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Brent Nally Interviews U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II at Sierra Sciences

Brent Nally Interviews U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II at Sierra Sciences

Gennady Stolyarov II
Brent Nally


On October 12, 2019, U.S. Transhumanist Party Chairman Gennady Stolyarov II spoke with Brent Nally at the venerable Sierra Sciences headquarters in Reno, Nevada. They discussed developments in the U.S. Transhumanist Party, fitness, health, and longevity – among other subjects.

Watch the interview here.

Become a member of the U.S. Transhumanist Party / Transhuman Party here for free, no matter where you reside.

Show Notes by Brent Nally

3:15 Brent Nally’s RAADfest 2019 YouTube playlist: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLGjySL94COVSO3hcnpZq-jCcgnUQIaALQ

4:24 Go to RAADfest primarily to network: https://www.raadfest.com/

6:28 People Unlimited website: https://peopleunlimitedinc.com/

6:30 The Coalition for Radical Life Extension website: https://www.rlecoalition.com/

7:20 We need to increase your healthspan to increase your lifespan.

9:01 Watch Bill Andrews and Gennady discussing transhumanism and radical life extension: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7GJrVBp8FQ

13:35 Gennady just ran the Lakeside Marathon at Lake Tahoe the day before, October 11, 2019.

19:30 Do whatever type of exercise that you enjoy. Don’t push yourself to the point of exhaustion where you’re throwing up or getting injured or not having fun because that’s bad for your telomeres.

24:10 Audit your own thoughts daily as a meditation to recognize your limiting beliefs.

26:15 How Gennady became Chairman of the U.S. Transhumanist Party

29:35 How the 9 USTP presidential candidates competed using a “ranked preference” approach

32:07 43 articles are currently in the 3rd version of the Transhumanist Bill of Rights: https://transhumanist-party.org/tbr-3/

34:27 https://transhumanist-party.org/

35:40 We should be more concerned with ideas rather than people. We’re in an “ideas” economy.

36:28 Politicians are more followers than leaders.

40:27 3 core ideals of USTP: https://transhumanist-party.org/values/

41:40 Gennady shares more details about how his role as chairman may evolve.

44:28 Positives and negatives of centralization and decentralization

49:15 Sophia the AI robot: https://www.hansonrobotics.com/sophia/

51:30 Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. Try to educate others about transhumanism.

55:30 Ray Kurzweil points out that technology growth and stock market growth are separate. Here’s Brent talking to Ray in February 2011: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TuVn…

57:37 Join the USTP: https://transhumanist-party.org/membership/

58:40 USTP Twitter: https://twitter.com/USTranshumanist; USTP LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/19118856/; Gennady’s online magazine – The Rational Argumentator: http://www.rationalargumentator.com/index/

1:01:14 Gennady, Bill Andrews, and Brent ran about 8.4 miles the next morning above Carson City, NV on the Upper Clear Creek Trail.

1:02:15 Don’t forget to subscribe, like, comment on this video, and share on your social media accounts!

Censorship Is an Unjustifiable Privilege – Article by Chris Marchese

Censorship Is an Unjustifiable Privilege – Article by Chris Marchese

The New Renaissance HatChris Marchese
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Free Speech Is about the Power to Challenge the Status Quo

Free speech is the great equalizer in our society. It doesn’t matter about your race, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, class — you get the point — the First Amendment protects your right to speak freely. Despite this, some student activists — perceiving unequal social conditions, including at institutions of higher education — are fighting for social change at the expense of free speech. The sad irony, however, is that free speech only becomes privileged when it’s restricted, which is why free speech must remain a right equally applicable to all.To understand why, consider Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s commencement speech at Wellesley College in 2015. In it, she said, “You, because of your beautiful Wellesley degree, have become privileged, no matter your background.” But, she added, “Sometimes you will need to push [this privilege] aside in order to see clearly,” because “privilege blinds” you to those who are different.

Students calling for speech restrictions are particularly blinded by their privilege, which leaves them unable to see the unjust privilege that restricting speech would further confer upon them. This is dangerous and counterproductive to their cause.

Restricting Speech Is an Unjust Privilege
First, to support restrictions on certain kinds of speech, activists must have (or at least project) unwavering confidence in both themselves and the system in which they are operating — the university in this case — to discern what’s offensive. Even if they see gray areas in expression, they are forced to present issues in absolutist terms if they are to have the perceived moral authority to police and punish those who offend.

Turning again to Adichie’s speech, we can see why this is wrong. As she said, “I knew from … the class privilege I had of growing up in an educated family, that it sometimes blinded me, that I was not always as alert to the nuances of people who were different from me.”

Sometimes, people are genuinely racist (though what’s considered racist varies widely from place to place) and their speech is identifiable as such. But what about the student who isn’t aware of the offense he or she may cause by wearing a sombrero at a party, which some consider cultural appropriation? How about the student who is aware but disagrees that it’s offensive? Should he or she be censored and punished based upon some activists’ standards of right and wrong? Different people have different experiences and different views. Because of this, nuance matters.

Second, while it can be tempting to argue that free speech maintains inequality because it protects offensive speech, this argument fails to distinguish between people and their views. That is, when you censor people — even for offensive speech — you are denying them equal access to, and protection of, the First Amendment and you are doing so from a position of privilege.  The right to free speech gives everyone an equal right to voice his or her opinions — but it does not mean that such opinions will win or even register in any given forum.

Restrictions on free speech, on the other hand, make both people and ideas unequal by subjugating them to someone else’s understanding of what’s right and therefore allowable. Indeed, to assume one’s views are so infallible as to warrant imposition on others and to assume there is no legitimate debate left to be had on certain topics — and the language used in discussing those topics — is a privilege that oppresses not only the hated racist, but the honest dissenter and everyone in between.

Lastly, some students claim that free speech is about power — that it enables and sustains privilege for some but not all. Let’s be clear: free speech is about power. It’s about having the power to challenge the status quo, question society’s deeply held beliefs, and call others to task. But free speech only becomes privileged when it’s restricted.

Understanding the Would-Be Censors
Of course words can have consequences. (If they couldn’t, nobody would bother speaking.) It would be hypocritical to argue that offensive speech will never cause harm, at least to feelings or interests, while also maintaining that speech is so vital it requires robust protection. One could also argue that the marketplace of ideas — like all markets — has negative externalities. The most evident, as campus activists assert, is that offensive speech is protected and those it’s directed at — typically thought to be minorities — are disproportionately burdened by it.

Moreover, restricting or punishing speech provides instant gratification. It’s an immediate and swift response to views one finds abhorrent. It gives the impression that justice has been served. For those who believe society is stacked against them, it’s a small beacon of hope. Restricting speech, then, isn’t seen as infringing upon someone else’s liberty, but rather righting a wrong. The emotional appeal is understandably strong.

But this is not right.

A Just Alternative
The best way to counter hateful, offensive speech is with more speech. Think of it this way: restricting speech treats the symptoms of bigotry by making its manifestations less visible. Conversely, more speech acts as a cure by attacking the underlying disease. The former method may seem effective in the short term, but it’s dangerous in the long run.

As FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff has argued, when offensive speech is banned, it drives those with potentially dangerous views (however determined) underground, making them harder to identify, while also potentially making them more extreme. It also gives a false sense of social progress. And who ultimately pays the price? The people the bans were meant to help, when it turns out society wasn’t as friendly as they believed.

Countering hateful speech with more speech is not seamless. It’s hard work, and it’s not instant. It doesn’t guarantee the flushing of all bigoted and hateful opinions from society, and it often works slowly. Nevertheless, it is the only method that is both just and that makes progress last. Engaging with people who express views different from one’s own moves beyond the superficial to challenge core beliefs, assumptions, and biases — and can help a person identify and recognize his or her own. Consider the case of Megan and Grace Phelps, granddaughters of the pastor who founded the Westboro Baptist Church. After interacting with a Jewish man by email and on Twitter, the sisters decided their views were wrong and decided to leave the WBC, which also meant being excommunicated by their family.

The marketplace of ideas won’t always work this way, and not everyone is destined to see the light. But restricting speech is a privileged response that neither makes society more equal nor has any tangible benefit other than providing a false sense of justice, which, in the long term, only fuels underlying problems. We cannot afford to be blind to this reality.

None of this should be construed as a plea to accept the status quo or to disengage. Rather, it’s a call for college students who support restricting speech to recognize their own privilege. Education is a gift, and college students should use the privilege it confers to advocate for change. But this means realizing free speech is not the enemy of progress, and that restricting it will not make society more equal. To do otherwise — to restrict and punish speech — is to be so willfully blind to privilege as to become the oppressors.

Chris Marchese is a Senior Financial Analyst at Meritor.

This article was originally 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.

Why Free-Market Advocates Are Not Obligated to Defend the Economic Status Quo – Video by G. Stolyarov II

Why Free-Market Advocates Are Not Obligated to Defend the Economic Status Quo – Video by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
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Many on the political left today equate advocacy of free-market capitalism with an “anything goes” support for the economic status quo. Many on the political right give credence to this perception by, indeed, seeking to defend the status quo just because it happens to be so. Yet this is neither an obligatory nor an advisable approach for characterizing a genuinely well-considered free-market outlook.

Suppose that you are a free-market advocate and also an engineer, well-versed in the principles and methods for constructing durable, safe structures. Suppose you also identify severe deficiencies in a bridge proposed to be constructed by a completely private enterprise. Mr. Stolyarov explores the implications of this dilemma and the appropriate responses in a free society.

Reference

– “Why Free-Market Advocates Are Not Obligated to Defend the Economic Status Quo” – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Why Free-Market Advocates Are Not Obligated to Defend the Economic Status Quo – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Why Free-Market Advocates Are Not Obligated to Defend the Economic Status Quo – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
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Many on the political left today equate advocacy of free-market capitalism with an “anything goes” support for the economic status quo. Many on the political right give credence to this perception by, indeed, seeking to defend the status quo just because it happens to be so. Yet this is neither an obligatory nor an advisable approach for characterizing a genuinely well-considered free-market outlook.

Suppose that you are a free-market advocate and also an engineer, well-versed in the principles and methods for constructing durable, safe structures. You hold that individuals and businesses should have the freedom to be able to build structures which would improve human well-being, in exchange for the opportunity to earn a profit (or not, if they wish to build structures for a charitable purpose). Now suppose that you are tasked with evaluating the integrity of a particular structure constructed by a private business – perhaps a bridge. This particular bridge happens to be fully privately funded – no subsidies, no exclusive rights, no barriers to competitors’ entry. The business undertaking the construction intends for the bridge to be used as part of a major new toll road that is intended to carry massive amounts of traffic.

Unfortunately, upon deploying your technical skillset and studying the bridge design carefully, you find that the bridge, while it is represented as being able to withstand one thousand cars at a time, would in fact collapse under the weight of only five hundred cars. You also find that, in your basic repertoire of engineering techniques, you have knowledge of construction techniques and superior materials which would rectify these design flaws and enable the bridge to be as safe and as durable as originally represented. The trouble is that the business owners want to hear none of it. They are attached to their original design partly out of cost considerations, but mostly because they simply cannot understand your findings or appreciate their significance, no matter how many different ways you have attempted to communicate them. The business owners have almost no engineering knowledge themselves and are generally contemptuous of overtly mathematical, “nerdy” types (like you). They are skilled salespeople who have capital from a previous venture and are eager to make additional money on a high-profile project such as this bridge. Suppose that you know that you have all of the technical knowledge of your discipline firmly on your side, but it is the owners’ money on the line, so, unconvinced by your arguments, they build the bridge according to their original specifications. They still advertise it as highly durable, but in a sufficiently nebulous way that the advertisements do not truly make any specific promises or technical claims. (This business is short on technically knowledgeable professionals, but spares no expense in hiring attorneys to litigation-proof its marketing materials.) The driving public’s impression from the marketing campaign is expected to be, “It is an incredibly sturdy, state-of-the-art, daring new bridge that you will enjoy driving on in safety and style.” The business owners contend that there is no problem. After all, were this a truly free market, the public could choose to pay to use their bridge or to find some alternative in getting from point A to point B. And competitors could build their own bridges, too, if they could buy the land, purchase the tools and materials, and hire the labor to do it.

Of course, on most days, this bridge would not collapse, since it is rare for five hundred cars to be on it simultaneously. The owners could well be reaping profits from their bridge for years and convince the lay public to drive on it with no visible ill consequences during that time. The bridge is, however, vulnerable to high winds, earthquakes, freezing damage, and gradual deterioration over time (exacerbated by substandard construction). As time passes, the risks of collapse increase. No bridge is invulnerable, but this particular bridge is about 30 years farther along the path to decay than other bridges that you know could easily have been built in its place, had the owners only listened to you. As a free-market advocate, you have some sympathies with the owners’ view that the construction of the bridge should not be forcibly prevented, as they are using their own property for their own chosen purposes, and they are not forcing anyone to use it. However, as an engineer who knows better when it comes to quality of bridge design and construction, what do you do?

This dilemma illustrates a question at the core of how free-market advocates approach the world in which they find themselves – a world, of course, which is far from free in an economic sense, but where many people still use their own property for their own purposes. There are some who will assert that the very fact of private, voluntary use of property renders such use inherently above criticism, provided it is a manifestation of free choice. (We can overlook, for the sake of this argument, the fact that, in the real world, many incentives and constraints upon human action are routinely distorted by the effects of political influences in favor of one group or set of outcomes and/or in opposition to others.) In this argument’s more typical instantiation in today’s world, some would assert that any outcome of “private enterprise” in today’s world must be acceptable for free-market advocates, since it was (ostensibly) somebody’s use of private property for a private purpose. For example, mass corporate layoffs (virtually unheard of until the 1970s), raising the price of a life-saving, long-generic drug by 5,556 percent (as pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli did with Daraprim in 2015), listening to or creating brutal “gangsta rap” (virtually unheard of until the 1990s), teaching of creationism in private schools (common throughout history, but increasingly untenable in the face of over 150 years of mounting evidence), and many other behaviors of questionable rationality and/or taste are defended as being the decisions of private entities – so what could be wrong about them?

