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The U.S. Transhumanist Party – Pursuing a Future of Extreme Progress – Presentation by G. Stolyarov II

The U.S. Transhumanist Party – Pursuing a Future of Extreme Progress – Presentation by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance HatG. Stolyarov II
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Listen to and download the audio recording of this presentation at http://rationalargumentator.com/USTP_Future_of_Extreme_Progress.mp3 (right-click to download).

Download Mr. Stolyarov’s presentation slides at http://rationalargumentator.com/USTP_Future_of_Extreme_Progress.pdf (right-click to download).


Gennady Stolyarov II, Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party, delivered this presentation virtually at the Extreme Futures Technology and Forecasting (EFTF) Work Group on March 11, 2017.

Mr. Stolyarov outlines the background and history of the Transhumanist Party, its Core Ideals, its unique approach to politics and member involvement, and the hopes for transforming politics into a constructive focus on solutions to the prevailing problems of our time.

At the conclusion of the presentation Mr. Stolyarov answered a series of questions from futurists Mark Waser and Stuart Mason Dambrot.

Visit the website of the U.S. Transhumanist Party here.

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

Watch the U.S. Transhumanist Party Discussion Panel on Artificial Intelligence here.

Watch the U.S. Transhumanist Party Discussion Panel on Life Extension here.

A Plan to Make Me Great Again – Article by Jeffrey Tucker

A Plan to Make Me Great Again – Article by Jeffrey Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey Tucker
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I was out shopping for a sweater this weekend and I ran into Donald Trump, who told me that I should stop outsourcing my job.

“You should be knitting your own sweaters.”

I explained that I’m not very good at knitting. I have other things to do, in any case. This whole idea strikes me as a huge waste of time. I just can’t see myself sitting at home doing knitting. It’s true that this would give me a job, but it is not a job I want, especially since someone else wants to do it for me.

But he strongly disagreed, explaining that the problem with this country is that we keep taking away our own jobs and keep giving them to other people, who then get the money. This is a bad thing. This is why we are all suffering so much.

I persisted with objections, so he proposed a deal. If I continue to outsource my job, I will have to pay him a 35% tax, which means that if I spend $50 on a sweater, I will need to send him $17.50. That’s a bummer, we both agreed.

Instead, he said, if I take up sweater knitting, he will reduce my income tax rate to a flat 15%, plus exempt my sweater-making from all existing regulations. I would be free to make any sweater I want. The catch is that I have to knit sweaters, because doing that will make me great.

“Just think of it,” he said, “Jeffrey Tucker is open for business!”

In some ways, this sounds pretty sweet. A bit goofy but OK. It’s awkward but I’ll take up knitting on nights and weekends, producing at least one sweater per month. I will continue to do this in order to earn the promised benefit.

Also, I’ll stop buying sweaters at the store and thus end my addiction to outsourcing my production. It’s true that I have given up a huge amount of my freedom over how I spend my time and use my resources (I have to buy all those yarns and needles), but, on the plus side, I avoid a punishing penalty, pay lower taxes, and obey fewer regulations.

The deal doesn’t strike me as very efficient, but, as Trump said, this focus on efficiency over greatness is precisely what has gone wrong in this country.

Sometimes I wonder why his version of greatness should prevail over mine, but, hey, he is the President.

One Month Later

I finally finished my first sweater, and I’m a bit behind on other things. I gave up my job driving Uber. I stopped selling stuff on eBay. I was doing volunteer work for a local charity and I had to give that up too. But at least now I have a sweater. Maybe I can make money at this after all.

I tried to sell it but I couldn’t find any buyers. It turns out that everyone else who needed sweaters had made a similar deal. They too had been persuaded to become great by knitting their own sweaters. We had all become sweater-self-sufficient.

I hope they aren’t feeling as poor as I feel now.

I gradually came to realize something. If you cooperate with others, share the work, find out what you do best, trade with others, and make your own decisions about what you want to insource versus outsource, you can eventually find the best strategy for using your time and resources well.

As Adam Smith proved so long ago, a key to prosperity is the expansion of the division of labor, that is, finding ways to benefit from the talents of others wherever they happen to be. I can only do this if I am truly free to buy and sell based on my own evaluation of what benefits me the most. And under this system, what benefits me also happens to benefit everyone.

This system, which we can call free trade, has the added benefit of creating a kind of community feeling. Peace. Prosperity. There is something great about that after all.

Jeffrey Tucker


Jeffrey Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education and CLO of the startup Liberty.me. Author of five books, and many thousands of articles, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. Email.

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

Yes, We Still Make Stuff, and It Wouldn’t Matter if We Didn’t – Article by Steven Horwitz

Yes, We Still Make Stuff, and It Wouldn’t Matter if We Didn’t – Article by Steven Horwitz

The New Renaissance HatSteven Horwitz
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One of the perennial complaints about the US economy is that we don’t “make stuff” anymore. You hear this from candidates from both major parties, but especially from Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. The argument seems to be that our manufacturing sector has collapsed and that all US workers do is to provide services, rather than manufacturing tangible goods.

It turns out that this perception is wrong, as the US manufacturing sector continues to grow and in 2014 manufacturing output was higher than at any point in US history. But even if the perception were correct, it does not matter. The measure of an economy’s health isn’t the quantity of physical stuff it produces, but rather the value that it produces. And value comes in a variety of forms.

Manufacturing is Up

The path to economic growth is not to freeze into place the US economy of the 1950s. Let’s deal with the myth of manufacturing decline first. The one piece of evidence in favor of that perception is that there are fewer manufacturing jobs today than in the past. Total manufacturing employment peaked at around 19 million jobs in the late 1970s. Today, there are about 12.5 million manufacturing jobs in the US.

However, manufacturing output has never been higher. The real value of US manufacturing output in 2014 was over $2 trillion. The real story of the US manufacturing sector is that we have become so much more efficient, that we can produce more and more manufactured goods with less and less labor. These efficiency gains are largely the result of computer technology and automation, especially in the last fifteen years.

