Posts Tagged ‘Libertarian

08
Jan
11

Conservative Communism

My Favorite Son called to discuss a discussion that he had with a friend, Leroy*. Leroy has some atypical, but otherwise unoriginal ideas. He seems to have assimilated a considerable amount of conservative (or, more accurately, pseudo-conservative) and libertarian rhetoric. That assimilation has been in the form of absorption, and not comprehension.

*The name is changed to protect the vacuous.

Leroy advocates keeping the government out of almost everything. Nothing new there. An example that he pushed on My Favorite Son was that it would be better for My Favorite Son, who is a Type 1 diabetic, to make his own insulin instead of depending on the government for a supply.

This is a provocative statement. My Favorite Son doesn’t get his insulin from the government, and private industry has been prominent in the development of sources of insulin. Federal and state governmental involvement in the production and supply of insulin must be generally very small – and zero for My Favorite Son.

Leroy’s statement goes beyond big-business Republican Libertarianism. Leroy thinks that individuals, instead of corporations, should manufacture sophisticated products. Wow. This is Luddite territory. I offered My Favorite Son an historical precedent, for Leroy’s statement is deeply Communist.

The best historical example of Communism may be the People’s Republic of China of Mao Zedong. The U.S.S.R. wasn’t ever really Communist – they were clearly behind China in that competition.

One of Mao’s brilliant attempts to advance Chinese Civilization was The Great Leap Forward. An essential element of The Great Leap Forward was the True Standard that government is not the solution - The Worker is the solution. This ideology was applied to steel-making, which had been the exclusive domain of the government-run industries. Mao decreed that villages would construct and operate their own steel smelters, and that China would consequently surpass the world in the production of steel.

Thousands of Chinese villages, which largely lacked industrial infrastructure, devoted all their resources to the new assignment. Smelters were constructed of stone, clay, and brick. Fuel for this energy-intensive process was, if a village were fairly wealthy, coal. For most villages, the fuel was wood. Villages which lacked woodlands for a harvest found a supply of wood in the structure of their homes.

Most of the steel produced during The Great Leap Forward was crap. Wood does not burn as hot as coal, and small manually-tended furnaces are difficult to regulate. Millions of people died during the resulting economic collapse.

Leroy would not see, or at least not acknowledge, this similarity between his private-insulin-production idea and Mao’s Great Leap Forward. Leroy wrote at length, and with narcissistic embellishment and condescension, on-line about his views of the world. While he advocates that a Type 1 diabetic should fend for himself, Leroy chooses to be dependent on wealthy parents. There is a certain consistency in his hypocrisy.

28
Nov
10

Libertarianism vs. Man-Made Disaster

Libertarians, in a panoply of forms, emphasize individual liberty over group control. Even I, your favorite blogger (right?), am somewhat Libertarian, leaning in the direction of Egalitarianism and Pragmatism. During recent political events, the most-publicized form has been Conservative Libertarianism.

A frequently-asserted mantra of Conservative Libertarianism has been that less (preferably zero) government involvement leads to more rational and inherently altruistic choices. This is especially consistent with the laissez-faire business ethic, which insists that businesses will not act in ways which are self-injurious or inconsiderate of broader needs of society. Laissez-faire is extended to individuals as an argument against government-sponsored social support. For instance, it has been claimed that people would rather languish (or here) on unemployment compensation benefits than work. It is also claimed that these benefits make some workers too expensive, according to a simplistic view of supply and demand that an undergraduate college economics class disproves. This overly-broad hypothesis asserts that providing no unemployment benefits is the best way to get people back to work. Recent extended unemployment for many Americans (with brief benefits) contradicts much of this: the jobs have not existed in this recessionary cycle.

Politicians such as Rand Paul are ardent Libertarians, except for when they aren’t. Many advocate interventionist government policies that directly impinge upon individual liberty. This blog will not attempt to add comments about this Libertarian treason. They are noted for the purpose of distinguishing real Libertarians from those who blatantly follow political expedience.

I offer a few examples of how real-world decisions have had consequences that were not merely non-optimal, but actually disastrous.

The American Dust Bowl of the 1930′s was our largest environmental disaster. The effects of a prolonged drought would have been terrible, but not unprecedented. Poor tillage and crop practices made a natural event into a man-made disaster. The fledgling Roosevelt administration started immediate government intervention. It was in the form of farm programs which changed these poor practices (including paying enducements) and several coordinated environmental measures, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps planting of millions of windbreaks. The loss of soil was effectively mitigated, providing a basis for improved farm yields in the 1940′s.

There is now a comparable Central Asia Dust Bowl, despite good farm practices being well-known. Farmers have been unimpressed with the implications of these practices for their future, choosing instead the immediate benefits of practices which maximize income. Human nature belies the claims of Libertarianism, that unregulated markets can be optimal.

