Tuesday, 21 March 2017

What’s more important than political change?



In the long run, what’s far more important than any amount of tedious political yammering? What trumps political change?  Answer: what trumps both is a change in the culture -- of which political change is simply a consequence, not a cause.

So further evidence of “a resurgence in masterfully executed, beautiful representational art is a great thing,” says a Facebook friend. Like him, I think this reaction against a century of dumbed-down nihilism “mirrors the budding growth of reason in economics and other areas.”

In an ironic twist of history these traditional artists are perhaps the most radical and marginalised group of artists living today. And yet their numbers are growing.

This is great news.

These are highly skilled painters, sculptors, and draftsmen trained in ateliers or academies who are not embarrassed to utter the word “beautiful” at a time when that word is generally scorned by the contemporary art establishment. You’ll hardly ever see their works in major museums or at major galleries for longer than a short stint. Most of their works are whisked away by private collectors or are sitting in their studios, waiting to be discovered.
    These artists value quality over quantity, sincerity over cynicism, intrinsic value over marketing hype, and the Western tradition of fine art over the avant garde fixation on newness…
    Mostly awkward or humble when they try to describe their own work, they don’t fit into any radical stereotype. Suspicious of labels, they don’t know what to call themselves because they are too immersed in creating visual art to be able to think about words. They have decided to continue the Western tradition of art that has a reverence for mastery and skill and to learn the fundamentals of a visual language that developed over 700 years.

And with today’s postmodern art screaming for attention the more it self-confessedly has less and less to say, it is these young artistic heroes learning so much from the past who truly do represent the artistic future. And perhaps civilisation’s.

Exciting times.



Quote of the Day: On ‘Generation Snowflake’


"There is a nearly-universal contempt for objectivity and serious thinking. Everything is knee-jerk, whimsical. Belief in something – anything – makes it allegedly a metaphysical ‘fact’ to go to war over, on campuses and in the streets.
    “There is virtually no rational discourse on actual facts of reality. The human mind has been cast aside into a junk heap. Social Justice Warriors of anger and fear are ubiquitous.
    "How is this possible?
    “How is it possible that such an extraordinary instrument at human disposal can not only be neglected but held in contempt?
    "Why would humans not use their minds to understand reality and conquer reality – to be happy and productive? How is it possible to have the most powerful instrument in the known universe and then not use it?
    "It’s because thinking is not easy."

~ David Elmore, from his article ‘I Think … Therefore I’m not a Snowflake


Whinlayson’s retreat into animism is a river too far


Attorney General Christopher Whinlayson has declared the Whanganui River to be a legal person, and last week your MPs agreed with him, unanimously passing a law declaring that the Whanganui River has all "the rights, duties and liabilities of a legal person,"

But a river is not a legal person, despite what Christopher Whinlayson publicly professes to think. “Legal persons are of two kinds,” points out Jamie Whyte:

we humans, known in law as "natural persons", and persons that are legal fictions, such as companies and countries. These fictional people solve legal problems that can arise when natural people act in groups.

Two kinds, but with one constituent: human beings possessing agency. Natural persons are actuals persons or their guardians acting on their behalf; legal persons are properly “changing collections of natural people or positions filled by successive individuals” – such as companies, trusts or corporations.

Whinlayson acknowledges that "some people will say it's pretty strange to give a natural resource a legal personality, but it's no stranger than family trusts, or companies, or incorporated societies." Yet as Whyte points out, it is surely even stranger that an alleged legal mind thinks this is strange.

And even stranger that he thinks granting legal personality to a river is "no stranger."
    Rivers are not changing collections of natural people or positions filled by successive individuals. Nor can rivers be legal persons, whatever Parliament says. What duties might the Whanganui River have? Does it have a duty of care to ensure no one drowns in it? Can the river be sued?
    The underlying rationale can be seen in Finlayson's claim that Whanganui iwi will "have a representative speaking for the river [and] the Crown has a representative speaking for the river, and they are focused on addressing many of the problems the river has had over the last 140 years."

So, asks Whyte, “What can justify this foray into legislative lunacy?” Whyte identifies it as a retreat to animism:

 Mr Finlayson appeals to traditional Maori thinking. ‘In their worldview, “I am the river and the river is me”,’ he has said. ‘Their geographic region is part and parcel of who they are.’
    “If this worldview were literally true, then the Whanganui River would be a natural person – or, rather, many natural people: namely, all those Maori with whom it is identical. But it isn't literally true. It is simply a way of expressing a feeling towards the river.
    “A river is not a natural person: our legislators have embarrassed themselves.”

And so they have. This is indeed a “river too far.” But the failure is not just Whinlayson’s et al in parliament. As our guest poster Fred Smith pointed out yesterday, there was once a school of law that recognised a rational method whereby, over 140 years ago, a representative may have legal standing to speak for a body of water, so “addressing many of the problems [it may have] had over the last 140 years." That is: a legal system once embodied in the common law, that once recognised (around 140 years ago) that environmental resources be readily available as ownable private property, giving standing thereby to an actual person to protect his or her property.

The failure of Whinlayson et al to recognise this solution is at least twofold. First of all, in refusing to recognise the practical possibility of owning water, this government has committed itself instead to collective ownership, mysticism and a spiral down into increasing and utter absurdity. That the left is demanding a market solution to water allocation while this our centre-right govt says no is only one tine to this absurdist fork. Whinlayson’s retreat into animism is another.

And second of all, they are part of a now 140-year-old tradition that, in denying property rights in what are instead erroneously considered “environmental resources,” they have destroyed the possibility of rational legal and market solutions to what is actually a very simple problem. (Property rights in streams and rivers for example coupled with common law systems of protection would at a stroke solve the ‘dirty dairying’ problem about which so much is said, but so little achieved. Property rights in flora and fauna and land is the best means of ensuring a genuinely sustainable nation.)

The answer is better thinking about the institutions that protect environmental resources; not the creation of legal absurdities like this.



Monday, 20 March 2017

The state can't protect the environment – markets can



Unfortunately, mainstream ­­economists of the progressive era became enamoured of making economics a quantitative “science” and forgot the role of institutions, argues Fred Smith in this guest post. Thus environmental issues were relegated to the category of “market failure,” and the role of economists to that of commissars of rules and regulations designed to correct these failures. With lawyers and regulatory law invoked instead, the institutions necessary to allow environmental market transactions to solve the problems were simply not allowed to evolve. And today, instead, we are faced with political stoushes over water aquifers and mongrelised “legal fictions” manufactured giving “personhood” to rivers

As Joseph Schumpeter noted, free markets had a good first century. That century was the 1750s to 1850s: A market economy produced massive improvements in the quality of life, and that gained it general legitimacy. But, as he also warned, as wealth increased and this wealth generation became increasingly taken for granted, markets and the prerequisite institutions for markets to exist (specifically property rights) came more and more under attack.

Environment1Markets were good at producing wealth but, if tweaked by political intervention (it was thought), would achieve even more benefits. Progressives in the United States and socialists in Europe both championed political control of markets and, perhaps more strategically, both blocked efforts to allow markets to expand into new areas of concern, leaving these new areas exposed instead to intervention.

Those policies are now being reconsidered, but the one area where many, perhaps most, still believe only government can operate is that of environmental protection. This essay argues that classical liberals should challenge this view and seek to evolve a free market environmental programme based on the expansion of property rights and associated legal protections. There are indeed environmental concerns, but these reflect failures to allow markets and their prerequisite institutions to evolve, rather than “market failures”.

