Thursday, April 1, 2010

Todd Seavey to Give Ayn Rand Speech at Brooklyn College, Yale and Columbia

I just received this e-mail from Todd Seavey via the New York Republican Liberty Caucus:

As journalists everywhere should be documenting, I am trekking to three campuses this year to give Ayn Rand's speech "Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World" on the fiftieth anniversary of her delivery of it in these places (beginning with Yale and ending with Columbia).  This Sunday (coincidentally Easter), April 4, 2010, at 11am, I will give the speech (followed by Q&A) on the steps of the library of Brooklyn College, facing the main green.  Join me there or travel with me from Manhattan on the F train by rallying at precisely 10am that morning on the western steps of Bryant Park.  Nothing can possibly go wrong.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Polisphilia: A Modern Mental Disorder

"Polisphilia" means love of the state.  During the age of Pericles in fifth century (BC) Athens, the new governmental form of democracy gave birth to political leaders who had to persuade others. Sophists were the first teachers of legal and interpersonal skills necessary to the task of political success. Among their students were the first polisphiliacs, individuals obsessed with love of the Athenian state.

The modern obsession with the state grew out of German historicism.  Hegel thought so highly of the German state that he saw it as the end of history.  Marx hated the freedom and progress associated with laissez faire capitalism and yearned for a return to manorial servility, which would only be possible through the totalitarian restructuring of society.  He fantasized a statist dictatorship of the proletariat that would supplant liberty and suppress all who might disagree with his ideas.  Hitler, as well, saw the Third Reich as an object of veneration that would return Germany and the world to a romantic feudal order ruled by a barbaric master race through a totalitarian state that paralleled Stalin's ("socialism in one country") Soviet state and was embodied in Hitler's persona.

Polisphilia arrived in America from related sources.  Americans had been trained to distrust the state and to limit its powers.  But during the Gilded Age after the Civil War more than 10,000 Americans went to German graduate schools. They returned to found the American research universities at Johns Hopkins and Clark University and to reinvent Harvard.  As well, Richard T. Ely founded the American Economics Association, which initially was aimed to encourage institutionalist or historicist economics.

The Americans who returned from Germany educated others, and the leading Progressives of the 20th century such as John R. Commons, Herbert Croly and Walter Weyl advocated ideas that closely followed the historicist model.  This model considered the state to be the paramount human achievement.

Besides the large number of Americans educated in Germany after the Civil War, Americans were susceptible to the Progressive message because they had become suspicious of big business and hoped for a means of addressing the threat that they believed big business posed. The solution that the Progressives offered was big government.  But big government was not and could not be instituted without the succor of big business.  In fact, what the public objected to about big business was its ability to corrupt government.  The Progressives'  solution to the power of big business was to make government bigger. As polisphiliacs, the Progressives did not anticipate that the size of government would not change the motivations of government officials. To a polisphiliac, the state can do no wrong, and has a supernatural ability to solve all problems.  The Progressives could not believe that the bureaucrats and politicians employed in a larger government might be just as or even more corrupt than those employed in a smaller government.  There is no conceivable reason why the size of government should change human motivation.  But Progressive polisphiliacs beat the drum of big government relentlessly, regardless of its prospects.  Hence, from the beginning there was an element of irrational fanaticism in polisphilia.

Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican from New York, was the most important Progressive politician. He established the Federal Trade Commission (which aimed to be the first step toward socialist control of the economy through price controls) and his successor-cum-opponent William Howard Taft aimed to prosecute trusts under the Sherman Anti-trust Act.  But Roosevelt and Taft did not aim to attack all trusts, only "bad" trusts that might violate common law principles. Part of the reason was that the Sherman Anti-Trust Act never aimed at doing anything other than apply common law principles at the federal level.  Due to a surprise decision led by Justice John Marshall Harlan in the late 1890s, large companies, even if compliant with common law principles, were held to violate the Sherman Anti-trust.  The year of Harlan's death, 1911, the Supreme Court reversed this and held that large companies did not necessarily violate the anti-trust law merely because they were big.  However, the Sherman Anti-trust Act is clear that collusion among small companies violates the anti-trust law. So the ultimate effect of Roosevelt's and Taft's anti-trust project was to encourage the merger of companies and to harm smaller businesses which could no longer stabilize prices through collusive agreement.  The end result was, of course, increasing concentration of business, quite in the interest of large firms.   

Despite the dismal history that Progressive polisphiliacs had on offer, polisphiliacs demonstrated an obsessive unwillingness to revise their unflagging faith in government.  The reason is that in the late nineteenth century a doctrine called the Social Gospel transformed Christian faith into a social movement. Jane Addams and other Progressives were directly influenced by the Social Gospel.  The Social Gospel remains influential in the mainline Protestant churches.  It is a small step from saying that social action has a religious justification to saying that the state, as an instrument of such social action, is the object of religious veneration.  Thus, the advocates of the Social Gospel have a tendency to worship the state rather than God.

