Judge Napolitano's Commencement Address at Faulkner University

Judge Napolitano's Commencement Address at Faulkner University

Allen Mendenhall, Associate Dean at Thomas Goode Jones School of Law and Executive Director of the Blackstone & Burke Center for Law & Liberty, introduces Judge Andrew Napolitano, Senior Legal Analyst at Fox News, who delivers the commencement address to the 2017 graduating class of Thomas Goode Jones School of Law and receives an honorary doctorate for his distinguished career. Recorded May 13, 2017.

Judge Andrew Napolitano Commencement Address (May 13, 2017)

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The Fed's New Inflation Measure Moves Beyond Consumer Prices

12/13/2017Ryan McMaken

If you've been shopping for real estate or stocks lately, you might be wondering how the Fed gets away with all that talk about how inflation is "low," "muted," or "below expectations."

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The reason for this is the Fed largely bases policy on consumer prices, rather than on a broader measure that might include a variety of assets. The Fed often even excludes food and energy from its inflation measure.

Needless to say, this leaves much to be desired from any true measure of inflation. As Brendan Brown has explored multiple times here at mises.org, asset prices are a key indicator of where we are in the business cycle, and are essential in evaluating the real effects of monetary policy.

Recognizing that consumer prices are doing a bad job at giving us a true picture of the economy, the New York Fed in September released a new measure of inflation called the Underlying Inflation Gauge (UIG) which takes into a account a broader range of products, services, and assets.

Not shockingly, the UIG shows a higher rate of inflation than the CPI, and also shows a different trend. the UIG has been increasing in recent years while consumer price trends have been falling.

In October, the CPI measure was 2.0, while the UIG measure was 2.9. Moreover, the UIG measure is at the highest level recorded since September 2006, near the height of the last housing bubble.

The implications for monetary policy can also be seen in the graph. While consumer price growth (according to the CPI) was plummeting in 2014 and 2015 — bottoming out at -0.2 percent in April 2015 — the UIG measure was holding much more steady. It hasn't fallen below one percent since the last recession.

Last week at Bloomberg, Joseph G. Carson delved into what we can learn about monetary policy using the new measure: 

Some may argue that the recent explosion in asset values could be tied to the new technological advances and gadgets. While these new innovations have clearly added value to the economy and created enormous wealth in the process, they cannot fully explain the broad surge in all types of real and financial asset values.

In a fundamental sense, asset values are highly contingent on the current level of and future expectations for inflation and interest rates. To be sure, a persistently low inflation rate suggests little downside risk to the economy, creating a vision of endless and uninterrupted economic growth, boosting investor confidence and risk taking. 

Monetary policy has played a key role in asset price cycles. Not only has the Federal Reserve used its balance sheet to buy trillions of dollars of financial assets, boosting the values of all type of assets and anchoring long-term rates in the process, it also directly linked its official rate decisions to a specific rate of consumer inflation. The transparency of its future policy path has created the impression of an accommodative monetary policy, encouraging more risk-taking in asset markets...

The UIG carries three important messages to policy makers: the obsessive fears of economy-wide inflation being too low is misguided; monetary stimulus in recent years was not needed; and, the path to normalizing official rates is too slow and the intended level is too low.

Harvard University professor Martin Feldstein stated in a recent Wall Street Journal commentary that “The combination of overpriced real estate and equities has left financial sector fragile and has put the entire economy at risk.” If policy makers do not heed his advice odds of another boom and bust asset cycle will be high -- and this time they will not have the defense mechanisms they had after the equity and housing bubbles burst. 

Here at mises.org, of course, we've explored the problem with the "two-percent" standard for inflation, while noting the problem with ignoring asset prices. 

I do not share the Fed's hope that we can tinker our way to an especially good measure of price inflation via the usual empirical measurement tools. But some measures are indeed better than others, and it is good to see that even the Fed is admitting that the long habit of picking and choosing a quite limited number of consumer prices has been especially bad in analyzing where we are in the boom-bust cycle. 

