Friday, 4 January 2019

On Welfare


Today, I’ll address questions like: Are we obliged to help others when they are in adversity? If so, under what conditions? Who, exactly, deserves our help? How well do current welfare states perform the task at hand? And how might we put together a system to do the job properly, helping those who need and deserve help, while avoiding injustice to anyone?

Views from the past

John Locke, certainly, knew that there are good reasons to help your fellow human beings when they are in trouble. For he wrote, in his First Treatise: “It would always be a sin, in any man of estate, to let his brother perish for want of affording him relief out of his plenty. As justice gives every man a title to the product of his honest industry, and the fair acquisitions of his ancestors descended to him; so charity gives every man a title to so much of another’s plenty as will keep him from extreme want, where he has no means to subsist otherwise.”

But a counter-balancing view comes from 16th century English clergyman Richard Hooker, quoted by Locke himself. “If I do harm, I must look to suffer, there being no reason that others should show greater measure of love to me, than they have by me showed unto them.” In other words, if you behave badly towards others, you can’t reasonably expect them to behave any better towards you.

In my view, Locke is right, but Hooker is more right. Locke is right, because undeserved adversity – such as accident, illness, disability, unemployment – can happen to anyone. “There, but for the grace of god, go I.” Moreover, old age hits everyone who doesn’t die young. So, if you don’t show caring for your fellow human beings when they’re in trouble, you can’t expect them to feel much obligation to help you when you’re the one in trouble. But Hooker is more right; because brotherhood must be a two-way process. If individuals fail to show fellowship towards you, or if they behave badly towards you or even do harm to you, you can’t reasonably be obliged to feel or to show any brotherhood towards them.

My take on all this is that, to be worthy of our compassion and help, individuals must behave as our fellow human beings. That means, they must measure up to two sets of standards. One, they must be human beings; they must behave in ways that are natural to, and right for, human beings. And two, they must be our fellows. They must care about us; each of us as an individual. In particular, they must refrain from doing things that unjustly harm or inconvenience us, violate our rights, or restrict our freedoms.

Human nature

Here, in brief, is my take on human nature. We human beings are individuals. And we have free will. But we have also an ethical dimension. We are moral agents, who strive to know right from wrong. And we are naturally good; that is, our nature leads us to seek to do what is right. Even though, obviously, some among us fail to develop that nature.

Furthermore, it is in our nature to form societies and to build civilization. And at a higher level yet, it is in our nature to be creative. It is this creativity which elevates us above mere animals.

Convivial and disconvivial

In an earlier essay, I introduced the ideas of conviviality and convivial conduct. Other words you might use to describe such conduct are “civilized” or “reasonable.” I characterized some of the features of convivial conduct as follows: Seeking truth. Peacefulness, honesty, and respect for rights and freedoms. Refraining from harming innocents. Taking responsibility for directing your life, and for the effects of your actions on others. Striving to be economically productive. Tolerating difference. Always trying to behave with integrity and in good faith.

On the other hand, some individuals are disconvivial. In large matters, or repeatedly, or even habitually, they engage in conduct that is not convivial. Such as: Lying, dealing in bad faith. Ordering, committing or supporting aggressions. Behaving unreasonably or irresponsibly towards others. Sponging off others. Violating rights, or promoting or supporting violations of rights. Trying to constrain others’ freedoms, or their enjoyment of their justly earned wealth. Those that behave in disconvivial ways are, to use a vernacular word, assholes.

Now, I’ll ask: Why should those of us, who strive to be convivial, feel any sense of identity with, or caring for, those that behave like assholes? Why should truthful, honest people, for example, care about liars or the dishonest? Why should productive people care about the lazy? Why should peaceful people care about aggressors? Why should those, who respect others’ rights and freedoms, care about those that violate our rights or deny our freedoms?

From the point of view of those who strive to be convivial, disconvivials are a pain and a drain. They don’t measure up even to minimum standards of humanity. They are not fit to be accepted into any society of convivial human beings. Why, then, should we care about them?

Who are your fellows?

To promote, support or carry out any act that violates the rights of, harms or inconveniences, or seeks to harm or to inconvenience, innocent people is to commit an aggression against those innocent people. If you are a victim of such acts, those that did these things have committed aggression against you. So, why should you feel any kind of fellowship for them? If they want, for example, to constrain your freedom, to subject you to harassment, to impose taxes on you from which you get no benefit, or to reduce or cut off your economic opportunities? They have behaved, not as your friends, but as your enemies.

Do you really have any obligation to help such individuals? Ought you to go out of your way, or to use any of your resources, for their benefit? My answer is: Hell, no. You have no obligation to feed again those that bit your hand last time. They owe you compensation for what they have done to you; you don’t owe them anything.

Political policies and agendas

Today we suffer under a host of bad political policies, promoted by self-serving interest groups. Some like to go to the school-bully that is political government to get favours for themselves, or to get harms done to those they don’t like. Others like to rob us of our earned money – to deny us, in Locke’s words, title to the product of our honest industry – to enrich themselves and their friends and supporters, or to fund their pet projects. And many of those projects are disconvivial in themselves; for example, spreading lies and propaganda, seeking to force people to change their lifestyles against their wills, or starting wars. Yet others have a yen to violate our freedoms just for the hell of it, or to enforce arbitrary “laws” harshly on us.

