Socialist Science

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In his famous 1945 report to President Truman, Science: The Endless Frontier, Vannevar Bush attributed scientific progress to "the free play of free intellects, working on subjects of their own choice, in the manner dictated by their curiosity for exploration of the unknown.” Bush argued that government need only support basic research, and that "freedom of inquiry must be preserved," leaving "internal control of policy, personnel, and the method and scope of research to the institutions in which it is carried on."

How did such an abstemious, unfettered funding scheme work out? According to MIT scientist Richard Lindzen, "The next 20 years witnessed truly impressive scientific productivity which firmly established the United States as the creative center of the scientific world. The Bush paradigm seemed amply justified."

But trouble was brewing. By 1961, President Eisenhower, in his farewell address, observed that "a steadily increasing share [of scientific research] is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government" and warned of the day when "a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity." More than by the influence of the military-industrial complex, Eisenhower was troubled by the possibility that "public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite." His worry was justified. Leftist intellectuals and social activists were already infiltrating the social and behavioral sciences and had, by the early 1970s, crept into influential positions of government, to bring science into a social contract for the common good.

It was no doubt this movement that American physicist Richard Feynman had in mind in 1968, when he observed "a considerable amount of intellectual tyranny in the name of science." In particular, liberal theories, as embodied in the programs of the Great Society, would fail the hypothesis testing of real science — their predicted performance has never been confirmed by observable evidence. The ambitious nostrums about poverty, welfare, education, healthcare, racial injustice, and other forms of socioeconomic worriment were based on what Feynman called Cargo Cult Science. These programs are not supported by scientific integrity; they are propped up by the statistical mumbo-jumbo of scientific wild-ass guesses (SWAG).

Leftist intellectuals and social activists were already infiltrating the social and behavioral sciences and had, by the early 1970s, crept into influential positions of government.

The centralized control of research that began in the early 1970s laid the groundwork for the liberal idea of science as a social contract. Under such a contract, the "common good" could not be entrusted to the intuition of unfettered scientists; enlightened bureaucrats would be better suited to the task of managing society's scientific needs. Similarly, normal scientific principles of evidence and proof became subordinate to the vagaries of social concepts such as the precautionary principle, whereby anecdotal and correlative evidence (aka, SWAG) is perfectly adequate for establishing risk to society — the slightest of which (including imaginary risk) is intolerable — and justification for government remedies. Mere suspicion of risk would replace scientific evidence as the basis for regulatory authority. New York state, for example, recently banned fracking, not because of any scientific determination of harm to public health, but because of the uncertainty of such harm.

As the autonomy envisioned by Bush and the integrity demanded by Feynman faded, hypothesis testing became lackadaisical, often not considered necessary at all. And, with the need for sharp "intellectual curiosity" in decline, egalitarian funding of scientific research was put in place. According to a recent New York Times article, agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes for Health (NIH) award grant money based on criteria other than scientific merit. Preferring "diversity of opportunity" over consequential scientific discovery, administrators now "strive to ensure that their money does not flow just to established stars at elite institutions. They consider gender and race, income and geography." Apparently, enriching our brightest scientists is a vile capitalist concept that diminishes the social value of the funding scheme.

So must it also be with the discovery process, where, as Lindzen observes, "the solution of a scientific problem is rewarded by ending support. This hardly encourages the solution of problems or the search for actual answers. Nor does it encourage meaningfully testing hypotheses." In Lindzen's view, such developments have produced a "new paradigm where simulation and programs have replaced theory and observation, where government largely determines the nature of scientific activity . . ." And now, with the pursuit of scientific truth trumped by the political passions of activist scientists and their funding agencies, "the politically desired position becomes a goal rather than a consequence of scientific research." In this paradigm, science is more easily manipulated by politicians, who cynically scare the public, as H.L. Mencken put it, "by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."

Nowhere did this become more prominent than in the environmental sciences. During the 1980s, as socialism began its collapse, distraught western Marxists joined the environmental movement. If the workers of the world would not unite to overthrow capitalism because of its economic harmfulness, then regulators would destroy it because of its environmental damage. Government agencies, most notably the EPA and DOE, became coddling, Lysenkoist homes for activist scientists. By the end of the decade they had penetrated climate science, striking it rich in the gold mine of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). By the early 1990s, the hypothesis that humans had caused unprecedented recent warming, and would cause catastrophic future warming, became self-evident to a consensus of elite activist scientists. The establishment of fossil fuels as the sole culprit behind AGW — and progenitor of an endless series of climate hobgoblins — became the goal of government-funded climate science research.

Apparently, enriching our brightest scientists is a vile capitalist concept that diminishes the social value of the funding scheme.

Science, however, was not up to the task. It could not verify the AGW hypothesis. The existence of the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) was ground for rejection, as was the nonexistence of the so-called tropical hotspot (the "fingerprint of manmade global warming”) predicted by AGW computer models. Then there is the ongoing warming pause, a stark climatological irony that began in 1998, the very year following the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol to curb the expected accelerated warming. Even when confronted with such nullifying evidence, activist scientists refused to reject the AGW hypothesis. Nor did they modify it, the better to conform with observational evidence. Some simply rejected the science — science that they had come to view as "normal science," no longer suitable for their cause — and switched to Post-normal Science (PNS).

PNS replaces normal science when "facts are uncertain, values in dispute, stakes high, and decisions urgent." Invented by social activists, it is a mode of inquiry designed to advance the political agenda behind such large-scale social issues as pollution, AIDS, nutrition, tobacco, and climate change. PNS provides "new problem-solving strategies in which the role of science is appreciated in its full context of the complexity and uncertainty of natural systems and the relevance of human commitments and values."

In other words, in the face of uncertainty, researchers can use their "values" to shape scientific truth. As the late activist scientist Stephen Schneider counseled, "we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts one might have . . . Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest."

Climate science luminary, Mike Hume, believes that scientists (and politicians) are compelled to make tradeoffs between truth and influence. In the struggle between rational truth and emotional value, Hulme advises (in Why We Disagree about Climate Change, sections 10.1 and 10.5), "we need to see how we can use the idea of climate change — the matrix of ecological functions, power relationships, cultural discourses and materials flows that climate change reveals — to rethink how we take forward our political, social, economic and personal projects over the decades to come." Expanding on Schneider's advice: "We will continue to create and tell new stories about climate change and mobilise them in support of our projects.”

One way or another the "projects" (renewable energy, income equality, sustainability, social justice, green economics, etc.) fall under the umbrella of global governance. There is no solution to global warming that does not require global cooperation, in the execution of a global central plan. The "scary stories" of climate catastrophe (storms, floods, droughts, famines, species extinctions, etc.) are the hobgoblins used to coerce acceptance of the socialist remedy, while obscuring its principal side-effect: the elimination of capitalism, democracy, and individual liberty, none of which can coexist with global governance.

Even when confronted with such nullifying evidence, activist scientists refused to reject the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis.

Under the old paradigm — the free play of free intellects, guided by skepticism and empirical truth — discoveries were prolific, albeit unpredictable with respect to their nature, significance, and timing. The centralized planning that began in the early 1970s attempted to control such fickleness, by selecting the research areas, the grant money, and, in many cases, the desired research result — all to harness science for the common good, of course.

How has the new paradigm — the circumscribed play of biased ideologues, guided by compliance and consensus — performed relative to the old paradigm? Abysmally. The methods of teaching mathematics and reading cited by Feynman have failed; US public education, the envy of the world in the early 1970s, is, at best, mediocre today. The "War on Cancer" that began in 1971 has failed to find a cure. Similarly, government research grants (substituting diversity and a paycheck for intellectual curiosity) have failed to produce cures for many other diseases (AIDS, Alzheimer's, diabetes, Parkinson's, MS, ALS, to name a few). The NSF website lists 899 discoveries — but these are not discoveries; they are discussions of scientific activity, coupled with self-congratulation and wishful thinking.

Activist scientists would shriek that such evidence of failure is anecdotal and correlative, and therefore illegitimate — and who are better qualified than activists to recognize SWAG when they see it? They would also vehemently assert that it is too difficult to establish a causal relationship between government-planned science and paltry discovery — perhaps as difficult as naming a single invention, technological advance, medical breakthrough, engineering development, or innovative product in use today that is not the result of scientific discoveries made prior to the early 1970s.

This evidence for a causal relationship between increasing government control and declining scientific achievement is no flimsier than the evidence for a causal relationship between increasing levels of atmospheric CO2 and increasing global temperature. Indeed, it is the very lack of such evidence that, to activist science, justifies PNS.

But PNS is a charade. It is hobgoblinology, masquerading as science and used to thwart skepticism about the unverified claims of socialist scientists masquerading as enlightened experts, pushing a political agenda masquerading as the common good. AGW is supported by nothing more than cargo cult science foisted on a fearful, science-illiterate people.

