Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Gold! Always believe in your soul...

There are a great many people who put a lot of store by a gold-backed currency system, but your humble Devil has never been completely convinced of the merits of this approach. Via Timmy, Bronte Capital articulates a couple of my problems.
Gold is very expensive

When priced against real assets.

I know the gold bugs—and there are many of them—compare the amount of gold in existence (160 thousand tonnes being the total ever mined) with the amount of nominal money (including bank deposits etc) in existence. Gold adds up to $4.7 trillion at $950 per oz—nominal money maybe 60 trillion.

They thus assume that gold must go up.

I am not going to approach that argument—because much of the cash really is trash (or should be trash after we have got through throwing it out of helicopters).

What I want to note is the widespread headlines that maybe 50 trillion dollars of nominal wealth has been “wiped out” in this crisis and that something between 150 and 200 trillion remains. The official figure for the total US household wealth about 51 trillion. I don't have a number for the whole world—but just under 200 trillion is a reasonable guess in total—the US being just under a quarter of global activity—and having slightly more expensive equity markets than most the rest of the world.

Now does anyone really believe that the store of gold in vaults is worth over 2% of all tangible assets everywhere? Seriously?

Some would say that it is but how do you measure that value? What, precisely, is gold used for?
I know the gold bugs will hate this idea—because it harks back to the argument against gold—which is that it has no intrinsic value. We spend a lot of money (and kill a lot of birds with cyanide) to dig gold out of the ground only so we can bury it again with expensive guards on the vault.

Gold has no real value to other people; its very asset—that it is massively unreactive and does not tarnish—renders it pretty useless for any industrial process. You can't eat gold, you can't grow more of it, and it's pretty difficult to mine it—although this last has not stopped sudden influxes of gold causing massive inflation.

Gold is, essentially, only worth what people think it is—a fact that pretty much applies to our paper money too. Gold is not some magical store of wealth: although it has held its value when considered over centuries, even over the last twelve years it has fluctuated from about $280 per ounce (the Brown Bottom) to rather more than $1,000 per ounce. That is not what I call a stable currency.

Furthermore, there simply isn't enough gold to back the rapid economic growth—even that which is stable. As Bronte Capital has pointed out, at current prices (in other words, what people think gold is worth right now), there might be enough gold to cover 2% of world economic value (even after adjusting for the drop in value—correction of value?—induced by this crunch). And then what?

If we switched to entirely gold-backed currency, then the price of gold would have to go up by fifty times—to about $47,000 per ounce. That would, it's true, save a lot of governments' debt problems (although not ours: cheers, Gordon).

Alternatively, you would have to devalue the assets of the world to match the current price of gold. Which would make the current crunch look like child's play.

And then what? Economic growth stagnates? Do we need to mine more gold before we can see any real growth? We'd put our money supply into the hands of miners rather than governments and I'm not sure that either will be better than the other.

But there really isn't that much gold—it's rare, hence the only value that it has—so economics would, in effect, become a zero-sum game: for the rich to get rich, the poor would have to get poorer—which, despite the twitterings of the likes of Polly Toynbee and her Grauniad stablemates, is not currently the case.

Or have I totally misunderstood the situation? Hmmm, I don't think so although, since I am not an economist (and nor have I ever formally studied it), I am sure that there are nuances that I am missing. Please do comment.

And, just before people pop up and point out that I'm running contrary to the LPUK monetary policy, as seems to be tediously routine these days, I am not really. LPUK policy is to use multiple currencies, one of which would have to be backed by gold and would offer a store of value—for, in terms of what it can buy, gold has, as I said, held its value over centuries—should people wish to use it.

183 comments:

Budgie said...

Money is merely a model of the economic system. Gold, conch shells, paper - it doesn't matter, because no money has intrinsic value.

It cannot have because human needs, and human wishes, are more varied and extensive than any particular money unit. Gold is no better than any other trusted system because you cannot eat it (amongst other things).

Gold is only ever worth something because other people are willing to accept it for your needs. But if they will only accept conch shells, having gold is pretty pointless. Also when the Spanish shipped gold (freely plundered) from South America, they got inflation (because their 'money supply' had expanded when their economy hadn't).

In the end it comes down to the politicians: they get their greedy incompetent hands on the printing presses or a free supply of gold and we all suffer.

Ben said...

@DK: According to the World Gold Council: "Around 70% of gold demand is jewellery, 11% is industrial (dental, electronics) and 13% is investment (institutional and individual, bars & coins). "

no longer anonymous said...

"Do we need to mine more gold before we can see any real growth?"

Nope. In the 19th century there were a couple of decades (I forget which) of constantly falling in America prices as economic growth outstripped the increase in the gold supply.

Lost in Devon said...

DK: So a paper currency backed by absolutely nothing is better than gold? The "money" in your pocket is worthless - it's only the fact that someone else is willing to accept it in payment of debt that gives it any value. As long as that remains the case, well fine.

If central banks continue to inflate the money supply by "printing", that may not be the case for much longer.

I'd much rather hold a supply of gold as a reserve than any fiat currency.

Budgie: Good point, well made.

Budgie said...

"My name is Broon, James (G) Broon: pssst wanna buy some gold cheap?"

Devil's Kitchen said...

Lost In Devon,

"So a paper currency backed by absolutely nothing is better than gold?"

No, but gold-backed currency is not fundamentally better than paper currency. The value of both gold and paper money is only what people think it is.

"I'd much rather hold a supply of gold as a reserve than any fiat currency."

Sure: that's your choice. But I haven't actually advocated "fiat" money. In fact, the LPUK proposal actually rather destroys the idea of a fiat currency, no?

That is actually the point of multiple currencies: if the government decides to print huge amounts of its currency, then I can switch to another.

This is, of course, what happens in international currency markets: if one government devalues its currency, then investors switch their investments to a more stable currency.

DK

Chris said...

DK, I assume you read yesterday's Mises article on this very subject.

Rob Farrington said...

But when the Shit Hits The Fan, and we're all driving buggies and wearing mohawks, won't Tina Turner need a lot of gold for her earrings?

Ian B said...

"Or have I totally misunderstood the situation?"

Well pretty much yes, and I speak as a non-goldbug myself. The key thing to grasp is that wealth isn't money. Wealth is value of actual goods, services, etc- stuff people actually use. Money is just a medium of exchange. The obvious way to recognise this is to consider the government doubling the money supply- everyone has twice as much money, but aren't any wealthier, because the prices of all the goods have doubled. Economic growth is not the creation of more money. It's an increase in production.

Being simplisticish, if there were a fixed money supply (e.g. with gold or a fiat which is never expanded), as production increased, the price of all goods would fall- so-called "deflation". But we would all be getting wealthier because we would have more stuff, just as we are now all more computer-wealthy because the money-prices keep falling. It's wrong to fear deflation. Deflation is good.

So, you wouldn't be able to measure economic growth in terms of money units, if in a libertarian polity you'd be bothered with measuring it at all. If you wanted to know, you'd have to look at growth in production of goods and services, then you'd realise that this would be virtually impossible to meaningfully measure and agglomerate into a single statistic. Wealth is stuff- goods and services which are of value to the individuals consuming them, not money units.

pond life said...

Ultimately topsoil is the only thing with any real value as you can grow food in it. Its quite bulky though and difficult to get in your wallet.

ENGLISHMAN said...

The bottom line is that gold is worth whatever mr rothschild says it is,and having ripped us off for our now valueless paper currency,he is back for the big kill with gold,on average we the peasants get fucked every twenty years or so,1971 decimalisation,yes give us two hundred and fourty pennies and we will give you a hundred somethings,then the emu,and of course brittan regrets nothing,then they made us unemployed in the eighties,the peasants were haveing too much of a good life,and now the pirhanas are back to savage us some more,is it not time that we removed these parasites by force?

Drexciya said...

Spot on Ian B.

Although, I would take issue with the idea that deflation is always a good thing.
Despite its contemporary usage, deflation does not mean falling prices ; deflation is a reduction in the supply of money, which in turn tends to lead to falling prices, all other things being equal. Falling prices are therefore a symptom of deflation, which is why the two are occasionally conflated.

Like inflation, if deflation is brought about through governmental monetary policy and not through natural market forces, then chaos and wealth destruction ensues. We shouldnt fear lower prices, or natural changes in the money supply, only government intervention and fiduciary media.

Ian B said...

Drexciya-

Quite so, you're right to pick me up on that. When I said "deflation" I was referring to the Keynesian terror of prices naturally falling due to increased production, rather than government induced futzing up the money supply.

Gareth said...

"Gold is, essentially, only worth what people think it is—a fact that pretty much applies to our paper money too. Gold is not some magical store of wealth: although it has held its value when considered over centuries, even over the last twelve years it has fluctuated from about $280 per ounce (the Brown Bottom) to rather more than $1,000 per ounce. That is not what I call a stable currency."

Has gold fluctuated or the purchasing power of the dollar?

I don't think it's feaseable to return to a gold standard for the US - the paper money is just too large a pile. But if the gold standard had been kept in place the 'price' would not have fluctuated as it has in the last 30 years.

