"But a Constitution of Government once changed from Freedom, can never be restored. Liberty, once lost, is lost forever." - John Adams

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Despair and The State - Jeffrey A. Tucker

Dear Reader,
Maybe a dark column is appropriate for tax day, but, I must tell you, it is not my usual way. Nonetheless, there are certain terrible realities in the world, preventable ones, that we must speak about if we expect to end them.
The sad and tragic story of Andrew Wordes -- the chicken farmer who was driven to despair by government harassment and killed himself last month -- continues to haunt me. And it turns out to be just one of millions of cases of similar psychological torment caused by government, directly and indirectly. These are wholly unnecessary events, inflicting terrible loss on the world.
For every one person who these days who dies fighting in U.S. wars around the world, 25 other soldiers kill themselves. Veterans are killing themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. There are than 6,500 veteran suicides every year. That's more than all the American soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq in the last 10 years, according to a New York Times analysis. Being a veteran apparently doubles your risk of suicide.
Economic conditions wrought by government policies around the world have contributed to the death toll. Europe is undergoing an epidemic of suicide in countries seriously hurt by the downturn. In Greece, the suicide rate among men increased more than 24% since the disaster hit. In Ireland, male suicides have shot up more than 16%. In Italy, economic-motivated suicides have increased 52%.
The big aggregates reported here do not convey the level of tragedy experienced in the lives of every single individual here. They leave behind shattered families and wrecked communities. There is an unbearably sad story behind every single statistic.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the same is happening in the U.S and that the broad trend follows economic prospects. The difference between the rising prosperity of a free market and economic desperation caused by government is really a matter of life and death. The desperation and sadness wrought by war -- an extension of domestic policy and carried out with much higher stakes -- is a symptom of the same problem.
These represent both direct and indirect ways that government is spreading misery around the world. The direct way involves war and its psychological effects. Being harassed by regulators is another direct way: The person sees no way out and is thereby driven to desperate measures. The indirect way results from the economic stagnation caused by government policies.
Life is hard enough on its own. Government makes it harder. Its recession-causing policies; its policy responses that do not work; its regulations that makes people crazy; its poverty-inducing taxes and inflation; and, most of all, its wars have driven millions to despair.
Why the state in particular? It all comes down to the sense of having control over your life. The essence of statecraft is the absence of choice and the inability to escape. Many operations of the state try to disguise these features.
Once you develop a nose for this, you see it everywhere. The faces of people in line at the DMV, the sauntering mass in line to be screened by the TSA and even the blank stares you see in the post office lines. There is something about state policy that demoralizes us all. That takes a toll on our health and our outlook on life and even leads to tragedy.
I think back to the old Soviet days, which to me typify what it means for a society to be entirely under state control. The government put out a magazine called Soviet Life, and it was filled with pictures of happy, healthy people who were living fulfilling and active lives. The contrast with reality couldn't have been more extreme. Emigrants told stories of a demoralized population turning to alcohol, drugs and suicide -- anything to escape the toxic combination of sinking living standards and the absence of choice due to despotism.
Today we know that the propaganda was a lie. What we fail to realize is that this human tragedy is not unique to a fully socialized society. We can get there in small steps by growing the state and expanding its reach year by year until it envelops us in all our life activities. We have to turn to the state ever more. We are blocked by barriers. Everywhere we go, we encounter bureaucrats who demand our papers, riffle through our belongings, forbid what we want to do and mandate what we do not want to.
Of course, soldiers in war face this reality every day. They are not their own persons. They must obey orders whether they make sense or not. They see things that no one should have to see and they are ordered to do things that no one should have to be forced to do. It is hardly surprising that people who go through such an ordeal have confused perspective on the value of human life.
To a lesser extent, citizens in every country with an interventionist state face an analogous situation. They may have a dream of starting or growing a business, but they are blocked -- not because of their own lack of vision, but because of the thicket erected by public policy. The state acts as a dream killer. It becomes all the more maddening when there is nothing that the citizen can do about it. There is no real choice.
Oh they tell us that in a democratic system, we can vote and that this is our choice. We have nothing to complain about. If we don't like the system, we can change it. But this is wholly illusory. The government completely owns the democratic system and administers it to generate the types of results that government wants. More and more people are catching on to this, which is why voter participation falls further in every election season.
The great thinkers of the libertarian tradition have always told us that freedom and the good life are absolutely inseparable. I think of Thomas Jefferson, Frederic Bastiat, Herbert Spencer, Albert Jay Nock, Ludwig von Mises, Murray Rothbard, F.A. Hayek and so many others. Even contemporary authors have addressed the theme. They had long warned that every step away from freedom would mean a diminution of the quality of life. We are seeing these prophecies come true.
Too often public policy debates take place on the wrong level. The core point is not to make the "system" work better or otherwise fine-tune the rules within a bureaucracy. We need to start talking about larger issues about the dignity of the human person, the moral status of freedom and the rights and liberties of the individual in society. The expansion of the state is not just wrong as a matter of "public policy"; it is wrong because it is dangerous to the good life and the quality of life.
To kill freedom is to kill the essence of what makes us human.
Jeffrey Tucker
  Executive Editor
  Laissez Faire Books
P.S. Write me anytime with thoughts or suggestions!
  LFB Facebook @laissezfairebooks; Personal Facebook @jeffrey.albert.tucker;
  Twitter @jeffreyatucker

