Author Archives: Quincy
Cory Doctorow started the New Year with a very interesting piece on the “roboticization of the workforce”. The whole article is worth a read, but it brings up a disturbing question:
But here’s the thing that neither of these articles — or even Bruce’s acid observations — touches on: once technology creates abundance, what possibilities exist for distributing the fruits of that abundance such that the benefits are more evenly felt?
There are plenty of people who will suggest that collectivist economics and centralized redistribution are the answer. Given the last century of history, that’s not an option I like. Take a look at Doctorow’s nightmare scenario:
We’ve been talking about an increase in productivity producing an increase in leisure for a long time, but instead, the “winner take all” world of Brynjolfsson and McAfee often seems to produce a “winner” class that works itself into an early grave by running 100-hour work weeks at astounding payscales, and a much larger “loser” class that works itself into an early grave by working 100-hour weeks in shitty, marginal, grey-economy jobs, trying to stitch together something like an income.
This is bad. However, the nightmare scenario that evolves under socialism is invariably worse. Instead of a winner class created by skilled, high-value work, a winner class develops from people who successfully gain control of the redistribution machine. Giving power to those who covet it is rarely a good idea, but usually unavoidable. The United States was built with a system of government shaped by this insight. By and large, its citizens have profited from keeping checks and balances on power seekers, even as the power seekers have eroded them.
A class of power seekers in control of an economic redistribution machine that replaces labor markets would not be subject to checks and balances. By controlling what people have, they would have absolute, unchecked power. Worse, power seekers tend to be the least sensitive to the wants and needs of the people they control. Even worse, most power seekers see others as resources to be exploited for their benefit.
Terrifying, isn’t it? Surely, we can avoid this by making sure the right people are in charge. Nope, sorry. Eventually, those who want power will take over the redistribution machine. It’s a certainty. Those who seek power will overcome the will of the rest to keep them out. It’s the consistent thread in human history.
The real problem is that we’re approaching a point where the labor market as it’s structured will collide with the efficiency gains caused by technology. If most labor is not scarce enough to allow workers to earn enough to support themselves and their families, how does society respond? How do supporters of economic liberty respond? What new mechanisms can be devised that allow ordinary people to continue to participate freely in the markets for goods and services without the wealth earned from the labor market?
This is stuff supporters of economic liberty need to start thinking about now. Our opponents have a ready answer that people will be drawn to despite its historic failures. Without an alternative from us, tyranny of the default will result in actual tyranny.
I just finished reading Larry Correia’s “An opinion on gun control“, a tour de force attacking the logic and arguments of those who want to control guns. His view on those who want to control guns is damning:
In conclusion, basically it doesn’t really matter what something you pick when some politician or pundit starts screaming we’ve got to do something, because in reality, most of them already know a lot of what I listed above. The ones who are walking around with their security details of well-armed men in their well-guarded government buildings really don’t care about actually stopping mass shooters or bad guys, they care about giving themselves more power and increasing their control.
If a bad guy used a gun with a big magazine, ban magazines. If instead he used more guns, ban owning multiple guns. If he used a more powerful gun with less shots, ban powerful guns. If he used hollowpoints, ban hollowpoints. (which I didn’t get into, but once again, there’s a reason everybody who might have to shoot somebody uses them). If he ignored some Gun Free Zone, make more places Gun Free Zones. If he killed a bunch of innocents, make sure you disarm the innocents even harder for next time. Just in case, let’s ban other guns that weren’t even involved in any crimes, just because they’re too big, too small, too ugly, too cute, too long, too short, too fat, too thin, (and if you think I’m joking I can point out a law or proposed law for each of those) but most of all ban anything which makes some politician irrationally afraid, which luckily, is pretty much everything.
They will never be happy. In countries where they have already banned guns, now they are banning knives and putting cameras on every street. They talk about compromise, but it is never a compromise. It is never, wow, you offer a quick, easy, inexpensive, viable solution to ending mass shootings in schools, let’s try that. It is always, what can we take from you this time, or what will enable us to grow some federal apparatus?