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Yellen Raises Interest Rates One Last Time

12/13/2017Tho Bishop

​Today Janet Yellen announced that the Federal Reserve is following through with its planned third rate, moving the effective federal funds rate to 1.25-1.5%. This move was widely expected, and considered to be “priced in”. As I noted in October, one of the most surprising winners of Trump’s presidency has been Yellen. Prior to 2017, Yellen’s Fed had consistently whiffed on its projections, eliminating the usefulness of its forward guidance.

As far as the rate hike itself goes, it’s worth noting that the Federal funds rate remains historically low, on par with Greenspan’s policies the mid-2000s.

While today was Yellen’s last FOMC meeting, we should expect to see little change in ideology under Jay Taylor

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New Issue of the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics: Summer 2017

12/13/2017Ryan McMaken

New Audiobook!

12/12/2017Mises Institute

The Theory of Money and Credit, Ludwig von Mises's 1953 treatise on monetary theory, is now available as a free audiobook narrated by Jim Vann.

In a step-by-step manner, Mises presents the case for sound money with no inflation, and presents the beginnings of a full-scale business cycle theory.

The audio files are currently available on Soundcloud and Mises.org.

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Bovard: Yes, the FBI is America's secret police

12/11/2017James Bovard

Politifact delivered a “pants on fire” slam to Fox News on Friday because one of its commentators asserted that the Federal Bureau of Investigation “has become America's secret police.” The FBI has legions of new champions nowadays among liberals and Democrats who hope that its probes will end Donald Trump’s presidency. This is a stunning reversal that may have J. Edgar Hoover spinning in his grave.

In order to boost the credibility of the FBI’s investigations of the Trump team, much of the media is whitewashing the bureau’s entire history. But the FBI has been out of control almost since its birth.

Read more at The Hill

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Bitcoin Loses Steam as Steam Loses Bitcoin

The skyrocketing price of Bitcoin has dominated the financial news for the past few weeks, and the usual suspects are queuing up to offer predictions about its continued rise or inevitable fall. Yet it’s not all good news for fans of the cryptocurrency: in a notable decision, the digital distribution platform Steam has announced that it will no longer be accepting payment in Bitcoin.

In the grand scheme of things, Steam’s new policy will likely have little impact on the use or price of Bitcoin as such. Rather, the decision is significant because it highlights an underlying economic question about the future of the cryptocurrency. Specifically, Steam’s example shows that despite an enormous gain in market value, Bitcoin still has a long way to go before it becomes money.

Money is conventionally defined as a generally accepted medium of exchange, the key part of this definition being “generally accepted.” In order to be adopted on such a large scale, a medium of exchange must fulfil certain basic criteria, the most important of which is that it must be capable of serving as a tool for economic calculation. Entrepreneurs must be able to use a means of payment to compare the costs and benefits of different production plans, and this in turn requires a degree of stability in the value of money. Of course, money’s value is never constant: but it must be dependable. The inability of entrepreneurs to calculate is one reason why extreme price inflation creates widespread social havoc—planning production becomes difficult if not impossible.

One of Mises’s original contributions to monetary theory was the emphasis he placed on money’s role as a medium of exchange. Many others had identified this basic function before Mises, of course, but his approach is distinct in the way it argues that the role of medium of exchange is central, and that money’s other functions—as a unit of account, for example—are derived from it. Money is primarily a means of facilitating peaceful social cooperation, and in this sense is an indispensable part of any advanced division of labor as well as of economic calculation.

This brings us back to Bitcoin. At the moment, Bitcoin is still a minority means of payment, and Steam’s decision helps to illustrate why: Bitcoin does not at the moment satisfy the calculation criterion. As the Steam Team notes:

Historically, the value of Bitcoin has been volatile, but the degree of volatility has become extreme in the last few months, losing as much as 25% in value over a period of days. This creates a problem for customers trying to purchase games with Bitcoin. When checking out on Steam, a customer will transfer x amount of Bitcoin for the cost of the game, plus y amount of Bitcoin to cover the transaction fee charged by the Bitcoin network. The value of Bitcoin is only guaranteed for a certain period of time so if the transaction doesn’t complete within that window of time, then the amount of Bitcoin needed to cover the transaction can change. The amount it can change has been increasing recently to a point where it can be significantly different.

