really saying is that she doesn’t want her company to have to compete in the market for customers and funding like everyone else. Instead, she demands that taxpayers prop up and subsidize her failing business model.  I really don’t care if it only costs each taxpayer $1.35 per year. If politicians don’t have the nerve to cut small, virtually unimportant line items, how will they ever get the courage to take on bloated bankrupting entitlements like Social Security and Medicare?

Trump’s budget also ends the Community Development Block Grant, a program within the Department of Housing and Urban Development which helps to fund programs like Meals on Wheels. This has led to many incorrectly stating that Trump was going to end the Meals on Wheels program. The problem is that this is patently false. Meals on Wheels is not a federal program. The truth is that the Community Development Block Grant only funds a small portion of Meals on Wheels and because it is a grant, the portion that does fund it is entirely under state, not federal, control.

There is a lot of good in this budget blueprint and these cuts are a good start, but there are still major problems. First, Trump’s budget continues to kick the can down the road on entitlements. Trump has repeatedly stated that he plans no reforms to Social Security or Medicare, which currently eat up over 65% of the federal budget. This is simply unsustainable. When you consider the aging baby boomer generation, coupled with the record high number of people out of the workforce, current entitlement spending will continue to spiral out of control.  Whether the government funds art won’t matter when we can no longer pay social security or the interest on the national debt.

Secondly, the entire reduction in federal spending is offset by increases to an already bloated and mismanaged Department of Defense, as well as the totally unnecessary Department of Homeland Security. As it stands, the United States spends more on defense than the next seven countries combined. It’s hard to imagine that spending another $54 billion is contributing to anything other than diminishing returns. Not only that, because the cuts are all offset by increases, there is no movement on either the deficit or the national debt.

Overall, there are many positive spending cuts in the Trump Administration’s first budget and they should be commended for that. If they could only take a similar approach to defense and entitlements, we may start to see some real economic growth.

Ryan and Republicans Looking to Pick up Where Obamacare Left Off

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone paying attention that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, is a disaster. With the exponentially rising premiums, collapsing exchanges, and reduction in the quality of care, it seems that all the criticisms of the bill, which was rammed through congress without a single Republican vote, have become reality. It’s getting so bad that even Democrats are starting to back awayfrom President Obama’s signature legislative victory.

Given the proof of Obamacare’s failure and eight years preparation, the stage should be set for President Trump and Republicans to make good on their promise to repeal and replace Obamacare with a free market approach to health care.

The problem is that House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) partial-repeal/replacement bill fails on all fronts. In fact, if passed as-is, it may turn out to be worse than Obamacare.

Introduced earlier this month, the American Health Care Act, would repeal some aspects of Obamacare, while keep some of the more popular aspects of the law in place. It would also add additional new legislation. The idea of a partial repeal is being widely criticized from within the ranks of the GOP. Leading the opposition is the House Freedom Caucus, including Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Justin Amash (R-MI), as well as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who has drafted his own replacement bill.

The preferred strategy of these critics has been a full repeal of Obamacare, followed by a separate replacement bill. This approach makes the most sense, as Sen. Paul makes clear in an interview with Breitbart, “I think from the very beginning combining repeal and replace in one bill makes it very hard because we have different ideas on replace. We are pretty much united on repeal, but we have different ideas on replace.”

Later in the same interview, Sen. Paul makes the objections to Ryan’s bill, which he dubbed Obamacare-Lite, crystal clear.

“So they [Ryan’s bill supporters] keep the subsidies, they keep the taxes, and then they keep the mandate. Then the fourth thing they do is they actually subsidize the insurance companies. Right now, insurance companies are losing money and Obamacare has this rescue thing called ‘risk corridors’ to bail out the insurance companies. Paul Ryan has got the same thing, he just calls it reinsurance and it’s $100 million worth. I predict that might not even be enough. So I don’t like any of it.”

The major reason health care is so expensive is due to the State’s constant interference in the health care market; interference to the point where even calling what we have a market seems ridiculous. American healthcare is a twisted system of State granted monopolies, subsidized demand, and artificially reduced supply. Not a winning trifecta.

Health care, as important as it is, is still a good to be bought and sold and medical services are very much like services in many other industries. The solution, of course, would be to fully unleash the power of the voluntary free market and get government out of the way. In 2009, Hans Hoppe published a “A Four Step Healthcare Solution“, in which he provides a short outline on the transition to a free market.

The free market isn’t a utopia and problems are going to exist in any system, but what the market does provide is the highest quality healthcare and lowest cost and does it without heavy handed government interference.