Monday, 29 August 2016

Clinton’s attack on the alt-right, and 7 differences between them and libertarians

 

Who or what is the “alt-right”? Answer to that very soon, but to the delight of that antediluvian bunch of self-described white nationalists previously confined to the more fetid parts of the internet, the Republican nominee has been forthrightly spreading their memes [read here for background] and in a major speech last week the Democratic nominee has now put them firmly on the map.

Clinton’s attack on this movement she says has “taken over” the Republican Party is “in no small part part, aimed at telling moderate Republican voters and GOP-leaning independents that their values aren’t truly represented by the nightmare ideology otherwise known as Trumpism.”

He may be the GOP nominee, but he has perverted and distorted Republicanism into something so twisted and horrifying, so unlike anything else we’ve seen in modern times, that they shouldn’t feel bound by party loyalty or political habit to stand by him.

The attack is calculated to drive a wedge between these traditional Republicans and the candidate and his team whom they would otherwise be beholden to support.

altright4This crowd of racist-right circle-jerkers being attacked however couldn’t care less about political calculations. The only thing for them worse than being calculated about is not being calculated about. So even if they’re being insulted, they’re a happy bunch of Trumpanzees.

Hoping to collect votes from both Republicans and Democrats appalled at their party’s respective nominees is Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, who’s been running a very strong “I’m-the-sane-candidate” strategy against the loony tunes winging their way either side of him.

Confusingly however, many commentators mistake libertarians for these alt-right meatheads focussed on “white identity politics, many nascent libertarians themselves have found themselves seduced by the siren songs, and “more than a few” alt-rightists even claim some relationship to libertarianism – or once had one before sadly shedding their libertarianism later on.

What are the differences in outlook between alt-right ideology and libertarianism? Jeffrey Tucker reckons they come down to five – five different views on history, humanity, order, on trade & migration, and on emancipation & progress:

1. The Driving Force of History
Every ideology has a theory of history, some sense of a driving theme that causes episodic movements from one stage to another. Such a theory helps us make sense of the past, present, and future…

Ayn Rand argued that what drives history most fundamentally is ideas, of which reason and liberty are the most potent, but are by no means inevitable.

There is only one power that determines the course of history, just as it determines the course of every individual life: the power of man’s rational faculty—the power of ideas. If you know a man’s convictions, you can predict his actions. If you understand the dominant philosophy of a society, you can predict its course. But convictions and philosophy are matters open to man’s choice. There is no fatalistic, predetermined historical necessity.

altright3Libertarian Murray Rothbard reckoned the specifically libertarian story of history is of that liberty against power. “I see the liberty of the individual not only as a great moral good in itself,” he said, “(or, with Lord Acton, as the highest political good), but also as the necessary condition for the flowering of all the other goods that mankind cherishes: moral virtue, civilisation, the arts and sciences, economic prosperity. Out of liberty, then, stem the glories of civilised life.”

The alt-right reject this outright. On the question of liberty versus power, they come down completely on the side of power.

The movement inherits a long and dreary tradition of thought from Friedrich Hegel to Thomas Carlyle to Oswald Spengler to Madison Grantto Othmar Spann to Giovanni Gentile to Trump’s speeches. This tradition sees something else going on in history: not liberty vs. power, but something like a more meta struggle that concerns impersonal collectives of tribe, race, community, great men, and so on.
    Whereas libertarianism speaks of individual choice, alt-right theory draws attention to collectives on the move. It imagines that despite appearances, we all default in our thinking back to some more fundamental instinct about our identity as a people, which is either being shored up by a more intense consciousness or eroded by a deracination and dispossession from what defines us. To criticise this as racist is often true but superficial. What’s really going on here is the depersonalisation of history itself: the principle that we are all being buffeted about by Olympian historical forces beyond our control as mere individuals. It takes something mighty and ominous like a great leader, an embodiment of one of these great forces, to make a dent in history’s narrative.

Hence the union of white identity politics (an inversion of the identity politics of their political opponents) and the wistful longing for their “man on horseback” to wall out the barbarian hordes.

2. Harmony vs. Conflict

altRight2A related issue concerns our capacity to get along with each other. Frédéric Bastiat described the free society as characterised by a “harmony of interests.” In order to overcome the state of nature, we gradually discover the capacity to find value in each other. The division of labour is the great fact of human community: the labour of each of us becomes more productive in cooperation with others, and this is even, or rather especially, true given the unequal distribution of talents, intelligence, and skills, and differences over religion, belief systems, race, language, and so on.
    And truly, this is a beautiful thing to discover. The libertarian marvels at the cooperation we see in a construction project, an office building, a restaurant, a factory, a shopping mall, to say nothing of a city, a country, or a planet. The harmony of interests doesn’t mean that everyone gets along perfectly, but rather than we inhabit institutions that incentivise progress through ever more cooperative behavior. As the liberals of old say, we believe that the “brotherhood of man” is possible.
    The libertarian believes that the best and most wonderful social outcomes are not those planned, structured, and anticipated, but rather the opposite.
    To the alt-right mind, this all seems ridiculous. Sure, shopping is fine. But what actually characterises human association is deep-rooted conflict. The races are secretly at war, intellectually and genetically. There is an ongoing and perpetual conflict between the sexes. People of different religions must fight and always will, until one wins. Nations fight for a reason: the struggle is real.

The libertarian understands that when force is barred from human interaction and all human interaction is voluntary, that each other individual is a net benefit to us, For the alt-righter however, every other human being is a threat, especially those who are “not like us.”

altRight1Hence their inevitable racism, a “barnyard” form of collectivism  -- “ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors. Racism;” explains Rand, “claims that the content of a man’s mind (not his cognitive apparatus, but its content) is inherited; that a man’s convictions, values and character are determined before he is born, by physical factors beyond his control.”

Hence for them society is irretrievably divided “vertically” on racial lines, over which each tribe is determinedly in conflict. Ludwig von Mises captures this parallel brilliantly in his identification that, “Nationalist ideology divides society vertically; the socialist ideology divides society horizontally.”

As Tucker observes, “Here, as with many other areas, the far right and far left are strangely aligned.”

3. Designed vs. Spontaneous Order
   
The libertarian believes that the best and most wonderful social outcomes are not those planned, structured, and anticipated, but rather the opposite. Society is the result of millions and billions of small acts of rational self interest that are channelled into an undesigned, unplanned, and unanticipated order that cannot be conceived by a single mind. The knowledge that is required to put together a functioning social order is conveyed through institutions: prices, manners, mores, habits, and traditions that no one can consciously will into existence. There must be a process in place, and stable rules governing that process, that permit such institutions to evolve, always in deference to the immutable laws of economics.
    Again, the alt-right mind finds all of this uninspired and uninspiring. Society in their conception is built by the will of great thinkers and great leaders with unconstrained visions of what can be. What we see out there operating in society is a result of someone’s intentional and conscious planning from the top down.altright6
    If we cannot find the source, or if the source is somehow hiding, we imagine that it must be some shadowy group out there that is manipulating outcomes – and hence the alt-right’s obsession with conspiracy theory. The course of history is designed by someone, so “we” might as well engage in the great struggle to seize the controls – and hence the alt-right obsession with politics as a contact sport.
    Oh, and,
by the way, economics is a dismal science.

