Monday, 30 November 2020

"I am a rational animal."


 

"They offer me their truth vs my truth; instead I choose objective truth.
    "They offer me their whim vs my whim; instead I choose reason.
    "They offer me black vs white, male vs female, young vs old, straight vs gay, instead I choose individualism.
    "They offer a sacrifice of myself to others vs a sacrifice of others to myself; instead I choose non-sacrificial trade.
    "They offer me anarchy vs totalitarianism; instead I choose freedom.
    "They offer me socialism vs fascism, instead I choose free-market capitalism.
    "They offer me conservative vs liberal; instead I choose individual rights with government limited to protecting them.
    "They offer false alternative after false alternative; but I think in objectively defined fundamental principles.
    "I am a rational animal."
          ~ Mark Conway Munro

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Friday, 27 November 2020

Heroes everywhere


"Let us in education always call the attention of children to the hosts of men and women who are hidden from the light of fame, so kindling a love of humanity; not the vague and anaemic sentiment preached today as brotherhood, nor the political sentiment that the working classes should be redeemed and uplifted. What is most wanted is no patronising charity for humanity, but a reverent consciousness of its dignity and worth." 
        ~ Maria Montessori, from To Educate the Human Potential

[Hat tip Carrie-Ann Biondi

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Thursday, 26 November 2020

"The design here is to give each one the secure and peacable possession of his own property.”

"The first and chief design of every system of government is to maintain justice; to prevent the members of a society from incroaching on anothers property, or siezing what is not their own. The design here is to give each one the secure and peacable possession of his own property.”
          ~ Adam Smith, from his Lectures on Jurisprudence [emphasis mine]

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Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Rising prices are "a policy"


"The most important thing to remember is that inflation is not an act of God, that inflation is not a catastrophe of the elements or a disease that comes like the plague. Inflation is a policy." 
          ~ Ludwig Von Mises, Economic Policy, p. 72

"... the printing presses were set in motion. Inflation ha[s] the great advantage of evoking an appearance of economic prosperity and of increase in wealth, of falsifying calculations made in terms of money, and so of concealing the consumption of capital. Inflation g[ives] rise to the pseudo-profits of the entrepreneur and capitalist which c[an] be treated as income and have specially heavy taxes imposed upon them, without the public at large -- or often even the actual taxpayers themselves -- seeing that portions of capital were thus being taxed away. Inflation ma[kes] it possible to divert the fury of the people to 'speculators' and 'profiteers'. Thus it prove[s] itself an excellent psychological resource of destructive [government] policy.”

          ~ Ludwig Von Mises, The Theory of Money & Credit

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Thursday, 19 November 2020

Advice for Labour's would-be reformers


“It will be through raising high the prestige of your administration by success in short-range recovery that you will have the driving force to accomplish long-range reform.”
~ John Maynard Keynes pointing out, in his 1933 open letter to US President Roosevelt, that the best way to create the political capital required to pursue a reform agenda is to first encourage a strong economy
[Hat tip The Money Illusion]

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Wednesday, 18 November 2020

#Gridlock! #Winning!


"Joe Biden's main job will be to sit in the Oval Office and act like a responsible 
adult. If he manages to accomplish this even half the time, it will be an improvement.


"For NeverTrump, this is not the end—but it’s a great beginning. "I was a small-government Never Trumper. I regarded Donald Trump as unfit for office and wanted him out, but I didn’t want to sign on for the full Democratic party agenda. 
    "Which means that I’m part of a small sliver of [America] who got precisely what we wanted from this election: a victory for Joe Biden, but a narrow one that didn’t extend down the ballot and will almost certainly leave him without a Democratic Senate majority to work with. 
    "Finally, 2020 paid out for someone." 
          ~ Robert Tracinski, from his post '#NeverTrump #Winning'
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Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Liberty Doesn’t Mean Freedom to Infect Other People




"The next question in regard to quarantine is somewhat different, because ... if someone has a contagious disease, against which there is no inoculation, then the government will have the right to require quarantine. What is the principle here? It’s to protect those people who are not ill, ... to prevent the people who are ill from passing on their illness to others. Here you are dealing with a demonstrable physical damage. Remember that in all issues of protecting someone from physical damage, before a government can properly act, there has to be a scientific, objective demonstration of an actual physical danger. If it is demonstrated, then the government can act to protect those who are not yet ill from contracting the disease; in other words, to quarantine the people who are ill is not an interference with their rights, it is merely preventing them from doing physical damage to others.” 
          ~ Ayn Rand, from a Q&A session in 1963
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Monday, 16 November 2020

Life is not a combination lock

 


A wise father is giving advice to his daughter, who wants to help her friend in some important life choices but terrified about offering the wrong advice. The mother tells the story ...

