14 “Hard” Questions With Easy Answers

Before any commenters speak up, I am totally aware that I plug a lot of Tom Woods on this part of the blog.  Some day, I will be plugging a lot of Rothbard and Spooner, but I need to get my priorities sorted out with them… they were very prolific writers and, while it would behove anyone and everyone to read the entirety of their works, I feel it would be prudent to focus on the highlight reel in this section.  I am doing the same with Woods, currently.

14 Hard Questions for Libertarians: Answered
is an excellent resource.  Where reading Rothbard and thinking things through from first principles (fundamental economics, the NAP, etc.) will inevitably produce the same or similar answers to those in this book, it is an amazingly simple and accessible resource for beginners, people who can’t be bothered making freshman-level arguments with detractors, and people who may have done all the heavy lifting themselves and may have a couple blind spots.

I, personally, land in all three categories.  I’m an anarchist of only about two years, and I have a lot of catching up to do, I’ve already cited and linked to this book twice on facebook in arguments with people that are intelligent but ignorant, and was surprised to find myself reassessing some of my stances on things.  Most especially my position on Prisons in a Free Society has come into question, and I’ve been inspired to do more reading in primary sources and more critical thinking about how I arrived at my position.  I expect to make a full blog post in the future, once I’m done researching and revising my position.

Leaving the Cave, An Amiable Introduction to Anarchy: A Free Market Manifesto

At Ave Maria University, the college I attended, James Chillemi recently presented a solid introduction to Anarcho-Capitalism for his senior thesis. Despite some degree of opposition from the professors and administrators at the school (not surprisingly), he did so for his senior thesis.
I recommend reading this to everyone. Many people have a tremendous blind spot in their education. Even economics majors often have no concept of the foundation principles of economic theory. It is crucial to fill this blind spot before beginning to discuss questions like “Who will build the roads?” and “What about education?” James does a great job of starting that process.
Those that already know the foundations of economics can find some useful rhetorical tools in explaining it to the uneducated. It’s also useful to have a refresher course on the basics, every so often.
It’s not a long read, a couple smoke breaks or a lunch break can handle this paper.

For those who would rather listen than read, his presentation is on youtube. I recommend reading the paper over the video, almost entirely due to the fact that the audio is a little rough. I think it was recorded on a cell phone.
The conspiracy-theorist in me wonders why they didn’t do his thesis in the lecture hall, which is equipped for better audio and actual recording of video and audio. His thesis was the only one that was not allowed to have open attendance, the audience was limited to economics and law students only… but, it’s equally likely that the administrators just still suck at their jobs instead of some sort of attempted censorship (which was also prevalent at Ave).

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

Robber Barons are your Friends

I will eventually write a full review of “How Capitalism Saved America“, but for now, I just want to encourage people to read Chapter 7 “The Truth About the ‘Robber Barons‘” as today’s resource suggestion.

There isn’t much to say, despite the length of the text I’m suggesting.  This chapter explores the revisionism applied primarily to the railroads of the pre-FED american landscape and teases apart fact from fiction.  It’s no surprise, really, that public education would try to paint capitalism as evil, even when examining one of the greatest successes of capitalism itself; it’s all a matter of financial incentives, given that “public” school is funded by the same institution that is a competitor against capitalism…

Something a Little More Uplifintg

Hans Rosling is a very smart man who has a lot to say.  Fortunately, he’s entertaining to listen to.  Given his age and his profession, he is a true scientist.  In his talks and lectures, he presents quite a lot of food for thought.

He has certain ethical commitments that I don’t agree with (he’s a big fan of population controls and contraception as well as curbing greenhouse gasses/fossil fuel use), but he presents the information in a manner that allows one to pick apart the data and make their own analyses.

Today’s Suggestion is this small collection of short videos presented by Rosling.  Consider it a late thanksgiving.

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.