Mark Wadsworth said...

What Ian B says.

I'd just add that gold does have uses - for jewellery; for teeth fillings and apparently it conducts; electricity really wel, so they use a molecule-thin film of it on e.g. aircraft cockpit windows to heat them up and prevent condensation.

Anonymous said...

I don't give a flying fuck about the currency-related worth of gold, but this post has made me want to go and download some Spandau Ballet albums.

Anonymous said...

I recommend you read the Mises article posted by Chris. Even if all the gold is a lower price than all the other goods, if gold is used as a currency then forces of supply and demand will cause the price of gold to increase. Gold does get a lot of it's value from people's wishes to use it as a medium of exchange, in addition to direct uses.

Damo Mackerel said...

Here’s my two cent’s worth about gold.

Peace.
A currency backed by a commodity like gold will more often than not ensure peace in international commerce. Fiat currencies can be manipulated by the government and central banks and this can disrupt the international trade agreements amongst states. Will the relationship between the US and China sour, when the billions of dollars that the Chinese hold devalue further thanks to the Fed printing trillions of dollars?
Would America have being so willing to go to War in Iraq and Afghanistan if their currency was backed by gold and they therefore couldn’t simply print the money to fund the war chest?
Inflation.
Inflation is caused by the government printing money. With the rarity of gold and silver, a gold standard currency cannot be printed off. Therefore rampant inflation is curbed. While gold and silver do fluctuate in price they have never reach ‘nothing’. All paper currencies fail, the Dollar, Euro and Sterling will be no exception.
Uses.
When it comes to industrial usage. Gold does have some uses but I'm sure it is mainly used as a store of wealth and to protect against inflation. Gold does have intrinsic value and has being used as money for over 3000 years. Silver on the other hand has many practical uses; ranging from photography, to alloys, computer components, jewellery, high capacity batteries etc.
Anyhow Happy St Patrick’s Day.

Anonymous said...

Someone told me just recently that the Government are planning to make private ownership of gold illegal, so that get their hands on it all. This apparently is what the nazis did in Germany during the war. Is this true?

Anonymous said...

"Gold is, essentially, only worth what people think it is"

That's true of EVERYTHING. Both paper money and gold have "real" value. There's no such thing was "non-real" or "intrinsic" value! It is a concept spread by economically illiterate idiots, usually going on about how we should burn down all the hair salons and banks and replace them with corrigated iron sheds full of northerners hitting bits of metal.

I think the mistake you've made, which permeates all the broken logic in your post, is to regard currency as something that exists parrallel to so-called """real""" assets rather than being a """"real"""" asset itself. When you exchange something for currency (or currency for something), you are effectively bartering.

The difference between using currency and using say cow hides or shiny beads is that currency is uniform (1 unit of it is worth the same as every other unit of it), so it is universally comparable. Usually it also has other attributes that mainly just make it more convenient - such as non-perishability (apples arent a good currency, because they rot away quickly), being mass and volume dense (not so important these days, with electronic transfer, but if you want to exchange wealth manually it's best if it's actually portable), Etc.

As such, you do not need to shadow every unit of ""real"" wealth with a unit of ""non-real"" currency wealth. Rather, you only need to have enough of the total wealth in currency to equal the total amount of wealth that people want to trade at a given time. This is easily possible with a very small amount of currency.

I think it's also important not to fixate on gold specifically. There is no difference between using gold and using silver or platinum. If the trade is an electronic abstraction rather than an physical transfer you can use practically anything that is non-perishable (iron, plastic, coal, company shares, collateralised debt obligations, whatever).

The evil that exists is not the lack of use of gold by the state as its currency, but the Legal Tender laws that grant the state currency an effective monopoly. The solution is not to state plan currency better, but to privatise currency.

Bishop Brennan said...

Whilst I get the theory of what the gold bugs say, unfortunately it is impractical in reality.

The deflation resulting from a gold-backed currency would require people to accept cuts in wages - something that won't work with people's psychology (even if they are better off in real terms).

This is my fundamental problem with economic fundamentalists - they take a bunch of assumptions that are useful in thinking about economics, and change them into dogma. Instead, they need to learn about human psychology - and how different it is from 'rational economic man'.

Sorry - but it won't work.

Competing currencies on the other hand - maybe. But quite an experiment to undertake, especially on the back of current financial market turmoil... All I want is a monetary policy that doesn't seek to use 'quantitative easing' - and, unfortunately, Bank independence doesn't seem to guard against it. Maybe competition will - until companies try to pay employees in some worthless currency (Woolworth's bonds anyone? After all, they'll say, 'we've been in business for 100 years...' And then the taxpayer will be asked to bail out the ignorant, I mean unfortunate.).

Dave H said...

"massively unreactive and does not tarnish-renders it pretty useless for any industrial process"

I'm being silly and O/T because these are minor applications but its inertness is sometimes an asset. PCB edge connectors are usually gold-plated.

Believe it or not, plenty of research labs have pumps that have seals made of gold. Oh, and ruby valves and sapphire pistons (both synthetic and the latter colourless). It seems a shame to throw them away when they become damaged. I've found the pistons are quite good for dressing the wheels on a bench grinder.

Ian B said...

Someone told me just recently that the Government are planning to make private ownership of gold illegal, so that get their hands on it all. This apparently is what the nazis did in Germany during the war. Is this true?

Which government? The UK one? Dunno if it's true, but it's not what the nazis did- it's what Roosevelt did in the 1930s in the USA, Land Of The Free. Made private gold ownership illegal and confiscated it all. That's why it's all in Fort Knox. Stole the lot, so he did.

Ian B said...

The deflation resulting from a gold-backed currency would require people to accept cuts in wages - something that won't work with people's psychology (even if they are better off in real terms).

No it wouldn't. Keynesian mything again- "money illusion". It would require them, like everyone in the marketplace, to steadily increase their productivity. Which is, to all intents and purposes, what economic growth is.

A cleaner with a vaccum cleaner is more productive than a cleaner with a carpet sweeper. A production line improved such that it cuts the number of workers required from 10 to 5 is more productive. And so on.

So, no need for wage reductions, though as in any improving economy, employee number reductions would be the norm, freeing them up to produce something else. A factory shedding workers while maintaining or increasing its production as the price of the goods it manufactures falls is a Good Thing. It's a cause for celebration, not despair.

Revolution Harry said...

One of the foremost advocates of a return to a gold backed currency is Edward G Griffin, the author of 'The Creature From Jekyll Island'. He says: "If gold is so useless as a backing for money, why are the bankers trying to acquire it as fast as they can? And why are central bankers so strongly opposed to gold or silver-backed currencies? The answer is obvious. It is because precious metals still are, and will continue to be, a universally recognized storehouse of value, and that value cannot be manipulated by bankers OR free-spending politicians. But fiat money CAN be – and always will be."

Personally, I'm not completely convinced about a return to the gold standard but what I an absolutely certain about is that current fractional reserve system of fiat paper currency is, at best, deeply unfair.

The power to increase the money supply does not lie exclusively with politicians. It mostly lies with bankers. The recent instance of 'quantitive easing' is not the only way the money supply increases. Graham Towers, the former Governor of the Central Bank of Canada summed it up when he said: "Each and every time a bank makes a loan, new bank credit is created -- new deposits -- brand new money." Brand new money, out of thin air, that adds to the money supply and without a subsequent increase in goods and services is inflationary. Inflation itself is a form of hidden taxation.

But there's another consideration highlighted by former central banker and Belgian economist Bernard Lietaer, who explained it like this: “Money is created when banks lend it into existence. When a bank provides you with a $100,000 mortgage, it creates only the principal, which you spend and which then circulates in the economy. The bank expects you to pay back $200,000 over the next 20 years, but it doesn't create the second $100,000 - the interest. Instead, the bank sends you out into the tough world to battle against everybody else to bring back the second $100,000."

Quite simply there is never enough money in the economy at any one time to pay back all existing debts. The only way to avoid this becoming a problem is to constantly increase the money supply. Hence the obsession with 'economic growth', leading to a boom and inevitably followed by a bust (or the economic cycle as they like you to believe). The increase in the money supply during Labour's time in power has been staggering. It rose from around £250 billion in 1986 to nearly £1,500 billion in 2006. Figures for January 2009 showed it was growing by 16.3% pa.

Of course there's much more to the 'scam' than this but in his way Englishman pretty much sums up the bigger picture. Yes we do have to remove these parasites but I'm not sure force is the way. They're ready and waiting for that. People power and mass non-compliance is much more likely to be effective.

Anonymous said...

with a physical asset (in thise case gold) you can far easier control the amount of "credit" in the system when combined with 100%reserve banking.
with this you can then on a world wide scale slowly and carefully adjust the living costs within developed countries (whilst helping developing countries through trade instead of subsidy) until they are roughly similar, this then allows a one world currency to be put in place making trade far easier and cheaper within the global market.
A currency backed by a physical asset is only of use if the fractional reserve reserve banking is removed, as that is what destroyed the gold standard in the first place.
creation of credit (inflation) should be limited by the private sector employement, thus restricting the public sector size.
If done i a very controlled manner by goverments and not central banks then a world wide balance of living costs/standards can one day be achieved in a peacefull and non destructive manner, the opposite of what the world has seen far too much of in recent centuries.