Market Institutions

Economic liberals have long understood that free markets evolve and are dynamic, and the appropriate price/demand terms for today will continually vary as consumer tastes and producer technologies evolve. But classical liberals also understand (although they devote less attention to) the fact that markets don’t operate in a vacuum, but rather are embedded within a necessary institutional framework. That framework entails a system of extensive private property, a rule of law outlining how contracts and liability issues are to be resolved and, finally, a culture that recognizes that voluntary exchange can increase wealth. Environmental issues arise in a situation where one or more of these requisite institutions don’t exist, where voluntary arrangements for resolving them have been denied.

Ludwig Von Mises summarised this position:

It is true that where a considerable part of the costs incurred are external costs from the point of view of the acting individuals or firms, the economic calculation established by them is manifestly defective and their results deceptive. But this is not the outcome of alleged deficiencies inherent in the system of private ownership of the means of production. It is on the contrary a consequence of loopholes left in the system. It could be removed by a reform of the laws concerning liability for damages inflicted and by rescinding the institutional barriers preventing the full operation of private ownership.

Environment2Policy makers have failed to recognise the relevance of such institutions and that time may be required for them to evolve. This neglect stems in part from the fact that these requisite institutions had evolved, in many areas, long before the Industrial Revolution. Those established institutions were stressed by the different challenges arising from the Industrial Revolution.

As the Nobel Laureate Ronald Coase notes, as the Industrial Revolution developed and environmental concerns (sparks from early rail locomotives, river damage from early industrial processes, the need to locate and develop oil resources), institutions did develop. Nuisance law was applied to pollution, and subsurface property rights were established. But then that process was stopped in its tracks.

Legislatures eager to promote economic growth granted railroads and many industrial plants pollution privileges. Subsurface property rights in oil pools and reserves did evolve, but they were not extended to aquifers, groundwater, and other liquid underground resources. And most mainstream environmental resources, such as wildlife, springs and brooks, airsheds and bays, remained as unprotected commons. Normal market processes were blocked from addressing these emerging areas of social concern. Thus, overuse and pollution – not addressed at the margin – were neglected until they grew to critical levels. A similar problem occurred in the failure to recognise the efforts of radio pioneers to homestead the electromagnetic spectrum.

Institutional evolutionary history has received too little attention because for much of history it had happened incrementally, slowly and largely out of view. Some newly discovered resource or some emerging value raised interest in providing or obtaining that resource, but interested parties found the transaction costs of achieving such exchanges excessive. But, viewing the potential of reaching a mutually beneficial wealth-enhancing agreement, the potential buyers and sellers as well as those brokering such transactions, would seek ways to lower these costs – via institutional and/or technological innovations.

The more successful of these innovations would be integrated into the established institutional framework. In effect, over time this would civilise these novel frontier exchanges, extending the market so that it could make “sweet” commerce available there also. The growth of the institutions of liberty would permit the expansion of the market.

Environment3Why didn’t this process occur as environmental values moved into prominence? Why were markets blocked from playing a creative role in nurturing and advancing economic values as they had long done in more traditional economic areas? Why are environmental resources rarely available as ownable private property?

Although the history of early environmental concerns has received little attention, Coase among others has examined how environmental concerns were addressed at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Early forms of pollution – primitive charcoal production that produced noxious smoke, say, or sewerage that dirtied water – would likely irritate downwind or downstream parties. Communal norms would discipline to some degree such “pollution activities” as they threatened the communities’ “proper enjoyment of their property”. But such low levels of pollution, especially in small cultural enclaves, could readily be handled: community pressures could encourage charcoal operations to relocate to more remote woodlands. Homeowners could be shamed into building clay-lined privies.

"Excuse Our Dust, But Grow We Must"

But with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the quantity and nature of materials processed and the quantity of residuals increased. The power of communities to address external and large enterprises weakened; moreover such enterprises brought benefits as well as nuisances.

Yet weak property rights and a liability system dealing with water and air did exist, building blocks for a more robust market in these areas. And efforts were made to adapt them to these new challenges. Coase notes that farmers filed suits against railroads when the sparks from these first-generation locomotives set fire to their crops. Fishing clubs moved to enjoin corporate disposal practices that harmed the fishing in areas where they held rights. And these early “free market environmental actions” had impact – firms did respond and, it appeared, that the Industrial Revolution would consider all values (addressing the challenge posed by Mises).

But, while there were some concerned about environmental values (initially mostly those enjoying those resources or harmed by a firm’s negligence) many, especially socialists in Europe and progressives in America, championed “Progress” – a policy of “Excuse our Dust but Grow We Must!”

Politicians in Britain responded by granting licences to pollute to industries and firms seen as especially important to such growth. Rather than integrating environmental resources into the market economy, they were locked out.

Environment4And, perhaps more importantly, the concept of private property as a valuable institution to disperse power, encourage a variety of experiments, allow diversity in use, Progressives viewed resources as better protected by politics – vast tracts of Australia, North America and New Zealand have been transferred to governments over the last century. Moreover, the process by which newly valued resources slowly gained the status of private property, allowing them to become managed by the market, stopped totally in the late 19th Century. No resource that was not in private hands in 1890 is today.

The shift was sometimes abrupt. The electromagnetic spectrum which became a valuable resource at the turn of that century was initially being homesteaded with rules to separate one bandwidth user from another. Then Congress created the precursor of the Federal Communication Commission to own and manage this valuable resource. Subsurface resources such as minerals, oil and water all gained protection in America in the 19th Century by the innovation and legitimisation of the concept of subsurface mineral rights. Yet aquifers (the most abundant source of potable water) remain common property resources, lacking the institutional benefits of ownership.

Environmental Politics

To reiterate: free market environmentalism argues that current environmental policy took an unfortunate path. Rather than realising that the more worrisome forms of external impacts happened incrementally, that we should encourage a vast array of experiments about how best to reconcile (indeed integrate) environmental concerns with economic ones, the “market failure” model presumes that all environmental issues are inherently political.

Such environmental events happen somewhere and at some time before they happen everywhere and persistently. Thus, some individuals will be affected initially and will seek redress while the impacts are still small. Coase finds that the common law was often receptive to such requests, leading firms to reduce the nuisance: relocation, changing time of operations, acquiring buffer zones or even negotiating with the harmed party to permit future emissions. Firms and impacted parties might well innovate – impacted parties “fencing” themselves off from the nuisance, firms adding settling and treatment ponds, and so forth.

In brief, classical liberals would expect a period of confusion and adaptation as the parties encountering such-extra market costs and benefits evolved means of integrating those costs and benefits into the market structure. These would include extending property rights to the new resource (clarifying the right of owners to prevent this new form of trespass), legitimising new contract instruments that would permit the parties to agree to a risk-sharing arrangement (the plant agrees to hold its effluents below some harmful level and agrees to compensate the property owner if those protections fail), cultural change (recognising that air and water transgressions – transferring one’s residuals on to the properties of others without their permission – is a trespass, a “pollution”).

Environment5Since environmental issues will happen in many areas over time, classical liberals would expect the discovery process to provide a number of competing environmental response strategies and for those which proved most effective to gain dominance in the courts and in practice. Moreover, given the dispersed nature of these initial events, we would expect the initial respondents to be those most adversely affect or those most sensitive to nuisances, or those who value aesthetic more (modern environmentalists). If the culture viewed polluting activities as “necessary”, such individuals might well use their own resources within the restricted institutional framework to protect those environmental resources they valued.

Moreover, since those early events would affect relatively few people there would be less urgency to solve such problems immediately, politically. Over time, as the legal rules and property rights evolved, the nuisance would integrate into the standard market framework.

Endangered Animals

There is much to say about this process but an illustrative example can be drawn by concern over endangered species (and more broadly biodiversity). Efforts to protect such species politically – making such species a ward of the state – have not fared well. Too often the reaction of property owners faced with laws banning them from encroaching (on their own land) on the habitat of such species is: “Shoot, shovel, and shut up.”

