Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Prison Normal

Andy Dufresne: I just don't understand what happened in there, that's all.
Heywood: Old man's crazy as a rat in a tin shithouse, is what.
Red: Oh Heywood, that's enough out of you!
Ernie: I heard he had you shittin' in your pants!
Heywood: Fuck you!
Red: Would you knock it off? Brooks ain't no bug. He's just... just institutionalized.
Heywood: Institutionalized, my ass.
Red: The man's been in here fifty years, Heywood. Fifty years! This is all he knows. In here, he's an important man. He's an educated man. Outside, he's nothin'! Just a used up con with arthritis in both hands. Probably couldn't get a library card if he tried! You know what I'm tryin' to say?
Floyd: Red, I do believe you're talking out of your ass.
Red: You believe whatever you want, Floyd. But I'm tellin' you these walls are funny. First you hate 'em, then you get used to 'em. Enough time passes, you get so you depend on them. That's institutionalized.
Heywood: Shit. I could never get like that.
Prisoner: Oh yeah? Say that when you been here as long as Brooks has.
Red: Goddamn right. They send you here for life, and that's exactly what they take. The part that counts, anyway.

- The Shawshank Redemption

One of the more amazing things about people is their ability to adapt to almost any circumstance. No matter how unusual the situation people develop means of coping and new routines to accommodate the extremes that they face. Some people even move towards considering the unusual situation as the normal situation.

In "The Shawshank Redemption" the character of Brooks had been in prison for fifty years. Hearing that he was about to be paroled he snapped and attacked another inmate. He did this because he knew no other life than prison, and he wanted to stay inside. According to the character Red, Brooks had become institutionalized. Prison was normal for him.

After a century, most people in the United States have come to believe that an unbacked fiat currency is normal. People have come to expect an average of three percent inflation per year is normal. In the course of one century the dollar has lost ninety-eight percent of its value, and people have come to think of that as normal.

People have come to think of it as so normal that they have come to think of other arrangements as being completely abnormal. It is argued that a modern economy cannot grow without a constantly inflating fiat currency. They are experiencing "Prison normal".

The real miracle of the United States economy is that it has been prosperous for so long in an abnormal situation. It takes a long time to drain the wealth of a wealthy nation, which is why the abnormal situation was able to continue for long enough to become a Prison Normal situation. The steps that are necessary to return the economy to a truly normal state are considered abnormal, extremist. The average American has become institutionalized.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Against Milton Friedman

Upon seeing "Fear the Boom and Bust”, the Keynes versus Hayek rap video, the following email was sent to the producers of that video:

On Thu, Apr 22, 2010 at 11:39 AM, Ayn R. Key wrote:

Having Keynes versus Hayek was great. Loved the imagery of alcohol and hangover, and the reference to Tim and Ben.

Next, Hayek (or Rothbard or Mises) versus Friedman (or Fisher, where Friedman got all his ideas from) please.

I'm tired of people thinking that Chicago School Monetarists are some sort of libertarians.

The following response was forthcoming:

On Thu, Apr22, 2010 at 9:16 AM, John Papola wrote:

Thanks for the note! Explaining the differences of the two schools of thought is useful and we'll be getting to it in our extended content via interviews. It's a little too nuanced for a rap song.

Have you read Roger Garrison's "Time and Money”? There is much more in common between the Austrian theory of the business cycle and Milton's monetarism than meets the eye. If we can't call Milton a libertarian, we're doomed. I'm not big on libertarian factionalism. Compared with our opponents on the Keynes/Marx statist side, the differences between Hayek and Friedman are inconsequential in my opinion. Friedman was also very successful in moving public opinion and the profession away from Keynes. For that we should all be grateful.

Friedman, Hayek, Mises and Rothbard are all awesome in different ways.

For reasons unknown, Milton Friedman is considered to be a libertarian thinker, especially in matters economic. He is often used as an example of libertarian thinking by those who are not libertarians but wish to reference libertarians to support a point.

The problem is, Milton Friedman was a Monetarist. As pointed out, Monetarism is not the same thing as Capitalism. When compared to Keynesianism then of course it appears to be more libertarian, but that is an awfully low bar to measure against.

There are many critiques libertarians can make against Friedman, such as his relationship to Pinochet or how he instituted income tax withholding, but the most fundamental one is that he, like Irving Fisher, advocated central banking.

If Keynesians are to be considered as saying that two and two make eight, and Austrians are to be considered as saying that two and two make four, then Monetarists try to position themselves as moderates by saying that two and two make six. They may be closer than Keynesians, but they are still quite wrong. Central banking, the defining position of Monetarists, is causing yet another catastrophic collapse, and people actually are calling it libertarian? Calling it so is a gift to the statists that they couldn't even hope for.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A second civil war

It comes up every once in a while in libertarian circles, more often in some boards than in others and more often as we near the anniversary of the secession of 1776 - a discussion of a potential future civil war that could theoretically restore liberty in the United States. Although entertaining to think about an uprising can have disastrous consequences, or if it is the wrong uprising can be a disaster itself.