Ian B said...

Hence the obsession with 'economic growth',

Ye gods, it's that chestnut again. Economic growth is the increase in provision of goods and services in the economy. It is how we get more stuff. It is also a natural consequence of a free market in which individuals compete. Getting more stuff is a Good Thing.

There is a myth that economic growth is "imposed" on us, that we're all being tricked into it for the benefit of greedy capitalists, that "consumerism" is all a con in which people are tricked into buying things they don't need, and how it all ought to be stopped. That's bollocks, and it's nasty bollocks too.

Anyone who wants to stop economic growth is calling- quite specifically- for an end to all economic freedom and competition. They are saying that people should never have more real wealth. That we should get poorer. That some Wise Owls should dictate every good and service, and every price thereof. Anyone who wants that needs to get themselves over to the Green Party to mingle with their fellow haters of all humanity, pronto.

Anonymous said...

Gold is just a reliable store of wealth. A conduit for trading goods and services recognised throughout the world and unable to be devalued by simply making more of it (unlike the pound or the dollar which is currently running off the presses as we type).

So gold is not wealth. It is a reliable and trusted form of money that cannot be devalued by simply producing more. So when people lose trust in other currencies they buy gold as a store of wealth and a form of money they trust.

Gold is therefore, by definition, worth much less when all is hunky dory and worth lots more when things are tough and people fear monetary disaster.

Of course, the yanks confiscated all gold in the 30's and there are rumours that Brown might do the same. The reasoning is simple enough. They want to control the money supply and if they destroy the pound and the dollar gold is all there is that's worth anything in world trade - so unless the Chinese currency takes over as a reserve currency you can bet these thieving cunts will want to nick it off us..

Perhaps an argument for buying that shotgun after all...

Revolution Harry said...

Ian B, as the money supply is inflated, by access to credit being made easy, so economic activity is increased. If it's done quickly and with no corresponding increase in goods and services we get a boom. This is unsustainable making a 'bust' inevitable. When the supply is reduced, for whatever reason, there's an automatic reduction in economic activity. Such is the power private bankers have over the economy.

The operative word in my statement was 'obsession'. Economic growth on its own is fine, though I take issue with your idea that 'getting more stuff is a good thing'. Depends on the 'stuff'. It's also highly questionable to equate 'stuff' with 'real wealth' but that's a much longer discussion.

I'll add one more quote, this time form Robert H. Hamphill of the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank: "We are completely dependant on the commercial banks. Someone has to borrow every dollar (it's actually around 97% in this country) we have in circulation, cash or credit. If the banks create ample synthetic money we are prosperous; if not, we starve. We are absolutely without a permanent money system.... It is the most important subject intelligent persons can investigate and reflect upon. It is so important that our present civilization may collapse unless it becomes widely understood and the defects remedied very soon."

Hysteria said...

well they ain't taking my gold chain. !!!

Ian B said...

Economic growth on its own is fine, though I take issue with your idea that 'getting more stuff is a good thing'. Depends on the 'stuff'.

No it doesn't. People getting more of what they want is a Good Thing, period. If you have more stuff than you want, fine, get rid of it or even better give it to me. If you think there is some kind objective method of deciding what stuff people should have, and that they shouldn't be allowed to have stuff that others decide they shouldn't have, then I think that's reprehensible.

Getting more stuff is what the western world and free markets are all about. Stuff is great.

Revolution Harry said...

I've just stumbled across this quote from Alan Greenspan, taken from an article he wrote in 1966.

“[The] abandonment of the gold standard made it possible for the welfare statists to use the banking system as a means to an unlimited expansion of credit.... In the absence of the gold standard, there is no way to protect savings from confiscation through inflation. There is no safe store of value. If there were, the government would have to make its holdings illegal, as was done in the case of gold.... The financial policy of the welfare state requires that there be no way for the owners of wealth to protect themselves.... [This] is the shabby secret of the welfare statist's tirades against gold. Deficit spending is simply a scheme for the 'hidden' confiscation of wealth. Gold stands in the way of this insidious process. It stands as a protector of property rights.”

Dk as a welfare statist, lol.

http://www.cctvstar.blogspot.com said...

READ ALL ABOUT IT!

THE NHS IS PAYING THE PRICE FOR POLITICISATION!

wv = clumbing?

Paul Lockett said...

The choice between a hard or fiat currency seems to come down to whether you want your currency to work better as a store of value or a medium exchange.

If you want it to be better as a store of value, gold seems to work better, as it is harder to inflate.

If you want it to be better as a medium of exchange, a fiat currency seems to work better, as it is easier to manipulate it to keep prices as denoted by the currency reasonably stable.

I lean towards the second approach - if you want to hold gold as a store of value, you should just go out and buy it; there's no need for the state to get involved.

Ian B said...

Paul, I (like I think many people) would argue that the problems begin when governments try to manipulate currency values to keep prices stable. Prices aren't supposed to be stable. Neither is there a law of nature that house prices must automatically rise year on year. It's bankers and governments trying to achieve these irrational objectives that vastly exacerbate economic stability.

In a truly free market, the price-values of most goods and services will generally, over time, naturally fall.

Anonymous said...

I don't see why it's tedious to point out the variance between your posts on this blog and the articulated policies of the political party you help to run.

You, DK, are the man who demands that lying politicians be held accountable, that they be called out when they mislead, that they explain their inconsistencies. It is hardly unreasonable that you and your party should be held to the same standard as others.

In point of fact, you should be damned pleased to explain your contradictions and your deviations from LPUK policy because your party, with its hostility to the existing political set-up, should be an example of how things ought to be done, an example of accountability and honest communication.

If you and/or LPUK aren't prepared to deliver on these counts, you're showing yourself to be no different from the mainstream parties in ethos and attitude.

Anonymous said...

Less John Galt, more Moist von Lipwig, this article...

Paul Lockett said...

Ian B, you say prices aren't supposed to be stable. I would argue that prices aren't supposed to do anything. A price is just an indication of relative value.

To address your point: "In a truly free market, the price-values of most goods and services will generally, over time, naturally fall."

At present, denoted in gold, they might, but denoted in Sterling they probably won't. It all depends how you measure price. If we had a gold backed currency and huge new reserves of gold were discovered, I'd expect prices to start rising as the scarcity value of gold started falling.

I agree on the point about house prices, but that is a slightly separate issue, as it involves the government deliberately manipulating the price of one item to increase it faster than the average rate of inflation.

Joseph said...

Paul Locket: Going off the gold standard has not given us price stability. Instead we have had inflation, caused by an unrestricted increase in the supply of the fiat money.

Revolution Harry: It is incorrect to say that fractional reserve banking requires a constantly increasing money supply. When debts are paid off, say by a transaction from an account at Bank A to an account at Bank B, the money used in repayment does not disappear, but can in fact be used by the account holder at Bank B, perhaps to pay off his own debts. Money can be used to pay off debts more than once. I expect that you have been misled by some poor information on the Internet, perhaps the film "The Money Masters" or such like. The mechanism of fractional reserve banking can be hard to grasp, especially when there is so much misinformation around about it. It would be a legitimate form of banking if only depositors were informed of the risks of the bank going bust. Such misinformation is often found along criticism of central banks, such as the Federal Reserve, much of which is justified, as these institutions interfere with the rate of interest as it would be determined on a free market.

Anonymous said...

I recommend reading 'The Power of Gold" by Bernstein (published by Wiley)

Covers all the issues and points out the ultimate folly of gold.

Pa Annoyed said...

Money is just a representation of the trades (barters) currently in progress. Rather than trading goods now for goods now, you can trade goods now for goods later. Money measures the gap while the trade is in progress.

The money supply depends not only on how much trade is delayed, but also for how long. If people trade the same amount for the same price, but with double the gap between giving and receiving, the money supply must double too.

Look up the 'equation of exchange'.

Ian B said...

Paul-

Ian B, you say prices aren't supposed to be stable. I would argue that prices aren't supposed to do anything. A price is just an indication of relative value.

Gaah, that's what I meant. By saying "they aren't supposed to be stable" I meant, they aren't supposed to do anything in particular. Same thing.

To address your point: "In a truly free market, the price-values of most goods and services will generally, over time, naturally fall."

At present, denoted in gold, they might, but denoted in Sterling they probably won't. It all depends how you measure price.


Well, I used the term (of my own anachronistic invention, admittedly) "price-value" to mean, the price in some hypothetical, stable, unmanipulated currency. If the money supply were to be held entirely fixed- not gold, expanding slowly, or fiat, expanding rapidly, then most goods would, over time get cheaper because their production would become gradually more efficient. That's not true of everything of course- some goods may become scarce- but competition always works to increase efficency and thus lower costs.

