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George Gilder on His New Book, the Superiority of Ludwig Von Mises and the Necessity for a Regulatory Jubilee
With Anthony Wile - December 23, 2012
The Daily Bell is pleased to present this exclusive interview with George Gilder
Introduction: George Gilder is Chairman of George Gilder Fund Management, LLC and host of the Gilder Telecosm Forum. He is also a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute where he directs Discovery's program on high technology and public policy, and the former Editor in Chief of the Gilder Technology Report (published by Forbes Inc., 1996-2007). Mr. Gilder pioneered the formulation of supply-side economics when he served as Chairman of the Lehrman Institute's Economic Roundtable, as Program Director for the Manhattan Institute and as a frequent contributor to A.B. Laffer's economic reports and the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. In the 1980s he also consulted leaders of America's high technology businesses. According to a study of presidential speeches, Mr. Gilder was President Reagan's most frequently quoted living author. In 1986, President Reagan gave George Gilder the White House Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence. Mr. Gilder hosts the web's premier technology investment discussion forum, the Gilder Telecosm Forum, and co-hosts (with Steve Forbes) the annual Gilder/Forbes Telecosm Conference.
Daily Bell: Remind our readers of where you were born and grew up and how you become involved in free-market thinking.
George Gilder: I was born in New York City and brought up on a dairy farm in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. Early on I learned that my father, Richard, who died in WW2, was a student of Hayek, Schumpeter and Von Haberler, as was his roommate, David Rockefeller, who studied with Hayek and Robbins at the London School of Economics. My father's thesis at Harvard was on Hayek's theory of intangible capital. Later, as program director at the Manhattan Institute, I began reading von Mises and Bohm-Bawerk.
Daily Bell: Big influences were Jean-Baptiste Say, Thomas Sowell and Claude Shannon. Tell us about them.
George Gilder: Say's Law always appealed to me. It seemed to express the fundamental truth of economics, that all demand derives from production. I encountered Say's Law first through W.H. Hutt, in a book I discovered at the libertarian bookstore in Greenwich Village. Then I found Thomas Sowell, who is the commanding mind in contemporary economics because of the range of his mastery of economics and history, beginning with Say's Law, which was the subject of his first two books. Without history, most current economics is blind and trivial. Claude Shannon consummated information theory, which I have been studying for two decades as part of my exploration of new technology (Microcosm, Telecosm, Life After Television). A founder of computer science and information theory and a master of technology investment, Shannon provides the foundation of my current theory of capitalism, to be launched in my book Knowledge and Power, which will be published by Regnery in July.
Daily Bell: How about Murray Rothbard or Ludwig von Mises?
George Gilder: I knew Murray and thought him demented in his refusal to differentiate between the US and Soviet governments. I've read him now and again and found him just a routine, hard-core, faith-based libertarian. Von Mises was the greatest economist of the 20th century.
Daily Bell: Remind us how you feel about Milton Friedman and the differences between him and the Austrian School.
George Gilder: Milton was the most lucid and articulate man in the field. (As far as I know he never lost a debate from the time he left his womb at the University of Chicago until, he met his maker). But intoxicated by his own intellectual magic and inebriated by his Nobel Prize he spent his last years babbling monetary monotheory and macromancy. I visited China with him in 1988, as I recall, and he counseled the Chinese Communists that the key to economic success was to "gain control of the money supply," as if inadequate appetite for controls was the problem of the Chinese leaders. Asked what would happen in 1997, when the British control of Hong Kong was to end, I declared that that was the year Hong Kong would begin to take over China. I was right, and it did, without ever really controlling the money supply. So Milton was wrong about China and money. The genius of the Austrian school is its grasp of the protean heterogeneity and interdependence of capital and thus the futility of all theories that treat capital and money as homogeneous forms of aggregate spending.
Daily Bell: Remind our readers about your great book, Wealth and Poverty. It was pro-Austrian even without the making a direct point about the Austrian.
