From Value to Voting

Today’s post is a far cry from my original podcast episode (and most popular post to-date). As far as I can tell, all of the points I raised on both sides of that dialogue still apply, but I have had about four years to think about it and have some more ideas to throw around.

Earlier this year, I had a surprising revelation which was earth-shattering for me, but would probably come across to my readers as obvious as the revelation I had in my post concerning surprises, themselves. That revelation is that not only is value subjective, but value is ordinal, not cardinal. Half of you are probably saying “I don’t even know what that means” and the other half are saying “Well, duh.” Cardinality, with regards to numbers, is essentially numbering: “one, two, three…” Ordinality, essentially means that something is ordered; with regards to lists of things, it would mean that rather than using numbers, one would use superlatives and relationships: “This more than that, that more than the other thing, etc.”

This is one of those things that usually goes unexamined by just about everyone, myself included. The reason this comes as a surprise to me is a result of my Marxist and Classical roots. One of the pipe-dreams of the communists is the idea of a scientifically-engineered economy; for a prime example of this pipe-dream, one need only look as far as Keynesian (or mainstream) economics and the arch-Keynesian, Paul Krugman. The only way this fiction could appear remotely possible is if one is capable of empirically evaluating individuals’ subjective preferences. Empirical studies require numbers and raw data, which one cannot acquire if value is ordinal, not cardinal. Therefore cardinal value is taken by Marxists as a given, and usually only unconsciously.

If anyone has worked in engineering in any capacity, they can understand that if one changes something even very minor and unobserved in the design of a building, machine, or piece of software one of two possibilities are likely to occur: either the general design can continue operation unaffected, or the whole system will fail horribly and unexpectedly, resulting in all sorts of confusion and hair-pulling. In this case, I knew intuitively that as I realized this minor difference, it would impact my philosophical comprehension concerning all sorts of things, including but not limited to my reductivist understanding of reality, the psychology of man, linguistic quirks, and the ethics of voting.

I have been careful in my use of language concerning preferences already: pointing out that certain options were “not preferable” or “least bad”, in order to not leave the impression that I would endorse such an option. If I recall correctly, a good example of this quirk is lurking in my post on crime and vice but I could be mistaken. Upon examination, though, I’m not so sure that such a linguistic turn is appropriate. In reality, with value being subjective and ordinal, there really is no such thing as “not preferable” or even “less bad”; instead, there’s simply varying degrees of preference, relative between options that are available. At this moment, I prefer sleep to food and working on this blog post to sleep. When one looks at action in the context of consequences, I generally prefer working my job and getting paid to sleeping at my desk and getting fired. When one looks at general principles, I prefer verisimilitude to fantasy and moral action to immoral action.

I’ve thus far demonstrated a preference for living over dying, pleasure over pain, quality over quantity, etc. At any given moment, given a particular context, I may act in contradistinction to these general preferences: acting in such a way so as to cause pain in the immediate future for pleasure in the long run, for example. If I were starving to death in a desert and the only prospect for food in any redemptive about of time were a bowl of cyanide-laced curry, I may choose to act against my preference for remaining alive given the morbid prospects on all sides. These are just examples, but I think you get the point.

These examples are not examples of a violation of some sort of principle or character trait but are, instead, examples of the subjectivity of human action. Action requires an assessment of the facts at hand, a desire for a particular outcome, and the possibility of that outcome being achieved; it’s a uniquely human activity. As such, even though I have a general preference for such things, the facts on the ground may disallow certain possible outcomes, limiting the opportunities for action to options that are, in the abstract, less preferable than the options usually available.

This, in a way, is informed by my description of ethics. If ethics is the rational investigation of actionable goals, ethics is really the source of a framework by which to determine preferences and actions to be taken to achieve said preferences. It is also informed by my description of responsibilities in my discussion of intellectual property. If one cannot be responsible for the ideas that others concoct from available sense experience, one is not endorsing a particular course of action on a moral basis by expressing a preference by way of action or word. In other words, I would not be endorsing suicide as a moral maxim in the case of a desert with poisoned curry; I would merely be acting on a preference specific to myself and the particular context in which I found myself. Sorry Kant, Aquinas, and other positivists, you’re wrong in this case.

