Categotry Archives: Politics

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P.G. Wodehouse Knew the Way: Fight Fascism with Humor – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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Categories: Culture, Philosophy, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
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One of my favorite characters from 20th century pop fiction is Roderick Spode, also known as Lord Sidcup, from the 1930s series Jeeves and Wooster by P.G. Wodehouse, and hilariously portrayed in the 1990s TV adaptation starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. He perfectly captures the bluster, blather, and preposterous intellectual conceit of the interwar aspiring dictator.
Back in the day, these people were all the same, whether George Lincoln Rockwell in the US, Oswald Mosley in the UK, or more well-known statesmen in interwar Europe. They were nativists, protectionists, longed for dictatorship, and believed that science had their back.

Rather than a tedious denunciation, Wodehouse gives us something more effective. He created a composite and caricature of all of them and turned it to hilarity.

Books about Nothing

Like Seinfeld, Jeeves and Wooster was “about nothing” but managed compelling cultural commentary that shaped the way a generation saw the world around them. It chronicled the amusing superficial lives of third-generation English upper class, lovable people with declining financial resources but too much dignity to take on the task of actually earning a living. There is a strong liberal spirit running through the whole series.

Roderick Spode is a character who makes appearances at odd times, making speeches to his couple dozen followers, blabbing on in the park and bamboozling naïve passersby, blowing up at people, practicing his demagogic delivery style. A handful of people take him seriously but mostly he and his “brownshort” followers are merely a source of amusement and annoyance to the London scene.

Why shorts? It seems that by the time he started ordering uniforms for his followers, there were no more shirts left. Red, brown, and black were already taken. Plus the company he contacted only had affordable shorts, so brown shorts it would be. So the required eugenic theory of his group naturally surrounded knees. He wanted everyone’s knees compulsorily measured:

Not for the true-born Englishman the bony angular knee of the so-called intellectual, not for him the puffy knee of the criminal classes. The British knee is firm, the British knee is muscular, the British knee is on the march!

The television series made him less British than German in aspiration. Here is his first speech in the television series, in which proclaims the “right, nay the duty” of every Briton to grow his own potatoes.

And here he is proposing mandatory bicycles and umbrellas for all free-born Britons. A fellow standing around says, “I say, I’ve never quite thought of it that way.”

Spode is also secretly a coward. In his other life, he is the owner, by virtue of family inheritance, of a shop that designs intimate clothing for women. He is desperate to keep this a secret, believing this profession to be incompatible with the career ambitions of an aspiring dictator. Anyone who knows this secret about his life has deep control over his psyche, with only the threat of revelation keeping him under control.

They Are Ridiculous

The entire caricature was a humiliation for the fascists of the period because it spoke truth. Their plans for economic life are ridiculous. Their eugenic theories are pseudo-science. Their pretensions to command a massive following are completely wrong. And in their private lives, they are just like everyone else: they aren’t demigods or elites or superior in any sense. They are just dudes who are exploiting public curiosity and fear to gain attention and power. They are trolls.

Humor is a great method for dealing with clowns like these, as Saturday Night Live has recently rediscovered. At the same time, we are mistaken to think they are not a threat to civilized life. In real life, Mosley in the UK and Rockwell in the US were a serious menace, as much as the establishments they opposed.

The statist Left and the statist Right play off each other, creating a false binary that draws people into their squabble. People need to understand, as F.A. Hayek emphasized in Road to Serfdom, that the fascists and communists are really two sides of a split within the same movement, each of which aspires to control the population with a version of a central plan.

It’s a question of how best to deal with them. Ideally clowns like this would be ignored, left to sit alone at the bar or at the park with their handful of deluded acolytes. That’s how Wodehouse presented his fascist – just as a silly distraction whose only value is a good joke. However, this is not typically how people do deal with them. They are so offensive to people’s ideals that they inspire massive opposition, and that opposition in turn creates public scenes that gain a greater following for the demagogue. This cycle continues to the point that the entire political landscape becomes deeply poisoned with hate and acts of vengeance.

When thinking of how genuine lovers of human liberty should deal with such settings, I always fall back on Ludwig von Mises from 1927.

It is often maintained that what divides present-day political parties is a basic opposition in their ultimate philosophical commitments that cannot be settled by rational argument. The discussion of these antagonisms must therefore necessarily prove fruitless … Nothing is more absurd than this belief … Rhetorical bombast, music and song resound, banners wave, flowers and colors serve as symbols, and the leaders seek to attach their followers to their own person. Liberalism has nothing to do with all this. It has no party flower and no party color, no party song and no party idols, no symbols and no slogans. It has the substance and the arguments. These must lead it to victory.

It can be the hardest thing in the world to remember this in the midst of political upheaval and antagonisms. People tend to believe they must join the Left to defeat the Right or join the Right to defeat the Left, forgetting that there is a third option: rule by no party and no one, but rather by universal self-rule and the society of freedom first and always.

It’s the tragedy of real-world politics that we keep moving through these phases, trading one style of central plan for another, one type of despot for another, without understanding that none are necessary. True defenders of liberty get it. That should inspire us to smile from time to time.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

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Trump’s ISIS Plan: Another US Invasion? – Article by Ron Paul

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Categories: Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatRon Paul
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Just over a week into the Trump Administration, the President issued an Executive Order giving Defense Secretary James Mattis 30 days to come up with a plan to defeat ISIS. According to the Order, the plan should make recommendations on military actions, diplomatic actions, partners, strategies, and how to pay for the operation.

As we approach the president’s deadline it looks like the military is going to present Trump with a plan to do a whole lot more of what we’ve been doing and somehow expect different results. Proving the old saying that when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail, we are hearing increasing reports that the military will recommend sending thousands of US troops into Syria and Iraq.

This would be a significant escalation in both countries, as currently there are about 5,000 US troops still fighting our 13-year war in Iraq, and some 500 special forces soldiers operating in Syria.

The current Syria ceasefire, brokered without US involvement at the end of 2016, is producing positive results and the opposing groups are talking with each other under Russian and Iranian sponsorship. Does anyone think sending thousands of US troops into a situation that is already being resolved without us is a good idea?

In language reminiscent of his plans to build a wall on the Mexican border, the president told a political rally in Florida over the weekend that he was going to set up “safe zones” in Syria and would make the Gulf States pay for them. There are several problems with this plan.

First, any “safe zone” set up inside Syria, especially if protected by US troops, would amount to a massive US invasion of the country unless the Assad government approves them. Does President Trump want to begin his presidency with an illegal invasion of a sovereign country?

Second, there is the little problem of the Russians, who are partners with the Assad government in its efforts to rid the country of ISIS and al-Qaeda. ISIS is already losing territory on a daily basis. Is President Trump willing to risk a military escalation with Russia to protect armed regime-change forces in Syria?

Third, the Gulf States are the major backers of al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria – as the president’s own recently-resigned National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, revealed in a 2015 interview. Unless these safe zones are being set up to keep al-Qaeda and ISIS safe, it doesn’t make any sense to involve the Gulf States.

Many will say we should not be surprised at these latest moves. As a candidate, Trump vowed to defeat ISIS once and for all. However, does anyone really believe that continuing the same strategy we have followed for the past 16 years will produce different results this time? If what you are hammering is not a nail, will hammering it harder get it nailed in?

Washington cannot handle the truth: solving the ISIS problem must involve a whole lot less US activity in the Middle East, not a whole lot more. Until that is understood, we will continue to waste trillions of dollars and untold lives in a losing endeavor.

Ron Paul, MD, is a former three-time Republican candidate for U. S. President and Congressman from Texas.

