Which “Minarchy”?

I understand the appeal of minarchy. After all, it’s where I came from; what I used to advocate. Even though I knew I was an anarchist personally, I used to imagine minarchy as the most practical way to be as liberated as possible.

But minarchy– keeping a little bit of cancer around and under control to prevent a different cancer from getting a foothold– is an unsustainable Utopian fantasy. Much more so than anarchy could ever be.

And, it’s confused.

As a minarchist, which “minimal government” would you pick? Only things such as government fire protection, government policing, military, government-controlled roads, and government courts? Other minarchists might have other preferences. Some would include “securing the borders” or other Big Government welfare programs. Any version includes the “taxation” to pay for it all, along with the bureaucracy to collect and distribute the money and find and punish the opt-outs.

Does every minarchist get to impose the particular flavor of “minimal government” they want? If so, it is no longer “minimal”.

Do you use v*ting to decide which bits of government you get to impose on me? Then it’s mob rule– “might (through superior numbers) makes right”.

Through v*ting and “taxation” you’ve cut the brake line on anything holding back government growth.

As I say, I understand, but a “little bit of statism” is still evil.

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What’s Historic?

I regularly read Wikipedia’s “Historical Events on This Day.”  It’s fun, and I learn new history.  But I’m still puzzled by the selection criteria.  Wikipedia casually blends three very different kinds of events:

1. Critical political, diplomatic, and military events that plausibly changed the lives of millions or even billions of people.

2. Terrorist attacks.

3. Natural disasters and major accidents.

“Historical events” for February 11, for example, include crucial events like the beginning of the Arab Spring in Egypt, the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, and the establishment of Iran’s theocracy.  But it also lists two plane crashes and a small terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia.

It’s tempting to say, “Terrorism might be a tiny issue by itself.  But since it provokes massive overreactions, it’s indirectly important.”  But why would a couple of old plane crashes be on a list of events of historical importance?  And most acts of terrorism, of course, have little or no effect on policy.

The obvious explanation, sadly, is that the innumeracy of the news infects the study of history.  One of the main goals of history is to create enough psychological distance (and hindsight!) to sift the fundamental from the ephemeral.  But doing this is easier said than done.  Without a strong default view that vivid, emotionally engaging headlines aren’t worth remembering, even people who think about history for a living fail to see trivia as trivial.

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“Second Shutdown” Theatrics: Heads Trump Wins, Tails America Loses

Unless Congress and the Trump administration reach a new spending deal by February 15, the federal government will go back into “partial shutdown” status. As of February 10, congressional negotiators seem to be nearing agreement on a deal that includes about $2 billion in funding for President Trump’s “border wall” project. Trump, as before the recent shutdown, is seeking $5.7 billion.

My prediction: There are three ways this can come out. One is highly unlikely, and both of the other two would constitute a victory for Trump and a loss for Congress in general, even more so for congressional Democrats, and most of all for the American people.

Let’s get the unlikely outcome out of the way first: There’s probably not going to be another shutdown. Trump is going to sign whatever deal lands on his desk.

If the deal includes the $5.7 billion he’s demanding (it won’t), he’s obviously the winner. Expect a lavish White House Rose Garden signing ceremony, even if there’s snow on the ground.

If the deal offers a lesser amount (it will), congressional Democrats will have lost anyway, by buckling on their previous opposition to funding the wall at all. That’s a bad outcome for a new Democratic majority in the House. It signals a lack of political will to take on the Republican agenda.

Whatever amount the deal includes, Trump will sign it — and if it’s less than $5.7 billion, he’ll then follow through on his threat to declare a “state of emergency” and use existing military funding to make up the difference.

In doing so, he’ll throw yet another serving of red meat to his electoral base, acting as the strong-man figure they adore.

He’ll also add another boxcar to a long train of abuses & usurpations (as the Declaration of Independence puts it) by himself and previous presidents. His contemplated “state of emergency” tactic would seize executive power to do what only Congress, under the Constitution, may do (“No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law”).

Not long ago, journalists might have labeled that situation  a “constitutional crisis.” But in the 21st century, Americans and American politicians have seemingly become desensitized to presidential rebellion against the Constitution, from George W.  “unitary executive” Bush’s use of “signing statements” to modify the content of bills passed by Congress, to Barack “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone” Obama’s claims of power to wage war in Libya, Syria and elsewhere without congressional approval.

