August 3, 2015

QotD: The impossibility of central planning

Filed under: Economics,Government,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Knowledge is local in the economic system, meaning that the centre of that system can never actually access all of the required information — most certainly not in anything like a reasonable timescale — to be able to plan effectively.

Unsaid but implied is the idea that, given the tossers who get elected to do the planning, a central planning system wouldn’t work even if the planners themselves worked as hard as they could. But the real killer point is that we simply don’t know what it is that we’re trying to plan.

What actually is the algorithm? What is it that we’re trying to optimise with our plan for the economy? Tractor production has rather gone out of favour as a measure of human happiness, so what actually is it that we’re going to try and maximise the output of?

The standard answer is that we want to maximise human utility, which can descend into a form of madness where economists try to measure utility, although the concept is sound enough. But what the buggery is that? What blend of shiny-shiny, bling, housing, hip-hop concerts and smoked salmon actually maximises human utility as a whole?

As befits one honoured to write for El Reg, my desire for shiny-shiny is reasonable while my demand for bling, zero. I live and work in two separate countries, so my housing consumption is higher than many; smoked salmon is merely an interesting treat; and hip hop (in concerts or otherwise) provides me with negative utility. That mixture will be different for each and every one of us: I’m sure we could find several hip-hop fans among the commentards who enjoy jiggin’ wiv da beat.

In fact there are 65 million different mixtures of what contributes to human utility, in a country of 65 million humans. Don’t forget that as prices change, then so does each and every one of those utility functions. They also change as technology changes: what rational planner would have predicted the success of the iPhone back in 2007?

So, in theory, we don’t and cannot know what the hell we’re trying to plan.

Tim Worstall, “Gov’t control? Hah! It’s IMPOSSIBLE to have a successful command economy”, The Register, 2014-08-13.

July 29, 2015

QotD: The Average Man

Filed under: Humour,Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It is often urged against the so-called scientific Socialists, with their materialistic conception of history, that they overlook certain spiritual qualities that are independent of wage scales and metabolism. These qualities, it is argued, color the aspirations and activities of civilized man quite as much as they are colored by his material condition, and so make it impossible to consider him simply as an economic machine. As examples, the anti-Marxians cite patriotism, pity, the aesthetic sense and the yearning to know God. Unluckily, the examples are ill-chosen. Millions of men are quite devoid of patriotism, pity and the aesthetic sense, and have no very active desire to know God. Why don’t the anti-Marxians cite a spiritual quality that is genuinely universal? There is one readily to hand. I allude to cowardice. It is, in one form or other, visible in every human being; it almost serves to mark off the human race from all the other higher animals. Cowardice, I believe, is at the bottom of the whole caste system, the foundation of every organized society, including the most democratic. In order to escape going to war himself, the peasant was willing to give the warrior certain privileges — and out of those privileges has grown the whole structure of civilization. Go back still further. Property arose out of the fact that a few relatively courageous men were able to accumulate more possessions than whole hordes of cowardly men, and, what is more, to retain them after accumulating them.

H.L. Mencken, “Types of Men 9: The Average Man”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.

July 6, 2015

Finding The Road to Wigan Pier

Filed under: Britain,History,Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the Dublin Review of Books, Enda O’Doherty reviews a recent work on George Orwell:

In early 1936 the publisher Victor Gollancz commissioned George Orwell to conduct an investigation into the plight of the unemployed in England’s industrial North, a project that led to the book The Road to Wigan Pier. Unemployment and hardship in Lancashire and Yorkshire were, on the face of it, not subjects that Orwell could have been expected to know that much about. True, he had written vividly about tramps and tramping, “spikes”, charity wards and common lodging houses, but he had little experience of England outside London and the home counties and few friends or acquaintances who were working class or came from a non-privileged background. His own sentimental education had been forged in the sleek landscapes of the Thames valley or, later, genteel Southwold on the Suffolk coast – the England inhabited by those he was to term “the lower-upper-middle-class”, the people who kept the country running and who, though they owned no land, still felt they were “landowners in the sight of God”.

