Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Roman Empire produced few exportable goods. Material innovation, whether through entrepreneurialism or technological advancement, all but ended long before the final dissolution of the Empire. Meanwhile, the costs of military defense and the pomp of Emperors continued. Financial needs continued to increase, but the means of meeting them steadily eroded. [ . . . ] The decrepit social order offered so little to its subjects that many saw the barbarian invasion as liberation from onerous obligations to the ruling class.

~Arnold J. Toynbee and James Burke, as paraphrased by Wikipedia

The myth dies hard. Thomas E. Woods of the Mises Institute has appeared on Scott Horton’s radio program to try to kill it, as quite possibly only he can, but even his deft hands are full. He’s up against a fallacy, wrapped in a half-truth, inside a pseudo-patriotic shibboleth. It may well be that nothing’s more powerful than an idea whose time has come, but a carefully cultivated Big Lie will inevitably give that timely idea a run for the money. People know what they know. They know war brings prosperity. They know because “World War II got the U.S. out of the Depression.” They know because the government schools told them “World War II got the U.S. out of the Depression.” Beyond that, they know because of what they see. They see the manufacturing might of the military-industrial complex (MIC). They see it employing land, labor and capital. They see its technological sophistication. They see the high-paying jobs.

They don’t know what they don’t see. They don’t see resources redirected from the civilian economy to the MIC. They don’t see the capital formation foregone, the technological improvements precluded for lack of capital formation, or the jobs lost to more capitalized and efficient firms abroad. They don’t see consumer wants not met. What consumer wants are met by the MIC? Are American consumers’ appetite for automobiles, vacation homes and flatscreen TVs so sated they freely drop their hard-earned dollars on aircraft carriers, nuclear missiles and helicopter gunships? Are those the kinds of goods they value?

“To see what is in front of one’s nose,” wrote George Orwell, “requires a constant struggle.” Prof. Woods does well to bring the Broken Window Fallacy into his discussion: Frederick Bastiat’s classic parable illustrates the seen and unseen consequences of human action. May Prof. Woods and Monsieur Bastiat help Americans see what they don’t see, even as it dangles before their noses.

Hardcore libertarians may well strike the root in protest: “Never mind the Broken Window! When you enlist a monopolist of violence, i.e., the State, to provide for a ‘public’ good or service, you’re bound to get a monopolist’s shoddy service at a monopolist’s dear price. Indeed, as time goes on, you’re bound to get precisely what the MIC has delivered: shoddier and shoddier service at a dearer and dearer price. The MIC, after all, is a creature of the State. You will bring it to heel only when all defense and security arrangements—local, state and national—are subject to the discipline of the market.”

The debate between the anarcho-capitalists and minarchists, however, will have to wait for another day. For now, it will do to focus on the one issue that ought to unite libertarians of every stripe. This is not to say the entire libertarian platform isn’t compelling enough. The Fed does run a counterfeiting racket; putting dangerous substances into your body is no less natural a right than putting dangerous ideas into your mind; and welfare programs—whether intended for the “too big to fail” or the "truly needy”—are immoral (q.v., “Thou Shalt Not Steal”), unconstitutional and incentive-sapping. But even the wickedness, futility and unmitigated imbecility of fiat currency, drug prohibition and forcible wealth transfers pale against the wickedness, futility and unmitigated imbecility of empire.

You’d never guess it, though, from the edifice of responsible opinion positioned atop the culture. Establishment views rarely stray from that narrow range separating the war liberals’ “muscular internationalism” from the neocons’ “full spectrum dominance.” Liberals cheer on their peace president’s humanitarian bombing campaign—even as it succeeds not so much in liberating its presumed beneficiaries from their burqas as from their lives and limbs. Conservatives scoff at the notion government can run a daycare center—even as they insist it is fully qualified to run a global empire. The Globocop meme has done nothing to make Americans free or prosperous or secure. Rather, it has saddled Americans with the national security state’s high taxes, surveillance and controls. It has fomented anti-Americanism abroad. It has incited terrorists to attack Americans. It has drained wealth from the American economy.

Of course, none of the risk or expense of empire matters to the foreign policy elites and vested interests of the MIC. Nor, apparently, does it matter to grassroots superpatriots clinging to the Globocop meme. War is a force that gives their lives meaning. The superpatriots tell themselves, and anyone who will listen, that U.S. military intervention represents the greatest act of benevolence ever bestowed on one country by another. And they do so hate it when its beneficiaries object! Where do those foreigners get off demonstrating against U.S. bombing and occupation? What ingrates! Don't they know it's only thanks to some previous U.S. military intervention they live in a free country in the first place? But there they go protesting! Just as if they live in a free country!

All of which serves only to betray the protesters’ "anti-Americanism." Never mind they would be doing Americans a big favor if they were to succeed in their protests. Never mind the money funding that U.S. military intervention might then stay in Americans’ pockets for Americans to spend on higher-valued goods. Never mind “higher-valued goods” in this case means just about anything else, even eight-track tapes, rusty bedsprings and fetid heaps of llama droppings. Never mind American employers, employees, investors, inventors, entrepreneurs and consumers would see an increase in their disposable income. Never mind the entire American civilian economy would benefit from that increase.

The superpatriots will hasten to remind us the protesters don't know what's good for them, that they’ll eventually be overrun by the Hitler du jour if the U.S. leaves them to their own devices. In the superpatriots’ view, the U.S. defense umbrella means no-cost security for the protesters. But even if we concede a premise this strikingly dubious, who cares? Who cares if foreigners are passing up a bang-up security deal at American taxpayer expense? What devil drives the superpatriots to insist we pony up billions of dollars to pay for military protection for presumed ingrates living halfway around the world? What’s so pro-American about that?

According to Congressman Ron Paul, Americans spend one trillion (yes, trillion) dollars a year (yes, per year) funding the U.S. military empire. That’s one trillion dollars that has nothing to do with the actual defense of actual Americans living on actual American soil. That’s $3,300 from every man, woman and child to defend foreigners who don’t want us defending them. You want more money in your pocket? More freedom and less government? Throw your lot behind the “anti-Americans” demanding your government mind its own business. Petition your government for a redress of grievances—a trillion dollar military subsidy for foreigners who hate us certainly qualifies! Come to the common sense realization that it's no more patriotic supporting your government's warfare-state profligacy than its welfare-state profligacy.

"Yankee, go home"? Yes, Yankee, go home. Go home, stay home, and never stray from home again. Take the Yankee empire. Please take the Yankee empire. Roll it back. Roll it back from Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan. Roll it back from South Korea, Japan, Germany, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Columbia and Brazil Roll it back from the Confederate States of America. Roll it back from Alaska, Hawaii and Michigan. Roll it all the way back to that cesspool on the Potomac. Collapse it into the Washington, D.C., municipal Sludge Hauling Department. You can't possibly enact a more pro-American foreign and economic policy than that.