Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Ideas of a Socialist

Arthur Koestler, author of the celebrated novel Darkness at Noon, was many things; writer/journalist, investigator of the paranormal, political prisoner, womanizer and suicide. But, more than anything, he was a committed socialist, although a vociferous critic of the Soviet Union. In 1944 he wrote the following in his essay The End of an Illusion:

"The paramount lesson which we have to draw from the failure of the Russian experiment is that economic factors are important, but not all-important. The regimental tailor is not a socialist institution, and a nationalised economy may become an instrument of tyranny and reaction. By concentrating all its attention on the economic issue, the Left became deaf to the strange and changing moods of the People. Their religious nostalgia turned into free valences of the soul, apt to fuse into the wrong compounds of chauvinism, mysticism, addiction to new myths.
The weaning of the Left, the breaking up of the false emotional compounds, is one half of the task. The other half is the creation of a new fraternity in a new spiritual climate, whose leaders are tied by a vow of poverty to share the life of the masses, and debarred by the laws of the fraternity from attaining unchecked power. If this seems utopian, then socialism is a utopia.
The age of enlightenment has destroyed faith in personal survival; the scars of this operation have never healed. There is a vacancy in every living soul, a deep thirst in all of us. If the socialist idea cannot fill this vacancy and quench our thirst, then it has failed in our time. In this case the whole development of the socialist idea since the French Revolution has been merely the end of a chapter in history, and not the beginning of a new one."

The Latest From Judy Shelton

Judy Shelton, monetary authority and critic of fiat money and government deficit financing, has apparently been inspired to address the debt ceiling fiasco:

She's certainly one of the more interesting economists you'll ever run across. Here's a great interview with her from November of 2009.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Big Three

Linsey Hamilton wins again
Linsey Hamilton leads usual adversaries Emma Bast and Terra James toward the finish line of a scratch race at the National Sports Center Velodrome in Blaine, MN on July 28, 2011.

Changes Down on the Farm?

This report tells us that the DOT is considering a requirement that operators of farm equipment have a Commercial Driver's License and follow the rules that apply to other CDL operators. The story tells something of the background of the operation of farm machinery in the US, that family members, often as young as twelve, have been using powerful equipment to plow, cultivate, harvest and process crops. Of course, farming also had a juvenile component before mechanization. Kids drove horses and oxen centuries before the introduction of the tractor.

No doubt the ostensible reason for considering this policy is safety, both for the operators of the equipment and the public at large. Isn't that always the case? That's why there's a picture of a baby drowning glued to the side of a 5-gallon paint bucket. That's why you'll be arrested for driving without a fastened seat belt. And there's no doubt that farming can be a dangerous pursuit. Every year we hear about farmers entangled in equipment with a resulting loss of limb or life. So tractor drivers should be registered just like pistol owners. Thank goodness for the state and its concern for our safety and well-being.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

It gets more weird every day

A Pennsylvania mommy is going to trial because she got on a school bus to see if her child was OK. Apparently it's against the law, at least in Pennsylvania, for an adult to get on a school bus. And although this particular incident seemed to have been resolved to everyone's satisfaction months ago, county attorney Charles F. Chenot III isn't going to let the matter disappear. As he says, if they do, sex offenders with kids on the bus will jump on and molest other students.

Naturally, the first thing that a normal person would think is that there needs to be a little of that increasingly uncommon, especially in educational circles, common sense used here. Maybe every parent shouldn't succumb to panic when they perceive a situation where their child could be in danger. And maybe the authorities could have the judgement to disregard an isolated incident where no actual harm has been done. But that misses the real point.

Through some tortuous logic, the state is legally responsible for the education of residents of a certain age. In exchange for this obligation the state and schools themselves make regulations regarding the conduct of the students and parents. Why? Why is the government involved in something like bussing children to school in the first place? Even if you can justify the behemoth US public education system, how is it possible to extend the justification for instruction to transport? At one point, there couldn't have been any bussing to schools because there were no buses. How did we arrive at the conjecture that hauling kids to school at government and ultimately the taxpayers' expense was part of the education package? Must have been before they turned the schools into subsidized restaurants.

