The legacy of George Washington’s Postal Service Act of February 20, 1792

127304 600 End of Saturday Mail Delivery cartoons

WASHINGTON — Faced with billions of dollars in losses, the Postal Service announced on Wednesday (Feb. 06 2013) that it would seek to stop Saturday delivery of letters, a sweeping change in mail delivery that immediately drew criticism from postal unions, some businesses and lawmakers.

What went wrong I wonder?  Would it had been better if George Washington had never passed the Postal Service Act of 1792? How many billions would taxpayers have saved since then?  Would private companies like the  American Letter Mail Company of Lysander Spooner have served better the market? Or would the system have collapsed without government intervention?

In February 20, 1792 the Postal Service Act, establishing the United States Post Office Department was signed by President George Washington.  An interesting date to remember in these days in which the Postal Service made it to the news with their Losses and their controversial solution by ending Saturday Letter Delivery.

We know for certain that in a free market no company would survive if they had kept losses as huge as the one USPS has had over all these years. They had losses of   $15.9 billion only last year.  A principle of free market transactions is that in competing  there appears a beneficial rivalry among sellers trying to achieve goals as increasing profits, market share, and sales volume by varying the elements of the marketing mix: price, product, distribution, and promotion.  Thus, enabling for those companies which succeed in growing larger and for those companies which fail to disappear.  With the existence of monopolistic services (like the Postal Service in the US) industries and business sponsored by government disrupted market transactions (bureaucratically made) and thus enabled for failing companies to continue existing even though they were not beneficial for society in the long-term.

126863 600 going postal cartoons

This reminds me to the company founded Lysander Spooner whom “being an advocate of self-employment and opponent of government regulation of business, Spooner started his own business called American Letter Mail Company which competed with the U.S. Post Office. Postal rates were notoriously high in the 1840s,[7] and in 1844, Spooner founded the American Letter Mail Company, which had offices in various cities, including Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York.[8] Stamps could be purchased and then attached to letters which could be sent to any of its offices. From here agents were dispatched who traveled on railroads and steamboats, and carried the letters in hand bags. Letters were transferred to messengers in the cities along the routes who then delivered the letters to the addressees. This was a challenge to the United States Post Office’s monopoly.[7][9] As he had done when challenging the rules of the Massachusetts bar, he published a pamphlet titled “The Unconstitutionality of the Laws of Congress Prohibiting Private Mails.” Although Spooner had finally found commercial success with his mail company, legal challenges by the government eventually exhausted his financial resources. He closed up shop without ever having had the opportunity to fully litigate his constitutional claims. The lasting legacy of Spooner’s challenge to the postal service was the 3-cent stamp, adopted in response to the competition his company provided.[10]

Lets have this as food for thought…

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Walmart’s Irrational “buy American” Campaign

Walmart-Stores-home-offic-007

Walmart‘s latest push to Buy American and Hire Veterans is irrational.  In a world of interconnectedness in which products from pencils to airplanes are produced with parts and components made all over the world the “buy American” argument falls into pieces.

In today’s world mass consumption economy there is not a single product that can be claimed to be “national” or “unique” without ignoring the intertwined network of global production.  If your argument is “yes” there is such a thing as “100% national” or “100% American” then I will still be able of arguing against your position.  Why?  Because the economy of the United States of America is not only part but dependent on the global economy.

By 2012, only about 32 cents for every dollar of U.S. debt, or $4.6 trillion, was owned by the federal government in trust funds, for Social Security and other programs such as retirement accounts, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury.

The largest portion of U.S. debt, 68 cents for every dollar or about $10 trillion, is owned by individual investors, corporations, state and local governments and, yes, even foreign governments such as China that hold Treasury bills, notes and bonds.

Foreign governments hold about 46 percent of all U.S. debt held by the public, more than $4.5 trillion. The largest foreign holder of U.S. debt is China, which owns more about $1.2 trillion in bills, notes and bonds, according to the Treasury.

In total, China owns about 8 percent of publicly held U.S. debt. Of all the holders of U.S. debt China is the third-largest, behind only the Social Security Trust Fund‘s holdings of nearly $3 trillion and the Federal Reserve‘s nearly $2 trillion holdings in Treasury investments, purchased as part of its quantitative easing program to boost the economy. (Data via: How Much U.S. Debt Does China Really Own?)

So, the next time you think you are “Buying American“, I invite you to reconsider how irrational such an argument is.

Course on Human Action starts tomorrow!!!

Starting Tomorrow:

Human Action, Part 1

Instructor: David Gordon
Cost: $79 (50% off!)
Dates: September 12 – November 6, 2012
Length: Eight weeks

Register Now!

It is perhaps the most important and profound book ever written. Yet how many, in their attempts to read it, have been stopped in their tracks by Part I? In those 7 chapters, Mises lays out the philosophical underpinnings of economics and social philosophy. So they are crucial for understanding the rest of the treatise. Yet, for the reader not versed in philosophy, the technical terminology and references can be daunting.

In this course, David Gordon will clearly explain everything you need to know to make sense of the concepts presented in these chapters. He will define the terms, provide background for the references, and make clear exactly what it is that Mises is saying in these passages.

