Vermont Senate Votes to Legalize Recreational Marijuana

Vermont Senate Votes to Legalize Recreational Marijuana

01/10/2018Ryan McMaken

The Hill reports today that the Vermont Senate has voted to approve the legalization of recreation marijuana for users over 21 years of age.

With its passage in the Senate, the law proceeds to the governor's desk where he is expected to sign. 

While eight states (AlaskaCaliforniaColoradoMaineMassachusettsNevadaOregon, and Washington) have already legalized recreational marijuana, Vermont will be the first state to legalize via action of the state legislature. All other states that have legalized have done through statewide referenda or voter initiative. 

Since 2012, when Colorado voters approved recreational marijuana, state-level voters have repeatedly shown indifference toward federal drug law — which, of course, is in violation of Article I of the Constitution, and the Tenth Amendment. 

But now, for the first time, a state legislature and governor have joined the movement. This comes, we might note, mere weeks after US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced he plans to ratchet up the Drug War against marijuana users. 

Apparently, Vermont legislators are happy to disregard him. 

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How To Make Sure You Keep Seeing the Mises Institute in your News Feed

22 min agoRyan McMaken

Facebook continues to tinker with its News Feed options. It's unclear if this will affect how often you see Mises Institute articles in your feed, but if you want to make sure we keep coming through, here's how. 

• Go to News Feed's "Edit Preferences" option on Facebook.com or in the app.
• Choose "See First" for the pages you want to see in your news feed.

Click the top option as shown in the image below, and if you're already following us, it will allow you to choose us and one of your priority news sources. 

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Of course, if you're not already following us, you can do so here: www.facebook.com/mises.institute

Changes to Facebook's News Feed could happen at anytime, so those wishing to see posts from their favorite pages are encouraged to edit their preferences immediately.

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Single-Family Housing Starts Drop by Most Since 1990

01/18/2018Ryan McMaken

Housing starts usually fall from November to December. It's something that happens seasonally. This year, from November to December, housing starts for single-family houses dropped by 21.6 percent. That's the largest drop for the period since starts dropped 21.4 percent in 1990 — so it's a 27-year low.

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The drop is larger in single-family homes than in all housing units over all. For all units, the November-December drop is only at a five-year low. Back in 1990, the drop for the period was 29 percent:

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Does this indicate new weakness in housing markets? 

Using the seasonally adjusted data — I'm not using adjusted data above — NBC reports that "US housing starts down sharply on drop in single-family units" and notes December numbers "fell more than expected":

Home building increased 2.4 percent to 1.202 million units in 2017, the highest level since 2007. December's moderation in homebuilding is likely to be temporary amid strong demand for housing that is being driven by a robust labor market.

Builders, however, continue to struggle with labor and land shortages as well as more expensive lumber. A survey on Wednesday showed confidence among homebuilders slipping from an 18-year high in January. Builders expected a dip in buyer traffic and sales over the next six months.

The article mentions "more expensive lumber" but politely doesn't mention that lumber is more expensive partly due to new tariffs slapped on Canadian lumber by the Trump administration. 

There are any number of factors that go into housing starts, but if the supply of lumber is being artificially constrained, that means producers will have to build with more expensive materials, so houses will likely be more expensive. When homes are more expensive, fewer of them sell, and housing starts start to decline. 

On top of this, builders are facing slowly-increasing interest rates, which will also put downward pressure on home production. 

The NBC writer is clearly optimistic, although it's worth noting that during four of the last six months, the year-over-year change in housing starts has been negative (including all housing units). There's clearly a downward trend in growth since 2012. 

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Without Government, Who Will Send Out False Alarms for Nuclear War?

01/18/2018Ryan McMaken

Being a government agency means never having to say your sorry. With last Saturday's botched warning over an alleged ballistic missile hurtling toward Hawaii, we're unlikely to see much beyong a call for more government funding. 