“'I understand how scary that must all seem,' he replied. 'Can I suggest trying to think of it another way?' ...  
    "'A lot of people think of life like some complicated, combination lock. Their goal is to figure out the one, right, intricate combination, and their fear is that if they don’t, they will face disaster. Instead, he explained, he sees the world as richly abundant with options and opportunities. You need not find some single, right solution; you need only be sensible with each step you take.'  
    "What matters [explains the mother] is who you are and what you bring to the journey. A person of good character, basic capabilities, and confidence in his own judgment will be able to navigate a course in countless directions. At every point, you must simply pursue the path that seems best, remain active-minded and reflective, make the most of what comes, and, if and when you find it necessary, change course again. In other words, my daughter didn’t need to – couldn’t in fact – anticipate all outcomes and definitively determine the right advice to give her friend. She could suggest what she thought was best and continue to support her along the way...  
    "[Many have] a parenting approach premised on this 'combination lock' approach to life. 'It is one that admits of endless variations, depending on the parents’ particular, narrowly-defined views of what constitutes the key to success. All of them take the form of, 'For my child to be successful, he/she must__________________. [Attend a top university? Stay in our hometown? Be a doctor or a lawyer?] It is a mentality that in some sense I can grasp, but to which I personally cannot, in any way whatsoever, relate.  
    Hearing my husband’s advice, my daughter made a fascinating connection. She said, 'So what you’re saying is, ‘The path is not narrow.’ "In her studies at a Catholic college, she had often heard reference to the Bible verse that reads, 'Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.' I will confess that in some ways this proverb resonates with me, because I believe there are real and inescapable requirements to a full and flourishing life. But those requirements are broad principles, and there is a grave danger in being overly specific and prescriptive about what constitutes the 'path' to success.  
    "For her friend, the narrow path had become like a prison that prevented her from exploring who and what she wanted to be. For my daughter, it had set an impossible standard of certainty that she could never hope to achieve.  
    "What I wish for both of them is that they see a wide-open landscape of infinite opportunity, and that they feel a confidence in their own ability to make a beautiful life out of almost any course they choose. 
    "The path is not narrow. I would even say there isn’t a path at all, besides the one that can be marked behind you on the trail you pioneer." 
[Hat tip Lisa Van Damme]

"The essence of society is peace-making..."

 

[I]n the long run war and the preservation of the market economy are incompatible. Capitalism is essentially a scheme for peaceful nations…. The emergence of the international division of labor requires the total abolition of war. (1st Ed. Human Action, p. 824; 3rd Ed. Human Action, p. 828) The market economy involves peaceful cooperation. It bursts asunder when the citizens turn into warriors and, instead of exchanging commodities and services, fight one another.” (1st Ed. Human Action, p. 817 ; 3rd Ed. Human Action, p. 821)

“The market economy means peaceful cooperation and peaceful exchange of goods and services. It cannot persist when wholesale killing is the order of the day.” (
Interventionism: An Economic Analysis, p. 67) 
"[T]he essence of so-called war prosperity; it enriches some by what it takes from others. It is not rising wealth but a shifting of wealth and income." (Nation, State, and Economy, p. 158)  
“War is harmful, not only to the conquered but to the conqueror. Society has arisen out of the works of peace; the essence of society is peacemaking. Peace and not war is the father of all things. Only economic action has created the wealth around us; labor, not the profession of arms, brings happiness. Peace builds; war destroys.” (Socialism, p. 59)

"Modern society, based as it is on the division of labour, can be preserved only under conditions of lasting peace." (
Liberalism, p. 44)

[Hat tip Ed YounkinsMises Celebration Group]

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Sunday, 15 November 2020

"The man who holds that the universe does not consist of absolutes thinks he can get away with anything. The man who holds that it does knows that he can’t."

 

"There is a direct relationship between a man’s metaphysics [his view of the nature of reality] and his moral character. The man who holds that the universe does not consist of absolutes thinks he can get away with anything. The man who holds that it does knows that he can’t." 
          ~ Jim Ashley
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Saturday, 14 November 2020

"The great thing about music, in general, is that it's the closest mathematics gets to affecting our hearts." #QotD

 

"The great thing about music, in general, is that it's the closest mathematics gets to affecting our hearts."
          ~ Howard Devoto

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Friday, 13 November 2020

What Drives Progress: The State or the Market?


Two views of what drives progress dominate: that it is driven by state action, or by individual entrepreneurialism and innovation. A recent book tries to turn the division on its head, arguing for the benefits of the 'entrepreneurial state.' But as Ethan explains in this post, this reveals a complete misunderstanding of how innovation and economic progress happen.

What Drives Progress: The State or the Market?

by Ethan Yang

“History never repeats itself," declared Mark Twain, "but it does often rhyme.”