If he did not have much relevant experience, what Orwell could offer his publisher were energy and passion, and a small but growing reputation as a young man with something to say. He also needed the money. Years later he told a friend that he would never have undertaken the trip north had it not been for the size of the advance Gollancz offered: £500, a rather large sum at the time for a writer still in his early thirties. As a man with not much taste for the high life, he reckoned he could survive for two years on that, and afford to get married.


Orwell’s account of his visit to Crippen’s mine in Bryn, near Wigan, a superb piece of journalistic writing, forms the second chapter of The Road to Wigan Pier and has also been anthologised separately as “Down the Mine”. The chapter focuses alternately on the miners who dig the coal and those who unthinkingly consume it, the latter portrayed primarily as the comfortable, even the decadent classes – as if coal was not burned too in redbrick terraced houses in working class towns. Here are the fillers, who shovel the freshly mined rocks onto a conveyor belt from a kneeling position, splendid, heroic creatures in spite of the cruelly demanding labour they are engaged in:

    They really do look like iron – hammered iron statues – under the smooth coat of coal dust which clings to them from head to foot. It is only when you see miners down the mine and naked that you realize what splendid men they are. Most of them are small … but nearly all of them have the most noble bodies; wide shoulders tapering to slender, supple waists, and small pronounced buttocks and sinewy thighs, with not an ounce of waste flesh anywhere.


Victor Gollancz, who might be said to have been “close to the thinking of the Communist Party of Great Britain”, was not entirely pleased by the book which Orwell submitted to him in December 1936 and for which he had paid so large an advance. Not a great deal of exception could be taken to the first part, which was a fairly straightforward account of conditions in the North. Indeed Gollancz at first proposed – though the suggestion was not accepted ‑ that this should be published on its own as a Left Book Club edition. Into the second part, however, Orwell had stuffed his analysis and his always plentiful opinions, many of them strongly expressed and often focusing on the kind of people who formed a large part of the readership of the Left Book Club. Here are the urban, middle class intellectual socialists:

    … the more-water-in-your-beer reformers of whom Shaw is the prototype, and the astute young social-literary climbers who are Communists now, as they will be Fascists five years hence, because it is all the go, and all that dreary tribe of highminded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking towards the smell of “progress” like bluebottles to a dead cat.

Famously, there is the attraction of socialist doctrine for “cranks”:

    One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.

And finally, rising to an apparent pitch of impotent frustration:

    If only the sandals and pistachio-coloured shirts could be put in a pile and burnt, and every vegetarian, teetotaller and creeping Jesus sent home to Welwyn Garden City to do his yoga exercises quietly.

Perhaps more than a little of this is tongue in cheek. One conclusion, however, can be tentatively drawn before moving on: at this stage of his life and intellectual development, Orwell preferred to portray socialism as chiefly a middle class fad and, while he was quite ready to idealise the working class “other” if it came to him in the right shape, he showed virtually no interest in working class politics or social organisation as they actually existed.

June 20, 2015

QotD: The worker

Filed under: Humour,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

All democratic theories, whether Socialistic or bourgeois, necessarily take in some concept of the dignity of labor. If the have-not were deprived of this delusion that his sufferings in the sweat-shop are somehow laudable and agreeable to God, there would be little left in his ego save a belly-ache. Nevertheless, a delusion is a delusion, and this is one of the worst. It arises out of confusing the pride of workmanship of the artist with the dogged, painful docility of the machine. The difference is important and enormous. If he got no reward whatever, the artist would go on working just the same; his actual reward, in fact, is often so little that he almost starves. But suppose a garment-worker got nothing for his labor: would he go on working just the same? Can one imagine him submitting voluntarily to hardship and sore want that he might express his soul in 200 more pairs of pantaloons?

