Archive for April 2008
On a message board, I was asked to explain my belief that the environmentalist movement might be a kind of “last stand” for socialism, a “final, desperate, attempt to justify centralised State planning”. In particular, I was asked to explore how environmentalists might have managed to convince the scientific community of their views, and why it is that environmentalists rarely describe themselves explicitly as socialists. This is my adapted response.
Firstly, most people would agree that the source of research funding tends to alter the incentives of those who carry out the research. However, many people also grant an exception to government funding. I don’t do this.
For example, the US federal government has been spending about $5 billion on environmental research every year (Hillary Clinton would like to increase environmental R&D to $50 billion). This phenomenon is repeated all over the world (in Ireland, for example, nearly all scientific research is directed by State bodies, and it is highly advisable, if possible, to explain how your work can be applied to environmental issues if you are seeking funding). Governments are very eager to fund this kind of research.
That environmentalists see no conflict of interest involved here is indicative of the trust they place in the benevolence of governments. Remember that this is less than twenty years after the collapse of one of the most murderous regimes to have ever existed (up to 60 million people violently killed by the Soviet Union), and while much of humanity is still experiencing a medieval standard of living thanks to the governments that control them. The 20th century alone is testament to the danger posed to us by governments, with more people killed in war than had probably been killed in the entire recorded history of the human race up to that point. Despite this, environmentalists are desperate to abolish the now relatively prosperous and peaceful Western market-based economies and replace them with immense, all-powerful environmentalist regimes.
The trust in government benevolence is not the only trait that environmentalists share with their socialist predecessors. They also hold a common faith in the real capabilities of government. Socialism was discredited time and time again, leading its followers to engage in more and more ridiculous attempts to show that they were able to effectively plan economies. Salvador Allende, before he was ousted, thought that it would be possible to use a special computer, the “Cybersyn”, to effectively direct the Chilean economy (remember that this is in 1973). But socialist economies collapsed everywhere, for the good reason that economic calculation is simply impossible under central planning.
Yet environmentalists (at least some of whom must be sincere – though some must simply be opportunists) are preparing to treat us to carbon taxes and many other regulations on what we can buy, what we can eat, where we can go, what we can produce, what we can build. Nearly all of them are economic illiterates, so they think that what they are doing might not be inherently destructive. They have little comprehension of the cost-benefit procedures inherent to the market which are absolutely required for the efficient allocation of resources. They are political illiterates too, so they don’t understand that the vested interests feeding off environmentalist State subsidies are not going to just disappear when it is realised that the subsidies are unwarranted. And to top it off they are statistical illiterates too – they will never understand the massively complicated computer models which are the alleged scientific justification for their ideology, bought and paid for with taxpayers’ money down the barrel of a gun.
So to conclude, environmentalists are very similar to their socialist predecessors. They share many of the same beliefs and false ideas about government, and their agenda will have similarly dire effects. As I wrote yesterday, many of their older followers are undoubtedly aging socialists who failed to come to terms with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Their younger supporters don’t understand the terrible consequences of government expansion, and think that they are doing the right thing by going along with an ideology which looks warm and cuddly to them.
Now that their power is increasing, we can expect research to become more and more biased in favour of their plans, and for 21st century technologies to be used to control populations in ways that socialists of decades past could only have dreamed of. But, at the end of the day, their only real innovation is to replace Allende’s Cybersyn with modern environmental supercomputers. They have no idea how society could be centrally planned without descending into chaos, for such knowledge is impossible to obtain. They won’t call themselves socialists because that label has fallen out of fashion after the disasters of the 20th century, but their project shares many of the same goals, and is doomed to fail for all of the same reasons.
Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.
Tonight I had the pleasure of watching climate change propaganda produced on behalf of Ireland’s Department of the Environment. The Change.ie TV advertisement provides viewers, to the backdrop of inspirational music and important moments of Irish history, the following message:
“Each generation must face its own challeges. And how we respond to those challenges shapes us a nation, and makes us the people we are. For us, climate change is the biggest single challenge that we face, and our response will define us as a generation. This is our time. This is our challenge. Change your world. Change the world.”
This marks a step-up in the level of alarmism being spread by government on this issue. On the Change.ie website I am informed, at my expense, how I can change my lifestyle to improve the environment, and am reassured, at my expense, that Ireland, the EU and the UN are now acting to cut carbon emissions. I am reminded, at my expense, that “the debate is over, climate change is happening now”.
Reluctantly, I must admit that the debate, as far as governments and mainstream media are concerned, is probably over. What chance did opponents of the environmentalist movement have? In Ireland, as in many countries, the State directs nearly all academic research funding and operates a monopoly of school education curricula, besides its irresistable influence over media and business (the TV network on which this advertisement was aired tonight is owned by Irish government appointees, and funded in part through a compulsory TV licence fee). Once the State realised the potential for expansion under the banner of environmentalism, could there ever have been a fair debate?