That’s a description of how many American landowners have reacted to the burdens of the Endangered Species Act. Those burdens are substantial – finding that an endangered species is using your land as its habitat will preclude any further development or use of the land. The result has been that landowners have an incentive to kill any endangered species they find on their land, remove all traces of it, and keep quiet about it. Can there be a better way?

Classical liberal economics suggests that the answer is yes. The reason why the landowner disposes of the endangered species is not simply because the species imposes a cost, but also because the species has no economic value to him. If we can find a way of providing value to the landowner in having the species on his land, then the incentives towards destructive behaviour will be removed (or at least lessened).

One way to do this would be through ownership of the animal(s). Having a property right in the members of the species inhabiting his land would give the landowner an incentive to protect his property and its habitat. Moreover, the landowner could realise that value by selling his property right to someone else, thereby allowing the landowner to “cash in” his ownership stake.

Environment6The new owner might then pay the landowner to maintain the habitat, thereby providing an income stream associated with the species. Moreover, ownership in wildlife – like ownership in commercial and pet species – encourages the developing of a wide array of supporting institutions: pet stores, veterinary science, licenses, and pet adoption agencies.

To initiate this process one might leave in place the current government ownership of wildlife but create a process that would allow individuals or groups (those having a special interest in that species) to petition to acquire ownership of a suitable population of that species. As in the case of human adoption, the petitioners might have to demonstrate their ability to manage the species and be monitored until that was proven. Different petitioners might experiment with different approaches and, over time, one would expect a wide array of management practices. All this would open the market to Green experiments and innovation just as has long happened in conventional areas.

Every party would benefit from such a market arrangement. The landowner would get a continuing income from land that would otherwise have been worthless, the new owner would get a property right in something he regards as valuable, and the endangered animal gets a chance to live in a maintained habitat. Such a market arrangement of winners is clearly preferable to the current regulatory arrangement, which produces losers.

Even a market arrangement short of outright ownership would be better. For instance, crowdfunding could be used to compensate the landowner for his foregone income from his land. People who value the endangered species could pool their resources to provide this benefit. Again, this would be a market transaction.

‘Externalities’ and the Market Process

The problem is that market solutions like these are currently made very difficult by the nature of environmental regulation. Environmental regulation generally depends on bans, caps, and mandates that restrict the possibility of market transactions. Why should people who value the spotted owl send money to a landowner to protect it when the landowner is theoretically banned from doing anything to harm it or its habitat? They get far more “bang per buck” from funding environmental groups that lobby for more bans, caps, and mandates.

Environment7Regulation evolved this way because the economists of the progressive era viewed environmental degradation as a social cost. Landowners, factory owners, utilities, and so on were viewed as imposing costs on the rest of society and had to be prevented from doing so by legislation.

This imposition of regulatory law derailed the process by which market institutions could have evolved to solve the problem. As Coase revealed in his essay The Problem of Social Cost, such “externalities” are actually the manifestation of differing priorities between people that, if the transaction costs are low enough, could be painlessly resolved by market transactions .

Coase therefore did not support government intervention (at least, not initially or permanently) but rather argued that the potential wealth-creating opportunity would engage entrepreneurs to devise ways of reducing such transaction costs, to realise that wealth. The possibility of transactions creating value for both parties would create the “inventive-incentive” necessary for creating a framework for these transactions to happen.

In particular, proper institutions can lower transaction costs. For example, the rule of law makes transactions more likely, as parties to the transaction can be certain that disputes will be resolved fairly. The institution of property rights provides a vehicle for a whole swathe of transactions. These institutions are essential and evolving prerequisites to markets. This is a central insight of classical liberal economics.

Unfortunately, mainstream ­­economists of the progressive era became enamoured of making economics a quantitative “science” and forgot the role of institutions. Thus environmental issues were relegated to the category of “market failure,” and the role of economists to that of commissars of rules and regulations designed to correct these failures. The institutions necessary to allow environmental market transactions to solve the problems were simply not allowed to evolve.

A Path Forward

In many ways, environmental regulation is the last bastion of central planning. It is remarkable that even as Europe has realised the folly of central planning in so many other economic areas, it has actually doubled down on it in environmental regulation, and has indeed sought to export it to other nations. In this, it has found a willing ally in recent years in the United States, whose environmental policy is also largely a product of progressive era thought.

Environment7In that framework, the role of government should be to stand ready to facilitate proposals to expand and refine property rights and contracts, to ensure that liability laws encourage rational exchanges.

Perhaps the simplest example of this thinking would be to encourage experimentation with subsurface ownership of suitably isolated aquifers. The history of mineral and oil and gas policy suggests the value of linking ownership and natural resources. Does anyone really think that water availability would be a problem if such a policy were in place?

The term “the environment” has become a synonym for “everything” – but central management of everything is foolish. Allowing private parties to pioneer extending the institutions of liberty to environmental areas would begin the exploration and discovery process that has been suppressed for the last century. It is overdue.

A property rights approach would allow those closest to a polluter the right to enjoin that nuisance. The polluter could bargain and compensate to gain operating rights, with penalty fees for accidental discharges. That would create incentives for an array of ameliorative innovations: settling ponds, treatment diversion to other media (via incineration or land disposal).

Moreover, as such policies became widespread, firms would locate in areas where non-industrial uses were rare or where dilution potentials were high. In effect, externalities would be internalized while they were minor, and readily addressed, rather than waiting till there was a crisis.

Fred L. Smith, Jr. is the founder of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He served as president from 1984 to 2013 and is currently the Director of CEI’s Center for Advancing Capitalism.
His post first appeared at CEI and FEE.


‘Johnny B. Goode’ has gone



Over the weekend, Chuck Berry died. He was ninety.

More than anyone, Chuck Berry invented rock and roll. Without him … well, who knows. The musicians who followed knew his contribution, and were generally happy to take instruction. Even Keith Richards:


He understood the debt others owed him. [Read Chuck Berry’s Reviews of The Clash, The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, and More.]

Astronomer Carl Sagan once sent Chuck Berry a letter:


A related story going round NASA has it that the one message ever received from interplanetary space was a our-word message reading thus:

send more Chuck Berry


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Don't blame immigration for your home-grown terrorism


Fortunately for those of us down here at the bottom of the South Pacific, these discussions are always about other places. But since the facts about those other places are so easily and so widely misreported – or intentionally ignored – and then used to argue for policy here, it’s important to check out the real facts.
So in that vein, explains Alan Reynolds in this still topical guest post, don’t blame immigration for homegrown terrorism.

The Bastille Day slaughter of 84 people in Nice, following the 130 killed in Paris on May 13, 2015, left France the victim of two of the largest terrorist attacks outside the Middle East.

In France—as in the U.S., Turkey and Bangladesh—such attacks have nearly all been instigated not by recent immigrants, but by home-grown terrorists. All known Paris attackers were citizens of France or Belgium. The killer in Nice, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, was a resident of France since 2005.

The New America Foundation counts 94 Americans killed in seven Islamic terrorist incidents since 9/11. Terrorists in Orlando, San Bernardino, Fort Hood, Seattle and Little Rock were born in the USA; those in Boston and Chattanooga had been citizens for decades. 

The House Homeland Security Committee reported that, “Since September 11, 2001, there have been 124 U.S. terrorist cases involving home-grown violent Jihadists.”

Terrorism2Yet despite the home-grown origin of Jihadist terrorism, American politics has somehow spun toward the notion that controlling terrorism is primarily a matter of controlling immigration.

As the young folk might say, this is not even wrong.

Yet Donald Trump still claims, “We’re importing radical Islamic terrorism into the West through a failed immigration system.” He first proposed to bar immigrants who identify themselves as Muslims, then to “suspend immigration from areas of the world where there’s a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies” (a definition broad enough to include France). [And subsequently, as we now know, he selected 7 countries from whom to bar entry altogether, albeit “temporarily” – Ed.]

