Archives for category: Social Theory

Each new day I hear yet another call for “opening up the economy,” and my annoyance level rises.

Not because I do not want the lockdown orders removed, however. I am annoyed because “the economy” seems unexceptionable but is not. It is an extremely deceptive term. It induces people to think of a Thing that can be shut off and on like a light switch. It suggests that it’s about money and organization and is generally ancillary to our lives. But it isn’t an existent “it” in the singular, much less in a mechanistic manner, it is an emergent order of people producing and trading. “The economy” is people doing the things that allow us to live. It is, in a sense, living.

It is “making a living.” Shut it down and you make death.
When you prohibit people from commerce, from producing and exchanging, you are cutting off the life blood of the civizilization. When we worry that “the economy will suffer” we mean “people will suffer.” And some will die.

twv

If communism is so bad, then how come the USSR was able to increase industry to match or beat that of the Western powers?

…excerpted from an answer on Quora….

We might want to distinguish ‘communism’ from ‘Communism.’ That latter is sort of trade-marked (‘“anti-trade” marked’?) by the political implementers of the Marxian paradigm.

Karl Marx, you may remember, prophesied a classless, stateless future of communism, share and share alike, and all that. He was quite vague on how it would work out. But he did think the capitalists first had to be expropriated by the workers, and the economy run by ‘a dictatorship of the proletariat.’ This gave the Bolsheviks and their later imitators an excuse to set up state socialism, where the Communist Party runs the unitary state which in turn runs everything else. It is ‘communist’ only by an association of ideas and by tradition. But no utopian-minded communist in her right mind wanted that.

Besides, as others have noted, a moneyless industrial society didn’t work. So the Bolsheviks quickly backpedaled, adding markets back in under the New Economic Policy. As Michael Polanyi and others have shown, the Soviet Union engaged in a lot of fakery to make their central planning seem to work.

Ludwig von Mises explained why it couldn’t work. Capitalism is mass production for the masses. Market societies use dispersed knowledge gleaned especially from private markets in production goods and the firms that make up the productive sector to distribute resources to their most valued uses. Without private property and real market signals, socialists find themselves in a sea of arbitrary decisions, without guide. The Soviets never succeeded much in mass production for the masses, but by hook and crook and a rigid class system, the USSR succeeded in making hydrogen bombs and rockets for a pretty good space program (it helped that they were willing to risk cosmonauts’ lives to an extent NASA never found acceptable). But that isn’t mass production for mass consumption, it is mass production for Big Projects, which we know the ancients mastered in the megalithic period. Pyramids and all.

Slavery and the organization of a religiously oriented (ideologically controlled) servile population can indeed do amazing things. But not beat capitalism at its own game.

So, what of communism? The communal production of a limited set of goods for common needs can work in small groups. That this manner of economic organization produces a great abundance of consumer goods or can be carried on in an egalitarian fashion are fantasies of romantics who cannot think very well. Human being run up against calculation problems, as Mises explained, as well as the Dunbar number, and similar problems.

Few tribes actually engaged in communism for all goods produced. Individual and family property was a commonplace throughout the primitive world. But some things were done communally. But in societies more complex than mere tribes, some method of organization had to develop, and these included honor standards, allowing the adulation of Big Men — chiefs — whose vigor, intelligence, and social skills allowed for elaborate hierarchies to expand economies out of rudimentary forms. Some of the most successful of these chiefdoms became conquerors, and found ways to grift off of sedentary populations, after conquest, and civilization with their states were born.

In all the upward progress and sideways motions of societies and their histories, communism haunted the imaginations of poets and sages and shamans and priests, probably for reasons that psychologists have theorized: as lingering dreams expanding on the yearning of strapped adults for their lost childhoods, when benevolent parents and other adults provided all and made everything work like magic.

Communism of that sort is a dream and a yearning, and deserves, in most cases, little more than eye rolls.

Communism of the Soviet variety deserves a finger on the trigger, for Communists lie about what they are doing, and the contradictions of their own ideas mean they are always one small step away from mass murder.

twv

There seems to exist an institutional ban on certain ideas and areas of inquiry. Dominant paradigms — perhaps guarded by folks with ready access to tax dollars as well as established patterns of prestige — do not allow investigation into competing paradigms.