Justin Raimondo writes: 

While the population of Hawaii dove under manhole covers, and #TheResistance screeched that The Orange Monster had finally done it and forced Kim Jong Un to nuke the island paradise, it took Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the levelheaded, and quite personable representative from that state, to issue a statement countermanding the “take cover” message sent out by the military earlier.

Rep. Gabbard did this within minutes, thus avoiding a major panic with potentially dangerous consequences, while the Authorities took nearly an hour to issue a retraction.

How did this happen? The Official Story is that “someone pushed the wrong button.” As to the identity of this Someone, or the consequences that have befallen him or her, we hear nary a word.

This bizarre incident underscores the utter absurdity and darkness of the permanent state of emergency which we live under. For it turns out that there was no system in place capable of countermanding the emergency alert once it went out. A tacit understanding of the reality behind our military strategy: it’s a suicide pact.

It also underscores the Potemkin Village aura of what is routinely referred to as our National Security Establishment: in this case, it amounted to some guy in Hawaii wearing flip flops and all too eager to go off duty and get back in the water after going through the unending drill he’d complete hundreds, probably thousands of times before.

So who was the culprit, and what happened to him? The Hawaii authorities refuse to identify him – because “he would be a pariah.” Which is a military disciplinary system that has to be unique in all the world. The administrator in chief of the system, a Mr. Miyagi, explained it this way:

“Looking at the nature and cause of the error that led to those events, the deeper problem is not that someone made a mistake; it is that we made it too easy for a simple mistake to have very serious consequences. The system should have been more robust, and I will not let an individual pay for a systemic problem.”

What about the individual architects of the system? You can be your bottom dollar none of them will bear any consequences for almost starting World War III. Gee, I recall an incident that occurred on September 11, 2001, in which the “defenses” we’d spent billions on simply did not function and thousands died as a result – and not a single person was fired.

Grotesque displays of incompetence happen in every sort of organization every now and then, but only in government is there never any cut to a budget, and never is any (important) person fired. Usually, the offending government department claims they need more money, and then they get it. Government agencies are also the most prominent home of the fake version of "taking responsibility." This occurs when someone goes on TV and announces "I take full responsibility." This is followed, however, by no sanction. No one takes a pay cut or is fired, and the agency in question sees no significant cuts. "Taking full responsibility" in government means taking bad press for a few days. It never means losing out on even one dime of taxpayer money being sent to the "responsible" party's enormous federal pension. 

Note also that the false alarm in Hawaii that caused panic has not been followed by any information about what should actually do in case of nuclear attack. The reason for this, of course, is that once the missile strikes, there really is nothing to do. "Civil Defense" against nuclear war — such as all those "duck and cover" drills gullible children and parents used to tolerate — has always been mostly for show.

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Silent Cal on "America First"

01/17/2018Jeff Deist

The rise of Trump has dredged up old and bitter debates surrounding the concept of "America First," a position Trump frequently advocates almost unconsciously and using his own peculiar terms. Consider this tweet, from 2013, as an example of Trump expressing a populist, America First sentiment regarding both domestic and foreign policy in a few short words:

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Most progressives, neo-conservatives, and neo-liberals view this development with alarm and disdain, equating America-centric sentiment as inherently xenophobic, isolationist, and utterly incompatible with America's role as the unquestioned arbiter of world affairs. In their minds Trump harkens back to the bad old days of the America First Committee and Charles Lindbergh, days of suspicious small-mindedness and nationalism. In their eyes, America First is the cry of the Babbitts, the John Birchers, and the Deplorables. Only a provincial fool, one who fails to grasp the complexity of the modern world, could support Trump's retreat into a mythical world where America worries mostly about her own.

Some conservatives, libertarians, anti-war doves, and pro-Trump populists disagree, arguing that Trump's inward turn is exactly what is needed in a country with $20 trillion in debt and a war in Afghanistan running longer than any other in US history. Globalism, at least the political sort, has eroded American sovereignty and diminished our sense of any shared American experience. But even with Trump's revolution lurching about this is a distinctly minority viewpoint. The American media, universities, and corporate boardrooms are aligned against it, not to mention the Deep State and leaders of both political parties. 