4. Trade and Migration
Of course the classical liberals fought for free trade and free migration of peoples, seeing national borders as arbitrary lines on a map that mercifully restrain the power of the state but otherwise inhibit the progress of prosperity and civilisation. To think globally is not a bad thing, but a sign of enlightenment. Protectionism is nothing but a tax on consumers that inhibits industrial productivity and sets nations at odds with each other. The market process is a worldwide phenomenon that indicates an expansion of the division of labor, which means a progressive capacity of people to enhance their standard of living and ennoble their lives.
    The alt-right is universally opposed to free trade and free migration. You can always tell a writer is dabbling in alt-right thought (or neoreactionary or Dark Enlightenment or outright fascism) if he or she has an intense focus on immigration or international trade as inherently bad or fraudulent or regrettable in some sense. To them, a nation must be strong enough to thrive as an independent unit, an economic or cultural sovereignty unto itself.
    Today, the alt-right has a particular beef with trade deals, not because they are unnecessarily complex or bureaucratic (which are good reasons to doubt their merit) but because of their meritorious capacity to facilitate international cooperation. And it is the same with immigration. Beginning at some point in the late 19th century, migration came to be seen as a profound threat to national identity, which invariably means racial identity.

5. Emancipation and Progress

The libertarian celebrates the profound changes in the world from the late Middle Ages to the age of laissez faire, because we observed how commercial society broke down the barriers of class, race, and social isolation, bringing rights and dignity to ever more people. Slavery was ended. Women were emancipated, as marriage altright7evolved from conquest and dominance into a free relationship of partnership and consent. This is all a wonderful thing, because rights are universal, which is to say, they rightly belong to everyone equally. Anything that interferes with people’s choices holds them back and hobbles the progress of prosperity, peace, and human flourishing. This perspective necessarily makes the libertarian optimistic about humanity’s potential.
   
The alt-right mind can’t bear this point of view, and regards it all as naive. What appears to be progress is actually loss: loss of culture, identity, and mission. They look back to what they imagine to be a golden age when elites ruled and peons obeyed. And thus we see the source of their romantic attachment to authority as the source of order, and the longing for authoritarian political rule. As for universal rights, forget it. Rights are granted by political communities and are completely contingent on culture. The ancients universally believed that some were born to serve and some to rule, and the alt-right embraces this perspective. Here again, identity is everything and the loss of identity is the greatest crime against self anyone can imagine.

It should be obvious from Tucker’s analysis that where libertarians view each of us individuals with the power to think and choose, the Alt-Right views each of us instead as part of a “tribe,” our identity irretrievably given us at birth and needing “leadership” to be grafted into its proper whole.

So while libertarianism is indivualistic, the alt-right is demonstrably collectivist. This on its own should stop the mainstream media from lumping us all together. (Yeah right.) And make no mistake, says Tucker: the alt-right knows exactly who its enemies are, and we libertarians are among them. 

To Tucker’s five main differences I would add two more: two contrasting views on The Power of Reason and The Impotence of Evil.

12219593_10153643336842534_6846607398605838587_nFollowing Rand, Libertarian Objectivists recognise both the power of Reason and the impotence of Evil – recognising reason to be not just the driving force of history but man’s unique means of survival and flourishing, and evil (being its negation) being essentially parasitic, unable even to survive without mooching on those it would seek to destroy. (This is just one reason a religion like Islam essentially resides in the moral, cultural and historical vacuum created by others, and always has.)

The Alt-Right however consciously reject this thesis. For them it is not man’s mind that has power in the world but his blood. They repair instead to the notion that “intelligence,” culture and all values are simply a product of race, over which none of us has any control; and they see themselves as the true guardians of “white culture,” which is beset on all sides by evil hordes who cannot be reasoned with yet who somehow possess the power and the means to destroy us.

Evil itself has power therefore, and humanity itself becomes our enemy.(“Humanity as a whole is still sub-human” says one former NZ Objectivist, who desperately need to be “wiped out” by some “intervening cataclysm” so that “we” can start over.)

The irony is that in talking up the power of those forces they feel are arrayed against them, so powerful that they must be banned, barred, wiped out and walled out, they implicity stress both power of evil and the impotence of reason to address its challenges; they argue for the power of the culture they damn and the weakness of the culture with which they identify to stand up to those forces. In other words then, the culture they protect they view implicitly as weak and cowardly, and the “intelligence” that they so fitfully measure has no power for them to ultimately move the world.

In that then, the alt-right is not just a racist movement of un-reason, it is one of irredeemable cowardice.

UPDATE:

Objectivist Amy Peikoff discusses the Alt-Right with Stuart Hayashi, who’s recently been analysing Stefan Molyneux’s brand of “race realism”:

 

 

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Friday, 26 August 2016

Trading on E. Sunday, not for me or thee to decide

 

After years of shops being shut on Easter Sunday because religionists and unionists say so, I guess it should be good news that New Zealand’s archaic Easter trading laws have finally had an overhaul.

But like a presidential candidate unwilling to directly address an issue by punting it down “for the states to make that decision,” the Key Government has amended this one by punting it down to councils to make the call.

To councillors. Whose biggest decision every year is whether to put rates up by a lot or by an awful lot.

So expect an annual three-ring circus to erect its tent at every town hall about six weeks or so before Easter as every whacko with an agenda heads in to lobby his local loony about what he thinks other people should do.

The “argument” for punting th decision to council goes, I guess, that decentralised decisions are best. But only, I suppose, when the decision is a politically sensitive one.

But if decentralising decision making were truly valued, then what would be wrong with decentralising the decision to open or shut shops to the owners of the shops themselves. To individual shop owners.

I mean, they do own the shops, don’t they?

So who else’s bloody business is it anyway?

Yours?

.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Johannes Gutenberg's information revolution holds many lessons for today

 

gutenberg

If history is a battle of ideas, then the man most responsible for allowing ideas to be widely spread must be among history’s greatest heroes.
Lawrence Ludlow examines that man in this guest post – and argues there are still important lessons to learn from his story about innovation, immigration and freedom of information.

In a previous post some years ago, ‘NASA, the Aerospace Welfare Queen,’ I explored what happens when technology is grafted on to big-government militarism and the bread-and-circuses mentality of the state. The result? The kind of scientific 'achievement' described by Ayn Rand as Project X in her novel Atlas Shrugged. Not very inspiring. But this post will be uplifting. It will focus on a true benefactor of mankind, Johann Gutenberg, the inventor of printing with moveable metal type. His innovative application of printing technologies was not only a showcase example of market entrepreneurialism, but a greater source of benefit to mankind than state-sponsored technologies can ever hope to be. His is a story not only of invention and innovation, but of immigration, opposition to politically connected interests, and freedom of information.

Remember the Millennium?

Nearly ten years ago – in time for the millennium celebrations – Johann Gutenberg (ca. 1400-1468) was singled out as the greatest inventor of the past 1,000 years by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). Life rated his printing of the Bible as the top event of that time period. In addition, the Exlibris news and discussion group (University of California at Berkeley) dubbed him Man of the Millennium.

Gutenberg1There were good reasons to celebrate Gutenberg's innovation – not to mention subsequent related breakthroughs such as (1) offset printing, which transferred images from page-size plates onto paper beginning in 1904, (2) digital printing, which developed in the 1980s, and (3) web-page publication, which developed in the 1990s and was the result of a decision (in 1988) to end the 30-year stranglehold of the U.S. government on Internet development.

