The libertarian ideal 2

This is from a fine article by Jonah Goldberg at Townhall:

Definitions vary, but broadly speaking, libertarianism is the idea that people should be as free as possible from state coercion so long as they don’t harm anyone.

Or as we put it in our Articles of ReasonMy liberty should be limited by nothing except everyone else’s liberty.

The job of the state is limited to fighting crime, providing for the common defense, and protecting the rights and contracts of citizens. The individual is sovereign, he is the captain of himself.

It’s true, no ideal libertarian state has ever existed outside a table for one. And no such state will ever exist. But here’s an important caveat: No ideal state of any other kind will be created either. …

Ideals are …  goals, aspirations, abstract straight rules we use as measuring sticks against the crooked timber of humanity.

In the old Soviet Union, Mao’s China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia and today’s North Korea, they tried to move toward the ideal communist system. Combined, they killed about 100 million of their own people. That’s a hefty moral distinction right there: When freedom-lovers move society toward their ideal, mistakes may be made, but people tend to flourish. When the hard left is given free reign, millions are murdered and enslaved. Which ideal would you like to move toward?  …

How statism/collectivism  ever came to be an ideal is puzzling enough, but that there are millions who still want it after those calamitous experiments Jonah Goldberg names, remains to us a mystery beyond all comprehension.

It’s a little bizarre how the left has always conflated statism with modernity and progress. The idea that rulers – be they chieftains, kings, priests, politburos or wonkish bureaucrats – are enlightened or smart enough to tell others how to live is older than the written word. And the idea that someone stronger, with better weapons, has the right to take what is yours predates man’s discovery of fire by millennia. And yet, we’re always told that the latest rationalization for increased state power is the “wave of the future.”

That phrase, “the wave of the future,” became famous thanks to a 1940 essay by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She argued that the time of liberal democratic capitalism was drawing to a close and the smart money was on statism of one flavor or another – fascism, communism, socialism, etc. What was lost on her, and millions of others, was that this wasn’t progress toward the new, but regression to the past. These “waves of the future” were simply gussied-up tribalisms, anachronisms made gaudy with the trappings of modernity, like a gibbon in a spacesuit. 

The only truly new political idea in the last couple thousand years is this libertarian idea, broadly understood. The revolution wrought by John Locke, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith and the Founding Fathers is the only real revolution going. And it’s still unfolding. …

We would add that this revolution has been advanced in thought further by Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, Robert Nozick, and (more popularly) Ayn Rand, to name just some of the later philosophers of individual freedom.

What made the American experiment new were its libertarian innovations, broadly speaking. Moreover, those innovations made us prosper. …

I’m actually not a full-blown libertarian myself, but it’s an ideal I’d like America to move closer to, not further away from as we’ve been doing of late – bizarrely in the name of “progress” of all things.

Same goes for us.

What Americans should be taught about America 12

American children must be taught the values America traditionally stands for, and why they are the highest and the best.

They must be taught that the United States of America was founded as a realization of the idea of liberty.

They must be taught that only in freedom are individuals able to achieve the best they are capable of.

They must be taught that the conditions necessary for a good life  – prosperity, physical and mental well-being, the pursuit of individual aims  – exist reliably only in a free society.

They must be taught that only the rule of law, not rule by a person or group of potentates, assures liberty.

Generations of American children have not been taught any of this. It is no exaggeration to say that for decades now the schools and academies have been teaching Americans to be ashamed of themselves. So millions of Americans believe that they are justly hated by other nations, and their country should change to become more like other countries. (See our post Zinn writes histories, December 11, 2009.)

William Damon, professor of education at Stanford University and a senior fellow of the admirable Hoover Institution, writes in a recent essay:

In our leading intellectual and educational circles, the entire notion of national devotion is now in dispute. For example, in a book about the future of citizenship, a law professor recently wrote: “Longstanding notions of democratic citizenship are becoming obsolete … American identity is unsustainable in the face of globalization.” As a replacement for commitment to a nation-state, the author wrote, “loyalties…are moving to transnational communities defined by many different ways: by race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, and sexual orientation.” In similar fashion, many influential educators are turning to “cosmopolitanism” and “global citizenship” as the proper aim of civics instruction, de-emphasizing the attachment to any particular country such as the United States. As global citizens, it is argued, our primary identification should be with the humanity of the world, and our primary obligation should be to the universal ideals of human rights and justice. Devotion to one’s own nation state, commonly referred to as patriotism, is suspect because it may turn into a militant chauvinism or a dangerous “my country right or wrong” perspective. …

By “justice” the unnamed law professor probably means “social justice’ – the idea that wealth should be taken away from those who have earned it and given to others who have not. “Social justice” is Orwellian Newspeak for injustice.

William Damon points out:

Discouraging young Americans from identifying with their country — and, indeed, from celebrating the traditional American quest for liberty and equal rights — is a sure way to remove their most powerful source of motivation to learn about U. S. citizenship. Why would a student exert any effort to master the rules of a system that the student has no respect for and no interest in being part of? To acquire civic knowledge as well as civic virtue, students need to care about their country.

It is especially odd to see schools with large immigrant populations neglect teaching students about American identity and the American tradition. Educational critic Diane Ravitch observed this phenomenon when visiting a New York City school whose principal proudly spoke of the school’s efforts to celebrate the cultures of all the immigrant students. Ravitch writes, “I asked him whether the school did anything to encourage students to appreciate American culture, and he admitted with embarrassment that it did not.”

