Posts tagged ‘socialism’

This is the Basic Idea Behind Opening Up Cuba to American Business... Though It Would Be Nice to See Internet Access from a Company That Doesn't Roll Over to Authoritarian Censorship

The idea of opening up Cuba is NOT to somehow reward or even ignore their bad behavior but to open them up to the world.  Google wants to be in the forefront of providing Internet access, but given their history of rolling over on censorship to the Chinese, it would be nice to see someone less evil in the vanguard.

I meant to post this a while back, but Jeff Flake totally gets it on Cuba, and I appreciate his leadership among the Republicans on this.  I absolutely loved this quote:

Flake has long said that Americans should be free to see for themselves the stunted fruit of socialist policy. He tells the story of meeting with Lech Walesa, the great activist who challenged Soviet domination of Poland. "I have no idea," Walesa complained, "why you guys have a museum of socialism 90 miles from your shore and you won't let anybody visit it."

After three generations, I think one can safely call a policy like our embargo "failed" and try something else.

The Aristocracy of Huckterism

I was thinking about the crazy populist nuttiness of Donald Trump and the misguided focus of Black Lives Matter and the musty socialism of Bernie Sanders.  As I drive around Europe and see ruins of castles and palaces, it occurred to me that we had almost always been saddled with an aristocracy exercising power over us.  Sometimes they won that position through violence and military action, and sometimes by birth.

But it struck me that we have a new sort of aristocracy today:  the Aristocracy of Hucksterism.  These new aristocrats are just as wealthy and powerful as the old sort, but they have found a new way to gain power -- By suckering millions of people to simply hand it to them.   And when they inevitably fail, and make things worse for everyone, they additionally manage to convince people that they root cause of the failure is that they had not been given enough power.

I Have This Argument All The Time With The US Forest Service

I operate recreation areas in the US Forest Service and from time to time get criticized that my profit adds cost to the management of the facilities, and that the government would clearly be better off with a non-profit running the parks since they don't take a profit.  What they miss is that non-profits historically do a terrible job at what I do.  They begin in a burst of enthusiasm but then taper off into disorder.    Think about any non-profit you have ever been a part of.  Could they consistently run a 24/7/365 service operation to high standards?

Don Boudreaux has a great quote today that touches on this very issue

from page 114 of the 5th edition (2015) of Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics:

While capitalism has a visible cost – profit – that does not exist under socialism, socialism has an invisible cost – inefficiency – that gets weeded out by losses and bankruptcy under capitalism.  The fact that most goods are more widely affordable in a capitalist economy implies that profit is less costly than inefficiency.  Put differently, profit is a price paid for efficiency.

It is also the "price" paid for innovation.

Rental Market in San Francisco

One of the problems with making predictions about bad public policy is that sometimes you have to wait 20-30 years until after the policy was passed to see all the negative consequences play out, by which time people have forgotten about the initial policy changes that caused all the disruption.

But I got to skip those 30 years in San Francisco.  I never really paid that much attention to the city until I read a book called "Season of the Witch" written by a progressive about life in San Francisco in the 60's and 70's.  As I wrote previously:

What struck me most were the policies these folks on the Progressive Left had on housing.  They had three simultaneous policy goals:

  1. Limit San Francisco from building upward (taller).  San Francisco is a bit like Manhattan in that the really desirable part where everyone wants to live is pretty small.  There was (and I suppose still is) a desire by landowners to build taller buildings, to house more people on the same bit of  valuable land.  Progressives (along with many others across the political spectrum) were fighting to have the city prevent this increased density as a threat to San Francisco's "character".
  2. Reduce population density in existing buildings.  Progressive reformers were seeking to get rid of crazy-crowded rooming houses like those in Chinatown
  3. Control and cap rents.  This was the "next thing" that Harvey Milk, for example, was working on just before he was shot -- bringing rent controls to San Francisco.

My first thought was to wonder how a person could hold these three goals in mind without recognizing the inevitable consequences, but I guess it's that cognitive dissonance that keeps socialism alive.   But it should not be hard to figure out what the outcome should be of combining: a) some of the most desirable real estate in the country with b) an effective cap on density and thus capacity and c) caps on rents.  Rental housing is going to be shifted to privately owned units (coops and condos) and prices of those are going to skyrocket.  You are going to end up with real estate only the rich can afford to purchases and a shortage of rental properties at any price.  Those people with grandfathered controlled rents will be stuck there, without any mobility.

Since reading the book, I have paid attention to stories on the rental market in San Francisco.  In short, it is just as screwed up as would have expected 40 years ago when both density and rent caps were put in place.

As San Francisco's housing crisis continues to pit long-term residents against the recent influx of affluent tech employees, Airbnb and other short-term rentals have become a source of tension. Today San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Mark Farrell hoped to ease some of that tension by introducing reforms to the city's short-term rental laws that put a 120 day yearly cap on all short-term rentals. The package of amendments also introduced the creation of a new Office of Short-Term Rental Administration and Enforcement for the city staff to "coordinate in the administration and aggressive enforcement of the law."