George Gilder: Wealth and Poverty (new edition Regnery 2012) was an idiosyncratic work of intuition and improvisation based mainly on an increasing revulsion against the teaching of economics at Harvard and my adversaries such as Keynes, Galbraith, Heilbroner, Barry Commoner and even the Monthly Review leftists, Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy. I regularly followed the leftist economics journal Challenge and as a staff editor at the Council on Foreign Relations I read a lot of their policy books, which seemed boring compared to the doctrinaire bravado of the Left. The Left, though, palled, as I very early recognized that what mattered was growth, which leftist materialism effectively ruled out.
This pursuit pushed me toward Austria and I did read a few available Austrians such as Ludwig Lachmann, Israel Kirzner and Bohm-Bawerk, but I had just a smattering of Hayek, von Mises and Rothbard. Working in my youth on the New Leader magazine, an anti-communist socialist publication, I was chiefly an expert on the foibles, fatuities and malignancies of the Left. Probably my greatest inspiration was Irving Kristol, who wrote a column for the += and was author of a book, Two Cheers for Capitalism, which galvanized me to generate another cheer based on the essential roots of capitalism in altruism – concern for others. "Greed leads as by an invisible hand to an ever growing welfare state – to socialism, not capitalism."
Daily Bell: You have a difference of opinion with von Mises about the free market versus entrepreneurs. Please address this issue.
George Gilder: I am not going to join the mosquitoes around the corpse of von Mises. He is the greatest of economists and fully recognized the central role of entrepreneurs. However, his economic theory, like all economic theory, tries to make entrepreneurial creativity a function of something else, whether the "market" or "spontaneous order" in various forms. I think entrepreneurial creativity is the only thing that matters and there are no markets or money or liberty, or anything else without entrepreneurs. My delight in information theory, which was mostly developed after the death of von Mises and the other leading Austrians, comes from its definition of information itself as surprise. The essence of creativity is that it comes as a surprise to us. Information theory provides an elaborate and thoroughly tested mathematical apparatus with unexpected messages as its central concept and driving force. Thus it supplies a foundation for an economic model with entrepreneurial surprise as its core.
Daily Bell: Tell us about your new book you are currently writing, Knowledge and Power.
George Gilder: I have been studying technology for 30 years and I have increasingly recognized the power of a congeries of ideas that converge in Claude Shannon's Information Theory. Information theory is already the driving force of the international economy, as the conceptual basis of the Internet and computer technology. It also can explain the dynamics of capitalism.
Daily Bell: What made you decide to write this book?
George Gilder: I wanted to overthrow the materialist superstition behind most economics: its effort to reduce the entrepreneur to a function of material relations or chemical elements or market order or hedonic calculus, or price arbitrage in an inane mimicry of the determinist aspirations of 19th century physics. Since materialist determinism has been abandoned by physicists as an explanation of matter, I thought it was about time to replace it in economics. I also have been impatient with the incentive theory of capitalism, as if wanting something has something essential to do with the ability to supply it. The homo economicus at the heart of economic models recapitulates the Skinner Box at the heart of behavioral psychology and the survivalist function at the heart of evolutionary biology. They are all figments of materialism that resort to empty mystagogy to explain creativity.
Daily Bell: Update us on politics. Why didn't Ron Paul win? You weren't a big fan but we think his campaign would have put him in office had it not been for Mitt Romney's dirty tricks and actual physical intimidation. Agree? Disagree?
George Gilder: Ron Paul was nowhere near nomination, regardless of dirty tricks, and about as likely to be elected as I was. He fails to understand that the evil in the world does not yet originate with the US government. Perhaps, he will be right next time.
Daily Bell: Would Ron Paul have beaten Barack Obama? Why didn't Mitt Romney?