The labor that we no longer need in order to produce an ever-increasing amount of stuff is now available to produce a whole variety of other things we value, from phone apps to entertainment to the expanded number and variety of grocery stores and restaurants, to the data analyses that makes all of this growth possible.

Just as the workers in those factories we are so nostalgic for were labor freed from growing food thanks to the growth in agricultural productivity, so are today’s web designers, chefs at the newest hipster café, and digital editors in Hollywood the labor that has been freed from producing “stuff” thanks to greater technological productivity.

Or, put differently: those agricultural, industrial, and computer revolutions collectively have enabled us to have more food, more stuff, and more entertainment, apps, services, and cage-free chicken salads served with kale. The list of human wants is endless, and the less labor we use to satisfy some of them, the more we have to start working on other ones.

But notice something: all of the things that we produce have something in common. Whether it’s food or footwear, or automobiles or apps, or manicures or massages, the point of production is to rearrange capital and labor in ways that better satisfy wants. In the language of economics, the point of production (and exchange) is to increase utility.

When we produce more cars that people wish to buy, it increases utility. When we open a new Asian fusion street food taco stand, it increases utility. When Uber more effectively uses the existing stock of cars, it increases utility. When we exchange dollars for manicures, it increases utility.

Adam Smith helped us to understand that the wealth of nations is not measured by how much gold a country possesses. Modern economics helps us understand that such wealth is not measured by how much physical stuff we manufacture. Increases in wealth happen because we arrange the physical world in ways that people value more.

Neither producing cars nor providing manicures changes the number of atoms in the universe. Both activities just rearrange existing matter in ways that people value more. That is what economic growth is about.

Misplaced Nostalgia

We’re richer because we have allowed markets to produce with fewer workers. When we are fooled into believing that “growth” is synonymous with “stuff,” we are likely to make two serious errors. First, we ignore the fact that the production of services is value-creating and therefore adds to wealth.

Second, we can easily believe that we need to “protect” manufacturing jobs. We don’t. And if we try to do so, we will not only stifle economic growth and thereby impoverish the citizenry, we will be engaging in precisely the sort of special-interest politics that those who buy the myth of manufacturing often rightly complain about in other sectors.

The path to economic growth is not to freeze into place the US economy of the 1950s. We are far richer today than we were back then, and that’s due to the remaining dynamism of an economy that can still shed jobs it no longer needs and create new ones to meet the ever-changing wants of the consumer.

The US still makes plenty of stuff, but we’re richer precisely because we have allowed markets to do so with fewer workers, freeing those people to provide us a whole cornucopia of new things to improve our lives in endless ways. We can only hope that the forces of misplaced nostalgia do not win out over the forces of progress.

Steven_Horwitz

Steven Horwitz

Steven Horwitz is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics at St. Lawrence University and the author of Hayek’s Modern Family: Classical Liberalism and the Evolution of Social Institutions.

He is a member of the FEE Faculty Network.

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

Thomas Carlyle: The Founding Father of Fascism – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

Thomas Carlyle: The Founding Father of Fascism – Article by Jeffrey A. Tucker

The New Renaissance HatJeffrey A. Tucker
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Thomas Carlyle fits the bill in every respect

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Have you heard of the “great man” theory of history?

The meaning is obvious from the words. The idea is that history moves in epochal shifts under the leadership of visionary, bold, often ruthless men who marshal the energy of masses of people to push events in radical new directions. Nothing is the same after them.

In their absence, nothing happens that is notable enough to qualify as history: no heroes, no god-like figures who qualify as “great.” In this view, we need such men.  If they do not exist, we create them. They give us purpose. They define the meaning of life. They drive history forward.

Great men, in this view, do not actually have to be fabulous people in their private lives. They need not exercise personal virtue. They need not even be moral. They only need to be perceived as such by the masses, and play this role in the trajectory of history.

Such a view of history shaped much of historiography as it was penned in the late 19th century and early 20th century, until the revisionists of the last several decades saw the error and turned instead to celebrate private life and the achievements of common folk instead. Today the “great man” theory history is dead as regards academic history, and rightly so.

Carlyle the Proto-Fascist

Thomas_CarlyleThe originator of the great man theory of history is British philosopher Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), one of the most revered thinkers of his day. He also coined the expression “dismal science” to describe the economics of his time. The economists of the day, against whom he constantly inveighed, were almost universally champions of the free market, free trade, and human rights.

His seminal work on “great men” is On Heroes,  Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (1840). This book was written to distill his entire worldview.

Considering Carlyle’s immense place in the history of 19th century intellectual life, this is a surprisingly nutty book. It can clearly be seen as paving the way for the monster dictators of the 20th century. Reading his description of “great men” literally, there is no sense in which Mao, Stalin, and Hitler — or any savage dictator from any country you can name — would not qualify.

Indeed, a good case can be made that Carlyle was the forefather of fascism. He made his appearance in the midst of the age of laissez faire, a time when the UK and the US had already demonstrated the merit of allowing society to take its own course, undirected from the top down. In these times, kings and despots were exercising ever less control and markets ever more. Slavery was on its way out. Women obtained rights equal to men. Class mobility was becoming the norm, as were long lives, universal opportunity, and material progress.

Carlyle would have none of it. He longed for a different age. His literary output was devoted to decrying the rise of equality as a norm and calling for the restoration of a ruling class that would exercise firm and uncontested power for its own sake. In his view, some were meant to rule and others to follow. Society must be organized hierarchically lest his ideal of greatness would never again be realized. He set himself up as the prophet of despotism and the opponent of everything that was then called liberal.

Right Authoritarianism of the 19th Century

Carlyle was not a socialist in an ideological sense. He cared nothing for the common ownership of the means of production. Creating an ideologically driven social ideal did not interest him at all. His writings appeared and circulated alongside those of Karl Marx and his contemporaries, but he was not drawn to them.

