Re Don Stephens, In Defense of Retreats, I found the article to be an excellent refutation of the oft-uttered anti-retreat cliches. However, his worship of Robin Hood and Ragnar Danneskjold is incomprehensible.
Stephens professes to be a libertarian and, by implication, a respector of property. Since when does the theft of property by a bureaucrat justify a further theft from the bureaucrat and the return of the property to its original owner, after a fee for the theft service has been retained? Theft is theft irrespective of whether it is done by a bureaucrat or a Robin Hood, and irrespective of the motives of the thief.
Clearly, Stephens is a well-informed and competent specialist in retreats. He also knows where many of them are and in what manner they are stocked. But if I were in the market for a retreat, I doubt if I would ask for professional advice from someone with Stephens' view of property…that theft is acceptable, if it is done for a noble cause.
Like any other action undertaken by the individual, the decision to embark on a retreat program is a completely personal matter. The individual does not owe anyone an explanation or a defense of that decision.
Thomas W. Sanders
Mr. Stephens replies: I'm happy to note that Mr. Sanders was generally pleased with my evaluations of the old anti-retreat cliches, but must express regret that there was a communication problem regarding my comments on Robin Hood and Ragnar Danneskjold.
I would like to set the record straight that I neither "worship" these individuals nor, as Tom interpolated from my comments, do I contend that "theft is acceptable, if it is done for a noble cause."
First, I don't "profess" to be a libertarian by anyone's pat definition. Rather, I try to act consistently in the manner that, in agreement with reality as I perceive it, will be in my own long- as well as short-range self-interest. In most cases this coincides with libertarian theory of one vein or another but I'm far from a "party line" type and find little in common with the philosophical bullshooters who hang around at libertarian gatherings, using the lack of total freedom in today's world as justification for their own continuing business failures.
Second, there seems to be some difference in how we define both theft and property. To me, property is that which is created or discovered by its owner or acquired from its previous valid owner through voluntary exchange and theft is the taking of such property from its valid owner through force, threat or fraud. I hesitate to guess what Mr. Sanders' definition of these two words is, lest I fall into mistakes similar to his, but it would appear that he is defining property as anything which comes into one's possession by any means whatsoever and theft as the taking of that possessed by another, whether his claim to it be valid or not!
Bringing this into the real world one might conclude that if Mr. Sanders were captured to serve as someone's slave, he would be the rightful property of his captor and if he made good his own escape, it would show a lack of respect for property inconsistent with his own definition of a "professed libertarian." That position doesn't fit too well with my sense of rational self-interest. —D.S.
Joe Cobb's recent article on credit inflation [June] was a very amorphous discussion of money and banking. Nevertheless, I would like to state my disagreement with one specific point, namely: "The belief that fractional-reserve banking is the root of all monetary evil is wrongheaded."
Fractional reserve banking is disastrous for both the morality and the fundamental bases of the market economy. The nub of the problem is that fractional reserve banks create new money while other credit agencies do not. Issuing promises to pay money on demand in excess of the amount of actual cash or bullion on hand is simply fraud.
Fractional reserve banks only hold a fraction of the actual cash or bullion needed to redeem their outstanding promises to pay on demand. Banks operating on the 100% reserve principle possess, to the extent of their notes or promises issued, a reserve fund. Their notes are not inflationary since they do not result in an increase in the amount of money or money substitutes in circulation. For every note issued, an equivalent amount of real money is withdrawn from circulation to be held in the bank's vault as part of its reserve fund.
Issuing promises to pay money at a certain specified time is not fraudulent, provided that the issuer has a reasonable expectation of having the required cash or bullion on hand at the necessary time. However, issuing promises to pay money on demand (particularly when such promises are intended to circulate like money) in excess of the cash or bullion on hand is fraudulent. The legal holder of such a promise (to pay on demand) has the right to demand real money for it at any time. The issuer of such a promise (in excess of the cash or bullion on hand) knows it is impossible to redeem all of his promises at the same time and is therefore acting fraudulently.
Anyone interested in the principles underlying this discussion should by all means consult Murray Rothbard's excellent monograph, THE CASE FOR A 100 PERCENT GOLD DOLLAR.
Mr. Cobb replies: I am sorry that Mr. Watner considered my article "amorphous" (presumably that means poorly written). I am even more sorry that he missed my main point. His pet scheme of 100% reserve banks would not solve his problem as long as other institutions, or individuals, can issue money substitutes.
Even if there were a United States law requiring 100% reserves for all domestic banks, how would this law control banks in the Cayman Islands, which maintain dollar deposit accounts and make loans in dollars?
The proposal for 100% reserves is an attempt to impose a Quantity Rule on the supply of money and credit. Such a device can only work if all forms of interpersonal credit creation are brought under regulation—which no libertarian could tolerate. If you prefer a 100% reserve bank, and I prefer a 10% reserve bank, who are you to tell me and my banker that we cannot make a contract?
