SUMMER SIX PACK: Democracy & Freedom. War & Theft. Oh, and I’ll take a side of warming, please.
Today’s selection of good reading from the archives trolley has now been served. Enjoy!
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Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Global Warming? Just ignore it.
Politics behooves some folk to take a position on the science of Global Warming -- even if they really don't understand it. Find a person’s politics, and you’ll find them insisting either that Global Warming is happening and is real, or else is not happening and is a scam. And they’ll keep right on insisting, whatever the science says. That‘s neither good science, nor good politics.
The libertarian position on Global Warming is somewhat different. It was well summed up by George Reisman at the end of his 1990 article 'The Toxicity of Environmentalism,' and his position on Global Warming is reprised today by Cafe Hayek:
“Let’s assume that global warming is happening and that it’s caused by modern human industry and commerce. Is there a case to be made for the United States government to continue to avoid signing the Kyoto Protocol? More generally, is there a case to be made to shrug our shoulders and say ‘best not to do anything through government about global warming’?
“I think so.”
The best way for aspiring politicians to treat all claims about Global Warming is benign political neglect Read on here for the argument.
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Thursday, May 04, 2006
Don't steal ideas!
Copyrights, patents, trade marks—intellectual property is just as real, just as valuable, as real property. And rights to Intellectual property rights are ust as important, and just as much under attack -- and from some odd quarters.
Greg Perkins at Noodle Food answers several libertarian critics of intellectual property rights, who argue that “intellectual property” is a contradiction in terms. There is a contradiction here, says Perkins, and it’s in the flawed way that the libertarians justify their theft of private property.
Frankly, if you want a right to something someone else has created, then trading value for value as honest citizens do is a better method than using straw men, sophistry and theft, as politicians and (some) philosophy students do.
Linked Article: Don't steal this article - Greg Perkins, Noodle Food
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Friday, September 14, 2007
Whatever happened to your "smokestack socialist"?
I asked yesterday if readers could identify the author of this remarkably vigorous piece of prose in praise of human production:
“The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all the preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature's forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents or cultivation, canalisation or rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground - what earlier century had even an inkling that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labour?”Written in the mid-nineteenth century, their author achieved worldwide popularity in the twentieth. How rare to hear such a hymn to human industry in the twenty-first.
I'm delighted that several knowledgeable readers identified the author as one Karl Marx -- a surprise perhaps to some who know the bearded apostle of "scientific socialism" only as the god of today's braindead man-haters. How come, you might ask, we so rarely hear such hairy-chested sentiments from socialists these days? The answer is quite simple: the abject failure of socialism to live up to the promise implied in the old fool's wee hymn to human production.
In the beginning, everybody was (or seemed to be) a smokestack socialist. The old style hairy-chested, smokestack socialist revered capitalism’s forces of production--those colossal steam-driven productive forces; the subjection of nature by capital—they just wanted them shackled for themselves. The forces that in earlier centuries had "slumbered in the lap of social labour" were erupting out of the feudal past, and were to be shackled in the promise of a glorious socialist future! Communism, said Lenin, is "socialism plus electricity"! Communism, Nikita Kruschev told Richard Nixon, will "bury the west." For many a socialist, the optimistic voice of socialism did sounded like the voice of the sunlit future. Reason and science seemed to be on the side of the central planners.
The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of every socialist experiment ever tried, however, put paid to that dream.
The revelation when the Berlin Wall fell that socialist Eastern Europe was no Utopia, but instead an economic, environmental and humanitarian basket case brought on a crisis for socialists worldwide—a crisis making it clear for all time that it was impossible to be an honest socialist. The laboratory experiment in West & East Berlin, and the utter misery of Eastern Europe, smacked everyone in the face like a cold halibut, and made one simple fact crystal clear: Socialism could not produce. Capitalism does. At this revelation, the smokestack socialist had three fundamental choices: either abandon his support for socialism, or for production, or for reason:
- He could continue to revere production and human fecundity by abandoning socialism altogether (Christopher Hitchens is one of this honest breed), or he could try and shackle capitalist producers to his own socialist ends (Tony Blair, Jim Anderton and most of the Third Way 'social democrat' types adopted this approach).