But it remains worthwhile to consider the case for humility, rather than nativism and nationalism, as the foundation for a less ambitious and kinder set of policies—one that considers America First from the perspective of a restrained nation offering goodwill rather than direction to the world. Leave it to Silent Cal, speaking before an American Legion convention in 1925, to state the case plainly yet eloquently*:

The generally expressed desire of "America first" can not be criticized. It is a perfectly correct aspiration for our people to cherish. But the problem which we have to solve is how to make America first. It can not be done by the cultivation of national bigotry, arrogance, or selfishness. Hatreds, jealousies, and suspicions will not be productive of any benefits in this direction. Here again we must apply the rule of toleration. Because there are other peoples whose ways are not our ways, and whose thoughts are not our thoughts, we are not warranted in drawing the conclusion that they are adding nothing to the sum of civilization. We can make little contribution to the welfare of humanity on the theory that we are a superior people and all others are an inferior people. We do not need to be too loud in the assertion of our own righteousness. It is true that we live under most favorable circumstances. But before we come to the final and irrevocable decision that we are better than everybody else we need to consider what we might do if we had their provocations and their difficulties. We are not likely to improve our own condition or help humanity very much until we come to the sympathetic understanding that human nature is about the same everywhere, that it is rather evenly distributed over the surface of the earth, and that we are all united in a common brotherhood. We can only make America first in the true sense which that means by cultivating a spirit of friendship and good will, by the exercise of the virtues of patience and forbearance, by being "plenteous in mercy," and through progress at home and helpfulness abroad standing as an example of real service to humanity.

This is the point Ron Paul worked valiantly to make in 2008 and 2012, with his audacious references to the Golden Rule and calls for American to lead by example rather than force. It's at the core of what Murray Rothbard called the "key to the whole libertarian business," the foundational question of war and peace. We believe in liberty not because we know what's best for the world, but precisely because we don't know— and neither do politicians and elites. Washington, DC cannot competently address the needs and hopes of 320 million Americans, much less 7.5 billion people around the world. Humility, rather than hubris, compels us to advocate market cooperation, voluntary civil society, and peace rather than top-down political control. But hubris is at the core of everything the state does, and it's at the core of the worldview of those who hate Ron Paul precisely because he challenged the federal state's omniscience in his campaign. Given the state of affairs here at home, and our simmering domestic Cold Civil War, perhaps 2018 should be the year America takes a break from lecturing down to, bribing, cajoling, threatening, and warring with the rest of the world.

*h/t to The Federalist for unearthing this great speech.

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Money-Supply Growth Near a Ten-Year Low As Lending Slows

01/16/2018Ryan McMaken

Growth in the supply of US dollars remained near a multi-year low in December, growing 2.9 percent, year over year.

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In November, year-over-year growth in the money supply fell to a 129-month low, growing 2.7 percent. The last time the money supply grew at a smaller rate than November 2017's rate was during March 2007 — at a rate of 2.1 percent. 

The money-supply metric used here — an "Austrian money supply" measure — is the metric developed by Murray Rothbard and Joseph Salerno, and is designed to provide a better measure than M2. The Mises Institute now offers regular updates on this metric and its growth.

The "Austrian" measure of the money supply differs from M2 in that it includes treasury deposits at the Fed (and excludes short time deposits, traveler's checks, and retail money funds). 

M2 growth also slowed in October 2017, falling to 3.0 percent.

Money supply growth can often be a helpful measure of economic activity. During periods of economic boom, money supply tends to grow quickly as banks make more loans. Recessions, on the other hand, tend to be preceded by periods of falling money-supply growth. 

One factor behind slowing money-supply growth is likely a slowing in new loans being made by commercial banks. As we can see in the latest data from the Fed, commercial and industrial loans were up only 0.9 percent in November 2017, compared to November 2016. That's the smallest growth rate recorded since April 2011. The overall trend in loans growth is similar to what we saw in 2009, during the last recession. 

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(Thanks to the intervention of central banks, of course, money supply growth in recent decades has never gone into negative territory.) 

