Responding to a meme

It’s Spring Break, which means I can allocate a little bit of time to taking on a nonsensical meme I just came across on FB.

Ever since Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president launched, I haven’t been able to scroll a single day through Facebook without encountering a thunderstorm of anti-capitalistic/pro-socialist sentiment like the meme you see above.

I know John Green just loves to pay taxes for public education so that he doesn’t have to be bothered by idiots, but what does this meme say about the education system that people can’t think through such a vacuous meme?

First: the world isn’t divided into categories of “people who work hard” and “people who don’t work hard.” Hard work can take many forms, all the way from the daily grind of being a professional athlete to the daily grind of being just another factory hand. The issue with socialism is that central planners take discretion in taxing away money they didn’t earn to spend it on whatever they decide.

Second: income inequality is not proof of theft. It may not be emotionally pleasing to understand how incomes are generated on a free market, just like it may not be emotionally pleasing to know that I’m never going to be able to don a cape and soar the skies of New York City. But just as the laws of our natural world will not bend to our desires, so the laws of economics are not subject to the so-called compassionate demands made by politicians and their compatriots. Sometimes the world is what it is.

Third: we can very quickly put this meme to a test. Think this through: 1) do you ever hear news of herds of inhabitants of mostly private, liberalized economies putting their own lives and the lives of their loved ones at risk in order to sneak illegally across the borders into a mostly centrally planned, closed economy? 2) In which countries are “the poor” worst off–in those countries with mostly private, liberalized economies, or in those countries which distribute goods and incomes via a board of central planners and condemn the accumulation of wealth?

Seriously ponder those two questions.

Fourth: being poor in this country is not the same as being poor in countries like Mexico or Venezuela. Someone as low-income as myself can still enjoy a fantastic movie sitting sprawled out in a reclining chair in a movie theater, while some poor chap in Venezuela was probably obliged to find a substitute for toilet paper in the stall.

Finally, consider the recent words of Garry Kasparov.

I’m enjoying the irony of American Sanders supporters lecturing me, a former Soviet citizen, on the glories of Socialism and what it really means! Socialism sounds great in speech soundbites and on Facebook, but please keep it there. In practice, it corrodes not only the economy but the human spirit itself, and the ambition and achievement that made modern capitalism possible and brought billions of people out of poverty. Talking about Socialism is a huge luxury, a luxury that was paid for by the successes of capitalism. Income inequality is a huge problem, absolutely. But the idea that the solution is more government, more regulation, more debt, and less risk is dangerously absurd.

 

 

 

 

When crumbs are electrically reclining chairs–your life is pretty good.



“All too often competition is framed in a ‘dog-eat-dog’ lens, in which only a few ‘at the top’ come out with the pie and leave crumbs for ‘the rest of us.'”


Back in December I went and saw The Big Short with my family. I thought it was a terrific movie, and that Jeff Tucker brilliantly summed up its pluses and minuses.

As good as the movie was I still remember being most impressed with the theater. I remember as a kid going to the movies. Sitting crunched up next to some stranger who reeked of BO and chewed his food like it was going out of style kind of dampened the whole experience.

But this all changed in December. When I walked in to the theater and saw the way in which I was about to see this movie, I felt like Riley in the first National Treasure when, after finding the treasure, he is in tears. “Stairs,” he cried.

I wasn’t excited to see the stairs, though. I was overcome by something else: “Chairs.”The theater was stocked full of electrically reclining chairs! Chairs so nice that I’ve never even owned one for myself.

Here I was sprawled out in a movie theater, plenty of leg room to wiggle around and find the most comfortable position, enjoying a big bag of buttery popcorn, and a most entertaining movie filled with all sorts of sights and sounds. I daresay Rockefeller never had it so nice!

As a fairly active movie-goer, I was surprised that this was the first time I had seen such luxury in a theater. The first question that came to mind was: How long until the rest of the theaters follow suit?

Not long, apparently. Here’s a headline from a story today in The Port Huron Times Herald:

Birchwood Cinemas and Krafft 8 Get Upgrades

Aha!

Here’s a slice from the story:

Birchwood Cinemas and Krafft 8 are both upgrading their movie-going experience.

Starting Friday, Birchwood Cinemas, 4350 24th Ave., Fort Gratiot, will be closing its doors for up to 105 days for renovations.

The 10-screen theater in Birchwood Mall, a Carmike Cinema, will be completely gutted and upgraded, said Codie Setter, Birchwood Cinemas assistant manager.

The theater will be getting new, luxury recliner seats, new theater screens with upgraded surround sound, new flooring, new lighting, and new wall curtains.

The seats will be luxury, electric recliners; at a press of a button, the seat leans back and a foot-rest pops up, said Jim Zehr, Carmike Cinemas director of real estate and construction.

The chairs are quite a welcome advancement, but like a good ole’ Billy Mays infomercial “they aren’t stopping there!” They will expand the variety of food offered, including pizza, hot dogs, and possibly even beer. Excellent! But, oh Mr. Movie Theater Owner, sir, why are you doing this? we aren’t worthy!