I’m sure most of my readers have played some variation of “would your rather?” In most variations of this game, there is a set of options (usually two) offered with no context. “Would you rather die of exposure to heat or exposure to cold?” or, “Would you rather make out with a movie star or drive a sweet car?” are good examples of such options. Most normal people simply weigh the options based either on immediate circumstances: “Well, right now I’m hot, so it would be a sort of relief and cruel irony all at once to die of cold…” or they weigh the options based on a self-assessment of character, “Well, one set of lips is more or less the same as any other (to me), but I’m never gonna get to drive something like a Formula 1 if I don’t take this chance…” The sophomoric philosophical types (myself included) more often answer with nonsense responses which try to contextualize the options or point out that “Neither option is preferable, so I’d just let whichever one happens first to happen.” I’ve since learned the error of my ways and I’m trying to navigate this new understanding of subjective value.

So, today, I find myself in a convoluted and Kafkaesque context for certain actions and opportunities (or lack thereof) to express my preferences. Any of my readers are likely aware of my default list of complaints, so I don’t need to rehash them today. The reason that list of complaints becomes pertinent today is this: when one is faced with a hyper-inclusive mass-democracy which possesses a monopoly on violence and perceived legitimacy, one is forced to either roll over and take whatever abuse comes one’s way, engage in one-tenth measures to perform damage control, or to fight or flee.

There’s several popular analogies and limit-cases anarchists and statists alike like to appeal to in order to demonstrate some aspect or another of voting. There’s also a lot of cases people throw around concerning whether one has an obligation to vote, whether voting is a violation of the NAP, whether a vote is an endorsement of a particular candidate and everything he will do, whether voting is an act of self-defense or an act of legitimizing the crimes of the state, and so much more; it’s an insane rabbit-hole that I’ve been spelunking in for a while, now.

At the end of the day, though, only individuals act and one doesn’t bear responsibility for the actions of other individuals. As such, the moral and ethical status of voting relies entirely on the nature of communication and preferences. Is voting a means by which one endorses another individual or delegates authority? Or, alternatively, is voting nothing more than a voicing of a preference. If it is voicing a preference, is it voicing a preference in the context of availability, like in a game of “would you rather”, where you have only choice A or choice B? Or is it voicing a preference in the abstract, where you’re offered choice A or B, but you could just say “I’m gonna look for better options”?

For four years, I have been a principled anarchist non-voter. For those four years, my conscience has been clean. This has probably been for a number of reasons: the most primary of which is that, given the ontological framework I was working with, voting was both unethical and immoral. This position was best described, in writing, in my initial post on voting. During that time, I still had a lot of Marxist predispositions I hadn’t yet analyzed or even come to be aware of, most notable of which is the fact that I was an expressivist as opposed to a realist and that value is ordinal not cardinal.

I would love to take my time and sort out all of the answers in as long a timeline as is needed, but this year’s ballot is coming due in a matter of days and I am doing what I can to be as virtuous and as moral as I can be despite access to the truth of the matter. It doesn’t help that previous elections have been presented as a choice between socialism and socialism-lite while this election, if my understanding is accurate, can easily play out to be the choice between real war versus proxy war, full-blown self-destruction and merely bad economic choices, and socialists propagating versus socialists killing themselves or moving away. Really, I’d almost sell my soul just to see the Clintons in prison, anyway.

The way I see it right now, if I fill out a ballot and turn it in, all I have done is draw some lines on paper and send that paper to some socialist who’s going to pretend to interpret those lines in accordance with my preferences. If I’m doing so to voice a preference between one candidate or another, or raising versus maintaining taxes, or using the violent apparatus of the state to force people to by things they don’t want and sell to people they don’t like or to let people mind their own business, I’m simply playing a game of “would you rather” in the context of a world in which there is a violent gang that is going to pretend to be acting on my preferences.