One problem with focusing on newly-arriving Muslims is that many U.S. terrorists and sympathisers converted to Islam, like Little Rock shooter Carlos Bledsoe in 2009. Out of 87 Americans charged with ISIS-related offenses in the past three years, a George Washington University study found 38 percent were converted to Islam.

More important, if fear of foreigners is supposed to be the big hot-button issue, then immigration is almost beside the point. Why? Because immigrants account for much less than 1 percent of the foreigners who arrive in the United States each year.

Without counting immigrants or refugees, 180.5 million foreigners came to the United States in 2014, according to the Department of Homeland Security. That is more than four times larger than all the immigrants now living in the United States (42.4 million).

Nobody could possibly imagine it feasible to carefully vet or otherwise limit the millions of tourists, business travellers and students who are constantly coming to the United States. So, what accounts for all the anxiety about infinitely smaller numbers who arrive as immigrants?

In contrast with 180.5 million non-immigrants arriving in 2014, only 69,975 arrived as refugees and only 481,392 new arrivals were granted green cards.

Any foreigner who wanted to come here on a suicidal terrorist mission needn’t wait two years to be vetted as a refugee, or try to get on a long waiting list for a green card. Tourists are allowed to stay in the U.S. for 90 days, business travellers 12 months, skilled workers six years, and students stay as long as they’re enrolled.  Citizens of 38 “visa waiver” countries (including France and Belgium) don’t even need a visa.

The chances of Homeland Security missing a handful of potential terrorists among 180.5 million temporary visitors are surely much greater than the odds of missing them among a few thousand well-vetted refugees.

What about illegal immigrants? In “Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population,” Homeland Security concluded, “It is unlikely that the unauthorised immigrant population has increased since 2007.”

Political obsession with the Mexican border is also misplaced because most foreigners arrive not on foot but on airplanes or ships.

Foreign nationals have to fill out an I-94 Arrival/Departure form only if travelling by land, so we know that 105.6 million (58.5 percent) of the 180.5 million foreign visitors in 2014 came by airplane or ship. Eighty percent of the 74.9 million who instead crossed the Canadian and Mexican borders were tourists; the rest were mostly business travellers and students.

Terrorism1In short, refugees and immigrants add up to only a tiny fraction of the 180.5 million foreigners who come to the United States, quite legally, in a typical year, and commonly remain for months or years. And nearly all Jihadist attacks in the West have been home-grown. But even if that were not the case, it is much faster and easier to come to the United States as a legal non-immigrant than to do so as refugee or permanent resident.

The U.S. visa program may well need tighter rules and enforcement, but that is an entirely different issue than making refugees and immigrants the primary scapegoats of anti-terrorist strategy. Because resources available for domestic security are limited, “keeping us safe” requires devoting the most resources to the most probable dangers rather than turning to hypothetical long shots.

Thwarting terrorism is primarily a task for intelligence agencies and police. Combating ISIS is primarily a military issue. Immigration policy or refugee quotas may indeed be important for other reasons [or notEd.], but the alleged link to Jihadist/Islamist terrorism is tenuous at best.

Attempting to enforce immigration restrictions based on a person’s self-described religious preference (or apparent national origin) would not be easy or cheap. Neither would tripling the size of the current 650-mile wall on the Mexican border. Such grandiose projects inevitably require diverting limited time and money away from more-promising options—such as hiring more FBI agents or private security firms for surveillance of suspicious activities and persons.

Alan Reynolds, author of the 2001 study Immigration Policy as Random Rationing, is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute.
A version of his article previously appeared at Newsweek and the Cato at Liberty blog.


  • “Sadly, however, the report’s facts will not make a blind bit of difference, because the anti-immigration argument is not based on any facts. It is based on something else.
        You could see this here recently at NOT PC when I posted the crime stats on Sweden that help explode the alleged “facts on the ground” showing “rocketing Swedish crime” in the face of increased immigration.
        The problem might be most evident in the Fact-Free Zone that is modern America, where Trump's “America First” executive orders on immigration and deportation are political solutions in need of an actual problem.
    Facts are not what motivate the anti-immigrationists – NOT PC
  • “We should be under no illusions about the evil of Islam, but neither should we grant it any more power than it has: as Ayn Rand used to say, evil on its own is impotent. Evil can only achieve its values through the actions of others—by that which we let evil-doers extort from us.
        “Never has this underlying impotence been more true of any ideology than Islam…”
    And, into that vacuum stepped Islam … – NOT PC, 2015
  • “’The Duke of Wellington famously said that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing-fields of Eton: and if that is the case, then the advance of the Islamic State was begun in the nice, tolerant, liberal academies of Britain and other parts of western Europe.’”
    Home-grown horror – NOT PC, 2014


Quote of the Day: On travel …


“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
~ Mark Twain, from The Innocents Abroad

[Hat tip Monica B.]


Monday, 13 March 2017

“Rape culture”?



Protestors in Wellington today have “come out in force to denounce what they call rape culture,” says Newstalk ZB, demanding “the compulsory teaching of consent in all secondary schools.”

They may be on to something, but perhaps not precisely in the way they think they are.

Moral outrage is high, even as actual numbers of rapes have been diminishing. And not just here, but across the west. Writing at The Undercurrent, student journalist Josh Windham acknowledges that “rape and sexual assault are morally atrocious and profoundly evil. And the idea of a ‘rape culture’ does have its finger on an important issue: that this is a deep cultural problem which cannot be resolved easily by harsher penalties (or by louder protests).”

He argues that “the social factors identified by proponents of the ‘rape culture’ diagnosis are relatively superficial; to focus on them is to ignore the deeper causes of the rapist’s mentality””

Some feminists blame sexism. But while many rapes may be partially motivated by sexism, sexism is not the key element explaining their continued occurrence. There are plenty of sexists who would never dare commit the act of rape…
    It takes the mindset of a criminal to commit the act of rape—the attitude of someone with a one-track mind bent on satisfying his momentary whims, unconcerned with abstract hindrances like the “consent” of others. But why does consent matter?

This is the key, isn’t it. Consent acknowledges the fundamental human faculty of free will – respecting the sanctity of another individual – and clearly “consent is especially important to the value of sexual interaction.”

To rape is to deface a richly rewarding celebration of partnership and love. To rape is to mount another as unscrupulously and mindlessly as a dog would.

So why not teach consent in schools?

Well, why not talk about a culture of consent – and, crucially, understand that consent is fundamental to all human interaction, and its violation has become routine and widespread across the culture. If these students truly wish to discourage what they call a “rape culture,” let them truly understand the vital importance of consent in all human interactions:

Sadly, sexual interactions aren’t the only cases where our culture undervalues the importance of consent. Ask yourself whether you always consider the consent of others in your everyday life. Do you care about the consent of the musician when you download his music without payment? What about the consent of the t-shirt vendor who refuses to sell shirts with your design? Do you consider the consent of the baker when he denies you the cake you would like baked? How about the consent of the restaurant owner whose facility you storm in political protest? Do you care about my consent, when you vote to force me (and everybody else) to buy health insurance, whether I desire it or not?
Consent1    To be sure, rape is far worse—far more repugnant—than any of these offenses. But is it different in principle? The dorm-room rapist who bypasses the consent of his intoxicated victim is entirely unconcerned with his victim’s most intimate personal wishes—it’s his will that comes first. And just as the rapist trivialises the mind of his victim by taking command of a body not his own, so does the demonstrator who takes control of a space that isn’t his to occupy, interfering with the lives and careers of others who have the right to use it. The same is true for the healthcare-mandators, the cake-demanders, and even the illegal-downloaders: to one extent or another, their victims are treated as objects to be owned, used, and commanded. The reasoning of the perpetrator in each case is simple and vicious: “I feel like taking this. I’ll take it.”
    If we hope ever to succeed in the battle against sexual assault, it’s this cavalier attitude towards consent that we must fight. For if we consistently permit the use of force in society to run people’s entire lives, how can we possibly expect to be taken seriously when suddenly stressing the importance of consent in cases of non-violent sexual assault?
   The way to combat behaviour like sexual assault is not to speak out against a “rape culture,” but to advocate and foster a culture of consent—not just about sex, but in every area of life. Each of us as individuals must internalize and practice a sincere respect for the lives of others. This demands recognizing the sanctity of the sovereign mind, of the fact that others are not mere fodder for our whims, and that they can never be of value to us if treated as such.