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And here enlies a beautiful, real-life example of the marvelous fruits of market competition. The owners of these theaters may not give two hoots about you and I, but if they are to remain in business then they must cater to our desires. And when one theater “went there,” you see that the others are right behind.

And the joy of a more comfortable movie-going experience will spread throughout the nation to us masses.

But understand that such innovation is not deriving from emotionally arousing concepts like philanthropy and compassion. This is the profit-motive at work, pure and simple. Just ask Milton Friedman!

All too often competition for profit is framed in a “dog-eat-dog” lens, in which only a few “at the top” come out with the pie and sprinkle upon us poor masses the measly leftover crumbs. Academia is infected by this illusion:

 

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Well, I challenge this professor to sit in on a movie and still be unimpressed by the lengths competition will drive capitalists to satisfy people they don’t even know.

After all if electrically reclining chairs in a movie theater are the “crumbs” sent down to the masses from the capitalists, then I’d say the quality of your life has become pretty damn good.

What if Equal is Unfair?

I pre-ordered Equal is Unfair back in November, and I cannot wait until it arrives on my doorstep near the end of this March.

I think income inequality is at the top of issues that are blown way out of proportion by politicians, the media, and, by default, the public at large. So long as income inequality is generated by productive behavior, and not by predatory behavior, I have no reason to be outraged. It’s probable that everybody is made better off (or, even if not everybody, then at the least nobody is made worse off).

Kudos to the person who wrote these jokes for Marco Rubio.

Rubio kept his audience captive for a couple minutes here with some hilarious jokes aimed at Donald Trump. In fact, the audience was so captivated that Rubio apparently didn’t find it necessary to dispel them of the fiction that Barack Obama doesn’t know what he’s doing. After all, it should be clear that Barack Obama knows exactly what he’s doing.(?)

Well, at the least I give the Florida senator credit for knowing to stay away from that regurgitated and hackneyed line.

But I am leaving this video up because I strongly suspect that when Marco Rubio drops out of the race and Donald Trump secures the nomination, Rubio will join Chris Christie like the cowardly lap dog and weaselly seeker of power that he is and endorse the golden-haired spewer of lunacy…

Now, for an even more fun video at the expense of The Donald, you must watch this video below!

 

Dear Comrade Sanders…

On his Facebook page, Lawrence Reed, the President of FEE, shared a phenomenal article. It’s the story of Rob May, a successful entrepreneur who I don’t know too much about. CHECK IT OUT HERE.

But he makes the following lesson crystal clear: It is possible to see problems with the economy–problems resulting from a rigged predatorial instinct–and still oppose the presidency of Bernie Sanders.

I like how Reed summed it up:

All you folks who want an old guy who never built anything and who preaches envy and legal plunder to be our national nanny and give you free stuff, please read this.

All too often the libertarian position is caricaturized as if we’ve been brainwashed to think “WEALTHY MAN GOOD,” “POOR MAN STUPID AND LAZY” (See my book review of Chicagonomics, for example). It’s so frustrating because we’ve been extremely consistent with this issue. Our prerogative is to protect the spirit of production, and to penalize and prevent (as much as possible) the act of predation.

In other words we don’t really care about “where” somebody is relative to others on the ever-evolving income scale. All we care about is “how” that person got there. In Atlas Shrugged, we can compare the rise of Hank Rearden to the rise of Orren Boyle or even James Taggart. All men are relatively well off, and yet Ayn Rand could not have been more clear that Boyle and Taggart are villians. So much for the idea that libertarians are servants to “the rich.”

BREAKING: active shooter in Kalamazoo

I go to college at Western Michigan University, in Kalamazoo, MI, where an active shooter has killed six people (as far as we know at this time 1:29 am). The shootings appear to be random.

This shooting hits extremely close to home. I’ve seen all of the reports of past shootings in different cities and states but I’ve never expected to live so close to the scene. The first shooting occurred about 10 minutes away from my apartment.

Expect this to raise concerns about guns, and to once again lead politicians onto television and print publications pleading for gun control.

It truly is very scary seeing news reports of shootings happening at places you drive by every single day, and thinking “that could have been me.” I mourn for all of the victims and those close to the victims.

But I can assure you that nothing would make me feel safer than being huddled up in my room with my roommates with a loaded gun.

Distributism vs Free Markets

Last night at the Acton Institute I attended a fascinating debate, titled A Gentleman’s Debate: Distributism vs. Free Markets.

Arguing in favor of free markets was Dr. Jay Richards, an author and also Assistant Research Professor at The Catholic University of America.

Arguing from the Distributist perspective was Joseph Pearce, a writer in residence at Aquinas College in Tennessee.