- Or: he could retain his socialism but abandon instead his praise of production and wealth. The environmental movement beckoned. In damning production he could continue the promotion of socialism as if nothing ever happened. If you've ever wondered at the take-over of the environmental movement worldwide by assorted Trotskyites, Maoists and Leninists, or by the number of Jim Anderton's former colleagues now at home in the 'Watermelon Party,' then this is your explanation.
- Or: as Stephen Hicks so eloquently explains, he could abandon reason, science, and optimism altogether, and embrace instead the postmodern promotion of anti-reason, anti-science, double standards, and cynicism. As Hicks says in the thesis of his superb book Explaining Postmodernism, "the failure of [philosophy] made postmodernism possible; the failure of socialism made postmodernism necessary."
In his book, Hicks charts the failure and consequent “evolution” of socialism, which helps explain the apparent disappearance of the old “smokestack socialist”:
The fall of the Berlin Wall was the crisis that created this mostly misbegotten diaspora. And it's the reason now that an honest socialist is about as hard to find as an honest lawyer
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Friday, September 30, 2005
Global warming and the war in Iraq: The Link!
There is a link between global warming and the war in Iraq that I haven't seen picked up before, and it’s not without irony. The link is the concept of risk, and how it relates to the arguments given for action in each case.
Since Irfan Khawaja spotted the link, I'll let him explain:
“Opponents of the Iraq war have typically argued that absent hard evidence of Iraqi WMD stockpiles, we had no business using force to disarm Iraq. In the case [of global warming], however, left-leaning environmentalists argue that absent hard evidence of danger, we're obliged to take drastic action.”Scientists such as NASA scientist James Hansen go even further. Hansen thinks it was appropriate to sex up the evidence for global warming in order to gain attention for the unproven. Now however that the scientific gravy train is up and running (with him on it) he is revising his story. "Emphasis on extreme scenarios may have been appropriate at one time, when the public and decision makers were relatively unaware of the global warming issue… Now, however, the need is for demonstrably objective climate forcing scenarios consistent with what is realistic." Irfan's translation: "It might have been OK to deceive the public about global warming a few years ago, but now the game is up, so let's just tell the honest truth from here on out."
“Hansen's ‘principle’ here is an exact replica of the Bush Administration's strategy during 2002-2003 in discussing Iraqi WMD: emphasize extreme scenarios as a matter of consciousness-raising; then, when confronted with counter-evidence, ratchet things back and try haplessly to explain that the exaggerations, while exaggerated, did after all point to a real problem requiring a solution. Then pray that no one calls you on your squalid and stupid rhetorical manuever. Of course, if you are George Bush the Fundamentalist, your prayers will fail, and everyone will forever after say things like ‘Bush Lies--Soldiers Die.’ If you are an atheist environmentalist, on the other hand, your prayers will succeed and no one will notice your brazen manipulation of public opinion. Funny how that works.
“Anyway, our environmentalists need to get their principles straight. Does weak evidence of a high-stakes event justify drastic action to prevent the event? I think it can--in both the Iraqi and global warming cases. But one can't have one's risk and eat it, too. One can't argue that 12 years of UN reports on Iraqi failure to disarm can be dismissed as ‘insufficient evidence of an imminent threat,’ while simultaneously insisting that weak evidence of global warming has to be played up so as to justify passing the Kyoto Treaty.”
Consistency: there oughta be a law!
Linked article: Global Warming: Pro and Con
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Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Ian Ewen-Street is not on the environmental main highway
Is the reportedly lazy and ineffective Green MP Ian Ewen-Street going to National a sign of anything? Anything at all?
And apart from Mr and Mrs Ewen-Street, does anyone really care? Looks like it, if you believe all those people reading so much into this move.
Could it really be a sign, as some commentators and Don Brash have said, that National are "serious about the environment"? Or that National is a broad church--encompassing both the lazy and ineffective Ewen-Street and the similarly qualified Tau Henare? Or perhaps a sign (as Jeanette Fitzsimons indicated) that Ewen-Street was always a Tory anyway? Or something else -- or even, perhaps, nothing at all?
For mine it's Answer D: something else. As usual, DPF supplies the clue: "It is incredibly frustrating [says Farrar]that the hard left have captured so much of the environmental brand, and this should help correct that perception." So it's not so much that "National are serious about the environment" but that they’re serious about looking like they’re serious. And that's it, really, folks: This is all about perception, not about substance. The 'centre-right' would like to massage the perception, while the substance will barely change.