Whenever you are inconvenienced, harmed, or you have your rights violated or your freedoms unnecessarily constrained by a political policy, then those that promoted, supported or enforced that policy have committed aggressions against you. And in a nasty, sneaky way too. What they have done is worse than merely criminal; it is cowardly, too. It is morally equivalent to – unprovoked – punching you in the nose, then running away.

But it is the deliberate imposition of political ideologies and agendas that leads to the worst excesses of disconviviality. Such agendas spawn webs of interconnected policies, all directed to outcomes that today are, virtually always, hostile to the interests of convivial people.

Take, as an example, socialism, which even 180 years ago had shown that it doesn’t work. Or communism, that has caused the deaths of almost 100 million people. Or fascism, a warlike ideology that easily turns to genocide. Or religious conservatism, that seeks to force everyone to conform to the customs of one particular sect. Or social conservatism, which seeks to maintain an existing order, even after it has clearly failed. Or corporate cronyism, or some ill-defined idea of “social justice,” both of which seek to enrich favoured groups, and to make innocent people pay for it.

I ask: Are those that promote and support these agendas really our brothers, our fellow human beings? And my answer again is: Hell, no. Should Jews, for example, be expected to feel fellowship with former nazis, or with their modern cohorts? Should those, whose lives have been damaged by bad political policies, be expected to feel compassion for, or to give any kind of help to, those that promoted or supported such policies? Surely not. They didn’t, and don’t, care about you; so why should you care about them? If an asshole starves, that’s one less asshole. Isn’t that a good thing?

But among all these evil ideologies, the worst is the environmentalist or green agenda. Hatched, propagandized and rammed down our throats by a globalist élite with no concern at all for us human beings, this agenda openly seeks to destroy the industrial civilization, which over the last two centuries has brought more opportunities for human beings to fulfil ourselves than ever before. And it does so by – among much else – using lies, bad “science,” hype and deceptions, by inverting the burden of proof, and by making the accused prove a negative. It is no exaggeration to say that those that favour the green agenda are traitors to human civilization. And therefore, they deserve to be expelled from our civilization, and denied its benefits.

Welfare states

Although there are government run welfare systems of one kind or another in many countries, the roots of the welfare state system lie in the UK. Before the 19th century, help for the poor was a religious matter, and was provided by local parishes. After the disastrous experiment of the 1834 Poor Law, there grew up private systems, through which people could get relief from poverty. Most notable among these were the friendly societies. But the political class still wanted to take control of these systems. Via a “national insurance” scheme in 1911, they gradually progressed to the creation, in 1948, of the giant, all-encompassing combine that is today called the welfare state.

In the UK at least, it isn’t just pensions, health and unemployment insurance that are provided by government and financed through taxation. Among much else, there is subsidized housing. There is “free” education. Things like roads and railways are, more or less directly, controlled by government. Even bus services are subsidized. The effect is like a giant financial whirlpool. For productive, honest people, some of what has been taken from us through taxation is, eventually, re-cycled to us in one form or another. But a lot of it – most – just disappears.

So, how well has the welfare state done its job? After 70 years, has it ended poverty? Has it made us all better off? Has it provided us with financial security in our old age? Hell, no.

First, the welfare state has always been a Ponzi scheme. It doesn’t enable people to build up a surplus, which they can use when in need. Rather, it has always depended on those currently working to pay for benefits for those not working, or no longer able to work. Then, in the early 1970s, there began the fall in indigenous birth rates to below replacement levels, which today has reached almost all Western countries. The political class’s response has been twofold. First, to increase taxes. Thus, today in the UK we suffer the highest tax burden in 50 years. And, as the population ages, that burden is increasing rapidly. Second, to actively encourage mass immigration. This has led, understandably, to negative reactions from those who feel their culture is being diluted, and their home turned into a foreign land; if not also a building site.

Second, the economic policies that maintain the welfare state have had disastrous consequences for many working people.  Sixty years ago, one working parent could support a family. Now, it often takes two. Buying a home, too, has become an increasing strain. Meanwhile, low interest rates and deliberate currency inflation – euphemized as “quantitative easing” – have favoured the state itself, and the big corporations that hang off its coat-tails; while we ordinary people are unable to preserve anything like the value of our savings. Further, acts of political meddling have taken away the access to the market, and so the earning power, even of highly skilled individuals. I myself am a victim of such an evil act, code named IR35, which for 20 years now has reduced my income to half or even a third of what I’m worth in the market.

Third, the welfare state has had bad social consequences, too. Sociologists tell us that it has created an underclass. With no desire to work, and in some cases with criminal tendencies, they have become unemployable and dependent on the state for their very existence. It has also caused a more general moral decay; many now show no shame about taking as much as they possibly can from the trough. It has destroyed the feeling of solidarity, that underpinned what used to be known as “civil society.” Further, those who, like me, have been expected to pay for all this, but have stood on our own two feet and never claimed any social benefits, don’t get even a single word of thanks or appreciation. Not even from one of the recipients, not even once. Ungrateful bastards! Instead, they give thanks and respect, not to those who earned the wealth they are living off, but to the political class that re-distributed it in their direction.

Fourth, like any centralized system that is not subject to market pressures or competition, the welfare state has become expensive and bureaucratic. Worse, it has encouraged health fascists and other nanny-state freedom-haters to try to take advantage. That’s why we keep hearing trial balloons for policies like denying medical treatment to smokers, or imposing a “calorie cap” on restaurant meals. Or, even, the ridiculous idea of a “universal basic income” (UBI). Such a system would have all the failings of the welfare state, and more. The poor would, very likely, be worse off even than under today’s welfare systems. A UBI would take away all incentive to work hard, or even to work at all. And so, it would inevitably end in disastrous failure.