So "keeping prices stable" is an error, which was the point I was making. Since most prices are trying to deflate, government "stability" automatically causes inflation of the currency, since inflation of the currency is the only way to compensate for the natural price deflation (that ignores that also, as has been pointed out, modern governments deliberately inflate prices too).

Take bread; one hundred years ago much of the grain was produced on small inefficient farms and baked in small inefficient bakeries. Now bread is produced from efficiently mass-farmed grain, in large, efficient factory bakeries (and transported on more efficient trains and lorries too, and sold in more efficient supermarkets). A loaf of bread is thus cheaper in terms of resources than it was a century ago and- if the currency were not inflating- would be much lower in price.

The Refuser said...

Gold has no real value to other people; its very asset—that it is massively unreactive and does not tarnish—renders it pretty useless for any industrial process.
If it wasn't for this very property I doubt you would have been able to type this utter gibberish. What do you think those all gold coated contacts are for? Bling?

NorrieC said...

DK
"And then what? Economic growth stagnates? Do we need to mine more gold before we can see any real growth? "


IanB
"Hence the obsession with 'economic growth',
Ye gods, it's that chestnut again. .... Getting more stuff is a Good Thing."


I'm not what you call a gold bug. I'm not even an economist. Indeed until relatively late in my life I paid no attention to money. Hated the subject. During the last two years, however, I've read a lot both from Keynesians and Austrians. Having done so, I declare that I am more Austrian than Keynesian and that I have invested to a modest degree in gold coins. This is a hedge against currency default and the associated ramifications of which I am convinced of its imminent arrival.

The quotes above are probably the single most popular 'anti-gold standard' arguments. The argument goes that if you don't have an expanding money supply you cant have growth and if you don't have growth we'd all be poor.

I'd like to put the other side of the growth argument. Lets say, for arguments sake I agree that we would not have grown to the extent that we have all of the things around us today with out the monetary growth experienced in the last 80 years. The growth we talk about is growth in just about everything; money (hard and digital), debt (because its a debt-based system), raw material consumption, energy consumption, waste production, pollution, population etc etc. Growth when described as a %, say 2% growth seems quite benign. But of course, its compounded.
e.g.
Are humans smarter than yeast
Geometric Growth

Since the above list are all interrelated then the compounded growth is true for all. This is what we call progress.

However, compounded growth follows a geometric curve, exponential in nature resulting in this:
Population Growth
(please ignore the link with oil for the purposes of this treatise. It is the growth of population that I'm trying to highlight)

Clearly, (and hopefully this can be stated without argument), geometric, exponential growth in anything is simply not possible indefinitely. That agreed, then, leads to the conclusion that at some point the growth must plateau and either stay flat or contract. Flattening or contracting spells death to a debt-based, fiat , Fractional Reserve Banking System. The FRB system depends on continuous exponential expansion:
Market Ticker - Reserve Banking

So, in conclusion, whilst it may be argued that growth in the past was required to get us to where we are today, I would argue that growth cannot continue and hence we need a new financial system that matches a non-growth future.

Paul Lockett said...

Ian B, I'm in agreement with the vast majority of that.

With regard to price-value and a fixed vs expanding currency, I don't think it makes that much difference. With a fixed currency, prices would fall, but incomes would stay steady. With an expanding currency, prices would stay constant, but incomes would rise. Either way, the benefits of improved efficiency would be enjoyed. With your example of a loaf of bread, although the price in Sterling may not have fallen that much, we can all enjoy much more bread now as we are earning more in Sterling.

The only difference I can see is the one I highlighted initially about gold - a fixed currency makes a better long term store of value, because it is likely to buy you more over time, whereas an expanding currency makes for a better medium of exchange, as you know roughly what it will buy you over the medium term.

Ian B said...

NorrieC, you've committed what one might call the "Green Fallacy", which is to just extend a line to infinity, realise it then becomes infinite, despair and demand an end to everything.

This is a very important point, because our ruling class are infected with this fallacy, and it pops up all over the place, even among supposed libertarians. What's wrong with it?

Firstly, and this cannot be overstated, growth is a natural consequence of freedom. Self interested persons seeking to maximise their benefit in trade will naturally tend towards greater productive efficiency- which leads to more production, which leads to "growth". Secondly, growth is a natural consequence of technological and organisational progress- new techniques, new materials, new methods of working- all these again increase efficiency. What do I mean by efficiency? Greater production for the same effort. This isn't some artificially imposed "plan" by somebody. There isn't somebody deciding "Lo, we shall have growth". It's what happens, without fail, unless you deliberately stop people improving. It isn't an evil plan by bankers or anyone else to force us to grow. We can't help it.

Secondly, anyone on the steep bit of an S-Curve looks like they're on an expnonential on small scales. There is no expectation of "infinite" growth. No expectation that the economy will grow forever. It will keep growing while it has capacity to do so, but at some future time, nobody knows when, growth will naturally slow and even stop when we've run out of things to invent and improvements to make. We are nowhere near there yet. Not even seeing it on the horizon. But it will come. There is no growth singularity in the future.

And thirdly, it is common to glibly say we've had enough growth now and we bally well ought to stop. Well, you might think you've got enough stuff, but I haven't got enough stuff and the average subsistence farmer in Africa hasn't got any fucking stuff at all, and it is reprehensible to tell him he can't have any because of an imaginary infinitude on a misunderstood graph. We have vast potential for improving our productivity, absolutely vast. We've only been in the industrial revolution for about three centuries, not even that. There is shitloads left to discover and invent. How dare you tell people on the breadline they're rich enough?

And fourthly, nobody is forced to work. If and when people feel they're rich enough, they're free to retire and enjoy it and as we all get richer that may well happen. As efficiency improves, and an individual finds he can earn a comfortable living with twenty hours work a week, or ten, then they'll maybe choose to reduce their production that way. Not forced by the state, but of their own free will. You'll notice that the relatively small number of people doing that indicates that they do not feel they've got enough stuff at the moment.

So, there is no Malthusian Singularity. Just the natural expansion of human production into new areas, enriching us all. The infinity is not a problem, because it doesn't exist.

Pa Annoyed said...

"We're all going to die one day, so we'd better stop living now, before it's too late."

Another way to look at it is to think of the inflation of prices as saying that goods put off until the distant future are worth less than goods redeemed now. Part of that being down to the aforementioned progress.

If money measures the value of trades in progress, then changes in the value of money must reflect changes in the worth of those traded goods over time. So long as goods are getting cheaper in real terms, so long as it is of more value to have it now than later, prices must go up.

Anonymous said...

You may want to review this video from Zimbabwe.

Anonymous said...

I work in the mining industry here in Kalgoorlie in Western Australia.

This little story may signify nothing, but in light of the conversation may be of some interest.

There is a privately owned gold mine (Russian oligarch apparently) which has recently suspended production. According to those working there the gold is there, able to be mined, and prices are as high as they have ever been.

So why shut it down?
My conclusion is this chap believes gold still has a long way to climb in price. Hes not beholden to any shareholders so can take a punt on this without answering to anyone.

Now this is all conjecture, but if some one like this is effectively taking a loss today (theres an annual government fee for leases) they must be reasonably confident in the info they are working on.

And just out of curiosity, why is gold the only metal menationed, has the value of silver dropped to the stage it is no longer feasable to use as backing for currency? (small change etc?)

Cheers, the mole.

H said...

People look whistfully back to gold (and silver and copper) as money because there is only 'so much of it'. I learned the folly of paper fiat currency when watching the latter part of the BBC series of Hitchikers Guide. There, they implement the leaf as currency, and end up controlling inflation by burning down the forests. Hmmm.....

Revolution Harry said...

Ian B, you appear to have misunderstood the original point I was trying to make which was that a constant inflation of the money supply with an inevitable increase in economic growth is necessary for the iniquities of the fractional reserve system not to become too readily apparent. Growth is not just a product of increased efficiency. More money in the system enables more trade to take place, so demand is increased. If they reduce the amount of money in the system, for whatever contrived reason, the economy contracts. This is the power they have. Our economy requires a sufficient number of people and businesses going into a sufficient amount of debt in order for it to function at all, let alone to the benefit of the majority. Growth due to technological advances and greater efficiency in a stable economy is fine but that is a separate thing.

Regarding 'stuff', the one element you failed to mention was availability of resources. This is a key factor. Do you expect all 6 billion people on the planet to have the lifestyle of the average Westerner? If so how long will be able to sustain this? In asking this I'm not considering the spurious claims regarding increases in carbon dioxide.

Ian B said...

Harry, there is no such thing as demand-side growth, which is the point I keep trying to get across. Ye who rail against "growth" because of Fractional Reserve Bank just aren't talking about growth at all. Growth is an increase in the production of goods and services. It has nothing to do with the money supply. Asking for no growth, as NorrieC does, and as the Greenier-Than-Thous do, is asking for deliberate economic destruction. That's mad talk.

