Saturday, January 30, 2010

An Accepted Statist Contradiction

I’m not generally a fan of columnist Peggy Noonan, but I thought she did a good job yesterday in exposing one of the essential contradictions that any semi-honest statist must face:
The central fact of the speech was the contradiction at its heart. It repeatedly asserted that Washington is the answer to everything. At the same time it painted a picture of Washington as a sick and broken place. It was a speech that argued against itself: You need us to heal you. Don't trust us, we think of no one but ourselves.

The people are good but need guidance—from Washington. The middle class is anxious, and its fears can be soothed—by Washington. Washington can "make sure consumers . . . have the information they need to make financial decisions." Washington must "make investments," "create" jobs, increase "production" and "efficiency."

At the same time Washington is a place "where every day is Election Day," where all is a "perpetual campaign" and the great sport is to "embarrass your opponents" and lob "schoolyard taunts."

Why would anyone have faith in that thing to help anyone do anything?
All true (except her characterization of selfishness). But if the contradiction is so glaring, what makes it possible for so many people to hold this view? The magic wand of altruism. Everything comes down to motivation, not facts or worldly success. If you’re doing something explicitly to benefit yourself, it’s morally suspect, and as a result you’ll be held accountable for any faults or contradictions. But if your goal is sacrificial, i.e. you’re operating at a loss or for some unidentified “other”, then anything goes. Thus, for example, destructive behemoths like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and any number of government agencies can flout any and all accounting standards and accountability simply because they operate in the “public interest”. Businessmen, on the other hand, are subject to heinous regulations and standards because (allegedly) their own voluntary clients and investors must be protected from the depredations of profit-seeking activities. Or to look at the other side of business activity, today the words “not for profit” are a badge of honor. This despite the fact that the very term trumpets that any such enterprise’s output is literally less than (or equal to) the sum of its inputs. Only in a culture where sacrifice is regarded a virtue could this kind of wasteful inversion be held in high esteem.

The lesson to be drawn here is that anyone who wants to advocate for responsible political change must begin by challenging the altruist’s moral premises. For absent such a challenge, no amount of pointing out the economic contradictions, waste and devastation created by statism will ever phase its advocates.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Stephen Bailey for Congress

I was encouraged to see the election campaign site of Stephen Bailey (Colorado) who appears to be taking a principled stand in the political arena. I haven't read everything on the site, but what I did read looks great. Here's wishing him all the success in the world! (HT Adam Reed)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Facts not "Hope"

I'm encouraged that I seem to see more of these types of fact-checking stories in the mainstream media. It's a small but positive step in the right direction (i.e. towards objectivity instead of blind faith in our demagogic leaders).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Why concern oneself with politics?

I really like this quote from Plato:
The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Heschel Walker

I really wish Herschel Walker had opted to play in the NFL his whole career. It would have been interesting to see how he did given his seemingly freakish athletic prowess and legendary physical fitness.

What brings this thought on? Walker is going to fight his first MMA fight at the ripe age of 47. Here's how the athletic commission's doctors evaluate him:
Commission head physician Dr. Allan Fields, who oversaw the stress test on Walker’s heart, said that Walker’s heart functions better than any individual tested at the cardiac institution that handled the testing. “He’s in as fine a shape as [a prime] Muhammad Ali or any of these people we’ve had under our care,” said Fields, who has been a physician with the U.S. Olympic boxing team. “This guy is 47 going on 22, as far as his physical fitness goes.”

Monday, January 25, 2010

Rapping about Business Cycle Theories

This video is pretty clever and accurate (for a rap video that is):
HT various Facebook friends

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Importance of Ideas

I like this quote from John Adams which highlights the fact that revolutions are first and foremost ideological.
But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments, of their duties and obligations...This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people was the real American Revolution.
John Adams, letter to H. Niles, February 13, 1818
To effect the kind of change we advocate requires that we persuade people of the validity and importance of our ideas. It's thus a process, not something that can happen instantly or even rapidly, since our ideas differ so radically from those currently accepted. (And for any thoughtful person in the opposition, it takes time to one by one repudiate their wrong ideas, accept new ones, and then integrate the new ideas into a systematic whole.)

HT Mark Nitikman for the quote

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lucidicus Project on the MA election

For those following the MA election today, the Lucidicus Project has a good microblog for its twitter feed. (I haven't followed the election in any detail, but I know many of you probably are.)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Say No to a Health Insurance Czar

Paul Hsieh has another good editorial up at PajamasMedia. Here's the comment I left:
Thanks for the article Dr. Hsieh.

To echo Roxanne A’s thoughts, and to contradict goy’s claim that discussion of czars is a “distraction”, I’d suggest that your point fits a bigger picture. Any attempt to bypass the minds of individual citizens, which means bypassing their knowledge and personal values, is doomed to failure. Primarily because doing so thwarts each person’s ability to choose and achieve his own values -- in the process grinding away at his independence, self-sufficiency and sense of personal responsibility. Secondarily because no one person, or cabal of people, can hold the knowledge of supply and demand (and all their inputs) necessary for an economy to function properly. Installing czars anywhere in the political landscape can therefore do nothing but accelerate the on-going corrosion of individual autonomy and of economic success we see all around us.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Funny Report Card

This really has nothing to do with the subject matter of this blog, but I still want to relay this line on the Chargers' latest choke session because it's so funny:

at Despair

F Maybe a few guys can get a Pro Bowl ring. Maybe Nate Kaeding kicks the game winner!

