Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Free Market Existentialist: Thoughts from Author William Irwin

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I ‘ve often regreted not having majored in philosophy as an undergraduate.

The courses I took in that field of study represented some of the most enriching intellectual experiences in my life. So now, at age 52, I cherish any chance to immerse myself in a great philosophy book, over a well-brewed cup of coffee. To me, this embodies the spirit and essence of a well-lived life!

So imagine my excitement at crossing Twitter paths with William Irwin, Professor & Chair of Philosophy at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Recognizing that philosophical insights can’t be restricted to 140 characters, we agreed to connect by phone.

Like a kid who finds himself wide-eyed at a fresh discovery, I was excited to learn that his new book, The Free Market Existentialist, is scheduled for release on October 20 ($21.95 in paperback, published by Wiley). Lucky for me, he sent me a draft manuscript to review. In his provocatively entitled book, Irwin incisively and engagingly argues that capitalism and existentialism are connected at the hip. He goes on to assert that the synthesis of these two doctrines offers a practical model for fostering a truly free-market minimal State that allows people to live how they please.

What makes this book particularly unique is its existentialist defense of libertarianism, bringing together two approaches that traditionally have been viewed as incompatible. Existentialists emphasize the importance of subjectively choosing one’s values and determining the meaning of one’s life. Libertarians champion strong property rights and the individual’s prerogative to live in any way that does not cause harm to others. Ultimately, individualism is the link between existentialism and libertarianism, producing a philosophy that values freedom and a corresponding responsibility.

The opportunity to converse with a leading thinker like William Irvin is one of the joys of my work as a journalist who examines the intersection between free markets and economic freedom. So I thought I’d share a few of his thoughts on the underpinnings of his own personal philosophy, his new book and his contributions to a fresh political world view.

On His Philosophical Leanings

As with most thinking individuals, Michael, that’s a long story! I would say that I, like a lot of libertarians, didn’t consider myself interested in politics at all until I was well into my 30s. To my mind, politics and political theory were a necessary evil, which I could happily ignore. But as I got older, I realized that I could no longer ignore that reality. So existentialist philosophy – along with social and economic philosophy – became the place to which I gravitated.

On How the Philosopher Sartre Informed his Thinking

The French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre came from an atheistic perspective, which follows my own. And the importance he placed on individual freedom and individual responsibility all sounded great; that is until later on in his career when he embraced Marxism. While I have no issue with people changing their minds and viewpoints, the vexing thing about Sartre was the fact that he never acknowledged that he had changed his views. Oddly, he somehow thought that his previous philosophy of freedom and responsibility dove-tailed well with Marxism.

On Writing The Free Market Existentialist

In many ways, I’ve long admired Sartre’s existentialist philosophy. But frankly, his political turn towards Marxism has always rubbed me the wrong way because it just never seemed to fit in with the rest of his philosophy which emphasized freedom and responsibility. For quite some time, I had it in mind to try to reconcile existentialism with capitalism and free-market thinking. So during my sabbatical, three years ago, that was the project I set for myself, and this is the book that emerged.

On Connecting the Dots Between Existentialism, Amoralism and Libertarianism

Yes, those are the three controversial themes that I stake out in the book and that I then weave together….

The first is what you and I have been discussing today, making the case that Sartre’s existentialist philosophy is not actually a good fit with Marxism. In the book, I argue that his views are instead a good fit with capitalism; the idea being that if we are free and responsible, capitalism is the economic system best suited for that.

Amoralism – or what I call moral anti-realism – embodies the thinking we saw as a result of an atheistic turn in philosophy, starting with Nietzsche. With that shift came the belief that somehow the whole world would go to hell in a hand basket. But what we are discovering is that atheists are no better or worse than the average person in terms of how one might judge their actions or behavior.

And from a libertarian point of view, I argue that freedom and responsibility are actually a good thing; that they help the cause of capitalism by serving as a sort of a cure for the things that people tend to worry about in a capitalistic society. “

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Fed Caves to Pressure, Leaves Rates Unchanged

Pressure gaugeThe Federal Reserve concluded their two-day meeting on Thursday, announcing that rates will remain unchanged. Traders and investors were not expecting a rate increase, so the announcement was no surprise. Although for some time now the Fed has been hinting at starting on a path of increasing rates, Thursday’s announcement actually shows they are not likely to start this anytime soon, with more excuses ‘not to raise’ being added to the list.