Airbnb and other short-term rental services have come under fire in San Francisco because they take rental units off an already limited housing market. The current law caps short-term rentals at 90 days when the host is not present. If the host is present -- for example a room rental in an occupied home -- there is no yearly cap. Today's amendment package sets caps for both types of rentals. Mayor Lee said in a statement, "this legislation will help keep our City more affordable for homesharers, preserve rental housing for San Franciscans, protect neighborhood character and streamline permitting and enforcement under a fair set of regulations."

This is from a tech site that has developed a reputation, at least with me, for being astoundingly ignorant of even basic economics, so one has to make some guesses at what is going on here.  For example, it seems odd to say that renting a space on a short term lease rather than long-term somehow takes rental units off the market.  They are still being rented, are they not?  How could one describe them as being taken off the market?

My guess at what is going on here is that short-term rentals are likely exempt from some of the most onerous portions of San Francisco tenant law.   Likely, renting short-term allows one to bypass rent controls and charge more.  It also likely gives one some relief from the city and the state's horrendous tenant protections that make it virtually impossible to evict a tenant.  You lease to someone in SF, and you are stuck with them for life like a shark with a remora on his back, even if that tenant refuses to pay rent for years or constantly trashes the apartment.

San Francisco has created a system where they are absolutely guaranteed to have a shortage of rental properties.  Rather than address those laws that create the problem, politicians put their whole effort -- creating brand new agencies, no less -- to stop entrepreneurs from circumventing the madness and trying to provide housing.

Postscript:  The war against wealthy tech workers in SF is in full swing.  What SF would really like to do, I think, is close its borders and institute immigration controls to keep these folks out.  I know there are many parts of the world, including unfortunately our country, that work to keep poor uneducated immigrants seeking opportunity out.  But has there ever been a time or place in history where a particular place worked so hard to keep out rich educated immigrants seeking only to spend their money?

Scenes from the Last Chapters of Atlas Shrugged

I have always read Atlas Shrugged not as a character story (and thus I don't get bent out of shape by the stiff black and white characters) but as a story about the world itself changing and crashing under socialism and cronyism.  As such, my favorite scene in the book is the hobo's tale of the socialist experiment on the 20th Century Motor Company.

Anyway, the final chapters of the book are full of more and more outrageous state interventions that build to a point that they are hard to believe anyone would actually ever try such things.   Unbelievable, until one looks at Venezuela

Venezuelans soon may need to have their fingerprints scanned before they can buy bread and other staples. This unprecedented step was proposed after Maduro had the brilliant idea of proposing mandatory grocery fingerprinting system to combat food shortages. He said then that "the program will stop people from buying too much of a single item", but did not say when it would take effect.

Privacy concerns aside (clearly Venezuelans have bigger, well, smaller fish to fry) there was hope that this plunge into insanity would be delayed indefinitely, as the last thing Venezuela's strained economy would be able to handle is smuggling of the most basic of necessities: something such a dramatic rationing step would surely lead to.

Unfortunately for the struggling Venezuelan population, the time has arrived and as AP reported over the weekend, Venezuela "will begin installing 20,000 fingerprint scanners at supermarkets nationwide in a bid to stamp out hoarding and panic buying" as of this moment.

The government has been selectively rolling out the rationing system for months at state-run supermarkets along the western border with Colombia where smuggling of price-controlled goods is a major problem.

On Saturday, President Nicolas Maduro said that seven large private retail chains had voluntarily agreed to install the scanners.

Last month the owners of several chains of supermarkets and drugstores were arrested for allegedly artificially creating long queues by not opening enough tills.

It gets better: Maduro also accused Colombian food smugglers of buying up price-controlled goods in state-run supermarkets along the border.

What a mess.  An entirely predictable mess.

Yet Another Reason to Open our Relations to Cuba

The only reason people like Michael Moore or Tom Harkin can get away with singing praises of Cuban socialism is because most Americans can't go visit and see for themselves.  By keeping Cuba off-limits, we are doing the communists' work for them by allowing them to provide cherry-picked videos and stories through useful idiots that have zero bearing on the true life of the average person in Cuba.

Two DVD Reviews of Poorly Rated Movies That Had Some Redeeming Characteristics

I had pretty good experiences this week with not one but two movies rated 6 and under (which is pretty low) on IMDB

Atlas Shrugged, Part II:  A mixed bag, but generally better than the first.  The first episode had incredibly lush, beautiful settings, particularly for a low budget indie movie.  But the acting was stilted and sub-par.  Or perhaps the directing was sub par, with poor timing in the editing and dialog.  Whatever.  It was not always easy to watch.

The second movie is not as visually interesting, but it tossed out most of the actors from the first movie (a nearly unprecedented step for a sequel) and started over.  As a result, the actors were much better.  Though I perhaps could wish Dagny was younger and a bit hotter, she and the actor who played Rearden really did a much better job (though there is very little romantic spark between them).  And, as a first in any Ayn Rand movie I have ever seen, there were actually protagonists I might hang out with in a bar.

