The Road Away from Serfdom: A new book makes the case for the renewed relevance of F. A. Hayek’s 1944 classic. (Alberto Mingardi, Dec 06 2023, City Journal)

One lesson of political capitalism may be that even a hint of economic liberty, if given after years of economic oppression, can be enough to unleash substantial economic growth. Such growth is the result not of government or the state but of individuals acting to improve their lot. One can also look at demography and see how globalization, by uplifting millions, multiplied opportunities that enabled growth. “Complete” liberty, if such a thing exists, was not necessary to produce growth—human beings are enterprising enough that just a little elbow room goes a long way.


Twilight of the Floating Idol: On Anthony Galluzzo’s “Against the Vortex”: a review of Against the Vortex: “Zardoz” and Degrowth Utopias in the Seventies and Today by Anthony Galluzzo ( Jordan S. Carroll, December 8, 2023, LA Review of Books)

As Galluzzo persuasively argues, Zardoz allegorizes the Malthusian panics of the late 1960s and ’70s. Paul R. Ehrlich’s 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb suggested that looming environmental catastrophe demanded the intervention of experts who could figure out ways to force people in poorer nations to adopt stringent birth control measures. The Immortals in Zardoz embody this vision of ecological balance achieved through totalitarian technocratic intervention. Indeed, Galluzzo observes that the Immortals live in what turns out to be a grounded interplanetary vessel, a literalization of Buckminster Fuller’s Spaceship Earth. The Immortals’ sustainable world is an enclosed system in which everything is monitored and controlled by an advanced computer.

This “hippie modernist” utopia depends on the violent exclusion and exploitation of the rest of the human population. Here Galluzzo draws a connection to the ecofascism of Garrett Hardin, who argued that well-provisioned First World nations should ride out the coming ecological collapse by hardening their borders against refugees, allowing the rest of the planet to die. This is precisely what the Immortals have done. For their part, the Brutals represent what Ehrlich would term a “death rate solution” to the issue of excess birth rates. The Immortals have invented a false religion to convince the Brutals to do their bidding: one of them pilots a giant floating head called Zardoz that booms, “The gun is good! The penis is evil!” before showering the Brutals with small arms to exterminate the planet’s surplus population.

Wealth never peaks.


Is there a way out for Argentina? (Monica de Bolle, 11/28/23, PIIE)

To better understand Argentina’s cycle of economic crises, it helps to trace the history of Peronism from its original goal to turn away from the nation’s largely agriculture-based economy, which was overly dependent on international fluctuations of commodity prices, and toward industrialization using whatever means necessary: protectionism and subsidized credit for selected sectors, combined with targeted government social welfare spending for favored population segments. Adopting the advice of so-called dependency theory advocates, Perón also created labor protections for the new urban-industrial labor force, as well as several state-owned enterprises. In a pattern that was to be repeated over many decades, enactment of these policies between 1946 and 1955 increased Argentina’s budget deficits, its external debt, and balance of payments vulnerabilities, laying the groundwork for future boom and bust cycles.

By 1977, the country was suffering its first bout of hyperinflation, with an annual rate of over 300 percent. In 1978, an inflation stabilization plan was attempted, and it succeeded in halving the inflation rate for a short period. But in 1981, the country had a severe balance of payments crisis, which led to a debt default accompanied by a banking crisis. By 1985, inflation had spiked to more than 670 percent, forcing the adoption of the Austral Plan. The currency’s name was changed from the peso to the austral, wages were frozen, the exchange rate was fixed, and spending was slashed for a brief period. Ultimately, the Austral Plan failed, and by 1989, inflation had reached more than 3,000 percent. Argentina’s attempts at stabilization involved several IMF programs generally calling for tough austerity measures, including budget cuts, deregulation, and a floating currency.

In 1991, Argentina adopted the so-called Convertibility Plan following several reforms, including some designed to rein in the budget deficit, which succeeded in eliminating the country’s hyperinflation and restoring stability for a time. Over the next decade, Argentina fared somewhat well despite a banking crisis in 1995. By the late 1990s, other problems associated with growing domestic imbalances were aggravated by external shocks stemming from emerging-market crises of that period. Spurred in part by commodity price fluctuations and financial panics, these crises took their toll on the economy.