Not to be outdone, left-wing Catholics have since the 1970s advocated "liberation theology".  Outside of the Orthodox Jewish faith, Social Gospel Judaism is the dominant faith among American Jews.  Like their mainline Protestant and Liberation Theology brethren, Social Gospel Jews worship the state rather than God. This admixture of religious fervor and Progressivism results in the mental disorder known as polisphilia.

The fixation on the state as an object of worship likely has grounds in the anxiety that people feel in the face of freedom.  Being free to make one's own decisions, to make mistakes, to suffer the humiliation and financial loss of a failed business, is threatening to the self-concept.  Moreover, many who follow the Social Gospel faith rely on the state for their sustenance, as academics, school teachers, attorneys, bureaucrats, Wall Street bankers who receive ongoing subsidies from the Federal Reserve Bank, corporate executives who rely on government for contracts, support and protection, and the like.  These recipients of government welfare need to displace the guilt that they feel at (1) being wealthier than most taxpayers and (2) exploiting government and those poorer than themselves to further their own personal gain.  The response to such guilt is to claim that government is necessary to help humanity and that they are interested in expanding government primarily to help the poor, not themselves. 

Of course, polisphiliacs suffer from considerable cognitive dissonance or mental conflict. On the one hand they claim to care mainly for the poor. On the other, their standard of living and livelihoods depend on extracting gains from the poor in order to satisfy themselves.  This cognitive dissonance results in obsessive, often extreme degrees of delusional fantasy and at times hallucinations.  To wit:

-Polisphiliacs frequently believe that the public education system, which has rendered American students innumerate, illiterate,historically ignorant and lacking in the most basic of social skills is functioning successfully

-Polisphiliacs have a tendency to fantasize that government does a great job of maintaining streets and highways as well as infrastructure of all kinds

-Polisphiliacs believe that the Post Office is a major success

-Polisphiliacs believe that the New York City subway is a major success and therefore government should run the health system

-Polisphiliacs believe that socialism worked so well in India, the USSR, North Korea, Cuba and China that it should be imported here

-Polisphiliacs believe that the economies of Europe are as creative and innovative as the economy of the Untied States

-Polisphiliacs believe that the reason that 4 out of 5 new businesses fail but less than 3% of government programs fail is that the government programs are better executed and that government bureaucrats are more talented than private sector entrepreneurs

-Polisphiliacs believe that when government provides a service it is necessarily excellent and not to be criticized but that anything that private sector firms do is faulty

Polisphilia as a mental illness is spread via schools and universities.  Because psychologists and psychiatrists themselves are, as frequent beneficiaries of state largess, polisphiliacs, they are unwilling to classify it as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Pinni Bohm Admitted to NYU Master's Program

I have had many, many fine students through the years. Among my favorites is Pinni Bohm.  When he took my conflict and negotiation class, Pinni "aced" the exam with a 98, the highest score on the exam in my ten year history of teaching the course (I have given the exam as both a closed book and open book exam, and Pinni's 98 was the highest in either category, but he took it as closed book). Pinni also worked with me on an independent study and began an Intercollegiate Studies Institute group at Brooklyn College.

Pinni went on to Cardozo Law School, where he has been involved with the Federalist Society and the Law Review.  Despite this heavy workload, Pinni still finds time to post on my blog.

Recently, Pinni e-mailed that he has been admitted to the Masters in Taxation at the NYU Law School, the leading program in its category in country.

Governor Tim Pawlenty

Marty Siegel, a childhood friend who now lives in Minnesota, mentioned Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) as a presidential possibility.  I did my one second barometer test for GOP candidates (did he support the bailout) and he passed. He apparently did not support the bailout.  Esquire ran an interview with Pawlenty on February 12 in which he states:

"Whether the threats or doomsday scenarios that were painted were real or partially real or not real at all. We won't know the answer to that, but we do know that some very bright people said that we faced doomsday, and there were other very bright people who said that, at the very least, the danger was overstated, and this notion that they were too big to fail was untested or untrue."

This does not amount to a strong position on the gold standard or elimination of the Fed, but it is the closest I've seen in the GOP among the major candidates except for Ron Paul.

Sarah Palin supported the bailout and so she is off my list.  Mitt Romney, whom I've never trusted (his support for the health plan in Massachusetts and his background as a consultant to the military industrial complex make me uncomfortable) is slippery about his position in a Glenn Beck interview in September 2008.  First, Beck says that he (Beck) opposes the bailout (a point on which I've had to correct myself) then Romney makes this vague reply:

"Well, there's no question no one has any interest in bailing out the guys on Wall Street who caused this problem. In many respects the term 'Bailout' is a misnomer. The people who caused this problem ought to lose jobs, ought to lose wealth and are going to face some hard times by virtue of their mistakes but what we want to make sure is that the people on Main Street and the homes all over America, that these folks aren't the ones who are suffering and if we had a meltdown of our financial system where banks and financial institutions couldn't make loans, where your life insurance policy was suddenly worthless, where awful these kind of dramatic changes occurred, you'd hurt a lot of people. A lot of people would lose jobs. You could even throw the country into, well, a very severe recession or even the D word which I don't want to use, but it's that which the treasury secretary and the Federal Reserve are worried about and that's why they are taking such extraordinary action."