Of course, there is a lot of competition in ideas. Paradigms shift. But only by so much. Outside a prescribed (or intuited) band of acceptable dissent, the paradigm enforcers brook no denials, no expansions of knowledge, no uncomfortable conjectures.

Here we see one. A man gives a talk at a TEDx event. It is filled with scientific findings, and recounts his “pulling at a thread” (as Walter Bosley likes to put it) that unravels from the stories of our past that are approved by academic historians, paleontologists, geologists, et al. It is a fairly popular talk. But the higher-ups at TED flag it as “unscientific.”

Screen capture from YouTube: see, especially, the official “TED” note.

I have watched a lot of goofy TED talks. The idea that this talk is less acceptable than many of the moralistic, inspiring, weird, and downright bizarre talks on the main TED platform is preposterous. 

So. What is wrong with this TEDx talk?

It is too easy to see. It explores the idea of past catastrophes and of lost ancient civilizations. This is verboten in the academic world.

It may be that folks at TED are scared. They need the cooperation of academics, and academic schools of thought are maintained with a chillingly cold grip, strangling dissent within their ranks and consigning to complete and utter disregard those who persist in the shunned speculations and scientific work.

Read the “NOTE FROM TED,” above, an image of the YouTube page that addresses the flagging of the video in question. Read it. But better yet, watch the video:

Is this really beyond the pale?

twv

Lockdowns in the first world will cause deaths because of untreated disease, and will lead to suicide and madness and violence. Depending on how long this crushing of capitalism goes on, we could see starvation here in America and Britain and the rest of the first world.

But it is leading, quickly, to the death of marginal peoples elsewhere, around the world, people on the edge of poverty who have no stocks of food in their pantries and whose lesser-developed countries have less supply warehoused and in the supply chains.

Millions of people.

Dead.

Starved and suffering.

Brown people, mostly.

The lockdown is now strongly ideologically aligned, with progressives being generally gung ho for shutting down all or most commerce. This will make progressives’ guilt in pushing the debacle of Prohibition seem like a baby fart in a hurricane.

Supporting lockdowns will in the future be seen as akin to genocide.

Consider this a ‘pro tip.’ Repent now and save yourself guilt later.

There is a reason for the ideological divide regarding pandemic “mitigation,” why progressives generally love the lockdown pseudo-quarantines: it feeds their prime conceit, the notion that the freedom of all must be sacrificed for the good of the most vulnerable.

In this case, the most vulnerable just happen to be aging Boomers and senescent Silents. And the corpulent. And other immune-compromised medical cases.

Having once been corpulent, and still being overweight, and having just entered my seventh decade of life, I knew early on that I was in a compromised position. But shutting down commerce to protect me is something that would never have crossed my mind.

The idea of demanding extreme mitigation strikes me as effrontery bordering on tyranny.

But progressives have no such compunctions. They hold to the principle of sacrificing the freedom of all for the lives of a few. That is their chief fixation. Because some people are vulnerable to misfortune, no one must be free to make their fortunes.

Traditionally, Americans see the political ideal as “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Progressives see this series in a different order: “Life, a stab at happiness, and liberty.” In cases where there is any conflict of the goals in this series, you sacrifice them by order.

That is, you first achieve life — and that’s life for everyone. Then you guarantee a chance at happiness for everyone, equally. Then, if the situation allows, you obtain what liberty you can for as many people as you can.

This revision of the order of ends, conceived ordinally rather than as many classical liberals and libertarians do, as a rhetorical pleonasm — three different views of the same thing, as Hokusai viewed Mount Fuji — is a key to understanding the progressive mind.

But we must add to this the messianic mindset: for progressives, as for most socialists, the “vulnerable” are seen as outsiders, as members of some out-group, and successful insiders are by definition or imaginative fiat their oppressors. That is, successful insiders, merely for not ensuring the success of those on the outs therefore must count as “oppressors.”

