A Crash Course in (Bad) Economics

Earlier this week, a friend of mine sent me a video with the comment, “Thoughts? Because this sounds pretty legit.” Given Robert Reich’s credentials, for the first few seconds I was expecting it to be a mostly-true Chicago (or mainstream) analysis of the American economy. At about 7 seconds in, I thought it was going to satire, and at 30 seconds I realized I had to pause the video and pour myself a drink.

In Principle:

This man, Reich, demonstrates throughout the video that he is an adherent to the Keynesian method of econometrics, which is not actually economics. It is econometrics: a pseudo-scientific form of soothsaying which has dictated the economic policies of governments in North America and most of Europe since the turn of the twentieth century, causing every depression, recession, and economic crisis since then.

Everything Reich says flies in the face of both real economics (the Austrian school) and it’s new-age, left-leaning cousin, the Chicago school. Ostensibly, the source of my ire is a 2.5 minute video dispelling myths about the economy which are damaging society at large. In reality, I am disappointed that people fall for the rhetoric of Reich and his cohorts’ demagoguery when they so obviously beg important questions while simultaneously making claims with no substantive arguments to support them.

Even though frequent readers/listeners already know, it is important to remind people that I am not a Republican. This video is obviously designed as a political hit-piece against common republican rhetoric, a-la the arch-Keynesian, Paul Krugman. In the common political landscape, if I dislike or argue against this hit-piece (regardless of its facticity), I must be a Republican. This could not be further than the truth; every policy put in place by republicans, all the way back to Lincoln, has done incalculable economic and social harm. To endorse republicanism is to endorse genocide, theft, and theomisanthropic puritania.

Back to Reich. Being a Keynesian, he believes the economy is a machine with a handful of levers and knobs which remain constant unless the chairman of the Fed or the President adjusts them. This is a horribly flawed ontology. “The economy” is nothing more than the emergent properties of individuals’ actions on the aggregate; changing market signals by artificial means results in changes in the economy due to individuals adjusting their behavior around the impediments created by such meddling. These adjustments’ results have been consistently predicted by the Austrian school, but not the Keynesian method.

The three “myths” covered in the video are “’the rich’ are the job creators,” “The ‘free market’ and government are opposites,” and “We should be worried about the size and scope of government.” At this point, one should understand why I had to remind readers I am not a republican and why I’m so pissed that someone could fall for this video. In the course of “dispelling” these “myths”, Reich makes twelve claims… ten of which are simply untrue and the other two have nothing to do with the issue at hand. We’ll just run through them all, really quick, and we will all feel better and understand economics a little more.

Most people haven’t gotten a raise in years.”
This is a tired old piece of rhetoric that, while hinting at truth, is itself false. By every reasonable metric, the “working class” (which is directly alluded to in this video) has, collectively, seen raises over the last several decades. This is the result of two functions. The first can be explained with my own experiences as an example. I am “working class”, and I have walked a journey typical of hard-working individuals within the “working class”. I have slowly increased my income by way of improving my set of marketable talents and bolstering my resume, thereby “getting a raise” and improving my quality of life by way of having more to negotiate with when seeking employment.

Of course, being a Keynesian, Reich is a collectivist. On the aggregate, I have not received much more of a raise than has been the historical trend for “the working class” as a whole. Therefore, on the aggregate, “the working class” hasn’t received a raise. Unless you take into account the fact that my yearly salary (which is typical for “my class”) is comparable to that of an upper-middle class family in the 1960s. I am only “working class” because of two driving factors overlooked by Reich: inflationary fiscal policies (the dollar today is worth mere pennies as compared to the dollar of the 1960s) and a drastically improved quality of life. If I were to choose to live the life of an upper-middle-class man in the 1960s, I could almost do so. But why would I want to eschew air conditioning, microwaves, cell phones, computers, internet, quality television, power steering, coffee machines, Dungeons and Dragons, spandex… and this whole list is just off the top of my head. The reality, revealed by looking at the actual numbers, is that “the working class” makes more now than it ever has throughout history, we just have more awesome shit to spend it on, and that’s a good thing.

This whole discussion, of course, ignores the reality that “the working class” is defined by a particular degree of income, and so it would be impossible for “the working class” to get a raise, as the moment one moves up or down, they are part of a different class.

“CEOs get paid a lot.”
Yes, they do. I’m not sure why this is an issue, though. CEOs are hired employees, just like every burger-flipper, paper-pusher, or department manager; they must demonstrate to their employer that their service is worth more than they are getting paid. If a CEO gets paid $300,000 a year, it is because they, through their management of executive resources, have earned the company a significant percentage more, probably in the ballpark of 200% or more. I get paid a certain amount to do my job because the market value for my services are about 110% of what I charge. If we were to apply the same criteria to both myself and a CEO, either I should get paid half as much or a CEO should get paid twice as much as they currently are… Aren’t we lucky that CEO’s don’t get paid as much as they could/should?

Still, I fail to see why we should care how much someone voluntarily pays someone else for voluntarily providing a service.

“The middle class and poor create jobs by spending.”
What is a job and how is it created? A job is created when someone has a desire or need he is either unable or unwilling to meet on his own and so he pays someone else to do it for him. This is what’s called “the division of labor”. In the case of craftsmen in the past, I would provide a blacksmith with a job by hiring him to make me horseshoes or swords or something. It is true that peasants such as myself would require the blacksmith’s services and would, therefore, directly lead to the creation of jobs by way of increasing demand, but even in this framework, the noblemen and kings would be the primary source of demand: shoeing cavalry, arming armies, furnishing castles… much more demand than the occasional plow or horseshoe.

In this modern, service-based economy, the situation is

different. There are a good number of middle-class and poor individuals that open “mom and pops” shops and other businesses that operate similarly to the craftsmen of old but, by far and away, the largest source of jobs is large corporations. Wal-Mart alone employs 1% of the available workforce in America, and the other companies everyone loves to hate, like Mc Donalds and fast food conglomerates employ most of the other 99% of available workers.

These employers are the product of “the rich” identifying a demand and meeting it. In other words, a substantial majority of jobs are created by “the rich”. “But,” you might say (if you’re a Keynesian), “that demand you say the rich identify and meet is clearly the aggregate demand created by the poor and middle class… so the poor and middle class is still the foundation of this causal chain. Ha!” They certainly are the cause for the demand, but even if the poor and middle class suddenly decided, as a whole, that they no longer desired cheap, low-quality, and convenient food and appliances, that would be offset by their demand shifting to a new good or service. Who will meet that new demand? “The rich”. Demand, when viewed at a high enough altitude, is merely a function of population size.

“We need minimum wage, overtime protection, and tax breaks to give the poor more money.”
Laws such as minimum wage, mandatory maternity leave, or benefits/obamacare regulations only serve to hurt the poor. As I alluded to in the CEO claim, the amount an individual gets paid must at least be marginally less than the amount one generates for one’s employer. If, by making a shit-ton of lattes for Starbucks generates approximately $10/hr (after they pay for the materials, machinery, facility…), I would have to offer my services for less than $10/hr in order to entice Starbucks to hire me. If the minimum wage were to suddenly jump to or above $10/hr, Starbucks would have to find ways to improve efficiency or otherwise cut costs. Most likely baristas/cashiers would get replaced with robots that cost more than a barista does now, but less than $10/hr.

Ready for some real economics? What I just described is called a “price floor”, and economics has a great deal of a-priori and evidential data on the effects of price floors. Here’s what the economists have found:

Price floors create surpluses.
Minimum wage is a price floor for labor.
Minimum wage creates a surplus of labor.
A surplus of labor is unemployment.
Minimum wage causes unemployment.