And last… the welfare state is unsustainable. It’s like a neglected, ramshackle building that will eventually collapse under its own weight. The political class know this, but they aren’t willing to admit they were wrong. They won’t do anything to dismantle or even to reform the system. Therefore, it continues inexorably on its way towards the brick wall of bankruptcy. And when it hits… unless you’re rich or politically connected, you don’t want to be old. Of course, the political class will look to make sure they themselves don’t suffer. Unless there is radical change, it will be those, who have paid and paid and paid but grow old at the wrong time, who will be shafted. Maybe 10 or 15 years from now. Maybe sooner.

A sane, sustainable system

How might we build a sustainable system, which can help those who are poor through no fault of their own, while allowing everyone to get on with their lives in their own way? The first component, I think, must be savings. People must have incentives and opportunities to work, to develop their skills, and so to build up a reserve for their old age, or for a rainy day. And whatever is left over, they must be able to leave to their children or to other favourites. To enable this requires several conditions. One, a fully free market. Two, a framework of good governance, that delivers peace and objective justice to all, and defends individual rights, and in particular property rights. Three, a reasonably stable currency, which cannot be arbitrarily debauched. And four, the absence of a greedy, grasping, ravenous political state.

The second component is insurance. This works best for those risks, such as serious accident or disability, which have a low chance of happening, but major negative effects if they do happen. Third comes the implementation of systems of mutual aid; perhaps through re-vitalization of friendly societies, or creation of modern versions of them. Fourth is a revival of civil society, in which people look out for their neighbours, and in which there is personal contact between helpers and helped. And as a final backstop, particularly in cases of unexpected emergency, there is always voluntary charity.

As to the how to get there from here, that subject demands an essay in itself. All I’ll say now is that the interests of productive, honest, self-directing people must always take precedence over the interests of the lazy, the dishonest, the politicized and all other assholes.

To sum up

All human individuals owe help and compassion to their fellow human beings. But fellowship is a two-way process. You don’t owe anything to those that fail to behave as human beings, or fail to behave as your fellows, or support political policies that harm you.

Today’s welfare states have had major negative economic and social effects. They have all but destroyed solidarity and civil society, and caused moral decay and loss of individual freedom. Furthermore, welfare states are unsustainable. Without radical change, they will collapse; and sooner rather than later.

A free, just, de-politicized and sustainable welfare system is feasible. It could be built on a foundation of savings, insurance, mutual aid, civil society and, at need, charity.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

A Christmas Story


By Colin Elk

At the winter solstice, on 21st December, Santa said to his reindeer: “Come on, let’s go!”

The Lead Reindeer said, “But you haven’t given us the password!”

“What password?”

“The one Mircosoft gave you.”

“Why do I need a bloody password?”

“Didn’t you hear about the Mogg-Ryan-Goodwin Act, passed back in July? It’s very clear. For security reasons, every leader of a reindeer troupe must supply a password before he and his reindeer can be allowed to fly.”

Santa looked up the reference, and found that it was indeed so. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

He had forgotten the password, so he e-mailed Mircosoft Support requesting a password change. He received an immediate automated response, and set about changing his password. But whatever combination he tried that he might afterwards remember, he got a message: “Your password is not sufficiently strong.”

And the evening and the morning were the second day.

Exasperated, Santa typed a long, random sequence of characters. And, lo and behold, they were accepted! “Now confirm your new password” came the message.

Try as he would, Santa couldn’t reproduce the sequence. So, he sent another e-mail to Mircosoft Support, asking to be allowed to change his password again. He received an immediate automated response, “Mircosoft Support is closed on Sundays. Please try again tomorrow.”

And the evening and the morning were the third day.

It was now Christmas Eve, and Santa was in danger of breaching his contract with the Great Galactic Gopher. For a small consideration, Santa had agreed to provide a diversion for Earthly children from what their elders were doing to them, by flying – in child-visible mode – around planet Earth with his reindeer on one day of the year, December 25th.

Santa considered his options and, having decided, set up a new Mircosoft account. Not having much creativity, he picked a username that was an anagram of his own: “Satan.” Everything went through smoothly, and he was authorized to take his reindeer up on the next day. And did so.

And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

When the Great Galactic Gopher found out, he laughed uncontrollably for two days straight. He needed a day of rest after that.

Monday, 26 November 2018

A Christmas Carol (2018)


A lady fellow denizen of a forum I inhabit recently published an article entitled “Why All the Depressing Christmas Songs?” I can see her point; there’s a lot of rubbish “music” around with some attempt at a Christmas theme. There are also, however, still some pretty decent Christmas tunes. As a tuba player in a brass band, I usually have a busy December playing this music in various places – from churches to shopping centres to care homes – not to mention standing outside in the cold under a lamp-post! (Fortunately, we don’t do as many of those last as we used to).

We play all the old favourites of course: Hark the Herald, Silent Night, O Come all ye Faithful, and others that people can sing along to. We often finish with Jingle Bells, starting quite slowly but getting faster and faster and faster! We also do some of the less well known, and often more complex, tunes from the carol books, as well as arrangements of some more modern Christmas “classics.”

