Category Archives: Austrian Economics

Seeing Like a State

When I first read James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State, I was studying at a far-left Canadian university, and in one of its furthest-left graduate programs. I, like many of my instructors and peers, assumed that the proper goal of scholarly research was to help the state help its subjects — with everything from raising crops to raising children. I looked forward to a career as a wise academic providing the state with all the knowledge it needs to improve its subjects’ condition. But my statist assumptions came to an end when I read, as Scott’s subtitle puts it, How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed.

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Free the Airwaves!

A large portion of all the possible wavelengths for radios, iPhones, and other marvelous devices is still locked up in the arms of the state or its favorite broadcasting corporations. In his classic article, “Radio Free Rothbard,” BK Marcus explains the origins of this atavistic cartel, and he points the way to a real, radical liberation of the radio spectrum.

Today on Politico, telecom industry lobbyist Steve Largent displays the usual timid, statist pace of radio-spectrum privatization. He’s asking for the release of about one fifth of 1 percent of the total spectrum over the next 10 years. This, he predicts — through the usual magical math — would add 350,000 American jobs and, the real carrot for legislators, “Boost government revenue by $36.7 billion.”

Government revenue aside, it certainly would be good to pry more of the radio spectrum away from the state’s claws. But is it possible to pry it all away? Could we actually assign property rights in radio waves? Could we do away with state intervention in the radio spectrum entirely?

BK Marcus answers yes, yes, and, emphatically, yes. Read his radical and scholarly article to see how much further freedom and private property can take us.

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The Black Market for Information

Unlike most black markets, the black market for information is characterized by peace and stability. There is a near-perfect harmony between the supply and the demand for movies, music, songs, and other digital content that falls under the control of intellectual-property legislation.

In the market for information, we do not see the kinds of conflicts that are rampant in other black markets. There are no turf wars between gangs for the right to offer the latest pop hit or blockbuster movie; there are no robberies committed by would-be users who need the money to get their fix. The vast majority of copyright violators go about their business without harming anyone.

In fact, those who upload, host, and share illegal content are not in any significant danger at all. What sets the black market in information apart from other black markets? Why is it nonviolent?
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Whatever Happened to Sexy Stewardesses?

Taking up the study of economics can help unravel many mysteries of history, among which is the pressing issue: Whatever happened to sexy stewardesses? I don’t mean as individuals, but as an institution, as a cultural icon, as a persistent commercial expectation.

There was a time when a jet-setting playboy was pictured as having a stewardess or two on his arm. On TV, one guy would be trying to get some other guy to be the necessary second guy for a double date: “They’re stewardesses, Bob — stewardesses!”
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The Limitations of a Genius Caveman

Sandy Ikeda writes today about the origins of spontaneous order, of things that humans created but did not design. Languages, money, and markets are absolutely essential to our survival. But could a person invent them from scratch?

For illustration, Ikeda asks us to imagine a “genius caveman.” What if some wonderfully precocious prehistoric person dreamed up the iPad? If he knew exactly what he needed to build the device, down to the last line of code, could he bring it off?

For a look at the limitations of a big-brained ancestor, give Ikeda’s column a read.

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Radio Free Rothbard

"The human right of a free press depends upon the human right of private property in newsprint."
— Murray N. Rothbard[1]

Introduction

In almost every discussion of the FCC specifically, or American spectrum policy in general, someone will assert that radio spectrum is a unique resource that belongs to the public. This will be said as if it were axiomatic — a starting point rather than the historical consequence of special interests pretending to misunderstand economics. More harm has been done to the public in the name of "the public interest" than could ever have been done by private interests in a free market. Yet the public tends to call for more intervention instead of less. The case of radio is typical.

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The Tepid Libertarian Movement before Mises

In September 1946, The Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) published 500,000 copies of a pamphlet arguing against continuation of wartime rent-control laws. This pamphlet — called “Roofs or Ceilings” and written by two young Chicago economists named Milton Friedman and George Stigler — was 20-year-old Murray Rothbard‘s introduction to FEE. It drew him into the movement, such as it was. He continued to read FEE’s publications and began attending their conferences, but a year and a half later Rothbard had still never heard of Austrian economics.
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