Posts Tagged ‘individualism’

Food Stamps

October 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Recently Newt Gingrich accused the Democrats of being “the party of food stams.”  A comment which Nancy Pelosi quickly denounced before adding that

It is the biggest bang for the buck when you do food stamps and unemployment insurance — the biggest bang for the buck.
You see, according to Pelosi every dollar the government spends on food stamps “puts $179 into the economy.”  This of course is nonsense.  It may be true that if you print a dollar and spend it on food stamps it increases GDP by $1.79 but this statement and the economic theory that motivates it conveniently ignores the question of where that dollar and the supposed added production actually comes from.  But I don’t want to spend an hour debunking Keynesianism right now, I want to make a quick statement about values.
When you hear things like this you have to ask yourself how we got here.  The answer is that we let ourselves believe that we could exist without a set of values.  To see what I mean consider two sets of values, one like the one I described in “The Conscience of a Libertarian” which holds that everyone owns their own life and the produce thereof and nobody (including the government) has a right to take it against their will for any reason, and another set of values which holds that the government should do whatever it can to maximize GDP (or any other measurement of collective wellbeing like “total utility”). 
When someone who subscribes to the second set of values hears a claim like the one above about food stamps they say “great let’s do that.  In fact let’s do that ad infinitum and we will all have infinite amounts of wealth and there will be no scarcity…”  When someone who subscribes to the first set of values hears something like that they say “that’s interesting but it doesn’t matter because such a strategy involves stealing from someone in order to carry it out and that violates my system of values.” 
So how did we get here?  We refused to adopt either set of values.  So they came to us and said “if we do this, it will improve the economy and it will only infringe on people’s individual property rights a little bit so it’s worth it.”  And we weighed the imagined benefits against the supposedly minor assault on property rights (most likely on someone else’s property rights) and we decided it was worth it.  Then that becomes normal and later they say “ok we just have to compromise individual property rights a little bit more but it’s worth it because it will help the overall economy.”  And we do the same thing and decide it’s worth it so we go along with it.   And this pattern continues until we find ourselves in our current situation.
But where does this pattern end?  I think the answer is obvious.  We have to realize that we can’t just persist forever in some kind of limbo between two value systems.  The only way to live in an individualistic society is to value individualism and to draw a line in the sand that you refuse to cross no matter what tasty treat someone dangles in front of you on the other side. 

Individuals are People Too

August 19, 2010 Leave a comment

I can’t get over this video that I posted a few days ago.  I know it’s just a stupid youtube video I happened to stumble onto but I want to briefly point out a little tidbit that you might not have noticed.  About 1:15 in, they say the following:

We need not thank…. romanticized individuals [for the advancements in liberty].

as they flash this picture.

Then they say:

Instead, we should thank the people who declared and stood up for what belongs to them, the unquestionable right to individual sovereignty.

They show a picture of the signing of the declaration of independence and say don’t thank these people, thank the people who declared and stood up for the unquestionable right to individual sovereignty!  Then they show some pictures of civil rights protestors.

First, as a side note, civil rights, while certainly a monumental and beneficial movement, (I’m not trying to diminish its importance here) is not the same as individual sovereignty.  We didn’t usher in a new era of individual sovereignty with civil rights legislation we just stopped the state from using the oppressive power it had accumulated to systematically be more oppressive to one color of person than another (at least in theory).  That’s a good thing but we didn’t actually change the paradigm regarding what power the government in general has as compared to the individual in general like some other movements in history have like… oh I don’t know… these guys!

But this is something more than just replacing what these people consider the heroes of the right with the heroes of the left.  If you just want to say that Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were really racist jerks and you like Martin Luther King better, that’s fine.  But what they are really trying to do here is destroy the very concept of an individual and replace it with “the people.”  But people are individuals.  When multiple people stand next to each other they are still individuals they are just standing next to other individuals.  Notice that they don’t use this picture.

Or this one.

The worst part is that they talk about how great individual liberty is the whole time that they’re doing this.

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A War on Two Fronts

August 13, 2010 Leave a comment

As I learn more and more about economics and things like monetary policy and politics, there is one very interesting conclusion I am coming to which is a little difficult for me to accept.  The left is right…. sort of.  Now let me point out that in the last post I admitted that mainstream Keynesian economists were right…. sort of.  What I mean by the left is not these people it is people who say things like this (notice the poster’s name).  They are right that society is controlled by a small number of elites who use the existing power structure to enslave the masses for their personal profit.  The problem is that they surround this basic truth with all sorts of profound logical and moral confusion. 

It’s actually staggering how naive these people can be.  They seemingly make no effort to understand the real constraints that exist in the world or the real moral distinctions regarding property rights and liberty.  Instead they just make up things that sound nice and they say them over and over again as if this made them true.  For instance, they say that collective liberty and individual liberty are the same thing because saying this allows them to avoid the inconvenient fact that if people are really free, the government can’t force them to do whatever it wants.  But the concept of a collective goal requires this ability.  Notice what they say about this.

For individuals, human liberty must be maximized.  People should be allowed to do whatever they please, moral or immoral, as long as they do not harm another person or another person’s possessions. 

Ok, that’s perfect.  Now stop talking!  But alas, they go on…

At the same time we need to recognize that people do come together to form collective groups, this may be at work, in the political realm, in associations, school or wherever. (!)  When people do congregate, there are new dynamics.  Whether people realize it or not, these groups are working collectively toward some end. 