And while some may argue that the origins of the Internet lie in the government-sponsored ARPANET, the ARPANET is yet another example of state-sponsored Frankenstein technology – a relative dead-end that did not yield significant benefits until it was released from its state-enforced dungeon to become transformed by the private sector into the World Wide Web.

In a sense, the Web has multiplied the potential of Gutenberg's original invention: first, Gutenberg made possible the publishing industry, in which scarce resources are concentrated to fund the dissemination of information from relatively few replication centers; the Web and the app economy take it further, making it possible for everyoneto become a publishing center.

Fact and Fiction: The Discovery of Printing

Let's look at what Gutenberg did and didn't do. He did not invent either book printing or moveable type. In The Gutenberg Bible, James Thorpe, former director of the Huntington Library, points out that the earliest known wood-block printing of a book took place in 9th century China with the 16-foot-long roll of the Diamond Sutra. To produce it, entire pages were carved into flat wooden blocks that were inked and pressed onto paper rolls.

Furthermore, as early as the 11th century, printers in China (and Korea) were experimenting with pieces of moveable type made of baked clay. That invention, however, did not endure in East Asia because too many distinctive pieces of 'type' (the baked-clay letters) had to be created to print a book. In contrast to the 26-letter English alphabet, for example, the Chinese language uses approximately 40,000 ideographs – far too many (at the time) to offer any labour-saving advantages through printing.

Copying Books by Hand

In Europe until the time of Gutenberg, books were copied by hand, usually on some type of parchment (the skin of an adult sheep, goat, or cow) or on vellum (skin from a newborn calf). During the early Middle Ages, most of this copying took place at monasteries in a scriptorium, but by the 13th century, busy manuscript-copying establishments were located in major cities – usually near the early universities where books were in demand. Wherever manuscript copies were made, however, they contained errors.

The quill pens used by copyists – usually made of goose feathers – required frequent refills from ink pots, and the tedium of copying led to errors consisting of repeated or omitted portions of text. Even the introduction of wood-block printing in Europe during the late 14th and early 15th Centuries (usually for illustrations) offered few advantages. For example, wood-block carvings were laborious to create and could be ruined with a single false stroke of the carver's knife. They also wore out quickly and could not produce clear imprints for very long.

And while it is true that manuscript copyists used abbreviations to save time, new books still required about a year to produce. Not surprisingly, they were very expensive. As a result, the literacy rate was low – only 30% in some English towns during the 15th century.

The Printing Press in Action

The idea of printing with reusable pieces of durable, moveable type held definite advantages for Europeans. Since the Latin alphabet had only 23 basic letters, only a limited range of metal pieces of type had to be cast and replicated. Once created, these pieces of type could be arranged into orderly rows and pages of text on a printing forme. The letters were inked up, and damp paper or parchment was lowered onto them to receive the ink impression.

The result was hundreds of nearly identical copies of books. Once a set of pages were printed, the pieces of type could be reassembled again and again to print other pages and books until they finally wore out after many uses. All things considered, printing with re-usable, metal type yielded savings in labor and cost, greater accuracy and consistency in the final product, and a remarkable increase in the volume of books available.

A Market-Driven Process

The invention of printing, however, did not occur in a vacuum. Like any other product, it was subject to market conditions to which Gutenberg responded in an entrepreneurial way. We already have seen how the Western alphabet – with its limited set of letters – played a supporting role in the success of European printing.

To this, we can add the availability of paper in 15th century Europe – a cost-effective substitute for parchment and vellum. According to Warren Chappell and Robert Bringhurst (A Short History of the Printed Word), the process of making paper from plant fibers was discovered in China in the 2nd century. It spread to the Middle East in the 8th century (where it was improved), and the Moors brought it to Spain (11thcentury). By the late 13th century, a paper mill that used linen and rag fibers was operating in the Italian town of Fabriano . From there, it spread rapidly through Europe – just in time for Gutenberg's invention.

Gutenberg2Gutenberg was responsible for the print process itself, and his story has been outlined by Christopher de Hamel in The Book: A History of the Bible. As a stepping stone to the invention of printing, however, Gutenberg may have developed a mechanical-stamping process in the late 1430s. Details of his metal-stamping process, however, are unclear, and what little we know is based on the much-debated record of a lawsuit that was filed after the death of one of his business partners.

Nonetheless, it appears that while living in Strassburg, Gutenberg and his partners intended to mass-produce small, inexpensive convex mirrors by using Gutenberg's metal-stamping process. They planned to sell the mirrors to pilgrims visiting the holy relics in the city of Aachen. The relics were displayed every seven years, and pilgrims would pin the expensive mirrors to their hats, or they would hold them up as they viewed the holy objects. The mirrors would reflect – and thus capture – some of the spiritual presence of the relics.

Unfortunately, Gutenberg and his partners miscalculated the date of the pilgrimage (or perhaps it was changed); the pilgrimage took place in 1440 instead of 1439. This delay and the partner's death led to the failure of the enterprise. Nonetheless, this business venture may have contributed to Gutenberg's later innovations when he moved to the city of Mainz in 1448. Note, however, that this was an entirely private endeavour. No risk was forced upon taxpayers.

Gutenberg's Test Projects

In Mainz, where Gutenberg eventually established his printing operation, a legal document once again provides the few reliable details that have been passed down to us. The document (called the 'Helmasperger Instrument' after the notary who signed it on November 6, 1455) describes the attempted recovery of two loans taken out by Gutenberg in 1450 and 1452. It also mentions Gutenberg's project as 'the work of the books,' and it is described in Johann Gutenberg and His Bible, by Janet Ing.

Despite a settlement that obligated Gutenberg to repay with interest any money not used on the project, the settlement may have favoured Gutenberg – despite a legend that he was bankrupted as a result. Furthermore, it is possible that Gutenberg continued to print books in Mainz during the 1450s even though his moneylender (Johann Fust) and his assistant (Peter Sch'ffer) became partners in their own printing business there.

In 1454, the year before he printed his Bible, Gutenberg completed a few smaller projects, and they testify to his entrepreneurial spirit. They included a pamphlet warning of the danger posed by the Turks, who had just captured the ancient capital of the Byzantine Empire in 1453. In addition, there were four printings of indulgences, which were sold to raise funds for a war against the Turks. He also printed a New Year's greeting in German and a small Latin grammar. These small projects indicate a businessman who was 'ramping up' his operation for a bigger undertaking, such as the printing of the Bible. Once again, Gutenberg's projects were entirely for profit.

Marketing the Bible

In the case of the Bible, Gutenberg was targeting a specific group of customers: religious institutions such as monasteries. They were his best potential customers because they needed large Bibles for public readings. Only a limited number of wealthy individuals could afford the other copies. Providing a glimpse into Gutenberg's sales effort, we have a letter written by Aeneas Silvius, who subsequently became Pope Pius II in 1458. He personally witnessed Gutenberg displaying several sections of his not-yet-completed Bible in October 1454 at a conference of nobles in Frankfurt. The purpose of the conference was to rally public support for war against the Turks.

Gutenberg clearly perceived the anti-Turk hysteria as a boon to his sales effort – a kind of rally-round-the-Bible marketing opportunity that exploited Christian fears of Turks and their faith – Islam. From the letter of Aeneas Silvius, we also learned that Gutenberg had pre-sold every copy of his Bible before its completion.

