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Precarity

Precarity is a neoliberal term that was unfamiliar until I researched the theme of the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) conference. It means precarious, hazardous, risky, and it focuses mainly on the supposed “evils” of capitalism. Although life’s uncertainties have existed since the beginning of time, these women had come together to discuss the insecurities of living, focusing on the drawbacks of being ill prepared for functioning in today’s workforce. Where previous generations sometimes stayed with a company from hiring to retiring, today’s employees change jobs frequently and must keep up with the ever-changing technology. Thus these women fear the difficulties that arise with a free society, changing economy, other unreliable coworkers, and all that free enterprise has to offer.

Risk is the very essence of freedom and of life, and yet this is their anxiety.

They spurn those gifts bestowed upon us by our Creator and cited in our Declaration of Independence – Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness, all of which involve risk. It is the freedom to pursue our own happiness along our chosen path that helps us to accept failures and overcome hindrances, and to continue chasing our personal dream. Instead these women are overwhelmed by responsibility, regarding the challenge as simply “misery” generated by capitalism, since they view that the sale of one’s abilities for profit may also result in failure and unemployment. Resistant to change and diversity, they yearn for their vision of a more secure and simpler life of the past, which, of course, is remembered without the discomforts, diseases, poverty and squalor.

Their dreams of the Utopian past erase the men’s long hours of hard labor, the women who were bound to a life of raising more children than they could manage, illnesses that have since been eradicated, few kitchen appliances to ease daily chores, and a labor force of children to help families make ends meet. Blaming capitalism for their current difficulties, the NWSA members want more entitlements and government intervention in exchange for the joys of innovation, growth, and the dignity of achievement. Taught by today’s academia to rely on their feelings and to redefine right and wrong, they wallow in comfortable discomfort and, significantly, decide to boycott Israel, her harvest, inventions and medical innovations. Could it be because Israelis treasure life and produce advantages and benefits not previously known, while the Palestinians desire to acquire Israel without the labor? Arab leaders allowed the barren, sparsely populated, impoverished land to become malaria-ridden over centuries before the Diaspora Jews returned to their historic homeland to cultivate the soil and recreate a flourishing democracy.

Precarity is the cost of living! It is the cost of charting one’s own course with all the possibilities of turning the unsure into opportunities. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that “all human beings are endowed with reason and conscience and shall act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood,” but the new liberalism distorts the vision of brotherhood into a nightmare of sameness, none better or worse; the goal of certainty, no triumphs or failures; and a less educated population reduced by chaos, abortion, sterilization, euthanasia, and incurable diseases. And for political correctness, with their minds distorted and freedom of speech eradicated, these souls will no longer recognize friend from foe, good from evil, excellence from mediocrity, or even female from male.

Amazingly, although we know that eight-one percent of mosques in America advocate violence, and Germany appears to be losing its autonomy to the invaders, and Sweden is losing its heritage, and Belgium went on lock-down, and France is actively closing mosques and eliminating militant imams, the NWSA denounced Israel. Despite the legal documents to verify that Jews, not Arabs, hold rightful title to the land, and under whose direction diverse people within flourish, these women choose Islamo-fascism, where a clear majority of its people favor severe Sharia law and terrorism.

As technology (much of it from Israel) provides us with a front seat to the world, we have seen Muslims destroy 3,000 people in the World Trade Center; Muslims behead or burn Christians alive; Muslims turn their young children into knife-wielding murderers; Muslims kill groups of revelers in arenas and weddings and schoolchildren in classrooms and school buses; Muslims car-attack or knife Jewish pedestrians, but these women are boycotting Israel. Muslims are harming girls with Female Genital Mutilation, followed by enslaving, torturing, and imprisoning women in lifelong domestic/sexual servitude in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, but the NWSA women ignore where they could be truly useful. Islam is overtaking and creating havoc in Europe, and our national intelligence-gathering agencies (FBI and DHS) have long terror-watch lists of dangerous Islamic jihadists, but the NWSA is boycotting Israel.