But because I’m an arranger and composer as well as a player, I have another string to my bow at Christmas. Since 2014, BBC Radio 3 has held a carol composers’ contest. The idea is that they publish a poem, and people send in their settings of those words for SATB (soprano, alto, tenor, bass) choir, with or without piano accompaniment. Out of usually several hundred entries, the BBC then shortlist the six they consider best, their singers record them, and the recordings are published on the BBC website. People can then vote for the one they think is the best of all. All six get played in the week or so leading up to Christmas, and the winner will be sung live on air a few days before Christmas, then the recording played many times on Christmas Day.

I heard that I was not far off the short list in 2016, and this year I had even higher hopes, as I had a late draft of my carol run through a local church choir, and the message I got back from their musical director was “Potential winner.” Sadly, it still didn’t make the short list, but that’s the BBC for you. Nevertheless, I thought it might be worth publishing the score here, so those of you who are choral singers can try it. It’s only five pages long.

The words, I admit, are a bit naff – that was another of the comments I got from the choir. But the blame for that lies, not with me, but with Carol Ann Duffy, the UK’s current Poet Laureate, who wrote these words in 2011. (See https://wordverseuniverse.wordpress.com/2014/12/25/the-bee-carol-duffy/ for the original words). But I hope that people will find my music to those words, albeit a slow melody and written in the minor key, to be fun to sing, and in no way depressing!

So, here’s the music:







Sunday, 11 November 2018

On Riches and Poverty

We hear a lot of sneers directed at the rich. Like “the 1 per cent,” “greedy” or “fat cats.” Today, I’ll ask: To what extent do the rich deserve these insults? Then, I’ll look at poverty, and ask: Why are so many people poor? And how might the problem of undeserved poverty be solved?

First, is being “rich” a relative or an absolute thing? Were, for example, the Roman emperors rich? At one level, they were indeed rich; they had far more money and resources than the people around them. At another level, because of economic expansion over the centuries, many Western people today can afford things the Roman emperors could not have dreamed of. Beef from Argentina, bacon from Denmark, wine from Chile, or out-of-season fruit from Morocco, for example. So, while absolute standard of living is important in determining whether or not someone is “rich,” it’s also necessary to look at what they enjoy relative to those around them.

I’ll briefly re-cap the economic fundamentals. It is natural for convivial human beings to create well-being. That is, to deliver what others are voluntarily willing to pay for. There are many ways to do this; every one of us must find the way or ways that best suits us. To support this vital function, and to encourage it to continue, a framework is necessary, in which each individual will receive just rewards in exchange for his or her skills and efforts.

In an earlier essay I identified four things this framework must provide. First, sound money. Second, property rights. Third, a system which implements objective, individual justice; that is, the condition in which each individual is treated, in the round and as far as practicable, as he or she treats others. And fourth, a free market, in which there are no arbitrary barriers or obstacles to who may trade and with whom.

There is, however, a fifth condition necessary before people can flourish economically; and that is a negative condition. Unlike today, there must be no privileged political class, that has the power to bleed individuals and the economy, and to use the proceeds for their own selfish gain, to enrich their supporters and cronies, or to fund their pet – and often nefarious – projects.

Riches

So, how can people become rich, or at least comfortably off? There are several ways. First, and very much foremost, by earning it. That is, by creating wealth through honest work and business in the free market. Not only is this by far the most praiseworthy means of building personal wealth; but it’s also the one which is natural for convivial human beings. In a free market with justice, good people can fully enjoy the well-being, which they have justly earned through delivering what others are voluntarily willing to pay for.

Unfortunately, the rapacious political classes and their cronies make it forever harder and harder for people to reap the rewards they deserve for their good work. They see the profit from honest business – that is, the excess of the value produced for others over the costs of producing that value – as a bad thing, not the unmitigated good which it really is. They seek to re-direct as much of that profit as they can to themselves, and to their cronies and supporters. To make things worse, many new business ventures today fail before they ever really get going. And for professionals (like me) who have developed strong and saleable skills, it’s worse yet; we are denied access to the market by bad, political “laws” that favour big companies over small ones.

A second way to get rich is through luck. For example, by inheriting the millions that Daddy earned, or by winning a big lottery prize. There is nothing wrong with these; but for obvious reasons, very few get rich in such ways. A third way to get rich is through canny investment; by providing resources to people who will use them well, in exchange for a share of the profits. The problem here is, that you must be already quite well off in order to do this at all.

Moving down the scale, another way to bring in money – often in large quantities – is to suck wealth out of the system like a parasite. For example, through asset stripping of companies, or through becoming adept at corporate politics. Further down again is scheming, gaming the system to your own advantage. For example, accepting subsidies, or lobbying for advantages or to harm your competitors. Then there is the criminal means; such as theft, fraud, intimidation and violence, as practiced by organizations like the Mafia. And at the very bottom of the scale is what Franz Oppenheimer called the “political means,” in essence, legalized robbery.

It’s plain from all this that – luck aside – it is extremely hard for anyone to become rich without either already being rich, or taking money from others by means parasitic, criminal or political. Thus, sneers directed at the rich are entirely justified, if their riches have been acquired by such means. Meanwhile, those who deserve to be comfortably off, or even to become rich, are drained of their earnings and life-chances by the criminal political class and their parasites and cronies. Further, these good people are often the targets of hatred and slurs from those that are draining them dry. So the rich get richer, the poor don’t get any better off, and those in the middle get screwed.

