Friday, June 29, 2012

R.I.P. America—and It Serves You Right!

In case you weren’t already aware, with the decision overnight by the US Supreme Court to not strike down ObamaCare as unconstitutional—despite even its own own advocates being unable to show how it could be—it’s now clearly evident that, as a Constitutional Republic, the United States of America is now extinct.

Lindsay Perigo has more…

America, qua Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, just died. Qua travesty thereof, good riddance. Cowards and cretins—now a majority of Americans—don't deserve the liberty that has just been definitively removed from them. They don't deserve the freedom they won't miss.
    Even without the Supreme Court's thoroughly anti-American decision on Obamacare today, the Founding Fathers would scarcely recognize the semi-police state that their republic has become…

Read on here.

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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Pictures of the Queen

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This is the first and probably only time a picture of the Queen will appear on this blog. It appears here because she’s shaking hands with a murderer.

Despite well-argued protestations to the contrary, it is symbolic—a symbol of the long-awaited and much-appreciated peace northern Ireland has enjoyed for a nearly a decade, and which everyone involved wants to continue.

A sign that the English Lion can lie down long term with today’s Irish Republican lamb.

Wonderful!

But let’s not get too carried away with it.

Is it as symbolic on its own scale as, say, the day Ulysses S. Grant shook hands with Robert E. Lee on the steps of Appomattox Courthouse after Lee had fought for five years in defence of black slavery? No, because the issue of right and wrong is much cloudier with McGuinness and Elizabeth.

Is it as symbolic on its own scale as the day ending the Second World War when the surrender of the Japanese was taken on board the battleship Missouri ?  Not really. The peacetime attack on Pearl Harbour was far more murderous than anything McGuinness’s boys ever attempted, fortunately, and the picture of peace breaking out after three years of slaughter was much more widely welcomed.

But it is symbolic. Irish Republicans have still never forgiven the British for Ireland’s brutal seven-hundred year occupation; for the Potato Famine; for partition and the oppression of the Catholic minority in the Six Counties; for the murder of civilians in Derry and elsewhere during the Troubles. These are  reasons enough to bear ill will. But the former commander of the IRA is shaking hands with the figurehead of everything British.

There are just as many well-rehearsed reasons for that figurehead to bear ill will towards McGuinness—the murder organised by McGuinness of her husband’s uncle Louis Mountbatten being just one of many of which you will all be aware. Yet she still shook hands—even if her husband couldn’t.

What the handshake symbolises then is that those things are in the past. There’s no likelihood of then happening again. That the peace begun when the IRA laid down their arms after the atrocity of 9/11—laid them down in part in the realisation they would never have the stomach for that scale of atrocity themselves—that peace has continued, its benefits are recognised, and the participants wish it to continue.

And being people of honour that desire for harmony is best symbolised with a handshake.

It’s true that one reason they can shake hands is because both the causes of Irish Republicanism and British Imperialism look somewhat quaint today. This is not the age of Parnell and Palmerston. The world has moved on, passing by what seemed issues of great moment generations ago. So in truth  it’s a rather moth-eaten English Lion preparing to lie down with an emasculated Irish lamb.

Still, whatever they think themselves these two can only shake hands because their constituents support it. Perhaps their supporters too have come to understand that it matters less what colour flag you have flying over your head than what that flag stands for—and these days both the Union and Irish flags stand for much the same brand of failing mixed-economy morass.

In the end I think it is a good picture.  It’s one of the better things the English Queen has done. I’d like to think it represents that same understanding that occurs at the end of wars like the two cited above; that animated the desire for peaceful coexistence in Chile after the fall of Pinochet rather than bloody retribution; that impelled Nelson Mandela’s Truth Commission after the ousting of South African apartheid; that we can only hope one day inspires those nursing grievances in Palestine –that as long as right is recognised and both sides can agree then in the long term peace is far better for everyone than war—and then even shaking hands with murderers might be worth it for the sake of the peace achieved.

It’s a shame the Queen’s husband couldn’t see his way clear to understanding that.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lindsay Perigo on "The Dunce-ification of Everythink"


Guest post by Lindsay Perigo

A shock-horror headline emblazoned on the front page of The Dominion Post's June 23-24 weekend edition asked, “Are we raising a nation of dunces?”