What the NWSA should know is that the Jewish people have moral, historical, religious and legal claims to the disputed lands in Israel, yet Israel has been willing to forego some claims for the sake of peace. The State of Israel was built on land purchased by Jews, and Jews have been a presence in Jerusalem for 3,000 years, with a majority-Jewish population for more than 250 years.  Israel already ceded land to the Palestinians, who, in turn, destroyed prospering businesses and use the land for launching rockets. In truth, the Arabs who took the name “Palestinians” are the occupiers.

Morally, Israelis are first responders who have helped numerous countries, from Albania to Turkey, after floods, fires, earthquakes, bombings, tropical storms, hurricanes and cyclones, providing emergency humanitarian and medical personnel and assistance. Israelis helped Boston after the Marathon Bombing and California with its fires and water shortages. America benefits from this valuable partnership, including intelligence; the UK benefits from Israeli technology in protection, jobs, medicines and more. Israel is a global leader in bio-technology and defense, agriculture, water innovation, medicine, book publishing, and more.  Increasingly, Israeli entrepreneurs are attracting more foreign banks’ investments in their innovative technology.

IsraAid, which, in cooperation with Israeli NGOs FIRST and Operation Blessing-Israel, launched a social-worker training program in the new African state of South Sudan, one of the most undeveloped in the world. They are addressing the country’s violent misogynistic culture of rape and forced marriage. The women of NWSA could be involved, but do absolutely nothing.

How will these work-shy, incompetent women defend themselves when the soldiers of Allah fill our streets and execute their many forms of violent jihad on our citizens? Will they crumble into submission when the young Muslim males wreak havoc on the most vulnerable? Will they merely stand by and watch the migrants join forces with their brethren in the terror mosques to create battalions beyond the control of our diminished police and armed forces? These women are either terribly ignorant or filled with a fanatical evil – how else to explain this mindset?

Perhaps it is then that the National Women’s Studies Association will finally achieve its goal.

Their insecurities will be gone because their future will be spelled out to the letter. All the laws of Islam are clearly defined for women in the Qur’an. Independence and security will be as amputated as the limbs of Islam’s thieves. They will be guaranteed of being equal to all other women (devalued by men), and their tomorrow will be precisely as today – that is, of course, unless they are accused of some minor Mohammedan infraction. Then the morrow will not even come into question.

Final note: With all the ignorance shown by NWSA, they also appear to be unaware that Israel boycotts are Illegal. Under corporate law, an organization, including nonprofit, can do only what is permitted under the purposes specified in its charter.  Boycott resolutions that are beyond the powers of an organization are void, and individuals can be sued and board members liable for damages.

We Need YOU to Protest this Unfair Boycott!

  1. Call NWSA:(410) 528-0355
  2. Email NWSA at: nwsaoffice@nwsa.org
  3. Click here to protest on the NWSA Facebook page.

Is the Car a Menace or a Miracle? Vindication for the Vilified Vehicle by Steven Horwitz

The “automobile” moves itself, but it also moves us. Our cars carry us along the road of human progress not just by making us freer but by making us cleaner, healthier, and better fed.

Does such a claim strike you as strange?

In our own time, cars are seen as causing pollution, as well as making us lazy and fat. Consider how many of us drive our cars to the gym, where we exercise by walking or running, two activities often replaced by driving. But if you think about what the car replaced, it’s easy to see how the car is another example of what Don Boudreaux calls being “cleaned by capitalism.”

Cleaner

How has the car, which is so vilified as a producer of pollution today, made our lives cleaner?

Before the car, transportation required animals, mostly horses. Horses, of course, produce pollutants. What we in the modern, car-centric world easily lose track of is how dirty and smelly a world of horse-driven transportation is. Cities, in particular, were full of horse urine and manure, the stench of which could be overwhelming. Those by-products of transportation were no less polluting than what comes out of the exhaust pipe of a car or truck.