The amount of stuff isn't directly proportional to resources, and the promotion of the idea that it is is another modernist moralist belief that we have to discredit. Think of the resources used to make a modern iPod compared to a huge great wireless or phonograph a century ago. The iPod does far more, with less. We use different, more efficient resources as technology progresses. Additionally many services require negligible physical resources. Supplying information via the internet is far less resource intensive than printing books, while an increase in the supply of dancing girls or poets uses hardly any at all.

Yes, I do expect all 6 billion people on the planet to have the lifestyle of the average Westerner. Wait- no I don't. I expect all 6 billion or more to have a far better lifestyle than we put up with right now. The sooner the African economy can get moving, the better.

Roger Thornhill said...

Revolutionary Harry@3:09pm

"Quite simply there is never enough money in the economy at any one time to pay back all existing debts."

This is plain wrong. Stop believing the nonsense put out by the "Gappist Monks" in Social Credit.

When you borrow £100,000 and spend it, the £100,000 is in the economy. When you begin to repay your loan ALL the interest currently outstanding is first paid off and if there is anything left over, the principal is reduced. The Bank takes the interest. What does it do? Sit on it? Light fat cigars with it? No, it spends it on wages, flights, marble foyers. The interest payments are back in the economy. As you pay back the principal, THAT is destroyed (and in practice, re-created for lending elsewhere) so the net money in circulation does not change overall, but is temporarily expanded to enable the borrower to get started. So, no "shortage" of money to repay.

Yes, there is a propagation delay, but not that different than with a 100% reserve system.

P said...

Dear Devil,

For the sake of correctness I must point out to you that nowadays your statement:

"Gold has no real value to other people; its very asset—that it is massively unreactive and does not tarnish—renders it pretty useless for any industrial process."

couldn't be more wrong!

Take a look at:

http://www.siliconfareast.com/semicon_matls.htm

I can't give you a figure, but the electronics and semiconductor industries are significant takers of the annual output of gold, which contributes to the pricing in combination with paranoid investment and jewelery. As our entire world becomes more and more technological and reliant on electrical chips this will only continue.

Just a brief thought for you:

what is a Spanish "piece of eight" worth now in terms of its weight of silver content at mid-market rate? Around 8-10 quid.

The Spanish piece of eight was the world currency for some two centuries. Now, I've no idea what the relative purchasing power of that coin was 200 years ago in my local economy, but given that in the 1960s the rough nominal price of a pint was 1/20th to 1/30 of what it is today (2/6 then - £3 now) I think that I can be absolutely sure that in 200 years my pound today won't have any meaningful value at all. Meanwhile I could convert my piece of eight into calories pretty meaningfully.

As you say, it's just a question of finding enough of something to store the value. Fiat currencies are dud, dud, dud.

Best wishes,

P

Mark Herpel said...

Privately issued Digital Gold Currency such as GoldMoney.com is the long term solution. Private currencies working alongside fiat.

Mark Herpel
editor@dgcmagazine.com

Anonymous said...

@Ian B

Whilst your earlier comments about gold and economics were spot on (in the context of our current economy), your later ones about growth are either simply your opinions (widely shared) or palpably false.

You write that "Asking for no growth, as NorrieC does, and as the Greenier-Than-Thous do, is asking for deliberate economic destruction. That's mad talk". That's a value judgement. You might think that 'growth' is a necessary and good thing, NorrieC (and others, including me) might disagree. Your value judgement that "economic destruction" is "mad" is based upon an underlying assumption that the current economic model is a sensible and sustainable one for mankind to pursue. It's a perfectly valid position to start from a different set of assumptions, and hence reach different conclusions.

But it's worse than simply being a value judgement. You explain that technology allows for more efficient resource use in production. You fail to point out that such efficiency gains don't necessarily mean that total resource use declines; we often end up with more resources being consumed, just more efficiently (Jevons Paradox).

But let's give your proposition the benefit of the doubt, and presume that less resources are being consumed through efficiency gains. The point is that they are still being consumed. If you're tipping water out of a glass, you can slow down the rate of flow as much as you like, but once the glass is empty, it's empty.

I realise that the solution posited by technophiles (worshippers of a relatively recent addition to the panoply of world religions) to this simple fact of inevitable total resource depletion on earth is that we'll start getting resources from elsewhere -- space. Maybe, if man starts doing that, then NorrieC and I will not have a valid argument about earth-bound resource usage. But, until man does, we do. That's a simple mechanistic fact; and it is a fact, not a value judgement.

Anonymous said...

http://drivenunderground.wordpress.com/

Ian B said...

Patrick, I keep stating this over and over again because people seem to keep consistently ignoring the central point I'm making. Growth is not imposed. I do think it's a Good Thing, but that's not the point. A number of commentators here, including now yourself, are discussing growth as if some cabal are deciding "Lo, there shall be growth". It isn't like that. You may as well demand to know who decided that your garden should be overrun by weeds, and declare that that has to stop. It isn't that way. Growth just happens. My opinion that improvement in human living standards is itself a Good Thing is a value judgement, yes, but the statement of fact tha growth is a natural consequence of free behaviours isn't.

A new material is developed which enables greater production of some other product (plastic rather than wood cases for wireless sets, for instance). Now it requires less resources to construct a radio. Some of the resources formerly used to construct radios are now freed to produce some other product. A new production line reduces the number of people required to construct 100 radios per day from 10 to 5. Now 5 people are freed up to go and produce something else, such as can openers or rocket ships. Nothing more than a wise manager reorganising his factory will reduce the workforce. All these things result in growth.

In a primitive society, everyone is a subsistence farmer just making enough food and other stuff to survived. By reorganisation, the food is produced by a few people on large farms with ploughs isntead of digging sticks, and the rest of the population go off and make clothes, or fishing rods, or wireless sets. That's growth.

If you don't understand that, you don't understand anything and, at the risk of being rude, dismissing improving living standards as a consequence of technological and organisational process as a "technophile religion" suggests that you really don't grasp much about anything. Stop obsessing about fucking "resource depletion". It's a canard. Most of what we produce is recycled, naturally, by the planet, because it is a closed system. And it is a huge fucking planet. Vast. We've barely scratched its surface.

As I was at pains to point out above, nobody is talking about infinite growth. It's about progress towards maximal utilisation of resources. The only way you are going to stop that is to shut down private industry; prevent any manager improving his business, and force nobody to ever innovate. If you want that then, whatever you may think you are, you are not a person of liberty and, to be rude again, you are just plain fucking evil even if you dress your anti-humanism up in soothing words. Go tell a starving subsistence farmer in Africa that he has no right to improve his condition.

This modernophobic bullshit has to stop. Nobody is preventing you going and living in the dark ages, in a room with your farm animals, covered in shite. The rest of us are rather more happy with where we are, with a society efficient enough that it can produce cheap computers, even if they are used to promote irrational ruralist romantic bollocks on the internet. And please stop being so fucking outrageously disingenuous as to put "libertarian" banner on this Malthusian codswallop.

guido faux said...

DK,

"Gold is not some magical store of wealth"

No, but the market has over thousands of years treated it as such. Consider the stocks-to-flows ratio of gold (the amount stored in warehouses v the amount mined annually) - this ratio is something like 80. For any other commodity, silver excepted, such a high ratio would cause demand to collapse. This means gold has a near constant marginal utility - the most important characteristic of a monetary commodity.

"there simply isn't enough gold to back the rapid economic growth"

That's where Adam Smith's so-called 'real bills' come in. Google the writings of professor Antal E. Fekete. Read his articles. Then reread his articles.

(Ignore the Austrian School who confuse 'real bills' with government fiat.)

Anonymous said...

@Ian B
"Patrick, I keep stating this over and over again because people seem to keep consistently ignoring the central point I'm making. Growth is not imposed. I do think it's a Good Thing, but that's not the point. A number of commentators here, including now yourself, are discussing growth as if some cabal are deciding "Lo, there shall be growth". It isn't like that. You may as well demand to know who decided that your garden should be overrun by weeds, and declare that that has to stop. It isn't that way. Growth just happens."

Yes it does "just happen". The current socio-economic model predicates that fact, and I'm not disagreeing with you on that.

"My opinion that improvement in human living standards is itself a Good Thing is a value judgement, yes, but the statement of fact tha growth is a natural consequence of free behaviours isn't."

Here is where we disagree. You make a value judgement that 'growth' is a good thing, and that it is a natural consequence of free human activity. We could argue till the cows come home about whether it's a good thing or not. But there is nothing "natural" about it -- it's simply inherent in how we live our lives today. Homo has been kicking around this planet for over 2 million years, Homo sapiens for around 200,000. In the time-scales that we're looking at, the duration of our current socio-economic model is as significant as a rat's fart. Your contention is obviously that it's an evolutionary step forwards, mine is that it has been a great mistake that we'll look back and smile at in a few hundred years (if we're still here). As regards "free behaviours", we stopped being free when this model came into being. You're only free to do what you are allowed to do nowadays; don't mistake consumer 'choice' for freedom to not participate in the system. Everything is setup to attempt to prevent that outcome.

Revolution Harry said...

Roger, I apologise for not expressing myself as well as I should. My statements of certainty belie an eagerness to understand as much as possible about money and banking.