The one failure of both movies is that, perhaps in my own unique interpretation of Atlas Shrugged, I have always viewed the world at large, and its pain and downfall, as the real protagonist of the book.  We won't get into the well-discussed flatness of Rand's characters, but what she does really well -- in fact the whole point of the book to me -- is tracing socialism to its logical ends.  For me, the climactic moment of the book is Jeff Allen's story of the fate of 20th Century Motors.  Little of this world-wilting-under-creeping-socialism really comes out well in the movie -- its more about Hank and Dagny being harassed personally.  Also, the movie makes the mistake of trying to touch many bases in the book but ends up giving them short shrift - e.g. Jeff Allen's story, D'Anconia's great money speech, Reardon's trial, etc.

I would rate this as worth seeing for the Ayn Rand fan - it falls short but certainly does not induce any cringes  (if only one could say that about the Star Wars prequels).

Lockout:  This is a remake of "Escape from New York", with a space prison substituting for Manhattan and the President's daughter standing in for the President.  The movie lacks the basic awesomeness of converting Manhattan to a prison.  In fact, only one thing in the whole movie works, and that is the protagonist played by Guy Pierce (who also starred in two of my favorite movies, LA Confidential and Memento).

The movie is a total loss when he is not on screen.  The basic plot is stupid, the supporting characters are predictable and irritating, the physics are absurd, and the special effects are weak.  The movie is full of action movie cliche's -- the hero throwing out humorous quips (ala Die Hard or any Governator movie), the unlikely buddy angle, the reluctant romantic plot.  But Pierce is very funny, and is thoroughly entertaining when onscreen.  I think he does the best  job at playing the wisecracking, cynical hero that I have seen in years.

OK, So We Greens Are Communists After All

This is pretty hilarious. Environmentalist and global warming advocate Chris Mooney writes

My latest DeSmogBlog post is about how climate skeptics basically seem to believe that their opponents are driven by socialism and communism. We aren’t, of course–duh–but it is fascinating to listen to how they explain this, in their own words.

After some participation years ago in this kind of finger-pointing over motivations in the climate debate, I have of late found such activity to be worthless at best and have tried to stay away from it.

But this became funny when Mooney's readers started commenting on the post.  In effect, they wrote "we are anti-growth socialists."  Mooney was forced to write, in comment #32:

yes. i guess my side loses this round, thanks to this thread. depressing

Thanks to Climate Depot for the tip.

Happy Lenin's Birthday

Nothing better illustrates the succesful rebranding of most of the principles of socialism into environmentalism than Earth Day, itself a rebranding of Lenin's birthday.

It is no accident that all the things we supposedly have to do to fight climate change are the exact same things socialists used to demand under the banner of Marxism.

After the failure of communism in Eastern Europe, promoters found their message -- to give up our freedoms for the collective -- didn't really have much power.  I guess they deserve some credit as marketers to have successfully gotten so many people who rejected the socialist message to buy into the plea that they need to give up all their freedoms for a 0.01% change in atmospheric CO2 concentration.

The Danger of Community Rating

From via a reader:

Thousands of consumers are gaming Massachusetts' 2006 health insurance law by buying insurance when they need to cover pricey medical care, such as fertility treatments and knee surgery, and then swiftly dropping coverage, a practice that insurance executives say is driving up costs for other people and small businesses.

In 2009 alone, 936 people signed up for coverage with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts for three months or less and ran up claims of more than $1,000 per month while in the plan. Their medical spending while insured was more than four times the average for consumers who buy coverage on their own and retain it in a normal fashion, according to data the state's largest private insurer provided the Globe.

The typical monthly premium for these short-term members was $400, but their average claims exceeded $2,200 per month. The previous year, the company's data show it had even more high-spending, short-term members. Over those two years, the figures suggest the price tag ran into the millions.

Other insurers could not produce such detailed information for short-term customers but said they have witnessed a similar pattern. And, they said, the phenomenon is likely to be repeated on a grander scale when the new national health care law begins requiring most people to have insurance in 2014, unless federal regulators craft regulations to avoid the pitfall.

I would argue that these numbers for system gamers would be even higher save for a residual sense of honor in the population that resists such gaming, a sense of honor that will tend to be eroded over time by these incentives.  This is a theme I have discussed before, in answer to the question of why socialized nations seem to do well at first.  My answer to that question was that residual work ethic and values tend to mitigate, initially, against the horrible incentives inherent in socialism, but that these values erode when people see themselves effectively punished for their values and work ethic.

A Few More Thoughts on Citizen's United

A friend of mine from Princeton days writes:

... and you seem in favor of the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United vs the FEC, I was wondering how you feel about being a customer or supplier or competitor of large businesses who can spend far more than your business to influence the rules of the game.

From what I read, I am sure you have a compelling answer, but I would be scared to death. (Maybe that's why I work for a large corporation [Target] instead of attempting to run my own business.)

