Letters to the Editor

(February 11, 2008)


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For Peter Byrne No. Two

Avast yee, thou imposter, Byrne-not-in-Boonville!!! It's a good thing that we seem to be more or less in agreement politically, Byrne No. Two, because otherwise I, Peter Byrne The First, would have to send that Russian blogger or that white-hunter guy with our name that tracks the BigFoot after yee in cyberspace!!!

Perhaps we should double byline an article some day on Swans and really mess up Google alerts.

Peter Byrne
Petaluma, California, USA - January 28, 2008

Peter Byrne -- of Swans, that is -- responds to the "below-Boonville Peter Byrne":

Relax, Peter Byrne #0. To clear your head, think of me as P. Tecumseh Byrne. I too as a sprout (typewriter era) traveled the world, the wind of megalomania in my sails. Then I landed in Dublin. The Byrne name there thrives like moss on old Guinness barrels. I found Peter Byrne had been immortalized in "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" (James Joyce era). They sat me down to watch an ancient comic on TV. This national treasure was named Gay Byrne (pre-gay-pride era, maybe). And so I fled, pursuing, as every penman must, the (pre-Google era) illusion of being unique. Now I feel you're panting for advice from a senior member of the clan (geriatric era). I'll oblige. If ever you're asked, "Aren't you the Byrne who won the Ploughing Championship of Tullamore, County Offaly?" then smile sagely and don't deny it. But if you're accused of being a Chicago Byrne, say, "I ain't talkin' without my mouthpiece bein' in on it." And so farewell. Swans Commentary will always be happy to hear from you, unless you claim to be a by-blow and want a handout (foreclosure era). In which case, sharpen up your archaisms on Marlowe's "The Jew of Malta," Act IV, Sc. 1: "Fornication? But that was in another country; And besides, the wench is dead."

Peter Byrne of the Great White Wings
Lecce, Italy - January 29, 2008

Libertarians and Brownshirts: Gilles d'Aymery's Blips #64 and The Zoology Of Pwogs And Pwogrevs

Dear Editor:

This passage in Gilles d'Aymery's recent "Blips #64" caught my eye:
TO THE LIBERTARIANS OUT THERE, I know you don't want to stifle innovation. You want people to be all they can be -- no regulations, no limits. But, err, can you explain the innovation here? Looks to me that fleecing the masses to suck the wealth up the ladder is an age-old, non-innovative story. Ask the millions of families thrown into the streets through home foreclosures. Because, that's the real story: A multitude is getting impoverished so that a tiny few get very rich. Is this what libertarianism is all about? Do you guys care a wit about your neighbors, or is social Darwinism your MO? And have you noticed that former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan, who, willingly or not, masterminded the housing bubble and the subprime fiasco, an Ayn Rand admirer and follower, is a well-paid advisor to Paulson & Company? Can't you good people put two and two together? Oh, and you surely are aware that Andrea Mitchell of NBC, MSNBC, CNBC journalist fame is the wife of who else but Alan Greenspan? If you cannot put two and two together, can you compute three and three (Wall Street, government, corporate media)?
I'd label myself as vaguely libertarian, so I might try and respond to this.

While I admit I'm probably not representative of the average person who calls themselves a libertarian, I would still say Gilles d'Aymery is mischaracterising their position a little here.

Most paleo-libertarians were going nuts about the credit bubble/housing bubble years ago (as I was) and declared the whole thing insane and bound to end in disaster. It's true they want no regulations and no limits -- but they would also like people to behave rationally (both lenders and borrowers) and it was very obvious both groups weren't -- the borrowers were (to a large extent) greedy and stupid, while the lenders were (without exception) greedy and stupid. And some of the lenders (and brokers) were simply criminals who should be harshly dealt with for ripping off both borrowers who could not afford to repay the loans and investors who bought the bundled-up toxic debt they issued.

Admittedly the libertarians don't have an answer to this sort of excess other than for people to be better educated and more rational in their decision making, which is a nice utopian dream, but completely impractical...

By and large I call the pyramid people conservatives (paying lip service to free markets but really being more interested in concentrating power and wealth into a socially acceptable, to them, hierarchy) and try to give the libertarians the benefit of the doubt -- they just need to understand that there are limits to the practicality of "no rules" as a political ideology.

Some libertarians can be reasonable (while sounding a little deranged at the same time) -- as an example, consider The Prometheus Institute's little essay on why it's pointless opposing welfare: Doling for Columbine - Five Reasons Why Welfare Should Be a Libertarian Cause, by Matt Harrison.

I'd make similar arguments about universal healthcare. There are very few people in countries like Australia and the UK who would scrap their free healthcare systems, and for good reason. The trick is not to force everyone to use it -- just to make it available to everyone who wants or needs it, while trying to minimise any waste.

On a related subject, I liked his essay on the zoology of the left and the followers of Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul.

I was curious about the brownshirt references though. While there's no doubt a lot of paleo-conservatives and paleo-libertarians (plus the Alex Jones-style crazies) seem to belong in that category (or have a lot of potential to join it), I still would have thought the fascist mindset (worshipping order and authority above all) is radically different to the libertarian ideal of wanting to be left alone as long as you aren't hurting anyone else.

On the other hand there seems to be a long tradition of "Freedom" parties all over the place that really are brownshirts; so I'm somewhat bemused by this state of affairs. What's a green techno-libertarian to do to avoid being associated with the brownshirted masses? (And I won't even start on the green-right-style "libertarians," who seem to be the only real Nazis left in existence...)

