Archives for category: Institutional Reality

There must be no bloodshed, no violence unless it is defensive, no coercion! We must do it our way and our way alone! To do otherwise is to betray centuries of hardship and struggle.

Above all else Kyfho. Forget Kyfho in your pursuit of victory over the enemy, and you will become the enemy . . . worse than the enemy because he doesn’t know he is capable of anything better.

― F. Paul Wilson, An Enemy of the State


There is absolutely no link between religion X and violence. But, if you attempt to make such a claim, you’ll make innumerable otherwise peaceful adherents of X very violent. So say that X is peaceful or else face the violent (I mean peaceful) consequences.

—Professor Gad Saad, Facebook, December 11, 2017


But this can’t be happening! [Swedish economist] Johan Norberg pooh-poohed the situation last year. We were silly for believing the stories of no-go zones, increased violence and rape.

But now it’s bombings.

Hint to economists: We worry about terrorism not because it is always statistically a danger, but because the supply of terrorists and terrorist violence is elastic, and the demand isn’t in our direct control.

It’s about scale. Terrorism can scale upwards. Bathtub deaths tend not to so scale. And even opiate deaths do not threaten the legal infrastructure. Terrorism is designed to destabilize. (It often does the opposite of course; ask anarchists, if they have any reflective capacity at all.)

TWV, Facebook, November 4, 2017


Violence and Irrationality in Politics: Paretian Sociology

Alberto Mingardi EXCERPT: [Vilfredo Pareto] considered World War I a consequence of demagogic plutocracy, with profiteers benefiting from military spending and part of the working class cheering entry into the war, hoping for a better life afterward.

The very triumph of demagogic plutocracy foreshadowed a crisis of this kind of regime. Plutocracy feeding demagogy entails a dangerous equilibrium: it means feeding ever-bigger demands for new benefits and special privileges. For Pareto, when a ruling class weakens, it becomes at the same time less efficacious in defending its own power but also more greedy: “on the one hand its yoke gets heavier, on the other hand it has less strength to keep [the yoke on society].”

Giandomenica Becchio EXCERPT: [A] non-logical theory based on irrational feelings and emotions can be very persuasive and useful to generate forms of social integration which seem to work in the short run, yet they are dangerous in the long run because they decrease economic development and erode individual liberty. Both socialism and fascism are good examples of this mechanism which combines rationality and irrationality: in fact, Pareto interpreted political theories as ex-post ways of rationalization and camouflage. . . .

Pareto, who rejected the theory of class struggle, adopted the theory of spoliation to explain the emergence of any governing group that seizes power either in legal or illegal ways. His theory of elites is the broader application of this mechanism to politics. Elites can vary in their compositions, but they are all oligarchic.

Richard E. Wagner EXCERPT: Political environments are different from market environments. People do not bear the value consequences of their political choices. Choosing between candidates is nothing like choosing between products or inputs. One might express a preference for one candidate over the other, but that expression does not yield the product or the input that might have been associated with that candidate. This situation does not mean that action is irrational. It means only that the rationality of action manifests differently in political environments. There can still be reasons for selecting one candidate over the other, only it has nothing to do with products or inputs. It has to do with images and the penumbra of associations those images carry in their wake.

In this respect, [Vilfredo] Pareto, and also his compatriot Gaetano Mosca, treated political competition as a process by which candidates sought to articulate ideological images that resonated more strongly with voters than the images set forth by other candidates. The result of this competitive process was the possibility of inferior outcomes dominating superior outcomes. Along these lines, Jürgen Backhaus (1978) explained how importing some implications of Pareto’s thought into public choice theory could lead to a sharper understanding of how acceptable political programs would have been rejected under market arrangements, with Patrick and Wagner (2015) amplifying Pareto’s scheme of analysis.

via Williamson M. Evers on Facebook, November 13, 2018


Fox news-opinion anchor Tucker Carlson, regarding a recent incident involving his children at a restaurant:

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A few days ago, Kat Timpf, a quick-witted, quirky and extremely attractive 30-year-old woman who provides a libertarian perspective on the Fox News Network, reported on Twitter that she had been run out of an establishment in New York by a screaming drunk woman.

At some point speech becomes abuse, because it is not just speech. It becomes assault.

I am not sure where that line is, but since I hold to a Stand Your Ground view of self-defense when it comes to deadly weaponry, I am not sure I can condemn Tucker’s son in throwing a drink at the man abusing his sister, calling her the most vile of names. Normally, I would say that owners and managers of eateries and taverns and lounges and the like should try to maintain control at their establishments, preventing some patrons from verbally abusing others, and committing a variety of minatory “speech acts.” If they do not, they implicitly side with the abusers. And, of course, many of the recent instances of harassment of Trump Administration figures have been organized by the establishments’ owners. And at least one has suffered consequences in drop-off in patronage.