At least he was embarrassed.

These and other American students are being urged to identify with, on the one hand, customs from the native lands they have departed and, on the other hand, with the abstract ideals of an amorphous global culture. Lost in between these romantic affiliations is an identification with the nation where these students actually will practice citizenship. Adding to the dysfunction of this educational choice, as Ravitch writes, is the absurdity of teaching “a student whose family fled to this country from a tyrannical regime or from dire poverty to identify with that nation rather than with the one that gave the family refuge.”

We are not “citizens of the world.” We do not pay taxes to the world; we do not vote for a world president or senator.

Professor Damon wants civics taught in the schools, and taught well.

How can we do better? Of course we need to teach students the Constitution, along with its essential underlying principles such as separation of powers, representative government, and Federalism. Excellent programs for such teaching now exist. But these programs are not widely used amidst today’s single-minded focus on basic skills. Compounding this neglect, the school assessments that drive the priorities of teachers infrequently test for civic knowledge. To preserve the American heritage of liberty and democracy for future generations, citizenship instruction must be placed front and center in U. S. classrooms rather than relegated to the margins. …

And he issues a warning:

There is a looming crisis … the very real possibility that our democracy will be left in the hands of a citizenry unprepared to govern it and unwilling the make the sacrifices needed to preserve it. A free society requires an informed and virtuous citizenry. Failing this, as Ben Franklin long ago warned, despotism lies just around the corner.

The citizenry should also be informed what life is like in other countries. Most people in the world are ruled over by despots or despotic regimes. Most democracies, like the European nations, are welfare states rapidly becoming poorer as a result of their socialist economic systems. A proper understanding of capitalist economics  – “the natural order of liberty” as Adam Smith called it –  should be taught in America as well as civics and truthful history.

Walter Williams writes at Front Page:

A recent Superman comic book has the hero saying, “I am renouncing my U.S. citizenship” because “truth, justice, and the American way — it’s not enough anymore.” …

The ignorance about our country is staggering. According to one survey, only 28 percent of students could identify the Constitution as the supreme law of the land. Only 26 percent of students knew that the first 10 amendments to the Constitution are called the Bill of Rights. Fewer than one-quarter of students knew that George Washington was the first president of the United States. …

Ignorance and possibly contempt for American values, civics and history might help explain how someone like Barack Obama could become president of the United States. At no other time in our history could a person with longtime associations with people who hate our country become president. Obama spent 20 years attending the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s hate-filled sermons, which preached that “white folks’ greed runs a world in need,” called our country the “US of KKK-A” and asked God to “damn America.” Obama’s other America-hating associates include Weather Underground Pentagon bomber William Ayers and Ayers’ wife, Bernardine Dohrn.

The fact that Obama became president and brought openly Marxist people into his administration doesn’t say so much about him as it says about the effects of decades of brainwashing of the American people by the education establishment, media and the intellectual elite.

Actually, though we don’t disagree with the point Walter Williams is making, we think it does say quite as much about  Obama. He epitomizes the sort of America-hating ideologue that the decades of debauched education have bred.

Against God and Socialism 22

It is human nature to be selfish. If we weren’t selfish we wouldn’t survive. If we didn’t eat when we were hungry, warm ourselves when we were cold, seek cures for our illnesses, defend ourselves (and our children and our life-sustaining property), we’d die out pretty damn quick. Or rather, we would never have come into existence as a species at all.

We are most of us capable of sympathy with others, and we often willingly give away a thing we own to another person. Some are altruistic. A few will even give up their lives to save the lives of others. Nevertheless, we are all naturally and necessarily selfish.

Christianity and Communism require human nature to change. As it can’t, Christianity’s commandments to love our enemies and forgive those who do us harm turn many a person of good will and high aspiration into a hypocrite if not a corpse. Communist theorists have never settled the question of whether human nature must change so that the Revolution can take place, or whether the Revolution must take place in order for human nature to change. Of course it will never change, but there’s no stopping the collectivist dolts arguing about it.

Capitalism works well because it is in tune with our nature. Adam Smith called it “the natural order of liberty”. Everyone selfishly desires to provide for his needs. To pay for what he wants from others – services and goods – he has to provide something that others will pay him for. Millions do it, and the result is prosperity. Capitalism is an abstract machine most beautiful to behold in the wonder of its workings. When individuals have the incentive to achieve, acquire, and enjoy something for themselves, they’ll go to great lengths to afford it. They’ll compete with each other to provide what others want, toil to make it the better product, and set the price of it lower. The best is made available at the least cost. Everyone is both a taker and a giver, and everyone benefits. True, not everyone’s effort always succeeds, but nothing stops anyone from trying again.

Of course capitalism isn’t a remedy for every ill and discontent. But a capitalist society offers the best chance to an individual to make the best of his condition – being alive – which presents him with a tough challenge – to stay alive for a few score years, and make those years as good as his energy, cunning, and adaptability to conditions outside of his control (plus his statistically likely share of luck), can help them to be.

In a capitalist society no one has a fixed place, whether below, in the middle, or on top. A person can rise, sink, or stay. A truly capitalist society is necessarily a free society in which no one is prevented, by some ruler or ruling clique, from bettering his lot, striving, succeeding, or failing.