The unpredictable changes in the value of Bitcoin mean that it is now extremely difficult for consumers or producers to gauge the true cost of their transactions, or to make an educated judgment about the best time to buy or sell. Increasing transaction fees for paying in Bitcoin further complicate the issue, especially in regard to relatively small purchases (a major concern for Steam).

At the moment, commentators seem intent on convincing each other of their predictive powers regarding Bitcoin’s price, and everyone wants to be on “right side of financial history.” The vital question though is not around what price Bitcoin will ultimately settle, but if and when it will settle at all, especially compared to its competitors. For the time being, however, the extreme changes in Bitcoin’s price mean that although it might be a good investment, it will not soon become money.

Steam’s decision thus nicely underlines a point that Mises was fond of repeating: entrepreneurs and others who are involved in practical economic affairs often know more about prices and what they mean for the economy than the pundits watching from the wings.

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The Best Defense Is a Capitalist One

12/07/2017Ryan McMaken

Political scientist John Mueller is not convinced that nuclear weapons are the driving force behind the lack of major wars in recent decades. His article "The Essential Irrelevance of Nuclear Weapons" in International Security (Fall 1988) offers a informative contrary view to the often-bland assertion that nuclear weapons — and not the highly destructive nature of conventional wars — are what keep world powers away from new wars. 

In the case of the deterrence offered by the United States, Mueller is especially unconvinced, especially since the potential military power of the US government if far greater than anything any other single state can muster. 

It's not just fear of American nuclear weapons that's a deterrent, Mueller notes. It's American economic power that really matters. In discussion of post World War II deterrence against the Soviets, Mueller examines how American economic power inspired fear: 

[E]ven if one accepts these assumptions [i.e., the assumption that American nuclear power restrained the Soviets in Western Europe], the Soviet Union would in all probability still have been deterred from attacking Western Europe by the enormous potential of the American war machine. Even if the USSR had the ability to blitz Western Europe, it could not have stopped the United States from repeating what it did after 1941: mobilizing with deliberate speed, putting its economy onto a wartime footing, and wearing the enemy down in a protracted conventional major war of attrition massively supplied from its unapproachable rear base. 

The economic achievement of the United States during the war was astounding. While holding off one major enemy, it concentrated with its allies on defeating another, then turned back to the first. Meanwhile, it supplied everybody. With 8 million of its ablest men out of the labor market, it increased industrial production 15 percent per year and agricultural production 30 percent overall. Before the end of 1943 it was producing so much that some munitions plants were closed down, and even so it ended the war with a substantial surplus of wheat and over $90 billion in surplus war goods. (National governmental expenditures in the first peacetime year, 1946, were only about $60 billion.) As Denis Brogan observed at the time, "to the Americans war is a business, not an art."

If anyone was in a position to appreciate this, it was the Soviets. By various circuitous routes the United States supplied the Soviet Union with, among other things, 409,526 trucks; 12,161 combat vehicles (more than the Germans had in 1939); 32,200 motorcycles; 1,966 locomotives; 16,000,000 pairs of boots (in two sizes); and over one-half pound of food for every Soviet soldier for every day of the war (much of it Spam). It is the kind of feat that concentrates the mind, and it is extremely difficult to imagine the Soviets willingly taking on this somewhat lethargic, but ultimately hugely effective juggernaut. That Stalin was fully aware of the American achievement-and deeply impressed by it-is clear. Adam Ulam has observed that Stalin had "great respect for the United States' vast economic and hence military potential, quite apart from the bomb," and that his "whole career as dictator had been a testimony to his belief that production figures were a direct indicator of a given country's power." As a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff put it in 1949, "if there is any single factor today which would deter a nation seeking world domination, it would be the great industrial capacity of this country rather than its armed strength."Or, as Hugh Thomas has concluded, "if the atomic bomb had not existed, Stalin would still have feared the success of the U.S. wartime e~onomy."