A full-blown culture war, with Americans choosing sides and reviling each other in public, and engaging in aggressive speech and action, and in mutual ugliness, is still on the rise. One would have hoped that Democrats taking back the House of Reprentatives last week would have assuaged their mad powerlust that spurs much of this violence. They believe they are entitled to rule, and just cannot countenance those whom they disagree with from having power, even if by democratic processes, within a constitutional framework.

Every political ideology is about force and violence, for every ideology is about directing state power (or limiting it) in defense and offense for social outcomes. So, it is no wonder that those who demand more extensive state action would tend to be more violent. They want more violence.

But of course they want more violence by the State. Their frustration leads them to take action themselves, though.

Conservatives and those “on the right” also can be violent, and have been. But because they want to limit state action in principle — to at least some degree (libertarianism being one of several popular fantasies in conservatives circles) — and because they are, by nature, more conscientious than those “on the left,” they tend to be a bit less violent.

Of course, the besetting sin of the right is rage, and one of their characteristic crimes is going overboard in retaliation against perceived threats. “There is no kill like overkill” could be a slogan of the right in general.

I do not recall seeing mobs of right-wingers rioting after Barack Obama’s election and re-election. But after Trump’s election two years ago, we have witnessed a constant stream of low-level rioting and public abuse, almost to the point of insurrection, from the left. But this is in no way new. The left loves protest marches, which have often instigated rioting on the margins — and sometimes from the center — of the protest ranks. While the Tea Party protests were almost uniformly peaceful, the later left-wing variant of this sort of protest, the “Occupy” protests and sieges, were filled with violence. And the general difference between left and right protest marches is that the right-wing ones almost always have permits, and the left-wing ones rarely do. And yet the police tend to give more leeway to the leftists bent on violence than they do the right-wingers, who tend to engage in violence only in self-defense — when “antifa” and BAMN and other terrorists engage in counter-protests, complete with thrown bottles and swung bike-locks in socks.

The post-Kavanaugh protests at the Supreme Court building, with mobs beating on the doors, and the recent mob at Tucker Carlson’s doorstep, where the beating on the doors actually harmed the doors (I guess the Carlsons did not invest in a castle-apt door), is all the more indication of the inherent violence of the left.

And yet they pretend to be the peaceful ones.

It is part of the left’s strategy, has been since the dawn of socialist agitation, perhaps since the French Revolution: lead with a fantasy of peace, but demand maximum government action, which is inherently terroristic. And the means dreamt of in their mad philosophies being violent, become the means they use in their agitation.

It has always been thus. Which is why I hate the left with a bit more passion than the right. The right leaves social room for individuals and groups as countervailing powers to the State. The left puts everything in the State. And, as part of their agitation, everything in their groups: class struggle; marginalized group rebellion; mob action.

I also support violence: I believe in self-defense. And if a mob is heading towards me, and I cannot easily escape, I reserve the right to go to total war upon the aggressors.

Things do not look pretty. Especially if the economy takes a nose-dive and the ideological character of progress becomes murkier on the right and clearer on the left.

Meanwhile, I sympathize with Tucker Carlson. Even if his politics, these days, veers off into the irrational.


Hey, socialists, if you don’t want me to think of you as violent, maybe you should ditch your ceremonial stance of fist raised in the air.

It looks as threatening as tiki torches, to me. The latter are goofy and convivial as well as threatening in some contexts. But a fist in the air has always been a sign of defiance, at least in our time.

So, yeah: I think of you as wannaBmurderous thugs. Stop throwing rocks and bottles and firecrackers at people you disagree with, and stop chanting with those raised fists, and get back to me.

—TWV, August 4, 2018


re Democrats’ objection to the president’s language regarding illegal-alien gang members:

Most people, of all colors and even parties, are smart enough to know that denigrating cruel, tribalistic murderers is not a sign of denying the human “the spark of divinity,” as doddering Nancy Pelosi put it. It is merely an acknowledgement that people, in their actions, can forsake that moral fiction of “the spark of divinity” for an equally realistic “spark of deviltry.” And yes, “animality” is an adequate figure of speech to cover this. Calling cruel, violent murderers “animals” is one way to raise a “hue and cry” against precisely the people the term “hue and cry” was coined: horrific criminals.

—TWV, May 23, 2018


A Revision on the Bill of Rights, Part III

The main problem with the notion of self-defense is it imposes on justice, for everyone has the right for a fair trial. Therefore, using a firearm to defend oneself is not legal because if the attacker is killed, he or she is devoid of his or her rights.

I just skimmed this, since I try to make a point of not reading any more HuffPo nonsense, but I can still ask — is there a reader on the planet who does not see the idiocy here? The author argues that the problem with lethal self-defense is that it robs criminals of a fair trial! Can anyone not recognize that the purpose of the fair trial is to constrain RETALIATION and not DEFENSE?

There is a difference between the two. At the moment of a crime, social questions of innocence or guilt or possible feuding retaliation (with its ratcheting-up of violence) are not in play.