I remember asking the bartender at a saloon in the hamlet of Interior, South Dakota where the school was. He replied that there was no school, the kids went to Wall, 32 miles up the road. I said that was a long bus ride every day. He said, "Yeah, it would be, but they drive theirselves."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Stephen Pearl Andrews

Individual anarchist Stephen Pearl Andrews said this in a continuing discussion with Horace Greeley and Henry James in 1853:

"The most stupendous mistake that this world of ours has ever made is that of erecting an abstraction, the State, the Church, Public Morality, according to some accepted standard, ...into a real personality, and making it paramount to the will and happiness of the individual."

"Give up...the search after the remedy for the evils of government in more government. The road lies just the other way-toward individuality and freedom from all government... It is the inherent viciousness of the very institution of government itself, never to be got rid of until our natural individuality of action and responsibility is restored. Nature made individuals, not nations; and while nations exist at all, the liberties of the individual must perish."

Quoted from Men Against the State, James J. Martin, The Adrian Allen Associates, 1953.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Queen of Wheels

Minnesota Elite Women's Criterium Champion Teresa Moriarty

Perhaps the most successful female Minnesota athlete that doesn't play with a ball or don skates is cyclist Teresa Moriarty, who through the years has won every local road race of note and continues to be a sterling representative of her sport. In this year's edition of the state criterium championship, held before a deserted state capitol building in St. Paul, she attacked from the start and soloed in front of the pack for the entire race, sprinting up the hill to the finish line with a 36 second advantage. Yesterday she once again showed who's the boss in local women's cycling with a victory in the inaugural "South Side Sprint" in Minneapolis. Moriarty has occupied this spot for some years now but no one seems to be able to push her off the throne.

Teresa escorts a participant in the kid's race to the finish line after her own triumph a few minutes earlier.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Fear of Anarchy, the Classroom and Lord of the Flies

Bring up the possibility of a stateless society, anarchy, and you'll typically get the response, "But who would build the roads? And what about crime? There wouldn't be any order!" Where does this assumption come from and does everyone believe that society without the state is impossible?

In the US, and probably most other western countries, students are daily exposed to the necessity of order. When a teacher leaves the room, they tell the class to behave, study their lesson and be quiet. As soon as the door shuts behind the teacher pandemonium ensues. When the teacher returns, order is restored. This is a lesson that survives into adulthood, just like algebra and English. Without authority there is chaos. The idea that people mature and act differently as adults than they do as children isn't recognized.

That's why William Golding's novel Lord of the Flies, and its two cinema interpretations have proven to be so popular in the government-sponsored classrooms. Golding's first novel, originally published in 1954 to less than enthusiastic reviews, eventually became one of the most read works of fiction in US high schools and colleges. A group of British schoolboys are marooned on a tropical island when the plane carrying them away from an atomic war crashes. No adults survive the crash and the boys, ranging in age from 7 to 12 are forced to fend for themselves. There are four main characters, Ralph, the responsible type; Jack Merridew, a budding alpha male; Simon, the focus of the story's metaphysics; and Piggy, a myopic asthmatic who also attempts to use logic and reason in the boys' attempt at survival and hopefully eventual rescue. In a Hobbesian progression the boys begin a rapid descent into barbarism and murder until finally order is restored with the arrival of the Royal Navy. While there is certain amount of character development in the story, the basic premise is that without authority (the state) and in a condition of anarchy, humanity will devolve into bestial savagery. There's no evidence, historical or otherwise, that such a thing would ever occur under any circumstances but to think contrarily runs counter to statist beliefs.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Wintercow Hits a Homerun.

Where Did it All Go?
Jul 15th, 2011 by wintercow20
The following bar chart demonstrates the spending levels of the various federal agencies between 2006 and last year. Over that time, federal expenditures increased from $2.66 trillion to $3.72 trillion, an increase of over 40%. During this time period, prices rose by about 8% and population rose by about 3.5%, so in real per capita terms, over a mere 5 year period federal government spending per capita has increased by over 28%. This is larger than real median family income increased over the preceding 30 years.

Percent Changes on the Right, All Figures Nominal

The red bars indicate current spending levels while the green ones indicate past spending levels. Does anyone at all, in Congress, in the press, on the street, in the academy, ever look at this picture and ask where it all went? How can it be possible for spending to have increased by over 28% in real per capita terms, but now all kinds of federal agencies and programs are experiencing … a … crunch? You’d think you were being put on Candid Camera with this sort of rhetoric.