Capitalism is the enemy of that God of whom all the children in the British Empire used to sing at morning prayers in school assemblies before the Second World War:

All things bright and beautiful,

All creatures great and small;

All things wise and wonderful,

The Lord God made them all.

Each little flower that opens,

Each little bird that sings,

He made their glowing colors,

He made their tiny wings.

The rich man in his castle,

The poor man at his gate,

He made them high and lowly,

He ordered their estate.

The children were being taught to be content with everything as it was, trusting that God the ruler up there, all wise, permanent and unchallengeable had ordained how everyone had his fixed place and should stay in it, and because He had ordained it, it must be perfect. The recognition that such a God was an indefensible authoritarian, a whim-driven cosmic dictator, an unjust and arrogant tyrant, came – perhaps unconsciously – to the choosers of Anglican hymns only after a few of the earth’s dictators had been trounced in a prolonged and terrible blood-letting.

But then Socialists took over from God. They decided what was best for humanity. They established the Welfare State. No rich men in castles, no poor men at gates. The State would provide every citizen with depressing accommodation, dull food, health care if he were judged worthy of being kept alive, indoctrination in schools. Though the Socialist State is a slave society, the citizens are not called slaves but Social Security Recipients, National Health Patients, Students, Workers. The belief of their rulers is that they’ll be content because the State provides them with “everything”; they’ll be grateful for the food however poor, the unit in the tower block however depressing, the bed in the hospital however filthy, the indoctrination however boring. The great thing about it, to the collectivist mind, is they won’t have to strive to keep alive. And no one will have cause to pity or envy anyone else, since no one will have less or worse, or more or better – except of course the rulers up there, all wise, permanent and unchallengeable who ordain that everyone else has his fixed place. They reserve plenty, choice, comfort, luxury, information, and power to themselves.

The recognition that such a State is counter to the human instinct for freedom – call it “selfishness “ if you will – should have come to every sane adult the world over when the Soviet Empire crashed. The idea of Socialism should have died then. But if it did, it was only for a short time. Like the Christian God, it rose again, and lives now in the White House, an administration indefensibly authoritarian, whim-driven, unjust, and arrogant.

Selfish human nature with its instinct for liberty, its impelling desire to possess what is good for it materially and mentally, is the force that can and must defeat it.

 

Jillian Becker   April 29, 2011

Man said, “let there be light” 0

Christianity brought a thousand years of darkness down on Europe. Historically it proved to be one of the three cruelest creeds ever to afflict poor suffering mankind (the other two being Islam and Socialism in all its ruinous forms.)

The best thing that ever happened to the human race was the Enlightenment.

Joel Mokyr, professor of Economics and History at Northwestern University, has an article in City Journal which reminds us what it did for us all.

Here are parts of it:

The most hardy and irreversible effect of the Enlightenment [is]: it made us rich. It is by now a cliché to note how much better twenty-first-century people live than even the kings of three centuries back. In thousands of large and small things, material life today is immeasurably better than ever before. …  And without sounding too cocky about how progressive history is, or too triumphalist about Western culture as the crowning achievement of human development, I would like to suggest that what generated all this prosperity was the growth of certain ideas in the century after the British Glorious Revolution of 1688. …

The writers and thinkers whose work we call the Enlightenment were a motley crew of philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, physicians, and other intellectuals. They differed on many topics, but most of them agreed that improvement of the human condition was both possible and desirable. This sounds trite to us, but it is worth pointing out that in 1700, few people on this planet had much reason to believe that their lives would ever get better. For most, life was not much less short, brutish, and nasty than it had been 1,000 years earlier. The vicious religious wars that Europe had suffered for many decades had not improved things, and though there had been a few advances — the wider availability of books, for instance … — their impact on the overall quality of life remained marginal. An average Briton born in 1700 could expect to live about 35 years, spending his days doing hard physical work and his nights in a cold, crowded, vermin-ridden home.

Against this grim backdrop, Enlightenment philosophers developed a belief in the capability of what they called “useful knowledge” to advance the state of humanity. The most influential proponent of this belief was the earlier English philosopher Francis Bacon, who had emphasized that knowledge of the physical environment was the key to material progress: “We cannot command Nature except by obeying her,” he wrote in 1620 in his New Organon. The agenda of what we would call “research and development” began to expand from the researcher’s interest alone … to include the hope that one day his knowledge could be put to good use. In 1671, one of the most eminent scientists of the age, Robert Boyle, wrote that “there is scarce any considerable physical truth, which is not, as it were, teeming with profitable inventions, and may not by human skill and industry, be made the fruitful mother of divers things useful.” The idea spread to other nations. …

To bring about the progress that they envisioned—to solve pragmatic problems of industry, agriculture, medicine, and navigation—European scientists realized that they needed to accumulate a solid body of knowledge and that this required, above all, reliable communications. They churned out encyclopedias, compendiums, dictionaries, and technical volumes—the search engines of their day—in which useful knowledge was organized, cataloged, classified, and made as available as possible. One of these tomes was Diderot’s Encyclopédie, perhaps the Enlightenment document par excellence. The age of Enlightenment was also the age of the “Republic of Science,” a transnational, informal community in which European scientists relied on an epistolary network to read, critique, translate, and sometimes plagiarize one another’s ideas and work.