Big Gav
Sydney, Australia - January 29, 2008

[Ed. Big Gav is the editor of the excellent Peak Energy Web site where he discusses energy and political issues thoroughly and thoughtfully.]

Non-Fleecers Make the Market Operate Smoothly: Gilles d'Aymery's Blips #64

To the Editor:

It is generally advised to learn a little about economics before writing about it. "Fleecing the masses" has nothing to do with John Paulson. What short selling means, is Paulson had no dealings whatsoever with the masses. He simply put his money where everyone's mouth is by betting against the lender's practices, by borrowing noncash commodities from the lender because the lender is under the false impression their value will suddenly fall. By doing so, he provides a valuable service. What is that service? He makes the markets operate smoothly, the markets that tell us when people are doing something stupid (e.g., taking or giving a subprime loan without very good reasons). If the masses would pay attention, they could perhaps learn something, such as not to take such loans.

The kind of theft offered by the combinations of steps one and two you have recommended in your stimulus package (and no, if you understood libertarians of any sort at all you'd know they do not "want a real stimulus package," they want to remove the power to give stimulus packages, and thereby punish lenders for this sort of behavior, no doubt resulting in less possibility of stupid decisions by borrowers), only encourages borrowing what one cannot pay. To maintain such a thing indefinitely is to destroy the entire economy.

Step 3 only continues the problem we have now, without the ability to fix the consequences. Every investor in real estate would be destroyed by the precedent. Except for those with full cash on hand or the most exceptional credit history, no homes would be built ever again (unless the government built them, resulting of course if the principle is carried out fully in essentially the entire United States being a housing project).

Government is fundamentally the problem here (the stupidity of certain borrowers is also a necessary condition, but the former is the only one known to be resolvable). Most notably the Federal Reserve with its interest rate subsidies. It is not generally advisable to expand the problem in the hope of solving it.

Justin Hinkley
Shoreline, Washington, USA - January 28, 2008

Gilles d'Aymery responds:

My steps # 1 and #2 have little to do with theft or encouraging borrowing. Actually, they are the opposite. Step #1 reverses the theft by the few, and encourages savings. Step #2 would put cash in the hands of the people who are the most at risk and who would spend that cash on consuming goods. (I'll readily admit that step #2 contradicts my regular advocacy in favor of powering down the economy -- to consume less -- but I also realize that one cannot easily change a paradigm in the mix of recessionary pressures. If one wishes to inject borrowed liquidity in the economy, the very least should be that the money reaches those who are the most susceptible to spend it. It would definitely help the economy in the short term. On a longer term we still need to find out a way to lower consumption and power down the economy. It just happens that I am not a partisan of apocalyptic scenarios and I am not out to "punish" people who are at the bottom of the ladder.)

As to my step #3, I fully realize it would hurt investors, speculators, and a few lending institutions. They are the least of my concerns. I'm much more attuned to helping the vast majority that has been fleeced out of either "stupidity" (Mr. Hinkley's characterization), ignorance, or a great ad scheme concocted by the investors, speculators, and lending institutions -- and a culture that has promoted limitless borrowing and consumption for the past six decades. We are all entitled to a personal social outlook.

However, Mr. Hinkley is absolutely correct on one point. I, indeed, have no understanding of what Libertarianism is, at least in the USA, with all its many ideological shades of states' rights, nativism, neo-confederacism, constitutionalism, and conspiracism. What is it, the Mises or the Cato school? Is paleo-conservative Paul Craig Roberts a member in good standing? Should I add Justin Raimondo (who in April 2002 vouched for Jean Marie Le Pen in the French presidential election, hailing that most reactionary demagogue as a libertarian), Alexander Cockburn (pro Ron Paul, pro Huckabee), Llewellyn Rockwell (a neo-confederate by excellence), and the "America Firsters" to the rostrum of bon fide libertarians? What about Alan Greenspan (one of the prime architects of the deregularization of financial markets)? Etc., etc., etc.

Incidentally, I tend to recall that once upon a time, an "evil" government provided me with health care, education, and a social net. It was a different time and a different country; but government, after all, is a reflection of the values its people hold dear.

Balfour and US involvement in WWI: Confirming another writer's assessment.

To the Editor:

It is historically correct that the Balfour Declaration was intended by the British government to get the U.S. into WWI and was actually opposed by a member of the cabinet who was Jewish. We were losing the war at the time. Without US involvement it is negotiated peace time. It was believed members of the American Jewish business community had influence in the American press and would encourage a pro-British line.

Richard Roper
Sheffield, U.K. - January 31, 2008


Playboy, Libertarianism, and Ron Paul: Gilles d'Aymery's Blips #64

To the Editor:

First: "Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are."
--Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)

I started a culinary club when I went to college, Les Amis de Savarin. Savarin's one of my heroes. My response to Savarin is, "I know what I am; Let's eat!"

Second, on your Libertarian Question: There is an excellent book by Michael Berliner, Letters of Ayn Rand, in which the author presents decades of selected letters Rand wrote to family, friends, fans and famous people, one of which is Alan Greenspan. She tells him, "You don't know what capitalism is!" I think he liked her because she was his economic advisor in a closeted dominatrix kind of way.

The Libertarians: http://www.antiwar.com/justin/?articleid=11306



For myself, Libertarianism began reading NORML Ads in Playboy in the 1970s -- ended in the '80s, and I support Ron Paul.

Jeanette Doney
Fort Bragg, California, USA - January 28, 2008


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Published February 11, 2008
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