The border wall is fast becoming more than just a morally bankrupt and economically stupid political ploy. It’s in the process of becoming yet another milestone on the road to the presidency as an openly proclaimed, and uncontested, dictatorship.

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A Short Hop from Bleeding Heart to Mailed Fist

When Hugo Chavez began ruling Venezuela, he sounded like a classic bleeding-heart – full of pity for the poor and downtrodden.  Plenty of people took him at his words – not just Venezuelans, but much of the international bleeding-heart community.  By the time Chavez died, however, many admirers were already having second thoughts about his dictatorial tendencies.  Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s handpicked successor, amply confirmed these fears.  Almost everyone now plainly sees the mailed fist of the brutal dictator Chavez II.

Which brings us to two facts about the political world.  Let’s call them Strange and Meta-Strange.

The Strange Fact: This transition from bleeding heart to mailed fist is common.  Almost every Communist dictatorship launches with mountains of humanitarian propaganda.  Yet ultimately, almost everyone who doesn’t fear for his life wakes up and smells the tyranny.

The Meta-Strange Fact: People rarely describe the Strange Fact as “strange”!

What’s so strange about the Strange Fact?  Most obviously, the extreme hypocrisy.  Governments that vocally proclaim their compassion for the meek – most obviously the Soviet Union and Maoist China – commit a grossly disproportionate share of mass murder and other violations of human rights.

What’s so strange about the Meta-Strange Fact?  Well, picture the most vocally compassionate person you personally know, the person who seems most obsessed with the interests and feelings of others.  Wouldn’t you be shocked to discover that they burn babies with cigarettes when you’re not looking?  It’s one thing for people to fall short of saintly ideals; it’s quite another for people who uphold saintly ideals to be downright wicked.

What’s going on?  Here are some possibilities:

1. Politics is a brutal game.  When bleeding hearts take over a government, brutal outsiders smell their weakness, force their way in, bully their way to the top, and unleash hell.

The obvious problem with this story, of course, is that the bleeding hearts and mailed fists are usually the same people, though sometimes at different stages in their political career.

2. In this wicked world, the best way to pursue bleeding-heart policies is with a mailed fist.  Sure, it would be nice if we could harmoniously adopt bleeding-heart policies.  But in the real world, the forces of reaction and selfishness will try to obstruct and reverse bleeding-heart policies with every step.  Unless, of course, you terrorize them into submission.

The obvious problem with this story, of course, is that countries that pursue bleeding-heart policies with a mailed fist look like total disasters.  Most of them face horrifying civil wars; and even when the dust settles, the common man’s quality of life remains very low.

3. Hostile foreigners force bleeding hearts to adopt the mailed fist.  When countries pursue bleeding-heart policies, evil countries like the United States try to isolate, punish, and overthrow them.  The best way to protect your noble bleeding-heart experiment, sadly, is to prioritize the military and internal security.  Then the international community has the effrontery to call these unwelcome defensive measures “the mailed fist.”

The obvious problem with this story: One of the quickest ways to anger countries like the United States is to blatantly use the mailed fist (especially if you combine your mailed fist with anti-Western rhetoric).  Furthermore, if extreme bleeding-heart policies really were prone to provoke powerful foreigners, a sincere bleeding heart would moderate enough to appease these foreigners.  “You don’t like my total war against illiteracy and disease?  Fine, I’ll just do a half-war against illiteracy and disease.”

4. The bleeding-heart rhetoric is mostly propaganda; the main goal is the mailed fist.  Even the most abusive romances usually start with a honeymoon period.  Similarly, dictators rarely gain total power by growling, “Give me total power.”  Instead, they woo the people with flowery words and symbolic gifts.  Part of the goal, of course, is to trick your victims until you get the upper hand.  But the flowery words and symbolic gifts are also effective ways to inspire gratitude in both recipients and bystanders.

This story often seems right to me, but it does implausibly downplay the bleeding hearts’ ideological fervor.

5. Bleeding-heart rhetoric is disguised hate speech.  When activists blame the bourgeoisie for causing hunger, disease, and illiteracy, perhaps their main concern isn’t actually alleviating hunger, disease, or illiteracy.  While they’d like these problems to disappear, the bleeding hearts’ top priority could be making the bourgeoisie suffer.  The mailed fist systematizes that suffering.