“A culture of consent,” he correctly concludes, “respects the idea that my end does not justify the seizure of your means.”

Yes, let’s all try to understand that, please.

Let’s place consent above compulsion in all its forms.


[Pic from The Undercurrent, from creative commons-licensed image courtesy of Flickr user Charlotte Cooper.]


Markets mean a cleaner environment


I frequently hear the refrain from people who should know better that capitalism is bad for “the environment” – that markets cause pollution: and more markets, more pollution.

And yet as philosopher Stephen Hicks points out, when you look at the actual facts nothing could be further from the truth:

Here is a list of the 30 most polluted cities on Earth. Per country, here’s where those cities are located:
India: 14
    China: 6
    Saudi Arabia: 3
    Pakistan: 2
    Iran: 2
    Bangladesh: 1
    Cameroon: 1
    Uganda: 1
All of them are clustered in the bottom half of rankings for economic freedom

Compare those cities (as he does) with cities in the most economically-free nations (as measured by these rankings): Hong Kong, Singapore, Auckland, Sydney, Geneva, Zurich, Tallinn, Vancouver, and Toronto, for example.

So it seems that far from being the case that more freedom is bad for the environment, the correlation points very strongly the other way.


This shouldn’t be a surprise.

After all, the very purpose of all that market activity is to improve the human environment – which means making the natural environment more hospitable not less. Which generally means cleaner.

And the very activity of producing for profit demands one do the most with the least: taking things of measurably lower value and transform them into things of objectively higher value. Every voluntary market action is thus an improvement.

When a country is freer and more prosperous, it can also afford to be cleaner – a clean environment, it turns out, looks like a luxury good when all you have to cook the evening meal is dried buffalo dung and some rice.

And when a country has stronger rather than weaker property rights, its people their own actions reflected back to them, and are in a position to protect their own patch from others.

Because all in all, most people when they can afford it prefer cleaner to dirtier.

And that’s why most places that are freer are generally the places that are cleanest – and why “free markets correlate with clean, and the lack of free markets correlates with dirty.”

Quote of the Day: “We aren’t looking for moral perfection”


“[F]or Aristotle ethics is not a science. We aren’t looking for moral perfection. ‘In fact, such a life is not possible for man,’ Aristotle states. ‘It it were, he would be a god.’ Instead, we look for advantage and improvement. From that point of view, Aristotle assures us, learning to be virtuous is not that hard. It’s all a matter of practice and learning the habits that go with it.”
~ Arthur Herman, from his book The Cave & the Light





That highly amusing picture above has been doing the rounds this morning, attracting many a witty response.

That ditch should have had a fence, sign, and tape, around it.

I don't know how to drive, but my book says you are doing it wrong.

About 10 days of paperwork there. Site should be fenced off pending an investigation with a hazard board placed prominently at the side.

I wonder if in his daily prestart/toolbox he mentioned crashing into a ditch and the best way to eliminate/minimise/isolate the risk of it.

And…. that’s why the Idea of *Zero accidents* is for Retards and Birds.
Imagine the Paperwork on this… Good job!

Yes, I know, I know. Which one of us hasn’t driven a car into a ditch. But it doesn’t mean we can’t laugh our tits off at this wally. And as Tim Wikiriwhi points out, whenever you hear some manager, or safety officer talking about “zero accidents” as a company objective, you know  it’s not so much worker safety they have in minds but are simply virtue-signalling to the Labour department and OSH -- oblivious to the fact that the more silly rules they make, the more workers disengage and the less they respect real health and safety.

And more obviously, why is it we assume that what these wallies call “best practice” is anything of the sort. What, you wonder, gives them any special expertise at a job you have often done for many more years than they have?


So we can laugh, and we can call pictures like the car in the ditch “irony.”

But is it really just irony?

Is it just irony that in the first Christchurch earthquakes, one of the buildings too damaged for occupation was the only-recently-opened Christchurch Civic Centre – a $120 million palace that the Building Code the council themselves administer requires be designed to still be functional after a quake … and for several months it wasn’t functional at all.

Is it just irony that some of the worst-damaged Wellington buildings in the recent quakes were those occupied by councils – including the six-storey civic administration building on Civic Square that has been closed ever since and will probably be demolished, and the Greater Wellington Council on severely damaged fill at Thorndon Quay.

Is it just irony that the the Auckland council building at Graham Street that houses its building inspectors bears the same failing cladding system that infected so many Auckland homes, that the “old” Auckland council building on Aotea Square is uninhabitable due to its asbestos, and the “new” Auckland council building no inhabited by council egos was discovered subsequent to the council’s “due diligence” period to require around $100 million of very urgent repairs unspotted by their –un-diligent inspection teams.

Is it just irony? Or is it that the expertise so frequently assumed to reside in these buildings about these very issues may be very much less than many might suppose. It’s hard to show all of these pigs in a poke in a pic as pithy as the one at the top of this post. But the story told in each is the same. Which makes me at least wonder: why do we give these people the power to tell us how to do things.

The state, in its alleged wisdom, has granted these folks special powers on the basis that they're especially good and knowledgeable about these things. But what makes us assume that they are?

And why aren’t we entitled to be free to make our own mistakes?

They do.

And we pay for it.

Why can’t we be left alone to pay for our own mistakes? Or to devise our own very good practices for avoiding them?



Friday, 10 March 2017

Friday Morning Ramble, 9 March, ‘17


NZ universities: not awful.
Revealed: NZ's best universities – NZ HERALD
World university subject rankings 2017: new stars emerge – GUARDIAN

Could we perhaps put a levy on arseholes academics like this instead?
Auckland University academic says taxing migrants could generate $1 billion a year for infrastructure and services – INTEREST.CO.NZ

“Yesterday Justice Wylie ruled the Auckland Unitary Plan Independent Hearings Panel was justified in removing the provisions for [so-called sites of cultural significance] from the Unitary Plan.” And thank Galt for that.
Victory for democracy over iwi and bureaucratic elites – JO HOLMES BLOG

“National's timidity in dealing with the retirement age will cost taxpayer's an extra $58 billion. That will be paid for by those too young to enjoy the same perks.”
Letting Baby Boomers off Super age rise will cost $58 billion – NEWSHUB

“The problem is that the post-war welfare state was designed for a young and growing population. Like a pyramid scheme, entitlements for retired people would be funded by younger workers, who would in turn receive benefits funded by the next generation of workers. Sixty years on, the situation is quite different. As the population ages, and the birth rate slows, there is an increasing share of the population receiving benefits and a decreasing share of people paying for them.
    “The pyramid is being turned on its head.”
Reform & the Future – Patrick Nolan, NZ INITIATIVE

“Last week BNZ chief economist Tony Alexander was in the paper with some stern words for young people trying to find somewhere to live in a city that doesn’t have enough housing to go around…”
No, Boomers, it’s not like it was back in the day – Peter Nunns, TRANSPORT BLOG