Friday, January 15, 2010

An illuminating comment

I enjoyed this comment by Jim May over on a Noodlefood thread. He succinctly points out that liberty was a discovery of the (pro-reason, anti-faith) Enlightenment and that those on the right who pragmatically co-opted it, did so as a tactical move, not for any fundamental reason. Indeed it clashes with their fundamental principles which is why conservatives have rarely ever defended liberty in practice (see the Bush presidencies for countless examples of implementing statist policies).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

December 2009 OActivity

The compilation of OActivist output for December 2009 is now available.

I'll still be posting links to these next year, but Mark Wickens has graciously volunteered to produce them.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Detroit as a Case Study

Here’s a quick follow up to my earlier post on Detroit. First, commenter Richard links to this PJTV video showing more of the details and background to Detroit’s “experiment” with welfare-statism (subscription required).

Second, this WSJ editorial illustrates the power of unions in Michigan in particular, but throughout the country in general.

Please note that I’m not against anyone’s right to bargain collectively, but I am against the numerous rights violations entailed by strike-breaking laws and other powers legislated to the unions. For instance, strike-breaking laws prevent employers from hiring other, non-union workers (who would happily work for less money or fewer perks than do the union workers). This violates both the rights of the employers and of the non-union laborers. As is often the case, immorality (in this case the injustice against employers and potential workers) also results in economic consequences. Here, not only are consumers punished by having to pay higher prices for the goods produced, but union workers are given a false sense of worth, which is exposed when producers in other markets, undercut and eventually put the high-cost producers out of business — leaving their workers without jobs and often without prospects.

Note also how, once it gains any foothold, government encroachment gradually increases to take over more and more areas of life. In this case the putative reason that day care centers are forced to unionize is because some of their customers receive government aid.
Of course, Michigan's independent day-care providers don't work for anybody except the parents who were their customers. Nevertheless, because some of these parents qualified for public subsidies, the Child Care Providers "union" claimed the providers were "public employees."
There are very few sectors of the economy where a similar argument couldn’t be made, so unless we begin to fight some of the principles upon which these laws are enacted, expect further decay of your rights and liberties.

Friday, January 08, 2010

November 2009 OActivity

The compilation of OActivist output for November 2009 is now available.

I'm also pleased to report that Mark Wickens has volunteered to maintain these compilations in 2010. Thanks Mark!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Odysseus and Achilles

I just finished reading Homer’s Odyssey, and in it came across a passage which I think is very indicative of the difference between the ancient Greeks’ attitudes and those of the (Plato-inspired) Christian ones which followed. The Greeks thought of life as meaning life on this earth and were the first, and perhaps still the best, practitioners of a true mind-body integration. These fundamental attitudes are instrumental in explaining why the classical world was so culturally and materially successful, and why, when the Christians substituted the opposite approach, they ended up with a thousand years of stagnation and decline.

Indeed, one of the reasons that Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism appeals to me so much is because it re-introduces many of the best features of Greek thought and attitudes, all presented in a systematic and integrated fashion.

In any case, here is the passage from the Odyssey which caught my attention. It occurs when Odysseus makes his way to Hades and meets Achilles (the hero of the Illiad). Here’s what Achilles tells him (my emphasis):
…The soul of Achilles, the great runner, recognized me. “Favourite of Zeus, son of Laertes, Odysseus, master of stratagems,” he said in mournful tones, “what next, dauntless man? What greater exploit can you plan to surpass your voyage here? How did you dare to come to Hades’ realm, where the dead live on as mindless disembodied ghosts?”

“Achilles”, I answered him, “son of Peleus, far the strongest of the Achaeans, I came to consult with Teiresias in the hope of finding out from him how I could reach rocky Ithaca. For I have not managed to come near Achaea yet, nor set foot on my own island, but have been dogged by misfortune. But you, Achilles, are the most fortunate man that ever was or will be! For in the old days when you were on Earth, we Argives honoured you as though you were a god; and now, down here, you have great power among the dead. Do not grieve at your death, Achilles.”

“And do not you make light of death, illustrious Odysseus,” he replied, “I would rather work the soil as a serf on hire to some landless impoverished peasant than be King of all these lifeless dead.”…

PS I read the Penguin classic version translated by the Rieu’s and with an introduction by Peter Jones. I found Jones’ notes quite helpful and would recommend this version (though I haven’t read others to compare it to).

Sunday, January 03, 2010

October 2009 OActivity

The compilation of OActivist output for October 2009 is now available. (If anyone is interested in maintaining these summaries in 2010 please let me know.)

Conference on the Philosophic Foundations of Freedom

I'm very much looking forward to attending this conference at UCLA on the weekend of Jan 30-31. Thanks to LOGIC for organizing it.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Memorial to a once great city

Ever wonder what the effects of anti-individualist policies are? Atlas Shrugged gives the definitive answer, but there are also more narrow, concrete examples all around us today. Detroit, with its massive union culture and entitlement mentality, has gone from being an industrial powerhouse to a dangerous city in rapid decline. Diana links to these poignant photos of a city destroyed by its philosophy.

Friday, January 01, 2010

September 2009 OActivity

The compilation of September's OActivist output is now available. (If anyone is interested in maintaining these summaries in 2010 please let me know.)