Collectivism: the Bald-Faced Lie

Today, rather than harping on issues in the science community, or pointing out all the irrationality surrounding Paris (I wrote a whole diatribe, several pages in length, and will likely never share it with anyone), I figured I should focus on something more important and more universally applicable (one which applies to both issues, if indirectly).

Rather than discussing the book in its entirety, I would like to suggest reading/listening to the chapter on “The State” from “For a New Liberty

You can also download the full text of “For a New Liberty” here:

For a New Liberty The Libertarian Manifesto

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

Of Course, the First Suggestion is Tom Woods

As regular readers are no doubt aware, I frequently suggest resources from Tom Woods.  Between his intellect and the quality of the guests he has on his show, there is always something to be learned, even from a die-hard, economically-inclined anarchist.

Today’s suggestion is one concerning the maligned wreck that is the medical industry.  I don’t know if I need much more introduction than that, today.


http://tomwoods.com/podcast/ep-516-listen-to-this-episode-your-life-may-depend-on-it-how-to-secede-from-a-perverse-medical-system/

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.

 

A Response to Laudato Si

 

Has Mother Church wielded the sword and shackles of the state for so long She has forgotten the use of the shepherd’s crook?

 
A Response to Laudato Si

As is usually the case, the Pope did something and the liberal media came in their pants with excitement. My less-involved Catholic friends and some non-catholic friends then asked me what he actually said and did and what it means, media spin aside. I make it a point to read Encyclicals as they come out, as often as possible. While I’m skeptical of Catholic social teaching for a number of reasons, it would be unbecoming of a Catholic intellectual critical of some social teachings to not keep abreast of progress made in that regard. Also, with the persistent questions from others, I find that it is beneficial to myself, my friends, and our relationships to be able to provide a service in the form of translating 170-odd pages of teaching that’s very involved and built on millennia of scholarship into something digestible to a more secular mind.

In interest of defending Church teaching against the portrayal it will receive in the mainstream (RE: pagan) culture, I spent a good chunk of yesterday and this morning reading and re-reading Laudato Si and reading many short commentaries written by various clergymen and lay Catholic journalists. I have several pages of handwritten notes, addressing specific things that were said, the general theme of the encyclical, and its relationship to history and standing Church teachings, and I’m not sure how much use those notes are going to find in this post, as there’s some very important general themes that need to be addressed. These issues far overshadow individual lines or phrases that may be misinterpreted or otherwise used contrary to the goals set out for the encyclical, so these smaller issues may be overlooked in this post.

The most important point to get out of the way is the relationship between Catholic social teaching and the general body of scholarship within the Church. Many Catholics, even devout Catholics do not understand the role that the encyclicals and other works in Catholic social teaching play in the Faith. Catholic social teaching is not Doctrine or Dogma, it is not an infallible pronouncement by the Pope acting alone and in persona Christi. Catholic social teaching is, essentially, the magisterium of the Church saying, “Based on what we have to work with, here, this looks like the best solution to a particular problem the Church faces.” In the case of this encyclical, it identifies several problems, some real and some imagined, and looks for a root cause for these problems in order to make “a variety of proposals possible, all capable of entering into dialogue with a view to developing comprehensive solutions.” In such a dialogue, “…the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views.” This post (that will be wholly invisible to the magisterium and to those who could and would affect change) is an attempt to address the issues presented, their root causes, and continue the dialogue sought by Pope Francis. No, I don’t claim to be an “expert” as indicated in the encyclical, but I am confident that I am no more or less an expert than a substantial majority of the people involved in and affected by this dialogue. As such, I am as entitled as anyone else to express my informed assessment of the situation.

This document is essentially three different encyclicals blended together in a frenetic and haphazard arrangement, a departure from the more analytic and procedural voice and style of Francis’ immediate predecessors. It may sound strange, but I will do my best to explain what I mean.

