Archive | October, 2013

Racial Trade-offs: Part II

29 Oct

October 15, 2013


Last week’s column discussed the political trade-offs made by black politicians and civil rights organizations that condemn whole generations of black youngsters to failing schools ( Similar political trade-offs in labor markets condemn many blacks, particularly black youths, to high rates of unemployment and reduced economic opportunities. Let’s look at this, starting with a few historical facts.

Today white teen unemployment is about 20 percent, while that for blacks is about 40 percent and more than 50 percent in some cities. In 1948, the unemployment rate of black 16-year-old and 17-year-old males was 9.4 percent, while that of whites was 10.2 percent. Up until the late 1950s, both black teens and black adults were more active in the labor market than their white counterparts. In fact, in 1910, 71 percent of black males older than 9 were employed, compared with 51 percent for whites. As early as 1890, the duration of unemployment among blacks was shorter than it was among whites, whereas today unemployment is both higher and longer-lasting among blacks than among whites.

It would be sheer lunacy to attempt to explain these more favorable employment statistics by suggesting that during earlier periods, blacks faced less racial discrimination. What best explains the loss of teenage employment opportunities are increases in minimum wage laws. There’s little dispute within the economics profession that higher minimum wages discriminate against the employment of the least skilled worker. Such a demographic is disproportionately represented by black teenagers.

Despite these devastating effects, the entire Congressional Black Caucus and President Barack Obama support increases in minimum wages. At the state and local levels of government, there is similar black political support for higher state and local minimum wages, sometimes called “living wages.” It’s not just minimum wages to which black politicians give support; they give support to the Davis-Bacon Act, a Depression-era mega minimum wage law with racist origins. The Davis-Bacon Act mandates that “prevailing wages” be paid on all federally financed or assisted construction projects.

It’s a pro-union law that discriminates against both nonunionized black construction contractors and black workers.

During the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act legislative debates, quite a few congressmen expressed their racist intentions, such as Rep. Miles Allgood, D-Ala., who said: “Reference has been made to a contractor from Alabama who went to New York with bootleg labor. This is a fact. That contractor has cheap colored labor that he transports, and he puts them in cabins, and it is labor of that sort that is in competition with white labor throughout the country.” Rep. John Cochran, D-Mo., said he had “received numerous complaints … about Southern contractors employing low-paid colored mechanics getting work and bringing the employees from the South.” Rep. William Upshaw, D-Ga., spoke of the “superabundance or large aggregation of Negro labor.” American Federation of Labor President William Green complained, “Colored labor is being sought to demoralize wage rates.” Though today’s Davis-Bacon supporters don’t use the same language, the racially discriminatory effects are the same.

President Obama, the Congressional Black Caucus, black state and local politicians, and civil rights organizations are neither naive nor stupid. They have been made aware of the unemployment effects of the labor laws they support; however, they are part of a political coalition. In order to get labor unions, environmental groups, business groups and other vested interests to support their handout agenda and make campaign contributions, they must give political support to what these groups want. They must support minimum wage increases even though the increases condemn generations of black youths to high unemployment rates. They must support Davis-Bacon Act restrictions even though those restrictions handicap black contractors and nonunion construction workers.

I can’t imagine what black politicians and civil rights groups are getting that’s worth condemning black youths to a high rate of unemployment and its devastating effects on upward economic mobility, but then again, I’m not a politician.

The Best of Walter E. Williams

Walter E. Williams is the John M. Olin distinguished professor of economics at George Mason University, and a nationally syndicated columnist. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page.

Copyright © 2013

Previous article by Walter E. Williams: Should Black People Support Public Schools?

The Smell of Fear

29 Oct

October 24, 2013

Either as a result of their hyper-acute sense of smell, or an instinctive ability to decipher behavioral cues, dogs have an uncanny ability to detect fear. Owing to the relentless indoctrination they undergo regarding the primacy of “officer safety” and the supposedly all-encompassing threat environment in which they operate, cops exude a dense musk of fear that dogs can probably detect. This might help explain why casual encounters between dogs and cops frequently end with the dog being shot and left to die.

On October 7, Cherrie Shelton of Albany, Georgia saw Patches, her two-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, gunned down by a probation officer named Antoine Jones on her front porch. Shelton began to explain that the tiny dog – who posed no conceivable threat to anybody – didn’t bite. By that time, however, Jones had already pulled out his gun and taken aim. He fired a single round that entered the dog’s left side, exiting through its stomach.

Shelton spent a half-hour desperately trying to save her dog. When she angrily demanded to know why Jones – who had visited the home before – shot the harmless dog, the 300-pound emissary of the tax-fattened class insisted that the 12-pound Jack Russell Terrier made him “fear for his life.” The Georgia Department of Corrections later issued a statement saying that its valiant officer had “acted appropriately” by slaughtering a dog that posed no threat.

On October 20, it was Boise resident Gabrielle Stopkai’s turn to watch as a police officer gunned down the family dog, a mixed-breed named Kita. The officers had visited the neighborhood following a reported robbery, but were not responding to that call when they passed by Stopkai’s home. Two weeks earlier, the five-year-old dog had given birth to a litter of six puppies, and she had become predictably apprehensive when strangers would approach.

The officers claimed that Kita had “charged” them, snarling and acting “aggressively.” Stopkai and other witnesses insist that the dog’s behavior, while territorial, wasn’t threatening. The encounter lasted five seconds, ending when an officer fired a single shot into the back of Kita’s head from a distance of about three feet. Among those who witnessed this act of casual cruelty was Stopkai’s two-year-old son.

According to Stropkai, the Boise Police Department told her they wouldn’t even bother to investigate the actions of its officers, because the reflexive destruction of her dog is within department policy.