Lest readers think that I am overly negative, I do maintain that it will be possible for a rational debate about environmentalism to occur in the mainstream at some point in the future. When that will be, I have litte idea, and is dependent on very many global factors. But, just like the collapse of the Soviet Union broke so many people’s faith in socialism, those who sought solace with environmentalism instead of coming to terms with that event, and their young supporters who have no understanding of the horrors of totalitarianism, will just as surely be discredited by the devastation that their ideology will inevitably wreak.
Already, there is starvation threatened in the Third World by rising food prices, brought about in part by government mandates for the use of biofuels. It is estimated that 100 million people may go hungry now as a result. Biofuel mandates, which are becoming more widespread and more severe, could soon cause the needless deaths of many millions of people.
The case against environmentalism is overwhelming, though one which may go ignored in the short and medium terms. The dice are loaded heavily against us. But when, as with communism, the effects of environmentalism become too awful for all but the most vested interests to defend, we must be ready to demonstrate how it was that we predicted them.
Libertarianism is a strongly intellectual operation, and with the resources available through the internet, we are arguably better equipped than any previous generation to combat statism. When environmentalism fails, we will have the perfect opportunity to go back to basics and show why we long advocated free enterprise, private property, and the reduction or abolition of political power. Our intellectual record will be undeniable: it will be preserved forever online.
Also posted at Polycentric Order.
The usual terminology of political language is stupid. What is ‘left’ and what is ‘right’? Why should Hitler be ‘right’ and Stalin, his temporary friend, be ‘left’? Who is ‘reactionary’ and who is ‘progressive’? Reaction against an unwise policy is not to be condemned. And progress towards chaos is not to be commended. Nothing should find acceptance just because it is new, radical, and fashionable. ‘Orthodoxy’ is not an evil if the doctrine on which the ‘orthodox’ stand is sound. Who is anti-labor, those who want to lower labor to the Russian level, or those who want for labor the capitalistic standard of the United States? Who is ‘nationalist,’ those who want to bring their nation under the heel of the Nazis, or those who want to preserve its independence?
- Ludwig von Mises, 1940
I was having a little browse of politics.ie, where someone asked the question:
Just wondering if anyone has any thoughts on this topic. As being discussed on todays news and suggested today that if we as the general public pay more in PRSI would get a first class free health care system?
Fourteen posts later, not a single person has indicated that paying more PRSI would help. They aren’t calling for the type of deregulation that I would favour, but there is a consensus that the problems with the public service are both deep and structural. One individual sent a particularly striking message:
I pay VHI for medical treatment because otherwise my family will be left to die on waiting lists.
I pay tolls to drive on roads that a third world nation would be ashamed of.
I pay into fundraising at my kids school and still have to pay grinds for them to get a decent education
I pay bin charges to a private company because my council just stopped doing it
I pay sky for my TV because the Irish system is 20 years out of date
I pay for a private pension because the state one results in poverty
I pay for bottled water because my tap water is poisoned
I pay eircom phone watch to look after my house because the guards dont bother
I pay for taxis etc for my kids because public transportation doesn’t exist
I pay stamp duty on my new house because the government thinks if I managed to scrape together enough money to buy a house then they didn’t tax me enough the first time.
Can anyone tell me why I pay tax anymore?
From now on I will also be contributing to Polycentric Order.
[This post is excerpted from a reply made on a thread at politics.ie (link), which may help to illustrate the context of the message]
I believe that I understand your point of view (that it is acceptable for taxes to be used in political campaigns, and that these are, if anything, more legitimate than privately-funded campaigns). There is a justification for the political parties to use taxes in a campaign like this, because of their trusted, accountable position as elected representatives. However, for private campaigners to use money which was gained in the marketplace, not through political procedures, is a perversion of democratic ideals.
Firstly, we need to get a handle on the nature of government (there are obviously more foundational assumptions I hold which I will have to leave out for the sake of brevity). A government is a special kind of organisation: one which claims a territorial monopoly of the right to inflict property rights violations. It runs like any other business, with the sole difference that it holds exclusive violent monopoly powers over the people in the areas under its control. This is a straightforward definition which you should find corresponds with reality.
Of course, governments can be managed in more than one way. They can exist as private monopolies (monarchy or dictatorship), where influence is strictly limited to the rulers and their allies, or as quasi-public monopolies (democracy), where a larger section of the population may have an entitlement to inflence policy.
Now I want to consider the question of different kinds of political campaign, but before I do that we need to understand what taxation is: the governmental extortion of funds. This may sound inflammatory but tell me if I am mistaken. To extort is to obtain from another by coercion or intimidation. It falls into the general category of property rights violations whose exclusive ability to commit is the defining feature of government.
Taxes used in a political campaign are clearly of a very different nature to funds obtained in the marketplace being used for this purpose. I believe that understanding this difference and its implications is absolutely key. Without going too deeply into theory, it is clear that those people who have used the coercive apparatus of the state to obtain their funds might not have been able to obtain them without this apparatus. Strictly speaking, we cannot know for definite that they wouldn’t. However, we can say that it is extremely unlikely.
