Whiskey Rebellion: A Rebellion against Taxes?

The history of the Whiskey Rebellion is shrouded in myth. Many scholars consider it a victory for the young U.S. government. But was it really a win for the anti-tax patriots?

What caused the Whiskey Rebellion?

The Whiskey Rebellion was the second major internal uprising in U.S. history (preceded only by Shays’ Rebellion). It was a response to an excise tax created by Alexander Hamilton, who served as Secretary of the Treasury under George Washington.

The U.S. government racked up $79 million in debt during the Articles of Confederation period. The Federal government owed $54 million of that amount. The individual states owed $25 million. Alexander Hamilton saw this as an opportunity to centralize government. He proposed to consolidate the debt. In order to pay it back, he would create a tax on domestic spirits. This was seen as a relatively safe luxury tax. In addition, he had support from those who viewed alcohol as a sinful indulgence. Thus, the Whiskey Act was passed into law in 1791.

What happened during the Whiskey Rebellion?

The Whiskey Tax was extremely unpopular, especially on the frontier (back then, the frontier consisted of Kentucky as well as parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia). Many people in these areas just refused to pay the tax. But in western Pennsylvania, protestors fought back.

In July 1794, more than 500 people attacked the tax inspector’s home. George Washington sent a massive militia, 13,000 people strong, to quell the rebellion. By the time the militia arrived, the rebellion had dispersed. Some 20 people were arrested, but no one was ever convicted of a crime.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Many scholars consider this a victory for the federal government. In his book, Character: Profiles in Presidential Courage, Chris Wallace provides a fairly typical pro-state treatment:

By acting decisively to quell the threat, Washington had proven that the federal government would stand behind the law. Many continued to fear that the government would destroy their dearly purchased freedoms. But as President Washington noted in his farewell address, a strong government, not a weak one, was the “main pillar…of your tranquility at home; your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very Liberty which you so highly prize.”

However, the true story of the Whiskey Rebellion lies elsewhere, namely in the frontier. The U.S. government was never able to collect the Whiskey Tax on the frontier. In fact, it hardly tried. In fact, the Whiskey Rebellion, by and large, was mostly a non-violent tax protest. People just refused to pay it. Eventually, Hamilton and his fellow Federalists lost power and all excise taxes were repealed.

Here’s more on the Whiskey Rebellion from Murray Rothbard at LewRockwell.com:

The Whiskey Rebellion has long been known to historians, but recent studies have shown that its true nature and importance have been distorted by friend and foe alike. The Official View of the Whiskey Rebellion is that four counties of western Pennsylvania refused to pay an excise tax on whiskey that had been levied by proposal of the Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton in the Spring of 1791, as part of his excise tax proposal for federal assumption of the public debts of the several states.

Western Pennsylvanians failed to pay the tax, this view says, until protests, demonstrations, and some roughing up of tax collectors in western Pennsylvania caused President Washington to call up a 13,000-man army in the summer and fall of 1794 to suppress the insurrection. A localized but dramatic challenge to federal tax-levying authority had been met and defeated. The forces of federal law and order were safe.

This Official View turns out to be dead wrong…

(See the rest at LewRockwell.com)

The Lost Apollo 11 Engines?

On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 launched from Kennedy Space Center, sending Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on a date with destiny. In the process, two massive F-1 engines were jettisoned into the ocean, seemingly lost for all time. Now, after a year-long expedition, billionaire Jeff Bezos has salvaged this history-making technology.

Salvaging the Apollo 11 Engines?

We first reported on this story in March 2012, calling it one of the most incredible salvage efforts of all time, ranking up there with Robert E. Peary’s search for “The Tent.” The cost of the recovery and restoration remains unknown but according to NASA, the engines will be displayed at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum as well as Seattle’s Museum of Flight, respectively.

Who owns the Apollo 11 Engines?

The exact ownership of the engines remains unclear to me. I’m sure the U.S. government claims ownership. However, this would appear to fall under the Homesteading Principle. In essence, governments cannot legitimately own private property, since everything they have (including tax dollars) has been, in effect, taken with force. Even if you disagree with that assessment, NASA abandoned the engines, making no plans to ever recover them. Thus, I would argue no one owned the engines prior to discovery. Bezos Expeditions, on the other hand, is the rightful owner of its own labor. By salvaging the engines, it added its labor to the engines and thus, became the rightful owner.