Rather than an early “leftist,” he was a consistent proponent of power and a raving opponent of classical liberalism, particularly of the legacies of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill. If you have the slightest leanings toward liberty, or affections for the impersonal forces of markets, his writings come across as ludicrous. His interest was in power as the central organizing principle of society.

Here is his description of the “great men” of the past:

“They were the leaders of men, these great ones; the modellers, patterns, and in a wide sense creators, of whatsoever the general mass of men contrived to do or to attain; all things that we see standing accomplished in the world are properly the outer material result, the practical realization and embodiment, of Thoughts that dwelt in the Great Men sent into the world: the soul of the whole world’s history….

One comfort is, that Great Men, taken up in any way, are profitable company. We cannot look, however imperfectly, upon a great man, without gaining something by him. He is the living light-fountain, which it is good and pleasant to be near. The light which enlightens, which has enlightened the darkness of the world; and this not as a kindled lamp only, but rather as a natural luminary shining by the gift of Heaven; a flowing light-fountain, as I say, of native original insight, of manhood and heroic nobleness;—in whose radiance all souls feel that it is well with them. … Could we see them well, we should get some glimpses into the very marrow of the world’s history. How happy, could I but, in any measure, in such times as these, make manifest to you the meanings of Heroism; the divine relation (for I may well call it such) which in all times unites a Great Man to other men…

Carlyle established himself as the arch-opponent of liberalism — heaping an unrelenting and seething disdain on Smith and his disciples.And so on it goes for hundreds of pages that celebrate “great” events such as the Reign of Terror in the aftermath of the French Revolution (one of the worst holocausts then experienced). Wars, revolutions, upheavals, invasions, and mass collective action, in his view, were the essence of life itself. The merchantcraft of the industrial revolution, the devolution of power, the small lives of the bourgeoisie all struck him as noneventful and essentially irrelevant. These marginal improvements in the social sphere were made by the “silent people” who don’t make headlines and therefore don’t matter much; they are essential at some level but inconsequential in the sweep of things.

To Carlyle, nothing was sillier than Adam Smith’s pin factory: all those regular people intricately organized by impersonal forces to make something practical to improve people’s lives. Why should society’s productive capacity be devoted to making pins instead of making war? Where is the romance in that?

Carlyle established himself as the arch-opponent of liberalism — heaping an unrelenting and seething disdain on Smith and his disciples. And what should replace liberalism? What ideology? It didn’t matter, so long as it embodied Carlyle’s definition of “greatness.”

No Greatness Like the Nation-State

Of course there is no greatness to compare with that of the head of the nation-state.

“The Commander over Men; he to whose will our wills are to be subordinated, and loyally surrender themselves, and find their welfare in doing so, may be reckoned the most important of Great Men. He is practically the summary for us of all the various figures of Heroism; Priest, Teacher, whatsoever of earthly or of spiritual dignity we can fancy to reside in a man, embodies itself here, to command over us, to furnish us with constant practical teaching, to tell us for the day and hour what we are to do.”

Why the nation-state? Because within the nation-state, all that is otherwise considered immoral, illegal, unseemly, and ghastly, can become, as blessed by the law, part of policy, civic virtue, and the forward motion of history. The leader of the nation-state baptizes rampant immorality with the holy water of consensus. And thus does Napoleon come in for high praise from Carlyle, in addition to the tribal chieftains of Nordic mythology. The point is not what the “great man” does with his power so much as that he exercises it decisively, authoritatively, ruthlessly.

The exercise of such power necessarily requires the primacy of the nation-state, and hence the protectionist and nativist impulses of the fascist mindset.

Consider the times in which Carlyle wrote. Power was on the wane, and humankind was in the process of discovering something absolutely remarkable: namely, the less society is controlled from the top, the more the people thrive in their private endeavors. Society needs no management but rather contains within itself the capacity for self organization, not through the exercise of the human will as such, but by having the right institutions in place. Such was the idea of liberalism.

Liberalism was always counterintuitive. The less society is ordered, the more order emerges from the ground up. The freer people are permitted to be, the happier the people become and the more meaning they find in the course of life itself. The less power that is given to the ruling class, the more wealth is created and dispersed among everyone. The less a nation is directed by conscious design, the more it can provide a model of genuine greatness.

Such teachings emerged from the liberal revolution of the previous two centuries. But some people (mostly academics and would-be rulers) weren’t having it. On the one hand, the socialists would not tolerate what they perceived to be the seeming inequality of the emergent commercial society. On the other hand, the advocates of old-fashioned ruling-class control, such as Carlyle and his proto-fascist contemporaries, longed for a restoration of pre-modern despotism, and devoted their writings to extolling a time before the ideal of universal freedom appeared in the world.

The Dismal Science

One of the noblest achievements of the liberal revolution of the late 18th and 19th centuries — in addition to the idea of free trade — was the movement against slavery and its eventual abolition. It should not surprise anyone that Carlyle was a leading opponent of the abolitionist movement and a thoroughgoing racist. He extolled the rule of one race over another, and resented especially the economists for being champions of universal rights and therefore opponents of slavery.

As David Levy has demonstrated, the claim that economics was a “dismal science” was first stated in an essay by Carlyle in 1848, an essay in which non-whites were claimed to be non-human and worthy of killing. Blacks were, to his mind, “two-legged cattle,” worthy of servitude for all times.

Carlyle’s objection to economics as a science was very simple: it opposed slavery. Economics imagined that society could consist of people of equal freedoms, a society without masters and slaves. Supply and demand, not dictators, would rule. To him, this was a dismal prospect, a world without “greatness.”

The economists were the leading champions of human liberation from such “greatness.” They understood, through the study of market forces and the close examination of the on-the-ground reality of factories and production structures, that wealth was made by the small actions of men and women acting in their own self interest. Therefore, concluded the economists, people should be free of despotism. They should be free to accumulate wealth. They should pursue their own interests in their own way. They should be let alone.