I thought this was a pretty good question, and I answered:

  1. I try hard not to make utilitarian arguments to Constitutional and rights issues.  As an example, I am sure we might have less crime if the police were empowered to incarcerate anyone they wanted without trial, but we don't do it that way.
  2. I worry most about corporate lobbying (e.g. by Immelt at GE) and this is unaffected by this ruling - it was legal before and after.   This decision allows corporate advertising, which is public and visible, which I can at least see and react to, as opposed to back room deal making.
  3. Libertarians certainly worry about your question, and why many of us fear that what we are creating in this country is a European-style corporate state, rather than socialism.  To a libertarian, the answer is not less speech, but less government power to pick winners and losers in commerce.

America Bought Me for 20 Tons of Wheat

A Russian immigrant  (escapee?) discusses how he got out of Russia as part of an ongoing series of videos pleading with Americans not to head down the path to socialism.

Copenhagen as Income Redistribution

I am slammed here at work, but I will give you a couple of nice articles on this topic.  First from IBD:

The United Nations' Copenhagen Climate Conference is going fast into meltdown. It may be because it's not about climate anymore, but fitting a noose on the world's productive economies and extracting wealth transfers.

Poor countries have gone from defending their right to economic development as a reason for exemptions to emissions cuts to claiming a "legitimate" right to vast wealth transfers from the West to prevent emissions. They call it "climate justice."

Monday, the Group of 77, led by African states, shut down the conference for the second time, saying they would pick up their marbles and go home if the West didn't agree to their formula for emissions cutbacks and send them more than the $10 billion promised by the West....

Having manipulated the foreign aid racket for decades, the African officials knew just what buttons to push with Western Europeans. Not surprisingly, they won concessions. No doubt they'll do it again to get more, and the Danes and other one-worlders will give them what they want.

The second is from Charles Krauthammer

The idea of essentially taxing hardworking citizens of the democracies to fill the treasuries of Third World kleptocracies went nowhere, thanks mainly to Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher (and the debt crisis of the early '80s). They put a stake through the enterprise.

But such dreams never die. The raid on the Western treasuries is on again, but today with a new rationale to fit current ideological fashion. With socialism dead, the gigantic heist is now proposed as a sacred service of the newest religion: environmentalism.

One of the major goals of the Copenhagen climate summit is another NIEO shakedown: the transfer of hundreds of billions from the industrial West to the Third World to save the planet by, for example, planting green industries in the tristes tropiques....

Socialism having failed so spectacularly, the left was adrift until it struck upon a brilliant gambit: metamorphosis from red to green. The cultural elites went straight from the memorial service for socialism to the altar of the environment. The objective is the same: highly centralized power given to the best and the brightest, the new class of experts, managers and technocrats. This time, however, the alleged justification is not abolishing oppression and inequality but saving the planet.


Leaders of fifty African nations came to Copenhagen asking $400 billion for the next three years to "offset" carbon credit "damages" which they claim to suffer. Inexplicably, two days ago, that demand was increased to an eye-goggling 5% of GDP (gross domestic product), estimated at $722 billion from the United States alone. There never was a response from the industrialized world.

The London Guardian reports today that the disgruntled Africans may boycott the rest of the climate summit. The conference's own web page quotes the Ethiopian prime minister as saying he will "scuttle" talks unless there is discussion of "real money" and "not an illusion."

From The Copenhagen Climate Change Treaty

The treaty draft is really hard to read, as it has all kinds of alternate language in brackets.  However, a few folks have already started reviewing the treaty, and what they are finding is less of a climate treaty and more of a blueprint for world socialism.  One example, via Anthony Watt, from page 122 of the draft:

17. [[Developed [and developing] countries] [Developed and developing country Parties] [All Parties] [shall] [should]:]
(a) Compensate for damage to the LDCs' economy and also compensate for lost opportunities, resources, lives, land and dignity, as many will become environmental refugees;

(b) Africa, in the context of environmental justice, should be equitably compensated for environmental, social and economic losses arising from the implementation of response measures.

Compensating for "lost opportunities?" Isn't that number just whatever they want it to be? And don't get me started on lost "dignity."

The New Obama 5-Year Plan

We really couldn't be more screwed when it is up to an NPR reporter to make the argument for free enterprise:

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told NPR's Michelle Norris yesterday: "The President has said, and I couldn't agree more, that what this country needs is a one single national road map that tells automakers who are trying to become solvent again what kind of car it is they need to be designing and building for the American people." Norris then asked: "Is that the role of Government though? That doesn't sound like free enterprise." Jackson responded: "Well it is free enterprise in a way."

via Maggies Farm.

Update: Q&O has a great post deconstructing Obama's view of government as health care planner.  Very frightening.

Repeating the Same Mistake, Over and Over

Flowing Data draws my attention to this nutty chart in the New Scientist  (I have never read the New Scientist, but my experience is that in periodicals one can generally substitute "Socialist" for the word "New").  Click to enlarge.