If you take away the threat of prosecution, what incentive would we have to pay for a government political campaign? Some of us would give away our money voluntarily, though some of us would not, and it would not necessarily correspond with electoral voting patterns. It would come down to individual, subjective valuations of the government’s campaign.
Individual, subjective valuations form the basis of the wealth acquired by actors in the marketplace. Without coercive apparaus, they must rely on their ability to offer exchanges which satisfy the desires of their trading partners. Naturally, these desires may include that the actor does not use their funds for certain kinds of political action. Such a desire may be written explicitly in a contract, or it may be expressed less formally. In any case, going against the wishes of their trading partners is likely to carry consequences for any actor in the marketplace.
So there is a very different form of accountability for the political and economic actors. In a democracy, political actors offer a selection of package deals to their customers at varying time intervals. Their customers are then violently coerced into doing business with the actor who wins the power monopoly. Accountability is promised by the potential for alternative political actors to compete for the monopoly at the next election. (In practice, government influence over business, media and electoral procedures inhibit the ability of competitors to offer radically different package deals.)
In the market, accountability is promised by each actor’s inability to coerce their trading partners. If their partners are dissatisfied with their actions, the sequence of exchanges may simply be terminated at the most immediate opportunity. There is a self-regulation to this process which motivates actors to do their business in ways which do not arouse suspicion or in any way damage their reputation.
After all of this, we may deduce that in the political arena “private” campaigns, funded by market actors, are the only ones which can be said to represent organic demand. The funds have been donated voluntarily for the express purpose of the campaign. Donors may have acquired their funds from trading partners who might not themselves agree with the campaign, but this fact is a cost borne by the donors in the risk they face of losing business.
The market is a process, and it may be the case that market mechanisms are insufficiently advanced to provide assurances of the absence of political activity in particular cases where some traders may actually desire such an assurance from those with whom they exchange. If this is true,we may trust that the continued division of labour inherent in the market process will eventually develop such mechanisms. But this is not actually required for the purposes of this post, for if no market mechanism exists to provide these assurances, it is impossible for a government, whose only special tool is coercion, to provide assurances either (at least, not in a way which would better satisfy individual, subjective valuations).
I found a very insightful article on Brainpolice arguing for libertarians to avoid politics altogether. It expresses some of the ideas I have been exploring, but also introduces several that I had not considered, while articulating and organising all of them extremely well.
I understand that most readers of this blog are not libertarians, or even very close to this point of view, and while this article is not primarily an argument for freedom, I think it serves as an excellent example of the freedom philosophy at work in a particular applied case: applied to politics. If you understand the libertarian justifications of apolitical activism, then I think it can be said you have a real grasp of what this is all about.
For my sins, I had a look at the incredibly awkward transcript of a hearing by the Joint Committee on European Affairs. There I found something I had flagged previously: the free market being blamed for the economic slowdown. Kieran Allen:
I am in favour of a system of distortion of competition. I am in favour of State intervention and strong trade unions. Such things distort the purity of the market. If the committee wants to know why I think pure competition does not work, I suggest that members should consider what is happening to the financial sector of the world economy at the moment. The pure and undistorted competition from the sub-prime markets is leading to a global financial crisis.
The ICTU is concerned because inflation was increasing at an annual rate of 5% in March. From RTÉ:
Workers will feel justified in seeking pay increases to compensate for these price rises, but employers and the Government will be reluctant to allow such an outcome as it would in a second round of inflation in the economy.
The European Central Bank has warned strongly about such second round inflation, and said it would raise interest rates in Europe if higher inflation results in higher wage increases.
I guess someone will need to explain this to me, but I can’t help feeling that there are some important facts which are mostly left out of this debate.
Firstly, the workers referred to in the above article are only those workers whose wages can be raised by the social partners. New figures show that nearly 70% of the workforce is not unionised. Those working in government services and healthcare is estimated at about 455,000 by the Labour Force Survey. So the majority of Ireland’s 2 million strong workforce operate in the market, where their pay is a function mostly of their productivity, and not of government negotiations.
Secondly, the very notion of being “compensated” for inflation seems to miss the point of employment. As I’ve argued before, the purpose of employment is to satisfy consumer demand, not just to provide wages for workers. The shopkeeper doesn’t say “I’m having a tough time right now, the lease has gone up and I’ve been feeling unwell recently, so you are obliged to pay me double.” That would reflect a failure to understand the nature of the activity he was engaged in.
Now the fact that the government is in the business of paying and setting people’s wages means that any sort of meaningful economic calculation in this regard is not possible. However, the general point still holds, so I think unions would make a little bit more sense if they argued for their wage demands based on the quality of the services they provided, not on the hardship that bad times inflict on their members.
Thirdly, the elephant in the room is inflation itself: what exactly it is, and where it comes from. My experience is that most people have very little understanding when it comes to this subject. Fortunately, it is neatly explained in this article which is excerpted from this book (pdf), a reading of which should prove highly illuminating for almost anyone.