George Gilder: No. This turned out to be the year the Manchurian candidate assumed office, without guns or conspiracy. Bush's crony capitalism led to a crash, which shielded Obama and the left from blame. A flaw of democracy is that economic failure produces increasing dependence on government and support for leftist politicians in a positive feedback loop, which was epitomized by FDR's success in turning a stock market crash into a ten-year depression and near democratic beatification. This time the insulation of American wealth prevented the electorate from learning the true lessons of the crash, which was an effect of the political debauch of American capitalism around the troughs of a consumption totem—housing.
A further problem is the collapse of the American family as a result of the welfare state. In Wealth and Poverty I predicted that in the case of a breakdown of families, it would take a welfare state to care for the women and children and a police state to handle the boys. That happened. A third of young black men are in jail or on probation. Single people overwhelmingly elected Obama. Marrieds voted decisively for Romney. What happened is that single people increased in numbers enough to elect a statist.
Daily Bell: Are you worried about a second term?
George Gilder: Sure. Getting worse to get better is no fun.
Daily Bell: Why hasn't President Obama released his background records?
George Gilder: He is a hardcore leftist and does not wish to reveal it fully. I think he may be mistaken, since his election came in the face of ample flamboyant evidence of his essential communist-environmentalist views and the Democrats did not care. Most of them harbor secret socialist and Luddite hungers.
Daily Bell: Do you believe his birth certificate is authentic? Does it matter?
George Gilder: No, it doesn't matter; he was born in the mind of the new left.
Daily Bell: Has the GOP self destructed now?
George Gilder: No. It will come back. It is still dominant on the state and local levels among governors and state legislative bodies and it is the only remaining pro-American party. I believe the United States, though sicklied o'er by a cast of green goo, is not suicidal.
Daily Bell: The GOP believes in projecting force around the world via 1,000 military bases. You believe in a robust defense but is this realistic in this day and age?
George Gilder: No, I think we could get rid of most of the bases but American military dominance is crucial to capitalism. The current deterioration of US power and its rule by a socialist regime in Washington is not a favorable event for the world.
Daily Bell: Is the US broke? What will happen if it does?
George Gilder: The danger is a collapse of American power that leads to world war.
As long as interest rates remain near zero, it is hard to make the case that the U.S. is anywhere near broke. But it is definitely broken, chiefly by destructive government policies, mostly based on the climate change scam and other environmentalist figments.
Daily Bell: Is secession a possibility?
George Gilder: No.
Daily Bell: Should there be a debt jubilee – debt forgiveness, in other words?
George Gilder: No. We should eliminate regulations and government programs, not existing contracts.
Daily Bell: Why do citizens of the Federal Reserve owe it money? Should those debts be forgiven?
George Gilder: Determining which debts are legitimate and which not is politically impossible. So it won't happen.
Daily Bell: Is the Fed purely a private institution?
George Gilder: No, it is a government body.
Daily Bell: Should its function be given over to politicians? Should it be made "public"?
George Gilder: No, a modicum of independence is viable.
Daily Bell: Where do you stand on the issue of the Fed generally? Can it be brought under control or should it be abolished?
George Gilder: I think it will continue as it is. With no discernible inflation in interest rates, there is little evidence that it is at the heart of the economic problem. The economic problem was explained by Mancur Olson in The Rise and Decline of Nations, in which he showed that democracies become ossified and paralyzed by special interests and their political agents and beneficiaries. From time to time, you need a Jubilee, not of debts but of laws, regulations and government programs. The US did it after World War II, laying off some 150,000 bureaucrats. New Zealand and Israel did it in the 1980s, Canada did it over the last decade or so. Vast retrenchment of government spending and regulation has no downsides, except for Democratic pols and pettifogs.
Daily Bell: Can the Fed work? Can people successfully fix the price and value of money?
George Gilder: Yes, money is a standard of value, not a commodity. There will be an evolution toward a new form of gold standard.
Daily Bell: Why are there so many central banks these days, over 150 of them?