This article is reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

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U.S. Transhumanist Party Discussion Panel on Life Extension – February 18, 2017

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Categories: Politics, Science, Transhumanism, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 

The New Renaissance Hat

Listen to and download the audio recording of this panel discussion at http://rationalargumentator.com/USTP_Life_Extension_Panel.mp3 (right-click to download).

For its second expert panel, the U.S. Transhumanist Party invited Bill Andrews, Aubrey de Grey, Ira Pastor, and Ilia Stambler to discuss life extension and the quest to reverse biological aging through science and technology.

This two-hour panel discussion, moderated by Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II, took place on Saturday, February 18, 2017, at 10 a.m. U.S. Pacific Time. In this interactive venue, many opportunities for fresh discourse arose on the possibility of achieving dramatically greater longevity within our lifetimes. The substance of the discussion begins at 4:25 in the recording.

Questions the panelists considered include the following:

(i) How would you characterize the current state of efforts to reverse senescence / lengthen human lifespans?
(ii) How does progress in the areas of research you have delved into compare to your expectations approximately 10 to 15 years ago?
(iii) What are the most significant challenges and obstacles that you perceive to exist in the way of achieving serious reversal of biological aging?
(iv) What key technologies and methods of delivering treatments to patients would need to be developed in order for longevity escape velocity to be affordably achieved society-wide?
(v) What political reforms and societal / attitudinal changes would you advocate to accelerate the arrival of effective treatments to reverse biological aging and lengthen lifespans?
(vi) Are you concerned about any current political trends and how they might affect the progress of research into combating biological aging?
(vii) What can laypersons who are sympathetic to your goals do in order to hasten their realization? How can the effort to defeat aging become as popular and widely supported as efforts to defeat cancer and ALS are today?
(viii) What lessons can the history of anti-aging research offer to those who seek to advocate and help achieve effective scientific breakthroughs in this area in the coming years and decades?

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party for free. Apply here.

References

Genetic stabilization of transthyretin, cerebrovascular disease, and life expectancy” – Paper by Louise S. Hornstrup, Ruth Frikke-Schmidt, Børge G. Nordestgaard and Anne Tybjærg-Hansen. Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology. 2013;33:1441-1447, Originally published May 15, 2013.

Recognizing Degenerative Aging as a Treatable Medical Condition: Methodology and Policy” – Paper by Ilia Stambler. Aging and Disease.

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Panelists

Dr. Bill Andrews is the President and CEO of Sierra Sciences – http://www.sierrasci.com/. As a scientist, athlete, and executive, he continually pushes the envelope and challenges convention. In his 35-year biotech career, he has focused the last 23 years on finding ways to extend the human lifespan and healthspan through telomere maintenance. As one of the principal discoverers of both the RNA and protein components of human telomerase, Dr. Andrews was awarded 2nd place as “National Inventor of the Year” in 1997.

Dr. Aubrey de Grey is the biomedical gerontologist who researched the idea for and founded SENS Research Foundation – http://www.sens.org/. He received his BA in Computer Science and Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Cambridge in 1985 and 2000, respectively. Dr. de Grey is Editor-in-Chief of Rejuvenation Research, is a Fellow of both the Gerontological Society of America and the American Aging Association, and sits on the editorial and scientific advisory boards of numerous journals and organizations.

Ira Pastor has 30 years of experience across multiple sectors of the pharmaceutical industry, including pharmaceutical commercialization, biotech drug development, managed care, distribution, OTC, and retail. He is the CEO of BioQuark, Inc. – http://www.bioquark.com/ – and Executive Chairman of ReAnima Advanced Biosciences – https://reanima.tech/.

Dr. Ilia Stambler is a researcher at Bar Ilan University, Israel. His research focuses on the historical and social implications of aging and life-extension research. He is the author of A History of Life-extensionism in the Twentieth Century – www.longevityhistory.com. He is actively involved in advocacy for aging and longevity research – www.longevityforall.org.

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Banning Refugees Is Cowardice, Not Vigilance – Article by Sean J. Rosenthal

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Categories: Culture, Justice, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatSean J. Rosenthal
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Donald Trump’s ban on people of certain nationalities entering the United States – now buffeted about by court orders, clarifications, and defiance – is a systematic rejection of the principle of Freedom of Movement with no impetus other than unacceptable, widespread cowardice.

The September 11 terrorist attacks cannot excuse such a grievous violation of rights. Terrorism is domestically a statistically trivial threat. The countries banned by Trump had little relation to 9/11, and the people denied entry to the United States are just as harmless (if not more so) than the average American. Neither reasons nor sudden trauma justify Trump’s actions – only cowardice.

In opposition to courageous principles like Freedom of Movement, discretion is courage’s institutional nemesis. Fear-induced discretion splits principles like scientists split atoms, producing explosively dangerous results.

Except to the extent courts stop him, Trump has undermined Freedom of Movement through an order to keep out people from Middle Eastern countries designated as countries of concern by the Obama administration.

Refugees already thoroughly vetted as safe, including business owners and participants in the Iraq war who have lived for years in the United States – all denied entry, all forced to beg for the government to wisely exercise its discretion in the face of an arbitrary burden.

Trump’s immigration policies are unwise and unjust. More tellingly, Trump’s restrictions on movement suffer more fully from another sin – a lack of courage.

Individual or Systemic Courage

At an individual level, it’s true that courage tends to be an overrated virtue. The image of “courageous” people often looks like warriors courting danger guns-blazing because they lacked the patience and ingenuity to find better solutions. Thus, courage is for the warrior fighting to the death.

Among non-violent “courageous” acts, contrarians who “stand up for what they believe in” often get courage points for being edgy or brutalist, as if people deserve praise for offering unconvincing evidence against social pressure. Generally, courage tends to be praised relative to the inactions of other people, forgetting that people often avoid doing certain things because they should not be done.

Moreover, fear is often unreasonable in ways immune to argument, making courage a weak appeal. For instance, traveling by planes is much safer than traveling by cars, but planes paralyze people in ways that statistics cannot cure because the fear of flying is a feeling, not a fact.

Similarly, terrorism is a statistically trivial cause of death in the United States, even including 9/11 and especially excluding that outlier, but terrorism causes widespread fears orders of magnitudes more crippling than the actual violence. To give a personal example, I have a totally unreasonable aversion to walking over storm drains and similar parts of sidewalks that leads me to walk around them.

Condemning fear rarely assuages it, and demanding courage rarely emboldens, because personality, ingrained perceptions and idiosyncrasies matter more than reasons for explaining fear and courage.

The Courage to be Free

Nevertheless, good institutions require courage.

For example, Freedom of Speech is a courageous principle. Freedom of Speech allows people to profess the wise and unwise, just and unjust, beautiful and vulgar. The dangers of the government deciding which speech falls into which categories justifies overriding particularized fears because of the courageous belief that free people can generally promote a better, more beautiful world through discourse. The courage required to permit others to speak, not knowing what they may say, far exceeds the courage of merely saying something unpopular.

Historically, fear commonly led to censorship. The Athenians sinned against philosophy by executing Socrates for corrupting the young, a fear of the influence of discourse. Similarly, the Pope compiled an Index of banned books and sought to censor them, fearful of the influential power of written words. Fear governed the world’s old order.

After weighing the liberating potential and corrupting dangers of pamphlets, America rejected the old order and institutionalized courage as common sense. Freedom of speech is the courage of a brave new world.

(To digress briefly into unimportant news stories, you should not punch Nazis merely for expressing their views. Only cowards without such faith in discourse and alternative peaceful methods would do so – and the cowardly types who have forgotten Ruby Ridge.)

Similarly, the Bill of Rights institutionalizes one courageous principle after another. The Bill of Rights trusts people with guns, protects potential criminals through warrants and other procedures, and generally imposes substantial burdens on the government before it can override individual freedoms, all because of the courageous general faith in free people.

