Here's the Thing...

I am an avid reader of James Taranto's "The Best of the Web Today," on the Wall Street Journal's website. In fact, it is safe to say that I would probably not read the WSJ were it not for Taranto's column. To be funny, eloquent, and insightful almost all the time is something to which we should all aspire. I get a lot of enjoyment and even a little inspiration from this column.

Anyway, today in an item about Chris Dodd and the so called "financial reform," Taranto presents us with the following observation:

"No one will know until this is actually in place how it works." Echoes of Nancy Pelosi on ObamaCare: "We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it."
Well, the world is filled with uncertainty. No one knows what might happen tomorrow. But that's just a fact of life. The people who run Congress seem to have mistaken it for a principle of government.

There is plenty to say about this, and Taranto says most of it. But I want to make an observation of something that haunts me about Congress and the President these days...

Those currently in office generally range from age 30-something to age 70-something. (Yes, I am aware of the outliers...) What this means is that they are most certainly not the same people as the current generation of hard-partying, drugged-out, vapid youth by whom we are absolutely accosted every day in the media and in shopping malls everywhere.

No, the people in politics today grew up decades ago. In those philosophically empty decades of the 60s, 70s, 80s, and beyond, the current crop of political losers cut their teeth and learned everything they know. Which, as we can tell from Dodd's quote above, is basically nothing.

But they raised the current crop of children. What happens when these vapid youth ascend to the chambers of government?


The Return of a Classic Leftist Rhetorical Trick

Those of you who remember Barack Obama's 2004 Keynote Address may have pieced together by now a classic extreme leftist tactic. The goal of this tactic to pass lefitst extremism off as enlightened centrism. Remarkably, it almost always works on the majority of people, although I'm not sure why. It is completely transparent.

The gist of the tactic is this: Start with a universally accepted truth. This truth can be common horse-sense such as "live within your means," or it can be a vague easy-answer to an impossible problem that sounds just balanced enough to appeal to everyone. The second part of this tactic is to list one's own most profound extremism side-by-side with the statement that everyone can agree on, so that people draw the mistaken conclusion that the extremism and the easy answer are one and the same.

Al Gore employs this tactic in his recent Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, co-written by Gore's business partner, David Blood, entitled "Toward Sustainable Capitalism." They start off paying lip-service to their WSJ audience: "There are several well understood advantages inherent in capitalism that make it superior to any other system for organizing economic activity...." Next they rattle off a long list of very legitimate reasons why capitalism works better than any other economic "system."

A brief sidenote: You will not read about capitalism being a "system" on my blog. I don't believe that there is any validity to the phrase "economic system." Capitalism is by definition the absense of systematic, top-down, organized economic activity. The alternative to this is regulation, which is not a system so much as an attempt at transferring wealth from some to others. It has nothing whatsoever to do with any economic activities in particular, but rather the product of the activity, namely, wealth. So one is non-systemic by definition, and the other is non-economic by definition. As such, there can be no such thing as comparative economic systems. Go ahead and tell me how ridiculous I am for saying so - but please use the comments section of this post. I'm dying for a good, robust debate on the pages of my blog. :)

So, after extolling the long list of virtues possessed by the free market approach to economics, Gore and Blood deliver their inevitable "but" in the form of the usual suspects: environmental pollution and unequal wealth distribution:
Yet the recent crisis in global markets (following other significant market dislocations in 1994, 1997, 1998 and in 2000-2001), has shaken the world's confidence in the way modern capitalism is now operating.

Moreover, glaring and worsening systemic failures—such as growing income inequality, high levels of unemployment, public and private indebtedness, chronic under-investment in education and public health, persistent extreme poverty in developing nations and, most importantly, the reckless inattention to the worsening climate crisis—are among the factors that have led many to ask: What type of capitalism will maximize sustainable economic growth? At the very least, the last decade has clearly demonstrated that free and unfettered markets, as they are currently operating, have simply not been delivering optimal long-term results.
We could essentially stop here and note that the authors are basically ascribing every social ill to "free and unfettered markets." To their credit, they probably believe this from the bottom of their hearts. But then, why pay lip-service to capitalism?

Next, Gore and Blood launch into a series of quotes, drawing on everyone from Thomas Paine to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Any writer with a place in the American consciousness (and a few obscure leftists) makes an appearance in the op-ed piece. The point? We need to return to long-term financial planning instead of short-term gains.