“The unfunded obligation for the U.S. federal government's Social Security and disability program is currently estimated to be $11.4 trillion. In this month's Econlib Feature Article, Robert P. Murphy suggests an opt-out plan that would make both future beneficiaries and the federal government better off. No, it's not magic.”
Opting Out of Social Security – Robert Murphy, ECON LIB

“An excellent article on Attitude in sport, with a nice reference to New Zealand...”
Talent gets you noticed, character gets you recruited – JAMES LEATH.COM

As NZ tennis ace Chris Lewis celebrates his 60th, he looks back on his fortnight to remember at Wimbledon,
Chris Lewis' Fortnight to remember – WIMBLEDON.COM

Travellers to the U.S. have reported border agents reviewing their Facebook feeds - what do you do if you're asked for your passwords?
Protect your private data on a US visit – NZ HERALD




“From using smart TVs for spying to hoarding IT vulnerabilities …”
4 Takeaways from the Wikileaks 'Vault 7' CIA Leak – REASON

“So what’ve we learned? Well, first of all: The CIA, under the Obama Administration, spent more than $100 billion building the most powerful digital attack arsenal known to man… What really tickles our giblets is the CIA spent well over $100 billion creating the most sophisticated, powerful and dangerous hacking arsenal known to transhumans… only to carelessly lose it in the wilderness.
    “That’s right. The CIA’s fantastic beasts are out there. In the wild.”
#Vault7: The CIA’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Buy Them – LAISSEZ-FAIRE BOOKS

“This is just the latest in a pattern of brazen surveillance and flagrant Constitutional violations on the part of the US intelligence community.
    “But that’s precisely what I find MOST concerning– the LACK of concern over these new CIA documents.
    “People have such a low expectation of their government now, and have become so accustomed to the government routinely violating their civil liberties, that there’s hardly any public outrage anymore about these spying scandals.
    “More importantly, the lack of concern is indicative of what freedom means in the Land of the Free today.”
The most shocking revelation from the CIA spying scandal – Simon Black, SOVEREIGN MAN

“But even if Truman's homespun honesty and common man persona sometime wore thin, he deserves enormous credit for the startling admission that he regretted creating the CIA. Speaking to a biographer in the 1960s, less than 20 years after signing the National Security Act of 1947, Truman expressed a sense of foreboding about what the agency had become, and would become:

Merle Miller: Mr. President, I know that you were responsible as President for setting up the CIA. How do you feel about it now?
Truman: I think it was a mistake. And if I'd know what was going to happen, I never would have done it.

Truman Was Right About the CIA – Jeff Deist, MISES BLOG




“House Republicans have released their proposed measure to “repeal and replace” Obamacare.. The measure is … less a repeal of Obamacare and more of a repair of it, keeping numerous basic features intact.
    “If you want to know why Republicans have bogged down, notice one peculiar thing about the Obamacare debate so far. It’s not really a debate over Obamacare, it’s a debate over Medicaid. The reason is that this is what Obamacare mostly turned out to be: a big expansion of Medicaid.”
A Bill with No Governing Philosophy – Robert Tracinski, TRACINSKI LETTER

Peter Schiff: “So much for replacing Obamacare with the free market.”
House Republicans release long-awaited plan [not to repeal and replace Obamacare – WASHINGTON POST

Don Boudreaux takes on Trump’s anti-trade charlatan Peter Navarro. “Peter Navarro’s attempted justification of policies to reduce America’s trade deficit is a river of rubbish.”
What an Embarrassing Performance by Peter Navarro – Don Boudreaux, CAFE HAYEK

“Why is this nightmare vision more inviting to so many than the alternative scenario – that the electorate were simply not convinced by the arguments for Hillary Clinton, or for Remain? On some level, perhaps it is easier to blame defeat on a conspiracy of right-wing funders and mysteriously powerful technology, than to accept that convincing others to share your ideas is harder work than you realised.”
It wasn’t Big Data wot won it – Timandra Harkness, SPIKED

“I was going to leave it to others to comment on the "Trump Towers Wiretapping" claims, but then I read a fake news story on the subject that pulled me to my keyboard. Here's my take …”
Fake News, Partisan News, and the Wiretapping Story – Ari Armstrong, FREEDOM OUTLOOK

“Justice Clarence Thomas sharply criticises civil forfeiture laws. The one-justice opinion discusses the Supreme Court’s refusing to hear the case (a result Thomas agrees with, for procedural reasons mentioned in the last paragraph); but Thomas is sending a signal, I think, that at least one justice — and maybe more — will be sympathetic to such arguments in future cases.”
Justice Thomas sharply criticises civil forfeiture laws – Eugene Volokh, WASHINGTON POST

"If you’re a professional intellectual (e.g., a philosopher, an economist, a journalist, or a political talk show host), and if your aim is to defend capitalism, and if an extremely careful thinker writes books with titles such as Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal and The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution, might you have a professional responsibility to examine this thinker’s arguments and to determine whether her views are true and worth sharing—or false and in need of (honest) dismantling?
    "Why, then, have conservative intellectuals chosen instead to ignore or misrepresent Rand’s ideas? Why won’t they consider the principles of her philosophy, take them straight, represent them accurately, and either acknowledge that they are true—or explain where Rand erred?"
How Conservatives Begat Trump, and What to Do About It – Craig Biddle, OBJECTIVE STANDARD


The Industrial Revolution and child mortality — one item:


But …
Could the Industrial Revolution have Happened Today? – JOEL HIRST

“Let’s clear this up - there is no gender pay gap. Men and women make different career choices for themselves and on average perform unequally because we are motivated very differently.”
International Women's Whining Day – OLIVIA PIERSON.ORG

“Terrorism is first a mindset—committing to a cause that includes a willingness to kill anonymous others indiscriminately… Defeating that enemy then must be a multi-front battle—police, military, diplomatic, cultural, and philosophical.”
How to Tame Religious Terrorists – STEPHEN HICKS

“There is a form of community that is the whole basis of the market economy. It is an extended network of human relationships worked out in peace and mutual agreement. So far as we know, the capacity to form such cooperative relationships is distinct to the human experience.”
Liberty and Community Go Together – Jeffrey Tucker, FEE

“As a public service, and to save the planet, obviously, I will tell you what it would take to convince skeptics that climate science is a problem that we must fix. Please avoid the following persuasion mistakes.”
How to convince climate skeptics – SCOTT ADAMS

“Instead of praising jobs for their own sake, we should ask why employment is so important… But what about unemployment? What if people want to work, but can't get a job? In almost every case, government programs are the cause of joblessness.”
How the Market Creates Jobs and How the Government Destroys Them – Walter Block, MISES DAILY

“I spent nearly a decade of my young life in ‘hard’ left movements. At the core of my ideology was a burning desire for liberty, and an intense distrust of the state. In my last dark days with the left, I pleaded for objectivity, reason, rationale, only to have my requests fall on deaf ears. The last actors in the space took to the streets to smash Starbucks’ windows and foolishly posture when they should have been pleading with their peers to reconsider a truly anti-statist perspective.”
Why I Left the Left – Evan Stern, FEE

"Africa may be the world’s poorest continent, but it is no longer a 'hopeless continent,' as The Economist magazine described it back in 2000. Since the start of the new millennium, Africa’s average per capita income adjusted for inflation and purchasing power parity rose by more than 50 percent and Africa’s growth rate has averaged almost 5 percent per year."
Africa is Growing Thanks to Capitalism - Marian Tupy, HUMAN PROGRESS.ORG

"People think the world is in chaos. People think that the world is on fire right now for all the wrong reasons," says author Johan Norberg. "There is a segment of politicians who try to scare us to death, because then we clamber for safety we need the strong man in a way…"


“The best scientific minds have been driven by curiosity and intellectual challenge, not practical applications.” Really?
We Need More ‘Useless’ Knowledge – CHRONICLE

The struggle for oppression. Episode I.
How Randy Newman Solved Stanley Fish’s Credibility Problem – STEPHEN HICKS

The struggle for oppression. Episode II.
The Wannabe Oppressed – Stanley Kurtz, EDUCATION WEEK

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the February Revolution, what Ayn Rand called “the good revolution,” that ushered in the most liberal government in Russia's history.
Russia Could Have Been a Democracy – VICTIMS OF COMMUNISM

“Saudi Arabia, Iran, North Korea, China, Russia, Syria: the National Union of Students hasn't even *tried* to table a motion to boycott *any* other foreign country...yet it boycotts Israel‬.”
I'm calling out the loons who make Israel bashing the mother of all virtues – Maajid NAwaz, TIMES OF ISRAEL


Defrosting a windmill with a helicopter“Thank god for fossil fuels to build it,
maintain it, oil it constantly, and then to rescue it in cold weather.”