I can’t add much to this, other than to relay an experience I once had walking through the Wembley neighborhood of London. I was with some relatives who lived in Birmingham and we were going to visit central London that day. We parked a few blocks from Wembley Station and walked over there. In the day, one could easily sense that the fresh stucco facade of the public housing was hiding a rough neighborhood. It turned out not to matter at that point.
After going into London and having a perfectly pleasant day, we took the tube back to Wembley station. By this time, the sun had gone down. The neighborhood we had to walk through was downright scary at night. My sense was that this was a place where the weak didn’t last long. This was soon confirmed as a band of twenty young men wielding pipes and other weapons ran unchallenged through the streets. No guns, but enough brawn and metal to make this gang very deadly.
I had never felt fear like this in my life. I’ve had to fight off two muggers in my time, both of whom fled quickly when they realized I was going to fight. (Both fights were unarmed, as legally carrying a weapon in California is effectively impossible for those without political connections. But, I digress.) In both those cases, even while being mugged, I didn’t feel or believe that the environment was dominated by lawlessness. If someone had seen the mugging going on, they would have tried to help or at least called a cop.
That night in Wembley, I felt none of that security. These young men acted like they were immune from any harm as they rampaged through the street. There were no police. There were no citizens willing to stand up for the innocent. It was terrifying. I started looking around, what elements in the environment could I use in a fight with these guys. How could I keep them away from my relatives?
In my head, though, it always ended the same. We were dead. Twenty strong, armed young men vs. two guys, a woman, and two kids, all unarmed. No police. No hope of assistance. Any confrontation would end with our deaths, simple as that.
It was a truly savage environment where might ruled without exception. This is the end result of gun control. There were only two types of people in that environment: aggressors and eventual victims. I’m writing this because we weren’t victims that night. But if we repeated that walk enough times, it would have been us.
When I hear politicians talk about gun control, this is the environment I think of. It’s the same kind of environment that our crime statistics say we have in Richmond and Oakland, just an hour’s drive from me. These two cities account for over 150 murders every year. It’s the same kind of environment we have in Detroit, which is now suffering from profound urban decay. It’s the same kind of environment that produced over 600 murders in Chicago last year.
Keep this in mind as you read Larry’s piece. It’s long, but it’s worth it… most of all if you’re a supporter of gun control.
Just some quick thoughts on the fiscal cliff…
IT’S THE SPENDING, STUPID
It’s frustrating that no one is discussing the fact the the Obama plan for deficit reduction actually increases spending with the inclusion of a stimulus package in 2013. Raising taxes and borrowing more money for more stimulus not debt reduction. It’s just more debt.
The political failure from Republican leaders in the House is staggering. Republicans should have been hammering Obama’s plan so damn hard even the media had to listen. The ad writes itself: “Obama’s plan is tax now, borrow now, spend now. Is that a balanced approach?” It’s a compelling message, a potent political weapon, and it’s true. Had Boehner been looking for any of those, he would have figured this out. Unfortunately for the American people, Boehner felt it was more important to compromise with Obama.
At this point, if I were Boehner, I would actually give into Obama on tax increases but insist that tax increases be met dollar-for-dollar with spending cuts. If suddenly there were no conflict about tax rates but there was no deal, it would force people (even reporters) to ask what the remaining barriers were. This would allow Boehner to shift the conversation where it needs to be… on spending. (Yes, I know this plan is insane. However, when you’re negotiating someone who’s view of compromise is “heads, I win; tails, I win”, there is no such thing as sanity.)
NEWSPEAK OF THE DAY
From the WaPo article linked above:
Boehner’s latest offer calls for $2 trillion in savings over the next decade, half from higher taxes and half from cuts to the fast-growing health and retirement programs that are the federal government’s largest expense. All told, Obama’s latest offer calls for about $2.15 trillion in savings.
Taking more money from the citizens is “savings”? Who knew bank robbers were being so darn responsible, saving all that money?
The accurate description of Boehner’s plan would be $1.2 trillion in savings and $800 billion in taxes. Obama’s plan would accurately be described as $1.5 trillion in new taxes, $80 billion in new spending in 2013, and $570 billion in cuts thereafter. The truth, of course, would disrupt the narrative that the President’s plan is balanced while Boehner’s is not. Therefore, spending cuts and taxes are all called savings.
In other news, the English Language filed assault charges against the Washington Post after reading the article. (If only.)