If they actually did act on my preferences in the abstract, they would systematically shut down all operations and auction off assets to make bankruptcy payments to those that own US Federal debt. In more contextualized circumstances, I’d rather use tax dollars to build walls and reduce the flood of welfare-seekers as opposed to subsidizing the importation of the same and I’d rather use the bully-pulpit of the presidency to promote masculinity, productivity, and competitiveness as opposed to death, destruction, terrorism, and weakness.

Admittedly, this looks more like a personal aesthetic choice to me than a moral one. The current opportunity-cost associated with filling out a ballot, for me, is the 45 minutes it would take to consider the options, google a few judges and local representatives, and drop it off on my way to work. Seeing as how those 45 minutes would probably be spent playing DOOM or watching anime, I think I can spare them. I hope, in the future to be so productive so as to be unable to afford that cost. Then I can go back to being a non-voter because I’m going the ethically-superior route for expressing my preferences, a-la Assange.

Yes, I know that the rampant voter and election fraud swamp my singular vote and that the electoral college doesn’t give a damn about the popular vote. Yes, I know that democracy is the least legitimate of all the forms of government (of which, all are illegitimate) and that I’ve said in the past that killing voters might not be a violation of the NAP. Yes, I know that the group of individuals calling themselves “the state” will continue to murder and rape at more-or-less the same rate. All this considered, it doesn’t change the fact that the one-tenth measure of simply saying “I’d rather you rape me a little more gently” would be preferable to just rolling over and taking it.

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TL;DR: I’ve recently discovered the fact that value is ordinal, not cardinal. Where that would normally mean very little to most people, it has altered my ontology sufficiently so as to make me reconsider a great many things. Most pertinent to this fall is the moral status of voting. I’m writing this blog post to follow up on one of my first posts concerning voting and to kick around some newer considerations I have concerning moral, ethical, and aesthetically appealing action. As always, this is intended to be a setpiece for conversation, not some doctrine to which anyone must hold fast.

Oh, and P.S. I’m going to try and actually make a follow-up post showing exactly how I’m going to vote and to encourage you to do as I do. Spoiler alert: Hilary is evil incarnate and all of the third-party candidates are almost as bad for various reasons.

P.P.S. Don’t forget to support this project on Patreon!

Democracy: The God That Failed

Back in college, when Bitcoin was brand new, I was still a techno-optimist trotskyite, and I was only just halfway through Human Action for the first time, I had a weird conversation with an upperclassman.

I was arguing about Aristotelianism and its contributions to communism with a classmate when this upperclassman interrupted and began building a case for restoring a Catholic monarchy. Needless to say, I was neither surprised nor impressed… at least at first. Then, he started using the terminology used in Human Action and really got my attention.

At the end of our conversation, I was far from sold on his case for monarchy but I was willing to read the book he offered me off the shelf in the school library: Democracy: The God That Failed. I read the book and it changed my understanding of the world irrevocably. As a matter of fact, I went back and read the first half of Human Action again, and actually understood it. I wasn’t an immediate convert, though; it would be another two years before I dropped real communism in favor of communism light: republican conservatism.

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Why all the autobiography in a book review? I wanted people to know the reluctance with which I engaged the ideas in this book and the profound change it had on my philosophical moorings.

In this book, Hans Hermann Hoppe begins by exploring the historio-economic history of the rise of democracy, explores econ 101 as could only be taught by an Austrian economist who studied directly under Rothbard, and proceeds to describe the economics behind democracy, monarchy, and natural order. Of course, he makes the same case all Austrians do: “Value is subjective, so I’m not going to tell you what to value, but I am going to show you the relationships between various causes and effects so that you can act on those values efficaciously. So, if you value human flourishing…”

The primary focus of Hoppe is the nature of economics and the incentives that emerge under different political arrangements, specifically monarchy, democracy, and anarchy. I couldn’t do the work justice without approaching a page count comparable to the book, but I do want to give you a preview of what’s in store.

