Mises on Transportation Subsidies

One of the primary claims of left-libertarians such as Roderick Long and Kevin Carson is that the state has supported the proliferation of large-scale organizations through subsidies such as the building of public roads, the interstate highway system, and so forth. According to them, firms are larger and more concentrated than they would be relative to a market where transportation subsidies did not exist.

How do transportation subsidies lead to overall larger firm sizes? The primary point is that transportation costs are, in effect, socialized (or dispersed) whereas the benefits tend to be concentrated on those who use the roads the most. In other words, although the roads are open to everyone, firms that have a geographically large market (such as Wal-Mart) are paying roughly the same as everyone else but actually using the roads more. Big-box retailer’s business model is dependent on long haul trucking, which is dependent on government subsidies to the roads.

The net effect of this is to increase the overall size of firms larger than they would otherwise be. The reason is simple: Were it not for transportation subsidies, the markets these firms compete in would probably be much smaller, and much more local. Without transportation being subsidized, a business model based on a market the size of (say) most of the United States would not be feasible.

At any rate, the reason I brought this up was because of a Mises Daily that I read this morning. It’s called, “The Problem of External Costs and External Economies” (written by Mises), and deals with external economies and government subsidies. One part caught my attention, and relates to what I’ve been talking about. Mises writes about the effort of governments to build railroads and other types of infrastructure to specific rural areas in an attempt to allow rural food producers a chance at a larger market. The reason the government has to engage in this sort of activity in the first place is because private investors are unwilling to put up the funds to develop a private railroad system. If it was profitable to do so a private railroad could be financed, allowing these farms to ship food to wherever it needs to go. In these sorts of areas the costs of production are higher than in other parts of the country, because the agriculture is taking place on submarginal land. Mises writes that…

If the government, yielding to the demands of the interested pressure groups, builds the railroad and runs it at a deficit, it certainly benefits the owners of farm land in those poor districts of the country. As a part of the costs that the shipping of their products requires is borne by the treasury, they find it easier to compete with those tilling more fertile land to whom such aid is denied.

This is essentially the exact same situation Carson has been writing about. This isn’t a direct subsidy to those out-of-the-way producers of food, but an indirect subsidy that allows submarginal land to compete with marginal land when, without government help, it would not have been able to. Likewise, big-box retailers and other firms that have geographically large markets are able to compete where they would not have been able to without government transportation subsidies.

So, although this doesn’t really add anything crucial to the debate over how much transportation subsidies effect the overall size of firms, I think it’s interesting Mises seems to have weighed in on it a good many years before today’s left-libertarians.

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HOT LINKS 07-08-2010…(get them while they’re hot)

Okay, so I already failed in my attempt to link to a couple of good articles daily. That is never a good sign. I think I’m going to change up the format a little. I’m going to choose the top 3 articles I have read and go with that.

3. Tax Hikes and the 2011 Economic Collapse

Arthur Laffer- originator of the famous Laffer Curve– makes the case that the surprising amount of growth we’re seeing in 2010 is simply the result of individuals rationally shifting production, consumption, and investment from 2011 into 2010 because of the upcoming expiration of the Bush tax cuts next year. Because people react to incentives, the knowledge that next year the capital gains tax, for example, will go from %15 to 20% is making it likely that people are doing all they can to maximize their return this year before the tax cuts expire. Because of this, 2011 could be an especially bad year (bringing on that whole “double-dip recession” thing) as we see falling growth and growing unemployment thanks to the tax hikes.

2. The Education Debacle of the Decade

Bob Ewing gives us a perfect example of why public education (or, as I prefer, government education) isn’t really about education but, rather, about politics. The OSP (Opportunity Scholarship Program) gave Washington D.C. parents $7,500 each to send their children to any school they chose. The program is a resounding success and parents loved it. So what happens? The Teacher’s Union crushes it because it supposedly takes away money from public schools (which isn’t true, as explained in the article). Under markets- cooperation ensues. Under government- people vie for ways to use the state to push their agendas on everyone else.

1. Are Stimulus Skeptics Logically Incoherent?

Greg Mankiw responds to Paul Krugman on how the stimulus could actually be reducing aggregate demand in the near and long-term. Basically, the more the government borrows to spend, the higher future taxes have to be in the future. If future taxes are expected to be high, investment today looks a lot less inviting. Now, you may say this is contradictory to Laffer’s theory which says higher taxes in the future leads people to shift production into the near term in order to maximize the return now rather than in the future when the higher taxes are in effect. The careful distinction to make here, I think, is that higher taxes in the future lead to a shift in production and investment into the lower orders of the capital structure (to put it in Austrian terms). In other words, higher taxes in the future lead people to consume more now (which leads to an increase in output and higher profits), but businesses won’t be investing as much in long-term projects.