The Fed has been talking a big game this past year of getting interest rates back to more normal levels, since they have been near zero since December of 2008 (almost seven years ago!). Therefore, it was previously thought that by the end of 2015, the Fed would start raising rates and that this September meeting – or at the very latest, December – would be the start of rate increases.

But as I have previously noted, the Fed has everything to lose and not much to gain by raising rates. Their preferred measure of inflation is still low, below their 2% target level, and the economic ‘recovery’ has continued to look pretty weak. So if they raise rates, they risk crashing the economy in the near-term and getting all of the blame. Leaving rates low will cause asset inflation, or maybe even price inflation eventually, but this won’t happen until much later, at which time those things can be blamed on a host of other factors.

While the Fed likes to say they are data-dependent, pretending they are completely objective, it is obvious their decisions on interest rates are completely discretionary and largely arbitrary. With unemployment now at 5.1%, we were supposed to have had rising interest rates long ago, but the Fed abandoned those guideposts, and it became clear they didn’t want to raise rates yet.

The Fed has added another factor they can use to delay further rate increases: global economic and financial developments. The WSJ has a tool that compares the Fed’s latest statement with their last one in June, so we can see they have now added the following lines (in italics):

Recent global economic and financial developments may restrain economic activity somewhat and are likely to put further downward pressure on inflation in the near term. The Committee continues to see risks to the outlook for economic activity and the labor market as nearly balanced, but is monitoring developments abroad.

The Perils of Purchasing a Lottery Ticket in Illinois

 

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My former home state of Illinois is in awful shape. Known for it’s long history of corruption, cronyism, and fiscal irresponsibility the state is now billions in the hole. Perhaps the most tragic part of all of this is that of the state’s last 7 governors, 4 have served prison time for improprieties.

Not a pretty picture.

On the heels of this current financial armageddon, my friend John who lives in Chicago called me the other evening to deliver some shocking news that nearly sent me to the nearest bar for a stiff cocktail. His breaking news:

That Illinois is so far in the toilet fiscally that they are now unable to pay their state lottery winners.

That’s right. Disbursements of Illinois Lottery winnings of $25,000 or more have come to a screeching halt becuase the state is without a budget. Several winners have been issued IOUs in the interim with assurances that they eventually receive their money once a budget is in place.

Oh, what a joy!

This comes on heels of growing media buzz about the perilous state of the Chicago Public Schools–a school system that is on the edge of bankruptcy.

For more on the larger context of this issue, check out these two recent Anthem Vault articles about Chicago, arguably the epicenter of all of this fallout.

Chicago Schools Debt Crisis

City of Chicago Debt Crisis

In the meantime, if you’re pondering purchasing an Illinois lottery ticket, you might want to reconsider. Employing the power of delayed gratification through the purchase of gold is a far better investment in my estimation.

Michael Scott is a freelance journalist specializing  on the intersection between free markets and economic freedom.  His regualr updates can be found on Twitter @biz_michael

All that is Gold does not Glitter

305px-Versailles_Queen's_ChamberGold has long been a sign of wealth and prosperity. Whether jewelry, coins or inlaid furniture, gold shines bright. A sign of power so much so that Louis XIV le Roi-Soleil (the Sun King) of France would have tapestries woven out of gold thread. Undoubtedly the golden age in France, le Roi-Soleil improved the Palace of Versailles and had more gold added to the hall of mirrors. Gold, even in our own United States was too a sign of wealth and used to back currency for some years. Now, buying gold bullion has become increasingly popular. Turn on the TV for even a moment and you’re sure to catch a commercial offering sale and storage of gold. But has gold lost its glitter?

Large nations like China continue to buy up gold further increasing their storage to 1,693 tons (a fraction of the US owned 8,000 tons) and they can afford to make these large scale purchases. When you spend $93 billion to add to your gold reserves, as China recently did, a minor gold decline doesn’t bother them. One would think that this macro-scale demand for gold would lead to a rise in the cost of gold. However the market is not reflecting this. Gold has been on a steady decline since January 2015 and may not have found the bottom, yet. Trusting the buying habits of these national reserves like China, Germany, France and the US (the top four largest gold reserves) would usually be fair play, but not always.