Elementary concepts elude HuffPo writers.

—TWV, Facebook, June 20, 2017


A point I make that is often lost even on my libertarian friends: the classical liberal theory of the State “monopolized” the use of force not evenly in practice but in the limited sense of setting the terms of all violence, of taking to itself a position in conflict similar to a central bank does in relationship to a nation’s banking system, becoming a “lender of last resort” — the State, in liberal theory, is the Defender of Last Resort.

This means that, according to most classical liberal theorists, such as founders of the United States of America, one does not give up the right of self-defense by living under the umbrella of state power, one merely gives up the right of retaliation and forced redress.

That is the theory, anyway.

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Sometimes we should take a step back and remember: we don’t know much, and much of what we “know” isn’t so.

IMG_2025This is especially the case in foreign affairs. Many important events and agendas are kept from the public. Whole organizations operate (and even exist) sub rosa. We are fed misinformation and lies on a regular basis. We are easily manipulated.

I have tried to hedge, or even seem Delphic, in the recent past, regarding Russia and North Korea, for instance. I know I know little, and more-than-merely-suspect that many who say they know important truths often only parrot half-truths, at best.

There has been way too much partisan nonsense about Russia in the past few years, and much of what is important about the “negotiations” between North Korea and the U.S., South Korea, et al., is kept far from public view.

IMG_2027We should try to keep in mind that manipulation of focus is the modus operandi of all major parties and organizations, and with it the clumsy and deceptive uses of statistics.

Arguably, one of the main jobs of the corporate media is to encourage people to think they are informed, while ensuring that they remain misinformed. News is not history or social science. It is entertainment. And the unfortunate unreliability and sheer perversity of the major media outlets does not need to be seen as a conspiracy (much of it being quite open). Ideological fantasy, partisan coup-stick conflict, and the profitability of hype and hysteria might explain most of it.

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Sometimes it seems as though people no longer know what freedom of speech is. The Stanley Fish argumentation in his infamous essay against the very coherence of free speech has not increased clarity or general understanding — though I take it that was indeed what Fish was trying to provide. So I have, in a number of venues, tried to explain free speech.

Recently on Quora I have answered two questions that sketch out what I believe to be the correct formulation of the idea:

I provided the gist of my understanding in the first essay:

Remember, freedom of speech is a term of art. It does not mean “all speech is free,” or that all symbolic acts are legally justifiable. Freedom of speech is merely speech broadly construed (semiosis) that does not aggress against the rights of others to be free. It is a way of defending freedom in the realm of speaking, listening, reading, writing, etc.

We cannot (rightly) possess a right to use speech to conspire against the rights of others.

The most important point to take away is this: a right to free speech does not mean that all speech is free.

Free speech “absolutists” get this wrong all the time, for they are constantly moved by their desire for consistency and absolutism to construe all speech as free. One reason for this is that they wish to use the First Amendment in a lawyerly way, with specific words carrying the most weight. They most strongly wish to avoid philosophy, and instead use the Constitution as a magic document, and the words in it as incantations that solve all problems.

We can see how well that has turned out.

And perhaps my free speech absolutist friends are afraid of Fishian (piscine?) error, of saying that if some speech is free and other speech is not, then the demarcating line must be arbitrary.

This is just simply not the case.

So, what is the line of demarcation between speech that is protected as free and speech that is not?

Freedom itself, in the wider context.

Most importantly, free speech really only makes sense in societies that regard general freedom (liberty) as in some sense primary. Indeed, it also only makes sense — and this can be seen best when paired up with freedom of religion and especially the press and association in the First Amendment listing — in a private property rights regime.

You have the right to speak freely on your property. You have the right to speak freely on property you have hired for the occasion.

It necessarily becomes murky regarding public places. This is especially murky regarding the freedom of the press when the press is a government outfit, like Britain BBC. What is “freedom of the press” regarding a government-run medium? All speech is finite, and its purveying is done under conditions of scarcity. Everyone must ration their resources. Including newspapers and blogs as well as radio and TV networks. So when the BBC makes an editorial decision, “free speech” is problematic: which words and ideas to broadcast is a constant decision-making process, with some telling others what to say and what listeners and viewers may hear. “Freedom of speech” is perilously close to meaningless. (But is not.) Which is why minimizing government is a necessity: it obviates basic principles and places government bodies in the position of serving some people and not others.

And government is, in theory, supposed to serve all people.

Oh, why did I bring up “freedom of the press”? That is not free speech, I can hear someone protest.

But it is. “The press” is just a technological way of distributing speech beyond our local realms, outside of our properties. It is free speech with extended borderlines. But the extension must always conform — as speech alone must conform — to individual rights in society.

It might be useful to remind today’s confused connoisseurs to see these concepts in a continuum:

freedom: of thought — of speech — of press

with the most basic being on the left and going from private to public as we read right.

And the context of property rights integrates everything. Without property rights there is no freedom of any kind. For freedom depends on exit rights and exclusion rights. Which, together, make up free association, which is implied by free speech and press freedom.

