“Papers, Please” is Now Reality

Even more than it has been, I mean.

And how much do you want to bet the “please” is a lie?

Local employers are now giving employees “travel papers” so they can prove to cops who might stop them for being out on the road that they are traveling “legitimately”. I personally know that Walmart, Family Dollar, a cattle feed producer, and other businesses have issued such papers. Probably everyone whose business is deemed “essential” enough to be allowed to stay in business is doing the same.

So far, only the New Mexico parasites have clamped down on the right to travel, but the Texas employers around here are also issuing the papers because many people cross the state line, in both directions, for work.

How long until some Blue Line Gang scum murders someone for being on the road without permission?

Some statists seem shocked by this Nazi-ish turn of events. Yet it’s their fault! Totally! Their ongoing support of the state, for their whole lives in most cases, has led directly and inevitably to this.

Who are these political thugs to decide which jobs are essential? They wouldn’t recognize something essential if they stepped in it.

Every job is essential to those who perform it, and to those who rely on it.

The ONLY “jobs” which are non-essential are government “jobs”— because they aren’t actual jobs. Some of those “jobs” are even worse than non-essential; they are actively harmful. Keep these people off the roads if you have to keep anyone off.

Police officers, specifically– your “job” is not essential by any stretch of the imagination. It is harmful and parasitical. You are a drain on society. The same goes for every bureaucrat, politician, and whatnot. YOU are the vermin who need to be out of a “job”, now and forever. Let the productive people work while you rot in a hole in the ground.

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I’m a Horrible Person

I hate to admit it– it probably means I’m a horrible person– but I’m having fun. I’m enjoying the coronapocalypse. Just a little.

Yes, I feel a bit guilty for enjoying this as much as I am. I also know the enjoyment will fade the longer this goes on.

I feel bad for people who are really hurting and suffering. I feel awful for those who have lost loved ones. I have empathy for those who are scared. But this is the sort of thing I thrive on– at least for a while. It’s what I’ve prepared for… for decades.

Plus, I’ve been doing all I can for many years to tell people to prepare for this sort of thing. If they refused to listen…

I consider this a practice run for a real breakdown. I’m taking notes so I’ll be even more prepared next time. Yeah, I know every event will be different, but I still plan on learning from this one.

I’m doing what I can to keep my family members safe and healthy. Nothing is guaranteed, obviously. But that’s the case every day. I’ve had the rug pulled out from under me before.

My parents, who didn’t take the virus at all seriously at first– have gone into full-blown quarantine lock-down mode. I drop supplies and their mail for them in their garage and they go get it after I’ve left. I’m wondering if they are decontaminating it. As long as the electricity flows they aren’t going to be running out of food for a very long time, having multiple freezers and refrigerators. And quite the pantry, as well. I enjoy doing what I can to help them. My mom is sewing masks for the family and my dad is watching Hallmark Channel Christmas movies that he has recorded, I suspect they are both kind of enjoying this, too.

I’m fine on food and supplies for a long time– even if I couldn’t buy anything new. But I can, even though the food aisles have gone eerily empty. People might not be able to buy what they wanted, but there is something available. My yard– and every other yard in town– is chock full of edible “weeds”. No one will starve unless they choose to.

I’m taking long daily walks around town (as long a walk as I can take in this town– I zig-zag a lot) in the sun and fresh air.

Money has gotten tighter– your donations and subscriptions have become even more important than in the past (I also know some of you are probably losing income, too). I will get through this one way or another. Except in the unlikely event that the virus gets me– which I highly doubt it can.

I feel as though I am in my element– which is rare. I might as well have fun while I can.

Are any of you as awful as I am? Feel free to judge me.

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Costs of Government Action on Coronavirus

Some whiny statists are complaining that not everyone is embracing the measures being imposed by government to “deal with” the coronapocalypse. It is claimed that they are endangering lives by “downplaying” the risk.

No, they are not endangering society, nor will they be the cause of millions (or even dozens) of extra deaths. People who are “downplaying” coronavirus are serving an important purpose. Besides disarming the panic-bomb, I mean.

What they are doing is acting as a drag chute to slow down runaway government overreach.

This is essential.

Those who object to the “downplayers” aren’t adequately (or even minimally) considering the costs of government intervention. You’ve seen this happen in other topics as well, such as with AGCC/”climate change”.

Government-supremacists are pushing the narrative that not taking the actions government promotes will cause deaths, but are ignoring the deaths which will result from doing the wrong thing, or even too much of the “right thing”. They are not considering the costs and benefits of both courses.

Maybe doing nothing about COVID 19 would kill more people. Of course, you have the option of doing everything you ought to do without government mandating anything. Doing something doesn’t require anything being done by government. That is a bad assumption to make. But, I will concede that ignoring the problem would probably result in some unnecessary deaths.

