After hearing some talking head on CNBC refer to Ron Paul as a mosquito, the author thought to himself, “If Ron Paul is a Mosquito, he is a powerful one.” Hence the name. Jonathan Goodwin is bionic mosquito and was kind enough to give us a peak into his not-so-mosquito-sized brain.
Political Badger: What was the impetus for starting your blog?
Bionic Mosquito: I had been thinking about doing something like this for quite some time. I thought it would be a good way for me to improve my thinking on several subjects – economics, libertarianism, politics, and empire (I think history wasn’t originally on my mind); I am not trained in any of these. I felt that the act of writing, and posting it publicly, would force an improvement of discipline in my thought. I also thought that receiving feedback online would be a wonderful, free, learning tool. Finally, I wanted to document my own learning / progression.
But what drove me finally to take the step was a minor technical problem (you asked). For a time I was a regular feed-backer at The Daily Bell. Early on, I was not able to post a comment of more than a few characters (it turned out to be a browser problem on my end). In order to get around this, I would post my longer comments on my blog, and DB graciously copied the comments from my blog to their thread.
Pretty dull, I know.
PB: When did it really take off?
BM: Have you looked at the alexa ratings? “Take off” is not a phrase I would use, but thank you.
I guess bionic mosquito first started gaining some recognition (beyond the comments section of Daily Bell, EPJ, and Mises) when Lew Rockwell ran a post a couple of years ago – something I wrote about Pearl Harbor, based on a book by George Victor, “The Pearl Harbor Myth: Rethinking the Unthinkable”. Since then, Lew has re-posted many of my blog posts, as has Robert Wenzel at EPJ and Marc Clair at Lions of Liberty. A few other sites occasionally pick up a post as well.
PB: Who has influenced your thinking the most?
BM: Within the world of libertarian / Austrian thought…I guess I will have to start with ancient history…. Many say it all started with Ayn Rand. For me, it started one step before – with Rush and their album 2112 – dedicated to the genius of Ayn Rand. “Who is this Ann Rand?” So, off to the library and the card catalog…. “Which book was Neil Peart referencing? Thank God, it is the shortest one!” The book was Anthem, of course. But instead of a light bulb, Peart’s lyrics revolved around a guitar.
Ayn Rand books, Reason Magazine (at the time, properly libertarian as I recall), Laissez Faire Book Club, etc…. Fast forward to a few years ago: an acquaintance says to me, “Ron Paul is running for President” – “big deal,” I thought. “I remember when he ran in 1988 – what, about 0.7% of the vote?” Then, the first money bomb happened – “something different is going on this time.”
I started digging. Now, who has (more recently) influenced my thinking? Lew Rockwell (and many of his regular contributors), Gary North, Ron Paul, and Anthony Wile (and the elves) come to mind.
However, I have tried to maintain a certain discipline: on all subjects other than history (for reasons I will explain shortly), I have tried to work through the problems on my own. Only after I have come to a reasoned (at least for me) conclusion, might I go look for what the giants have written on the subject. I then take great joy if I find that I landed in the same spot that someone like Rothbard or Mises has landed; and if I landed somewhere else (as is the case on a few key topics), I have done enough work to comfortably test my conclusions against their statements.
History is different – I need facts, I need dates; for this, I read. From these, I try to tie together an interpretation that may or may not correspond with what the author has presented.
PB: How has your blog changed/evolved since its inception?
BM: I hope that my writing skills have improved. I hope that my reasoning has improved. I don’t recall that when I started the blog I thought revisionist history would be of such interest to me. Beyond this, I cannot say.
PB: Where are you on the libertarian spectrum? Anarachist? Minarchist? Somewhere in between?
BM: Anarchist. But I guess I must make a distinction in the terms government (as it has come to be known today) and governance. It seems to me that for a society to survive and thrive, there must be governance (“duh” for some, I know). But I look for voluntary relationships in governance – through church, community, family, etc.
I look at combining the concept of homeowner’s associations and insurance companies into one possible working model of a near-anarcho-capitalist society. Fred Foldvary has written some good stuff on the HOA concept (he falls back into government, occasionally, but I find no reason that it must be so); many have written about the role insurance companies might play – to include enforcement, investigation, resolution, etc. Conceptually such a possibility holds together well, it seems to me.