Carlyle found the whole capitalist worldview disgusting. His loathing foreshadowed the fascism of the 20th century: particularly its opposition to liberal capitalism, universal rights, and progress.

Fascism’s Prophet

Once you get a sense of what capitalism meant to humanity – universal liberation and the turning of social resources toward the service of the common person – it is not at all surprising to find reactionary intellectuals opposing it tooth and nail. There were generally two schools of thought that stood in opposition to what it meant to the world: the socialists and the champions of raw power that later came to be known as fascists. In today’s parlance, here is the left and the right, both standing in opposition to simple freedom.

Carlyle came along at just the right time to represent that reactionary brand of power for its own sake. His opposition to emancipation and writings on race would emerge only a few decades later into a complete ideology of eugenics that would later come to heavily inform 20th-century fascist experiments. There is a direct line, traversing only a few decades, between Carlyle’s vehement anti-capitalism and the ghettos and gas chambers of the German total state.

Do today’s neo-fascists understand and appreciate their 19th century progenitor? Not likely. The continuum from Carlyle to Mussolini to Franco to Donald Trump is lost on people who do not see beyond the latest political crisis. Not one in ten thousand activists among the European and American “alt-right” who are rallying around would-be strong men who seek power today have a clue about their intellectual heritage.

Hitler turned to Goebbels, his trusted assistant, and asked for a final reading. It was Carlyle.And it should not be necessary that they do. After all, we have a more recent history of the rise of fascism in the 20th-century from which to learn (and it is to their everlasting disgrace that they have refused to learn).

But no one should underestimate the persistence of an idea and its capacity to travel time, leading to results that no one intended directly but are still baked into the fabric of the ideological structure. If you celebrate power for its own sake, herald immorality as a civic ideal, and believe that history rightly consists of nothing more than the brutality of great men with power, you end up with unconscionable results that may not have been overtly intended but which were nonetheless given license by the absence of conscience opposition.

As time went on, left and right mutated, merged, diverged, and established a revolving door between the camps, disagreeing on the ends they sought but agreeing on the essentials. They would have opposed 19th-century liberalism and its conviction that society should be left alone. Whether they were called socialist or fascists, the theme was the same. Society must be planned from the top down. A great man — brilliant, powerful, with massive resources at his disposal — must lead. At some point in the middle of the 20th century, it became difficult to tell the difference but for their cultural style and owned constituencies. Even so, left and right maintained distinctive forms. If Marx was the founding father of the socialist left, Carlyle was his foil on the fascist right.

Hitler and Carlyle

In his waning days, defeated and surrounded only by loyalists in his bunker, Hitler sought consolation from the literature he admired the most. According to many biographers, the following scene took place. Hitler turned to Goebbels, his trusted assistant, and asked for a final reading. The words he chose to hear before his death were from Thomas Carlyle’s biography of Frederick the Great. Thus did Carlyle himself provide a fitting epitaph to one of the “great” men he so celebrated during his life: alone, disgraced, and dead.

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup Liberty.me, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook. 

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

This TRA feature has been edited in accordance with TRA’s Statement of Policy.

The Intellectual Intolerance Behind “Check Your Privilege” – Article by Gary M. Galles

The Intellectual Intolerance Behind “Check Your Privilege” – Article by Gary M. Galles

The New Renaissance Hat
Gary M. Galles
July 19, 2015
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A decade ago, no one had ever been told to “check your privilege.” Now it commands an appreciable “market share” in academia and social justice rhetoric. But it does so despite sharply opposed interpretations of its meaning. In fact, its expanded footprint is partly because of its ambiguity.

It Could Be an Invitation to Debate

In a sense, “check your privilege” largely amounts to “check your premises” behind your views, and many are willing to recognize that such a reminder can be useful in advancing conversations about social issues.

However, I question whether people are so bereft of concern for, or understanding of, one another that they need repetitive “check your privileges” reminders that imply they would believe more accurately and act more effectively if only they were more empathetic. I tend to agree with Adam Smith, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, that:

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it … we often derive sorrow from the sorrows of others.

Further, repeatedly sermonizing to fix people as a way of “uplifting” them becomes little more than nagging, and any insight it may add gets crowded out. In the same way, repeatedly invoking “check your privilege” tends to destroy its usefulness leaving increased irritation and disharmony.

But the Phrase Could Simply Mean “Shut Up”

And when does “check your privilege” become code for “be quiet” rather than “evaluate your premises”? “Check your privilege” is about shutting down discussion when the user is making the assertion that you are hopelessly confused in your understanding, and that your opinions amount to aggression (whether “micro-” or “macro-”). This position was wellarticulated decades ago by Robert Heinlein, in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress:

Where do you start explaining when a man’s words show there isn’t anything he understands about [a] subject, [but] instead is loaded with preconceptions that don’t fit facts and [he] doesn’t even know …?

The assertion of your hopeless confusion then becomes the basis for claims that, unless you are a member of some accepted victimized class, you must be part of the oppressor class. Therefore, as Max Borders put it,

Your rights and opinions are invalid and you have no real complaints or suffering because you belong to X group. Or, more to the point, you are obligated to pay because people who look like you in some ways did bad things at some point.

In other words, others assert that they don’t need to listen to you, much less respect your arguments.

The Ad Hominem Attack

That leap involves several logical failings. Included in that list is the idea that any guilt for what was true of some members of an arbitrarily defined class or group (rather than treating people as the individuals they are) at some point in time passes on to every current and future member of that class or group. In addition, it incorporates the ad hominem fallacy that because you are judged as bad or part of an oppressor class, your argument is false, while conversely, their self-defined goodness and non-oppression means theirs must be true, both of which are unrelated to the logical validity of an argument.

Given that “check your privileges” could mean either “remember to be empathetic, so we can better understand and help” or “we can disregard your beliefs and violate your rights,” how can we tell which one is intended?

Where confusion reigns, to better understand and help requires the confusion to be replaced with clear, accurate understanding. That, in turn, requires a serious, ongoing “give and take” conversation.