After a successful attack on Western Europe the Soviets would have been in a position similar to that of Japan after Pearl Harbor: they might have gains aplenty, but they would have no way to stop the United States (and its major unapproachable allies, Canada and Japan) from eventually gearing up for, and then launching, a war of attrition.

In his book Wartime, Paul Fussell briefly examined the industrial nature of the Second World War. 

[W]hat counted was heavy power and it is the bulldozers, steam-rollers, and the earth graders of the Seabees that constitute the sppropriate emblems of the Second World War. "Perhaps there was a time," says Geoffrey Perrett, "when courage, daring, imagination, and intelligence were the hinges on which wars turned. No longer. The total wars of modern history give the decision to the side with the biggest factories." And in Europe as well as the Pacific, the industrial basis of "victory" was even more clear. As Louis Simpson puts it in his poem "A Bower of Roses," in one battle near Dusseldorf:

For every shell Krupp fired, 

General Motors sent back four.

...One Canadian has remembered: "I knew we were going to win the war when I saw the big Willow Run aircraft factory outside Detroit. My god, but it was a big one."

Thus, for those states, like the United States that benefit from immense capitalist-fueled wealth, global deterrence is built in. Mueller even concludes that a standing army and a ready navy are not even especially important. It is the potential for mobilizing large amounts of warmaking machinery that poses the real deterrence to foreign threats.

Nuclear weapons however, remain relevant since they level the playing field for small states. 

Not all states — or, more importantly, not even all alliances of small states — can access an enormous industrial output that the North Americans can. 

As Mueller explains, those states are already deterred from making war on large wealthy states. Large wealthy states, however, are not deterred from making war on smaller, poorer states. 

Thus, for small states, nuclear weapons do have importance as a defensive weapon. North Korea, for example, can't possibly hope to ever win a war of attrition with even a small industrial power. However, if it can deter attack on itself with even a small number of nuclear warheads that can be delivered to the urban centers of its enemies. 

Naturally, this only works from a defensive point of view. Nuclear weapons offer no offensive advantage:

Both defensive and offensive realists agree, however, that nuclear weapons have little utility for offensive purposes, except where only one side in a conflict has them. The reason is simple: if both sides have a survivable retaliatory capability, neither gains an advantage from striking first. Moreover, both camps agree that conventional war between nuclear-armed states is possible but not likely, because of the danger of escalation to the nuclear level. 

While it's true that maintaining nuclear weapons is somewhat expensive, it's quite cheap compared to maintaining a large conventional navy, air force, and industry from which to produce conventional weapons. 

Ultimately, though, what really grants a state or group of states true power to deter attack and invasion is access to large amounts of capital. 

Lenin wasn't imagining things when he looked around the world and saw that the capitalist powers of the world were waging multiple wars. He was wrong, of course, that capitalism causes war. But, there is no denying the wartime capability is greatly enhanced by the wealth created through the trade, productivity, and wealth generated by capitalists. Unfortunately, this defensive capability has come with vast offensive capability as well. 

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The Supreme Court and the Right to Not Bake a Cake

12/06/2017Ryan McMaken

Anyone who claims there's too much democracy in the United States needs to keep in mind that American law and policy is ultimately decided by five millionaires at the Supreme Court. 

This week, we're being reminded that the Supreme Court of the United States is hearing arguments in the case of a small-time baker who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding. This, apparently, is a matter of such importance that it requires the intervention of the federal government and its court system to decide for whom a tiny small business shall be forced to bake desserts. In other words, the court's majority of five people will decide for 320 million people what is mandatory for anyone who wants to open a small business in the United States. 

The fact that Americans regard this sort of thing as perfectly natural and legitimate illustrates just how thoroughly Americans have abandoned all notions of self government and any opposition to rule from distant, powerful elites. 

Opponents of Donald Trump may be wringing their hands about the rise of populism, but the public's continued deference to the Supreme Court illustrates quite well that populism in the United States, far from growing out of control, is quite timid and of no threat to anyone currently in power. 