To understand the scale of the problem of horse-related pollution, consider historian David Kyvig’s observation:

The idea of self-propelled carriages had long fascinated American inventors, not to mention the carriage-using wealthy classes. Given the problems of highly-polluting horse-drawn vehicles, especially in congested urban areas, a cleaner-running automobile had great appeal. In 1900 in New York City alone, 15,000 horses dropped dead on the streets, while those that lived deposited 2.5 million pounds of manure and 60,000 gallons of urine on the streets every day.

Note that those numbers are for daily waste.

The omnipresence of horses meant that 19th-century houses were built with “boot scrapers” outside so that people could get the manure off their boots before entering a home. The waste was also a source of disease, as were the dead horses in the streets. Disposing of the horses and their by-products was costly, and as historian Stephen Davies observed in an earlier Freeman column, there were many debates about how society would deal with the even larger amount of manure the future held if the then-current growth rate in the use of horses continued.

Healthier

The car eliminated that worry by dramatically reducing the use of horses and replacing them and their waste products with the much cleaner automobile. The car produced by-products of its own, but none of them posed the direct and severe health risks that came from rotting horse carcasses and millions of pounds of manure in the streets. And whatever the smell that came from car exhaust, it was much less offensive than the odor produced by the horses. Plus, traveling in the relative discomfort of early cars was still more pleasant than sitting immediately behind the rear end of a horse.

The car also made us healthier in another, more subtle, way. One of the first people in many small towns to acquire a car was the local doctor. Having a car made it easier to make house calls, increasing the probability that he could save a life or reduce the danger from injury or illness. The car also extend the geographic range of his service, making isolated rural locations accessible in ways they might not have been before. And somewhat later, when car ownership spread to more of the population, people were able to get themselves to a doctor or hospital more quickly and easily. Cars save lives.

Better Fed

In addition to making us cleaner and healthier, the car has made us better nourished. The most obvious way it has done so is that the internal combustion engine also made possible the truck and the tractor, which revolutionized agriculture. Having tractor power rather than just animal or human power made humans much more productive. Any given farmer could produce more output per person by using tractors and trucks. Rather than hiring an army of temporary workers and putting the whole family to work at harvest time, farmers could employ machines, freeing that labor to satisfy other, more valuable human wants elsewhere.

As farmers got more productive, they could produce food more cheaply, making more and better food more accessible to more people. The car made us better fed by increasing agricultural productivity.

Wealthier

The car, the tractor, and the truck had another related effect. In a world of horse-powered transportation, the demand for horses was high, which meant land had to be devoted to producing crops to feed them. Farmers who relied on horsepower could not earn income from the portion of their harvest that fed the horses. With tractors and trucks replacing those horses, crops that previously went to horses could be sold on the market, which also helped reduce the prices of those crops.

Check Your History

The way the car is vilified in our modern world is the result of two human biases. The first is simply forgetting our history — or imagining it through a very rosy rearview mirror. Looking at historical photos, or reading historical books, or watching historical movies often only gives us a sanitized (figuratively and, in a sense, literally) version of the past. None of those depictions can allow us to smell the stench of the preautomobile world. If we don’t know what the past was really like, we can’t appreciate the present.

The second kind of bias is that we tend to get increasingly upset about a problem when only a little bit of it remains. Cigarette smoking has largely died out, but we have little toleration for the small bit of it that remains. As we solve more of the big issues of death and disease, we get increasingly frustrated with the smaller ones that remain.

But that should not allow us to overlook our real accomplishments. The car is a major reason that human life is cleaner and that we are healthier and better fed than were our horse-powered ancestors.

Steven Horwitz
Steven Horwitz

Steven Horwitz is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics at St. Lawrence University and the author of Microfoundations and Macroeconomics: An Austrian Perspective, now in paperback.

Progress and Poverty, Then and Now by JEFFREY A. TUCKER

Everyone seems to know about Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. It’s all about unequal distribution of wealth and the government measures we need to fix it. But we’ve been here before.

Deja vu. The same focus drove the public debate more than a century ago.

It’s strange how a bestselling book from a century ago could so completely disappear from view. But that’s the case with Henry George’s Progress and Poverty, written in 1879. It became the single most influential book on economics during the highest period of economic growth ever recorded. This was true for decades after its publication.

