Category Archives: Theory and Ideas

Why Capitalism? Why Not Capitalism?

Reason has an interview in their November issue,  with Jason Brennan, professor of philosophy at Georgetown, and author of the recent book “Why Not Capitalism”, published here in the piece “Why Capitalism?”.

From the blurb:

Most economists believe capitalism is a compromise with selfish human nature. As Adam Smith put it, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” Capitalism works better than socialism, according to this thinking, only because we are not kind and generous enough to make socialism work. If we were saints, we would be socialists.

In Why Not Capitalism?, Jason Brennan attacks this widely held belief, arguing that capitalism would remain the best system even if we were morally perfect. Even in an ideal world, private property and free markets would be the best way to promote mutual cooperation, social justice, harmony, and prosperity. Socialists seek to capture the moral high ground by showing that ideal socialism is morally superior to realistic capitalism. But, Brennan responds, ideal capitalism is superior to ideal socialism, and so capitalism beats socialism at every level.

Clearly, engagingly, and at times provocatively written, Why Not Capitalism? will cause readers of all political persuasions to re-evaluate where they stand vis-à-vis economic priorities and systems—as they exist now and as they might be improved in the future.

I am in the midst of reading the book now, and if I think it’s warranted, I’ll post a review of it later this week. However, the thesis of the piece is that capitalism works, because it is in concordance with human nature. All other economic systems are dependent on humans denying or modifying their nature.

While I agree that the basic thesis is correct; my personal belief is that it’s even more basic than that.

Why Capitalism?

Because capitalism is not a system which has to be promulgated, enacted, imposed, or enforced.

Capitalism doesn’t depend on any government,  group, or single individual, deliberately controlling or changing anything. It’s the natural result of voluntary and rational response to economic incentive and feedback. If things are left alone to work out as people will, the result is capitalism.

What capitalism ISN’T, is the gross parody promulgated by socialists and other leftists. In real world terms, this misconception of capitalism is closest to 18th-19th century imperialist mercantilism… Which isn’t surprising, given that mercantilism was in fact the dominant economic system when Marx and Engels were writing.

Capitalism is simply the end result of spontaneous self organization of autonomous rational actors, and their response to changing conditions, intelligence, incentive, and feedback; including market conditions, and pricing.

We had capitalism, tens of thousands of years before we even had governments, never mind the invention of the term.

Capitalism is the default mode of economic interaction.

It’s basically gravity.

The video interview of Professor Brennan:

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Outside Looking In

mars-colony2

 

 

In 2003, on the occasion of the loss of space shuttle Columbia, I wrote an essay titled “Outside Looking In”. As it happens, I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written, and possibly the most important.

Yesterday, we lost Virgin Galactic’s spaceship two (and at least one of its two crew. The other is in critical condition). Within minutes, the cries to end all manned space travel had resurfaced in full force. People are already gnashing teeth and rending garments, and wailing, that space isn’t worth dying for. 

Given this, I thought it would be appropriate to post the original essay here.

Nothing has changed substantially since I wrote it, except that even the desperately backward and hindering shuttle program has ended… and that now, it’s actually more than 42 years since we last set foot on the moon.

I should be clear… I’m not upset the shuttle is gone…

I’m angry that the shuttle is gone, and there’s no replacement.

I’m angry that we’re dependent on another country to lift our astronauts into space.

I’m ANGRY that the shuttle was over 30 years old, and we poured resources and energy into the shuttle program for 40 years, with basically no real development of an alternate solution.

Except that’s not PRECISELY true.

There has been LOTS of development on alternate solutions, none of which have been allowed to succeed (and only two have even been allowed to proceed to where NASA was in 1960).

We’ve spent tens of billions on alternate solutions, both public sector and private. Unfortunately, NASA has spent the entire time actively suppressing, delaying, or killing anything that would compete with or replace the shuttle; all as part of the bureaucratic funding fight.

I know this first hand, having been involved in several of the SSTO projects in the 90s (I was free labor, as an engineering student and intern. I’m a pilot, an aviation and space nut, my primary degree is in Aerospace engineering, and I’ve been a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics since I was 18).

Now, people, and I’m sure organizations and interest groups, are already trying to use this crash to attempt to ban private manned space travel.

… which really means that most of them are trying to end all manned space travel period; since it’s not like the public sector has done much to advance the state of human space travel since 1972.

It has been 45 years since we first landed on the moon, and 42 since Eugene Cernan (the last man to walk on the moon) stepped back into his landing module, and we left it.

I’m angry, because we have willingly, even eagerly, become a frigate navy nation.

it’s 2014… We should have spacelines. We should have private spacecraft available for purchase to anyone. We should be living on the moon, living on mars… we should be out in the stars.