In the discussion of the Court's decision to hear the case, we're reminded of two important issues:

1. The Supreme Court's ability to decide the Constitutionality of every law in the United States — from local ordinances to federal statutes — is based on a fanciful myth.

2. The American legal concept of "public accommodation" essentially abolishes property rights. The proper remedy is to restore property rights — and to steer clear of endless and pointless debates about religious freedom or freedom of speech. 

On the first point, see:

"The Mythology of the Supreme Court" by Ryan McMaken - A discussion of how the Supreme Court jealously protects its political power and encourages an aura of manufactured majesty with measures such as prohibiting television cameras in its chambers. 

"Abolish the Supreme Court" by Ryan McMaken — in the wake of the death of Justice Scalia, we examined how appointments to the court have always been political appointments, and often have been done for purposes of political payback and pandering to certain special interests. Judges are not, and never have been, lofty legal scholars who steer clear of partisan politics. 

"Scalia's Fate" by Jeff Deist: Deist reminds of of several important points about the Court: 

Culture wars should not be legal wars. As Ron Paul explained time and again during his years in Congress, the public remains deeply misinformed about several key points:   

  • The concept of judicial review is a fabrication by the Court, with no basis in Article III. 
  • Constitutional jurisprudence is not constitutional law.
  • The Supreme Court is supreme only over lower federal courts: it is not supreme over other branches of government.
  • Congress plainly has constitutional authority to define and restrict the jurisdiction of federal courts.

And on the matter of public accommodation, we've taken a look at the several ways that micromanaging the actions — and even the imagined intent — of small business owners has long been an especially pointed assault on private property orchestrated by the Courts and Congress. 

"The Trouble with Public Accommodation" by Ryan McMaken - if we're worried about the availability of resources for disfavored minority groups, the answer lies in more freedom, not less. 

"'Discrimination' Isn't About Religion, It's About Private Property" by Ryan McMaken - framing a baker's of photographers as a matter of "religious freedom" ignores the fact the issue is really just about property rights. 

 

 

 

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Bloomberg on Physical Cash and Marvin Goodfriend

12/06/2017Ryan McMaken

Bloomberg today notes that the Mises Institute isn't a big fan of Marvin Goodfriend's war on cash:

Goodfriend’s dislike for cash could become an issue in his confirmation hearings, which are not yet scheduled. Senators could soon be getting an earful from constituents who fear that taking away paper money is a step toward socialism or totalitarianism. Those voices are already being heard. “Is Marvin Goodfriend the Worst Fed Nominee of All Time?” asks a Dec. 1 post [by Tho Bishop] on the website of the Mises Institute, a think tank for the Austrian school of economics. An earlier Mises post in which Goodfriend’s name was first raised said, “Given his radical views on monetary policy, it’s not hyperbole to suggest that Goodfriend’s nomination would represent a genuine danger to the economic wellbeing of every American citizen—or at least those outside of the financial services industry.”

It’s not just the Mises people who want to hang onto paper money. “Cash Means Freedom, Which Is Why So Many Officials Hate It” was the headline on a post by the libertarian Reason Institute last year. Last year, in the Wall Street Journal, financial commentator James Grant attacked a book called The Curse of Cash by Harvard’s Kenneth Rogoff, writing, “The author wants the government to control your money. It’s as simple as that.”

Goodfriend is concerned that the existence of cash makes it harder for the Fed to lower interest rates below zero. In the next crisis, he says, the Fed might want to push interest rates into negative territory to prod people to stop sitting on their money and do something with it, such as consumption or investment, that would get growth going again. But today, the Fed would not be able to push interest rates on checking or savings accounts very far below zero because as soon as it did, people would simply withdraw cash from the banks and store it in the mattress or a vault. The European Central Bank and Swiss National Bank have managed to push rates only slightly negative.

[See David Gordon's review of The Curse of Cash.]

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Don't Federalize the Gun Laws

12/06/2017Ryan McMaken

The GOP-controlled House of Representatives is set to further federalize gun laws and gun regulations. 