You see what they’re doing here.  They say the right thing in simple terms that anyone can understand so you go “oh yeah that makes sense, it’s simple and everyone loves freedom and liberty, this sounds like a good idea.”  And then they go on to imply the exact opposite but they do it in vague terms that convey no real meaning.  Everything in this quote is correct (except for the existence of such a thing as a “collective end”).  People do come together to form groups, this does create new dynamics, we should recognize this.  The question is, what should be done about it.  The answer: blank out.  They pay lip service to individuality while simultaneously denying the existence of any individual achievement. (They even go out of their way to dismiss the founding fathers!)  They act like you can be free in your personal life but a slave in your social life and these are not contradictory.  But notice the areas of your life in which you are part of a collective group: work, school, politics, associations, wherever….  Is your house part of a neighborhood of some kind?  What part of your life is the private part that these people think you should have liberty over?  It’s not particularly clear is it?

Everything you do affects someone else in some way (or at least it can be imagined to).  When you stand in the supermarket trying to decide whether to buy an apple or a banana, that decision has ramifications for all sorts of people.  It affects the demand for apples and bananas.  It affects the profit of the supermarket.  It affects your health which affects your children and your employer and your coworkers and your doctor.  They are right to recognize that we are all part of a larger collective organism.  But this realization raises the fundamental question one faces when deciding how to organize a government.  Given that people’s actions affect other people, who should have the right to make decisions regarding those actions?  In other words, how are property rights defined?   And this is the question which they always avoid.  The correct answer is what they say first.  That people should have property rights over their own body, and mind and the produce of their own body and mind, and they should make decisions regarding these themselves so long as they do not directly harm another person’s property.  But they act like you can have this decision-making power and the collective can also have it at the same time.  This is both a logical fallacy and an attempt to avoid the entire issue at hand.

The second, even more childish thing that these people do is to imagine a fantasy world where there is no scarcity and everyone does whatever they want all the time and there are no constraints on our lives whatsoever and then assume that the only reason we don’t live in that world is because we are being oppressed by the elites.  This is complete nonsense.  Ok we are being oppressed by elites but if we weren’t being oppressed, it wouldn’t mean we would live in some sort of Garden of Eden society.  We would still have to work, (the same guy has a video called “Work Sucks“) we would still get sick and die, when you pricked us we would still bleed, life would still be hard sometimes and tragedy and injustice would still happen. 

But these people do not want to deal with difficult questions so they avoid them.  By assuming that there would be no scarcity if we were all free, they avoid the question of how scarce resources would be allocated.  The answer is not complicated, it’s the same answer as above, but this would contradict their broad themes like “equality” and laziness which make their creed so attractive to college students, aging hippies and others with little desire or ability to actually think something through. 

Finally, they don’t fully realize who the elites are and they are not very careful about figuring out what people and institutions are really worthy of demonization.  For instance, they don’t like the Fed.  Neither do I.  But they go from that to hating bankers and banking institutions and money all together.  That’s stupid.  Banks are a legitimate business that serves a real purpose in a world of scarcity.  Of course, by assuming scarcity is just a construct of capitalism, they avoid dealing with any questions like “how will people store wealth and how would capital flow to its most useful purposes without banks?”  and “how would trade take place without money?

Even worse, they hate “capitalism.”  The reason they seem to do this is that they just call what we have capitalism and they don’t like what we have.  Alright, I don’t like what we have either, but it’s not capitalism.  Capitalism is the answer to our problems not the cause of them but they don’t see this because they don’t take the time to consider what capitalism really means.  But assuming that there is no real difference between individual rights and collective rights, they avoid questions like “If people own their own lives and property which implies that they can trade them however they want, how is that not capitalism?”  or alternatively “If the economy isn’t capitalist, how can it be true that people are really free?”

They turn “we are being oppressed by rich elites” into anyone who is rich is oppressing us and therefore they hate all rich people.  But all rich people aren’t bad.  Most of them are great people who create significant benefits for society.  And if you are a thinker you would consider questions like “if people are free and they own themselves and their property, then aren’t people free to become rich?”  The only way around this question is to assume that scarcity is a construct of “capitalism” and therefore wealth is a construct of capitalism so if we were free everyone would simultaneously be equal and have everything they wanted.  But this is a complete fantasy!

When I first started this blog, I said that I take freedom as a value in itself and that goal of the blog is to explore the cost of freedom.  They completely avoid this question by assuming that freedom has no cost.  In doing this, they eliminate the need to value it. 

Ok, so what do we do with these people?  I don’t know exactly… On one front we have elites who are screwing us over.  Their power is becoming weakened in some ways and that is encouraging.  But at the same time we have these people who have been trying to collapse this system for years and now they are smelling blood.  The problem is that if they got what they wanted, they would establish something even more crazy. 

I think many of them can be turned.  The reason I think this is that the only way they are able to believe these things is that they haven’t thought them through carefully.  Therefore those of us who have thought them through can politely help them understand.  If they understood the contradictions involved in this kind of thinking, many of them would probably come around.  But there can be no compromising with them.  Their weapon is that people want to believe what they are offereing them.  People want to believe that freedom is free and that scarcity isn’t real.  Our weapon is that we are right.  Their weapon requires people to not think too hard.  Ours requires the opposite.

In total, these people make up a small minority.  These are the people who believe something strongly without having thought carefully about it.  By contrast, most people haven’t thought carefully about it and therefore have no strong feelings.  These are the people we are now competing with the left over and we have a major advantage in the fact that what we believe  (by we I mean myself but to some extent I think also what I would call “real” libertarians)  is consistent and makes sense.  We can make an argument that a reasonable person who applies themselves to thinking things through, which people are beginning to do, can realize is correct.  But the key is to develop our principles.  Scarcity is real.  Individual rights and collective rights are different.  Work is not slavery.  Profit is not evil.  There can be no compromising of these principles.  Everybody loves freedom and individuality, that is why they have to pretend that they believe in these things.  But their beliefs are completely irrational.  You won’t convince anyone that you are sane by negotiating with a lunatic.