Archive for category Ideas

Straw-man con man

David Simon, television producer of The Wire and a noted economic philosopher (but I repeat myself), has something to say about the evils of capitalism, which is the sole source of all the evils of society today.

Evil capitalist, as portrayed by David Simon

Evil capitalist, as portrayed by David Simon

In a recent rambling presentation, he tells us his solution to the “horrors” of society is a mixture of capitalism and socialism/Marxism, which makes about as much sense as you might expect. Here’s a snippet:

Mistaking capitalism for a blueprint as to how to build a society strikes me as a really dangerous idea in a bad way. Capitalism is a remarkable engine again for producing wealth. It’s a great tool to have in your toolbox if you’re trying to build a society and have that society advance. You wouldn’t want to go forward at this point without it. But it’s not a blueprint for how to build the just society. There are other metrics besides that quarterly profit report.

As if, in a capitalist society, people only care about the bottom line to the exclusion of all else. A straw-man argument if there ever was one.

I discovered Simon’s diatribe on the Facebook page of an old friend, a Rhodes Scholar, proving once again that one would have to be highly educated in order to believe something so stupidly incoherent.

I’d say read the whole thing, but I am not a cruel man.

Instead, the antidote comes from this must-read post by Roger Kimball:

As F. A. Hayek points out in Capitalism and the Historians, an extraordinary collection of essays he edited and published in 1954, “The widespread emotional aversion to ‘capitalism’ is closely connected with this belief that the undeniable growth of wealth which the competitive order had produced was purchased at the price of depressing the standard of life the weakest elements of society.” This picture of economic depredation, notes Hayek, is “one supreme myth which more than any other has served to discredit the economic system [capitalism] to which we owe our present-day civilization”…

Not a day goes by without lamentations about the evils or limitations of capitalism emitted by some of capitalism’s most conspicuous beneficiaries. Barack Obama, for example, speaking in Kansas a couple of weeks ago, chided the “certain crowd in Washington” that believed “the market will take care of everything.” Of course, that is rhetorical overstatement; we all know what he means. Do we want big government, high taxes, and intricate regulation, or do we want lean government, low taxes, and the minimum regulation consistent with public safety? Or consider Does Capitalism Have A Future? a collection of essays by “a global quintet of distinguished scholars,” published by Oxford University Press, arguing that the capitalist system is teetering on the brink of collapse and it’s a good thing, too, because the socialist system that may ensue will be far better. It’s an hysterical (not in the sense of “funny”) volume, full of tired Marxoid clichés about the “internal contradictions” of capitalism and impending ecological crisis, but it is also a thoroughly typical product of the comfy intellectual caste that has enjoyed all the benefits of capitalism without bothering to understand what has made those benefits possible.

Despite this anti-capitalist narrative, however–a narrative we hear repeated by “progressive” politicians and iterated in more barbaric, polysyllabic strains by academics everywhere–the capitalist system has made possible over the last century, and especially in the last several decades, the greatest accumulation of wealth in the history of the world. England was the crucible of this modern prosperity in part because of the freedom of economic activity that it, unlike the states of continental Europe, enjoyed. And that freedom, in turn, and again unlike the continent, was underwritten by the limited government England also enjoyed. “The rapid growth of wealth” in England in the early nineteenth century, Hayek observes, “is probably in the first instance an almost accidental byproduct of the limitations which the revolution of the seventeenth century placed on the powers of government.” We’ve been working diligently in this country to remove those limitations. How far will we have to sink before the people once again rise up and repudiate the elites who wish to fetter them in manacles forged by statist overreach?

Kimball quotes T.S. Ashton on the Rev. Philip Gaskell, saying he is someone “whose earnestness and honesty are not in doubt, but whose mind have not been confused by any study of history.”

Which we could easily apply to Simon.

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Dormez-vous, France?

"Allons enfants de la Patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrivé !"

“Allons enfants de la Patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrivé !”

The most brilliant minds of France are escaping to London, Brussels, and New York rather than stultify at home. Walk down a street in South Kensington – the new Sixth Arrondissement of London – and try not to hear French spoken. The French lycee there has a long waiting list for French children whose families have emigrated.