Well, that's senseible enough, isn't it? Who would disagree with Al Gore on that one? Not a soul...

Finally, the authors launch into a promotion of the typical socialist corporate-infiltration schemes: "green initiatives," executive compensation based on "democratic" votes, and other such nonsense. These ideas have been rolling around in socialist circles for 100 years or more. They are neither "innovative" nor "new," nor do they mark a turn toward long-term thinking.

This is nothing more than a send-up of old-world ideas from a fat, old-world man who makes his living waving a moral finger in the face of the engines of creation.

Thanks but no thanks, Al.


Bangla Word of the Day

Shomney - [SHOM-nay] - adj. in front of. Opposite of pichey.

Bhumikawmpo - [BOO-mee-kawm-poh] - n. Earthquake. From bhumi (earth) and kawmpo (shaking)


Bryan Caplan Impresses Me Again

This morning, Mises Daily published the foreword to the re-print of Pictures of a Socialistic Future on their website. Written by Bryan Caplan, the foreword provides very interesting insights into the rise and nature of socialism. Those of you who have read Ayn Rand's nonfiction works will find Caplan's insight very familiar. Rand's being so far ahead of her time continues to amaze me. Ludwig von Mises, who stated many of Ayn Rand's hypotheses as brief asides and throw-away comments in his many books, impresses me even more.

Caplan, however, is a standout in the crowd of contemporary thinkers because he approaches issues from the mindset of an Austrian Economist despite his not actually being one. His position as a non-Austrian Austrian allows him the freedom to make Austrian-like arguments from the comfort of the mainstream; at the same time, he is not bogged-down by the absurdities of Austrian School Economics (such as trying to prove every point by Robinson Crusoe imaginary constructs, etc.). As such, I personally think he is one of the most effective and convincing thinkers in economics and policy today.

Some standout quotes from his foreword:
Richter's novel advances a very different explanation for socialism's "moral decay": the movement was born bad. While the early socialists were indeed "idealists," their ideal was totalitarianism. Their overriding goals were to engineer a new society and a New Socialist Man. If this meant treating workers like slaves — depriving them of the freedom to choose their occupation or location, forbidding them to quit, splitting up families without their consent, and imposing draconian punishments on malcontents — so be it.
And later on, the coup de grace (and the part that most closely echoes the Rand/Mises position):
Despite their intuitive appeal, the Actonian "power corrupts" and Hayekian "worst get on top" theories of socialist moral decay seem inferior to Richter's "born bad" account. Power does indeed lead politicians to betray their ideals, but from the standpoint of 19th-century socialism, the real "sellouts" were the moderate Social Democrats who gradually made peace with the capitalist system. The worst do indeed get on top in totalitarian regimes. But if the early socialists had not intellectually justified extreme brutality, their movement probably wouldn't have attracted the many sadists and sociopaths who came to run it.
Thank you, Bryan Caplan, for your insights.


Feelin' Slushy

From time to time, even the most ambitious among us experience days during which we lack the motivation and mental clarity to work toward our goals. So it goes with me today. So as not to let the day pass by in total waste, I submit the Ayn Rand Quote of the Day:
Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won. It exists, it is real, it is possible, it is yours.
In general, I believe Ms. Rand would suggest - as I usually do - that days like this are when we most need to focus on our goals and work through our lack of motivation. This, however, implies a certain degree of lack of compliance, or that working toward one's goal is a fight or a struggle.

My lack of motivation today, however, is the result of my diligence. In other words, I need a rest day. I achieved a little bit this morning and a lot over the past couple of days. Rest days are important because they provide an opportunity to pause and reflect, assess your work, regain your bearings, reset your mind, and work harder tomorrow than you otherwise would have.

Sometimes those of us who subscribe to Rand's ideas have a tendency to be unforgiving of ourselves when we take a rest day. It's important for people like me to recall that Rand's philosophies apply to long-range visions, not day-to-day perfection. A well-placed rest day ensures that your long term goals can be achieved before you burn out.


So Close, Yet So Far

Blogger Richard Gleaves (who I just discovered via a link from Noodlefood) makes a great point, and another unintended one in his recent note "Obama vs. Giuliani."

This is fascinating. This blogger is obviously trying to show that if Giuliani had behaved on Sept. 11th the same way Obama is behaving now, no one would have stood for it.

But look how eerily similar Gleaves' hypothetical situation is to George W. Bush's own treatment of 9/11.

If this doesn't show how Bush and Obama are the same thing, nothing will.