So the “privilege” of being an insider must be destroyed . . . or at least minimized — to rescue the un-privileged outsiders.

In America, the “privilege” of Americans is liberty, security, wealth, even health.

Progressives cannot help themselves: they must do their rescue. They must play messiahs. Their soteriology is always in play, and they are willing to conjure up revolutionary eschatologies to ensure the ritual acts of sacrifice. Well, strike “ritual.” VERY REAL acts of sacrifice: take from some to give to others.

Now, for individualists, sacrificing some for others is a perversion, the most horrifying social act imaginable — we would call it the ultimate anti-social act. But progressives see sacrifice as the whole point. These people are post-Christians. No act of salvation is worth it without sacrifice. Not sacrifice of opportunities forgone to invest in improvements. Not that kind of sacrifice. They need to sacrifice some powerful and privileged (as imaginary as that power and privilege often is) people to make the whole thing feel right.

But whereas Christians believe that the only sacrifice worth fretting much about be Christ’s sacrifice for their sins, working out their own sacrifices with fear and trembling away from the madding crowd, progressives must do their sacrificing in public.

Progressivism is inherently Pharisaic.

Which is why they tend to be such “Karens” regarding mitigation and quarantine. The joy is in seeing themselves as righteous in public, and for that there must be an identifiable group to be saved, and an identifiable group to sacrifice.

But we can take this post-Christian interpretation too far. There is something quite chthonian in progressive soteriology. We may have to look back to Ba’al and Beelzebub to understand the kind of sacrifice they demand.

How far back? Let me consider that in some future essay.

…a comment on Quora….

Lots of people react negatively to Economics. It has been called the Dismal Science because (a) calling it a science is stretching things, and (b) it keeps telling people true things which they don’t want to hear. However, merely disliking a statement is not sufficient evidence that it is false. Concocting far-fetched theories of second and third order effects that will rescue minimum wage laws from their perverse consequences is not science at all, it is motivated reasoning and confirmation bias.

Matthew Park Moore, Quora, answering the question: “My teacher claims that if restaurant owners raise food prices when the minimum wage increases, they’re doing it because they’re greedy, not because of the minimum wage increasing. Is he right or wrong?

I too am amused when people concoct bizarre defenses of minimum wage legislation. It is obvious that they like the policy because it makes them feel good. They dislike economics because it undermines their cheap method of feeling good.

This was a subject I studied 40 years ago. I was initially a bit surprised to learn that there existed economists who denied that the legislation generally benefited the poor. So I studied it. What interests me about people who get defensive is that they do not appear to be earnestly trying to better the poor, but to defend their position. I earnestly studied wage theory; they reflexively try to “debunk” a critique.

And as for “far-fetched theories of second and third order effects” — well, that is what economics looks like to non-economists. They see only what the words direct them to see — “minimum wage law” — and they think that is what the regulation does, increase wages. I mean, come on! It’s in the name!!! Are you an idiot!!!!!

But what we have to remind them of is TWO things, not ONE.

First, minimum wage legislation does not raise anyone’s wage. It is a prohibition to hire anyone below a certain rate of remuneration. It is actually, in its very transactional nature, a prohibition of wages, not a raising of wages.

THEN we go second- and third-order effects to show what the results of the prohibition are. The actual results. This gets into incentives and competition for scarce resources and equilibrium and much more. This can be done well or badly. Done well, it shows that the general effect of minimum wage legislation is to disemploy some low-skilled workers now or in the future, depending on the rate.

Further, it is worth noting that a regulation of this order — an intervention by force into the market for higher-order economic goods — can have two effects: decrease production, or nothing.

That “nothing,” as Bastiat explained, is there because often regulations of market rates establish a rate that does not actually apply. And, indeed, in the case of minimum wage regulation, it affects a surprisingly small number of workers in America. Most people get paid higher. But there is a sad truth lurking here: it would affect more but the people it would affect are not even counted as in the labor market any longer.