And consider this, even with the “grand budget deal” that would have spending slashed … slashed! by $2 trillion over 10 years, that means we’d be reducing spending from $3.7 trillion (using the latest year as an illustration) to a “mere” $3.5 trillion, still a mountain of spending beyond what prevailed a few years ago (about a 20% real increase per capita). If I asked you the following how would you answer: “your real per capita spending will increase by 20% over the next five years, would you characterize that as a crisis? Would your roof shingles begin to fall off? Would you have to do without heating your home? Would you have to stop purchasing things at Amazon? Of course not. Real per capita increases mean spending over and above what you are currently able to do.

How is it possible to be spending over a trillion dollars more today than five years ago and for anyone to be claiming we are in a crunch? Certainly with the lagging revenues we have a deficit issue, but I urge you to be aware of the rhetoric that makes a deficit problem appear to be like one where agencies cannot somehow afford to do the things they did just a couple of years ago.

And allow me to ask, can some “progressive” who wants even more spending and taxes please point out a year when spending levels were appropriate? And would you kindly do me the favor of comparing how the agencies performed and how our “vital” infrastructure was doing when spending was at those levels? And then can you again answer my question, what the heck has the government done with all of the new money that has been spent since that nirvana?

The University of Rochester's Michael Rizzo posts here.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Death Penalty Administered

This incident wouldn't have made the news at all if the victim hadn't have been an athlete of moderate renown. Turner was an NFL player with the Cincinnati Bengals and a local football star. But, he made the mistake of encountering law enforcement and will now be the focus of funeral rites. Of course, as is usually the case in affairs of this type, there are two versions of events, the cop version and the witness version. Surveillance video from the c-store might reveal the truth.

Not surprisingly, family members were agitated at the hospital where Turner was declared dead. The result was the arrest of two family members, as described here.

Of course, a sheriff's department investigation has determined that the shooting was "within department policy".

An account of the memorial service for Turner is here.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Broadway Melody of 1940

A movie that features some fabulous dance numbers by Fred Astaire, George Murphy and Eleanor Powell also includes a spectacular juggling routine by perhaps the greatest female juggler ever, Trixie Firschke.

Powell and Astaire danced together in only one film and this was it:

An Economist Changes Her Mind

Christina Romer, UC-Berkeley economics professor and former head of Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, has penned an op-ed for the NYT recommending tax increases as the least painful method of dealing with the federal budget deficit. She hasn't always felt that way. The Wall Street Journal in announcing her appointment, pointed out that "That the Romers are so well-regarded by their peers of both parties has many economists cheered that the Obama administration is going for the top minds in the field rather than those who adhere most closely to party lines. The Romers’ work has even been cited by Republicans as supporting the idea that tax increases negatively impact economic output."

But that was in 2008. This is 2011. The science of economics has evidently changed in the last three years. Romer has a different take on taxes now. The Keynesian theory that government spending drives the economy has come to the fore. Romer now maintains that increased taxes on "the rich" will be paid for out of their savings, putting less strain on the finances of "the poor". That would extinguish the fact that only savings, deferred consumption, can be used to create the capital necessary for economic expansion and a subsequent increase in employment. The less saving there is, the less investment there can be.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Twenty-seven feet six inches

That's the distance that a pair of draft horses must pull a loaded stone boat in competition to record a "full pull". While the specifications and rules of draft horse pulls can vary from region to region, in Wisconsin contests are usually divided into two divisions, one for teams weighing 3200 lbs. or less and another for teams of unlimited weight, which could be as much as 5000 lbs. a pair. The stone boat is initially loaded with weights that would add up to perhaps 4500 lbs., an amount that probably all the teams entered would be able to manage. Each team has three opportunities to make the pull and those that are successful move on to the next round, where more weight is added. Eventually, only one team is able to make a full pull and wins the event outright or, if no team makes a full pull at a given weight, the one that pulls the boat the farthest wins.

Horse pulls are calm affairs, except for the horses themselves when actually involved in a pull. There is no loud music or other noise. Spectators are cautioned to be quiet, as the horses take their cues from sounds and can be easily distracted. Beer and barbecued chicken are cheap. If the competitors can be said to wear uniforms, they would be T-shirts printed with farm equipment advertising, bib overalls and free caps, much like the audience.

A low key yet exciting afternoon at a draft horse pull in rural Wisconsin is a step back to another age when things happened more slowly and quietly.