One of the ways it could go horribly wrong is if the conflict is steered into red versus blue, red states versus blue states. Neither the Democrats and their supporters nor the Republicans and their supporters represent greater liberty, but instead offer competing versions of how the government should run the lives of the people. The leadership of both parties believe that they are entitled to rule others. Yet this is a particularly likely form of civil war due to it perpetuating the basic right versus left division that has kept the freedom movement divided against each other instead of the common foe, and kept the people divided so that they do not notice the common foe.

What could undo that possibility is if both a red state and a blue state were to nullify or secede for different reasons at the same time. Supposing California seceded over marijuana legalization while Texas seceded over health care reform, at the same time. By both acts occurring near each other it would prevent those in charge from saying that pulling away is uniquely red or uniquely blue.

Another possibility is a very messy war composed of many factions, both within and outside the government. Although this gives the freedom movement more opportunities, it will take a lot longer to resolve and it will mean many more enemies. This would come about if an over grown government begins to splinter under its own weight. Different areas of the country could come under different rule not by secession but by different agencies or commands declaring different fiefdoms. It is already the case where the military is establishing a command with the special focus of inside the United States, and there are the ever present rumors about FEMA camps.

Then there is the possibility of a groundswell in the form of riots. Some predict that they will be triggered by the depression getting worse, or by a lack of food. Given the success of public education it will take a lot to get to this point. The people have been successfully taught that there are only two respectable sources for answers to political questions, and anything else is fringe and to be ignored. These same people also do not like the answers they are getting from the only two sources they have learned they should listen to. It is a nasty dilemma that the average person is in, and the frustration can lead to chaos. This type of uprising could lead to a revolution more like the French Revolution than either of the American Revolutions.

The only real option for the freedom movement in the face of those possibilities is to try to build strong networks of mutual support. That way if it does come down to people shooting each other the freedom movement will have the advantage of friendly loose organization.

If those in the freedom movement genuinely believe there will be conflict, then the thing that needs to be done is to prepare to ensure it is the right conflict. The wrong conflict could result in a Napoleon or a Lenin seizing control. And even if it is the right conflict, it should be remembered that war is ugly. There may be some opportunity for glory, but there is much more opportunity for gory.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

On Voting

There are three common arguments made about voting by libertarians. The first is made by those who are too ready to sacrifice principle; that a person must vote for the lesser of two evils. This is a wasted vote. Voting for a Republican or a Democrat on the premise that the candidate from the other major party is worse really makes no difference. First of all most districts are safe districts and the winner of the general election is really determined in the primary. For state-wide races, such as senators or the president, most states are safe states as well.

Voting for the lesser of two evils doesn’t send the message the voter generally assumes will be sent. If a person votes against candidate A by voting for candidate B, all the vote totals show is another vote for candidate B. Votes do not come with labels saying "this is actually a vote against the other candidate", it is counted as a positive endorsement of all the flaws of candidate B.

Maybe in some particular races the counter argument could be made. In Minnesota, for example, the margin of victory in the 2008 senate race was less than the third party total, and Republicans bitterly complained about Libertarians allowing a Democrat to win the office - but Republicans forgot that the votes do not belong to the Republican Party, that they had not earned them, and in fact had acted in such a way as to guarantee that those voters will vote Libertarian. In attempting to make the lesser of two evils argument in that particular case, defenders of lesser of two evils not only undermine their own case, they support showing that the case is the exception and that most races are not nearly that close.

Except for the very extreme case, the vote for a third party will not decide the race between the major party candidates. In Texas, a voter trying to choose between Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party or Barack Obama of the Democratic Party will not swing that state. In California, a voter trying to choose between Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party or John McCain of the Republican Party will not swing that state. Also, a voter choosing between McKinney or Obama in California or Baldwin or McCain in Texas will not change the outcome.

But put it another way, take a theoretical voter trying to decide between Cynthia McKinney as his first choice or Barack Obama as the lesser of two evils candidate. If he votes for McKinney he increases her vote total from 161,603 to 161,604 (a percentage increase of 0.0006), but if he votes for Obama he increases his vote total from 64,639,738 to 64,639,739 (a percentage increase of 0.000000015). Clearly voting for McKinney would have a greater impact.