Friday, April 6, 2012

Death By Regulation - by Jeffrey A. Tucker

I had previously heard nothing about the tragic and remarkable case of Andrew Wordes of Roswell, Ga., who set his house on fire and blew it and himself up as police arrived to evict him from his foreclosed-upon home. It was Agora’s 5 Min. Forecast that alerted me to the case, and this report remains one of not too many mentions in Google’s news feed.

So I got curious about this case, read some of the background, heard an interview with Andrew and read all the tributes at his memorial service and now I realize he was like all of us living under the despotism of our time. He resisted and resisted as long as he could. But rather than finally complying, he decided that a life that is not his own is not worth living.

It is a dramatic and deeply sad story that should raise alarms about the least-talked-about cost of a state-run society: the demoralization that sets in when we do not control our own lives. (I’m grateful to Glenn Horowitz for his careful reconstruction of the timeline of events.)

The whole ordeal began only a few years ago, when Wordes began to keep chickens in his backyard. His property was on 1 acre, but it was surrounded by secluded woods. He loved the birds, sold and gave away eggs to people and enjoyed showing kids the animals. He was also very good at this job, and being something of a free spirit, he chose to make something he loved his profession.
The city objected and came after him. In 2008, the zoning department issued a warning about the chickens on his property. This was odd because he was violating no ordinance at all; indeed, the code specifically approved chickens on properties of less than 2 acres. Even the mayor at the time objected to the department’s claim, but the department went ahead anyway. A year later, and with the assistance of former Gov. Roy Barnes, Wordes won in court!

But then look: The city council rewrote the law with no grandfather clause. It forbade more than six chickens on any lot, and specified that all chickens have to be in a permanent enclosure. He had tried to get approval for an enclosure, but because his house was on a flood plain, the city would not issue an approval. In the midst of this controversy, a flood did come to his house, and he had to use a Bobcat to move dirt around to save his house and his chickens.

Sure enough, the city then issued two citations for moving dirt without a permit and having illegal, unrestrained chickens. Then, the city refused to submit to FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) his request for reconstruction funds after this storm (individuals on their own cannot get money of this sort). Next, the city contacted his mortgage holder, who was a friend and who had carried his mortgage for 16 years, and pressured her to sell the mortgage to stay out of legal trouble.
Do you get the sense from this that Mr. Wordes was being targeted? Absolutely. And he knew it, too. The Roswell Police Department pulled him over constantly and issued as many tickets as possible for whatever reason, tangling him in more difficulties. Police cars would wait in front of his house and follow him. And when he didn’t cough up enough money (he was nearly bankrupt after all this), they would book him and throw him in jail. This happened on several occasions. Meanwhile, the city itself filed several more suits against him.

It gets worse. The city planners came up with a “Roswell 2030 Plan” that posited a parks area exactly where his home was. Hearing of this, Wordes offered to sell his home to the city, but the city refused. They clearly planned to drive him out of it with this legal barrage. It didn’t matter that Wordes won every legal challenge or managed to get the suits thrown out in court — that only made the city angrier. Eventually, the city managed to a get probated sentence, setting up a tripwire that would eventually destroy his livelihood.

He posted on his Facebook account that he was going to be a attending a political event. While he was gone, his chickens were poisoned. Also poisoned were the baby turkeys, 10 of which were actually owned by the mayor, who was a friend. At this point, he had lost his means of support. While panicked about what to do, he missed a probation check-in. He was ordered to serve the remainder of his probated sentence in jail for 99 days.

While in jail, his home was ransacked and looted. Of course, the police did nothing. In fact, they probably approved it. Also while in jail, the new mortgage holder foreclosed on his home. His entire life was now in shambles.

The final episode came on March 26 this year. The police had come for the final eviction. Wordes locked himself in the house for several hours. He then came out and told all authorities to step far away from the house. He lit a match, and the gasoline he had doused all over the house created a gigantic explosion. Wordes’ own body was charred beyond recognition.

Maybe you think that Wordes was some sort of freak who couldn’t somehow adjust to normal life with neighbors. Well, it turns out that he was just about the greatest neighbor one could ever have. At his final service, person after person testified how he would come to anyone’s aid at a moment’s notice, how he fixed things and gave away eggs and was incredibly generous to everyone around him. I listened to an interview with him and found him extremely well-spoken and intelligent.