G. Edward Griffin, the author of 'The Creature From Jekyll Island' is in agreement with you. However he suggests that "... the total of this human effort ultimately is for the benefit of those who create fiat money. It is a form of modern serfdom in which the great mass of society works as indentured servants to a ruling class of financial nobility."

A couple of points. Your model requires the bank to spend all of the interest it earns back into the economy. This is what I was grasping towards in my earlier statement. But does it spend all of it? Surely anything less than every penny creates a problem. The profit levels are vast and not all of that gets spent in the way you describe. Wouldn't a significant sum be retained as savings, for example by share holders, who may or may not themselves spend money into the economy? Isn't this whole situation exacerbated by the fact that around 3% of our money supply is in the form of notes and coins, with the remainder as some form of debt?

Regarding the net money in circulation, isn't the interest paid on loans adding to it?

Ian B, I have to take issue with the statement: ' Stop obsessing about fucking "resource depletion". It's a canard. Most of what we produce is recycled, naturally, by the planet, because it is a closed system. And it is a huge fucking planet. Vast. We've barely scratched its surface.

Recycled naturally by the planet. So all of the materials currently being dumped in landfill is going to magically separate and recycle in the next few hundred (thousand even) years? Perhaps we can go on plundering the planet regardless of the consequences but there's a certain amount of guesswork in your hope that we've barely scratched the surface. It seems to me we have two extremes. Your position where mankind ploughs on regardless. Any economic growth, whatever it is, is automatically good and beneficial. On the other side is those who want non at all. Surely we need to look at issues such as resource management, genuine recycling and products that are built to last much longer.

You mentioned Africa a couple of times. My suggestion is that the thing that would help Africa most of all would be the removal of the dead hans of the IMF and World Bank. Those institutions run by and for the benefit of the 'ruling class of financial nobility' mentioned by G. Edward Griffin.

Pa Annoyed said...

"So all of the materials currently being dumped in landfill is going to magically separate and recycle in the next few hundred (thousand even) years?"

It will 'magically' separate as soon as it is cheaper to separate it than to dig it out of the ground. They already do that for Aluminium. Not magic, just economics.

"but there's a certain amount of guesswork in your hope that we've barely scratched the surface"

No guesswork. We already have the technology in the pipeline to do vastly more than we do now, and there is no indication whatsoever that further progress beyond that is slowing down. That's just the way human ingenuity works. When resources get rare and expensive, that funds and motivates someone to find a way round the problem and they get cheaper again.

"Surely we need to look at issues such as resource management, genuine recycling and products that are built to last much longer."

Certainly. If they're cheaper than the alternatives, somebody will do them. The problem we're objecting to comes from people demanding we do this even though it isn't cheaper than the alternatives and they're simply not needed yet, because they're panicking about some sort of imaginary imminent shortage.

Regarding the non-finiteness of resources - go read Julian Simon's book on the subject, The Ultimate Resource. It's an absolute essential for any free-marketeer's bookshelf. His other books and essays too.

Regarding what we should do about Africa, try Hernando DeSoto's book The Mystery of Capital.

Roger Thornhill said...

Harry: "Wouldn't a significant sum be retained as savings, for example by share holders, who may or may not themselves spend money into the economy?"

And doesn't anyone do that? Would you ask that every company, sole trader or person to HAVE to spend ALL their income immediately?

No.

If a bank does not it is like any other service provider and nothing special and nothing to do with FRB. Once you remove the FRB "spiral" bollocks you then get onto the Social Credit "gap" bollocks.

Anyroadup, unless you stuff note and coin under a mattress, it will be put into a bank account and on-lent to replace the reduction in on-lending that happened when someone took OUT their savings to buy the product that was created using the borrowed money.

Anonymous said...

Buy!

crackers said...

'The ultimate folly of gold'

The ultimate fate of all paper money is for use as bog paper.

The citizens of India and China will buy gold as jewellery and as an insurance against the debasement of their currencies.

Should an inflation tsunami hit the £/$ I expect my bullion and gold shares to provide some insurance. As it is these holdings look rather better than the financial stocks held.

Revolution Harry said...

Roger: I wasn't saying they had to only that if they didn't then the money you say would cover the interest payments wouldn't re-enter the economy.

The assumption is that the money will automatically get lent again. It's not being lent at the moment. Hence the redundancies, foreclosures etc.

I'm not sure what you mean by 'spiral bollocks'.

Ian B said...

Can we just get this straight, Patrick? And let's be clear that I'm addressing you in your capacity as the founding leader of the Libertarian Party UK and intimately involved with the policies thereof-

1) Do you contend that free markets are a recently imposed system of which you disapprove?

2) Or do you approve of free markets, but believe that growth in free markets is artificially imposed and that free markets will not naturally grow?

3) Do you contend that the growth in material wealth of western peoples over the past centuries has been wrong, and do you wish to stop it and/or reverse it?

I think my questions are clearly and fairly stated and can be answered with a simple yes or no in each case.

Anonymous said...

@Ian B
"Can we just get this straight, Patrick? And let's be clear that I'm addressing you in your capacity as the founding leader of the Libertarian Party UK and intimately involved with the policies thereof-"

You are addressing me in my capacity as a human being, you spong. Just as DK writes stuff on this blog that is not in accordance with party policy -- but is rather his view, as a human being -- so can I. Libertarians are not renowned for their collectivism.

That said, and as an individual human being:

"1) Do you contend that free markets are a recently imposed system of which you disapprove?"

Canard. We don't have free markets. If we had free markets then I would approve of them within the context of our socio-economic system. The best of a bad lot, if you like.

And yes, as any fule kno, markets per se are only a few thousand years old, so any form of market is a recent innovation (in terms of our existence on this planet).

I'd also note that by harping on about 'free markets', you're falling into the modernist/post-modernist trap; a mindset which you slated earlier in this thread, and which is exemplified by the intellectual arrogance of folks like Fukuyama. You are presuming that we know best, that 'progress' is always good, and that what came before is -- quite obviously -- not as good as what we have now. Many out of every generation believe that, and many out of every generation are proven wrong, generation after generation. Hubris would appear to go hand in hand with 'modern' civilisation.

"2) Or do you approve of free markets, but believe that growth in free markets is artificially imposed and that free markets will not naturally grow?"

As I wrote previously, I believe that free markets will tend to grow 'naturally'; on this we agree. Where we disagree is over the beneficial nature (or otherwise) of any market-based economy.

"3) Do you contend that the growth in material wealth of western peoples over the past centuries has been wrong, and do you wish to stop it and/or reverse it?"

Yes. Oh, that's shocking isn't it?

But, then again, you're asking the wrong question. Not your fault, but a reflection of the cultural mindset that you've been programmed to accept. I'd personally rather phrase (3) as:

"Do you contend that the decrease in mental/physical health and happiness of western peoples over the past centuries has been wrong, and do you wish to stop it and/or reverse it?"

Same cause, but it depends which effect you think is more important. You think shiny stuff is, I think our natural -- and I'm using the term correctly, this time -- well-being is.

Ian B said...

You are addressing me in my capacity as a human being, you spong. Just as DK writes stuff on this blog that is not in accordance with party policy -- but is rather his view, as a human being -- so can I.

Sorry, it doesn't work that way, in the same way that if one heard a biologist promoting Creationism on his "spare time" you'd think he was a pretty shitty biologist. By being involved with the LPUK as you are, you are a politician whether you like it or not. You don't have separate private political views.

Now to interject a minor historical point- we know from archaeology that trade extends far back into the Stone Age, for instance trade of amber up from the Baltic. The myth that free markets are a recent invention- due to the likes of Polanyi, has become widespread due to its utility to marxists and their useful idiots. But it's no more than a myth. The first thing anyone thinks of doing with a surplus is trading it for something else. The difference between now and then is that most of us produce a hefty surplus so trading is a much more widespread activity. Markets only really took off after we'd hauled oursleves out of scratching a subsistence living. That doesn't make them artificial.

But here's the biggie. You're a "libertarian". You're intimately linked with the "Libertarian" Party UK- and I use those quotes with good reason- and you are opposed to freedom of trade. You have quite clearly stated that. You don't like free markets. You don't like modernity. You don't like progress and spit on it as a fascination with "shiny things". Those shiny things being such fripperies as a stable food supply, warm clothes and homes and so on. Comfort. How dare we like such things?

Well, there is a point where a person who claims to be some kind of thing, who declares a particular label, is outside the scribing circle of that description. A "Christian" who declares he doesn't believe in God, or follow Jesus, isn't a christian even if they care to use that label. They are outside the circle.

A "libertarian" who opposes freedom of interaction between individuals in the marketplace, as you openly do, isn't some kind of libertarian, even an unusual kind. They are not a libertarian at all. I'm sure you've read enough of the classics of libertarianism, and interacted enough with libertarians, to realise that.