And, as I noted on Quora: No one has a right to contract a hitman to murder another. You cannot absolve yourself on “free speech” grounds for that sort of criminal speech. Similarly, you may not command someone you have reason to believe will follow your orders to commit a crime, either. The common law has long held that incitement to riot and similar acts do not constitute protected speech because free.

The idea is simple: freedom as both a fact and a right requires reciprocity. Your speech cannot be defended as free speech if your speech precludes others from their free speech.

It is an old idea, reciprocity. But people still get this wrong.

Maybe it would help to compare freedom of speech and press with freedom of religion. In the United States, the First Amendment prohibits Congress from messing about in religious matters, or favoring one religion over another, ceteris paribus.

But that does not mean everything declared “religious” is protected. It may be the case that you desire to sacrifice infants and virgins to your god Ashtaroth, but let us be realistic: sacrifice of this kind abridges the rights of infants and virgins. “Religion” is no excuse for crime.

This is not so nuanced an idea that it cannot be readily understood. No? But maybe it is difficult. After all, I cannot recall anyone else make this exact formulation.

So this is what I insist upon: all these British-American concepts are terms of art, and the art should not seem to us British and American citizens at all recondite. The art is liberty. As soon as you erode liberty either by erecting a Leviathan state (of any variety) or by engaging in piecemeal criminal activity, these freedoms become incoherent.

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It is apparent that dark-skinned Africans have no especial gift for government. Governments headed by blacks in America as well as in the “Dark Continent” are almost (but not quite) universally corrupt, violent, tyrannical or just plain crazy.

And their people are the poorer for it.

And, sadly, nastier — it has gotten quite bad even in the once-rich South Africa:

Racist whites extrapolate a lot of very racist conclusions from all this. But perhaps we should draw a very different kind of conclusion. It seems clear to me that folks of African descent thrive best on limits, sure — but what if those limits were to become the limits that liberty provides . . . that is, real freedom and individual responsibility? Instead of tyranny, authoritarianism, and cruel exploitation, swap the harsh limits set by common forms of outrageous force with the civilized use of defensive force, rigorously limited by the limits that liberty itself prescribes.

Might not it be from Africa that the libertarian future shall proceed?

After all, a gift for government is not a univocally good trait. It implies both soft tyranny and chilling servility, an irrational willingness to accept deep hierarchies and jury-rigged ideologies. So if Africans seem ill-adapted to modern society, maybe they are telling us something about our own institutions. Perhaps they corrupt modern “democratic” forms of governance so completely not merely because they themselves are so susceptible to violence, corruption and tyranny, but because our forms of governance are so readily corruptible.

Blacks are ill-served by modern government because it is so statist.

The Molinarian vision of contract-based government, with its competing institutions of protection, insurance and adjudication, might find its most fertile ground in black-majority societies. And from there the ideas and institutions might spread.

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The more diverse a people are — the greater the variety of ethnicities, languages, cultures, folkways — the less extensive a government they can peacefully share. Real diversity requires limited government. Only in monocultural societies can robust, Leviathan government remain sustainable for long.

The reasons for this are not hard to fathom. The chief of these is the tragedy of the commons.

A government in the form of a republican State (a “liberal democracy” as it is sometimes called) is conceived of by most of its proponents as a shared resource, established for the good of all — a “commonwealth.” But common resources require regulation to prevent individuals and groups from abusing and over-using the resources — that is, adapting to the common resource opportunities by gobbling up more for themselves than for others. And by “adaptation” I mean altering their behavior and their way of life to enable them to secure more common resources. And, as anyone with a lick of sense knows, self-regulation would be ideal. It’s the least expensive way to maintain the institutions, secure their long-term viability. Hence the importance of a monoculture.

enjoy-capitalismAristotle wrote about this. But I haven’t read Politics in 40 years, so I forget if the great philosopher applied the commons problem idea to the form of government itself. (I will let someone else look it up, or just tell me.) Economist W.F. Lloyd wrote about this in the 1830s, and ecologist Garrett Hardin made it famous in the “tragedy of commons” phrasing in our time. Hardin applied it to environmental resources, but it also applies to State-marshaled resources of any kind, including wealth obtained from taxes. Public Choice economists have been working on these problems for about the period of my lifetime, though Vilfredo Pareto clearly understood it in his critique of socialism at the beginning of the 20th century.

It was this idea that helped lead me to prefer limited government as a general policy in the first place. It should be easy to see that the more similar people are, the more likely they are to forgo overusing public resources. Why? Out of kinship altruism. But this sort of forbearance is harder to generally maintain in diverse populations, so there is a tendency for welfare states to turn into “churning states,” where the web of “everybody trying to live at the expense of everybody else” becomes so complicated that no one really knows who the net benefactors and net beneficiaries are. This leads to poltical strife, and … our present situation.

