Dartmouth Ruminations

Lithograph of the President's House, Thornton Hall, Dartmouth Hall, and Wentworth Hall, designed by Boston architect Gridley J.F. Bryant circa 1834.

I was recently invited to speak about ranching to a group of students at Dartmouth, offering them the kind of curve ball Jeffersonian agrarian pitch needed to keep them on their toes.  It’s a decidedly left-leaning school (as they all are), so it’s hardly surprising that the talk was, to put it charitably, ‘provocative.’  The students were enthusiastic and well informed, rising ardently to my challenge to their worldview.

Leaving their passions aside, what shocked me most was how deeply entrenched the myth has become for them that government stands in benign counterpoise to private enterprise. 

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Bernie Sanders, It’s the Poor Who Need Property Rights the Most

Life in Hanoi, Street vendors in Hanoi's Old Quarter

Bernie Sanders has put the abolition of private property back into public debate. At least that is what Ryan Cooper at The Week thinks, although he softens the blow by remarking: “This is not as extreme as it sounds. You’ll still be able to own a computer, clothes, and a home under democratic socialism.”

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The Wealth of Cities

light trails with blurred colors on the street

Capital, in the 21st century, has a bad rap. Many say that because it is the source of “passive income,” it does nothing but pad the pockets of the idle rich, driving a wedge between the haves and the have-nots. It’s helpful, then, to be reminded that capital in all its forms is the source of human betterment. Capital is the accumulated stock of stuff (financial assets, physical equipment, human knowhow, even social connections) that helps us make and do more stuff. So policies that drain capital from a community or discourage its formation in the first place are likely to leave a trail of destruction. This is the central lesson of Stephen J.K. Walters’ Boom Towns: Restoring the Urban American Dream.

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Friday Roundup, March 28th

Our Books section featured two great essays this week. In "Jewish Learning, Human Liberty," David Conway evaluates Moshe Halbertal's Maimonides: Life and Thought. Arnold Kling considers the economics and societal implications posed by rapid advances in computer technology in his review of The Second Machine Age. Scott Sumner @ EconLib: Central banks do not deserve our respect or our condemnation; they deserve our skepticism. Rick Garnett @ the Conglomerate on religious liberty and the rights of employees. After oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case this week, which Marc DeGirolami profiled well, Richard Samuelson's older essay "What Adams Saw over Jefferson's Wall" is…

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This Republic of Federalism

Timothy Sandefur’s The Conscience of the Constitution contributes to the debate over the best way to limit the powers of the United States government in order to secure liberty. Sandefur, a lawyer and legal scholar, believes that Conscience“American constitutional history has always hovered in the mutual resistance of two principles: the right of each individual to be free, and the power of the majority to make rules.” (1) For Sandefur adherence to the natural rights theory of Declaration of Independence manages the tension between the two principles.

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Slave Property in the Old South

This quarter, I assigned Liberty, Equality, Power in the U.S. history survey. I might try another book next year because it’s getting to be too expensive for the students. Anyway, it’s a solid book. Reading over the chapter on "The Old South, 1790-1850," I stumbled over this bit, describing the deep South: "Slaves under the task system won the right to cultivate land as ‘private fields'—farms of up to five acres on which they grew produce and raised livestock for market. There was a lively trade in slave-produced goods, and by the late 1850s slaves in the lowcountry not only produced and exchanged…

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PovertyCure: From Aid to Enterprise


Can the current model of humanitarian aid generated by networks of large philanthropic foundations, NGOs, and Western governments actually alleviate the poverty of the world's Bottom Billion, to quote the title of Paul Collier's book? This podcast with the Acton Institute's Michael Miller, director of the new Poverty Cure Initiative, puts forward a persuasive case rooted in particular communities in Africa and South America that the conditions for prosperity emerge from our free and relational nature as human beings. Accordingly, authentic help to the world's poor must not be driven by the notion that the global poor are the objects…

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The Beard Thesis and the Seinfeld Defense

In this, its centennial year, Charles Beard’s 1913 An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States retains its hold on both the publication market and, at least in certain circles, the popular imagination. Its claim that the Founders were possessive aristocrats out to protect the property of the privileged has, to be sure, been demolished in the scholarly literature, most notably by Forrest McDonald. But it may be time for those who respect the Framers to acknowledge at least one deep vein of truth in Beard’s thesis and reply with an even deeper one. Call it “the Seinfeld defense”: Yes, they wanted to protect property—not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The idea that the Founders had to be redeemed from Beard’s charge has so framed the response to the Progressive historian that the charge itself has been too little examined. But while Beard’s assessment of the personal economic stakes of the Philadelphia delegates was, as McDonald and others have shown, mistaken, his deeper point cannot and indeed ought not be dismissed: One purpose of the Philadelphia project was the protection of property.

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Steven Eagle on Eminent Domain

Steven Eagle, George Mason University law school professor, appeared today on C-SPAN’s morning show (39 mins @ 34:50) discussing the origins of eminent domain and its drastic expansion prior to and following the 2005 Kelo decision.  Eagle gave a superb introduction to the abuse of the eminent domain power and the failure of congress to address it. In fact, governments continue to delegate their eminent domain powers to utilities and railroad companies. The callers were eloquent in relating their own abuses from government. Eagle’s Cato Institute monograph on property rights and eminent domain can be found here; his vita  listing books and links to articles is here.

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Just How Green are Germany’s Values?

Germany’s renewables energy sector is busy cleaning up these days, commercially-speaking that is, not in terms of environmental impact. So far as that goes, Germany’s much vaunted green revolution has been nothing short of disastrous.

As its heavily subsidized wind-farms and solar panels mushroom, so Germany’s ancient forests are increasingly being felled to make way for the open mining of lignite (brown coal) of which Germany has copious reserves beneath its soil and which is the most unhealthy fossil fuel of all.

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