However, when “check your privilege” is used to preemptively cut off conversation by stopping those who disagree from any chance to be heard, much less to rebut their demonization and targeting, no improvement in either empathy or results can result. So the key to evaluating “check your privilege” is to ask what would be entailed if it was intended to advance such a serious conversation.

How Real Dialogue Happens

Importantly, any conversation would not stop at “watch your privileges.” It would only begin there. By itself, the phrase says you are wrong in your understanding or views, but it leaves how completely unspecified, beyond having something to do with membership in some allegedly dominant or privileged group. Stopping the conversation there leaves “check your privileges” as an insult, without any ability to clarify understanding or reduce disagreements or disharmony.

Progress toward better understanding and results would require several more steps.

It would start by precisely specifying what faulty premises, assumptions, or arguments someone supposedly holds, either included or excluded inappropriately. Then it would explain why it is inappropriate for the issue being considered. It would lay out the correct or appropriate premise that would take its place and articulate the reasons why.

Building on that foundation, it would show how the “new and improved” premises would change one’s conclusions. Consequently, it would lay out the appropriate remedy based on the alternative analysis. In the process, it would have to explain how the proposed remedy cannot be explained solely on a narrowly self-interested “more for me” basis, completely apart from the argument offered, as part of laying out the new special privileges that would be created for those put forward as victims. It would also have to explain how others will be affected in order to address the asserted problem, including whether there would be coercive impositions on members of the supposedly dominant or victimizer class who had nothing to do with the “sins of the fathers.”

When “check your privilege” means think more carefully about others’ circumstances, which may be far different than yours, and to be empathetic, it can be useful in advancing our potential for mutual understanding. But it has to be only the beginning of a much farther-reaching discussion to bear fruit — a discussion which, carefully and earnestly pursued, would lead us back to the self-ownership and voluntary arrangements of liberty.

In contrast, when “check your privilege” is used as a magic phrase to peremptorily end “social justice” discussions, it is the assertion of a special privilege for some to be allowed to define themselves as white hats and those who disagree as black hats, without ever having to make a real argument. It also allows users to turn it into an epithet of social demonization to try to impose their “solutions,” always at the expense of the supposed black hats. In the process, it undermines social cooperation by undermining the rights upon which it is built.

Gary M. Galles is a professor of economics at Pepperdine University. He is the author of The Apostle of Peace: The Radical Mind of Leonard Read. Send him mail. See Gary Galles’s article archives.

This article was published on Mises.org and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.

Illiberal Belief #15: Everyone Is Selfish – And That’s Bad – Article by Bradley Doucet

Illiberal Belief #15: Everyone Is Selfish – And That’s Bad – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
March 11, 2015
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Liberty is won and preserved not primarily with guns, but with ideas. Spreading freedom requires that we spread an understanding of the benefits freedom brings, that we explain to whomever will listen how freedom is really in everyone’s best interest. In making the case for a truly free society, however, we will inevitably come up against a wide array of illiberal beliefs that keep others from embracing our vision of a better world. The more we seek to understand those beliefs, the better we will be able to counter them and address the concerns that underlie them. In this ongoing series, I address some of the issues we can expect to face, along with brief outlines of the kinds of responses I think can be helpful.

***

Is it true, as cynics believe, with some backup from certain schools of economics, that everybody is selfish? Well, no. But even if it were true, is being selfish really such a bad thing anyway? The answer to this question depends on what you mean by “selfish.”

The traditional view of selfishness, promoted by religion but maintained by many secular thinkers as well, is that it is bad. According to this view, a selfish person thinks only of his own interests, disregarding the interests of others. Such a person might steal from, lie to, betray, or at the extreme even go so far as to murder others in order to get his way.

But is this really a selfish way of acting? It’s a petty, criminal, malevolent way of acting, to be sure—but does a person really serve his own interests by stealing, lying, betraying, or murdering? It might serve one’s immediate interests to have more money, avoid responsibility for something, or do away with someone who stands in one’s way, but what about the longer-term consequences? Embracing a life of crime, aside from eating away at your soul, for lack of a better word, will very likely come back to bite you, landing you in jail or in an early grave. It’s not a great way to make friends, either.

A person who is selfish and rational takes the longer-term consequences of his actions into account when deciding how to act, what kind of life to lead, what kind of person to be. A rationally selfish person doesn’t cheat or steal, but instead works hard, learns about the world, respects the rights of others, and builds lasting, fulfilling relationships—the kinds of things that are actually in a person’s best long-term interests. This is the kind of view taken by philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand, who titled one of her collections of essays The Virtue of Selfishness. This kind of rational self-interest is not something to be lamented, but something to be celebrated, leading to greater wealth and happiness for all.

Those who moan that everyone is selfish have the first kind of selfishness in mind, the bad kind, but clearly not everyone is a thug or a cheat. True criminals are a tiny minority in any civilization. Most people follow some kind of moral code, however mixed up and unexamined it may be. They feel the need, not only to enjoy lives full of rewards, but also to deserve those rewards. They want not merely to have good lives, but to be good people. This simple, basic truth flies in the face of what the cynics out there would have us believe.

The economists who inadvertently lend some support to the cynics have the other kind of selfishness in mind, the good kind. Economists since at least Adam Smith have been unable to deny the beneficial side-effects of lawful self-interested action—though they have not, as a rule, been as unapologetically enthusiastic about it as Rand.

In an article entitled “The Denial of Virtue” published in the January/February 2008 edition of Society, sociology professor Amitai Etzioni takes on economists and other social scientists who are quick to explain away charitable behaviour as a way to get tax deductions, volunteer work as a way to meet other singles, or heroic acts as the result of “hard-wiring.” Etzioni tells us about experiments suggesting that many people do not “free ride” even when they think they can get away with it. He also points out that many people vote, even though they know the chances that their vote will make a difference are close to nil. In these and other cases, people plausibly report that their actions are motivated not by self-interest but by what they think is right, by what they think they ought to do.