HOT LINKS 07-06-2010…(get them while they’re hot)

It’s quite popular these days to compile daily links from around the web…I mean, everyone’s doing it! From Tyler Cowen to Brad DeLong and so forth it is all the rage in the blogosphere. Because I’m such a sucker for peer pressure I’m going to try and link to a couple of articles I’ve read once a day. We’ll see how this goes…

As a limited theory of politics, libertarianism cannot answer these questions and thus really has little to say on its own about whether abortion should be legal or illegal.

If you torture people or eavesdrop on Americans without the warrants required by the criminal law, you receive Look-Forward Imperial Immunity.

That’s all for today. More coming tomorrow (and a few actual posts within the next few days).

Corporatism abides…

Somehow this slipped right past me, but thanks to Glenn Greenwald’s ever insightful blog the evidence has become pretty clear that Obama killed the public option basically from the start. Surprised? I’m not. For decades this government has run on a fairly consistent corporatist policy, where the two dominant centers of power in society (corporations and the government) have led a largely symbiotic relationship with each propping up the other. Some progressives seemed to see the corporatism within the Bush administration but have fallen strangely silent when it comes to Obama and his crew.

Maybe the most important phrase one can apply to politics is cui bono– who benefits? Always follow the money. Turns out the health care lobby was heavily favoring Obama above McCain in 2008. Obama simply returned the favor by pushing a couple of million new customers right into the hands of large corporations. What a perfectly delightful system, eh?

Are Members of the Flotilla Terrorists?

The New York Times has a good article today on the IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi), one of the organizations involved with funding the Free Gaza movement. Although it runs numerous charities worldwide, it is alleged to have close connections to Hamas and possibly other terrorist organizations. If the article is correct, it sounds as though it clearly played a pretty big role in funding this operation.

It is important, however, to keep in mind that this was not a Turkish operation, or an Arab operation, or anything of that nature. It was, indeed, an international coalition made up of over 600 people from all parts of the world. I heard a great interview today on NPR’s Morning Edition with Edward Peck, a retired American diplomat who was aboard one of the ships in the flotilla. The interview can be heard here, and I highly recommend listening to it in full. I just want to comment on a few of the things he said.

As he notes, this mission was made up of 30 countries and he calls it a “European mission.” He admits that he wouldn’t be at all surprised if there were indeed Hamas sympathizers aboard the flotilla, but makes the point that the intent of the group was not to somehow support or bolster Hamas. The fact that there may have been some individuals or organizations aboard the flotilla that had some connection with the enemies of Israel is entirely irrelevant. The mission of the flotilla was humanitarian and that is what needs to be focused on. They weren’t carrying weapons as even the Israeli military has admitted.

The charge that the members of the flotilla are “terrorists” is false and needs to stop. There are bigger questions that need answering at this time.

The Drama Continues…

Not surprisingly, I think, Israel is claiming that at least 50 captives taken from the flotilla have been identified as having possible terrorist connections.

As I pointed out here, it shouldn’t be surprising that in a group of 600 or more people some will have connections to organizations or individuals Israel isn’t too fond of. Remember the whole 6-degrees of separation theory? The Middle-East is chalk full of terrorist organizations. The fact that a few were on board  doesn’t surprise me and it shouldn’t be a big deal (and, again, let’s remember that Israel is only alleging these people may have terrorist connections). This is hardly proof of malicious intent.

In another interesting development, the Jewish human-rights organization Gisha was given some information regarding a Freedom of Information Act they filled against Israel concerning its policy on allowing food into the Gaza strip. A number of interesting details have emerged…

  • In a court submission, the State of Israel admits that, contrary to its previous claims, it does indeed possess documents related to its policy on the transfer of goods into the Gaza Strip, including a list of “permitted” goods.
  • However, the State claims for the first time that it can not reveal the documents, out of concern that allowing the public to review them would harm Israel’s national security and foreign relations.
  • Israel admits the existence of a “Red Lines” document that establishes the minimum nutritional requirements for residents of Gaza, but refuses to reveal it.

The rest can be read here.