Nevertheless, as we can see in the graph of money supply growth above, significant dips in growth rates show up in years prior to a economic bust or financial crisis. The current trend is an unusual one in which growth in AMS is smaller than it is in M2. In the past this situation has often pointed toward a recession. 

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Personal Saving Rate Falls to 10-Year Low in November

01/16/2018Ryan McMaken

In November 2017, the personal saving rate in the United States fell to a ten-year low, dropping to 2.9 percent. The last time the saving rate was lower than 2.9 percent was during November of 2007. 

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The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Americans are spending more and saving less: 

Americans spent more and saved less in November, a sign that low unemployment, robust consumer confidence, the prospect of tax cuts and buoyant financial markets are underpinning a strong holiday shopping season.

Americans are saving at the slowest pace in a decade, likely in anticipation of continued job and wealth gains as stock indexes barreled to new records last month and the unemployment rate stood at a 17-year low.

If we look at saving rates in the wake of the financial crisis, we find saving rates quickly moved upward as consumers were unsure of the future and cut back on spending. Now, with employment growth solid, households are assuming that present conditions will continue, so are saving less and less. 

Last week, we looked at how median net worth in the United States, as of 2014, was still below where it had been in 2001. It remained significantly below where it had been in 2007. 

One of the reasons given (in an NBER report) for the stubbornly low net worth among Americans was the fact that Americans were neglecting to save money. In many cases, they were paying down debt, but we are also witnessing a troubling trend in which Americans are selling assets to pay off debts. But, as the report noted, "the reduction in assets was greater than the reduction of debt."

Debt continues to be a factor: 

The sharp fall in median net worth and the rise in overall wealth inequality over these years are traceable primarily to the high leverage of middle class families and the high share of homes in their portfolio. The racial and ethnic disparity in wealth also widened considerably. Households under age 45 saw their relative and absolute wealth declined sharply. Rather remarkably, there was virtually no change in median wealth from 2010 to 2013 despite the rebound in asset prices. The proximate cause was the high dissavings of the middle class, though their debt continued to fall. 

As a final note, we might also consider saving in a larger historical context. Here we see personal saving as a percentage of disposable income. 

In this case, at 3.8 percent in 2017, it has not returned to its pre-Great Recession levels, but of course remains well below where it was during the 1950s and 1960s, when it often reached above ten percent. 

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Government in Action: Crypto Edition

01/16/2018Troy Vincent
  1. Be a central government
  2. Complain of volatility/risk in cryptocurrencies
  3. Talk about banning cryptocurrencies
  4. Cause panic and market fear/uncertainty
  5. Complain of volatility/risk in cryptocurrencies
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Why Did Edmund Burke so Inspire Leonard Read?"

01/12/2018Gary Galles

Leonard Read, founder, leader and long-time heart and soul of the Foundation for Economic Education, and one of liberty’s most insightful adherents, took seriously his belief that the purpose of one’s life was to grow. He sought out sources of light, wherever he could find them, and incorporated them into his thoughts.

Those familiar with Read, whose works are now easily available online, know that he peppered quotations throughout his work. Those quotations provide us an added window into his thoughts. The person Read quoted most frequently in his books was Edmund Burke, which reveals a great deal about Read. In How Do We Know?, Read said “I am often criticized — in a friendly way — for so copiously quoting those whose wisdom is far superior to mine, Edmund Burke, for instance…why not share the wisdom of seers—those who have seen what most of us have not—with freedom aspirants!”

So as we mark Burke’s January 12 birthday, consider some of the words that inspired Leonard Read to cite Burke so copiously:

He who profits of a superior understanding, raises his power to a level with the height of the superior understanding he unites with.

How often has public calamity been arrested on the very brink of ruin, by the seasonable energy of a single man? Have we no such man amongst us? I am as sure as I am of my being, that one vigorous mind without office, without situation, without public function of any kind, I say, one such man, confiding in the aid of God, and full of just reliance in his own fortitude, vigor, enterprise, and perseverance, would first draw to him some few like himself, and then that multitudes, hardly thought to be in existence, would appear and troop about him.