In the case of anarchy, economic incentives parallel the Darwinian reality of nature and, where many argue that is a flaw of anarchy, it is inescapable no matter what social structure one builds on top of that state of nature. For example, survival of those best conditioned to live in a particular environment is one such reality. The way this plays out in the absence of the state is that those better suited to delay gratification, cooperate with others, and defend private property are more likely to benefit from a division of labor, specialization of skills, and technological advancement than those who are less suited to such activities.

In the absence of criminal or political elements which undermine these activities, there will be a natural selective process by which those who have these abilities amass more wealth, social capital, and mating opportunities than those who do not. On a long enough timeline, this will create evolutionary side-effects but even in the short-run, market forces naturally puts wealth in the hands of those best suited to invest it in a beneficial manner. Hoppe notes that this process is, both a-priori and historically, the origin of monarchies.

Any given region with sufficient selective processes will eventually have the most well-adapted stock in charge of all or nearly all the land or other resources in the region, making the entire region one large landlord/renter arrangement. Given that this individual in-charge acquired this position by way of making wise investments and mutually-advantageous exchanges, there would be no reason to cease doing so at this point; this means that the de-facto king will continue making decisions directed at improving the value of his assets which, in turn, increases the quality of life of his tenants.

This means that those in service of the king do so by way of voluntary employment: knights, soldiers, constables, etc. provide for the security and management of the king’s assets in exchange for what amounts to wages and employee discounts/benefits. If, at any point, a tenant or employee is unable or unwilling to abide by the rules of the landlord, they can emigrate or be exiled.

It is this liberty which is at the heart of all the incentives for a healthy economy in a monarchy.  The king, in order to maintain or increase the value of his property, must strive to make it worth the cost of rent for his existing and potential productive tenants to remain and the tenants must make it worth the king’s time to invest in their quality of life. At the point in time the king no longer allows individuals to leave or otherwise undermines their ability to function within the bounds of private property, he invalidates his rightful claim to the property he is leasing to his tenants and becomes something more like a tyrant or warlord.

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With that transition, the people are incentivized to undermine the king’s property value while building their own investments. This leads to “black markets”, political graft, treason, and invitations to foreign kings or barbarians to invade. Such a transition is a death knell for that particular region’s economy and culture. By and large, this is the story of the collapse of the British Crown and Empire. Of course, what came next was less than preferable: the rise of democracy.

In much the same way as when a king becomes a criminal, when a democratic social order is imposed on a people, the economic incentives get turned upside-down. Whereas a king owns the kingdom and has both the natural inclination as well as economic incentive to manage it for the sake of long-term gains, a president does not own the state. Instead, a president has near-unlimited access and control over the criminal apparatus of the state designed for expropriation and market manipulation for a limited amount of time. In such a circumstance, a president is incentivized to raise taxes, secure long-term benefits for himself at the expense of future taxpayers and presidents, and to funnel value into the assets he actually owns and that his friends own.

It’s not just the politicians who are corrupted either. Whereas anarchy and de-facto anarchistic monarchy are naturally eugenic, selecting for those most able to cooperate and produce value for others, democracy is a dysgenic process, selecting for those best able to rile the masses into demanding benefits at the expense of those producing the taxed revenue, those best suited to criminal activity, and actually incentivizing all of the behaviors witnessed in the seediest inner-city slums.

The majority of the text is spent on exploring all off the perverse and dysgenic economic incentives which democracy installs over and above, and in direct contradiction to, the natural order. Given that HHH is the economist and I am not and that he spends about 150 pages on the subject, I’ll leave the rest to him. In the meantime, I want to move on to the final portion of his text.

The final portion of the text is focused on where one could be expected to go in a post-democracy world. Barring a wholesale collapse of western civilization a-la the fall of Rome which preceded the rise of free-market monarchies, it is unlikely that the state will find an appropriate method by which to auction off its properties to the people in such a way so as to undo the undue gains of the corporate entities which have grafted themselves onto the political machine. Instead, modern economic technologies such as mutual and voluntary associations and risk-pools (such as HOAs and insurance companies) can simply begin to compete with the political apparatuses and, due to the nature of voluntary markets, outperform the state and put them out of business, so long as they secure their ability to defend against the states’ violence.