Ewen-Street is hardly someone upon which to base any substance in any case – not at least in a freedom-loving direction. I really hope this idiot is really as lazy and ineffective as reports would have it, because the prospect of the anti-GE Green Ewen-Street and the man who called the RMA "far-sighted environmental legislation" (Nick Smith) writing National's environmental policy between them is not something from which to expect anything substantially less wet or less 'left' environmentally than what the Nats already have.
The hard left have already captured so much of the environmental brand; so much so that lokking like you’re “serious about the environment” now means outbidding the hard left for environmental credibility. The hard left have captured the environmental brand for one very simple reason: Because almost the entire political spectrum, including the self-described 'centre-right,' have accepted the nostrum that environmental protection requires command-and-control measures to be effective: amd no-one does command0and control like the hard left .
But environmental protection doesn't require command-and-control, and it’s time for those who aren’t hard left to realise that.
The best means for environmental protection is secure property rights. When the non-hard-left parts of the political spectrum begin to realise that secure property rights provide both superior environmental protection and protection of your freedom, then we might be on the road to seeing something new. Something of substance. Something like that which is happening in the States, where alumni of property-rights-promoters like PERC have been getting their feet under the policy table.
That really would be the right road down which to travel. That would be an environmental main highway to get on to.
But Ian Ewen-Street is not on that road, and neither is Nick Smith or National.
How about you?
- Elizabeth Brubaker's masterful (and free) online book, Property Rights in the Defence of Nature.
- Common Sense and Common Law for the Environment, at Amazon (see below)
- Common Law publications at PERC
- 'The Common Law: How it Protects the Environment' by Roger E. Meiners and Bruce Yandle -- free online report.
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Friday, January 13, 2006
A joke at the heart of Climate Change
It's hilarious, really, isn't it. Why am I laughing? If you haven't heard already, here's the joke: plants are implicated in the 'global warming problem.' Here's how: Methane is roughly twenty times more powerful than carbon dioxide in trapping the sun's heat -- it is the third most important greenhouse gas behind water vapour and carbon dioxide -- and a new scientific study has just discovered that "living plants may emit almost a third of the methane entering the Earth's atmosphere. The result has come as a shock to climate scientists." This is a genuinely remarkable result," said Richard Betts of the climate change monitoring organisation the Hadley Centre." [Source, The Guardian]
I swear I am not making this up. Living plants, especially 'deep-rooted' plants such as trees, contribute about one third of the atmospehere's methane, with the Amazon Basin itself responsible for a hefty proportion. Cow farts and rice paddies are largely responsible for the other two thirds. Notes JunkScience.Com (who note also that the potential temperature saving by the year 2050 so far achieved by Kyoto is 0.001412424 °C):
“So, in the space of a couple of weeks we've had temperate forests harvesting too much sunlight and warming the globe, high latitude forest trees getting 'skinnier' and absorbing less carbon than guesstimated and now, tropical forests as a source of the much more potent greenhouse gas, methane. Anyone get the feeling wannabe energy rationers are getting really desperate to deny there could be any possible avenue to mitigate warming other than ceding control of energy?Maybe now we might see an end to the environmentalists' call for an Anti-Industrial Revolution. I look forward instead to Greenpeace T-shirts like this one:
“Anyone noticed that, despite the gales of hysteria, the alleged warming of ~0.7 °C over the 20th Century is about the same as the error range on estimated global mean temperature? Anyone noticed that, while atmospheric carbon levels have measurably increased and global temperature has probably increased, crop yields have more than kept pace with human population growth from ~1.7 billion to over 6 billion while hunger has declined? Anyone noticed that during this time developed nations have returned marginal farmlands to forest and wildlife habitat? Anyone figure the global picture may not be quite as bleak as wannabe energy rationers would like to paint it?”
Linked Articles: The forgotten methane source - Max Planck Institute
Global warming: Blame the forests - Guardian
The assault on forests as carbon sinks continues - JunkScience.Com
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Monday, July 02, 2007
Democracy vs. freedom: A Middle Eastern case study
"Democracy is freedom!" I hear you say? Well, no it isn't. There's much confusion abroad about structures of government, and too little understanding of the difference between democracy and constitutional government.