The Freedom of Movement

Along with the above principles, the United States has a long history of embracing the courageous principle of Freedom of Movement.

America was formed by immigrants who courageously journeyed thousands of miles to leave European persecution and seek wealth and freedom. Without passports or other border restrictions, America promoted friendship and growth across state boundaries by allowing Freedom of Movement. Though the Constitution does not explicitly include such a right, the Supreme Court has correctly recognized that people have the right to travel freely between states.

Freedom of Movement between states is such a strong principle that nobody even considers imposing border restrictions. People from St. Louis, Baltimore, Detroit, and other American cities that rank among the world’s most dangerous can freely traverse anywhere else in America without legal barriers, even as national borders prevent the impoverished immigrants of safer foreign cities from doing the same.

Internationally, America also used to embrace such a broad principle. From the late 1700s until the late 1800s, though citizenship was unconscionably selective, the federal government allowed all foreigners to enter the United States – and, with the understanding that the naturalization clause only gave Congress control over citizenship, had no choice but to do so. To celebrate a century of such Freedom of Movement, France gifted America the statue of liberty with a famous poem dedicated to such American courage.

Unfortunately, around the same time, the federal government’s fear of the Chinese led it to pass the Chinese Exclusion Act, and the Supreme Court mistakenly upheld it. Thus, Freedom of Movement split from a courageous principle to a discretionary privilege, literally allowing fear to determine the borders of freedom.

Outside the context of the Chinese, such discretion remained largely unexercised for decades. Unencumbered by national borders, by World War I, two million Jews successfully fled Russia’s pogroms to freedom and safety in America.

However, by the 1920s, the dangers of discretionary power took hold, and the United States severely reduced legal immigration with its national origin quota systems. By World War II, the United States and the whole world had rejected immigrants.

The greatest victims of Freedom of Movement’s demise were the Jews that the world rejected at the Evian Conference and thereafter. Americans widely opposed Jewish refugees out of fear that some of them may secretly be communists or Nazis.

Unlike the millions saved by a courageous embrace of Freedom of Movement through World War I, fear undermined this principle and led to the death of millions during the Holocaust in World War II.

Refugees and Skittles

Without the courageous principle of Freedom of Movement, people’s fears determine and limit how many refugees can escape despotism and warfare. Just as fear trapped Jewish refugees during World War II, such fear traps Syrian refugees now.

Emphasizing the underlying fear, a thought experiment that opponents of Syrian refugees commonly ask goes something like: imagine you have a bowl of 1,000 skittles, only ten of which are poisonous. Would you eat the skittles? If not, then you understand why Syrian refugees must be so carefully restricted. Most alleged refugees might not be dangerous, but the government cannot know which ones are harmless and must prevent them all from entering to stop poison from seeping over our borders.

In reply to this thought experiment, most defenders of refugees argue over the numbers. Statistically, as mentioned above, refugees are vetted carefully and virtually all harmless, and almost none have been murderers or terrorists. Moreover, basically all studies on immigrants (legal, illegal, refugees, etc.) show that immigrants are less likely to commit violent crimes than typical Americans. So, if you increase the bowl size to like 3,200,000 skittles with 20 poisonous, then yeah, the chance is justified.

In contrast to this response, I do not think the exact proportion matters much because of the agreement that almost all the refugees should ideally be allowed to enter. The skittles thought experiment is the coward’s game for people lacking the courage to accept Freedom of Movement as a principle.

Courageous principles sometimes allow bad outcomes. Freedom of speech allows for some noxious ideas to spread. Gun rights allow for some bad people to more easily engage in violence. Requirements for warrants allow for some criminals to hide their crimes. And freedom of movement allows for some bad people to travel where they can do harm.

Such courageous principles do not create perfect worlds. They create structures in which people have the freedom to shape the world, for better or worse – with better usually winning. Depriving the vast majority of people’s freedom to prevent a small minority from spreading evil impoverishes and threatens everybody.

Courageous Americans who embrace the existing dangers of speech, guns, and warrants should also similarly embrace the dangers of movement. Fear-induced discretionary restrictions on freedom of movement mean 99 ash-ridden Syrian children suffering from poverty, warfare, and death for the chance of maybe keeping out one bad person.

In sum, to paraphrase Shakespeare, cowards kill many times before their deaths; the valiant’s tastes let others live.

Thus, cowards ask how many poisonous skittles might sneak in with a broad rainbow and fear the tiny shadows that enter with the radiant light. In contrast, the valiant ask how many Anne Franks will die if we fear these tiny shadows and instead courageously opens the golden door for the rainbow, realizing today’s Anne Franks are in Syria.

Sean J. Rosenthal is attorney in New York.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

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The Transhumanist Party: New Politics for Life Extension and Technological Progress – Video by G. Stolyarov II

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The New Renaissance HatG. Stolyarov II
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Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, discusses the progress made in late 2016 and early 2017 and the goals of transhumanist politics – how the advocacy of emerging technologies and life extension in a political context sets the Transhumanist Party’s approach apart from mainstream politics.

This presentation was delivered virtually on January 27, 2017, to a meeting of People Unlimited in Scottsdale, Arizona, as part of People Unlimited’s Ageless Education speaker series. After the conclusion of his remarks, Mr. Stolyarov answered several questions from the audience.

Find out more about the Transhumanist Party at http://transhumanist-party.org/.

Become a member for free by filling out the Membership Application Form.

Read Version 2.0 of the Transhumanist Bill of Rights here.

View the Platform of the Transhumanist Party here.

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Must We Pick a Side? – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

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The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
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The wildly contentious election of 2016 seems to have inculcated certain habits of mind. We are tempted to believe that our role as citizens is like that of a sports fan. We need to choose a team and stick with it, no matter what. Our team needs us.If we lend our voices in support of the other guy, we are betraying our team. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. My friend is imperfect, but to admit this publicly is to weaken our side. It’s a test of loyalty. Therefore bring out the face paint, the jerseys, and the Vuvuzelas, and let’s fight, fight, fight!

Every day, the media exploits this model, giving us combat spectacles of left vs. right, party vs. party, this person vs. that person. This drives ratings, which is evidence that people find it intriguing. It allows spectators to participate by shouting at the TV, yelling at the radio, posting angrily on social media, having sub-tweet wars, and so on. We mimic what we see in these venues and even begin to talk like the vituperative and viral voices that fill up our feeds.

Go Team!

That turned on a light for me. I realized that there is something insidious about any approach that requires you to shut off the critical capacity of your intellect. The truth is not embodied in any political faction. If I expected to think with integrity, I had to go my own way. Realizing this was a hinge in my life, I never looked back.

The Friend/Enemy Model

To be sure, putting your brain on the shelf for political advantage has a long philosophical tradition behind it. There are of course the Marxists, who tag people as exploiters or the oppressed based on class identity – and their modern successors who apply these designations, to the point of absurdity, to a huge range of characteristics of race, sex, religion, physical ability, and gender identity. To them, life can be nothing but conflict.

But it’s not just a left-wing problem. Have a look at the work of Carl Schmitt – a right-wing Hegelian/Nietzschean – and his 1932 essay “The Concept of the Political.” (If you already know something about the situation in German academia in 1932, you can guess the rest.)

To Schmitt, to be political is the highest calling of the human person, and this always means separating people according to friends or enemies. He despises classical liberalism and economics precisely for the reason that they attempt to obliterate the friend/enemy distinction, replacing it with trade, cooperation, and forms of competition in which every competitor wins.

On what basis does politics make the friend/enemy distinction? Schmitt says it has nothing to do with norms or even high theory. “In its entirety,” he writes, “the state as an organized political entity decides for itself the friend-enemy distinction.”