The idea of material progress through the expansion of useful knowledge — what historians today call the Baconian program — slowly took root. The Royal Society, founded in London in 1660, was explicitly based on Bacon’s ideas. Its purpose, it claimed, was “to improve the knowledge of naturall things, and all useful Arts, Manufactures, Mechanick practises, Engines, and Inventions by Experiments.” But the movement experienced a veritable spurt during the eighteenth century, when private organizations were established throughout Britain to build bridges between those who knew things and those who made things. …

More and more manufacturers sought the advice of scientists and mathematicians …

The Baconian program proved unusually successful in Britain, and hence it led the world in industrial innovation. There were many reasons for this, not the least of them England’s union with Scotland in 1707. … The Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow were the Scottish Enlightenment’s versions of Harvard and MIT: rivals up to a point, but cooperating in generating the useful knowledge underlying new technology. They employed some of the greatest minds of the time—above all, Adam Smith. The philosopher David Hume, a friend of Smith’s, was twice denied a tenured professorship on account of his heterodox [ie atheist] beliefs. In an earlier age, he might have been in trouble with the law; but in enlightened Scotland, he lived a peaceful life as a librarian and civil servant. Another Scot and friend of Smith’s, Adam Ferguson, introduced the concept of civil society. Scotland did not just produce philosophers, either; it also exported to England many of its most talented engineers and chemists, above all James Watt. …

Optimism continued to abound about the potential of useful knowledge to improve the world. In 1780, one of the greatest figures of the Enlightenment, Benjamin Franklin, wrote in a letter that “the rapid progress true Science now makes, occasions my regretting sometimes that I was born so soon. It is impossible to imagine the Height to which may be carried, in a thousand years, the Power of Man over Matter…”

The age of Enlightenment, of course, was also the age of Newton, whose discoveries made it possible to understand the movement of heavenly bodies. …

Advances in medicine proved similarly sporadic. Enlightened physicians were passionate about progress. How could they not be? Twenty out of every 100 babies perished in their first year; many young and talented women and men died prematurely of dreaded disease; adult life was often a sequence of disfiguring and debilitating sicknesses. “I see no reason to doubt that, by taking advantage of various and continual accessions as they accrue to science, the same power will be acquired over living, as it is at present exercised over some inanimate bodies,” wrote Thomas Beddoes, a learned English medic, in 1793. And there was at least one major success story in his lifetime: Edward Jenner’s discovery of the smallpox vaccine three years later. …

The Enlightenment’s contributions to long-term economic growth were not merely scientific, moreover. Many economists … have begun to see Enlightenment economic and political ideas as central to the process. … The idea that trade normally benefits both sides led to the growth of free trade after 1815 and was central to the establishment of free-trade areas in Europe and elsewhere after 1950. That understanding grew out of the Enlightenment and the thinking of such intellectual giants as Smith and Hume.

Even more important was the Enlightenment notion of freedom of expression. In our age, we think of technological change as natural and obvious; indeed, we consider its absence a source of concern. Not so in the past: inventors were seen as disrespectful, rebelling against the existing order, threatening the stability of the regime and the Church, and jeopardizing employment. In the eighteenth century, this notion slowly began to give way to tolerance, to the belief that those with odd notions should be allowed to subject them to a market test. Many novel ideas were experimented with, especially in medicine, in which new ways to fight disease were constantly being proposed and tried … Words like “heretic” to describe innovators began to disappear.

The Enlightenment, sadly, did not end barbarism and violence. But it did end poverty in much of the world that embraced it. Once the dust settled after the upheavals and violence of the French Revolution, Europe entered a century of economic growth (known as the pax Britannica) punctuated by a few relatively short and local wars. By 1914, countries that had experienced some kind of Enlightenment had become rich and industrialized, while those that had not, or that had resisted it successfully (such as Spain and Russia), remained behind. The “club” of rich countries formed the core of the industrialized world for most of the twentieth century.

As unlikely as it may seem, then, a fairly small community of intellectuals in a small corner of eighteenth-century Europe changed world history. Not only did they agree on the desirability of progress; they wrote a detailed program of how to implement it and then, astoundingly, carried it through. Today, we enjoy material comforts, access to information and entertainment, better health, seeing practically all our children reach adulthood (even if we elect to have fewer of them), and a reasonable expectation of many years in leisurely and economically secure retirement. … Without the Enlightenment, they would not have happened.

As David Hume did, so also Baruch Spinoza (not mentioned by Mokyr, but hugely important to his theme) unlocked the chains of religion – Christianity, Judaism, and belief in the supernatural generally – that bound mankind in superstitious dread, for those who let them.

The ideas of freedom and tolerance that inspired, and are enshrined in, the Constitution of the United States are essentially Enlightenment ideas.

Now, countering the real progress that the Enlightenment launched, socialist “progressivism” is threatening freedom, the gift of the Enlightenment out of which all others proceed.

And even more threatening is the ideology of Islam: a darkness never penetrated by the Enlightenment.

Will we let either or both succeed in bringing back the darkness?

America going down 0

We are of the school of thought that holds taxation to be theft, though we concede that citizens must pay for the few essential functions of government, chiefly defense, law and order, the enforcing of the law of contract, the separation of infectious diseases (and locally for common facilities, of course). Adam Smith included instruction in basic literacy for the children of the poor, but we don’t see a need now, in America, for even the most elementary education to be paid for out of the common purse. (We acknowledge that this opinion is probably unpopular.)

The socialist state takes most of your earnings away from you, and when you die confiscates most of your capital worth so you cannot leave much to your children.

