Saturday, February 06, 2021

Karl Popper's "Virus"

 In The Poverty of Historicism, while talking about the uncertainty of progress, Karl Popper wrote "For we cannot exclude the logical possibility, say, of a bacterium or virus that spreads a wish for Nirvana" (1957, p 157). What is interesting is that Popper was infected with this virus—initially, Marxism, gradually decreasing in virility to socialism and then interventionism.

In 1914, at the age of 12, Popper read Edward Bellamy's utopian novel, Looking Backward:2000-1887 (Hacohen, 2000, p 67-68); and, without guidance, it is hard to believe that he would have been able to engage it critically. In fact, in his intellectual autobiography, he criticizes himself for his uncritical acceptance of Marxism (1982, 33-34). In that same book he demonstrates that while into his seventies he has still not rid himself of the disease, writing "... if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with personal liberty, I would be a socialist still" (36).

As far as I know, Popper, while sometimes mentioning free markets positively, never condemned socialism for its negative economic consequences that have been resulted each time it has been tried. Even the voluntary socialist experiments of the 19th century (e.g. by adherents of Owenism in the U.S.) and of Zionists in Israel have been, if not outright failures, difficult to sustain. Perhaps his rejection of economism—the idea that economic welfare is a guide for social policy and a characteristic he identified in Marx's writing— led him to believe that such a criticism was unnecessary and would reduce him to Marx's level.

The failure of Popper to embrace the economics of Mises and Hayek has led to the perpetuation of error, most visibly in the person of George Soros, and put humanity at risk of another dark age. Edward Bellamy would be astonished.

Hacohen, M. H. (2000). Karl Popper — The Formative Years, 1902-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Popper, K. R. (1957). The Poverty of Historicism. Boston: Beacon Press.

Popper, K. R. ([1976] 1982). Unended Quest. La Salle: Open Court.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

If a robot is conscious, is it OK to turn it off?

In response to receiving, via email, a link to the article, If a robot is conscious, is it OK to turn it off?, I wrote the following:

For me, feeling pain and suffering does not lead to a claim to moral standing, whatever that is. The killing of fellow human beings has come to be frowned upon because of its disruption to the social order. People who are killed have families, friends, allies, etc. who will be affected negatively by their deaths, and they will likely seek to balance the scales à la Hatfields and McCoys. The institution of the state has endeavored to defuse the seeking of revenge, short-circuiting the tit-for-tat by spreading the responsibility for the execution or long-term incarceration of the perpetrator.

The reality of this situation leads many murderers to choose victims who are without family and friends and, frequently, without the protection of the law. In addition, we can see that in cases where the wholesale killing of groups will not only lead to no (foreseen) costs, but potential benefits (like in the cases of native Americans, the Kulaks, the Jews (that may have lost the war for Germany), Armenians, etc.), there is little problem in carrying out a program to achieve that end. This latter scenario generally requires a state, which is the modern method of marshalling the forces of mass killing.

When we subtract out the state, private killing is a tiny blip. Yes, horrifying when someone shoots up a high school.a music event, or a movie theater, but hardly on the scale of death and destruction of even a small conflict like we see in Yemen.

So, as I see it, killing is a trial-and-error learning process—the only process by which we can discover an "objective" (as Popper would have called it) morality. Killing animals by the millions leads to benefits, like meat on the table, while killing humans on a private scale tends to create problems. When we have a world where an Adolf Hitler or a George W. Bush cannot direct the resources of an entire nation towards the destruction of another without suffering the costs, we may have a chance as a species.

I expected my response to generate a flurry of replies, criticizing and or decrying my position, but as yet I have received none.

Monday, November 09, 2020

“Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato”—Benito Mussolini

 Mussolini's fascist slogan, translated as "everything for the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state," is the underlying theme of an article published by Mariana Mazzucato on Time Magazine's Web site as It's 2023. Here's How We Fixed the Global Economy.

This utopia, straight out of the fascist playbooks of the 1920s and 1930s, and possibly even owing an intellectual debt to Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, will have its own Albert Speers bringing forth the next generation of fascist architecture. One wonders why this splendid utopia has not been brought forth in the past, as Bellamy's book projected; and why so many of the attempts to achieve heaven-on-earth have succeeded primarily in bringing hell-on-earth to the world in addition to the domestic population.

We only need to look to California, our own little laboratory of utopian social engineering, to observe the results of efforts that Mazzucato would endorse. Escalating homelessness, a failing high-speed rail project, and a power grid, due to an emphasis on renewables, that is inadequate to meet demand are just the high points for a state that is losing large numbers of businesses and citizens due to high costs, taxes, and regulations.

It leads one to wonder, who is it that really ignores empirical data? How is it that success stories like Hong Kong (created by John Cowperthwaite and described by Milton Friedman) and post-World-War-2 Germany (the German Wirtschaftswunder, heavily influenced by the economic liberal and Mont Pelerin Society member Ludwig Erhard) are ignored. And why is it that failures like Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, the Soviet Union, North Korea, etc. are also ignored. At this moment, I believe it is due to our imaginations—our imaginations that make it possible to believe in a return to the Garden of Eden.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

A Guess at Our Future

 This morning, in his introductory remarks on Bloomberg's Wall Street Week, David Westin, the host, said the following:

As the polls continue to move in the Democrats' direction, markets seem to get more comfortable with a Biden win; especially if it's quick and it's clean.

This statement, especially the idea that markets are "comfortable" with a win by someone who clearly advocates a regime of higher taxation and regulation, made me wonder. Viewing stock market activity, it is clear that it is true, but why? Perhaps, as in 1930s Germany, the so-called capitalists are banking on support for the party of corporatism to preserve their status.

