Perfect Equality is Social Death

Equality in the enjoyment of life can be achieved only by taxing society – which is to say, increasing net suffering – by an amount that exceeds the amount of suffering it ameliorates. The economic friction imposed by transaction costs alone ensures this result. To it must be added the friction of search costs – the costs associated with finding the resources you want to tax, and the people whose suffering you want to relieve.[1]

This static cost accounting is relatively straightforward. But there are hidden, dynamic costs, that go much deeper, and are much greater.

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No Flood Needed This Time Around

Birth rates are plummeting globally, so that even in countries where fertility is above replacement, it soon won’t be. In 150 years or so, the only people around will be religious conservatives, because other sorts of people with looser morals aren’t reproducing (thanks to the Pill, and all its knock-on social and economic effects, noticed in this video).

We have to step back and realize that what is happening to man right now is a pervasive and radical winnowing, comparable almost to the Flood. It’s natural selection at work, weeding out liberalism from the gene pool, and via co-evolution from the meme pool.  Put another way, liberalism is a lethal intellectual mutation. Whether it takes 50 years, or 1,000, liberalism is doomed, because it is at war with reality. Not only is it not nice to fool Mother Nature, it can never, ever be done in the first place. The Logos of the world is not mocked, no matter how amusing our petty pranks at his expense seem to us.

Fortunately for those who are deleting their own ilk from the world’s future, this winnowing may not involve catastrophic war, plague, or economic collapse. The autophagy of liberalism need not destroy civilization in the process. Civilization, even the West, might just squeak through and prevail in the end, preserving some of the best bits of what it has so far achieved. We might get through this winnowing with very little pain and suffering: no mass death, just a series of successively smaller, successively more traditional generations, as liberals die off after long, entertaining, meaningless lives.

Re-Post: The Vinland Voyages in Context

[Note: This article originally appeared at The Brussels Journal under the title "The Vinland Voyages, the Market, and Morality."]

Scholarship places the composition of the two Vinland Sagas in the Twelfth Century, in the case of The Greenlanders’ Saga, and in the Fourteenth Century in the case of Eirik’s Saga. But like most of the saga-literature the two narratives reflect a non-mythic oral tradition, linked with the settlement and early chronology of Iceland and Greenland, the general (if not the minutely detailed) trustworthiness of which much research both literary and archeological over the last century has attested. Quite apart from scholarly and technical arguments, even the ordinary reader must take the wealth of circumstantial detail and the laconic matter-of-factness of the storytelling as signs of an essential veracity. The two Vinland Sagas reflect the Nordic people at a particular epoch: The transformational moment, namely, at the end of the Tenth Century, when the old warrior-ethos began yielding to the new Gospel ethos and when success in the market began replacing notches on a sword haft as the paramount sign of masculine status. Both The Greenlanders’ Saga and Eirik’s Saga represent this change in the generational differences that distinguish Eirik the Red on the one hand from his male children, especially his son Leif, on the other.

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Dow 16K: Fake or Real?

Speaking as an investment professional of three decades – not, NB, as a prognosticator (we ought all to heed the OT condemnations of sorcery and divination) – the 16K DJI does not seem to me to be quite wholly a case of irrational exuberance, in that I can see a reasonable argument for it. As Proph recently wrote to me:

So maybe the best we could say is that the [financial markets are] completely rational given the complete irrationality of the prejudices of the age?

Yes. Included in the information processing system of the species – of which the financial markets are an important organ – are all the defects thereof.

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The Unz strategy

If nothing else, Ron Unz would win my admiration for his innovative and carefully argued treatises on anti-Gentile discrimination in college admissions and IQ-related topics.  For a long time now, he’s also been making the case for a large increase in the minimum wage (to $12/hour in his state of California).  A short summary of his argument is here.  An even shorter summary is

  1. Having wages so low that workers rely on welfare to survive means the taxpayers are effectively paying business’s labor costs for them.  If one is going to have welfare programs, there needs to be a minimum wage that keeps businesses from unfairly socializing their costs like this.
  2. Illegal immigration is largely driven by the allure of jobs at such low wages that only desperate third-worlders would take them.  Raise wages, and there won’t be jobs “Americans won’t do”, and businesses would have strong incentives to choose the now-available workers that they can legally hire.  Unz originally proposed his plan as the best way to dramatically reduce illegal immigration.

