Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Responsibility of Intellectuals

Recently, I have been traveling quite a bit so I have had a chance to do some recreational reading. I picked up a copy of a book called "The Chomsky Reader." It was a compilation of several essays and some new material not released to the general public. I have never been a big fan of Chomsky for several reasons that may seem inane. I never liked his style of writing, which I always found to be lacking in technique and proper accreditation of sources. He seems to value generalities over a detail which was always something that I disliked most about his style.

Anyways, what interested me the most about the work was not his usual critique of civil society or the evils of class stratification but his all out attack on the responsibility of intellectuals. He began by addressing how American scholars have become complacent and the educational system “endows it victims with the capacity to observe, but not see, a capacity that is the hall mark of the “responsible intellectual.” A rather vague statement, which was probably added for the sake for alliteration, but still a poignant one. Of course he was referring directly to the critics and supporters of the Vietnam War and our continuing aggression in the Pacific Rim. I did agree on several important points. He makes mention several times of how American history is an exercise in ideological irrelevance. Simply, that we pay lip service to principles of self-determination, democracy, and human rights. We enforce them only when they are convent and parallel to U.S interests in the region of interest. Those states that fall into that deviant category (or a axis of evil) are either, ignored or if they are ideologically threatening, will be coerced into compliance.

Another and probably the most significant point Chomsky makes is the use of propaganda and a term that many of us have become very familiar with Manufactured Consent. In the present context, the harshest criticism that comes from the mainstream (print news, journals etc) have “only succeeded in reinforcing the system of indoctrination that they themselves are a victim.” This is of particular importance because it explains the silence and compliance from all intellectuals on both sides of the Iraq argument. Of course we see change on the horizon now because the institutions of executive power have ceased to function due to an aroused public regarding the cost of the war. Still it begs the question of wither the masses would support the war if the human cost were not so high for American’s overseas? I believe this is an important distinction to make that the American people are not against the war morally, they don’t view murder and imperialism as inconsistent with the principles of human freedom.

This is the fabric of manufacturing consent within the public. Chomsky does hit the nail on the head.

The process of creating and entrenching is highly selective, reshaped or completely fabricated memories of the past is what we call “indoctrination” or “propaganda” when it is conducted by official enemies, and “education,” “moral instruction” or “character building,” when we do it ourselves.

It sounds like something 1984, it is the unfortunate reality of our democracy. Propaganda is to democracy like violence is to totalitarianism. Technology has only made it easier for the elite to create a new past, by eradicating paper documents in favor of electronic records. These measures are taken to prevent understanding and to deflect attention-- to the Middle East or China—in order to remove that potential awareness from our institutions and there interactions with the rest of the world.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Global Government: A Critique

There are some people, quite in the minority in my opinion, who sincerely favor the idea of a global government, often under the rationale that the nation states need to be kept in check. The problem with this view, however, is exactly the same problem of nation states. The proponents of global government often correctly point out that nation states have no arbiter above them to keep them from overstepping their jurisdictions, and that this therefore leads to conflicts between nation states.

But a global government would also have no arbiter above itself to keep it in check. In fact, if we go through the levels of government in America from bottom to top, the city lacks an arbiter above itself so we have states, and the state lacks an arbiter above itself so we have a federal government. Any government period lacks an arbiter above itself, and adding another level of government on top of it doesn't solve the problem because it too now has no arbiter above itself. Note that nation states came about as a result of the exact same complaint (the lack of a higher arbiter) that is being made by global governmentalists of nation states.

If the problem with nation states is that they become too powerful, then creating an even more powerful government with an even larger jurisdiction, over the entire world, does not solve this problem. It inflates the problem to the global level. How would we be able to keep our global leviathan in check? The proponents of global government present no logical answer for this.

A global government, by its very nature, would have to have a larger jurisdiction than a nation state. Further, it would have to have a larger budget, which inherently means that it must tax, spend and inflate more than a nation state. It also implies one global currency determined by global central banking. Global inflation created by global fiat currency (which already exists to a certain extent due to global hegemony between nation states) would wreak unimagined havoc on the world's economy. If the complaint of our global governmentalists about nation states is that they violate the sovereignty of other nation states, which is true, this complaint rings hollow when one realizes that a global government inherently must also violate the sovereignty of all nation states.

What effect could adding an even higher level of government be but to centralize power even more than it is within a nation state? Further, how is it possible to centralize this power without inevitably favoring different nation states over others, hence creating a global government biased either towards whatever region has the highest population or towards whatever areas are favored by the administrators of this global state? The idea that a global government can be 100% neutral to and/or equally representative of the nation states (global democracy) is an absurdity when applied to real life. The "top headquarters" have to be put somewhere, and it is thus inevitable that a global government would, to some extent, be an ivory tower that represents the area that it resides in more than areas outside of its immediate periphery.

If the proponent of global government wishes to sneak their way around these problems, they will propose the idea of a global government that effectively abolishes the nation states; that a global government scenario would not be like a federal global government representative of and/or attending to nation states, but that it would replace the nation states entirely. The only vision I can get from this idea is a big "blob".

But this scenario is even worse than the previous one, for now we simply are left with a single, highly centralized entity that controls the entire world. It leaves no room for any quasi-sovereighnty of nations, states, counties or cities. Such a scenario, I believe, is impossible to truly put into practise because the very nature of the wide distances between geographical locations. It is impossible to keep the entire world under the rule of one single governmental authority. The force of individual diversity and the mere distance between geographical locations would make it impossible to create such a static, "stable" atmosphere.

I would propose that the true answer to the problems of nation states lies in the opposite direction: decentralization of power. The reason why nation states start violating the sovereignty of eachother is because they are easily prone to become overly centralized, and thus in possession of exessive powers, which manifest themselves in jurisdictional grabs and expansions. It is the empirial impulse. The global governmentalists merely propose to replace this with an even larger empire that is prone to the exact same errors.

When nation states are decentralized into more compartmentalized states, such jurisdictional abuse becomes less and less possible. And when those compartmentalized states are decentralized into more compartmentalized cities, such jurisdictional abuse becomes less and less possible. A city doesn't possess the means to wage a war half-way across the world in conquest of other peoples. No, the problem of nation states become more solvable when we persue localized ways of solving problems, hence aleviating any real incentive for larger entities to act.

When nation-states are restrained by law to only have powers over a limited number of things and to confine themselves to their jurisdictional territory, they function in a much better fashion. When nation states have laws restraining them from violating the jurisdiction of lesser entities, such as parishes and towns, they function in a much better fashion. However, it must be said that it is possible for nation states to overstep their bounds despite such laws because of the nature of government in itself. Therefore the lesser governmental entities have a responsibility to actively keep the higher entities in check. Thus, the solution to the problems of nation states does not lie in global government, but in the application of sovereignty to considerably more local government.

In terms of logical consistancy, one must apply decentralization down to the individual level. If a nation state is a sovereign entity that should not be breached by a global state, then a state such as Texas is a sovereign entity that should not be breached by a nation state, and the city of Galveston Texas is a sovereign entity that should not be breached by the state of Texas, and the individual person in Galveston is a sovereign entity that should not be breached by the city, state or nation state. The end result is that of the sovereignty of the individual, which should not be breached by any "higher" entity. The consistant application of this would be true individualism.

I would also suggest that the global governmentalists must apply logical consistancy in their direction as well. If a nation state must be kept in check by a global state, then a global state must be kept in check by a galactic state, and a galactic state must be kept in check by a cluster state, and a cluster state must be kept in check by a universal state. Essentially, the global governmentalists must accept the idea of a universal government. Into the sky we go (head explodes)! It should be noted that when we follow this route there is no resolution (what is to check our universal state?), it is a paradox that keeps reasserting itself, while when we go the route of decentralization it stops at the individual. The person who takes the notions of galactic or universal government seriously has read one too many science fiction novels and took Star Wars way to seriously.

Global governmentalists should reconsider their position and perhaps adopt one more favorable towards the idea of decentralizing the nation states, as opposed to controling or replacing them through global government. The voluntary and non-violent decisions of individuals and the communities that they constitute should not be co-opted by nation states or global states. Those who favor global statism are proposing to solve the problem of national statism by enlarging it to the entire world, and among them are the staunchest of neoconservatives who strongly favor the utopia of "global democracy". It is thus a nonsensical, self-contradicting ideology, as are many anti-freedom ideologies.

Act Like Romans!

Act Like Romans!
by Eric Margolis

President George Bush’s State of the Union address on 23 January was comparatively somber and restrained. There was little of the usual jingoism and flag-waving that normally characterizes these carefully staged nationalistic spectacles which always remind me of old Chairman Leonid Brezhnev’s harangues to the Soviet Central Committee, whose members, like many US legislators, would jump up at every cliché and clap like trained seals.

The reason for the somber mood was clear: the unfolding debacle in Iraq. There was no more, “bring’em on” gasconading, though the president again sought to link the war he began in Iraq to his ongoing campaign against Islamic resistance movements and terrorists. Outside of the remaining red areas, fewer and fewer Americans are buying Bush’s preposterous claim that pursuing the ugly war in Iraq is somehow fighting “worldwide terrorism.” Most sensible Americans have finally understood that their nation’s invasion of Iraq has magnified, not diminished, anti-western violence.

As Bush was giving his speech, a remarkable new poll showed most Americans now believe Congress, not the president, should manage foreign policy. Perhaps the long era of presidential pre-eminence in America might be nearing an end.

This is a remarkable sea change. Following Bush’s address, the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee politely rebuked Bush’s plans to send more troops to Iraq. A similar non-binding resolution from the full Democratic-controlled House is expected shortly.

