The Naked Truth About Porno-Scanners

(See this article in its original publication here)

The Naked Truth About “Porno” Scanners

“Those who give up essential liberty to purchase a little security deserve neither liberty nor security.”
—Benjamin Franklin

There must be a law like Murphy’s Law that states that government agencies with excessive authority inevitably go overboard in their regulations.  Remember the year in the 1980s when the Federal Transportation Agency imposed an ignition device on new cars so that the engine wouldn’t start unless the driver wore his seat belt?

Citizens objected so vociferously that the government quickly reversed itself.

Let’s hope the same thing occurs with the Obama administration’s decision to install invasive “full body” scanners at airports in the United States, and to impose invasive pat-downs for those who uphold their Fourth Amendment rights against “unreasonable searches.”  Americans need to stand up and say, “Enough is enough.”

As long-time subscribers know, I’ve been in the forefront of defending the right to personal and financial privacy, having written “The Complete Guide to Financial Privacy” in the early 1980s.

I find it appalling that the government, after pushing through numerous laws against sexual harassment, has adopted an official policy of sexual harassment against its citizens with the introduction of “full body” scanners and pat-downs that are patently offensive.  The whole process is now appropriately referred to the use of “porno” scanners.

Sadly, the majority of Americans seem to support this new attack on privacy.  A recent poll found that 80% of citizens go along with the “full body” searches, a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment (no matter what the courts decide).  In this regard, I’m reminded of Doug Casey’s reference to today’s spineless Americans:  “You’re all a bunch of whipped dogs.”  Ben Franklin’s warning could apply here: “Those who give up essential liberty to purchase a little security deserve neither liberty nor security.”

I salute the freedom fighters who recognized that this latest action is just one more example in the gradual loss of our freedoms.   ”Freedom is never lost all at once,” stated Edmund Burke.  Indeed.  If we don’t stand up now, when will we?

To see how you can help protest this attack on liberty, go to www.wewontfly.com.  Tea partiers, unite!

Finally, it is a sad commentary that TSA agents and government officials are supportive in this attack on fellow citizens.  I was shocked to read that a federal security director instructed his agents as follows:  “I want them to think Abdulmutallab [the Christmas Day bomber who was thwarted from blowing up a Detroit-bound airplane] with every pat-down.”  Tell that to the elderly and kids getting pat-downs.

For those TSA agents who say, “It’s my job,” remind them of these words from the great libertarian film “Cool Hand Luke”:  “Just because it’s your job doesn’t make it right.”

Next up:  TSA is now pushing for the random “secondary screening,” in which you are taken to “the cage” and subjected to even further invasions of privacy.  When will this idiocy end?

Who’s to Blame for ObamaCare? Two Conservatives!

I wrote the following article for Human Events, but apparently it was too controversial and was removed after about 100 e-letters of commentary, both favorable and critical. Read here’s the original op-ed, uncensured.)

by Mark Skousen

This week the Senate grinches stole Christmas. The Obama Nation is getting Obama Care.

It’s easy to blame the sixty Democrats, as the Wall Street Journal does, for “the worse bill ever.” It solemnly declares: “These 60 Democrats are creating a future of epic increases in spending, taxes and command–and control regulation.”

True enough. But what’s the root cause of this disaster?

Sorry, friends, it’s not the Democrats, nor the American people who elected them.

The real culprits are two “conservative” Republicans who ran the show the previous eight years: George W. Bush, and his “master political strategist” Karl Rove. If it weren’t for these two fools in the White House, the Democrats wouldn’t have sixty Senators, including a professional comedian from Minnesota, to close off debate and ram down our throats a bill worse than Hillary Care.

The fact is that the Bush & Rove comedy act pushed through a litany of ruinous government policies that led to the lowest approval numbers in history:

–the undeclared and costly War in Iraq and its stepchild the unconstitutional Patriot Act.
–the monstrous No Child Left Behind Act that dramatically increased federal intervention in private education.
–the Prescription Drug Act that gave the American people another benefit-corrupted entitlement and unfunded liability.
–large and growing deficits and national debt (according to the Cato Institute, George W. Bush was the biggest spender since LBJ: http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/2009/12/19/george-w-bush-biggest-spender-since-lbj/)
–the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, largely due to their failure to reform government-sponsored agencies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

The supply-side tax cuts were probably the only major piece of economic legislation that Bush/Rove deserve credit for, but even then, they blundered in not making the tax cuts permanent. So now even if the Republicans take back Capitol Hill in the 2010 elections, all President Obama has to do is veto an extension of the Bush tax cuts, a voila, taxes will increase automatically.