This scenario seems to have a fair amount of potential behind it, given HHH’s economic arguments to the efficiency and efficacy of such a transition. While the arguments are very involved and well-argued, the general theme of the argument is that “The state provides for (or at least, doesn’t wholly disallow) various services, such as the roads, education, security, risk pooling, etc. because there is a demand for it, and in the absence of the state, there would still be a demand for what amounts to our current status quo. He explores the economic incentives that would be in place wile fulfilling those market demands in the absence of the states’ direct influence and the social order that is likely to come about as a result of those demands and incentives.

From what I know of Hoppe’s other works, I think that he finds the outcome he presents to be most preferable. While I have a more traditionalist and rugged individualist bias, which I think would be sustainable in a free-market environment, I find his proposed option infinitely preferable to what we have today. Essentially, we would have all the bourgeois amenities such as grocery stores, roads, internets, common currencies, military defenses etc. without any of the current fallout such as poorly-planned roads, wars of foreign aggression, taxation, and perverted markets.

He makes a compelling case for why competitive insurance agencies would actually manage to provide the services that government cannot in a manner consistent with property rights and individual liberties, all economically-based, of course. The first time I read this book, I was very off-put by his apparent love for insurance companies, but the second time around I realized that he’s not talking about your dad’s insurance companies, the ones twisted and maligned by intimate relationships with state violence and regulations, but real risk-mitigation and risk-sharing pools owned and managed by the people best suited to managing such affairs in a competitive market.

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His cases for what ought to come next seem fairly abstract, and he has been called out on that abstractedness by many other authors. To which he responded with a supplementary essay titled “What Must be Done”, wherein he outlines, step-by-step, what he believes to be the most direct and moral route from here to there in modern-day-America. Seeing as how this essay is far more controverial than Democracy: The God That Failed , this is an appropriate place to bring up the most controversial parts of the book (as if advocating the case for monarchy over democracy and anarchy over monarchy isn’t counter-cultural enough). There is a quote of his, from the middle of the book which has become quite popular in my circles on facebook:

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He also makes the case that a free market will naturally select for what has been the traditional family and lifestyle structure in the West. It’s not too unreasonable to think this, seeing as how that traditional family structure necessarily emerged from the selective pressures extant at the time (pre-feudal Europe) and still seem to have the most economically sound incentive structures built into them, from the a-priori angle. Where it gets controversial is when he argues that insurance companies (in their free-market iteration) will act to mitigate moral hazard rather than promote it and, that mitigation of moral hazard is likely to result in (justified) discrimination against those individuals choosing alternative lifestyles, such as homosexuality, polygamy/andry, extreme drug use, and other things that the cultural “right” views as deviant. This discrimination could be as benign as increased premiums or as intense as a denial of coverage which, in Hoppe’s propertarian conception, would result in physical exile from certain communities. As I’ve covered in my post on LibPar, this does not necessarily mean the end of the homosexual lifestyle or culture, it merely means that communities would have to form around such lifestyle choices and they would have to either be isolationist or able to compete in the marketplace against their more conservative neighbors.

The book is incredibly well-researched and annotated. There are footnotes on every page, some taking up entire pages in their own right. They are drawn from all sorts of references, not just Austrians; Hoppe calls upon historians of every political persuasion, mainstream econometricians, Austrian economists, sociologists, and more. There are a few texts that he referenced enough times that they have been put on my reading list.

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TL;DR: Democracy: The God That Failed is one of the books that, if there were a canon of AnCap literature, would be in said canon. When I first read the book, it neither converted me from my communist ways, nor did it convince me to become a Catholic monarchist as was the intent of the guy that told me to read it. In hindsight, though, it was the only way that I could begin to understand what AnCaps on facebook were saying and gave me something to argue against. As is typical, though, a few years later I could recall the things I had argued against, but had changed my position on all of them. I decided to re-read the book and discovered that, on all the key points at least, I agree with HHH. There are some minor side details and some expressed preferences that I hold contrary views on, but I think this book is a Must-Read, right after Human Action.