Romney does not get clearer as he proceeds, which leads me to conclude that he was a de facto bailout supporter. There were plenty of ways to avoid a depression besides throwing trillions at the New York financial institutions.  His opposition at that time might have mattered psychologically but it would not have changed the Paulson-Bush-McCain-Obama position.  Nevertheless, his waffling is over political fear that he might be blamed for supporting subsidies to Wall Street, which was the de facto effect of his position.

Thus, compared to Palin or Romney, Pawlenty is closer to the libertarian one. He is certainly not a libertarian. The Moderate Voice blog describes him:
"Tim Pawlenty is a mainstream conservative governor in a traditionally liberal state. When I use the term 'mainstream,' I mean simply that he is in the mainstream of Minnesota conservatism – decidedly less conservative than the heart of Republicanism in the south, but conservative enough for most of the rest of the GOP. This alone gives him a decent shot as an alternative to either Palin or Romney in the 2012 primaries."

Pawlenty's website gives some useful information:

"As Governor, he has balanced Minnesota's budget three times without raising taxes, despite facing record budget deficits. Governor Pawlenty's most notable accomplishments include proposing and signing into law significant new benefits for veterans and members of the military; enacting a property tax cap, eliminating the marriage penalty and cutting taxes; toughening the state's education standards; reforming the way teachers are paid through a nation-leading performance pay plan; instituting free-market health care reforms that increase accountability and provide tax credits to encourage the use of health savings accounts; and implementing a plan to Americanize our energy sources by generating 25% of the state's electricity from renewable sources by 2025."

As mainstream Republicans go, Pawlenty seems like a good choice.  Unless you think that the GOP is going to abolish the Fed tomorrow (ha, ha) the best strategy is to work with a minimax candidate (minimize the maximum possible loss). Pawlenty seems to fall into this category.  

Food Inc.

The movie Food Inc. that appeared last year (I saw it in June in Rhinebeck, NY's Upstate Films) seems on the surface to be just another left-wing protest movie. However, it captures a number of libertarian themes.  If you haven't seen it I highly recommend it.

First of all, it outlines serious risks associated with centralization of the food supply.  While centralization reduces costs it also creates risks such as the spreading of disease.  Second, it shows that USDA and government influence have contributed to harming small agriculture.  Organic farmers are often harassed by the USDA, which serves as an agent of large producers.  Third, it shows that many laws have been passed that reflect not the public interest but the interests of agribusiness.   After watching the movie, you will be glad that American agriculture has not been completely collectivized. I doubt that the movie's makers aim to pursue libertarian goals. However, the film makes clear that government's role has been to represent the large agribusiness firms, an inevitable outcome of socialist intervention. Government has not had a beneficial effect on the management of the nation's food supply.  Besides the issues the film raises, government has generally encouraged restriction of supply, which in other contexts would be illegal.  The effect has been to raise food prices.  At the very beginning of American socialism, during World War I, Herbert Hoover served as the food administrator whose job was to raise food prices by creating a food cartel.  This policy has been the American government's since the days of the New Deal.  Scientific management, in which the large producers excel, has driven down costs and prices in some areas.  The film argues that because they do not offer the same profit margins via fast food outlets, the same methods have not been applied to healthier foods like fruits and vegetables, which pound for pound now cost as much as and sometimes more than meat.

The aspects of the centralization story that libertarians might find most disturbing are first of all the role of government intervention in eliminating price signals.  If there are legitimate risks to centralization, the pricing ought to reflect this (i.e., lower prices would need to compensate consumers for the risk of contamination).  However, given restrictions on pricing and supply, government may eliminate these signals.  Second, the government has served as the enforcement wing of agribusiness in a variety of ways.  Libertarians will see at once that the pattern fits many other industries. Third, the courts' and regulators' harassment of small growers that the film depicts, whereby horrific conditions on agribusiness-related farms are given a free pass but much better conditions on small farms are found to violate trivial regulations that do not serve the public and the small farms are forced to close.

Overall, the film presents an argument against centralization of markets (that is, in favor of states' rights and elimination of federal regulation) and parceling of the market to prevent excessive emphasis on scale economies at the expense of innovation and other forms of competition. As well, it makes clear that when government gets involved, the producers will eventually dominate the public using the governmental system that was initially put in place under the pretense of serving the public.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

More on CNN's Persistent Lying about The Tea Party

Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit continues to do an excellent job tracking the ongoing misinformation and lies at CNN (h/t Jim Crum and Bob Robbins). Jim notes of the above crowd:  "Just in case you still trusted the state-run media… CNN on size of Saturday’s rally: 'At least dozens of people.' This is dozens?"
 Jim is right to call CNN "state run media".  Although the Democratic Party probably does not officially review CNN's coverage, CNN is loath to question anything that Barack Obama does, much like the state run media in a communist or Nazi state.