As the provider of the necessities of your life, the socialist state has the power to deprive you of them. Your life is in its hands, and you have no voice in its decisions, which is why socialism is called the road to serfdom.

Obama has set America on that road, and the descent is gathering pace.

This is from the Heritage Foundation’s Morning Bell today:

This year is actually the first year since 1916 that Americans do not have to pay any federal taxes when a family member dies. But thanks to the way Congress had to pass the legislation that phased out the Death Tax in 2001, it is set to go from zero percent to 55 percent at the stroke of midnight on December 31, 2010. The Death Tax is but one of many government taxes on capital and entrepreneurship, and its reinstatement will be yet another job killer from the Obama administration. It rewards estate tax lawyers, insurance companies and big businesses at the expense of small family-owned enterprises. According to a study by the American Family Business Foundation, a full repeal of the death tax, like the one [introduced by Republican Senator Jim DeMint, and] rejected by the Senate last night, would create 1.5 million jobs. Before the vote, Sen. DeMint described the tax as an “unfair, immoral double tax on property and assets that folks have already paid taxes on throughout their lives.”

Last night’s vote to raise the Death Tax is just the beginning of the Obama administration’s historic tax hike campaign. Unless Congress acts to oppose President Obama’s agenda, everyone’s taxes on personal income, capital gains and dividends will rise….

For two generations after post-war reconstruction, Europe and America have pursued different economic models, and accordingly, moved in different economic directions. The American model was low tax, low spending and small government. It favored growth, income and vibrancy. The European model is high tax, high spending and big government. It favored fairness, equality and stability. It also featured unemployment rates double those of the United States, often hovering around 10 percent. Now that is no longer the case. Under Obama’s economic leadership, U.S. unemployment rates are surpassing Europe’s.

Last night’s vote was just the beginning of a larger choice the American people must make: do they want to continue down the Obama path of high taxes, high spending and high unemployment? Or do they still believe in American exceptionalism, in limited government and in a vibrant U.S. economy? Last night’s vote was a step in the wrong direction.

Burn, socialism, burn 1

Obama says there should be a limit to how much money anyone should make. He and the “progressive” majority in Congress are trying, step by step, to turn America into a European-style socialist state. Only the state, they believe, can be extravagant, taking money from people who’ve earned it and will earn it in the future, and using it to extend and tighten the power of government. Austerity must be imposed on the people. Let them eat less, feel colder, do without cars. Let them have only the medical treatment and the education government will allow them to have. Limit the amount of wealth any individual may acquire. Profit is a dirty word. Tax, tax, and tax again.

It is a recipe for disaster.

Europe is experiencing the disaster. It is seeing its socialist dream go up in flames on the streets of Athens.

What cannot work, won’t work. Socialism, like all Ponzi schemes, can seem to be working for a time, but must fail. In a favorite word of the Left (applying it where the Left would not) Socialism is “unsustainable”.

Capitalism is sustainable. Capitalism is beautiful. A cornucopia. “The incredible bread machine”.  It’s what Adam Smith called “the natural order of liberty”. It could also be called “the system of mutual benefit”.

You want the means to keep yourself alive? Provide something – goods, labor, services, ideas – that others want to buy. You want to live comfortably? Provide more of it. You want to live luxuriously? Provide it better than anyone else does. Both a seller and a buyer you will be. A buyer wants the thing he buys more than he wants the money he pays for it, just as the seller wants the money more than the thing he is parting with.

How can you know what others want? Put what you have to offer on the market and see if it sells. The right price for it is the best price you can get. The free market signals what traders need to know. As the great free-market economists, most notably von Mises, Hayek, and Milton Friedman have explained over and over again, government interference with price controls, minimum wages, rationing, compulsory purchase, bailouts, distort the signals and harm the economy.

Whether idealists and moralists like it or not, human nature is selfish. It has to be. If we were not selfish we would not eat when we’re hungry, warm ourselves when we’re cold, acquire what we need, protect ourselves from enemies. Without selfishness, the human race would not have survived. (It is not only or purely selfish. Individuals can and do choose to act unselfishly too – once they have seen to the needs of their survival.)

The Marxist idea of “from each according to his ability and to each according to his need” ignores human nature. Any attempt by government to put the formula into effect by creating the welfare –  or “entitlement“ – state invariably handicaps, suppresses, and impoverishes the nation.

Capitalism is the reverse of that idea. It is a system that encourages each to contribute according to his self-determined need, to be rewarded according to how ably he does it. From each according to his need and to each according to his ability would be a fair description of how the natural order of liberty works.

To satisfy bare need is a poor political aim. It reflects a pinched, narrow, joyless, life-quelling mentality. “O, reason not the need!” King Lear pleads, “our basest beggars
are in the poorest thing superfluous.” Generally speaking, in practice, the only way to be sure of having enough of anything is to have too much of it. Profit is a very good thing. It is only when people have extra money and extra time that they can invent new things. And those who produce things that improve the lives of multitudes, things that millions of people want to own and use, are doing far more for the general good than the most generous philanthropist could ever possibly do. Bill Gates with his Microsoft (though he seems not to realize it but to hold some silly lefty views) has actually done more for mankind than all the charities that have ever existed put together.

That is why it’s reasonable to propose that there is no sin of greed. There is a sin of envy. Envy is the raw material of socialist idealism. But wealth, Mr Obama, is not a problem. Poverty is a problem. And your socialist policies will cause it on a massive scale. Let us be free to work for our own maximum profit. Let us have abundance. Let us have feasts, fatness, generosity, might, novelty, and splendor.