The problem with reflexively defending any and every behavior, just because a private entity undertakes it, even in the absence of market distortions, is that it misses an essential point. The market is nothing more than the sum of the choices and actions of its participants. A market outcome is not a Panglossian “best of all possible worlds” scenario. Even in the absence of compulsion or restraint, some people will be mistaken, irrational, overconfident, immoral, confused, or all of the above. Ex ante, they may expect that the transactions and behaviors they engage in will benefit them – much like a tribal shaman might believe that his rain dance would bring forth water for the tribe’s crops – but, ex post, they may well find themselves regretting their behavior, or even if not, they may have still become materially, intellectually, or emotionally worse off from it compared to the alternatives. In addition to choice, there is also truth – which comes in the form of scientific, mathematical, historical, and philosophical principles and facts. Truth is an outcome of combining induction from the empirical facts of reality with deduction from the application of logical reasoning to known facts and incontrovertible first principles. It is entirely possible for a person – including a wealthy, powerful, influential person whose decisions affect thousands or millions of others – to completely miss what the truth is, or even to be ignorant of the correct methods of arriving at the truth. In other words, if the external reality is objective and governed by comprehensible natural laws – and if morality is also objective in the sense that some outcomes are incontrovertibly more beneficial to human well-being than others – then it must be the case that somebody who is thinking in a rational, well-informed manner can truly “know better” than a particular decision-maker who is not.

Does that mean that the market could be replaced by some “superior” system of decision-making? Ultimately, no. We have no guarantee that any substitution of decision-making for that of private actors could lead to a necessarily preferable result from those decision makers’ free choices. If Person A is irrational and mistaken, we have no guarantee that leaving Person B in charge of A’s life would not lead to even more irrational and mistaken choices, compounded by the knowledge problem that B will necessarily have in relation to A’s situation. The possibility that B could be not simply misguided but nefarious, and seek to sacrifice A’s genuine interests in favor of B’s own, is a further argument against this kind of command-and-control approach. More devastating, however, would be an outcome in which a different person, C, really is doing his best to act in a truthful, rational, and just manner, but the controller B does not see it. Or perhaps B does see it and thinks it is all well and good, but B needs to set uniform standards that would keep the lowest common denominator in check, and C’s scrupulous, innovative, and principled way of living could never be generalized to a society-wide system of controls.

But getting back to you, the engineer: How to address the dilemma that you are in? Has the “market” not “decided” that the bridge of substandard technical quality is just fine? Not so fast. We must never forget that we are the market, and that the market does not only consist of the first decisions and inclinations of some small group of wealthy, powerful, or connected individuals. Quite the contrary: We are what a truly free market consists of. A truly free market consists not only of our affirmative choices, but also of our negations and criticisms of certain other choices. It consists of our knowledge, including those situations where we truly “know better” than certain others. You, the free-market engineer, could not force the bridge owners to change their design. However, you could fully publicize its flaws in a fully free society, one characterized by robust protections of free speech and lack of a climate of frivolous litigation with regard to libel laws. If today such professional criticism is difficult, it is because many larger, politically connected enterprises will hire legions of attorneys to squelch sufficiently specific assertions in meritless litigation that is too costly for ordinary people to counter. But a truly free society would lack this obstacle and would include a legal system that is designed with speed, simplicity, affordability, and protections for peaceful natural persons in mind. A corporation would not be able to sue you for publicizing detailed criticisms of its products; the judge would be empowered to simply throw out such a lawsuit at first glance. A truly free market of goods and ideas is not an indiscriminate stew of anyone’s and everyone’s plans. Any such plans also would get tested, scrutinized, refined, and ultimately accepted or rejected by the other market participants. To the extent that one owns property that could sustain the perpetuation of a plan, one might counter even strongly held prevailing opinions – but only temporarily and only if one has other means of replenishing that property if the plan causes it to be depleted.

Moreover, in a truly free market, barriers to entry exist only on the basis of the constraints of the physical world, not on politics and special behind-the-scenes influence. Thus, competitors can always arise with a superior business model. Perhaps if you, the engineer, criticize the existing bridge sufficiently, another business enterprise will learn of its defects, purchase another piece of land, and construct a parallel, sturdier bridge that takes your suggestions into account. The misguided owners of the first bridge might eventually find themselves out of business because travelers will discover that safer, more convenient routes are available. And if the bridge ever does fail, a free-market system of civil liability will penalize those businesses who, through negligence, failed to take reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of their customers. If the bridge ever becomes an imminent danger to travelers, it would be proper for public warnings to be issued and for the law-enforcement entity (be it a minarchist government or a private dispute-resolution agency) to order that traffic to the bridge be discontinued until the immediate danger is averted (perhaps through structural improvements at that time). A free market does not permit the reckless endangerment of unwitting, non-consenting others.

But always, in a hypothetical free-market society or in our own, a free-market-oriented engineer – or any professional, really – should have no compunction about expressing the truth about the soundness and validity of any party’s decisions or proposals, be they private or governmental. Just as a private party may well propose building a substandard bridge, so might a government today actually develop a decent bridge, especially if the incentives of a given political system are conducive to that particular outcome. The free-market engineer should not hesitate to praise the technical design of a good bridge, no matter what its source – because truth is true, and a bridge that could support two thousand cars at a time would, indeed, support those cars no matter who constructed it (provided the methods and materials used are identical in each case). A free-market perspective is a political and economic position which is compatible with completely rigorous, objective views of matters of science, technology, mathematics, history, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, psychology, and any other conceivable discipline. Free-market advocates should respect people’s right to make choices, even when those choices are mistaken, but can maintain their own right to criticize those mistakes using as high a set of standards as they consider justified. If your values include striving for truth and justice, then those values are a part of the market as well, and you can improve market outcomes by working to instantiate those values in reality.

This essay may be freely reproduced using the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike International 4.0 License, which requires that credit be given to the author, G. Stolyarov II. Find out about Mr. Stolyarov here.

A Libertarian Defense of Tenure – Article by Aeon Skoble and Steven Horwitz

A Libertarian Defense of Tenure – Article by Aeon Skoble and Steven Horwitz

The New Renaissance HatAeon Skoble and Steven Horwitz
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Tenure protects the right to be unpopular

Libertarians are understandably frustrated with the state of higher education today. Libertarian ideas often do not get covered, or are covered unfairly. Faculty are overwhelmingly left-of-center, and government subsidies have driven up costs, leading to higher student debt.

These are legitimate concerns of course. However, the solution to these problem is not to abolish the institution of tenure. Tenure is not anti-liberty, and it provides important protections for those who are libertarians (and conservatives) in academia. In addition, it has some efficiency properties that explain why it has survived and might well do so even in a world where the state had no role in higher ed.

There are many potential objections to tenure. For some, the idea that a tenured professor cannot be fired strikes them as a rejection of the free market. Others believe that tenure is a way of protecting leftist faculty, even if their ideas are wrong-headed, and students don’t wish to hear them. In that way, tenure is a kind of monopoly protection for bad ideas. Finally, people across the political spectrum believe that tenure creates so-called “deadwood” faculty who, once they are tenured, no longer have to care about their teaching or research.