Rant 4: Agree to Disagree

“You think my socialist utopia is unobtainable and I think your anarchist utopia is unobtainable… I guess we will just have to agree to disagree like adults.”

Nope.

In a free society, we really could ‘agree to disagree’; time and market forces would eventually dictate which of us were closer to being right. I’m not sure where you get the idea that I’m a utopian… all I want is to secure my ability to shoot you in the face when you try to steal my stuff in your quest for utopia. Looking to kill violent and aggressive utopians is the opposite of utopianism. If you want to go pursue utopia far away and without initiating violence against me, I would actually encourage you to do so. Worst case scenario is you succeed and I have to admit that utopia is possible, best case scenario, you get all the ignorant and genetically inferior people to go with you and you all starve in the woods (like the early pilgrims).

We lack that freedom in this society, though, because instead of going away and pursuing your ideals with your own labor, you will go to the ballot box and violently inflict your ignorance on me. You will force me to subsidize your ill-advised behaviors at gunpoint. Instead of agreeing to disagree, we would be agreeing that I should allow you to violently inflict your aesthetic preferences on me. So, if you want to agree to disagree, you would have to first consent to the basic precepts of my ideology: that voting is the initiation of force and we are agreeing to refrain from such barbaric behaviors.

My position can tolerate yours, up until your position includes inflicting violence upon me. Yours, however, immediately resorts to such. So, yes, I would be fully justified in killing you before you can cast your ballot for Sanders or Cruz. I would love to agree to disagree, but the only way we could do that is if you weren’t a violent sociopath hellbent on destroying human excellence. When you say “agree to disagree” you mean “Here, you defend my rights while I trample on yours.” I recommend either reconsidering your position or turning that violence on yourself, first and see how well that works out.

“One may say innumerable things and promote almost any idea under the sun, but naturally no one is permitted to advocate ideas contrary to the very covenant of preserving and protecting private property, such as democracy and communism. There can be no tolerance toward democrats and communists in a libertarian social order. They will have to be physically separated and removed from society.” Hans Herman Hoppe

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

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.

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

LibPar: Utopia, Utilitarianism, Ethics

 

“So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life.” Hunter S Thompson

Rothbard mentioned “Button Pushers” in his work “Do you Hate the State?” If there were an “abolish all government” button, I would push it with such fervor and force I would likely injure myself and those around me. I believe, with a fair degree of certainty, that what would follow would be a relatively peaceful and gradual shift in peoples’ behavior and attitudes such that a culture of responsibility and respect would slowly grow out of our current slavery. However, even if I knew that the result would be an immediate collapse into “the Purge” or “Mad Max”, I would still push the button without hesitation.

You see, I’m a deontologist of sorts. It’s no mistake that my last post was about ethics. Deontology, at least my particular brand of it, is an ethical framework centered on moral absolutes and individual action. In other words, I believe that, regardless of circumstance or outcome, murder, coercion, and theft are categorically immoral. I believe that the ends never justify the means and that ethical reasoning applies exclusively to the decision at hand and not the past or the future. Considerations of goals, intentions, consequences, etc. only enter the picture after the moral absolutes sort out the morally justified and the unjust actions available. Alternatively, after one determines the most desirable course of action based on such considerations, one must verify that it does not violate moral absolutes. This is all a direct result of my broader philosophy, but that discussion is best left to another place and time.

If Deontology Man were a superhero (he’d be Rorschach), he would need an arch-nemesis. This arch-nemesis would be (Ozymandias) The Utilitarian and his sidekick/son, Consequentialist. Utilitarianism is a sterile, mathematical approach to life and ethics. Its goal is to maximize quantifiable pleasure for the maximum number of people. Imagine giving Spock or the T-800 the keys to the kingdom and the directive of maximizing everyone’s pleasure. Best case scenario, you’ll find yourself in a Peter Singer (advocate of murdering retarded kids and granting whales constitutional rights) book; worst case, scenario, you get “The Matrix”, but with more robot sex slaves and limitless cocaine.