“Some kids are starting school unable to name a colour or even string a sentence together,” the article began, as though this were news. It isn't.

It's also not news that some kids still can't string a sentence together when they leave school.
An article in the Sunday Star-Times of June 25 then reported, “Hopes of an economic boom driven by a highly-skilled Kiwi workforce could be dashed by the number of illiterate and innumerate adults. One in five students is leaving school without qualifications. Some struggle so badly they cannot fill out the unemployment benefit form.”

Plus ça change .


In 1996, the Adult Literacy in New Zealand survey of adults aged 16-65 found 66% of Maori and 41% of non-Maori were below the minimum level of literacy required to “meet the complex demands of everyday life and work.”

A 2006 survey's results were no better: it found 43 per cent of adults with some sort of literacy issue, and half the population with numeracy difficulties.

Here's the Dominion Post of February 15, 2011:
“Some teachers are so lacking in literacy and numeracy skills that they cannot write adequate reports or do primary-level maths, secondary principals say. … Anecdotal evidence from principals included teachers being unable to write reports, having poor reading comprehension, making basic punctuation, spelling and grammar errors, and being unable to help pupils’ reading.”
The country is now caught up in a vicious circle arising from decades of state-mandated dumbing down in the education system. This process has been faithfully replicated on state (and now private) television—as I've written in my article, The Rice for the Putts, linguistic cretins are being hired for on-air jobs not just in spite of being unable to speak but because they're unable to speak.

Masterton Primary School principal Sue Walters says, "We get a lot of kids who come to school who just can't form proper sentences. They have very limited vocabulary and some are operating at a 3-year-old's level. You can't teach kids to read and write if they can't speak." Well, TV reporters in their 20s are speaking like 5-year-olds—with the active connivance of their bosses!

Massey University senior lecturer in speech and language therapy Elizabeth Doell says at the age of 5, a child should be able to construct a reasonably complex sentence, and have a certain level of vocabulary. But this is often not the case, she observes, and an urgent inquiry is needed to get to the bottom of the problem. "I don't think we truly know the extent of it."

Here's the bottom of the problem: the deliberate inculcation of mediocrity by the state over generations, manifest in the Look-Say method of the teaching of reading and an egalitarian hostility to speech standards rooted in the belief that polished, clear speech is unacceptably “posh.” The resultant oral and written ineptitude have fed upon and reinforced each other.

Given this part of a letter I received last year from then-Education Minister Anne Tolley, I'm not hopeful of an imminent reversal of the current collapse into cretinism:
Although there may be variation from school to school in the approaches they take to the teaching of reading, the majority of New Zealand schools follow the Ministry of Education guidance outlined in the key reference texts Effective Literacy Practice in Years 1 to 4 and Effective Literacy Practice in Years 5 to 8. In these publications teachers are urged to use a range of instructional strategies as they help students engage with meaningful texts. Such a balanced programme would include some phonics work, some use of known words and many other ways for readers to unlock and make sense of texts. [Translation: Look-Say and politically correct BS rule.]

I am interested in your observations about the speech of some of our young people. As you will know, language use, including oral language is not static. Our parents may well have mourned the decline they perceived in our speech patterns and pronunciation. In this age of technology, young people now hear a wide range of spoken language. Sometimes they may even deliberately use patterns different from those of their parents as a mark of their identity and individuality. Such is the nature of fluid and flexible language use as we all strive to make ourselves understood in the global world of today. [Translation: kids indeed speak as though they were morons. That's the way we want it: everyone sounding equally uneducated. For good Orwellian measure we'll call it “identity” and “individuality” precisely because it's the opposite of those things.]
Normally I'd advocate simply retrieving the thing from the clutches of the state and letting market forces generate a drive for remedial excellence. But all of society is now so steeped in barbarism that the private sector too is zombified. The state must act urgently to stop and reverse the rot it started and sponsored to such devastating effect. Hand in hand with the overdue revival of grammar, spelling and punctuation that is already supposed to be happening, the state must restore to phonics its former hegemony, and it must introduce speech-training into the curriculum, both for pupils and teachers.