Poverty

The opposite of rich is poor. And like riches, poverty has both absolute and relative aspects. Clearly, in those Western countries which have had a history of relative economic freedom, most people are better off than those in third world countries with no such history. This is not surprising; for social structures, that are based on political power and cronyism rather than on the free market, virtually always result in a few rich and very many poor.

There are many reasons why individuals are, or become, poor. But all of them can, I think, be put into one of four categories. One, lack of access to the free market. Two, lack of ability to create wealth or well-being. Three, lack of just reward. And four, debt.

Lack of access to the free market can be due to a variety of causes. For example: Wars or political oppression. Regulatory burden, such as business licensing, or bad laws made to favour some economic actors over others. Tariffs, prohibitions or sanctions. Anti-business culture. Or minimum wage legislation, which prevents people not yet skilled enough to be worth the minimum wage from getting jobs at all. It’s sobering to realize that most, if not all, of these causes of lack of access to the free market are down to acts of political governments.

As to lack of ability to create wealth, there are two main groups of causes. First, things which are the individual’s own fault. For example, if they’re too lazy or too dishonest to use Franz Oppenheimer’s “economic means,” that is, honest work and fair exchange. And second, things which are no-one’s fault, like accident, illness or disability.

Lack of just reward can sometimes be caused by exploitation of the individual, for example by abusive management or by criminals. But more often, it’s caused by political action. For example, by heavy taxation. Or by deliberate currency inflation, making it impossible for people’s savings to keep pace with ever rising prices. Or by a dishonest, unstable banking and financial system. Or by a lack of respect for property rights.

Lastly, debt can be a self-caused source of poverty, such as when individuals have spent on credit beyond their means, or done real damage to others for which they must pay compensation. But debt for individuals can also be brought about by the deliberate actions of others. For example, overblown damages or maintenance payments imposed by a politicized legal system. Or a corrupt, gluttonous state that seeks any means possible to force its debts on to those it rules over.

Solutions to poverty

To look for solutions to poverty, I’ll re-arrange the causes I listed above according to who is at fault for each.

If an individual is poor through that individual’s own fault, the remedy is in the individual’s own hands. No more need be said than: reform your conduct, get earning, and if you’re still in debt, pull yourself out of it.

If, however, individuals are poor through someone else’s fault, then it must be the responsibility of those at fault to fix the problem. In today’s system, those at fault – common criminals excepted – are almost always the political class, their henchpersons or their corporate cronies. But the framework of justice, which I outlined above, would solve the great majority of these problems. Removing political operators and their cronies from positions of power and privilege, bringing them to justice as they deserve, and making them compensate their victims, would go a long way towards achieving this. And the combination of sound money, freedom of trade, property rights and objective justice will then be able to fix the problem for good.

Where individuals’ poverty is no-one’s fault, then it is appropriate to set up systems of insurance or mutual aid. Such schemes existed in the 19th century, for example the friendly societies. But they were elbowed out by politicized welfare states.

Welfare is a large subject, which demands an essay in itself.  But in the framework of justice I described, re-vitalization of private welfare schemes is one of three elements which I think can help to cure poverty. The second is removal of disincentives to saving for the future. And the third is non-politicized means of education and training for whatever skills are in demand. These elements together should be enough to ensure that no-one becomes poor through no fault of their own. But even so, voluntary charity is always available as a final back-stop.

To sum up

Today, a rapacious political class makes it far harder than it ought to be for people who deserve to be comfortably off, or even rich, to get what they deserve. Instead, good people are ripped off, and the benefits go to the state and its political class, and their cronies and supporters. The rich get richer, the poor don’t get any better off, and those in the middle get screwed.

Many of those, who today are rich, have not earned their riches, but got them through parasitism, cronyism or politics. Such individuals fully deserve all the sneers and slurs that we hear so often directed at “the rich.”

Undeserved poverty is often the fault of individuals and groups other than the people who are made poor. Leaving aside laziness and dishonesty, most poverty is caused by the acts of political governments and their parasites and cronies.

The problem of undeserved poverty can be solved by a combination of the following: Sound money. Property rights. Objective justice. The free market. Removal of the political class and their cronies from their positions of power and privilege, and bringing them to justice. Removal of disincentives to saving. Re-vitalization of private systems of insurance and mutual aid. And de-politicized systems of education and training.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Is all we're told a fake?

(By the Darn-Poor Rhymer - With apologies to the Bard)
(With minor updates - 28 Oct 2018)

Is all we're told a fake?
Are all the so-called “experts” merely liars?
They have their tricks and clever arguments,
And one man in his time learns many arts.
His thoughts move in six stages. First, the newbie,
His gaze, his ear, his mind glued to the screen,
Believing all he’s told. And then the troll,
Crying “fake news,” and “bull,” and “balderdash,”
Annoying and insulting all in range,
Until no-one will listen. Then the follower,
Searching for wisdom in the godless depths
Of someone else’s arcane religion,
While parroting its credos. Then the warrior,
Shouting his narrative at top of voice,
Augmenting it with copious references
To sources just as biased as himself,
Using his subtle tricks and clever ruses
To seek to sow the seeds of doubt and guilt,
And rarely giving ground to others’ views;
But never once considering the thought
That it might be him, not his opponent,
Who has it wrong. The fifth stage shifts
To the truth seeker, doing what he can
To find the facts, and piece together truths,
And spread these truths to those willing and able
To listen to them. Sixth comes the free man.
Able to govern self, to live and let live;
Free from all need for politics or laws,
Free from all wish for violence or aggression,
Free from desire to lie, insult or slur,
Reciprocating others’ tolerance,
And judging people, not by who they are,
But what they do.