I grimly listen to my French friends on this topic.

From a senior United Nations official who is now based in Africa: “The best thinkers in France have left the country. What is now left is mediocrity.”

From a chief legal counsel at a major French company: “France is dying a slow death. Socialism is killing it. It’s like a rich old family being unable to give up the servants. Think Downton Abbey.”

From a French publisher: “In the past 10 years, the global village has become a reality. The world economy has become so important that a nation-state can no longer play the role that it did 10 years ago. The French have not woken up to that.”

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TED Talking

The key rhetorical device for TED talks is a combination of epiphany and personal testimony (an “epiphimony” if you like ) through which the speaker shares a personal journey of insight and realisation, its triumphs and tribulations.

What is it that the TED audience hopes to get from this? A vicarious insight, a fleeting moment of wonder, an inkling that maybe it’s all going to work out after all? A spiritual buzz?

I’m sorry but this fails to meet the challenges that we are supposedly here to confront. These are complicated and difficult and are not given to tidy just-so solutions. They don’t care about anyone’s experience of optimism. Given the stakes, making our best and brightest waste their time – and the audience’s time – dancing like infomercial hosts is too high a price. It is cynical.

Also, it just doesn’t work.

Indeed. Read the whole thing.

(h/t Kathy Shaidle)

Also, this:

And this:

One of the easiest ways to create something that white people will like is to create something that will allow them to feel smart but doesn’t require a large amount of work, time, or effort. There is, however, a catch. Whatever it is that you create cannot be a shortcut. You see white people like the idea of getting smarter quickly, but they don’t like the idea of people thinking that they are lazy. It is a bit of a paradox, but it does explain why white people only like Cliff Notes if they are part of some sort of hilarious college story about last-minute studying for an exam. And why they consider it highly unacceptable to use cliff notes or Wikipedia to get a rough understanding of a book you don’t want to read.

Unfortunately being able to create something that makes you feel smarter without having to do a lot of work has been very difficult. So only a few ideas have ever gained traction with white people, the most notable of which being documentary films and public radio. However, in the past decade a new item has been added to this very short list-TED Talks.

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Deep Optimism

Matt Ridley learns you a lesson:

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Regulation, Government and Instutitions

In which I critique Andrew Sullivan’s critique of Rush Limbaugh’s critique of Pope Francis’s critique of capitalism:

Limbaugh has obviously never read the Gospels. He has never read the parables. His ideology is so extreme it even trashes, because it does not begin to understand, the core principles of capitalism, as laid out by Adam Smith. Market capitalism is and always has been a regulated construction of government, not some kind of state of nature without it. Indeed without proper regulation to maintain a proper and fair and transparent market, it is doomed to terrible corruption, inefficiency, injustice, and abuse.

Sullivan, the supposed conservative, makes the same mistake all Big Government advocates make, namely assuming “regulation” has to come from “government.”

Capitalism is regulated through institutions, which may or may not be the domain of governments. For example, where government has had a role in expanding the capitalistic free market, it has been more to do with preserving the fundamental rights of the individual — property rights, freedoms of expression and commerce, protection from physical harm or theft, etc. — than it has in actually instituting these successfully.

In fact, it was those those institutions which evolved in order to restrain government control which also enabled free markets to flourish and benefit the great mass of its participants. The Magna Carta and similar documents found in other European nations are good examples of this.

Furthermore, corruption in the free market is self-correcting in that those participating soon learn if another is acting without scruples and cannot be trusted. Investors need merely to place their capital into investments which are more trustworthy and better serve the demands of the market.

Corruption in government, which Sullivan claims would prevent “doom” to capitalism, is actually much more harmful as government compels taxes, controls the courts, distorts market signals, and monopolizes via fiat the means of violence. These days, a business is rarely corrupt for very long unless enabled or empowered to be so by the government. It is government which institutionalizes corruption.

As for evidence of inefficiency, injustice, and abuse, go no further than your nearest parliament.

