United States of Fear



[F]irst of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.

Many people will recognize these as the words of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt. After taking the oath of office on Saturday, March 4, 1933, Roosevelt delivered his inaugural address, containing the now famous line. In his speech, the President spoke to a crowd in the early throws of the Great Depression. High unemployment and an uncertain future had many Americans wondering, “What’s next?”

My late grandfather was 21 at this time, the only one in his family with a job, making a small wage—even for the time. Put simply, this experience would impact him for the rest of his life.

He was reluctant to throw anything away or buy anything new. In fact, he didn’t like to spend money if he could avoid it and saved all that he could. He had a lifelong distrust of the stock market and banks. In 1999, at the height of the Y2K scare, my grandfather withdrew some five figures from his bank and stashed it in his house. (Upon learning this, my mother and my aunt managed to convince him that the bank was in fact a safe place for his savings, and he re-deposited the money in his account.)

The fact of the matter is that my grandfather wanted to make sure he could provide for his family (and he did). As much as I hate to think of it this way—I think my grandfather was afraid. He was afraid of once again being in a position of having practically nothing, of being that 21 year old kid and knowing that, if he lost his job, his family was in trouble.

In reading FDR’s speech, in hearing his discussion about fear, I think about my grandfather.

I also think about the complete and utter—uh, bologna—contained in FDR’s famous address.

I’m referring to the President’s attempt to discourage fear among U.S. citizens. The fact is, FDR, like members of government before and after him, thrived on fear to push his agenda. Government uses fear as a means to expand the scale and scope of its power in unprecedented ways. FDR is their poster child.

As Robert Higgs has discussed, the growth and maintenance of government requires fear on the part of U.S. citizens. Fear means people will clamor for the government to “do something” to assuage their anxiety. As a result, the government steps in to supposedly provide a remedy. He states:

 [Governments] exploit it [fear], and they cultivate it. Whether they compose a warfare state or a welfare state, they depend on fear to secure popular submission, compliance with official dictates, affirmative cooperation with the state’s enterprises and adventures.

Fear is useful for government actors for two distinct but related reasons. First, fear has a “neutralizing” effect on citizens. If someone is afraid of X, for example, they are more likely to tolerate, or even demand expansions in state activities to control or eliminate X. This includes the use of methods, which, under other circumstances, would not be tolerable.

Second, those working within and with the state to provide security and defense (i.e., government actors or private contractors, etc.) will actively look to promote people’s fear and exploit it for their own personal advantage.

Examples of this abound. FDR, despite his message of “freedom from fear,” cultivated fear throughout his presidency and set the stage for future executives to do the same. On March 6, 1933, President Roosevelt issued Proclamation No. 2039 and declared a state of emergency in the U.S. (it was continued by Proclamation No. 2040 on March 9, 1933). Over the next several years, FDR would push through some of the worst policies in U.S. history (despite what your high school civics teacher told you).

These proclamations have become a staple of U.S. presidencies since this time. They grant the President hundreds of powers normally reserved for the Congress. Patrick Thronson, a J.D. candidate at University of Michigan Law School, identified at least 160 laws that immediately expand the President’s authority to act during an “emergency.”

Since 1976, 53 states of emergency have been declared, not counting those issued in the wake of natural disasters. Most of these orders remain in effect, including the one issued by President Roosevelt—in 1933.

Clinton enacted states of emergency in 1995 and 1998. President Bush continued these orders, and he added a healthy crop of his own. Not to be outdone by his predecessors, Obama continued both Clinton AND Bush’s declarations, while adding his own. In fact, Obama has issued or continued a state of emergency regarding terrorism in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013.

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The result of these declarations is disastrous for civil liberties. These orders, all “necessary” in the face of crisis, allow the President to freeze an individual’s assets, confiscate private property, and limit trade. These directives can force retired veterans into military service, and allow for unlimited, secret patents for the military. In some cases, these laws allow the suspension of Habeas Corpus, meaning that the President can arrest, imprison, and detain individuals without review.

Fear is a powerful tool. This is not only well-known by those in positions of power, but exploited. Just like a child makes a parent check under his bed for the monster, U.S. citizens, out of fear, have called upon their elected leaders to be “proactive” against monsters like “drugs” and “terrorism.” Except, while a parent encourages teaches her child to reason, to not fear his imagination, the government tells the child the monster is not only real, but has friends. At any moment, these friends are going to come from under the bed, the closet, and the bedroom door to devour you. Unless, of course, Big Brother steps in to save you.

How Much of Federal Transfer Payments to Households Are Obamacare Subsidies? More than You Think!



January’s Personal Income and Outlays report from the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis shows how significant Obamacare’s subsidies to households have become. Last month, they accounted for 21 percent of the increase in total government transfer payments to households:

Personal current transfer receipts increased $24.8 billion in January, compared with an increase of $13.8 billion in December. The January estimates of current transfer receipts reflected several special factors.... Other government social benefits to persons was boosted $5.3 billion, primarily reflecting health insurance premium subsidies paid in the form of tax credits to enrollees of the Affordable Care Act exchanges.

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Venezuelan Dictator Nicolas Maduro Tightens His Grip



NicolasMaduroVenezuela’s tyrant, Nicolás Maduro, has a habit of surpassing his own repressive feats every now and then. The latest wave of repression gives a stunning indication of how far he is prepared to go to hold on to power in the face of massive rejection.