What does deontology and utilitarianism have to do with LibPar and utopia? You’ll see, but we mustn’t forget Consequentialist. Consequentialism is a form of utilitarianism which uses the results of an action to retroactively determine whether or not it was a morally good or bad action. In the example of the miraculous “abolish government” button: if my guess were correct, it would be good to push the button and if we wound up with Mad Max, it would have been bad. A lot of people are sympathetic to this line of reasoning; a law can be called a good law or a bad law based on whether we think it improved or detracted from people’s quality of life… but, by that logic, if someone were to have brutally murdered Maria Schicklgruber in the 1700s, it would have been a morally good act, by way of preventing Hitler from ever existing: ignoring, of course, the impossibility of knowing about the possibility of Hitler in a world where his grandmother was murdered. As a matter of fact, I will milk Godwin’s law even further: modern medicine and space travel, invented by Nazis, have saved and improved more lives than those lost or ruined in the Holocaust, so Hitler was a good guy.

Now we have arrived at anarchy and LibPar. I tend to avoid discussions about Liberty Paradise, except behind closed doors with close friends. People like to (incorrectly) brand anarchism as a utopian philosophy and ridicule it as such. Way back in “Towards a Definition of Anarchy”, I explained that anarchism is not a positive, goal-oriented philosophy but instead is a proscriptive moral claim against criminal institutions. Due to the nature of anarchism and my deontological leanings, discussions as to “the ends in mind” when discussing anarchism vs. statism is inappropriate; such discussions distract from the importance of the issue at hand, namely, “How ought I conduct my affairs in this moment?”

That said, I can engage in a discussion of what I expect LibPar to look like, so long as we keep in mind this important principle: the rest of this post is not a discussion of the necessary result of people behaving in accordance with the principles of anarchy, it is an assessment of a likely possibility, based on my understanding of the human condition and experience. LibPar is a fairy tale that, like the utopian visions of democracy, have no influence on the daily actions of anarchists.

LibPar:
In an ideal state of affairs, I would have the “abolish government” button handed to me from on high and I would make every institution proscribed against in “Towards a Definition of Anarchy” vanish overnight. Yes, the world may be rendered chaotic and in a state of violent upheaval. Some, less domesticated, places would likely continue operations as if nothing had changed, while others may burn to the ground… Of course, that’s what’s happening right now, just on a longer timetable. In a less ideal, but more realistic, state of affairs, the message of freedom and responsibility may reach a sufficient number of people and technology may progress to a point so as to enable the widespread adoption of these beliefs in action. Regardless of the specific events which would lead to the formation of LibPar, what would it look like?

Markets:
Firstly, unlike utopian outlooks, I have no specific design for how the entire world ought to work. I expect, in the open market of ideas and philosophies, that a plethora of societies will form worldwide, each with their own distinct features; some will be better suited for perpetuity while others will not. Such is the way of things; without governments to artificially sustain bad ideas, some societies will collapse under their own weight, while others will flourish if genuinely allowed to compete.

This will likely result in different economic models, such as pure capitalism and pure socialism (think first century Catholics, not USSR or USA), being granted opportunities to succeed without the interference of government guns. So will various alternative markets: gift economies, barter and service, token economies, “smart” economies (think blockchains), honor markets… the theoretical options are limitless. Without global market manipulations and capture, we would actually get a chance to see if any of them work in practice. I have a couple that I’m rooting for, but that’s unimportant.

Dunbar Number:
The human condition is such that we have the capacity for a limited number of meaningful human relationships that one person can maintain at any given time. Anarchist societies will have to reflect this reality in some way. I expect the most likely way the Dunbar Number will be expressed is that such societies will consist of a few hundred or a maximum of one or two thousand. Such a small population also helps prevent the rise of criminal institutions and most considerations delegated to the state in slave societies will simply not be present in a small enough population. Additionally, genuine human interaction becomes essentially unavoidable, the inverse case of urban environments. The essential quality of the Dunbar Number is that, in a community of appropriate size and density so as to promote human flourishing, you would know everyone by name.