Here’s more on the discovery of the lost Apollo 11 engines from Jeff Bezos at Bezos Expeditions:

What an incredible adventure. We are right now onboard the Seabed Worker headed back to Cape Canaveral after finishing three weeks at sea, working almost 3 miles below the surface. We found so much. We’ve seen an underwater wonderland – an incredible sculpture garden of twisted F-1 engines that tells the story of a fiery and violent end, one that serves testament to the Apollo program. We photographed many beautiful objects in situ and have now recovered many prime pieces. Each piece we bring on deck conjures for me the thousands of engineers who worked together back then to do what for all time had been thought surely impossible.

Many of the original serial numbers are missing or partially missing, which is going to make mission identification difficult. We might see more during restoration. The objects themselves are gorgeous…

(See the rest at Bezos Expeditions)

Dystopian Visions: Orwell vs. Huxley?

Aldous Huxley and George Orwell were two of the great prognosticators of the last century. Both men feared dystopian tyranny, albeit via different methods. At this point in history, who looks more correct?

In Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World, citizens are controlled by placating them. In Orwell’s 1984, the government controls citizens via constant oppression and mass surveillance. Both dystopian visions are fearful and ring true in today’s world although I’d give the slight edge to Huxley. Here’s a good summary on the competing dystopian visions from Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared we would become a captive audience. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared that we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate would ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

(Read the rest via Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business)

Did the U.S. Government kill Big Bands?

In 1935, Benny Goodman launched the Big Band era with a famous performance in Los Angeles. By 1946, the Big Band era was dead. Despite high popularity, it was replaced by the far less dance-friendly (and far less popular) BeBop era. What happened to the Big Band era?

The U.S. government holds a substantial part of the blame. In 1944, the U.S. government imposed the so-called “Cabaret Tax,” partly to raise funds for World War II. Essentially, it placed a 30% tax rate on all establishments that “contained dance floors, served alcohol and other refreshments, and/or provided musical entertainment.” The tax, like so many others, was supposed to be temporary. But when it was reinstated, dance halls closed across the nation. Thanks to the extra cost of doing business, few places could afford to hire big bands. Thus, many big bands were forced to break apart. Musicians formed smaller bands and started playing non-danceable music. Thus, the era of Bebop began. Here’s more on the government’s war on Big Bands by Eric Felten at The Wall Street Journal (paywall protected):

These are strange days, when we are told both that tax incentives can transform technologies yet higher taxes will not drag down the economy. So which is it? Do taxes change behavior or not? Of course they do, but often in ways that policy hands never anticipate, let alone intend. Consider, for example, how federal taxes hobbled Swing music and gave birth to bebop.

With millions of young men coming home from World War II—eager to trade their combat boots for dancing shoes—the postwar years should have been a boom time for the big bands that had been so wildly popular since the 1930s. Yet by 1946 many of the top orchestras—including those of Benny Goodman, Harry James and Tommy Dorsey—had disbanded. Some big names found ways to get going again, but the journeyman bands weren’t so lucky. By 1949, the hotel dine-and-dance-room trade was a third of what it had been three years earlier. The Swing Era was over.

Dramatic shifts in popular culture are usually assumed to result from naturally occurring forces such as changing tastes (did people get sick of hearing “In the Mood”?) or demographics (were all those new parents of the postwar baby boom at home with junior instead of out on a dance floor?). But the big bands didn’t just stumble and fall behind the times. They were pushed…

(See the rest at The Wall Street Journal)

Reversing Extinction: The Passenger Pigeon?

As cloning technologies improve, the odds of reversing extinction continue to grow. Reviving the passenger pigeon, extinct since 1914, now appears to be a distinct possibility. But a larger question remains, namely how will these “extinction clones” survive in the modern world?

If the goal is to make them zoo exhibits, then a few passenger pigeons will suffice. But if the goal is to reintroduce them to nature, scientists could be in for a rude awakening. Passenger pigeons once existed in massive flocks and traveled up and down the east coast of the United States. In the process, they destroyed forests, picked trees clean, and left behind miles of feces. Could modern forests endure such an onslaught?

Here’s more from Kelly Servick at Wired Science:

Twelve birds lie belly-up in a wooden drawer at the Berkeley Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. Bloated with stuffing, their ruddy brown chests resemble a row of sweet potatoes. Slate-blue heads and thin white tails protrude in perfect alignment, except for one bird that cranes its neck to face its neighbor. A pea-sized bulge of white cotton sits where its eye should be. A slip of paper tied to its foot reads, “Ectopistes migratorius. Manitoba. 1884.” This is the passenger pigeon, once the most abundant bird in North America. When Europeans first landed on the continent, they encountered billions of the birds. By 1914 they were extinct.