Furthermore, there is undisputed evidence that Gutenberg had to increase the size of his print-run by about 33% to meet the high demand. This required him to re-set (with type) and re-print additional pages of some early sections of his Bible and purchase additional paper and parchment. The re-printed sections of his Bible contain subtle differences that can be seen today in the surviving copies.

Short-Term Benefits of Printing

The scale of the Gutenberg Bible project was astonishing for its time. Each printed Bible consists of two volumes totaling 1,286 pages and measuring 11-' by 16 inches. They are set in two columns of large, Gothic, black-letter type with 40 to 42 lines per page, and they can be read at a distance of three feet. Approximately 160 to 180 copies were printed – 75% on paper and the rest on parchment. Paper copies weigh 30 pounds each, and parchment copies weigh 50 pounds – each requiring the skins of about 160 animals (over 6,000 skins for all of the copies).

Gutenberg3Although the Latin alphabet has only 23 letters, a complete set of metal upper- and lowercase type used to create the Bible – including abbreviations, diphthongs, and punctuation marks – consisted of 290 characters. Four to six employees were busy setting type, and the print office held 200,000 printed pages stacked up for binding at the conclusion of the project.

Today, only 48 copies survive – 36 on paper, 12 on parchment. Only two parchment and four paper copies are in the U.S. , and prices have risen dramatically. A copy sold for $2,600 in 1847 and $50,000 in 1911. In 1978, the going price was $2.2 million, and in 1987, one volume (1/2 of a set) sold for $5.4 million at Christie's. Nobody knows what Bill Gates paid for the complete copy he purchased in 1994, but some say it was nearly $31 million. A single leaf can easily fetch more than $60,000. Contrast this with NASA. Who wouldn't happily pay to shut it down – along with its succession of orbiting money-pits that disintegrate and rain down debris from the sky?

The influence of Gutenberg's Latin Bible was tremendous, and by the end of the 15thcentury, 80 more Bible editions were printed in Europe – all but two of them based directly on Gutenberg's text (which was itself based on a 13th-century version of Jerome's late-4th-century Vulgate translation).

Even more important were the spread of printing beyond its birthplace in the city of Mainz and the consequences of that proliferation. By 1470, there were printers in 14 European cities, and by 1480 they were located in more than 100. By the end of the year 1500, over 1,100 print shops were doing business in more than 200 European towns, and they had printed over 10 million books. We refer to these early printed books (through the year 1500) as incunabula, from the Latin word for swaddling clothes or cradle, because they represent the infancy of printing.

Long-Term Benefits of Printing

The creation of large numbers of books was not the only spin-off benefit of Gutenberg's invention. The abundance of books was reflected in the growing size and number of libraries as well. Before the advent of printing, libraries existed only in a few centres of learning and were very small. In England, for example, the largest libraries were located at Canterbury and Bury – each holding about 2,000 books.

Gutenberg6Cambridge University Library held only 300 titles at the time, but today it holds over 5.5 million books and more than 1.2 million periodicals. With the widespread availability of books, the literacy rate increased. From a 15th-century rate of 30% in some English locations, it rose to between 30 and 40% in the 16th and 17th centuries, 60% in the 18th century, and 90% in the 20th and 21st centuries (although today's government schools are doing their best to curtail independent thought and churn out slogan-spouting automatons instead).

While the literacy rate rose, there also was a shift from oral learning to learning through reading – which made self-education even more widespread. There also was greater access to ideas and an increase in knowledge on the part of literate men and women. This helped to unleash an era of innovation and invention that continues today.

Some people even credit the success of the Protestant revolt to the printing press. If we consider the World Wide Web to be an outgrowth of the printing process, the number of 'publishing' centres continues to grow. For example, a Netcraft survey compiled in June 2006 identified 85,541,228 sites. There are now well over a billion, and growing.

Immigration: China to Islam to Westminster

We already have seen how the art of paper-making had its roots in East Asia and spread to the civilization of Islam before arriving in Europe. The free movement of people across borders – immigration – enabled the rapid spread of the new technology, and the story of William Caxton (ca. 1422-1492) illustrates perfectly the spread of printing and ideas from one country to another.

Gutenberg4Caxton is famous because he printed the first book in the English language and introduced the printing press to England. Nonetheless, he spent much of his life abroad. By the year 1446, he was living in Bruges (Belgium). There he printed the first book in English in about 1473/1474 – the Recuyell(compilation) of the Historyes of Troye, which was his own translation of a French courtly romance. He completed this translation while living in Koln (Germany), and he probably learned the art of printing from Ulrich Zell, a priest from Mainz (Germany).

He moved back to England in 1475 or early 1476, and he set up a print shop near Westminster Abbey. There he published the first books printed on English soil. Among these were Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (1476) and the Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers (1477). The latter was based on a work that originally was written in Egypt by Mubashshir ibn F'tik in the 11thcentury. The original was translated from Arabic into Spanish, then Latin, and finally French before being translated into English. For those who suffer from the current xenophobic infatuation with impermeable borders and immigration restrictions, the story of printing offers a powerful and much-needed antidote.

Special Interests Oppose Innovation

With its many benefits, one would think that the invention of moveable-type printing was universally hailed, but vested interests can be counted on to oppose changes that threaten them. Just ask aerospace engineers how they would feel if competitors such as Burt Rutan and SpaceShipOne eliminated their NASA gravy train. In the case of 15thcentury printing, calligraphers and illuminators levied political pressure to restrict its spread. Resistance was strongest in the city of Florence , where (according to Chappell and Bringhurst) calligraphers and their customers were 'contemptuous of what they considered the vulgar and mechanical imitations of good manuscripts.'

Oddly enough, the establishment of printing by the end of the 15th century did not spell doom for calligraphers. As more people learned to read, more learned to write. Consequently, the art of calligraphy continued to thrive. The 16th century was distinguished by many of the most beautiful manuscripts, and it also was the age of the great handwriting manuals.

Printing 'or Imitation Handwriting?

To understand the early opposition of calligraphers, we must remember that Gutenberg and other early printers did not conceive of printing as a way to produce a new kind of product. They viewed their technology as a way to produce handwriting. Consequently, calligraphers viewed printing as a direct competitor. Perhaps the greatest authority on early printing, Konrad Haebler (author of The Study of Incunabula as well as The German Incunabula and The Italian Incunabula), wrote extensively about the goals and practices of early printers. He explained that early printers – to comply with the aesthetic demands of their customers – were compelled to use confusing (to us) abbreviations in their printed products even though they were rendered entirely unnecessary by the new technology.

Gutenberg5It is easy to understand why scribes made use of these labour-saving shortcuts: it reduced the amount of writing they had to do. But the printing press made it possible – and easy – to spell out every letter of every word without additional effort. In fact, the creation of unique pieces of type to imitate abbreviations (and diphthongs) was an additional burden and expense.

As Haebler explained, however, any attempt to break this rule resulted in products that could not be sold because they did not comply with the exacting standards of customers. Book buyers expected to see abbreviations, and printers gave them what they wanted. It was only in later years that they could depart from this imitation of manuscript models and take full advantage of the new technology. In a similar way, modern architects only gradually understood the new design possibilities made available by building materials such as steel and glass curtain-wall. The result is the sleek, geometric, glass-sheathed structures of today's skyline.