My own interest in the minimum wage stems from my commitment to the core principle of Catholic social teaching in industrial economies, namely that a man should be able to work for a high enough wage that his wife can be home with the kids.  (Even having the men away from home is not the Catholic ideal enunciated by Pope Leo, but it is the ideal compromise with industrialism.)  In a family wage regime, wages would be higher, and the labor pool would be smaller, because the only married women working (family businesses aside) would be those with some special career talent or ambition.  (And remember, we should not be designing economic policies exclusively for that minority of people with a passion for some sort of career.)

The question is, does raising the minimum wage automatically lead to the family wage regime, as most families choose the now available option of a father-only income?  Or does it just increase full family unemployment, with some families getting two incomes and some moving onto the dole?  Surely this depends somewhat on the cultural and legal environment (e.g. demands for proportional representation) and is a matter for careful thought.

Still, I am pleased that, for once, there is an idea on the table that conceivably might lead us toward a more Christian social order.  If you don’t think it would work, can you think of anything that would work better?

Dives in Hell

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Every commentator on this story I’ve read or heard seemed determined to avoid the point Jesus is trying to make.  Many are troubled by that fact that Dives in hell pleads for his family.  He’s not all bad.  It just seems wrong that he’s in hell.  Often I’ll hear priests tell us to ignore that last part.  Dives didn’t really care about keeping his brothers out of hell; we all know there can’t be charity among the damned.  In reading the parable, we should just stick to the main point Jesus is making and ignore (for theological purposes) those little details He adds that make the characters seem to come alive.  Perhaps this is true, but the question is whether in ignoring these details we really are preserving the main point.  The main point is supposed to be that Dives is condemned to Hell because he was rich, Lazarus was poor, and Dives failed to help Lazarus when he could.  In fact, even this is a softening of what Jesus said:  the most straightforward reading of the parable is that Dives is in hell simply for being rich when Lazarus was poor; a philanthropic sin of omission is not explicitly mentioned.  Now, if Dives were indeed a totally heartless man with no concern for anyone but himself, he would have much worse sins on his conscience than failing to help Lazarus.  His damnation would have nothing to do with Lazarus at all, but rather be a consequence of being a complete moral monster.

I once heard a priest say that, according to Thomas Aquinas, Dives is actually in purgatory, because he displays charity, which cannot exist in hell.  This is an interesting argument.  Charity is a supernatural virtue, and the damned are by definition not in a state of grace.  However, could Dives’ plea not be one of natural love and benevolence?  I suppose one could say that even natural virtues are blotted out of the souls in hell.  To me this sounds plausible, but hardly obvious.

The really important point, though, is that we must not alter the parable by making Dives completely wicked during life.  This destroys the point.  Let me therefore add my own embellishments, consistent with the story Jesus tells.

There was once a rich man who lived his whole life in luxury.  He was a pious and patriotic Jew, a loving brother and uncle, a fair and hard-working employer, a generous master, an active and public-minded citizen.  Reverence for God and love of his family guided his life.  He loved children, and many thought it sad that he never knew the joys of fatherhood himself, for his beloved wife having died years ago in a plague, and he could never bring himself to consider remarriage.  There were at his gate poor beggars, faceless shadow beings always on the periphery of his consciousness.  Always there were more important things to attend to.  “Should I toss them a coin?  Perhaps, but not now; let me now attend to my own household.  Perhaps, but not now; let me rest a little.”  And he never got around to them.  When death came, his brothers travelled far to be at his side.  The rich man blessed them all, saying “Do not mourn for me, dear brothers.  I go to the God of Abraham.”  With that, he drifted from consciousness.  He awoke to eternal torment.