Saddam Hussein was an example of a comparable myopia. He chose to not acknowledge his lack of Weapons of Mass Destruction - WMDs. The needs of domestic & regional politics conflicted with global politics. He was much more concerned with bluffing Iran (which continues to pose a substantial threat to Iraq) than with heeding the blustering of his dear (former) friends, the Americans.

Before Saddam was a Bad Guy, the Shuttle Challenger disaster provided a lesson in delusional or superstitious thinking. If Libertarian philosophy is good for government policy, it should be just as good for individual government agencies. In this case, the agency was NASA.

The disintegration of Challenger was completely the responsibility of management decisions. Engineering had established safe-certain launch temperatures. When launches nudged the lower limit, management pressured Engineering to modify the guidelines. The political ratcheting which progressed for 2 years ended with the launch of a vehicle which have icicles hanging from it. The temperature at launch was below the operating specification for the O-ring engine seal which failed.

There was a degree of superstition at work also. Thoughts such as, ‘We launched before at 36 degrees, what difference can 2 degrees make?’ were self-reinforcing with successful launches at succeedingly lower temperatures.

The NASA (and Morton-Thiokol, the engine contractor) managers made judgements which were not effective in risk management. Their performance was evaluated by such tangible metrics as launching on-schedule. Intangibles, such as risk probabilities and avoidance of catastrophe, have only poor means for being used in evaluation of managers. This resulted in tunnel vision.

Free-market environmentalism offers the same level of hubris in risk management. It is significant for extending this hubris to considerations which have the potential for regional and global disaster.

The BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill looks, from interim testimony in the investigation, to be comparable to the Shuttle Challenger disaster in basic cause. Managers placed expedience and profit ahead of risk management. We shall (I hope) soon learn the extent and specifics of the government-regulation-free decisions that produced this mammoth disaster.

Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is an actively-fought concept by advocates of free-market environmentalism. They are making the same mistake, a mistake allowed by Libertarian philosophy, as was made in the Dust Bowls, Iraq War I, the Challenger Disaster, and the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

If (and this is a rapidly shrinking if) climate scientists are incorrect, what will we lose, and how will we recover those losses? We will lose some capital, spent to ameliorate, in addition to CO2 emissions, energy dependence and other urgent concerns. If advocates of free-market environmentalism are incorrect, what will we have left to recover? We do not have the luxury of rolling the die a statistically-confident number of times with Anthropogenic Global Warming. AGW now has 5 sides of that die. It will have to come up ’6′ for us to survive without major disruption in the world. We don’t really have that slim luxury. The die will be rolled just once. We must manage the risk.

09
Oct
10

Free Market Fallacy

One of the candidates for Roy Blunt’s Congressional seat, in Missouri’s 7th District, is Kevin Craig. Craig is a Libertarian. He expressed his Free Market attitudes in the recent candidate debate in Joplin. The Free Market philosophy is a distinctly Libertarian approach to Economics.

There are several fundamental and severe fallacies of the ‘Free Market‘. Such fallacies have been described repeatedly and effectively. This is my approach to a persistent impediment to sound economic judgement.

The first fallacy is the Rationality Fallacy.
Free Market philosophy is fundamentally a belief that individual decisions will be, collectively, ‘correct’ or ‘best’. Unfortunately, attempts to seek a definition of ‘correct’ or ‘best’ typically find a circular answer: that it is the collective result of a free market. This has some chance of being correct if the individual decisions are essentially rational and informed.

The second fallacy is the the Information Fallacy.
Free Market philosophy’s dependence upon rational and informed decisions is unrealistic. Individual participants in a market often do not have the information necessary for a rational and informed decision. Other market participants may actually actively hide such information to deceive others and cause them to make decisions which are not truly in their own interests. in addition, some market participants are simply ignorant. Even those who are reasonably informed may not receive the most essential information: feedback.

The third fallacy is the Linearity Fallacy.
The famous eponymous Laffer Curve assumed a smooth (monotonic low-order derivatives) function. Various economic relationships are known, or can be expected, to be highly non-monotonic. These relationships are also dependent on a large number (economic models can be plain scary) of variables. Changes in some variables result in changes in the character, not merely the degree, of a functional relationship.

The fourth fallacy is the Stability Fallacy.
The stock markets (which are heavily intertwined) have suffered several catastrophes instigated by automated trading. Feedback in various markets can produce situations which are un-correctable (by any means) when they have reached a certain level. Markets are filled with dependencies which have widely varying time constants and functional relationships. Some relationships are not functions. They may even be chaotic: unreproducable even if ‘initial conditions’ were to be re-created.

The combination of the Linearity Fallacy with the Stability Fallacy could be termed the Determinism Fallacy.