I’ve seen it in used book stores for years but never bothered to pick it up. I recently had the chance to read George’s book through. The themes of the book were strangely familiar. In fact, in many ways, they are identical: the problem of massive poverty amidst plenty, the corrupt relationship between wealth and political power, the sense that the social order has vast potential that is being locked up by a ruling elite. It’s all here in George’s book.

“The present century has been marked by a prodigious increase in wealth-producing power,” reads the opening salvo. This was America in the Gilded Age, when double-digit growth was not unusual. The country was on a gold standard. New innovations and their disbursement through the population were dramatically changing the culture and challenging people’s thinking on economics. There were railroads, steel, internal combustion, flight, the telephone, electricity, and huge developments in medicine. Life spans increased, income boomed, and infant mortality receded.

It was the birth of the modern world, and George became its leading social and economic thinker. There was probably not an intellectual in the English-speaking world between the book’s appearance and the 1930s who did not read the book. Most everyone praised it, including Albert Einstein, Frank Chodorov, Leon Tolstoy, Philip Wicksteed, F.A. Hayek, John Dewey, and Bertrand Russell, among thousands of others. The praise extended far beyond politics, with free-market radicals and socialists all finding ways to credit his contributions as their primary influence.

The book eventually sold 6 million copies and was translated into 15 languages, becoming the second-best selling book next to the Bible (before Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged displaced it for that title). This is notoriety is especially unusual given that George was never formally educated beyond the age of 14. He was a sometime businessman who grew up in poverty, eventually becoming a writer for newspapers. He had no academic standing at all.

What was the argument? On technical matters, George sought to address why it is that poverty persists despite the massive rise of wealth. How could so many create and possess such vast new wealth, while yet so many remain in a state of grueling poverty?

It was the inequality that struck him, and his casual observation seemed to suggest that the inequality grew even as wealth expanded. He noted that the poor in New York, where wealth was highest, were worse off than they were in California even though the West had far fewer barons of great wealth. How can we account for this? He was also struck by the cycles of boom and bust that caused so much suffering among so many, and speculated on their cause.

“So long as all the increased wealth which modern progress brings goes but to build up great fortunes, to increase luxury, and make sharper the contrast between the House of Have and the House of Want,” he wrote, “progress is not real, and cannot be permanent. The reaction must come. The tower leans from its foundations, and every new story but hastens the final catastrophe.”

His core theory was that the untaxed private ownership of land and resources was locking up wealth in a way that it could not be accessed by everyone but its owners. The value of land rose higher and higher, even though its owners were not themselves producing anything.

This was particularly true of the railroads, he noted. Wherever the tracks were laid, and the banks appeared, we saw large pockets of wealth appear, but it was channeled only to the few who were involved in land speculation.

He said that this was due to the fact that land is an example of a fixed resource. It doesn’t grow in supply. So when it becomes more valuable, the rent to the land flows only to its owner, who unjustly benefits while everyone else suffers.

His solution was a broad and sweeping tax on land, which he proposed as a replacement to all other existing taxes, including excise taxes of all sorts and also all tariffs (he was a radical proponent of free trade between nations). This tax, wrote George, would fund the whole of the government in all its operations and help discourage the monopolization of land in the hands of a few. This would create the conditions for a more widespread sharing of wealth.

What’s crucial here is that George was not in any way a socialist. In fact, he saw government as a tool of the ruling class that should not be empowered.

“The ideas that there is a necessary conflict between capital and labour,” he wrote, and “that machinery is an evil, that competition must be restrained and interest abolished, that wealth may be created by the issue of money, that it is the duty of Government to furnish capital or to furnish work, are rapidly making way among the great body of the people, who keenly feel a hurt, and are sharply conscious of a wrong. Such ideas, which bring great masses of men, the repositories of ultimate political power, under the leadership of charlatans and demagogues, are fraught with danger.”