IMG_2027The Scandinavian states have been moderately successful with a robust redistributive state in large part because they have been so genetically and culturally uniform. And yet, over time, the moral probity that prevented overuse of common resources has waned, and permanent dependent classes have formed. Oddly, these countries have been importing these dependent classes, too, mainly from Muslim countries, so I expect these states to fall or undergo some significant kind of revolution in a generation or two.

Note, then, how wrong today’s progressives are. Driven by liberal piety, they insist upon diversity. And yet their politics is one of class division combined with socialistic government growth, which undermines sustainability. It is inherently contradictory.

More contradictory yet is their internationalism. Nationalism — indeed, ethnonationalism — is the surest sustainable way to keep welfare states going in the long run. So progressives are wrong and the so-called “alt-right” is definitely correct. If you want extensive state action, you need to draw boundaries along ethnic or “racial” lines. And indeed we find that alt-right maven Richard Spencer, after scratching the surface of his poses, has proven to be an ardent supporter of the welfare state.

Now, there are several other ways (serving as alternatives to ethnonationalism) to counter-act this commons-overuse problem. The chief method, in our time, has been consumerism. Consumer culture has broken down ethnic divisions, and can indeed make populationsmore uniform the better to be ruled by — and encourage support for — an extensive “welfare state.” And once again we find progressives utterly on the wrong side, for they pretend to be against consumerism, and their hatred for big business works against the only cultural factor that could possibly make the politics of social democracy work in a diverse population.

For my part, I prefer actual diversity, and believe that a rule-of-law-based polity is the way to go, so I oppose both the pathetic alt-right and the contradictory mishmash philosophy of progressivism.

Yes, I’m a real liberal. I do not just spout liberal pieties, as does today’s left, but I embrace the liberal spirit of tolerance of diversity, which the left, today, does not (their class warfare version is faux-diverse, and in fact promotes commons overuse). And I also wish to establish long-term social institutions, not institutions subject to takeover by special interests and run along exploitation lines. Democracy in a welfare state is as contradictory as a welfare state in a diverse society.

So, you may have guessed it: diminishing the scope of democratic action is another way to control overuse of common resources. On the left this is done by seeking to limit lobbying of government (a basic right under our Constitution) and setting up of complex bureaucracies and guilds of power, immune to electoral shock. On the right we have . . .

Donald Trump.

IMG_1929Trump sure seems anti-democratic, and that is a possible solution to save the welfare state from its most hysterical advocates and its abuse from group interests at the public trough. And, let us admit, that is precisely what modern conservatism is all about: saving the welfare state from the progressives and their insane prodigality. (Conservatives do talk about building down the welfare state, but that’s just their piety; it does not seem to be a real goal. Demonstrated preference tells us this.)

Since I’m not a conservative, you see why I dislike both political parties and the major factions within them. And why I don’t get on board with Trumpism.

I can find Trumpism funny, however. Why? Because modern ideologies are so incoherent that Trump serves as the cutter of Gordian Knots; he’s the Mule (as I’ve said any times); he’s the Loki figure. Whether this will save the welfare state, or bring it down faster, I do not know. While we wait to see what happens, Trump’s bizarre antics entertain.

He and we fiddle as the Empire burns.

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IMG_3895
yet another attempt at a coherent answer:

I run hot and cold on the word “capitalism.” The institutional system? Fine with it. Would want more of it. But the word itself is less than perfect. (Like capitalism itself!)

AdamSmithA “capitalist” is not an advocate of “capitalism.” When I see the word used that way I flinch. A capitalist is someone who invests capital, specifically someone for whom such investment is a major source of income. Not all that many people are really capitalists.

But “capitalism” seems inapt for a more profound reason: the major institutional features of the capitalist system are

  1. extensive private property holdings
  2. self-ownership in one’s actions, meaning, especially
  3. free labor (not “free” in terms of price or fantasy, of course)
  4. free trade (unencumbered by prohibitions, regulations, etc)
  5. private markets in capital goods

Now, that last point might justify the term. It’s a profound concept that most people have no idea about. Even economists have balled it up.

But we traditionally note three factors of production: land, labor, and capital. And yet, when we use the word capitalism we identify the lack of criminal and governmental interference in the management of these factors by only one factor. That’s prejudicial. It’s rather lame.

There are huge demarcation problems associated with the word, too.

The economists of France and Britain began developing the science of the study of this set of institutions with the critique of a particular form of government policy, which Adam Smith called “mercantilism.” That’s a good term, an apt term, since it refers to the close relationship between some merchants and the State. It seems an apt moniker for the policy.

Under mercantilism, governments favors some over others, engages in various forms of protectionist trade restriction policies, and generally tries to keep production within a nation rather than outsource it (“free international trade” being the thing established, well-connected merchants most fear) while aiming to increase the supply of money (in the early cases, gold and silver) within the boundaries of a nation, and especially into the coffers of the king.