The fifth fallacy is the Independence Fallacy.
Markets are no longer isolated. Local U.S. craftsmen and manufacturers compete with the products of low-wage labor in foreign countries which (may) have highly centralized government control. Foreign governments are often not adherents of Free Market philosophy. They may artificially control prices, often to their short-term disadvantage, to gain market control. The Japanese conquest of world-wide television production in the 1980′s and 1990′s is a classic example.

The sixth fallacy is the Altruism Fallacy.
It is a fundamental tenet of the Free Market philosophy that market participants, in acting acording to their own (and selfish) best interests, benefit the market as a whole. That is, selfish individual actions have a collective altruistic effect. Unfortunately, some market participants are not rational or benevolent. Suppose that a certain (hypothetical) country thought that a military arms competition with a certain opposing country could eventually promote the economic collapse of the opponent. It might then (hypothetically, of course) waste many billions of dollars and the sweat and blood of its citizens to pursue that gamble. This is clearly a strategy which does not maximize wealth. It sacrifices wealth (even that embodied in people) for a particular (and not exclusive) form of power.

The ultimate adherents of Free Market philosophy would accept, and even applaud, some of these flaws which I have described. Market participants who act deceptively, for example, are recognized as being consistent with the ultimately competitive nature of the Free Market. That is believed by such adherents to be (yes, an example of circular logic) a good result.

I have a formal name for these ultimate adherents of Free Market philosophy: Anarchists.

13
Jun
10

The Sanctity of Marriage

I have told you before that I am somewhat (“diminished form”) Libertarian. Today you get an example of something Libertarian that would benefit society. The U.S. Constitution is overtly Libertarian regarding religion, so religious connections to marriage – such as those intended to preserve The Sanctity of Marriage - seem like fair game to me.

Equal-rights laws are typically applicable only for taxpayer-supported or public organizations. Fraternal organizations may restrict membership in ways that are not acceptable or legal outside that organization. The last time I checked, the KKK was not required to allow blacks, Jews, or Catholics to be members. They have not gained advantages from this ‘freedom’. It has served to define them and inform society of their true nature (as if, in this extreme case, it were not obvious).

Let churches have internal rules which are not ‘fair’. If they want to hire only members to work for the church, then those members must know to expect treatment according to the church’s standards. If they dislike that treatment, they can work for a secular employer. If a church chooses to be a place of public accomodation in offering employment, then the government has a legitimate role in protecting the rights of the public. That is ‘fair’.

A church-related organization that serves charitable or educational purposes should be treated exactly as the church itself. If it takes public money or provides publicly-accessible services, then it may expect its fair share of public influence.

In any case, there are limits to religious conduct. Human sacrifice is illegal, and it is the secular government which enforces this limit on any and all religions. Such limits are appropriate and will continue even if some restrictions on churches are loosened.

Religious organizations, associations, or societies may have exclusive control over their beliefs and practices about marriage.

Marriage has been, in many cultures and for eons, tied to traditions, superstitions, and other social strictures. The issue we are arguing about – gay marriage – is only a problem because marriage is confabulated with religion. Governments have maintained this strange (although understandable) combination with laws which give some emphasis in marriage to churches and clergy, while providing no legal distinction between a church marriage and a civil marriage.  One aspect of this is that a religion or church has no unique legal control over its members’ marriages. For example, the Catholic Church (among others) maintains that divorce affects the standing of members – yet the Catholic Church cannot legally prevent members from divorcing.

It is time to remove the artifice of this combination of religious and civil marriage. We need marriage laws which serve secular governmental interests apart from religious (or other social group) interests. This can be accomplished by having a ‘civil union‘ secular marriage which establishes the marriage status required for income tax filing, joint property and inheritance, other legal, financial, and medical issues, et al. No, I do not know what this would be called; many folks have objections to the terms ‘civil union’ and ‘marriage’, for differing reasons. A separate ‘social union‘ religious marriage would have only one secular provision: that the members of the marriage could legally refer to themselves as married and use appropriate titles. Government-recognized religions (and possibly other social groups) would be free to conduct and regulate ‘marriage’ according to their specific rules and beliefs. For example, Denomination “X” might choose to require that marriages of their members cannot be dissolved without clergy-directed counselling. Or they might require members to have children, or live in a 1-story house, or keep pets. None of this would affect the secular standing of the married parties. A denomination might even require that members not have a civil union in addition to their social union. Hence, they would be married for their church but not for taxes, property, etc.

If a religion wishes to sanctify certain relationships, then let us place the burden for maintaining that sanctity on the religion.  The public, and secular society, has enough to do with maintaining the public mechanisms (of those relationships) that serve public, secular interests.

I wish to be open with my motive for this proposal:
legal exceptions can be effective in isolating, confining, and diminishing
an organization which deserves less tolerance than it offers to others.

