People condemn disorganized violence but are filled with pride and honor if violence is organized at the national level and projected internationally. That’s funny. Here’s Armen Alchian (1914-2013) in his book college economics textbook Exchange and Production:
Before condemning violence (physical force) as a means of social control, note that its threatened or actual use is widely practiced and respected—at least when applied successfully on a national scale. Julius Caesar conquered Gaul and was honored by the Romans; had he simply roughed up the local residents, he would have been damned as a gangster. Alexander the Great, who conquered the Near East, was not regarded by the Greeks as a ruffian, nor was Charlemagne after he conquered Europe. Europeans acquired and divided—and redivided—America by force. Lenin is not regarded in Russia as a subversive. Nor is Spain’s Franco, Cuba’s Castro, Nigeria’s Gowon, Uganda’s Amin, China’s Mao, our George Washington.
I think envy drives more people to do bad stuff than ambition or greed ever did. And politicians regularly depend on envy to motivate the masses to elect them on the promise that the wealthy are evil and therefore deserving of the pain that they are sure to suffer. Naturally the crookedest of the politicians proclaim loudly that they are just common folks (aam aadmi, chowkidar, etc) who are just like the rest of us, and therefore need not be envied or feared.
I listen skeptically to people who speak evil of those whom they are going to plunder. I suspect that vices are invented or exaggerated when profit is expected from their punishment. An enemy is a bad witness; a robber is a worse. — Edmund Burke, 1790 Continue reading “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the rich”
In my last post, On the Distress of Farmers, I wrote “that Indians will never be free until the last politician is strangled with the entrails of the last bureaucrat.” I was echoing the European Enlightenment figure Denis Diderot (1713-1784) who wrote:
La nature n’a fait ni serviteur ni maître;
Je ne veux ni donner ni recevoir de lois.
Et ses mains ourdiraient les entrailles du prêtre,
Au défaut d’un cordon pour étrangler les rois.
Which in English is:
Nature created neither servant nor master;
I seek neither to rule nor to serve.
And its hands would weave the entrails of the priest,
For the lack of a cord with which to strangle kings.
[Source: Did Diderot say that.]
Isn’t that a most apposite quote in the context of politicians (the masters) and the people (the servants)?
A lot of things can be said about power but perhaps nothing has the accuracy and longevity of the observation of the English historian, Lord Acton (John Dalberg-Acton) (1834-1902) on the matter. In a 1887 letter he wrote:
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by full authority. There is no worse heresy than the fact that the office sanctifies the holder of it.
The first bit quoted above is often misquoted as “power corrupts” — leaving out the operative word tends.. It’s only a tendency, not a certainty. A little bit of power may or may not corrupt, depending on the character of the person. But no matter who, absolute power corrupts extremely and without fail.
Great men are almost always bad men. Try as one might, it is hard to deny that proposition even upon casual observation, let alone after a careful study of history. I cannot resist quoting a few lines preceding “power tends to corrupt.”.
Continue reading “Power Tends to Corrupt”
Robert Heilbroner (1919 – 2005) defined socialism as “a centrally planned economy in which the government controls all means of production.”
Why is Heilbroner worth quoting on this matter? Because he knew what he was talking about. He was a committed socialist all his life. He was a best-selling author. His book The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers (1953) sold over 4 million copies. Clearly he was not stupid. And when he could not deny the evidence, late in his life he came to recognize that socialism had failed and was honest enough to admit that he had been wrong. Continue reading “What is Socialism?”
Prof Thomas Sowell of the Hoover Institution at Stanford University is an American institution himself. He is arguably one of the finest contemporary intellectuals. An economist by training, his output of books and articles is prodigious. A brilliant mind and an indefatigable warrior against the forces of unreason, ignorance, bigotry, tyranny, the controlling state, and so on and on.
Here are a few quotes from Dr Sowell. Continue reading “Thomas Sowell on Intellectuals and Race”
The 3-legged stool of understanding is held up by history, languages, and mathematics. Equipped with these three you can learn anything you want to learn. But if you lack any one of them you are just another ignorant peasant with dung on your boots. — Robert Heinlein in Expanded Universe (1980)
It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it. — Upton Sinclair
There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action. — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Continue reading “Miscellaneous Quotes”
“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men . . .”
The truth of Lord Acton’s observation gets confirmed with sickening regularity. Here I explore that point in the context of democracy. Why do democracies, particularly those with powerful governments, tend to elect bad people? What’s the analytical relationship between power, politics, money and corruption? Continue reading “Democracy and the Economics of Politics”
“Liberty and good government do not exclude each other; and there are excellent reasons why they should go together. Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end. It is not for the sake of a good public administration that it is required, but for security in the pursuit of the highest objects of civil society, and of private life. Increase of freedom in the State may sometimes promote mediocrity, and give vitality to prejudice; it may even retard useful legislation, diminish the capacity for war, and restrict the boundaries of Empire.”
— Lord Acton, The History of Freedom in Antiquity