The scary stories, incessantly pronounced as scientific facts, are speculation. They are themselves hypotheses — additional, distinct hypotheses that would have to be verified, even if the parent AGW hypothesis could be established. But false syllogisms are permissible under PNS. The PNS scientist is free to infer scary stories from the unverified AGW hypothesis, provided there is uncertainty in the normal science and virtue in his political values. The scientific method of normal science is replaced by a post-normal scientific method, in which an hypothesis is tested not by empiricism but by scariness — that, and the frequency and shrillness with which it is stated. One could call this socialist science process Scary Hypothesis Inference Testing (SHIT). And one would find a strong causal relationship between SHIT and the aroma of SWAG.




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Why Libertarianism Will End Poverty

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As a fan of Friedrich Nietzsche, I have a fondness for clever, memorable aphorisms, on the model of his “All that which does not kill me makes me stronger,” which is one of my personal mottos. Another such aphorism (though not by Nietzsche) is: “Socialists believe that no one should own anything; libertarians believe that everyone should own something.” What this gets at, among other things, is the idea that both socialists and libertarians have an answer to the problem of poverty, but our answer differs sharply from theirs. This is an important point to hammer home to voters.

The leftists and socialists say that they want to help the poor and that the libertarians and conservatives are the enemies of the working class and we don’t care about the poor. This naturally drives working class voters to vote Democrat when they should be voting Libertarian. I can’t speak for conservatives, and I can’t speak for other libertarians either. But, speaking for myself, I can say that I do care about the poor, and my brand of libertarianism, which comes from a liberal-tarian or neoliberal strain, is very intently focused upon ending poverty.

Both socialists and libertarians have an answer to the problem of poverty, but our answer differs sharply from theirs.

My idea is to tell voters that libertarianism will end world poverty. That is a bold claim, and I expect most voters will reply: “Why? And how?” One answer can be found in my own reinterpretation and application of the business management philosophy called Six Sigma.

Six Sigma is a technique developed in the manufacturing industry and is widely credited with the high quality of electronics devices that are manufactured today. A mathematical approach to business management and products manufacturing, its basic idea is that hard math and statistics should be used to manage a business and control the work product of a factory. The key mathematical equation used by Six Sigma practitioners, which I would like you to understand, is: Y = f(X) + e, where X represents input, f(X) represents the process that is applied to the input, Y represents the output, and e represents the errors and imperfections inherent in human existence.

The core teaching of Six Sigma is that most business processes are inefficient and wasteful, and that vast amounts of money can be saved by redesigning the process to eliminate waste. The Six Sigma method analyzes the X and the f(X) in order to find the most efficient method of achieving the desired Y. The method uses math and science to find the best process to achieve efficiency, quality, and success. Six Sigma assumes that with the same input X, e.g. with the same amount of work, labor, effort, and raw materials, the output Y can be very different — if the process, the f(X), is different. What matters is the f(X), not the X, because you need a good process to get the most output out of your input.

Six Sigma is not mere abstract theory. It has been used in practical reality, for example by Motorola, Bank of America, and major car manufacturers in Detroit. The data suggest that when a Fortune 500 company implements Six Sigma, and when it does so correctly, and especially when it uses it on manufacturing processes and factories, average net profits increase by as much as 1 billion dollars a year.

The lower class and middle class bear a tax burden far worse than the taxes actually paid by the rich.

Now, let me get to the main argument in this essay. We can consider a national economy to be akin to a business or a factory. The work that people do, and the natural resources and raw materials that go into their work, are the input. The money they make and the consumable goods and services they produce are the output. And the political system, be it libertarian capitalism or socialist left-liberalism, is the process that takes inputs and creates outputs. My argument is that the process of heavy government intervention in the economy, pioneered by the New Deal and implemented by Obama and the Democrats today, is very wasteful. If Motorola could save a billion dollars by more efficient processes, then the United States of America could probably save trillions of dollars by a more efficient politico-economic process. And the trillions of dollars of added wealth would end up in the hands of the people, of the working class. I fully believe that if all the economic waste were eliminated in the USA, and if the rest of the world implemented free market economics, then the added wealth would be enough to end poverty, so that the vast majority of humans would achieve a middle class or upper class standard of living.

Why would capitalism be a more efficient economic system than Democratic left-liberalism? The answer to that question lies beyond the scope of this article. In my recent nonfiction book Golden Rule Libertarianism, I take 100 pages to explain why a system of money and prices and free choices among competing businesses is the best way to coordinate the diverse economic activity of billions of different producers and consumers in a division of labor economy. The arguments in my book can be called the Hasanian answer. There is also the Randian answer, the Rothbardian answer, the Milton Friedman answer, etc. Let’s take the Hasanian answerfor granted, for the sake of my argument, and leave the details for a different discussion.

Why would libertarianism put money in the hands of the poor and middle-class, as opposed to the rich? As a factual matter, the government spends trillions of dollars taken from the taxpayers, so if you end the tax-and-spend leftist policies, then that money will remain in the taxpayers’ hands, to be spent by the people. Of course, leftists claim that the rich are the ones who pay taxes, and that tax-and-spend helps the poor. In fact, however, the lower class and middle class bear a tax burden far worse than the taxes actually paid by the rich. This is because of the low tax rates for long-term capital gains and dividends, where the rich get their money, and the ability of the rich to hold their money in offshore tax shelters, which enable them to avoid paying taxes; and also because of the many taxes that target the poor, such as the property tax and the sales tax, and social security withholding. The high tax brackets for middle-class salaries also hurt. One thousand dollars is a ton of money for a working-class person or a middle-class person, whereas 1 million dollars is meaningless to a billionaire. So taxes hit the lower class with an impact far greater, proportionately, than their impact on the upper class. Tax cuts help the working class and middle class and often have minimal direct benefits for the rich.

A libertarian Six Sigma approach would eliminate the waste in government spending, creating huge savings for the American people. Government in the United States, including federal, state, and local governments, is the biggest spender of the people’s money, and the examples of bureaucratic failure, waste, and incompetence in government spending are too many for anyone to list. There are bridges to nowhere, statues built for no reason, railroad lines that nobody wants to use . . . mountains of waste, range upon range, all costing the taxpayers trillions upon trillions. The government is necessarily inefficient, because the government does not need to compete against anyone, and people are forced to accept what the government does. By eliminating waste at all levels of government, we could probably save $4 trillion of Americans’ hard-earned money annually — one quarter of government expenditures. Then, if you let people be free to be productive, and you unlock the money-making potential of every worker, especially the highly intelligent and creative people, and if you give them broad freedom to trade with others without regulatory controls, I believe that another $4 trillion would be added to GDP. $4 trillion plus $4 trillion is $8 trillion.

The US GDP was $16 trillion in the most recent estimate, and it is plausible to think that if we replaced a flawed f(X) with an efficient, waste-free f(X), then Y could increase by 50%. This is in line with what Six Sigma improvements have achieved for businesses that replace bad processes with good processes. In terms of Six Sigma using math and science to discover the correct process for a business, which is a core tenet of Six Sigma, I think that the work done by Milton Friedman, who completed an exhaustive, thorough scientific research using hard data and statistical math to show that capitalist-leaning economies generate more wealth than socialist-leaning economies, is true to the Six Sigma approach of statistical analysis. So my application of Six Sigma would take it as a given, proven by the libertarian economists, that the libertarian process is the right one to use to redesign the economy.

Libertarians are not the enemies of the poor and the working class; we are their best friends, with their best interests at heart.

Let us consider the number I mentioned: $8 trillion recovered due to libertarian policies. America has about 300 million citizens. Let’s assume that the poorest 90% comprises 270 million people. If we eliminated economic waste and saved or created $8 trillion, and divided that among 270 million people, then each poor or middle-class person would get an additional $29,600 a year. That would give a reasonable amount of money, enough to live a decent, happy life. This distribution would not be accomplished by means of a welfare system but by the normal, efficient practices of a capitalist economy, including simply letting people keep the money they would otherwise pay in taxes. And if we eliminate most regulations on the economy, almost everything will be cheaper to buy, allowing poor people to achieve middle-class buying power. Our policies would create new wealth for the poor to claim as their own private property. In other words, we could end poverty by using reason and logic, instead of the mushy illogic of the Left.

I conclude by repeating the point with which I opened: libertarians are not the enemies of the poor and the working class; we are their best friends, with their best interests at heart. The leftist, Democratic poor don’t understand this, but we would be well advised to teach it to its natural audience, working class voters. Remember this aphorism: socialists believe that no one should own anything; libertarians believe that everyone should own something.