A little over a hundred years ago, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson kicked off a drastic expansion of government power and scope with the general assumption that the state can scientifically plan society. Other wartime leaders around the world followed his lead. Two decades later, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt greatly expanded on this idea -- with more government programs promising to solve all manner of societal ills, to bring a level of centralised progress that the market couldn’t (allegedly) provide. 

From those who favoured market-based mechanisms, advocated by economists such as Ludwig Von Mises, this sparked caution and critique. They pointed out that the market was far superior to the state in organising society. That the market process begins with each individual choice for 'this over that'; that individuals' differing wants are harmonised by voluntary exchange; that the price system tells producers what is most (and least) valued; that 'the market' itself is simply the sum of each individuals' valuation, directing human action to making the best use of the most highly-valued resources. 

This is the story of humanity, a struggle between the individual and the state. Those who believe in statism on one side and, on the other, those who understand the power of liberty unleashed.

Many of the Wilson and Roosevelt type of statists either never got to grips with the mechanism by which the self-correcting system of market prices delivers progress (dismissing the very notion as some kind of magic-ism). And they simply  assumed that progress would always emerge from the maw of government action.

The Keynesian statist would go one better, preaching that prosperity will emerge out of the expanded use of the government printing press. After World War Two, Keynesians and other thinkers of the big state braced for economic turmoil as people returned from war and government spending plummeted. Instead, the exact opposite happened, and as war finished the economy boomed. 

Anyone with eyes to see could understand that the state does not drive economic growth. In the latter half of the 20th century, sweeping market reforms confirmed the story, deregulation and 'more market' bringing prosperity to countries all around the world and savaging poverty worldwide as never before. Another blow to the idea of state-run industry. 

Some thought that the free-marketeers won the intellectual argument against the Keynesian brand of statism in the 1970s. This is when stagflation completely upended the assumption that inflation and unemployment are always inversely related. It turned out that simply using expansionary monetary policy to drive economic growth was not as good an idea as many people thought. But the arguments for the benefits of big government did not go away.

In 2013 Dr. Mariana Mazzucato, a leading economist of the Keynesian persuasion, published the oxymoronic The Entrepreneurial State, which makes the case that the public sector can do far more than it is currently doing; that the private sector necessarily needs generous guidance and intervention from the state; and that in many cases the state is equal if not superior to the market in generating efficient and innovative services to society.

Well, here we go again!

Mazzucato and her allies posit that society can be so much better if we ditched market-based principles and delegated more responsibility to the state. Think people like Senator Elizabeth Warren.

In response, economic heavyweights Dr. Deirdre McCloskey and Dr. Alberto Mingardi teamed up to write The Myth of the Entrepreneurial State. The book stands on its own in the ongoing debate over the market and the state. The book also serves as an outstanding work of economic history. 

The Idea of the Entrepreneurial State

In her praise of the so-called entreprenueurial state, Mazzucato argues that it is big government itself that makes the market possible, that "capitalism, the system that is usually thought of as being 'market' driven, has been strongly embedded in, and shaped by, the State from day one."
“Mainstream policy conceptions and prescriptions” [she argues] are “normative postulations for a permanent state planning for more markets, mainly organising ‘deregulation cum privatization’ rather than deliberate sets of conditional recommendations based on pondering alternatives and paths.” 
Essentially this suggests that mainstream economic thought is dominated by ideas put forth by those like Milton Friedman, who advocate for more privatisation and deregulation to create growth. 

Mazzucato believes that this is unpredictable and suboptimal. Rather we should allow big goverment's experts to ponder better alternatives with a scientific level of precision. Mazzucato likes to reference government programs like DARPA and The Manhattan Project as examples that the government can be very innovative.

This is an odd assertion. I would agree that many economists hold the belief that privatisation and markets are good. However, McCloskey and Mingardi point out that
“In the past century, government expenditure as a percentage of GDP drifted up towards 50 percent, compared with its pre-Keynesian level of 10 percent”… “ Democratically elected politicians, and behind them their constituents in the voting public were finally convinced that budget balance carried little or no normative weight.”
Sadly -- and contrary to Mazzucato’s point -- amongst policymakers and the commentariat there is no widespread consensus about the wonders of privatisation, instead we see sloppy paeans to never-ending government spending, and calls for ongoing never-ending expansion. [See for example the latest idiotic call by Bernard Hickey for the Reserve Bank to turn the printers on full-speed to pay bigger benefits.] Once you embrace the idea that innovation and big progress may only emanate from big government, one quickly forgets the real sources of growth and progress, and blind to the destruction teh growth of government causes.

