Ever taken a statistics course? Most stats lecturers devote a special moment to highlight how statistics can be misused. For instance my tutor once showed us a graph like this:
We can clearly see that there’s a correlation between ice-cream consumption and deaths by drowning. But what can we infer from this? It’s possible that eating ice-cream causes drowning (due to stomach cramps while swimming). It’s also vaguely possible that drowning deaths cause increased ice-cream consumption (mourning relatives might go for an ice-cream to cheer themselves up). However the most sensible explanation is that both ice-cream consumption and drowning deaths increase is due to another factor: the weather. People eat more ice-cream and go swimming more often in summer.
However, such a straightforward explanation is hardly ever seen in economics. The empirical approach often remains unquestioned. Consider this syllogism: in the past, taxes were low. Today, taxes are high. We were poor in the past but now we are rich. Therefore, increasing taxes causes prosperity. Such a view is completely ridiculous, yet almost completely unquestioned.
Or take the suggestion in the graph below. Income inequality sharply increased before two major recessions. Therefore it’s fair to assume that one causes the other.
Anyone who wants a free copy of Robert Nozick’s philosophical work can get a pdf copy here.
Don’t forget the comma before the “and” in the title!
Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose was one of the first books on libertarian political philosophy and market economics that I ever read. It’s an excellent chronicling of the economic and social decline of the United States (which has unsurprisingly run parallel to its embracing of ever more socialist policies). Here are two videos doing the rounds at the moment that go into some basic Friedmanite concepts.
There are a number of ways to make blog traffic statistics more impressive. On a slow day I often logout of my WordPress account, access the Liberty Forum homepage and click “refresh” over and over again to beef up the numbers.
I didn’t have to do that today. My post Trolling For Statism: How Not To Argue With Libertarians was featured on strike-the-root.com. Also featured on that excellent website were the posts Which Party Causes All The Wars? and False and True Connections Between Libertarianism and Conservatism.
I’m also happy to announce that the Irish Liberty Forum passed 20,000 blog views today. Keep it up guys!
I can’t be everywhere at once. This means I can’t refute every fallacious argument out there in cyberspace. But once in a while, one person manages to collate several spurious arguments and create a video out of them. Consider amhemsley‘s “Don’t want to pay taxes? Then stop stealing from those who do”.
The video is little more than a tissue of trite arguments; tax resisters are thieves, the government provides us with services, if you don’t love it you can leave it, and so on. Here’s a brief discussion of why the guy in the video is wrong.
State = Society?
One common tool used by the anti-capitalists is the equivocation of fairly distinct and unambiguous terms. State, society, law, order, protection and peace are all mixed together. In amhemsley’s mind, anyone who is against the State is against society, and subsequetly for lawlessness, poverty and chaos.
It is important to challenge this simpleminded view. Stateless socities have existed in the past, even for centuries. Parallel to the history of State-made legislation runs the history of private law provision. Society is nothing more than the lose web of interaction among people who share a common heritage. The State is a territorial monopolist of lawmaking and taxation. Society typically uses ostracism and exclusion to punish those who engage in unlawful or distasteful activities. But society will find it difficult to legitimately use force against you, which is precisely the point of the State.
A post at Peter Rollins unmasks Batman as the ultimate capitalist superhero. I disagree with the heart and soul of his thesis, namely that
Batman is unable to see that the subjective crime he fights on a nightly basis is the direct manifestation of the objective crime he perpetrates on a daily basis. The street crime is the explosion of violence that results from greedy, large industries obsessed with the increase of abstract capital at the expense of all else.
I consider the exact opposite to be the case. Bruce Wayne perpitrates no crime by day; he violates no property rights nor does he have a State-granted monopoly over his industry. His workers and customers are free to associate with other businesses. From this it follows that Wayne can only satisfy his greed from creating products that satisfy his consumers needs and by offering his workers decent working conditions.
This is precisely the reason that socities built on private property ownership were historically regarded as the most altruistic and charitable. In addition to providing really cheap kerosene to Americans, John D. Rockefeller was a prominant philanthropist. Socities where forced altruism is the norm result in cultures of entitlement, violence and contempt for property and fellow humans.
There is however one obvious reason why Batman is the ultimate capitalist superhero. The buraucrats of Gotham city preside over a monopolised judicial and domestic defence system. All monopolies are bad from the point of view of the consumer as such arrangements will tend to raise the price and diminish the quality of the service provided. Gotham is constantly under threat from thieves, drug-dealers and murders. However Gotham’s residents cannot choose an alternative defence provider, nor will they receive compensation from the city if it fails in its defensive duty.
Quite simply, Batman is the challenger to Gotham city’s self-sanctioned monopoly over justice and protection from coercion. He circumvents the State’s monopoly on legitimate violence and acts as a privately-provided “public” good as an alternative to a poorly maintained, currupt State-run monopoly.
Perhaps this is why Batman is Ron Paul’s favourite superhero!
I sometimes feel like I’m living in some kind of bizarro world. Eichengreen and O’Rourke have done an excellent job at tracking the Second Great Depression. Here is the link for those of you who’ve been living in a cave. After showing us excellent graphs of falling industrial output, they graph the overall policy responses of governments and central banks in 1929 and 2009. Take a look:
Now the conclusion to draw from this surely is: “world governments and central banks are doing exactly the same as what they were doing in 1929 only on a bigger scale”. And yet, this is not the conclusion that E-O draw: “The good news, of course, is that the policy response is very different.” Bizarre, no?