Gold seems to follow no typical trends these days. Increased demand usually leads to increased price. Instability with global banking systems drive people to buy up gold. Increased use of gold in electronics and industry tend to drive up the price. However, gold is still declining. I’d contend that this has to do with the relative strength of the dollar in relation to the other currencies. As the dollar raises in value (in particular its relation to the euro) there seems to be less initiative to buy the precious metal in the currency market. A strong dollar means that you can rely on what’s in your pocket, not what shiny metal you have tucked away in the wall safe. While national reserves can buy up large tonnage of gold, there’s something to be said for the individual investor buying gold. The amount of gold being bought can drive up the price, but the level of interest and the number of individuals demanding gold is what will lead to an increase in price like we saw back in 2011-2012.

Gold closed 9/11/15 just above $1100 an ounce. Gold futures tallied a loss as well as a fifth straight session decline. In order for us to see gold reach the levels of 2011-2012 the bottom will need to be found with gold. Are we at the bottom now? Some may argue that we still have a little ways to go.  In 2008 gold was around $800 an ounce and in three years it had reached close to $2000 an ounce. While the price is on the decline, countries are not selling their gold and neither should you. Increasing your personal storage is never a bad option. We may not know where the market bottoms out, but we do know that the price will rise again. As a precious metal investor, incremental buying (just as with stocks) is extremely important. Saving fractional cents on buying on the decline will ultimately lead you to a larger profit margin when the market value increases. Gold may not have the standing value as in ‘11-’12, but there’s no need to worry because gold will find its glitter once again.

A Hard-Hitting Soft Paywall

Snapchat announced in a blog post Tuesday morning that they will be offering replays to users who are willing to pay out a little cash. The popular smartphone app can be downloaded for free, and it allows users to send temporary photos and videos to each other. Once a snapchatter has viewed an image and it has disappeared, the picture can no longer be accessed. At least that was until a couple of years ago when a feature allowing users one replay each day was added to the app. The new update will allow users to purchase additional replays at a rate of 3 replays for $0.99.

 This move could turn out to be controversial because the temporal nature of the app content is probably one of its most attractive features. Snapchat appeared on the scene as a last vestige of

Women, Free Markets and Liberty: Hadley Manning

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As the director of health policy at the Independent Women’s Forum, Hadley Heath Manning is someone who is constantly in motion. I had the pleasure of meeting her, shortly after watching a panel she moderated early this year on emerging health care issues. As luck would have it, we recently reconnected at Denver Liberty On The Rocks discussion forum on Feminism and Liberty.

To say that Hadley is a busy professional is an understatement. She is a frequent guest on radio and TV outlets across the country, exploring the intersection between women, free markets, personal liberty and health care. She has appeared on Fox Business’ Cavuto on Business, The John Stossel Show and Fox News’ Hannity Show. In addition, her work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Politico, National Review Online and many others media.

Hadley was kind enough to slow down for 29 minutes for a few questions from me about the intersection between women, free markets and personal liberty. Here are some brief excerpts from our discussion:

On her interest in Free Enterprise

What a lot of people don’t know is that my grandfather was a big champion of the free enterprise system. He actually wrote five books about free enterprise and political philosophy. So no doubt I inherited some of his passion for these principles, even though he lived during a very different time.

These books talk a lot about how free enterprise allows all of us the dignity of working for ourselves; a key element to achieving an enhanced quality of life. Ronald Reagan once said something to the effect that “Freedom isn’t passed along in the blood stream. It has to be defended, generation by generation.” Yet I do think that some of my love for freedom was passed through to me via DNA.

On her Philosophy

While I was in college, I literally questioned everything. It led me to wonder whether my family somehow brainwashed me into believing certain things. So I really went through a hard time in terms of what I believed. A major turning point for me during college was a trip to India’s West Bengal where I witnessed poverty first-hand like I’d never seen before. It’s a region that had been burdened by socialist programs for quite some time. This trip made me really appreciate how free enterprise has benefitted the U.S. and allowed us to create so much wealth as a nation.