“As with every citizen, a person has the right to defend themselves,” sniffed Boise PD information officer Charles McClure. This is true, but irrelevant. Anybody not wearing the habiliments of the state’s punitive priesthood would be required to demonstrate that the dog had posed a genuine threat, and would face civil and criminal liability for the gratuitous destruction of another individual’s property.

Police are supposedly bold and intrepid defenders of the public weal, yet every time a cop guns down a dog we’re told, in effect, that officers are uncommonly timid and high-strung creatures who are all but paralyzed with fear at the approach of an unfamiliar canine. We never hear or read about people who provide useful services being “forced” to defend themselves against supposedly aggressive dogs by killing them. Yet “puppycide” by police is something that occurs every day.

The critical variable is not the behavior of the dog, but the sense of impunity granted to police officers. They don’t shoot dogs because they have to, but because they can.

Police consider themselves entitled to shoot any dog that barks in their direction. They likewise claim the supposed authority to arrest and prosecute any Mundane who “threatens” or “distracts” a police dog – or, as they would describe the creature, “K-9 officer.”

It’s common for police departments to hold retirement ceremonies for police dogs – in fact, the day after two Boise police officers gunned down Kita, the department announced the “retirement” of a drug detection dog named K.C. Retired police dogs are frequently given official funerals, and sometimes listed in the roster of “fallen officers.”

Not surprisingly, things are handled much differently when a police dog inflicts actual injury on a member of the productive class.

A police dog in Brazil, Indiana attacked an 11-year-old boy and mangled his leg during a War on Drugs agitprop event at the county courthouse. The officers immediately reacted to this assault by drawing their service revolvers and gunning down the dog. No, of course they didn’t: The official response was to cut the victim in for a share of the blame.

“One of the children – an 11-year-old male – had moved quickly,” insisted Brazil Police Chief Clint McQueen. “The dog responded quickly, grabbed the boy’s leg, which caused a couple of puncture wounds. It was only a few seconds before officers had control of the dog, got him to release the bite.”

That precious interval – “a few seconds” – is all it takes for officers in different circumstances to shoot any dog that barks at them, or appears ready to do so. Rather than being destroyed immediately, the police dog was taken out of service for evaluation. McQueen promises that it won’t do “police work” until test results are available. Neither retirement nor destruction of the officially licensed attack dog appears to be an option.

Because this “unfortunate accident” – as McQueen described the event – involved an “officer,” the doctrine of “qualified immunity” will protect the handler from civil liability for the injury inflicted on the child.

Lynwood, Illinois Police Chief Michael Mears followed that formula perfectly last April when Aik, one of his K-9 “officers,”attacked a terrified child.

“This is just one of those unfortunate accidents,” Mears said, no doubt with a “sucks to be you” shrug.

Julia Klooserterman was walking with her four children in nearby Lowell, Indiana when a dog in a neighbor’s yard charged at them. Rather than pulling out a handgun and killing the animal, the mother interposed herself, shielding her children with her body. She couldn’t protect all of her children. Aik charged the group from the rear, knocking one of the children to the ground and biting him on the neck.

The dogs are owned by Lynwood Police Officer Brandin Fredericksen, who was not on duty at the time of the attack. Lowell Police Chief Erik Matson told the Chicago Sun-Times that the matter was closed once Fredericksen provided rabies documentation to the police.

Lynwood Chief Mears blithely assured the Sun-Times that Aik is a “social dog” that has “participated in demonstrations with the public without incident” since mauling the child. If Aik had been a privately owned pet that so much as growled at a member of Mears’ department, it would be dead.

Any encounter with a strange dog can leave a person unsettled. This is true of postal carriers, private delivery and service personnel, and police officers. But only cops consider themselves entitled to shoot dogs on sight. Apparently, there is something about being given a badge and a government-issued costume that brings out the latent cowardice in people thus attired.

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William Norman Grigg [send him mail] publishes the Pro Libertate blog and hosts the Pro Libertate radio program

Copyright © 2013 William Norman Grigg

Tragedy of the Commons and Species Extinction

29 Oct


October 22, 2013

According to Barbara Amiel, “a rapacious Asian demand for ivory is creating such terrible killing fields that elephants face extinction by poaching.” She writes this bit of economic illiteracy in Maclean’s Magazine (October 7, 2013, pp. 12-13). Before probing the reasons why this is so totally wrong, here is a bit of background. Barbara Amiel, wife of Conrad Black (and ex-wife of  George Jonas, another semi- demi- quasi- libertarian with whom I have also tangled in these pages) is a sort of Canadian equivalent of Ann Coulter: brilliant, beautiful, a gifted writer, conservative, vaguely libertarian on a few issues. Maclean’s Magazine is a rough equivalent of Time Magazine in the U.S.

Back to the elephants, of which Amiel is very fond; she also states: “The magnificent and highly intelligent elephant has always been treated abominably. Today helicopter gunships shoot them down in Africa and hack off heads for ivory tusks, leaving baby elephants orphaned.” Maclean’s Magazine (September 13, 2013). Why is her first statement entirely nonsensical, and her second, in that context, misleading at best? This is because the demand for ivory has nothing whatsoever to do with poaching. There is a “rapacious” demand for pork, too, on the part of “Asians,” and everyone else for that matter, and yet the pig does not face “extinction by poaching” or from any other source. The same is true for steaks and cows, wings and chickens, etc. There is also “a rapacious Asian demand for” things like cement for building, wood for chopsticks, steel for ships, etc., etc. And, yet, miraculously, there is no shortage, let alone total disappearance of, any of these things.

No, if we want to ferret out the source of the plight of the elephant, we must look elsewhere. Where oh where? I will give Amiel one hint: this difficulty stems from an institution that has played havoc with more, far more, than merely the elephant. Yes, that is it: the government. And how, pray tell, has statism caused grief in this particular case? It is simple. By not allowing private ownership in these creatures (and the same applies to the tiger, the rhino, the whale, and every other species in danger of extinction) the “public sector” has unleashed the tragedy of the commons on mankind, and with it the endangerment of all species that are not allowed to be owned privately.