H.L. Mencken, “Types of Men 4: The Worker”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.

April 24, 2015

QotD: Objectively “correct” prices for goods and services

Filed under: Economics,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

In the entire history of economic thought, nobody has ever been able to demonstrate that there is an objectively “right” price for anything separate and apart from the subjective valuation that happens in the marketplace. Progressives like speeches about diversity, but they loathe the actual diversity of views and desires, especially the idea that prices should be sorted out according to the billions of subjective valuations in the marketplace through a process that nobody is in charge of. (In Dante’s Hell, the engraving reads: “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.” In Ezra Klein’s Hell, the engraving reads: “Nobody In Charge.”) Implicit in this belief is that most people — consumers and workers alike — are too stupid or too weak for us to allow them to act on their own subjective valuations, that we are compelled by … justice, efficiency, expert opinion, whatever … to substitute our own judgment for theirs. And then all you need is two government studies and a rent-a-philosopher writing in the New York Times to proclaim that there is some real-world basis for your own preferences as compared to those of the rabble on whose behalf you have just deputized yourself to organize the world. The language of “social justice” is largely a sort of moral minstrel show designed to distract from the real argument, which is: “You’re too stupid to be entrusted with your own life.” Something close to the entirety of the progressive agenda (apart from sexual license), from wage rules to health care to “investments” in modish fantasy projects to industrial policy, assumes that that metaphysically correct price is out there, simply waiting for the right people with the right ideas in service of the right policy to discover them, or at least to approximate them.

Kevin D. Williamson, “The Profit Police”, National Review, 2014-06-30.

April 8, 2015

Venezuela’s economic plight

Filed under: Americas,Economics,Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

J.R. Ireland sums up the Venezuelan situation:

The current fate of Venezuela is one of the most wretched and tragic foregone conclusions in modern history — an economic system that was doomed, from the first optimistic days of its implementation, to fail miserably and to beggar the poor, beleaguered Venezuelan people as it did so. There was no other way it could conceivably end. This sort of command economy has been tried continuously throughout the 20th century and humanity’s failure to learn from socialism’s shortcomings is the primary reason the next century is unlikely to greatly improve upon the last, at least from a human rights perspective.

So anyone who had paid attention to the decay, stagnation, and eventual collapse of every command economy of the 20th century knew immediately that Chavista socialism would be no more successful than Castro’s socialism, Mao’s socialism, Lenin’s socialism, or Pol Pot’s socialism and would end, eventually, in the same great grey void of hopelessness, impotence, shortages, inequity and despair. Therefore, those of us who actually know anything about the failings of such command economies cannot be particularly surprised by the fact that condoms currently cost $755 for a 36 pack of trojans, that authorities have begun making it illegal to shop more than twice a week in a desperate attempt to alleviate shortages, or that women must now wait in long lines to get something so simple as tampons. This was guaranteed to occur all along and the foreordained Day of Judgment was only ever so slightly delayed by a period of high oil prices which allowed the Venezuelan government to paper over systemic failings with a vast influx of petrodollars.

What I now have to ask is this: When can we expect an apology from the various ‘enlightened’ and ‘caring’ progressives who applauded Chavez during his rise to power, who claimed that every one of Chavez’ failings was the fault of bigoted American imperialists undercutting the Savior of South American, and who declared Chavez to be some sort of righteous admixture between Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Albert Einstein, and George Washington?