Will the world really run out of Indium in 5 years?  Of course not.  New sources will be found.  If they are not, then prices will rise and a) demand with be reduced and b) efforts to find new sources will be redoubled.  Push come to shove, as prices rise too much, substitutes will be found (which is why John D. Rockefeller probably saved the whales).  Uranium is a great example -- sure, proved reserves are low right now, but companies that mine the stuff know that there is tons out there.  That is why they are going out of business, there is too much supply for the demand.  Any spike in price would immediately generate tons of new developed resources.  And even if we run out, there are enormous quantities of thorium which is a potential substitute in reactors.

Absolutely no one who was old enough to be paying attention to the news in the 1970s could have missed charts very similar to this.  I remember very clearly mainstream articles that we would run out of oil, titanium, tungsten, etc. by the early 1990's.  Seriously, name one commodity we have plain run out of (*cough* Julian Simon *cough*).

People say, well, the resources have to be finite and I would answer, "I suppose, but given that we have explored and mined about 0.000001% of the Earth's crust and none of the floating mineral reservoirs in space (called asteroids), I think we are a long, long way from running out."

You would think that the guys running this analysis would get tired of being so wrong so consistently for so many decades, but in fact their real point is not about resources but about the US and capitalism.  The point of the chart is not really to say that the world will credibly run out of tungsten, but to tell the world that it is time to get out their pitchforks because the US is stealing all their wealth and resources.  It is an age-old zero-sum wealth fallacy that has never held any water, but remains a powerful talking point among socialists none-the-less.

For socialists, wealth is not created by man's mind and his effort -- it is a spring in the desert with a fixed flow rate.  It just exists to be taken or fought over.  The wealthy, by this theory, have not earned their wealth, they are just the piggy ones who crowd to the front of the line and take more than their share from the spring.  Unfortunately, socialists have never been able to explain why the spring, which flowed so constantly (and so slowly) for thousands of years, suddenly burst forth with a veritable torrent in lockstep with the growth of capitalism in the west.  And why it seems to dry up in countries that adopt socialism.

Postscript: A while back I posted on the New Economics Foundation  (remember what I said about "New") and their claim the world had just gone into ecological debt.

Mussolini-Style Fascism

Megan McArdle did not like this from David Henderson:

President Obama has done something far more serious. He has already, in less than 100 days, moved the U.S. economy further towards fascism. Sean Hannity and other critics keep criticizing Obama for his socialist leanings. But the more accurate term for many of his measures, especially in the financial markets and the auto market, is fascism.

Here's what Sheldon Richman writes about "Fascism" in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics:

Where socialism sought totalitarian control of a society's economic processes through direct state operation of the means of production, fascism sought that control indirectly, through domination of nominally private owners. Where socialism nationalized property explicitly, fascism did so implicitly, by requiring owners to use their property in the "national interest""“that is, as the autocratic authority conceived it. (Nevertheless, a few industries were operated by the state.) Where socialism abolished all market relations outright, fascism left the appearance of market relations while planning all economic activities. Where socialism abolished money and prices, fascism controlled the monetary system and set all prices and wages politically. In doing all this, fascism denatured the marketplace. Entrepreneurship was abolished. State ministries, rather than consumers, determined what was produced and under what conditions.

She replied

How is this helpful?  Has clarifying the distinction between fascism and socialism really added to most peoples' understanding of what the Obama administration is doing?  All this does is drag the specter of Hitler into the conversation.  And the problem with Hitler was not his industrial policy"“I mean, okay, fine, Hitler's industrial policy bad, right, but I could forgive him for that, you know?  The thing that really bothers me about Hitler was the genocide.  And I'm about as sure as I can be that Obama has no plans to round up millions of people, put them in camps, and find various creative ways to torture them to death.

I'm confused.  It appears to me that McArdle, and not Henderson, was the one who introduced rounding up people in camps into the discussion.  In fact, the prototype example of fascism, in Italy, never went in the genocide direction.   Genocide per se was not a defining feature of fascism, any more than it was in communism.  In both cases genocide was the result of handing immense unchecked power to a small group of people.  And I am not clear why, after Stalin and the Kmer Rouge, McArdle thinks that fascism is any more loaded with genocide associations than socialism.

To avoid this whole confusion, I usually use the term "Mussolini-style fascism" since we do seem blinded and incapable of looking past Hitler whenever that word fascism is mentioned.  But I think the discussion of Mussolini-style fascism is as least as relevant as the frequent discussions on McArdle's other sites of the causes of the Great Depression.  While Italy adopted the model before the Depression, many nations considered emulating it as a response to the Depression.  I think the evidence is fairly clear that FDR was an admirer of certain aspects of this model, and his National Industrial Recovery Act emulated many mechanisms at the core of Mussolini's model.

I actually think the Henderson is correct - Mussolini style fascism, and the modern European corporate state, are may be better analogs to describe where this Administration is heading than socialism.

Know Your Enemy

I want to thank Tom Nelson for the pointer, because I usually don't hang out much at the Socialist Unity site.  But I thought that this post was telling.