One of the encyclicals is an assessment of mankind’s relationship to it’s environment, the role that we play in our environment’s well-being and the role that our environment plays in our well-being, both spiritually and physically. It explores how exploitative and irreverent practices with regards to creation develop vicious attitudes within the practitioners which results in the exploitation and irreverence being directed at other human beings as well. In a surprising but well-defended argument, the Pope lays out how industrial monoculture farming is culturally related to inhumane medical experimentation and abortion, for example. This encyclical reads as a slightly less poetic text that one would expect Francis’ namesake to have written, waxing on and on about the glory of the Creator as seen in His creation, our role as stewards of that creation, and the teleology of all things. This encyclical appears to be addressed to the traditional audience of the encyclicals: the people of the Church in the world at large and within the magisterium. It calls for a pastoral approach centered on acknowledging the almost panentheist nature of reality, how God Himself is part of his creation and His presence in His creatures must be respected, lest one fall into the habit of not acknowledging that same presence on one’s fellow humans. With typical Franciscan flair, the primary focus is on how the poor are marginalized and harmed the most by these irresponsible and irreverent practices.

Another one of the encyclicals is drawing a connection between this renewed environmental focus and the greater body of Catholic teachings, the relationship between abortion, postmodernism, consumerism, the destruction of the family, the evils of war and violence, etc. These passages are, unsurprisingly, the main focus of the articles popping up all over the internet titled some variation of “Ten things that the mainstream media will ignore in Laudato Si”. This encyclical is, essentially, a reaffirmation in the long-standing tenets of the Church: Abortion is murder, contraception is bad, gay marriage is a metaphysical impossibility, postmodernism is an intellectual cancer that is killing humanity and faith, etc. The only new addition to this litany that is presented is to try and add “and mind your greenhouse gasses” somewhere in-between “Postmodernism is bad,” and “We have to be careful with GMOs.”

The main focus for everyone, myself included, is this third encyclical. This one is addressed to “world leaders” and the UN in particular, as opposed to the Church and its people. This encyclical is rife with praise for worldwide economic manipulations, the use of government violence to accomplish the ends of the Church, an appeal for granting all governments more authority and force to implement stricter environmental regulations, broader economic manipulations, and redistribution of wealth. This encyclical explicitly calls for a progressive carbon tax, a world government with a navy and police force with authority to supersede national governments, national and local governments to implement “free” public housing and utility access, and heightened enforcement of drug laws.

Worse, though, than pleading with the state to use it’s swords and shackles to coerce responsible behavior out of humanity at large, Francis takes a page out of Pope Urban VIII’s book. Overstepping his authority in moral and theological matters, the Pope attempts to side with the “scientific consensus” and endorse a worldview that is anti-scientific and empirically falsified. Declaring human-caused global warming to be an existential threat to creation of a magnitude equivalent to the great flood which God repented of in Genesis, Francis demonstrates that he needs to hire better researchers and ought to be more reticent before declaring Galileo anathema. He makes this mistake twice, in rapid succession. After demonstrating an unwillingness to critically assess the legacy academic stance in light of empirical evidence in science, he does so again in the realm of economics. Using Keynesian economic prescriptions and “green” socialist rhetoric, he creates a straw-man of the free market which is even more flimsy and caricatured than those manufactured by liberal college students on social media.

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Pope Francis decides to decorate the Vatican instead of reading Rothbard
  There was one line, in particular that required a double-take, a re-reading, and it ultimately elicited a violent reaction from me:

“Civil authorities have the right and duty to adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and differentiated production. To ensure economic freedom from which all can effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those possessing greater resources and financial power. To claim economic freedom while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practise[sic] a doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute.” p96

This quote is taken from the midst of pages upon pages of diatribe against international outsourcing of labor, speculative investment, development of trade infrastructures, the automation of menial tasks. While lamenting these actions, the Pope calls for an increase in the policies which are the direct cause of them. Economic regulations, such as the minimum wage, intellectual property legislation, and progressive corporate taxation and subsidies creates innumerable perverse incentives within the market, as a natural matter of course which is empirically verifiable. To blame “the market” and paint such claims as “a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals,” demonstrates a wholesale ignorance of the science that is economics. One should expect a former scientist to understand the limitations of his understanding of others’ fields and at least call upon them to inform his opinion. If he has done so, he needs to look harder for a reliable resource.