What stake do I as a libertarian have in this matter? To quote Ms Walters again, “You can't teach kids to read and write if they can't speak.” And in a nation of inarticulate illiterates, liberty doesn't stand a chance. In the domain of dunces, demagogues dictate.

Lindsay Perigo is a former television newsreader and interviewer, blogging at SOLO (Sense of Life Objectivists).

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Allison: ‘The Causes of the Financial Crisis’

Last night in London the former head of BB&T Bank John Allison spoke to the Adam Smith Institute about banks, bankruptcy and the problem with our monetary standards being based on bureaucrats. Here he is talking to CNBC after his lecture:


Given that under Allison BB&T grew to become one of America’s most successful banks—and in the financial crisis one of the very few neither needing nor asking for bailouts—there’s lots there for everyone.  (Maybe send a link to newly appointed Reserve Bank Governor Graeme Wheeler, who still has much to learn.) Here’s the lecture, on the financial crisis and the philosophy of Ayn Rand:


If you like it, why not pre-order Allison’s new book, The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure.



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Test

2012’s best tall buildings?



We’re only halfway through 2012, but these below have been named as some of the best tall buildings erected this year.*

"The Absolute Towers in Mississauga, Canada, a fast-growing suburb of Toronto, were named the best tall buildings in the Americas. The residential towers, which are set to be completed in August 2012, will reach a height of 179.5 meters  and 158 meters."
"The towers earned the nickname "Marilyn Monroe" for their sexy, curvaceous figures--just like the late legendary actress. "We see the entire building twisting to achieve the organic form, creating a beautiful new landmark for a developing urban area," engineer David Scott said in a statement."
"Sydney's 1 Bligh Street was named the best tall building in Asia & Australasia. This 28-story elliptical tower stands out from the boxy structures nearby," said the jurors.
"The centerpiece of 1 Bligh Street is the glass- and aluminum-lined atrium, Australia’s tallest naturally ventilated sky lit atrium. It carries through the full height of the building--up to 135 meters (443 ft.). “The dramatic, naturally-ventilated central atrium connects the office workers with nature at the inner depths of the plan, giving a sense of openness for the entire building," juror Werner Sobek said in a statement."
"Qatar 's 46-storey Doha Tower in  was named the best tall building in the Middle East and Africa."
" Designed by Ateliers Jean Nouvel, the Doha Tower was completed in March 2012 
There is no central core, maximizing the interior space available for tenants."
"Al Bahar Towers in Abu Dhabi was named the most innovative tall building in the world."
"The 29-story office building was given the innovation award for its dynamic façade, opening and closing in response to the sun, reducing solar gain by more than 50 percent. The façade design also, evokes a wooden lattice screen traditionally found in Islamic architecture."

* According to the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), a group of architects, structural engineers, and builders of tall buildings that monitors tall building projects around the world.
(Images and captions from Business Insider)

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

It’s John Key’s “John Major” moment

If folk wondered/hoped/were frightened that John Key’s second term would see him unleash the hounds of radical reform, with yesterday’s  announcement of a ten-point five-year plan—one complete with “Key Performance Indicators” ranging from the fantastic to the fatuous—we all now have our answer: He’s not Margaret Thatcher, he’s her wet-bus-ticket successor John Major.

Major defined dullness and lack of imagination. Comparing him to Mrs Thatcher, one wag pointed out that at least with her there was a character to assassinate. To call him grey, said another, would be an insult to porridge.

Ask Major “what’s your big idea,” and like Key his answer would be “ I haven’t got one.” After Major found the Prime Ministership thrust upon him however, this grey shell of a man struggled to find something, anything, with which to define the  premiership he’d found himself in. And in 1992 he found it: in the depths of recession with millions unemployed, his “big idea” was a so-called “Citizen’s Charter”—complete with “Key Performance Indicators” ranging from the fantastic to the fatuous.  Things like a formal public promise to signpost toilets. Performance targets for late trains. And a “cones hotline” complete with quotas for road-cone reduction on highways.