So now I would like to know why you are a member of a Libertarian Party- if that is what it is- and how many others at the centre of that party share your views. Because whatever your views may be classified as- I would count them as economically illiterate, confused, anti-human, ruralist drivel, frankly- they sure as hell aren't libertarianism. Perhaps Devil's Kitchen could clarify how many stone-ageist nutballs are clustered at LPUK's secret underground headquarters.

Pa Annoyed said...

Trade, in the form of reciprocal altruism, can be traced back to our pre-human ancestors. It is the basis of social grouping, and instinctive in humans and many other animals.

There were markets in meat, in grooming, in sex. Also probably in technology, in labour, and warfare. Although whether they were 'free' is something I wouldn't speculate on.

Not even in the stone age did people think growth was bad.

Humans with their gift of abstraction have raised trade to a level of sophistication no other animal can approach, and continue raising it further to this day, but the basic idea is ancient.

Anonymous said...

@Ian B

If you believe stuff like this (which is the sort of critique that I presume that you are alluding to), then I can see that this conversation is going to get very tedious, very quickly. Anthropology had a pretty massive change of heart from the 70s onwards, and would now dispute most of these ill informed Hobbesian rantings.

Anonymous said...

Trade, in the form of reciprocal altruism, can be traced back to our pre-human ancestors

Ahem. Gift giving, without the expectation of return, can be traced back to our pre-human ancestors. Trade -- where a return is demanded -- is accepted as being a much later phenomenon.

[Hideously appropriate capthca: 'cultre']

Pa Annoyed said...

"...and would now dispute most of these ill informed Hobbesian rantings."

Which ones, exactly?

Pa Annoyed said...

Reciprocal altruism expects a return. That's why it's reciprocal.

Ian B said...

Patrick, a lot of academia had a pretty massive change of heart from the 70s onwards. I'm sure you've heard of "The Long March Through The Institutions", yes?

And I didn't allude to any "critique" of Polanyi. I merely noted Polanyi's heavy influence in promoting an anti-market view of history, a view which very deliberately distorts the historical record for polemical reasons but which is very appealing to people with a preconceived distaste for the modern world.

But, I've no interest in arguing this further, since there is no chance of changing your mind or reaching any fruitful conclusions; this is why these days I don't often bother engaging in such arguments with post-marxists in general these days. My main concern is the promotion of such ideas as being libertarian. It's predictable to find oneself in such arguments with the Left; dismaying to find them in the libertarian camp.

Devil's Kitchen said...

I feel that I ought to weigh in here.

As Patrick well knows, I lean towards Ian B's appraisal. But, we in the LPUK have always tried, from the beginning, to accommodate the different views of our members. Please, Ian, do not make the mistake of dragging the party into this.

My view has always been that Patrick's view is probably correct in the long term, but not correct for the issues that we face now. He knows that, and so do the rest of our members. That is why we started a forum to discuss these ideas.

Having said that, Patrick, you are making some pretty wild assumptions.

First, there is a genetic imperative to pass on genes. To do this becomes easier when there is less chance of premature death: therefore, any progression of mankind towards more comfortable conditions is natural.

Second, you might contend that we will look back on this period and laugh -- but what you actually mean is that -- when we have progressed further (possibly towards The Culture's anarcho-libertarianism?) -- then we will laugh at this period. Maybe.

But that does not preclude Ian's argument, which is encapsulated by the fact -- the fact -- that we have seen more of humanity raised out of absolute poverty in the last decade than has ever been the case before.

Third, like Ian, I take the idea that we should not be able to buy what we like to be incredibly offensive. It is true that we may look back on this age as a Dark Age but we should also look back on it as an age when people where allowed to choose what their progress was.

Ian is also correct in saying that this is a huge, massive planet. We are not even close to using the natural resources; it could be argued that we are close to the end of easily available natural resources -- in which case we will either recycle to get the substances that we need, or we will find other substances.

Ian is also correct in that if you think that the values of this age are wrong, then give away those baubles that you have bought. I am happy to accept hi-fis, computers and other electrical goods.

The final point addresses two related articles. First, it pisses me off when people blame "our fractured society" on capitalism: if you think that we, as human beings on a genetic level, have become any more acquisitive, on a genetic level, than we were 10,000 years ago, then you are an idiot.

Second, advertising has existed for as long as there has been trade. And that feeds back to the point immediately above.

The trouble is that you two are not arguing different points. Ian is arguing that what we do now is good because human beings develop.

Patrick is arguing that what we have now is bad because we will have better things in the future because human beings develop.

DK

Devil's Kitchen said...

Pa Annoyed,

"Reciprocal altruism expects a return. That's why it's reciprocal."

Reciprocal altruism -- by definition, i.e. of altruism -- does not exist. Altrusim is doing something with no expectation of reward or compensation.

These arguments are difficult enough without the added bonus of debasing the most flexible, yet most precise, language on this plant.

DK

Ian B said...

DK, you can't ask "the party" to not be dragged in. As I said before, it's not like that. Politics is a public matter, and people want to know what the feck they're voting for, and what the feck kind of people they are voting for. The opinions held by the nasties of Labour are a public matter- the prohibitionism, the gramscian marxism, the hatred of freedom. These are political matters.

When representatives of a "libertarian" party are promoting views- not just here, but on the party's official blog, which is official literature- which are profoundly anti-libertarian, questions must be asked. The LPUK bloggers, when criticised, stated it's "unofficial". That doesn't matter. It doesn't damn well work that way. If a party calls itself "The Libertarian Party", libertarians are going to vote for it expecting libertarianism. It's the same as somebody setting up The Animal Rights Party, then wandering all over the internet extolling the virtues of meat eating. Party supporters are going to say "what the fuck is this shit? This isn't Animal Rights".

DK, I don't have a clue what you might mean by Patrick being "probably correct in the long term". I asked, specifically, whether he is opposed to free markets, and he stated that he is. I asked categorically whether he would like to halt and reverse the increase in wealth enjoyed by modern people and he stated categorically "yes". A long term of impoverishment and economic slavery is not correct in any gods-damned term. These are not nit-picky doctrinal issues for aerie-faerie debate by a council of bishops. These are fundamental to liberty.

Now look, in a wave of enthusiasm I joined the LPUK because I thought, great, we've got a libertarian party. I really do not believe any more that we have. It looks like a sorry mixture of paranoid swearbuckets who want guns so they can shoot chavs, and Rousseauesque green romantics as keen to destroy my civilisation as the Plane Stupids. I am used to being attacked, and having to defend, free market capitalism when out among the socialists and liberals. When I find the same stuff coming from "libertarians" I wonder whether I've dropped down the rabbit hole. I started off this thread trying to explain that basic economic understanding of why free markets exhibit growth and suddenly find myself in an alternate reality trying to convince people that having a bit of stuff is better than living as a starving subsistence farmer, and yes I'm fucking angry to be honest, because only warm, well fed, comfortable people would be so assinine as to declare dismay at their comforts. People worked hard to get us here. People slaved, and people fucking died. And we can't even be fucking grateful. We can't even be a bit fucking glad.

Someone I know right now has breast cancer. Because of all that evil economic growth and "shiny things" technological progress, she's got a very high chance of survival and recovery, instead of dying a horrible death with a witch doctor chanting mumbo-jumbo over her. I can't believe I've typed all this just trying to convince somebody who is supposedly on "my" side that that is a Good Thing. The LPUK needs to pull its bloody finger out and decide whether it's going for votes from free market capitalists like me, or from George Monbiot and the rest of the smug-faced modernity-hating brigade.

Ian B said...

Also, the term "reciprocal altruism" is a well understood term in biology. It means doing something without a specific trade; I will do you a favour on the assumption that if and when I need a favour, you will do me one. If you help me build my barn, as and when you're building a barn, I'll help you. Or maybe help you carry your sick cow to the vets, or something.

"Mutual altruism" might be a batter term, or "deferred reciprocation" but "reciprocal altruism" is the one that is used in the literature. The point of it is, it's saying that apparently altruistic acts are actually reciprocal, but appear altruistic because no specific pay-back is specified. It's the generally well-understood idea that doing favours gets you favours, so one must be very very cautious about describing any act as "altruistic" in the purist, idealistic sense of the word.

Anonymous said...

@DK

Thanks for taking a more thoughtful approach than Ian.

"But that does not preclude Ian's argument, which is encapsulated by the fact -- the fact -- that we have seen more of humanity raised out of absolute poverty in the last decade than has ever been the case before."

Please don't fall into the trap that 'poverty' is necessarily a bad thing. The lack of material goods is simply how we today ascribe poverty, and, because our culture is entirely fixated upon the acquisition of material goods, we judge those without as wanting in some way -- all those 'poor' folks living on a dollar a day etc. All those 'poor' folks who spend nothing on clothing because they make their own. All those 'poor' folks who spend no money on mortgages because they build their own shelters. All those 'poor' folks who spend no money on food because they grow/gather/tend their own. And so on. Material 'wealth' is one way of judging 'poverty', and it's the dominant one in our material-orientated culture. Health and happiness is another, and will tend to give quite a different perspective on where the poverty lies.

"...it pisses me off when people blame "our fractured society" on capitalism:.."