April 1, 2015

QotD: Forward-lookers and right-thinkers

Filed under: History,Humour,Media,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

On the whole, as a neutral in such matters, I prefer the forward-looker to the right-thinker, if only because he shows more courage and originality. It takes nothing save lack of humor to believe what Butler, or Ochs, or Bishop Manning believes, but it takes long practice and a considerable natural gift to get down the beliefs of Sinclair. I remember with great joy the magazine that he used to issue during the war. In the very first issue he advocated Socialism, the single tax, birth control, communism, the League of Nations, the conscription of wealth, government ownership of coal mines, sex hygiene and free trade. In the next issue he added the recall of judges, Fletcherism, the Gary system, the Montessori method, paper-bag cookery, war gardens and the budget system. In the third he came out for sex hygiene, one big union, the initiative and referendum, the city manager plan, chiropractic and Esperanto. In the fourth he went to the direct primary, fasting, the Third International, a federal divorce law, free motherhood, hot lunches for school children, Prohibition, the vice crusade, Expressionismus, the government control of newspapers, deep breathing, international courts, the Fourteen Points, freedom for the Armenians, the limitation of campaign expenditures, the merit system, the abolition of the New York Stock Exchange, psychoanalysis, crystal-gazing, the Little Theater movement, the recognition of Mexico, vers libre, old age pensions, unemployment insurance, cooperative stores, the endowment of motherhood, the Americanization of the immigrant, mental telepathy, the abolition of grade crossings, federal labor exchanges, profit-sharing in industry, a prohibitive tax on Poms, the clean-up-paint-up campaign, relief for the Jews, osteopathy, mental mastery, and the twilight sleep. And so on, and so on. Once I had got into the swing of the Sinclair monthly I found that I could dispense with at least twenty other journals of the uplift. When he abandoned it I had to subscribe for them anew, and the gravel has stuck in my craw ever since.

H.L. Mencken, “The Forward-Looker”, Prejudices, Third Series, 1922.

March 11, 2015

QotD: Inequality

Filed under: Economics,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The left has a habit of framing “inequality” (their current social-justice hobbyhorse) in economic terms, which is fortunate because it makes debunking their nonsense easier. The left’s fundamental bit of chicanery lies in their failure to define “inequality” in any rigorous way. This is very intentional, for it allows them to frame inequality however they please — generally in the usual race/gender/class terms and using money as a yardstick. Rich white men have too much money; poor brown people (especially poor female brown people) have too little; therefore equality demands a reapportioning of the money so everybody has more or less the same amount. This is not socialism, they insist (bizarrely, given that this is pretty much the textbook definition of socialism). This is fairness.


Ultimately, the left’s vision of “equality” is not an empowering vision; it is a cramped and stingy philosophy of reduced expectations and lowered hopes. The unspoken (but never unclear) theme is that it is the State, not individuals or families, who should own and dispense of wealth. A happy man, in the view of the left, is one who receives money from the State and then spends it on consumption with no thought given to the future (for the future belongs to the State). Legacy is what the State says it is. The citizen should always be a creature of the now, concerned with nothing but short-term needs and gratifications, and with no allegiances beyond the vital one to the State.

Monty, “Wealth as an end and wealth as means to an end”, Ace of Spades HQ, 2014-06-24.

January 15, 2015

It’s a matter of faith

Filed under: Media,Politics,Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At Ace of Spades H.Q., Steven Den Beste has a guest editorial to explain why the most recent attacks by “extremists” create deep philosophical problems for our friends in the media:

The Press have created an ideology over the last fifty years or so that approaches the level of a secular religious dogma. They believe that the Press are like the referees in a football game, present everywhere but not involved in the action. Surrounded by violence, they themselves never contribute to the violence and are never the objects of violence. And they are strictly neutral, favoring no one but simply calling it all like they see it.

Except that they’ve also mixed in a big dollop of Marxist ideology: they aren’t, and shouldn’t be, strictly neutral. As good progressives they can and must work against global capitalism and everything associated with it. That means it’s OK to criticize Christianity and Judaism, for instance, because those religions are part of the Capitalist monolith. By working against all the things that Marxism says they should, this gives them credibility with the world’s proletariat, who will respond to that by leaving the press alone. Or so they think.

And violence by the world’s proletariat is a good thing because it may presage the global Socialist revolution prophesied by the sainted Marx. That includes, in particular, all the violence in the world being committed by Muslims.