PB: How did you arrive at your present way of thinking? How have your views evolved?
BM: I guess in the early days (2112, Ayn Rand) I was minarchist. I was pretty convinced that the state must provide defense, justice, the rules of the road and the like – although just about every state action in these fields that I lived through raised an eyebrow, but not enough to shake me awake.
In the last several years, as I have approached the topic more critically, I realized the simple truth that minarchism was still based on the acceptance of the initiation of aggression. Once exceptions were made, who would decide where to draw the line? On what basis, besides personal preference? It seems to me that a political philosophy, for it to have any staying power, must be based on some principle – and that principle must be rigorously applied and applied to all, regardless of employer.
With this, I concluded that there is no role for a coercive state. My conclusion is derived from a moral perspective, but it can be reached (or at least reasonably demonstrated) pragmatically as well – markets provide far better solutions in virtually all cases than do centrally planned solutions.
PB: I read in your May 24, 2014 piece “All Hail Shadow Banking” where you said, “I don’t suggest absolutely free markets in all places everywhere; merely that what is uneconomical cannot continue forever.” I may be nit-picking here but I was surprised by the first part of this statement. Why don’t you think a free market is always the best solution?
BM: Boy, this throws a turd in my last answer! Actually, the comment was more to qualify my expectation regarding the ultimate inability for central banks (and their commercial bank extensions) to check the market demand for services provided by so-called shadow banks.
Markets will win eventually – they cannot be denied without consequence forever. And I see free markets as, by definition, always offering the best solution – extend subjective value and this must be the answer, no matter what the economic aggregates say. But do I envision a completely free-market (NAP valuing) world? Do I see free markets conquering all, at the same time and everywhere? A complete and final victory? No, not as long as earth is populated by humans. Although I believe we will continue to move generally in this direction (or at least the direction of decentralization) for the foreseeable future.
In the West, we tend to have a very myopic view about the direction of relative freedom. Consider the direction toward more liberal society in China, India, the former communist countries of Eastern Europe, etc. – billions of people. Even in America: consider what it was like to live as a slave in America, or to be in the middle of Lincoln’s war with all of his abuses, or an American Indian in the late 1800s. We continue to move toward a generally more liberalized world.
PB: Would you not agree that at least in the U.S. our government has grown; regulating and controlling even more than it did during say, the industrial revolution or turn of the 19th century? I’m thinking of all the New Deal programs, Great Society programs, Obamacare, NSA, etc. Are we really trending towards liberty?
BM: Yes, certainly the US government has grown. Yet, within the US, there is no more slavery – certainly not comparable (not of the same type) to that which existed before 1865; there is no war within the borders of the country, as existed several times prior to 1865 (and later in the century against American Indians); there is no military conscription, as existed for much of the history of the US; there is no internment based on nationality (although one could easily make an argument that the drug war is today’s version of this).
What are added regulations compared to these?
We face different threats from the US government today – I have never tried to think through a balance sheet comparing, say 1840, or 1863, or 1935, or 1942, or 1969 to 2014. This might be worth thinking about. I guess I might include in the criteria the likelihood of military conscription and the then inevitable possibility of dying in war; overall percent of government spending and taxation rates; incarceration rates (to include slavery as “incarceration”. I would probably place the greatest weight on conscription/death in war and incarceration; being deprived of life or the freedom to act on even the most basic choices in life seem far greater depravations than any others imposed by the state.
We, as individuals, also have different means available to counteract the threats of today. We have the ability to take video on publicize the state aggression. We have the means to educate ourselves on the realities, the means by which we can reach millions (or even a handful) of people; just what the two of us are doing with this interview or what we each do with our blogs.
PB: Most in libertarian/Austrian circles agree that Fed/government policy ends badly. Do you believe we are headed for a collapse? What will it look like?
BM: I don’t envision collapse – a destruction of the money and credit economy. I see continued and gradual (though sometimes bumpy) erosion in currency values, in daily life for many. Tomorrow will look a lot like today, just as will next month and next year. Nixon removed the last link to gold over forty years ago; the Fed has more than quadrupled its balance sheet in six years – is the world drastically different, even after these two (what would have been called beforehand) cataclysmic events? Not really.