When Brazil was forced to devalue its currency in 1999, Argentina’s fixed parity with the dollar accentuated its lack of competitiveness, further weakening its already fragile economic situation. In 2001, Argentina finally faced its demons, abandoned the Convertibility Plan, and suffered its worst financial crisis in modern times. The crisis involved a complex debt default, a collapse of the banking system, and a deep recession. By 2003 the outlook had improved significantly as a result of rising commodity prices in international markets.

During the worst of the turmoil in 2001, Argentina became famous for its revolving door of five presidents in only 12 days. Eduardo Duhalde, appointed as interim president by Congress in January of 2002, would see the country through the aftermath of the crisis, handing the presidency to Néstor Kirchner in 2003 following his victory in the 2003 elections. During his time in office, Argentina grew at an average clip of about 8.5 percent annually fueled by high commodity prices as well as some domestic reforms. In 2007, Néstor Kirchner’s wife Cristina Kirchner was elected president. Néstor had planned a comeback to power, but he died in 2010, one year before Cristina was reelected for a second term.

Cristina Kirchner’s time in office, from 2007 until 2015, became the hallmark of what is now known as Kirchnerism, a mixture of ad hoc government interventions in the functioning of markets—including setting or freezing certain prices—and tinkering with Argentina’s statistics, particularly with official inflation data. Her tenure was plagued by fiscal irresponsibility and corruption scandals. Argentina did manage to avoid a major financial crisis during her time in office, helped by high commodity prices and investments from China, but it remained vulnerable to crises. Cristina’s successor, Mauricio Macri, failed to resolve inherited and newly created problems, helping to lead the economy to its current state.


The Income Tax Paradox (John Cochrane, December 6, 2023, The Grumpy Economist)

So why does the government tax income? Because, circa 1913, income was easier to measure than sales, value added, consumption, or other economically better concepts. When money changes hands, it’s relatively for the government to see what’s there and take a share. Tariffs really start from the same concept. It’s relatively easy to see what’s going through the port and demand a share, Adam Smith, David Ricardo and free trade be damned. But the government wanted more money than tariffs could provide.


Your Very Own Consciousness Can Interact With the Whole Universe, Scientists Believe (Susan Lahey, OCT 18, 2023, Popular Mechanics)

To explain quantum consciousness, Hameroff recently told the TV program Closer To Truth that it must be scale invariant, like a fractal. A fractal is a never-ending pattern that can be very tiny or very huge, and still maintain the same properties at any scale. Normal states of consciousness might be what we consider quite ordinary—knowing you exist, for example. But when you have a heightened state of consciousness, it’s because you’re dealing with quantum-level consciousness that is capable of being in all places at the same time, he explains. That means your consciousness can connect or entangle with quantum particles outside of your brain—anywhere in the universe, theoretically.


Yes, They’re Pro-Confederacy. But They’re Just the Nicest Ladies.: You can call the United Daughters of the Confederacy a lot of things. But racist? Why, some of their best friends … (Anna Venarchik, December 5, 2023, New Republic)

“The time has come when the South, the true home of the Anglo-Saxon race, which has stood for truth and honesty and righteousness in the past, should come back to the faith and principles for which their forefathers stood.” This 1925 call to make Dixie Confederate again came from Mildred Lewis Rutherford, a prominent historian general of the UDC. A decade prior, a Daughter published The Ku Klux Klan, or Invisible Empire, a children’s textbook that exonerated the Klan. The “heroes” protected white women from “ignorant and vicious negroes” who “considered freedom synonymous with equality” and only wanted “to marry a white wife.” The UDC pledged to disseminate the book to schools and libraries.

These texts are excellent primers of the Lost Cause, a successful, and dangerous, rebranding campaign. The ideology claims the Confederacy fought patriotically for states’ rights, not the right to own Black people as property. It claims the South was the real victim of the war, and that enslaved people appreciated bondage. The belief system disentangled the causes and effects of postwar inequities; it ensured that white supremacy continued to organize the South’s social hierarchy with or without the slave system. Myths supplanted fact in the mind of the white South; heritage became history. This was largely thanks to the Daughters.