That may be about to change. Today scientists are meeting in Washington, D.C. to discuss a plan to bring the passenger pigeon back from extinction. The technical challenges are immense, and the ethical questions are slippery. But as genetic technology races ahead, a scenario that’s hard to imagine is becoming harder to dismiss out of hand.

About 1,500 passenger pigeons inhabit museum collections. They are all that’s left of a species once perceived as a limitless resource. The birds were shipped in boxcars by the tons, sold as meat for 31 cents per dozen, and plucked for mattress feathers. But in a mere 25 years, the population shrank from billions to thousands as commercial hunters decimated nesting flocks. Martha, the last living bird, took her place under museum glass in 1914…

(See the rest at Wired Science)

Did Ancient Mariners use Sunstones to Navigate?

According to ancient Icelandic texts, a mysterious object known as a sunstone could locate the sun in a clouded-over sky. Such an object might explain how ancient mariners like the Vikings traveled across the oceans with otherwise rudimentary technology. But did sunstones actually exist? Or were they merely allegorical references?

Recently, researchers discovered a slab of mineral in a 16th century shipwreck. This mineral, known as Iceland Spar, might just be the mythical sunstone. Here’s more from Raphael Satter at the Associated Press (posted at R&D Mag):

A rough, whitish block recovered from an Elizabethan shipwreck may be a sunstone, the fabled crystal believed by some to have helped Vikings and other medieval seafarers navigate the high seas, researchers say.

In a paper published earlier this week, a Franco-British group argued that the Alderney Crystal—a chunk of Icelandic calcite found amid a 16th century wreck at the bottom of the English Channel—worked as a kind of solar compass, allowing sailors to determine the position of the sun even when it was hidden by heavy cloud, masked by fog, or below the horizon.

That’s because of a property known as birefringence, which splits light beams in a way that can reveal the direction of their source with a high degree of accuracy. Vikings may not have grasped the physics behind the phenomenon, but that wouldn’t present a problem.

“You don’t have to understand how it works,” said Albert Le Floch, of the University in Rennes in western France. “Using it is basically easy.”

(See the rest at R&D Mag)

The Lost World of Mauritia?

We still don’t know much about what Earth looked like millions of years ago. But underwater lost worlds are popping up with increased frequency these days. The latest example is Mauritia. Unfortunately, I’m skeptical…very skeptical.

The Lost World of Mauritia?

Millions of years ago, Mauritia supposedly split off from Madagascar and made its way east, thanks to plate tectonics and sea-floor spreading. Eventually, this lost world sank to the bottom of the ocean. Now, a group of scientists claim to have found evidence for it. Unfortunately, the evidence is incredibly skimpy, consisting of twenty grains of zircons found in the sand on the island of Mauritius as well as an unusually thick sea-floor crust in the Indian Ocean.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Twenty grains of zircons? That’s it? Good lord. Supposedly, these zircons were gathered from remote beaches, which reduces the possibility they were carried there by tourists. Plus, the odds of them being blown over from Madagascar are considered unlikely. But let’s be honest…what’s the more likely scenario? That the zircons originated from a sunken lost world? Or that they were inadvertently brought to Mauritius by folks from Madagascar or elsewhere?

Here’s more from Sid Perkins at Nature:

The drowned remnants of an ancient microcontinent may lie scattered beneath the waters between Madagascar and India, a new study suggests.

Evidence for the long-lost land comes from Mauritius, a volcanic island about 900 kilometres east of Madagascar. The oldest basalts on the island date to about 8.9 million years ago, says Bjørn Jamtveit, a geologist at the University of Oslo. Yet grain-by-grain analyses of beach sand that Jamtveit and his colleagues collected at two sites on the Mauritian coast revealed around 20 zircons — tiny crystals of zirconium silicate that are exceedingly resistant to erosion or chemical change — that were far older…

(See the rest at Nature)

Stanley Steamer: Fastest Steam Car in History?

In 1906, an automobile traveling 50 mph was considered extremely fast. Then Fred Marriott and the Stanley Steamer came along. The Stanley Steamer was a steam car, created by the Stanley Motor Carriage Company. In 1906, an early race car driver by the name of Fred Marriott used it to become the fastest driver in the world, topping out at 127.659 mph. He attempted to break the record in 1907 used an improved version of the steam car. Unfortunately, he hit a rut while traveling 140-150 mph. The steam car gained flight and when it hit ground, broke in half (see picture). Fred Marriott survived the crash but chose not to pursue another record.

Fred Marriott’s milestone was broken in 1910 when a Blitzen Benz, armed with a gasoline engine, reached 141.7 mph. However, he held the steam car land speed record for more than a century, until it was finally eclipsed by Charles Burnett III in 2009 with a mark of 139.843 mph. Here’s more from Daniel Vaughan at ConceptCarz.com.