But the real power behind Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, immediately sneered back, “it won’t stop us.” His contemptuous retort illustrates the neo-totalitarian impulses that continue to grip the Republican Party’s far right. Cheney and pro-war neoconservatives closely linked to Israel’s far rightists are the prime exponents of imperial presidency, the Iraq war, and attacking Iran. They dismiss Congress and America’s courts as “little jabber houses,” to paraphrase the notorious British imperialist, Sir Basil Zaharoff.

The stage is now set for what could become a major constitutional crisis between executive and legislative branches.

Under the US Constitution, the president, a position modeled on the consular office of Republican Rome, is military leader and holds primacy in foreign policy. The US Congress was patterned on the Roman Senate, whose bunched rods and ax insignia it bears on its wall on either side of the speaker’s dais. Congress declares war, controls pursue strings, levies troops, and confirms treaties. The Constitution is vague about Congressional power in foreign affairs. But, at minimum, Congress speaks for all Americans; particularly in wartime, and must not be ignored.

Bush’s last term marks the zenith of the long growth of the imperial presidency that began with Franklin Roosevelt, and the lamentable, concurrent decline of Congressional authority. When I was a boy – during the term of the man I consider modern America’s greatest president, Dwight Eisenhower, the leaders of the Senate and House were men of great power and distinction whose influence was almost equal to that of the president. The relentless growth of presidential power, and the slavish attention focused on the presidency by the media, steadily undermined the role of Congress and that other nearly forgotten arm of government, the judiciary.

The 9/11 attacks and a too obedient Republican majority, dominated by Southerners and Christian fundamentalists, turned Congress into a rubber stamp for Bush’s policies. In the process, most members of Congress demonstrated political cowardice and gross dereliction of their duty to defend the Constitution, the nation’s laws, and citizen’s rights.

Hillary Clinton and fellow Democrats who now piously denounce the Iraq war eagerly voted for it in 2003 out of sheer ignorance, war fever, or fear of being branded “anti-patriotic” by Republicans. In 2008, American voters will hopefully censure those legislators who voted for this faked, totally unnecessary war, and then approved the administration’s growing use of torture, kidnapping, and secret prisons. Never, in my memory, has Congress brought so much shame on itself, nor sunk so low.

Congress is now belatedly trying to assert itself. But its so far timid pleadings for Bush to desist from his latest Iraq folly are not enough. The Constitution declares Congress the premier arm of government. It is Congress’ duty to demand President Bush and VP Cheney, who have gone dangerously astray, to cease and desist. Cheney’s views notwithstanding, America is not a monarchy, and he is not Richelieu.

White House defenders claim Congress had no constitutional right to interfere in the detailed conduct of war. They claim being in a war gives the president the right to ignore or violate the Constitution, America’s laws, and citizen’s civil rights.

This is not true. The essence of America’s political system that has been a beacon to the world for two centuries is the remarkable system of checks and balances conceived by its founding fathers to prevent the emergence of an autocrat, despot, or monarch. A president run amok, or one with monarchist ambitions, was the greatest fear of the founding fathers who had just waged a bitter national struggle to free themselves from the rule of King George III.

It is precisely Congress’s vital duty to stop a president and vice president who have lost touch with reality, violate the Constitution, and are taking America over a cliff. Besides advising and consenting, Congress must, in rare times of peril, confront. In Republican Rome, the Senate had the right to remove a consul who failed to win wars, behaved shamefully, dishonored the republic, or violated the Senate’s orders.

Congress must cease its timidity and stop entreating the president as if he were king. He is only chief executive of the republic, one man among many. Congress is the board of directors. The president, in spite of his supporter’s efforts, is not the sacrosanct embodiment of America; that role belongs to Congress.

Congress bears heavy responsibility for the debacle in Iraq and the ruin of America’s good name around the globe. It’s time for the new US Congress to begin doing its job by acting like Roman Senators and stop acting like a bunch of obsequious courtiers.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Universal Morality: A Proposition

Universal Morality: A Proposition
by Stefan Molyneux

Sometimes the greatest plans can be derailed by a single word. One of my earliest articles was entitled "Proving Libertarian Morality," which was my attempt to provide a rational and universal justification for a theory of ethics, and which has proved thoroughly confusing for some people, all because of one single word.

I wrote this article in the first place because it always struck me as odd that we libertarians are fascinated by right and wrong, and pour prodigious effort into arguing that society or people should do this or that, and yet our opinions rarely rest on a universal foundation of ethical reasoning. If pressed, we appeal to "the greatest good for the greatest number," or "do unto others as you would have them do unto you," or state that economic inefficiencies are bad, taxation is evil, violence is wrong, government power corrupts and so on.

Without strict ethical reasoning, however, these statements remain fundamentally as baseless as "government is good," "social programs help the poor," and "unicorns are pretty." To really change the world, we must present more than just opinions, more than mere assertions. The great challenge in ethical debating is possessing the leverage to radically extend people’s opinions about core moral issues. This is easier than it sounds, since a good philosopher does not change people’s minds, but rather just logically expands the principles they already accept. Newton didn’t change people’s minds about their everyday experiences of the tangible world – he just extended those everyday principles to the universal. The force that drops the apple also moves the moon.

The same is true when debating morality. Have you ever met anyone who argued that murder is the highest moral good, or that rape is a man's best course of action, or that the Golden Rule is: steal everything you can get your hands on, all the time? Of course not. Most people already consider violence and theft to be morally wrong. However, as morality gets more abstract, it gets harder and harder for people to maintain their consistency. I can’t even count the number of times people have agreed with me that "theft is wrong," but who then instantly become baffled when I reply "therefore taxation is wrong." It’s the same with the military. No one has any trouble with the equation: Man + murder = evil. Throw in one little inconsequential variable, however, and most people get very confused. Man + murder + green costume = ?zzttz¿¡[short circuit] um, national hero?

Newton’s challenge was not to convince people that apples fall down, but that the same force that moves apples also moves everything else. Extending the principle of gravity from immediate experience to interplanetary motion is quite a mental feat – and even more is demanded from libertarians! Our real challenge is to extend the moral principles everyone already accepts – thus if we lack a solid argument for the universality of those moral principles, we are unlikely to gain much ground. I believe that our lack of a compelling argument for universal principles is one reason we have made so little progress over the last century or so. If moral rules are accepted (i.e. murder = evil), but universal consistency is optional, we have no real leverage to change people’s thinking. Everyone thinks that apples and planets move according to separate – and probably opposing – principles.

For quite some time, I sweated my brain dry working on this problem. The argument that I came up with was, in essence:

Morality can be defined as Universally Preferred Behavior (i.e. a moral theory is that which proposes which behaviors should be preferred – or proscribed – for all peoples in all places at all times.)

For a proposition to be defined as moral, it must advocate a logically consistent set of Universally Preferred Behavior, such as "don’t steal."

Anyone who argues against Universally Preferred Behavior must do so using clear language, arguments, logic and evidence – all based on the principle that truth is better than falsehood.
Clear language, argument, logic and evidence – and a universal preference for truth over falsehood – are all examples of Universally Preferred Behavior. Therefore a man can only argue against Universally Preferred Behavior by using Universally Preferred Behavior, since anyone who argues is acting on the premise that clear language is universally preferred to gibberish, logic to illogic, and truth to falsehood.

Since Universally Preferred Behavior cannot be opposed without accepting the premise of Universally Preferred Behavior, Universally Preferred Behavior must stand as a valid concept.
The argument follows the same general lines as arguments for logic itself. Logic as a methodology for validating the consistency of arguments is irrefutable, since logic can only be dismissed either on a whim, which is invalid, or using logic, which relies on the validity of logic in the first place.

Arguing against Universally Preferred Behavior is like shouting into somebody’s ear that sound does not exist, or phoning someone to tell him that phones are a fantasy. The argument self-destructs on deployment.

A sample argument runs thus:
Person A: People should not steal.
Person B: There is no such thing as morality, since objective standards do not exist.
So I should not believe that theft is wrong, because no objective standards exist?
That’s right.
Is it merely your opinion that no objective standards exist, or is it objectively true that no standards exist?
It is objectively true that no standards exist.
And is it merely your opinion that I should not believe in morality because no objective standards exist, or is objectively true?
It is objectively true you should not believe in morality, because no objective standards exist.
And what criteria have you used to separate mere opinion from objective truth?
So reason, then, is the objective standard by which you have determined that no objective standards exist?
[minor forehead detonation]

A standard argument against proofs of universal morality is that morality does not exist in the real world. That is true, of course, but so what? The scientific method doesn’t exist in the real world either; neither do logic or numbers – does that mean that science and math are utterly subjective, and that any old opinion goes? Of course not. It is exactly the same with morality.
Moral theories must pass the test of logical consistency, just as theories in science or mathematics. If you submit a mathematical paper, and on the first page you assume that 2 + 2 = 5, rare would be the individual who would read any further! Any sane reviewer would simply circle that error, hand it back and tell you to start over.

The same is true for moral propositions. No one has to engage in moral theorizing – just as people are free to read chicken entrails rather than use the scientific method – but the moment that somebody corrects you on anything, he is acting on the premise that you are bound by some standard of truth or behavior beyond mere whim – and so he accepts Universally Preferred Behavior. If someone tells you that truth is better than falsehood, then he is telling you that it is universally better to believe things that are true than to believe things that are false. The moment that someone invokes a universal preference, he is instantly bound by the requirements of logical consistency. Thus no man can argue against morality – Universally Preferred Behavior – without using morality.

If I tell you that it is better to believe things that are false, my argument self-destructs, because either (a) I am lying, which means you should believe me, but that my argument is the opposite of truth, or (b) I am telling the truth, in which case I am immediately contradicting my stated principle that it is better to believe false things.