Like a lot of religious dogma, this is subconscious in a lot of the press. They simply accept that it’s the way things are (or should be) and don’t worry about where it came from or whether it really makes any sense.

The lethal attack on Charlie Hebdo, and the firebombing of a tabloid in Germany, has brought out a major contradiction in the Religion of the Press, and a lot of members of the press are demonstrating their confusion in how they respond.

First, there is the fundamental dogma of press freedom: no matter what the press says or does, no one is supposed to harm them in return. They’re the referees, dammit, not players in the struggle!

Second, though, is the fact that Charlie and the Hamburg tabloid which was firebombed broke the compact by criticizing Islam. This was wrong! Not, surprisingly, because Muslim fanatics are dangerous (that is a good thing!), but because it is hoped that dangerous Muslim fanatics will fight against the Capitalist enemy which all good progressives are supposed to be working to undermine. Islam is a Third World religion, and criticizing it undermines the Press in trying to prove to the world Proletariat that the Press is on their side in the great Marxist struggle.

And as a result of this Progressive sin, Charlie Hebdo et. al. have dragged all the rest of the press into the battle, on the front line, where they no longer seem to have their assumed immunity.

January 14, 2015

“This is what happens when you let the half-wits take charge of economic policy”

Filed under: Americas,Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Tim Worstall on the very sad economic plight of Venezuela:

As times go on the stories about how far and how fast the economy of Venezuela has fallen apart become ever more dramatic. They now actually have the Army, seriously, the armed forces, guarding food supplies. And the police are handing out toilet paper. We can just about imagine such things happening in the wake of some massive natural disaster, the levee breaks, the hurricane comes ashore, but not as day after day activity as something normal for the nation. But there has been no natural disaster in Venezuela, this is just the result of some years of idiot socialism. What makes it all so tragic is that there was and is another way to achieve the stated aim: making the poor better off. And when we consider what we might want to do to make the poor better off we’d better pay attention to this, admittedly extreme, example.


Sure, Venezuela’s an oil exporter, sure the price of oil has fallen. But this isn’t what happens in a commodity producer when the exports fall in price. This is what happens when you let the half-wits take charge of economic policy for a nation. Actually, in Venezuela, calling them half-wits is probably a mite too polite.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong at all with the intention of making the poor better off. Indeed, I share that aim: that’s why I’m this capitalist free marketeer type, as it’s the only socio-economic system we’ve ever had that has made the poor substantially better off for any period of time. However, there are good ways and bad ways of going about doing this and if we want to succeed in our aim, in the US, of making the poor better off then we’d do well to pay attention.

The short answer is don’t screw with the market.

December 16, 2014

The real problem with socialism is that the family model doesn’t scale well

Filed under: History,Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Despite it’s almost unbroken streak of disaster whenever full-blown socialism is tried, many people still find the ideas to be attractive and are willing to entertain the notion of “doing it right this time”. Why does this happen to so many people?

The answer has two parts. First is the nature of mankind. Humans are tribal animals. Socialism is a top down model, and tribes are almost always run in a top down manner. Humans respond to this on an instinctive level. Ordered liberty, free market capitalism, rule of law and other bottom up organizational methods are the aberration in human history. Humans are not wired to respond to these concepts the way they respond to a hierarchy. It’s better for them, but it isn’t instinctive. Think about it like throwing a ball. Humans naturally throw “like a girl”. Give a kid who has never held a ball a ball and tell him to throw it, and that’s how he’ll do it. We have to be shown how to throw properly. Once we learn how, man, we can throw so much better and further and more accurately, but it’s not instinctive. So humans are hard wired to identify with one of the basic tenants of socialism.