What you may well ask is the tragedy of the commons? When a resource such as an endangered species is unowned, in the vernacular owned “in common” by all of mankind, namely by no one, incentives to preserve it are greatly attenuated. If hunter A leaves an elephant alone today that he might have harvested, someone else, B, comes along and grabs it up. So A kills it right away, with no thought for the morrow.  He will even slaughter a pregnant elephant, the hope for the future of this species. If these creatures were privately owned, they would of course still be hunted, in much the same way as other barnyard animals are culled, but there would be a stiff price attached to any such occurrence. Old male elephants would be the cheapest, of course. And if a hunter for some reason wanted to shoot a pregnant elephant, this too could probably be arranged; but it would costs a (human) arm and a leg. These funds of course would be used to preserve the basis of the earnings of the elephant owner.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of this phenomenon is the contrasting fates of the cow and the buffalo. The former was always privately owned, and never came within a million miles of extinction. The latter for many years was in the commons, so people had little incentive to refrain from hunting it today. They would not have it tomorrow if they did not. In contrast, the cost of butchering a cow today is precisely that bovine tomorrow, so ranchers act economically with regard to that breed. It is movies such as Dances with Wolves that misconstrue this, and blame the near extinction of the buffalo on the white man.

Do I need to amend this claim that “rapacious” demand is irrelevant to poaching? Could not a critic object to the analysis offered above on the ground that no one would poach anything that was not valuable? That is, if ivory lost its value, no one would poach it? No. Of course, no one would steal something that had no value at all. But, if a thing had no value at all, it would not be considered an economic good. So, yes, no one steals air, or worthless rocks, because they are not economic goods. But, when there are prohibitions placed on any economic goods, in effect a price control of zero on them, then there will be incentives unleashed to reward just that kind of behavior. For example, no one, nowadays, at least in the U.S., steals carrots (I ignore minor pilfering or shoplifting in making this statement). But suppose that government in its infinite wisdom declared a price ceiling of zero on carrots (they could only be given away, not sold), or, worse, banned them outright. Then, the black market price of these vegetables would rise above present carrot prices, and there would be far greater incentives to steal them than at present.

Let me consider one other objection to the tragedy of the commons thesis offered above. This one is not at all hypothetical, but actually served as the basis for the bestowing of the Nobel Prize in economics on Elinor Ostrom. This political scientist, the first woman to win this Award, was also economically illiterate. She explicitly rejected the tragedy of the commons thesis, one of the most powerful in all of economics. In her book she offered numerous cases which supposedly ran counter to that insight, ranging from water in California to grazing pastures in the Alps, to fishing in the Far East. But none of these cases were really “commons.” They were all something very different, partnerships. Take the library of a large law firm of several hundred partners. There is no tragedy of the commons here, to be sure. The books, or in the modern era, electronic compilations, are not mistreated, abused, lost. These resources are there for all the members of the law firm to utilize. There is no analogy to the tragedy of the commons that afflicts the elephant and other such species. But the point is, there is no “commons” here, either. If you are I, gentle reader, were to attempt to make use of the law firms’ resources (or grazing lands in Switzerland, or water in California), we might be able to do so, but only with the permission of the real owners of the enterprise, and probably not even then. For a blistering attack on this author for making this very elementary mistake, see Block, Walter E. 2011. Review essay of Ostrom, Elinor. 1990. Governing the commons: The evolution of institutions for collective action. Cambridge, UK and New York, NY: Cambridge University Press; in Libertarian Papers, Vol. 3, Art. 21.

The Best of Walter E. Block


Dr. Block [send him mail] is a professor of economics at Loyola University New Orleans, and a senior fellow of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He is the author of Defending the Undefendable, The Case for Discrimination, Labor Economics From A Free Market Perspective, Building Blocks for Liberty, Differing Worldviews in Higher Education, and The Privatization of Roads and Highways. His latest book is Yes to Ron Paul and Liberty.

Copyright © 2013 by Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit and a live link are given.

The State’s Education Monopoly Increases Prices and Destroys Choice

21 Oct
Mises Daily: Monday, October 14, 2013 by

Editor’s Note: This selection is taken from Chapter 5 of Ron Paul’s new book The School Revolution: A New Answer for Our Broken Education System.

The free-market principle of open entry is challenged by governmental restrictions on access to consumer markets. There are many official justifications for these restrictions, but the main one is this: “Customers do not know what is good for them.” They do not know what products to buy, what prices to pay, or what arrangements to negotiate with respect to return and replacement. Customers are in fact woefully ignorant of what they really need, so the state enters the marketplace to restrict what customers are legally allowed to purchase. The idea here is that state officials know what customers really need as distinguished from what customers are willing to pay for.

One of the justifications for this is that advertising deludes customers. This means that customers are considered not able to sort out fact from fiction when they read or see an advertisement. It is interesting that the same advertising agencies hired by businesses to sell products are also hired by politicians to produce advertisements in election years. In other words, advertising is accepted as a legitimate way to motivate people to take action during election years, but is placed under suspicion when it comes to advertising products and services. People in their capacity as voters are supposedly perfectly capable of making accurate decisions based on advertising. On the other hand, those same people in their capacity as customers supposedly are incapable of making accurate decisions based on advertising. This is utterly illogical, but it is basic to understanding all modern governments in the West …

Whenever the state intervenes in a market to restrict entry by sellers, it results in higher prices. Customers are not able to buy the kinds of goods and services they want, at a price they are willing to pay. So the producers who would otherwise have entered the market are forced to enter other markets. These markets are less profitable than the restricted markets. Customers in the regulated markets are worse off, and so are marginal suppliers who leave those markets.