Instead, we’re still countering the nattering of cowards and fools, who only want to look inward.

I’m angry… I’m more than angry, I’m disgusted.

 

Outside Looking In — Chris Byrne, 2003

We have spent the last 30 years collectively contemplating our belly buttons.

Let me explain what I mean by that (this is gonna take a while so get comfortable).

Throughout most of history, humanity as a race has been outward looking. We strode out through the world around us to learn, to achieve, and to conquer.

From the earliest days of humanity we have looked outside ourselves for meaning.

First we had medicine men and shamans who looked to the spirits.

Then we had priests who looked to the gods.

Then we had philosophers who looked to the nature of the universe, and sought to find mans place within it.

Finally there came that extraordinary breed of men to whom Isaac Newton belonged to. They called themselves the natural philosophers, we now call them scientists.

Each of these groups of people sought to divine meaning, reason, purpose, from that which surrounded us.

We were on the inside looking out in wonder, and eventually, with some small degree of understanding.

This point of view was reflected in our societies as well.

We explored, and built, and grew. We strove for bigger, more, faster, better.

The expression of this has often been called “pioneer spirit”.
It’s the challenge to go forth and do that which has not been done.
It’s the desire to climb the mountain “because it’s there”.

This spirit quickly had us wee humans spread across this globe, living in almost every corner, no matter how hostile it seemed to our rather thin and frail skins.

This is the spirit that Americans inherited from the British, the Spanish, and the Portuguese; who it seems, have managed somehow to lose it over the past two hundred and fifty years.

This is the spirit that pushed us from sea to sea, the spirit that flung us up into the sky, the spirit that exploded us out into space.

This is the spirit best voiced by John F. Kennedy when he said “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard”.

Over the past 100 or so years this spirit became focused primarily on science and technology.

We stopped exploring, not because we ran out of places to explore, but because we did not have the technology to explore them. So we built it, and we built it fast.

It took only us 44 years to make the headlong rush from the Wright brothers, to sustained supersonic flight.

It was only another ten years before we managed to stick something far enough up there that it wouldn’t come right back down again.

Three and a half years later we finally opened up the door and left the home of our birth; when on April 12th 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to see the earth, from the outside looking in.

Gene Roddenberry wouldn’t make the line famous for another 16 years, but Yuri Alekseyevich truly had, boldly gone where no man has gone before. One of us had finally made it off the rock.

Then, at 10:56 pm EDT , July 20, 1969 we managed the short hop to the next rock. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, had made it to the moon.

We only went back five more times over the next three years. 12 men spent a total of 170 hours on the moon, and left behind, not much really. A few scientific instruments, a few spacecraft bits and pieces, the worlds most expensive dune buggy, an American flag, and a plaque that reads:

“Here Man completed his first exploration of the Moon, December 1972 A.D. May the spirit of peace in which we came be reflected in the lives of all mankind.”

And with these words, spoken by cmdr. Eugene Cernan on December 11th 1972:

“America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow”

…we turned out the lights and went home.

Unfortunately there has been no tomorrow.

As I was saying, we have spent the last 30 years contemplating our belly buttons.

After World War II most of the world stopped looking forward, and started looking inward. There were too many social problems. There was too much poverty and hunger and disease. There was far too much pain screaming out at us from the horrors of the preceding 10 years.

The spirit of exploration that had pervaded humanity since it’s earliest days was completely gone from Europe by the 1960’s. It had never really existed in east Asia, where culture and philosophy had been directed inward for thousands of years.
It had not existed in the middle east since the days before the ottoman empire.

The only explorers left by the 60’s were America, and Russia, and Russia was only really doing it to compete with America.

People all over the world started questioning the values that had formed previous generations’ assumptions.

The generation born between the end of the depression, and just after the war, KNEW that there were more important things than exploration.

They KNEW that this desire for exploration was just another form of conquest and exploitation and imperialism just like the ones that had brought about the worst conflict in human history.

They KNEW that exploring space was waste of time and money that could be better spent on ending hunger, or disease, or racism.

And so we began to turn inward.

With books like “the catcher in the rye”, “On the Road”, “One Flew Over the Cuckoos nest”, we started looking more at ourselves, and our neighbors, and less at the outside world, and the outside universe.

It took until 1972, but with the war in Vietnam, Richard Nixon and Watergate, price controls, inflation, the CIA and FBI, the Israeli situation, the Irish situation, and every other god damned miserable thing going on in this god damned miserable world…

they KNEW that they weren’t going to spend another dime going to the moon ‘til we had fixed things down here on earth.

In the broader culture things started changing even more.

We encouraged people to take a good long look at themselves.

To find themselves.

To say I’m Ok You’re Ok.

To be fair, a hell of a lot of good came out of this.