What I proposed in my article (and this is not original with me) is a Price Rule for the unit of account, rather than a quantity rule for the set of promises which circulate as money. It is the unit of account, after all, which is our problem. If Mr. Watner examined David L. Fargo's excellent article in the June issue, "Will Gold Clauses Return," he might have noticed that the power of Congress to take a six letter word ("dollar") and make a unit out of it, without any constraints from the real sectors of the economy, is the source of our problem. If the unit of account itself were a real unit, such as "gram" or "ounce," the citizenry would laugh if the government tried to alter the definition of the currency unit. The transitional program which I suggested, which Mr. Watner also failed to comment on, would represent a workable "floor support system" for the dollar against gold—and if the government proved completely irresponsible, the dollar itself could be junked in favor of "gold-grams" or some better monetary unit of account.
I certainly have read Murray Rothbard's booklet, and I do not quarrel with him as far as he goes. I would suggest that your readers go directly to the source, however, and read Ludwig von Mises, Theory of Money and Credit, or the very recent short pamphlet by Prof. F.A. Hayek, Choice in Currency, published by the I.E.A. in London. —J.C.
Congratulations! The REASON staff has surpassed itself in the July issue. Every month, for years, I have anticipated the pleasure of devouring the articles, comments, viewpoints, and classifieds. But the July 4th issue is the best yet.
Marty Zupan's interview with Adam Smith is an excellent introduction to his laissez faire economics. Beautifully edited.
Bill Marina's essay, "American Revolution as a People's War," is a long awaited correction of the myth of the revolution as a minority movement.
And Murray's "American Libertarian Revolution" puts the emphasis where it belongs—on ideology, not economics. Not that we libertarians can't recognize an anti-state movement when we see one. But after all the claptrap written by both conservatives and collectivists; Murray is a breath of fresh air (sometimes pure oxygen).
If some readers haven't read Murray's volume I, Conceived in Liberty (co-authored with Leonard Liggio) then I recommend it as a powerful history text.
Thank you editors. Happy revolution day.
Janice Laraine Allen
Neshanic Station, NJ
Congratulations for printing William Marina's insightful article on the American Revolution. I count myself among the many who had been sucked in by the myth that the Revolution was a minority movement, and I am happy to find I was misled. In other ways I also appreciate the perspective of Marina's article, which shed additional light upon recent history as well as past history. Even more, I am confirmed in my belief that what passes for instruction in history in the public schools is no more than the rankest kind of political indoctrination. Would that the truth will out!
I would also like to comment briefly on some remarks Paul Beaird made in his review of Spooner's Natural Law, Or the Science of Justice. Toward the end of his review, Beaird reiterates some basic maxims of natural law theory—with most of which I am in sympathy. It seems to me, however, that natural law theorists pay insufficient attention to the element of caprice in nature's events. I often get the impression that natural law theoreticians look upon themselves as following a scientific tradition of seeking after the "laws" that regulate nature…and humanity. The analogy doesn't quite fit, because science is really the pursuit of a description of nature. So far, these descriptions have become rather comprehensive—but all of them recognize the essentially statistical nature of physical processes, i.e. the presence of caprice in the so-called natural "order." There is plenty of disorder in the world, and this is perfectly natural.
What has this to do with natural law? Beaird tends to echo Lagrange, with his early notion of a completely causal universe, where consequences inexorably redound to the agent of actions. Unfortunately, complete causality is equivalent to determinism and the natural law concept of justice-proceeding-from consequences is more wishful thinking than an accurate world-view. Need I remind anyone that there are often cases when "consequences" do not redound on the doer—either because of anonymity or natural caprice—and cases where consequences befall the innocent? There is no "justice" in contracting polio, for instance. Neither is there justice in having one's business wiped out by more aggressive competition.
This talk of justice tends to invoke a world-view that interprets good and evil as things inherently definable in nature. Nothing is further from the truth. Good and evil are human inventions, and so is justice. Nature knows nothing of either and works without regard to either.
It may not be good natural law theory, but I hold with Walter Kaufmann that we would be better off to divest ourselves of this myth of justice. Instead, we should concern ourselves with making the best of whatever we are dealt, rather than trying to enforce on the world a fancied "natural balance."
Santa Barbara, CA
A TOUCH OF BIAS?
Your July 1976 number featuring articles on the Bicentennial of not only American Independence but also the publication of The Wealth of Nations was more than usually pleasant and informative. However, I wish to disagree with some of the conclusions presented in the article "The American Revolution as a People's War," by William Marina.
It is a relief to see that Mr. Marina does not fall into the error of portraying the Revolution as having been won by buckskinned frontiersmen who took their long rifles off the wall and went out to hide behind rocks and trees and shoot British formed up in triple line. However, he does fall into the error of inflating the prowess of the Patriot militia.
For example, he says, "They [the militia] were intelligent enough to see little sense to the 'stand up and fire at the other guy' tactic that characterized warfare then.…" (p. 36). In warfare tactics are primarily dictated by technology. The primary infantry weapon used by both sides was the "Brown Bess" musket, or American-made copies thereof. This weapon was characterized by poor accuracy, low reliability, and, by modern standards, a low rate of fire. (Experienced troops could, in battle, get off three shots a minute.) These factors dictate concentration of troops to attain effective fire.