Jillian Becker   May 11, 2010

The radicals who rule 0

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are disciples of the left-revolutionary Saul Alinsky. Hillary Clinton encountered him personally and wrote an academic essay on his theories. Obama never met him but is his political child, faithfully following his intructions for changing the world. To what? An explicit answer cannot be found in the works of radical leftists, but what one gathers and gleans from them is this: an entirely different world in which human beings will not be as they are but transfigured, their nature so utterly changed that they will commit no crimes, never desire to have one thing that everybody else doesn’t have, and will have no aggression, envy, or hate in them. Or something along those lines. The picture of what will be is never apparently clear even in the revolutionary mind itself. A Marx, a Lenin, a Mao, an Alinsky can describe in any amount of detail what hell is – life as it’s lived now, especially in America; but they cannot describe their heaven (see our post Heaven and Hell, December 16, 2009). They require the utter destruction of this world so that the amorphous fantasy, the new world that they cannot visualize will arise on the ruins of the old. All they are sure of is the first step: destroy this world. This they can and will strive to do with fanatical passion. Anything may be done, however unjust, however cruel. Any number of the living may be sacrificed, for their suffering will buy the bliss of that far more worthy future human race.

Alinsky lays out practical steps for achieving the total destruction in his book Rules for Radicals. David Horowitz, the doughty fighter for freedom in general and especially for free speech in the academies, has written a booklet titled Barack Obama’s Rules for Revolution: The Alinsky Model *, in which he explains fully what the Alinsky ethos is, and what tactics Alinskyites will use to create not heaven on earth but chaos.

Here are some quotations from the booklet:

Alinsky’s advice [to his followers] can be summed up in the following way. Even though you are at war with the system, don’t confront it as an opposing army; join it and undermine it as a fifth column from within. To achieve this infiltration you must work inside the system for the time being. Alinsky spells out exactly what this means: “Any revolutionary change must be preceded by a passive, affirmative, non-challenging attitude toward change among the mass of our people.” In other words, it is first necessary to sell the people on change itself, the “audacity of hope”, and “yes, we can”. You do this by proposing moderate changes which open the door to your radical agendas: “Remember: once you organize people around something as commonly agreed upon as pollution, then an organized people is on the move. From there it’s a short and natural step to political pollution, to Pentagon pollution.”

There is no real parallelism in the war which radicals have declared. One side is fighting with a no-holds-barred, take-no-prisoners battle plan against the system, while the other is trying to enforce its rules of fairness and pluralism. This is the Achilles heel of democracies and all radical spears are aimed in its direction.

At first it might seem paradoxical that an American president who has been the beneficiary of an electoral process second to none in its openness and inclusion should have been a veteran advocate and functionary of an organization like ACORN, which has been convicted of the most extensive election fraud in American history. But this is perfectly intelligible once the Alinsky method is understood. ACORN activists have contempt for the election process because they don’t believe in the electoral system as it is constituted in a capitalist democracy.

The really serious revolutionaries, the ones prepared to burn down the system and put their opponents up against the wall, have never had a plan. What they had – and still have – is a vague idea of the kingdom of heaven they propose to create, in Marx’s case “the kingdom of Freedom”, in Alinsky’s case “the open society”, in the case of the current left, “social justice”. These ideas are sentimental and seductive enough to persuade their followers that it is all right to commit fraud, mayhem and murder – usually in epic doses – to enter the promised land. But otherwise, revolutionaries never spend two seconds thinking about how to make an actual society work. How to keep people from committing crimes against each other; how to get them to put their shoulder to the wheel; how to provide incentives that will motivate individuals to produce wealth.

On this passage two points should be noted: The radical left’s understanding of what “the open society” means is the opposite of what the philosopher Karl Popper meant by it in his great work The Open Society and Its Enemies. Popper meant a society in which individuals are free to strive for their own ends, a society in which Adam Smith’s “natural order of liberty” (or what Karl Marx called, with contempt, “capitalism”) prevails. George Soros, who has benefitted hugely from the real open society of America, spends part of the fortune he has made in it on promoting collectivism with Alinskyite strategems through his “Open Society Institute”. And it should always be remembered that “social justice” is the opposite of justice. “Social justice” means endowing those who have not earned anything with the hard-won gains of those who have.

It must seem simply incredible that the chief enemy of a country should be its own elected president; that the man entrusted to lead it should be waging war on it. Many conservatives cannot bring themselves to believe even in the possibility that Obama – even though he is universally acknowledged to have been an Alinskyite in the past – is still of a mind to wreck the America he’s been elected to lead.

“Chaos”? “Wreck”? – don’t these words vastly exaggerate what’s happening?  But look at what he’s done: set the people against Congress, the states against the federal government, former allies against America; let enemies become dangerously strong; and loaded such a burden of debt on the people as will crush generations to come. Isn’t wrecking and chaos well underway?

Today in Townhall, Michael Medved writes a plea to conservatives not to characterize Obama as a revolutionary, or a radical of any sort. While never actually saying that Obama is not a radical revolutionary, he pleads that it’s politically unwise to say that he is. Here’s how he ends his column (but it’s worth going to the source to read the arguments):

If conservatives persist in characterizing the President of the United States as vicious and radical, insanely bent on the destruction of the Republic, we may find reassurance from the already like-minded but we’ll lose nearly everyone in the persuadable middle. As a result, we could spend the next decade or more as an increasingly impotent, irrelevant and angry opposition, howling in the political wilderness.

