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Archive for the ‘statism’ Category

The Decline of the Empire

Most empires don’t end with a bang, with the spectacles of doomsday prophecies and widespread destruction. What destruction occurs, occurs gradually and without remark. What spectacles happen, happen amidst the pervasive stagnation of the social structure. An empire on the decline cannot be saved, at best the problems can be put off for a little while by unpopular policies.

When did the Roman Empire fall? That’s not something which can be well-dated. When Rome fell to the barbarians the first, second, or third time? When the Eastern Roman Empire was swept away by Muslim invaders in the 15th century? When the empire was no longer politically unified? When the decline was terminal, if that could even be diagnosed? Or, does it still exist today, succeeded by numerous political bodies?

I ask this because, amidst the fallout of the re-election of Barack Obama on Tuesday, there has been a flurry of articles and sentiments spoken by those of a conservative bent who believe that Mitt Romney was the one last true chance to “turn America around” or something like that. What they fail to realize is that Obama is not likely to be the end. He will be one in a long line of increasingly desultory tyrants. Nor would Romney have turned anything around, I am certain of that.

Is the American Empire in decline? Certainly. Is the decline terminal? I am also certain of this. When more than 50 million of a nation will vote for a murderer, there is a deep moral rot that has set in for which no operation will save the patient. But the government will keep doling out our bread, and it will keep providing circuses.

Will it end with a bang? No. There will be a series of tragedies, massacres, dissolutions, controversies, scandals, crises, and collapses. This could go on for several more centuries yet, the decline only becoming apparent from a view a millennium or more out.

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There is a certain point considering the intersection of society, individual, and government, that I have consistently found myself coming back to. It is the desire for one to live free from concern of politics, of the going-ons of government. A freedom from worry of what pleasantries shall soon be prohibited, taxed, and regulated. Freedom from worry about what perfectly normal and peaceful actions will have armed men knocking at (down) your door. Freedom from worry about what the government is doing lately to mess up everything.

He who does not intend to coerce, however, lives in a society that is pervaded by an omnipotent government which is always looking to expand its powers and to coerce ever greater numbers of the population until the individual is obliterate, the family is annihilate, and society is automate. If one doesn’t want to take up the gun and use it against others, he must take up the gun to protect himself and his family and their interests. When the state forbids such an action, informing that individual that it will fulfill all of his own responsibilities, the fool wipes his brow and rests, thinking his work is finished. Some have lived so long on the boon of the state that they can’t imagine life without it, their imaginative faculties ruined to conceive a life without slavery by the self-glorifying propaganda of the state.

Even those who know the evils of the state and would seek to live apart from the state are thrust into the system and unable to work for their own interests without some level of complicity. In order to have a job you must tender some commitment to the state and its machinery. This even in The Land of the Free, or so they have told us that it is such.

Politics should not be made such a concern. Nothing should be given this power that it lumbers even in someone’s periphery, wielding great guns and bombs and endless soldiers in formation. If we are free, we would be free from this worry; but to have centralized all this power and concentrated it in a few hands, we must now, if we are responsible for our interests, watch ever so very carefully, so that they know they are being watched and that they do not have all of our approval.

The only question is how long until they have the power to smite those who do not give approval. Such is, inexorably, the end of power, to fasten it and expand it, on the backs of slaves who trudge over a road paved of the bodies of those who would resist.

Hopefully that day is a far away and only for now a dark dream, but there is nothing in history to say that such isn’t possible or even unlikely. And in this is that quaint desire to live without such a worry, the desire for life, unpolitical.

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Part 1.

I stated in the last part that economics inducted a Presumption of Statism following the reactionary statist writings that arose in reaction to thinkers like Locke and Paine. However, I didn’t want to make it seem that statism only arose as a reaction to these thinkers. In fact, if anything, the statism asserted against these classically liberal thinkers is only a re-hashing of views which had already been stated explicitly. Implicitly, the new statism is only a harkening back to the tribalism that marked prehistory and kept man trapped in short, nasty, and brutish lives. The chief is simply the strongest, and might makes right. As the state is the most powerful entity in a society, it follows that it can do what it wants. There are no limits to the exercising of the state’s power; it is free to disrupt the economy however it wishes and plan/design to whatever end it cares, whether to perform any tradeoffs between unemployment and inflation, to outlaw private currencies, to make certain regulations about spending and saving, and so on.

This is a problem of contemporary economics. There is not enough discussion about what we should consider limits on the government. Rather, it is straightforwardly assumed that the government is free to meddle with the economy however it likes, and it should do so provided some economic theory can be provided that “justifies” the action in favor of society’s good.

Even the tentatively “free-market economists” are open to vast amounts of meddling and are not nearly suspicious enough of states. I believe a telling sign of the Presumption of Statism is the complete void of economists calling for the state to be out of the money business. The classical economists got their start by pointing out how society would be better off if the state were to be rid from the economy in the form of establishing tariffs, guilds, and certain protectionist favors. But we haven’t come full circle in seeing the call for the privatizing of currency; the number of economists who’ve proposed the state being out of the money business is so small that it doesn’t even have a name, technical or derogatory.