Collapse is in no one’s interest – at least no one in power; I don’t dismiss the ability of those in power to manage the descent – even to once again react to the next calamity as they did in 2008. Whether you believe non-market derived power lies in individual nation-states, led by politicians serving their own interests; competing spheres of elite (with the Anglos on one side and the Chinese / Russians on the other); or an all-encompassing global elite – or any combination in between – they don’t win via collapse. In a collapse, they all lose power (and take significant risk), and none of them want to lose power.
Could collapse happen anyway? Anything is possible, I guess. Collapse means 95% or more of the developed, division-of-labor world dies – those who regularly scream collapse should plan accordingly.
China isn’t suddenly going to sell all of its Treasuries (or any such similar triggering event) – the politicians in China will lose control over their economy and the people. What I see is all factions working on how to gradually wean themselves from being tied to the mother-ship, being the US dollar, the US orbit.
What do I think the end will look like? There are so many factors to consider: 1) Markets will force changes at the margin. This is what is happening and will continue to happen. 2) Technology, as it has always been, will be a two-edged sword – every new technology and convenience both increases freedom and increases the possibilities of control. The internet and telecommunications is a great example – we have gained much and lost some freedom due to these. 3) Governments and the elite find new ways and means to add to the co-opted productive side of the equation (as they have with lower-cost labor in China, Mexico, and Eastern Europe, for example; as they have with breakthroughs in technology), allowing continued support of the non-productive side. Will they take advantage of new ones? Much is written about the coming explosion in both medical and computing breakthroughs – will the middle class reap the benefits, or those in control?
Eventually, there will be too many dependent living on the backs of too many independent. But, this won’t result in collapse – it will be a gradual (from the human point-of-reference) change. And it will occur at different times in different places. Rothbard suggests that industrialization has come too far for the clock to be turned back – the people won’t stand for it. I tend to agree.
I envision, as government enforced systems fade and fail, we will continue to move generally toward further decentralization – this doesn’t necessarily mean libertarian / anarcho societies will be the norm, but decentralization itself isn’t so bad. I would like to get to a decentralization of about 2 billion different political units (say one per household), but a few thousand instead of 200 or so is a move in the right direction. We were at about 150 just a few decades ago.
PB: Are you surprised we haven’t seen more inflation to this point? Do you expect we will see massive inflation at some point?
BM: Who knows how much (price) inflation we have seen? The government says little, John Williams says more. We certainly are seeing price inflation in assets.
Will we see massive consumer price inflation at some point? I expect so; but when? There seems to be some movement recently. There is a big battle between inflationary and deflationary forces. As long as prices remain more or less a draw based on both official (government) statistics and unofficial public perception in consumer prices, central banks can keep pumping. This could go on for years, even decades, I suspect – alternating bouts of some true consumer price inflation and the next economic step down.
There is much accumulated capital in the west – both economically and culturally. The accounts are being drawn – who knows how long this tightrope act can be maintained?
PB: I’ve read several of your pieces on Fractional Reserve Banking (FRB). Do you think FRB is at the root of our economic problems? Given how our banking/shadow banking system has evolved, do you think it is even possible to go back to full reserve banking?
BM: The root is a jealous, and in some ways envious, society – many people wanting more than they can earn in a free market (with the crony capitalists and bankers doing infinitely more harm than the welfare queens). As to FRB? The root of the problem is the monopoly. Fractional reserve banking doesn’t bother me (technically, it cannot be contracted for in any case; two individuals cannot have the same claim on the same asset at the same time – and they do not in our current banking system).
In a free market, it would be regulated quite effectively – as Mises, Rothbard, and others have suggested.. Where markets are capable of being an effective regulator, I see no need to erect artificial barriers.
Is it possible to go back to full reserve banking? I doubt a free-market would produce such a result – it may be one, but not the only, available option (and shouldn’t Austrians / libertarians be arguing for a free-market, and not one specific, centrally-planned outcome?). Remove the monopoly privilege and all government protections. Then, whatever happens, happens.
The question is, is it possible to ever again see free-markets in money and credit? It is possible, in the sense that markets can handle this – markets routinely handle far more complex problems than money and credit. What cannot be answered: will we ever see the right set of circumstances that would cause / force the elite to let go of this most valuable franchise?