For the first time we started seriously exploring the WHY behind a lot of mental and emotional problems.

We started leaving bad marriages behind, and we started trying to be happier.

We started doing something about racism, sexism and pollution.

…But as usual, we went too far.

We started confusing confidence with arrogance.

We decided that power was bad.

We made aggression and competition synonymous with evil.

We started subverting science to ideology, and we decided that ideology was after all, a science.

In our most extreme moments, we decided that boys were bad and girls were good.

That white was bad and black was good.

That both old and new were bad, and only NOW, ME, and US, was good.

We stopped moving forward.

We stopped looking outward.

Instead, we are spending all of our time looking sideways, up, down, in, and increasingly backward.

Maybe this wouldn’t be too bad if we weren’t so bad at it.

It would be a good thing, if we were able to do so without damaging ourselves, and without halting progress.

…But so far, we aren’t.

We haven’t been out of high orbit since 1972.

It only took us 66 years to go from being earthbound, to setting foot on another planet.

In the past 30 years we have have gone no farther, no faster, no higher.

We have stopped going where no man has gone before.

Charles Krauthammer wrote in the weekly standard that “we have put ourselves into a low earth orbit holding pattern”.

Putting it a little more directly, we’re circling the parking lot looking for a space, instead of getting out of the damned shopping mall, and actually going some place and doing something.

The most significant technologies of the last thirty years have been global telecommunications; exemplified in the internet, and biotechnology.

Both of these are essentially focused inward.

The internet has the potential to be the single greatest advance in mass communication since the printing press.

It allows for true interactive communication on a global scale, but it is essentially inward facing.

Why?

Because it exists to exchange information we already have.

The internet spreads knowledge around better than anything we’ve ever come up with and that’s great.

It’s the greatest enabler of science history has ever known because it allows the freer and easier exchange of ideas, but the net in and of itself does little to advance the state of human knowledge.

The internet is not like the microscope or the telescope or the space craft. Completely new things are not discovered or created by the internet, though they have without doubt been enabled by it.

BioTechnology is by very definition focused inward.

At it’s deepest level BioTech is the study of what makes us what we are. It promises to unlock near limitless potential for our biological beings.

It opens the door to the possibility of ending old age, disease, hunger, even death itself. It offers potential dangers equal to it’spotential wonders.

BioTech is probably the second most important field of technology ever devised, but exploration is still by far the most important.

As no nation can be great without looking beyond its borders, no race can be great without looking beyond its planet.

Whether there are other races out there, or we are alone; if as a race we are ever to progress beyond our current state of semi civilized savagery, to progress beyond a planet full of petty squabbles between nations, that just might incidentally kill us all; we need to venture off this planet in the largest scale possible.

We need to live on, not just visit other planets.

This is a concrete lesson of history.

We started out as individuals.

We fought and died as individuals until we formed villages, clans, and tribes

With villages we had a larger purpose and organization, and the fighting between individuals lessened.

For thousands of years villages, clans, and tribes killed each other until we formed city-states. Then the fighting between tribes lessened.

We began to form principalities and petty kingdoms, and they repeated the pattern, lessening the conflicts between cities.

Finally we formed nations, and eventually ended most organized conflict between smaller groups.

But we created the nation about 10,000 years ago, and we haven’t really come very far since. Half of Europe was STILL in the city state or principality phase 250 years ago.

Germany is now by far the largest and most important nation in Europe (no matter what France and England may say), but it only became a true nation in 1872.

The United Nations is, at best, an ineffective organization with more politics than solutions.

At worst, it is an organization used to spread the ugliest prejudices of humans, while decrying the actions needed to stop them, and masking it all under cynical self righteousness.

It is clear that until we become an extraplanetary race, we will never achieve anything resembling a free society of all human beings.

It is similarly clear that once we do become truly extraplanetary, such a society is, if not inevitable, at least more likely.

Many would say that we need to solve our problems here on earth first.

They believe that we can’t afford space exploration while people starve, and die of disease, and are denied basic human rights.

They say that it costs too much, that it’s dangerous, that it has little benefit to the vast majority of humanity that has barely enough to eat.

They are right in many ways…

…but if as a people we don’t get the hell off this rock…

…what will it matter?

It will be a case of belly button contemplating on a racial scale.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Hey FCKH8, I Have a Few ‘F-Bombs’ of My Own!

If you thought modern progressive feminists couldn’t be any more childish, you haven’t seen FCKH8’s latest viral video entitled: “F-Bombs for Feminism: Potty-Mouthed Princesses Use Bad Word for Good Cause.”

In the video (below), girls aged six to thirteen repeat progressive feminist bromides and talking points along with some F-bombs (as advertised) in an attempt to get this message to go viral (mission accomplished). As expected, the response by many is to be offended by having these ‘princesses’ use such foul language for any reason.