The same contradiction occurs if I argue against the basic libertarian principle of self-ownership. If I open my mouth and use my larynx and tongue to express an argument against self-ownership, my argument immediately self-destructs, since I am exercising self-ownership to argue that self-ownership is invalid, impossible, or immoral.

A Way Forward?
In my view, it is essential that libertarians work to develop and communicate ironclad arguments for the universality and consistency of morality itself. If we take a rational and scientific approach to the challenges of moral theories, we shall start to get real traction in the world of ideas, and elevate ourselves about the yammering hordes of debaters who pound tables and bellow that their opinions are just somehow more correct than everyone else’s.

The disservice that I have done to this idea is using the word "preferred" rather than "preferable." I would like to now officially change my definition of morality from Universally Preferred Behavior to Universally Preferable Behavior. My use of the former phrase has confused a large number of people, who think that I am defining morality as "behaviors that are universally preferred by all people at all times," and thus using a descriptive and not prescriptive definition. I was rather surprised by this misunderstanding (though I can see how it could be derived linguistically), since it is quite obvious that many people have many different opinions about what is moral – not to mention that if everyone in the whole world had the same opinion about what was right, we would scarcely need a science of morality! So to all of those who have written to me to tell me that people do not have the same opinions about what is good, I can only agree, and add that people’s existing moral preferences are irrelevant to the science of morality, just as people’s existing beliefs that the world was flat was irrelevant to the physical sciences.

Three Hurdles
To further develop the science of ethics, I propose that any moral theory must surmount three basic hurdles. The first hurdle is, of course, logical consistency. I have spoken about this at length before, so I will just touch on it here. By "logical consistency," I mean that, at the very least, any theory proposing Universally Preferable Behavior must not be self-contradictory. If a moral theory proposes that "everyone must steal," it immediately self-destructs, since stealing is only of value if a thief gets to keep the proceeds of his theft. No man would steal a wallet if he knew that it would be stolen from him immediately afterwards (and the spectacle of a world full of people constantly stealing from each other would be rather ludicrous to contemplate). Thus a thief only steals – or violates property rights – because he wishes to exercise his property rights over the stolen item. Implicit in the action of stealing is thus a simultaneous rejection and affirmation of property rights, which is how we know that theft as a moral rule is both logically – and therefore morally – wrong.

Logical consistency also requires categorical uniformity. A physicist who argues that all objects which are heavier than air fall towards the ground neatly deals with both rocks and helium balloons – but he cannot say that one rock falls down, but another rock that is also heaver than air falls up. In other words, opposite actions require opposing properties – in this case, that all rocks are heavier than air, and so fall down, while helium balloons are lighter than air, and thus float up. The opposing property is: lighter than air versus heavier than air.

In the same manner, a moral theory which proposes that murder is wrong, but that it is morally right for soldiers to murder, immediately fails the test of logical consistency. Putting on a green costume does not change a man’s moral nature, any more than painting a rock makes it lighter than air. (The same, of course, goes for all manner of statist occupations, such as policeman, politician, prison guard etc.)

On the other hand, where objective physical differences do exist, such as mental retardation or childhood, moral theories are perfectly right in assigning diminished moral responsibility to such individuals.

The second generalized hurdle for any moral theory can be described as "the coma test." It defies common sense to propose that a man in a coma can be immoral. Thus any moral theory which puts forward positively prescribed actions, such as "you must serve your country" or "you must help the poor" immediately fail the coma test. A moral theory which prescribes a positive good must immediately condemn its opposite as immoral. If "helping the poor" is a positive moral obligation, then refraining from helping the poor must be morally wrong. Since a man in a coma cannot by definition be out helping the poor, he must be immoral, which is quite ridiculous. (Let’s not even get into the evils we would all be committing every time we took a nap!) Of course, you could "adjust" the moral rule to say "you must help the poor to the best of your ability," which would bypass the coma test, but then plows straight into rank subjectivism – what on earth does "to the best of your ability" really mean? (As it happens, I have a podcast on this very topic!)

The third generalized test is evidence. Any decent moral theory must explain some of the well-known and consistently observed facts of history, such as the grinding poverty of the Middle Ages, the murderous actions of dictatorships, the violent nature of theocracies, the fact that governments always grow, the slow economic suicide of socialism (or the rather more rapid self-immolation of communism) and so on. Any moral theory which predicts that communism would be a smashing success, and that capitalism would result in poverty for all, obviously fails the basic test of empiricism and historical evidence.

I truly believe that we must resist the short-term tactics of arguing only about politics and economics, and instead spend our energies hacking through the challenges of defining arguments for an objective and universal morality. If we can come to a rigorous, well-defined and well-understood theory of morality, then we will gain immense traction, and can finally begin to achieve the success that has hitherto eluded us. Without a doubt, my suggestions are far more strategic and tactical, but I think that it is very clear by now that our prior tactics have not succeeded. If we train ourselves in moral reasoning, and learn how to refute those who oppose universal ethics, rather than, say, merely arguing against the minimum wage, then we can really truly turn the tide of history and save not just libertarianism, but the world.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

What is our State of the Union exactly?

As I sat down with my tea to watch the State of the Union address this week there was a great deal of coverage on the major news networks. Much like a sporting event, anticipation of every move and goal was predicted and analyzed. What struck me was not the pre-game coverage or the panels of experts covering an event that has yet to unfold fully. No, not even Bush's use of terms like "evil" or "our national interest" surprised me. Yet, the most striking of all the rhetoric and spinning phrases was the utter emptiness of his words. He managed to weave some very graphic images depicting a dystopian, violent world if we pull out of Iraq and the war on terror. At the end of his speech I noticed that I had no idea what the "state of our union" was. More importantly, where it would be heading in the next two years.
As the Washington arena begins to assimilate more players, maybe we will see the lines of partisanship once so clear and stark hopefully blur. I have my doubts.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Critique Of Bush's State Of The Union Speech

Bush proved H.L. Mencken right that speeches by politicians are all about saying as many words as possible without actually saying anything of substance or detail. Of course, the affair started out with the traditional common courtesies (I.E. butt-kissing tirades) intended to bestow some dignity to an undignified system. Bush's entire speech was spoken completely in generalities and much of it is specifically designed so that he is saying certain things that noone disagrees with (as to fool them into agreeing with him about other things) such as "we should protect liberty!" or "our country faces many problems". Who, on this blog, or in the entire country, actually disagrees with such a general statement? Who doesn't think that they should have rights? Who doesn't think that our country faces problems? Such statements are explicitly intended to command the agreement of the listener without actually saying anything.

Half of the speech was made up of this complex, where he is droning on and on trying to pander to both sides at once (for example, by saying that "we should do X in an environmentally safe way" while simultanously saying that "we should pump up oil production in an economically efficient way", thus trying to pander to both the environmentalists and those who oppose them with the will to expand oil production). When he was not in this mode, he switched to a different personna where he was trying to invoke fear in the listener about terrorism, and what comes off as an invocation of fear of Islam and certain countries in themselves.

When Bush is in this mode, he repeats assinine assertions in defense of aggressive foreign intervention and exessive and unconstitutional police powers domestically, thus showing his obcessive devotion to military-economic fascism as a governmental ideal. One also cannot help, from the perspective of a libertarian informed as to the problems with Democracy, but be mystified by the man's unquestioning dedication to Democracy, especially imposing it on others through military might. This speech was the ultimate example of political pedagoguery. It's like a broken record that started when he entered office and has not stopped since. Just about every speech Bush has ever made as a president is virtually indistinguishable from this speech. At every oppurtunity to have such a political moment, the man enters a dream world where he thinks that he is Woodrow Wilson or Franklin Roosevelt and it's WWIII. As much as I disagree with the bulk of the policies (if not all of them) of both Wilson and Roosevelt, they were at least better and more witty demagogues then Bush will ever approach being. Ultimately, under close inspection, he combines some of the worst aspects of both left-wing and right-wing politics. He is the ultimate "establishment centrist" in this sense.

In Bush, one sees an individual that is almost completely isolated from the average person, who is living in a manner in which one is entirely detached from the rippling effects of one's actions. He lives in a world where a practically imaginary "enemy" is always around the corner, and therefore one must take swift action without reflection, lest we be gobbled up by the boogey men behind door C. I personally chose door B. As such, it is inevitable that such a situation will lead individuals to take oblivious actions. Bush is simply oblivious as to what the people, both at home and abroad, actually value, while he simultanously recited speeches written by other people that are specifically designed to exploit people's values to gain political support. I don't even think that Bush understands the values of the average southerner, let alone us "pinko eastern liberals" up here in Cleveland. Behind all of his facades, the man is the ultimate paternalist with a blindfold on, but he will recite justabout whatever his writters put in front of him in the name of keeping such a position.

Also, something many of the liberals out there may not have noticed is the fact that Bush agrees with the necessity for all of the major social programs. He has constantly, and just did, get up at the podium and pledged total support for the welfare state. The only substantive disagreements the man has is the method of going about it, and he has a certain set of special interests that he favors more than others. In principle, he concedes to the economic status quo while simultanously trying to echo capitalistic rhetoric. In actual fact, the man supports virtually the entire apparatus of economic intervention programs, from welfare for farmers (otherwise known as farm subsidies), to nationalized medical care, to corporate contracting schemes (especially ones that have to do with the energy industry) to federal public education programs to foreign aid.

Even his plan to "privatize" social security would not have privatized it, it would have transfered it to a guild-like system of corporate contracting where the government decides for the citezen where and how to invest, while the corporations being invested in are like a paternalist middle man. The difference is between you voluntarily opening up a private account and, through governmental decree, a particular corporation paternalistically forcing you and wooing you to choose them ("you should open a private account" vs. "you should open a private account....hosted by my group over here"). The people on the left end of the political spectrum who honestly think that George Bush and the Republican Party are dedicated free market capitalists set out to abolish or at least greatly reduce social programs are living in a fantasy land.

