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Poverty and Privilege

from “The Inequality Trap: Fighting Capitalism Instead of Poverty (UTP Insights)” by William Watson

“In sum, we should worry less about inequality, which is a distraction from what ought to be our true targets, poverty and privilege, and we should stop trashing our economic system as much as we do and defend it more aggressively against those who are blind to its virtues and achievements. We are living in an era that is unprecedented, astonishingly so, in terms of incomes and wealth for billions of people. Markets are not solely responsible. Government initiatives in education, agricultural research, and health, particularly public health, have certainly played a part. But it is hard to imagine that what has been a true great leap forward in the West in the last two centuries and in the Rest in the last four decades would have happened without reasonably free markets nor, certainly within the countries where Phelpsian flourishing first began but probably elsewhere too, reasonably open societies and secure property rights. No doubt many variations on democratic capitalism can produce good results. Our system can certainly survive being fiddled with and may even be improved by fiddling, though the chances of successful fiddling are seldom as high as fiddlers invariably attest. But all changes produce unintended consequences, and large changes risk big unintended consequences. This system has served the mass of people well. We should therefore think very carefully before rejecting it because of its supposed immorality, restarting history, and reaching for something dramatically different.”

HKO

I recommend this book. The author observes that problems attributed to inequality are otherwise sourced.  Poverty and privilege should be addressed; inequality can be a ruse that distracts us from greater and more pertinent problems.

Capitalism and a Welfare State are not incompatible, but the expense should be transparent. The challenge is to provide benefits where they are truly needed, avoiding lifelong dependency, without impeding the incentives and capitalist functions which are needed to fund the system.

The Danger of Scientism

from the FEE, Foundation for Economic Education, Be Wary of the Orwellian “Enlightened” Classby Robin Koerner

Science and scientism are superficially similar but epistemic opposites.

A true scientist remains doxastically open. That means that she works always on the assumption that her theory is a) false or incomplete and b) will therefore change.

The daily task of science is to identify the ways in which our current understanding is lacking. In so doing, science’s understanding of the world becomes less false.

Scientism, in contrast, is doxastically closed. That means that it identifies our best theory but then behaves as if it is a) absolute truth and b) will therefore not change.

Scientism, unlike science, has no need for data. It is deadly because it always uses the current paradigm to explain away potentially problematic observations. (E.g. the cat’s squeal isn’t telling me it’s in pain; it’s confirming that machines, including cats, have predictable responses to physical stimuli.)

Orwell’s “unthinking orthodoxy” is “political scientism.” That’s the epistemology of tyranny.

In my earlier article, I wrote about the authoritarianism of some of the “Social Justice Warrior” Left today, who would give moral privilege to groups they identity as victim groups in the name of eliminating privilege; who would eliminate the free speech of people with whom they disagree in the name of giving everyone an equal voice; who equate speech with violence to justify violence against those who speak.

Bizarre as those paradoxes clearly are, their advocates are not automatically dangerous if they are open to revising their moral or political theory in the light of falsifying data or contradictions in the theory’s application.

What makes it all dangerous is that it is allied with an a priori belief about competing views and political opponents that eliminate the possibility that any experiences or perspectives could provide data that could challenge the theory.

If potentially contradictory data can be rejected a priori on account of being explained away as the result of “fascist”, “racist”, “sexist” attitudes, for example, then the theory is inoculated against the human data against which all political theories must be tested.

Real Growth

from National Review and Kevin Williamson, Don’t Count On the Growth Fairy

The powers that be in Washington dream of stronger growth, because stronger growth would mean that they could put off some hard and unpleasant decisions. Stronger growth would raise revenue without raising tax rates, bolster Social Security and our other wobbly entitlement programs, and potentially lower deficits. And while stronger growth helps on the revenue side of the budget, it also helps on the spending side: When growth is strong, unemployment tends to be lower and wages tend to be higher, which relieves pressure on welfare programs. You can understand the economist Robert Lucas’s maxim: “Once you start thinking about economic growth, it’s hard to think about anything else.”