“Work is well underway on a new graphic novel based on Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, to be published in the next couple of years by New American Library (NAL), a division of Penguin Random House with the approval of Leonard Peikoff. The designer and artist is Bosch Fawstin with a script by him and Amy Peikoff, adapted from the novel. The graphic novel will most likely be published in three volumes over a period of a few months after it is completed.”
It has to be better than those films, doesn’t it?
Graphic novel based on Atlas Shrugged to be published – VOICES FOR REASON

"If some men attempt to survive by means of brute force or fraud, by looting, robbing, cheating or enslaving the men who produce, it still remains true that their survival is made possible only by their victims, only by the men who choose to think and to produce the goods which they, the looters, are seizing. Such looters are parasites incapable of survival, who exist by destroying those who are capable, those who are pursuing a course of action proper to man." ~ Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness
The Objectivist Ethics, by Ayn Rand – CAMPUS. AYN RAND

Yaron Brook tells Oxford, UK, high school students …
Why Capitalism Is The Only Moral System – lecture – STEEMIT

"We who wish to advocate capitalism must take the moral high ground—which is ours by logical right—and we must never cede an inch to those who claim that self-sacrifice is a virtue. It is not. Self-interest is a virtue. Indeed, acting in one’s rational self-interest while respecting the rights of others to do the same is the basic requirement of human life. And capitalism is the only social system that fully legalizes it. Grounds do not get more moral than that."
Capitalism and the Moral High Ground - Craig Biddle, OBJECTIVE STANDARD

Time for an interlude …

… maybe more than one.

Alright. Encore:


[Hat tips to and quips and snark borrowed from Sunny Lohmann, Julian D., Amy Peikoff, Monica Beth, Rust Watkins, Paul Harrison, Stephen Hicks, Prodos Marinakis,

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The Prehistory of the Alt-right



Adherents of the new "alt-right" movement that has arisen with Trump like to see themselves as subversive, as new, as cutting edge. Yet their tale of clashing forces driven forward by strong men is as old and stale s totalitarianism itself, explains Jeffrey Tucker in this guest post.
    Rejecting Marxism is good, he agrees. But we choose mega-states, strongmen, national planning, or religious and racial homogeneity at our deep peril. And if you are feeling tempted toward the Alt-right, look at your progenitors: do you like what you see? Here we have a lineage of non-Marxist, non-leftist brand of rightist but still totalitarian thinking.
    Let us not be deceived. Whatever the flavour–whichever branch of Hegel we choose to follow–the cost of increased government control is greatly diminished human liberty, prosperity, and dignity.

Reading Evan Stern’s “Why I Left the Left” is a solid reminder that there’s not much intellectual heft remaining on that side of the political fence. If an ideology sets out to isolate the locus of evil in people’s very identity, it is pretty well spent. This, in addition to the failure of the socialist model everywhere it has tried, explains why the Left has suffered so much recently at the polls and now faces a serious backlash in campus and public life.

With the failure of action comes reaction; now as the alternative the Western world is dealing with something far less familiar to most people yet just as threatening: the rise of the alt-right. Due to its taboo-breaking, rebel ethos that so easily inflames teachers and protectors of civic conventions, it is highly attractive to some young people.

altright1The movement however is more than just young people being politically incorrect. It has a real philosophical and political history, one that stands in violent opposition to the idea of individual liberty. It has been largely suppressed since World War II and, because of that, most people assumed fascism (and its offshoots) was gone from the earth.

As a result, this generation has not been philosophically prepared to recognise the tradition, the signs, the implications, and the political application of the ideology so many are stumbling to embrace.

Here then is a brief prehistory of what we call the alt-right today, which is probably better described as a 21st-century incarnation of what in the 19th century would have been called “right-Hegelianism” – after German philosopher GFW Hegel, as opposed to what Karl Marx later developed as “left-Hegelianism.” To get right to the core ideas that form something like a school of thought that developed over more than a century, I’m skipping over many political movements (in Spain, France, and Italy), and clownish leaders like George Lincoln Rockwell, Oswald Mosley, and Fr. Coughlin. 

Here we have a lineage of non-Marxist, non-leftist brand of rightist but still totalitarian thinking, developed in fanatical opposition to bourgeois freedom.

1820: Georg Friedrich Hegel published Elements of the Philosophy of Right, which spelled out the political implications of his “dialectical idealism,” an outlook that departed dramatically from the classical liberal tradition by completely abstracting from human experience to posit that what shapes history are warring life forces operating beyond anyone’s control. It turns out that the politics of this view amounted to “the state is the march of God through the world.”
    Hegel looked forward to some age in the future that would realise this apotheosis of State control, towards which he claimed all history was moving.
    In a 1952 lecture by Ludwig von Mises (a strong classical liberal and virulent opponent of this whole worldview) the Hegelian view quickly broke into Left and Right branches, depending on the attitude toward nationalism and religion (the right supported the Prussian state and church, whereas the left did not), and thereby “destroyed German thinking and German philosophy for more than a century, at least.”

altright21841: Thomas Carlyle published On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History, which popularised the “great man” theory of history. History is not about marginal improvements in living standards by using better tools, he argued, but rather about huge episodic shifts brought about through power.
    A champion of slavery and another opponent of classical liberalism, Carlyle took aim at the rise of commercial society, praising Cromwell, Napoleon, and Rousseau, and rhapsodising about the glories of political power. “The Commander over Men; he to whose will our wills are to be subordinated, and loyally surrender themselves, and find their welfare in doing so, may be reckoned the most important of Great Men.”
    Carlyle's target was Adam Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment generally. Hitler’s biographers agree that the words of Carlyle were the last he requested to be read to him before he died.

1841: On the continent, meanwhile, Friedrich List published The National System of Political Economy, celebrating protectionism, infrastructure spending, and government control and support of industry. His was, for half a century the most influential voice in German economics, a direct attack on laissez faire and a celebration of the national unit as the only truly productive force in economic life. Steven Davies comments: “The most serious result of List’s ideas was a change in people’s thinking and perception. Instead of seeing trade as a cooperative process of mutual benefit, politicians and businessmen came to regard it as a struggle with winners and losers.”
    Today's economic nationalists have nothing new to add to the edifice already constructive by List. 

1871: Charles Darwin left the realm of science briefly to enter sociological analysis with his book The Descent of Man. It is a fascinating work but tended to treat human society as a zoological rather than sociological and economic enterprise. It included an explosive paragraph (qualified and widely misread) that regretted how “we institute poor-laws; and our medical men exert their utmost skill to save the life of every one to the last moment… Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man.” At the very least, he suggested, we should stop the weak from marrying. This is the “one check” we have to keep society from being taken over by inferiors. Tragically, this passing comment fired up the eugenicists who immediately began to plot demographic planning schemes to avoid a terrifying biological slide to universal human degeneracy. 