This is how government works, especially in democracies. It’s sloppy, it’s imprudent, it’s cumbersome and it is utterly desensitised to important market forces. If you empower the state to take on more and more planning of society, this problem will only exacerbate. Nonetheless, say McCloskey and Mingardi:
Mazzucato, a loyal daughter of the left, is suspicious of private gain, of the sort you pursue when you are shopping, say, and is therefore suspicious of people doing things for a private reward. She wants the State, advised by herself, to decide for you.
In essence that is what the idea of the entrepreneurial state ultimately boils down to. A rationalisation of leftist political economy that has politicians and university professors jumping for joy. A very mild form of central planning that says that great things are possible as long as I am in charge.

What Drives Innovation

One of the main premises of those who believe in an entrepreneurial state is that central-bank credit drives economic activity, and that public investment drives innovation. Mazzucato contends that the government should exert a sort of directionality over private businesses to drive them towards some optimal point determined by experts.

However, this is a false view of how innovation and economic progress happens. 

First, the experiment with central-bank-created credit has now proceeded for just over half a century, in which we have seen a rapidly declining marginal productivity of debt (however you measure it, one dollar of new 'counterfeit capital' creates very much less than one dollar of economic growth), and a steady increase in financial-market turbulence.

Second, innovation comes not from the top down but from the bottom up. Free people acting in spontaneous and self-interested ways create the innovative products of tomorrow. Private firms jockeying for supremacy in handheld communication gave us the genius of the iPhone. Tesla produces some of the most advanced electric cars in the world available for mass consumption. Tesla CEO Elon Musk is the antithesis of the pondering bureaucrats that Mazzucato believes drive innovation. A man who offers four car models named S, 3, X, Y, sells flame throwers, privatised the space race, and now just launched a line of tequila.

Elon Musk’s rambunctious personality would be one representation of how innovation happens. Not by deliberate planning by experts but by the rambunctious and oftentimes chaotic enterprise of free individuals failing and succeeding, often many times in many ventures heading in many different directions. Another would be a James Watt, driven to perfect the steam engine that would eventually come to power a whole Industrial Revolution. Neither are going to work well, or innovate, under a bureucrat's direction.

Mazzucato and others like her contend however that it is the state that drives innovation. The authors disagree and state that the ultimate source of innovation is 
the liberal idea and its emancipation of human creativity.”
As statists lament over the alleged “normative postulation” regarding privatisation, McCloskey and Mingardi feel exactly the opposite. Getting the state out of the way of free individuals unleashes the driving force behind innovation.

Does Government Investment Contribute to Innovation?

One of the few convincing observations made by Mazzucato and others like her is that the advanced military research agency known as DARPA [Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency] invented things like the internet. Therefore, they argue, the state may be capable of impressive feats of innovation. If we invested more, then we would get even more spectacular results.

McCloskey and Mingardi offer a rebuttal that can be summarised as “important if true.” They write
The question is whether the American government envisioned anything like the internet. The answer is obvious: of course it didn’t. There was no “mission-oriented directionality.” The investments by the military look like Christopher Columbus’ voyages: the entrepreneurial State discovered the West Indies having left for the East Indies.
Furthermore, even when it stumbled upon what became the acorn from which the internet grew, the bureaucratic state had no idea it had any value whatsoever.
In the 1960s the Air Force considered how a decentralised communications grid distinct from the traditional telephone might operate. But the Department of Defense then terminated the research and took no action.
McCloskey and Mingardi also go on to point out that one of the leading developers of ARPANET, the technical foundation for the modern internet, observed that
DARPA "would never have funded a computer network to facilitate email", because [in their view] the telephone already served person-to-person communications perfectly.
Any government contribution to creating things like the internet was not only wholly unintentional, it may even have been detrimental. Innovation is a chaotic endeavor that leans less on the approval of experts, but instead requires a genuine test in the marketplace. If invention and progress rested on the opinions of whether a room full of PhD’s (or bureaucrats) thought it would be productive, we might not have made it past the horse-drawn plough!

One famous example is the advent of airborne flight which, after a failed test, government officials and many others understandably believed was not obtainable. Looking back, these comments seem comedic but if we allow the state and its army of experts to impose “directionality,” innovation would grind to a halt. 

In fact, in 1903 the New York Times predicted that flight was approximately 1-10 million years away. Then just a couple of months later two bicycle mechanics, Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first functional airplane in their garage, proceeding to change the world forever.

Innovation happens in the absence of state direction. It’s not innovative if it was completely planned.

The authors go even further to point out that, as regulations bog down progress in various industries, oftentimes innovation takes place simply to outmanoeuvre the state . This can partially explain things like the emergence of private equity over public equity in the world of finance. One of the key benefits of private equity is not having to abide by the cumbersome regulations that govern public financial markets. 