However…

Damaging the economy– as government is actively doing– will also kill people. For certain. It may, in the long run, kill more people than the coronavirus would have even if no one had done anything about it– but we don’t know. We won’t know. There is no way to know because you can’t rewind history and change what was done.

Yes, some people caution against comparing how many deaths are resulting now and comparing that to the total deaths in previous plagues after they were over. That makes sense. However, you can compare death rates in the midst of the event– which is something government-supremacists don’t seem to like for anyone to do. It gets in the way of the narrative they prefer.

This is why we need brakes on the speeding car of statism. Those who “downplay” the danger are those brakes. They complete the costs vs. benefits big picture for the situation. Without them you only get one side, advocating only one path. Objecting to the balance they provide is not productive or smart.

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Guns – Time to Try Something Different

I recently heard an anti-gun bigot saying, in relation to mass shootings, “What we’ve been doing isn’t working. It’s time to try something different.

He’s right, but I’ll bet he doesn’t know he’s right.

What his team has been doing isn’t working. It’s never going to work… unless the goal is to make mass shootings more common. It’s time to try something different, all right. It’s time to stop trying (or pretending to try) to prevent mass shootings with more “laws” which make it safer to be a mass shooter.

Past time. Long past time to get rid of all the anti-gun “laws”. All of them. Every single last one. Stop giving mass murderers what they want; what they need. Stop providing them with pools of unarmed– disarmed– potential victims.

Maybe disarmed victims are what the anti-gun bigots want. It’s not what I want. I want mass shooters to die in their attempt to kill people.

If you advocate anti-gun “laws” you are helping losers become evil losers. You are empowering them to murder more people. If the NRA “compromises” yet again they deserve to die as an organization.

So, yeah. It’s time to try something different because what you’ve been trying isn’t working.

Not one more inch.

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Do Intellectuals Make Life Any Better?

There’s a path my life could have taken – could still take – toward the life of an intellectual.

I’ve just about always been interested in one or more of the favorite intellectual subjects of philosophy, history, politics, theology, economics, psychology, and sociology (whatever that is). I’ve always liked to have big opinions on things. And I’ve always preferred toying with ideas to toying with numbers or machines.

But I’m beginning to think this is an aptitude worth resisting. It’s not obvious to me that intellectuals as such bring a whole lot of benefit to the world.

Obviously this will be controversial to say.

For the sake of this post, I’ll be using a Wikipedia-derived definition:

An intellectual is a person who engages in critical thinking and reading, research, and human self-reflection about society; they may propose solutions for its problems and gain authority as a public figure.”

Let me be clear that I think everyone ought to engage in critical thinking. It’s in the rest of the definition that the problems start to emerge.

Every intellectual is a person who not only has a pet theory about what’s wrong with the world – but who makes it their job to reflect/research on that problem and write about that problem.

When you think about these intellectuals, what do you think of?

My mind wanders to the endless number of think-pieces, essays, and books with takes what’s wrong with humans, what’s wrong with society, or what’s wrong with intellectuals (that’s right – I’m currently writing a think-piece. Shit.) The history of this produce of intellectualism is an a stream of lazy, simplified pontifications from individuals about things vast and complex, like “society,” “America,” “the working classes,” “the female psyche,” etc. in relation to something even more vast and complex: “human life.”

It’s not that thinking about these things are wrong: it’s that most of the ink spilled about them is probably wasteful. Why?

Because core to the definition of intellectualism defined above is its divorce from action. Intellectuals engage in “reading, research, and human self-reflection,” “propose solutions,” and “gain authority as public figures,” but none of these acts require them to get their hands dirty to test their hypotheses or solve their proposed problems.

The whole “ivory tower” criticism isn’t new, so I won’t belabor the point. But I will point out two consequences of intellectualism’s separation from practical reality.

First, intellectuals don’t often tend to be great people. Morally, I mean. Tolstoy left his wife in a lurch when he gave up his wealth. Marx knocked up one of his servants and then kicked her out of his house. Rousseau abandoned his children. Even Ayn Rand (whom I love) could be accused of being cultlike in her control of her intellectual circle. Those are just the notable ones – it’s fair to say that most of the mediocre “public intellectuals” we have aren’t exactly action heroes. While they may not be especially bad, they aren’t especially good on the whole.

There seems to be some link between a career which rewards abstract thought (without regard for action) and the mediocre or downright bad lifestyle choices of our most famous intellectuals.

The second major problem with intellectuals springs from the fact that nearly everything the intellectual does is intensely self-conscious. Whether it’s a philosopher reflecting on his inability to find love and theorizing about the universe accordingly or an American sociologist writing about the decline of American civilization, the intellectual is reflecting back upon what’s wrong with himself or his culture or his situation constantly, usually in a way that creates a strong sense of mental unease or even anguish.