Recently, a friend asked me how a small community marketplace could solve moral issues that people generally turn to law to rectify. The example in question was that of strip clubs, which we both find morally objectionable, but not criminal. The Dunbar number, and small community is the way I think the issue naturally gets solved. Stripper Stacy becomes a lot less fun when you know her parents, she lives down the street, and she knows you and the three other dudes that visit the strip club outside of the club. Also, statistically speaking, Stacy is likely to be the only one in the community that would be willing to be a stripper, which would make it more of a small-business-out-of-your-basement kind of operation, which resembles a strip club solely by way of the vicious nature of the specific service. It does not necessarily mean that the service goes away, but it certainly mitigates the impact on the community as well as making a coercive and violent law regarding it superfluous.

Intentionality:
With a population so small, such a community can be centered around a common goal or ideal. Closely tied to the market of markets, there is an infinite number of possible intentional communities: Catholic parishes, hippie communes, AnCap fiefdoms and marketplaces, farming co-ops, tech outfits, brony conventions, and Amish fellowships all come to mind as possibilities. Some may last longer than others, but as long as people are wiling to experiment there will always be a diversity of intentional communities. These societies already exist around the globe, they land all along the anarchist/statist scale, but as a proof-of-concept, they have demonstrated that such a community can flourish over an extended period of time. Ideally, I would like to live in a familial tribe centered around a certain philosophical bent, pursuit of virtue, and self-sufficiency, but that is neither here nor there.

Mobility and Intercommunication:
Simply put, communities of such small populations and of diverse ideas could only be sustainable themselves if mobility from one community to another and the ability to form new ones is a possibility. Additionally, if a community consists of only a few hundred people, the gene pool may get a little shallow without exchange of populations between different communities. Of course, such migration is inevitable if people trade with, communicate with, and travel to other communities. This will rely on technologies similar to the internet, if not the internet itself and technologies like trucks and boats and such… but we’ve had such technologies for a while now. It’s not too much a concern. Really, freedom needs to be open-source, which would allow for exchanging good ideas between communities and the opportunity to copy what works and improve on what is available.

Security:
There are a multitude of ways that an individual can render themselves “secure”. One such manner is with the proper tools and training (AKA guns and the ability to shoot them), another would be a nomadic lifestyle, another would be remoteness (if no one can be bothered to seek you out, they can’t bother you), another would be to position your hippie commune such that it is surrounded by radically isolationist militia-type communities… the list of possibilities is longer than I can come up with on my own. What is important is the ability for individuals within an intentional community to defend themselves from others in their community and those around them.

Sustainability:
I don’t mean the liberal socialist environmental bullshit, but instead focusing on options which are either cost-neutral or renewable. An example would be making sure one does not deplete the surrounding ecosystem or raw materials (growing hemp permaculture rather than resorting to deforestation and mass agriculture for paper, textiles, construction materials, etc.) or carefully managed hatcheries separate from the native population of fish, or nuclear/passive power generation as opposed to fossil fuels. Not for any pie-in-the-sky theories about preventing global warming or whatever, but because reliance on sustainable resources and infrastructures eliminates the spectre of “the tragedy of the commons” as well as eliminating the need for state institutions built for subsidizing irresponsible industrial practices.

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Remember, anarchism is a philosophy of moral action and personal responsibility, not some utopian attempt at a global Galt’s Gulch.  If you think it is, you’ve confused anarchy with the Libertarian Party.  The point of this post is to assuage those who find anarchy to be too short-sighted and not utilitarian enough, to tell them that there is consideration applied to an ultimate goal, even if it is secondary to simply doing the right thing.  The goal isn’t to eliminate struggle or conflict, but to mitigate the damage that the human condition can do to human flourishing at large.