Quotulatiousness

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).

June 10, 2014

QotD: Robert Heinlein on socialism

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

Socialism can be good or bad, depending on how it is run. Our national parks are an example of a socialist enterprise which is beautifully run… Here in the USA, where we have much more socialism than most people appear to believe, we are good at it in some spots, fair in others, lousy in some. In general I have come to believe that we here are usually better off with private ownership government policed than we are when the government actually owns the deal and a bored clerk looks at you and sneers when you complain. But I don’t hold it as an article of faith, either way — people ought to be able to organize their affairs to suit their convenience, either individually or collectively. They ought to be free to do either one. They ought to be free.

Robert A. Heinlein, letter to Robert A.W. Lowndes, 1956-03-13 (quoted in William H. Patterson Jr’s Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014).

May 27, 2014

The argument against raising minimum prices for alcohol

Filed under: Economics,Government,Health — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:37

Earlier this year, A Very British Dude explained why “evidence-based” policy making isn’t actually what it says on the label, and illustrates it with the example of minimum pricing for alcohol:

Who could possibly be against “evidence-based” policy?

The problem is very simple. It’s almost impossible to conduct experiments in the social sciences. No government can alter one economic variable and measure the outcome. The noise to signal ratio is absurdly high. What you’re left with is explanations of the data that may or may not stumble on the actual causality.

Some things are obviously and self-evidently stupid. Socialism for example — high marginal tax-rates, nationalisation, closing down markets where possible in favour of state monopolies failed. And in as perfect an economic experiment as any undertaken, two nations, both shattered by war and populated by Germans went head to head. The Capitalist system turned out to be much, much less shit than socialism. Yet many social “scientists” still seem intent on manufacturing evidence that the solutions once tried in East Germany are not only feasible, but that any other approach is both doomed to failure and wicked.

Instead of evidence-based policy, what you often get is policy-based “evidence”. You have the same political arguments, dressed up in a kind of pseudo scientific hocus-pocus.

Take the “debate” about minimum pricing as a classic example.

First make a heroic assumption. Assume a fall in alcohol consumption per head is desirable (it isn’t, what we want to do is reduce “problem” drinking). Second, ignore the fact that your desired outcome is happening anyway. Third, ignore all the evidence that “problem” drug-takers have a lower elasticity of demand and assume that minimum pricing will mostly affect the consumption by alcoholics. Fourth, express these assumptions in a spreadsheet, with no real-world evidence. Fifth, describe this spreadsheet as a “model“. The zeroth step is, of course to get a university to describe you as “professor” first. Then you’re able to tout your guesswork and call it “evidence”, to politicians, and unmolested by any critical thought on the Today program and be paid handsomely from tax-payers’ funds to make this “evidence” up into the bargain.

So you have an “evidence-based” policy to impose a minimum unit price on Alcohol. It’s regressive, and probably won’t work. It will reduce moderate drinking by sensible people, making them at the margin, unhappier. It is unlikely to reduce problem drinking, but may make problem drinkers substitute clothes, or food, or heating for their more expensive booze. Nice one. Everyone’s poorer.

May 21, 2014

Society, socialism, and statism

Filed under: Cancon,Media,Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:07

At Gods of the Copybook Headings, Richard Anderson refutes the imported “you didn’t build that” notion being pushed by Kathleen Wynne on the campaign trail the other day:

… individual men, women and families are society. So are NGO, private corporations, small businesses and local community groups. All combined are a society. It was the height of intellectual impertinence by the Left to adopt the word socialism. The Left doesn’t believe in society, it believes in the State. It is Statism not Socialism that is their true creed. If you believe in strengthening society then you should believe in freedom because it is freedom that makes a society possible. True socialists are believers in free markets, free minds and free association. Statism is the enemy of society.

Too often the argument is made that either we must be rugged individualists or harmonious collectivists. This is a false dichotomy. One can be perfectly individualistic living in a family and in a community. Individualism is not the same thing as being aloof or standoffish. An individualist can work in a soup kitchen, a corporate office or mowing a lawn. It depends on what values that individual chooses to hold and the abilities he possesses.

By way of contrast there is nothing so inharmonious as collectivism. By denying man’s basic individuality it creates a never ending civil war of all against all. This is why the most collectivist societies are the most violent and repressive. They are fighting a war against human nature and losing all the while. The most peaceful societies are the most individualistic. In these societies individuals choose their partners, employers and friends. Violence is largely unnecessary in a society built on consent. It is necessary only against those who reject the principle of consent.

It’s true that no one makes it completely on their own. That doesn’t diminish their accomplishment, their essential independence or the conceit of those seeking to profit from their success. An individual may live in a society, but that does not make him a slave of the state.

Update: Kevin Williamson hits some of the same notes in this article:

It seems to me that Nozick, like some conservatives and most thinkers on the left, errs by conflating “society” and “state.” He is correct about our obligations to society: We have a positive moral duty to, among other things, care for those who cannot care for themselves. But this tells us very little — and maybe nothing at all — about our relationship to the state. The state is not society, and society is not the state. Society is much larger than the state, much richer, much more complex, much more intelligent, much more humane, and much older. Society, like trade, precedes the state. Government is a piece, but so are individuals, families, churches, businesses, professional associations, newspapers — even Kim Kardashian’s Twitter following plays its role.