No government ought to exist for the purpose of checking the prosperity of its people or to allow such a principle in its policy.

It is a general error to suppose the loudest complainers for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.

It is not only our duty to make the right known, but to make it prevalent.

I hope to see the surest of all reforms, perhaps the only sure reform—the ceasing to do ill.

Example is the school of mankind. They will learn at no other.

But his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, [your representative] ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living…They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither…is safe.

Power gradually extirpates from the mind every human and gentle virtue.

Whatever each man can separately do, without trespassing on the rights of others, he has a right to do for himself.

All men have equal rights, but not to equal things.

The great difference between the real statesman and the pretender is, that one sees into the future, while the other regards only the present; the one lives by the day and acts on expediency; the other acts on enduring principles and for immortality. 

Depend upon it, the lovers of freedom will be free. 

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity; in proportion as their soundness and sobriety is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

The greater the power, the more dangerous the abuse.

Tell me what are the prevailing sentiments that occupy the minds of your young men and I will tell you what is to be the character of the next generation.

Having looked to government for bread, on the very first scarcity they will turn and bite the hand that fed them.

The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.

All who have ever written on government are unanimous that among a people generally corrupt liberty cannot long exist.

If circumspection and caution are a part of wisdom, when we work only upon inanimate matter, surely they become a part of duty too, when the subject of our demolition and construction is not brick and timber, but sentient beings, by the sudden alteration of whose state, condition and habits, multitudes may be rendered miserable…the true law-giver ought to have an heart full of sensibility. He ought to love and respect his kind, and to fear himself.

Leonard Read quoted Edmund Burke in roughly two-thirds of his books. And when you consider those quotes in connection to Read’s work, you can see why Read held Burke in such high esteem and echoed so many of his views.

In The Path of Duty, Read commented on Burke’s views of the American experiment in liberty — “He was sympathetic to and promotive of the American colonies and had no hesitancy in proclaiming his position. Stalwart! He was blest with foresight, seeing into the future: America, home of the free and land of the brave! Here was found the purest practice of freedom in world history, and Burke’s support was based on ‘enduring principles and for immortality.’ In my reading of history, never before or since his time has there been a greater statesman.” In The Freedom Freeway, Read wrote “Edmund Burke has put the solution for disunion better than anyone known to me.” 

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Don't Worry Consumers, Steve Mnuchin Wants to Protect You from Bitcoin

01/12/2018Tho Bishop

It seems like its only a matter of time before the US government introduces a new wave of regulations on cryptocurrency.

Steve Mnuchin was asked about the topic today at an event hosted by the Economic Club, and the Treasuy Secretary was quick to rattle off a number of cliched responses always used to justify bigger and more intrusive government:

"We want to make sure that bad people cannot use these currencies to do bad things," he said Friday at an event hosted by the Economic Club of Washington. He added the U.S. is working with world leaders in the G-20 on "making sure that this doesn't become the Swiss numbered bank accounts."...

Mnuchin also said he is concerned about speculation in cryptocurrencies. The price of bitcoin shot up 1,200 percent last year, and other digital tokens, such as ethereum and Ripple's XRP, have grabbed their share of attention. "I want to be sure consumers trading this understand the risks," he said on Friday. "I'm concerned consumers could get hurt."

Of course, there is some humor in the notion of Treasury Secretary Mnuchin as the protector of consumers against dangerous financial scams. After all, as owner of OneWest Bank bank, it was he that was accused by the California State government for engaging in fraudulent mortgage practices following the financial crisis. As CNN Money noted:

By January 2013, when the memo [written by California investigators] and complaint were prepared, OneWest had foreclosed on 35,000 California homes and had begun foreclosing on 45,000 more, the complaint said. The draft complaint accused OneWest of "widespread violation" of California foreclosure laws.

The memo said that OneWest backdated documents and caused them to be filed with county recorders. It also said that OneWest made unlawful bids at trustee sales, resulting in "the wrong parties winning auctions," and failed to comply with state rules for the timing and mailing of foreclosure documents.