Here are some of my thoughts from the debate:

=>Kudos to both men for a lively and scholarly debate. It never once resorted to ad hominem. Both men exemplified what it means to engage in a scholarly debate in pursuit of truth.
=>The Acton Institute is a very religious organization, and both Jay and Joseph used religious arguments to bolster their positions. However, I thought each of them was more effective when arguing from a strictly secular outlook, basing their conclusions on what is right for man and man’s happiness here and now on earth, instead of what God desires of us.
=>One of the more powerful points espoused by Richards was in response to a distributist argument that business is best when it’s small. Pearce argued that “bigness” is inherently dangerous because the control of the business is remote from labor and labor’s direct concerns. Richards responded that “bigness” and “smallness” in business is irrelevant, because all that matters is how the business operates. Does it earn its profits through productive market processes or does it use the state to stifle competition?
=>Monopoly was a central topic throughout. Pearce used an (extremely unheard of) example from England in which four large brewers purchased 90 percent of the breweries and therefore knocked out all the competition. He said this lead to low quality beer, and that consumers desired higher quality micro brew. It seemed pretty clear to the audience and to Richards that, so long as no barriers to entry via protective legislation existed, competition would pretty quickly fill the void. It later came out that licensing requirements were in fact stymieing the market, but this did not seem to convince Pearce that government action was unnecessary to deal with the so-called monopoly problem on a free market.
=>I’m still unclear what a “Distributist” is. Pearce is author of a book titled “Small is Still Beautiful”, and his outlook was such that both small business and small government was an optimal social order. He criticized socialism and was not a bleeding heart welfare statist. Other than insisting on small business over large business, he didn’t make his point of contention extremely clear.

Production vs Predation

Here’s a quotation on page 240 of The Economy of Human Energy, a book written by Thomas Nixon Carver in 1924:

In short, it is high time that we stopped talking about protecting the weak against the strong. That is quite as absurd as the opposite idea…that the strong should be given a perfectly free hand to rule and exploit the weak. It is time to begin talking about protecting production against predation. Whether the productive individual be strong or weak, the state must in its own interest protect him. Whether the predacious individual be weak or strong, the state must equally in its own interest suppress him.

Carver captured in the midst of the Roaring Twenties a concept which was just recently masterfully illustrated on Daniel J. Mitchell’s site, which produced the following image (and I am pleased to announce sort of attained viral status on my Facebook feed!):

class war

In other words, although politics is drowning with anti-rich rhetoric on the one side and pro-affluence on the other, it isn’t really a matter of “rich” or “poor.” What matters is how somebody got into the financial situation they are in.

Carver sums this point up brilliantly on page 241, saying:

The state need not give itself the slightest concern over the question as to whether he is weak or strong–that would be a silly question anyway. But the question whether his activities are productive or predacious is a matter of the utmost concern.

 

 

Inspired by Bernie

Okay I admit the title is click-bait.

But tonight on campus I attended a “Broncos for Bernie” event. It was roughly an hour long and contained mostly updates on their campaign strategy and signups for phone banks and other outreach methods. The reason why I went was out of curiosity, just to hear what my fellow students were thinking, and to try to understand what is fundamentally motivating their very much devoted behavior for the Sanders campaign.

And although I happen to disagree strongly most of the time with Broncos for Bernie, I was genuinely inspired by their motivation and passion. I felt almost as if I was becoming sad because, ever since Rand dropped out of the race, I have no serious contender to be excited about in the same way my classmates are. Sure there’s Gary Johnson, a man I respect and admire, but it will be astonishing if he eclipses 1 percent of the votes this November (assuming he wins the LP nomination, God willing!).

So after tonight I’m motivated to start blogging more. I want to be consistent, on The Dismal Review every day spilling out some solid content.

Two incompatible conceptions of “rights”

Conservatives, and particularly Tea Party conservatives, seldom get more fired up than when some mass shooting attracts President Obama and his gun control agenda onto national television.

They may not be the most versatile protectors of individual rights, but when it comes to the right to bear arms conservatives are relentless  and courageous.

And here is a fundamental distinction between those on the political left and those on the right. What exactly are “rights”?

Understand what conservatives are not saying when they trumpet their “right to bear arms.” They are not standing outside of congress picketing until legislation is passed forcing taxpayers to fund universal gun ownership. To them, a right to bear arms does not mean everybody gets a taxpayer funded gun courtesy of the federal government. They are simply exerting the belief that individuals ought to be morally entitled to pursuing their own peaceful transactions.

But on the left we hear all sorts of hysterical cries for rights, and it’s a much different conception of “rights” than when conservatives speak about guns. Most prominent is the belief that people have a “right” to health insurance. In other words, taxpayer funded health insurance. But just as nobody–just by the fact of their existence–has a right to a gun, so nobody–just by the fact of their existence–simply has a right to health insurance.

If you disagree with the latter, then you must understand that conservatives could properly use the same logic to demand congress passes legislation forcing taxpayers to pay for everybody to own a gun.

Those on the left need to understand fundamentally what a “right” is. If a transaction is based–not on mutual consent, but on force, i.e. taxation, then we can confidently induce that somebody else’s rights are being violated into funding that transaction.

It’s just not possible to be an advocate for “rights” when all of your strategies can only be funded by violating the rights of innocent taxpayers.