Prior to that moment I had been thinking that Trump's random interventionism was preferable to Biden's program of systematic, all-encompassing interventionism. But that is clearly not the attitude of Wall Street, corporate America, or the deep (that is bureaucratic, unaccountable) state.

It seems that the consistent national socialism, or fascism, on offer from the Democrat nominee is being embraced by a majority of the nation (over 50% in national polls at the moment), and there is a clear consensus growing that more and more of daily life should be centrally planned. After all, it appears that many experts deride the lack of a national plan in the face of varying responses by states in the U.S. to the COVID-19 pandemic. Where is all this heading?

My view at the moment is that the goal is first, national socialism—an end to federalism and a dramatic shift of power to regulate daily life to the federal government. But this cannot be the end game as many who favor international governance, like George Soros through the Open Society Foundations (OSF), the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), and the World Economic Forum (WEF) are also clearly supporting Biden—the "reasonable" nominee.

I am generally not attracted to conspiracy theories, but there is no doubt that these organizations have agendas and the attention of the political and intellectual elites. I believe that they have the best of intentions, seeking to save the world through international governance; or, as has been said in the past, "one-world government." This objective is to be achieved through the gradual centralization of governance from one level to the next, national governance being the step required before regional or international governance. The method is through the gradual undermining of individualism through the discrediting of non-credentialed expert opinion and, if required, the suppression of voices of dissent. Donald Trump, an individual unschooled in this program is a definite bump in the road. However, to believe, as QAnon adherents apparently do, that Trump can save us from this powerful force, is naïve, as Trump clearly lacks the knowledge to do so.

Unlike in George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, actual war is no longer required to unite the masses in supporting the programs of the state. Now, it is clear that wars against conditions or ideas will suffice: the "War on Poverty," the "War on Drugs," the "War on Terrorism," the "War on COVID-19," the "War on Climate Change," and who knows what next? All that is needed is a "war" that cannot be won and exists in perpetuity, or at least long enough that some new boogeyman can be placed before the public.  

This constructivist program is hubris on steroids—the belief that an elite that governs every detail of the lives of humanity will produce a result better than the evolutionary processes that have governed us for thousands of years. It will eliminate competitive markets and impose a one-size-fits-all regime that will hamper the development of comparative advantage and stifle capital accumulation that is supportive of innovative products and business plans. It is clearly a eugenics for society, and will produce the same catastrophic results.

Friday, September 11, 2020

The Great Reset

During the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing hysterical response imposed by the government and enthusiastically supported by the media, I have been wondering "what the hell is going on?" It seems to me that the mist is starting to clear, and the direction all this is heading is becoming apparent: Introducing the 'Great Reset,' world leaders' radical plan to transform the economy

Climate change was not getting the traction "they" needed to impose worldwide central planning, so the pandemic was an opportunity to push the accelerator all the way to the floor to create the conditions required.

To answer the question of "who are 'they'?", "they" are the people who think it is their responsibility to save the species from itself by imposing the governance they believe is required.

Will this break out into an armed struggle? I'm not sure, as the instigators will have control of a great deal of infrastructure and each step they take may seem "reasonable," weakening the strength of the opposition. It's all very worrisome, and no amount of preparation may suffice. 

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Experiment shows that giving people money reduces psychological stress!

An article in the New Yorker trumpets the promising results of a citywide basic income experiment. A few paragraphs into the article we find this statement of the study's objectives:
The study set out to prove that a basic income could, according to the research plan, “lead to reductions in monthly income volatility and provide greater income sufficiency, which will in turn lead to reduced psychological stress and improved physical functioning.”
Of course, in our world of empiricism, we have to give money to people to see if that will lead to the hoped-for results.

Well, if you income is low, then $500/month has to lead to less volatility. I think that the math basically guarantees it. And, if your income is low, does having a guaranteed $500/month reduce your psychological stress? Let me tell you, my income is greater than the people participating in this study, and $500/month would even reduce my psychological stress!

Of course, this result comes in an economics environment which produces a Nobel Prize (actually, the The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel) for finding that:
Making the schoolwork more relevant to students, working closely with the neediest students and holding teachers accountable — by putting them on short-term contracts, for example — were more effective in countries where teachers often don’t bother showing up for work.
Another amazing result, that making schoolwork relevant and teachers accountable led to improvements. No economist in the Austrian school would have thought to bother testing for these obvious outcomes. No wonder Israel Kirzner has not received the prize!

As a final comment on the Stockton experiment, I quote Benjamin Franklin, who said:
I am for doing good to the poor, but...I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. I observed...that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.
These observations were also made by Alexis de Tocqueville in his Memoir On Pauperism: Does public charity produce an idle and dependant class of society?.

Is there a place for thinking in today's economics? It seems doubtful.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Liberalism has not failed

Jonah Goldberg, conservative pundit, has written Liberalism has not failed, a response to Patrick Deneen's book, Why Liberalism Failed. While I generally have a warm spot in my heart for Goldberg, he makes an unnecessary concession:
America's troubles today are inextricably linked with the breakdown of the family, local institutions, communities, organized religion and social trust. Such deterioration is driven, at least in part, by the relentless individualistic logic of Liberalism and the market (Joseph Schumpeter made this point about markets as far back as the 1940s).
I think that is baloney. It's primarily driven by the steady elimination of consequences that teach people that they have made mistakes. This elimination has taken place primarily through government programs like unemployment insurance, Social Security, and the galaxy of welfare programs that make ill-advised behavior bearable. On top of that, the steady erosion of religion by the forces of rationality has eliminated consequences in the afterlife. These things have nothing to do with the "relentless individualistic logic of Liberalism" and everything to do with the state's increasing position as a universal problem solver.