In short, we are paying a heavy price for the “compassionate conservativism” of Bush/Rove.

Once Obama Care becomes law, like Medicare and other “Great Society” programs, it will never end. We will be stuck with national health care for the rest of our lives.

And how are Bush and Rove rewarded? Fortunately, we aren’t seeing much of George Bush, who is quietly in retirement in Texas.

The tragedy is Karl Rove, who has been rewarded by conservatives. He’s treated like a triumphant general on Fox News almost every night, and was signed on as a regular columnist in the prestigious Wall Street Journal.

Shame.

In liberty, AEIOU,
Mark Skousen

Start Your Own Tax Revolt — Without Getting In Trouble

From Human Events

“A virtuous and industrious people may be cheaply governed.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

“Little else is required to carry a state to the highest level of opulence but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice.” ~ Adam Smith

Today, on April 15 Tax Day, hundreds of thousands of citizens are protesting out of control government spending and taxes at Tea Parties across America.

Should we complain?

The good news is that marginal tax rates have gradually declined since the 1950s, when the rate on income was 90%. And taxes on long-term capital gains and dividends are now at 15%. Long live supply-side Reaganomics tax cuts.

The bad news is that prior to the 1980s, there were plenty of loopholes to escape onerous 90% tax rates. Those tax shelters are largely gone.

The good news is that Tax Freedom Day (the amount of days you have to work to pay Uncle Sam) arrived two days ago, on April 13, according to the Tax Foundation. This is eight days earlier than in 2008, and a full two weeks earlier than in 2007, due to the recession, and the large temporary tax cuts for 2009 and 2010.

The bad news is that Americans will pay more in taxes than they will spend on food, clothing and housing combined! (Source: http://mjperry.blogspot.com/)

Moreover, if you add in the federal budget deficit to total taxes collected, the real Tax Freedom Day is May 29, the worst since World War II.

But there’s more bad news: For American business, the corporate tax rate is 40% in the United States, 50% higher than the average size of other industrial countries. The average corporate tax rate in OECD countries has been falling over the past 20 years, but not in the U.S.

In addition, legislators have discovered ingenious ways to taxing its citizens — through import duties, levies, and fees of various sorts. Today the federal “excise” tax is taking its toll on gasoline, tobacco, telephone and utility bills.

And sales taxes are inevitably rising in state after state, and I know of no state that has cut sales taxes. After every recession, the governor “temporarily” raises the sales tax by a penny, but then never rescinds it. Moreover, the state legislators are always finding ways to expand the tax base. When I was in Florida recently, the state imposed its 6% sales tax on hotel parking fees!

The few sales tax exemptions left, such as out-of-state and online purchases, are gradually disappearing.

Not surprisingly, taxes at the federal, state and local level are at an all-time high as a percentage of GDP. And under President Obama’s tax increases on the wealthy and on average citizens through his “cap and trade” energy tax (which will raise substantially the price of gasoline and utility bills), the percentage is expected to reach 27%.

Now more than ever, we need a stable, sound, low tax system that individuals and businesses can depend on for long term planning. Unfortunately, we change the tax law practically every year.

Countries like Hong Kong do it right. For the past fifty years, they have not changed their tax code hardly at all. They have a flat tax of 18% on individuals and corporations, and no tax on interest, dividends and capital gains. And they live within their means. No wonder the Economic Freedom Index ranks Hong Kong #1 in the world in terms of economic freedom and economic growth. We could learn a lot from Hong Kong.

I say, it’s time for a tax revolt. I favor a flat tax like the one advocated by Steve Forbes. It’s better than the so-called “fair tax” on consumption because it will create a new bureaucracy and will inevitably result in the U.S. having both a national sales tax and income tax.

But why wait for Congress to change the rules again and again? I say, wage your own tax revolt. But remember, some methods are effective, others are downright dangerous and could land you in jail. Here’s some do’s and don’t:

1. Take advantage of all legitimate tax-advantaged strategies. The two best ones right now are (a) a Sub S corporate business, and (b) investing in real estate, including your own home. Both offer ways to minimize FICA and income taxes; both can benefit from tax credits. In fact, it’s the best “buyers” market in real estate I’ve seen in decades.

2. Do consider moving to low-tax states, including ones that don’t impose an income tax (Florida, Texas, Nevada, Tennessee, Alaska, Washington, Wyoming, and New Hampshire). You might also consider living in a border state to avoid both the income and sales tax, such as Vancouver, Washington (by living in Washington state, you are exempt from the state income tax; by shopping in Oregon, you avoid the sales tax.)

