Sunday, October 28, 2012

10 Worthwhile Socio-Economic Predictions

"I am trying to imagine under what novel features despotism may appear in the world. In the first place, I see an innumerable multitude of men, alike and equal, constantly circling around in pursuit of the petty and banal pleasures with which they glut their souls. (...) Over this kind of men stands an immense, protective power which is alone responsible for securing their enjoyment and watching over their fate. That power is absolute, thoughtful of detail, orderly, provident, and gentle. It would resemble parental authority if, father-like, it tried to prepare its charges for a man’s life, but on the contrary, it only tries to keep them in perpetual childhood."
- Alexis de Tocqueville, "On New Despotism", 1837

"The (plundered) classes, according to the degree of enlightenment they have achieved, can propose two different ends to themselves when they (...) seek to attain their political rights: either they may wish to bring legal plunder to an end, or they may aim at getting their share of it. Woe to the nations in which the masses are dominated by this last thought when they, in their turn, seize the power to make the law! Until that time, legal plunder is exercised by the few against the many, as it is among nations in which the right to legislate is concentrated in a few hands. But now it becomes universal, and an effort is made to redress the balance by means of universal plunder. Instead of being abolished, social injustice is made general."
- Frederic Bastiat, "Selected Essays on Political Economy", 1848

"One may anticipate the nature of the future socialist society. There will be hundreds and thousands of factories in operation. Very few of these will be producing wares ready for use; in the majority of cases what will be manufactured will be unfinished goods and production goods. (...) In the ceaseless toil and moil of this process, however, the administration will be without any means of testing their bearings. (...) In place of the economy of the “anarchic” method of production, recourse will be had to the senseless output of an absurd apparatus. The wheels will turn, but will run to no effect."
- Ludwig von Mises, "Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth", 1920

"(Keynes) may only succeed in becoming the academic idol of our worst cranks and charlatans - not to mention the possibilities of the book (The General Theory) as the economic bible of the fascist movement."
- Henry C. Simons, review of "The General Theory", 22.07.1936

"Everything which might cause doubt about the wisdom of the government or create discontent will be kept from the people. The basis of unfavorable comparisons with elsewhere, the knowledge of possible alternatives to the course actually taken, information which might suggest failure on the part of the government to live up to its promises or to take advantage of opportunities to improve conditions - all will be suppressed."
- Friedrich von Hayek, "The Road to Serfdom", 1944

"The Sun editorial on Roosevelt this morning begins: "Franklin D. Roosevelt was a great man." (...) The argument, in brief, is that all his skullduggeries and imbecilities were wiped out when "he took an inert and profoundly isolationist people and brought them to support a necessary war on a scale never before imagined." In other words, his greatest fraud was his greatest glory, and his sufficient excuse for all his other frauds. It seems to me to be very likely that Roosevelt will take a high place in American popular history - maybe even alongside Washington and Lincoln. (...) He had every quality that morons esteem in their heros. It will be to the interest of all his heirs and assigns to whoop him up, and they will probably succeed in swamping his critics. "
- H. L. Mencken, "Franklin Delano Roosevelt: An Obituary", 13.04.1945

"If (democratically sanctioned) government property-rights violations take their course and grow extensive enough, the natural tendency of humanity to build an expanding stock of capital and durable consumer goods and to become increasingly more farsighted and provide for ever-more distant goals may not only come to a standstill, but may be reversed by a tendency toward decivilization: formerly provident providers will be turned into drunks or daydreamers, adults into children, civilized men into barbarians, and producers into criminals."
- Hans-Hermann Hoppe, "Democracy: The God That Failed", 2001

"A major economic downturn will decimate U.S. Federal Government finances, with exploding deficits and uncontrolled spending."
- Ron Paul, 24.04.2002

"Given the government's encouragement of lax lending practices, home prices could crash, bankruptcies would increase, and financial companies, including the government-sponsored mortgage companies, might require another taxpayer bailout."
- Mark Thornton, Mises Institute, 06.04.2004

"While the increase in taxes will cause new problems for the Greeks, other problems remain unaddressed: The huge public sector has not been substantially reduced. Wage rates remain uncompetitive as a result of strong labor unions. (...) The future of the euro is dark because there are such strong incentives for reckless fiscal behavior, not only for Greece but also for other countries."
- Philipp Bagus, author of "The Tragedy of the Euro", 11.02.2010

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Mental Inertia of Statist Quo Bias

The goal of propaganda is to shut down the minds of its victims. In this respect, statist propaganda has been an almost unbelievable success. It would be scarcely an exaggeration to suggest that 99% of the world population, including those who call themselves "political philosophers" or "social theorists", when confronted with a case for voluntarism, would respond with an endless stream of pro-statist-quo what-ifs, what-woulds, and who-woulds, epitomized by the immortal "without government, who would build the roads" slogan (Bryan Caplan listed some more of them here).

Notice that a voluntarist or a libertarian never responds with his or her own list of such hypotheticals. To ask "what if the government decides to set up a gulag and throw me there", "what would happen if the government decided to kill or maim thousands of civilians in some remote part of the world", or "who would protect me if the government decided to issue a warrantless order to assassinate me" would be ridiculous because these are not hypotheticals at all - this is the reality of statism.

In other words, in the context of analyzing the merits and demerits of statism the Nirvana fallacy is clearly a fallacy, but - for lack of a better term - there is no "dystopia fallacy" corresponding to it. Instead, there are dystopian facts - it would be difficult to think of a worst-case scenario that the state did not already make all too real.

In sum, this is how the situation looks like - while an honest statist would have to acknowledge that the system he supports can be likened to constant teetering on the brink of hell and occassionally falling over it, he will typically cling frantically to the belief that it is the best and only way to organize social affairs and that no logically and economically informed non-coercive alternative should replace it unless its implementation can immediately catapult us straight to heaven.

This is the power of the large-scale, institutional Stockholm Syndrome. And it is because of this power that large-scale preference changes in the direction of non-aggression, non-violence, voluntariness, and free enterprise are so comparatively rare. The only effective tool of countering its influence is to lay bare its ugly nature as often and as clearly as possible, which today, in the age of the Internet, is easier than ever before.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Preference Change in Social Organization

Could the governments of the world reinstate slavery? Yes, they could. They possess sufficient coercive power at their disposal. But would they dare to do it? No, they would not. The prevalent social attitude toward slavery makes such an action uneconomic from the point of view of the calculus of power.

Could warlords and mafias destroy a stateless order and replace it with a statist one? Yes, they could. They might possess sufficient coercive power at their disposal. But would they dare to do it? Only if the prevalent social attitude toward statism made such an action profitable from the point of view of the calculus of power. And there is nothing inevitable as to what this attitude will be.

The pen is mightier than the sword. Ideas are stronger than violence, even that of the most organized kind. The stationary bandit is not a necessity and the defense entrepreneur is not an impossibility. To suggest otherwise is to claim that intellectual and moral progress in the area of social organization cannot happen, which, to say the least, is a historically and anthropologically dubious suggestion.