But what does it mean to be an enemy? It refers to “the real possibility of physical killing.” Without bloodshed, it means nothing, which is why “war is the existential negation of the enemy. It is the most extreme consequence of enmity.”

So let’s review. To be political is the essence of life, according to Schmitt. The core of the political means to be willing to kill enemies. Therefore, we might conclude from his writings, death itself is the essence of life. Thus did Carl Schmitt become the leading philosopher of National Socialism and the intellectual font of what became the Holocaust.

Elections and Warfare Sociology

It’s true that the friend/enemy model makes sense to many people during the election season. We are all empowered with the vote. We feel a great sense of responsibility for how we use it, despite overwhelming evidence that your one vote will not swing an election. It’s mostly symbolic, but it matters, because people like participating in the democratic process, gaining power for friends and obliterating the enemy.

But the election is over. Why does this attitude persist even though no one in politics and government will be asking for our presidential vote for another four years? It’s a kind of addiction, a mental habit that gives us considerable pleasure. Maybe it’s primal, an instinctual form of low-grade violence that Freud suggests we need to overcome to have civilization.

In practice, what does blindly cheering for one team over another in politics achieve? Nothing good, in my view. It becomes psychologically debilitating to expend so much time and energy on it. Indeed, politics pursued in this fashion is poison to the human spirit. It relies on sustaining a level of hate that is toxic for anyone who wants to live a full life.

The Problem of Trumpism

The problem is compounded by the lack of intellectual coherence at the top of the ruling party. It’s not exactly a new problem, but it is unusually poignant in the case of Donald Trump. We haven’t seen this level of nationalist rhetoric in my lifetime, and it pertains to the core functioning of American economic life. The lack of appreciation for the intellectual and political achievements of free trade is palpable. Adding to that, he seems to be pushing for expensive infrastructure spending, more military pork, and an immigration policy that would certainly require extensive surveillance of American businesses.

At the same time, he has said some wonderful things about deregulation, tax cuts, bureaucracy downsizing, education, and health care, proposals dear to any liberty lover’s heart.

At best, then, the agenda is confused. So people are weighing the relative benefits and costs. Will the benefits of tax cuts be so great as to make up for the downside of new tariffs? How bad will the immigration controls be compared with the supposed benefits to national security? And so on.

This is not just an intellectual exercise. The end game here is to answer the critical question: should we favor this team or oppose it?

Think for Yourself

I suggest that this is the wrong way to think about the matter. We should not obsess over the question of whether we should cheer Trump or condemn him, become his fans or swing into opposition, defend him against enemies or become his enemies.

There is another approach. It is not easy in a hugely partisan political environment, but it is the right one. Stay independent, think clearly, watch carefully, adhere to principle, speak fearlessly, praise when good things happen and oppose when bad things happen, tell the truth as you see it, and otherwise be ever vigilant in defense of rights and liberties, yours and everyone’s. To be steadfast and honest in these times is the height of political virtue.

“At all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare,” says Lord Acton, “and its triumphs have been due to minorities.”

So, yes, by maintaining your objectivity and principles in these times, you will be in the minority. But you will be a friend of freedom, and you could make all the difference.

Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education. He is also Chief Liberty Officer and founder of Liberty.me, Distinguished Honorary Member of Mises Brazil, research fellow at the Acton Institute, policy adviser of the Heartland Institute, founder of the CryptoCurrency Conference, member of the editorial board of the Molinari Review, an advisor to the blockchain application builder Factom, and author of five books. He has written 150 introductions to books and many thousands of articles appearing in the scholarly and popular press.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

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Congressman Lieu, Senator Markey Introduce the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017 – Press Release by Congressman Ted Lieu & Senator Edward J. Markey

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The New Renaissance Hat Congressman Ted Lieu (D-CA) & Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA)
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WashingtonToday, Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D | Los Angeles County) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Massachusetts) introduced the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017.  This legislation would prohibit the President from launching a nuclear first strike without a declaration of war by Congress. The crucial issue of nuclear “first use” is more urgent than ever now that President Donald Trump has the power to launch a nuclear war at a moment’s notice.

Upon introduction of this legislation, Mr. Lieu issued the following statement:

“It is a frightening reality that the U.S. now has a Commander-in-Chief who has demonstrated ignorance of the nuclear triad, stated his desire to be ‘unpredictable’ with nuclear weapons, and as President-elect was making sweeping statements about U.S. nuclear policy over Twitter. Congress must act to preserve global stability by restricting the circumstances under which the U.S. would be the first nation to use a nuclear weapon. Our Founders created a system of checks and balances, and it is essential for that standard to be applied to the potentially civilization-ending threat of nuclear war. I am proud to introduce the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017 with Sen. Markey to realign our nation’s nuclear weapons launch policy with the Constitution and work towards a safer world.”

Upon introduction of this legislation, Senator Markey issued the following statement:

“Nuclear war poses the gravest risk to human survival. Yet, President Trump has suggested that he would consider launching nuclear attacks against terrorists. Unfortunately, by maintaining the option of using nuclear weapons first in a conflict, U.S. policy provides him with that power. In a crisis with another nuclear-armed country, this policy drastically increases the risk of unintended nuclear escalation. Neither President Trump, nor any other president, should be allowed to use nuclear weapons except in response to a nuclear attack. By restricting the first use of nuclear weapons, this legislation enshrines that simple principle into law. I thank Rep. Lieu for his partnership on this common-sense bill during this critical time in our nation’s history.”

Support for the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017:

William J. Perry, Former Secretary of Defense – “During my period as Secretary of Defense, I never confronted a situation, or could even imagine a situation, in which I would recommend that the President make a first strike with nuclear weapons—understanding that such an action, whatever the provocation, would likely bring about the end of civilization.  I believe that the legislation proposed by Congressman Lieu and Senator Markey recognizes that terrible reality.  Certainly a decision that momentous for all of civilization should have the kind of checks and balances on Executive powers called for by our Constitution.”

Tom Z. Collina, Policy Director of Ploughshares Fund – “President Trump now has the keys to the nuclear arsenal, the most deadly killing machine ever created. Within minutes, President Trump could unleash up to 1,000 nuclear weapons, each one many times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. Yet Congress has no voice in the most important decision the United States government can make. As it stands now, Congress has a larger role in deciding on the number of military bands than in preventing nuclear catastrophe.”

Derek Johnson, Executive Director of Global Zero – “One modern nuclear weapon is more destructive than all of the bombs detonated in World War II combined. Yet there is no check on a president’s ability to launch the thousands of nuclear weapons at his command. In the wake of the election, the American people are more concerned than ever about the terrible prospect of nuclear war — and what the next commander-in-chief will do with the proverbial ‘red button.’ That such devastating power is concentrated in one person is an affront to our democracy’s founding principles. The proposed legislation is an important first step to reining in this autocratic system and making the world safer from a nuclear catastrophe.”

Megan Amundson, Executive Director of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) – “Rep. Lieu and Sen. Markey have rightly called out the dangers of only one person having his or her finger on the nuclear button. The potential misuse of this power in the current global climate has only magnified this concern. It is time to make real progress toward lowering the risk that nuclear weapons are ever used again, and this legislation is a good start.”

Jeff Carter, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility – “Nuclear weapons pose an unacceptable risk to our national security. Even a “limited” use of nuclear weapons would cause catastrophic climate disruption around the world, including here in the United States. They are simply too profoundly dangerous for one person to be trusted with the power to introduce them into a conflict. Grounded in the fundamental constitutional provision that only Congress has the power to declare war, the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017 is a wise and necessary step to lessen the chance these weapons will ever be used.”

Diane Randall, Executive Secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quakers) – “Restricting first-use of nuclear weapons is an urgent priority. Congress should support the Markey-Lieu legislation.”