But mercantilism is not a bad term for what we have today, in many ways. Sure, international trade has been encouraged — but in a rather regulated way. The amount of regulations in America and Europe is astounding. The secular trend regarding this has been growth. And this hardly seems very “capitalistic,” if you mean it in the robust sense. And it certainly favors some capitalists and entrepreneurs and managers over their competitors, immediate and possible.

And yes, this feature makes a difference. The general effect of government regulation of markets — what Mises called “interventionism” and what Pareto called “restrictionism,” but which everybody else calls progressivism, fascism, democratic socialism, or the Administrative State — is to favor established business over upstarts. This is known. There is no real way around this. Current trends in hollowing out the upper-working class economy is largely a result of mechanization in combination with the suppression of small business by the regulatory state.*

So, while we certainly now live under “capitalism,” it is nothing like the laissez faire that economists dreamed up to regulate not business and market life, but the State itself (limited government being the flip side of laissez faire, with the constitutional limits it establishes being a form of anti-corruption regulation).

Recently, folks have been using the term “crony capitalism” to refer to the regulated/subsidized (“bailed out”) nature of current American economic policy. This reflects the old mercantilist practice of favoring well-connected insiders (“cronies”) at the expense of the masses of workers and entrepreneurs.

Anthony de Jasay calls the current form of governance/policy “the churning state,” since there is so much forced wealth distribution that we cannot really keep track of net winners  — instead, the interests and the transfers are merely “churned.”

I tend to dub the current mode of capitalism “neo-mercantilism,” but an adjective is in order: technocratic neo-mercantilism. The technocracy is important to this, for it gives college graduates cushy jobs while they pretend to manage “the economy.” Which doesn’t exist . . . but that’s another issue.

The crucial thing to understand about capitalism is that it rests on rights to private property (including one’s own body and person) and mostly unencumbered trade.

Destutt_de_TracyAnd trade, or market exchange, is pretty much what Thomas Jefferson’s favorite economist said it was, “a transaction in which the two contracting parties both gain. Whenever I make an exchange freely, and without constraint, it is because I desire the thing I receive more than that I give; and, on the contrary, he with whom I bargain desires what I offer more than that which he renders me. When I give my labour for wages it is because I esteem the wages more than what I should have been able to produce by labouring for myself; and he who pays me prizes more the services I render him than what he gives me in return.”

This is an elaboration of Condillac’s chief notion in his 1776 treatise. How this made sense in terms of value and distribution — how to think about it precisely — took another century of stumbling by economists. The work of Carl Menger and William Stanley Jevons, especially, clarified the exact nature of mutual benefit through exchange.

And it is indeed this concept, of ex ante mutual benefit in trade, that is the most essential feature of “capitalism.” The mutual benefit aspect is the core aspect. And it is why freedom — a division of responsibility and a general lack of coercive bullying — is the key concept, the entelechy, of the very idea of capitalism.

And it is what politicians of nearly all parties — and their supporters — attack daily, to the hobbling of civilization.

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* John Kenneth Galbraith’s notion of “countervailing powers” gets it exactly wrong. Big Government to adjudicate between Big Business and Big Labor is a nice model, and all. Nice and technocratic. But it ignores how things really work. These powers do not countervail, they reinforce each other. It just so happens that the Reinforcing Powers of the major institutional forces bolster each other up, at the expense of the masses. Which is why technocracy is anti-democratic and would only have a chance of working without free access to government bureaus and power centers. Only by setting up a caste of trained technocrats could government really ride herd over business in general. And only by prohibiting the right to petition one’s government — lobbying — and the revolving door between government and the private sector, could Galbraith’s vision even have a hope of a chance. And still, I hazard, the outcomes would likely be horrific, for reason described in The Road to Serfdom: the worst would get on top, because giving some people unchecked power of control over others cannot be a recipe for civilized life.

IMG_1239Barack Hussein Obama did for the Democrats what George Walker Bush did for Republicans — each undermined his own party. But while Republicans sort of figured out that something went horribly wrong, Democrats have not done the same . . . though a few may be coming around.

But there will be little blaming of Obama, who will probably loom large in the future of left-leaning America, just as Reagan has in right-leaning America. In both cases, however, the looming is illusory. Neither lived up to their promises, and both destabilized the political-economic system in important ways, leading to the current ideological and political impasse.

It is important to remember: the American people did not unite behind Donald Trump. What happened is easy enough to explain: the backlash against Hillary Rodham Clinton (many Democratic and independent voters merely staying home, others voting for Gary Johnson and Jill Stein) was great enough to allow Trump to squeak past the gatekeepers and into the White House.

IMG_3224Since then, things have gotten extremely interesting.

The last ten months have given stage to an amazing mass hysteria against Trump, especially by partisan Democrats, and this hysteria has had several important effects:

1. It has solidified huge hunks of the population against the Democracy brand, perhaps enough so to ensure a re-election for the man they hate three years hence;

2. It has become a rallying point for those left of center, thus serving to typify the importance of symbolic action and matters of style over substance that has grown up on the left since the 1960s. In this, it will likely marginalize current Democratic core constituencies, insulating them from any viable future mainstream ruling coalition.