Indeed, the Republican Party's dominant position on the minimum wage is as follows: yes, we should raise the minimum wage, but we will tie corporate handouts to small buisinesses to the legislation to make up for the negative effects. Technically, the Democratic Party's dominant position, which I disagree with in terms of the minimum wage, is better because it is as follows: yes, we should raise the minimum wage, but we will resist attempts to add corporate handouts to the bill. In actual fact, a very small handful of people in the legislative branch would dare to tarnish their public image by casting a vote of "nay" on wage-laws and "labor" legislation. Such legislation is specifically designed to pander to certain interests within society, and politicians become dependant on continueing that "promise" to those interests to obtain and keep their political careers (and thus, their income security).

Many conservatives outside of the "beltway" (A.K.A. the ivory tower) actually know that the minimum wage has a negative impact on buisinesses and workers alike. But instead of opposing the law many of them make it worse by supporting the tieing corporate welfare to it, while the vast majority of the liberals don't know the negative effects of the law, but are enthusiasts for it. However, there is also a class of "liberals" who support both the minimum wage and the corporate handouts, as a "bipartisan" move in conjunction with some of the conservatives, and likewise the conservatives who accept the minimum wage on the grounds of being able to compensate buisinesses are doing the same thing.

See what happens when you have bipartisanship under bad premises? You get the worst of both worlds. You get a double-dipping of the extreme agendas of both sides. From the Democrats, we get a taste of left-wing tyranny, and from the Republicans, we get a taste of right-wing tyranny. When combined, they are dangerously potent and pose the risk of constituting statism or dictatorship when accumulated over a long enough period of time. It is like a time-bomb. We tend to only look at the present, when one single measure signed into law can have effects that are radical when they fully come into effect in the future.

My diagnosis of the real state of the union is that we are currently on a course that leads us in the direction of totalitarian government, and that this is the result of a long series of cumulative expansions put in place over a long period of time by both political parties that stack ontop of eachother and overlap. Today we are experiencing the negative effects of questionable legislation that was passed decades ago, if not centuries. If we do not do something about it in the present and near-future, we face the inevitable prospect of collapse like Rome. We face the prospect of the current negative effects + new negative effects resulting from the exploits of the present. The result will not be pretty if people do not reclaim their rights. Unfortunately for us, the person who is currently in the whitehouse is more dedicated to continueing this slip into the abyss then anyone who has preceded him.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Human Nature and Childhood

Most people would probably concede in some way or another that there are certain laws that have been universally accepted based on their need in order to maintain a civilization. On this general idea, they would be correct in believing that there are universal moral laws that most people obey because they realize that they are necessary for order and well-being, but unfortunately many of them are wrong about which laws are truly necessary to this end. In my view, many of our everyday decisions and actions are done within the ordered framework of a sort of "anarchy" in which each individual, through their own free choice, choose to obey certain moral laws out of their fundamental self-interest of survival and well-being, and also often out of an interest for the survival and well-being of others. These "anarchic" laws are heavily ingrained into the modern human psyche. They are the result of years of trial and error, and are quite instinctive.

Many of the very same people who concede, in short, that there must be universal ethical laws simultaneously sniff at the implication that these universal ethical laws are "natural". They sniff even more at the term "human nature". But what other rational way is there to arrive at the universal ethical law against murder than on the basis that it is contrary to what is objectively best for the murder victim's nature (I.E. staying alive) as a living being and as a species? The reason why the law against murder is virtually universally accepted is because people recognize that murder violates their nature, the natural path of survival, the natural state of living. By our natures, we need to continue breathing in order to survive. Murder violates this. The law against murder is natural because it is in protection of our natural ownership over our own bodies and ability to keep living with those bodies. It is in accordance with man's nature and within their interest to continue living, and this is the simple basis by which I accept the prohibition of murder and other things that are determental to living (such as assault and torture).

One may ask, what exactly is the nature of a human being? Well, the simple answer to this question is the same answer to the question "what is the nature of a living being"? To survive and reproduce. However, different species are equipped in different ways with which they can use to help obtain these ends, and this means that humans as a species are equipped with specific physical and mental tools by which they can use to survive and reproduce. But what is truly distinguishing about human beings is that they have the capability to transcend their basic instinctual natures (to make a bold and concious effort to abtain from following their instincts, such as the free choice to not live anymore, as in the act of suicide) - it is an instrinic fact of human nature that we possess the ability to freely choose the course towards our ends, and we have the ability to create other ends that we regaurd as equally important, ends beyond mere subsistance that we define as well-being or happiness. Mankind has the natural tools by which to create artificial tools that are used for purposes that no other animal can persue. In short, mankind has the special gift of being able to either keep the "lizard brain" constantly in a non-dominant mode, or for particularly talented individuals, turn it off and on at will.

On the other hand, others may ask some more contentious questions: what is the nature of a fetus, and is it the same as the nature of a born child? What is the nature of child, and is it the same as the nature of an adult? What are the rights of these beings in these different stages of life? When does life actually begin? Something decently resembling the actual answers to these questions can be found if one looks hard enough and thinks enough, but not in the dens of popular culture. The most controversial of these questions, of course, is the question of the rights of unborn children.

There are some who regaurd fetuses as being subject to the natural laws of human survival (and the rights they imply) as much as a born man. Essentially, the arguement of these people is that an unborn child, in a fetal state, is subject to the human right to life. This view comes most frequently from conservatives, although when one thinks about it, they are buying into a conception that quite "liberally" applies and expands rights to unborn children. It is strange that the very same people known most for preaching about the virtues of tough parenting (and thus, in this sense, a restriction on the rights of children) tend to adopt a view of fetuses granting more rights then their prefered parenting model may grant to born children. To these people, abortion constitutes murder because the fetus is subjected to the same standards that grown adults are subjected to.

If I were to actually accept their application of the standards to fetuses, which I do not, I can put myself in the mental place necessary to see why they consider abortion to be murder. But I quite strongly disagree with them on what the nature of the fetus is. I do not accept their conception of pre-birth rights or their definition of a human being. Life itself indeed does begin when the sperm fertilizes the egg - it is at this point for all intents and purposes, a simple celled form of life. But it is not a "human being". A "human being" is someone who has been born already, after that first simple-celled form of life becomes so complex and multi-celled as to form an actual species. The simple-celled phase of its life has no real conciousness or will, and therefore cannot be considered a sentient being, let a lone a human being. It is life, but it is not concious or human life.

Therefore, you cannot apply "human rights" to something that is not fully formed yet into a "human being". You can, however, call it "life" all you like. I do not consider the nature of a fetus to be the same as a born child, and I will rather controversially point out what I consider to be obvious: a fetus's nature is to be a parasite on its mothers supply of nutrients. Once it is born, it developes a different nature and is no longer a biological parasite. Once it is a born human being, it's mode of survival changes from one that is biologically dependant on others to one that is biologically independant of others but of course is still dependant on its parents for survival in economic ways.

A note on "growing up": A new-born baby has almost nothing but instinct, because they have no experience to guide them but their genes. In the process of experience, of growing up, they then form what we call beliefs. It is possible to indoctrinate a child with a particular belief from an early age, but no child is actually born with a belief. What is amazing and special about human beings is we are capable of supressing primal instinct in favor of "higher" things such as justice or kindness, and in the process of growing up we learn how to do this through experience. "Growing up" is essentially the process by which we learn to overcome our instincts in order to act in a way that creates the best utility for human well-being and that subjective thing that we call "happiness". What I am saying should not be mistaken for the view that all of our instincts are inherently bad and therefore should be brutally supressed (I contest this view strongly), I am just emphasizing the human characteristic of being able to transcend them.

It is a scientific fact that humans are among the most defenseless of newborns, and therefore we are essentially required to function like parasites on our parents until we reach adulthood (with the acception of very rare genuises and idiot savants who have managed to be independant at surprisingly early ages). I would put forth that the process of growing up, and thus developing full legal rights, is where that parasitism is slowly siphoned off as the individuals gains more control and independance over themselves physically, mentally and eventually financially. Exactly where the cut-off point is may be hard to determine. Since each individual is different, there will invariably be a certain diversity (and thus, inequality) as to when people truly "muture" in the physical and mental sense (which is why I have a problem with many standardized age limits for certain things).

A child has legal rights to the extent that they are actually capable of expressing them (you can't have a right that you are unable to express), and within the context (and confines) of the "stewartship" role of the parent. It is the role of the parents to help the child gain their rights in the process of growing up, while tending to those areas where the child is not yet capable of expressing the responsibilities necessary to realize the right. The stewartship role of the parent diminishes in direct proportion to how fast the individual child gains self-control. At the point when full-self control is achieved, I consider this to be when one is truly a "legal adult" (but, as I stressed above, there is no uniformity as to when this occurs). A right exists in direct proportion to the individual's ability to control themselves in order to express it in mental or physical action.

In short, it is a result of what some may call "free will", and it is my contention that one is born without full free will (it exists to an extent, but instinct blocks it from full fruition in a child - the process of the child learning how to supress his instincts is how he forms his free will), but slowly develops it fully along with their rights. The rights of the child, and eventual adult, are thus determined as a natural outcome of the process of "growing up". This framework for rights helps deal with the heavily debated issue of "children's rights" in my opinion, because it is self-actualizing (and thus, natural) on the basis of the individual's actual developement as a human being.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Man Goes On Tax-Strike

A New Hampshire man has gained national media attention by his refusal to surrender to federal authorities after being found guilty by a ... all » federal jury of tax evasion. The media is mystified by the national movement of supporters converging on Mr. Brown’s New Hampshire home, many of whom are willing to risk their own lives to stand with him, even sleeping outdoors in a New England winter. This documentary explains the complex issues surrounding these events, and contains exclusive video footage of Mr. Brown explaining his position, and his determination to be killed defending himself against any government efforts to take him into custody.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Village vs. Responsibility

Hillary Clinton has apparently coined the term: "it takes a village to raise a child".

