Monday, January 23, 2012

Occupy Reality

I have chosen, for your edification, some segments from economist Thomas Sowell's recent essays in TownHall on economic disparity. Bolding is mine.

Section 1

People who are preoccupied, or even obsessed, with disparities in income are seldom interested much, or at all, in the disparities in the ability to create wealth, which are often the reasons for the disparities in income.

Gross inequalities in skills and achievements have been the rule, not the exception, on every inhabited continent and for centuries on end.

Nowhere have these achievements been random or representative of the demographic proportions of the population of a country or of the world. Nor have they been the same from one century to the next.

Yet these and numerous other disparities in achievement are resolutely ignored by those whose shrill voices denounce disparities in rewards, as if these disparities are somehow suspicious at best and sinister at worst.

Section 2

One of the ways of trying to reduce the vast disparities in economic success, which are common in countries around the world, is by making higher education more widely available, even for people without the money to pay for it.

This can be both a generous investment and a wise investment for a society to make. But, depending on how it is done, it can also be a foolish and even dangerous investment, as many societies around the world have learned the hard way.

What is not so obvious, but is painfully true nonetheless, is that colleges and universities can also turn out vast numbers of people with credentials, but with no marketable skills with which to fulfill their expectations. There is nothing magic about simply being in ivy-covered buildings for four years.

In countries around the world, people with credentials but no marketable skills have been a major source of political turmoil, social polarization and ideologically driven violence, sometimes escalating into civil war. People with degrees in soft subjects, which impart neither skills nor a realistic understanding of the world, have been the driving forces behind many extremist movements with disastrous consequences.

Section 3

Anyone who has ever been in a Third World country, or even in a slum neighborhood at home, is likely to wonder why there can be such dire poverty among some people, while others are prospering.
Both politicians and intellectuals have tended to have simple answers to that question, even if these simple answers have been different in different eras.

A hundred years ago, the prevailing answer was that some people are innately and genetically inferior. As often happens when a big idea seizes the imagination of the intelligentsia, their strongest argument is that there is no argument -- that "science" has already proved what they believe.

By the end of the 20th century, the pendulum had swung to the opposite end of the spectrum. Now differences in achievements among classes, races or the sexes were seen as being a result of discriminatory treatment.

But the innumerable factors affecting human achievements are not only complex and hard to untangle, they offer neither politicians nor intellectuals the opportunity to simply be on the side of the angels against the forces of evil. Factors which present no opportunity to star in a moral melodrama have often been ignored in favor of factors that do.

Section 4

Different histories, geography, demography and cultures have left various groups, races, nations and civilizations with radically different abilities to create wealth.

Focusing attention and attacks on people who have greater wealth-generating capacity -- whether races, classes or whatever -- has had counterproductive consequences, including tragedies written in the blood of millions. Whole totalitarian governments have risen to dictatorial power on the wings of envy and resentment ideologies.

Intellectuals have all too often promoted these envy and resentment ideologies. There are both psychic and material rewards for the intelligentsia in doing so, even when the supposed beneficiaries of these ideologies end up worse off. When you want to help people, you tell them the truth. When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.

Both politicians and intellectuals have made their choice.


Anonymous said...

Mr Sowell is astue and brave. But I do wish he would make some connections.

First off, he should be calling Ron Paul et al on money infatuation -- money supply, gold standard, bimetallism etc etc. Money isn't wealth creation: tight money can constrict investment and growth, loose money can free these things up -- just as loose money can demoralize when some people have work'd hard for "paper" assets that are then devalued (inflated: cf kalon and ego).

Ronald Reagan was in charge of the greatest peace-time economic expansion in American history -- and he did it by inspiring "faith" or "naivete" maybe, not by money supply jiggery pokery. In terms of a balance sheet approach, my sense is that official economists and accountants have declared that the Reagan expansion shouldn't have happen'd because it didn't make sense according to their theories and spread sheets, etc. And since Reagan's expansion shouldn't have happen'd because his value system was so offensive, we should conclude that it didn't happen. Corrollary: Thatcher impoverish'd Great Britain.

Wealth is people doing stuff, making effort, cranking out products of value, be these products cars, or iPads, or music. Labour theory of value. Machiavelli was the first to draw the kings' attention to this reality (Prince 19 end), and later Locke, and Smith and Marx. But constantly for reasons I can't quite guess at, routine economists and theorists, including liberation theologians, are constantly making us lose sight of this simple reality -- I guess in order to prove that our non-destitution is possible only by depriving the destitute of the fruits of the earth.

Marx had a very difficult task maintaining the labour theory of value (labour upon 'matter' removed from 'nature') while also insisting that the bourgeoisie must inevitably try to impoverish the labourers. Evidently when "capitalism" or indeed "socialism" functions in a way that produces destitution rather than prosperous producers-consumers, we see a great mystery of some sort -- economic activity that "doesn't make any sense."