Many people mistakenly believe that democracy is synonymous with freedom, so if you're saddled with that delusion yourself then you're not alone. It isn't. As Bill Weddell used to say, democracy is not freedom, it is simply the counting of heads regardless of content. And as Yaron Brook points out in The Forward Strategy for Failure, democratic elections across the Middle East that seemed to promise so much have demonstrated instead that the result of counting empty heads will often deliver the opposite of freedom. It's a lesson that we should all ponder.
“Iraq has had not just one, but several popular elections, as well as a referendum on a new constitution written by Iraqi leaders; with U.S. endorsement and prompting, the Palestinians held what international monitors declared were fair elections; and Egypt’s authoritarian regime, under pressure from Washington, allowed the first contested parliamentary elections in more than a decade. Elections were held as well in Lebanon (parliamentary) and Saudi Arabia (municipal). In sum, these developments seemed to indicate a salutary political awakening. The forward march toward ‘liberty in other nations’ seemed irresistible ...”It all looked so promising, didn't it, and - let's face it - we all got excited at the sight of so many so eager to vote in places for which any idea of free and fair elections seemed just a few years ago so unbelievable. I confess, I did too. The Bush Administration's "forward strategy for freedom" seemed to be working, it seemed to be worthy of celebration - but the strategy had and has a fatal flaw. It was and is based solely on the introduction of democracy, and democracy itself is no guarantee of freedom. A majority can just as easily to vote away its own freedoms and those of minorities as it will to have them protected. Case in point: Recent history.
"Has the democracy crusade moved us toward peace and freedom in the Middle East—and greater security at home?" asks Brook. Answer, NO! Emphatically not. For the most part, the results have been the opposite of stellar.
“The elections in Iraq were touted as an outstanding success for America, but the new Iraqi government is far from friendly. It is dominated by a Shiite alliance led by the Islamic Daawa Party and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI)... Teheran is thought to have a firm grip on the levers of power within Iraq’s government, and it actively arms and funds anti-American insurgents. The fundamental principle of Iraq’s new constitution—as of Iran’s totalitarian regime—is that Islam is inviolable. Instead of embracing pro-Western leaders, Iraqis have made a vicious Islamic warlord, Moqtada al-Sadr, one of the most powerful men in Iraqi politics...”How about the elections in the Palestinian territories, then? Any more success there?
For years, Bush had asked Palestinians “to elect new leaders, . . . not compromised by terror.” And, finally, in the U.S.-endorsed elections of January 2006, the Palestinians did turn their backs on the cronies of Yasser Arafat; they rejected the incumbent leadership of Fatah—and elected the even more militant killers of Hamas: an Islamist group notorious for suicide bombings. Hamas won by a landslide and now rules the Palestinian territories. Refusing to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, Hamas is committed to annihilating that state and establishing a totalitarian Islamic regime.Since writing that, as you probably know, Palestine has collapsed in what is essentially a civil war between Fatah and Hamas, with the price of war being paid in Palestinian bodies and an increased threat to the territories' neighbours, rather than a reduced one. No increase in freedom here either, then, or security.
How about Lebanon, where great hopes were held for a rebirth in peace and freedom after elections that followed the drumming out of Syrian-controlled puppets? Sadly, the results there offer little cause for hope either.
“Hezbollah took part in the U.S.-endorsed elections in Lebanon, formed part of that country’s cabinet for the first time, and won control of two ministries.11 In the summer of 2006, the Iranian-backed Hamas and Hezbollah killed and kidnapped Israeli soldiers—and precipitated a month-long war in the region. Since the ceasefire that ended the war, Hezbollah has continued to amass weapons and foment terrorism, emboldened by its popular electoral support.”So no success with recent democracies in Iraq, Lebanon or the Palestinian territories then - majorities have simply voted in totalitarians and killers who've acted to snuff out whatever shoots of freedom that we all fervently believed were beginning to appear.
Perhaps elections in Egypt provide more hope? Sadly, the biggest beneficiary of the 2005 election was the Muslim Brotherhood, which as Brook points out represent "the intellectual origin of the Islamist movement, whose offshoots include Hamas and parts of Al Qaeda. The Brotherhood’s founding credo is 'Allah is our goal; the Koran is our constitution; the Prophet is our leader; Struggle is our way; and death in the path of Allah is our highest aspiration'” !