Much like John Key’s bold promises of yesterday, really, and just as easy to fudge.

So we could say yesterday was John Key’s “cones hotline” moment—the defining moment of his premiership.

Which is not intended as a compliment.

FREE Decline & Fall [updated]

If you’ve been enjoying the Guest Posts that have appeared here from Dale Halling  on Intellectual Property, then you’re going to love this special offer, a FREE  Kindle version of his book explaining how the US has lost its innovation engine – The Decline and Fall of the American Entrepreneur: How Little Known Laws and Regulations are Killing Innovation.  

This offer is valid for one week only.  Sadly, this offer has just expired—but you can still pick up the Kindle version for the giveaway price of just USD4.99!  At that price it’s still a snip.

The book provides simple, inexpensive suggestions for how to rev up the innovation engine, along with explanations of the little-known laws passed within the last decade that have crippled America’s innovation, resulting in the stagnation in median family income that was a major contributor to the housing crisis. 

What reviewers are saying about The Decline and Fall of the American Entrepreneur:

“Dale Halling’s Decline and Fall of the American Entrepreneur makes a compelling case for the need to reform regulatory and other policies that hamstring entrepreneurial innovation in our country. Everyone concerned about the decline in American innovation should read this book.”
David Kline, co-author of Rembrandts in the Attic and Burning the Ships

I do not review books on the ‘net unless I find them well-written and especially informative, which certainly applies to Dale B. Halling’s The Decline and Fall of the American EntrepreneurMr. Halling is a physicist, lawyer and an expert on patents and entrepreneurship, all of which comes through in his book. This author delivers the goods…
   
He demonstrates in clear terms the linkages between economic growth, productivity, and income. And he lays out how technological advancement has always been the American advantage in global competition, an advantage that the U.S. is squandering…
   
In sum, this is well-written, jargon-free, 137-page book that is a quick read. It evidences smart and practical thinking by an author with real world experience. I highly recommend it.
Dr. Pat Choate, economist, former Vice Presidential running mate of Ross Perot 1996, Director of the Manufacturing Policy Institute, PhD. Economics University of Oklahoma.

The Decline and Fall of the American Entrepreneur presents the issues facing technology start-up companies in today’s environment.  The book sheds light on the underpinnings of these issues and is enthralling.  Halling’s tight, accessible and personal style make this a fast and compelling read.  His book is a political clarion call that should be heard now.
Greg Jones, former President Ramtron International (RMTR) and CEO Symetrix Corporation. 

This book conclusively establishes the link between innovation and per capita income, and shows that we have recently entered into a time in which innovation is under assault.  This assault has resulted in a predictable loss of income and contributed significantly to the economic woes we are experiencing right now.  The book’s sound policy recommendations suggest a way to turn the economic ship around to set a course for a return to prosperity.
Peter Meza, Patent Attorney – Counsel Hogan & Hartson, Attorney for Alappat –  In re Alappat

I am familiar with some of the sharp criticisms that have been made of patents by the likes of Stephan Kinsella, Tom G Palmer, and Timothy Sandefur… But I had a nagging worry about how, exactly, would a world without IP operate? Despite the claims from Kinsella and others that innovations would proceed happily without IP and have done so, the facts that I can see don't quite back this up. Consider, that during the 1980s and 1990s, we have seen the rise of biotechnology, the Internet, nanotechnology, and commercial space flight (developing as I write these words). I just don't see how patents and copyrights have stymied any of these industries. Of course, we'll never know for sure whether innovation would have been faster or slower in the absence of IP. However, if we look at parts of the world without secure legal systems and property rights, the evidence is that innovation tends to be less, or non-existent.
What is effective about the book is how Halling shows that the combination of developments such as attacks on IP, stock options and IPOs (Sarbanes Oxley) have been so ruinous. And there are powerful lessons here not just for the United States, but for Europeans and others as well.
Thomas H. Burroughes

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The history of world production, in three graphs

Yes, GDP is a very imperfect measure, but look at this graph showing GDP (as a proxy for production) over the last two millennia:

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You should read this in the context of the graph below showing how the world changed for the better around two-hundred years ago—from being a flat line for most of world history, production all of a sudden shot up out of nowhere to support a rapidly growing population.  What a great thing. At least this is what happened in the parts of the world where the Age of Enlightenment happened—that remarkable period in human affairs when human beings began applying reason to understand the world around them, and in the ensuing Industrial Revolution to transform it.