Or, on page 37, "The American militia swarming around General Burgoyne's forces at Saratoga…" The militia force on hand the day before the battle amounted to 4000, as compared to Gate's 8000 Continentals. Suddenly, the greater portion of the militia remembered that their enlistments expired that very same day, and promptly left.
Or, the implication that Cornwallis's forces were defeated by the militia, found at the end of the paragraph containing the previous quote. The American commanders in the South found it necessary to post their militia in the front line in battle. This was because upon coming under fire, the militia tended to panic and flee.
In actuality, the siege of Yorktown was conducted by Washington's 11,000 Continentals, who were drilled in the contemporary European style of "stand up and fire at the other guy." The trainer to these troops was Friedrich von Steuben, a former Prussian officer. Now the Prussians were the most typical of European troops in their tactics. (Of course, one must not forget the Comte de Rochambeau and his 12,000 French troops, nor the French fleet under de Grasse that prevented evacuation of Cornwallis's troops.)
Finally, do I detect a touch of bias? "The Americans also practiced terror…it was strategic and selective…whereas British reprisals against the population…were random and without real purpose." (p. 36) It has always been the privilege of the victors to write the history of the war to suit themselves, whitewashing themselves and blackening the enemy's record. The preceding statement is an ideal example of this.
Joseph T. Major
I am referring to the July Viewpoint article denigrating U.S. title to the Panama Canal because it is an enclave of U.S. socialism. A superimposed layer of Castro-Panamanian socialism would hardly improve the situation. If according to treaty sovereignty is Panamanian and title American, why not let it remain that way without any concession?
The column charges impropriety only on the part of U.S. in the original treaty negotiations. If so, then why did money leave the U.S. Treasury rather than enter it? All America received was a strip of malaria-infested jungle and the remains of a bankrupt French canal company. When by application of brain, brawn and treasure this was transformed into an important link in the nation's defense system, then by libertarian doctrine possession should be American. That some financers have unduly profited indicates that more was paid for the canal rights than they were worth, and as a consequence U.S. interest should be increased rather than diminished. How about the ethics of those who bask in the security which the canal affords and then cavil against the personalities who made it a reality?
A MORMON'S REPLY
In your FRONTLINES story, July 1976 issue of REASON, in the Larry Fullmer story, you say Pocatello, Idaho is a conservative small town. As a former resident of Idaho and the initial State Chairman of the American Independent Party in 1968, I can tell you Pocatello is, and is known among Idaho conservatives as perhaps the most liberal city in Idaho. Its liberal university and student body greatly contribute to the city's liberalism.
I think your story gives the Mormon church a bad image, and an incorrect image, by tying it in with the "puritans." I am a libertarian. I subscribe to and appreciate the good work of REASON on behalf of freedom. I am also a Mormon—100 percent, true-blue, thru and thru, hold the higher priesthood therein, and am a scholar of and well understand the doctrines and philosophy of the Mormon Church, which is officially The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
The Mormon Church is, I would say, your equal in its stand for libertarianism, if by libertarian you mean one who believes in letting everyone do his own thing as long as he infringes on the right of no other person.
Where we differ, however, is that the contemporary libertarian is for all the individual rights, like gay rights which I as a Mormon consider to be a sinful and ungodly practice. Nevertheless, to be consistent, I must, and I freely do, allow others any rights they choose to exercise; but as a Mormon libertarian, I must remind others who would exercise rights which I consider sinful, that they are doing things which the God who created us condemns, and that those who break the laws of God must one day pay the penalty.
The Mormon Church will do all it can to gently persuade others to live lives of cleanliness and morality, but none of us who understand the faith and doctrine would ever resort to the use of force, either personal or government force, to cause others to conform to our standards.
Gentlemen, the Mormon Church is on the side of Liberty, more so than you are.
Joseph K. Stumph, Jr.
Thanks for the great job you have been doing. I discovered you about a year ago, quite by accident. My dad is a Chiropractor and subscribes for his waiting room patients. I read several issues and have been stealing his copies each month since. But, I guess, it is time to open my own subscription so I won't have to rummage through his waiting room each month.
For many years now I have realized my views are not left wing, nor are they conservative. After reading REASON for a year I see that I am a libertarian. Thanks for articulating the libertarian alternative. I don't know how I missed it during my years of college, but better late than never.
I also appreciate your coverage of the Libertarian Party. My wife and I left the Democrats when we learned of it. We are now registered LP.
I also appreciate your articles on firearms ownership. The one by Morgan Norvall was the best I have read. It gets straight to the heart of the whole issue. Gun control is people control—nothing more. I wish you would reprint the Norvall article as a position paper that can be passed out like a "gospel tract." There are a lot of people who have not made up their minds on gun control. This paper would help them.
North Highlands, CA
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Letters".