We can see this principle at work in the market for education. The supply of education is limited by government restrictions on academic certification. Teachers must go through a specified regimen at the college level in order to be eligible to teach in the nation’s tax-funded school systems. This reduces the supply of teachers who can legally be hired by local school districts. Furthermore, restrictions on school construction by private entrepreneurs limit the amount of competition tax-funded schools face.

So, parents are compelled to send their children to school, but the state restricts the number of schools available to parents. This creates a near monopoly of education, kindergarten through twelfth grade, for the state. The state uses tax funding to build schools, and it uses the regulatory system to restrict the creation of rival schools. This is the classic mark of a monopoly.

The free-market solution is open entry and competition. Competition may be in the form of quality. Some parents want very-high-quality education for their children, and are willing to pay a great deal of money to purchase it. They would not have to pay as much money if there were open entry into the local market for schools. Other parents cannot afford the best education for their children, because they do not have enough money. So, they want price-competitive education. This is also made available by entrepreneurs in the field of private education. These entrepreneurs can decide which programs are affordable for which parents, and which programs will meet the demands of specific parents. As more schools come onstream, the range of choice for parents increases. This is the standard definition of what constitutes economic growth. Economic growth takes place when customers can buy more goods and services than they were able to buy prior to the increase in economic growth …

Bureaucrats in the field of education, which is almost exclusively nonprofit education, have a bias against price-competitive academic programs. They assume that these programs are of low quality. They think it is a good idea to close the market to sellers of any kinds of curriculum not certified by educational bureaucrats. They have greater control over the content and structure of education when they can restrict entry into the marketplace. In the name of helping children, these promoters of self-interested restrictions on entry conceal the fact that they are able to exercise greater power over education and then charge more for the privilege of doing so.

This is why libertarians believe that there should be open entry into the field of education. They do not trust state bureaucrats to act on behalf of parents, especially parents who have a particular view of the best methodology and content for the education of their children. The bureaucrats operate in their own self-interest, which is to expand their power and income.

This raises the issue of government regulation of schools. First, the government requires compulsory attendance. Second, in order to keep control over the content of the curriculum, governments establish rules and regulations governing those schools. Parents are not allowed to send their children to schools that do not meet these qualifications. The qualifications are set very high, so that not many schools can be established to compete against the public school system. This increases the power of the public school system, and the power of the bureaucrats who run the system.

An example of this kind of regulation can be seen in the requirement that private high schools have libraries of at least 1,500 books. States around America had this requirement or something similar to it in the 1990s. But a student in the early 1990s was able to carry a CD-ROM with 5,000 books on it: the Library of the Future. No matter. A CD-ROM and computer stations did not count as meeting the 1,500-book requirement. The books had to be physical, so tax money had to go toward that. Today students have access to hundreds of thousands of books by means of the cell phones in their pockets. But accredited high schools must still have physical libraries. These libraries must be run by someone with a degree in library science. Conclusion: The library requirement has nothing to do with the number of books in the library. It has everything to do with increasing the cost of building a facility that qualifies as a school that meets the government’s regulations.

The goal of academic regulation is to limit the supply of schools that compete against public schools. This is done in the name of guaranteeing the educational quality of the school, thereby protecting the students. Yet the academic performance of the public schools continues to decline, and has done so since the early 1960s. The scores on the SAT and ACT exams continue to fall. The high point was in the early 1960s. So, regulation has not been successful in guaranteeing the quality of education. But it has been quite successful in restricting entry into the field of education.

In the 1980s there was a great battle over homeschooling. States around the nation passed laws prohibiting parents from substituting homeschooling for schooling in either a tax-funded school or a private school. The private schools were so expensive that only a handful of parents could afford them. This meant that parents would simply have to send their children to the public schools. The appearance of homeschooling in the 1970s and ’80s represented a threat to this strategy of restricting the supply of competing educational programs. States prosecuted parents for teaching their children at home.

A major case was tried in Texas in 1985, Leeper v. Arlington, in which a coalition of homeschool advocates brought a class-action suit against the state. The state lost the case in the state supreme court in 1994. The court required school districts to compensate the parents of the children who brought the suit. This case sent a clear message to local school districts in Texas. Overnight, they removed most of the restrictions against homeschooling. The state of Texas became very friendly toward homeschooling. But it took a court case to achieve this goal …

There should not be anything resembling a government monopoly of education. Standards that govern the public school system locally should not be imposed on parents who decide to remove their children from that system. Without freedom of parental choice in education, the state will pursue a policy of extending its monopoly over education. Tenured, state-funded bureaucrats will then use this monopoly to screen out ideas that call into question the legitimacy of government interference in many areas of life, including education. The government does not have to burn books in order to persuade the next generation of voters of ideas that favor the government. The government need only screen out books and materials that are hostile to the expansion of the state.

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“Pedro Offers You His Protection”: The Preston PD Gets a Combat Vehicle

21 Oct

Pro Libertate Blog

October 11, 2013

Preston, Idaho is a town of roughly 5,000 people that earned brief notoriety a decade ago as the setting for the whimsical film “Napoleon Dynamite.” It is blessedly devoid of violent crime, and has no need for its six-officer police department.

Yet Chief Ken Geddes believes that Preston’s superficial placidity disguises the potential for apocalyptic violence. At least that’s what he’s saying to pre-empt potential criticism of his decision to acquire a combat-grade armored vehicle from the Department of Homeland Security.

The Preston Police Department is one of two in Idaho to receive a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle (MRAP) through the Pentagon’s Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO). Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security purchased more than 2,700 of the combat vehicles – which were developed for use in Iraq and Afghanistan – for distribution to local police departments and sheriff’s offices across the country. Most of them have very few, if any, miles on their odometers, and were scheduled to be cut up for scrap.

Through the LESO program, law enforcement agencies can receive MRAPs free of charge (apart from the initial expense to the taxpayers incurred in manufacturing them). Hundreds of police chiefs and sheriffs across the country have eagerly applied for the vehicles, urgently insisting that they meet previously unknown needs that didn’t become apparent until the Pentagon made the war-fighting vehicles available.