Second, there is one structure that is inherently socialistic, one that is familiar to and revered by almost everyone, and one that works quite well. That structure is the family. Families are little groups of people functioning on the socialist model. There is a central authority (mom, dad) that sets the rules and makes sure that the resources of the family are distributed “fairly” (let your sister have the last piece of chicken!) for the benefit of all (survival of all its members). That is the basic unit of human organization, and it’s completely socialistic. Whether they realize it consciously or not, most people are predisposed to think favorably of socialism because that’s the model that defined their world as they grew to self awareness.

The problem is that what works for four people likely won’t for forty and damn sure won’t for four hundred. Families are bonded by love and dedication to each other, forces that are much weaker in a tribe and non-existent in a nation. Socialism can only work within groups that have that level of bond to each other.

However, because of these two facts, socialism feels “natural” to most human beings until they take the time to reason it out. Most people don’t bother to do that, so when a Socialist happens along spouting their Utopian garbage, it resonates with people on an instinctive level, and the cycle starts over again. Socialism inevitably fails, but damnit, it “feels” like it SHOULD work.

And that’s why it is so bloody hard to defeat socialism.

September 23, 2014

QotD: Modern Utopia

Filed under: Politics,Quotations,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

In short, I think you can judge every progressive “ism” by its Utopia. What’s vexing about contemporary liberalism is that it doesn’t admit its Utopia forthrightly. The Marxists were honest about the dream of the classless society blooming from the withered-away state. The Social Gospel progressives openly promised to create a “Kingdom of Heaven” on earth (Obama did once slip and say that we can create a “Kingdom here on earth,” but he’s usually let his followers fill-in-the-blank about why, exactly, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for). To their credit, the transhumanist types are honest about their utopianism; that glorious day when we can download our brains into X-boxes and Vulcan mind-meld with the toaster.

But liberals are annoying in that they have the itch to immanentize the eschaton but neither the courage nor the vocabulary to state it openly. Now, in fairness, the urge usually takes the form of Hallmark-card idealism rather than soul-crushing collectivism. The young activist who recycles Robert F. Kennedy’s line “There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why … I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?” has no idea he’s a walking, talking cliché, a non-conformist in theory while a predictable conformist in fact. But he also has no idea he’s tapping into his inner utopian.


You know what else the aforementioned kid with the RFK quote is oblivious to? That RFK didn’t coin the phrase (JFK didn’t either, but he did use it first). The line actually comes from one of the worst people of the 20th century, George Bernard Shaw (admittedly he’s on the B-list of worst people since he never killed anybody; he just celebrated people who did).

That much a lot of people know. But the funny part is the line comes from Shaw’s play Back to Methuselah. Specifically, it’s what the Serpent says to Eve in order to sell her on eating the apple and gaining a kind of immortality through sex (or something like that). Of course, Shaw’s Serpent differs from the biblical serpent, because Shaw — a great rationalizer of evil — is naturally sympathetic to the serpent. Still, it’s kind of hilarious that legions of Kennedy worshippers invoke this line as a pithy summation of the idealistic impulse, putting it nearly on par with Kennedy’s nationalistic “Ask Not” riff, without realizing they’re stealing lines from … the Devil.

I don’t think this means you can march into the local high school, kick open the door to the student government offices with a crucifix extended, shouting “the power of Christ compels you!” while splashing holy water on every kid who uses that “RFK” quote on his Facebook page. But it is interesting.

Jonah Goldberg, “The Campus Utopians”, National Review, 2014-02-08

July 20, 2014

The struggle of progressive comedians to be funny without offending

Filed under: Humour,Media,Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:44

Jon Gabriel attends a panel discussion on progressive comedy at Netroots Nation. It wasn’t very funny:

Netroots Nation is an annual conference for online progressive activists. Over the past few days, the group held their ninth annual event in Detroit — America’s finest example of unchecked liberal policy.

Unbeknownst to the organizers, I attended the conference to see what the other side thinks about economics, education and the midterms. If their presentation on comedy is any guide, conservatives don’t have much to fear.