Personally, I think the whole thing is awful. I don’t like it when children are used for any cause foisted on children by adults, regardless of how noble the cause might be. It even turns my stomach a little when I see politicians use their own children in their campaign ads. It’s even more tacky to hear children speak about such things they most likely have no clue about. My daughter is pretty intelligent and the same age as some of these girls but I’m fairly sure she doesn’t even think about the ‘equal pay’ or ‘rape culture.’ Why should she? She’s nine years-old for crying out loud!*

So here’s the full uncensored version. If this is too much for your ears to handle, go here for the censored version.

Now, wasn’t that just precious!

More important than the shock value of elementary shool girls cursing like sailors…are the things these girls saying true? For the most part, no, these are the same old progressive feminist myths repackaged yet again. I’ve already dealt with the ‘equal pay for equal work’ nonsense here and here. You can also read this article 5 Feminist Myths that Will Not Die. I’ll let Julie Borowski take care of the rest as only Julie Borowski can – dropping her own F-bombs (Fact bombs, I should say) without actually cursing.

I have a few other F-bombs about gender disparities progressive feminists almost never bring up (and I’ll do so without exploiting any elementary age children to make my points):

A young man is required by law to sign up for Selective Service by his 18th birthday. In the event Congress decides to reinstate the draft, men exclusively are conscripted to risk life or limb for ‘his country.’ Also, of those who have died in all the U.S. wars (declared and undeclared) since the American Revolution, 99.99% were men. When men’s rights activists say that society has long decided that men are the ‘disposable gender’ this is one example of what they are talking about.

When young girls are circumcised we call it ‘genital mutilation’ and we are rightly scandalized by this barbaric practice. When baby boys have their genitals mutilated, we call it circumcision because either the boy should ‘look like his father’ or because some women prefer their partner to be circumcised. So much for ‘my body, my choice.’ And imagine the outrage if even one man said that because he preferred the look of a woman’s vagina without a clitorous, baby girls should have it removed?

When it comes to parenting and divorce, mothers get custody of the children roughly 84% of the time.

Let’s call this the gender ‘crime/time’ gap. For Similar crimes under similar circumstances, on average women serve 18.51 months vs. 51.52 months for men.

Since 1976, 15 women (2.9% of the executions) have been executed even though women are responsible for 10% of murders. While I am unapologetically opposed to the death penalty, as long as this barbaric practice is part of the system, this punishment should be an equal opportunity punishment without regard to sex, race, religion, economic or political status, or creed.

At least 3 states (California, Tennessee, and Kansas) require men to pay child support to his statutory rapist.

I could go on but I think I have made my point. There is inequality between the genders and both have their challenges. Personally, I would like to look at the individual rather than who is on ‘team penis’ or ‘team vagina.’ But first, we need to elevate the debate above the elementary school playground.

*This isn’t to suggest she isn’t already very opinionated or doesn’t care about important issues. That’s right, my daughter already has an issue she cares deeply about. Her issue: the alarming decline of the ‘big cat’ populations. According to National Geographic, there are as few as 3,000 tigers, 7,500 snow leopards, 10,000 cheetahs, and 30,000 lions left in the wild. I had no idea about this until my daughter started writing out a script she wanted to read over the intercom at her elementary school to collect money to help ‘save the big cats.’ I suggested that she should ask for donations to the local big cat sanctuary for her birthday instead of presents. Would you believe she was actually thrilled with this idea and followed through? I couldn’t be more proud of her. If she wanted to make a viral video about saving the big cats, I might make an exception to my ‘no kids’ rule because this is an issue that she actually cares about.

A Curious Narcissism

There is a curious narcissism to collectivism.

It says “I want this, and think it should be this way, and I am good and right; therefore everyone else should also want this and be good and right with me, thus validating that I am good and right”.

Of course, if you don’t want “this”, you no longer validate that they are good and right, and you do them narcissistic injury. Anyone who doesn’t want exactly what they want, and doesn’t want to force anyone else to do so, is the enemy.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Invalid Presumption of Moral Superiority

A reader commented that the problem with what you might call “strict Randites” is that they “seem to have a lack of compassion”.

An APPARENT lack of compassion.

Some do yes.

Others simply recognize that it isn’t compassion, when one is being “compassionate” with other peoples time, money, and resources.

Not a Randian by any stretch of the imagination… but there IS a point there.

The larger point with Rand, and with Neitzsche, and other individualist philosophers; is that the assumed obligation to sacrifice oneself in favor of others, and the assumed moral superiority of it, are both not only false, but in fact harmful.

Voluntary self sacrifice for good cause, and to good effect (or at least with a realistic attempt at good effect), is a noble thing. In all other cases, it is not.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

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