When I asked Chief Geddes why a police department in a town the size of Preston needs a military assault vehicle, his immediate response – expressed in a tone of theatrical indignation — was to invoke the Sandy Hook massacre.

“There isn’t much violent crime in Preston – but how much does it take?” Chief Geddes responded. “There wasn’t much crime in that little Connecticut town [Newton] before Sandy Hook – but it would have been nice if they would have had an MRAP on the day of the school shooting.”

He also took issue with the assumption that because Preston is small and relatively tranquil, his department doesn’t need to expand its paramilitary capacity: “Boise has a much larger population, and much larger police force, and much greater capacity than we do – but are we to believe that the people in Boise are more valuable than the people in Preston?” This assessment of relative value omits rational calculations of risk. It also assumes that enhancing police capacity conduces to public safety, which is at very best a thoroughly questionable assumption.

Although the advertised law enforcement purpose served by MRAPs and other armored vehicles is force protection, Chief Geddes suggests that the vehicle could also be used to evacuate citizens who are threatened by an active shooter. That claim is robustly implausible: There isn’t a recorded instance in which a SWAT team responding to an active shooter made anything other than “officer safety” is chief operational priority, and Preston isn’t likely to set a precedent – assuming that such a situation were ever to arise in that bucolic southeastern Idaho town.

Chief Geddes points out that his department and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office (which is headquartered in Preston) are receiving training and assistance from “a military agency” regarding the operation and maintenance of the MRAP. This blending of functions and equipment summons concerns about law enforcement militarization that the Chief quickly and impatiently dismisses.

“I’m not at all concerned about it,” Chief Geddes insisted. “We’re not looking in that direction in any way. But I have to say that in the event of a Hurricane Katrina-style disaster – an earthquake, or a flood, or another large emergency – we’d welcome their assistance.”

Public concerns about the militarization of domestic law enforcement occur because the public “lags” behind their protectors in perceiving dangers and needs, according to Geddes. The general population simply doesn’t have the preternatural sense of incipient danger Chief Geddes acquired through years of patrolling the inhospitable streets of Preston and the danger-laden back roads of Franklin County as a sheriff’s deputy.

“Law enforcement may know things you don’t know,” he told me. “All you think about is sunshine and happiness, but police can’t go in with their eyes shut.” Although Geddes maintains that he’s received no negative feedback from the public in Preston, he readily deploys the familiar “uniforms that guard” trope in dealing with potential critics: “People who resist this trend, who say that we shouldn’t be getting equipment like this, live under the protection of what the protest.”

From Chief Geddes’ perspective, it’s unlikely that police can ever be too powerful, because their conspicuous presence is the only thing that prevents violent chaos from descending on society.

“How many people are saved because of law enforcement – because of crimes that weren’t committed, or violations that didn’t occur?” he asks. “How many people are alive because we patrol the streets and highways? How many people would have committed crimes if we weren’t there? Sometimes they didn’t do anything because they saw the force [that the police represent].”

Chief Geddes, who intended that those questions be taken as rhetorical in nature, is apparently unaware that they were answered more than four decades ago. In 1972, with financial backing and technical assistance provided by the Police Foundation, the Kansas City Police conducted a year-long study to measure the deterrent effect of police patrol. That survey concluded that police patrols had no documented impact on the crime rate.

Police patrols over plentiful opportunity for pro-active intervention to obtain revenue, or enforce regulations that do nothing to protect persons and property. This means that they are worse than useless from the perspective of those who value individual liberty more than state-imposed conformity. It’s reasonable to say that Chief Geddes resides in the other camp.

In an op-ed column he wrote for the Preston Citizen newspaper, Chief Geddes admonished the public to be “thankful” for Pentagon’s generosity in providing the MRAP to his department: “I appreciate our government and our military for the security they give us and for their help to increase our strength here in our schools and home.”

The problem, of course, is that once police are given access to exotic instruments of repression, they will find a reason to use them. This is illustrated by the ease and haste with which the Taser – introduced as a substitute for firearms in situations involving deadly force – has become an implement of pain compliance used to administer summary punishment upon Mundanes who discomfit their uniformed overlords in any way.

An even better illustration of this dreadful trend is the promiscuous use of SWAT teams: When introduced in the late 1960s, SWAT units were described as special-purpose teams to be deployed only in extraordinary circumstances, such as armed robberies and hostage situations. Now, however, there are, on average, approximately 220 SWAT-style raids each day. Won’t the acquisition of military-grade hardware to police departments simply exacerbate this tendency?

“That is a valid concern,” admitted Nampa Police Lt. Tim Randall, who represents the department’s Office of Professional Standards, when I posed that question to him. He also acknowledged that the department had received a great deal of public comment “concerning the possibility of police militarization, which we can certainly understand.”

Nampa, a city of about 70,000 people, has a crime rate slightly above the state average, but well below the national average. Why would its police department (which last year acquired two military-issue Humvees from the National Guard) need an armored combat vehicle designed to protect soldiers from land mines and sniper fire?

“Well, first of all, it’s free,” observed Lt. Randall. “It’s also the case that even a small agency like the Nampa PD has a big need for armored protection.” Employing the same Department of Homeland Security boilerplate language retailed in press releases from other departments around the country, the Nampa PD insists that the need for the MRAP is underscored by “a rise in mass shootings and incidents of terrorism” nation-wide.”

That rationale is rooted in a lie: Mass shootings have not been increasing, and domestic terrorism – a category that doesn’t include the FBI’s Homeland Security Theater operations – is all but non-existent.

Although Lt. Randall emphasizes that he doesn’t anticipate that the Nampa Tactical Response Team would “drive up to a house” in an MRAP on a routine warrant enforcement call, he reported that the vehicle had already been used twice in the first two weeks after the department obtained it. The first was a response to a carjacking at knife-point, the other a call involving a suicidal man. Like Chief Geddes, Lt. Randall also believes that the MRAP is valuable as a “psychological deterrent” to public disorder.

