“For of all sad words of tongue or men, the saddest are these: it might have been!” — John Greenleaf Whittier
As we start a new year, I often imagine, as John Lennon did in his famous song, a world of peace between nations, no major crimes or suicides, little inflation, low taxes and tolerable regulations. In short, I imagine America and the rest of the world enjoying a dramatic increase in our standard of living and happiness.
As Adam Smith once declared, “Little else is required to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice.” (I’d also add “sound money.”)
This is the essence of laissez faire government.
But, of course, that’s wishful thinking… a pipe dream. Life is full of joys and sorrows, much of it our own making. Sadly, the West has voted time and time again for bigger government, more inflation, higher taxes and excessive regulation — all policies that have kept us from Adam Smith’s vision of an opulent society.
That view brings me to recommend a fascinating new book: “It Didn’t Have to Be This Way,” by philosopher and economist Harry Veryser. He teaches economics and business at the University of Detroit Mercy and is a regular speaker at my big show, FreedomFest, every July. He is one of the most profound thinkers I’ve met.
Now he’s written his first book and it’s breathtaking in its scope and depth. Professor Veryser is at ease whether talking about ancient or modern history, philosophy, economics, literature, politics, law or religion.
His theme is simple. The major blunders of our age — two world wars, the Great Depression, world poverty, boom-bust cycles, stock market crashes, the premature death of more than 100 million people — were all unnecessary. For more than a century, we have had the tools to preserve peace and prosperity, and we have failed to use them.
If only we had listened to the great economic philosophers of the Austrian school, such as Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek and Murray Rothbard. That’s the subtitle of his book: “Why boom and bust is unnecessary — and how the Austrian school of economics breaks the cycle.” Yet his book is far broader than economics.
I learned something new on every page — and you will, too. Professor Veryser focuses on how the First World War was the “unnecessary war” that changed everything. It took us off sound money, created big government, and restricted our freedoms, and we are still suffering from its ill-effects. Yes, we have recovered, but it could have been a lot better. This quote from historian A.J.P. Taylor gives us a sense of a lost era: “Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country forever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police.”
My, have things changed. Today, more and more, everything is either prohibited or mandated!
Harry Veryser shows us the way out of this malaise as he recounts the mistakes of the past 100 years. Imagine the new technologies, the leisure time, and the future Einsteins if, in the future, we adopt the “Austrian” and “Chicago” approaches instead of the “Keynesian” or “Marxist” mindset.
I don’t have room to do this book justice. Just buy it and imagine a whole new world out there. The book is available in hardback from its publisher, Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), or from Amazon.
“You Blew It!” Sen. Hatch Voted for the Fiscal Cliff Tax Increase
“But given the stakes for the people of Utah and the nation, I reluctantly supported it because it sets in stone lower tax rates for roughly 99 percent of American taxpayers.” — Sen. Orrin Hatch
Sen. Hatch is an old friend of the family. We’ve known his family and him for more than 30 years, having first met when we lived in “Death Star” (the Washington, D.C., area).
But this week the “You Blew It” goes to Sen. Hatch for voting for this monstrosity. The legislation does NOT lower tax rates for 99% of American taxpayers. In fact, it raises them 2% across the board as the temporary FICA taxes on Social Security and Medicare were eliminated.
Moreover, the agreement is not a real attempt to cut back on out of control spending. I pointed out a few weeks ago that federal spending rose 2-3 times the economic growth rate since Bill Clinton left office. Taxes should have been cut and spending cut even further.
Hatch was the only Utahn to vote for the bill. His colleague in the Senate, Mike Lee, said it best:
“Senators were only given the actual text of the 157-page bill without any official projections of its costs at 1:36 a.m., just six minutes before the vote,” said Lee, who was one of eight senators to oppose the package. “Everything about this bill was a failure: what Congress did, how Congress did it, and what Congress failed to do.”
Senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio also voted against it — some of the few statesmen left in the Senate.
By the way, the new tax act includes some surprises, including the elimination of charitable deductions for those of us who make more than $250,000 a year (joint return).
To read my e-letter from last week, please click here. I also invite you to comment about my column in the space provided below.