But as we can see above, China and India, were excluded from this happy state of affairs, at least until very recently (being a logarithmic graph the last few decades are as prominent as the first few centuries). And in Africa and the Middle East, have still yet to enjoy it.

And just ignore the big grey slug that is Russia. They were lying about their production figures long before the Bolsheviks came along.

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Practice Good Theory has more thoughts.

And in case you don’t think production and wealth is such a good thing, Stephen Hicks has a neat graph showing the relationship between wealth and life expectancy.   If you’re over 45 or so, you should take it seriously.

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Young Martyn

Reading the blogs this morning I stumbled across someone describing Martyn Bradbury. Yes, it’s true. Answering a question at the Laissez Faire blog, Don Watkins quotes the perfect description:

Q: Taran asks, “Socialists continue to espouse socialism in the face of all evidence that it simply does not work. How do we explain their continual support for a system that is responsible for the deaths of tens of millions? And by extension, their hatred of a system that is responsible for lifting people out of subsistence living?”
A: Few people espouse socialism today (although many in Europe continue to call themselves socialists). Those who do are typically either young and ignorant, or [think[ they are intellectuals, [or both]. Ayn Rand has a definite view of what motivates socialist intellectuals. As she writes in the essay “The Monument Builders” in
The Virtue of Selfishness, “What, then, is the motive of such intellectuals [those who support socialism]? Power-lust. Power-lust—as a manifestation of helplessness, of self-loathing and of the desire for the unearned.”

Ignorant, self-loathing and oozing with a desire for the unearned. Yep, that’s “Bomber” Bradbury to a tee.

But not young.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Cunliffe recycles Norman

Martyn Bradbury has taken time out from his new career to talk up David Cunliffe’s weekend speech to a lingering band of those who can stomach his company. Say’s Bradbury to his own dwindling band of readers:

Cunliffe's third True Labour speech has gone far further than the Greens have in highlighting the looming environmental crises of living beyond our biosphere’s ability blah, blah, blah…

Actually, it does nothing of the sort. In fact, it reads like nothing so much as Russel Norman’s own conference speech from a couple of weeks ago—in short: what about the dolphins; we’re all going to die; population growth is a curse; capitalism is to blame; government must pick winners; “green technology” is the way of thee future etc.., et., etc.

So rather than fisking Cunliffe’s doppelganger of a speech, another pig-ignorant cry for attention--another example of recycling masquerading as original thinking—let me just direct you to my reviews of Norman’s original.

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I’ve changed my mind about the Euro

imageShould the southern Europeans and Ireland withdraw from the European Monetary Union and go back to their drachmas and punts? Should Germany and the northern Europeans quit paying the southerners’ bills and coalesce around either a new mark or a revival of the thaler, the currency of the late Holy Roman Empire and old Hanseatic League?

Until the weekend, I thought reviving the mark or the thaler was the best approach. But I read an article over the weekend that changed my mind.  I think.

By Spanish economist Jesus Huerta de Soto, author of the excellent book  Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles  , the article is called “An Austrian Defense of the Euro.” Something I hadn’t thought was possible.

De Soto argues, first of all, that all good Austrians should be in favour of fixed, not floating, exchange rates.  This might come as a shock. He argues however that the fiscal discipline required by fixed exchange rates is at least something like the fiscal discipline required by the classical gold standard, which puts a check on governmental plans for easy money.  He quotes Hayek from 1975:

It is, I believe, undeniable that the demand for flexible rates of exchange originated wholly from countries such as Great Britain, some of whose economists wanted a wider margin for inflationary expansion (called "full employment policy"). They later received support, unfortunately, from other economists[4] who were not inspired by the desire for inflation, but who seem to have overlooked the strongest argument in favour of fixed rates of exchange, that they constitute the practically irreplaceable curb we need to compel the politicians, and the monetary authorities responsible to them, to maintain a stable currency
I do not believe we shall regain a system of international stability without returning to a system of fixed exchange rates, which imposes on the national central banks the restraint essential for successfully resisting the pressure of the advocates of inflation in their countries — usually including ministers of finance.