Who are they? So far as I know, they would be Hayek, Rothbard, and, more recently Jorg Guido Hülsmann. Heck, Hayek proposed private fiat currencies, and this as a check against the government’s fiat money, so my inclusion of him is tenuous.

Why is this? Is our faith in the market not yet assured, even though we as economists ought to know better? Why isn’t there further exploration into the tenability of currencies that states don’t have their dick in? Even the gold standard isn’t radical enough to be satisfactory, it is just a statist intervention into the economy and is predicated on the assumption that the state is free to prevent anyone competing with it in the money business.

Though I suppose economists do not represent, by necessity, a faith in markets. Keynes supported radical government interventions in the form of fiscal stimulus, and his ideas were used to justify the economic stimulus the Bush administration pushed in the aftermath of the housing bubble collapse.  The monetarists prefer intervention in the form of controlling currency supply. The result is generally the same, at least from the viewpoint of justice (the economic merits can be discussed elsewhere). The fiscal stimulus is paid for by a tax on the future generations (which violates, at least in principle, the requirement of representation for taxation), the monetary stimulus is paid for by a tax on savings. They both represent a fundamental decision of the government to appropriate to itself the property of others which, even if we believe there must be a government and its taxes, should still be viewed with suspicion.

Beyond the moral aspect of the Presumption of Statism, there is also the economic aspect of the Presumption of Statism. How many economic theories and models are based on ways that the government might “make things better” in the economy? Keynesianism, monetarism, the Philips curve, the Keynesian multiplier, and on and on (I’d argue that the whole field of macroeconomics begins with the assumption that the government can effect any beneficial change in the economy). You find economists arguing against particular macroeconomic models here and there, but only because they’re proposing their own. In fact, sometimes they agree about the effects, it is only that they prefer different effects because of their own moral judgment of which effects are preferable.

Where are the economists arguing for a pure freedom of markets? Be it fiat money, fiscal or monetary stimulus, they’re all interventions of various kinds, obviating the freedom of markets. Contemporary economics has given up its libertarian heritage, no longer arguing against the state, but embracing it.

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There is a certain presumption among Leftists that I particularly resent. It is the presumption that political life is the highest calling in an individual’s participation in the public sphere, and that one cannot achieve self-actualization without it. This presumption goes back to Aristotle (Plato was in favor of hard and fast dictatorships, preferring for only “the elites” to participate in politics). The idea is that unless one participates in some form of political mobilization, one is not doing anything to help one’s own society.

Of course, this presumption is essentially wedded to the presumption that the state ought to lead society in initiating cultural change. To believe that the government ought not to interfere in some way is to believe that the problem Leftists are trying to solve with their invocation of the government just shouldn’t be solved at all.

You don’t believe the government should provide universal healthcare? Why do you want everyone to die of medical problems?

You don’t believe the government should provide food stamps? Why do you want everyone to starve?

You don’t believe the government should subsidize food? Again, why do you want everyone to starve?

Leftists are of the opinion that the government should be made to intrude even on the private sphere, so that you cannot do anything without it being regulated, taxed, reported, or in some way controlled by the state. You have to get a permit to install plumbing, dammit! Where have we come as a society where a man’s house is not his own castle? The Leftists constantly cry that conservatives wish to involve the government in the bedroom, but they’re the ones who won’t leave us alone in the bathroom.

I have the belief that politics is inherently dirty. Not dirty in the sense of corruption, that needn’t be the case; even an ideal political state would be dirty. Politics is dirty because it deals with the necessary but not enviable task of dealing with society’s trash; it should institute law, courts, and military, which are dirty tasks forced on us because only angels are fit for anarchy. To be associated with the state in any essential way is to be associated with scum, like visiting a prison. Voting is like pulling teeth, jury duty like a colonoscopy, paying taxes like getting vaccinated. Necessary for the health of the body, but not pleasurable.

An individual ought to be able to get through life without being molested. This means that an individual ought to be able to get through life without having any essential connection to politics. Don’t break the law (provided it is a just law), pay your taxes (provided it is a just tax), and you’re free to do what you want without having to know or care at all about which politician’s spouting propaganda about what. Politics is not a high calling, nor is it honorable. One can be perfectly self-actualized without being mired in the political life.

As it is, we don’t have a system where one can be certain they shall be free of molestation. Therefore, we must arm ourselves with knowledge of the law, notions of justice and inalienable rights, and guns, just in case. Otherwise, the happy man is one who never needs to know his congressman’s name.

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Karl Popper notes that the term individualism is often defined in opposition to both collectivism and altruism. However, he notes that it makes more sense to refer to individualism as opposed to collectivism, and egoism in opposition to altruism, since opposition to altruism and opposition to collectivism are not the same thing. If we identify individualism with egoism, then our rejection of egoism (from which follows our acceptance of altruism) becomes the acceptance of collectivism.

Many people find support for collectivism by altruism, thinking that from the repression of the individual it follows that the good of all is increased. However, this leads to totalitarianism, since the state is held to take priority over the individual. Otherwise, if we must defer to the individual in society, then it follows that we must oppose collectivism. As the individual is the unit of justice, then there is no justice throughout society unless that justice is for all individuals. To hold society over the individual is to be confused about what society has as its good, to dissociate society from itself through an external threat, the state. We cannot treat of society’s good without first treating of the individual’s good.