First, let’s dispatch a common misconception: it is not true that tenured professors cannot be fired.  Tenured professors can be fired for a variety of reasons.  What tenure does is limit what counts as a valid reason for dismissal in order to protect academic freedom. A tenured professor can be fired if caught plagiarizing, or found guilty of sexual or other forms of harassment, or convicted of violent crime. But if she can be fired for writing an article that the dean disapproves of, she cannot perform her job. And that is where tenure comes in.

Understanding why tenure is a desirable institution requires us to remember the purpose of a university. Universities are, ideally, institutional arrangements that enable scholars to engage in the activities of seeking the truth and then sharing the fruits of our scholarship with students, other scholars, and perhaps the general public.

Essential to that project is that scholars are free to seek the truth as we see it, without interference by others who have different goals. Of course, scholars must play by some very simple rules of the game: do not lie or cheat; do not distort your data or the arguments of your sources; be transparent about conflicts of interest; do not engage in personal attacks or the use of force, among others.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because the search for truth is a discovery process analogous to the market. Just as entrepreneurs in a market require the freedom to discover value where their best judgment takes them, subject to rules against force and fraud, so do scholars in a university require the freedom to discover truth where our best judgment takes us.

Tenure protects scholars like us from interference with our attempts to discover truth. Scholars cannot engage in truth-seeking if we’re facing retaliation from people who don’t like where our research leads. A university cannot be a university without robust protection of the open exchange of ideas and the freedom of each scholar to research in his or her field without intimidation.

By ruling out the possibility of firing a professor simply for the content of her beliefs, tenure ensures that the university will be what Michael Polanyi called “a republic of science,” in which truth-seeking is the highest standard.

Skeptics might argue that even if tenure were abolished, faculty still wouldn’t leave their current jobs because they would find it difficult to get hired elsewhere. But that’s not the point. The point is that we cannot do our jobs without a credible guarantee of academic freedom, and tenure is one way to secure that.

Tenure protects academic freedom in three distinct ways. First, when we engage in research and publishing, we can’t be worried that some administrator, trustee, politician, or even a student activist will find our work offensive and retaliate against us. This will have a chilling effect on our ability to seek the truth, which is our job as college professors. There are numerous examples of libertarian and conservative faculty facing just these sorts of threats, and tenure is the primary reason those threats are empty.

Second, when we construct and teach our curricula, we can’t worry that any of the usual suspects will take offense, or try to substitute their judgment for ours. Finally, when participating in institutional decision making about academic matters, we can’t be afraid to call shenanigans on various administrator-driven fads (of which there are many) that would undermine our ability to engage in research and teaching.

Although we are open to alternative institutional processes if they could be shown to adequately protect academic freedom, abolishing tenure in their absence is a dicey proposition. Absent tenure, it is libertarians and conservatives who would be the first to be persecuted, censored, or silenced.

Politically correct ideas don’t need the protection of tenure because they are popular; tenure protects ideas that are not. Abolishing it would give still more power to the activists and administrators who seek to create an ideologically uniform academy.

Given those concerns, how big is the downside to tenure? If the complaint is that some faculty’s research productivity declines after tenure, then an easy fix is to have continued productivity tied to merit raises.  Nothing about the institution of tenure precludes post-tenure reviews and merit pay. And even if some faculty slack off as publishers, so what? As long as they’re good teachers, mentors, and colleagues, it’s not necessary that all college faculty be active publishers their whole careers.

Tenure offers a beneficial set of incentives for many universities. Faculty want the protections we have outlined above, and universities want to encourage faculty to develop university-specific human capital to better serve their educational vision and the type of students they attract. Faculty don’t necessarily want to make those specific investments if the opportunity cost may be enhancing their publication record so as to make them more attractive in the job market.

Tenure is a commitment by the institution to maintain a faculty member’s employment in return for abiding by some basic rules and demonstrating during the tenure process that they have acquired that institution-specific human capital. The faculty member gets enhanced, but not total, job security, and the institution gets someone committed to its particular needs. In this way, tenure is like marriage: we bind ourselves to an arrangement with high exit costs in order to incentivize ourselves to commit to the relationship. Just as marriage is compatible with a free society, so is tenure.

There are many problems with contemporary higher education, but tenure isn’t one of them. Ending tenure would exacerbate many of those issues while also creating new ones. And in an institutional setting where the opponents of liberty hold most of the cards, getting rid of one of the most important institutions that protects dissent and the ability to seek the truth will only silence the friends of liberty.

Aeon J. Skoble is Professor of Philosophy at Bridgewater State University.

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 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.

The Great Fact: A Review of Deirdre McCloskey’s “Bourgeois Dignity” – Article by Bradley Doucet

The Great Fact: A Review of Deirdre McCloskey’s “Bourgeois Dignity” – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
September 20, 2014
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We live in astonishing times. We take it for granted, of course, which is good in a way because, well, we have to get on with the business of living and can’t spend every waking moment going, “Oh my God! This is amazing!” But it’s a good idea to stop and take stock from time to time in order to appreciate just how far we’ve come in the past 200 years or so—to show gratitude for just how much richer the average person is today thanks to the Industrial Revolution.
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“In 1800, the average human consumed and expected her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren to go on consuming a mere $3 a day, give or take a dollar or two,” writes economist and historian Deirdre McCloskey in her excellent 2010 book, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World. That’s in modern-day, US prices, corrected for cost of living. Apart from a comparatively few wealthier lords, bishops, and the odd rich merchant, people were dirt poor, barely subsisting, unable to afford luxuries like elementary education for their kids—who had a 50% chance at birth of not making it past the age of 30. That’s the way it was, the way it had always been, and as far as anyone could tell, the way it always would be.

More Than 16 Times Richer

But thankfully, things turned out a little differently. There are seven times as many of us on the planet today, but we’re many times richer on average, despite pockets of enduring dire poverty here and there. According to McCloskey, “Real income per head nowadays exceeds that around 1700 or 1800 in, say, Britain and in other countries that have experienced modern economic growth by such a large factor as sixteen, at least.” And this is a very conservative estimate of material improvement, not taking into account such novelties as jet travel, penicillin, and smartphones.

This radical, positive change brought about by the Industrial Revolution is the “Great Fact” about the modern world. “No competent economist, regardless of her politics, denies the Great Fact,” writes McCloskey. But it does require explanation, and here there are many theories. What caused it? Why did it happen where and when it happened—starting in northern Europe around 1800—instead of in some other place, at some other time? And although modern economic growth has at least begun to reach most of the world, including now China and India, if we had a better understanding of its causes, perhaps we could do a better job of encouraging it to spread to the relatively few remaining holdouts.

What changed, argues McCloskey, is the way people thought about markets and innovation and the people who were engaged in the business of making new things and buying and selling them. “More or less suddenly the Dutch and British and then the Americans and the French began talking about the middle class, high or low—the “bourgeoisie”—as though it were dignified and free. The result was modern economic growth.” In other words, the material, economic fact has a non-material, rhetorical cause, which is why economics can’t explain the modern world. Our ideas changed, and we started innovating like never before, and an explosion of innovation drove the rapid economic growth of the past 200 years.

What Didn’t Cause the Industrial Revolution

Bourgeois Dignity is the second book of a trilogy. The first book, The Bourgeois Virtues (2006), which I have not read but now plan to, argued for the positive ethical status of a bourgeois life. The third book, Bourgeois Equality, due out in 2015, will present the positive case for the claim that it is a change in ideas and rhetoric that made the modern world—and that ideas and rhetoric could unmake it, too. As for this second book in the series, it presents the negative case by examining the materialist explanations for the Great Fact offered up by economists and historians from both the left and the right, and finding them all to be lacking.

Imperialism, for instance, did not bring about the modern world. The average European did not become spectacularly wealthy by historical standards simply by taking Africa’s and America’s wealth. Imperialism did happen, and it did make a few people rich and hurt a lot of people, especially in places like the Belgian Congo. But it did not raise the standard of living of average Europeans, who would have been better off if their leaders had allowed trade to flourish instead of supporting the subjugation of people in foreign lands. Besides which, empires had existed in other times and places without bringing about an Industrial Revolution. A unique effect cannot be the result of a routine cause. And it cannot either simply be the case that wealth was moved from one place to another, because there is much more wealth per person today than ever before, despite there being many more of us around.

International trade did not do it either, according to McCloskey. Trade is a good thing, as imperialism is a bad thing, but its effects are relatively small. And extensive trade, too, existed long before the 1800s, in places other than Europe and the United States, without launching the rapid material betterment of all. And for similar reasons, it wasn’t the case that people began saving more, or finally accumulated enough, or got greedier all of a sudden, or discovered a Protestant work ethic, or finally built extensive transportation infrastructure, or formed unions, or suddenly started respecting private property, or any of dozens of other explanations presented by economists and historians over the years.

Respect for Innovation and Making Money

Only innovation has the power to make people radically better off by radically increasing the output produced from given inputs, and only innovation was a truly novel cause, to the extent that it was taking place on an unprecedented scale two hundred years ago in northern Europe. And the reason that it began happening there and then like never before was a change in rhetoric—a newfound liberty, yes, but also a newfound dignity previously reserved for clergy and warriors. For the first time, in the 17th and 18th centuries, it became respectable, even honourable, to figure out new ways of doing things and to make money selling those innovations to other people, and so innovation and business were encouraged, and much of humanity was lifted out of dire poverty for the first time in history starting in the 19th century.

Ideas matter. Supported by bourgeois dignity, and despite the betrayal of a portion of the intellectual elite as of around 1848, we have continued to innovate and make money and lift more and more people out of poverty. There have been significant setbacks due to communism and fascism and two world wars, but almost everyone is much better off today than anyone dreamed was possible just a few short centuries ago. In order to continue spreading the wealth, and the opportunities for human flourishing that go with it, we need to defend the idea that business and innovation deserve to be free and respected, as Deirdre McCloskey herself has so admirably done in this fine volume.

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. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.
Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Happiness (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Happiness (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
Originally Published November 26, 2009
as Part of Issue CCXX of The Rational Argumentator
Republished July 24, 2014
******************************
Note from the Author: This essay was originally published as part of Issue CCXX of The Rational Argumentator on November 26, 2009, using the Yahoo! Voices publishing platform. Because of the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices, the essay is now being made directly available on The Rational Argumentator.
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 24, 2014
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 One of the most grievous errors made by most people in the Western world today can be found in the prevailing view of happiness as constant pleasure or euphoria. This vision of happiness is not only unattainable but destructive of genuine happiness. A much more realistic and satisfying understanding of happiness can be found by combining the insights of Classical Aristotelian and Enlightenment philosophers and applying them to the vast opportunities we have in our time.

The view of happiness as pleasure or euphoria fails in multiple ways. First, it is physiologically unattainable. It is simply impossible for the human body to experience euphoria except in short, fairly infrequent bursts – the body simply cannot produce enough of the pleasure-stimulating chemicals that lead to the desired sensations. Moreover, the body reacts in the same essential manner to pleasure deserved through effort – such as the pride in having completed a creative work or in having transformed an aspect of the world – and to pleasure brought about by the introduction of certain foreign substances, such as drugs, into the body. It is well-known that a drug user needs increasing doses of a drug to experience the same euphoria; the doses that could produce it originally no longer suffice, because the body becomes accustomed to them. However, a lack of the drug altogether results in feelings of active, often severe, displeasure, because the body has come to treat the presence of certain amounts of the drug as its default, neutral state.

The same can be said of any life dominated by pursuit of pleasurable feelings for their own sake – detached from the events and conditions of the external reality. If an individual does manage to experience feelings of heightened pleasure all the time, his body will eventually become desensitized to them – to the point of viewing them as the neutral state. Every pleasurable feeling has a cause – be it internal or external. The individual will therefore come to view the cause of the pleasurable feelings as needing to be present in order to maintain even a neutral state of mind. As it is virtually impossible to maintain the causes of unusual pleasure in operation all the time, this individual will be certain to experience emotional “withdrawal” more often than he experiences pleasure.

Furthermore, a life dominated by the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake becomes a trap for the individual – preventing him from exercising his agency in the external world and instead confining him to replication of biochemical patterns within his own body that are aimed at producing the sought-after feelings. Instead of reshaping the elements of the world outside him into increasingly favorable configurations, he will become a slave to the peculiar construction of his own organism – and he will short-circuit its mechanisms in such a manner as to deprive feelings of pleasure of the utility they would have for a person who is not obsessed with them. The external reality is often quite unaccommodating; the man who focuses on his own feelings instead of observing and responding to the outside world will quickly find the outside world wearing away at his life until there is nothing left.

The sensible function of pleasure is as a reward for objectively beneficial behaviors. If an individual feels good after performing an act that improves his chances of survival, then this gives him an incentive to perform that act in the future. This is why the human capacity to experience pleasure was favored by natural selection for thousands of generations. However, this capacity evolved in a very different environment from our current one – where feelings of pleasure were largely extremely difficult to earn; good food was scarce and only attainable after strenuous hunting and foraging, and even the comfort of a shelter secure from the elements was a rarity. In our era, human beings have become extremely adept at artificially stimulating their pleasure centers without doing anything beforehand to earn such stimulation. The coupling of humans’ new possibilities with their ancient biology can explain such bizarre phenomena as obesity, recreational drug use, promiscuity, and the teenage culture in the contemporary Western world.

Pleasure can still serve its more beneficial function as an incentive for accomplishment, and, by being framed in this manner, it can be limited to a reasonable presence. But it has become much easier to bypass this much more demanding route to pleasure. The solution, of course, is not to reject our life-improving modern conveniences, but rather to alter our thinking about what constitutes a happy life.