Have you ever seen an intellectual coming from an obvious place of joy? The social commentators are almost always operating from malaise and malcontent, which almost always arise from a deep self-consciousness.

Of course it’s anyone’s right to start overthinking what’s the matter with the world, and to feel bad as a result. The real problem is that the intellectual insists on making it his job to convince everyone else to share in his self-conscious state of misery, too.

How many Americans would know, believe, or care that “America” or “Western Civilization” was declining if some intellectual hadn’t said so? How many working class people, or women, or men would believe they are “oppressed”? How many humans would be staying up at night asking themselves whether reality is real? Both are utterly foreign to the daily experience of real, commonsense human life. And while the intellectual may draw on real examples in his theories, he’s usually not content to allow for the exceptions and exemptions which are inevitable in a complex world: his intellectual theory trumps experience. The people must *believe* they are oppressed, or unfulfilled, or unenlightened, or ignorant of the “true forms” of this, that, or the other.

I’m wary of big intellectual theories for this reason, and increasingly partial to the view that wisdom comes less from thinking in a dark corner and more from living in the sunshine and the dirt. The real measure of many of these theories is how quickly they are forgotten or dismantled when brought out into daily life.

People who use their intellects to act? The best in the world. But intellectuals who traffic solely in ideas-about-what’s-wrong for their careers? More often than not, they are more miserable and not-very-admirable entertainers than they are net benefactors to the world.

The ability to think philosophically is important. But that skill must be used in the arena. Produce art. Produce inventions. Be kind. Action is the redemption of intellectualism.

Disclaimers

*By “intellectuals,” I don’t mean scientists. On the humanities side, I don’t even mean artists. The problem isn’t artists: it’s art critics. It’s not scientists: it’s people who write about the “state of science.”

There are exceptions to the bad shows among intellectuals, but usually these are the intellectuals who are busy fighting the bad, ideas of other intellectuals: people like Ludwig von Mises fighting the ideas of classical socialism, or . The best ideas to come from people like this are ideas which don’t require people to believe in them.*

And don’t get me wrong: this is as much a mea culpa as a criticism of others. I’ve spent much of my life headed down the path of being an intellectual. I’m starting to realize that it’s a big mistake.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Reflections on the Leiter-Caplan Debate

It was a pleasure debating Brian Leiter last week.  The resolution, to repeat:

“Social democracy is preferable to market capitalism, but ultimately America will need to move towards a socialist system.”

Here are some thoughts I failed to fully articulate at the live event.  As always, I’m happy to publish any reply my opponent wishes to compose.

1. To his credit, Leiter expressed zero sympathy for any actual socialist regime.  He even condemned Cuba; good for him.  But Leiter still insisted that the totality of these awful experiences show next to nothing about the desirability of socialism, which frankly seems crazy.  As far as I could tell, Leiter hews to the classic Marxist position that we should transition to socialism only after capitalism creates incredible abundance.  Unlike most historical Marxists, however, he doesn’t think that even the richest countries are ready yet.  My question: If we finally got rich enough for socialism, why think that a socialist regime would be able to maintain the prior level of prosperity, much less provide continued progress?

2. When I discussed the actual performance of social democracy, Leiter was surprisingly apologetic.  He conceded that we have wasteful universal redistribution, instead of well-targeted means-tested redistribution.  His only defense was to repeat the flimsy argument that it’s too hard to sustain popular support for means-tested programs.

3. On regulation, Leiter appeared to endorse open borders; good for him.  He also professed agnosticism on housing regulation.  Since these are by far the two biggest forms of regulation in modern social democracies (measured by how much regulation changes the likely market outcome), it’s hard to see why he would believe that increased regulation has, on balance, been good for humanity or the poor.

4. According to Leiter, “ultimately America will need to move towards a socialist system” because automation will one day cause mass unemployment.  This position baffled me on multiple levels.  Most obviously, why not respond to automation with redistribution rather than nationalization, and thereby avoid killing the capitalist goose that has hitherto laid a mountain of golden eggs?

My fundamental objection, however, is that history teaches us that technological unemployment is only a morbid fantasy.  When firms figure out ways to get more output out of fewer workers, this may cause unemployment in the short-run.  Soon enough, however, business has repeatedly figured out new jobs for workers to perform.  Business has already accomplished the miraculous task of creating new roles for the enormous number of workers disemployed by the mechanization of agriculture.  Every future economic transformation pales by comparison.  Remember: Almost everyone was a farmer for almost all of recorded human history.  Then industrialization eliminated almost all farm jobs.  Yet today, we don’t miss these jobs.  Instead, we get fat on all the cheap food, and do jobs our agrarian ancestors would have struggled to understand.