The obvious question is: Whom, exactly, does the Nampa PD seek to “deter”? I think the answer was embedded in Lt. Randall’s explanation of the department’s “need” for the vehicle: “Here in Idaho, practically everybody around here has a gun, and when we go on a call it is useful to have a vehicle that will enhance the safety of the responding officers.” He also pointed out that after the Pentagon-provided MRAP arrived, the department took its aging armored vehicle to its gun range and discovered that “rifle fire would just go right through it. We had it for years, and didn’t know that it offered no protection against ballistic arms fire.”

This belated discovery would be considered alarming if we ignore the fact that this was the first time gunfire had ever been directed at the vehicle. So far, the Nampa TRT has suffered only one fatality – Corporal Jed Webb, who died of a heart attack earlier this year at age 51.

It has been more than eighty years since a Nampa police officer died in the line of duty. Yet the people running that department appear to be convinced that their safety depends on their ability to “deter” the gun-owning public.

The Pentagon has a stock of about 20,000 MRAPs, most of which will eventually find their way into local police arsenals, along with Predator-style drones and other military hardware field-tested overseas. Although an MRAP has no discernible practical value as a tool for protection of life and property, it is tremendously useful as a prop in the ongoing campaign to indoctrinate police regarding the unacceptable danger to “officer safety” posed by an armed public — and the need for conspicuous displays of potential force to deter potential threats.

“General Colin Powell’s Doctrine of the U.S. Armed Forces is that the United States should be the `meanest dog in town’ to frighten a potential enemy,” wrote career law enforcement officer –and SWAT instructor – Edward Leach in the October 2001 issue of Police Chief magazine. “When force is used, it should be with `overwhelming strength and no half-way measures.’ In law enforcement, these principles are routinely applied in both field and tactical operations. … Law enforcement [application] of the Powell Doctrine is clear: have overwhelming and superior resources available, primarily as a deterrent, but use them decisively when needed.”

Leach, who until a year ago was Undersheriff of Idaho’s Kootenai County, unabashedly depicted police as a military occupation force. He doubtless understands the message being sent when police in a town the size of Preston acquire a combat-grade armored vehicle. So should we.

The Best of William Norman Grigg

40 Years Later: Mises’s Lasting Legacy

21 Oct


October 11, 2013

Editor’s note: October 10, 2013 is the 40th anniversary of the death of Ludwig von Mises.

Each year in early October, the world looks to Sweden and Norway, where the annual Nobel Prize winners are announced in the fields of literature, medicine-physiology, physics, chemistry, and peace-making.

The great Swedish entrepreneur, Alfred Nobel did not sponsor a prize in economics, and the committees sponsored out of his estate did not grant any such prize until the present day. But there is a “Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel” which is sponsored by the central bank of Sweden. Since 1969, that prize has been granted every year in early October, too.

The timing and the labeling of the prize, as well as the fact that its laureates are selected by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which also picks the other laureates (except for the peace prize), have misled people all over the world into thinking it is the real thing. Like counterfeit banknotes, the economics prize has been circulating among the unsuspecting public.

Alfred Nobel did not intend to sponsor a prize in economics. Apparently, neither did the Swedish central bank. Its prize has usually been awarded to scholars specializing in applied mathematics, or applied psychology, or in the art of playing with statistical data that goes under the name of econometrics. Very rarely is it awarded to scholars who actually spend most of their time thinking about real-world economic problems, and almost never to anybody who has anything new and important and true to say about the real economy. It is true that many laureates were very well versed in economics, but even they did not, as a rule, obtain the prize for any contribution to that discipline.

The problem with the “dismal science” of economics is well known. It mercilessly exposes and dispels the myths that have been invented to justify central planning and government interventionism. This flies in the face of the very institutions that finance and award the Prize in memory of Alfred Nobel. The Swedish central bank is institutionally committed to central planning in money. It can hardly be expected to print and spend millions of kronas on research that is useless — and potentially nefarious — from its very own point of view. Moreover, Sweden has been ruled by socialists for most of the post-war period. The venerable Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences was not immune from this tendency.

Unsurprisingly, the economics prize has always been heavily biased against economists who oppose the fiat-money foundation of the welfare state and of the warfare state. The facts speak for themselves. With the notable exception of F.A. Hayek (laureate in 1974), none of the prize winners is on record as an outspoken critic of central banking and monetary interventionism. And even Hayek came out of the closet only after winning the prize, publishing Choice in Currency (1976) and Denationalisation of Money (1977).

Unsurprisingly, two giants of economic thought, Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) and Murray Rothbard (1926-1995) did not obtain the economics prize in memory of Alfred Nobel. Mises, who was arguably the greatest economist ever, died at the very moment when that prize was awarded for the fifth time. On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of his passing, it is appropriate to commemorate his achievements and to highlight his lasting legacy.

Ludwig von Mises is well known as a fountainhead of the revival of classical liberalism and libertarianism after WWII. But his influence on contemporary political thought was based entirely on his groundbreaking contributions to social analysis, and to monetary economics in particular. At the very moment when inflationist ideas had made their intrusion into the academic world and were about to supersede classical economics, Mises revolutionized the theory of money. He was the first economist to develop a full-fledged explanation of money prices, and he was also the first to develop a comprehensive analysis of the causes and consequences of money production. His work renewed and greatly reinforced the case against monetary interventionism, which had been at the heart of classical economics.

Before Adam Smith, public opinion was infused with the notion that the volume of spending (in today’s Keynesian jargon known as “aggregate demand”) drives the economy. Politicians and businessmen therefore strove to increase the national money supply in order to promote production and growth. Smith argued that this was all wrong. The true causes of aggregate wealth were to be seen in the division of labor and in a frugal lifestyle. Policies designed to increase the national money supply by encouraging exports and hampering imports were ineffective. They impoverished the nation rather than to promote its growth.

