Speaking out Against Fascists

My favorite bit of the US constitution is the Bill of Rights. It’s that bit of the constitution that puts chains on the government. For instance, the US constitution does not “grant” the freedom of speech because the freedom of speech is prior to any constitution. The 1st amendment, among other things, restricts the government from passing legislation that restricts the freedom of speech.

Here’s an example of a citizen exercising his freedom of speech.

I like the way he calls the school board “Benito.” The board is Mussolini’s spawn.

Honoring Those Who Serve Us

Cherry blossomsI came across an interesting bit in a video I was watching yesterday. “How many health care providers are in the room?” asked the kind lady in it. After a show of hands, she said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you. I feel like a lot of the work both of us care about so much is in service of others and all of you are dedicating your life for that same purpose.”

The dedication to the “service of others” part caught my attention. It’s curious that healthcare providers such as doctors and nurses, and other people like firefighters, military personnel, etc., are popularly held in higher esteem than sanitation workers, bus drivers, computer programmers, sales people, etc. Somehow some occupations are more “selfless” than others. Sorry to be contrarian but it’s simply not true that occupations can be categorized that way.

Certainly occupations can be justifiably categorized as immoral or moral, legal or illegal, intellectually hard or easy, physically challenging or easy, and so on. But as long as one is getting paid and not doing voluntary work, there’s no selflessness involved. That is not to imply people in various paid occupations are narrowly selfish and lack human decency; it is only that all of us are most of the time primarily — though not solely — motivated by self-regard and not by self-denying altruism. Continue reading

Yuri Bezmenov Warned the World

Yuri Bezmenov 2Two things bring the KGB propaganda expert Yuri Bezmenov (1939 – 1993) to mind — the pandemic and the progressive/woke movement in the US.

He attended elite schools in the USSR. He was trained as an expert in Indian culture and Indian languages. As a KGB agent, he worked in India from 1963 to 1965, and then again from 1969. In February 1970, he was supposed to go watch a movie in a Delhi theater with two of his colleagues. He never showed up at the movie. Instead, he put on a hippie disguise and escaped to Athens, Greece.

Eventually, he ended up in the US, as one would naturally expect. And as you’d expect, he was a strong critic of the Soviet system. More than that, his explanation of what subversion is, and how it works, is important for us to understand what’s happening now. It’s fascinating that once you understand some basic principles, a lot of the world makes sense. Continue reading

People, the Ultimate Resource

oil rigsQuite often I enjoy the pleasure of shocking people with my contrarian viewpoints. For some people, the shock is replaced with the pleasure of understanding something that goes against plain common sense. When that happens, I am very gratified but when it doesn’t, I feel sad.

One of the many contrarian ideas I have is that there are no “natural” resources and that all resources are creations of the human mind. As economist and professor of business administration Julian Simon (1932 – 1998) argued that “the most important of all resources is human beings.” (The Ultimate Resource 2. Page 581). The more humans, he insisted, means more abundance and less scarcity.

We are all concerned about facing scarcity. Not all of us face the same scarcity, though. The good news is that scarcity is going down. To understand why that is so requires we define scarcity in some broad sense. We intuitively understand that prices have something to do with scarcity.

If the price of something is going up, it means that (1) the quantity available is decreasing, or (2) the quantity demanded is increasing, or (3) a combination of both. If the price is trending up, it is likely that scarcity is increasing, and vice versa. The price trend is a proxy measure of scarcity. If the trend is falling prices, then we conclude that scarcity is decreasing. Continue reading

The Best is not Optimal

good fast cheapIt would be best if we had zero crime, or zero pollution, or zero inequality (of wealth, income, health, beauty, intelligence, lifespans), or zero transportation deaths, et cetera. That is, it would be best if we could obtain the best and not have to pay too much for it. But, alas, the real world refuses to comply with our wishes. For anything good that the real world grudgingly gives us, it exacts a cost.

To gain any benefit one has to pay a cost. The best may come at such a high price that it may not be worth it. How much of a good thing we actually end up having depends on a cost-benefit analysis. That particular amount of a desirable good for which the cost balances the benefit at the margin is the optimal amount of that good. The optimal amount is almost never at one or the other extreme of the case.