It’s tempting to dismiss this story as cartoonish, but it’s more plausible than you think.  Human beings often resent first – and rationalize said resentment later.  They’re also loathe to admit this ugly fact.  Actions, however, speak louder than words.  People like Chavez and Maduro can accept their failure to help the poor, but not their failure to crush their hated enemies.

6. Bleeding-heart policies work so poorly that only the mailed fist can sustain them.  In this story, the bleeding hearts are at least initially sincere.  If their policies worked well enough to inspire broad support, the bleeding hearts would play nice.  Unfortunately, bleeding-heart policies are exorbitantly expensive and often directly counter-productive.  Pursued aggressively, they predictably lead to disaster.  At this point, a saintly bleeding heart will admit error and back off.  A pragmatic bleeding heart will compromise.  The rest, however, respond to their own failures with rage and scapegoating.  Once you institutionalize that rage and scapegoating, the mailed fist has arrived.

This story also seems pretty solid.  It downplays the self-conscious Machiavellians, but only by recasting them as childish fanatics.

If you don’t know much about the actual history of radical bleeding-heart regimes, I’ll admit that stories 4-6 sound overblown and unfair.  But I’ve devoted much of my life to studying this history.  All I can say is:  If your story isn’t ugly, it isn’t true.

P.S. Hugo Chavez is a really boring speaker, so if you’re curious about the general phenomenon I’m discussing, start with this little bleeding-heart speech by the murderous Che Guevara.

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On Freedom II

There is a sense that I agree with the statement, “Freedom is not free“. Everything we want has a cost that must be paid. Who is forced to pay for the things we want determines the amount of freedom we have. Under total freedom, our welfare, security, wants, needs, and desires must be paid for, in some fashion, by ourselves. Freedom for me means freedom for you, and so we can understand that the costs of freedom are all the costs associated with existence. Freedom begins to disappear the moment we plead for others to be forced to fund our lives. Yes, freedom is not free, but neither is freedom forcing others to fund your military or police squad. And that’s today’s two cents.

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Venezuela: None of Our Business

On January 23, the President of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guaido, was sworn in as “interim president.” In what was presumably a pre-coordinated move, Guaido’s administration was quickly recognized by the governments of the United States, Canada, and several countries in Latin America.

Guaido’s claim rests on a provision in Venezuela’s constitution which allows him to assume the office should it become vacant. The Assembly says that it is.  Nicolas Maduro, elected to a second term as president in 2018, begs to differ. A number of countries, including Russia and China, continue to recognize his government.

All of which seems either remarkably simple or incredibly complicated, depending on who you ask and which side they’re on.  From an American who’s on neither side, like me, it comes down to two simple facts:

First, Venezuela’s government does not and never has represented any kind of military threat to the United States. It has never invaded the United States. It has never attacked the United States. It has never threatened to do either, nor does it seem to be well-equipped to do so if it desired to.

Secondly, Venezuela is not and never has been either a state or territory of the United States. It achieved independence from Spain in 1821 as part of the Republic of Gran Colombia, and became a completely independent nation in 1830.

Taken together, these two facts lead inexorably to one conclusion:

How Venezuelans choose to conduct their political affairs never has been and is not now the business of the US government. One need support neither Maduro nor Guaido to reach this conclusion. It’s simply not up to Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Marco Rubio, or any other American politician to run Venezuela.

Unfortunately, US administrations since the 1950s  seem to have lost or mis-filed the above memo. Usually in the name of anti-communism, though in reality mostly for the benefit of American oil companies, the US has continuously intervened to ensure “friendly” regimes in Caracas.

That began to backfire in 1998 with the election of Maduro’s predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez. Chavez cultivated closer relations with communist (Cuba and China) and former communist (Russia) countries, while implementing socialist economic programs.

Two decades later, Venezuela is an economic and humanitarian wreck. American politicians blame Chavez/Maduro and socialism for the country’s decline. Maduro and his supporters blame US sanctions and secret support for the opposition.

Both sides are right, but on only one of those claims is the US rightfully positioned to act. It should lift all economic sanctions on Venezuela, withdraw diplomatic recognition of any claimant, close its embassy, and leave a note on the door: “Work this out yourselves; when you have, let us know if you’d like to resume relations.”

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