PB: What are your thoughts on the Piketty book?
BM: Does subsistence farming sound attractive?
I haven’t read it. I understand a) he claims capital earns a disproportionate share of economic returns relative to labor, and b) to “fix” this, he wants to increase the tax on capital, and introduce a global wealth tax.
I commented recently at a Mises thread something to the effect of: I wonder how much labor would be worth if capital was taxed at 100%? Hence, subsistence farming….
Many have criticized his abuse of (or lack of) data, etc. I just know that capital competes with capital, labor competes with labor, labor competes with capital, and capital competes with labor. Absent government interventions, how does any input gain an unfair (meaning non-market) and permanent advantage? In a (relatively) free market, efficiency will win – to the benefit of consumers.
My understanding is that he wrote the entire book without calling into question the one institution that does more than any other to manipulate the outcomes in the economy – and away from labor: monopoly central banking. Without addressing this, there is no “solution” to any economic complaint one might have.
No wonder the establishment loves the book.
PB: You write a lot about history and then try to set the record straight. What are some of the most damaging fallacies/misconceptions about our history people should wake up to?
BM: Not any one event, but an idea: wake up from the dream; the story that we are told is almost always a lie, a fable. The fable depicts the state as the solution, when in truth the state is almost always the cause. The lie is that government institutions are looking out for your interest, when instead the individuals in government look out for their own interests and the interests of those otherwise leveraging the franchise.
The fable is favorable to “our” team, and unfavorable to “their” team. The lie that the “teams” are defined properly – the poor German and the poor Ukrainian on the other side in 1942 had more in common with each other than each did with their respective political/military leaders – and those opposing leaders had more in common with each other than with their underlings.
PB: Who was our worst President and why?
BM: I think the worst thing a president, or any political leader, can do is send off men to be killed and to order the killing of others. So, rank them in order of this – and in their actions that subsequently led to this. I have never tried to quantify this (perhaps a good idea for a new post), but off of the top of my head? FDR, Wilson (although I could swap these two), LBJ, Lincoln.
PB: Last year I read your not so glowing review of David Stockman and his op ed in the New York Times. What are your thoughts on him a year later?
BM: He writes some wonderful pieces – his recent post on GM was very good (other than a minor quibble or two). His deconstruction of the financial calamity is spot on; I just didn’t like that, when he had the opportunity and platform to offer the right prescription, he didn’t take it..
PB: Has US foreign policy in any way made the world safer? Is there a US war that you think was justified?
BM: The US government isn’t the only devil out there – just the most active globally. Who knows the answer to this question? There would not be a vacuum. What would have filled it?
I think the world would be safer if everyone minded his own business – literally and figuratively. I know criminals do not; this does not justify becoming a criminal in return – it does suggest not doing many of the things done via US foreign policy.
I read once, in the context of questioning the concept of mutually assured destruction: “For even if one has a serious moral responsibility, one can be morally barred from using the only available means to fulfill it…. If one finds oneself in circumstances such that there is no moral way to discharge one’s positive duties, then one should not discharge them.” The one thing that can be said with certainty – US foreign policy has been quite immoral.
The largest military grade arms manufacturer in the world is the US government; the largest military budget, by orders of magnitude, belongs to the US government; the largest exporter of military grade hardware is the US government: the most all-encompassing spy organizations are in the US government; the most expansive military presence throughout the world is the US military; atomic bombs were dropped only by the US government; the worst carpet bombing of civilians in WWII was done by the US (and Brits); joining with and enabling communism was done by the US government.
Now, some might argue that, since WWII – when the US was unquestionably the main tool for global control – the world has not seen a major, global war. True enough (I attribute this to the elite knowing that they cannot avoid getting cookedalong with the rest of us in such a scenario); but does this absolve the countless millions of deaths directly attributable to US government actions? Certainly, no.
Who can say if the world would have been safer absent the role the US government has played – might another power have stepped up? Maybe. However, what can be stated is that, for many, the world has not been safe with the US government playing its pre-eminent role.
Is there a US war that was justified? I recently wrote something calling into question even the US revolutionary war.. If one takes Rothbard as the standard, I guess that only leaves the south in 1861 – I haven’t looked into it enough to say anything definitive.