Other mandatory expenses such as overtime protections, mandatory leave, benefits, etc. effectively increase the cost of employees as well. Instead of being allowed to compete on one’s own merits and negotiation, one must also compete with regulations which make one’s labor more expensive by artificial means. An easy real-world example exists in my department at work. My department has five part-time employees getting paid to do the work of two full-time employees. In order to entice the part-timers to work, my employer must assign more hours than needed to each of them, leading to waste. That waste, however, is still smaller than the amount of additional mandatory cost of simply hiring two of them full-time and no longer remain underemployed and impoverished. In a free market, these same opportunities would be afforded to the other three part-timers at other employers (if they wanted to take them).

He was right about taxes, in this instance, though. If the government would stop stealing property from the poor, the quality of life and upward mobility of the poor would increase dramatically…

“We can only afford this by taxing the rich.”
…Oh. Being a Keynesian, what Reich means is “The federal government can only continue to spend more each year than the year prior if it continues to steal more money each year. If it steals less from the poor, it must steal more from the rich.” This is one of the many points of contention between the Keynesian method and economics which will never be resolved; both the evidence and the a-priori data indicates that taxation is bad for the economy, while the Keynesian method demands ever-increasing taxation to fuel ever-increasing government spending.

The simple reality is that taxation is theft and one ought to execute the taxman. Voting to raise taxes (on anyone) is tantamount to the higest orders of extortion.

“The free market doesn’t exist in nature.”
The free market IS nature. More on this in a moment.

“…it is created by government.”
Despite what republican and other socialist rhetoricians believe, the term “free market” actually means something. The free market is so called because it is a space in which goods and services can be exchanged freely (a.k.a. voluntarily) without the initiation of coercive force. A Keynesian will claim that no such space could exist (due to an irrationally broad definition of “coercive” and “force”). As such, Reich, claims that the only thing that can resemble a free market is one in which a strongman will impose coercive force across the board in the form of regulations, restrictions, prohibitions, licensure, taxation, price controls, and mandatory predatory loans (legal tender laws and federal reserve notes), all enforced by the threat of greater theft, imprisonment, and murder. In other words, we are already living in Keynes utopia.

The closest examples we have of the free market in contemporary culture is my under-the-table handyman work, the Silk Road (and its offspring), and my friend growing and selling pot out of a port-a-potty warehouse. The thing they all have in common? They are largely beyond the reach of government violence.

“Monopolies will happen without government, so we need government (which is a monopoly on force)
I believe the absurdity of this claim is self-evident. So, instead, I want to go back to the “state of nature” discussion. Economics, in its general conception, is the study of the application of scarce resources. In the case if environments with scarce resources, those that are better suited to investing said resources win and those unable or unwilling to invest well will fail. In biological terms, those best adapted to a particular environment will thrive and reproduce while the ill-adapted perish. In the case of a tool-making species with a fluid division of labor, those that produce the most utility for others in the environment will get rich while those who waste resources remain impoverished. The free market is the natural extension of horizontal evolution when applied to a tool-making and service-trading species. The free market IS nature.

“We need only worry about who the government works for, not the size or scope of it.”
One must remember that “the government” is nothing more than a group of individuals acting with common purpose: governance. Therefore “the government” is either a corporation in the employ of its own segment of “the rich” which owns the corporation (this is where you insert your pet conspiracy theory) or “the government” works for itself by default and necessity. In any case, “the government” is never going to work for you or me. Less cynically, though, we could pretend that “the 99%” could buy out the government from “the 1%”. So far, every attempt that even remotely succeeded has demonstrated that such projects produce undesirable outcomes: the French revolution(s), the Bolshevik revolution, the rise of the Third Reich…

“Big money in politics makes for bad politics and a rigged game.”
This is almost true and has nothing to do with the three “myths”, but I will address it anyway. There is an unimpeachably strong correlation between big money in politics and politics being bad and the game being rigged. However, correlation is not causation. Turns out, politics is always bad and the game is rigged by design. That’s what differentiates the government from the free market. Adding big money merely increases the funds with which government can pursue bad outcomes.

“Yay 99%, boo 1%.”
This sentiment no longer warrants an intellectual response. If you want to hear something a little less intellectual and a little more violent, listen to the audio version of this post.

TL;DR: Each of the three “myths” presented by Robert Reich in this video are, in fact, true, as is demonstrated by this brief and incredibly superficial refutations of his nonsense presented as refutations of the “myths”. Read some Mises before listening to scam artists on Youtube. Yes, “Human Action” is far more dense and difficult to understand, but who said that the truth would be easier to understand than lies? Oh, that’s right, demagogues like Robert Reich.

Instead of listening to this clown, go to www.mises.org

Educational Children’s Books!

Many time, I’ve been asked something along the lines of, “So, how much do you indoctrinate your kids about anarchy and religion?”

Today, I’ll address the “indoctrinating into anarchy” question.  For all my rhetoric on facebook and on this blog, I’m much more reserved in-person.  I still discuss philosophy and, necessarily, the philosophy of liberty… but it’s a lot less “Let’s all start killing cops!” and a lot more “Here’s an esoteric issue I’m having fun pulling apart and examining, wanna play too?”
The way this manifests itself in my child-rearing is interesting.  I have an extreme distaste for indoctrination (giving doctrines as brute facts and demonstrating intolerance for non-doctrinal beliefs), as my own indoctrination caused me no small amount of discomfort and crisis as I learned to think for myself.  It is important to me that my children be well-educated and have the greatest ability to wield their intellect (of which they have quite a lot, if I do say so myself) in this world that is quite inhospitable to people like them.

Enter today’s resource/review.  Anarchism is not something that requires indoctrination, as the only doctrine is the one preached everywhere, some variation of the golden rule: “Don’t initiate aggression against others, because you don’t want others to initiate aggression against you.”  All the rest simply logically follows from that premise; teach the kids the proper use of logic, evidence, and reason and they will naturally figure out the rest… at least that’s my experience so far.

A tool I’ve recently discovered in teaching kids how the world works (that’s the “evidence” part of the above toolset) is the Tuttle Twins series by Connor Boyack.  I heard about it through the Tom Woods Show almost exactly one year ago, but have not had the money to purchase a copy of one of the books until recently.  At the end of last year I received some site donations from a couple of my more dedicated listeners/readers and pounced on my chance to purchase a copy of The Tuttle Twins and the Miraculous Pencil so that I could review it on the blog.

As should be obvious to my readers, this book is a variation on I, Pencil by Leonard Read, adapted to be more entertaining to a younger audience.  After purchasing and making use of this book, I believe Boyack has succeeded: my older (3 and 5 years of age) kids are enjoying the book, and are learning about the wonders of the market (as evidenced by their questions and answers while my wife is reading).

Admittedly, the book is geared more towards an elementary-school age audience, but I couldn’t wait to give the books a try.  Besides, now we have something better than Disney princesses to read during storytime, and it’s really paying off.

For more information, I suggest listening to the interview I heard on the Tom Woods Show last year:

 

And, as always, you should check out Tom Woods’ Liberty Classroom.  Using my link supports my site, and this is a PhD-level education in everything pertinent to viewing history, economics, and ethics from the perspective of evidence, logic, and reason.

4

Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature

The term “fair” comes up a lot these days.  I have only a limited chronological sample (26 years), and I have not always been as aware of its use as I could have been, but it would seem that my generation (unlike preceding generations) never learned to stop using that word.  When I was five, things being fair was a big deal.  Of course, “fair” meant something different to each person, even grown-ups.  The more conservative (RE: less-socialist) parents would try to make each instance one of desert: “who earned what?” while the egalitarian lefty parents would try to implement some form of social justice: “Your brother is younger and smaller than you, so he always gets to go first and gets more candy.”