A friend of mine had a very clever defense of legislated wage minima: a person no longer able to find a job at the value of his marginal product would be encouraged to increase his skills, perhaps by extending his education. The problem here is worth thinking about:

  1. The prime way of increasing one’s marginal product by skill acquisition is by working.
  2. For most people at the bottom of the “economic ladder,” the most important skills are punctiliousness, cleanliness, reliability, courtesy, and skills of such a basic nature that we usually call them virtues. The chief reason many people are unemployable is that they lack one or more of those skills. The absolute best way to increase these skills is by practice, not by schooling, and sending young people out into public schools and colleges to acquire them is absurd. These are the very things most schools are incapable of teaching these days.
  3. The second reason for low employability is that the putative workers have low IQs. Schooling in adulthood can do little to push that string. The best thing for these people is to be employed at very easy jobs with low productivity. So minimum wage floors are too high for them and they remain unemployed and unemployable.
  4. The most obvious thing that happens to the unemployable is they go on assistance, where they strain tax budgets and charitable toleration. This makes of them suckers upon society, not contributors — parasites not hosts — and paying someone to do nothing is a deal that many people are more than willing to milk for all its worth. (I think we should reserve tax or charity aid for those who simply cannot ever, in any circumstances, work and be productive.)
  5. The general effect of minimum wage legislation then is to take low-skilled people out of the market and run them through the welfare state, either in direct aid or government schooling. As such, this becomes one of its chief attractions for the regulation’s advocates: they like the State and taking from some and giving to others, and profoundly distrust “business” and “bosses” and see them as exploitative.

And here we get to the main thrust of progressivism: replacing market interaction with government subsidy, coercion and credentialism. The people who support progressive regulations the most are moderately bright people who pass tests well. They like schools. They do well. They thus become teachers and bureaucrats, and their world is insulated from market rigors. So of course they promote self-defeating legislation, because it settles them in their class interests.

Do you agree with United States of America President Donald Trump when he says the coronavirus crisis is ‘worse than Pearl Harbor’ or 9/11?

…as answered on Quora (May 6, 2020)….

The policies chosen as a response to the contagion in most of these United States (as well as, to a somewhat lesser extent, by the federal government) will, I hazard, prove more damaging than either World War II or the insane War on Terror.

These policies may define a new era, and appear to demonstrate the willingness of the public to do damn near anything governments with a barely plausible rationales tell them to. That is, the population, alarmed by scary stories told by scientists wielding faulty models, will just stop what they are doing and submit themselves to house imprisonment.

Now, the willingness of some people to protect themselves and others in public using gloves and masks and social distancing (I was an early adopter) was a noble and respectful adaptation. But shelter-in-place and orders to close business were not. Willingness to go along with them was very, very bad.

Because the prophecies were ridiculous and the policies were bad.

Why?

I am not going to get into the epidemiology. I will leave that for others to argue about — though I was skeptical from the beginning. And I ignore the pathetic, witless arguments for ‘flattening the curve,’ which are even now being modified, in a massive migration of the goalpost, by the policy’s proponents.

I am concerned about ‘the economy.’

Attitudes about this have shown people, including many economists, to not understand the most basic elements of commerce. To worry about shutting down business and trade is notto worry about ‘money.’ It is about producing the things we use to live. Stop producing, total, and there is nothing to buy. Stop most production, and there will be huge shortages. The government can send you all your beloved checks, but if there is nothing on store shelves, then the money becomes useless.

Shutting down commerce for a week or maybe a month requires us to exist on savings of actual goods as well as ready money. And goods in the supply lines. But without production, eventually there must come insurmountable shortages, starvation, death. Even now mass starvation in third world countries has begun, and the absence of meat in stores and at, say, Wendy’s, is here. In America. Now.

Livestock is being slaughtered for want of demand.

I suppose there are vegetarians who cheer this. They shouldn’t. Their foodstuffs will be soaked up by an increasingly desperate population, and choke to nothingness fast.

This could be the end of civilization. And the population has meekly complied, because they have been fooled by the money illusion. They think money is wealth. And they have been alarmed senseless by scary stories. And by their own pathetic fears of death.

Fearing death, they have embraced policies that lead to death.