Key Points

This debate between whether or not the state can be a competent and worthy driver of innovation is a necessary one. Although the state continues to grow regardless of who wins this intellectual argument, it was thought that proponents of limited government had won this discussion in the late 20th century when the world experienced a sweeping wave of liberalisation.

Today we find ourselves at a crossroads, with much of the Western world embracing or starting to consider a view of government that sees it as much more than just a steward of our rights. They see the state as a force of positive and competent change in a capacity that McCloskey and Mingardi believe is only possible through the market. That a more powerful and unrestricted government can reliably be a steward of society.

The idea of an entrepreneurial state as proposed by Mazzucato is a romantic one. It’s an idea that people can come together and through sheer will can make innovation happen. That some very smart people with fancy degrees and prestigious titles can steer society to an optimal location. The only problem with that is just about everything.

Ethan YangETHAN YANG
Ethan is an Editorial Assistant at the American Institute for Economic Research and a graduate of Trinity College. He received a BA in Political Science alongside a minor in Legal Studies and Formal Organisations.
He currently serves as Local Coordinator at Students for Liberty and the Director of the Mark Twain Centre for the Study of Human Freedom at Trinity College.
Prior to joining AIER, he interned at organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Connecticut State Senate, and the Cause of Action Institute.
Ethan is currently based in Washington D.C.
This post is based on his article that first appeared at the AIER blog.
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Election fraud? "The answer is no."



"Bryan Caplan says that a good way to ascertain whether people are sincere in their claims (rather than just bullshitting) is to bet them on the issue at stake," notes the Money Illusion blog. "Most people won’t be willing to put money on the line for something they don’t truly believe."

In particular, "Lawyers caught lying in court can face some pretty severe penalties, so Trump’s lawyers have a strong incentive not to lie about claims of electoral fraud." And what do Orange Man's lawyers say in court?

During a Pennsylvania court hearing this week on one of the many election lawsuits brought by President Donald Trump, a judge asked a campaign lawyer whether he had found any signs of fraud from among the 592 ballots challenged.
The answer was no.

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"It does distort markets but that’s how monetary policy works...”


“It does distort markets but that’s how monetary policy works...”
~ central banker Eric Rosengren admits the obvious: that central banks and their policies distort markets: the key reason we find ourselves in a historic asset bubble. Adrian Orr take note.

[Hat tip Joumanna Bercetche and Sven  Henrich]

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Thursday, 12 November 2020

On language, and tribalism ...


“Language is a conceptual tool—a code of visual-auditory symbols that denote concepts. To a person who understands the function of language, it makes no difference what sounds are chosen to name things, provided these sounds refer to clearly defined aspects of reality. But to a tribalist, language is a mystic heritage, a string of sounds handed down from his ancestors and memorised, not understood. To him, the importance lies in the perceptual concrete, the sound of a word, not its meaning…”
          ~ Ayn Rand, from her essay 'Global Balkanisation, in The Voice of Reason

[Hat tip Ayn Rand Centre UK]

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Wednesday, 11 November 2020

"Collectivist movements don’t care about individuals. Changing one mind? It means nothing to them. It’s just one more pawn available to manufacture other pawns..."


"Collectivist movements don’t care about individuals. Changing one mind? It means nothing to them. It’s just one more pawn available to manufacture other pawns, all marching lockstep in a single direction, just waiting to be sacrificed for the cause. We are building a movement of individualists. And in a movement of individualists, every success matters, because each person matters—and because none of us is a pawn.
    "Whenever I become overwhelmed by the difficulty of our mission and the seemingly insurmountable odds of success, I remind myself of the importance of the individual—and of the impact a single individual can have on the world....
    "I don’t mean to diminish the importance of politics. Politics is important. Freedom is important. And in many ways, there has never been a bigger opportunity to impact politics than there is today. "Twenty years ago, people were generally satisfied with a status quo that was drifting slowly in the direction of statism. Today, we are no longer drifting. We are running toward statism at full speed.
    "That will cause many who value freedom to turn to purely political causes and activist organizations promising fast results. They have been promising fast results for as long as I’ve been alive. But if the last few decades have made anything clear, it’s that we will not move in a pro-freedom direction until people value freedom—and they will not value freedom until they learn to value living by their own mind and for their own sake. The battle for freedom is a battle for philosophy."

          ~ John Allison, from his letter on behalf of the Ayn Rand Institute
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Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Monday, 9 November 2020

“An election campaign is not the time to teach people the fundamentals of political theory..."


“An election campaign is not the time to teach people the fundamentals of political theory, and a candidate is not a teacher. He can only try to cash in on such ideas as he believes the people to hold. He is not the cause of political trends, he is their product. Who, then, is the cause? The country’s intellectuals.”
          ~Ayn Rand, The Ayn Rand Column

RELATED POSTAyn Rand: 'A Failure of Intellectual Leadership' – YOU TUBE 

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Friday, 6 November 2020

Bugger the pollsters

 

"Pollsters can try to adjust their sample for gender, race, political party, education, and a dozen other [allegedly important] demographic categories. But there's one category for which it would seem inherently impossible to adjust -- differences in willingness to talk to pollsters..."