WHAT IF GOING OVER THE CLIFF ISN’T THAT BAD?
The conventional wisdom is that going over the cliff will be an economic nightmare. But what if it isn’t? There are a some positives in going over the fiscal cliff:
- Government spending will go down.
- The debt limit will not need to be increased.
- Americans will actually be impacted by the cost of government.
Might these mitigate the harms of going over the cliff? In the short term, I don’t think so. The financial hit taken by Americans coupled with the continued economic uncertainty of a government groping for a solution will cause a lot of pain.
In the long term, the pain might (notice I said “might”) produce a healthy skepticism of government spending among the citizens. A 2011 Gallup poll already indicated that the public overwhelmingly favors spending cuts in the abstract. However, they tend not to favor cutting things that benefit them directly. Since different people benefit from different programs, this produces an unwillingness for politicians in either party to cut spending. If people suddenly become concerned with the economic pain of the fiscal cliff, they just might be receptive to a trade-off of reduced government benefits for decreased taxes and increased economic stability.
Of course, there has to be support from the GOP in Washington for this, since it certainly won’t come from the Democrats. Well, there goes that idea…
Take these thoughts for what they are… frustrations and wild speculations about the fiscal cliff. Hopefully they start a good discussion on the subject. Maybe they’ll even open a few eyes to facets of the situation left unreported by the mainstream media.
steal adapt a song title from Avenue Q for a closing thought: There is life outside of the Beltway. This country has survived a hell of a lot and it still can. The will of the American people to be successful and prosperous has survived recessions and depressions and governments more suffocating than what we have today. We can do it again, even if we go over the cliff.
This quote from Santayana seems to sum up the first four years of Obama’s reign:
Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
We’ve endured four years of government action designed to stimulate and save a failing economy. Four years where the average American saw an economy in shambles, friends and neighbors in trouble. Four years of sweeping changes to laws that affect the economy. Four years of a president taking undeserved credit for any signs of progress while avoiding all blame. Despite all that, the American people came out yesterday and said we want four more years of this.
Taking a cold, dispassionate look at the results, voting for four more years of Obama is ludicrous. He is, by all metrics, an abysmal failure. Obviously, the electorate failed to learn from the past, right?
Not so fast. The years in our history that parallel our current situation are ones where our collective memory, such as it is, recalls history as written by the victor: Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Every statement above is equally as applicable to FDR in 1932-36, but history remembers him as a hero, not a goat. To a certain degree, FDR got lucky. A world war and a vice president kind enough to quietly reverse his economic course after his death certainly saved his reputation.
However, it should not be underestimated the role that certain historians played in shaping our memory of FDR. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.’s The Age of Roosevelt trilogy was the definitive work on FDR for several decades. It was strongly pro-Roosevelt and set up the narrative that Roosevelt saved the nation from the Great Depression.
In the years since, other interpretations of Roosevelt’s impact on the nation and the economy have been put forward. To my mind, the interpretations that rest upon sound economics and data from the period are much more credible than Schlesinger’s take. (See, for one, Milton Friedman’s work on the subject.) But the narrative was set and the damage was done. The vast majority of the populace believes FDR saved the nation from the Great Depression with the same sort of policies favored by Obama.
Today, history is written very differently. Rather than taking place over decades, it often crystallizes days and weeks after events occur. As the last decade has shown, this narrative can be formed or changed by ordinary people with good insights and ideas. Where 76 years ago, the people had to rely on newspapers and radio for information, today we have a platform that allows everyone a voice. In this dark hour, that is a beacon of hope.
As we deal with four more years of Obama, we the people need to stand up for the truth. No one else will do it for us. Write what you see, what you hear. If the narrative put forth by the mainstream media is suspect, question it. If a politician claims credit for something he can’t have caused, call it out.
Most importantly, if you hear Obama supporters complaining about the consequences of one of his policies, educate them. Obama supporters complaining they can’t find a job? Talk to them about the impact Obamacare and regulatory uncertainty are having on employers. Complaining about high gas prices? Talk about the ban on gulf oil drilling and the Keystone XL pipeline. Make the link between their complaint and their vote.
Do this gently. Do it in a friendly, engaging way. But do it. Every. Single. Time.