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What Are the Chances That a Muslim Is a Terrorist? – Article by Sanford Ikeda

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Categories: Culture, Mathematics, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatSanford Ikeda
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It’s flu season and for the past two days you’ve had a headache and sore throat. You learn that 90% of people who actually have the flu also have those symptoms, which makes you worry.  Does that mean the chances of your having the flu is 90%?  In other words, if there’s a 90% chance of having a headache and sore throat given that you have the flu, does that mean there’s a 90% chance having the flu given that you have a headache and sore throat?We can use symbols to express this question as follows: Pr(Flu | Symptoms) = Pr(Symptoms | Flu) = 90%?

The answer is no. Why?

If you think about it you’ll realize that there are other things besides the flu that can give you a combination of a headache and sore throat, such as a cold or an allergy, so that having those symptoms is certainly not the same thing as having the flu.  Similarly, while fire produces smoke, the old saying that “where there’s smoke there’s fire” is wrong because it’s quite possible to produce smoke without fire.

Fortunately, there’s a nice way to account for this.

How Bayes’ Theorem Works

Suppose you learn that, in addition to Pr(Symptoms | Flu) = 90%, that the probability of a randomly chosen person having a headache and sore throat this season, regardless of the cause, is 10% – i.e. Pr(Symptoms) = 10% – and that only one person in 100 will get the flu this season – i.e. Pr(Flu) = 1%.  How does this information help?

Again, what we want to know are the chances of having the flu, given these symptoms Pr(Flu | Symptom).  To find that we’ll need to know first the probability of having those symptoms if we have the flu (90%) times the probability of having the flu (1%).  In other words, there’s a 90% chance of having those symptoms if in fact we do have the flu, and the chances of having the flu is only 1%. That means Pr(Symptoms | Flu) x Pr(Flu) = 0.90 x 0.01 = 0.009 or 0.9% or a bit less than one chance in 100.

Finally, we need to divide that result by the probability of having a headache and sore throat regardless of the cause Pr(Symptoms), which is 10% or 0.10, because we need to know if your headache and sore throat are flu Symptoms out of all headache-and-sore symptoms that have occurred.

So, putting it all together, the answer to the question, “What is the probability that your Symptoms are caused by the Flu?” is as follows:

Pr(Flu | Symptoms) = [Pr(Symptoms | Flu) x Pr(Flu)] ÷ Pr(Symptoms) = 0.90 x 0.01 ÷ 0.10 = 0.09 or 9%.

So if you have a headache and sore throat there’s only a 9% chance, not 90%, that you have the flu, which I’m sure will come as a relief!

This particular approach to calculating “conditional probabilities” is called Bayes’ Theorem, after Thomas Bayes, the 18th century Presbyterian minister who came up with it. The example above is one that I got out this wonderful little book.

Muslims and Terrorism

Now, according to some sources (here and here), 10% of Terrorists are Muslim. Does this mean that there’s a 10% chance that a Muslim person you meet at random is a terrorist?  Again, the answer is emphatically no.

To see why, let’s apply Bayes’ theorem to the question, “What is the probability that a Muslim person is a Terrorist?” Or, stated more formally, “What is the probability that a person is a Terrorist, given that she is a Muslim?” or Pr(Terrorist | Muslim)?

Let’s calculate this the same way we did for the flu using some sources that I Googled and that appeared to be reliable.  I haven’t done a thorough search, however, so I won’t claim my result here to be anything but a ballpark figure.

So I want to find Pr(Terrorist | Muslim), which according to Bayes’ Theorem is equal to…

1) Pr(Muslim | Terrorist):  The probability that a person is a Muslim given that she’s a Terrorist is about 10% according to the sources I cited above, which report that around 90% of Terrorists are Non-Muslims.

Multiplied by…

2) Pr(Terrorist):  The probability that someone in the United States is a Terrorist of any kind, which I calculated first by taking the total number of known terrorist incidents in the U.S. back through 2000 which I tallied as 121 from this source  and as 49 from this source. At the risk of over-stating the incidence of terrorism, I took the higher figure and rounded it to 120.  Next, I multiplied this times 10 under the assumption that on average 10 persons lent material support for each terrorist act (which may be high), and then multiplied that result by 5 under the assumption that only one-in-five planned attacks are actually carried out (which may be low).  (I just made up these multipliers because the data are hard to find and these numbers seem to be at the higher and lower ends of what is likely the case and I’m trying to make the connection as strong as I can; but I’m certainly willing to entertain evidence showing different numbers.)  This equals 6,000 Terrorists in America between 2000 and 2016, which assumes that no person participated in more than one terrorist attempt (not likely) and that all these persons were active terrorists in the U.S. during those 17 years (not likely), all of which means 6,000 is probably an over-estimate of the number of Terrorists.

If we then divide 6,000 by 300 million people in the U.S. during this period (again, I’ll over-state the probability by not counting tourists and visitors) that gives us a Pr(Terrorist) = 0.00002 or 0.002% or 2 chances out of a hundred-thousand.

Now, divide this by…

3) The probability that someone in the U.S. is a Muslim, which is about 1%.

Putting it all together gives the following:

Pr(Terrorist | Muslim) = [Pr(Muslim | Terrorist) x Pr(Terrorist)] ÷ Pr(Muslim) = 10% x 0.002% ÷ 1% = 0.0002 or 0.02%.

One interpretation of this result is that the probability that a Muslim person, whom you encounter at random in the U.S., is a terrorist is about 1/50th of one-percent. In other words, around one in 5,000 Muslim persons you meet at random is a terrorist.  And keep in mind that the values I chose to make this calculation deliberately over-state, probably by a lot, that probability, so that the probability that a Muslim person is a Terrorist is likely much lower than 0.02%.

Moreover, the probability that a Muslim person is a Terrorist (0.002%) is 500 times lower than the probability that a Terrorist is a Muslim (10%).

(William Easterly of New York University applies Bayes’ theorem to the same question, using estimates that don’t over-state as much as mine do, and calculates the difference not at 500 times but 13,000 times lower!)

Other Considerations

As low as the probability of a Muslim person being a Terrorist is, the same data do indicate that a Non-Muslim person is much less likely to be a Terrorist.  By substituting values where appropriate – Pr(Non-Muslim | Terrorist) = 90% and Pr(Non-Muslim) = 99% – Bayes’ theorem gives us the following:

Pr(Terrorist | Non-Muslim) = [Pr(Non-Muslim | Terrorist) x Pr(Terrorist) ÷ Pr(Non-Muslim) = 90% x 0.002% ÷ 99% = 0.00002 or 0.002%.

So one interpretation of this is that a randomly chosen Non-Muslim person is around one-tenth as likely to be a Terrorist than a Muslim person (i.e. 0.2%/0.002%).  Naturally, the probabilities will be higher or lower if you’re at a terrorist convention or at an anti-terrorist peace rally; or if you have additional data that further differentiates among various groups – such as Wahhabi Sunni Muslims versus Salafist Muslim or Tamil Buddhists versus Tibetan Buddhists – the results again will be more accurate.

But whether you’re trying to educate yourself about the flu or terrorism, common sense suggests using relevant information as best you can. Bayes’ theorem is a good way to do that.

(I wish to thank Roger Koppl for helping me with an earlier version of this essay. Any remaining errors, however, are mine, alone.)

Sanford (Sandy) Ikeda is a professor of economics at Purchase College, SUNY, and the author of The Dynamics of the Mixed Economy: Toward a Theory of Interventionism. He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author. Read the original article.

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France’s Presidential Front-Runner Is a Trump-Style Nationalist – Article by Pierre-Guy Veer

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Categories: Economics, Politics, Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The New Renaissance HatPierre-Guy Veer
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After the populist victories for Brexit and Donald Trump, all eyes are now turned towards the National Front’s (FN) Marine Le Pen, who could cause another worldwide stir by winning the French presidential election. And with the present state of the polls, she could repeat her father Jean-Marie’s exploit of progressing to the second round of a presidential election (France has a two-round, direct electoral process). She even was ranked ahead of right-wing candidate François Fillon in a survey of the most popular French men and women of 2016. And her recent trip to Trump Tower shows that she has an affinity with the President-elect.

Should these poll figures translate into Marine’s election, France (and the rest of the world) should be worried.

Like Trump’s “Make America Great Again”, Le Pen adopted a very vague and populist slogan, “Au nom du people” (In The People’s Name). According to her, the 2017 election is between two options,

  • The dilution of the Nation, its society divided by multiculturalism, open and defenseless against unfettered globalization and the European Union, plagued by laissez-faire, and where the strongest will rule
  • The reconquering of the French Nation’s independence, liberties, and national pride, where the State protects prosperity and every citizen. The People will be moved by a grand collective project.

Her party’s platform reveals how she intends to make these “reconquests”.

Less Immigration, State-Sponsored Identity

As a backlash against Nicolas Sarkozy’s “betrayal” of the French regarding immigration, an FN presidency would reduce immigration to 10,000 people entering per year within five years – one-twentieth of what it is right now. This would be done by ending the Schengen Agreements on free movement, dual citizenship for people coming from outside the EU (they would have to choose either nationality), family reunions, and by mercilessly fighting undocumented (“clandestins”) immigrants – including legal changes to suppress any future regularization of their status.

Part of the latter measure would actually be good as it would end the Aide médicale d’État for undocumented immigrants. These government grants help anyone living in the French territory receive basic medical assistance if his or her health justifies it. Its costs increased 16.4 percent in 2013 (to over 800 million €), which prompted UMP deputy Claude Goasguen to question the pertinence of the program that covers nearly 300,000 undocumented and illegal immigrants in French territories (including Guyana). However, getting information from the ministère de la Santé who administers the program is rather difficult.

But this savings in tax euros pales in comparison to other citizenship policy ideas that are reminiscent of Germany’s darkest days.

For example, one may obtain French citizenship only when able to master the French language, show proof of assimilation, and reside on the territory legally. Also, identity would become a matter of complete government control; the FN would make a constitutional amendment claiming that “the Republic recognizes no community whatsoever” – like Corsica or Brittany. It would even have its own ministry, the ministère de l’Intérieur, de l’immigration et de la laïcité (Ministry of Interior, Immigration and Secularity).

State identity would also find a strong foothold through the Ministry of Culture. The FN would stop any foreign purchase of French editing businesses, defend the “French cultural exception” by imposing strict quotas to air French productions on TV and on the radio and promote French movies – the “only counterweight” to American cinema – more aggressively.

Another measure, touching on economics this time, would encourage businesses to hire French citizens if a non-citizen has similar skills. It would also exclude non-citizens from jobs like justice and public security.

A State with an Iron Fist

The strengthening of the French state under the FN would also mean implementing U.S.-style policing, in order to stop “a 20-year growth in insecurity from successive governments.”

This includes a restriction on the free circulation of newly freed inmates within the country, so they won’t “fall again” in criminality by meeting their former buddies. It would include specific city blocks, but the FN would want to extend the interdiction to whole départments.

The War on Drugs would greatly expand, as the FN categorically refuses any drug decriminalization. Instead, they want to reinforce repression of both dealers and consumers, strictly control borders to prevent importation of illegal drugs, and “facilitate” the police’s work – through email interception, paying-off snitches, compelling security camera businesses to have videos available for investigations, etc.

And as it seems to happen in the U.S., the police under an FN administration would use firearms, presumably in self-defense. Non-uniformed police would even be used to fight against “insecurity”.

An Omnipotent State Master of the Economy

Finally, Marine Le Pen and the FN would make communists’ dreams come true by reinforcing the state’s already strong position in the French economy – government spending is already 57 percent of GDP according to the most recent figures.

To do so, they would restore public services, the “a patrimony to which the French are legitimately attached to.” The FN would immediately end the “dogma” of government liberalization and protect government services, especially mail delivery and train transportation. The FN would also expand regulations on private providers (like phone and internet companies) to make sure that every parcel of French territory (including DOM-TOM) has equal access to their services.

Paralleling Donald Trump’s wishes, they aim to make mercantilism great again by imposing “reasonable” protections against “unfair” international competition from developing countries detrimental to France’s reindustrialization. Yes, you read that right: a government in 2017 believes that durable economic development can be a top-down move.

The plan, Planification Stratégique de la Réindustralisation, includes a strong local purchase policy under the erroneous assumption that international trade emits more greenhouse gases than local production. Speaking of which, tariffs would also consider a foreign producer’s “footprint” in order to save the environment. The plan would oblige public authorities and business cafeterias to prioritize French farm products and institute “agricultural patriotism” in order to limit food imports to only those that France isn’t self-sustaining.

The plan would also coordinate with scientific research, on which the FN wants to spend three percent of GDP when finances are better. They even predict some of the domains in which the French state will excel: energy alternatives to nuclear power, nanotechnologies, and degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.

The Gist

In short, Marine Le Pen and the National Front are completely doing away with the ideas of France’s greatest intellectuals like Frédéric Bastiat and Jean-Baptiste Say, and are instead embracing economic charlatans like Jean-Baptiste Colbert.

They will certainly test the limits of “plucking the chicken with the least amount of hissing” by increasing the highest income tax bracket to 46 percent (now at 45 percent), imposing higher rates of capital gains taxes, and increasing the value-added tax on “luxurious” products.

So if Le Pen gets elected, let’s hope that, as was the case during Trump’s nominee confirmations, deputies at the National Assembly will question her decisions and will not allow the country to sink under toxic economic nationalism. The last time the world experienced widespread nationalism, countries fell in one of the deepest depressions ever recorded and nearly annihilated each other.

Pierre-Guy Veer is a Canadian-born libertarian now living in the US.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

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Malthus Predicted Penury on the Eve of Plenty – Article by Richard M. Ebeling

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The New Renaissance HatRichard M. Ebeling
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Those of us fortunate enough to have been born in the so-called Western World (Europe and North America) rarely appreciate the historical uniqueness of our material and cultural well-being compared, not only to many around the globe today, but to westerners just a handful of generations ago.

A mere 200 years ago, in 1820, the world population numbered only around 1.1 billion people. About 95 percent of that number lived in poverty, with 85 percent existing in “extreme poverty.” By 2015, the world population had increased to over 7 billion, but less than 10 percent lived in poverty. Indeed, over the last quarter of a century, demographers calculate that every day there are 137,000 fewer people around the world living in extreme poverty.

This escape from poverty originated in Western Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with the coming of the Industrial Revolution and the freeing of men and markets from the heavy-handed regulations and commercial restrictions of government. Especially since the mid-twentieth century, that liberation from poverty has been slowly but surely enveloping more of the people in the so-called “developing countries.”

Before this economic revolution of human betterment was made possible by free, or at least freer, markets, life around the world was (borrowing part of Thomas Hobbes’s famous phrase) basically nasty, brutish and short for virtually all of mankind.  The idea and ideal of material prosperity for humanity as a whole was merely the dream of a few dreamers who concocted utopian fantasies of remaking society to make a better world. For some at the end of the 1700s, the French Revolution served as the inspiration to believe that now that the “old regime” of power, privilege, and political position was being overthrown and a “new dawn” was opening for humanity.

The destruction of the ancient institutional order opened the door for remaking society and its structure; and with the institutional transformation could come a change in man. There emerged a new version of Plato’s belief that human nature was primarily a product of the social environment. Change the institutions within which men lived and the character of man could be transformed over time, as well.