The two arguments on effective voting center on whether or not someone should vote at all. Well reasoned arguments are made on both sides of the issue. Those against voting are attempting to withhold consent from the state, consent that the state claims to have from participation in the system. Theoretically if someone votes, the person agrees to abide by the outcome of the election. Those in favor of voting, and not for the lesser of two evils, say that only by voting can the voice of the voter be heard, however faintly, alerting those in power to the wishes of the voter.

On the consent issue, the state has constructed an inherently contradictory case. If a person does vote the person is said to have given consent through participation; however, if a person does not vote the person is said to have given consent through not bothering to participate by expressing that the voter is content with any outcome. The two arguments contradict each other, but that is no concern to those who support gaining the illusion of consent. Whether or not someone votes, it is counted as consent, so therefore there is no reason to not vote; better to vote in a way that sends a clear message on the voter’s preference.

It is true that if there is no good candidate then there is no point in voting, but if there is actually a good candidate then by voting for that person it does increase, in however small a number, the chances that said candidate would win and does relay the message of who the voter actually supports and what the voter actually wishes of the government. Since the leaders of the major parties seem to believe that the votes belong to the major parties, by voting outside the two party framework a voter sends a disproportionately loud message by not "giving" to the parties that which "belongs" to them. The more voters fail to "deliver the goods" the more the parties start to work on how they can adjust to cause those voters to return. It is even possible, though unlikely, that the major parties could move towards greater liberty without ever attracting a pro-liberty vote. They will never move in that direction if they can get the pro-liberty vote without effort, or if they do not know that the vote is out there.

But there is one area in which the message sent by voting is unmistakable: ballot propositions. There are only two sides to a ballot proposition: yes and no. One of those options is clearly better, and there is no splitting of the vote with third options on ballot propositions. Sometimes the right side of the ballot proposition wins, such as Proposition 13, and sometimes it loses, such as Proposition 14, but every vote on a ballot proposition counts. There is no argument against voting for a ballot proposition.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Greater Freedom Movement

After the Libertarian Party Convention there is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that Mark Hinkle beat Wayne Root for national chair. The bad news is that on the final ballot Wayne Root received a significant percentage, about 45%, of the final vote. The first is a good sign that the Libertarian Party is moving back in a more libertarian direction, the second is a sign that there is still a great distance to go before the Libertarian Party can be restored.

Wayne Root was supported by the Reform Caucus. The Reform Caucus was founded on a good idea, that the Libertarian Party could attract greater numbers by working with others who are freedom oriented but who are not as purist as the Libertarian Party. Unfortunately it went entirely the wrong direction - the members of the Reform Caucus started steering the Libertarian Party in a much more Republican direction, giving a big boost to Bob Barr and Wayne Root, ultimately resulting in Aaron Star trying to purge purists from the National Committee.

While there were some in the Reform Caucus who had the best of intentions, trying to reshape the Libertarian Party in that direction was entirely the wrong way to collect the energy of the greater freedom movement. Becoming more like one of the two major parties, or moving more towards the center of the Nolan Chart, is not the way to bring together the greater freedom movement.

The way to go isn't to be more like the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, but to find a way to build alliances with the disaffected of both parties. The way to do that isn't to eliminate what it means to be libertarian, but to encourage the other disaffected fringes to grow and to work with them. It was once pointed out that if Cindy Sheehan's anti-war movement were to join forces with the Tea Party protests it would be a coup for the freedom movement. It has been noticed that the way the parties divided in the bailout separated the mainstreamers of both parties from the mavericks of both parties (with the alleged maverick John McCain a bailout supporter unlike real mavericks Paul and Kucinich).

The greater freedom movement can be considered "libertarian" in the sense used in "Tribesman, Barbarian, Citizen … and Libertarian", but it actually is more diverse than the Libertarian Party Platform could ever be. The Pournelle Chart is a better model in certain respects because it separates the Anarcho-Syndicalists from the Anarcho-Capitalists. It differentiates the Counter-Culture from the Objectivists, while acknowledging that they are both part of the same greater freedom movement that combines the best elements of the Tea Party with the best elements of the Sheehan protests.

The Campaign For Liberty could have been that, by inviting the four leading third candidates on to one stage. It probably still could be, and in doing so is taking the place that should have been taken by the Reform Caucus, and doing it in the way the Reform Caucus should have in the first place. The trick is to acknowledge the differences in the Issues Designed to Divide (abortion being the biggest, and also whether a system without government would be capitalist or syndicalist, but don't budge on the definition of capitalism) instead of fighting over them, and to concentrate on the common foe. That way both purity of ideology can be maintained while making the necessary compromises to work together. Instead of becoming less radical in order to stop scaring voters, the trick is to become more radical by embracing the other, different radicals.

If that is accomplished, then it will be possible for the greater freedom movement to succeed, which will be a victory for the Libertarian Party, both the purists AND the reformers.