Of course, when one grows up, a part of that process is the realization that “life isn’t fair”.  This is because “fair” doesn’t exist, and it’s a self-contradictory concept, no matter how one defines it, much like common conceptions of justice.

Today’s resource suggestion is more Rothbard.  This time, it’s the essay “Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature“.  This is a scathing reductio ad absurdum of the very premise of any sort of “equality-oriented” philosophy (feminism, egalitarianism, socialism, progressivism, statism…).

You can read the text or listen to the audio for free, courtesy of the Mises Institute.

Ben Shade Interview

This week’s full post is another audio-only post.  As compared to last week, though, I get the feeling that this one has a fair amount more utility to provide most listeners/readers.

It’s an interview with Ben Shade, professional biologist.  He provides is unique perspective on the subjects often covered on this blog.

I think you can probably play this at 1.5 speed, so it’s not quite an hour and a half in duration.

My Last Love-Letter to Science for a While

Today’s resource suggestion is another Cantwell Production.  Like Tom Woods, he consistently produces quality content… and by consistently, I mean 2-3 pieces of content a day that are simply spectacular.  I thought I was done discussing my frustrations with the “scientific” community and people’s misconceptions about how science works, but Cantwell managed to take (almost) everything I had to say on the matter and put it together into this handy little production.

 

He didn’t quite go into the fullest depths of my position concerning philosophy of science, but this effectively explains why I decided to not pursue a career in physics (which is what I was set on until about a year before going to college).

Feudal AnCapistan

This week, we’ve got another audio-only post.  I was asked to refute a very simple claim that anarchism is synonymous with feudalism.  While such a claim demonstrates a lack of economic literacy (which I made a conscious effort to avoid getting into today), I thought it would be worth at least beginning a conversation about, given that I’ve heard it multiple times.  Not only have I heard it multiple times, but it was the argument which I presented in defense of Objectivism against anarchism during my 6-moth conversion from neoconservatism to anarchism.

In this recording, I address a few different reasons why it’s unlikely that feudalism would be the result of anarchism (I ignored the fact that feudalism and anarchism are antonyms and could not therefore be synonymous) and allow for one historical interpretation which could allow for feudalism to emerge, which also effectively explains how we got ourselves into the mess we’re in.

I feel compelled to point out, though, that feudalism is, in many ways, superior to the current situation in most of the globe (Empire included).  Additionally, in the argument presented in the OP (presumably off 4chan) there is an implication that AnCaps don’t care about the poor.  While *some* AnCaps may not, it is not inherent to the belief system of anarchism.  As a matter of fact, I recently addressed just how an anarchist is often more concerned about the poor and more willing to do what it takes to help them.
However, in a truly anarchist (AnCap) society, the only people that wind up poor are those that are unwilling to work (RE: provide a valuable good or service to others) and/or unwilling to maintain healthy relationships with other human beings.  In which case, there is little reason for one to be concerned for the poor, as it is a free choice to be such.

http://anarcho-capitalist.org/wp-content/pdfs/Rothbard%20(Murray)%20-%20The%20Ethics%20of%20Liberty.pdf

Charity: Another Definition

More Definitions? Really? You’ve gotta grant this, at least, when one hears or reads the word “charity”, an idea pops into one’s head which is radically divergent from most other people. I’ve had family members cease speaking to me at thanksgiving for upwards of four years due to this seemingly innocuous term.

Really, though, is charity giving money away, being nice, or the girl you met at the club? Just as I’ve done with honor, justice, ethics, anarchy… I’m going to define a culturally significant term that is vaguely defined at best and likely upset some people along the way.

I’ve previously written on virtue and honor as well as crime, vice, and sin. The common element in each of these cases is the fact that they are performative actions regarding one’s character. If one is virtuous, one tends to do virtuous things, if one is honorable, one tends to do honorable things, etc. So, if one does charitable thins, what do we call them? What are charitable things, anyway?

Typically, I look to etymology and history to inform my understanding of a term. This time is no exception in that regard. However, unlike terms such as “honor”, “charity” seems to be a fairly recent invention. “But right here in my copy of the Vulgate, I see ‘caritas’ something like fifteen times!” Yeah… but “caritas” didn’t have the connotation of “virtuous love” or “philanthropy” until some time in the middle ages; those ideas themselves seem to be something underdeveloped in the ancient world. Rather than fully exploring the philology of charity and losing a chunk of my readership this week, I think it may be more beneficial to simply give a modern definition of the term and demonstrate its role in my understanding of the human condition. We can devote more time to this issue in later posts concerning Scriptural translators’ notes… I have a lot to say concerning that.

If one defines charity as, “maintaining an attitude of sympathy (or empathy) and compassion, and habitually attempting an understanding of one’s fellow man”, what results do we get when looking at the term’s use in the vernacular? The least controversial application of this definition, I think, would be when one is speaking of a critical analysis or opinion, for instance “While the author did not pull any punches, his critique of the work was charitable.” In such a case, a “charitable review” would be one that attempts to understand the purpose and perspective of a particular work while also expressing the faults of said work.

Additionally, when one speaks of doing charity or donating to charity, one can see where this definition would apply, if indirectly. If one is compassionate (etymologically: “suffering with”) towards one’s fellow man, they may feel compelled to ease another’s suffering at one’s own expense, even if it is only to treat them with a dignity deserving of a human being at the expense of one’s time and energy. Donating to charity is the same idea, if one step removed from the actual act: one donates to a “charitable organization” so as to aid in that ministry of charity… or, at least, that’s the pretense for it; it could just be an attempt to get a tax break or gain social status. Even in the case of one merely pretending to be charitable (by our definition), they are doing so in order to approximate the appearance of charity as we have defined it.

Even so, why does charity, a modern and loosely-used invention, warrant a role in my list of positive human activities alongside honor and virtue? Would it not be secondary or redundant if one is already an adherent to the non-aggression principle and a pursuer of virtue? Secondary, maybe, but not redundant. I say it is secondary because if I had to choose between an individual who hated me with every fiber of their being but refused to murder me versus a person who loved me unconditionally but felt it would be more humane to murder me, I would choose the non-aggressive asshole over the do-gooder criminal. I just realized this is the easiest way to delineate the libertarian left and libertarian right… but that’s neither here nor there.

Charity is not redundant in the face of virtue and honor. In the same way sin can be considered to be a specific brand of vice, one which is considered less often but can be far more detrimental to one’s happiness in the long run, charity can be considered the equivalent on the side of virtue. Charity is a specific virtue (a habituated act which aids one in the pursuit of happiness/their telos) which is considered less often, or one’s understanding of it is often maligned, but it is crucial to one’s flourishing. This is strange coming from an brutalist egoist/anarchist, isn’t it?

I tend to not write concerning charity for two reasons. The first is that it is one of my weaknesses. Empathy doesn’t come naturally to me… it’s a skill I’ve learned for the sake of bolstering my rhetorical and oratory skills. Charity is also a difficult sell amongst most Objectivists and AnCaps, given the cultural connotation of “giving shit away to undeserving people” and the Objectivist/Capitalist distaste for moochers and looters (which I share). Charity, when defined as above, does not necessitate enabling moochers and may even discourage doing so in many cases.