I think Etzioni is correct, as far as this goes. The claims of economists and social scientists that all actions are self-interested—that whatever people choose to do necessarily reflects their calculations of costs and benefits for themselves—is belied by clear cases of people acting out of a sense of duty, either to god or society or their parents.

Where I part company with Etzioni is in believing that this sense of duty is a good thing. Etzioni can point to people doing good out of a sense of duty, but I can point to people disowning their natural desires for pleasure out of a sense of religious duty; sacrificing their rights out of a sense of national duty; abandoning a career or a mate out of a sense of duty to their parents. I do believe in virtue, but I believe that duty is its enemy. Duty ethics ask you to adhere to a set of rules, whereas virtue ethics ask you to live up to an ideal, which is a very different focus.

It is a good thing people are not all selfish in the narrow, petty way the cynics imagine them to be, but it is actually unfortunate that people are not all rationally self-interested in the way social scientists suppose. This kind of rational self-interest not only has beneficial spill-over effects, but is in fact a virtue—it leads people to act virtuously, to live fulfilling lives, and to be good people. As Dr. Nathaniel Branden wrote in “Isn’t Everyone Selfish?” published in the Rand book mentioned above, this rhetorical question, though intended as a cynical jab, actually “pays mankind a compliment it does not deserve.” Hopefully, more and more of mankind will deserve it as they increasingly embrace the virtue of rational self-interest and reject not only petty, narrow selfishness but also the heavy hand of duty.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness.

My Tiny Cosmopolitan Apartment – Article by Joseph S. Diedrich

My Tiny Cosmopolitan Apartment – Article by Joseph S. Diedrich

The New Renaissance Hat
Joseph S. Diedrich
October 25, 2014
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Global trade made my little flat a place of international treasures.

***

I live in a studio apartment, so my kitchen is my living room is my bedroom. The other day, I was staring out my sole window when something startled me. (And it wasn’t the subwoofer two floors up.)

It was my coffee. While sipping from my mug, I glanced at the bag of beans. It read, “Origin: Ethiopia.” Next, I read the text on the bottom of my laptop: “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.” I looked down at my necktie: “Bruno Piatelli. Roma.”

This little exercise became a game. From what other far-off places did my stuff come? I sleep on bed sheets from Egypt. I drink bottles of Shiraz from Australia. I pour Canadian maple syrup on my pancakes. Some things weren’t technically “foreign,” but they still came a long way: books printed in New York, apples grown in Washington orchards, and beer brewed in St. Louis.

Within the narrow confines of my apartment was an expansive world market — a veritable microcosm of the global economy.

What startled me most wasn’t that so much had traveled so far. Rather, it was that I found nothing from my own city. While I had purchased some items in Madison, they didn’t originate here.

What about the “buy local” bandwagon? If I were to follow the consumer movement du jour to its fullest extent, I’d be much poorer. Because of a much more constrained division of labor, I’d spend more money on lower quality goods. I probably wouldn’t even have coffee, and I certainly wouldn’t own an Italian necktie.

Yet I don’t intentionally avoid local goods. Every Saturday morning, like a ritual, I visit the county farmers market. I buy delicious seasonal fruits, vegetables, and cheeses from nearby farmers — not because they’re local, but because they’re the best. Produce tends to be tastier if it hasn’t spent a week on a flatbed.

Adam Smith once wrote, “In every country it always is and must be the interest of the great body of the people to buy whatever they want of those who sell it cheapest.” The less trade is restricted between individuals and across borders, the more “the body of people” can “buy whatever they want” the “cheapest.” As society becomes more and more integrated, we can better take advantage of the division of labor, leading to lower prices, greater prosperity, and a higher standard of living for everyone.

When I buy a preferable foreign product instead of its domestic counterpart, I obviously benefit myself. I receive a better product at a better price. I also clearly help the foreign producer.

I benefit the domestic economy, too. By purchasing cheaper foreign goods, I reserve more of my money to spend elsewhere, including in domestic exchange. More importantly, I send a signal to domestic producers: don’t waste your time making that thing! By doing so, I incentivize domestic producers to reallocate their resources to more highly valued endeavors.

It’s true that free trade and globalization make the rich richer. But they also make the poor richer. Trade provides cell phones to people in developing countries. It increases wages. It fosters international peace. And it makes denizens of tiny dwellings feel like the freest, richest people in the world.

Four hundred fifty square feet doesn’t sound like much. Yet somehow I’ve managed to fit states, countries, and even continents inside. The most remarkable thing of all? I didn’t intend for this to happen. I didn’t decide one day to start purchasing only “foreign” goods. I never consciously attempted to avail myself of “exotic” treasures.

Nobody ever intends for this to happen. Every day, we make countless, often subconscious cost-benefit analyses. When it comes to purchasing actual goods, we weigh all the factors we care about — price, quality, size, shape, taste, and so on. We search for the highest quality consumer goods within our respective price ranges. Just by buying what we like, we unwittingly amass personal bazaars.

We are capable of planning only for our individual selves. Despite the ubiquity of cosmopolitan collections of consumer goods, nobody could ever plan for such a thing. We simply lack the capacity to organize an entire economy to fit our specific needs.

This was the keen insight of economist F.A. Hayek, who recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of his Nobel Prize. While he admitted that “all economic activity” involves planning, not all planning is the same. Because there’s “no dispute about whether planning is to be done or not,” what matters is “whether planning is to be done centrally, by one authority for the whole economic system, or is to be divided among many individuals.”

My apartment has only one window, but I feel like I can see the whole world. Every treasure I own is a window to a place I’ve never been and to people I’ve never met.

Joseph S. Diedrich is a Young Voices Advocate, a law student at the University of Wisconsin, and assistant editor at Liberty.me.

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This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education.