I am muddling through a post on “not-just” war theory. Basically, my thought is that any war that relies on taxes and conscription (among one or two other criteria) cannot be just. Now, avoiding these does not make the war just, but violating these is automatic disqualification from even being considered just. That pretty much eliminates all US wars, it seems to me.
PB: What objections to libertarianism give you trouble?
BM: Trouble in what sense? Intellectually? I enjoy working through issues such as abortion, specific performance,intellectual property, fractional reserve banking, free banking; Wenzel recently wrote something about proportionality that has caused me to think through this concept. This is a good kind of “trouble.”
Trouble in terms of straw-men and other fallacious objections? One of my favorites – anarchy has never “worked.”Well, define “worked.” Where has the state “worked”? Worked for whom? I have enjoyed finding nice examples in history to counter this – not pure Rothbardian anarchy, but pretty good examples of tremendous decentralization.
Another is the “I’m for liberty, except…” objection. Like anyone is bright enough to pick the right “except.”
PB: How do you feel about Rothbard’s stance on one’s obligation to children? That you don’t have any obligation to them and that you can terminate your relationship to them at any point?
BM: I disagree with this. It is difficult to comprehend of liberty without taking responsibility for your actions. Perhaps this is a “thick” argument. However, as I wrote regarding Wenzel’s post on proportionality, society cannot thrive, and may not survive, if it is acceptable to treat life in a callous manner.
In any case, I can avoid risking making a thick argument; regarding abortion, I have laid out a case that the unborn child has property rights in the womb. Therefore, to evict the unborn child (the solution that Walter Block advocates) is a violation of the NAP. I base this on a foundation of contract law and other principles of rental real estate, most importantly the concept of a unilateral contract (a contract which is a valid type, and can be between a known person and an unknown – not yet even born – person; think of offering a reward). While not explicitly addressing the issue of an already born child, I believe the logic and rational applies.
The post is here – I would modify it somewhat if I were to write it today, but in general it conveys my thinking.
PB: How would a free market regulate the “tragedy of the commons” phenomenon? Say for example corporations dumping waste deep in the ocean where no one actually owns the property?
BM: Don’t just pick on corporations. And who is to say that no one would own the property?
In any case, I recall a joke: the third grade teacher is speaking in front of his class. One of the students pops his hand up, and out of nowhere asks a question about computers: “How does a computer work?” The teacher replies: “I don’t even know how one sheet of tissue follows the other out of the box; do you think I can explain computers?”
My simple answer is… I don’t know; I daily enjoy countless benefits of tools, gadgets, food, etc., that I myself have no idea how to produce. Thousands of problems have been solved for me that I could never have solved on my own.
If I definitively knew the answer to this question, I guess I would demonstrate that central planning works. Who knows what answers might develop in a free market? My other answer is that there is no solution for this today. Free markets don’t offer heaven on earth – but clear respect for property rights have a way of regulating behavior far better than regulation by dictate.
PB: Who annoys you within the movement?
BM: I have recently written several posts on the thick-thin debate; I have also written about “milquetoast” libertarians. I am most annoyed (if this is the right term) by the adults (in intellectual depth, not speaking of chronological age) who have transformed their view so obviously; I am somewhat annoyed by the adults who can’t reconcile their “shoulds” with the NAP’s “musts.” I am far less annoyed by the children (again, intellectually) in the bunch – they are merely fun to toy with. For those who have followed along in these discussions (of which I am only a minor participant) either at my blog, LRC, EPJ, or elsewhere, I don’t need to say the names – you know; for the rest, the names won’t mean much.
Also, annoyed by libertarians (self-proclaimed, but falsely in my opinion) who find some reason to dance with the devil – the state, the military-industrial complex, central banking, whatever.
Somewhere, principle has to be upheld – Rothbard was so good at pointing this out, and doing it. Without principle, “libertarian” becomes nothing beyond “I have some good ideas. Mine will work better than yours.” Haven’t we had enough of this, finding the right “leaders”?
Better to focus on what should be upheld, than who should do the upholding. I am pleased and humbled that some people feel that I am able to effectively (and properly) convey and expand the principle.
Reprinted from Political Badger.