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Inequality: The Democrats’ Defining Issue

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Those of us who have been troubled by issues such as economic decline, unemployment, public debt, healthcare, foreign policy, and federal power should know that our worries have been misplaced. President Obama now tells us that income inequality is the principal concern — the "defining issue of our time," he says. It's a timely discovery, what with America's victims of inequality looking ahead to the November congressional elections.

The Democrat Party (protector and savior of all such victims) had to choose between inequality and the unfolding Obamacare debacle. That was a no-brainer. Naturally, Joe Biden made the call, counseling that "income inequality is our issue this year." After six years of rewarding the rich and punishing the poor and middle class, newly impassioned Democrats declared inequality as their battle cry for 2014. Why not? Six months of melodramatic hypocrisy spent on attacking plutocrats is wildly preferable to six months of cognitive dissonance spent on defending Obamacare.

In a speech last December, Mr. Obama launched his new crusade against patrimonial wealth, promising to devote the remainder of his presidency to this "dangerous and growing inequality." It is a phenomenon he has observed for many years — perhaps as early as his first reading of Das Kapital. His monologues on the subject (e.g., his notorious December 2011 Osawatomie, Kansas speech) voicethe deeply felt, though tacit, theme that capitalism is to blame for the widening income gap between the rich (the bourgeoisie) and the rest of us (the proletariat). He presents his observations as evidence both of capitalism's failure and of his fervid concern for correcting its excesses. And there is what he doesn't say, what he would like to exclaim with glee: that Karl Marx was right.

It is difficult to imagine any set of policies that could punish our economy and darken our future as much as the Democrat policies have.

Because of capitalism, the president tells us, "the basic bargain at the heart of our economy has frayed." To Obama, free market capitalism is a mysterious, chaotic game in which the winners prosper through deceit and theft, allowing but a meager share of their vast wealth to trickle down to the poor and middle class. It's a "theory," he says, that "fits well on a bumper sticker," but "it doesn’t work. It has never worked." Who — apart from Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, Fidel Castro, and Paul Krugman — could have put it better?

In his economic homilies, Obama excoriates capitalists who tell us that "the market will take care of everything" and that "if we just cut more regulations and cut more taxes — especially for the wealthy — our economy will grow stronger." He laments that "a family in the top 1% has a net worth 288 times higher than the typical family," while"a child born into the bottom 20% has a less than 1-in-20 shot at making it to the top." He reminds average Americans of deep frustrations "rooted in the nagging sense that no matter how hard they work, the deck is stacked against them." Marx could not have taken a more sinister view.

But the capitalism Obama decries is not free market capitalism. The latter predated his selective observations, performing marvelously well for America's first two centuries. The capitalism that Obama rails against is the patriarchal, democratic crony capitalism that politicians of his ilk (including every president from Lyndon B. Johnson to George W. Bush) created. That system — which is precariously held together by the political influence of the rich and the "fatal conceit" of central planners — has failed, and failed chronically since the advent of the "Great Society." Today, after five years of eco-socialism, Obama outshines all his predecessors. The inequality gap has become so intolerably large under his stewardship that he himself declared it as a national issue. Well, somebody had to do it.

During his 2012 reelection campaign, Obama told audiences what the weak regulation of the Bush administration had accomplished: "Insurance companies that jacked up people's premiums with impunity and denied care to patients who were sick, mortgage lenders that tricked families into buying homes they couldn't afford, a financial sector where irresponsibility and lack of basic oversight nearly destroyed our entire economy." As 2014 election campaigns begin, voters who were among Obama's cheering crowds in 2012 may ask what the strong regulation of the Obama administration has accomplished. They, and Democrat candidates, won't like the answer.

In 2007, the share of the nation’s income earned by the richest 1% was 18%. Today, that elite group's share has increased to 22%. Ninety-five percent of the income gains since Obama took office have gone to the top 1%. Yet, during that period (aka, the "recovery"), median annual household income dropped by 4.4%, the number of people in poverty increased by 6,667,000, and Democrats, with a new battle cry but still blaming George Bush, gained 100% of the nation's inequality bullshit.

The tax and regulate policies of Democrats (Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, EPA and DOE regulations, to name a few) are wreaking havoc on the very groups they are supposed to help. A March 2014 report ('The Irony of ObamaCare: Making Inequality Worse”) declared that Obamacare "threatens the middle class with higher premiums, loss of hours, and a shift to part-time work and less comprehensive coverage." It was published by a labor union — one of many angered by Obamacare. With the Dodd-Frank reforms, minorities, low-income people, and the young are being shut out of mainstream banking. The economic impact and regulatory compliance cost, estimated to be $1.9 trillion annually, will be passed on to people in the middle class, who haven't been shut out — yet.

For black Americans, the poverty rate has increased from 12% in 2008 to 16.1% today; their unemployment remains twice the rate for white Americans. According to radio talk-show host Tavis Smiley, "the data is going to indicate sadly that when the Obama administration is over, black people will have lost ground in every single leading economic indicator category."

Meanwhile, the stock market is doing well, for the rich; the S&P 500 is up 52.8% since the passage of Obamacare in March 2010. How have health insurance companies fared — companies that were allegedly jacking up people's premiums with impunity and denying care to the sick? The top five are up 100.7%. And what about banks, which were allegedly tricking families into buying homes they couldn't afford? According to a February 2014 FDIC report, their profits are at an all-time high.

Democrats argue that the inequality gap would grow wider under Republican leadership. Not to defend Republicans, but it is difficult to imagine any set of policies that could punish our economy and darken our future as much as the Democrat policies have. When it comes to the advancement of inequality, Democrats are unrivalled. Clowns could do no worse.

For black Americans, the poverty rate has increased from 12% in 2008 to 16.1% today.

Clowns would come up with better ideas than Obama's latest offerings: inequality busters such as “equal pay for equal work,” universal preschool, and raising the minimum wage. They would know that impoverished burger flippers making $7.25 an hour would remain in poverty at Obama's recommended pay of $10.10 an hour, as would the half million people who, according to the CBO, would lose their jobs as a result. Clowns would reject the assertion that women earn only 77% of what men earn for the same work. Male clowns would worry about the wholesale job losses and wage cuts that would ensue if employers acted on the idea that they are overpaying men by 23%.

Then there are Democrat anti-inequality panderisms such as the "Stop Subsidizing Multi-Million Dollar Corporate Bonuses Act," sponsored by Senators Blumenthal (CT) and Reed (RI). Can an Occupy Wall Street pleaser such as the "Use Congressional Authority and Oversight to Ensure that Appropriate Federal Agencies Fully Investigate and Prosecute the Wall Street Criminals Act" be far behind?

The policies of Democrats, however well-intentioned, have backfired. They have exacerbated inequality, a result that, after almost six years of economic stagnation, high unemployment, staggering debt, grinding income decline, etc., clowns would notice. If for no other reason than comic relief, they would reject Democrat ideas — all two of them: redistribution of wealth and regulation of everything.

Clowns would tease us with a little free-market capitalism and tickle us with our own newly discovered energy bonanza, especially the vast taboo region lying fallow beneath federal land. After all, there is no clown ideology against fossil fuels. Besides, clowns would be awestruck by the giant nodding donkeys erected on private land, producing enormous wealth and prosperity in places like Texas and North Dakota. Think of the chuckle that clowns would get from telling a burger flipper that, while he waits for Obama's $10.10 an hour to kick in, he could work at a MacDonald's for $18 an hour . . . in North Dakota. Then there's the sidesplitter involving a blue-collar guy who makes $80,000 a year driving a tanker truck full of Bakken shale oil from the Williston Basin to refineries in the South . . . because Obama won't use his pen and cellphone to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

The rich do very well under Republican or Democrat administrations. Has it ever been otherwise? But under the Obama administration, the rich have grown extraordinarily wealthier, and the inequality gap has grown extraordinarily wider, than under the Bush administration. The stimulus, Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, EPA and DOE regulations, and other Democrat policies — all big (federal) government efforts, promising to humble the rich, uplift the poor, and strengthen the middle class — have nefariously combined to produce the opposite effect. As the mid-term elections near, "Redistribute and Regulate" bumper stickers won't make many voters think that Democrats will do any better than clowns to shrink the inequality gap. The real challenge for Democrats is not to stamp out inequality, but to escape from the dark shadow of Obama's anti-capitalism, anti-fossil fuel, eco-socialist ideology, where most candidates are discovering a "nagging sense" that "the deck is stacked against them."




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How Much Ruin, Exactly?

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“There is a great deal of ruin in a nation.” It’s a remark Adam Smith made to a young colleague, John Sinclair, who worried that the cost of quelling the American rebels might lead to the downfall of Great Britain. It’s also a remark Liberty’s founder, Bill Bradford, quoted back to me on several occasions, whenever I was doom-and-glooming about how some country or another was on the road to ruin.