If this classic has been sitting on your shelf or in your Kindle, just waiting for you to tackle it, there is no better way to start than with this course, which will be followed by subsequent courses taught by Mises Academy faculty, covering the rest of Human Action.

Lectures

The video lectures are online. Lectures will be Wednesday evenings, 6:30-8:00 pm Eastern time. They will be recorded and made available for enrolled students to download.

Reading:

All readings will be free and online. A full hyper-linked syllabus with readings for each weekly topic will be available for all students.

Grades and Certificates

The final grade will depend on quizzes. Taking the course for a grade is optional. This course is worth 3 credits in our own internal system. Feel free to ask your school to accept Mises Academy credits. You will receive a digital Certificate of Completion for this course if you take it for a grade, and a Certificate of Participation if you take it on a paid-audit basis.

Refund Policy

If you drop the course during its first week (7 calendar days), you will receive a full refund, minus a $25 processing fee. If you drop the course during its second week, you will receive a half refund. No refunds will be granted following the second week.

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About David Gordon

David Gordon is a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. He was educated at UCLA, where he earned his PhD in intellectual history. He is the author ofResurrecting Marx: The Analytical Marxists on Exploitation, Freedom, and JusticeThe Philosophical Origins of Austrian EconomicsAn Introduction to Economic Reasoning, and Critics of Marx. He is also editor of Secession, State, and Liberty and co-editor of H.B. Acton’s Morals of Markets and Other Essays.

Dr. Gordon is the editor of The Mises Review, and a contributor to such journals as AnalysisThe International Philosophic Quarterly,The Journal of Libertarian Studies, and The Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics.

The role of Ethics, Economic Power and Political Power in Big Corporations

Today in class we had a short discussion on which is the economic and political power of Corporations and Transnational Companies in the Global Political Economy as compared with the power that have states and governments.  Undoubtedly, the scope and array of political activities of  companies is huge and their economic activities are even more diverse.

More so, the power of these corporations to shape culture, politics and media is widely studied and written about in books, journals and documentaries. What is usually not mentioned is that these huge and powerful companies have acquired political power by the use of their profits for the sake of protecting their interests.  These interest and the means used are subject of ethical judgement.s

Generally, the political power to which we usually identify this corporations is that of lobbying.  However, many other ways of achieving global economic and political power are open for corporations by allying with ruling governments, offering loans and investment for countries and/or new cities; but also by the enforcement of specific news agendas and in the Media to inform citizens.

It is of particular interest for me the ethics of the political and economic power that a company has.  The pursuit of profit is the goal of a company by the provision of services to its consumers.  It is profit which fuels a company to continue growing and providing services.  However, this activity of pursuing profit is subject for ethical judgements that historically have been judged by/from immoral philosophical backgrounds. (For further information on what I consider to be Morality or Ethics please visit: http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/morality.html)

The pursuit of profit is a moral action when undertaken in consistency with the respect of individual rights.  As such, a company should and can influence politicians by lobbying when it considers it necessary for them to increase their profits.  The lobbying that is ethical is that which doesn’t creates privileges but that which eliminates regulations on competition that was previously benefiting special interest groups.

Historically, the role that Corporations and Transnational Companies have had  should be analysed in context when judged about its morality or immorality.  Thousands of pages of research that demonstrate how corporations have used its political power to achieve special privileges can be found everywhere.  The immorality of the actions of many corporate managers has been demonstrated and data on how they have violated human rights can easily be found in newspapers.  But this is not an absolute; just because some (or most) of the companies have violated and abused of their economic and political power it doesn’t make of them to be intrinsically evil or corrupt.

Corporations are not humans.  However, corporations are managed by humans whom depending on their philosophies of life can respect or violate individual rights and disobey the rule of law.  It are only those companies which act ethically which at the end of the day will profit the most and benefit the rest of society in a positive sum game.  Those companies and their managers who are willing to violate rights and act unethically have brought the Global Political Economy into zero sum game results in which only one side of the exchange has benefited.

And here, once again, the enlightment of Ayn Rand comes to play particular interest when identifying which is the difference between economic power and political power.  As well, as what is ethically correct for a company to do or not to do.

Rand wrote that,

What is economic power? It is the power to produce and to trade what one has produced. In a free economy, where no man or group of men can use physical coercion against anyone, economic power can be achieved only by voluntary means: by the voluntary choice and agreement of all those who participate in the process of production and trade. In a free market, all prices, wages, and profits are determined—not by the arbitrary whim of the rich or of the poor, not by anyone’s “greed” or by anyone’s need—but by the law of supply and demand. The mechanism of a free market reflects and sums up all the economic choices and decisions made by all the participants. Men trade their goods or services by mutual consent to mutual advantage, according to their own independent, uncoerced judgment. A man can grow rich only if he is able to offer better values—better products or services, at a lower price—than others are able to offer.