Sure, governors have kept some ‘essential’ businesses somewhat free. But they do not understand how commerce works, either. No more than the central planners of the Soviets did. So keeping some businesses open will allow for some longer rope on the noose.

The lockdown must end, or it will be the biggest hit civilization has taken since Communism — which was, remember, the insane belief that a state-free utopia can grow out of state socialism, a tyrannical, centrally planned totalitarian system.

The lockdown policies may prove worse than Communism. For socialists were greatly aided by the existence of free countries to purchase grains and other goods with natural resources and gold, and by the existence of the pricing systems elsewhere, that central planners tried to ape. Well, we cannot all survive off the wealth allowed in the pockets of freer societies, such as Sweden and Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska and the Dakotas.

Even if we right now normalized commerce, and re-introduced productivity, we would still face tough times, for much damage has been done. The idea that governments can switch off commerce and then restart it again is absurd. Of course, when we start really hurting, after the lockdown orders cease, many will blame capitalism.

Do not listen to these people. Ever again.

And as for Trump, well . . .

It’s the productivity, stupid.

Sen. Ted Cruz alerted us, weeks ago, to the uncomfortable fact that the U.S. Government had helped fund the Wuhan research into the coronavirus:

But what is at issue is obviously not just a matter of funding.

A coronavirus was developed specifically to make it infectious to humans. From bats. There is an academic paper trail. Here it is, courtesy of Dr. Peter Breggin, who calls it “the perfect weapon.” Check it out:

Breggin famously and successfully opposed the once-common practice of lobotomization.

Is it our coronavirus? No, says Breggin, but it is very similar. “Closely related.” He believes the current virus was made from this, or used it as a first attempt.

I do not know if the almost-in-the-open yet-still-clandestine development of the current offending coronavirus was a result of scientific hubris and government incompetence, as we ‘hope,’ or the result of something like the international cabal that Tony Blair mentioned so soon after 9/11.* But Americans, programmed to despise conspiracy theories (by the CIA!) will likely avoid the whole subject because, well, they love their murderers, and despise some ‘other’ side’s murderers.

My takeaway is pretty consistent with my past findings: our governments are evil and their spokespeople should not be trusted.


* Blair’s statement about an international conspiracy is one of those pregnant admissions that most folks avoid thinking about:

Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization with ties to a global network, which has been in existence for over ten years.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, New York Times, October 05, 2001

I do not know which “global network” (conspiracy) is involved in our current crisis. But I suspect at least one is indeed in play.

Here is a man whose place in history demonstrates something different than what he intended. John Flammang Schrank (March 5, 1876 – September 15, 1943) shot Theodore Roosevelt in the chest during a speech on October 14, 1912, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. TR survived. 

Schrank claimed to have had nothing against TR the man (I do: TR was a lunatic, as many of his contemporaries testified), but, instead, TR “the third-termer.” 

A good grudge, on the whole. But . . . not a good act.

Schrank’s claim that former President William McKinley, himself famously fatally shot by Chuckles the Anarchist, had come to him in a dream instructing him to do the deed got him into a nuthouse instead of prison.* And, as a warning to future presidents not to seek a third term, Schrank proved spectacularly unsuccessful, considering that another Roosevelt survived a third term in office and got part way into his fourth.

TR went on to make a terrific speech — one that I largely disagree with for a variety of reasons, but it was quite good rhetorically. This part still carries some power:

When the Republican Party — not the Republican Party — when the bosses in the control of the Republican Party, the Barneses and Penroses, last June stole the nomination and wrecked the Republican Party for good and all; I want to point out to you nominally they stole that nomination from me, but really it was from you. They did not like me, and the longer they live the less cause they will have to like me. But while they do not like me, they dread you. You are the people that they dread. They dread the people themselves, and those bosses and the big special interests behind them made up their mind that they would rather see the Republican Party wrecked than see it come under the control of the people themselves. So I am not dealing with the Republican Party. There are only two ways you can vote this year. You can be progressive or reactionary. Whether you vote Republican or Democratic it does not make any difference, you are voting reactionary.

Note, however, the pure demagoguery of stealing an election ‘from you.’ Such men as TR, alas, are almost impossible to keep away from power. 