They're doing it, though, under the guise of what sounds like a harmless bill designed to guarantee property rights:

The House is poised to pass a bill that allows concealed carry permit holders from one state to legally carry their guns in any other state — legislation the National Rifle Association has called “their highest legislative priority” in 2017.

But the problem here is that what the House is doing is not reciprocity. Reciprocity, properly defined, is a matter of agreement among the states. It does not involve the federal government. The new bill seeks to further insert the federal government into gun laws by forcing reciprocity on all the states. We explored this important distinction here at mises.org in August: 

This issue can be addressed from both a legal and Constitutional standpoint, and from a general philosophical decentralist view:

Suzanne Sherman at the Tenth Amendment Center has already weighed in against the idea on Constitutional grounds, based on two main arguments: 

1. Reciprocity laws are compacts made among the states, and are not imposed by the federal government.

2. The Bill of Rights Doesn't apply to the states. 

On the first matter, Sherman notes that the proposed legislation would impose reciprocity on the states. This, Sherman notes, is a departure from what we usually mean by reciprocity, which denotes compacts that two or more states have voluntarily entered into. 

Sherman writes:

Many advocates of forced National Reciprocity point to the “Full Faith and Credit Clause” found in Article IV, Section 1 of the Constitution. Such application is likewise problematic because it deviates from the original intent of the clause, lifted directly from the Articles of Confederation without any change to its meaning. This clause, as ratified, simply ensured citizens in one state could own land or property in another with the full rights of a citizen of that state. It in no way implied that one state had to recognize the institutions or licensing of another state. Driver’s licenses are acceptable for passing through various states, but it is, like CCW licensing, by mutual assent of the states. In other words, there is no federal statute mandating that one state must honor another state’s driver’s licenses.

In other words, the sort of "reciprocity" imagined by the backers of nationwide forced reciprocity is a new kind of reciprocity that substitutes federal policy for decentralized state-level policy. 

The enormous downside to this is that it federalizes what has long been recognized as largely the domain of state and local governments. Further federalizing gun policy may look like a fine idea right now, but as Sherman notes, it only takes a couple of new anti-gun appointments to the Supreme Court for the whole idea to blow up in the faces of pro-gun advocates. It's far more prudent, Sherman contends, to work against any increase in federal involvement in gun policy. 

Sherman is correct. 

The second point is about the Bill of Rights. As Lew Rockwell points out, 

[T]he purpose of the Bill of Rights was to state very clearly and plainly what the Federal Government may not do. That's why they were attached to the Constitution. The states, under the influence of skeptics of the Constitution's limits on the central power, insisted that the restrictions on the government be spelled out. The Bill of Rights did not provide a mandate for what the Federal Government may do. You can argue all you want about the 14th amendment and due process. But a reading that says it magically transforms the whole Bill of Rights to mean the exact opposite of its original intent is pure fantasy.

Of course, even if the Constitution explicitly gave the federal government the power to regulate guns, it would still be a bad idea to do so at the federal level. As is the case with all types of policy, the federal government is primarily the domain of millionaire politicians who are nearly impossible to influence — or even get a meeting with — unless one is extremely wealthy or has the backing of a large nationwide special interest group. It is unwise to grant those people even more power. 

Moreover, if the federal government is going to make new federal laws in this matter, that means it must also enforce them. Will this be done through a new national bureaucracy? Or perhaps through the federal courts? Either way, the federal government will be more involved in crafting, regulating, and overseeing state policy. Republicans claim to be against this sort of thing. 

Also key to understandign the importance of decentralization is the fact that decentralization offers a multitude of choices between different regimes in the face of government restrictions and persecution. If only one huge government has been granted the power to protect rights, to where will one go when the government fails to do its prescribed task? On the other hand, when a wide variety of smaller governments are charged with protecting rights, the failure by one regime is not nearly as catastrophic since the offending regime can be far more easily avoided through emigration and boycott than can a large centralized regime. 

Thus, it might sound nice to put the federal government in charge of protecting gun rights, but the potential downside is immense given that federal policy can change easily, and then be imposed nationwide. 

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