To me it is a sad thing that somehow under the radar the American federal government built up a huge "sovereign debt" that is now consuming tons o' the federal budget by servicing the debt and this will increase and increase until basically the whole American budget will be ship'd overseas to Chinese bond holders. How did this huge debt burden get built up? -- no doubt Republicans and Democrats are to blame both, academics and outsider economists, conservative and liberal journalists, -- everyone.

Nothing to do but inflate the currency, since after all if the American system crashes the Chinese bond holders will have assets worth zilch too.

Anonymous said...

Mr Sowell should also go after the residue of Gilder's "Wealth and Poverty" (which first drew my attention to the reality that "wealth" is created, not accrued by expropriating the poor), because Gilder implies constantly when dealing with productivity issues that the only real motives are private motives, and accordingly everything that the government touches must be mismanaged and result in loss of growth and even eventual mass starvation. But this is possible only if Japan's public transit systems don't work. And if all American public services (post office, roads, airports) should be shut down now in order to save the bother of their inevitable collapse from lack of any real motive to make them function. Yet at his best, Gilder makes clear that "selfish" vs "unselfish" is not ultimately applicable to economics. First in family life: so much effort parents and grandparents expend for their children. (Naturally the anti-productivity elite feel that inheritance must be abolish'd because having diligent parents is "unfair" -- except the sort of parents that enable one to excell in elite universities, and become culturally talented etc. Richness talent is unfairly pass'd on. ... Also group inheritance rights are sacred, since insolent individuality is annihilated, e.g. Palestinian collective ownership of any and all lands plausibly theirs by ancestral inheritance in the Zionist Entity.)

Maybe a war of all Selfs against all Selfs occurs in the subterranean, but one can make no sense of life in the world as individuals detesting one another, wishing each other harm. So also even in foreign relations, where "realists" insist should happen only violent aggressiveness, restrain'd by fear. This can't explain even the British Raj, for instance, let alone cooperation of NATO troops, or UN troops enforcing an armistice in Cyprus. Sure, there's competition and struggle even at Ivy League universities which seem totally given over to class contempt and amour-propre, but also friendship and sociability. Sure "power relations" and "politics" dominating power relations and exploitation etc even within a marriage, but Darcy doesn't want Elizabeth to be zilch, a mere flunky for his male vanity and "interests" of whatnot. ...
A Ron Paul foreign policy of "Fck Off, world!" far from being "realistically selfish" would result in a tremendous diminution of American prosperity (foreign assets held by Americans are suddenly unprotected by Americal military power, and become worthless -- no dividends for spending on goods and services in America, etc etc). Paul insists that Americans' ever increasing "entitlements" system can be maintain'd indefinitely if only the USA stops all foreign policy spending. No way. An America that annihilates its own traditions of generosity (which Gilder should emphasize have enrich'd America) in order to indulge a "Fck You!" value system will also have an increasingly "Fck You!" domestic culture -- individuals saying Fck you to each other, parents saying Fck you to children who reply Fck you, "races" and "genders" saying Fck you to each other, etc etc.

Railway tycoon J.J. Hill was rather a philanthropist. Railway tycoon John Galt wants an economy in which only narrow wealth creators are rewarded, as if there was nothing more to man than tycoon-ism. No theme for art or novels or religion or philosophy except "Fck you!" James Dean's attitude makes "Rebel without a Cause" a comedy. But now peevish irritability is to be what made America great. I guess Tocqueville should have gone on only about money supply in America, and not mention'd morals and religion.

Anonymous said...

The "socialists'" peevish irritability mirrors John Galt -- as no doubt does Newt Ginrich's absurd rabble rousing against "elites" as if he isn't the former speaker of the House (a total Beltway insider) and is an underemploy'd former auto worker who has no life choice but to cling to God and guns, to use the phrase of the current American president -- which I thought quite accurate, except for his curious placement of this attitude in the state of pacifist Quaker William Penn. Perhaps that seem'd safer than to name a state that would evoke Flannery O'Connor stories and the movie Deliverance?

Don't scoff at my opinions on grounds that I am not an American citizen and thus couldn't vote for the current president this November: I live in the Chicago area so I'm sure a ballot could be arranged for me! — maybe several ballots! ... The current president may have made mistakes, but the decisive thing is he isn't arguing "Let's give the ethos of the world's superpower over to peevish rancour!"

Anonymous said...

P.S. America's "sovereign debt" burden is a constructed problem -- constructed by congresspersons, senators and presidents, abetted by journalists and academics, who to pay for government programmes borrow'd money at interest rather than pay for the programmes by the responsible methods of taxation and "printing" money during recessions.

It isn't as though the current debt burden proves that current levels of government expenditure are irresponsible or unsustainable: they may be unsustainable but only because of the now inherited debt burden. If the present were freed from this debt burden, current federal expenditures wouldn't be out of line -- although apparently the inherited debt burden is being increased by additional borrowing to fund current expenditures.