We don’t agree in this instance with Michael Medved. Horowitz’s booklet explains at length why it is just such fears that Alinskyites take advantage of. We think it’s time to fight seriously (though not unscrupulously as the radicals fight), and nothing can be won if the enemy isn’t recognized and named.

*Order it from The Freedom Center, PO Box 55089, Sherman Oaks, Ca 91499 Tel: 800-752-6562.

The invisible hand 0

 Walter Williams reminds us what Adam Smith said, what he meant by the ‘invisible hand’, why capitalism works and socialism doesn’t, and why our selfish instincts benefit others far more effectively than our charitable endeavors. Read his whole column here.

What is the driving force that explains how millions of people manage to cooperate to get 60,000 different items to your supermarket? Most of them don’t give a hoot about you and me, some of them might hate Americans, but they serve us well and they do so voluntarily. The bottom line motivation for the cooperation is people are in it for themselves; they want more profits, wages, interest and rent, or to use today’s silly talk – people are greedy.

Adam Smith, the father of economics, captured the essence of this wonderful human cooperation when he said, "He (the businessman) generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. … He intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain." Adam Smith continues, "He is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. … By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it." And later he adds, "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest."

Posted under Commentary by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, February 18, 2009

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Under the bed at Lambeth Palace 3

 Britain has been hit by economic crisis from the same causes as the US. The world’s anti-free-marketeers, Communists, Socialists, European haters of the Anglo-Saxon world, and a multitude of left-wing churchmen are gloating, calling the meltdown a ‘crisis of capitalism’.

Madeleine Westrop comments:

I know you are Atheist Conservatives: so, if you have any interest in your diametric (or dialectic?) opposite, consider for a moment the Church of England. It is advocating Karl Marx.

I don’t mean that the whole ecclesiastical edifice is daubed in Hegelian anti-God revolutionary anti-Capitalist slogans.  Most of the Anglicans I know are constitutionally unable to talk about politics, religion, money or even ideas at an English dinner party.   (I suppose if Marx had bred dogs or polyanthus…) Our dear old Anglican aunts go to the pretty parish church every Sunday and are true blue Conservatives from their charming hats to their patent shoes. 

But look further up.  Turn your gaze from the modest and crumbly foundations to the airy spires above.   The astonishing thing is that the Archbishop of Canterbury, the most senior figure in the Established Church, turns to Marx when the world is troubled.

An article in the Spectator this week was written by The Most Reverend and Right Honorable, his Grace Dr Rowan Williams, Primate of All England, Lord Spiritual in the House of Lords, overseer of the Anglican Communion (the third largest denomination in the world), Ordinary to the Chaplains in the Army, Navy and Royal Airforce, Visitor, Patron and Governor to hundreds of charitable trusts, President of the House of Bishops and the General Synod, Chairman of the Archbishop’s Council, Church Commissioner responsible for administration of the wealth and property of the Church (about £6 billion and hundreds of acres of land), resident and official host to many at Lambeth Palace, resident of the Old Palace at Canterbury, bishop of the Diocese of Canterbury, blesser of oils, annointer of the Monarch at each coronation.  I have counted how many have been enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury and I think Dr Williams is about the 109th, since the first, St Augustine in 597 AD.

Dr Williams has decided to write about the economic crisis afflicting the world wholesale money markets, the banks and the stock-markets and ruination of all our pensions and savings to boot.  He says that unimaginable wealth has been generated by fiction and paper with no concrete outcome beyond profit for the traders.  He says the challenge is now to connect money to material reality.  And then it comes: “Marx long ago observed the way in which unbridled capitalism became a kind of mythology, ascribing reality, power and agency to things that had no life in themselves.”  He reminds us that “ascribing reality to what you have in fact made yourself” is idolatry. 

I agree there has been an “unreality” exposed because those debt obligations turned out to be worthless.  But this was not the work of a Monster Capitalist system.  Exposure is just what happens when you find out you have been stupid enough to deal in rotten wheat or quack medicine.  And there has been “unreality” in thinking such prodigal borrowing and spending was sustainable.  Again, this is not Monster Capitalism at work, but simply old fashioned bad business practice.

Was Dr Williams  thinking of the sorcerer in Marx’s Communist Manifesto?  In 1848 Marx and Engels wrote:

Modern bourgeois society, with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells. 

This is nuts. Dr Williams can’t just say the problem is that we have created a Capitalist Monster and idolised it. For a start, here in England the problems have not occurred where old-fashioned capitalist values have prevailed.  The Northern Rock Bank lent out 110% mortgages to people who couldn’t make repayments and the bank went bust.  The taxpayer now has to pay a Bishop’s ransom for this failure. But Northern Rock was not a single-minded profit-mad selfish Capitalist Monster.  If it had been a bit more selfish it might have been more prudent. It gives 5% of its profits to ‘tackle disadvantage’ in the North East of England through a charitable foundation. It was a Labour Party pet and it was lending improvidently while the Labour Government was also borrowing like crazy to fund its socialist “transformations” (spending).  Northern Rock shared basic Labour Party socialist values. The bank employed Deborah Mattinson, Gordon Brown’s focus group guru, to advise it about social responsibility.  The Northern Rock charity gave money to the left wing think-tank the IPPR, which the Labour Government has used to outsource its own policy making.  In fact 17 departments have outsourced to the IPPR over the last 10 years.  And the inclusion and acceptance of the market system in a movement for social justice was part of the plan set out in Tony Blair’s New Labour movement.