It’s a remark that comes to mind often still, whenever I’m agitated about governmental stupidity or malfeasance. Foolish wars in the Middle East have not ruined the US, and neither have decades of profligacy, proliferations of acronymic agencies, or a succession of villains in our highest offices. Communism did not ruin Russia, and has not ruined China; even Nazism could not permanently ruin Germany, though it did succeed in splitting it for a while.

It’s a familiar feedback loop: the more that’s seized, the worse the economy gets; the worse the economy gets, the more can be seized.

Nonetheless on occasion I read of some insane diktat in one or another corner of the globe and wonder just how far that corner’s leaders are prepared to stretch the maxim. Sovereign debt will likely not ruin Spain, or Portugal, or even Greece, though the EU seems intent on testing that out a while longer yet. Debt (again) and a shrinking population will probably not ruin Japan, but its prime minister Shinzo Abe, with his “Abenomics”—a reheated and desperate Keynesianism—is trying his hardest to make things worse. Unemployment and labor unrest will certainly not ruin France, but French president François Hollande, meanwhile, has yet to pass up a chance to kill off jobs and push companies abroad.

And then there’s Venezuela.

Venezuela, of course, was one of the great experiments: Hugo Chávez’s “Bolivarian Revolution” was supposed to prove the superiority of socialism (economic, of course; its moral superiority was assumed long ago), provided only that said socialism is backed up by seemingly inexhaustible national resources. Chávez, wasting no time after his election in 1998, set about “redistributing income” through land grabs and price fixes, threatening hesitant businesses with expropriation and then often following through on that threat. Under “Chavismo,” Venezuela assumed ownership of much of the nation’s construction, telecommunications, utilities, and food production industries, insisting at each step of the way that the takeovers were necessary to combat the predation of profiteering capitalists.

This sets up a feedback loop familiar to anyone who’s given even the slightest attention to modern government, where every gain (however temporary) is attributed to the extraordinary wisdom and foresight of the government agents, while every loss (all too often permanent) is attributed to the greed of speculators and other enemies of the people. Naturally, the more that’s seized, the worse the economy gets, but on the other hand, the worse the economy gets, the more can be seized. It’s brilliant, really—at least until the shortages of basic goods become too great for anyone but an ideologue to ignore.

Say this in Chávez’s favor: his policies—and those of his successor, Nicolás Maduro—have encouraged innovation in the Venezuelan people; for instance, consider the smartphone app created to help them find toilet paper, in perpetually short supply thanks to price controls. But, as with the more traditional example of broken windows, this innovation isn’t going toward the sorts of things that would convince anyone of Chavismo’s superiority. And as other nations, especially the United States, Canada, and Brazil, have become more energy-independent, Venezuela and President Maduro are finding fewer buyers for their one undoubted asset, while the state-owned oil industry has become ever more wasteful and unprofitable.

With revenues plummeting and prices held artificially low, inflation has, inevitably, kicked in. And here’s where the “ruin” starts coming in: Maduro’s response (other than continuing to threaten or outright seize businesses) was to devalue the currency, and impose controls on currency exchange. As account holders desperately tried to get their money out of the country ahead of impending hyperinflation, Maduro doubled down by devaluing further, attempting to cut off foreign travel. Finally, he enacted a “Law on Fair Prices,” prohibiting profit margins of over 30%—which is to say, no profit, for anyone running an import business—while at the same time enacting long jail terms to punish “hoarders,” or, less insanely, anyone refusing to sell at a loss.

The socialist policies have certainly encouraged innovation in the Venezuelan people—take for instance the smartphone app that helps them find toilet paper.

Now, I’m no expert on Venezuela. I’ve never been there, I don’t know anyone from there, and I can’t get more than the barest sense of any articles written in Latin American Spanish. But I can’t imagine any experience of the place that would convince me that those Venezuelans who protest Chavismo are just, in the words of professional useful idiot Oliver Stone, “sore losers”—though they certainly aren’t winners, either, not while they’re getting gunned down for demonstrating against the ongoing depredation and repression. And so long as the government is willing to arrest the opposition leader, or expel consular officials for so much as meeting with protesting students, things don’t seem likely to improve.

It’s impossible to know where it will all end, or whether it could be enough to ruin Venezuela. I suspect not: prior to Chávez, Venezuela was no more or less stable than any other Latin American nation since the time of Bolívar himself. Oddly enough, in this era of globalization, the idea of a nation may be more susceptible to ruin than individual nations themselves. Those that are nearest ruin are those that were highly unstable and unwanted to begin with: Somalia, Iraq, Yugoslavia—lines drawn on a map as a convenience to colonial invaders or international do-gooders (if you can tell those apart). Yet even those fictions hold up longer than one might expect—just look at Zimbabwe.

So yes, there is likely a great deal of ruin still in Venezuela. But it is a shame, and likely will be a tragedy, to see the depths its rulers are willing to plumb before they hit bottom.



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Crisis Communism

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No law has drawn more ire from libertarians and conservatives than Obamacare. The idea of the government using its power to punish people for making a free and informed decision not to purchase health insurance, justified by the noblest-sounding idealism of "lowering costs" and "increasing access," is obvious pavement for the road to socialism. If the government has the right to impose economic decisions on us, then capitalism is finished.

My own view is that, contrary to conventional libertarian wisdom, Obamacare gets some things right. I have a history of health problems and the end of exclusions for preexisting conditions benefits me greatly; without it I probably would not have health insurance. I also like the Obamacare health insurance exchanges, because they enable plans to compete for buyers, and competition is the engine that lowers cost and improves quality. In terms of preexisting conditions, and the lack of competition among plans, I think the old system was broken and the new system is better.

But my point is that these good things would have happened from deregulation. The flaws in the old system were caused by government control, not by the free market or the greed of insurance companies. In fact, greed is a main motive of Obamacare's insurance-company backers, who love a law that forces people to buy their products and pay them more money.

Here I posit a theory that I call Crisis Communism: when the government interferes in the free market it causes a crisis, which the socialists then use as an excuse for greater government interference, justified by the need to end the crisis. Thus regulation achieves a downward spiral towards Marxism. One good example is the Great Depression. The Federal Reserve caused it; then the New Deal was offered as a solution — which made it worse.

In the field of health insurance, two regulations precipitated the crisis "solved" by Obamacare. First, the complex of laws and codes known as ERISA (associated with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974) tended to force health insurance to come from a worker's employer, so that the employer chose the plan, which killed competition for plans among individual consumers. Second, the state insurance commissioners issued detailed regulations about what a health insurance plan was allowed to cover and what benefits it could have. The advocates of Obamacare might blame the free market for a bad system, when really it was state socialism that was to blame.

I want Obamacare repealed. But if we are to repeal Obamacare, then we must also repeal ERISA and all state health insurance regulations, so that free market competition can force health insurers to make plans available at prices that people want to pay for the benefits they want and freely choose to purchase.




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Clueless in Seattle

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My hometown, Seattle, has probably elected a Marxist to the City Council.

I write more than a week after election day, and the outcome is still not certain. Washington votes entirely by mail, and counting ballots goes on for days. But the outcome seems more and more likely.

Seattle is the “bluest” part of King County, which is the bluest county in a blue state. The city’s longtime representative in Congress is Jim McDermott, apostle of single-payer health insurance. The city votes 85% Democrat.

Seattle does have a hard-left heritage, if you go back to the General Strike of 1919. More recently, it was in Seattle that anti-capitalist protesters tried to shut down the 1999 ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization, though not all the demonstrators were from here. They chanted the slogan, “This is what democracy looks like,” but it was a false claim. Democrats were what Seattle looked like, for years and years and years.

This is a city of mandatory recycling, of bike lanes and a ban on plastic bags. It was the center of Washington’s push to legalize marijuana. It tried, against state law, to ban guns in city parks. It has just elected as mayor Ed Murray, the Democratic leader in the state senate who pushed through the state’s same-sex marriage law and subsequently married his partner.

None of this quite prepares the city for a councilwoman the likes of Kshama Sawant.

Sawant appeared on the political radar a little more than a year ago. An immigrant from India, she was teaching economics at Seattle Central Community College, which had been a hotbed of anti-WTO activity in 1999. She filed for office as a Socialist Alternative candidate against state Rep. Jamie Pedersen, Democrat.

She held out the egalitarian ideal, he would hold out moves toward it, which she would depreciate as crumbs from the corporate cupboard.

Seattle’s alternative weekly, The Stranger, picked up her cause, suggesting that she also run as a write-in against the other representative in that district, Frank Chopp, Democrat. That was a brassy move: Chopp is the speaker of the House in Olympia, and at the time (when we had a female governor) he was the most powerful man in Olympia. He had a totally safe seat; Republicans had given up running candidates against him.