It seems that the "forward strategy of freedom" of implementing democracy in the Middle East is an abject failure - a failure made inevitable by the pathetic faith in democracy to deliver that freedom. As Brook summarises, what democracy in the Middle East actually delivered was the very opposite of freedom: it delivered more power to those enemies of freedom that the Bush strategy was supposed to snuff out.
“The Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Lebanese Hezbollah, the Islamist regime in Iran, the Mahdi Army, Al Qaeda—these are all part of an ideological movement: Islamic Totalitarianism. Although differing on some details and in tactics, all of these groups share the movement’s basic goal of enslaving the entire Middle East, and then the rest of the world, under a totalitarian regime ruled by Islamic law.
“The totalitarians will use any means to achieve their goal—terrorism, if it proves effective; all-out war, if they can win; and politics, if it can bring them power over whole countries.
“Bush’s forward strategy has helped usher in a new era in the Middle East: By its promotion of elections, it has paved the road for Islamists to grab political power and to ease into office with the air of legitimacy and without the cost of bombs or bullets. Naturally, totalitarians across the region are encouraged. They exhibit a renewed sense of confidence. The Iran-Hamas-Hezbollah war against Israel last summer is one major symptom of that confidence; another is Iran’s naked belligerence through insurgent proxies in Iraq, and its righteously defiant pursuit of nuclear technology.
“The situation in the Middle East is worse for America today than it was in the wake of 9/11...”
And worse too for the Middle East.
Without a culture that values freedom and a constitutional structure that protects life and liberty, any nascent democracy is simply a hostage to whatever outrageous fortunes may sweep across a country, just as they did in the Weimar Germany of the 1930s. It seems clear enough that democracy alone is not enough to either preserve or introduce liberty and freedom, and it now seems abundantly clear that the strategists of the Bush Administration are entirely ignorant of that point - but it's also clear that they're not alone in that ignorance.
Americans themselves will mostly tell you they live in a democracy, but in saying that they'd be wrong. The model of government introduced to America by its founding fathers was the most successful historic example of constitutional protections of liberty.
America is not a democracy, it's a constitutional republic. For nearly one-hundred and fifty years the constitution introduced by the founding fathers and the enlightenment culture derived largely from sixteenth-century Britain between them provided the best protector for freedom the world in all its dark history had yet seen. It was a model introduced successfully in part to Japan after WWII, but all too sadly forgotten in the recent Middle East forays.
No matter what you've heard, and no matter how many American strategists insist upon it, America's model of government is not a democracy. In fact, the founding fathers were assiduous in protecting liberty from the threat of unlimited majority rule that democracy delivers. What they did was put the things of importance beyond the vote, delivering to the world not a democracy but a constitutional republic. (Yes, I've repeated the point. It bears repeating.) The system of checks and balances of the United States Constitution was described by Ayn Rand as "the great American achievement." It is an achievement richly deserving of study, and (with some few modifications) of emulating.
A nice summary of the workings of that successful Constitution is provided by a new course offered by the Ayn Rand Institute:
“A Constitution is "[t]he system or body of fundamental principles according to
which a nation, state, or body politic is constituted and governed."
“Paraphrasing Ayn Rand, a proper government protects men from criminals and
foreign invaders and provides for the settlement of disputes according to objective laws. A government, therefore, does three things: it makes laws (the legislative function), enforces them (the executive function) and runs law courts (the judicial function).
The United States Constitution divides these functions into separate departments; this is the doctrine of separation of powers. It also divides governmental powers between the state and federal governments by enumerating the powers of the latter and by specific limitations on both. Thus, both the federal and the state governments have sufficient powers to secure rights and are limited in their ability to violate them.
Simple but effective. Not democracy then but constitutional government - a constitution protecting essential liberties through a government constrained only to those protections. It's a model that failed states and would-be freedom fighters around the world would do well to understand and to emulate, as should those who unthinkingly parrot the idea that democracy alone is a saviour.
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Thanks for reading. Here’s a Serge Gainsbourg song, ‘Lemon Incest’: