Archive | March 2013

Quote of the Day

This comes from Frederic Bastiat in The Law:

The claims of these organizers of humanity raise another question which I have often asked them and which, so far as I know, they have never answered: If the natural tendencies of mankind are so bad that it is not safe to permit people to be free, how is it that the tendencies of these organizers are always good? Do not the legislators and their appointed agents also belong to the human race? Or do they believe that they themselves are made of a finer clay than the rest of mankind? The organizers maintain that society, when left undirected, rushes headlong to its inevitable destruction because the instincts of the people are so perverse. The legislators claim to stop this suicidal course and to give it a saner direction. Apparently, then, the legislators and the organizers have received from Heaven an intelligence and virtue that place them beyond and above mankind; if so, let them show their titles to this superiority.

They would be the shepherds over us, their sheep. Certainly such an arrangement presupposes that they are naturally superior to the rest of us. And certainly we are fully justified in demanding from the legislators and organizers proof of this natural superiority.



Quote of the Day

This passage appears in F.A. Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit, pages 112-113 under the heading Our Animistic Vocabulary and the Confused Concept of ‘Society’ (footnotes omitted):

[I]n the study of human affairs difficulties of communication begin with the definition and naming of the very objects we wish to analyse. The chief terminological barrier to understanding, outranking in importance the other terms we have just discussed, is the expression ‘society’ itself – and not only inasmuch as it has, since Marx, been used to blur the distinctions between governments and other ‘institutions’. As a word used to describe a variety of systems of interconnections of human activities, ‘society’ falsely suggests that all such systems as of the same kind. It is also one of the oldest terms of this kind, as for example in the Latin societas, from socius, the personally known fellow or companion; and it has been used to describe both an actually existing state of affairs and a relation between individuals. As usually employed, it presupposes or implies a common pursuit of shared purposes that usually can be achieved only by conscious collaboration.

As we have seen, it is one of the necessary conditions of the extension of human cooperation beyond the limits of individual awareness that the range of such pursuits be increasingly governed not by shared purposes but by abstract rules of conduct whose observance brings it about that we more and more serve the needs of people whom we do not know and find our own needs similarly satisfied by unknown persons. Thus the more the range of human cooperation extends, the less does motivation within it correspond to the mental picture people have of what should have in a ‘society’, and the more ‘social’ comes to be not the key word in a statement of the facts but the core of an appeal to an ancient, and now obsolete, ideal of general human behaviour. Any real appreciation of the difference between, on the one hand, what actually characterises individual behaviour in a particular group and, on the other, wishful thinking about what individual conduct should be (in accordance with older customs) is increasingly lost. Not only is any group of persons connected in practically any manner called a ‘society’, but it is concluded that any such group should behave as a primitive group of companions did.

Thus the word ‘society’ has become a convenient label denoting almost any group of people, a group about whose structure or reason for coherence nothing need be known – a makeshift phrase people resort to when they do not quite know what they are talking about. Apparently a people, a nation, a population, a company, an association, a group, a horde, a band, a tribe, the members of any particular place, all are, or constitute, societies.

To call by the same name such completely different formations as the companionship of individuals in constant personal contact and the structure formed by millions who are connected only by signals resulting from long and infinitely ramified chains of trade is not only factually misleading but also almost always contains a concealed desire to model this extended order on the intimate fellowship for which our emotions long. Bertrand de Jouvenel has well described this instinctive nostalgia for the small group – ‘the milieu in which man is first found, which retains for him an infinite attraction: but any attempt to graft the same features on a large society is utopian and leads to tyranny’.

The crucial difference overlooked in this confusion is that the small group can be led in its activities by agreed aims or the will of its members, while the extended order that is also a ‘society’ is formed into a concordant structure by its members’ observance of similar rules of conduct in the pursuit of individual purposes. The result of such diverse efforts under similar rules will indeed show of a few characteristics resembling those of an individual organism possessing a brain or mind, or what such an organism deliberately arranges, but is it misleading to treat such a ‘society’ animistically, or to personify it by ascribing to it a will, an intention, or a design. Hence it is disturbing to find a serious contemporary scholar confessing that to any utilitarian ‘society’ must appear not ‘as a plurality of persons… [but] as a sort of singe great person’.

Today marks the 21st anniversary of Hayek’s death. His was a great mind, and we could do well to have more thinkers like him.

Quote of the Day

This comes from Robert Nozick, pages 149-150 in Anarchy, State, and Utopia:

The term “distributive justice” is not a neutral one. Hearing the term “distribution, ” most people presume that some thing or mechanism uses some principle or criterion to give out a supply of things. Into this process of distributing shares some error may have crept. So it is an open question, at least, whether redistribution should take place; whether we should do again what has already been done once, though poorly. However, we are not in the position of children who have been given portions of pie by someone who now makes last minute adjustments to rectify careless cutting. There is no central distribution, no person or group entitled to control all the resources, jointly deciding how they are to be doled out. What each person gets, he gets from others who give to him in exchange for something, or as a gift. In a free society, diverse persons control different resources, and new holdings arise out of the voluntary exchanges and actions of persons. There is no more a distributing or distribution of shares than there is a distributing of mates in a society in which persons choose whom they shall marry. The total result is the product of many individual decisions which the different individuals involved are entitled to make.

Hayek on Rule of Law

[U]nder the Rule of Law the government is prevented from stultifying individual efforts by ad hoc action. Within the known rules of the game the individual is free to pursue his personal ends and desires, certain that the powers of government will not be used deliberately to frustrate his efforts.

Now ponder that in light of what is happening in Cyprus.

Cyprus Levying Savings

Cyprus has decided to levy 6.75% off savings accounts under $100,000, and 9.9% off accounts over that number. See here, here, here, here, and here.

Drones (And Other Flying Death Robots)

I was recently discussing the drone war with a co-worker of mine (a person who seems to inspire posts from me). His position was that it’s likely that this sort of clandestine killing of foreign threats has likely always gone on, and therefore wasn’t bothered by it. Additionally, he was sure that the people killed in the attacks, “…did something wrong.”

So, I tried to turn it around a bit. What if it were announced that the president were going to launch drones in the US, in order to fight the war on drugs? Let’s say there’s a kingpin somewhere in the continental US, and drones were to be used to take him and his ilk out, without a trial (for now we’ll ignore the issue of collateral damage).

I was disappointed when my co-worker said he wouldn’t have a problem with it at all, provided the administration publicly announced their decision to use drones prior to actually using them. “Without a trial?” I asked. He replied, “I think they should know that if you break the law, this s#@% could happen to you.”

To me, his response is very telling. I fear that he is not simply an outlier within the sphere of political opinions on this matter, but in fact representative of a very large number of Americans indeed. Many people don’t seem concerned about the drone strikes, or the lack of due process in targeting Americans. It seems that there is blind trust for executive power, and there doesn’t seem like there’s much that can be done to shake it.

In my view, substituting due process for an executive decision should concern each and every American. It is through that process that truth (hopefully) is revealed and justice (hopefully) occurs! To simply assume that the president has the best intentions with the policy is downright naive. I hate to say it, but I think America is ripe for tyranny, and once we hit the tipping point, turning around will be very difficult indeed.