          ~ Scott Sumner from his post 'Some thoughts on polling'

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Thursday, 5 November 2020

And the winner is: Gridlock!


Relax. It's not all bad:
"James Madison is surely smiling from his grave. Pursuant to his constitutional design, last night a badly divided electorate got an utterly gridlocked government—with the Supreme Court and Senate in the hands of one party and the House of Representatives and White House marginally in the hands of the other."
From my perspective, an election result about as good as could be hoped for.
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Another Twyford in the making?

 

Martin Luther King famously had a dream that his children would be judged "by the content of their character, and not the colour of their skin." Nor, one would have thought, by the markings emblazoned thereon.

If he were still alive, Martin Luther King would still be dreaming. Even as we speak, practitioners of identity politics are discussing election results on the basis of voter's skin colour instead of on their character. No wonder they're so confused.

Just as confused were most people, let's be honest, by the announcement that Nania Mahuta is to be to New Zealand's Foreign Minister -- quite literally, New Zealand's face to the rest of the world. In the absence of any visble achievements after more than two decades in parliament, and in a world bathed more in considerations of skin colour than character,  it would be easy to think that this appointment is less about merit than it is about about identity politics. (Which, I believe, is the point this author was trying unsuccessfully to make.)

The point to be made -- that could have been made -- is that in the absence of any actual, visible, tangible achievements (and even her most loyal supporters refer to her achievements in two decades in parliament as "quiet"), the suspicion must be that the new Foreign Minister has been chosen not for any particular attributes of character, but to placate a newly enlarged "Maori caucus," which always and everywhere judges issues not on character but on skin colour. And our politics needs less of that. 

In a small country in a turbulent world that is utterly dependent on trade, he job of Foreign Minister is one of the few that is actually a real job, one in which success or failure is often important. So it's helpful to understand what attributes she does possess for the post -- and since her announcement in the post came as such a surprise to most commentators (not to mention many of her colleagues) they've been scrambling ever since to describe what these attributes are. They're not all good. But they may balance out.

Ms Mahuta is said to be lazy. But that was no barrier to the long political career of the last Foreign Minister. 

And she's also said to "read her papers." Which puts her streets ahead of him.

Astonishingly, for a politician, she's also said to be honest. But that was said about her by a former politician, so it's hard to believe too much.

She was said to have helped her father in researching Tainui's historic Waitangi claim. But that was many years ago. And she is also said to carry "the legacies of her tīpuna [ancestors] ... [which] completely disrupted the comfortable foreign policy fortress of her detractors." And whatever that might mean it's more about she was born to than what she has done since.

So it is just possible that in her recent associate-trade and export growth portfolios she did apparently "demonstrate her proficiency" at "bringing people together," which is what the Prime Minister and her supporters were left to say about her in support of this new appointment.

Which still sounds like more than Phil Twyford ever achieved in politics. 

But that is a very low bar.

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The counting continues, which is how elections work ...


Trump, last night: "This is a major fraud in our nation. We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So we'll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop."

Reason, this morning: "At that point, of course, voting had stopped. It was the counting that continued, which is how elections work."
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Wednesday, 4 November 2020

“The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance...”


“The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false.”
          ~ historian Paul Johnson, from his 1980 book The Recovery of Freedom

[Hat tip Lawrence Reed]
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Tuesday, 3 November 2020

Extreme Poverty Rates Plummet Under Capitalism


Since she obviously has expertise in this area -- having just reappointed herself Minister for Child Poverty Reduction -- Jacinda Ardern obviously knows this simple historical fact already: that far from extreme poverty rates rising under capitalism, the opposite has occurred.

So since she clearly knows it already and you don't, here is the truth that might surprise you:

Extreme Poverty Rates Plummet Under Capitalism

by Robert P. Murphy

The Rich and the Poor Under Capitalism

You might have heard the phrase, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.”

Yes, it’s true that the rich (tend to) get richer, but the poor get richer too—especially if we look at a time span of decades or longer, and if we focus our attention on people living in countries where governments adhere to a basic respect for the rule of law and property rights.

Consider: Even those who would be called “poor” in today’s Europe or the United States have a standard of living that would astonish the nobles entertained in the Court of Versailles of Louis XIV (who lived from 1638-1715). Forget about private jets, air conditioning, television, wifi, or automatic elevators: the guests of the famous Sun King didn’t even have flushing toilets, which reportedly caused serious problems at heavily attended parties. Nutrition and medical care wasn’t the best back then, either: Of the six children Louis XIV had with his first wife, only one survived to adulthood, and even he died (at age 49) before his father, such that (because of other early deaths) the crown passed to Louis XIV’s five-year-old great-grandson upon his own death. And don't even think about dentistry ...