While it may be urgent that we create a red green alliance to
strengthen radical social action to stop climate change, our collective
problem is how are we going to do that?

The Climate Change Social Change Conference
held in Sydney Australia during April tried to tackle that
challenge.This was a bold attempt to bring together left and green
activists in order to locate a shared perspective around which we could
begin more consciously organize....

Foster and Perez urged the conference's participants to consider
socialism as the only viable solution to the climate emergency. This
was a persistent theme discussed throughout the three day event as
speakers were drawn from a range of environment movements and
organisations (such as the Australian Greens and Friends of the Earth)
as well as academic specialists "” who preferred solution packages which
were not consciously committed to a socialist transformation of

The End is Near

For at least the last thousand years, western society has always had a hard core of doom-sayers who like to climb to the rooftops to shout that the end of the world is close at hand.  I am not a good enough student of history to know if this is a predictably human trait, or if it is uniquely tied to western religions like Christianity.  Certainly the Medieval millenarian streak was tied closely to the prophesies of Christianity.

Whether initially Christian or not, end-of-the-worldism is now the provenance of many fringe secular groups, not the least of which are the environmentalists.  In fact, the current global warming panic fits right into a long history of end-of-the-worldism, though I also think it has strong elements of socialism and youth culture guilt and lacks the optimism of Christian millenarianism.

Today's humorous does of doom comes right here from Arizona, via professor Guy McPherson of the University of Arizona.  Incredibly, our local media treats this interview straight up, without even the snark they would bring to, say, the article they wrote about me and other local climate skeptics.

First, let me explain Empire: We exploit humans and resources, often
with extreme violence, to provide Americans with indulgences beyond
belief to most people.

Had we started the project of powering down at least 30 years ago,
there might still be time. At this point, I cannot imagine any steps
that could allow us to avoid a meltdown of the economy or a relatively
rapid transition into the post-industrial Stone Age. We depend on
abundant, inexpensive oil for delivery of food, water, shelter, and
health care. The days of abundant, inexpensive oil are behind us. The
American Empire will soon run its course.

I am hopeful we can save a few tens of millions of Americans. But
we will need to make massive changes in our entire way of life,
starting immediately. We must abandon the project of globalization and
its attendant indulgences, for example, and focus on saving lives.

Yes, oil production will indeed peak at some point, and may even be peaking now (though I doubt it).  But the rest of this is just ignorant. 

Update on Kwanzaa

A few posts ago I wrote my annual rant against Kwanzaa as a seven step program to socialism.  I concluded that if blacks in America wanted to stay poor and under the power of others, they could take no better step than to pursue the seven values in Kwanzaa. 

In a stunning gap in my reading, I have never read PJ O'Rourke's "Eat the Rich."  However, David Boaz reports this interesting snippet from the book:

In Tanzania he gapes at the magnificent natural beauty and the
appalling human poverty. Why is Tanzania so poor? he asks people, and
he gets a variety of answers. One answer, he notes, is that Tanzania is
actually not poor by the standards of human history; it has a life
expectancy about that of the United States in 1920, which is a lot
better than humans in 1720, or 1220, or 20. But, he finally concludes,
the real answer is the collective "ujamaa" policies pursued by the sainted post-colonial leader Julius Nyerere. The answer is "ujaama"”they planned it. They planned it, and we paid for it. Rich countries underwrote Tanzanian economic idiocy."

For those not familiar with Kwanzaa, Ujamaa is one of the seven principals celebrated in Kwanzaa.

Really Awful Article on Dentistry

The NY Times outdid itself last week with a truly awful article on dentistry.  They started with just one fact:

Previously unreleased figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
show that in 2003 and 2004, the most recent years with data available,
27 percent of children and 29 percent of adults had cavities going
untreated. The level of untreated decay was the highest since the late
1980s and significantly higher than that found in a survey from 1999 to

They then apply the patented NY Times class-based story-generation model to assume a cause for this rise that is not supported by the study itself:

But many poor and lower-middle-class families do not receive adequate
care, in part because most dentists want customers who can pay cash or
have private insurance, and they do not accept Medicaid
patients. As a result, publicly supported dental clinics have
months-long waiting lists even for people who need major surgery for
decayed teeth. At the pediatric clinic managed by the state-supported University of Florida dental school, for example, low-income children must wait six months for surgery.

So is the rise in untreated dental problems concentrated in the poor?  Well, they don't say, and there is not data for that in the study, but that does not prevent the NY Times from just assuming it to be so.  In fact, the article itself contradicts this premise, by noting that the problem is not limited to the poor:

The lack of dental care is not restricted to the poor and their
children, the data shows. Experts on oral health say about 100 million
Americans "” including many adults who work and have incomes well above
the poverty line "” are without access to care.

By the way, how did they figure a 100 million don't have "access"?  I don't know, but the figure is suspiciously close to this one:

With dentists' fees rising far faster than inflation and more than 100 million people lacking dental insurance...