So supporters of fiscal discipline should be in favour of fixed exchange rates-on the understanding that the self-correcting mechanisms for within this system are similar to those of the classical gold standard, and the resulting restraints on government therefrom are a feature, not a bug.

And as he points out, the EuroZone is nothing if not a a zone within exchange rates are fixed—the consequence now being that those economies and those governments who displayed insufficient rectitude are now seeing their fiscal chickens come home to roost.

This, he argues is not a bad thing. It’s not even a good thing. It is, he says, a great thing.  Because, like a mirror, the discipline of the EuroZone reflects back to players the consequences of their own actions.

The arrival of the Great Recession of 2008 has even further revealed to everyone the disciplinary nature of the euro: for the first time, the countries of the monetary union have had to face a deep economic recession without monetary-policy autonomy. Up until the adoption of the euro, when a crisis hit, governments and central banks invariably acted in the same way: they injected all the necessary liquidity, allowed the local currency to float downward and depreciated it, and indefinitely postponed the painful structural reforms that where needed and that involve economic liberalization, deregulation, increased flexibility in prices and markets (especially the labour market), a reduction in public spending, and the withdrawal and dismantling of union power and the welfare state. With the euro, despite all the errors, weaknesses, and concessions we will discuss later, this type of irresponsible behaviour and forward escape has no longer been possible.

For instance, in Spain, in just one year, two consecutive governments have been forced to take a series of measures that, though still quite insufficient, up to now would have been labelled as politically impossible and utopian, even by the most optimistic observers:

  1. article 135 of the Spanish Constitution has been amended to include the anti-Keynesian principle of budget stability and equilibrium for the central government, the autonomous communities, and the municipalities;

  2. all of the projects that imply increases in public spending, vote purchasing, and subsidies, projects on which politicians regularly based their action and popularity, have been suddenly suspended;

  3. the salaries of all public servants have been reduced by 5 percent and then frozen, while their work schedule has been expanded;

  4. social-security pensions have been frozen de facto;

  5. the standard retirement age has been raised across the board from 65 to 67;

  6. the total budgeted public expenditure has decreased by over 15 percent; and

  7. significant liberalization has occurred in the labor market, business hours, and in general, the tangle of economic regulation.[7]

Furthermore, what has happened in Spain is also taking place in Ireland, Portugal, Italy, and even in countries which, like Greece, until now represented the paradigm of social laxity, the lack of budget rigor, and political demagoguery.[8] What is more, the political leaders of these five countries, now no longer able to manipulate monetary policy to keep citizens in the dark about the true cost of their policies, have been summarily thrown out of their respective governments. And states that, like Belgium and especially France and Holland, until now have appeared unaffected by the drive to reform are also starting to be forced to reconsider the very grounds for the volume of their public spending and for the structure of their bloated welfare state. This is all undeniably due to the new monetary framework introduced with the euro, and thus it should be viewed with excited and hopeful rejoicing by all champions of the free-enterprise economy and the limitation of government powers.

There is more, much more, and all of it worth thinking through—especially the motivations of those who both oppose and support the  present set-up, and its collapse: on one side the Europeans who purposely set up a system in which more profligate countries got to use the money and the credit rating of Germany—and on this side too those Americans who realised that as long as it was set up that way the Euro would never take over Reserve Currency status from the US dollar.

And opposing the Euro are the Keynesians who complain about the Euro’s straitjacket, not allowing within the EuroZone to push monetary stimulus at a time (like now) of economic crisis.

As Margaret Thatcher famously pointed out, one primary problem with socialism is you eventually run out of other people’s money. De Soto argues the European Monetary Union makes the running out crystal clear, and requires honest means by which to repair the situation—and as such advocates of freedom and sound money should support it.

It’s worth thinking about: “An Austrian Defense of the Euro.”

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