3. Do consider working abroad and taking advantage of the foreign earned income exemption for Americans. My wife and I lived and worked two years in the Bahamas in the 1980s and saved so much in taxes that we bought a second home in London.

4. Do NOT get involved in tax protest movements involving the refusal to file tax returns on Constitutional grounds, or suspicious offshore tax haven deals. You’ll end up losing money and perhaps going to jail.

5. Do NOT renounce your citizenship and move abroad. Recent tax legislation forces ex-patriates to pay taxes on the next 10 years of income. It also limits severely how much time you can spend in the United States.

Finally, do NOT make business or investment decisions solely on the basis of avoiding taxes. There’s more to life than avoiding the tax man. Protest all your want today, but don’t make foolish financial decisions.

Was the Great Depression Good for Us?

“Everything was all right in those years, but only if you had a job.” ~ Grandmother of Amity Shlaes in The Forgotten Man


Can the worst of times also be the best of times? When we think of the Great Depression of the 1930s, we are quick to recall the soup lines, bank closings, dust bowls, bear markets, demoralizing despair, and the aftershocks — Nazi Germany, the New Deal, Keynesianism, and, some say, World War II. Today, as the current recession worsens, everyone fears the dreaded D and seeks desperate rescue measures.

But was the Great Depression all bad? Truth is, there’s a bright side to the gloomy Thirties — a lower cost of living, huge technological advances, new forms of entertainment, more leisure time, and a return to responsible social behavior.

It was the beginning of the five-day work week….the Golden Age of radio and film….the playing of social sports like bridge, Monopoly, and softball….leisure time to read books and dance the jitterbug….while scientists invented the electron microscope, FM radio, radar, the jet airplane, and network television….

Chicago economist Robert Lucas, Jr., once called the 1930s “one long vacation,” and social historian Frederick Lewis Allen exclaimed, “[T]he American imagination was beginning to break loose again.”

There’s an old Asian saying, “It is the irritation in the oyster that forms the pearl.” A few people couldn’t take the hard times and jumped out windows, but most people responded to the challenge. Adversity often brings out creativity and opportunities to learn and advance. The 1930s were no exception.

This is a summary of a full-length article called “Brother, Can You Spare a Decade?” that I wrote on the subject in the May issue of Liberty magazine. Since writing this controversial and politically incorrect article, I’ve been attacked and defended by friends and foes.

For example, Mike Sharpe, my academic publisher at M. E. Sharpe and a social Democrat, took strong exception to my article. He wrote:

“What Mark Skousen says in ‘Brother Can You Spare a Decade?’ is beside the point. Millions of people were jobless, hungry, and in despair during the Depression. The fact that songs were written or scientific discoveries were made doesn’t mitigate the suffering. Does the work of Socrates mitigate the effects of the tyranny that executed him? Do the discoveries of Galileo offset the Roman Inquisition? Do the works of Shakespeare compensate for the expulsion of the Jews from England? Does the first novel by an American black, Clotel, written in 1853, reflect well on slavery? Do the performances of Von Karajan under Hitler make Nazism enjoyable? Does “God Bless America” sung by Kate Smith during World War II make that war less of a tragedy? Skousen’s entire argument is a non sequitur, harmful to a true understanding of the effects of the Depression and by extension, the current recession. He should not make light of suffering.”

My response:

I’m reluctant to start a fight with the publisher of my books, but here goes:

My essay may well be irreverent, but it’s not irrelevant. Mr. Sharpe’s view is the traditional view. I don’t dispute it. There was a lot of real suffering during the Great Depression, and I mention the dark side of the 1930s at various times in the essay.

But what I do try to do is look at the positive things that came out of the Great Depression. Sharpe wants to ignore them. Yes, there was a lot of suffering, but there were times of joy, good times, and scientific advances in the midst of the depression.

I think we have to look at both extremes to find out what really matters, the bad and the good that came out of the Great Depression and today’s recession. Sharpe focuses on the suffering that goes on in a recession/depression, I focus on the positive effects of a downturn, such as the good things people are doing now (out of necessity): being more careful about what they spend, saving for a rainy day, not taking their job for granted, and sensing trouble rather than going along merrily trusting in the establishment, without thinking. What’s so bad about that?

Both views are important.

Sometimes I think we as a nation and as legislators are impatient. We want to avoid suffering at all times, and take pills if we sense even a slight headache. No one wants to be unemployed or fired from a job, but you know what? Lots of unemployed and fired people tell me later (a year or two after finding another job) that it was the best thing that ever happened to them. Not all, but many.

I conclude that a lot of good can come out of bad times.

What’s your view? Is the recession or depression good or bad for America?