For example, the effective altruists have had some degree of success in proving that economic principles and employment do far more than just moving money and resources around (they would have more success if they could stop being so statist). The New Work, New Culture movement has also been quite effective in demonstrating an authentic and humane method of lifting the poverty-stricken without subsidizing moochers (they would be more effective if they were to do a little more PR work and learn some Austrian economics). The question at the heart of these sorts of programs is not “how do we get rid of poor people?” but instead “What causes humans to make stupid decisions and how do we provide them with the tools necessary to avoid such decisions?”

These programs are far more charitable and authentic than something so banal and superficial as simply giving money to those that don’t know what to do with it or feeding those that refuse to feed themselves. There is certainly a place for such practices, but such practices must be seated in a much broader framework of genuine human interaction and care. Even communities centered on such ideas, such as Catholic Charities, fail to meet the demands such a framework entails due to a number of limiting factors. Bureaucracy, lack of funds/resources, the crushing onslaught of the disenfranchised overwhelming a small number of volunteers, state regulations… they all serve to inhibit the effective charity of an organization centered on provision as primary care and the supporting framework as a secondary one.

I’m doing my best to avoid sounding like I believe in a silver bullet to cure all ails, but charity can only truly flourish within two concentric cultural movements: a free society and an intentional community within the limits of the Dunbar number. The state and cultural controls exist in such a manner so as to discourage the formation of genuine empathetic bonds between individuals and virtuous behaviors. The slavery of the state aside, a community of sufficient size to exceed the human person’s capability to develop psychological bonds with every member of the community is forced to engage only those that are capable of bringing immediate gains to the individual. Those that are in most need of charity are typically those who have the fewest tangible resources to provide, therefore disincentivizing charity to the poor due to the limitations of one’s mental resources. In a smaller community, however, the very nature of the human mind would compel one to develop a standing relationship with even the most impoverished of one’s community, which is the basis and prerequisite for true charity.

Why does any of this matter to a philosopher or an anarchist? This is barely virtue ethics, barely economics, and would be nothing more than a beneficial side-effect of anarchy. It is important for three reasons. Without charity, one cannot effectively interact with other human beings on an authentic level, which drastically impairs one’s ability to achieve any form of happiness. A common accusation leveled against anarchists and other liberty-minded individuals (which is typically false) is that they “don’t care”. As one would expect, this accusation comes primarily from the left; demonstrating the virtue of charity in its true form would effectively shut down such accusations. Thirdly, charity is absolutely essential to the proper application of justice in a free society.

Authentic human interaction is an issue I discuss frequently enough, so I don’t feel too compelled to comment on it here. However, “not caring” is a common and typically lethal accusation made against freedom-minded individuals, and it really shouldn’t be. Where a liberal (or a “conservative” which is now just a less-racist liberal) feels as if they care about the poor and therefore feel compelled to regulate their poverty, steal from the less poor in order to give a portion to the more poor, and push economically benighted ideologies surrounding vague concepts such as equality or “charity”. In all reality, if they cared about the poor, they would attempt to understand the circumstances of the poor, both on a personal level and an institutional level. Such research would demonstrate the abject and necessary failure of the welfare state and the pernicious influence of feeding moochers.

A mere historical survey of economics will demonstrate that the poor are, in fact, not “getting poorer” but instead have seen a dramatic improvement concerning material wealth, not just in America, but across the entire globe. This is a result of economic prosperity and the very manner in which the world operates. If one were to allow nature to take its course (a-la free markets) without the stifling effects of institutionalized crime (i.e. the state), the material standard of living for all people would be improved much more dramatically and efficiently. It is the welfare state itself that causes a vast majority of the poverty the leftists claim to care about. This economic argument should be a tool in every AnCap and Objectivist’s rhetorical toolbox.

Happy side-effects aside, a more compelling case would be that charity cannot be an institutional and impersonal function, but instead must be a genuine engagement between members of a community. In which case, bureaucratic welfare programs, free markets, and philanthropic donations do not qualify as charity. Instead, one must get out and do charity themselves. Creating a job market for the less-employable (children, reformed criminals, drug addicts, the mentally ill, the elderly, etc.) which accommodates their particular market deficiencies can be an uplifting and profitable venture for all involved. Unfortunately, the leftists “care” and government regulations actively prevent such forms of charity, which have been consistently proven to be more effective than welfare programs and resource distribution.

As mentioned before, justice is restoration of relationships in spite of interpersonal damages. If one is unable to engage those that have done them harm in a manner consistent with understanding and empathy, justice is impossible. In this way, the virtue of charity is required for justice to be realized. Closely related to justice, as well, is the subject of deescalation of conflict. I’ve mentioned before, if in passing, the importance of avoiding conflicts where life, liberty, and property are at stake. Charity is a useful tool in assessing and engaging in situations where conflict is likely to escalate. This is also the basis of Non-Violent Communication (NVC), which is both an incredibly useful rhetorical tool as well as a useful methodological tool for one to simply engage with the world. It is very similar to both stoicism and epicureanism in a lot of ways.

Remember, anarchism is a philosophy of personal responsibility. Without armed thugs forcing everyone to obey the arbitrary dictates of Leviathan, we’re going to have to learn to get along on our own. A great many libertarians and anarchists have a hard time getting along, this is partly due to the tensions that run high between those who pursue truth and those that are willing to simply do as they feel the urge, but it is also due to the manner in which focus rests primarily on intellectual and martial virtues to the detriment of developing social virtues such as charity.

TL;DR: Charity cannot simply be “giving stuff to people that haven’t earned it” and it can’t simply mean “loving people”, it must be a more grounded and virtuous habit. Thus charity, in its modern incarnation, is the virtue or habit of maintaining an attitude of sympathy (or empathy) and compassion, and habitually attempting an understanding of one’s fellow man. This virtue is cardinal among virtues, as it stands in direct opposition to sin, which is chief among the vices of man.

About The Author (and his ideas)

Howdy? I am the titular Mad Philosopher of this particular work. I am a philosopher in my late twenties. Rather than focusing your ire on my lack of years, though, you may feel more vindicated by directing such feelings towards my lack of academic credentials. I am a proud college dropout who routinely speaks out against the academic industry.0612141803b

How can a man claim the title of “philosopher” without a degree or a chair at university? What are the
necessary and sufficient conditions for one to be a philosopher? I would argue that a philosopher is one who habitually engages in the activity of philosophy. Of course, philosophy itself is quite controversial. Is it merely thinking deep thoughts or questioning authority, or is it building a vocabulary and grammar for describing and discussing the human experience? Is it the activity of stoners and pedophile Greeks or is it the activity of academics and lawyers?

I am working on publishing a book dedicated, in small part, to addressing this controversy. In the mean time, readers of this blog (and listeners of the podcast) will notice a few family resemblances betwixt the entries on this blog which may inform the readers concerning what I believe philosophy to be. Readers of this introduction will receive the added bonus of my current working definition being explicitly provided here:
“Philosophy is the ongoing exercise of attempting to create an internally consistent, logically sound, empirically viable, and universal worldview which possesses ethical agency, utility, and (ultimately) Truth.”

I have been engaged in just such an exercise ever since I began reading the Nicomachean Ethics at the naive and virginal age of eight years. This has resulted in incalculable quantities of reading, writing, and arguing over the course of a couple decades. Also in that course of time, I have camped under the open sky for just shy of one thousand nights, earned the rank of Eagle Scout, renounced the honors associated with such an award, attended and dropped out of university (earning an associate’s degree in philosophy despite being a mere 20 elective credits short of a bachelor’s degree), married a (still) smokin’ hot woman, sired three beautiful daughters, and a bunch of other life experiences that likely only matter to me. These experiences have informed my worldview, though, and I thought it only fair to share them with you.