At the end of January, Maduro’s government gave the military the authority to shoot protesters. A few days later, he threw in jail the owners of supermarket chains and pharmacies whom he accused of creating an artificial scarcity for conspiratorial reasons. Then he ordered his thugs to beat up Leopoldo López, the iconic opposition figure incarcerated at the Ramo Verde military prison, before placing him in solitary confinement. On February 19, he sent intelligence agents to kidnap Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma, a leading critic, from his office.

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Health Spending Chews Through a Weak Economy



health_costsThe federal government’s second estimate of fourth quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP), published Friday by the U.S. Department of Commerce, confirmed what we pointed out from the initial estimate released on January 30: Health spending is chewing up more and more of the weakening economic recovery.

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The Consummate Fallen Angel



ParadiseLostThe devil is agile and quick on his feet
He fought at Gettyburg
From beginning to end
And never got a single scratch

At Verdun and the Somme back in ‘16
He displayed his great flair
For adding large numbers
Of young souls wickedly squandered

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University Responsibility for Sexual Assault



due-process-guide-cover-portrait“The Hunting Ground,” a movie about sexual assault at major universities, supports the argument that universities are not doing enough to respond to accusations about sexual assault by their students. The article hits close to home for me because, as a faculty member at Florida State University, my university is one of the ones highlighted in the movie.

FSU is featured because of the well-known accusation that Jameis Winston, former FSU quarterback who has entered the NFL draft, was accused of sexual assault in 2013. Senator Claire McCaskill has advised any NFL team interested in drafting Winston, “Watch this movie.”

I am not passing judgment on Winston or his accuser. That is the responsibility of our legal system. I am questioning what responsibility the university has in the matter, and as an FSU faculty member, I have a particular interest in the responsibility of FSU in the Winston case.

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50 Shades of Predatory Abuse: The Role of Civil Society



Fifty-Gray-posterThe movie adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey by author E.L. James swept its opening weekend competition and has generated blockbuster revenues of over $133 million, making it the top grossing movie of 2015. Controversy has come with it, as would be expected from any movie breaking through traditional cultural taboos. Combine that with sex, millions of dollars would be generated on curiosity alone. But what of the substance?

On the surface, this is a film about empowerment. Scratch below the surface, and the messages and ideas are deeply disturbing and surprisingly dismissive of complex cultural problems. As a libertarian, I was hoping 50 Shades of Grey might broach unresolved issues about power in relationships, personal liberty and the true meaning of consent. Unfortunately, the movie is not particularly good and never really grapples with them. For me, the result is a far more disturbing film because it portrays the sexual relationship between the protagonists—self-made corporate billionaire Christian Grey and obviously ingenue Anastasia Steele—as an exploration of the romantic limits of intimacy.

Anastasia eventually recognizes the hopelessly dysfunctional and destructive nature of their interpersonal relationship, but the story develops showing acceptance and even joy derived from the calculated escalation of violence in their sexual relationship. It’s not that Anastasia should be surprised. As their relationship gets more intimate and personal, she asks Christian if he is going to make love to her. His reply? “I don’t make love. I f***. Hard.” But his tastes are not just for rough, physical sex; he prefers bondage and is aroused by sadistic violence inflicted on his sexual partners. Meanwhile, the story explicitly draws the viewer in to empathize with Christian, the sadist, by showing his broken nature. At another point in the movie, Anastasia asks Christian why he is trying to change her, and he replies that she is wrong, she is changing him.

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Half of State Medical Boards Perform Poorly When Licensing Out-of-State Doctors



doctorA new research article in the Telemedicine and E-Health Journal shows how difficult state regulatory barriers are making it for doctors to practice effective telemedicine. Telemedicine embraces technologies as diverse as surgeons operating robots remotely, radiologists reading scanned images remotely, or psychiatrists conducting therapy sessions via videoconference.

One barrier to effective adoption of telemedicine is that states license physicians, and those licenses are not portable.

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Florida’s Fiscal Policy: Responsible State Budgeting



BalancedBudgetI’ve written a study for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University on Florida’s state government fiscal policy, which can be accessed here. The bottom line is that in an era of growing government and fiscal irresponsibility, Florida’s state government has a record of fiscal responsibility dating back two decades.

Both state government expenditures per person and state government employment as a share of the population have fallen, and when difficult times showed up after the 2008 recession, Florida’s state budget remained balanced without increasing taxes. Expenditures fell by more than 10% during that time to retain budget balance.

While there are some areas in which Florida could have been more fiscally responsible, they are minor compared with the record of balanced budgets, relatively responsible pension funding, low taxes, and shrinking per capita expenditures. In an era where government fiscal responsibility is rare, Florida’s fiscal policies over the past two decades provide a good model for other states.

A-B-C-Don’t Indoctrinate Me



dunce capBored State Legislators + Education + Inconvenient “Facts” = Nothing Good

In Oklahoma, a legislative committee recently passed a measure that would ban Advanced Placement (A.P.) U.S. History courses in high school. House Bill 1380, introduced and supported by Representative Dan Fisher, will ban the use of state funds for these history courses.

The reason? Well, as Rep. Fisher put it, the courses teach only “what is bad about America.” They omit the idea of “American exceptionalism,” or the theory that the U.S. is unique in its place and role in human history.

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