Proof Is in the Dow

“The Obama budget is nothing less than an attempt to end the ideas of Ronald Reagan.” — New York Times

Adam Smith, the father of free-market economics, once stated, “There is much ruin in a nation.”  President Obama is out to prove it in his Newspeak program he calls “A New Era of Responsibility.”  It should be called “A New Era of Irresponsibility.”

And there’s no better proof than the stock market’s reaction to Obamanomics, which is big-government Keynesianism at its worst.  Since Obama took office, the Dow is down a whooping 15% — and that’s after the huge sell off in the market in 2008 by more than 30%.

And the market has continued to drop precipitously since Obama addressed Congress and announced his obscene $3.6 trillion budget for fiscal year 2010.  This budget includes:

the largest tax increase in history, including a monstrous tax on oil & gas (cap and trade) and the repeal of the Bush tax rates on incomes higher than $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.  Contrary to Obama’s claim, over 65% of tax filers in this category are small business owners and investors.

the highest level of federal spending since 1945, from today’s 21% of GDP to a whooping 27.7%.  This includes new entitlements in health care and energy.

Clearly Wall Street has spoken:  Obama’s tax, spend and regulate policies are a disaster for the nation.

And sadly Obama doesn’t get it.

What should investors do?  Play it conservative.  Be well-diversified in global stocks.  Maintain a high cash position, look for bargain opportunities, and keep squirreling away gold and silver coins.

And do not despair.  It is not time to head for the hills, although some wealthy friends are talking about moving to New Zealand, or the Bahamas.  (One friend of mine has already taken the extreme step of renouncing his US citizenship!)

In writing “The Big Three in Economics” (click here to order), I found that Adam Smith and his “system of natural liberty” have come under attack on many occasions by his sworn enemies Keynesians, Marxists and socialists, and has often been left for dead, but always makes a comeback.

As Adam Smith declared in his 1776 classic “The Wealth of Nations,”

“The uniform, constant, and uninterrupted effort of every man to better his condition . . . is frequently powerful enough to maintain the natural progress of things toward improvement, in spite both of the extravagance of government, and of the greatest errors of administration.”

In sum, the ideas of Adam Smith, and his modern followers, including Ronald Reagan, are far from dead.  They are only in hibernation.  The free-market giant will soon be awakened by our dire situation.

Hopefully pro-market forces in Congress (both Republicans and Democrats)  will filibuster the Obama tax increases and budget excesses.  Charities and non-profits are already up in arms about the proposed limits on tax deductions for wealthy donations for good causes.

I’m doing my part by holding the world’s largest gathering of free minds at FreedomFest, July 9-11, 2009, in Las Vegas, the focal point of liberty.  For details, go to www.freedomfest.com.  I hope you will join us.

I know I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.

Obamanomics Is Making Matters Worse

Unfortunately, the [Keynesian] balance week is unbalanced. ~ Milton Friedman

We have outlived the short-run and are suffering from the long-run consequences of [Keynesian] policies. ~ Ludwig von Mises

Last week, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner announced another solution to the financial crisis — his new “Financial Stability Plan.” Since the announcement, Citigroup has fallen 51 percent, Bank of America is down 46 percent, and Wall Street had its worst week in 2009.

So much for the Financial “Stability” Plan.

As John Adams once said, “Facts are a stubborn thing.”  The Obama model of Keynesian-style bailouts and massive deficits is simply failing to cure the growing financial crisis.

Despite all the bailouts President Obama has put forth — for the banks, the big 3 auto companies, and homeowners — the global economy is still reeling.

In fact, I would argue that Obamanomics (Keynesian economics in disguise) is counterproductive and making matters worse.  That’s because business and Wall Street recognize that there is no free lunch — government spending is piling up huge debts that will need to be paid back, probably through the printing presses.  And inflation — another evil — will come back with a vengeance.

Keynes is famous for the line, “In the long run, we are all dead.”  And that’s what Wall Street fears — that financially we are all going to be killed by excessive debt.

Lack of confidence in Obama, Geitner and Bernanke is why gold is going through the roof now, and is approaching $1,000 an ounce. The U.S. Mint is having a hard time keeping up with demand for American eagle gold and silver coins.

The problem is Keynesian-style policy, the darling of the establishment politicos and media giants.  Keynes has suddenly trumped Adam Smith.  And that’s dangerous.

One day last week, I walked into the largest Barnes & Noble bookstore in New York and saw a big display table up front with all kinds of books on John Maynard Keynes and Keynesian economics.  One book, The Return of Depression Economics, was written by Paul Krugman, the caustic New York Times columnist who just won the Nobel Prize.