Way back in Shakespeare’s time
There was a seventh stage, of slow decline;
But as I look out, it’s a sunny day,
And so, I think, that’s all I have to say.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

What I Deny, and What I Do Not Deny

Recently, we’ve been bombarded by lots of hyped stories about global warming and climate change. (Not to mention pollution and “endangered species.”) There seems to be yet another concerted push by alarmists in governments, academe and media to try to make us accept draconian green policies that are based on nothing provably real. And more and more often, I find myself being castigated as a “denier.”

I thought it worth putting on the record my views on the matter; what I deny, and what I do not deny. I do this in the hope that those minded to call me “denier” may come to understand better my disagreements with the alarmist line. Perhaps, even, some may feel able to provide specific, objective evidence that I am wrong in one or more of my statements.

What I Do Not Deny

  1. I do not deny that there is such a thing as climate. I am not a “climate denier.”

  2. I do not deny that historically the Earth’s climate has changed, or that it is still changing. I am not a “climate change denier.”

  3. I do not deny that, according to historical temperature records, there has been a general tendency towards warming over the last 400 years or so. I am not a “global warming denier.”

  4. I do not deny that human activities affect the Earth’s climate to some extent; if only through urban heat islands.

  5. I do not deny that there is a plausible scientific hypothesis, according to which emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other gases by human civilization might lead to some amount of warming, which would not have happened otherwise. I am not a “science denier.”

  6. I do not deny that the amount of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere has, very probably, increased over the last 200 or so years.

  7. I do not deny that some, or perhaps much, of that increase in carbon dioxide has been due to human activities.

  8. I do not deny that, should the consequences of such a warming be proven beyond reasonable doubt to be a nett disbenefit to humankind, there is a case to be made for action to reduce or mitigate the disbenefit. Provided, of course, that the costs of the action are no greater than the disbenefit it is supposed to cure.

  9. I do not deny that I have a responsibility to compensate those to whom I cause significant and unjust harm through environmental or other side effects of my freely willed, uncoerced actions. Provided, of course, that they accept their responsibility to do the same for me.

  10. I do not deny that I can sometimes be wrong.
What I Deny
  1. I deny that the allegation that human activities are causing, or will in the foreseeable future cause, substantial global warming with catastrophic consequences (for example, through coastal flooding or more and stronger hurricanes) has been proven beyond reasonable doubt.

  2. I deny that the hypothesis, that a small temperature rise caused by human activities would lead to a much larger or even a runaway rise due to climate system feedbacks, is consistent with what is known about the Earth’s climate history.

  3. I deny that there is proof beyond reasonable doubt that any global temperature rise caused by human activities would be significantly greater than the likely effects of non-human-caused climate variations over a similar time period.

  4. I deny that, even if human activities were to cause a moderate amount (a few degrees C) of global warming, there is objective evidence that the nett effect on the planet and on human civilization would be negative. Indeed, human civilization has tended to thrive in past warm periods, such as the Minoan and the Roman.

  5. I deny that, even if human activities did cause some global warming and that warming did have some nett negative effects, the costs of the schemes currently implemented or proposed to reduce or mitigate these effects would be any less than the benefits from the mitigation. Very probably, the costs will be (indeed, they already are) hugely greater than any “benefits.”

  6. I deny that any reasonable interpretation of the precautionary principle can require any such mitigation action to be taken without first making an honest, objective and accurate comparison of the costs and benefits of the action.

  7. I deny that any reasonable interpretation of the precautionary principle can require any political action to be taken on a matter unless and until the science on that matter is good enough to do an objective and accurate cost-benefit analysis.

  8. I deny that any reasonable interpretation of the precautionary principle can shift the burden of proof in any matter away from those that seek political action towards those who would be negatively affected by such action, or can negate the general presumption of “innocent until proven guilty.”

  9. I deny that in situations where facts are uncertain, values are in dispute, stakes are high or decisions are claimed to be urgent, there should be any lessening of the rigour with which risk analysis should be done. Indeed, such situations increase the need for risks to be assessed objectively and accurately.

  10. I deny that there is something called “the environment” that has “rights” that override the rights of human beings to live and act according to our nature.

  11. I deny that I am obliged to feel any kind of communal guilt over unproven negative effects on the planet that may be, might be, or might in the future be, caused by human civilization.

  12. I deny that those driving the “global warming” and other environmental scares truly have any concern for Western civilization or for the people in it.

  13. I deny that the conduct of the “science” on matters such as global warming and pollution has been always honest and in accord with the scientific method.

  14. I deny that the general standard of reporting on these matters by alarmist organizations, the academic establishment or the mainstream media has been truthful, unbiased and honest.

  15. I deny that, in these matters, governments have been open and honest, and have acted in good faith towards the people they are supposed to “represent.”

  16. I deny that any amount of hype, posturing or repetition from politicians, academics, media or anyone else can make a falsehood into a truth.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

On Money, Power and Taxation

Power and money, money and power,
Which is stronger, money or power?
Money can give you a lifetime of honey,
But power allows you to steal others’ money.