No, it takes good parents to raise a child. Presumably, you want parents to be responsible for themselves and their children. But if the entire village is now responsible for raising my kids, now that responsibility does not exist in me. The effect of this is that I now have a disincentive to be a good parent. Common sense should tell us that, it doesn't take my next door neighbor to raise my children, and I am the ultimate person who should raise my children. Someone half-way across the country isn't responsible for feeding my children for me, I am responsible for feeding my children. A fellow over in Austria doesn't have a responsibility to pay my insurance, I do. Bill Gates doesn't have a responsibility to give me a nice job, I have a responsibility to seek and aquire the job myself.

But as soon as you accept the collectivist claim that everyone, and thus (insert anonymous person here half-way across the country), has a responsibility to provide positivistic ends for everyone else, you take away independance, self-reliance and personal responsibility. You take away the incentive for the individual to do things for themselves when you convince them that everyone else is responsible for them. On the other hand, you are inventing burdens for others to do certainly positivistic things, in order to fulfil these imaginary collective responsibilities.

Someone cannot be "responsible" for bringing about a particular end for someone else who is perfectly capable of producing the same end themselves. If the person is capable of bringing about the desired end, then it is they who are truly responsible for its realization. If the person is not capable of bringing about the desired end (for example, a desired end of mine is to terraform mars and have human colonization there, a feat that I don't have the resources, money or knowledge to bring about), this still does not necessarily imply that someone else, let alone everyone else, is somehow "responsible" for bringing it about for that person.

It is imporant to stress that this does not mean that there are not circumstances where we have responsibilities to other people (such as paying off one's debts), but merely that such responsibilities are personal and on an individual, person to person level, not collective responsibilities. When one goes to the grocery store, the responsibility is two-fold: you have a responsibility to pay for the groceries with the incentive of the production of the goods, and the grocery store has a responsibility to provide them with the incentive of voluntary payment.

Further, these are situations where the responsibility has been justified on the basis of the incentive towards them produced by others. For example, the responsibility of a corporation or individual citezen to pay off their debts is justified on the grounds that they actually owe money to another party because they borrowed it. The responsibility of you to pay for the groceries is justified on the grounds that the grocery items actually have a "price" (and a "price" functions very much in the same way our debt example does, for in this sense, you are truly in "debt" to the grocery store in the form of payment once you have recieved the goods) and the common sense fact that they are not yours yet (I.E. property rights). The responsibility of the grocery store to allow you to have the items is justified on the grounds that your actual payment of money has been made (in this sense, the buisiness truly is in "debt" to you in the form of the good or service once it has recieved payment).

But the notion of "collective responsibility" as described by the likes of Hillary Cliton leads us to the absurd arguement that someone or a group of people who did not borrow any money (and therefore in reality do not have a "debt" to anyone) somehow have a "responsibility" to pay others, that people who have no connection to one's children have a responsibility to raise them for you, that you have a responsibility to buy someone else's groceries for them. Sorry, but the entire community cannot realistically, logically or justly be my children's babysitters or pay my bills, and I cannot realistically, logically or justly be responsible for raising your children or paying your bills. If the entire community or "the rich" are "responsible" for paying my bills, then you have taken away my personal responsibility over my own economic condition and made me dependant on others. Lastly, it should be noted that the kind of "responsibility" that results from this is entirely lacking in the incentive structure demonstrated in the previous paragraph, or at best it results in grossly misplaced incentives.

So, while you effectively erode the individual's responsibility over themselves by relying on the collectivist view of society, you create imaginary responsibilies that you impose on certain groups (especially the ones that you don't like). The reality is that the cumulative imaginary responsibilities imposed are impossible to be realized because they require more will, resources and capability then what may actually exist in the individual who is assumed to have such responsibility. This is because you have taken away their responsibility over themselves and are asking for something that requires post-scarcity and uniform willfulness or capability on the part of everyone; I.E. impossibities.

Hillary's village comment should be interpreted for what it is: it is communism. It is the idea that an established authority should be responsible for everyone's decisions on a collective level, instead of the individuals themselves. It is also the absurd idea that the collective, as in everyone on the planet or in the country, has a responsibility to provide for every need or want of everyone else, which is a demographic absurdity. I would like a stable slightly upper middle class income for myself as an individual. In fact, with a rising cost of living, I truly need this income level to fair well. Does this therefore mean that you, or everyone in America, or everyone in the world, has a responsibility to pitch in and give me this? Or can I, as an independant individual, take responsible actions and deliver this by the virtue of my own choices? The collective answer is absurd. The individual answer is realist and ethically sound.

Upon expressing this sentiment at a liberally-dominated message board, I was immediately assumed by some to be a starry-eyed Republican repeating old talking points. While Republicans certainly do abuse the term personal responsibility when they demagogue for campaigns, it is just that, demagoguing for campaigns. They do not actually consistantly support or oppose policies in a way that is consistant with such rhetoric of personal responsibility.

But it is absolutely mystifying to me that on the left, the term itself is often sniffed at, assumed to be some kind of "holier than thou" Republican musing, rather than accepted for what it is: a very basic value that most rational human beings can see the virtue of in some way or another. Advocacy of personal responsibility and individualism does not mean that people stop interacting and cooperating with one another, it just establishes where true responsibility ultimately lies within that framework of cooperation.

The village, as the likes of Mrs. Clinton envision it, is not one of cooperation. It is a village in which each individual is coerced to provide for the material needs and wants of others (or everyone else). Further, in this collectivist village, those who are most lucky and sucessful are precisely the very people who are given the largest burden of "responsibility". This immediately leads to an inevitable question: are you not now assigning responsibility to people in an uneven, unequal manner?

Further, since those who are less lucky or sucessful have much less responsibility then those who do, are you not now essentially exempting the least lucky and sucessful people from having to truly be responsible? From the silly ideal of everyone being directly responsible for eachother, we have a arrived at a scenario where particular groups have heavy responsibilities to provide for other groups that are allowed to linger around idly with little or no responsibilities.

In this process, the real individual responsibilities in society are crushed. Such an atmosphere creates a total lack of personal initiative for the people in the lower brackets (it also can have the same effect on the higher brackets, creating a caste of rich and sucessful people that are exempted from their responsibilities, which is made up for by a shift of those responsibilities to people in the lower brackets, the government or both). Most people who adhere to the collectivist view of society honestly believe that they are helping the people in the lower brackets of success, when in reality they are providing us with notions that tend to keep them precisely in that place.

A system in which the poor are entirely dependant on the middle class and rich is one in which both the poor and those functioning as their supply source are slaves. The poor are slaves in such a system because their supply source (the rich and middle class) and the government are effectively their "masters" in the matter (they are essentially given a "fixed caste" through payments in money or services by the government that came from others within society), and the people who have to make the payments are slaves of the government because they have to work to produce money that they will not recieve, that will be directed through government force away from how they likely otherwise would have spent it.

The collectivist view of society tells people who are poor, unsucessful and disadventaged that all they have to do is sit back and wait as their "superiors" take responsibility for them. It tells them that they are literally incapable of taking such responsibility for themselves. Such a notion is incredibly demeaning and paternalist, and it turns perfectly capable and talented people into unmotivated and discouraged ones, functioning as a blockade to upward mobility in society. Murray Rothbard was correct when he concluded that collectivist and egalitarian notions end up eroding what it means to be a human being, and thus they erode the value of humanity itself. I cannot help but conclude likewise here.

The idea that you are not capable of being responsible for your actions, and therefore the established authorities (such as government or religious institutions) will be responsible for you instead (because they are essentially assumed to be made up of "superior men") is not new to mankind. It is as old as the establishment of government itself, and it is perhaps among the most evil and exploited of ideas. The purpose of the idea is to get people to believe that their decisions as free individuals are inherently wrong and dangerous, and therefore they must sacrifice their freedom to the "higherups" and rely on the decree of a set of "superior, wise and divine men" before making choices.

The divine part of the myth has worn threadbare in recent times, but it has merely been replaced by a secular version of the exact same thing; they have ideologically imbued government itself with the divinity that was formerly used by governments to justify themselves with the union of throne and altar. Instead of the union of the government with the religious authorities, modern secular government attributes religious-like powers to itself. In either case, the underlying purpose is the same: to crush the individual's liberty and diversity by obscuring them with collectivist ideas. The fact of the matter is that "the village" would not exist or last without the free choices and subsequent personal (as opposed to collectivist) responsibilities of the individuals that make it up, and no propaganda in the world can change this natural law.

In conclusion, what Hillary Clinton really means by "the village" is the government, and what she really means by the "children" is it's subjects, the general populace. The proper translation of her phrase, "it takes a village to raise a child" is that she views the government as our parents and us as helpless children who must be guided by our parental government. It is the ultimate example of both paternalism and maternalism in government; it regaurds the established authority as made up of inherently superior people who magically fix the problems of the inherently inferior, child-like citezenry. This view of society is not liberal or conservative, it is simply statist and should be regaurded as such. It is the classic formula of the absolute state.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Living Reality of Military-Economic Fascism

By Robert Higgs

"The business of buying weapons that takes place in the Pentagon is a corrupt business — ethically and morally corrupt from top to bottom. The process is dominated by advocacy, with few, if any, checks and balances. Most people in power like this system of doing business and do not want it changed." – Colonel James G. Burton (1993, 232)

In countries such as the United States, whose economies are commonly, though inaccurately, described as "capitalist" or "free-market," war and preparation for war systematically corrupt both parties to the state-private transactions by which the government obtains the bulk of its military goods and services.