3. It has blinded both the hard left and the alt- and hard-right to the obvious fact that Trump is a paper sack of a leader: empty and easy to tear apart. He has few real convictions, and proceeds mainly on the bluster that he is a good manager. As if the current ideological impasse in America can be fixed by “management”!

I had a few more effects in my head when I started this, but now I’ve forgotten my other points!

Mainly, though, the ideological impasse deepens. I don’t think Trump will solve much of anything, though I have greatly enjoyed his constant barrage against the media. Trump learned from Perot that media ridicule was a winner in the American heartland, and amongst independents as well as Republicans nearly everywhere.

Democrats tend not to understand this, as far as I can tell. They seem in denial of the most obvious truth of our time: that they are the ones in charge, that it is their tribe that has captured the commanding heights of Western culture, and that this power has corrupted their own ideas in amazing ways.

It appears that the anti-Trump mania is dying down a bit. Maybe the Democrats will wise up. But they are so tribal these days, that I don’t think they can see the way out.

I hazard that it would have been easy to carry on the Democratic hegemony another two presidential terms, even with Horrid Hillary, had Democrats done the thing most needful at the beginning of the BHO presidency: co-opting the Tea Party. It would have been so easy. But they just had to engage in racism-baiting and class hysteria against those whom Hillary later dubbed “the deplorables,” and the Occupy movement sealed the fate. The rift was in. Solid. Embedded in stone.

IMG_2688In 2000, I had been astounded that the Republicans could so stupidly piss away their advantage by choosing George Bush as the standard bearer. The GOP would have lost everything had not 9/11 happened, Bush being such a lightweight. But incompetence is bipartisan. In 2009, I was astounded to witness the Democracy piss away its advantage, preferring the moral comforts of classism and intersectional victim-mongering.

Right now, both parties are despised by a majority of Americans.
IMG_1929
A major realignment is in the offing. What it will become I’m not sure. Now is the time for a Mule to really change things. (Though Trump was a political Mule, he has proved to be anything but a governing Mule. He has been so predictable — though he has not proved as similar to Obama in substance as he otherwise would have simply because of the anti-Trump protests. Understandably, he doubled down to please his base, though that he has done with mixed effects.) But there remains the nagging problem behind everything: the fragile instability of Late-Stage Churning State Capitalism. When the financial system collapses again, almost anything could happen, but the most likely will be something Democrats will be most unhappy with: a real fascist. Not paper-sack Trump. A real tyrant with a demonstrable and quite substantive nasty edge.

He (she?) could be worshipped by desperate millions.

Were I a major party mover/shaker, I’d be preparing for that right now, to get “my” Antichrist in the lineup to steal the limelight.

As it is, I’m plotting ways that my kind might influence future political and governmental shifts . . . in a positive way. I’m trying to be sneaky. For now is not the time to stumble-bum our way away from the precipice — the Abyss — we all will face, perhaps soon.

Crisis is just around the corner.

twv

img_0760


Second illustration courtesy of James Littleton Gill.

The naive idea that twice of something is twice as valuable as one of that same something lingers on in popular culture and especially in politics. The ideas of diminishing returns and diminishing marginal utility are not widely enough understood.

French economist Yves Guyot never quite grasped the full import of these ideas, either. He should have. But he did stumble around them over and over in his work, and his glancing encounters are often instructive. For example, he knew that government, while necessary, necessarily serves interests counter to the public interest the larger it grows.

Why? Well, one way governments exhibits this “hormetic” effect is by its increasing inability to direct resources efficiently to the merely necessary-to-the-public needs . . . as it takes on more tasks. It is hard to manage, centrally, an ever-increasing task load. This opens up the bureaucracies to outright corruption and the politicians to ideological corruption by special interests — public goods manqué.

Monkey business.

As I read through his oeuvre, I will be picking out more nuggets of wisdom. Indeed, I have a big Guyot-related project in dev. More to come.


Yves Guyot on corruption.


Yves Guyot on an atavism.

The question answered on Quora:

Neither.

The Republican Party will always be stuck in a spiral of stupidity and insane compromise. It is easy to see why. It is made of incompatible factions.