Founded in 1894, the UDC devoted itself to caring for veterans and vindicating the Confederacy, as historian Karen Cox chronicles in Dixie’s Daughters. As offspring of the South’s antebellum patriarchy, the Daughters coped with defeat by refusing to remember their forefathers as anything other than noble and just. Chapters proliferated across the South, and Daughters built statues to be “signposts for the future,” as Cox told me, and advocated for textbooks to teach the Lost Cause. UDC influence subsided after World War I, when membership peaked at 100,000, but America’s race-related conflicts of the twenty-first century demonstrate that the Daughters achieved their ultimate goal. By swaying how children understand the past, they built “living monuments” to the Confederacy. “A lot of the things the UDC did,” Caroline Janney, a Civil War historian at the University of Virginia, told me, “we’re still living with today.”

On a Monday afternoon in November 1957, the Daughters convened in Richmond. According to a 1994 UDC magazine, the day remains the second most important in UDC history, the first being the day the organization formed. At the site of the former R.E. Lee Camp Soldiers’ Home, with a high school orchestra performing and more than 700 in attendance, the Daughters debuted their marble headquarters. Just two months after President Eisenhower signed a Civil Rights Act into law—the first of its kind since Reconstruction—the UDC dedicated its building to the Women of the Confederacy.

The memorial also signifies the comfortable position the UDC once held in the Old Dominion. The Daughters settled in the former Confederate capital after Governor William Tuck, who spent his governorship fighting civil rights laws, offered the land. Virginia’s General Assembly approved the offer in 1950 and tacked on $10,000 toward construction fees. The deed, however, included stipulations: If the UDC doesn’t use the property for five years, it reverts to the Commonwealth. The UDC cannot sell the building, because the state controls the land; the group cannot move it, because it’s marble. If they ever couldn’t pay for upkeep, they would have to abandon the memorial.

Within the walls made of white-veined Georgia marble, the headquarters features libraries, archives, and offices for members’ work. As much as the building is a memorial to wartime women, it’s also a monument to the Daughters themselves. They wrote in the building’s 2008 application to the National Register of Historic Places that it was designed to “resemble a mausoleum,” a fitting choice for an organization preoccupied with the dead. The application also includes a more ominous detail: The Daughters iterated that the building should be fireproofed.

The decades brought civil rights to Richmond, and the marble continued to shimmer in the sun. Then in 2015, the white walls were graffitied; four years later, the street was renamed for hometown hero Arthur Ashe. The Memorial to the Women of the Confederacy is now on a boulevard that honors the first Black man to win Wimbledon. But it wasn’t until 2020 that the UDC arrived at its third most important date: In the early hours of May 31, Molotov cocktails sailed through its windows. Outrage over the murder of George Floyd had reached Richmond, and the reckonings were aimed at symbols of Confederate glory. By morning, the UDC’s library was smoldering. In messages that circulated on Facebook, the president general wrote that the office manager watched the attack remotely through security cameras. If she hadn’t called 911, the blaze could have consumed the building. Another Daughter chronicled arriving to the aftermath in a 2023 UDC magazine. She detailed that the fire chief salvaged artifacts as the women waited outside. “I asked him if the 31st Virginia Flag had survived,” she wrote, referring to (as UDC documents suggest) Stonewall Jackson’s flag. “He came back out and shook his head.” The charred, graffitied building would be saved, but the night proved the memorial was not, in fact, fireproof.

In May 2020, this was the scene at the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s headquarters in Richmond, the morning after protests over the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. Molotov cocktails had sailed through the windows of the building, which was burned, vandalized, and defaced.
In the succeeding weeks, Mayor Levar Stoney, the youngest person ever to hold the title in Richmond, ordered the removal of all Confederate statues from city property. When the last statue, of General A.P. Hill, was lowered in December 2022, Stoney said it marked “the last stand for the Lost Cause in our city.”