The Customer Is Always Right

Haebler described other characteristics of manuscripts that also were preserved by early printers. For example, the beginning of new chapters and other important sections of a book included oversized initial capital letters that were several lines high and projected into the body of the text and into the margins as well. Early printers – including Gutenberg – left large blank spaces in their columns of neat text so that calligraphers and illustrators could fill them in with large capital letters and decorations by hand. To this day, many incunabula contain all of their original blank spaces because rubricators were never hired to decorate them.

In a similar attempt to replicate the standards of hand-written text, books on medicine, law, and theology were printed using Gothic type almost exclusively. Otherwise, they could not be sold. Furthermore, when the art of printing spread from the German-speaking world to Italy in 1465 (with the arrival at Subiaco of German printers Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz), Roman letters – the ancestor of our Times Roman font – were used for the first time instead of Gothic letters.

Roman type became the necessary standard – in Italy – for all printed works of philosophy, literature, science, art, and authors from classical antiquity. It suited the aesthetic tastes of the learned men of Italy, who had imbibed a humanistic Renaissance education and had an appreciation for ancient Roman inscriptions. Again, the customer always came first.

Below is an example of what is now considered the perfected form of Roman type, printed in 1478 by Nicolaus Jenson in Venice (from Plutarch's Lives, or Vitae illustrium virorum).

ludlow2

Below is an example of Gothic type, printed in 1480 also by Nicolaus Jenson in Venice (from Antoninus Florentinus, Summa theologica, part IV).

ludlow3

In contrast to the sensitivity of these early printers to the preferences of their customers, the 'products' and 'services' of government agencies are usually provided in abysmal fashion or are forced upon the public under threat of a penalty. Next time you are compelled to 'contribute' to any state bureaucracy, remember the early printers and ruminate on what has been lost.

Epitaph for a Genuine Benefactor

It is not surprising that Gutenberg's name faded from memory shortly after his invention. His Bible is not dated, and it does not mention him by name. In fact, Gutenberg's connection with his Bible was only recovered many years later and after much research and controversy.

Nonetheless, a rector of the University of Paris, Professor Guillaume Fichet, wrote an early testimony to Gutenberg on December 31, 1470, just a few years after Gutenberg's death.

'Not far from the city of Mainz, there appeared a certain Johann whose surname was Gutenberg, who, first of all men, devised the art of printing, whereby books are made, not by a reed, as did the ancients, nor with a quill pen, as do we, but with metal letters, and that swiftly, neatly, beautifully. Surely this man is worthy to be loaded with divine honors by all the Muses, all the arts, all the tongues of those who delight in books, and is all the more to be preferred to gods and goddesses in that he has put the means of choice within reach'of mortals devoted to culture. That great Gutenberg has discovered things far more pleasing and more divine, in carving out letters in such a fashion that whatever can be said or thought can by them be written down at once and transcribed and committed to the memory of posterity.'

Gutenberg is a hero in the history of ideas. Everybody reading this is in his debt.


Lawrence Ludlow is a freelance writer living in San Diego.
This post previously appeared at FEE and Strike the Root.

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Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Prices are stable?

 

The idea of a general price level is as stupid as the idea that inflating credit and the money supply with it doesn’t create inflation, yet the ‘Consumer Price Index’ that measures this imaginary figure has achieved virtual Holy Writ status, and is written into laws, contracts, and payment plans.

For Ludwig Von Mises, any decent analysis of this “inflation figure” would begin by “decomposing” the so-called macroenomic aggregates “into their micro-economic components by rigorously analysing the ‘transmission mechanism’ of a monetary injection.’”

But this is precisely what mainstream commentators wish to avoid. It would demand they recognise that the figure itself is illusory, and their practice credit injection damaging.

Let’s see what the aggregate figure of the general price level hides:

INflation1

Quite some disparity, eh?

Anybody who thinks there is such a thing as a single inflation figure should be warned. And anyone who reifies it should not be in charge of a baked bean, let alone of being any kind of bean counter. Especially one who constantly “warns” that we have no inflation in New Zealand.

The big lesson, as Hayek once explained: “Mr Keynes’s aggregates hide all the mechanics of change.” In this case, of destructive change.

There’s another important lesson to draw here. The items below the “index bar” all represent the result of of invention, of innovation, of productivity—of everything that makes real wages higher – of the Hank Rearden effect that makes prosperity more widespread and abundant -- all the things the central banks rely on to keep their own phony inflation figure down while their monetary inflation goes through the roof, all while screwing the Hank Reardens around.

Whereas the items in the top of the index bar represent things that the government subsidises, or heavily regulates.

Mind you, the graph is only for the US, although doing one for NZ would look very much the same.

And just to make ours more realistic, I added in the results of our rampant house-price inflation (taken from REINZ figures). Which puts a whole lot of things in perspective, don’t you think?

INflation2.

[Hat tip Catallaxy Files]

A little sense from Greens, a lot of nonsense from Little

 

I’m a little late in giving full credit here, and I doubt we’d agree on how it should or might be done, but for a politician Greens’s co-leaderene Metiria Turei shows more sense on this than many others in saying:

AUCKLAND HOUSE PRICES HAVE T0 DROP 50 PERCENT – GREENS

That would take them back to around 2009 levels. Hardly killing. And down to just five times median incomes instead of ten. Still not completely in the “affordable” bracket, but a good start.

"Auckland house prices should be deliberately reduced by up to 50 percent over a period of time to make the market affordable again, Greens co-leader Metiria Turei says. The average house price in Auckland has risen to nearly $1 million, or 10 times the median household income. Ms Turei said the only way to reverse that was to slowly bring prices back down to three or four times the median household income….

Mind you, like all the other politicians, she has no solution to do that.

She told Morning Report the Green Party was considering what timeframe would work without crashing the market and hurting people who already owned homes. "The only way to prevent a bust, and to protect families in the short and long term is to lay out a comprehensive plan, which means using every comprehensive tool that we've got so that we can slowly bring down house prices so that they're reasonable."

How? With a comprehensive plan using every comprehensive tool. Wow.

Sounds like a non-plan.

The Auckland Council's chief economist had suggested bringing prices down to five times the median household income by 2030, she said.

Yes, he did. Mind you, he had a few solutions too.

Labour leader Andrew Little said Ms Turei's declaration that Auckland house prices should be deliberately reduced was irresponsible.

It’s irresponsible to say houses should be affordable? What a prick.

There was no way a Labour-led government would consider the idea, he said.

There’s no way Labour would consider the idea of making housing affordable? What a dick.

"We have a very clear plan. It's not about crashing house prices. It's about stabilising prices.

So what the hell does that mean. Dick.

"We don't want to cause undue economic harm to those who - in good faith - have bought homes, entered into mortgages. That's not a responsible approach." Labour and the Greens recently struck a co-operation agreement, including a no-surprises policy.

It’s probably no surprise to the Greens that Little is a dick. So that’s fine.

Ms Turei said a more comprehensive capital gains tax, restricting property purchases to permanent residents and citizens, and removing tax exemptions were also needed to cool the property market.

Mind you, it’s no surprise either that the Greens’s way to fix the intersection of three most regulated parts of the country with more regulation. And more tax.

Ms Turei said the government was not admitting there was a problem with housing prices, let alone putting in place a plan to deal with it to protect families.

And that much is true.

Mr Little said a Labour-led government would build affordable housing, as outlined in recent policy announcements.

And that much is untrue, because their plan involves being able to build each stage by making profits from each earlier stage – but with costs as they are those profits are as illlusory as their plan. In short, their affordable housing plan is literally unaffordable. Mind you, if they were to make it work, if they were to achieve the impossible, it would do more than just “stabilise” prices now. It would also help build the slums of tomorrow.