Wealth, in a free market, is achieved by a free, general, “democratic” vote—by the sales and the purchases of every individual who takes part in the economic life of the country. Whenever you buy one product rather than another, you are voting for the success of some manufacturer. And, in this type of voting, every man votes only on those matters which he is qualified to judge: on his own preferences, interests, and needs. No one has the power to decide for others or to substitute hisjudgment for theirs; no one has the power to appoint himself “the voice of the public” and to leave the public voiceless and disfranchised.

Now let me define the difference between economic power and political power: economic power is exercised by means of a positive, by offering men a reward, an incentive, a payment, a value; political power is exercised by means of a negative, by the threat of punishment, injury, imprisonment, destruction. The businessman’s tool is values; the bureaucrat’s tool is fear.

And by this she meant that economic power is always ethical because it pursuits a reward for men everywhere and anytime (in the entire process of designing, production, transportation and distribution of products and services).  And as such that the political power of a company appears when the businessman becomes a bureaucrat or lobbyist that uses the power of government to achieve privileges for himself and his company.

This discussion comes from observing the following table which presents the GDP-PPP of the Top 100 Economies in the World (2009) which was prepared by the World Bank.  Particularly relevant from this table is the fact that among the top 100 economies the authors included also the largest companies in the world in base of their Revenues-PPP (2009).  In position #32 appears Royal Dutch Shell as the largest company of the list with revenues of 458 billion dollars and it is followed by ExxonMobil in position 35 with 426 billion dollars.  These two companies had Revenues-PPP in 2009 which surpassed the size of the GDP-PPP of countries like Venezuela (#48), Greece (#52) and Switzerland (#53).

Even though is not commonly done; I have always studied Global Political Economy by remembering clearly what is ethical human behavior and what is not.  Starting from this point then I try to understand what is or can be the effects of a government’s or corporation’s decisions in real world cases.  Unfortunately, the ruling ethical code among Academics today considers it to be evil to pursue profit, self-interest, individualism and collaboration in order to create positive sum games in global exchange.

Indeed, historical examples are not the best reference for illustrating how we can benefit from an Objectivist ethics perspective when understanding the role of Companies in Global Economy.  However, it is this lack of many examples which should make it easier for us to identify how a Businessman success depends on “his intelligence, his knowledge, his productive ability, his economic judgment—and on the voluntary agreement of all those he deals with: his customers, his suppliers, his employees, his creditors or investors. A bureaucrat’s success depends on his political pull.” (Rand, The Ayn Rand Letter, III, 26, 5. 1971-76).

Now, it is time for me to continue reading history and seeking for those few exemplary examples of ethical businessmen who have given us the best products and services in positive sum games for the entire world.

Recommended Articles: Business, Economic and Financial History

List of selected articles that I read last week that may be of your interest:

  1. Super-cycles of commodity prices since the mid-ninteenth century. Bilge Erten
  2. Against Liberty: Adorno, Levinas and the Pathologies of Freedom. Nelson, Eric S.
  3. Lords of Uhuru: the political economy of elite competition and institutional change in post-independence Kenya. Bedasso, Biniam
  4. The Euro crisis: a historical perspective. Mourlon-Druol, Emmanuel
  5. Economics and ethics: a historical approach. Ciani Scarnicci, Manuela

April 23, 2012. World Book and Copyright Day

Today I am joining the celebration of the World Book and Copyright Day (also known as International Day of the Book or World Book Days) a yearly event on 23 April, organized by UNESCO to promote readingpublishing and copyright. The Day was first celebrated in 1995 and in 2012 the UK World Book day was celebrated on March 1, 2012.[1]

As part of my celebration I am sharing with you some quotes from one of my favorite books.  This year I have chosen the book “The Law” written by Frederic Bastiat.  The book was first published as a pamphlet in June, 1850  and later became widely read in Europe and the world.

Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.” ― Frédéric Bastiat, The Law

In The Law, Bastiat states that “each of us has a natural right — from God — to defend his person, his liberty, and his property”. The State is a “substitution of a common force for individual forces” to defend this right. The law becomes perverted when it punishes one’s right to self-defense in favor of another’s acquired right to plunder.

Bastiat defines two forms of plunder: “stupid greed and false philanthropy”. Stupid greed is “protective tariffs, subsidies, guaranteed profits” and false philanthropy is “guaranteed jobs, relief and welfare schemes, public education, progressive taxation, free credit, and public works”. Monopolies and Socialism are legalized plunder which Bastiat emphasizes is legal but not legitimate.

If you are interested in reading more about this ideas here are the links to the book,

The Law (English Edition) via Amazon.com

La Ley (Spanish Edition) via Amazon.com

La Loi (annoté) (French Edition) via Amazon

New Blog: Laissez Faire by Don Watkins and Yaron Brook

A new blog has been born for those of you interested in learning and discussing the principles of Capitalism.  The title of the blog is “Laissez Faire: The Uncompromised Case for Capitalism” and is going to be written by Don Watkins and Yaron Brook from the Ayn Rand Institute.  The blog aims to discuss the philosophic ideas that shape economic policy.

I invite you start following it and to start commenting their articles.  Indeed, this is great news for the spread of Objectivism, the Philosophy of Ayn Rand!

Social Media of Laissez Faire