Though he believed that poverty was traceable to private land, he nowhere proposed the end of private ownership of every sort. Indeed, he was a champion of all forms of private ownership, trade, innovation, and association.

“Laissez faire (in its full true meaning) opens the way to the realization of the noble dreams of socialism,” he wrote.

His one exception was land. He believed that a land tax would perfect the vision of Adam Smith and David Ricardo.

Why was this book so stunningly popular? There was in the world at that time a rising fear of socialist revolution. The socialists were gaining ground in Europe, and among academia generally, and a widespread fear of an all-out worker revolution was common.

George’s passion on the issue of poverty and equality, together with what seemed to be a common-sense solution, offered an alternative to revolutionary upheaval and the imposition of despotism. He seemed to provide a way to save economic freedom from being overthrown, at once protecting the rights of the wealthy while spreading the benefit of that wealth more broadly among the population. This solution had a huge appeal.

There is an additional factor here. Massive portions of this book are devoted to pushing the land tax idea as an explanation for poverty and cycles of business activity. He saw this solution as a way of lessening the overall tax burden on society.

“Nearly all of the manifold taxes by which the people of the United States are now burdened have been imposed rather with a view to private advantage than to the raising of revenue,” he wrote, “and the great obstacle to the simplification of taxation is these private interests, whose representatives cluster in the lobby whenever a reduction of taxation is proposed, to see that the taxes by which they profit are not reduced.”

His technical analysis here was deeply flawed. There is no theoretical case for singling out land as a unique form of property. Yes, it is limited, but so are all resources. The supply of and demand for valuable land is subject to all the usual economic laws. A tax on land is a tax on people, and this reduces overall prosperity.

And, in any case, this policy idea cannot account for the appeal of the book — the tax never happened nor was ever likely to.

To understand its draw, one has to move to the last chapters, which lay out a beautiful vision of a liberal economy, universal prosperity, and the moral urgency of freedom. He believed it belonged to all peoples in all times, and he was convinced that it could be had in the new century. In this sense, he defined the very essence of what became the highest aspirations of the best intellectuals of his age.

For, in the end, he was a lover of freedom and free markets. “We honour Liberty in name and in form. We set up her statues and sound her praises. But we have not fully trusted her.”

And he loathed power:

With the growth of the collective power as compared with the power of the individual, his power to reward and to punish increases, and so increase the inducements to natter and to fear him; until finally, if the process be not disturbed, a nation grovels at the foot of a throne, and a hundred thousand men toil for fifty years to prepare a tomb for one of their own mortal kind.

George’s perspective makes for a striking contrast to the views of other contemporaries, who expressed alarm at the radical demographic changes of the last quarter of the 19th century. Population exploded, infant mortality collapsed, and the middle class dawned and began to earn new levels of income.

These were the two warring factions at the time: those who aspired to global prosperity and those who wanted to use government to stop the progress of peoples and restore ruling class control of a static society. Intellectuals like T.S. Elliot and D.H. Lawrence, along with the Ivy League faculties of colleges and universities on the East Coast, were pushing for eugenic policies to curb the rise of a new middle class. They feared, even hated, the advance of commercial society.

Henry George, despite his confused economics and his advocacy of the land tax, was an eloquent and passionate advocate of the free society pushed toward progress through a laissez-faire economy. He rallied around the principle of association as the basis for the existence of society as we know it, and the lack of association or its forbidding is the condition that leads to its unraveling. He saw people as an asset that made society more prosperous, and thereby completely rejected the Malthusian idea that more people leads to more poverty.

His massive influence is sometimes credited with many of the reforms of the progressive era, but he is more correctly seen as a critical influence in the development of the 20th century libertarian tradition. In short, his concern for equality led him to seek conditions to raise everyone up, not merely build the state to tear down wealth.

“Liberty calls to us again,” he wrote. “We must follow her further; we must trust her fully. Either we must wholly accept her or she will not stay. It is not enough that men should vote; it is not enough that they should be theoretically equal before the law. They must have liberty to avail themselves of the opportunities and means of life.”

Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup Liberty.me, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.