The existence of a document establishing minimum nutritional requirements for the Palestinians should be sent to each and every columnist who disdainfully whines about how the Palestinians don’t need aid and other supplies because trustworthy Israel is making sure all their needs are met. Considering that a high percentage of people in Gaza are dangerously close to lacking sufficient resources on a day-to-day basis you can bet that Israel established this sustenance level diet and is doing all it can to make sure they don’t get anymore than that.

Israel and the flotilla of peace-activists (*Updated below*)

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past 20 hours you will be aware of a troubling international incident that has much of the world up in arms. Early this morning, a group of six boats containing a number of international peace-activists carrying food and other supplies destined for Gaza were intercepted by the Israeli military. The end result is a number activists dead and wounded. It’s what happened between the beginning and the end that things become a bit more complicated.

While still around 40 miles off the coast of Gaza, Israeli ships (and apparently a helicopter) approached the flotilla and demanded they turn back. When the ships refused, Israeli soldiers begin boarding via zip line from the helicopter. According to one report from Haaretz, the activists immediately attacked the soldiers with knives and metal sticks. The Israeli military is saying the activists had guns as well and used them, although Turkey is disputing that. At this point IDF soldiers were given the okay to fire back resulting in the deaths of 19 activists (although Israel is claiming 9). The ships and activists were than taken into Israeli custody.

Israel released a video of the attack allegedly showing that activists were the first to begin the provocations. The video can be seen below.

However, a video taken by an Al-Jezeera cameraman aboard the first ship boarded by the IDF appears to tell a different story. According to this video, Israel began firing upon the ship before Israeli soldiers were physically upon it. They fired both tear gas and stun grenades which injured a number of people. This video can be seen below.

Once Israel begin firing upon the ship the activists raised a white flag but live fire continued regardless, although the chronology of the events is hard to pin down exactly. From the sound of the second video it would appear the white flag went up before the IDF dropped upon the ship, although this is impossible to prove without better information and video footage. Clearly, activists attacked IDF personnel, although whether in self-defense or overt aggression is hard to say. The two videos certainly appear to paint a very different story.

Clearly, what we know for sure is that we don’t know much. People should refrain from immediately placing the blame on either Israel or the flotilla. A good case in point of how not to report on the situation is from a Wall Street Times’ article by Max Boot, ever the exuberant cheerleader of Israel. In the article Boot comes off about as callous as a rock when he states that

The so-called Gaza flotilla, comprising eight ships and roughly 800 participants, was not put together by peace-loving humanitarians primarily worried about relieving the suffering of Gaza residents. The people of Gaza already have access to food, medicine and other relief supplies provided by both Egypt and Israel.

That’s a comforting little thought, isn’t it? Basically he’s saying the world can rest assured that the Palestinians have access to all the amenities they desire, thanks to their mortal enemies and an authoritarian regime. This is, of course, a load of poppycock. As detailed here

  • “61% of people in the Gaza Strip are … food insecure”, of which “65% are children under 18 years”. (UN FAO)
  • since June 2007, “the number of Palestine refugees unable to access food and lacking the means to purchase even the most basic items, such as soap, school stationery and safe drinking water, has tripled”. (UNRWA)
  • “in February 2009, the level of anemia in babies (9-12 months) was as high as 65.5%” (UN FAO)
  • “water resources in the Gaza Strip are critically insufficient” (UN FAO)
  • “the blockade has been a major obstacle to repairing the damage done by Israeli air attacks and destruction. Nearly none of the 3,425 homes destroyed during Cast Lead have been reconstructed, displacing around 20,000 people. Only 17.5% of the value of the damages to educational facilities has been repaired … [T]he infrastructure which remains unrepaired is often that which is most essential to the basic needs and well-being of the Gaza population.” (UNDP)

Contrary to Boot’s cavalier attitude towards the Palestinian situation it’s clear that most Palestinians in the Gaza strip are suffering and fully at the hands of Israel. It is, of course, quite likely that the peace activists were in the wrong here and attacked first (although, to be fair, any smart protester is going to be on-edge considering what Israel routinely does to peaceful activists). But that is no justification for ignoring the humanitarian disaster that has been unfolding in Gaza since 2007.

Boot ends his article pondering the ways Israel could have avoided this incident in the first place.

One wonders if it wouldn’t have been possible for Israeli agents to sabotage the ships before they left port so that this incident would never have occurred?