We have a top-two primary in Washington. Anyone can file for office and identify himself as “preferring” a party, or no party. The top two votegetters, however they identify themselves, go on to the November ballot.

Sawant made the top-two cut against Pedersen and Chopp. The law didn’t allow her to run against both, so she chose the speaker.

She challenged him to a debate. At this debate she blamed him for presiding over all the cuts to social programs the legislature had made during the recession. Chopp is a defender of those programs, and he responded that he had done his best to protect them. He had saved the funding for this one and that one; it was because of him, he said, that 95% of the children in the state had health insurance. Sawant replied that the speaker shouldn’t boast until all children had health insurance. Chopp invited the audience to work with him to provide for that 5%. On it went: she held out the egalitarian ideal, he would hold out moves toward it, which she would depreciate as crumbs from the corporate cupboard.

Chopp debated as a gentleman, an older white man careful of what he said about the younger woman. She was edgier. She had a brassiness alien to Seattle’s let’s-be-nice politics. Her followers, who dominated the debate audience, loved it.

Seattle has no Socialist party that amounts to anything. “Socialist” was a label she pinned to herself. Against the Speaker she took 29% of the vote, which is better than any Republican had done in several decades.

That was 2012. In 2013 she filed against Councilman Richard Conlin. It was a citywide race, because all council seats were at-large (though that has just changed).

Conlin has been a progressive. City government has an Office of Sustainability and Environment largely because of him. He pushed the ban on free plastic bags. Recently, though, he was the one holdout against the city’s ordinance mandating paid sick leave in private-sector employment — not because he disagreed with it in principle, he said, but because he disagreed with the details of it.

Council seats in Seattle are nonpartisan, but everyone knew Conlin was a Democrat; they were all Democrats. Conlin had the backing of most of the important unions, including the politically active Service Employees locals that were pushing a $15-wage ballot measure in the airport city of SeaTac. Conlin was backed by the Asian paper, the black paper, and the Seattle Times; by the Washington Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club; by just about every elected Democrat in the city.

Sawant’s most prominent endorser was Dan Savage, sex columnist at The Stranger. She had a few union locals (postal workers, school employees) and some organizations that sounded like unions (e.g., Transit Riders Union).

And she had grassroots support.

It wasn’t the socialism. Seattle has had plenty of socialists run for office — three others this year, if you count the communist who ran for the Port of Seattle commission. Mostly they just file and sit, raise no money and lose.

I talked to the communist. He said he had gone to hear Sawant speak, and was disappointed that her message was “pure populism.”

“She’s a Marxist,” I said.

“She says she is.”

Sawant wasn’t marketing workers’ revolution. She was advocating specific things: rent control, a tax on millionaires’ incomes (in a state with no income tax), and a $15 minimum wage.

In the richest county in Washington state, she raised more than $100,000 for her campaign. Of her largest donors, the most common occupation was software engineer. Her donors included engineers and other tech types at Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, and F5 Networks.

Conlin more than doubled her amount. His war chest was to be expected. Hers wasn’t.

Her red yard signs far outnumbered his. An old political rule is that a yard sign should have no message other than the candidate’s name — a rule that never made sense to me, because such a sign would give no reason for supporting the candidate. Sawant’s signs broke the rule. They said, “$15 minimum wage.”

The gap between top and bottom earners makes a political difference, whether you think it does or not.

Washington already had a $9.19 minimum wage with a cost-of-living provision that would push it to $9.32 on Jan. 1, 2014. This is the highest minimum wage of any state. But the Seattle metro area also has one of the lowest unemployment rates of any US city and some of the highest costs. The economy is strong here. Median house prices have been rising strongly since the beginning of 2012, and have almost cracked $500,000 again. In the neighborhood of the Amazon headquarters a new studio apartment costs $1,500 a month. Obviously, prices are that high because some people can pay them, but there are many who cannot.

The income-equality issue doesn’t ring loudly to libertarians, who are content to respect whatever the market says. But the gap between top and bottom earners makes a political difference, whether you think it does or not. If that gap is not too wide, people will accept it. But it widens, decade after decade, and neither Republicans and Democrats do anything to stop it. The progressives talk about the middle class going away, which a gross exaggeration, but the proportion of new jobs that are middle-income is less than it was. Among recent graduates the technical ones do fine, some of them better than fine, but the political science and English lit grads are working in coffee shops and grocery stores, and they resent it.

They look to the left for political rescue, and in Seattle, the Democratic Party is not the left. It would feel like the left to most Americans, but here the Democratic Party is the establishment. Kshama Sawant is the left. Her cry is to “break the Democratic Party’s corporate domination of Seattle.”

Apparently, she has.


Editor's Note: On November 15, Sawant was declared the winner, with just over 50% of the vote.



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Structure vs. Belief

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Many libertarians embrace public choice theory as a sophisticated, intellectually rigorous political analysis that is consistent with libertarian ideas. This does not mean that libertarians should accept it uncritically.

Public choice theory looks at politics through a lens that treats politicians as selfish actors striving to maximize their power and self-interest, not as people chiefly motivated by the public good. Public choice theory has identified several structural defects in the American political process that lead politicians to destroy liberty as a byproduct of their self-interest. One such defect is the dispersion of interests problem, the fact that a rent-seeking law imposing taxes to help a special interest group has a highly concentrated interest group to lobby for it, whereas the interest to lobby against it is dispersed over the entirety of the taxpayers. Individual taxpayers aren’t sufficiently aware of the tax to be highly interested in fighting it.

Another defect is the fact that politicians usually get noticed by the media for what they do, and not for what they don’t do, so election campaigns tend to reward politicians for being active, which leads to bigger government. Because of the fame that attaches to moralistic crusades, the structure of democracy also rewards legislatures for passing new criminal laws, which leads to overcriminalization.

It is the beliefs of the people that caused the decline of liberty and the rise of big government in post-New Deal America.

But despite public choice theory’s analytical value and libertarian leanings, I would argue that it is mistaken about the fundamental cause of statist laws. As an alternative to public choice theory I would present the rule of intended consequences: the reason for the existence of any given law in a republican democracy is the voters’ belief that the law is good and performs a just purpose; the unintended consequences of a law are usually not the primary reason for that law’s existence. This rule holds that the best way to get an unjust law repealed is to persuade the voters that the law is unjust, so that voter pressure will lead the politicians to repeal it.

For example, the reason why gambling is illegal is that mainstream American voters have inherited a Puritan conservative Christian morality dating back to the colonial era, and they feel that gambling is evil and should be illegal. The Indian casino owners and the casinos in Las Vegas and the state lotteries all benefit from the anti-gambling laws. And they all have lobbying power. But despite the lobby whose interest is favored by criminalization, the primary reason for the anti-gambling laws is the feelings of the voters, not the lobbying of the special interests who benefit from the law. If the voting public did not believe that gambling should be illegal, then it would be legalized.

I doubt that any amount of lobbying or special interest funding could keep gambling from being legalized if the politicians thought that the voters strongly favored its legalization. Legislators who fought the tide of public opinion would simply be voted out and replaced by legislators who would obey the public will. Gay marriage and Prohibition are two other examples showing that the law tends to change when the beliefs of the voters change. The rise of gay marriage laws and both the start and end of Prohibition illustrate the fact that politicians will adopt policies that were once unpopular if they see that the mainstream beliefs of the public have changed.

I would characterize the debate between public choice theory vs. the intended consequences rule as a quarrel between structure and belief. Public choice theorists think that the structure of a republican democracy disadvantages liberty and favors the growth of government. In contrast, I think it is the beliefs of the people that caused the decline of liberty and the rise of big government in post-New Deal America. The rise of socialist sympathy in the Democratic Party in the 1930s coincided with the seepage of socialist theories from the late 19th century into the consciousness of the American public. The expansion of our government has followed Americans’ abandonment of the libertarianism of the American Revolution and their acceptance of modern liberal dogma.

If I am correct, then the key to restoring liberty is not to alter the institutional structures of the nation. Instead, the key is to persuade the voting public to believe in liberty, to transform the people’s moral sentiments so that they feel that statist laws are unjust. This challenge may seem difficult to meet, but altering beliefs would be easier than the task presented by public choice theory, which would be nothing short of fundamentally altering the structure of American government. Public choice could probably succeed only through a series of libertarian constitutional amendments, which seems unlikely. The war of ideas and persuasion is the right path for libertarians to focus on.




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Stealth Stars

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The Stealth Star motto is, “Safety does not exist, but courage does.” While I sit in my space pod, about to land on what the Concord of Trading Star Systems has designated as Rediscovered Unknown Planet Omega 12774, I repeat that motto to myself, because I cannot afford to feel any fear right now. Fear is a nervous reaction that gives energy to the muscles at the expense of taking energy from the thinking centers in the brain — and I will need my mind to be at its sharpest when I face these potential hostiles. The planetary scan of Omega 12774 showed signs of electronic technology, but no star ships or long-range communications. It is possible that the humans of this planet might have that unpleasantness which every Stealth Star loathes: a mix of technological progress and political retrogression which is the precondition for hostile soldiers capable of taking on our star technology.