I tend a 500 square foot microfarm which provides nearly one ton of food each year. I make a meager living working facilities and maintenance at a church. I make time, daily, to work on this blog and my books as a matter of vocation and passion. I host philosophy clubs, play Dungeons and Dragons, shoot guns, do landscaping work, and tutor in writing, logic, and philosophy on the side.

More important than the man, I believe, would be his ideas. I doubt you are reading this blog to get to know me, personally, and are instead interested in engaging some unique and challenging views presented in a rational and grounded manner. Why else would someone read a blog titled “Mad Philosopher”? I cannot guarantee that any of these ideas presented will be unique in their substance, given that it is far more common for one to read numerous sources and simply synthesize a new arrangement of old ideas. I do guarantee, however, that I do what I can to make these ideas digestible to all audiences, that I try to make the form of the discussion engaging and bite-sized, and that these ideas are central to a series of worldviews and schools of thought which I contend ought to be at the heart of a fulfilling and eudaemonic life.

Many individuals, across the entire spectrum of intellectual ability, strive to eschew labels and “-ism”s in order to not bring others’ baggage into a discussion prematurely and to avoid feeling constrained by specific doctrines or dogmas. It may be my semi-religious upbringing speaking when I say it, but I find labels and “-ism”s to have a very unique and indispensable utility. For instance, I can provide you with a list of ideologies and “-ism”s which are the strongest influences on my worldview and method of reason, and that will help frame the discussion on this blog in such a manner that you are less likely to misinterpret my arguments.

As a matter of fact, that is what I intend to do. I will list here a series of ideologies and methods to which I owe my worldview, in order of philosophical priority, with each successive entry on the list obtaining only insofar as it is compatible with the preceding entries. I, Mad Philosopher, am a/an:

  • Epistemic Popperian: Of course, I have to put the most complicated entry at the top of the list. In all reality, it’s not too complex, only the terminology. Basically, I believe that “knowledge” defined as “justified true belief” is something to be approximated due to phenomenological limitations of the human mind (we can’t necessarily trust our senses and interpretation of experience). When one makes a knowledge claim, it must be accompanied with falsifying criteria: criteria that, if met, would force one to renounce the held belief. This is (ostensibly) the driving mechanism behind the scientific methods. I like to think that this is the underlying operating principle for all of my claims, given that I have had ample opportunities to change my mind concerning a great many important subjects. Reading this blog will gradually expose one to this catalogue of mind-changes.
  • Anarchist: This blog is technically about philosophical subjects in general. However, I choose subjects for blog posts based primarily with discussions I have IRL (in real life) and on various spots on the internet. As such, most of my posts would center on the most contentious of my beliefs. anarchism is, by far and away, the most controversial. Not because people would disagree with the premise (people shouldn’t murder, coerce, or steal from others), but because they don’t want to apply that claim to their own behavior in an intellectually consistent manner.  as far as the AnCom vs AnCap debate is concerned, I like to call myself “merely an anarchist“, but I am fairly economically literate, which would make most people consider me an AnCap by default.
  • Catholic: Yes, an anarchist can be Catholic and vice-versa. I have not fully explored this discussion in a blog post yet, but I assure you, it’s on its way. For now, It will have to suffice to say that I believe the doctrines of the Church to have sufficient falsifiability criteria to be provisionally assented to and that the doctrinal moral teachings of the Church bolster rather than contradict the Non-Aggression-Principle in any of it’s more intelligible forms. One will notice that I have issues with Catholic social teaching and a great many non-doctrinal claims. These issues are informed by the preceding entries on this list as well as a simple rational and critical inquiry into the teachings of such figureheads as Aquinas and Augustine.
  • Optimist: As a Catholic, I believe that this must, in fact, be the best of all possible worlds (It would have to follow from the claim of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God). There’s is the glaring issue of the problem of evil, regarding which I have several posts in the works. Given my issues with Aquinas, I am disinclined to endorse the Augustinian Theodicy (which is really a construction of Aquinas’) and instead hold to a cross between the Irenaean Theodicy and what I call the Rorschach Theodicy.
  • Brutalist: Almost as if to balance the claim of optimism (this is the best of all possible worlds) I also believe that this world sucks. Mankind has largely been concerned with the activity of enslaving, domesticating and murdering itself throughout all of known history (excepting the possibility of pre-agricultural revolution, pre-government times), and this has resulted in a world wherein humans are a tortured, maligned wreck. Unfathomable potential squandered by the lazy and criminal. This is why I listen to Death Metal.
    Taking on the label of brutalist is a sort of double-entendre, as there is the general disposition of a metalhead which is called “brutalism” and there is a line of libertarian/anarchist thought which strictly adheres to the Non-Aggression Principle. When I say I’m an anarchist, my particular brand of anarchism very closely resembles that of the brutalists to begin with. I do have various ethical and virtue-oriented prescriptions above and beyond that which the brutalists allow for, that’s why Catholicism precedes brutalism in priority on this list.

The name “Mad Philosopher”, itself, is a double-entendre. It’s obviously an homage to the popular phrase “mad scientist”, which seems appropriate: a mad scientist is often depicted as a social outcast reviled by other scientists and engineers for holding unorthodox views and implementing unorthodox methods. Would not this blog be the philosophical equivalent? That aside, I consider myself “Mad” in the same spirit as the mad scientist. Additionally, I am mad… well… livid, enraged, infuriated, wrathful, incensed, disturbed, repulsed, inflamed, and tempestuously, violently so. It is beyond my comprehension how one could be aware of the circumstance of contemporary culture and not at least feel a twinge of the pain, outrage, or guilt that I feel is warranted and just.

This blog is an opportunity for me to sublimate some degree of the infernal wrath I harbor, so as to maintain a level head in my day-to-day life while also hoping that others’ minds will catch fire as well. While I expect no amount of success with this project, if I were to have my way, this blog would generate a sufficient following such so as to instill a culture of resistance and intentionality. This culture would aid in making the world a better place in general, but also (more importantly to me) aid in the possibility of starting an actual intentional community outside the reach of Empire so that I can achieve some semblance of freedom in my lifetime. Oh, and it couldn’t hurt to get some bitcoin and sell some merch. on the side.

Carpe Veritas,
Mad Philosopher

Is Property Theft?

 

Is property theft? I used to be a hardcore commie in the spirit of Marx and Trotsky, so one could assume that I would simply say “yes” and go burn down a Walgreens or CVS.

 Of course, if property were, functionally or definitively, an exclusionary principle (this is my rock, go get your own), it would be forgivable for a collectivist to believe that personal property would be something stolen from the collective society. The working definition I presented last post is exclusionary, so I’m not likely to be making any AnCom friends this week.

How could the exclusive nature of property be theft? If one were to assume that the world at large consists of common resources and common welfare, there are certain logical and practical results that follow. Whether these resources are held in common among men, animals, plants, God, Gaia, etc. results in merely superficial differences. Logically, if a river, rock, oil well, or field of poppies is a common resource to all, individuals ought to be disincentivized, culturally, from taking from that resource. In all reality, if one believes that common resources exist (as opposed to either unowned and owned property) the inevitable conclusion is that “property is theft”. The fairy-tales of noble savages, taking only the fruit that had fallen from a tree and living in shelters made of driftwood and caverns seems to be the inevitable outcome of such a position.