On one side, business interests seek to bend the state's decisions in their favor by corrupting official decision-makers with outright and de facto bribes. The former include cash, gifts in kind, loans, entertainment, transportation, lodging, prostitutes' services, inside information about personal investment opportunities, overly generous speaking fees, and promises of future employment or "consulting" patronage for officials or their family members, whereas the latter include campaign contributions (sometimes legal, sometimes illegal), sponsorship of political fund-raising events, and donations to charities or other causes favored by the relevant government officials.

Reports of this sort of corruption appear from time to time in the press under the rubric of "military scandal" (see, for example, Biddle 1985, Wines 1989, Hinds 1992, "National Briefing" 2003, Pasztor and Karp 2004, Colarusso 2004, Calbreath and Kammer 2005, Wood 2005, Babcock 2006, Ross 2006, and "Defense Contractor Guilty in Bribe Case" 2006). On the other, much more important side, the state corrupts business people by effectively turning them into co-conspirators in and beneficiaries of its most fundamental activity — plundering the general public.

Participants in the military-industrial-congressional complex (MICC) are routinely blamed for "mismanagement," not infrequently they are accused of "waste, fraud, and abuse," and from time to time a few of them are indicted for criminal offenses (Higgs 1988, 1990, xx-xxiii, 2004; Fitzgerald 1989; Kovacic 1990a, 1990b).

All of these unsavory actions, however, are typically viewed as aberrations — misfeasances to be rectified or malfeasances to be punished while retaining the basic system of state-private cooperation in the production of military goods and services (for an explicit example of the "aberration" claim, see Fitzgerald 1989, 197–98). I maintain, in contrast, that these offenses and even more serious ones are not simply unfortunate blemishes on a basically sound arrangement, but superficial expressions of a thoroughgoing, intrinsic rottenness in the entire setup.
It is regrettable in any event for people to suffer under the weight of a state and its military apparatus, but the present arrangement — a system of military-economic fascism as instantiated in the United States by the MICC — is worse than full-fledged military-economic socialism. In the latter, the people are oppressed, because they are taxed, conscripted, and regimented, but they are not co-opted and corrupted by joining forces with their rapacious rulers; a clear line separates them from the predators on the "dark side."

With military-economic fascism, however, the line becomes blurred, and a substantial number of people actively hop back and forth across it: advisory committees, such as the Defense Science Board and the Defense Policy Board and university administrators meet regularly with Pentagon officials (see Borger 2003 for a report of an especially remarkable meeting), and the revolving door spins furiously — according to a September 2002 report, "[t]hirty-two major Bush appointees are former executives, consultants, or major shareholders of top weapons contractors" (Ciarrocca 2002, 2; see also Hamburger 2003, Doward 2003, Stubbing 1986, 90, 96, and Kotz 1988, 230), and a much greater number cross the line at lower levels.
Moreover, military-economic fascism, by empowering and enriching wealthy, intelligent, and influential members of the public, removes them from the ranks of potential opponents and resisters of the state and thereby helps to perpetuate the state's existence and its intrinsic class exploitation of people outside the state. Thus, military-economic fascism simultaneously strengthens the state and weakens civil society, even as it creates the illusion of a vibrant private sector patriotically engaged in supplying goods and services to the heroic military establishment (the Boeing Company's
slickly produced television ads, among others, splendidly illustrate this propagandistically encouraged illusion).

Garden-variety Military-Economic Corruption of Government Officials
We need not dwell long on the logic of garden-variety military-economic corruption. As pots of honey attract flies, so pots of money attract thieves and con men. No organization has more money at its disposal than the US government, which attracts thieves and con men at least in full proportion to its control of wealth. Unscrupulous private parties who desire to gain a slice of the government's booty converge on the morally dismal swamp known as Washington, DC, and take whatever actions they expect will divert a portion of the loot into their own hands. Anyone who expects honor among thieves will be sorely disappointed by the details of these sordid activities.

Although headlines alone cannot convey the resplendently lurid details, they can suggest the varieties of putrid sloughs that drain into the swamp:
Audit Cites Pentagon Contractors [for widespread abuse of overhead charges]
Ex-Unisys Official Admits Paying Bribes to Get Pentagon Contracts
Top Republican on a House Panel Is Charged With Accepting Bribes
Ex-Pentagon Officials Sentenced [for taking monetary bribes and accepting prostitutes' services from contractors]
Northrop Papers Indicate Coverup: Documents from '80s Show Accounting Irregularities Were Hidden from Pentagon
Revolving Door Leads to Jail: Former Acquisition Official Convicted of Steering Business to Boeing for Personal Gain
Contractor "Knew How to Grease the Wheels": ADCS Founder Spent Years Cultivating Political Contacts
Graft Lurks within Pentagon's "Black Budget": Top-secret Items Escape Oversight
Contractor Pleads Guilty to Corruption: Probe Extends Beyond Bribes to Congressman
From Cash to Yachts: Congressman's Bribe Menu; Court Documents Show Randall "Duke" Cunningham Set Bribery Rates

Defense Contractor Guilty in Bribe Case
(Sources for these headlines appear, respectively, in the citations given in the third paragraph of this article.) Anyone who cares to accumulate all such news articles may look forward to full employment for the rest of his life.

Yet, notwithstanding the many culprits who are caught in the act, one must realistically assume that a far greater number get away scot-free. As Ernest Fitzgerald, an extraordinarily knowledgeable authority with extensive personal experience, has observed, the entire system of military procurement is pervaded by dishonesty: "Government officials, from the majestic office of the president to the lowest, sleaziest procurement office, lie routinely and with impunity in defense of the system," and "the combination of loose procurement rules and government acquiescence in rip-offs leaves many a crook untouched" (1989, 312, 290).

Among the instructive cases now making their way through the justice system are several related to recently convicted congressman Randall "Duke" Cunningham, a war hero and longtime titan of the MICC who currently resides in a federal penitentiary. Chief among the persons under continuing investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation is Brent Wilkes, a DC high-flyer who is alleged to have been involved tangentially in events leading to the recent sacking of former congressman and Director of Central Intelligence Porter Goss. According to a May 7, 2006, report in the New York Daily News, ongoing FBI and CIA investigations of Kyle (Dusty) Foggo, formerly the third-ranking official at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who resigned in May 2006 amid a swirl of allegations, have focused on the Watergate poker parties thrown by defense contractor Brent Wilkes, a high-school buddy of Foggo's, that were attended by disgraced former Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham and other lawmakers.

Foggo has claimed he went to the parties "just for poker" amid allegations that Wilkes, a top GOP fund-raiser and a member of the $100,000 "Pioneers" of Bush's 2004 reelection campaign, provided prostitutes, limos and hotel suites to Cunningham.

Cunningham is serving an eight-year sentence after pleading to taking $2.4 million in bribes to steer defense contracts to cronies.

Wilkes hosted regular parties for 15 years at the Watergate and Westin Grand Hotels for lawmakers and lobbyists. Intelligence sources said Goss has denied attending the parties as CIA director, but that left open whether he may have attended as a Republican congressman from Florida who was head of the House Intelligence Committee. (Sisk 2006)

In your mind, multiply this squalid little scenario by one thousand, and you will begin to gain a vision of what goes on in the MICC's higher reaches. Evidently, the daily routine there is not all wailing and gnashing of teeth over how to defend the country against Osama bin Laden and his horde of murderous maniacs — our country's leaders require frequent periods of rest and recreation. If this sort of fun and games at taxpayer expense is your idea of responsible government, then you ought to answer "yes" when the pollster calls to ask whether you favor an increase in the defense budget. Our government is clearly at work — at work making chumps out of its loyal subjects and laughing at these rubes all the way to the bank.

Legal Corruption of Government Officials
The truly big bucks, of course, need not be compromised in the least by this sweaty species of fraud and workaday corruption (Kovacic 1990a,89–90, 103 n197; 1990b, 118, 130 n94–101). Just as someone who kills one person is a murderer, whereas someone who kills a million persons is a statesman, so the government officials who steer hundreds of billions of dollars, perhaps without violating any law or regulation, to the Star Wars contractors and the producers of other big-ticket weapon systems account for the bulk of the swag laundered through the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. (Lest the latter organization be overlooked, see the enormously revealing account by Bennett 2006.)

I am not saying that this huge component of the MICC is squeaky clean — far from it — but only that the corruption in this area, in dollar terms, falls mainly under the heading of legal theft, or at least in the gray area (Stubbing 1986, 407). As a Lockheed employee once wrote to Fitzgerald, "the government doesn't really need this stuff. It's just the best way to get rich quick. If they really needed all these nuclear bombs and killer satellites, they wouldn't run this place the way they do" (qtd. in Fitzgerald 1989, 313; see also Meyer 2002). I personally recall Fitzgerald's saying to me twenty years ago at Lafayette College, "A defense contract is just a license to steal."

Absence of Proper Accounting Invites Theft
Indeed, Fitzgerald appeared as a witness at Senator Chuck Grassley's September 1998 hearings titled "License to Steal: Administrative Oversight of Financial Control Failures at the Department of Defense." At those hearings, Grassley released two new audit reports prepared by the General Accounting Office and another report prepared by his staff in cooperation with the Air Force Office of Financial Management. According to Grassley's September 21, 1998, press release, "These reports consistently show that sloppy accounting procedures and ineffective or nonexistent internal controls leave DoD's accounts vulnerable to theft and abuse. Failure by the DoD to exercise proper accounting procedures has resulted in fraud and mismanagement of the taxpayers' money."