(h/t Mytheos Holt)

 

UPDATE: Sullivan also mocks Limbaugh, a supposed fan of Pope John II, by quoting the past pontiff in Centesimus Annus:

The Marxist solution has failed, but the realities of marginalization and exploitation remain in the world, especially the Third World, as does the reality of human alienation, especially in the more advanced countries. Against these phenomena the Church strongly raises her voice. Vast multitudes are still living in conditions of great material and moral poverty. The collapse of the Communist system in so many countries certainly removes an obstacle to facing these problems in an appropriate and realistic way, but it is not enough to bring about their solution.

Indeed, there is a risk that a radical capitalistic ideology could spread which refuses even to consider these problems, in the a priori belief that any attempt to solve them is doomed to failure and which blindly entrusts their solution to the free development of market forces.

QED?

Nope. More people have left extreme poverty in the past decade than ever before, in large part thanks to “free development of market forces”:

 Never has so much wealth been generated — but, importantly, never has growth been shared more evenly. While the rich world is wallowing a mire of debt, the developing world is making incredible progress. The global inequality gap is narrowing – and thanks not to the edicts of governments, but to the co-operation of millions of people, rich and poor, through international trade. Or, as critics call this system, ‘global capitalism’.

As a result goals that once seemed fantastical are now within reach: from the end of Aids to the end of famine. To understand the speed of this progress consider the  United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals,  drawn up in 2000. The plan then was to halve the number of people living on $1 a day by 2015. This target was reached five years early. This amazing achievement passed with almost no comment, perhaps because it had been achieved by the market rather than foreign aid. People, when free to trade with each other, are succeeding where decades of government schemes failed.

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Conspiracy Fueling

Glenn Reynolds, worth quoting in full:

SO THE TOPIC FOR MY USA TODAY COLUMN THAT I WOUND UP NOT USING was about how the story of the bogus translator at the Mandela funeral illustrates that everyday life is full of the kinds of inconsistencies and improbabilities that fuel conspiracy theories. Imagine if that guy had actually been a terrorist or an assassin, and had killed Obama and other leaders — suddenly his mental-health problems, his hiring by a fly-by-night company that vanished, his non-existent language school, the absence of security screenings at the event, would all look like some part of a coordinated plot, instead of general incompetence.

Just remember that in the future. Unless, of course, that’s what this was all about, which would prove that it really is a conspiracy!!!

Too bad he didn’t finish that column.

More here:

For a different example, I lived near Washington when the D.C. sniper attacks were happening in 2002, and I recall how we were told to be on the lookout for a white van that had been seen near several of the shootings. A friend at work tried an experiment while he was running errands in the area. He imagined hearing a gunshot, and he’d look around for a white van. He always saw one. Often more than one. The actual sniper had a blue sedan. The vans were just a coincidence.

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Pope trope

" ... Will it ever stop? Yo – I don't know. Turn off the lights and I'll glow ..."

” … Will it ever stop? Yo – I don’t know. Turn off the lights and I’ll glow …”

Greg Mankiw on the unfortunate economic musings of Pope Francis:

First, throughout history, free-market capitalism has been a great driver of economic growth, and as my colleague Ben Friedman has written, economic growth has been a great driver of a more moral society.

Second, “trickle-down” is not a theory but a pejorative used by those on the left to describe a viewpoint they oppose. It is equivalent to those on the right referring to the “soak-the-rich” theories of the left. It is sad to see the pope using a pejorative, rather than encouraging an open-minded discussion of opposing perspectives.

Third, as far as I know, the pope did not address the tax-exempt status of the church. I would be eager to hear his views on that issue. Maybe he thinks the tax benefits the church receives do some good when they trickle down.

I’d like to add, fourth, that the Church did such a great job that it only took seventeen-hundred years before it significantly improved the quality of life of all Europeans, which just happened to coincide with the Industrial Revolution and the rise of capitalism.

h/t Instapundit

UPDATE: David Harsanyi elaborates. A must-read. (h/t Kathy Shaidle)

UPDATER: Ludwig von Mises:

Of course, as a rule capitalists and entrepreneurs are not saints excelling in the virtue of self-denial.  But neither are their critics saintly.  And with all the regard due to the sublime self-effacement of saints, we cannot help stating the fact that the world would be in a rather desolate condition if it were peopled exclusively by men not interested in the pursuit of material well-being.

(h/t Cafe Hayek)

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