The reason this sudden interest in mainstream sciences and display of ignorance in these matters is offensive is because the Pope is a moral authority in the world, and to draw upon obviously false data, bundle it up in moral language and issue ethical and political proclamations demeans both the sciences he misrepresents and the position which he occupies in the See of Peter.

These three encyclicals are blended together in a manner that makes them inextricable from each other. In one sentence, Francis will point out a theological understanding concerning substantive relationship of the trinity, move to an analogy concerning the nature of agriculture, and indict private ownership of resources. Because of this, it is impossible to tell where the Pope is addressing individual Catholics and exhorting them to consider their role in creation from a theological perspective and where he is exhorting politicians to use violence in order to protect the poor in the developing world from global warming from an economical perspective.

There is no denying that people everywhere in the world are facing ecological crises: living in cities that are not conducive to human flourishing, living near industrial mining operations, facing evictions from tribal lands or private property in the interest of economic gains for the powerful, the destruction of biodiversity in inhabited areas, and a general disregard for the inalienable rights of human beings are all issues that need to be addressed, and quickly. However, to blame “the free market” when there is no such thing, to pin the blame on people that are merely doing their best to survive when faced with systematic violations of their rights, and to fall back on methods that are the direct cause for the decline of Christianity and the rise of the postmodern world seriously misdiagnoses the cause of the problem and results in a very dangerous situation, both in the world at large and in the Church itself.

This political edict in the guise of moral teaching places those that are well-versed in science and economics in the difficult position of trying to justify the teachings of the Church that are explicitly contrary to what they know to be true. Some may lose their faith, either in the Church or in reason. The loss of faith in either is a tragedy, and it can be prevented simply by Francis double-checking his work and being cautious not to overstep the bounds of papal authority. An even greater tragedy than some umber of individuals losing their faith due to a contradiction in moral teaching and empirical fact is the alienation that such teachings has formed between the Church and the people and institutions best situated to aid the Church in pursuing a more Christian world. Economists the world over are denouncing the Church and discovering the long-standing trend on Catholic social teaching towards full-blown socialism. The scientific communities that tend to lean more socially and fiscally conservative (like the Church) also happen to be the ones that have disproven any substantial causal relationship between human activity and global climate change, in outright ignoring their findings, the Pope has alienated the scientific community once again, driving the long standing wedge between reason and faith even further. Even in moral and philosophical circles, there is outrage that the pope would undermine basic human rights (such as the right to be secure in one’s property) for the sake of the rights of woodland critters and soil bacteria, which is explicitly done in this document.

TL;DR: Despite all of my defenses of Pope Francis to-date, my re-interpretations of his words in the light of reason and Church teaching in order to explain to others how one can rationally support his teachings, there is no way to deny that he is a full-on socialist with a callous disregard for economics and science. While I am not a sedevacantist or about to apostatize, this is an excellent opportunity to begin picking apart the whole of Catholic social teaching and calling for reform in the Church, not concerning matters which are doctrinally secure (such as prohibitions on gay marriage or abortion) but concerning instances where the Church draws too heavily on philosophically and scientifically flawed information. Many lament that this encyclical will be remembered as “the global warming encyclical”. I lament it as well, the global warming was merely a pretext for pushing a theologically-backed call for one world socialist government, and to remember it as the “global warming encyclical” discounts the very real damage that has already been done by the document to the integrity of the Church and the incalculable damage that will be done if world leaders heed the Pope’s plea.

Discovering that the See of Peter is occupied by a died-in-the-wool socialist is a good opportunity to review Church history. I’ve found, in my limited education of the subject, that the delineation between a Doctor of the Church and a heretic is a razor-thin one between those who are willing to admit the possibility of error and those too prideful to do so.

Only time will tell.

You can read the full text of Laudato Si here:
http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html