Trump seems a bit like that, though far less tyrannical and murderous than TR. I mean, Trump doesn’t have TR’s death count and deeply racist version of American imperialism and eugenics.

It is common among today’s Democrats to admit to admiring only one Republican, Teddy Roosevelt. This does not reflect well on them, in my opinion, and as much as I shrink from murderous violence, my mind not rarely drifts to Schrank.

That admission being made, and daydreams acknowledged, I make no more outrageous confessions: though in my dreams I may or may not follow others’ instructions, and I may or may not commit crimes, I insist that I do not take Dream Time commands and put them into action during Waking Life.

Further, my support for term limits itself is subject to certain limitations. One of them is: I will not kill for them.

twv


* Wisconsin, the state in which he shot TR, did not have the death penalty — indeed, Schrank followed TR state to state, waiting to pull the trigger until he got to a Progressive state lacking the death penalty.

Yesterday I discussed the main reason the coronavirus shutdown must end: we are not producing, and without production we will be unable to purchase anything no matter how big the government bailout checks are. No production, no produce. The only difference between a mandated and voluntary shutdown is the difference between mass murder and mass suicide.

So, why have I heard no one saying this? Not even a libertarian economist? It is logical. It fits with theories from Hume and Smith that liberals and libertarians have been parroting for years. So why are economists not prophesying disaster? Do they think we have enough saved wealth to go for another 17 months without producing?

Do they really believe in the efficacy of “government checks”?

I suspect there is a simpler reason. They could be cowards.

I remember how few libertarians prophesied the collapse of the Soviet Union. Oh, sure, libertarians knew that socialism couldn’t match the industrial output of a capitalist society, and that the makeshift workarounds in the context of tyranny that the Communists manqué perpetrated could not provide anything like stability. It couldn’t last.

But few dared say it.

Why?

Well, we could not predict when, making our predictions seem vacuous, and the collapse of such a system had never happened naturally, without attack, before. So we would have had to dare to take theory beyond the comfort zone of repetitive reality.

Economists are not trained to be courageous. Not courageous enough to draw the consequences of a never-before-experienced event. Before we predict the Sun to rise on the eastern horizon, we first must observe it many times. A new event? Yikes. That is hard to confidently assert.

We might be made fun of!

Just so, this shutdown quarantine, the “lockdowns.” Though there have been shutdowns of small regions because of conflict and catastrophe, never before has so much of the modern, capitalist world been shut down. I guess the idea must be, “well, we survived Acts of God and war and regional famine, we will survive this!” But cities and towns struck by a major blow can rely on folks outside the region for help, at the end of the crisis period. But who could help nearly all of the world’s nations?

I do not see a way around this. No production = no products = poverty/destitution on a mass scale.

The few allowed “essential services” cannot feed the world, clothe the world, heal the world. “Commercial society” is one big super-organic system of mutually depedent-but-uncontrolled-but-adapting endeavors.

I do not see how I am wrong. At some point, universal non-productivity ruins not merely the price signals that allow order in a market, but interrupts production enough to completely scuttle the delivering of goods we need to survive. At some point, we go beyond not merely a navigable “opening up” of the economy, we go beyond the point where we can make up for lost time to provide what is necessary for civilized life.

The COVID-19/coronavirus lockdowns could be the biggest hit to capitalism since Communism. Possibly bigger than Communism. At some point, an extended shutdown could lead to the starvation of millions.

Just as now the prioritization of coronavirus over all other illnesses will cause tens of thousands of cancer and other deaths.

I have lost a lot of respect for the experts, even among libertarian economists.

Money isn’t wealth . . . and the source of the wealth for our continued existence as a civilization and species is continued productivity.

I am unaware of any amendments to the laws of economics.

I just see people fooled by fear and paralyzed — at least in tongue and lip and lungs — by cowardice.

And remember, when jumping off a tall building, free fall can seem wonderful . . . right up until you hit the pavement.

If you have jumped off, and are falling, falling, falling, only one thing is safe: predicting a major impact. Probably death.

twv