The Stanley Brothers built their first steam-powered car in Watertown, Massachusetts in 1897. Within a decade, they created the ‘Fastest Car in the World,’ the Stanley Rocket. F.E. Stanley fathered the project, completing the design, build and test work in 1905. The Rocket made its public debut on Ormond Beach in January 1906.

The Stanley’s chose Fred Marriott, a daredevil racer, to pilot their car. The first day on the sand the car won the Dewar Trophy and set a record in the one-mile steam championship. The next day he set a record in a five-mile open race. On January 26th, Marriott set a one-kilometer record at 121.6 mph, the first person to traverse two miles in less than a minute. Two hours later, he upped it to 127.7, a record which lasted until 1910…

(See the rest at ConceptCarz.com)

QWERTY vs. Dvorak: The Fable of the Keys?

A few weeks ago, someone told me the QWERTY keyboard (named for its first six keys) was a mistake. There was another design that had proven more efficient, easier to use, and less likely to cause injuries like carpal tunnel. It’s called the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard and was created by Dr. August Dvorak and his brother-in-law Dr. William Dealey in 1936. Unfortunately, this miraculous invention never took off because people are resistant to change…or so the story goes.

It turns out the most favorable research for the Dvorak keyboard was conducted by none other than Dr. Dvorak himself. Later studies showed there wasn’t much to gain – if anything at all – from switching over from QWERTY. Advocates claim Dvorak has the edge in terms of ergonomic design but this isn’t clear. If a benefit exists, it appears to be a small one. Here’s more on QWERTY vs. Dvorak from The Independent Institute:

At a conference attended the other day by your reporter, a distinguished academic economist (who had better remain nameless) cited the “QWERTY” layout of the standard typewriter keyboard as a clear example of how markets “can make mistakes”. It may have been the millionth such reference. Many a textbook cites this case as proof of a certain kind of market failure — that associated with the adoption and locking-in of a bad standard. For years, if you cited an example of a “pure public good” (another kind of market failure), it had to be a lighthouse. If you needed a case of “positive externalities” (yet another), you would very likely go for beekeeping. In its field, QWERTY has achieved the same iconic eminence.

Which is only apt, because the tale of QWERTY is a myth — just like those other two cases. More than 25 years ago, Ronald Coase, a Nobel laureate, showed that when lighthouses were first built in Britain they were provided by private enterprise; tolls were collected when ships reached port. So lighthouses are not pure public goods. At about the same time Steven Cheung examined beekeeping and apple-growing in the state of Washington. He found that apple-growers paid beekeepers for their bees’ pollinating endeavours; those services were not, in fact, an unpriced “externality”…

(Read the rest at The Independent Institute)

Why did the Poker Bubble Burst?

In late 2003, the American poker industry exploded. New players flooded the game. Tournaments flourished. Poker games became a fixture on television. By 2008, the bubble had burst. People left the game in droves. Tournaments got smaller. Television programs ended up on the chopping block. So, why did this happen? What caused the poker industry to boom and bust? Curiously enough, the answer lies in money, or at least the Federal Reserve’s control over it. Here’s more from Peter C. Earle at the Ludwig von Mises Institute:

Nearly a decade ago, poker exploded in popularity. Between television programming, media coverage, and pop culture references to it—in particular, the Texas Hold ‘Em variant—the game became virtually unavoidable. The American Gaming Association estimates that nearly 1 in 5 Americans played poker in 2004, up 50 percent from 2003; also, that nearly 20 percent of those new players had begun to play within the previous two years.

The creation myth associated with the poker boom credits the improbable victory of a prophetically-named Tennessee accountant, Chris Moneymaker, in the 2003 World Series of Poker (WSOP). Other accounts source James McManus’s 2003 book Positively Fifth Street and the 1998 poker film Rounders. Still other, more mystical explanations refer to the game’s sudden “cultural resonance.”

But fads and surges of popularity come and go; these explanations hardly account for why, in a short amount of time, tens of millions of people suddenly flooded into a familiar—indeed, 150 year old—American card game, frenetically expending tens of billions of dollars on it. Nor do they explain why between 2007 and 2008 poker television programs were suddenly cancelled, tournaments saw a drop in participation, and many poker-related businesses scaled back or failed.

Austrian business cycle theory (ABCT) can, however, explain the origins and outcome of the poker bubble as well as its simultaneity with the housing boom, which, as will be demonstrated, are by no means coincidental…

(Read the rest at the Ludwig von Mises Institute)