Today, I’ll look at money, political power, and the relations between them.

How the economy should be

I’ll begin with a re-cap on how the world economy ought to work for all peaceful, honest, convivial human beings.

At the root of all economic activity is the creation of well-being. As I’ve said before, there is no nobler human activity than delivering what others are voluntarily willing to pay for. To get our own needs and desires satisfied, we trade with others the well-being we create. Thus, each of us creates a flow of wealth to those we trade with, and receives in return a corresponding flow of wealth. And if we are convivial people, we will always act with honesty and good faith, and strive to fulfil the promises we have voluntarily made.

There are many ways in which individuals can create wealth. For example, they can be direct producers, applying their labour and their skills to delivering products or services. They can be entrepreneurs or managers, organizing themselves and others to produce. They can be seekers of objective knowledge. They can be advancers of human capability; for example, teachers, engineers, technologists and other innovators. They can provide support to others, so making them more effective at their own wealth creation. In all these areas, in their own different ways, people co-operate with others, and compete to make themselves as effective as possible.

If any economy is to fulfil its potential, it needs several supports. One of these is sound money. Money is, in essence, an IOU backed by the wealth of the issuer. As long as the issuer remains solvent and honest, it can be used as a medium of exchange, as a unit of account, or as a store of value. A second support is property rights. These rights must ensure that money, land, goods and other wealth, which have been justly earned and have not been traded or given away, remain under the control of those who earned them, and are not unjustly taken by others. A third support is a system of objective justice, to hold to account those that cause damage to others, or subject them to unreasonable risks, or try to cheat them, or fail to deliver their side of the bargain.

The fourth support for a well functioning economy is the free market. In a truly free market, no-one is prevented from justly acquiring, or justly using, wealth. There are no arbitrary barriers or obstacles to the provision of goods or services. There are no arbitrary restrictions on what, or with whom, individuals may trade – or, indeed, not trade if they so choose. There are no tariffs on goods or services crossing arbitrary boundaries. And there are no taxes beyond what is strictly necessary to support the framework of property rights and justice, which underlies the free market. Further, there must be no political agendas that suppress the economy, or that favour some groups or individuals over others. And, in particular, there must be no policies that favour political actors, or their cronies, over others.

Franz Oppenheimer’s insight

That’s how the economy should be – isn’t it? But the economic system, under which we suffer today, isn’t even remotely like that. A clue as to why has been given us by the German Jewish sociologist, Franz Oppenheimer. In his 1908 book The State, he writes: “There are two fundamentally opposed means whereby man, requiring sustenance, is impelled to obtain the necessary means for satisfying his desires. These are work and robbery, one’s own labor and the forcible appropriation of the labor of others.”

Oppenheimer gave the name the economic means to “the equivalent exchange of one’s own labor for the labor of others.” In contrast, the political means is “the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others.” And he made his view of the state very clear, writing: “The state is an organization of the political means.” Otherwise said, the state is a professional robber.

Oppenheimer’s assessment is spot on. For the 16th-century monarchist Frenchman Jean Bodin, in his Six Books of the Commonwealth, created the blueprint for the “Westphalian” system of nation states, under which we still suffer. And he listed, among the rights of a monarch: “taxing, or granting privileges of exemption to all subjects” and “appreciating or depreciating the value and weight of the coinage.”

Links between money and power

At one level, money is power; the power to do what you want. It gives you the power to make choices. To decide where you will go on holiday, or what form of transport you will take, for example. On the other hand, lack of money leads to lack of power. If you can’t afford a holiday, there is no point searching the brochures. If you can’t afford to drive a car, you will have to take the bus, or even walk. You have lost your power of choice.

Money can be used in good ways, or in bad. When used in good ways – for example, as the medium of exchange in a voluntary transaction – it benefits all parties to the transaction. You get to enjoy your holiday; and the people who provided it to you can enjoy in return something they want. But money can also be misused. It can be used to pay for propaganda, or to lobby for the imposition of political agendas or the realization of pet projects. It can be used to seek political power; or to buy favours from those that have such power. It can be used to fuel schemes that take away others’ money, or otherwise violate their rights.

In the reverse direction, power – political power – can be used, either directly or indirectly, to get money. Most obviously, when corrupt political actors seek maximum money for themselves with zero or minimum effort. But power also allows the actor to set “policies,” to court favourites, and to victimize those he disfavours. He can advantage the state – as through very low interest rates – and he can bring about enrichment of some groups of people at the expense of others. He can favour his supporters, lavishly reward his cronies, and impoverish those he doesn’t like.

In this way, there grows a symbiosis between money and political power – some call it “the revolving door.” Power begets money for the powerful; and the rich and politically connected use their money to increase their power. But for the rest of us, just as lack of money leads to lack of power, lack of power leads to lack of money. Sham democracy notwithstanding, our lack of political power puts us all into danger of being dragged down into a poverty we do not deserve.

Some, especially those with a religious agenda, like to vilify money. “The love of money is the root of all evil,” they say. Now, the unjust acquisition of money – and in particular, the use of Oppenheimer’s political means – is an evil. But to use money according to the economic means, in which transactions are voluntary and to the benefit of all parties, is no evil. Indeed, the root of all evil is not the love of money, but the love of power. Power over others. Political power.