The space pod penetrates the atmosphere; I jerk back in my seat and then slam forward as I crash into the ground below. I open my pod and see a vast stretch of stagnant brown fields around me. The brown extends outward in all directions, like a sea of mud. A few faded, half-alive trees sprout in the distant horizon, their frail green branches sagging down like the skin of an old woman. I am several miles from the perimeter of what showed up as the largest collection of life-forms on the planetary scan. My hope is that it is the capital city; I also hope that the leaders of this society’s social cooperation (assuming that the natives cooperate, and have leaders) will reveal themselves as kind, benevolent, freedom-loving organizers who will welcome the opportunity to trade with other planets — there’s nothing wrong with being naïve enough to wish for good luck, is there? I set my visual scanner on long range and begin to run toward the city on my technologically enhanced legs.

Fear is a nervous reaction that gives energy to the muscles at the expense of taking it from the thinking centers in the brain — and I will need my mind to be at its sharpest when I face these potential hostiles.

I come to the top of a hill and the city is spread out before me. It is not what I had expected. The planetary scan detected sophisticated electronic technology, but this city looks like something out of a picture book of Origin Earth’s dark ages. The wooden buildings have thatched yellow straw roofs, a few squat structures are built from red stone bricks, and various open squares dot the streets. The city blocks are broken up by narrow unpaved dirt roads laid at random. Humans, hundreds of them, bustle about in the streets, and a crowd of people fills some sort of marketplace beneath rainbow-colored tents on the western side of the city — but the goods they are trading appear to be live animals, mainly chickens, pigs and goats, as well as bags of corn and wheat, and the most valuable goods up for sale are small iron tools or jewelry made of glass and crystal. The people are dressed in clothes that are little more than rags. The colors are dull shades ranging from midnight black to smoke gray. These people are emaciated, dirty and haggard-looking, their skin stretched tight across hungry bones and their eyes sunken into their faces. I see no energy, no excitement, no smiles. Nowhere do I see anything resembling electronic technology — but wait!

At the far side of the city, on the other side of a series of building-covered hills, I can see a massive stone castle. Its shadow cuts across the city like a knife. I see glittering red lights emanating from the small windows in the castle’s upper towers — bright lights, unmistakably electric lights. I run a visual scan and see that the castle is full of technology; there are laser guns mounted on turrets around the castle’s outer walls, the scan detects the electromagnetic outline of super-computers, and small nuclear generators are buried in the castle’s lower levels. So! This civilization is ruled by someone who takes the technology for himself and gives nothing to his people. I sense that a conflict between the Stealth Stars and the ruling power inside that castle is inevitable.

I use an optical mirage device to make my star armor look like peasant’s rags, and I descend into the city. The computer in my brain quickly decodes the language of these people, which is derived from the Post-English that was spoken in this part of the galaxy before the Apocalypse. I walk into a building with a sign above the door proclaiming “Bet’s Inn and Tavern.” Inside I am greeted by an attractive young woman with long blonde hair that shimmers as though it were made of gold; her healthy glow has not been dampened by the dirt in her hair or her missing teeth or the numerous stitches desperately holding together her moon-gray dress.

“Hello, good sir. A traveler, are we? Yes? Well, if you’ve got the gems to pay for it then there ain’t no better place than Bet Matil’s Inn and Tavern. A bed and a good meal will be three blue gems, yes? And you, well, have the gems? Good, good!”

“I am from distant lands,” I say to this woman, presumably Bet, “and I would like to talk to you, to educate myself. What is the name of this city, and this land? And who lives in that castle? I might like to visit there and meet the leaders of your city.”

Three men sitting at a nearby table playing some form of dice game hear me, and the men laugh heartily.

“Don’t no one gets to go into that castle, what?” one of the men says with a grin. He has a long copper-red beard and a face so round and red that it reminds me of an apple. “Nobody,” he continues. “That castle is the home of our beloved leader, Prince Regisoph. That’s the Prince’s Tower, Tower Regisoph. This city is Rej, and our lands and farms, as far as the eye can see, that’s Rej too. Where do you come from, good sir, the fairy tale lands across the ocean, not to know this? One of the fair folk, are you?”

“Rej” appears to mean “power,” and “Regisoph” “wise and powerful.”

“I’m a human being, same as you,” I reply in a friendly tone. “So, this Regisoph is a Prince? And his father is King, I presume?”

“Father?” one of the men says, and they explode in raucous, wheezing laughter. This man who just spoke smiles at me with mirth; his teeth are yellow and rotten. “Prince Regisoph has been Prince for hundreds of years. It’s been so long that nobody around here can remember the time before he ruled. Ah, legend says that those were dark times, before the Prince’s enlightened rule. Bah! Let’s not dwell on the horrors of legends. You rolled a four so you owe me four, Jerem!”

“He has ruled for centuries? Then the Prince is not human?” I ask. No known alien species inhabits this part of the galaxy. And anti-aging technology capable of extending human life beyond 150 years is virtually impossible for people at the level of technology detected by my scan of the castle.

“Oh, he’s human, all right, although no one really knows for sure since he never comes out of the Tower and the public isn’t allowed to go inside his Tower. We haven’t seen him for over a hundred years,” Bet says. “But everyone knows that he’s human.”

“The Prince remains hidden,” I muse. “And what makes him such a great man, in your opinion? What is it about his rule that is so enlightened?”

“The Prince’s greatness?” Bet replies. There is a strange intensity in her pale grass-green eyes, a look of glowing exuberance, and I suddenly realize to my horror that she is proud to be among those ruled by her Prince. “Why, he’s made everyone equal! We all get the same number of gems at the start of each month, as our allowance, regardless of how much work we did, so that the farmers up north can’t hog all the gems just because they produce so much and we artisans and shopkeepers and innkeepers of the south aren’t so lucky. We get our gems, and we trade them during the month, and then at the end of the month they go away and we get a clean slate and a new set of gems. Some of the ones up north grow mighty rich in the later weeks, but it all goes away — pow! — it all goes up in smoke at the end of the month. It isn’t fair for the north to be rich while the south lives in poverty. Why shouldn’t we take their gems away from the northerners, at least after they’ve had an entire month to play with them? They say that equality is a great thing, so why shouldn’t the north suffer along with us southerners? Why shouldn’t I share my pain with you and with everyone else? We are all given enough gems to buy the things we need to survive — and really, do we need any more than that? The Prince’s way is better than the unrestrained greed of our ancestors, or so the legends say. And if you can’t trust the Prince and his wise men’s legends then who can you trust?”

The space pod penetrates the atmosphere; I jerk back in my seat and then slam forward as I crash into the ground below.

“Um, yes, the Prince certainly seems to be wise,” I reply in a voice that hides my revulsion. So, the land of Rej is ruled by a technology-hoarding tyrant named Prince Regisoph who has enacted a scheme of socialism to keep his peasants from acquiring enough wealth and technological progress to challenge his rule. The people live in misery and poverty and filth, while the Prince (and his soldiers, I’m sure) have all the benefits of modern medicine, entertainment, and the other wonders of electronics — and the Prince’s propaganda has his people believing in the justice and virtue of being ruled. These people seem like good-natured, hearty folk, who could prosper and trade with the rest of the galaxy if they were allowed to know the miracles of capitalism and free trade. But for the people to be freed I must defeat Prince Regisoph. Can one single Stealth Star agent do it? To be a Stealth Star you really do need to have a death wish.

Bet tugs on my arm. “Come, good sir, I’ll show you to your room. And what did you say your name was, by the way?”

“Anth Benj,” I reply, translating my name into its rough equivalent in the Rejian language.

“Anth,” she says, as if to see how my name feels upon her lips. She guides me up a narrow, creaking wooden staircase and into a small room with a straw mat for a bed on one side across from an open window. A warm, soothing wind is blowing in from outside. The window has a view of a few wooden hovels across the street, but above it I can see a wide cloudless emerald-green sky with four white-gray moons visible. Then Bet motions for me to sit down on the bed, and I comply. She smiles at me with a strange, mysterious, purposeful look.

“I listen better than those men down below, and I can tell that you’re not keen on the Prince,” Bet says. “You might be dressed like a Rejian, but your face don’t look like us and your voice don’t sound like us. You are . . . different. I know you must be an ambassador or herald from the lands beyond the ocean, sent to parlay with our Prince. But before you go storming into the Tower, there’s something about the Prince that you should know.”