What’s wrong with just taking off the vice grips and letting folk build how and where they want. That’s not just one plan, that’s a hundred-thousand plans.

And what’s wrong with a liltle churn? It makes better houses as well as it makes good butter.

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No, don’t free Anjem Choudary

 

Arsehole2
Free Anjem Choudary? No, let’s not.

 

Here’s how not to defend free speech: by defending the jailing of “Islamist hothead” Anjen Choudhary – that “Bin Laden without the balls.” Spiked’s Brendan O’Neill, now on a tour of Australia and often quoted here, argues that “he’s repulsive, but he shouldn’t be sent to prison.”

What Choudhary dreams of doing — smashing freedom of thought and demanding conformity to his ideology — is done by the British state to him. In seeking to solve the Choudary problem, we become like Choudary:.

This is errant nonsense.

Yes, O’Neill is right that we shouldn’t have people arrested simply because they’re odious. And he’s very right that Choudary’s arrest and conviction now is largely “a displacement activity, a legalistic performance of toughness against the problem of Islamist extremism in place of any serious ideas for how to confront the growing influence of such anti-Western, anti-liberal ideas among young Muslims, and others”:

How much easier it is to hold up the likes of Choudary as infectors of minds than it is to ask what it is about 21st-century Britain that means a significant number of our young people can be drawn to profoundly unenlightened thought. The showy conviction of Choudary, ridiculously branded ‘the most dangerous man in Britain’, is a sad stand-in for tackling the crisis of British values and liberal thought, which is so strong that we’re losing — rather than Choudary actually winning — young people to a depressing, death cult creed.

The death cult Choudary supports exists in a vacuum created by the west itself – Islam always has. Choudary’s gleeful sponging on British taxpayers is almost a metaphor for how Islam has always survived and flourished, right from when it first began. He’s a parasite, as his religion always has been. As O’Neill identifies so well, Choudary and his fellow creatures are not winning young peope to their nihilistic stone-age cause, the west is generally losing them by failing to fully uphold, defend and identify its own founding values.

We do love life as they love death, but you wouldn’t know it from all the cringing. Getting up of our own knees would be a good way to begin fighting back against the death cult.

But it’s not true anyway that Choudary was guilty only of loose lips.  Like other cowardly inciters of the suicide killings they might have done themselves but didn’t, Choudary was fully implicated in mass murder. Writes Maajid Nawaz, who has followed his career for years, this jihadi joke was in reality a terrorist mastermind:

Over the course of his 20-year jihadist freefall, Anjem’s group al-Muhajiroun and its “Sharia For…” offshoots have been deemed responsible for half of all U.K. terrorist attacks. Anjem himself has been directly linked to the RAF Lakenheath plot, to radicalising Jihadi John’s British successor Siddhartha Darr, the Anzac Day plot in Australia, the plot to behead a British soldier, the murder of drummer Lee Rigby at Woolwich in London, the Royal Wooten Basset plot, the London Stock Exchange Plot, and suicide bomber Omar Khan Sharif’s 2003 attack in Tel Aviv. Anjem has also been indirectly linked to London’s 7/7 bombings, the shoe bomber, the ricin plot, the fertilizer bomb plot, the dirty bomb plot, and the Transatlantic bomb plot.
   Around 6,000 European citizens don’t just get up out of a vacuum
and leave to join the worst terrorist group of our lifetime. Anjem Choudary was a key voice responsible for cultivating what eventually became this ISIS support network in Europe. And he acted with impunity.
    No surprises, then, that police revealed his link to
500 British jihadists fighting with ISIS in Syria.

So, much more than just an evil clown then.

Arsehole4But evil itself is impotent – it “has no power but that which we let it extort from us.” So like the vermin he is, has survived midst the cracks and crevices of civilised life – surviving midst the self-imposed western disarmament of cultural relativism, of welfarism, and in the holes in people’s understanding of what free speech entails. The simple relevant fact about free speech here today is this: You are entitled to say anything you like. We all have that right. But you are not entitled, to borrow Raymond Chandler’s feliitous phrase, to become a killer by remote control. That right belongs to no-one.

There is one reason however not to lock him up, and one reason only. That reason, says Nawaz, is that prisons themselves have now become hotbeds of radical recruitment, so

now that Anjem is in prison, another challenge confronts us. He will be held for a while at HMP Belmarsh, previously described as a jihadist training camp. How will he be stopped from playing his wicked tune through his crooked flute in jail? This time his audience is made up of hardened criminals.

Nawaz maintains that “action to at least neutralise his recruitment efforts must certainly be considered. And any plan should form a blueprint for building such intervention to scale, globally.”

The way in which my path eventually forked from Anjem’s symbolizes the split at the heart of the civil war playing out within Muslim communities, and beyond: Islamists against secularists. Muslims with varying levels of devotion, and even non-Muslims, sit on both sides of this divide. They straddle a largely passive Muslim majority that values its religion and culture but just wants to get on in life.
    Islamist theocrats will not allow them to do so.
    A civil war has unfolded within Islam, and none of us can any longer afford to remain neutral. First and foremost, this is an ideological war. The state, private companies, and civil society must intervene on behalf of secularists
.

Intervening on behalf of a terrorist mastermind to help free him would put you on the other side that civil war. Not to mention on the other side of the war against us all declared by Islamist theocrats themselves.

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Tuesday, 23 August 2016

John Key really doesn’t want affordable housing

 

The Affordable-Housing Theatre continues, with politicians feigning interest in the problem they’ve helped cause, while signalling to house-owning voters that, “no worries,” their house prices will be safely high with them.

Yet almost everybody who owns a home has relatives who can’t, and wishes they could. and surveys show that nearly two-thirds of Aucklanders and more than half of those who own a home would prefer that house prices either “fell a bit” or “fell dramatically” over the next year. And more than four in five understand we’re in a bubble.

And any economist who understands that prosperity doesn’t grow in a bubble knows that unaffordable housing costs us all in the end.

But does that bother the PM? Nah. Not a bit. Anybody who thinks house prices should fall is “crazy.”  And yesterday in the parliament he said Metiria Turei’s quite sensible observation that house prices too high represented “a war on the poor.”

Logic has gone totally out the window. It’s out there on the wind, along with the rising price of houses, and the promises to do something about it.

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Sometimes a banana is just a banana

 

The sport of AFL never gets reported in NZ, except when something non-sport happens. Latest non-sport news: A Port Adelaide fan is banned for throwing a banana at Eddie Betts after kicking an impossible (winning) goal for the Crows. (Eddie, by the way, is aboriginal.)

A banana? At ‘The Footy Almanac' Earl O’Neill writes’:

“The banana has me intrigued.  Did she plan on throwing it at Eddie?  Was she thinking, when looking through her kitchen for a convenient, healthy football snack, ‘Apple, no racial connotations there; orange, no; banana, yeah, awright!  Eddie will cop it!  The other Eddie will love it!’
    “People may have objections to cultural practices like clitoridectomies but to hate someone purely because of their ethnicity is something I just don’t understand.  Eddie Betts is a player who has always seemed to be well-loved by all for his freakish skills, big grin, baggy shorts, except when he’s kicking goals against your team.  Then you hate him like you’d hate any other player, i.e., until the end of the match or until you’ve properly vented your spleen.
    “‘Goddamn you Betts, ya flipping bastard, kicking four impossible goals outa yr arse!’
    “No need for boong, nigger, etc.  … What if the next Eddie Betts was named Tran Tinh Nguyen or Ahmed al-Heraza?  Would the likes of Banana Woman be packing egg noodles or felafels?  You can buy both at the Showground, meat pies and burgers too, in case you have something against Anglo-Celtics.
    “I’m pretty much a free-speech absolutist and incidents like this illustrate why.  How are you gonna call out petty bigotry if you don’t know it exists, if you don’t have examples like Banana Woman? And, on top of that, how are you gonna fluff up your own self-righteousness without her and her confreres?”