Bodin’s prescriptions for revenues

Next, I’ll try to show how this symbiosis of money and power is baked in to the Westphalian system. Bodin gave much advice to his monarchical friends on how to maximize their incomes. He identified seven sources of revenues. First, leasing the king’s lands in exchange for rents. Second, the profits of foreign conquests. Third, gifts from friends. Fourth, the protection racket; payments received in exchange for military “protection” in time of war. Fifth, engaging in commerce. Sixth, customs duties – “charging the merchants who import and export commodities.” Seventh and last, taxing the subject.

As to this last, Bodin wrote: “Do not levy taxes or impositions on your subjects, unless urgent and evident necessity forces you to it, and for some just cause, but not arbitrarily.” He suggested raising taxes on “luxuries and ornaments of all sorts, perfumes, cloth of gold and silver, silk, lace, fine tissues, gold and silver enamel, unnecessary articles of clothing, and scarlet, crimson and cochineal dyes and so forth.” And he exhorted: “It is better to make such things so expensive by heavy taxes that only the very rich and indulgent can afford them...”

Let’s see how well Bodin’s prescriptions have survived the test of time, shall we? Leasing land? Still a factor, though perhaps not as important as formerly. Foreign conquests? Well, yes. If you wonder why states with powerful militaries, such as the USA and formerly Britain, seem to have a burning desire for foreign wars at the slightest excuse, look no further than Bodin’s ideas. Follow the money! Gifts? These have been transmuted into the buying of favours, which I mentioned earlier.

The protection racket? This one has grown in size; it now extends to the “subjects” of the realm too. We are all expected to pay through the nose for a monopolistic “protection” service that is often of low quality, and may at any time be turned against us and used to oppress us. Engaging in commerce? Well, sort of; for example, in areas like education and health care. But the state doesn’t compete fairly in a free market. Instead, it seeks monopoly or near monopoly. What you get from this is what you see; bureaucratic, politicized and often failing. Customs? Tariffs and the like are still a big deal. And taxing the subject? Don’t make me sick.

Taxation today

Even Jean Bodin, could he but see what today’s political classes have done with the system he devised, might feel a pang of discomfort. Franz Oppenheimer, surely, would tear his hair out. Particularly since, at the time he wrote his book in 1908, the income tax – the biggest single imposition by the state on our economic lives – was still a gleam in the eyes of money-hungry statists. And when, just a few years later, they manufactured an excuse to impose an income tax, what did they do with the proceeds? They made a big war, in which 20 million people died. And things have only gone downhill from there.

How many different taxes do we suffer today? Even within a single nation, it must be in the hundreds. There are taxes on incomes. There are taxes on employment. There are taxes on transactions, for example value added taxes. There are taxes on company profits. There are taxes on capital gains. There are taxes on property. There are taxes on goods passing across arbitrary borders – and on people, too. There are inheritance taxes. There are commodity taxes – and not just on luxuries, either. There are “sin” taxes on things like alcohol and tobacco. There are local taxes and city taxes. There are climate levies, carbon “trading” schemes and many other green taxes. There are punitive and extortionate taxes on car drivers. And just about every week, you hear about new taxes – on soda pop or plastic bags, for example.

There is also the hidden tax of inflation. This goes back to Roman times, when emperors used to reduce the real value of their coins by putting into them less and less precious metal. More recently, as nation states have abandoned the gold standard, politicians have been able to issue “fiat money.” (Fiat is Latin for “let it be.”) Such money is cheap to print, and today it’s even easier to create just by modifying figures in a central bank’s computer. The first to get the new money – and most of all, the state – benefit from this Ponzi scheme, at the expense of those further down the chain. The result? In 50 years, the values of most currencies have fallen by a factor of more than 10. And prices have gone up to match. This is, in effect, a huge stealth tax on us, and most of all on the prudent people who have saved for their futures.

These are all instances of the use, by the state, of Franz Oppenheimer’s political means. That is, “the unrequited appropriation of the labor of others.” The oft heard argument that the state uses the money to do good things for the people, so you will eventually get back what you put in, is hokum. Surely, you might get a few worthwhile things, like some roads and a bit of health care. But at what cost? Once what you were forced to pay has been around the political and financial whirlpool a few times, it will be worth only a tiny fraction of its original value.

All these machinations, ultimately, are a big drain on you. Not just on your money, but also on your power; your power of choice. What taxation does, ultimately, is re-distribute wealth and power from the politically poor to the politically rich. From us to them.

Is taxation theft? No, it’s murder!

Some of my friends say “taxation is theft.” But they understate their case. Franz Oppenheimer’s word “robbery,” I think, better describes the violence and threats of violence, which underlie most of the state’s conduct. But I myself prefer a stronger word yet: murder.

Consider: your earned property and money represent part of your life. They represent the time and energy, which you used up in order to earn that property or money. Thus for the state to take away your money, without offering something of value to you in return – and that is what “unrequited” means – is to kill part of your life. It is clearly, too, a pre-meditated act; and a malicious one. And pre-meditated, malicious killing is murder. Thus: Taxation is murder.

To sum up

Our human economic system should be based on wealth creation and trade; the “economic means” as identified by Franz Oppenheimer. It must be backed up by sound money, property rights and an objective system of justice.

In contrast, the state uses the “political means.” Through taxation and currency inflation, it takes money from us, and offers little or nothing of value to us in return. And this amounts to murder – murder of the parts of our lives, which we used up in order to earn that money.