George Gilder: It is an artifact of the nation-state.
Daily Bell: Why were the first facilities set up in Iraq and Afghanistan after invasion central banks?
George Gilder: Central banks are the chief default function of the nation-state, which cannot defend itself anymore, has botched education and healthcare and lacks ethnic coherence.
Daily Bell: Are we headed toward a major monetary collapse?
George Gilder: No. There are many forms of money and they will compete.
Daily Bell: Will Barack Obama be able to save the world from such a collapse?
George Gilder: Barack Obama is irrelevant, just another academic socialist green poseur like all the other ones.
Daily Bell: Can any politician?
George Gilder: Sure, a visionary US president could drastically cut back government and foster a global resurgence of capitalism. Cutting back government is all upside.
Daily Bell: Is there a kind of elite, a power elite, behind the world's multiple current disasters? Do they want world government? Are they trying to create chaos in order to bring order?
George Gilder: No. At the Council on Foreign Relations, where I began my career, I learned conclusively that the so-called "establishment" is a myth. No one there could keep a secret or conspire successfully to control a seminar track or a dinner table if both Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski were present. Globalists have always wanted world government. Obama would like to rule it. But the UN is a feckless travesty of itself and the other world organizations are in constant conflict. Nonetheless, the campaign to bring down the United States is real and needs no conspiratorial support since it has captured the White House, Hollywood, and perhaps, crucially, The Daily Bell.
Daily Bell: What is going to happen to the EU?
George Gilder: It will muddle along.
Daily Bell: Is China in for a hard landing?
George Gilder: No. It is largely decentralized and spearheaded by its free zones. As possibly the world's richest source of natural gas, it is soon to become energy independent when it learns the horizontal fracking technologies of the United States.
Daily Bell: Should the UN form a world government?
George Gilder: No. It is controlled by demented pols. Too much world government and too much power in politics is already the problem.
Daily Bell: Are large, central governments better for people than small, decentralized environments?
George Gilder: No. I agree with Nassim Taleb, among others, that when economically free, city-states are both creative and stable. Examples are Hong Kong, Israel and Singapore.
Daily Bell: Can modern technology make a difference in human lives and well being?
George Gilder: Look around you.
Daily Bell: Is the Internet doing so? If so, how?
George Gilder: Yes. It is a force for decentralization and economic growth. It is still in the process of replacing television as the informative core of capitalism. It will triumph when it develops a functional no-hassle transactions system with micropayments. In the future, no one will see ads they don't want to see. It is a broken model.
Daily Bell: Technological progress renders totalitarianism impotent. Do you still feel that way?
George Gilder: Yes. Technology will render totalitarianism impotent, because only free countries can achieve real technological innovation. But technological mastery imposes a rigorous discipline of economic liberation. Freedom must be maintained, in the face of Western environmental Luddites, who are prominent even in beleaguered Western redoubts such as Israel and are dominant in Washington. Without freedom in civilized nations, troglodytes such as North Korea or Jihadist monsters can capture rudimentary tools of destruction and wreak vast damage. The Reds are now Green; they have captured much of the U.S. government; and they pose a far greater threat to capitalism than the residual reds opening up the Chinese economy to world capitalism.
Daily Bell: You wrote recently that anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Capitalism. How so?
George Gilder: It is the chief respectable form of anti-Capitalism. As von Mises wrote in 1936, capitalist success is dependent on a tiny minority – less than "one percent" – and that minority of geniuses is disproportionately Jewish. Anti-Semitism (and anti-Zionism) are ways to attack the heart of capitalist progress. Anti-Zionism is the opiate of inferior peoples sick with envy of excellence and capitalist success.
Daily Bell: Are you aware of the Jewish Khazar conflict? Where do you stand on it? Does it matter?
George Gilder: As far as I know, it doesn't really matter. My understanding of Jewishness (I am not Jewish) is not dependent on any particular genetic path.