Capitalism and Economic Stagnation

“Okay, sure,” you might hear. “Inventors make discoveries every now and then, so over the course of centuries that piles up and even average people end up richer. That’s just the operation of science and technology. But I’m talking about the economic process under unregulated capitalism, which is characterised by stagnation for most participants.”

Actually, that summary gets things backwards. For most of recorded history, humans had very slowly rising living standards, but then material progress suddenly exploded:


As the chart makes clear, our current living standards vis-a-vis the nobles at the Palace of Versailles are not merely due to routine technological inventions; the progress in the last few centuries is literally unprecedented. In a 2016 New York Times column, economic historian Deirdre McCloskey explains the astonishing surge in economic growth in this way:
[A] mere idea, which the philosopher and economist Adam Smith called “the liberal plan of equality, liberty and justice.” In a word, it was liberalism, in the free-market European sense. Give masses of ordinary people equality before the law and equality of social dignity, and leave them alone, and it turns out that they become extraordinarily creative and energetic.

The Problem of Inequality

“Yes,” you might hear, “we know socialism doesn’t work, and that the modern capitalist approach gives people an incentive to build and keep great fortunes. But those ‘per capita’ figures hide the massive inequalities in a largely unregulated system. Capitalism is great at producing but not at distributing fairly.”

Again, this misreads the historical record. It was precisely the “lower classes” who benefitted the most from the economic progress unleashed in the so-called Industrial Revolution and beyond. Yes, the “captains of industry” personally became quite rich, but the rise of big business primarily benefited the working class. After all, the titans of industry engaged in “mass production” in order to sell products to… the masses.

For example, in the United States during the “Roaring ’20s”—and under the laissez-faire administration of Calvin Coolidge—regular American households saw a fantastic improvement in their quality of living. Gene Smiley explains: “A key to much of this growth was the spreading use of commercially generated electricity,” which in turn allowed average consumers to obtain “refrigerators, phonographs, electric irons, electric fans, electric lighting, toasters, vacuum cleaners, and other household appliances.” (Gene Smiley, Rethinking the Great Depression (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2002), pp. 5-6.)

Capitalism and Exploitation

“Fair enough," people say, "there may have been some low-hanging fruit when regular households didn’t have the things we now take for granted. But in more recent history, the forces of unrestrained liberalism are actually hurting the most vulnerable. Maybe not in the United States and other advanced countries, but certainly in poorer countries that are often exploited in international affairs.”

On the contrary, this too gets the facts backwards. As the World Bank reports, in the two decades from 1990 to 2010 the global rate of "extreme poverty" (defined as people living on less than $1.90 per day) was cut in half. In half! Back in 1990, 1.85 billion people lived in extreme poverty, but by 2013, the figure had dropped to 767 million—meaning the number of those living on less than $1.90 per day had fallen by more than a billion people.

This is historically unprecedented! And yet almost unreported!!

The following chart summarises the overall progress of humanity in shrinking the problem of extreme poverty:


Of course, there is more work to be done on this front, but the spread of market institutions (sometimes disparaged as “neo-liberalism” and “globalisation”) have gone hand-in-hand with rapid and unprecedented increases in human welfare, even (you might even say especially) for the poorest among us.

Resources

Robert P. Murphy is senior economist at the Independent Energy Institute, a research assistant professor with the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech University, and a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute.
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Monday, 2 November 2020

"Trump in 2020 is a lot like the case against Trump in 2016 but bolstered by the accumulation of evidence and experience."


"Trump in 2020 is a lot like the case against Trump in 2016 but bolstered by the accumulation of evidence and experience. Any hope that he might mature in office and come to appreciate the gravity of his responsibility has been dissolved. He is, if anything, a less serious candidate in 2020 than he was in 2016, and even more the game-show host.... "
          ~ Kevin Williamson: 'Hell, No.'
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Saturday, 31 October 2020

On sovereignty


"If what you advocate for [in politics] is something other than the sovereignty of the individual then what you advocate for inevitably becomes the sovereignty of some individuals over others. You cannot escape this fact." 
           ~ Michael Wharton

Friday, 30 October 2020

"Rulers of men are not egoists. They create nothing. They exist entirely through the persons of others."

 

"Rulers of men are not egoists. They create nothing. They exist entirely through the persons of others. Their goal is in their subjects, in the activity of enslaving. They are as dependent as the beggar, the social worker and the bandit. The form of the dependence does not matter."