Do you like my story?

“Good God, no!  You’ve totally warped the story by making Dives a good man who just does one bad thing.  It wouldn’t be fair for him to go to hell, when so much of his life was good.  You’re making God out to be a monster!”

Ah, but where did you get the idea that “mostly good” people go to heaven, that wide is the gate and broad is the path that leads to eternal life?  Not from the Gospel, I assure you!  We many be damned just for sins of omission to the poor, no matter how good we otherwise are.

“But this is terrifying!”

Indeed.  If you’re scared, you’re starting to get Jesus’ point.

Falsehood in Word is Evil in Deed

Noisy artificial limits of any kind ipso facto engender moral hazard. The classic example is the limited liability corporation, which encourages investors and managers to take risks over and above what they would undertake if their personal liability was not limited. FDIC insurance is another.

But this nomological principle applies everywhere. Wherever a limit is set by men that does not correspond to the limits set by nature and reality, agents are prompted to act as if the artificial limits were the real, natural, true limits: i.e., to lie, even if only to themselves, about what it is prudent or good to do, or else to lend credence to such a lie, and so do wrong, or ill, even if only unwittingly.

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The King’s Liberty

In no other system of government might a libertarian so enjoy the satisfaction of his principles, as in that of a sagacious king.

The more laws and restrictions there are,
The poorer people become.
The sharper men’s weapons,
the more trouble in the land.
The more ingenious and clever people are,
The more strange things happen.
The more rules and regulations,
The more thieves and robbers.

Therefore the sage says:

I take no action and people are reformed.
I enjoy peace and people become honest.
I do nothing and people become rich.
I have no desires and people return to the good and simple life.

- Tao Te Ching 57

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The Wilderness of Liberty

On the elevator up to the office just now, several fellow financial types from various firms were reading the paper. One of them muttered gleefully to the rest of us, sotto voce, “Our first day without a government!” We all chuckled. Another said, “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we’re free at last.” More hilarity ensued; happy laughter, rather than bitter. Another said, to furloughed government workers, “Let them do whatever they please.” I said, “They could get jobs!” We left the elevator in fine fettle, grinning on our way to our desks.

We were all financial types, granted; so, if only by virtue of our years of reading the Wall Street Journal, more likely than most  to understand and chafe at the absurdity and evil of the Fake Economy. But like most professionals, even financial types are more apt to be liberals than not. So, I was struck by the atmosphere of holiday, of jubilee, that suddenly pervaded our little rising car. A black secretary in the corner joined in the merriment; presumably she had had a real job for many years, and like the rest of us had paid lots and lots of taxes.

This little sojourn in the free country of the Fathers will probably be over before the end of the day. But there is a yearning in the American heart for that simpler and, therefore, more honest life. The question arises naturally in the mind: what if the whole monstrous edifice of waste and foolishness, of deceit and pretense just … vanished? What would that be like?

The question answers itself. It would be wonderful.

How To Argue Against Radical Freedom?

In a comment to Alan Roebuck’s recent post, Why You Need Traditionalism, Ita Scripta Est raises an excellent question:

[Hostility to radical freedom] distinguishes us from liberals and modern conservatives alike[, but t]o question radical freedom is to fundamentally question liberalism: something that good liberals simply cannot acknowledge.

What are effective techniques to argue against radical freedom?  Traditionalists generally argue from things like deontological moral theories, metaphysics, tradition, and biblical interpretation. Alan argues in the linked post from natural law and from divine command, for example.

Since deciding to try to give up being a modernist, my attentiveness to these modes of argument has risen. Back when I was a happy modernist, though, these arguments looked like “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.”

However, arguments claiming that liberalism had bad consequences bothered me.  Especially annoying were arguments to the effect that liberalism had bad consequences for vulnerable people but good consequences for me and people like me.  That my embrace of liberalism was about thieving and looting the weak. Continue reading