This thesis inspired the intellectual movement known as classical economics. It has also inspired the economists of the Austrian School. When Carl Menger developed his price theory based on the rock-solid foundation of subjective value, he did not seek to overthrow classical economics root and branch. What he did was to repair one fundamental shortcoming of classical price theory, and in so doing he solidified the overall edifice. Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk reinforced the classical teachings on savings and capital by analyzing the role of time in the production process. At the beginning of the 20th century, then, Ludwig von Mises completed the Austrian revision and reconstruction of classical economics with his theory of money.

Adam Smith had neglected money because neither the demand for money, nor the supply thereof were to be counted among the causes of the wealth of nations. Many of his disciples — especially the great David Ricardo — delved into the matter in more detail. But their writings suffered from the Achilles’ heel of Smith’s theory: his cost-of-production theory of prices. They could therefore not quite come to grips with the economics of banking, and the practical consequence was a never-ending sequence of booms and busts. This practical failure in the field of money and banking eventually discredited the entire edifice of classical economics. Inflationist doctrines made a comeback, first creeping (second half of the 19th century), then galloping (around WWI), and eventually triumphing in the 1930s.

Mises did not develop his theory of money in order to come up with classical-liberal practical conclusions. Quite to the contrary, it took him a while to understand the political implications of what he had found. The first edition of this monetary treatise (1912) is actually quite tame in that respect. It is only in the second edition (1924) that Mises starts to hammer the anti-interventionist implications of his work in monetary economics. At about the same time, he had begun to delve into other areas of research, most notably into the analysis of socialist and interventionist systems of government. These works brought him great fame, and they were instrumental in converting an entire generation of young intellectuals — such as Hayek, Haberler, Machlup, Morgenstern, and Robbins — to classical liberal ideas. But his monetary thought would always remain the backbone of his thinking. Eventually he would present it fully developed within a general theory of human action (NationalökonomieHuman Action).

It was Mises’s personal misfortune that, during all of his life, his economic and political ideas were thoroughly out of fashion. But, precisely for this very reason, his legacy is lasting and strong. Today the ideas that Mises had painstakingly refuted have run their course. Inflationism, socialism, and statism have spelled misery, corruption, and chaos. Reading Mises enables us to understand this world, and it helps us to see the road that leads out of these quagmires.

Rough Men Stand Ready to Kill You in Your Bed

21 Oct


Pro Libertate Blog

October 18, 2013

“We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm,” wrote the late Richard Grenier decades ago. The murderous reality behind that oft-recited authoritarian aphorism – generally mis-attributed to Orwell – was made tangible on the morning of June 27 when at least a dozen L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputies traveled to Littlerock, California, a village of roughly 1,200 people about an hour northeast of Los Angeles, to attack an 80-year-old man named Eugene Mallory in his bed.

Mallory woke up to find armed men in his home. The elderly man’s glasses were on the nightstand beside him. His handgun was also within easy reach. After the panicking man reached for his gun, the intruders shot him six times.

The deputies who had invaded Mallory’s home weren’t responding to an emergency, nor were they pre-empting a criminal plot. They were serving a narcotics warrant issued in response to a claim that someone who had passed by the property smelled ingredients used to manufacture methamphetamine.

After shooting the helpless old man in his bed and leaving him to die, the intruders assaulted and bound his terrified wife, Tonya Pate, then ransacked the property. Although they found no evidence that Mallory was an aspiring Heisenberg, they did locate an insignificant amount of marijuana – something not listed in the search warrant, but seized upon as validation of the murderous home invasion.

The Fourth Amendment, which was rendered irrelevant long ago, requires that in order for a warrant to be valid it must specify the items being sought. Additionally, a vague report of a suspicious smell doesn’t meet the Fourth Amendment’s standards for probable cause. This was acknowledged by the California Supreme Court in a decision announced a few hours after LA County deputies slaughtered Mallory. The Court ruled that police were not permitted to search a closed shipping package because it reeks of marijuana.

In that case, which arose from a 2010 arrest of a man accused of trying to ship pot to Illinois via FedEx, the police insisted that what they call the “plain smell test,” coupled with “exigent circumstances,” justified a warrantless search and seizure of the package. That argument didn’t pass the Court’s smell test.

If police aren’t permitted to seize a package that exudes the aroma of marijuana, it can’t be considered permissible to mount a daybreak no-knock raid of a residence on the basis of an unsupported claim that something in the surrounding air made an informant’s nostrils twitch.

Since the warrant was invalid, and the search was illegitimate, Mallory was within his legal rights to use lethal force to defend himself. However, department spokesman Steve Whitmore insists that “The lesson here is … don’t pull a gun on a deputy.”

A more suitable lesson is this: We live in a country where criminals in uniform feel entitled to gun down elderly men in their beds.

Shooting terrified people in their beds is a familiar practice to the Berserkers employed by the LA County Sheriff’s Office.

In October 2010, two members of a specialized unit of the sheriff’s office called the Community-Oriented Policing Services High-Impact Team – known by the exquisitely appropriate acronym COPS HIT  – barged into a backyard shack occupied by Angel Mendez and his pregnant girlfriend, Jennifer (whom he later married).

The deputies – Christopher Conley and Jennifer Pederson – didn’t have a warrant, nor were they in hot pursuit of a suspect.

Both of the intruders had their guns drawn. Neither said a word. After Mendez sat up in his bed, the deputies opened fire, shredding his body with more than a dozen rounds. His  girlfriend, who was five months pregnant, was also hit, suffering a shattered collarbone.