          ~ Ayn Rand on 'The Soul of the Individualist,' from her novel The Fountainhead

Thursday, 29 October 2020

A modern-day fairy tale


"One crisp winter morning in Sweden, a cute little girl named Greta woke up to a perfect world, one where there were no petroleum products ruining the earth. She tossed aside her cotton sheet and wool blanket and stepped out onto a dirt floor covered with willow bark that had been pulverized with rocks. 

“What’s this?” she asked.

“Pulverised willow bark,” replied her fairy godmother.

“What happened to the carpet?” she asked.

“The carpet was nylon, which is made from butadiene and hydrogen cyanide, both made from petroleum,” came the response.

Greta smiled, acknowledging that adjustments are necessary to save the planet, and moved to the sink to brush her teeth where instead of a toothbrush, she found a willow, mangled on one end to expose wood fibre bristles.

“Your old toothbrush?” noted her godmother, “Also nylon.”

“Where’s the water?” asked Greta.

“Down the road in the canal,” replied her godmother, ‘Just make sure you avoid water with cholera in it”

“Why’s there no running water?” Greta asked, becoming a little peevish.

“Well,” said her godmother, who happened to teach engineering at MIT, “Where do we begin?” There followed a long monologue about how sink valves need elastomer seats and how copper pipes contain copper, which has to be mined and how it’s impossible to make all-electric earth-moving equipment with no gear lubrication or tyres and how ore has to be smelted to make metal, and that’s tough to do with only electricity as a source of heat, and even if you use only electricity, the wires need insulation, which is petroleum-based, and though most of Sweden’s energy is produced in an environmentally friendly way because of hydro and nuclear, if you do a mass and energy balance around the whole system, you still need lots of petroleum products like lubricants and nylon and rubber for tires and asphalt for filling potholes and wax and iPhone plastic and elastic to hold your underwear up while operating a copper smelting furnace and . . .

“What’s for breakfast?” interjected Greta, whose head was hurting.

"Fresh, range-fed chicken eggs,” replied her godmother. 

"Mmm," said Greta.

“Raw.”

“How so, raw?” inquired Greta.

“Well, . . .” And once again, Greta was told about the need for petroleum products like transformer oil and scores of petroleum products essential for producing metals for frying pans and in the end was educated about how you can’t have a petroleum-free world and then cook eggs. Unless you rip your front fence up and start a fire and carefully cook your egg in an orange peel like you do in Boy Scouts. Not that you can find oranges in Sweden anymore.

“But I want poached eggs like my Aunt Tilda makes,” lamented Greta.

“Tilda died this morning,” the godmother explained. “Bacterial pneumonia.”

“What?!” interjected Greta. “No one dies of bacterial pneumonia! We have penicillin.”

“Not anymore,” explained her godmother “The production of penicillin requires chemical extraction using isobutyl acetate, which, if you know your organic chemistry, is petroleum-based. Lots of people are dying, which is problematic because there’s not an easy way of disposing of the bodies since backhoes need hydraulic oil and crematoriums can’t really burn many bodies, using as fuel Swedish fences and furniture, which are rapidly disappearing - being used on the black market for roasting eggs and staying warm.”

This represents only a fraction of Greta’s day, a day without microphones to exclaim into and a day without much food, and a day without carbon-fibre boats to sail in, but a day that will save the planet.
Tune in tomorrow when Greta needs a root canal and learns how Novocain is synthesised."

[Author unknown. Hat tip Louise LaMontagne]

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

"All sensible people are selfish, and nature is tugging at every contract to make the terms of it fair." #QotD


"All sensible people are selfish, and nature is tugging at every contract to make the terms of it fair."
          ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson, from his 1860 essay 'The Conduct of Life'

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Tuesday, 27 October 2020

"Of course black lives matter, but we know that the Black Lives Matter movement is political."


"I want to speak about a dangerous trend in race relations that has come far too close to home in my life, which is the promotion of critical race theory, an ideology that sees my blackness as victimhood and their whiteness as oppression. I want to be absolutely clear that the Government stand unequivocally against critical race theory. Some schools have decided to openly support the anti-capitalist Black Lives Matter group, often fully aware that they have a statutory duty to be politically impartial.
    "Of course black lives matter, but we know that the Black Lives Matter movement is political. I know that because, at the height of the protests, I have been told of white Black Lives Matter protesters calling a black armed police officer guarding Downing Street—I apologise for saying this word—“a pet nigger”. That is why we do not endorse that movement on this side of the House. It is a political movement. It would be nice if Opposition Members condemned many of the actions of that political movement, instead of pretending that it is a completely wholesome anti-racist organisation.
    "Lots of pernicious stuff is being pushed, and we stand against that."
~ UK Government MP Kemi Badenoch, speaking in the recent House of Commons Black History Month debate

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