I argue that even this outcome is insufficient, though. If we are going to consistently apply this rubric that property is theft by virtue of its exclusivity, than any act which would exclude access to a resource would be considered theft. (Side note to my AnCom friends, this is not a case of affirming the consequent as I mistakenly believed back in my commie days, but we don’t have time for this discussion right now.) By discriminating who I work for, have sex with, or have a conversation with, I am preventing others from having access to the resources that are my labor, body, and mind. Not only is property theft, but so is any form of consumption, work, or even existence… which results in absurdity because letting oneself starve to death would be robbing the collective of one’s intellect and labor.

This description, I guess, is not entirely fair. It is conceivable that one could make an argument that theft isn’t categorically bad and that some level of theft produces sufficient utility to allow for it… but that’s utilitarianism… which is moral nihilism, so we’ll focus on more intelligent arguments. It is also conceivable that a system could be set in place which could allow for collective consensus. Theoretically, if 100% of the collective’s members agree that a particular common resource ought to be invested in a particular manner, than one would be directed by the collective to invest it is said manner. The 100% consensus is crucial to this solution, though. If 99 people decide that a particular roll of toilet paper would best be invested by dividing it between collectivists numbered 001 through 035 but I’m collectivist 100 and I’ve got poo on my bum, I would likely disagree with the majority. If they go through on the plan to divide the roll of toilet paper amongst the senior collectivists, they are preventing me from having access to a collective resource. They are stealing the toilet paper from me. The majority has stolen from the minority and there is no amount of definitional gymnastics that can correct that.

The more inclusive a collective is, the more problematic consensus becomes. If the semi-intelligent collectivists had their way and the only intellectually consistent implementation of collectivism were to extend to all people, then the consensus of property use would be required from, at a minimum, the several billion humans on the planet. Assuming everyone plays by the rules (and that children are capable of consent) the human race would quickly starve down to a population small enough to achieve consensus, because economics. If we are to do as Pope Francis and other hippies do and begin involving God, cows, and soil bacteria in our collective ownership, though, consensus becomes impossible. God, cows, and bacteria are mute; they cannot vote on who gets to eat or clothe themselves. So, thanks hippie god, we collectivists get to starve now.

If I were to not try my hardest to come up with experientially viable premises from which one could conclude that “property is theft” in the vein of collectivist ideologies, I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence. The issues we’ve run up against thus far are a result of assuming that one could own property and that collective ownership arises from individual ownership; while this is a standard application of philosophy (building from ontological simples to relationships of greater complexity), perhaps we could try the theological approach and work top-down. What if it is impossible for the individual to own property? Initially, I would say that all things are unowned. If all things are unowned, I’m not certain how something could be stolen. I guess we could define theft as “preventing access to”, and see if we get any new results.

Immediately, it is apparent that nothing changes from our initial attempt. “Preventing requested access to” might work better. If I discover food as I wander barefoot through the woods, it wouldn’t be theft to eat said food, then. As a matter of fact, by turning it into energy for one cell of our collective, I am contributing to “the common good”. If Cacambo, the man who could not prevent my access to his service as a sherpa, also desires the food I have discovered, I must share. Initially, this makes sense; this actually most closely parallel’s my formerly-held communist beliefs. For the sake of efficiency in such a world, it would make sense to build some sort of Rawlsian socialist government wherein rights are contingent upon the state’s authority. For the ability to say “no” is ultimately the meaning of rights, and the collective consensus would be the enforcer of when it is culturally acceptable to say “no”. Sounds an awful lot like the moral nihilism of Hobbes’ Leviathan, no? Electing kings to delineate and enforce “rights”?

Well, that’s because it is. If one cannot deny others access to resources, even with exceptions granted by Rawls’ utopia, one will ultimately wind up where we are in the American Empire and where we are heading. If I cannot deny my labor (taxes, cake bakeries, etc.), resources that I control and have access to (civil asset forfeiture, taxes, etc.), or even myself (social engineering, social justice cults, etc.), others can be expected to be constrained by the same rule. So, in the absence of 100% consensus, which has already been explored, we encounter the situation wherein I cannot deny your request to resources I am using or labor I can perform and, simultaneously, you cannot deny my request to the same. My request (and yours) is functionally equivalent to denying access to a resource, which is property (by our hypothetical definition) and therefore theft. In this way, we’ve come full-circle. This is moral nihilism because either theft is immoral and merely existing is theft and therefore immoral, or theft is not immoral and, based on our definition of theft and property, I can do whatever I want to anyone.

Therefore, property cannot be theft or, if it is, there is no reason to care. This negative determination, even informed by last post, isn’t entirely satisfying; property is not theft, it is merely that to which one has access and over which one has control. I’m going to take my remaining space allotment to try and expound a positive case for property. All my usual qualifications apply: this case is not a necessary conclusion from the premises already laid out, this is not a categorical anarchist claim but only a claim made by an individual who happens to be an anarchist, I’m making this case for the sake of discussion and reserve the right to change my mind at a later time, etc.

I would go so far so as to say that the soundbite, “Property is theft,” is actually backwards. A soundbite that better fits my definition and determination is, “If it can’t be stolen, it isn’t property.” Of course, like all soundbites, this phrase is practically meaningless, it merely expresses the inverse case of the definition I provided last post.

More exciting and meaningful than soundbites would be the ideas of self-ownership and autonomy. Most anarchists, libertarians, Austrian economists, and the like often hinge their rhetoric and arguments on the principles of self-ownership. One can see why, based on the absurdities encountered while exploring collectivism and the attempted abolition of property, one would conclude that one must own oneself. If property is that to which one can lay claim, have access, and control over, who else could own one’s self? Of course, it raises the question, “Can a person be property?” There is a lot of fodder here for linguistic and semantic inquiry in most extant languages concerning possessives as applied to the self; as much as I enjoy these discussions, though, I just want to make one quick philosophical point.

One definitional point of property I did not address last post is the transmissibility of property. In parallel to my earlier soundbite, if something cannot be transferred from one person to another, I am not certain that it could be considered property. So, if oneself is property, one must be able to forfeit control and access to one’s self to another person. I would argue that, even in the case of slavery, in whatever form, one is merely separated from one’s property or labor while still being oneself. I understand the utility of using self-ownership as a rhetorical shorthand, but, anti-prostitution rhetoric aside, one cannot “sell themselves”; ergo, one does not own oneself.

Bracketing centuries of metaphysics, what is a “self”? A materialist will tell you that your body and your self are identical. A dishonest materialist will tell you that your consciousness is your self and that it is an emergent property of the material arrangement of brain stuff. A lazy Christian will tell you that your self is your soul. A more rigorous Christian will at least say that your self is the unity of your body and soul. These answers, for all of the disparity in substance commitments seems to provide a consensus that the self is the specific arrangement of things that one has direct control over and access to and could not exist without. Based on that consensus, I would say that self-ownership is likely impossible, or problematic at best, but self-autonomy is a viable alternative that also fills the role that self-ownership does in AnCap philosophy.

TL;DR: Property cannot be theft. There is no way one could define property, or argue for collectivism, in such a way that does not quickly unravel into absurdity. If one finds oneself in a situation where people are shouting pithy one-liners at each other, a decent response to “Property is theft,” would be “If it can’t be stolen, it isn’t property.” Closely tied to issues with property and collectivism is philosophy of identity. In all reality, the breakdown in communication between collectivists and anarchists hinges on divergent commitments concerning identity, but that’s a huge piece of work I’ll have to chip away at slowly.