But "money" is jiggery pokery, esecially in the era of vast computer systems. Debts are written off all the time -- always have been. If the John Galuts wish to remove 'matter' from 'nature' and work on it to produce wealth (Marx: workers are spirits who labour upon matter taken from nature), wealth will happen in the world. If they decide they'd rather not, then wealth in the world won't happen, I guess. ... It isn't as though Galt's jury to whom he makes his whine before stamping off in a huff can keep the productivity going. The jury is only the state, I guess, as instructed by the Grand Inquisitor Melchizedek. But as St Paul advises, he who does not work shall not eat -- sc not even earthly bread.

Galut had a good thing going in the death or value-neutralness of God. Kojève remarks that America was already the abolition of a noble-base class distinction possibility: "equality of conditions" in Tocqueville's terms. Why make anarchism thematic? Rawls' "Theory of Justice" validates economic inequality with a view to general prosperity (the preferential option for the poor, that is to say, the workers or producers such as galt. Gilder's Wealth and Poverty is a Rawlsian statement: private enterprise is demanded by the preferential option for the poor -- not by natural right of property or something like that.

Why did Galut insist on making a speech that requires the jury to make a value judgement? The jury can hardly take refuge in "Who's to judge?!" Galut demanded a judgement of them. They didn't understand that they were a jury prior to his speech; they supposed they were only value-neutral contemplators, I guess. But they have no being without the workers; they are for the sublation of the workers.

Galut doesn't ask merely that the Great Society be roll'd back: he makes a foundational assault on any doctrine of justice in relation to a common good -- while also demanding justice. ... He can't even declare that "private enterprise" inevitably brings economic success (cf American car makers since c.1970). The oikoumene, ruled by Satan's kingdoms, as on offer to Jesus at the beginning of his career, is more mysterious than that!

So Galt wants the jury to value-judge that hostility to the common good or the public (no matter how useful or even necessary roads and airports and schools are to private enterprise) and peevish irritability and entitlement to validation as "most just" supercedes the greatness of soul admired by Aristotle as the height of virtue for a man.

Anonymous said...

"A divided house cannot stand." The Montesquieuean divided government imposed on America cannot stand the stresses involved in governing a Randian Fck you! ethos, and probably not even a presidency that must seem to be saying Fck you! to "elites."

If Gingrich had a vision for a decent law-abiding church-going population that work'd for a living while also enmesh'd with "government programmes" (farm subsidies, industry subsidies, education subsidies, medicare-medicaid -- who isn't involved in "government"? the last Jeffersonian yeoman farmer died in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s!), then maybe a bit of rabble-rousing vs Americans who shop at Whole Foods wouldn't be disruptive.

But your governmental system is not as undamageable as you may think. It trends inevitably toward "royal" presidential power during an emergency such as war. A population given over to rancour would have to be govern'd "royally" or "tyrannically" as you may prefer -- or in a "Caesarist" method, as Voeglin would say.
The current Canadian prime minister is Randian (government should believe that government is bad, a failure, there to be kick'd around) and wishes to give the inert Canadian Senate a new plebiscitary basis for rancorous regional feelings of neglect: legislation can be veto'd in the upper house in order to make Canadian federal government work less and less well. Well, why else would a politician who declares government bad in principle wish to add a layer of government (with new expenses and staff) to the federal system?

And maybe Scotland can vote to secede from the UK, and Englishman and Scot can say Fck you! to each other -- and a general Randian Fck you! ethos can spread throughout the Anglo-Saxon world system. Why? In order that government can be smaller and citizens freer from 'tyrannical' intrusions? The result has to be greater centralization of government power.

If Randians wish'd to have government shrink they would try to restore Christian morals. A population that governs behaviour religio-morally doesn't need a Caesarist government. This is the foundation of the Federalist Papers. Religion can be separated from politics only if it is a very vigorous religion of a certain sort. Putting money supply and a Fck you! attitude where morals and belief in God ought to be must result in tyranny -- as a punishment, in accordance with Pauline principles in Romans 13. (Voltaire supposed that Rousseau's praise of Calvin's political founding was humbug -- because Voltaire fancy'd that enlightenment, culture, wittiness, and anti-semitism were sufficient for ruling Europeans. Kant and before him Spinoza saw that the task of replacing Christian religion without restoring "asiatic despotism" would be an extremely difficult task.)

A population with no higher vision than money supply theory and is vigiliant for whether someone is screwing them out of financial benefits will end up ruled tyrannically. If they are goodlucky the tyrant or Caesar will be an "enlighten'd despot" who couldn't care less about their personal lives. But he may think to improve them, as he fancies, correctly or not -- as suggested in Xenophon's Hiero.

We all must vilify Hitler, but to this day Mao and Stalin are not execrated. Maybe because of their procedures for ironing out independent thinking etc in hierophants via forced labour etc. Stalin and Mao couldn't have cared less about industry and agriculture in the ordinary sense: their projects were disasters (Stalin's even with the help of Western experts). But a collective farm that fails to grow wheat can grow compliant ex-hierophants.

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