That Cold-Hearted Discipline – Article by David J. Hebert

That Cold-Hearted Discipline – Article by David J. Hebert

The New Renaissance Hat
David J. Hebert
November 6, 2013
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But of all the duties of beneficence, those which gratitude recommends to us approach nearest to what is called a perfect and complete obligation. What friendship, what generosity, what charity, would prompt us to do with universal approbation, is still more free, and can still less be extorted by force than the duties of gratitude. —Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments

A recent article by Wharton Professor Adam Grant has been popping up here and there, most recently in Psychology Today. Grant suggests that studying economics breeds greed, and he cites several studies to support his claim. The studies conclude economics professors give less money to charity than other professions, economics students are more likely to deceive others for personal gain, and people who study economics have less of a concern for fairness and tend to think that “greed” is okay.

To his credit, Grant does consider the alternative: that maybe economics actually attracts greedy people or that greedy people tend to thrive by studying economics. He dismisses these possibilities by noting that “there is evidence for selection . . . but this doesn’t rule out the possibility that studying economics pushes people further toward the selfish extreme.” He goes on to chide practitioners of the discipline for teaching self-interest in the classroom.

Finally, he concludes with four points that are meant to provide evidence of the social harm in studying economics, which can be summarized in two overarching points:

1) Economics justifies greedy behavior, and

2) Studying economics makes people less altruistic.

I want briefly to discuss these two points here.

Economics Justifies Greedy Behavior?

Studying economics, and specifically the role of incentives, teaches us that relying on altruism is a brave assumption that has but limited applicability. For example, among people we know, we can rely on a certain degree of altruism or benevolence. I know, for example, that my family and friends will be there for me not because I pay them to do so, but because they care about me. Similarly, they know I will be there for them. However, I don’t know the same thing about random people I encounter on the street.

And yet in order to enjoy the immense wealth that the division of labor affords us, society demands that we have interactions both with people we know well and people we do not know at all. These two distinct spheres of activity require two distinct forms of cooperation, which one might get from reading Adam Smith’s twin pillars of economics: The Theory of Moral Sentiments and The Wealth of Nations.

More tidily, perhaps, F. A. Hayek describes this situation in The Fatal Conceit by noting the difference between the macroeconomy and the microeconomy. Macro, in this context, refers to society as a whole, while micro refers to just the people to whom we are close. Hayek says that if we were to apply the same rules of the family unit to the macro, as would be the case if we were to allocate resources altruistically, we would destroy the macro. This is because there would be a complete lack of economic calculation, resources would be misallocated, and plans would fail to be coordinated (see these articles for more on economic calculation).

Hayek also notes that the reverse is true: If we were to apply the rules of the market to the family, we would destroy it as well. We don’t need prices and incomes at the dinner table to allocate the food. Even the most ardent defender of markets would agree that having prices and such as the means of allocating food at the dinner table would be wrong, just like paying your friends to help you move across town would be strange. (Beer and pizza don’t count.)

Instead, students of economics recognize not that greed is good, as the saying goes, but that greed can be transformed into the service of others given the proper institutional setting. That institutional setting, which has been thoroughly discussed elsewhere, is one that celebrates the role of property rights, prices, and profits (and losses) and recognizes their role in creating the incentives to properly husband resources, generates the information about the relative scarcities of various goods and transmits this information to consumers and producers in a quick and efficient manner, all of which provides a feedback mechanism to drive continued innovation.

Economics Makes People Less Altruistic?

Grant cites a 2005 article by Neil Gandal et. al. as concluding that “students who planned to study economics rated helpfulness, honesty, loyalty, and responsibility as just as important as students who were studying communications, political science, and sociology,” but that by the third year, economics students rated these values “significantly less important than first-year economics students.”

While the Gandal study does include such conclusions, it also includes much more. For example, economics students attribute less importance to fairness. Evidencing this, Gandal points out that, when questioned about the allocation of radio frequencies to different mobile-phone service providers, students who study economics are more likely to advocate selling the rights to the highest bidder while students of other disciplines are more likely to advocate for allocating the rights to “anybody who meets some minimal eligibility criteria.”

Students of economics do not advocate for property rights because we are greedy; we advocate for property rights because we understand and take seriously potential incentive problems in politics. The notion of minimal eligibility requirements may sound nice, for example, but problems may lie in who gets to draw that line, by what process that line gets drawn, and the incentives faced by the line-drawers. As Madison points out in Federalist 51, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

Economics students know men are no angels. And as Nobel laureate James Buchanan points out, government officials are human beings, too, with their own hopes, dreams, and aspirations—and yes, forms of avarice. Supporting the allocation of resources to the highest bidder sidesteps the issues raised by these potential incentive problems. This means that the choice of how to allocate resources fundamentally comes down to a choice of institutions.

We can have a central authority establish guidelines by which anyone who wants can use the radio frequencies, or we can let the market decide. The former leads to a standard tragedy of the commons problem, whereby the radio frequency gets overused. In the case of cell phones, this means that the frequency would be crowded with multiple conversations simultaneously; imagine trying to shout to your friend across a crowded bar. The latter leads to the frequencies being allocated to the person who is best able to utilize them to serve the general population. So AT&T, for example, gets exclusive rights to a certain bandwidth and then tries to figure out how to best serve its customers. In this case, the customer gets to enjoy a clear phone call without the distraction of several other conversations in their ear simultaneously.

In any case, these are not examples of quelling altruism, but of keeping it in its place.

Less Greed, More Cooperation

Viewed in this light, economics does not so much teach greed but rather the beauty of cooperation. How else could we explain how a woolen coat gets made, how Paris gets fed, or how a pencil gets made? And if allocating, say, radio frequencies based on highest valued use makes people learn to discard fairness, well, how exactly is that a bad thing?

David Hebert is a Ph.D. student in economics at George Mason University. His research interests include public finance and property rights.

This article was originally published by The Foundation for Economic Education.

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Editor’s Note by Gennady Stolyarov II: Mr. Hebert’s article is excellent in focusing on the true significance of economics and the need for private property rights. In one important respect, though, my position differs from his when it comes to the allocation of radio frequency to highest bidders such as AT&T and other entities exercising similar coercively granted monopoly and quasi-monopoly powers.