27
May
10

Too Much Big Government

Everyone has seen these (and many similar) marks on various devices. They are ubiquitous on electrical appliances and equipment, and many more devices that we depend upon for a comfortable life – safe, secure, and free of worry about many things that we can now take for granted.

These marks are Copyright 2010 Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (displayed here according to Fair Use provisions of copyright law). Before such marks from UL and other 3rd-party safety certification organizations became common, we did have routine worries. We worried that circuit breakers (actually, fuses in the old days) might not cut off an overloaded electrical outlet, resulting in a fire. There also weren’t many manufactured fire extinguishers, because we could not depend upon them to work as well as the buckets of sand and water that many buildings had in their hallways.

Today, we learn from news reports about the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster that legislators will begin to consider 3rd-party testing and certification of oil well blowout preventers. What a quaint idea.

Don’t these misguided politicians know that there is a huge upswell of resentment against a meddling federal government? People who have had no (zero-zip-nada) problem with assurances of safety for mundane and common devices are going to notice if politicians try to improve the reliability and effectiveness of devices that can (if they fail) damage entire ecosystems, interrupt the livelihood of millions of people, and prevent a humongous corporation from having a year of record profits.

When that happens, the Libertarians (perhaps led by the Pauls) will use the obvious fallacy of government supervision of Big Oil to attack the overlooked fallacy of having standards for non-flammability of children’s sleepwear.

When the slumbering giant of ‘Free Enterprise Will Decide Whether People Want Safe & Reliable Products‘ is awakened, we will soon be saved from the unconstitutional nanny state.

When we are saved, we will all sleep better. We will also dis-connect the electricity before we go to bed.

22
May
10

Poe’s Law was incomplete – Stone’s Law is absolute

I tried. I really, really tried.

‘Dr. Rand Paul, Civil Rights Patriot‘ was a test of subtle interpretation. Many folks, here and on other blogs, took me to be a True Libertarian. My comments that Rand Paul is not a consistent Libertarian were received especially enthusiastically by Libertarians, who take him to be a Traitor.

It was natural that someone (who is more closely aligned to my political & social views) would be sufficiently offended by the parody to describe me as “sickening filth“. No problem there – I understand the confusion.

I offered explanations here and on other blogs ‘Rachel Maddow vs Rand Paul‘, ‘NOW ASK HIM ABOUT BROWN VS. BOARD OF EDUCATION‘, ‘Rand Paul: Views on ADA and the Civil Rights Act‘, & ‘I’m Sure!‘. Some responded in good humor. Others knew better than I !

‘NOW ASK HIM ABOUT BROWN VS. BOARD OF EDUCATION’ changed the original link, “UPDATE. A Paul defender agrees …” to “UPDATE 3. The “Paul defender” mentioned above says in comments that his post was a parody. I want to believe him, but …“. They are willing to consider my comments, thank you muchly.

‘Rachel Maddow vs Rand Paul’ changed the link to Hey! Get This… from “Jim at heygetthis has more” to “Jim at heygetthis has more (although he doesn’t realize it)” after my explanatory comment. My comments truly get short shrift (what the hell is a shrift, anyway? is a long one better?) here.

I quoted Poe’s Law ad nauseum:

Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t mistake for the real thing.

That doesn’t really provide a thorough commentary on my experience in this episode. I propose a new, enhanced version of Poe’s Law. Newtonian Gravity needed Einstein’s General Relativity, so why not make a Good Law even better?

Stone’s Law:

Even with a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t insist, despite overt profferings of revelatory explanation and analysis, to be the real thing.

{ Permission granted under Copyright to re-use this statement
if quoted exactly and completely, including the title “Stone’s Law”. }

People believe that blimps, eerily lit by the nighttime glow of a city, are alien spacecraft or ultra-secret government spy drones.

People believe that, regardless of the realities of Physics, only a bullet fired from the Grassy Knoll could have produced the kinetics (observed and reproduced) of the JFK assassination.

People believe that antibiotics won’t really work unless they offer earnest appeals to a Deity. They also take the antibiotics if they have an infection.

People believe most of what they believe for emotional reasons. Facts, or at least alternative explanations, have such miniscule influence on their thinking that they will not deign to check the facts or examine the alternative explanations.

Herein resides a great strength of Science: it is a system which explicitly guards against superstitious human tendencies. It has mechanisms to correct - even if slowly and frustratingly - errors, misinterpretations, and oversights. Much of the rest of life is, by comparison, a free-for-all, devoid of rules.




♥ Help for Haiti ♥

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Basic Understanding

A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.
- Edward R. Murrow

Intellectual Property Notice

All original material Copyright James R. Stone 2010, except where specifically noted. Some images licensed under Creative Commons, or GNU Free Documentation License, or unlicensed and public domain.

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