To the best of anyone’s knowledge the ships were carrying aid material and nothing more. In fact, as I write this the Israeli military has begun turning loose some of the captives and they have made no mention of having found any weapons or other illegal goods. Surely if they had found them they would have advertised it. Boot simply assumes these people had malicious motives and leaves it at that.

We can only work with the information available to us, much of which is muddled, confusing, and ambiguous. No doubt we’ll know more in the coming days and weeks.

UPDATE 1 – 9am 01/10

I’m unable to get to a computer that allows me to have open more than one window open at a time, but it looks like the unofficial “official” number of deaths is 9, not 19 as reported by some organizations. A large number of activists are still being detained and Egypt appears to be relaxing its entry into Gaza in order to allow a bit more aid to get through. More later.

UPDATE 2- 11:30am 01/10

Megan McArdle takes a sympathetic view towards the flotilla in the Atlantic today. She makes an important point- one being ignored by many- that the flotilla was stopped and boarded in international waters where Israel has no jurisdiction. This fact undercuts any view of the situation that rests on who started clubbing and shooting each other first. She writes

This morning a bunch of people are trying to defend Israel by saying that the protesters attacked first.  No, they didn’t.  Boarding someone’s ship in international waters is an attack.

That’s a great point. Unfortunately, many commentators seem to be ignoring this by assuming that Israel had some “right” to board a group of ships in international waters. A good case in point is a short post at the American Spectator by John Tabin who writes

…[Israel’s] kid-glove approach (which, to be fair, did succeed at bloodlessly intercepting five of the six ships in the flotilla) earned Israel exactly no credit in the eyes of her critics, for whom Israel is ipso facto in the wrong whenever she defends herself.

This is backed up by Philip Klein, also at the American Spectator, who asserts that

Following up on John’s excellent post on the Israeli flotilla incident, I’d just like to add that this is yet another example of how Israel gets itself into trouble when it tries to play nice and goes out of its way to appease the international community. In this case, terrorist-linked extremists posing as a human rights workers were seeking to prevent Israel from enforcing a Naval blockade that is in place to stop a terrorist group dedicated to Israel’s destruction from importing weapons.

Tabin’s logic is incredibly convoluted. How on earth he comes to the conclusion that a group of ships carrying humanitarian aid constitutes a threat to Israel (especially on international waters) is beyond me. It would be far more accurate to say that in the eye’s of Israel’s most devoted fans any use of force is ipso facto considered a legitimate self-defense action.

And what of the charges that the flotilla was simply a front for radical extremists? Virtually baseless. Marjorie Cohn, at CounterPunch, lists some of the members on this flotilla.

The convoy was comprised of 700 people from 50 nationalities and included a Nobel laureate, members of parliament from Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Turkey and Malaysia, as well as Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset and a Holocaust survivor.

That hardly sounds like a troop of Islamic extremists, right? Not according to Caroline Glick, who expresses shock that people from different parts of the world could be drawn together by anything other than pure hatred for Israel.

The listed organizations hail from the four corners of the earth. They include Jewish anti-Israel groups as well as Christian, Islamic and non-religious anti-Israel groups. It is hard to think of any cause other than Israel-bashing that could unite such disparate forces.

In such a large group it seems to me almost unavoidable that some members may have affiliations with terrorist networks in the Middle-East. The IHH, a Turkish humanitarian group, was a part of the flotilla and may, indeed, have links to Hamas and other terrorist groups in Palestine and other places. Although this may be troubling, we have to remember that this is Palestine we’re talking about. Those sorts of terrorist groups do abound and inevitably someone is going to know someone who probably knows someone affiliated with them. This shouldn’t be shocking or surprising, nor should it detract from realizing the group’s singular goal: deliver aid to the Gaza strip.

Egypt, it seems, has decided to open its border with Gaza for a few days to allow humanitarian needs to be met. Not surprisingly, every time Egypt does this large numbers of Palestinians come pouring out of Gaza which would seem to belie Max Boot’s lofty assertion that the Palestinians, you know, have food and medicine and all of that good stuff. I mean, clearly there would be no reason to leave the blockaded Gaza strip, right? Those Palestinians are probably just greedy.

The Problem is Structural…

Martin Wolf, a British journalist, recently commented on the Austrian Business Cycle Theory (ABCT) at his Financial Times blog entitled the Martin Wolf Exchange. While he acknowledges that much of what the Austrians say could very well be correct, he disagrees with their view that markets should be allowed to liquidate without government intervention.