Which is what the AFL head honcho and sundry Melbourne journalists were doing all day yesterday.

I can’t help wondering what cigar-loving Sigmund Freud might have said about it all. But I’d bet he would have enjoyed round 22’s best moments (including Eddie’s out-of-his-arse goal at 4:40):

 

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Save the rhino by privatising it

 

The best way to save dwindling species? Eat them, skin them, save them.
Guest poster Nathan Keeble looks at the dwindling of rhino populations, being killed for horns now more valuable than gold.

Rhino populations are facing a very serious threat. The International Union for The Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reports that poachers in Africa killed at least 1338 rhinos during 2015 – part of a continuing crisis that has resulted in a total of 5940 rhinos being poached to date. With a 9000% increase in occurrence since 2007, this has rapidly become the greatest threat to the populations of white and black rhinos, two species whose numbers have recently been brought back from the brink of extinction thanks to extensive conservation efforts.

This raises two questions. Why are so many people illegally killing rhinos, and what can be done about it?

Asian Demand for Horns

The answer to the former question lies in the most distinctive feature of rhinos, their horn. In Asia, rhino horns are used for traditional medicines, allegedly holding the cure for a multitude of ailments ranging from hangovers to cancer. It is also increasingly becoming a symbol of status and success in these emerging markets, where many people have disposable income for the first time. This has clearly created a very strong demand for rhino horns in Asia, particularly Vietnam, which has warranted prices of $60,000 per kilo. By weight, that’s more expensive than gold. That’s some serious bling.

A Black Market and Its Consequences

Where there is a demand for something, a market will form to meet it. This will happen regardless of any government prohibitions to prevent it from occurring. Of course, this doesn’t stop politicians from trying, and black markets are formed in response. This is precisely what has happened with the markets for drugs, prostitution, and, yes, rhino horns. It is illegal to buy or sell rhino horns in Africa and most of Asia.

Rhino2Prohibitions are created by well-meaning (and sometimes not so well-meaning) protectionist politicians to try stopping a certain action they deem evil, such as profiting from the sale of rhino horns. The problem is that the consequences of these prohibitions are, without fail, worse than the actions they are intended to eliminate – and they often exacerbate those actions as well. The rhino horn prohibition is no exception.

It is the government’s prohibition of the horn trade that is the root cause of the disastrous increase in poaching. If it is illegal for the rightful owners of rhinos to sell the horns of their rhinos, the only way to meet the demand is to resort to poaching rhinos instead, particularly wild ones located in state-run reserves, .

Oddly enough, it is not illegal to remove the horns of rhinos if they are not later sold, prompting both governments and the few private owners to saw off the horns of their rhinos in attempts to keep them from being targeted by poachers. The South African government has vast amounts of horns sitting in storage. This poses the crucial question. If the laws aren’t actually to protect the rhino’s horns, why do they even exist?

Privatisation And Legalisation

If governments and animal rights activists wish to put an end to the poaching epidemic, the solution is clear, private property and free markets. All laws criminalising the trade of rhino horns should be repealed and as many rhinos as possible should be put in the hands of private owners. Not only would this solve the poaching crisis, it would solve any worries of rhino populations dwindling in the future.

If the trade of rhino horns was legal, it would no longer be necessary for poachers to kill rhino under the cover of darkness for their horns. Merchants could simply purchase them from rhino farmers, just like grocery stores purchase cuts of sirloin or pork. The welfare of rhinos is further guaranteed because it would be hugely important for the rhino’s owners to provide them with as much care and safety as possible, as the rhinos now have a realisable economic value to them. If a rhino is harmed or killed in any manner, its owner stands to lose a large sum of money. The farmers’ livelihoods would depend on their rhinos, and vice-versa. It should be stressed further that it is far from necessary that a rhino be killed for its horn to be removed, and if properly done a horn will regrow.

Rhino3Not only would the lives of existing rhinos be securer than ever under a system of private ownership and free trade, it is conceivable that the total population of rhinos would increase as well. It is clear that at the current extremely high prices being paid for horns that demand for them greatly outweighs the available supply. Legalising trade will immediately do a great deal to change this with existing rhino populations. However, it is very possible that the current rhino population is wholly insufficient, and if so market forces would motivate farmers to breed rhinos, increasing their population, until the market was brought towards ‘equilibrium.’

This reveals why it is also of the utmost importance that private owners and not governments handle the rhino trade. Government management makes the whole system fall apart, as it lacks the necessary tools to effectively manage profit and loss. The welfare of governments does not depend on the rhinos and they have very little incentive to care for them or preserve them. As trade in rhinos themselves can’t take place if the government is the sole owner, it is also impossible for market prices to form, making it impossible for them to determine the proper population of rhinos or how much resources to devote to their care. This is a perfect concoction for waste, mismanagement, and devastation.

In the absence of government and in the presence of free markets, the demand for a rhino’s horns would be the greatest insurance of the animal’s survival, not its greatest threat. Nobody, after all, worries about the extinction of chickens or cows. The time has come to legalise and privatise rhinos and their horns.


Nathan Keeble helped start the Campaign to End Civil Asset Forfeiture in Tennessee.
This post first appeared at FEE.

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Monday, 22 August 2016

What we mean by "Let the market handle it"

 

tools

Guest post by Don Boudreaux

On this excellent EconLog post by Alberto Mingardi, a fellow called “Phil” comments:

In his book ‘Economics Rules,’ Dani Rodrik says “The hedgehog’s take on a problem can always be predicted: the solution lies in freer markets … Foxes … sometimes … recommend more markets, sometimes more government.” It’s better to be a fox than a hedgehog, according to him.

(I add that “Phil” does not seem to endorse Rodrik’s point.)

I’ve not read this Rodrik book, but I’m familiar with the argument. The argument is quite common. It’s also wrong. Its error is that it incorrectly identifies the set of choices for dealing with problems (and with “problems”).

Rodrik’s argument appears to be the height of reasonableness. “It is dogmatic and dangerous,” the argument’s champions rightly note, “to assume that one solution or one approach is the answer to every problem. Some problems call for the use of screwdrivers, others call for the use of hammers. Only a benighted fool insists on using a screwdriver to hammer in nails and on using a hammer to insert screws. The wise, non-ideological, enlightened, open-minded, reasonable, and scientifically aware person sometimes uses a screwdriver and other times uses a hammer. What could be more reasonable?!”

Tools1The error in this formulation is that markets are many tools. Markets are a toolkit with far more tools in it than government has access to. While government has only a few tools – mostly hammers (some sledge), saws, and clamps – the market is filled with many, almost countless, tools. And the market’s tools are much more varied, nuanced, specialised, and creative than are the government’s simple set of tools.