Leiter had two responses to my reaction.  One was “maybe this time it will be different”; Leiter even appealed to David Hume’s problem of induction to downplay all prior economic history!  If you take this line, however, it would only entitle you to say “it is logically possible that America will need to move towards a socialist system” – a vacuous claim indeed.  Frankly, if you take Hume seriously, even the best empirical evidence shows nothing about the future, so why bother debating at all?

Leiter’s better argument was that capitalists are perennially trying to cut costs – and that in the long-run capitalism works.  So eventually capitalists will figure out a way to run the economy without workers – an outcome that is individually rational for a capitalist, but socially disastrous for capitalism.  My response: Yes, capitalists want to figure out how to produce a given level of output with fewer workers.  Their deeper goal, however, is to figure out the most profitable way to employ all available inputs.  As long as there are able-bodied people who want to work, there will be a capitalist brainstorming how to make money off the situation.  And to echo Leiter, in the long-run this works.

5. Leiter bizarrely insisted that “the” goal of socialism was to allow human freedom – legions of vocally authoritarian self-identified socialists notwithstanding.  He followed up with the classic socialist argument that saying “If you don’t do what I say, I won’t give you the job you need to avoid starvation” is just as much an abridgment of freedom as “If you don’t do what I say, I will shoot you.”

The standard reply, of course, is that there is a vast moral difference between getting you to do what I want by threatening to take away something to which you are morally entitled (e.g., your life) and getting you to do what I want by threatening to take away something to which you are not morally entitled (e.g. my assistance).  Thus, imagine you will be suicidally depressed unless I marry you.  Is my refusal to marry you morally equivalent to making you suicidally depressed by threatening to shoot you unless you break off your engagement to your willing fiance?  Of course not.  You aren’t entitled to marry me if I don’t approve, but you and your fiance are entitled to marry each other even if I don’t approve.

6. Moral entitlement aside, “If you don’t do what I say, I won’t give you the job you need to avoid starvation” is rarely relevant in modern labor markets.  Why not?  First, there are competing employers, so if you don’t like an offer, you can shop around for another.  (Smarter yet, take what you can get, but keep searching for a better offer).  Second, if you live frugally, even a relatively low-wage worker can save up a nest egg, making it easy to turn down unappealing offers in the future.  Naturally, you can object, “I still face the choice to either live frugally, work for some employer, or starve.”  If so, we’re back to my original reply: Complaining about being “free to starve” is the flip side of demanding that strangers support you whether they like it or not.

7. Leither took umbrage at my authoritarian interpretation of Marx.  I freely grant that Leiter’s invested more time reading Marx than I have.  However, I too have devoted long hours to Marx’s oeuvre (though I’ve spent far more reading about the actual history of socialist regimes), and I stand by my bleak assessment.

Did Marx explicitly say, “We should round up priests and execute them”?  To the best of my knowledge, no.  Yet that is the most reasonable interpretation of what Marx had planned.  What are we supposed to think when Marx makes Orwellian statements like,  “[B]ourgeois ‘freedom of conscience’ is nothing but the toleration of all possible kinds of religious freedom of conscience, and that for its part [socialism] endeavors rather to liberate the conscience from the witchery of religion” (Critique of the Gotha Program)?  It doesn’t sound like Marx plans to respect the rights of people who don’t wish to be so “liberated.”  If Leiter is right, why did so few Marxists protest Lenin’s religious persecution?  I say it’s because Marx provided the Orwellian language they needed to insist that Freedom is Slavery.  As I wrote two decades ago:

Innumerable social thinkers disagree with much of Marx’s thought, but praise his reflections upon human freedom, the depth of his insight in contrast to the shallowness of liberalism. Yet it is difficult to understand how Marx’s concept of freedom is anything more than a defense of tyranny and oppression. No dissident or non-conformist can see society as the “realization of his own liberty.” And what can the attack on “the right to do everything which does not harm others” amount to in practice, except a justification for coercing people who are not harming others? The problem with “broad” notions of freedom is that they necessarily wind up condoning the violation of “narrow” notions of freedom. Under “bourgeois” notions of religious liberty, people may practice any religion they wish (“a private whim or caprice” as Marx calls it); how could this liberty be broadened, without sanctioning the persecution of some religious views?

Listening to Leiter, a law professor at the University of Chicago, I couldn’t help but think, “Leiter is talking like Marx’s lawyer.”  When a Mafia enforcer says, “Sweet kids you got there; be a shame if anything happened to them,” a Mafia lawyer will vigorously deny that his client threatened to murder children.  Any neutral adult, however, knows that the Mafioso did exactly that.  I say the same about Marx’s writings.  “I’m going to bring you real freedom” is a classic Offer You Can’t Refuse – as Marxist revolutionaries have shown us time and again.  A skilled lawyer can obfuscate this scary truth, but a learned philosopher should not.

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