But Austrians also say – as their predecessors said in the 1930s – that the right response is to let everything rotten be liquidated, while continuing to balance the budget as the economy implodes. I find this unconvincing.

The problem here is that while he may agree with Austrians that fractional-reserve banking could be inherently unstable, he misses the real heart of the theory: malinvestments within the capital structure. During the boom stage of the business cycle capital is misallocated into sectors of the economy it otherwise would not have been were it not for the artificially low interest rates that misled entrepreneurs. Roger Garrison, in his book Time and Money, says

…credit expansion sets into motion a process of capital restructuring that is at odds with the unchanged preferences [of consumers] and is ultimately ill-fated.

The problem, then, is structural. It is a structural problem within the production process that ultimately leads to the bust. Now, I realize most mainstream economic theories typically think of capital as a homogeneous “k” where a “structure of production” is ultimately meaningless. But just for a moment take the ABCT on its own terms. If the problem is ultimately structural and not simply a lack of effective aggregate demand than it becomes immediately apparent why government attempts to boost aggregate demand will end in failure. Increasing aggregate demand is not going to help the production process straighten out its  structural problems. In fact, it will probably exasperate it.

I should point out that if Wolf’s concern is for the general population most effected during the “liquidation period” than I can see no serious objection within Austrian economics to providing some sort of short-term safety net. Of course many Austrian economists would object to a government safety net out of hand, but that would be more as “libertarians” than “Austrian economists”. While there are good economic reasons for being wary of the long-term effects of unemployment insurance and other safety nets, used sparingly I can’t see this as halting, in any meaningful sense, the capital restructuring necessary for the economy to get back on its feet.

The Evolution of Markets

Last March, the journal Science published a fascinating study by researchers from around the globe entitled, “Markets, Religion, Community Size, and the Evolution of Fairness and Punishment,” which sets out to research the ways in which large-scale human societies are able to foster trade and cooperation. Obviously, we haven’t always lived in large, interconnected groups of people like we do now. Once upon a time humans lived in small, closely related groups that were held together by the innate bonds of kinship. But getting from small groups of related people to large interconnected societies has always puzzled sociobiological researchers.

Sadly, the full journal article is only available to subscribers so I haven’t been able to read the full thing. This article, from USAToday, seems to be a pretty good summary. The abstract of the study says this

Large-scale societies in which strangers regularly engage in mutually beneficial transactions are puzzling. The evolutionary mechanisms associated with kinship and reciprocity, which underpin much of primate sociality, do not readily extend to large unrelated groups. Theory suggests that the evolution of such societies may have required norms and institutions that sustain fairness in ephemeral exchanges. If that is true, then engagement in larger-scale institutions, such as markets and world religions, should be associated with greater fairness, and larger communities should punish unfairness more. Using three behavioral experiments administered across 15 diverse populations, we show that market integration (measured as the percentage of purchased calories) positively covaries with fairness while community size positively covaries with punishment. Participation in a world religion is associated with fairness, although not across all measures. These results suggest that modern prosociality is not solely the product of an innate psychology, but also reflects norms and institutions that have emerged over the course of human history.

Russ Roberts, the host of the great economic podcast EconTalk and professor of economics at George Mason University, never tires of defining economics as the study of incentives, and I think this is exactly what this study is talking about. What they are really examining is the incentives that led small groups of people to interact and cooperate with other small groups of people, rather than just fighting them in all out tribal warfare. As Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains in his paper “On the Origin of Private Property and the Family“, the hunter-gatherer societies were essentially parasitic. They took from the land but never produced anything. Once these resources were depleted these societies had to either wait for the replenishment of vegetation and animal herds or migrate. Migration worked for a time, but, the supply of land being fixed as it is, there came a point in which human societies simply could not escape each other and it came down to either warring over land or hunkering down and cooperating.

The question, then, is how to cooperate and trade with groups of people you would normally consider enemies. Ludwig Von Mises, in Human Action, describes the tendency for humans to cooperate,

If and as far as labor under the division of labor is more productive than isolated labor, and if and as far as man is able to realize this fact, human action itself tends toward cooperation and association; man becomes a social being not in sacrificing his own concerns for the sake of a mythical Moloch, society, but in aiming at an improvement in his own welfare.