To gain a more sophisticated understanding of happiness, it is useful to refer to two sets of historical philosophers. The Classical Greek philosophers, beginning with Aristotle, developed a concept of happiness as being inextricably linked with virtue. The Aristotelian view of happiness, or eudaimonia, did not emphasize pleasure or emotional states. Rather, it saw the truly happy man as the man who has actualized his full potential and has thereby positively influenced the external reality to the entirety of his ability. Virtuous habits – including moderation in the pursuit of pleasure – enable the individual to devote his energies toward self-actualization, which produces a longer-lasting, sustainable happiness. The Enlightenment philosophers contributed to this view by emphasizing the tremendous potential of the human rational faculty in literally reshaping the world and taking humanity out of the muck of poverty, vulgarity, and violence that it had been immersed in for most of its history. Each individual’s use of reason is his means for cultivating his full potential and for attaining true happiness. When the American Founders talked about a natural right to “the pursuit of happiness,” it was this rational, virtue-driven happiness that they had in mind.

It is important to emphasize that this view of happiness does not advocate asceticism, either. A certain sustainable amount of pleasure is preferable to complete avoidance of enjoyment – because the latter cannot be maintained indefinitely and is likely to result in an eventual reaction toward the opposite extreme of hedonism. It is also important to recognize that what constitutes self-actualization will differ considerably among individuals, and the sustainable level of pleasure will also vary in accordance with an individual’s material circumstances and psychological inclinations.

Nowhere is the sharp distinction between the conventional, hedonistic view of happiness and the rational, virtue-based view more evident than in human relationships, particularly those of a romantic nature. Those who expect their romantic partners to continually inspire them with feelings of ecstasy or euphoria are sentencing themselves to a lifetime of frustrations, breakups, and serial attempts at happiness – which will all inevitably end in the same way. A genuinely fulfilling romantic relationship is not one that continually stimulates the pleasure centers of each party’s brains, but rather one that exhibits a lasting commitment on both sides and a continual cooperation for the purpose of making life better. Feelings of love and affection should be present, of course, but they are much more sustainable in a gentle, comforting, persistent form than they could be in the form of the rapture that so many people mistakenly imagine love to be. My essay, “A Rational View of Love“, offers a more thorough exposition of this idea.

Finally, it is important to recognize that no life – and particularly no productive life – will be free of negative feelings. Whenever we seek to overcome obstacles, we are likely to encounter difficulties we cannot immediately resolve. This may produce feelings of doubt, fear, anger, disappointment, and frustration, in various mixes and degrees. As the world is severely flawed in most ways, it would be unreasonable for us not to have a substantial amount of negative feelings about it. These feelings should not be banished from our brains; indeed, they can serve as useful indicators of the problems in our lives and can motivate us to resolve them. Many people today make the mistake of abandoning any aspect of life they may occasionally feel negatively about – be it a job, a relationship, an educational pursuit, an independent creative work, or a set of ideas. But a negative feeling should not be the equivalent of a mental off-switch or “Keep Out” sign. Instead, it should be seen as an invitation to explore, resolve, challenge, or resist. Turning away from anything that does not trigger immediate good feelings is the surest recipe for unhappiness.

If it is not through a constant feeling of pleasure, then how can one know if one is happy? I posit that this can be ascertained by asking a single question: “Am I pursuing an overall course in life with whose consequences I expect to be satisfied for as long as I live?” This question ignores the everyday fluctuations in emotional states and arrives at the core issue: how one’s choices and behaviors contribute to the actualization of one’s potential and the establishment of a sustainable, ever-improving life. It shifts the focus of one’s attention from one’s present feelings to the future effects of one’s actions. Incidentally, however, it also has the effect of making one feel better on average, since one’s present emotional state is heavily dependent on whether one has behaved in a life-affirming or a life-undermining manner in the past. The more one does now to benefit one’s future, the better one will feel in the future. But it is a good, flourishing life itself that constitutes happiness, and, as a byproduct, results in mild, sustainable, and profoundly rewarding pleasure.

Read other articles in The Rational Argumentator’s Issue CCXX.

Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Employment (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Employment (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
Originally Published November 26, 2009
as Part of Issue CCXX of The Rational Argumentator
Republished July 24, 2014
******************************
Note from the Author: This essay was originally published as part of Issue CCXX of The Rational Argumentator on November 26, 2009, using the Yahoo! Voices publishing platform. Because of the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices, the essay is now being made directly available on The Rational Argumentator.
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 24, 2014
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The mistaken identification of wealth with money, which I refuted in an earlier installment of this series, results in yet another damaging fallacy: the idea that the only legitimate “employment” is work performed for somebody else in exchange for money. This cultural confusion has become so deep-rooted that even people who own their own businesses or function as independent contractors are classified as “self-employed” – which, despite the second component of that term, is somehow seen as distinct from being “employed,” which has become in the minds of many identical to working for a formal organization on a fixed schedule for largely fixed compensation. There is nothing wrong with the latter kind of employment; indeed, I am currently engaged in it, and it pays well. It is a practical and a tremendously useful way to earn a living for many. But the societal stigma against many individuals who choose not to pursue that path needs to end.

I am not here seeking to justify individuals who refuse to work out of sloth or rebelliousness – or individuals who choose to subsist off of the welfare system. Indeed, I am not at all seeking to justify individuals who refuse to work at all. Rather, I seek to effectuate a cultural re-identification of employment with doing actual useful work – physical or mental – irrespective of how much, or how little, money that work earns. If wealth is not money but rather useful goods and services, then useful employment is any activity that generates useful goods and services. Some such activities happen to be highly compensated with money, either because there is large market demand for them or because they are subsidized by private institutions or governments. But other such activities arise out of individuals’ volunteer efforts, hobbies and interests, and desires to improve their immediate environment. An individual who devotes himself or herself primarily to the latter sorts of activities can be as worthy of respect and just as productive as an individual who makes a six-figure monetary income.

First, it is essential to recognize that either market value or institutional advantages that result in monetary subsidies are not necessarily a reflection of genuine wealth creation or usefulness. For instance, numerous products of high culture – including philosophy, literature, and classical music – are not in high demand among the masses, who simply do not understand such products. The creators of high culture will not earn as great an income on the market as the creators of light magazines and popular music. However, these same creators will contribute a much longer-lasting value to human knowledge, refinement, and moral standards for generations to come, whereas the creators of more popular works are unlikely to remain in demand for more than two generations. There is nothing wrong with this differential in compensation, per se, as people who do not appreciate high culture are entitled to vote with their dollars however they please. But this state of affairs does invalidate any notion that the amount of money one receives from one’s work is in any manner connected with one’s worth as a human being or one’s contribution to improving one’s own life and the lives of others – both in the short term and in the long term. Many creators of more refined works have even decided that it is unwise to try to make a living from such works and depend on their approval by a mass audience; instead, they have decided to subsidize their own creations and the dissemination of these works by means of a monetary income they earn from another occupation. This allows for works of high culture to be created exactly as the author intended them to be; if the author is talented and has a consistent vision, such works will be much more likely to endure long into the future.

Another important recognition is that some work is either impossible to transfer to the market given present technology or is prohibitively expensive to transfer. For instance, if I wish to go into my kitchen and get myself a beverage, it would be highly impractical for me to hire another individual to do this for me. If I get the beverage myself, I do not either collect or spend any money – provided that I already own the beverage, the glass, and the living space. But it cannot be denied that the act of getting the beverage was desirable to me and improved the quality of my life. Likewise, numerous actions that an individual performs to improve his or her own skills – such as reading books, practicing musical instruments, and doing mathematical problems – cannot be outsourced to other individuals and retain their value for the individual, which arises from the act of learning new skills that the individual himself would be able to use in the future. Indeed, it is true that all of us, if we have even the slightest desire to live well, will perform a wide variety of work every day for which we receive no monetary compensation at all! If we did not perform this work, it is unlikely that we would be in any position to earn any money, either.

A popular source of contempt in contemporary culture is the individual who, instead of leaving the home to work for money, chooses to remain at home and maintain it in good working order. This is, in my judgment, the single most egregious consequence of the fallacy that employment is the same as working for money. Working within the home – especially when supported by the monetary income of another family member – is a tremendously useful and life-affirming occupation; it facilitates a division of labor where various family members can specialize in the tasks they are most skilled at performing, thereby making good use of the principle of comparative advantage. Moreover, it enables a greater degree of care for any children in the household and provides a source of relief for those individuals who simply do not like working outside the home on a fixed schedule.

I note that there is nothing in this implying that any particular gender of individual should choose to stay at home, or that a family cannot function well if all of its members choose to work outside the home. Rather, I argue that a productive family can exist irrespective of which of its members do or do not choose to work for money. Indeed, for a family which has accumulated sufficient money and physical goods, it is possible to maintain productivity and a high standard of living even if none of its members earns a regular monetary income. Even if an individual has never earned any money in his or her life and, say, lives off a vast inheritance, it is still possible for that individual to perform useful and productive work. Indeed, one of the arguments that the great Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek made for the right of inheritance can be summarized as follows. Even if the vast majority of people who inherit their money will spend it unwisely, it is enough for one out of a thousand inheritors to be a great thinker and innovator. This individual, through his inheritance, will have the time and leisure to bring his vision to fruition, without needing to worry about providing for his day-to-day subsistence. The result could be a tremendous philosophical, technological, or artistic breakthrough that improves the lives of millions for centuries to come – and this result is worth the wasteful spending any other heirs might engage in.

Of course, the manner of productive work one does is often constrained by one’s current material situation. Many people will work for money, even if they wish to do something else, because they need the money to maintain the standard of living they wish to have. Increases in monetary income can go a long way toward improving both one’s access to leisure and one’s level of security and comfort. On the other hand, the same goals can also be achieved in part by spending less of the money one already earns and by living within one’s means – never letting one’s expenses exceed one’s income, which is akin to deficit spending for individuals, and not taking out interest-bearing debt, unless there is no other option, and the good the debt would fund could be seen as a necessity – such as a house. Devoting some time to managing one’s spending and establishing less expensive lifestyle choices is just productive as working to earn a salary increase.

If you wish to work to earn money, by all means do so. If you would rather focus on working in the home or doing volunteer work of any sort, this is excellent as well. Provided that one works and has useful outcomes to show for it, there is no need to feel any inferiority in one’s own case or any disrespect for others.

Read other articles in The Rational Argumentator’s Issue CCXX.

Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Wealth (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Commonly Misunderstood Concepts: Wealth (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
Originally Published November 16, 2009
as Part of Issue CCXVIII of The Rational Argumentator
Republished July 24, 2014
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Note from the Author: This essay was originally published as part of Issue CCXVIII of The Rational Argumentator on November 16, 2009, using the Yahoo! Voices publishing platform. Because of the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices, the essay is now being made directly available on The Rational Argumentator.
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 24, 2014
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Many of the economic and personal fallacies of our time arise from the mistaken belief that wealth and money are identical. In fact, while money is in many cases an important gateway to wealth, it does not even approach describing what wealth truly is.

In our time, money may be equated to wealth even less justifiably than it could have been in times past – when most money was identified with precious metals, such as gold and silver, which had uses other than as media of exchange. Currently, money in virtually all countries consists of pieces of paper which are decreed to be money by government fiat. Legal tender laws force individuals to accept these special pieces of paper as payment for products, services, or debts. The supply of these pieces of paper is controlled by the government’s printing press – typically located at either the central bank or the treasury department.

Why do people seek and hold this money? They do so because they expect to be able to purchase with it actual goods and services – either now or in the future. This means that the money is not seen as valuable in itself; it is seen as valuable because of the other things it can obtain. However, the supply of these other things is not dependent on the number of pieces of paper in circulation. Rather, it is dependent on real factors that affect individuals’ and businesses’ abilities to produce actual goods and services. Thus, having more pieces of paper does not automatically make one wealthier. If the government simply chooses to print more of them, while no external factors affect the production of goods and services, then there will simply be more pieces of paper for the same amount of real goods and services. We would therefore get inflation: prices in terms of the pieces of paper will increase in proportion to the volume of new pieces of paper introduced. Of course, inflation has disastrous impacts on individuals’ existing savings, incentives for frugality, and transaction costs. It also constitutes an unjustified redistribution of wealth from the producers who earn it to the politically connected elites who get priority access to the new pieces of paper. Creating more “money” can often destroy actual wealth and productivity.

But there is another respect in which money is not equivalent to wealth. Consider the fact that, even without inflation, the same amount of money will not purchase the same goods and services in every area. Indeed, a tiny, cramped apartment in the center of a major city may often cost more money than a spacious house in a small town. An individual earning the same amount of money in each area would be able to have a much higher standard of living in the small town. It is quite possible that the individual’s opportunities to earn more money in a big city will be greater, but the prices of goods will not increase in a one-to-one ratio with that individual’s relative salary increase. Rather, the prices are most likely to be higher in a ratio that is greater or smaller than the individual’s ratio of salaries – thereby making life in the city either less or more attractive to the individual. How much money one makes is not an indicator of the rate at which one accumulates wealth; a better indicator is what one can buy for one’s money.

These thoughts should give pause to both advocates of the government’s power of the printing press and to indiscriminate salary chasers. Both may be devoting their time and energy to the pursuit of numerical illusions rather than substantive benefits. A much more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of wealth is needed in order to truly thrive and lead a good life.

To achieve an understanding of wealth, we need to ask ourselves why we seek money in the first place. Ultimately, every unit of money – even one saved or invested for many years – goes to fund some human consumption. Money can pay for either goods – material objects – or services – human behaviors performed for the benefit of the payer. It is actual goods and services that constitute wealth, not the money. Moreover, the money price of these goods and services is irrelevant from the standpoint of the wealth of the person who owns them. If I have a table, I am no less wealthy if I cannot sell the table at all – nor am I any wealthier just because I have the potential to sell it for five million dollars. I still have the same table, and its physical qualities are unchanged. If I actually do sell it, I might become wealthier, but only insofar as my five million dollars would enable me to purchase more tables, better tables, or other goods and services I value. The important principle to recognize is that one either has potential wealth in the form of money or actual wealth in the form of the goods and services one has purchased. One does not have both at the same time in the same object. Fiat money is wealth only insofar as it can reasonably be expected to procure actual goods and services. Goods and services constitute wealth in themselves while they last. Capital goods that can produce other goods can also be described as potential wealth – but it is also true that they are not money while one owns them as goods.