Daily Bell: Is the world headed for more wars in the Middle East?
George Gilder: They may be thwarted by Israel's ever increasing dominance in military technology.
Daily Bell: Are they avoidable?
George Gilder: Yes, through military dominance by Israel and support from the rest of the civilized world. If Obama continues to undermine Israel through a gullible peace campaign, its enemies may gain enough confidence to attack. A major tragic war could erupt. It is up to Obama.
Daily Bell: Please recommend further reading – and from your own oeuvre, as well.
George Gilder: I think Matt Ridley's The Rational Optimist is the best book of economics of the last decade. The best book on the crash is Andrew Redleaf and Richard Vigilante's Panic. Lew Lehrman expounds a valuable path toward gold in The True Gold Standard. I admire and enjoy Nassim Taleb's Antifragile. He is the most charismatic of libertarians but it is more a libertarian book of practical philosophy than of economics and, if anyone cares, it overreaches in its theoretical pretensions.
Daily Bell: Thank you for your time and insights.
George Gilder: Thanks.
The Daily Bell
What an eloquent interview this is. George Gilder – a genius-type in many ways – is a kind of linguistic genius, as well, and it's always a pleasure to listen to him and read him.
We were happy that a leading market-oriented intellectual who so influenced our collective youth would sit down with us again. And we were equally excited at the updates he provided to us regarding a variety of topics including his upcoming book, which sounds fascinating.
The only slightly disconcerting note was a point he made toward the end of the interview, as follows: "Globalists have always wanted world government. Obama would like to rule it. But the UN is a feckless travesty of itself and the other world organizations are in constant conflict. Nonetheless, the campaign to bring down the United States is real and needs no conspiratorial support since it has captured the White House, Hollywood, and perhaps, crucially, The Daily Bell."
While we were pleased to find ourselves, linguistically anyway, in the august company of the White House and Hollywood, we're not sure we have nearly so much clout. Indeed, the Bell has given up clout at every point. We virtually bleed clout. With our market-based philosophical stance it is indeed difficult to find powerful partners, much less Hollywood and the White House.
We've mentioned this before, in fact. We've gradually realized what the phrase "selling out to the system" means. It means that one accepts any one of a number of jobs and careers that support society as it is.
When one "sells out," as the hippies used to put it, one begins to support what is already in place. In the early 21st century, this evidently and obviously means a system that has created the most mighty military machine on Earth and is determined to use it in such far flung places as Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc.
Almost every career we can think of within the context of organized Western society in some sense supports what has been created by an apparent power elite that sits atop this sociopolitical and economic structure. It is funded by monopoly-fiat central banking and is supported by a myriad of legal and accounting rules.
It is lifted up by public schools, defended by a "volunteer" army, legitimized by a (corrupt) educational and political system. Almost every aspect of life somehow contributes to this increasingly dysfunctional system.
And while such a system might be tolerable if it were bringing peace and prosperity, it has apparently been designed to do just the opposite. It is perpetually unstable in order to bring a kind of "chaos" to the world that will result in ever more emphatic globalist solutions. It is a system devised to be an internationalism-maker, in other words.
Within this context, we are hard pressed to see a "United States." Perhaps there was a concept at one point, either pre- or post-Constitution, when an agreed-upon culture existed that could be summed up in such words (actually, "these united States"). But that day, from our point of view, is long gone.
And so, it is true, we are not supporters of the current United States with its 1,000 military bases and its increasingly fascist economy. We are not big fans of Homeland Security and the country's 16 separate intelligence agencies, all designed to spy on the peaceful peoples of the West, from what we can tell.
So ... we hope the system changes. We are peaceful proponents of change. We do want to bring down what is via education and persuasion ... because it is increasingly a command-and-control structure resembling German National Socialism. We would like to see a return to voluntarism, marketplace economics and local control over social, economic and political affairs.
We figure that's what George Gilder wants, too.