I am shocked that this woman so easily decoded my disguise. The Rejians are surprisingly clever. We can always use clever people in the Concord, and there are special jobs reserved for people who can think and analyze new situations quickly. In fact, when I look at Bet I can almost picture her cleaned and clothed in the crisp white uniform of a star pilot. But then I smell the odor of horse manure wafting in through the window and the daydream fades.

“What?” I ask.

“There is no need for you to hate the Prince, Anth Benj, because, you see, I am Prince Regisoph,” Bet says.

“I think I’m having a translation problem. Say that again?”

“That’s right. I am the Prince,” Bet says. “So please, don’t oppose me. I am willing to listen to you. Rej can reach an agreement with the lands beyond the ocean.”

“How is that possible?” I ask. Could I have been so lucky as to stumble upon the ruler here, so that I can duel her one-on-one right now?

The planetary scan detected sophisticated electronic technology, but this city looks like something out of a picture book of Origin Earth’s dark ages.

“I keep my identity a secret, but I am the ruler who sits in the Tower,” Bet says. “I rarely even enter the Tower now, but my desires are the law in Rej. So stay in my city for a while and see what it has to offer, and look at our good things and what works before you condemn me for my problems and my flaws. Quick to judge is quick to die, as the wise men say. Don’t be reckless in changing everything to suit the tastes of some strangers from across the sea.”

“Well…” I say. “Then I assume that you know where I really come from?”

“Yes, of course,” she says. She heads for the door, but then looks back over her shoulder and gives me a coy smile. “You come from the fairy world beyond the ocean. I serve chicken stew for dinner at the eighth chime, so be sure to come down, Anth. I look forward to seeing you!” Bet vanishes down the stairs.

This is weird! Is Bet really the Prince, or do these people have some sort of psychological complex in which they become insane and identify with their ruler? I must learn more. I search the rooms next to mine, and in another room I find one of the men who had been playing dice downstairs, the man with the apple-red face. He sits at a table, counting his winnings from dice — a set of small gemstones, some green and some blue, and one red. He holds the red gem in his hands, a look of intense pride lighting up his eyes.

“Excuse me? May I come in?” I ask.

“Ah, the stranger!” the man says when he notices me. “My fellow traveler. I am Jerem, and yes, come in, come in, more is happier! I too am a stranger in this city, you know. I am from a northern farm, here to sell our chickens, but, ah, yes, lady luck, what? Lady luck has blessed me as much as the chickens! It seems so wrong that these gems will all be gone so soon, so soon, so soon . . .”

“Yes, it is a shame,” I agree.

“Shame, yes, but it is what we want, after all,” Jerem says. “I feel greed, yes, but it wouldn’t be fair to all the other good people for me to own too many gems and for them to have none. Wouldn’t be right.”

“Yes,” I say, continuing to observe the brainwashing effect of the Prince’s propaganda. “Speaking of which, could we talk about the Prince? I have some more questions that Bet didn’t quite answer.”

Jerem’s eyes become secretive and shifty. He coughs nervously. “The Prince? Why would you want to talk about the Prince with me? It’s not like I am the Prince in reality and I pretend to be a farmer.”

“No, of course not,” I say. Then a thought occurs to me. I do a quick visual scan of Jerem with the scanner implanted in my left eye, and my fear is confirmed: a small neuro-computer is implanted in Jerem’s brain with an internet feed broadcasting to a remote signal. I adjust my scanner to scan through the walls and sweep the entire building, and everyone here, all the Rejians, have brain jacks. But they seem oblivious to the computers in their brains, just as they seem ignorant of all the technology in the Prince’s Tower. What is going on here?

"Ah, legend says that those were dark times, before the Prince’s enlightened rule. Bah! Let’s not dwell on the horrors of legends!"

“Well, what? What? You seem like an honest chap, so I have a confession to make,” Jerem says, and my scanner detects activity in Jerem’s brain computer. “I am the Prince. Yes, I am Prince Regisoph. Best not to hide it. But don’t tell my wife, she’d be furious. Anyway, this is my city and my land and my Tower, and I’m bloody well proud of it. So don’t mess it up. That’s all I’ve got to say.”

I say goodbye to Jerem and return to my room, sit on my uncomfortable bed, and think things over. Clearly this used to be a society of sophisticated electronic technology. But their ruling class, led by someone named Prince Regisoph, took away all of the technology, barricaded themselves in the Tower, and left the people to starve in poverty. In order to ensure that the public would not revolt and storm the castle the Prince installed computers in all the peasants so that he could centrally control their thoughts and preempt any dissidence. The neural interference from the Prince’s brain computers manifests itself as the peasants’ insane belief that they are really in control of the society, that they are the Prince. The rulers in that Tower are absolutely, incorrigibly evil. I cannot tolerate the thought. I must set the people free.

You don’t become a Stealth Star unless you have a love of freedom that burns like a wildfire, unflinching bravery in the face of the unknown, and a mastery of modern star technology — and also (I am afraid to admit) a tendency toward performing acts that border on suicide. Because when the Stealth Star Corps sends you out as the spy-scout on a mission to see what has become of the humans on a rediscovered planet that hasn’t been heard from since the Interstellar Apocalypse, 10,000 years ago . . . you might never return.

We Stealth Star scouts explore to see if newly rediscovered planets have evolved economic and social freedom or decayed into tyranny and dictatorship, and to evaluate whether the newly explored planets might become trading partners and join the Concord. Some of the time the humans are peaceful and happily sign up with the Concord — but most of the rediscovered planets are primitive and barbaric. I lost my best friend Charl when he was dropped onto a planet that turned out to be the home of a society of cannibalistic cyborgs. I also led the team of Stealth Star soldiers who wiped that planet out after Charl’s final broadcast warned us that the cyborgs were developing star ships and planning to become space pirates. I am primarily a scout but I do have experience as a warrior.

Stealth Stars are spies and soldiers, but we’re not an army. We are not affiliated with any government, and we are staffed entirely by volunteer recruits. We believe that everyone has the right to freedom. The interplanetary trade associations (mainly the Concord but also some of the smaller groups) donate to us happily enough, because we keep space clear of the space pirates and planetary dictators who like to blockade trade routes. But our real motive is not economic; it is political. We aim to spread the ideals of freedom to every planet so that everyone can enjoy the reality-given rights of life, liberty, and property. Our critics within the Concord call us crusaders, but we believe that every war we fight is a war of self-defense. We are like soldiers hired by oppressed peoples to free them from dictatorship, except that we work on credit and take payment once they join the Concord. No, they didn’t actually tell us that they wanted us to rescue them — but how could they while their voices were silenced by their rulers? We give to the peoples of the outer planets precisely what they want, what they would choose if they were free to make choices.

I send a long-range communication to the local Stealth Star mother ship and wait for night to fall. Soon the city of Rej is enshrouded in darkness and illuminated only by the four pale moons and a nearby constellation of stars in the night sky. I set my star armor in stealth mode and sneak up to the outer wall of the Prince’s Tower. With the protection of my stealth mode and its cloaking device the castle’s cameras cannot detect me as I scale the outer walls. I use a laser-razor to cut a hole in the stone wall and slide myself through.

The inside of the Tower is as amazing and resplendent as the city below is ugly and base. The place is a spider’s web of interconnecting rooms and hallways, and each room is filled with banks of super-computers from floor to ceiling which blink with constantly changing red and blue lights. The rooms buzz and crackle with electrical energy. Floating guard robots hover up and down the halls with laser rifles at the ready, but the guards cannot see through my stealth cloak and they float past me, oblivious. I see no humans anywhere in these rooms. I scan the area and detect the largest source of electromagnetic energy, which I assume is the central control station where the leaders will be. It is at the top of the highest tower.

For the people to be freed I must defeat Prince Regisoph. Can one single Stealth Star agent do it?

I snake my way up the various stairs and ramps that riddle this Tower, and eventually I reach a set of double doors. Their gold lettering proclaims “Prince Regisoph.” My scan reveals that the door is made of solid plastic-steel laced with synthetic diamond — difficult to make and impossible to cut. Clearly the Prince does not want to be interrupted by unexpected company. It is a shame for him that Stealth Star technology is up to this challenge and I am about to ruin his day.

I clamp an antimatter mine to the double doors and retreat around the corner of the nearest hallway. The mine goes off; the physical matter in the doors is destroyed by the antimatter and implodes into nothingness. I run down the hall, exit stealth mode and enter attack mode, and draw a laser gun in each hand. I am about to face the worst military power that the Prince has to offer. If I die, my death will be worthwhile. I switch on my attack scope and activate the cameras in the back of my head so I can see in three hundred and sixty degrees. My body armor can withstand most armor-piercing rounds and my lungs have implants to filter most poisonous gasses, but there is no telling what deviltry the Prince may have waiting. I run into the middle of the room, my heart racing and my nervous system at its peak, ready to fight and willing to die . . .

There is no one in here.

“Hello?” I ask.

“Hello,” a strange, hollow, mechanical voice answers.

I look around and see that the word “Hello” is lit up on a large computer monitor on the far side of the room. A huge bank of super-computers fills the other side of the room — the electromagnetic activity I picked up. But my scanner detects no human beings. I am alone.

“Who are you?” I ask.

“I am the Project Prince Regisoph computer interface operating system. Please state your identity, user.”

This society was able to achieve what we of the Concord, even with all our scientific marvels, could not: artificial intelligence. “So, you are Prince Regisoph!”

“Negative,” the computer replies. “User, are you an integrated user with a damaged integration device? Please state yes or no.”

“Integrated? What do you mean?”

“Invalid response. Background presentation loading. Please wait.”

This computer is not talking as if it could think. It is speaking like a mindless automaton. What in the Universe is going on here?

Suddenly the screen is lit by the image of an old man dressed in fancy green robes. “Greetings, people of the future,” the image says.

His robe is various shades of deep green, and he wears a spiked crown glittering with accents of diamonds and gold. He has a triumphant, fanatical gleam in his little brown eyes, almost like a young man recently converted to a new religion, but his face is aged with the wrinkles of years of thankless toil. “I am Grego, Prime Chancellor of Rej — or, at least, up until now I was, as soon there will no longer be any need for me. It is to be hoped that nothing has gone wrong and we have created the utopia we wished for. But to meet any problem that may arise, we are encoding this message explaining Project Regisoph, so that repairs can be made by people who understand the plan.”

“What plan?” I ask. But of course the recording of Grego cannot hear me.

“In order to create a truly democratic society we must have a system that counts the votes of the public’s desires and enacts the will of the people into law. Our politicians have become hopelessly corrupt and inefficient, so we are automating the process of politics. As an infant, each human will be fitted with a mental interface connection. The interface will examine the person’s desires and count them as one vote. The Tower computer will tabulate all votes from the integrated brains of the voters, and the robot drones will then act out and enforce whatever is the political desire of the majority. If the people want capitalism, then there will be capitalism; if they want socialism, then the Tower will provide socialism. If the people want all the technological advances that we have discovered then technology will be distributed; but if they grow weary of technology and long for a simpler, more natural era, then technology will be taken away from them.

We give to the peoples of the outer planets precisely what they want, what they would choose if they were free to make choices.

“The system has no limits and will do whatever the public wants it to do. We leave it to the people themselves to decide the substance of the ideal society. We today are merely giving them the procedural form of that ideal. For all our faults, at least we will know that the people will get what they desire; the world of tomorrow will be what everyone wants.”

This is ghastly. Bet and Jerem and all the others really are Prince Regisoph — but it now seems apparent that if everyone is the ruler then everyone is the slave. Democracy is a Concord ideal, but only a republican democracy in which the rights of individuals are held sacred and inviolate against the will of the majority. The Rejian people want their stone-age socialism, so they get it, but what they want is bad for them. I laugh for a minute, realizing the irony: the socialist dissidents within the Concord often complain that they know what’s best for the planetary citizens and that therefore the socialists should make everyone else’s economic choices for them — yet here I am thinking with absolute certainty that I know what is best for the Rejians and I should make the choice of capitalism for all of them. Still, irony aside, that is what I believe — isn’t it? I had thought that I wanted to kill Prince Regisoph. But Prince Regisoph is Bet Matil. I want to save her, not kill her. So what do I really want to do?

“Computer, deactivate. Terminate Project Regisoph.” It’s still my job as a Stealth Star to bring freedom to the planet. This is worth a shot.

“Negative. Project Regisoph can be terminated only by a majority vote of the integrated users. User, you have been identified as a threat. Activating protection procedures.”

My calm is immediately replaced by panic: the walls slide open and swarms of guard robots rocket into the room. I drop attack mode and return to stealth. The robots lose me on their scanners and can’t detect me. They sweep across the room and go right past me. I consider shooting a missile into the Regisoph super-computer control center, but I hesitate . . . there are probably backups throughout the Tower, and my sensors detect self-destruct nuclear mines hidden in the command center that, once activated, might destroy the entire city, or continent.

But what really stops me is this: if the people want to be ruled by Prince Regisoph, if that is actually what the majority of Rejians desire, then I could raze the Prince’s Tower to rubble and they would simply rise up and build another Tower in its place. Maybe you can’t force people to be free when they want to be slaves, any more than you can force a people to be ruled when they insist upon freedom and give their lives to win it. The battle for the freedom of this people will be won out there, out in the streets and in the minds and hearts of individual men and women, not here in the Prince’s Tower. Prince Regisoph will die once the Stealth Stars convince the people down in that city that capitalist freedom, ownership of property, and free trade are superior to their socialist nightmare. It’s my new job to educate the Rejians about the happiness that comes from trade and technology. To try, anyway. I had thought that when the Stealth Stars liberate a planet, we give the people precisely what they want — but now, in retrospect, I realize that the truth may be a bit more complicated.




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What Did You Know, and Why Didn’t You Know It?

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To me, the funniest part of the administration’s current travail is its entrapment between the devil of activism and the deep blue sea of ignorance.

President Obama has pursued an aggressively state-socialist policy. The belief of his church militant is that government knows best about healthcare, that government knows best about the economy, that government knows best about the environment, race relations, the nature of Islam, the legitimate leadership of Libya, the price of microchips in China. Well, a socialist government has to know these matters, because it has to plan and rule everything. But to any evidence of failure, the president’s response is, “I’m completely ignorant.”

The Benghazi affair? None of us was clear on the facts (but we made announcements, anyway). We’ll find out, after the investigation. The IRS’s persecution of Obama’s critics? I just know what I read in the papers; I’ve ordered an investigation. The secret raid on the Associated Press? I just know what I read in the papers; I can’t comment on matters under investigation.

So either the all-knowing leadership doesn’t know enough to conduct even its own political business, or it knows what it’s doing, and it’s lying about it, to preserve its own power. Take your pick. Either way, it doesn’t look good for state socialism.

Told that President McKinley was going to visit his town, Mr. Dooley, the Irish bartender who was given immortal life by Finley Peter Dunne, made this remark: “I may niver see him. I may go to me grave without gettin’ an’ eye on th’ wan man besides mesilf that don’t know what th’ furrin’ policy iv th’ United States is goin’ to be.”




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Speaking Truth to Stupidity

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An amusing incident occurred recently in France, which not long back elected a Socialist government — an incident so amusing it warrants noting.

As reported in the Wall Street Journal, an American tire company — Titan International — was looking at possibly taking over Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company’s unprofitable French factory in Amiens. Maurice Taylor, Titan’s CEO, visited the factory late last year to assess the economic viability of the proposed acquisition.

Taylor looked the place over and wrote an interesting letter to the French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg, explaining why he was not going to pursue the deal — a letter that caused a hysterical reaction in a government much given to hysteria.

In his inspection of the plant, Taylor found that the communist-controlled union was totally obstructive to all the changes needed to make it profitable, including such mundane steps as requiring workers to work put in longer hours and permitting target layoffs of unneeded staff. He found that the highly-paid union workers were working only three hours a day on average. Worse, the workers were demanding that Titan guarantee all their jobs for a minimum of seven years.

In his letter to Montebourg, who had contacted Taylor in January to see why Titan wasn’t pursuing the failing factory, Taylor replied, “Sir, your letter states that you want Titan to start a discussion. How stupid do you think we are?” He went on to say, “Titan is the one with the money and the talent to produce tires. What does the crazy union have?”

This brought on Montebourg’s hysterical reaction. He told Taylor, “Your comments, which are as extremist as they are insulting, display a perfect ignorance of our country, France.” The furious Frenchie added the dig, “Can I remind you that Titan . . . is 20 times smaller than Michelin . . . and 35 times less profitable? That shows how much Titan could have learned and gained from establishing itself in France.”

However, the moronic Montebourg did not answer the obvious question of why, if the French tire maker Michelin is so marvelously profitable and skillful, it didn’t pick up the plant itself.

The exaggerated response showed that the Socialist government is once again on the defensive. It is making only the feeblest attempts at reforming France’s notoriously rigid and archaic workplace rules, rules that make laying off or cutting back the hours of workers extremely difficult, and so international business is continuing to avoid opening production facilities there.

I wish that I could revere CEO Taylor as an entrepreneurial hero speaking truth to politicians as stupid as they are powerful. But in his letter, Taylor accused the American government of being little better than the French because it hasn’t taken steps to protect America’s tire makers from Chinese competition.

It doesn’t seem to occur to Taylor that protectionist laws help domestic unions get similarly rigid and inefficient work rules for American workers.




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