Put differently, to say “let the market handle it” is just a shorthand way of saying “Let whoever is most willing, most able, most experienced, most knowledgeable, and best equipped be free to try his or her hand at dealing with each specific problem.” And to say “let the market always handle it” is not – contrary to what Rodrik’s argument suggests – to propose a single, simple fix for all problems; it is to propose that the field be left open for as many fixes as are feasible to be tried. To say “let the market always handle it” is to warn that using government as a fix crowds out – prevents – experimentation with many other possible fixes.

In short, the choice is not between only two alternative possible fixes: the market or the government. Instead, the choice is between a gigantically large and varied set of possible fixes (the market, with its many detailed specialized carpenters and master builders) or a tiny set featuring one possible fix (the government, with its hammering, sawing, and clamping officials, none of whom – unlike the case with market participants – can be reasonably presumed to know enough of the finer details of any of the problems that they are called upon to ‘fix’).

The truly reasonable person – the one who understands the benefits of having access to as many ‘solutions’ to problems as possible – supports the market because he or she knows that to turn to government solutions is to drastically reduce the number of ‘solutions’ that will be tried.

Below the fold is a post from ten years ago that addressed the same topic.

Friends don’t let friends listen to Stefan Molyneux

 

13962511_858290450938395_5615636067149177085_n

One of the least attractive phenomena in more than a decade of unattractive things is the re-emergence into what passes for polite society of eugenics and explicit white supremacy. Even in places and from people I once thought I knew. (If you’re wondering, then I probably do mean you.)

Trump is partly to blame. “By launching his campaign on a ‘Mexican immigrants are rapists’’ platform,” Donald Trump flushed these things back up from the sewers and made them safe to talk about again. Turns out that dressing up economic protectionism, white supremacism and tribalism as a defense of western civilisation has flushed out many things you thought were long sunk, and many things even in friends (now former friends) you hadn’t realised existed.

But he’s only partly to blame for what was probably already latent. Also to blame is the phony equation that being politically incorrect also means being noxious;  the un-thinking that says if “they” are against it, then “we” must be for it – and anyone else is a “cuck” -- or the non-idea that the appropriate response to “their” racism is to go hard out on your own.

With some it’s genuine (and genuinely unwelcome). With Stefan Molyneux, it’s a career move. Who’s Stephan Molyneux? He’s one of the other reasons you’re seeing more and more of this stuff around. Molyneux is a dickhead with a following, that for some reason some of you keep recommending. For the record, Molyneux makes videos of himself talking. Talking interminably, often about himself. Hardly riveting. For many years he talked about anarchy, seeking to become a bigfish in this small pond. Then seeing a gap in the much bigger phony pastor market he began telling his young followers to abandon their parents and instead devote their lives, their honour and their sacred fortunes to his cause. Which was his wallet.

His arse very publicly handed to him by a woman known as J. Ravin/“TruShibes,” he hunkered down to re-emerge as a promoter of white supremacy who, I Iament, has become unaccountably influential even with people I formerly knew and/or admired.

Strange are the things people turn to when they think that the world is on fire. Stranger still how they think eugenics and white supremacy would help extinguish and not fan it.

Stuart Hayashi has researched Molyneux’s rantings, should you have any doubt this is what the wanker promotes, and I heartily recommend his post if you’re wondering why you’re seeing this stuff or Molyneux’s name around the traps so much. Hayashi identifies two premises the toerag promotes that are rarely heard together (a strategy of deniability, you see), but when combined form the argument, such as it is.

Premise One: Your genes, as associated with your race, are the main determinant of IQ. That is, your racecauses you to have a particular IQ number….
Premise Two: Your IQ number is the main factor determining whether you are economically productive or criminally violent.

From those unprepossessing ingredients Molyneux makes a very unedifying stew: We should therefore deduce, at his behest, that a person’s race is what determines whether they are economically productive or criminally violent, therefore policies should be adopted to bar the many non-white “low-IQ races” from immigrating, from breeding, from generally being around.

This is not called out-and-out eugenics, these days, or even white supremacy – although that’s what it is. It’s called things like “race realism” or “human biodeversity,” which is they way you may have heard it promoted on websites and fora in which you once participated – or from people with whom you were once friends.  And while Molyneux is just a vector for this disease, not the main source, he’s unaccountably influential.

One thing relied upon is an ignorance about the basic distinction between race and culture, about which Thomas Sowell has written so widely and so well. Culture, explains Sowell, should be understood as “the working machinery of everyday life” and like any machinery should be open to criticism and improvement. Some cultures are more productive than others, some less; this is true, but race itself is irrelevant.

One of the eugenicist’s aims is to collapse this distinction between race and culture, insisting instead that only race is relevant – that the two are deterministically entwined, with IQ being the measure of superiority.

Yes, it truly is this facile. As Robert Tracinski points out, these are people who understand Western civilisation “not as a set of ideas, but as some kind of symbol of their racial identity.”

Hayashi briefly counters this odious nonsense, noting the very basic fact for example that even if you were to accept IQ as any measure of anything (about which there are huge problems) the causal arrow goes from  wealth to performing well in IQ tests, not the other way around.

He then plunges into a veritable long-drop full of excreta on this topic that Molyneux has spewed out since his dramatic rebirth, leading to the conclusion that “because skills and abilities have not been distributed evenly by Mother Nature among various ethnicities,” the only cure to the impending collapse of western countries is closed borders and racial separatism.

It’s like a prepper’s version of a national policy.

Why is this important? Because I keep seeing this stuff in places and around people I once frequented. And friends don’t let friends believe this stuff.

But if they do, there’s a very simple message for you, and it appears at the very top of this post.

Please take it literally.

Intellectual hygiene demands it.

MORE READING:

StefanMolyneuxWarriorGeneRacism02

  • “I take Stefan Molyneux to task for his promoting white supremacism. And I quote him to prove that, yes, that is what he is promoting.”
    Quotations from Stefan Molyneux Showing His Promotion of Eugenics, Pseudoscientific Racism, and Bigotry Against Blacks – Stuart Hayashi, STU-TOPIA
  • “The fetid end of the political spectrum is rising up to support statism in the name of protecting IQ – on the basis, say the fetid-swamp warriors, that the “low IQs” will only destroy the culture and are too dumb to deserve freedom anyway. Vile enough, but does their chosen proxy even merit serious consideration? No.”
    The Intellectual Conceit of IQ Ideology – Jeffrey Tucker, NOT PC
  • “It's not pretty, and it's sad that this person has any influence at all. In summary, and as a TL;DR: the left is bad, so things the left thinks are wrong by definition and opposition to the left is good by definition. [and more: “…the genius of the Trump campaign has been to convince people they’re defying the elites when they live down to the elites’ worst expectations of them.”]”
    The winner of the summarise-Stefan-Molyneux competition – NOT PC
  • “Robert Tracinski ably explains the fetid sewer of support flushed out by Donald Trump – people who understand Western civilisation not as a set of ideas, but as some kind of symbol of their racial identity. They’re calling themselves alt-right; he’s identified them simply as The Other Left. Or even more simply: Yes, The Alt-Right Are Just a Bunch of Racists…”
    “White Sheets and Red Golf Caps” – NOT PC

NB: From now on, I shall be taking this post’s conclusion as my policy on commenting here at NOT PC. The principle of free speech does not demand that I supply eugenicists with a microphone. If you insist on promoting ordure with mine, then fuck off and get your own.

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