[…]

Where those who see the world the way Nozick eventually did go wrong is in failing to appreciate that, absent official coercion, we do not have to take turns expressing those items of importance: The pope can think as he likes about this or that, Stephen Hawking can agree or disagree, and all are free to choose their own adventure. It is only in matters of politics that one set of preferences becomes mandatory.

But mandatoriness seems to be the attraction for many. The most enthusiastic support for the Affordable Care Act, to take one obvious example, never came from those whose main concern was its policy architecture; well-informed and intellectually honest critics left and right both knew that it was a mess. People supported the ACA as an expression of our national priorities, that we were coming to regard health insurance as something akin to a right, that we were becoming more like the European welfare states that our remarkably illiberal so-called liberals admire, that we regarded insurance companies and insurance-company profits as a nastiness to be scrubbed away or at least disinfected. The policy has been revealed as a mess, but the same people support it for the same reason. Similarly, prosecuting as civil-rights criminals those who do not wish to bake cakes for gay weddings is mainly an act of communication, that one is no longer free to hold certain opinions about homosexuals. The new enlightenment is mandatory.

[…]

The mysticism surrounding the state — its near-deification — is a source of corruption, to say nothing of boneheadedness. If the state is to be an instrument for expressing our deepest longings, values, and moral sentiments, then there can be no peace — our values are, as Nozick noted, frequently irreconcilable, and only a philosopher could believe that we can take turns when it comes to abortion or wealth confiscation. That is not how things work. If, on the other hand, the state is a machine for protecting property — from thieves, invaders, and possibly the more energetic members of the American Bar Association — then we can have peace, at least a measure of it. Outside of certain very well-defined parameters, nobody’s values need be mandatory.

May 8, 2014

George Orwell was a socialist, despite what many right-wingers piously believe

Filed under: History,Media,Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:09

I’m not sure how you could characterize the great George Orwell as anything other than a socialist, unless you’ve never actually read any of his works:

Orwell's press card portrait, 1943

Orwell’s press card portrait, 1943

One wonders whether the confusion stems from what [Krystal Ball] thinks she knows about Orwell’s politics? Contrary to the devout wishes of many conservatives, it remains an indisputable fact that George Orwell was a socialist. He was not “confused” about his politics. He was not a “capitalist in waiting.” He was not merely “living in another time.” He was a socialist, and he believed that, “wholeheartedly applied as a world system,” socialism could solve humanity’s problem. By contrast, he was wholly appalled by capitalism, which he described as a “racket” and which he believed led inexorably to “dole queues, the scramble for markets and war.” Abandoning a comfortable upbringing that had included an education at Eton and a stint as an imperial policeman in Burma, Orwell not only went out into the streets to discover how the other half lived but went so far as to risk his life for the cause, fighting for the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification against Franco in the Spanish Civil War. (He was shot by a sniper, but survived.)

When the Right seized upon 1984 (which his publisher quipped to his irritation might be worth “a cool million votes to the Conservative party”), Orwell reacted with controlled anger, explaining in a letter that was published in Life magazine that,

    my novel Nineteen Eighty-Four is not intended as an attack on socialism, or on the British Labor party, but as a show-up of the perversions to which a centralized economy is liable, and which have already been partly realized in Communism and fascism.

So far, so clear.

And yet, admirably, he never lost his independence of mind, writing in the very next line of his explanation that,

    I do not believe that the kind of society I describe necessarily will arrive, but I believe (allowing of course for the fact that the book is a satire) that something resembling it could arrive. I believe also that totalitarian ideas have taken root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere, and I have tried to draw these ideas out to their logical consequences.

This fear came to preoccupy him — and to the exclusion of almost everything else. “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936,” he explained in Why I Write, “has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it.”

How he understood it was changing by the day. “Collectivism,” he warned in a 1944 book review, “leads to concentration camps, leader worship and war.” More important, perhaps, he admitted that this might always be so, suggesting that “there is no way out of this unless a planned economy can somehow be combined with the freedom of the intellect, which can only happen if the concept of right and wrong is restored to politics.” Like Wilde before him, he held that freedom of the intellect to be indispensable. The question: Could socialism accommodate it?

It is de rigeur these days to cast Orwell as being merely an anti-totalitarian socialist — a “democratic socialist,” if you will — and, in doing so to parrot the graduate student’s favorite assurance that, because Marxism has never been tried in any sufficiently developed country, its critics are condemning merely its “excesses.” Certainly, Orwell did not believe that the Soviet Union was in any meaningful way a “socialist” state: “Nothing,” he charged, “has contributed so much to the corruption of the original idea of socialism as the belief that Russia is a socialist country and that every act of its rulers must be excused, if not imitated.” But, dearly as he hoped it could be realized, he also never quite managed to convince himself that his form of socialism was possible either — let alone that it could coexist with the English liberties he so sharply championed. For Orwell, it was not simply a matter of distinguishing between the “good” and “bad” Left, but worrying whether the former would lead always to the latter — a concern that the British literary classes, which indulged Stalin’s horrors to an unimaginable degree, did little to assuage.

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