A further distinction should be made. Not all material objects are goods, and not all human behaviors are services. Some material objects – such as clouds of poison gas in one’s living room – are active bads. Likewise, some human behaviors – such as people raping or murdering one another – are active disservices. The only way to comprehensively define wealth is with regard to a standard by which goods and services can be identified. The most fundamental standard from both a moral and a practical standpoint is the principle that the life of every innocent individual is the greatest and most basic good – where an innocent individual is one who has not violated this principle through actions such as murder or the attempt at murder. Thus, any object that promotes any individual’s life is a good; any behavior that promotes any individual’s life is a service. The more life-promoting objects one has – and the more life-promoting behaviors one either is able to elicit from others or is able to initiate oneself – the wealthier one is.

Everything else is a matter of means and context. How one gets wealth – whether it be through money, barter, gifts, or one’s own work and transformation of raw materials – has no bearing on the nature of that wealth; all of us who are not self-destructive pursue a wide variety of means that fundamentally aim at the goal of improving our lives. Ethically, the means ought to be non-coercive; we must not intrude on other people’s prerogatives to control their lives just like they must not intrude on ours. Wealth is still wealth, even if acquired through dishonest or evil means – but immoral means of wealth acquisition will destroy other wealth on net, through damage to property and human beings and their incentives to produce.

Moreover, it is possible for the same object to be beneficial in some circumstances and harmful in others. For instance, a piece of rope used to tie a knot may be extremely useful, while the same piece of rope strung across the floor of a room might be a tripping hazard. However, the same item or behavior in the exact same context should produce the same results; actual situations are never precisely repeatable, but we can at least estimate an object’s usefulness or lack thereof by analyzing situations where it has been applied in similar ways.

This view has practical implications beyond the scope of one’s views on economics or politics. Most items in our lives should be viewed not in terms of how we might be able to resell them to others, but rather in terms of what use they are to us personally. There is nothing wrong with resale as such, but it is not a behavior that can be imposed on all objects – and, indeed, economic bubbles are created when the expectation of resale for continually rising prices is applied by enough people to too many commodities. Those of us who acquire an item for our own use – which includes our purchases of art, furniture, automobiles, and yes, even houses – are not in the same position as businessmen who produce or acquire items for the specific purpose of reselling them at a profit. Businessmen see their inventories as potential money generators – an indirect route to greater wealth; consumers ought to see their property as useful in itself and any resale as incidental or fortuitous – a kind of loss mitigation once one is no longer able or willing to make good use of the property. We have adjusted quite well to the idea that the resale value of an automobile or a computer is virtually always much lower than its purchase price. In the role of consumers, we should adopt the same default expectation for houses – and for everything else. But the silly notion that one is entitled to resell any property at a higher price than one purchased it must be discarded, as it results in the foolish pursuit of higher-priced items in the vain hope of their further appreciation in price – without any expert knowledge of how markets in these items actually work. This turns many a layman into a speculator, while enticing him to take out loans with his fanciful expectations as collateral – as happened all too often during the housing bubble. Moreover, it engenders the disastrous attitude that price decreases – which make goods such as houses more affordable for people – are in some manner harmful. But one cannot destroy wealth by making goods easier to earn through honest work – nor can one create wealth by piggybacking off of others’ expectations of price increases.

Leave the house-flipping to the experts, and buy a house that you would want to live in, just as you buy clothes you want to wear and computers you want to use. That house would constitute real wealth for you, irrespective of its market price, and it will be there irrespective of financial market or currency value fluctuations – if you actually own the house or have a fixed-rate mortgage. To maximize your wealth, you should act in such a manner as to improve your access to actual goods and services that you value. Pieces of paper and expectations can only get you so far. And remember that your own ability to do useful work – including work that does not bring immediate monetary returns – is one of your most reliable gateways to wealth.

Read other articles in The Rational Argumentator’s Issue CCXVIII.

Ten Principles of Classical Liberalism (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

Ten Principles of Classical Liberalism (2009) – Article by G. Stolyarov II

The New Renaissance Hat
G. Stolyarov II
Originally Published November 8, 2009
as Part of Issue CCXVI of The Rational Argumentator
Republished July 24, 2014
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Note from the Author: This essay was originally published as part of Issue CCXVI of The Rational Argumentator on November 8, 2009, using the Yahoo! Voices publishing platform. Because of the imminent closure of Yahoo! Voices, the essay is now being made directly available on The Rational Argumentator.
~ G. Stolyarov II, July 24, 2014
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Fundamental Ideas in a Philosophy of Liberty

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I was recently asked to attempt a formulation of ten crucial principles of classical liberalism, the worldview which animated the American Revolution, the European Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the libertarian revival of free-market thought in the mid-to-late twentieth century. Classical liberalism – even when it is not explicitly espoused – still has considerable residual influence on the political and economic institutions of the Western world and is having an increasing impact outside the West as well. I see the principles of classical liberalism as primarily forward-looking. These ideas need not only characterize aspects of humanity’s past. They can also guide and ameliorate our future.

The following ten principles are not exhaustive, and they have been formulated broadly to account for differences in opinion on particulars within classical liberal circles. Although different people may apply and interpret these principles in somewhat different ways, a general agreement on even these ideas would go a long way toward advancing liberty, prosperity, and peace in the world.

Principle 1. The life of each individual is an absolute and universal moral value. No non-aggressive individual’s life, liberty, or property may be legitimately sacrificed for any goal.

Principle 2. Every individual owns his body, his mind, and the labor thereof, including the physical objects legitimately obtained through such labor.

Principle 3. Every individual has the right to pursue activities for the betterment of his life – including its material, intellectual, and emotional aspects – by using his own body and property, as well as the property of consenting others.

Principle 4. The rights of an individual to life, liberty, and property are inherent to that individual’s nature. They are not granted by other human beings, and they cannot be taken away by any entity.

Principle 5. The initiation of physical force, the threat of such force, or fraud against any individual is never permissible – irrespective of the position and character of the initiator. However, proportionate force may be used to retaliate and defend against aggression.

Principle 6. The sole fundamental purpose of government is to protect the rights of individuals by engaging in actions specifically delegated to the government by its constituents. Government is not the same as society, nor is the government entitled to sacrifice some non-aggressive individuals to advance the well-being of others.

Principle 7. Every individual has the absolute right to think and express any ideas. Thought and speech are never equivalent to force or violence and ought never to be restricted or to be subject to coercive penalties. Specifically, coercion and censorship on the basis of religious or political ideas are not acceptable under any circumstances.

Principle 8. Commerce, technology, and science are desirable, liberating forces that are capable of alleviating historic ills, improving the quality of human life, and morally elevating human beings. The complete freedom of trade, innovation, and thought should be preserved and supported for all human beings in the world.

Principle 9. Accidents of birth, geography, or ancestry do not define an individual and should not result in manmade restrictions of that individual’s rights or opportunities. Every individual should be judged purely on his or her personal qualities, including accomplishments, character, and knowledge.

Principle 10. There are no “natural” or desirable limits to human potential for good, and there is no substantive problem that is necessarily unsolvable by present or future human knowledge, effort, and technology. It is a moral imperative for humans to expand their mastery of the universe indefinitely and in such a manner as will reinforce the survival and flourishing of all non-aggressive individuals.

Read other articles in The Rational Argumentator’s Issue CCXVI.