I tell you, if you can listen to this interview without tears welling up, you have no heart. This man was the heart and soul of what made this a great country. The law hounded and hounded him, mainly because some bureaucrats had made a plan that excluded his home. They carried out that plan. He became an enemy of the state. Demoralized and beaten down, he finally had no way out. He ended his life.

Note, too, that he had the support of the high-ranking members of the political class, including the current mayor and a former governor. Bear in mind what this signifies: The political class is not really running things. As I’ve written many times, the political class is only the veneer of the state; it is not the state itself. The state is the permanent bureaucratic structures, those untouched by elections. These institutions make up the real ruling apparatus of government.

It is hard to say that Wordes made the right decision. But it was a courageous one — at least I think it was. It is a difficult moral choice, isn’t it? When the police come to take all you have and are determined to cut out your heart and soul and reduce your life to nothing but a sack of bones and muscle, without the right to choose to do what you love — and you really see no way out — do you really have a life? Wordes decided no.

The rest of us need to think hard about this case, and perhaps you can also spare a few thoughts in memory of his good life, and even a prayer for his immortal soul. May we all long to live in a society in which such people can thrive and enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Author Image for Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is the publisher and executive editor of Laissez-Faire Books, and the author of Bourbon for Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo and It's a Jetsons World: Private Miracles and Public Crimes, among thousands of articles. Write him at tucker@lfb.org.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

CNN Enhances Zimmerman 911 Call Again — And Reporter Now Doubts Racial Slur Used

As reported in The Blaze - CNN manipulated the 911 call to make it sound like the Trayvon Martin shooting was racially motivated.  I'm sure it was at the direction of DOJ or even the White House.

Food Inflation or Fiat Currency Inflation?

As expected with ever expanding the volume of Fiat Currencies, like the Dollar, Euro and Yen, prices are rising on commodities very quickly.  Of course, as Reuters reports below, the reason for rising prices is blamed on other commodities instead of the money supply.
I believe that before anyone should be allowed to report on economics or inflationary results, they should be required to read Von Mises, Rothbard and Friedman, to name a few.

By Svetlana Kovalyova
MILAN, April 5 (Reuters) - World food prices are likely to rise for a third successive month in March, and could gain further beyond that, with expensive oil and chronically low stocks of some key grains putting food inflation firmly back on the economic agenda.
Food prices grabbed world policy makers' attention after hitting record highs in February 2011 and stoking protests connected to the Arab Spring wave of civil unrest in some north Africa and middle eastern countries.
Prices later receded, but an upturn which began in January, initally seen as a pause in the overall downtrend, has persisted.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) will update its monthly Food Price Index on Thursday and the organisation says prices could rise more in the short and medium term as grain supply tightens and energy prices stay high.
"You can see prices in the near term rising even further," FAO's senior economist and grain analyst Abdolreza Abbassian told Reuters ahead of the index update.
High crude oil prices have fuelled the upward pressure on inflation since the start of this year. Consumer prices in the 17 nations sharing the euro were up 2.6 percent in March from a year ago, despite stumbling economy.
"The food price index has an extremely high correlation to oil prices and with oil prices up it's going to be difficult for food prices not to follow suit," said Nick Higgins, commodity analyst at Rabobank International.
Energy prices affect the production of fertilizers as well as costs related to food distribution and farm machinery use.
"We really saw the (food index) declines in Q4 2011 as being anomalous and related more to sell offs from the threats posed by the European macroeconomic situation rather than agricultural fundamentals," he added.
The FAO index - which measures price changes for a basket of cereals, oilseeds, dairy products, meat and sugar - rose in February and January.
A U.S. government report last Friday with its lower than expected estimates of grain stocks and falls in soybean and wheat plantings, added to concerns about global grain supplies and fuelled a rally in U.S. and European grain futures.
Corn and soybeans are set to be the major drivers on world grain markets until new crops are harvested with strong price swings prompted by weather changes in major producing countries, Abbassian said.
More price volatility could come if U.S. farmers decide to plant more soybeans lured by high prices, he added.
U.S. soybean futures rose about 7 percent in March and gained about 17 percent in the first quarter of this year spurred by concerns about tight supplies as drought hit South America and smaller U.S. plantings were expected.
On the physical markets, whose prices FAO uses to calculate its food index, the average monthly price of U.S. soybeans jumped to $519.43 a tonne in March from $487.31 a tonne in February, the FAO's database showed.
But FAO's Abbassian said prices could still fall in the second half of this year with new crops easing market tension and driving full-year average prices below record levels of 2011.
The FAO is also expected to update its world crops view on Thursday

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Just Not Sure Anymore

It seems that every day the news brings another story of yet one more of my personal liberties has been stolen. What do we do?