But if we reverse this understanding, so that the individual can only have a good if society does (however that is to work), then the state takes the place of our consideration of society. The responsibility of the individual (altruism) is undertaken by the state, a violation of subsidiarity. The state becomes God, “I must decrease that It may increase” (to paraphrase John 3:30). The progressive wishes to subsume society into a warfare against individual responsibility; they wish to produce a military efficiency of planned order. Of course, no progressivist will admit they want simply want everyone to do as they command, but that is what is logically implied. The course of homogeneity impelled on society by the overbearing interventions into society’s order replaces it with the state’s order, which is necessary a militant form. Society becomes actually just a conscripted army, armed against individualism wherever it may arise. The state is to command, and the citizen-conscript obey, “You are to do and desire as we command [because we know better].”

The infringement of the individual’s sovereignty is a violence. Peace and totalitarianism, even if there is no currently undergoing warfare against another body external to the society, are contradictory, as totalitarianism is defined by its warfare against the state’s own society.

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Though I lack any in-depth knowledge of particular methods and concepts within economics, there are certain elements of the contemporary study and monolith which I find to be inherently problematic and de-legitimizing of the field. These elements are so thoroughly inundated that they are found at all levels, and are even a “primary concern” of the field, though as I will show this is rather ironic considering what economics portends to be a study of. You cannot be considered an economist unless you are versed in these presumptions, whether or not you agree with them.

Therefore, I must offer a negative critique of contemporary economics, and consider it my place to do so. Though positive theory is better, since such would be focused on explanation of what actually occurs in the world and understanding it, it is just a matter of historical accident that we are in the position of having to debunk the overriding concerns of contemporary economics. Arguably, this is to take the position of many previous economists; Adam Smith arguing against mercantilism, for example. I don’t mean to paint myself into any corners by this example, but we should take our model from great men.

I intend my critique to serve as providing broad strokes, so that while it may utilize overly-generalized opinions, it still grounds a way for us to shed these problems and move forward with useful explanations of what is the case. I don’t want to commit myself entirely at this point in time to covering all of these topics or only these topics, but I have designs on critiquing the particularly omnipresent notions I call the Presumption of Statism, the Disregard for Continuity, and Modeled Anti-Realism. Before I consider these in theory, I wish to present a narrative that explains these historically conditioned notions.

It was no sooner that economics had its proven successes with the dismantling of state policies predicated on mercantilism than it became mired in the political idealism of thinkers like Hegel, who had their designs on utopias managed by master states and servant societies. Of course, these thinkers were only warming over the totalitarianism of Plato (which Popper has a great deal to say in his Open Society, which I’m not going to expand on here), a collectivism which rose up in response to the individualist sentiments of thinkers like Locke and Paine (and I say this without meaning to whitewash history; Locke and those influenced by him were no libertarians). Where previously economics had shown how things work without central planning, or would work better without political distortions in the economy, now economics was seen as a tool of the state to bring about what it desired. The socialists and Marxists wished to wipe out competition, which they saw as wasting resources and contributing to divisions in society, as well as not bringing up those in the poorest classes.

Of course, these machinations depended in equal part on the employment of economics as a tool of the state as well as the outright rejection of economic concepts. However, the abuse was great enough that economics could not be pursued without having to learn of these concepts. This explains the historically conditioned accident of the Presumption of Statism. Free markets were not studied and understood so much as the state’s control over markets.

Further, a postmodern thrall overtook the conservative and moral sensibilities of society and government. As Keynes so aptly summarized of the priorities of his own time, “In the long run, we’re all dead.” Consumption could be moved to the present at the cost of future consumption; it was as simple as resorting to the government’s form of the credit card, sovereign debt and fiat currency. This Disregard for Continuity has blessed my generation with certain obligations in the form not only of an unconscionable public debt, but also certain programs of entitlement that transfer wealth from the young and poor to the old who have had a lifetime to accumulate wealth already. Not only are we saddled with these egregious offenses which we are expected to propitiate, we haven’t even been given a decent understanding of the way the world works in order for my generation at-large to see that the old should simply be left to suffer and the debt be shrugged off. We have been invited to the party only to be handed the bill.

What modeling of the world economists are given to tend to oversimplify without any wont to understanding what inevitable shortcomings a model has in picturing the way the world actually works. An elegant model replaces reality because it is more aesthetically pleasing, and what disastrous consequences would (and do) actually occur when it is employed by pandering politicians, so much the worse for reality not conforming to the model. There is no secondary model (which is to say, a model is an understanding) present in economics of this shortcoming of models. This Modeled Anti-Realism places much of economics alongside other pseudo-sciences as historicism and Freudianism. We learn about pictures and what others think the world ought to be like, instead of plumbing reality and coming to understand it for what it is.

By overcoming these ills through a negative theory of critique can we move on to building up with strength a positive theory of explanation. But for now, the explanation of why these notions are inherently problematic for economics.

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