"OneWest's false filings and unauthorized conduct in the course of the foreclosure process harmed homeowners by denying them timely and important information about their foreclosures and potentially shortening the amount of time they had available to find a way to become current on their mortgage obligations," the memo said.

The memo also said that investigators could not subpoena bank records and had been hampered by OneWest's "obstruction" of another state investigation.

Of course, in terms of defrauding consumers, any shenanigans at OneWest bank pail in comparison to Mnuchin's most outlandish con:

 

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Switzerland Bans Welfare Recipients From Obtaining Citizenship

01/11/2018Ryan McMaken

Swiss news site The Local reports that new laws taking effect this month will make it even more difficult for immigrants to obtain citizenship. 

It has apparently been established law for some time that immigrants collecting social benefits are barred from naturalization. The new law, however, now also prohibits naturalization if an applicant has accepted social benefits at any time during the previous three years. 

An exception is made if the benefits "are paid back in full." 

On the other hand, applicants for citizenship now must only have resided in Switzerland for ten years instead of 12, as was the case before the new law took effect. 

It's important to make a distinction here. The change in law is not saying the recipients on social welfare will be deported. It is merely closing them off from citizenship until they can demonstrate they do not require social assistance. 

There is a difference here between residency and naturalization, and the two ought not to be confused. The state is quite flexible with legal residency. The rules for extending citizenship, though, are far more rigorous. 

Indeed, Switzerland has a large number of foreign born residents, and its economy includes many immigrant workers. 

Unlike many other nations, though, the Swiss recognize that the political system is distinct from the economic system, and admitting a migrant to the Swiss economic sphere does not necessarily mean the state must also grant access to the political sphere. 

Moreover, in nearly all cases, immigrants residing in Switzerland have citizenship. They're simply citizens somewhere else. (Swiss law specifically protects immigrant residents from deportation in case of statelessness.)

This is true everywhere, of course. Non-resident immigrants residing in the US, for example, are already citizens. They're simply citizens somewhere else. This fact is confused by the usage of phrases like "illegal alien" or "undocumented worker" which ignore the actual citizenship status of these workers. In most cases, the term "foreign national" — which highlights the fact these people are not stateless — is really more useful than "illegal immigrant." 

After all, the "illegality" of an immigrant is a totally arbitrary status made up by government bureaucrats, and is no more morally legitimate than the term "illegal drugs." In both cases, the only difference between legal and illegal is some government paperwork. 

On the other hand, there is no clear reason why foreign nationals residing anywhere ought to be given an easy path to citizenship, especially in cases where those residents rely on taxpayer funded services. 

This position, by the way, need not violate the property rights of immigrant residents. After all, property rights exist everywhere, regardless of location, and a respect for property rights suggests that persons ought to be allowed to freely contract with others for employment, housing, and other goods — regardless of an arbitrary government decree of illegality. 

In a 2017 column titled "Don't Confuse Immigration with Naturalization," I explore this topic further.

Preferably, access to the economic system is open to anyone with whom persons are willing to contract, whether they be employers, landlords, shopkeepers, and potential customers for new immigrant-owned businesses. Given that people tend to be quite open to economic ties with others, accessing the economic sphere has long been quite easy for immigrants to the United States. This is precisely because the economic sphere is relatively free and open in the US. 

Granting access to the political sphere, however, opens up a variety of other problems, such as extending access to the ballot box, and encouraging the use of political power to enrich one's self or one's own group. This problem is hardly unique to immigrants, as I've explained here, but as the Swiss understand, restricting access to the political system in this case is often quite prudent. Thus, is makes sense to be open to migration, while being less open with the extension of citizenship privileges. 

The ideal, of course, is to shrink the political sphere in such a way that citizenship ceases to be important. In a laissez faire economy where the state has only a tiny role in the regulation and ownership of property, then it would not be terribly important if one enjoys citizenship or not. The free exercise of one's property rights would be assured regardless. 

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