What Mises is saying here is that as the opportunity cost of not trading rises relative to remaining in small, splintered groups people will begin to trade. They begin to trade by establishing norms and rules (that could be explicit or implicit) in order to facilitate trade.  As the paper notes, groups of people that do engage in trade show greater amounts of fairness towards strangers than those that do not. This can be explained by the concept of “social capital” which compares human relationships analogously to  financial transactions. The sociologist James Coleman describes social capital in terms of credit slips. When person A does something for person B it establishes a mutual relationship and the concept of credit slips describe the “debt” person B then holds for person A. Social capital is the trust and obligations that people hold toward one another.

People went from war to peaceful exchange via “growing” their social capital by engaging in trade. Although many today are apt to see trade and competition as “cutthroat” and somehow inherently hostile, trade is actually an action which establishes people as allies rather than enemies because each party knows the trade is mutually advantageous (A and B engage in trade because they desire what the other party has and if they didn’t the trade would not happen). Fairness is a natural outcome of the creation of social capital.

When economists say markets can overcome this problem or that problem it may make more sense to bring it down to the individual level. People solve problems when there are good reasons, and strong incentives, for doing so. Often times critics of the market conceive of the market as some abstract, homogeneous institution rather than the nexus that ties human action together. When we think in terms of individuals it becomes easier to understand why markets can solve problems- because people do. This study demonstrates just one of the numerous ways in which this is true.

There’s a reason history should be taught…

I’ve been trying to think of a good first post to kick this blog off, and it seems the latest David Boaz article that seems to be sweeping the blogosphere is as good a place as any to start. So without further adieu…

On April 6th, Reason.com published an article by the Cato Institute’s David Boaz entitled, “Up From Slavery“. The main premise of the article is that, hey, there never was a golden age of liberty and so libertarians should stop being so backward looking and appreciate the gains in liberty that have been made up to the present. For example, he says

“For the past 70 years or so conservatives have opposed the demands for equal respect and equal rights by Jews, blacks, women, and gay people. Libertarians have not opposed those appeals for freedom, but too often we (or our forebears) paid too little attention to them. And one of the ways we do that is by saying “Americans used to be free, but now we’re not”—which is a historical argument that doesn’t ring true to an awful lot of Jewish, black, female, and gay Americans.”

While I can certainly sympathize with the advice that those concerned with the spread of freedom acknowledge the fact that there never has been a “golden age of liberty”, it seems to be entirely possible to fall into the opposite fallacy: Ignoring what was once good by focusing too much on what was bad. This type of fallacy strikes me as even more dangerous than thinking we should all live like its 1885 because everybody already knows the types of injustices that were perpetuated onto blacks, females, gays and so forth. What many people, especially the young and those in college,  do not know is the amazing sense of individualism and freedom that has always characterized the American spirit and which made possible the freedom that practically all groups of people experience today. The civil rights movement did not originate out of a vacuum. It was, in so many respects, a quintessentially American movement; something not unlike a continuation of the American Revolution itself. And if David Boaz wants freedom to move even further along it would behoove him to keep the spirit of the American Revolution going.

Allan Bloom, in his classic book “The Closing of the American Mind”, makes this point well. He writes,

There is no immediate, sensual experience of the nation’s meaning or its project, which would provide the basis the for adult reflection on regimes and statesmanship. Students now arrive at the university ignorant and cynical about our political heritage, lacking the wherewithal to be either inspired by it or seriously critical of it.

Point being, if the American Revolution is maligned as nothing more than an exercise in white, male hegemony than what sort of incentive would anyone have to look for the good in it? Bloom is right- the American Revolution should be inspiring. While nobody claims it was perfect, one cannot help but admire the principled resistance to tyranny the early Americans brought to the table and the system of government they developed to try and keep tyranny at bay. There is good there and we should recognize that good on its own terms. We should also try to emulate that same resistance to tyranny and oppression.

Boaz’s point is well taken: Not everyone experienced liberty. Indeed, the majority of people in America probably didn’t experience the type of liberty Boaz advocates. But that is no reason to malign it all. Elsewhere in “The Closing of the American Mind” Bloom talks about

…the openness that invites us to the quest for knowledge and certitude, for which history and the various cultures provide a brilliant array of examples for examination.

His point is that true openness in the search for truth allows us to sift through historical situations and discover what was good and what was bad; what will be useful to us in the present and what we should discard. Boaz’s entire article strikes me as throwing the baby out with the bath water. This is wrong. A sense of historical identity is of the utmost importance. If people don’t know where we’ve come from, they won’t know where to continue going. If the good parts of American history aren’t known, what is left to imitate? Nothing, which is a very problematic concept indeed.