 

An Economics of Ethics

 

 

Yes, the title sounds really bullshitty, but it certainly is an eye-catcher, isn’t it? If you listened to last week’s belated post, you may recall me talking about my journey to anarchism. When I was rounding the bend on my final approach to liberty, I was repulsed by certain environments I encountered and was kinda’ forced to enter the philosophy of anarchism through the back door. The rabid paulbots were throwing temper tantrums over the media ignoring the existence of their messiah. The Libertarians were too busy voting, raising money, pretending to be freedom-minded while also pretending to be politicians and endorsing ridiculous concepts like abortion and gay marriage. The objectivists were being generally surly, demeaning, and staunchly atheist. The AnComs were too busy burning down private property to be bothered by the fact that the government was out to get us all. Most distressing, though, were the AnCaps.

“Wait, ain’t you an AnCap?” Not quite. If you recall my post about the MadPhilosopher logo, I consider myself to be just a straight-up anarchist. Since before I had started this blog, I have been economically literate enough to know that capitalism is, for all intents and purposes, a necessary and inevitable feature of pre-and-post-state societies, but that doesn’t necessarily make me an AnCap. Part of the reason I don’t consider myself to be so is because of the experiences I had with them on my way to liberty.

My first exposure to anarcho-capitalism was under the more innocuous name of “Austrian Economics” when I was reading Rothbard and Spooner. I read these guys towards the end of my communist days, when I was trying to figure out why previous attempts at the communist experiment didn’t work out. I was hoping to find a handful of controls that those dirty capitalists had come up with to ensure that products were manufactured within expected tolerances. For example, if I go to Home Depot, a great number of things are standardized. You’ve got X, Y, and Z diameters of pipes and fittings, and there seems to be the perfect supply available to meet demand; rarely would something run out, but there were only ever a couple dozen items on the shelves… and in communist experiments, people would cut corners to meet the letter of the regulations while putting in the minimum quantity of resources. “Make a million nails,” results in thumbtack-sized nails. “Make this weight in nails,” results in railroad spikes. And when it gets to the point of “Make a million nails that are exactly this size, shape, and out of this material… and if you don’t, it’s off to the gulag with you,” results in everyone saying “fuck it, I quit” and the USSR collapses overnight.

Clearly, I didn’t get the answer I wanted. “Stop making regulations, and let people do what they will… don’t worry, it’ll all work out just fine,” isn’t exactly what a communist wants to hear. I learned a lot, though; it definitely had a pronounced effect on my migration from communism to the Tea Party and then to liberty. I returned to doing research in the Austrian School when I was getting into objectivism, later on, and that’s when I discovered the AnCaps. There was a specific distinction in the rhetoric of the Austrians like Rothbard as compared to the AnCaps I met: awareness of the is/ought divide.

The AnCaps I met, either through their ignorance or a misunderstanding on my part, seemed to equivocate that which is economically advisable as identical to that which is ethically desirable. This was disappointing to me; AnCaps were clearly the inheritors of the Austrian School, but they lacked the moral awareness of their predecessors. My motivation for communism and the subsequent ideological migration was primarily a moral one, as fits in the rhetoric of Aristotle, Aquinas, Marx, and Trotsky, and to hear “That which is profitable is that which is moral,” rubbed me every wrong way. I am totally open to this interpretation being mostly due to misunderstandings on my part, though.

The communist projects, ostensibly, are an attempt at adapting economics to ethics. Ironically, the Tea Party, in their own fucked-up way, are engaged in a similar project: attempting to adapt politics (the widespread application of violence) to ethics. Even Rand and the objectivists are engaged in that project: adapting public consciousness to ethics. So, to see AnCaps seeming to do the reverse, adapting ethics to economics, was so contrary to my methods of reason that I didn’t know how to process it. Now that I’ve mentally acquired my liberty legs, I see anarchism as an attempt to adapt oneself to objective moral facts… something that Christians ought to be more sympathetic to.

In hindsight, I think that I misunderstood mostly due to the paradigm I was operating in, adapting various things to ethics. I think that one thing that didn’t help, though, was the lack of philosophical knowledge on the part of the AnCaps in question. I think I’m gonna try to fix that here. That which is profitable is not necessarily moral. It could be profitable to rob a liquor store, but it’s a violation of one’s right to be free from theft and is therefore immoral. On a long enough timeline, I argue, that which is moral is most profitable. For example, not robbing a liquor store will most likely play out better for one in the long run. Even virtuous things, such as sustainable living or industry, when done responsibly and rationally, are likely to play out well in the long run; investments in oceanic desalinization would have suddenly become incredibly profitable in California in recent years and the same can be said for growing homegrown organic hipster-feed.

What do I mean by this is/ought, ethical/economic divide? As I said, when talking about Paradigmatic Awareness and Moral Ambiguity, one’s actions ought to be informed and rational. Statements of “should” or “ought”, when concerning a person’s actions, are without exception either ethical or moral statements. (Taxonomic note: I consider moral statements to be statements as relate to objective moral facts and ethical statements to be “if->then” statements predicated on value judgments, but that’s a different blog post that hasn’t been written yet.) Moral statements are relatively easy: something is either moral or immoral, depending on it’s status as relates to deontological principles… you know, murder coercion and theft are immoral. Ethical statements are a little more involved, and tend to be at the heart of a lot of angry internet arguments: “If you care about poor people, you’ve gotta vote for this rich guy,” or whatever.

In order to make an accurate ethical statement, one must understand the intricacies of the “if” and have a solid grasp of the way the world works in order to produce the appropriate “then”. This is where economics comes into play. It goes well beyond “if you want to pay rent, you probably shouldn’t buy this meth,” and even beyond, “if you care about poor people, you should probably lift employment regulations so that they can get a job.” For example, an understanding of basic principles of economics can inform decisions that have nothing to do with money itself. This is because economics is about management of scarce resources, not just money. For example, if I have a limited amount of time and I’m trying to maximize my gains in family relationships, self-education, and general pleasure, then I should probably try to generate an overlap in applications: do something educational with the family that isn’t boring as hell. Knowing when to cut one’s losses is another useful piece of information: cost-benefit analysis, risk assessment, utility assessments, etc. are, too.

In other words, it’s not a statement of morality to say eliminating perverse incentives can incentivize productive behavior; however, it is an ethical statement to say “if you want to encourage productive behaviors in moocher and looter classes, then you should try to eliminate perverse incentives.” I’m not talking matters of political policy, mind you. After all, managing the widespread application of violence is immoral and if one wants to make the world a better place, then they should opt-out of political engagement.

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Remember: anarchy is a philosophy of personal responsibility. How can one hold themselves to a moral or ethical standard if they don’t know how to accomplish their goals or even set those goals? If one wishes to travel to a third world country and improve the quality of life of the people there (preaching religious views included, but optional), they ought to understand what behaviors are being incentivized by showing up and just giving things away or doing the work oneself. Without educating and assisting in the development of infrastructure, gifts and labor are more harmful than helpful. Before trying to do good, one must know how.

TL;DR: Economics and ethics are two different fields of study. However, ethics devoid a solid understanding of how the world works is useless at best and misanthropic at worst. As much as statists will try to deny it, economics is an excellent instrument for understanding human action. Basic scientific literacy, including physics, chemistry, economics, etc. is necessary for the development of a solid ethical grounding. This distinction and requirement is important to acknowledge explicitly when discussing economics and/or ethics with non-anarchists, lest outsiders misunderstand.

 

New Logo!