Movie Review: Rajneeti

Last night I watched a film called Rajneeti the latest in what we can refer to as "Movies Dedicated to the Futility of Indian Politics." This one comes about a year after a much better film on the topic called Delhi 6. Unlike Delhi 6, however, Rajneeti places none of the blame on Indian society, but instead portrays the political world as a place of anything-goes, do-what-you-have-to-do back-stabbing. In perhaps the film's thesis statement, a veteran political advisor tells a political rookie and rival, "In politics, there are no right and wrong actions, there are only actions that serve an intended consequence, to be determined later."

And so the rest of the movie unfolds to highlight this point again and again. Virtually every character in the movie is shown to be a murderer. Some are also rapists, rackateers, and sociopaths. Nowhere is there a single respectable character in the entire film. And yet, somehow the filmmaker endeavors to make us care for the characters.

In yet another bizarre move, the film steers completely clear of actual political content, and instead focuses on a group of characters all vying for power. Other than a few hand-waving scenes that allude to "caring" for "the people," the actual political motives of the characters is taken to be beside the point. Those of you who have also seen the Hindi movie Corporate will notice that Rajveeti is essentially the same plot adopted to the political rather than the business world. The moral of the story in both movies seems to be futility of the common man.

But none of these films should be considered Kafkaesque by any stretch of the imagination. Kafka's explorations of human futility depicted and romanticized the emotions of those who have no hope in the face of a leviathan beyond their control. On the contrary, these Hindi films are glorifications of what is seen to be an unscrupulous - yet glamorous - world of the wealthy and powerful.

The same tragic cult of personality that promotes the blind following of political leaders and undermines everything about Indian politics and life in general is precisely the cult of personality being glorified by this movie. It's as if the filmmaker is completely self-unaware. Blind following is depicted to be both the problem and the solution. The masses are easily swayed from one murderer to the next based on each politician's scripted crocodile tears in response to the latest assassination - and the movie depicts this to be how things should be.

Truly, we are in a world without any kind of philosophical basis whatsoever, and the movie Rajneeti proves this in spades.

Bonus Sidenote: Your Bangla word of the day is awrthoneeti [AWR - toh - nee - tee], which means "economics."


Who's Who of Basic Economic Comprehension

Every now and then I come across something that proves something that didn't actually need to be proven, but it's still nice.

I will supply as a basic tenet the following axiom: Conservatives might be stupid, but you can reason with them. You can talk to them. Liberals, however, cannot be reasoned with. I will further mention in anticipation of the coming objections that the only people who can't seem to reason with conservatives are liberals, which is further evidence that liberals cannot be reasoned with.

Now Daniel Klen writes about his recent survey of American adults, in which he asked a series of basic economics questions such that you'd know the answer if you've taken a basic, entry-level economics course. Unequivocally, leftists flunk.

No surprises here, but again it's always nice to see some quantitative evidence behind one's own qualitative observations.


WHO, me? Corrupt?

Why am I not surprised?

Unlike the SARS outbreak and other such panic-driven overreactions, there were thankfully a few voices of sanity bubbling up out of the murky waters of the "swine flu pandemic." For that reason alone, I think we dodged a major bullet there. What were these voices of reason saying? Mostly that the swine flu was a new and nasty flu, but no more significant than most seasonal flus, and in fact the swine flu proved to be less deadly than other known flu strains.

But how many press conferences were we subjected to in which some CDC or WHO expert approached a podium and very authoritatively - and conspicuously - tried not to use the word "pandemic?"

Now recent reports point to a conflict of interest between those at the WHO and those who make flu vaccines.

Is it any wonder why I'm hesistant to laud huge, international governing bodies?


Leo Pharma and Novo Nordisk potentially out of Greece

As PharmaTimes reports, Novo Nordisk is pulling some of its best products out of the Greek market in response to top-down price controls. Leo Pharma is also in negotiations with government officials to come up with some collusive "solution" to the "problem."

In an industry like pharmaceuticals, it can be difficult knowing who is more anti-market: governments like Greece, or companies like Leo. I, for one, praise Novo Nordisk's resolve. In my mind, it is evident and proven beyond question via history that price controls and top-down regulatory control never works. Governments learn these lessons hard, though.

One lingering question in my mind is: Do governments take control because they are naturally power-thirsty, or do these regulatory ideas propagate themselves accidentallly? I am beginning to feel that it's the latter.