  • Conservatives are generally unreliable at making changes, even ones that are necessary. Wow, what a surprise. To be conservative of temperament means, basically, to be resistant to making changes. Remember what the perceptive G. K. Chesterton said of this: “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected.”
  • Populists of the social conservative bent are worse, for their basic commitments have almost nothing to do with freedom. I see no indication that they will ever do anything but always screw libertarians. Despite themselves being the victim of repeated betrayals. They let themselves be used and discarded by neocons for three decades, and now a huge of them just voted for Trump, the most flagrantly anti-modest, anti-traditionalist man since … TR? A more deluded bunch does exist in America (I will not name the indicated bloc, so don’t ask), but social conservatives are committed to fantasies of the past, so at variance to reality enough to be pure poison for liberty.
  • Populists of the pro-Trump variety are nationalist at core, and will always be easily manipulable by fear. Protectionism and preëmptive war and over-the-top crime-fighting are things they can only seem reasonable about in contrast to the cucks of the Far- and Center-Left.
  • Neocons are cultists, congenitally unable to muster up even scant realism about the limitations of the power of the U.S. military to remake the world over into something that Straussians would like (but would never confess openly in public, for Straussian reasons). One of the great joys of watching neocons in action is to witness their pretense to being reality-based repeatedly dashed upon the shores of real-world politics, governance, and strife. The book to read to understand the neocons is Leon Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails.
  • The shaky business coalition of Main Street and Wall Street is filled with players who just want to stave off utter disaster so they can go about doing business, picking up rents (sorry, it is the accepted economics term) where they can. They are for “free markets” when out of power, but in power they will exploit opportunities for subsidy, protection, and favorable government contracts.

So I don’t expect much of Republicans.

The Libertarian Party, on the other hand, I have much sympathy for. But it, alas, is made up mainly of people who don’t approve of doing politics … doing politics … very badly. They will always shoot themselves in their feet.

More importantly, the system is rigged against any minor party. And it seems to me that Americans give small, upstart parties just a few years to prove they can take down one of the big guys. It is th schoolyard bullying standard. The LP proved incapable of making  the established order even flinch in 1980. Nearly 40 years ago. And not even the over three million votes for the Johnson/Weld ticket really demonstrates that the LP is up to the task. Americans not unreasonably look upon the LP as losers. Weaklings. Crazies, suffering from delusions of … efficacy.

Ideally, the LP would be disbanded, replaced by many competing, cooperating libertarian groups influencing elections, initiatives and referendums, legislatures, courts, commissions, and public opinion in a variety of ways. After a few years with no party, a new party with a somewhat more narrow agenda could float candidates and aim to handle the biggest, most pressing issues.

But that won’t happen for a simple reason: a coördination problem. Libertarians are caught in a prisoner’s dilemma, and don’t have the imaginations to break themselves out of it. They are on a path-dependent course set to waste resources.

Still, the LP could do good, in the near future. How? By playing Agent of Chaos. It could engage in a major blackmail program against the major parties to negotiate the establishment of more open, alternative voting systems: incorruptible (get rid of most electronic systems) and novel (as in ranked choice voting and non-partisan ballot laws). This could be done by threatening to run in races targeting imperiled incumbents and close races, explicitly telling the GOP (or, on occasion, the Democracy) that Libertarians could run to peel voters off one side or the other, in exchange for electoral reform. The LP could threaten to undermine the GOP nationally, for instance.

But from what I can tell, Libertarians like to pretend they can beat the double-headed Juggernaut (the “two-party system”) and take down Leviathan (the dirigiste Churning State) on terms set up by that same Leviathan and Juggernaut. And the same thing keeping Libertarians from dissolving the party gracefully prevents them from doing anything that could have long-term good effects.

So, I wish the libertarians within the GOP … patience. For pushing the rock up the hill only to have it tumble back down will always be their Sisyphean task. I guess that is the case for the party-minded Libertarians, too — the difference being that in the GOP they will always be betrayed by competitive factions — those in power — while in the LP they will always be betrayed by those with no more power than themselves.

This could change, I suppose, if the libertarians could figure a way to introduce a Mule into the system, like Trump has been for the ever-flailing, incoherent GOP: an unpredictable, out-of-the-ether politician who can break through the stuck mindsets of enough people.

Trump was not and is not that Mule for libertarians, of course, though it has been fun to watch the pro-Trump libertarians pretend otherwise. A truly libertarian-minded Mule would have to be able to articulate to wide swaths of people (not just libertarians) the nature of the trap we find ourselves in. This takes intelligence. Imagination. Daring.

I don’t know of any prospects.

What would be better? A million Mules, people who understand the statist trap as well as the electoral dilemma and are willing to do more than merely vote for change. But not even most libertarians qualify (otherwise they would not be in either party) so … patience. I’ve never expected to see liberty in my lifetime. Humanity apparently has to work through its delusions according to a long story arc that has not quite played out yet.

Let us hope civilization survives that playing out.

twv

American Statesmen

What if the Trump presidency gets so crazy that Congress bucks up and starts performing its constitutional duties?

You know, like

  • being in charge of when and where and with whom to go to war;
  • the budget and debt;
  • all major policy decisions, for that matter; and
  • riding herd over Executive branch performance?

An effective House Speaker or Senate president pro tempore could change the course of everything.

In the early 19th century, arguably the most effective leaders (the Jackson and Van Buren alliance aside) never held the presidency: Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun.

Technically, it could happen.

Unlikely, considering the decadence of modern popular politics . . . but still!

twv