 

 

Red, black, and yellow? Is that some Illuminati Jew symbol? Didn’t you put an uglier version of this logo on last post? What’s wrong with the nice, simple, easily dismissed anarchy Ⓐ you were using? Why should I care about a picture on a blog I don’t read? These are all legitimate questions.
The new logo, like the blog itself, is intended to be a conversation starter. The idea for this design actually emerged as a result of my frustrations in trying to find a lapel pin with a respectable-looking anarchy Ⓐ. I eventually gave up and said, “I will have to design my own.” Of course, if one has to design their own product (especially a costly product), there is no excuse for not designing it in a manner consistent with one’s own desires.
My desire for a lapel pin that looked nice but also looked like the anarchy Ⓐ was to be able to start conversations in the least obnoxious way one could start such conversations, like a sort of respectable bumper-sticker. Of course, if I were to ever encounter someone who is even slightly educated with regards to the history of modern political thought or the philosophy of anarchy, the simple red and black Ⓐ may cause some confusion.

Wait, what? Isn’t the red Ⓐ the definitive anarchy logo? Haven’t you made the case that anarchy is, as a philosophy, incredibly simple and straightforward? It’s the rejection of criminal institutions. Simple and straight forward.

It is simple in theory, but humans tend to make things more complicated when putting them into practice. Time for a history lesson. One upon a time, avoidance of coercion, theft, and murder were widely the daily routine. Free exchange of goods and services and people minding their own business was far more common than kings stealing, armies murdering, and sheriffs enforcing, statistically speaking. As social technologies and infrastructures develop and become more efficient, the daily freedom of action diminished due to efficiency in government. After a time, empire collapses and freedom returns. Rinse and repeat.

I am speaking vaguely and mythologically on purpose, as this narrative is cyclical and each cycle consists of generations at a time. In the course of a more recent cycle (circa 19th century AD), a certain philosopher named Pierre-Joseph Proudhon is credited with resurrecting an ancient Greek concept called anarchism. The anarchy he resurrected was, philosophically, in its nascent stages. The Greeks that were prone to mentioning anarchy always did so from the perspective of statism and provided very little development before passing the torch to gnostics and other heretics in the early centuries AD, which did not bode well for the philosophy’s development under christian empires. As a philosophy, it is motivated by the same moral principles today as it was at its inception, but a great many more considerations have been provided with regards to the necessary conclusions of those moral principles.

Proudhon’s infant anarchy was a radical reaction to imperial statism and institutional violations of human rights. In his fully justifiable fervor to do away with that which is inherently criminal and misanthropic, Proudhon made the mistake of throwing out several ideas that were misrepresented to him and institutions that were not inherently criminal but only incidentally so. Influenced by the popular philosophical zeitgeist of modernism and communism, witnessing the historical relationship between the Church and the state, and the state-like behavior of aristocratic industrialists, Prudhon rejected the ideas of religion and capitalism. This mistake made his particular brand of anarchism indistinguishable from secular communism in practice: a violent revolution of the poor against their oppressors and those who resembled their oppressors in favor of a social justice warrior utopia of violent atheist egalitarianism. The classic punk-rock anarchist Ⓐ is commonly associated with this brand of anarchism, “anarcho-communism” as it is now known.

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Something needs to be made clear here. Two things, actually. First, even though I used to be a straight-up commie when I was younger, I am not an ancom. Second, Proudhon was correct in rejecting the state-like behavior of the industrialist aristocracy and the Church’s use of state violence in pursuit of worldly power. The mistake was believing these crimes to be intrinsic to the philosophies of capitalism and religion instead of a result of individual human failings or the influence of the state.

Fortunately, the philosophy of anarchism has not yet waned. Others have taken up the mantle of anarchism from Proudhon and further refined and developed the philosophy. Most notable of which are likely Spooner, Rothbard, and Mencken. Something all three share in common is the fact that they were all economists. Real economists, not Keynesian socialist bullshit artists… Austrian economists. They were also abolitionists. In the moral pursuit of eradicating the crimes and slavery of the state, they applied their understanding of the human condition, as received from economics, and cleaned up anarchism. They saw the political correctness, feminism, egalitarianism, and socialism embraced by ancoms for what it is: statism.

In response to the red and black ancoms, these second-generation anarchists billed themselves anarcho-capitalists, agorists, voluntarists, and a handful of other names. Being economically minded, these men were more aware of the marketing challenges of advocating freedom in a slave society. Some boldly called themselves anarchists, trying to reclaim the truth; others, justifiably, took the easier and arguably more productive route of adopting wholeheartedly the name, “voluntarist” (or voluntaryist). This, more human-friendly, brand of anarchism took on the yellow and black V of voluntarism to differentiate themselves from its communist progenitor, while still hearkening back to its heritage.

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Something else must be made clear here, as well. No, I’m not an ancap. More importantly, the excessive focus on voluntary interaction and economics has come at the expense of an awareness of a deeper, more fundamental, aspect of anarchy. If one’s rights are directed at the goal of human flourishing, there must be more ethical rigor and development beyond simply determining whether or not an action was voluntarily assented to. Anarcho-capitalism (aka real capitalism) may also present certain complications in practice, not as severe as the practical results of anarcho-communism, mind you, but results which resemble the environment which produced Proudhon in the first place. In a society devoid of the pernicious influences of government and absent a more developed ethics, a feudal-grade series of corporate rentership fiefdoms is likely to develop. One needs to look no further than Google, Facebook, or Goldman-Sachs to get a taste of what this would look like. If you see nothing wrong with any of these companies… just go back to sleep.

If I am not an ancom or a voluntarist (ancap), what am I? Well, as far as this conversation is concerned, I am an anarchist. I reject all belief in institutions predicated on coercion, theft, or murder. I recognize my responsibility to secure my rights to liberty and property in pursuit of flourishing and acknowledge the same in others. I pursue the abolition of slavery, including the slavery of the state. I believe human interaction is largely voluntary and all agreements and exchanges ought to be voluntary, but that is not a necessary result of anarchism, not the point of origin, nor is it the goal. I believe that, in a state-run society, the truly rich are such at the expense of those who cannot purchase their freedom from the law, but I am not opposed to the legitimate acquisition of material wealth or social influence.

So, the new logo is designed to be identifiable to one with even a basic exposure to anarchy, in either of its popular brands. It is designed to convey that I am either a mixture of both or neither. It is designed to look cool, obviously, and it is designed to resemble a hex or Illuminati doo-dilly because everything is. Most importantly, it is designed to start conversations. As a lapel pin, it can start real conversations, IRL. As a simple logo on a website, it can serve as an identifier for my radical notions and aggressive philosophizing.

Best of all, it can instigate conversations amongst anarchists. We need more discussion amongst ourselves, to try and better understand our own position more deeply. I would love to see Christopher Cantwell, Sloane Frost, and Brian Sovryn go on a retreat together for a weekend. We can all benefit from sharpening our teeth on each other and forging deeper friendships and support structures, as free men are a small minority in today’s world. As I pointed out in “Is Anarchy a Bad Word?”, we face a tough marketing challenge against an institution with a mandatory 15,000 hour child indoctrination system; every little bit helps.

Remember, more important that changing people’s minds by way of symbols or rhetoric is to simply do what is right and pursue flourishing. Setting the example has always been more productive than arguments or advertising. Without an identifier and an explanation, though, the example set will be too esoteric for others to follow.

Tl;DR: The red and black Ⓐ is typically associated with anarcho-communism. The yellow and black V is typically associated with anarcho-capitalists (aka voluntarists). The new logo, a work in progress, is supposed to be suffix-agnostic, so it’s got both logos integrated in one simple design. Please give feedback on the history lesson, the logo itself, or on the idea behind the logo. Also, Please, please, let me know if you would be interested in purchasing a lapel pin at a reasonable price. Manufacturing the pins requires a certain large number be ordered at once, due to the casting model that is used. I can only get my pin if I want hundreds of them or if enough people want to reimburse me for their own pin, thereby reducing the cost to me.