“The Left is supposed to be funnier than the Right, damn it,” the panel description stated. “So why do we so often sound in public like we’re stiltedly reading from a non-profit grant proposal?”

This defensive tone was apparent throughout the hour-plus session, brought up repeatedly by speakers and audience members. Much like a co-worker who doesn’t get anyone’s jokes but insists, “I have a great sense of humor!”


The audience had several questions about what they were allowed to joke about and even how comedy works. A white septuagenarian proudly stated that she no longer tells jokes to black people because that might expose them to unwitting racism. Camp and White sadly noted that her preface of “I’m not a racist, but…” confirms that she is, in fact, a racist.

Another audience member asked how progressives can shut down funny, effective lines coming from the right on talk radio, blogs and Twitter. “The right has short, pithy things to say because they lie,” Halper replied.

She explained that clever jokes by conservatives aren’t actually funny because such people lack empathy and nuance. “Progressives are more nuanced, statistically speaking,” Halper said. The science is settled.

July 11, 2014

QotD: The Utopian urge

Filed under: Politics,Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Whereas a conservative writer might warn that humans are just as likely, if not more likely, to bungle things when applying past experience to new plans for society as when trying to fix their own private lives — and an optimistic libertarian writer might note that people are far more rational in planning their own lives than in planning others’ — left-liberals have a tendency to think that humans’ ability to plan collectively is inversely proportional to their ability to plan their lives as individuals.

A more concrete example: the most neurotic of my fellow New Yorkers tend also to be the people most likely to think sense and order can be imposed on our messed-up lives from above. Politics becomes a route to redemption. Or as one comic book industry professional who is a self-proclaimed communist put it when I first met her here seventeen years ago, “Capitalism is a terrible system — it allowed me to get $60,000 in debt.” The left-liberal imagining being saved from herself is analogous to those social conservatives who look at their own bad habits and conclude that the whole world badly needs religion.

Todd Seavey, “Sci-Fi is Socialist, Like Most Art”, The Federalist, 2013-12-26

June 16, 2014

QotD: New Zealand in 1954 – a “fake utopia”

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Government,Pacific — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Monowai cast off just two days after the then still-secret Castle Bravo H-bomb was detonated at Bikini Atoll. They docked in Auckland on March 5 after an uneventful passage of four days. Their stateroom had been uncomfortably cramped, but at least the ship was clean. Not as much as could be said for the hotel in Auckland — and the food they were given all during their stay in New Zealand.

They arranged a tour of the countryside as fast as possible, running into a snarl of red tape and incredible union featherbedding that gave his professional Democrat’s conscience twinges. They endured several days in Auckland, over a weekend buttoned up tighter than even Sydney — “Australian closing hours are inconvenient, but New Zealand closing hours are more in the nature of paralysis” — before they were able to book a tour of North Island — a beautiful place. Waitono, their first stop, did a great deal to take the taste of Auckland out of their mouths. The Glowworm Grotto fascinated them.

Otherwise, the trip itself was moderately grim. In the thermal geyser country of Wairakei and Rotorua, a guide, displaying all the characteristics of petty bureaucrats everywhere, disparaged Yellowstone’s geyser field and Robert had enough. For a moment he lost his temper and sense of discretion enough to point out the facts and drew down the guide’s righteously arrogant — and factually wrong — wrath.

Of New Zealand in 1954, he said it was a place, “where no one goes hungry, but where life is dreary and comfortless beyond belief, save for the pleasures of good climate and magnificent countryside”. Worst of all, it was grim because of the very features that had made him most hopeful for it — the British pattern of socialism, the overpowering, oppressive, death grip of the unions stifled all spirit of progress, all incentive to better the thousands of petty, daily inconveniences this often truculent, beaten-down people burdened themselves with as much as their visitors. “New Zealand is a fake utopia,” Heinlein concluded, “a semi-socialism which does not work and which does not have anything like the degree of civil liberty we have. In my opinion, it stinks.”

William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

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