My position, arising out of similar libertarian principles, is that the allocation of radio frequencies to AT&T (and similar local/regional telecommunications monopolies) through the political process would not result in an economically optimal allocation, even if AT&T were the highest bidder. The reason for this is that AT&T’s very bidding ability arises out of (1) its decades-long history as the telephone monopoly in the United States and (2) the protections from competition that it enjoys in certain jurisdictions as a local or regional monopoly provider of certain services wrongly considered “natural monopolies” – such as high-speed cable services. In a pure free-market system, there would likely need to be some sort of allocation process for radio frequencies, so long as the use of radio frequencies by some parties has the physical ability to interfere with the use of the same frequencies by other parties. However, the outcome of such a free-market allocation process would differ considerably from the outcome of a bidding process in today’s status quo, conditioned by decades of deleterious path-dependency arising out of the privileges granted to AT&T and similar local/regional monopolists. Probably, an auction of radio spectrum on a purely free market would result in many smaller firms buying up many smaller ranges of spectrum and competing with one another more vigorously to provide superior customer service than do a handful of large, politically privileged telecommunications companies (AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, et al.) today. In this path-dependent, partially unfree environment it may be, in some cases, that allocations to lower bidders would result in better uses of resources and improved consumer outcomes, as long as institutional political privilege (e.g., enforced monopolies or historical insulation from competition) of the higher bidders can be incorporated into the bidding process in the form of some reasonable handicap used in considering their bids.

Calico and the Paradigm Shift in the War on Death – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Calico and the Paradigm Shift in the War on Death – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Finally, the war on human senescence and involuntary death has become mainstream. With Google’s announcement of the formation of Calico, a company specifically focused on combating senescence and the diseases it brings about, a large and influential organization has finally taken a stand on the side of longer life.

References
– “Calico and the Paradigm Shift in the War on Death” – Article by G. Stolyarov II
– “Google announces Calico, a new company focused on health and well-being” – Google Press Release – September 18, 2013
– “TIME Feature: CSO Aubrey de Grey on Google’s Newly Launched Anti-Aging Initiative” – SENS Research Foundation – September 18, 2013
– “Google’s Calico: the War on Aging Has Truly Begun” – Aubrey de Grey – TIME Magazine – September 18, 2013
SENS Research Foundation

Calico and the Paradigm Shift in the War on Death – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Calico and the Paradigm Shift in the War on Death – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
September 19, 2013
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Finally, the war on human senescence and involuntary death has become mainstream. With Google’s announcement of the formation of Calico, a company specifically focused on combating senescence and the diseases it brings about, a large and influential organization has finally taken a stand on the side of longer life. Unlike the cautious, short-term orientation of many more conventional manufacturers of drugs and medical devices, Google’s philosophy of making investments with possible immense payoffs in the distant future offers tremendous hope that this company will be around through the many years it will take to engage in the search for promising treatments and their subsequent testing.

 Aubrey de Grey, one of the chief strategists and key intellectual innovators in the escalating war on senescence, has written that Calico signals that the war on aging has truly begun. De Grey emphasizes that it is no longer necessary to persuade most of academia that this war is a worthwhile endeavor: “With Google’s decision to direct its astronomical resources to a concerted assault on aging, that battle may have been transcended: once financial limitations are removed, curmudgeons no longer matter.” As with its remarkable advances in autonomous vehicles, mobile operating systems, and wearable computing, Google does not need to ask the permission of the entire world to explore the possibilities. Rather, it can simply achieve the breakthroughs, whose momentum and adoption naysayers would be powerless to halt.

Funding has always been a major bottleneck for true life-extending research, but now the resources of Google, as well as the highly skilled researchers who will surely be recruited by Calico, will enable this bottleneck to be overcome. Few details about the company are yet available, and it is likely that several years will elapse before major discoveries are announced. However, the barrier to mainstream acceptability of the war on senescence has been breached. Once significant successes are announced, other companies will hopefully shed some of their current caution and will seek to profit from the burgeoning field of longevity research. A few other companies still may even try to emulate Calico before any results are announced – just so as to remain competitive with Google and stay ahead of the pack, in their view.

The key to the success of any sustainable enterprise focused on life-extension research is to recognize that the sole pursuit of profits next quarter or next year is not a viable strategy for altering the status quo in radical ways. Great innovations require great leaps outside the norm. Such leaps are not often immediately rewarded financially by the broader market, which is why much of the longevity research to date has been sponsored by non-profit institutions such as the SENS Research Foundation and various universities. However, a prudent, forward-looking pursuit of profit can take the radical alteration of the status quo to the next level, by harnessing the immensely powerful motive of self-interest for the purpose of improving human lives. In this case, the improvement from gains to human longevity – and hopefully the ultimate defeat of senescence altogether – would be so immense as to be humankind’s crowning achievement. Google develops technologies with the eventual intent of marketing them to millions of consumers, and the success of Calico would be a triumph not just for longevity research but for the dissemination of cures to age-related diseases, and perhaps to senescence itself.

While anyone of sufficient intellectual courage can have a long-term vision and projects aimed at advancing that vision, Google has the distinct advantage of an extremely viable business in the present, which continues to bring in short-term revenues so that Calico does not need to be concerned with profits next quarter or next year. Instead, Calico will be able to survive on the profits of Google’s many ongoing operations, while devoting the time and effort of world-class researchers to pursuing all of the explorations, experiments, and tests that are needed to ultimately develop marketable cures. Once the cures are out there, though, the profits could be unprecedented, because life is the most precious, the most fundamental value we humans have. Any entity that discovers a way to transcend the current frailties of old age and push back or remove the current limits on human lifespans will become fabulously wealthy beyond comparison.

May Calico usher in Adam Smith’s invisible hand in the realm of longevity medicine – a hand that pushes back senescence and death and creates a world where health and wealth are ours to enjoy indefinitely.