Anyone want to bet that the NY Times just made its usual logical fallacy of equating lack of insurance with lack of access?  And by the way, dental insurance is a HORRIBLE investment.  I have priced it many times myself and for a normal family, it is much cheaper to just pay the dental bills, particularly since there are not that many things in your mouth that can go wrong that will be bankrupting.  Trying to push everyone to dental insurance is a terrible idea.  Every time there is a dental procedure in our family, it turns out there are several options for fixing it at different prices.  We actually have the incentive to ask for these alternatives and make trade offs.  What do you think would happen if we had insurnace?

In fact, I can think of a LOT of reasons why people don't go to the dentist as often as they should.  One reason is that no one like the dentist.  Another is people's busy schedules.  And certainly rising costs are a factor -- As I mentioned before, our family makes very different decisions about treatment options than we used to with a fat corporate dental plan.  Which is as it should be. 

By the way, note the screaming socialism here:

The dental profession's critics "” who include public health experts,
some physicians and even some dental school professors "” say that too
many dentists are focused more on money than medicine.

dentists consider themselves to be in the business of dentistry rather
than the practice of dentistry," said Dr. David A. Nash, a professor of
pediatric dentistry at the University of Kentucky. "I'm a cynic about my profession, but the data are there. It's embarrassing."

I wonder.  Does Dr. Nash accept a salary for being a professor?  Then I guess he is focused more on the business of education than the practice of educating.

Oh, and by the way, how is socialism in dentistry working out?

In a survey of 5,000 people in the UK, six percent claimed that
they had done DIY dentistry, including yanking their own teeth and
fixing cracked crowns with glue. Apparently they resorted to such self
treatment because they couldn't get in to see a National Health Service
dentist "¦

One respondent in Lancashire, northern England, claimed to
have extracted 14 of their own teeth with a pair of pliers. In
Liverpool, one of those collecting data for the survey interviewed
three people who had pulled out their own teeth in one morning.

"I took most of my teeth out in the shed with pliers. I have one to go," another respondent wrote.

Atlas Shrugged at 50

Apparently Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged is turning 50, a fact I know only because my fairly libertarian-tilted feed reading list has been deluged of late with retrospectives. 

One of the oddities of posts on Ayn Rand is that every author seems to feel required to say something like "I like her work but I am not in total agreement with everything she says."  Uh, OK.  I'm not clear why this proviso seems so necessary.  I have never heard someone saying "I am a big fan of Mozart" and then following up with "but I don't like all of his works."  I am sure that is true, but they don't bother saying so.   I am a big fan of Ayn Rand, in particular with her non-fiction essays, but of course there are parts of her writing I don't agree with.  For example, I would be less likely to take her advice on managing my love life than I would to eat out of Hannibal Lecter's cookbook.

What Rand did so well in Atlas Shrugged was to take collectivist and anti-rational philosophy and play it forward in practice in a very compelling way. She demonstrated with almost mathematical precision the end results of collectivist philosophy.   The entropic United States in Atlas Shrugged, running down under the weight of socialism, has turned out to be repeatedly prescient.  For this reason, I find her anti-heros to be more memorable.  I see analog's to the Jim Taggerts and Lee Hunsackers and Starnes children nearly every day in the news.  Through these analogs, Rand still helps me place current events in their philosophical context. 

By the way, if you enjoyed her novels but have never read her essays, I encourage you to do so.  The Virtue of Selfishness is a reasonable place to start.  She was not the first person to voice many of these messages (Hayek and others were saying many of the same things) but because of her novels, I, like many others, heard them first from her.

Capitalism Can't Win

It is often said that capitalism won over socialism in the late 20th century, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of powerful Asia market economies.  Be that as it may, this statement certainly does not apply to American university campuses.  In the ivory tower, capitalism is still the number one whipping boy. 

An interesting illustration of this is Jacob Sullum's review of a pair of books that attempt to debunk the myth that being mildly overweight is deadly.  This is a rich topic, given some of the really bad science that has gone into trying to make being overweight the next smoking, and the review is worth a read.  However, this part caught my eye:

Both he and Campos blame the unjustified obsession with weight and the
cruel vilification of fat people on capitalism, which, they say, prizes
self-discipline and stigmatizes those seen as lacking it. To be fair,
Campos more specifically blames a pro-capitalist Protestant asceticism
that encourages the pursuit of wealth but frowns on those who enjoy it
too much. There's an element of truth to this analysis; a similar
ambivalence regarding pleasure helps explain American attitudes toward
sex, drugs, and gambling.

But wait!  Aren't most of the folks like the food nazis who are launching government obesity campaigns leftists?  They are, and Sullum makes this point:

But it does give you pause when you consider that the obesity
obsessives also blame capitalism, for precipitating the current crisis
by making food plentiful, inexpensive, appealing, and convenient. New
York University nutritionist Marion Nestle, for example, blames
America's adiposity on "an overly abundant food supply," "low food
prices," "a highly competitive market," and "abundant food choices,"
while Kelly Brownell claims restaurants exploit consumers when they
give them more for less, since "people have biological vulnerabilities
that promote overeating when large portions are available, a strong
desire for value, and the capacity to be persuaded by advertising."