Bleeding profusely from multiple wounds, Mendez was dragged from his bed to be interrogated. Paramedics arrived, ripped away Mendez’s clothing, and worked frantically to save his life. Nude, traumatized, and lying in a puddle of his own blood, Mendez was harangued by Sgt. Greg Minster, who tried to manipulate the victim into saying that he was at fault.

“One more time,” Minster snarled at Mendez in a video-recorded interrogation, “why did you point the gun at my deputies?”

“I didn’t, sir,” gasped Mendez as he struggled to survive the assault.

The “gun” in question was a cheap toy BB rifle that had been on Mendez’s bed when the officers barged into the shack where he and his expectant girlfriend were living. He moved to set the rifle on the floor so he could get out of bed.

Deputy Conley – reciting from the killer cop’s catechism of self-justification – insisted that he feared for his life and reacted instinctively.

However, in an interview with Sgt. Patrick Kim, Conley admitted that the encounter with Mendez lasted “maybe 15 seconds” before he attempted to kill him. This means that the shooting was not the product of a split-second decision, and that Conley had ample time to recognize that Mendez didn’t pose a threat.

The harassment of Mendez continued after the victim was taken to the hospital. Sgt. Robert Gray demanded that Mendez admit that he had pointed the BB gun at deputies Conley and Pederson.

“I did not aim it at them, sir,” Mendez insisted. “I was like, `No, please, stop, don’t shoot me!’ And they shot again and again and again after I dropped everything.”

On October 1, 2010, Mendez was charged with “assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer” – despite the fact that the intruders had no legal cause to be in Mendez’s home, and didn’t bother to identify themselves as deputies. On the following day, Mendez lost his leg to amputation. After it became clear that the LACSO couldn’t get away with describing a BB rifle as a “deadly weapon,” it withdrew the original charge and attempted to have the victim prosecuted for “brandishing” what was called “an imitation firearm,” but Deputy DA James Garrison declined to pursue the case.

Last August, a federal judge awarded Mendez and his wife a $4.1 million settlement to be paid by the tax victims of Los Angeles County. In announcing the award, Judge Michael Fitzgerald ruled that the shooting was the result of an unlawful search – which means that it should have been prosecuted as an act of attempted criminal homicide.

Deprived of an opportunity to send the man they had nearly murdered to prison, the Sheriff’s Office had to settle for ruling that his assailants had acted “within policy” by invading his home and mutilating him. They are still plying their criminal trade, and the department continues to insist that the marauders had an unqualified right to murder Mendez.

“This individual did pull a weapon on our deputies, forcing them to respond because they feared for their safety,” snivelled department spokesliar Steve Whitmore. Given that the search was illegal, the deputies were common home invaders. Mendez had an unqualified right to kill them in self-defense, if he had been able to.

Because the department continues to pretend its operatives have a plenary entitlement to terrorize people, the COPS HIT unit continues to carry out home invasions. “They just storm these places and do whatever the hell they want,” complained attorney Gerald Ryckman in an interview with LA Weekly. This behavior isn’t limited to Los Angeles County, of course.

Last July, just a few weeks before Mendez and his wife were awarded compensation for their suffering at the hands of a state-sanctioned hit team, Auburn, Washington Dustin Theoharis filed a $20 million tort claim againstOfficer Kris Rongen of Washington Department of Corrections.

Theoharis had previously been awarded a $3 million settlement by King County to indemnify the criminal actions of Deputy Aaron Thompson. Theoharis was asleep in his bed on February 11, 2012 when two armed strangers entered his room and started to give him orders. Understandably startled, Theoharis reached for a flashlight. This prompted the two intruders to open fire. Theoharis – while still in bed –was shot sixteen times, but survived.

The assailants who shot Theoharis had arrested his roommate, Nicholas Harrison, an ex-convict who had failed to report for community supervision. They had barged into the bedroom to find if Harrison had a gun, which would have allowed them to charge him with a parole violation. They had no warrant or probable cause for the search. Since Harrison was already in custody at the time of the incident, there was no need for a “safety sweep” of the residence. This illegal search was conducted solely for the purpose of seeking an enhanced charge against a suspect who was already in custody.

Immediately after the shots were fired, Detective Benjamin Wheeler – one of four other officers on the scene – raced to the downstairs bedroom, where he found Theoharis bleeding from multiple entry wounds and the two officers who had shot him in what appeared to be a “state of shock.”

When Wheeler asked what happened, Thompson claimed that the victim “told us he had four guns, and then he started reaching for one.” This was a lie. No gun was found in the bedroom. A rifle was found in a locked gun case in the room next door. Theoharis was asleep when the officers went into his darkened bedroom and began barking orders at him, and within ten seconds he had been perforated with sixteen shots.

By any reasonable definition, Detective Thompson and Officer Rongen committed the crime of attempted homicide. The King County Prosecutor declined to file criminal charges against either assailant, insisting that the shooting was justified because of a “perceived risk” to officer safety.

An internal review of the incident by the Sheriff’s Office found that neither Thompson nor Rongen had asked “anything about the occupant of the room, if there were weapons present or if the person permanently lived at the residence.” The officers were faulted for not taking the time to “determine a safe course of action with four other detectives who were present.”

For its part, the Department of Corrections simply ruled that Rongen’s actions had followed department policies. Rongen, invoking the Fifth Amendment, refused to cooperate with the investigation.

Rongen is a former football standout with Washington who made it to the NFL long enough to get cut during training camp. When Rongen violated the rules of football, he and his team were penalized. He has suffered no such sanctions as a law enforcement officer who attempted to murder a man in his bed.

People who recite Grenier’s line about the “rough men [who] stand ready in the night” will sometimes pair it with Kipling’s reproach against those who are found “making mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep.” The thought of being “guarded” by such pathologically violent people is sufficient to banish sleep permanently, and mockery is the mildest treatment they deserve.

William Norman Grigg [send him mail] publishes the Pro Libertate blog and hosts the Pro Libertate radio program

Copyright © 2013 William Norman Grigg

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