William Godwin and the Collectivist Remaking of Man and Society

A leading voice in support of this “transformative” vision was William Godwin, a British social philosopher and critic, who argued that selfishness, poverty, and the form and content of human relationships could be radically made over, if only the institution of private property and the political order protecting it was abolished.

He argued for this new understanding and conception of man and society in his books, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793), and The Inquirer (1798). Indeed, some have argued that Godwin was one of the first of the modern advocates of “anarchism” – an ideal society without a system of political coercion in which men will cooperatively and collectively live and work for a higher “common good.”

The guiding principles in Godwin’s political and economic philosophy (which received some revision and modification between the three editions of Political Justice during his lifetime) were:

First, the moral foundation of all human actions should be based on the individual being concerned with the interests and betterment of the collective society, and not himself; any judgment concerning the ethics in men’s behavior should not be based on the results those actions produce, but the intention or motive behind the actions undertaken.

Second, that human nature is not a universal “given,” but rather man is born like a “blank slate,” the content of which can be influenced by the social environment and the education experienced by the new mind.

Third, that poverty is not and need not be an essential part of the human condition; rather, it is the result of the institution of private property that gives what rightly belongs and should be shared equally by all men to some by arbitrary political power and legitimacy; a “new society” of communal work and sharing will raise production to unimaginable levels, abolishing poverty and creating plenty.

Fourth, this would be coupled with the fact that as there was less concern with material want, people would turn their minds to intellectual pursuits; this would result in a reduction in the sex drive, and a falling off in reproduction and the number of people in society. Thus, concerns that a materially better off world might mean a growth in population exceeding the capacity to feed it was downplayed. Besides, there were plenty of places around the world to which any excess population could migrate.

Said William Godwin in Political Justice:

“If justice have any meaning, it is just that I should contribute everything in my power to the benefit of the whole . . . It is in the disposition and view of the mind, and not in the good which may accidentally and intentionally result, that virtue consists . . .

“Human beings are partakers of a common nature; what conduces to the benefit or pleasure of one man will conduce to the benefit or pleasure of another. Hence it follows, upon the principles of equal and impartial justice, that the good things of the world are a common stock, upon which one man has as valid a title as another to draw for what he wants . . . What can be more desirable and just than that the produce itself should, with some degree of equality, be shared among them?”

What if some individuals refused to sacrifice for the collective, and were unwilling to bend their own self-interest to the betterment of the societal group? Godwin was equally direct that the individual had no right to his own life if his foregoing it served the needs of the collective:

“He has no right to his life when his duty calls him to resign it. Other men are bound . . . to deprive him of life or liberty, if that should appear in any case to be indispensably necessary to prevent a greater evil . . .”

Thomas Malthus on the “Natural” Limits to Human Betterment

Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) was an ordained minister who became interested in various themes in political economy and became famous for arguing against the theories espoused by William Godwin. His father, Daniel Malthus, took a view sympathetic to Godwin’s on man, human nature, and society. Thomas took the opposite view and ended up writing his famous, An Essay on the Principle of Population as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society, with Remarks on the Speculations of Mr. Godwin, M. Condorcet, and Other Writers (1798).

The gist of Thomas Malthus’s argument was that physical capacities to regularly increase the supply of food for human survival falls far short of the natural inclinations of human reproduction. Thus, the growth in population, when left unchecked, and given the “passions” of men and women, has the tendency to outrun the supply of food.

Hence, there were natural limits on the improvement of the material conditions of man, which no change in the political, economic, and social institutions of society, by themselves, can assure or bring about a “heaven on earth,” as prophesied and promised by Godwin and others.

Not surprisingly, the book caused a firestorm of controversy. Malthus’s apparent “pessimism” concerning the possibility of improving the human condition through conscious social change led the British social critic and essayist, Thomas Carlyle, to call economics, “the dismal science.”

Malthus argued that human existence is bound by two inescapable principles that have not and are not likely to change, given all of human history: the need for food to exist, and the degree of sexual passions of men and women for each other, which he enunciates in his Essay on the Principle of Population:

“I think I may fairly make two postulata. First, that food is necessary to the existence of man. Secondly, that the passion between the sexes is necessary, and will remain nearly in its present state.

“These two laws ever since we have had any knowledge of mankind, appear to have been fixed laws of his nature; and as we have not hitherto seen any alteration in them, we have no right to conclude that they will ever cease to be what they now are . . . I do not know that any writer has supposed that on this earth man will ultimately be able to live without food.

“But Mr. Godwin has conjectured that the passion between the sexes may in time be extinguished. As, however, he calls this part of his work, a deviation into the land of conjecture, I will not dwell long upon it at present, than to say, that the best arguments for the perfectibility of man, are drawn from a contemplation of the great progress that he has already made from the savage state, and the difficulty of saying where he is to stop.

“But towards the extinction of the passion between the sexes, no progress whatever has hitherto been made. It appears to exist in as much force at present as it did two thousand, or four thousand years ago.”

The Checks on Mouths to Feed: Misery and Vice

Malthus then made his famous statement concerning the relationship between the “geometric” rate of unchecked population growth in comparison to the “arithmetical” growth in the rate of food production. Eventually, the rate of population growth would overtake the rate of food production, the result of which would be a “natural check” on population through poverty, starvation, and death.

“Assuming then, my postulata as granted, I say, that the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man. Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first process in comparison to the second.

“By the law of our nature which makes food necessary to the life of man, the effects of these two unequal powers must be kept equal. This implies a strong and constantly operating check on population from the difficulty of subsistence. This difficulty must fall somewhere; and must necessarily be severely felt by a large portion of mankind . . .

“This natural inequality of the two powers of population and of production in the earth, and that great law of our nature which must constantly keep their effects equal, form the great difficulty that to me appears insurmountable in the way of the perfectibility of society.

“All the arguments are of slight and subordinate consideration in comparison of this. I see no way by which man can escape from the weight of this nature. No fancied equality, no agrarian regulation in their utmost extent, could remove the pressure of it even for a single century. And it appears, therefore, to be decisive against the possible existence of a society, all the members of which, should live in ease, happiness, and comparative leisure; and feel no anxiety about providing the means of subsistence for themselves and families.”

Malthus argued that taking periods of 25 years as a benchmark, the accelerating growth in population would finally reach a crisis point relative to the rate of food growth.  What, then, may check this growth in an unsustainable population? Malthus concluded only two factors. What he called “vice” and “misery.”

Fearful of marrying before he can support a family and bring about starvation and ruin to his offspring, a man may delay and defer marriage until he feels financially able to care for a wife and children. But this results in “vice,” since the sexual urges lead men to search out physical gratification outside the bonds of matrimony, and the birth of illegitimate offspring.

Or it brings about “misery,” due to a failure to defer marriage, and the bringing into the world children for which means of subsistence do not adequately exist. This results in starvation and premature death of children and adults that brings the population and its growth down, again, to a level sustainable from existing food production.

Malthus added that if Godwin’s proposal for a greater community of property and equality of distribution of its output were to be introduced it would soon diminish the incentives for work and effort and set men into conflict with each other. Or as he put it, weakened private property rights would soon set in motion “the black train of distresses, that would inevitably be occasioned by the insecurity of property.”

Tempering Nature’s Constraints through Moral Restraint

In 1799, after the publication of An Essay on the Principle of Population, and then again in 1802, Thomas Malthus went on trips around parts of Europe. He collected a large amount of historical and demographic data on population (to the extent that such data then existed). He used this to publish a second edition of the book in 1803 that was substantially increased in size and factual information, as he had been able to gather it.