Although this sort of complaint has become an annual ritual, dutifully reported in the press, the Pentagon has never managed to put its accounts into a form that can even be audited. Like Dick Cheney, who chose not to fight in the Vietnam War, the military brass seems to have had other priorities, even though for more than a decade the Defense Department has invariably stood in violation of the 1994 federal statute that requires every government department to make a financial audit (Higgs 2005, 55–61).

"If this sort of fun and games at taxpayer expense is your idea of responsible government, then you ought to answer yes when the pollster calls to ask whether you favor an increase in the defense budget."

Testifying before a congressional committee on August 3, 2006, Thomas F. Gimble, the department's acting inspector general, emphasized "financial management problems that are long standing, pervasive, and deeply rooted in virtually all operations."

Expanding on this general observation with specific reference to the fiscal year 2005 agency-wide principal financial statements, he stated: "We issued a disclaimer of opinion for the statements because numerous deficiencies continue to exist related to the quality of data, adequacy of reporting systems, and reliability of internal controls."

Of the nine organizational components "required by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to prepare and obtain an audit opinion on their FY 2005 financial statements," only one received an unqualified opinion and one a qualified opinion. "All the others, including the agency-wide financial statements, received a disclaimer of opinion, as they have every year in the past…. The weaknesses that affect the auditability of the financial statements also impact other DoD programs and operations and contribute to waste, mismanagement, and inefficient use of DoD resources. These weaknesses affect the safeguarding of assets and proper use of funds and impair the prevention and identification of fraud, waste, and abuse" (US Department of Defense, Office of the Inspector General 2006, 1–2, emphasis added).

In Iraq since the US invasion in 2003, billions of dollars have simply disappeared without leaving a trace ("Audit: US Lost Track" 2005, Krane 2006). Surely they did not all evaporate in the hot desert sun. The accounts at Homeland Security are in equally horrible condition (Bennett 2006, 110–11).

No one knows how much money or specific property is missing from the military and homeland-security departments or where the missing assets have gone. If a public corporation kept its accounts this atrociously, the Securities and Exchange Commission would shut it down overnight. Government officials, however, need not worry about obedience to the laws they make to assure their credulous subjects that everything is hunky-dory inside the walls. When they are of a mind, they simply flout those laws with impunity.

PAC Contributions to Politicians and Their Parties Are Bribes
Political action committees (PACs) evolved and eventually obtained legal validation as vehicles for making lawful bribes to candidates for federal offices and to their political parties. Candidates now count on them for a large share of their campaign funds, and everyone over eleven years of age with an IQ above 70 understands that these contributions are made with an understanding that they will elicit a quid pro quo from the recipients who win the elections.

Military-economic interests have not been timid about forming PACs and transferring huge sums of money through them to the candidates. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, "defense" PACs transferred more than $70 million to candidates and parties in the election cycles from 1990 to 2006. Individuals and soft-money contributors (before soft-money contributions were outlawed after the 2002 elections) in the "defense" sector added more than $37 million, bringing the total to nearly $108 million (the figures are available here).
No one knows how much was added by illegal and hence unrecorded contributions made by military interests, but the addition might well have been substantial, if we may judge by the many accounts of individual instances of such contributions that have been brought to light over the years.

Figure 1 shows the amounts transferred during the past nine election cycles.

Figure 1. Contributions by "Defense" Interests in Federal Elections, 1990–2006
Center for Responsive Politics
Note: Soft money contributions (defined as those that do not explicitly urge voters to cast their ballots for specific candidates) after the 2002 elections were banned by the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act.

Methodology: The numbers are based on contributions of $200 or more from PACs and individuals to federal candidates and from PAC, soft money and individual donors to political parties, as reported to the Federal Election Commission. Although election cycles are shown in the chart as 1996, 1998, 2000, etc., they actually represent two-year periods. For example, the 2002 election cycle runs from January 1, 2001, to December 31, 2002.

One may deny, of course, that PAC contributions constitute a form of corruption, inasmuch as they are legal within the statutorily specified limits, but such a denial would elevate form over substance. Both the givers and the receivers understand these payments in exactly the same way that they understand illegal forms of bribery, even though they never admit this understanding in public — political decorum must be served, if only to protect the children.

How Government Corrupts Business
A brief review of the history of US military contracting helps to clarify my claim that military-economic transactions tend to corrupt business. The most important historical fact is that before 1940, except during wartime, such dealings amounted to very little. The United States had only a tiny standing army and no standing munitions industry worthy of the name. When wars occurred, the government supplemented the products of its own arsenals and navy yards with goods and services purchased from private contractors, but most such items were off-the-shelf civilian goods, such as boots, clothing, food, and transportation services.

To be sure, plenty of occasions arose for garden-variety corruption in these dealings — bribes, kickbacks, provision of shoddy goods, and so forth (Brandes 1997) – but such malfeasances were usually one-shot or fleeting transgressions, because the demobilizations that followed the conclusion of each war removed the opportunity for such corruption to become institutionalized to a significant degree in law, persistent organizations, or ongoing practice.

Like gaudy fireworks, these sporadic outbursts of corruption flared brightly and then turned to dead cinders. No substantial peacetime contracting existed to fuel enduring corruption of the military's private suppliers, and much of the contracting that did take place occurred within the constraints of rigid solicitations and sealed-bid offers, which made cozy deals between a military buyer and a private seller difficult to arrange. At late as fiscal year 1940, the War Department made 87 percent of its purchases through advertising and invitations to bid (Higgs 2006a, 39).

All this changed abruptly and forever in 1940, and the situation that existed during the so-called defense period of 1940–41, before the United States became a declared belligerent in World War II, and the manner in which it was resolved had an enduring effect in shaping the contours of the MICC and hence in establishing its characteristic corruption of business.

The Roosevelt administration, desperate to build up the nation's capacity for war after the breathtaking German triumphs in the spring of 1940, made an abrupt about-face, abandoning its relentless flagellation of businessmen and investors and instead courting their favor as prime movers in the buildup of the munitions industries. Most businessmen, however, having been anathematized and legislatively pummeled for the past six years, were reluctant to enter into such deals, for a variety of reasons, chief among them being their fear and distrust of the federal government (Higgs 2006a, 36–38).

To placate the leery businessmen by shifting the risks from them onto the taxpayers, the government adopted several important changes in its procurement laws and regulations. These included negotiated cost-plus-fixed-fee contracts, instead of contracts arrived at within the solicitation-and-sealed-bid system; various forms of tax breaks; government loan guarantees; direct government funding of plants, equipment, and materials; and provision of advance and progress payments, sparing the contractors the need to obtain and pay interest on bank loans.
All of these arrangements, with greater or lesser variations in their details from time to time, became permanent features of the MICC (US Senate, Committee on Armed Services 1985, 35, 42, 553–67).

Even more important, as the new system operated on a vast scale during World War II, the dealings between the military purchasers and the private suppliers took on a fundamentally new style. As described by Wilberton Smith, the official historian of the Army's economic mobilization during the war:

The relationship between the government and its contractors was gradually transformed from an "arm's length" relationship between two more or less equal parties in a business transaction into an undefined but intimate relationship — partly business, partly fiduciary, and partly unilateral — in which the financial, contractual, statutory, and other instruments and assumptions of economic activity were reshaped to meet the ultimate requirements of victory in war. Under the new conditions, contracts ceased to be completely binding; fixed prices in contracts often became only tentative and provisional prices; excessive profits received by contractors were recoverable by the government; and potential losses resulting from many causes — including errors, poor judgments, and performance failures on the part of contractors — were averted by modification and amendment of contracts, with or without legal "consideration," whenever required by the exigencies of the war effort. (1959, 312, emphasis added)

Although Smith was describing the system as it came to operate during World War II, almost everything he said fits the postwar MICC as well (Higgs 2006a, 31–33), especially his depiction of the buyer-seller dealings as constituting "an undefined but intimate relationship" and his recognition that "contracts ceased to be completely binding."

Thus, the institutional changes made in 1940–41 and the wartime operation of the military-industrial complex in the context of these new rules put permanently in place the essential features of the modern procurement system, which has repeatedly demonstrated its imperviousness to reform for the past sixty years — it was too good a deal to give up even after the demise of the USSR and the end of the Cold War, and with breathtaking chutzpah, the system's kingpins parlayed the box-cutter attacks of 9/11 into an excuse to pour hundreds of billions of additional dollars into purchases of Cold War weaponry (Sapolsky and Gholz 2001, Isenberg and Eland 2002, Higgs 2004, Makinson 2004).

Under the old, pre-1940 system, a private business rarely had anything to gain by wining and dining military buyers or congressmen. Unless a firm made the lowest-priced sealed-bid offer to supply a carefully specified good, it would not get the contract. The military buyer knew what he needed, and he had a tightly limited budget with which to get it. After 1940, however, the newly established "intimate relationship" opened up a whole new world for wheeling and dealing on both sides of the deal — often it was difficult to say whether the government agent was shaking down the businessman or the businessman was bribing the government agent.

In fact, until the military purchasing agency certified a company as qualified, the firm could not make a valid offer, even in the context of competitive bidding. In the post-1940 era, only a small fraction of all contracts emerged from formally advertised, sealed-bid competition, and most contracts were negotiated without any kind of price competition (Higgs 2006a, 39; Stubbing 1986, 226, 411).

Deals came to turn not on price, but on technical and scientific capabilities, size, experience, and established reputation as a military supplier — vaguer attributes that are easier to fudge for one's friends. From time to time, deals also turned on the perceived need to keep a big firm from going under. For example, Fen Hampson observes that in the early 1970s, "The bidding [for production of the C-4 (Trident I) missile] was not opened to other companies because Lockheed was encountering financial difficulties at the time and desperately needed the business" (1989, 92).