Dr Williams also accepts private enterprise to some extent.  He writes,

Of course business is not philanthropy, securing profit is a legitimate (if not a morally supreme) motivation for people…It’s true as well that, in some circumstances, loosening up a financial regime to allow for entrepreneurs and innovators to create wealth is necessary …But it is a sort of fundamentalism to say that this alone will secure stable and just outcomes everywhere.”

Which brings me to the second reason that the Shelleyesque Capitalist Monster, or the ungovernable sorcerer’s powers, are both inappropriate ideas.  Securing profit is a morally supreme motivation.  And while it is true that profit may not alone secure stable outcomes, the waste of wealth always produces unstable outcomes. True wealth (as contrasted with inflated speculative bubbles of paper wealth) is a sine qua non of stability, along with peace, the rule of law and liberty.

The problem is that Dr Williams has chosen a scoundrel unemployed insolvent misanthropist who sponged off his dying father and friends and couldn’t afford to bury his own child, for his lessons in morals and economics.  He chose Marx.  Instead he should have chosen a prudent, kindly, careful man who worked hard and made a meticulous study of how the wealth of nations can be increased and warned us against the very problems that have arisen in our economies: Adam Smith.  (It seems hardly worth mentioning in this Atheistic context, but it strikes me that an Archbishop might also have taken advice from Smith who believed, at least, in ‘a beneficent Providence’ over the anti-Religious Marx.)

Moreover, Marxism doesn’t really help to explain our predicament. The Communist Manifesto says that economic crises occur because of over-production:

“It is enough to mention the commercial crises that, by their periodical return, put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on its trial, each time more threateningly…. In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity – the epidemic of over-production. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation, had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed. And why? Because there is too much civilization, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce.”

But but but! Our present ills arise because we have unrealistically overestimated our wealth.  Dr Williams pointed this out himself.  We are not in trouble because of over-production!  It is truer to say that we have spent more than is justified by what we have produced.  National debt in the United Kingdom is high: the Government says it is about £650 billion but if you add in the hidden debt obligations – Northern Rock, public sector pensions, Public-Private partnership commitments, decommissioning of power stations – the figure is at least doubled.  In other words, to claim the official figure for debt,  about 37% of our gross domestic product, is to make a wild underestimate.  And where Government led, we followed.  Personal debt amounts to about £1.4 trillion.  Adam Smith would not have approved:

Whatever we may imagine the real wealth and revenue of a country to consist in, whether in the value of the annual produce of its land and labour, as plain reason seems to dictate; or in the quantity of the precious metals… in either view of the matter, every prodigal appears to be a public enemy and every frugal man a public benefactor. 

It is true that the economic crisis has been made worse by the obscurity of the real state of things. But how like a priest to say that the problem is, in the end, idolatry of an unknowable, ineffable dark thing.  We should shine light on the problem rather than condemn it to the shadows. Obscurity and superstition is our enemy here. 

Take the South Sea Bubble problem of three hundred years ago. The south Sea Company bought a monopoly of trade with South America.  The company underwrote the National Debt for interest Payments from the Treasury. This all seemed rosy. Share prices soared and other companies were founded in a frenzy of speculation. People had no idea what they were buying or risking: for example, one to fire square canon balls, and one just for an unknown undertaking of ‘great advantage’. Ladies’ maids and porters bought carriages on supposed mountains of wealth. When the value of the stocks crashed, investors were made destitute overnight and suicides and arrests followed.  Isaac Newton lost money and said “I can calculate the movement of stars but not the madness of men.”   

Smith discusses, years later, the South Sea company itself in The Wealth of Nations:

The directors of such [joint stock] companies, however, being managers rather of other people’s money than their own; it cannot well be expected that they should watch over it with the same anxious vigilance with which the partners in a private company frequently watch over their own. Like the stewards of a rich man, they are apt to consider attention to small matters as not for their master’s honour, and very easily give themselves a dispensation from having it.  Negligence and profusion must always prevail… in the management of the affairs of such a company.  

How apt this basic analysis seems today.  Risk takers must be responsible and face moral hazard. And responsibility, like charity, is best applied close to home.  England has had some marvellous institutions, the building societies, owned by their depositors whose only purpose was to provide finance for buying houses.  They were prudent and profitable, on the whole and allowed multitudes to buy their own house by slow and careful saving.  However, in the last twenty years or so they have ‘de-mutualized’ and become publicly owned banks, dealing in the wholesale markets and lending to the inflated ‘buy to let’ investment market.  Since they have stopped being owned by their depositors, many have had disastrous losses and only this week, the biggest ‘buy to let’ lender, the Bradford and Bingley bank (building society that was) has been nationalised.

There is no Monster. In fact there is no capitalist system. There are frugal habits that build wealth and wasteful or irresponsible habits that destroy it.  It is terribly dangerous to condemn the market for failings in ourselves and our Governments.   When you go to bed tonight, you might look under the bed: pessimists might check on a hoard of gold coins rather than trust banks; Marxist revolutionaries might simply turn in; but let us hope only the Prelates  are looking for Monsters.  

  

Posted under Articles by Jillian Becker on Wednesday, October 1, 2008

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