People associated with the Trump administration have taken up 3.5 percent economic growth as a goal. It’s a fine goal, but it probably is not going to happen.

HKO

To balance budgets governments overestimate revenues and underestimate expenses.

It seems preposterous that we treat our economy like a machine that needs precise adjustments from an expert mechanic to deliver precise outputs. This is delusional.  We should reduce friction costs where ever we can including the the removal of special privileges granted to rent seeking lobbyists. As long as the growth is real we should not worry about it being too high.  Real growth comes from ideas and work rather than targeted stimulus.

We have resorted to economic growth as a last effort to reduce the deficit rather than face the hard spending cuts that will remain when the growth projection falls short.

The Unluckiest Political Movement

from Kevin Williams at National Review, Camino de Servidumbre

But men do not like being told that they cannot do that which they wish to do, and this is particularly true of men who have a keen interest in political power. Hayek believed that efforts to impose central planning on economies were doomed to fail, and that this failure would not be met with humility but with outrage. When socialist policies produced their inevitable economic consequences, the first reaction would be to try to pass laws against the realization of those economic consequences. We saw a good deal of that in Venezuela, for instance with the imposition of currency controls when excessive social-welfare spending produced hyperinflation.

But those efforts are of course doomed to failure as well, which leads to outright political repression, scapegoating, and violence. In Venezuela, strongman Hugo Chávez, who was adored by American Democrats ranging from the Reverend Jesse Jackson to former representative Chakka Fattah and any number of Hollywood progressives, undertook to silence opposition media by insisting that they were simply fronts for moneyed elites working to undermine the work of democracy. (It will not escape your notice that our own progressives are making precisely the same argument in the matter of Citizens United, a First Amendment case considering the question of whether the government could prohibit the showing of a film critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton.) His protégé, Nicolás Maduro, has continued in the same vein.

Socialism is either the unluckiest political movement in the history of political movements, one that just happens to keep intersecting with the careers of monsters, or there is something about socialism itself that throws up monsters. There is nothing wrong with Venezuelans, and nothing unusual about them: Here at home, our own progressives dream of imprisoning people for holding unpopular political views, nationalizing key industries, and shutting down opposition media. They have black-shirted terrorists attacking people with explosives on college campuses for the crime of holding non-conforming political views. And they aren’t averse to a little old-fashioned Stalinism, either, provided there’s a degree or two of separation: Bernie Sanders, once an elector for the Socialist Workers party, remains the grumpy Muppet pin-up of the American Left.

“Socialism can be put into practice only by methods of which most socialists disapprove,” Hayek told us.

Righteous Orthodoxy

from the FEE, Foundation for Economic Education, Be Wary of the Orwellian “Enlightened” Class by Robin Koerner

He understood that the morality of a political ideology in practice cannot be determined from its theoretical exposition – but only from the actual experiences of those who would be affected by its real-world application.

To make the point to the people he felt most needed to hear it, Orwell, a self-identified socialist, called out the arrogance of his friends on the Left who experienced themselves as so “enlightened,” to use his word, that they did not need to consider the sentiments – let alone ideas – of those who were to them clearly politically ignorant.

Orwell had a name for this kind of self-righteous certainty – and it wasn’t fascism, capitalism, or communism.  It was “orthodoxy,” which he explains in 1984, “means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” It is a state exhibited by people who already know they have the right answers – at least in the areas that matter.

There is no political system so perfect that it will not be deadly when imposed against the will of others by people sure of their own righteousness. Orwell saw that no political theory – even the egalitarian socialism that he believed to be the most moral – can prevent its adherents from being anything other than tyrants if they are committed to it in a way that is immune to the protests and experiences of other people.

In other words, tyranny is not the result of a belief in a bad political theory; it is the result of a bad belief in a political theory – and that is an entirely different thing.