1896: The American Economic Association published Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro by Frederick Hoffman. This monograph, one of many of the type, described blacks as intractable criminals who are both lazy and promiscuous, the influence of whom in national biology can only lead to a decline of the race. Their mere presence was considered an existential threat to “uncompromising virtues of the Aryan race.” Such views were embraced by Richard T. Ely, the founder of the American Economic Association, and came to dominate the academic journals of this period, providing academic cover for Jim Crow laws, state segregation, business regulation, and far worse. 

altright31904: The founder of the American eugenics society, Charles Davenport, established the Station for Experimental Evolution and worked to propagate eugenics from his perch as Professor of Zoology at Harvard University. He was hugely influential on an entire generation of scientists, political figures, economists, and public bureaucrats, and it was due largely to this influence that eugenics became such a central concern of American policies from this period until World War II, influencing the passage of wage legislation, immigration, marriage law, working hours legislation, and, of course, mandatory sterilisations.

At this point in history, all five “intellectual” pillars of fascist theory (historicist, nationalist, racist, protectionist, statist) were in place. It had a theory of history. It had a picture of hell, which is liberalism and uncontrolled commercial society. It had a picture of heaven, which was national societies run by great men inhabiting all-powerful States focused on heavy industry. It even had a (psuedo) scientific rationale. 

Above all, it had an agenda: to control society from the top down with the aim of managing every aspect of the demographic path of human society, which meant controlling human beings all the way from conception to grave to produce the most superior product, as well as industrial planning to replace the wiles of the market process. The idea of freedom itself, to this emergent school of thought, was a disaster for everyone everywhere.

All that was really necessary was popularisation of its most incendiary ideas. The world didn’t have long to wait.

altright41916: Madison Grant, a scholar of enormous prestige and elite connections, published The Passing of the Great Race. It was never a bestseller but it exercised enormous influence among the ruling elites, and made a famous appearance in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Grant, an early environmentalist, recommended mass sterilisation of people as a “practical, merciful, and inevitable solution of the whole problem” that should be “applied to an ever-widening circle of social discards, beginning always with the criminal, the diseased, and the insane, and extending gradually to types which may be called weaklings rather than defectives, and perhaps ultimately to worthless race types.”
    Hitler loved the book and sent Grant a note praising the book as his personal bible.

1919: Following World War I, German historian Oswald Spengler published The Decline of the West, which met with huge popular acclaim for capturing the sense of the moment: that the cash economy and liberalism were dead and could only be replaced by the rise of monolithic cultural forms that rally around as the only remaining sources of meaning: blood and race. Blood beats money all over the world, he argued. The interminable and foggy text broods with right-Hegelian speculations about the status of man and predicts the complete downfall of all lovely things unless the civilisation of the West dispenses with its attachment to commercial norms and individualism and instead rallies to this cause of group identity.
    The book kicked off a decade of similar works and movements that declared freedom and democracy to be dead ideas: the only relevant battle, they all argued, was between the communist and fascist forms of state planning. 

1932: Carl Schmitt published The Concept of the Political, a brutal attack on classical liberalism as the negation of the political. For Schmitt, the political was the essence of life, and the friend/enemy distinction is its most salient feature. Friends and enemies were to be defined by the State, and enemy-ness can only be fully instantiated in bloodshed, which should be real and present. Mises called him “the Nazi Jurist” for a reason: he was a party member and his ideas contributed mightily to the perception that mass death was not only moral, but essential to the preservation of the meaning of life itself.

altright51944: Allied troops discovered thousands of death camps strewn throughout Nazi-captured territories in Europe, created beginning in 1933 and continuing through the duration of the war, responsible for the imprisonment and death of upwards of 15 million people.
    The discovery shocked an entire generation at the most fundamental level, and the scramble was on to discover all sources of evil–political and ideological–that had led to such a gruesome reality. With the Nazi forces defeated and the Nuremberg trials underscoring the point, the advance of fascist dogma in all of its brooding, racist, statist, and historicist timbres, came to a screeching halt.
    Suppression of the ideas therein began in Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States, creating the impression that right-Hegelianism was a mere flash in the pan that had been permanently doused by state power. 

The same year as the death-camp discovery began, F.A. Hayek published The Road to Serfdom, which emphasised that it was not enough to reject the labels, songs, slogans, and regimes of Nazism and fascism. Also necessary, Hayek pointed out, was the thorough rejection of the ideas of planning themselves, which even in a democracy necessarily led to the end of freedom and to the rise of dictatorship.
    His book was met with critical acclaim among a small group of remaining classical liberals (many of whom were involved in the founding of FEE and the Mont Pelerin Society two and three years later respectively) but was otherwise denounced and derided as paranoid and reactionary by many others.

For the duration of the ensuing Cold War, it was the fear of communism and not fascism/Nazism that would captivate the public mind. After all, the latter had been defeated on the battlefield, right? The genesis and development of rightest totalitarianism, despite the earnest pleadings of Hannah Arendt, fell away from public consciousness.

Liberalism Not Yet


The intellectual battle against fascism was never fully or widely-enough waged, its siren song never fully snuffed out.

The Cold War ended 25 years ago and the rise of digital technology has given liberal forms of political economy a gigantic presence in the world. Trade has never been more integrated. Human rights are on the march. Commercial life, and its underlying ideology of harmony and peace, is the prevailing aspiration of billions of people around the world. The failures of government planning are ever more obvious. And yet these trends alone do not seal the deal for the cause of liberty. Instead, they are widely and increasingly denounced, from the White House on up.

altright6With left-Hegelianism now in disgrace, political movements around the world are instead rooting around in the pre-war history of totalitarian ideas to find alternatives [as if classical liberalism had never happened! – Ed]. The suppression of these ideas did not work; in fact, they had the opposite effect of making them more popular to the point where they boiled up from below. The result is what we call the Alt-right in the US and goes by many other names in Europe and the UK. (The transition from the 1990s to the present will be the subject of another essay.)

Let us not be deceived. Whatever the flavour – whichever branch of Hegel we choose to follow – the cost of government control is human liberty, prosperity, and dignity. We choose mega-states, strongmen, national planning, or religious and racial homogeneity at our deep peril.

For the most part, the meme-posting trolls who favour profile pics on their social accounts that are stormfront-stye, (or boasting crusader shields or crosses of St George, or both), and the mass movements calling for strongmen to take control and cast the other from their midst, both are clueless about the history and path they are following.

If you are feeling tempted toward the Alt-right, look at your progenitors: do you like what you see?

What is the alternative to right and left Hegelianism? It is found in the liberal tradition, summed up by Frederic Bastiat's phrase "the harmony of interests." Peace, prosperity, liberty, and community are possible. It is this tradition, and not one that posits intractable war between groups, that protects and expands human rights and human dignity, and creates the conditions that allow for the universal ennoblement of the human person. (For more on the history of despotic ideas in the 20th century, I suggest Mises's epic 1947 book Planned Chaos, now available, free, in epub.) 

The last word on the correct (freedom-loving) path forward was framed by the great English historian Thomas Babington Macaulay in 1830, a statement that would be loathed by every fascist in history:

“It is not by the intermeddling of an omniscient and omnipotent State, but by the prudence and energy of the people, that England has hitherto been carried forward in civilisation; and it is to the same prudence and the same energy that we now look with comfort and good hope. Our rulers will best promote the improvement of the nation by strictly confining themselves to their own legitimate duties, by leaving capital to find its most lucrative course, commodities their fair price, industry and intelligence their natural reward, idleness and folly their natural punishment, by maintaining peace, by defending property, by diminishing the price of law, and by observing strict economy in every department of the state. Let the Government do this: the People will assuredly do the rest.”

To be continued …