As an aside, the Buddha recognized this universal truth and advised against extremes. He preached moderation in everything, and therefore Buddhism is known as the “Middle-wayed Way.” I think that the Buddha would have made a pretty good economist. He thought at the margin. Continue reading

Ask me Anything — the Hayek Edition

Gandhi First IgnoreHere’s the last bit from Hayek’s Dec 11 1974 Nobel Prize lecture:

If man is not to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order, he will have to learn that in this, as in all other fields where essential complexity of an organized kind prevails, he cannot acquire the full knowledge which would make mastery of the events possible. He will therefore have to use what knowledge he can achieve, not to shape the results as the craftsman shapes his handiwork, but rather to cultivate a growth by providing the appropriate environment, in the manner in which the gardener does this for his plants. There is danger in the exuberant feeling of ever growing power which the advance of the physical sciences has engendered and which tempts man to try, “dizzy with success”, to use a characteristic phrase of early communism, to subject not only our natural but also our human environment to the control of a human will. The recognition of the insuperable limits to his knowledge ought indeed to teach the student of society a lesson of humility which should guard him against becoming an accomplice in men’s fatal striving to control society – a striving which makes him not only a tyrant over his fellows, but which may well make him the destroyer of a civilization which no brain has designed but which has grown from the free efforts of millions of individuals.

One of the recurring themes of Hayek’s was the idea that social engineering is quite distinct from engineering of the natural world. With the appropriate technology and scientific knowledge it is possible to engineer machines and use them to control the world of objects, perhaps for the better, but human beings are not objects without volition. Humans have a will of their own and they pursue ends that are dictated by their desires and preferences which are neither fixed nor can be known by others. Social engineering always fails and makes a bad situation worse. Continue reading

Will Durant on Great Minds and Ideas

Durant Great Minds IdeasWill Durant (1885 – 1981) the wiki informs us “was an American writer, historian, and philosopher.” He wrote the 11-volume The Story of Civilization, published between 1935 and 1975,  written in collaboration with his wife, Ariel Durant. His work The Story of Philosophy (1926) helped to popularize philosophy. “He sought to unify and humanize the great body of historical knowledge, which had grown voluminous and become fragmented into esoteric specialties, and to vitalize it for contemporary application,” the wiki notes.

Indians may find his view of India interesting. Once again let’s refer to the wiki:

In 1930, he published The Case for India while he was on a visit to India as part of collecting data for The Story of Civilization. He was so taken aback by the devastating poverty and starvation he saw as result of British imperial policy in India that he took time off from his stated goal and instead concentrated on his polemic fiercely advocating Indian independence. He wrote about medieval India, “The Islamic conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. It is a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precious good, whose delicate complex of order and freedom, culture and peace, can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without or multiplying within.”

Sadly hundreds million Indians continue to suffer “devastating poverty and starvation” nearly a century after Durant made the case for India’s release from British imperialism. Among the many causes for this immense tragedy is an important one missed by most Indians — that while British imperialism ended in 1947, imperialism did not end. The British designed and constructed the machine that imposed grinding poverty on India but Indians not only maintained the machine in good working order but improved its efficiency.

India’s heart-breaking poverty is entirely indigenous, made in India by Indians for Indians. Continue reading

Incompetency

Periodic table of elementsPeople all across the world are just the same. Granted there are cultural, geographical, climatic, water and mineral endowment differences among various nations but those differences are not as stark as the differences in economic performance and the level of prosperity. A Somali (2021 annual per capita income of $130) is not by mere nature and nurture alone 645 times less capable of producing wealth compared to a Swiss (2021 annual per capita income of $83,832). 

What factor determines the relative differences in the wealth of nations? Much of it is explained by the quality of the institutions that nations have. The most critical institution is the government. If the government is incompetent, meaning if the quality of the people in government is poor, then it is unlikely that the people would flourish. There’s no escaping that dismal conclusion. Incompetence in government is fatal for a nation. Continue reading