Indeed, scholars have identified an extensive pattern of rotating major contracts that has been dubbed a "follow-on imperative" or a "bailout imperative," a virtual guarantee against bankruptcy, regardless of mismanagement or other corporate ineptitude (Nieburg 1966, 201, 269; Kurth 1973, 142–44; Kaufman 1972, 289; Dumas 1977, 458; Gansler 1980, 49, 172, 227; Stubbing 1986, 185–89, 200–04).

Subcontracts could also be used to prop up failing firms, and in nearly every large-scale project they served as the principal means of spreading the political patronage across many congressional districts (Kotz 1988, 128–29; Mayer 1990, 218–31). In truth, deals — especially the many important changes introduced into them after their initial formulation ("contract nourishment"), permitting contractors to "buy in now, get well later" (Stubbing 1986, 179–84) — came to turn in substantial part on "who you know." In Richard Stubbing's words, "Often it is raw politics, not military considerations, which ultimately determines the winner" (1986, 165).
All the successful major prime contractors — such as Lockheed Martin (see Cummings 2007), General Dynamics (see Franklin 1986), Rockwell (see Kotz 1988), Bechtel (see McCartney 1988), and Halliburton (see Briody 2004), for example — demonstrated beyond any doubt that in the MICC, cultivating friends in high places yields a high rate of return. Indeed, without such friends, a firm may be hard pressed to survive in this sector at all.

The tight budget constraints of the pre-1940 peacetime periods became vastly looser as trillions of dollars poured out of the congressional appropriations process during the endless national emergency of the Cold War and its sequel, the so-called war on terror. As Nick Kotz observed, "Now that the stakes in profits and jobs were far higher than those of any government program in history, dividing the spoils ensured that the game of politics would be played on a grand scale" (1988, 50). (Of course, the game of politics in reality, as distinct from the high-school-civics idealization, is essentially the game of corruption.) In fiscal year 2007, for example, the Department of Defense anticipates outlays of approximately $90 billion for procurement, $162 billion for operations and maintenance, $72 billion for research, development, testing, and evaluation, and $8 billion for military construction — components that sum to $332 billion (US Department of Defense, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense 2006, 15). Nearly all of this loot will end up in the pockets of private contractors; military personnel costs are separate from these accounts.

With plenty of money to go around, all that a would-be contractor needs is an old buddy in the upper reaches of a military bureaucracy or a friend on the House military appropriations subcommittee or in the Senate. (Nowadays, more than ever before, a single member of Congress can create magnificent gifts for his friends by making "earmarks," furtive amendments to an appropriations bill that everyone understands to be nothing but an individual legislator's pound of flesh taken out of the taxpayer's unfortunate corpus.)

If one does not have such a friend in high places, one can acquire him (or her, as the infamous Darleen Druyun illustrates [see Colarusso 2004]) by ponying up the various forms of bribes to which many Pentagon officials and members of Congress have shown themselves to be highly receptive. After all, it's not as if the bureaucrat or the member of Congress is giving away his own money.

To keep this gravy train on the track, contractors and their trade associations, as well as the armed forces themselves, devote great efforts to increasing the amount of money Congress appropriates in total for "defense," and now also for "homeland security." Their campaign contributions and other favors go predominantly to the incumbent barons — congressional leaders and committee chairmen — and to the "hawks" who've never met a defense budget big enough to please them. As Fitzgerald notes, "In Washington you can get away with anything as long as you have the high moguls of Congress as accessories before and after the fact" (1989, 91).
Furthermore, as Kotz observes, "[t]here is a multiplier effect as the different military services, members of Congress, presidential administrations, and defense industries trade support for each other's projects" (1989, 235). In other words, the defense budget is not simply the biggest logroll in Congress (Stubbing 1986, 98), but the biggest logroll in Washington, DC. Fen Hampson remarks: "bureaucratic and political interests approach weapons acquisition and defense budget issues as non-zero-sum games; that is, as games where there are rewards and payoffs to all parties from cooperation or collusion" (1989, 282). Only the taxpayers lose, but their interests don't count: they are not "players" in this game, but victims.

To give the public a seeming interest in the whole wretched racket, the contractors also spend substantial amounts of money cultivating the public's yearning to have the military dish out death and destruction to designated human quarry around the world — commies, gooks, ragheads, Islamo-fascists, narco-terrorists, and so forth — who are said to threaten the precious "American way of life."

For example, Rockwell, a military contractor whose massive secret contributions helped to reelect Richard Nixon in 1972 (Kotz 1988, 103–04, Fitzgerald 1989, 84), once mounted "a secret grass-roots campaign code-named Operation Common Sense" that included "a massive letter-writing campaign … solicitation of support from national organizations … and production of films and advertisements as well as prepared articles, columns, and editorials that willing editors could print in newspapers and magazines" (Kotz 1988, 134–35) — all the news that's fit to print, so to speak.

Much money goes into producing glorification of the armed forces, and reports of those forces' stupidities and brutalities in exotic climes are dismissed as nothing but the fabrications of leftists and appeasers or, if they cannot plausibly be denied, alleged to be nothing more than the isolated misbehavior of a few "bad apples" (Higgs 2006b).

Lest the armed forces themselves prove insufficiently imaginative in conceiving of new and even more expensive projects for the lucky suppliers to carry out, the contractors hire battalions of mad geniuses to design the superweapons of the future and regiments of former generals and admirals to market these magnificent creations to their old friends and subordinates currently holding down desks at the Pentagon.

Thus, as General James P. Mullins, former commander of the Air Force Logistics Command, has written, "the prime contractors are where the babies really come from." He explains: "[T]he contractor has already often determined what it wants to produce before the formal acquisition process begins…. The contractor validates the design through the process of marketing it to one of the services. If successful, the contractor gets a contract. Thus, to a substantial degree, the weapon capabilities devised by contractors create military requirements" (1986, 91; see also Stubbing 1986, 174).

In sum, the military-supply firms exemplify a fundamentally corrupt type of organization. Their income comes to them only after it has first been extorted from the taxpayers at gunpoint — hence their compensation amounts to receiving stolen property. They are hardly unwitting or unwilling recipients, however, because they are not drafted to do what they do. No wallflowers at this dance of death, they eagerly devote strenuous efforts to encouraging government officials to wring ever greater amounts from the taxpayers and to distribute the loot in ways that enrich the contractors, their suppliers, and their employees.

These efforts include both the licit and the illicit measures I have described, spanning the full range from making a legal campaign contribution to providing prostitutes to serve the congressman or the Pentagon bigwig after he has become bored with playing poker in the contractor's suite at a plush DC hotel.

(Note well: such "entertainment" expenses are likely to be accounted "allowable costs" by the defense contractor who bears them, and with only routine audacity he may add to them an "overhead" charge — the entire sum to be reimbursed ultimately by the taxpayers. [In general, "overhead proves to be a huge moneymaker for defense firms" (Stubbing 1986, 205).] Kotz [1988, 137], describes Rockwell's billing for entertainment, public relations, and lobbying in connection with its contract to build the B-1 bomber. Fitzgerald [1989, 197, 198–99] describes similar charges by General Dynamics, as well as boarding expenses for an executive's dog, and by Pratt and Whitney, including $7,085 for hors d'oeuvres at a Palm Beach golf resort and $2,735 for strolling musicians at another bash. Sometimes the contractors billed the government twice for the same outrageous expenses.)

Can Anything Be Done?
The short answer is "probably not." The MICC is deeply entrenched in the US political economy, which itself has been moving steadily closer to complete economic fascism for more than a century (Higgs 1987, 2007). Decades of studies, investigations, blue ribbon commission reports, congressional hearings and staff studies, and news media exposés detailing its workings from A to Z have scarcely dented it (Higgs 2004). For the most part, the official scrutiny is just for show, whereas the unofficial scrutiny is easily dismissed as the work of outsiders who don't know what they are talking about, not to mention that they are "America haters."

Official evaluations, at their frankest, conclude that "[p]ast mistakes — whether in the procurement of a weapon system or in the employment of forces during a crisis — do not receive the critical review that would prevent them from recurring…. The lessons go unlearned, and the mistakes are repeated" (US Senate, Committee on Armed Services 1985, 8). Such evaluations, though seemingly forthright and penetrating, strike me as far-fetched. Of course, people sometimes makes mistakes, but if people with the power to change an arrangement refrain from doing so for decades on end, the most reasonable conclusion is that they prefer things as they are — that is, as a rule, there are no long-lasting "failed policies," properly speaking.

To apply here what I wrote twelve years ago in regard to several other kinds of policies:

"Government policies succeed in doing exactly what they are supposed to do: channeling resources bilked from the general public to politically organized and influential interest groups" (Higgs 1995; see also Kotz 1989, 242–45).

Therefore, one must conclude that the MICC serves its intended purposes well, however much its chronic crimes and intrinsic corruption sully its self-proclaimed nobility. What you and I call corruption is, after all, precisely what the military-economic movers and shakers call the good life.

Ultimately, the most significant factor is that the post-World War II US foreign policy of global hegemony and recurrent military intervention places a strong floor beneath the MICC and serves as an all-purpose excuse for its many malfeasances (Eland 2004, Johnson 2004).
As Ludwig von Mises observed, "The root of the evil is not the construction of new, more dreadful weapons. It is the spirit of conquest…. The main thing is to discard the ideology that generates war" (1966, 832; see also Higgs and Close 2007). Until the scope of the US government's geopolitical ambitions and hence the scale of its military activities are drastically reduced, not much opportunity will exist for making its system of military-economic fascism less rapacious and corrupt.