Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Coin Of The Realm

     “There is an old song which asserts that ‘the best things in life are free.' Not true! Utterly false! This was the tragic fallacy which brought on the decadence and collapse of the democracies of the twentieth century; those noble experiments failed because the people had been led to believe that they could simply vote for whatever they wanted... and get it, without toil, without sweat, without tears. Nothing of value is free. Even the breath of life is purchased at birth only through gasping effort and pain.”

     [Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers]

     A Democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only last until the citizens discover they can vote themselves largesse out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that the Democracy always collapses over a loose fiscal policy, to be followed by a dictatorship, and then a monarchy. – Alexander Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee

     It is a besetting fault of our species to denigrate, and often to discard, the insights and wisdom of those who have gone before us. We have a number of rationales for it:

  • “Times have changed.”
  • “We know more than they did.”
  • “There’s no longer a need for that.”

     …and so on. The ultimate consequence is always the same: we dismiss what our forebears learned, often through painful experience, and go our own way…and so suffer the very same pains they suffered, sometimes at a far greater intensity.

     I have a name for one category of this madness. My tag phrase for it is “The Land of Should.”

     When I was an engineer, I often had the care and feeding of major computer systems as one of my charges. In consequence, other engineers would come to me wanting to know why this or that thing they tried had failed. In a depressing number of cases, the plaint was accompanied by the phrase “Well, it should have worked.”

     My reply came to be a rather cynical one: “Ah, so we’re back to the Land of Should, where all programs work on the first try and no one ever runs out of RAM or disk space!” The point was seldom lost on my victim. After a few years of that, most of those engineers knew better than to use the word should in my hearing.

     This “should” crap has been a feature of human thinking since the origin of our kind. It’s nearly always a route to disappointment, often brings humiliation in its train…and is nowhere so pervasive as in contemporary politics.

     I could go off on a tangent about the subjunctive mood and why it doesn’t belong in a serious discussion of public policy, but I’ll spare you. The important thing about “should” is how the political flacksters who use it absolutely and utterly avert all responsibility for the consequences when their “shoulds” turn out to be fairy tales – indeed, fairy tales with dragons’ teeth. It’s part and parcel of a pernicious concept that originated with the Benthamite Utilitarians and seems destined to be with us forever: the utterly specious notion of the common good.

     There is not one shred of objective meaning in that phrase. They who wave it at us know it full well. It’s nothing but a bludgeon, used to batter us into surrendering our rights and property. Alternative formulations such as “the greater good,” “the public good,” “social benefits,” “the rights of society,” and so forth have the same objective content: zero. They’re camouflage for some hustler’s desire to take what is yours and mine by right and dispose of it however he desires.

     I know some Gentle Readers will argue the point. They’ll talk about the “social contract” and similar phantasms free of objective content. Here’s my rejoinder: I didn't sign your “social contract.” When it was being negotiated, I didn't have a seat at the table. End of discussion.

     The Heinlein quote at the top of this tirade is the key. Nothing of value can ever be free of cost. That’s why men must be free: so each of us can decide on his own value and priority scales and negotiate with others to mutual benefit. Freedom is the Ubervalue, without which no other values can be pursued.

     I’ve been much given to writing about money and currency, and why the U.S. is in its current fiscal / financial mess. Those screeds have often focused on the nature of money itself, how it differs from a currency and why the distinction must be honored. But what’s often lost in such discussions is the most important question about money and what it makes possible: How did money come about?

     Money was an invention of what Murray Rothbard and other intelligent students of the phenomenon have called spontaneous order. Monies have always arisen through the completely decentralized processes of free persons with two common desires:

  • The desire to save for the future;
  • The desire to trade with others.

     Societies throughout history tried monies of various kinds, often in competition with other monies. Over time one of the possible monies would emerge as the champion, displacing the others from the marketplace – because free people preferred it.

     Stable, reliable money is an emergent phenomenon of freedom. Freedom is the Ubervalue. Freedom makes all other values possible.

     But freedom has an implacable enemy. That enemy campaigns against freedom under banners emblazoned with The Common Good, or one of its equivalents. Ask such an enemy “But what if your ‘common good’ turns out to be not so good when it gets here? Will we get a refund?” He’ll denounce you in the harshest imaginable terms. In the words of a clever friend, he’ll call you “everything but white.”

     You might be wondering what set me on this course on this fine Victory in Europe day. Mostly it’s because of my morning news sweep, which was replete with nonsense from all the usual suspects about how this or that abridgement of our rights or truncation of our incomes would conduce to “the common good.” Most of them are on the Left, of course, but don’t be deceived: the Right has its own share of “common good” hustlers. They’re just as greedy for our rights and wealth as any socialist. Their fingers are just as sticky, too; consider the seeming permanence of ethanol subsidies if you doubt this.

     There, I think that’s out of my craw for the moment. Just remember:

Freedom is the Ubervalue.
Freedom is what makes other values achievable.

     And keep your powder dry. Present trends continuing, you’re going to need it. Ask the Venezuelans.


MSG Grumpy said...

Two of my favorite phrases are:

1. Nothing is quite as expensive as anything that is "free".

2. Social legislation can NOT repeal physical Laws.

I am to the point now that I no longer like the term "freedom" and now prefer "Liberty" as it gives the idea of cause and consequence that the first word doesn't (at least in today's society.

Another of my truisms (all of these are stolen from others, I would give them due credit, if I could just remember who said them)...

"Your actions speak so loud I can't hear a word you are saying".

MSG Grumpy

Francis W. Porretto said...

The word liberty has been twisted by successive political misuses and distortions until no two persons can agree on what it means. (Just a few years ago, the late Mario Cuomo proposed a new tax on New York State residents to fund "Liberty Scholarships." Other examples abound.) Just about everyone has an innate sense for what it means to be free.

That last statement is a paraphrase of Ralph Waldo Emerson.


A year or three ago I saw a great "Democrats and Republicans explained" picture. Two guys in Tshirts.

One had, in red, "I know what's best for me".

The other, in blue, "No, you don't".

Unknown said...

So socialism is the governmental embodiment of the common good.