To his previous argument, Malthus now added an additional factor that could serve as a check on population, and could even keep population growth sufficiently under control so that standards of living might rise, even in the long run. This was what he called “moral restraint.”  This was a conscious act to defer marriage until an individual had the financial means to adequately support a family, and the will to renounce the temptations of “vice.” That is, to abstain from sexual gratification outside of marriage. Said Malthus:

“It is of the utmost importance to the happiness of mankind that population should not increase too fast; but it does not appear that the object to be accomplished would admit of any considerable diminishment in the desire for marriage.

“It is clearly the duty of each individual not to marry till he has a prospect of supporting his children; but it is at the same time to be wished that he should retain undiminished his desire for marriage, in order that he may exert himself to realize this prospect, and be stimulated to make provision for the support of greater numbers . . .

“And if moral restraint be the only virtuous mode of avoiding the incidental evils arising from this principle, our obligation to practice it will evidently rest exactly upon the same foundation as our obligation to practice any of the other virtues.”

Unleashing of Free Markets Negated Malthus’ Prediction

Given the seven-fold increase in world population since 1820 discussed above, accompanied by an even more dramatic fall in global poverty over the last two hundred years, Malthus’ warnings and fears seem to have been totally undermined by the facts of history. Population has exploded beyond all experience in human history during the last two centuries, yet all of these billions of additional mouths are increasingly fed and with a rising standard of living for a growing number of them.

Clearly, Malthus, writing in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries underestimated one important influence that was beginning during his lifetime: market-based industrialization. Investment in productive capital equipment, especially in agriculture, began to dramatically increase the output and the nutritive quality of food produced per unit of cultivated land. This included the development of modern chemistry to increase harvests and productive strains of crops. Thus, food production has grown exponentially, and not, as Malthus feared, “arithmetically.”

Urbanization has resulted in a conscious choice by married couples to reduce the size of families. In farming societies with limited mechanization, each child is an additional mouth that comes with two hands to help in the working of the land.  Hence, children are “investment goods” in agricultural society, both for work to be done and offering support for parents in their old age.

In industrial, urban society, children are additional mouths to feed that supply little or no extra income to the family during most of childhood. Hence, children are “consumer goods” that consume income, and reduce the standard of living of the family.  In addition, the cost of urban residential living space has influenced the incentives about sizes of families. And, of course, the development of birth control has greatly influenced the ability and widened of the choice of how many children to have, and when.

In fairness, what Malthus and many others failed to see or anticipate was the explosion of production, industry, and commerce that was soon set loose by expanding economic liberty in the nineteenth century. This unleashed entrepreneurial innovation and discovery of market opportunities in the pursuit of profits. This was made possible by ending the trade protectionism, domestic regulation, heavy tax burdens, and paper money inflations that enveloped all of Europe, including Great Britain, during nearly the quarter of a century of war from 1791 to 1815 between first Revolutionary and then Napoleonic France against practically all of the rest of Europe.

The difference was made by the arrival of peace and the beginning of a conscious introduction of economic liberalism, first in Great Britain and then other parts of the European continent, and independently at the same time in the United States. Only then was free market capitalism’s potential horn-of-plenty able to begin to release its bounty upon humanity.

Malthus’s Contributions to Human Understanding

Many historians of economic thought have pointed out the various weaknesses, exaggerations, inconsistencies, and factual errors in Malthus’s argument and the changing premises and arguments in the various editions of his Essay on the Principle of Population. Indeed, one of the leading such historians, Edwin Cannan, stated that Malthus’s analysis, “falls to the ground as an argument, and remains only a chaos of facts collected to illustrate the effect of laws which do not exist.” And Joseph A. Schumpeter even said that the actual pattern of birth rates with industrialization and urbanization accompanied by growth in food production suggested “a sort of Malthusianism in reverse.”

But even with its weaknesses and factual errors, others have seen an enduringly valuable contribution in Malthus’s theory of population. No less than an authority than the Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises, in his treatise, Human Action, suggested that in Malthus’s work can be seen a contribution equal to the discovery of the logic of division of labor and the spontaneous workings of the market order for the betterment of human circumstances:

“The Malthusian law of population is one of the great achievements of thought. Together with the principle of the division of labor it provided the foundation for modern biology and the theory of evolution; the importance of these two fundamental theorems for the sciences of human action is second only to the discovery of the regularity in the intertwinement and sequence of market phenomena and their inevitable determination by the market data . . .

“Malthus showed that nature in limiting the means of subsistence does not accord to any living being a right of existence, and that by indulging heedlessly in the natural impulse of proliferation man would never have risen about the verge of starvation. He contended that human civilization and well-being could develop only to the extent that man learned to rein in his sexual appetites by moral restraints…

“Nonhuman beings are entirely subject to the operation of the biological law described by Malthus . . . But the case is different with man. Man integrates the satisfaction of the purely zoological impulses, common to all animals, into a scale of values, in which a place is also assigned to specifically human ends.

“Acting man also rationalizes the satisfaction of his sexual appetites. Their satisfaction is the outcome of a weighing of the pros and cons. Man does not blindly submit to a sexual stimulation . . . He refrains from copulation if he deems the costs – the anticipated disadvantages – too high.”

Thomas Malthus, even with the limits and incompleteness of his analysis, can be seen to have made essential contributions to understanding the inescapable human condition. First, man at any time exists under a scarcity of the means for his ends.  Other things held given, the larger the population the greater needs to be the available supply of food and other necessities of life, if the standard and quality of life are not to be diminished. The only way to prevent a decline in standards of living is for there to be increases in capital investment that increase production and the productivity of the workforce more than any increase in the population.

Second, given the level of capital investment and technological knowledge, there is an optimal size of a society’s population, below which more people means greater net output, and above which there results less net output. And, third, the political and economic institutional circumstances can make a difference in that they may foster capital investment, more forward-looking choices by individuals, and incentives to save and work.

On this latter point, Malthus was well aware of the dangers from overreaching and expanding governmental power in terms of their threat to liberty and popular self-improvement. In the expanded, fifth edition of his Essay on Population, which appeared in 1817, he warned that ignorance of the laws of nature and the essential institutions of a free commercial society can easily lead astray mobs of people whose violent actions may open the door to despotism.

This sets the stage for a dangerous confrontation between individual liberty and political authority, in which people must always be watchful and knowledgeable so as to check the government’s drive for unchecked power. Malthus warned:

“The checks which are necessary to secure the liberty of the subject will always to some degree embarrass and delay the operations of the executive government. The members of the government feeling these inconveniences while they are exerting themselves, as they conceive, in the service of their country, and conscious perhaps of no ill intention towards the people, will naturally be disposed on every occasion to demand the suspension or abolition of these checks; but if once the convenience of ministers be put in competition with the liberties of the people and we get into the habit of relying on fair assurances and personal character, instead of examining with the most scrupulous and jealous care the merits of each particular case, there is an end of British freedom.

“If we once admit the principle that the government must know better with regard to the quantity of power which it wants than we can possibly do with out limited means of information, and that therefore it is our duty to surrender up our private judgments, we may just as well at the same time surrender up the whole of our constitution. Government is a quarter in which liberty is not nor cannot be very faithfully preserved. If we are wanting to ourselves, and inattentive to our great interests in this respect, it is the height of folly and unreasonableness to expect that government will attend to them for us.”

Thus, Thomas Malthus’s contribution may be said to be the following: Man is above all other life forms on earth in that he is able to use his reason to control his passions when they may entail costs greater than the anticipated benefits; at the same time he can use his rational faculties to devise ways to escape limits that nature places upon him by planning ahead to increase his future productive and income earning capacities to improve his standard of living. And that to do so most successfully there must be the necessary institutional prerequisites, among which freedom, property, and peace are the most essential.

Richard M. Ebeling is BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. He was president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) from 2003 to 2008.

This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

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