When I visited Richmond, I met with Stoney and asked about the statement, considering the UDC’s presence in town. As a nonprofit, it’s free to exist, he said. “But this is a divorce between the city of Richmond and the Lost Cause,” he added, “and when you have a divorce, the other person is still able to live their life, but you are making the claim that this is the end.”

Stoney isn’t the only official looking to sever ties with the Lost Cause. In 2022, General Assembly Minority Leader Don Scott, a Democrat, learned that alongside churches and hospitals, the UDC’s Virginia Division and General Organization receive a special tax exemption on real estate. He told me he was “disgusted” that the government would subsidize a “historically racist organization,” even if the organization no longer sells or purchases much real estate. In January, he proposed a bill to remove the exemption, which failed, he said, after Speaker of the House of Delegates Todd Gilbert, a Republican, “pocketed” the bill so it wasn’t brought to a vote. Gilbert didn’t respond to requests for comment; perhaps the UDC still has some allies in power. Regardless, Scott said he’d reintroduce the bill. “The fact that they still exist is tough to deal with,” he told me. “If you go to Germany, there’s no ‘Daughters of the Nazis.’”


Philip Pettit on What It Means to Be Free: Yascha Mounk and Philip Pettit discuss small-r “republicanism” and how to make sure people don’t suffer from domination. (Persuasion, DEC 9, 2023)

Yascha Mounk: One thing that I talk a lot about on this podcast is the idea of liberalism and philosophical liberalism. Persuasion understands itself in many ways as a defender of liberal values. Now, you come from a tradition that is related, but subtly distinct, that of republicanism.

Why don’t you explain to readers who may not know what republicanism is, what the core claims of the republican tradition are, and how they, to ask a very undergraduate question, compare and contrast with the tradition of liberalism?

Philip Pettit: The main thing to be said is that they both prioritize the ideal of freedom. The language of freedom is very much to the fore in each way of talking. The first contrast, I think, to make really is historical: what most people will identify now is a continuing republican tradition that goes back to classical Rome, to the Roman Republic. And whereas the liberal tradition, so-called, only identifies itself and appears in a distinctive form from the late 1700s. The contrast, though, in conceptual terms, is mainly a contrast in their way of understanding freedom.

The way that the Romans understood it was that, in order to be free, you basically had to be free of a “boss,” so to speak. It was having a boss, having a master, or having a dominus, in the Latin phrase, that made you unfree. And they made this split visible or salient by a particular image, which was the slave whose master is very kindly, gentle, gives the slave more or less carte blanche, and is very gullible so that the slave can run rings around the master, and for the Romans, that person, though they could act as they wish, almost across a whole range of choices, was not free, because they suffered towards the Romans called dominatio, which meant simply the existence of a master. Of course, the master didn’t actually interfere with them, but he still made them unfree. Because whatever they were free to do, whatever they had a choice of doing, they were free to do only because the master allowed them. It was ultimately the master’s will that remained in charge. And that’s a very important idea in this long Republican tradition, which begins in Rome, as I say, but it continues through, for example, the northern Italian cities of the High Middle Ages, the Renaissance cities, into the Dutch Republic, Polish Republic, the English Republic in the 17th century, and of course, the American republic—in particular, in the American Revolution and the War of Independence of the 18th century, as well as in the French. […]

Pettit: First of all, the American Constitution, written in 1787 or so, does reflect, I think, a very long tradition of republican thinking, as all of the Founders were well aware. When they campaigned, in many cases, they actually wore a toga. They were that aware of the Roman connection, and that that’s where they were coming from.


With ChatGPT turning 1, Americans wonder whether AI is coming for their jobs (Andrea Hsu, 12/01/23, NPR)

Baltimore illustrator John de Campos was irate when he discovered that some of his original work had been used to train an artificial intelligence chatbot — without his permission.

“It’s so gross,” he says.

In just the past year, AI-powered programs like Midjourney and DALL-E have made it possible for anyone to create highly sophisticated images with just a few clicks of the keyboard.

For de Campos, that’s an outrage.

“The fact that human expression and art is now at risk and on the chopping block is super duper scary to me,” he says.

At the same time, de Campos, who aspires to make a living as a board game designer, has found ChatGPT to be a very effective helper when it comes to marketing his games on social media.