Another book was called The Case for Big Government by Jeff Madrick, the editor of Challenge magazine.  I can understand writing a book in support of good, efficient, strong, and productive government, but “big” alone?  Most Americans prefer the motto “cheaper and better.”

The biggest surprise at Barnes & Noble was to see my own book, The Big Three in Economics, prominently displayed along side all the Keynesian and Marxist books.  It has suddenly become my most successful book.

Mark Skousen with the Totem Pole of Economics

But mine was the only book there that took a dim view of Keynes and Marx and their solutions to the financial crisis (always more government, more taxes, and more regulations).  For my money, Adam Smith and his followers (Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Murray Rothbard) deserve to be on top of the Totem Pole of Economics.

Unfortunately, Keynes is all the rage now.  The British economist became famous in the 1930s for advocating going off the gold standard, running deficits and bailing out troubled banks with easy money as a way to end the Great Depression.
Today’s politicians, from George Bush to Barack Obama, have suddenly become Keynesians during this financial crisis, spending money they don’t have in a vain effort to right the ship.  Even Newsweek has gone so far to say, “We are all socialists now.”  Alan Greenspan, the ex-student of Ayn Rand, now favors nationalization of the big American banks Citibank and Bank of America.

Every investor and gold bug should know the enemy: Keynes, the advocate of big government and the welfare state, and Karl Marx, the radical who advocated outright state socialism and total central control of the means of production.
After World War I, Randolph Bourne observed, “War is the health of the state.”  Today he might say, “A financial crisis is the health of the state.”

It looks like modern-day statists are getting their wish.  We’re getting big government, good and hard.  Adam Smith and Milton Friedman are out of favor, while John Maynard Keynes, the patron saint of bailouts, inflation, and the welfare state, is making a comeback with a vengeance.

The tentacles of the leviathan state are growing by leaps and bounds.  In 2009, global governments will be the largest shareholders in commercial banks, reversing 20 years of retreat by the state.  The costs of entitlements are exploding upwards, and Congress hasn’t had the courage to address future liabilities.  Social Security and Medicare are government-sponsored Ponzi schemes that will make Bernie Madoff’s embezzlement look like a picnic.

The late management guru Peter Drucker said, “Government is better at creating problems than solving them.” In fact, wrote a cynical Ducker, government has gotten bigger, not stronger, and can only do three things well — taxation, inflation, and making war.  According to Drucker, the state has become a “swollen monstrosity….Indeed, government is sick — and just at a time when we need a strong, healthy, and vigorous government.”  (He said all this in 1969.)  If you want to solve problems, he counseled, you must turn to business and the private sector.

But where does one get the straight scoop on Keynes, Marx, and their nemesis, Adam Smith and the followers of free-market capitalism?

I have no apologies for where I stand on the issue.  In writing The Big Three, I commissioned a Florida woodcarver, James Sagui, to create “The Totem Pole of Economics.”  (The Tolem Pole of Economics is shown on the back cover of the book.)  Clearly, my hero is Adam Smith, the author of The Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, a declaration of economic independence.

Adam Smith, the 18th century philosopher, is on top of the Totem Pole for his advocacy of a revolutionary new doctrine which he called a “system of natural liberty,” what we might call laissez faire or free-market capitalism.  He used the “invisible hand” to symbolized how the private actions of individual entrepreneurs would lead to the public good.

Today’s advocates of Smithian economics have real solutions to the crisis, as I’ve outlined in previous HUMAN EVENTS columns:  suspend “mark to market” accounting rules, make the Bush tax cuts permanent, slash the corporate tax rate, and mostly importantly “do no harm.”  Also, it wouldn’t hurt to take a look at the Canadian banking system, ranked #1 in the world in soundness (US is #40) for its conservative reserve requirements and nationwide branching.  (Not a single Canadian bank has failed in either the Great Depression or now.)

Keynes is ranked below Adam Smith, because he supported big government and the welfare state as a way to stabilize the crisis-prone capitalist economy, the “middle ground” between laissez faire and totalitarian socialism.  But as we have seen, Keynesian activism has led to much mischief in the world today, and countries that have adopted his bureaucratic, regulated mindset have witnessed “slow growth” and “stagflation” style economies.

And Marx is the “low man” on the Totem Pole.  His radical solution, government ownership and control of the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services, would be, as Hayek says, “the road to serfdom.”

Adam Smith and his “system of natural liberty” have come under attack many times by his arch enemies, the Marxists and Keynesians.  But Smithian economics has nine lives, and has always managed a comeback.  With your help, Adam Smith will return.

Click here for a copy of The Big Three in Economics.