Great.  So capitalism causes obesity as well as anti-obesity.  You can't win.

Are Republican Immigration Hawks Socialist?

From Fred Thompson, via Insty:

But he received his biggest applause for blasting the bipartisan plan
for immigration reform, which he called unworkable. "We are a nation of
compassion, a nation of immigrants," he said. "But this is our home . .
. and we get to decide who comes into our home."

Isn't this an essentially socialist view of property, that the whole country is essentially owned by all of us collectively and it is our government's responsibility to administer access to this community property?

I am just completing a course on the history of Rome from the Teaching Company (whose products have been universally excellent in my experience).  One of the interesting things that contributed substantially to Rome's strength, at least through the BC years, was their flexibility and success in absorbing many different peoples into the state.  They actually had various grades of citizenship, including such things as Latin Rights where certain peoples could get access to some aspects of citizenship (e.g. ability to conduct commerce and access to the judicial system) while being denied others (e.g. voting). 

Can't we figure out something similar?  Shouldn't it be possible to allow fairly open access to being present and conducting commerce in this country, while still having much tougher and tighter standards for voting and getting government handouts?  The taxes immigrants pay easily cover things like emergency services and extra load on the courts, but fall short of covering extra welfare and education. 

Unfortunately, the debate seems to be dominated either by Lou Dobbs racists who see Mexicans as spreading leprosy or by Marxists who see poor immigrants as a wedge to push socialism.  The problem is again traceable to a President who tries to lead on divisive issues without trying to clearly communicate a moral high ground.  For example, I would have first tried to establish one simple principle that has the virtue of being consistent with most of America's history:   

"The US should allow easy access to our country for immigrants, but immigrants should expect that immigration involves financial risks which they, not current Americans, will need to bear.  Over time, they will have access to full citizenship but the bar for such rights will be set high."

OK, it needs to be shorter and pithier, but you get the idea.  Reagan was fabulous at this, and Clinton was pretty good in his own way.  Bush sucks at it.

Moratorium on Brains

For years, socialists (and some sloppy capitalists) have operated under the assumption that production only requires labor and capital.  Socialists assume that if a government steals both, it can produce just as well as any of those greedy private companies.  Hugo Chavez has been operating under this assumption, but he has run into a problem:

The companies ceding control included BP Plc,
ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil Corp, Chevron Corp, France's Total SA and
Norway's Statoil ASA. All but ConocoPhillips signed agreements last
week agreeing in principle to state control, and ConocoPhillips said
Tuesday that it too was cooperating.

While the state takeover was planned well ahead of time, the oil
companies remain locked in a behind-the-scenes struggle with the

Chavez says the state is taking a minimum 60 per cent stake in the
Orinoco operations, but he is urging foreign companies to stay and help
develop the fields.

They have until June 26 to negotiate the terms.

The companies have leverage with Chavez because experts agree that
Venezuela's state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA, cannot
transform the Orinoco's tar-like crude into marketable oil without
their investment and experience.

In other words, beyond their workers and plant and equipment, he needs their brains.  And I hope the American companies refuse to give in to him.

I made this point earlier in this critique of socialism:

Hanging out at
the beach one day with a distant family member, we got into a
discussion about capitalism and socialism.  In particular, we were
arguing about whether brute labor, as socialism teaches, is the source
of all wealth (which, socialism further argues, is in turn stolen by
the capitalist masters).  The young woman, as were most people her age,
was taught mainly by the socialists who dominate college academia
nowadays.  I was trying to find a way to connect with her, to get her
to question her assumptions, but was struggling because she really had
not been taught many of the fundamental building blocks of either
philosophy or economics, but rather a mish-mash of politically correct
points of view that seem to substitute nowadays for both....

picked up a handful of sand, and said "this is almost pure silicon,
virtually identical to what powers a computer.  Take as much labor as
you want, and build me a computer with it -- the only limitation is you
can only have true manual laborers - no engineers or managers or other
capitalist lackeys"....

replied that my request was BS, that it took a lot of money to build an
electronics plant, and her group of laborers didn't have any and
bankers would never lend them any....

told her - assume for our discussion that I have tons of money, and I
will give you and your laborers as much as you need.  The only
restriction I put on it is that you may only buy raw materials - steel,
land, silicon - in their crudest forms.  It is up to you to assemble
these raw materials, with your laborers, to build the factory and make
me my computer.

She thought for a few seconds, and responded "but I can't - I don't know how.  I need someone to tell me how to do it"

that is the heart of socialism's failure.  For the true source of
wealth is not brute labor, or even what you might call brute capital,
but the mind.  The mind creates new technologies, new products, new
business models, new productivity enhancements, in short, everything
that creates wealth.  Labor or capital without a mind behind it is

I offered more critiques of state-run companies here and here.  My more complete post on this topic his called wealth creation and the zero-sum fallacy.