I'm not doing so. Within the context of our society, capitalism is the lesser of many evils. And free market capitalism is the 'best' form of capitalism.

You know that I spend a lot of time railing against corporatism, and arguing for true free market capitalism -- because what we have had to endure (at least in recent centuries) bears bugger all relationship to free market capitalism.

I'm not blaming capitalism for "our fractured society", but the whole shooting match -- our entire socio-economic set-up. And there is ample evidence to show that things are getting worse, not better. If people are uncomfortable looking back at prehistory to validate this thesis due to the absence of written records, then don't look further back than the middle ages, where such records do exist. You'll find that (absenting average lifespan due to a higher prevalence of infant mortality), folks then worked less than we did, played more, and were happier. Not such a bad outcome to aspire to, I would have thought?


@Ian -- if you think that I'm exhibiting leftist tendencies then you've not been listening. I don't like labels, but I'm happy to disavow that one!

Devil's Kitchen said...

And now it's time for the grand unifying theory...

Ian, what I meant about Patrick being right in the long term was pretty much what he was proposing above: that we may, through developing, in fact reach a state a bit like that of The Culture – where nobody really needs to own anything and everyone has little to do with their time except those things that they really want to do.

In the meantime, we have a culture that places the value of happiness on "stuff". Unlike Patrick, I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing – I love my Macs, for instance (although the rest of the things that I buy generally get drunk or burned) but it is a certain culture.

Patrick, I define absolute poverty as being unable to afford to buy food when you cannot produce it. I don't measure it in monetary terms: a dollar will buy you far more in a Developing Country than it will in the US...

In any case, none of this means that I would put in place policies to force people to change their attitude – I wouldn't put in place policies to force people to do anything – merely that there may come a time when our priorities naturally change.

DK

Anonymous said...

"In any case, none of this means that I would put in place policies to force people to change their attitude – I wouldn't put in place policies to force people to do anything – merely that there may come a time when our priorities naturally change."

Hear, bloody hear. But that's what being a Libertarian is all about, isn't it?

And I'm sorry that Ian thinks that being a Libertarian means blindly accepting the status quo; it doesn't. It means not coercing people to do anything. I wasn't aware that expressing one's personal views could be construed as coercion, but hey ho.

Ian B said...

Ian, what I meant about Patrick being right in the long term was pretty much what he was proposing above: that we may, through developing, in fact reach a state a bit like that of The Culture – where nobody really needs to own anything and everyone has little to do with their time except those things that they really want to do.

Yes, and we might all be some kind of android, and wear shiny silver suits, and eat our dinner as pills, and live on the MOON! But we don't, and we none of us have any idea what the future holds. And, having read the whole of this argument, I can't find any such optimistic futurism, nor any references to development. You seem to be reading something into what Patrick has written that isn't there. For instance, I asked-

Do you contend that the growth in material wealth of western peoples over the past centuries has been wrong, and do you wish to stop it and/or reverse it?"

To which Patrick's reply was-

Yes. Oh, that's shocking isn't it?

That's unequivocal. Patrick is arguing a quite openly Polanyiesque anti-capitalism- and not against the distorted state capitalism many libertarians (including myself) oppose, but against markets in general.

Where we disagree is over the beneficial nature (or otherwise) of any market-based economy.

and

You'll find that [...] folks [in the middle ages] worked less than we did, played more, and were happier. Not such a bad outcome to aspire to, I would have thought?

Whether or not he aspires to a fantasy science fiction utopia of the future, that is not in evidence in any post in this thread. All that is on display here is the total repudiation of western-style development of the primitivist (Green/anti-capitalist) movement. It bears no relation to anything recognisably within the generally understood meaning of the term "libertarian".

Ian B said...

And while I'm at it-

In the meantime, we have a culture that places the value of happiness on "stuff".

This kind of statement is a reflection of our current moral hegemony, a received wisdom that is anti-materialist, and generally promulgated by people with far more material stuff than those they are lecturing and imposing their views upon. There is nothing wrong, nothing at all, in taking pleasure in acquiring those things that one desires. Happiness comes from the satisfaction of our desires- which may be for love, or family, or a great shag, or a nice view over the Lake District, or getting a new Mac. The idea that we should instead aspire to intangible spiritualisms is of course an old religious idea that keeps the flock distracted from their own lives and at the whim of intermediaries with the gods, simply recast into secular form; just as most of modern progressive moral hegemonic values are religious ones recast into secular form.

So we get the new secular priesthood, mithering spacky-faced twats like Oliver James preaching from our TVs and newspapers about "affluenza"; how we are ruined by having so much stuff, and should cast away our stuff, while himself not casting away a single grain of his own stuff. And it's all terribly, terribly moral.

It's bullshit. People are often made a bit happier by getting stuff, because it contributes some subjective improvement to their life. I constantly encounter Lefties declaring that "we" have too much stuff; that evil capitalists trick us into buying stuff we don't need. But when I ask them which of their possessions they were tricked into buying, and they will cast off in the name of greater happiness, I find that they can never supply an answer. It's always other people- that stupid heaving mass out there that they despise- who are the unwitting tools of capitalism. It's always somebody else who hasn't been made more happy by stuff. Somebody else who is the dumb consumer misled by the wicked Pied Piper of consumerism. Of course the point is, it's not about needs. Marxists said that communism would give each "according to their need" but was silent about "according to their desires", because the peoples' desires it could not supply. That's the glory of free markets. They supply what you want, not what some high priest of the miserablist caste thinks you need.

The marxists despise stuff because they know that their system cannot supply it. They thought at one time that it could, and boasted that communism would make the citizens wealthy in goods. Then it was shown beyond all shadow of doubt that it couldn't, and so this slow, steady, burn of a return to denialist values began. Stuff is bad for you, it doesn't make you happy. Choice is bad for you, you will choose that which is bad for you. The less you have, the more spiritually pure you are.

Well, bollocks to that. It's nonsense. It's pernicious, despicable nonsense. Stuff doesn't automatically make you happy, but it's damned hard to be happy without any. We aren't consumer dupes misled by shiny things. We're human beings who take pleasure in comfort and novelty. Let's celebrate that, instead of being tricked into feeling guilty and apologetic for it.

bella gerens said...

If people are uncomfortable looking back at prehistory to validate this thesis due to the absence of written records, then don't look further back than the middle ages, where such records do exist. You'll find that (absenting average lifespan due to a higher prevalence of infant mortality), folks then worked less than we did, played more, and were happier.

I'm sorry, Patrick, but this is simply silly as well as untrue. Some people, perhaps, worked less hard than we do, but the vast majority worked very, very hard and had little security to show for it, their food supply in particular dependent on the mercy of local weather conditions. Infant mortality numbers contribute to a low life expectancy, but of those who grew to adulthood, the average age of death was about 40. You also contend that people 'played' more - I don't know quite what this means, but I'll assume you consider 'play' anything which is not 'work.' In which case this may be true, but is ridiculous, because the types of 'play' medieval people had available were limited and, let's face it, pretty uninteresting, especially amongst the mostly-illiterate.

Finally, how on earth can you say they were 'happier'? Nobody took contentment surveys. No data whatsoever exists on this. I offer a possible specious but nonetheless reasonable rebuttal: if people in the Middle Ages were so happy, why was the prospect of Christian heaven so enormously appealing to them? I'm not saying they were miserable, but come on - you don't know whether they were happy or not.

So don't hold the Middle Ages up as some kind of non-market, non-materialist utopia of leisure and satisfaction. They weren't.

Anonymous said...

I wrote:
In the meantime, we have a culture that places the value of happiness on "stuff".


Ian B wrote:
This kind of statement is a reflection of our current moral hegemony, a received wisdom that is anti-materialist, and generally promulgated by people with far more material stuff than those they are lecturing and imposing their views upon. There is nothing wrong, nothing at all, in taking pleasure in acquiring those things that one desires. Happiness comes from the satisfaction of our desires- which may be for love, or family, or a great shag, or a nice view over the Lake District, or getting a new Mac. The idea that we should instead aspire to intangible spiritualisms is of course an old religious idea that keeps the flock distracted from their own lives and at the whim of intermediaries with the gods, simply recast into secular form; just as most of modern progressive moral hegemonic values are religious ones recast into secular form.

Can you not see the circularity in your own argument? That acquiring stuff, that technology, have become the new religion? But it is, of course, a religion that can never result in lasting human happiness because you can never have enough. That's the joy of the system -- you consume to dull the ache of alienation, but no matter how much you consume, it's never enough. So you consume more.

Of course, that's just my humble opinion. I'm not trying to force you to accept my point of view.

What I will force you accept, though, within the context of a discussion about libertarianism -- which you dragged into this whole debate -- is what libertarianism is about.

Libertarianism 101 -- the non-aggression axiom. No coercion. That's it. Even the question of property is outside of scope, although often included.

Libertarians are happy for folks to take drugs and own guns. That doesn't mean that libertarians demand/insist that everyone takes drugs or owns a gun.

Libertarianism is a simple framework that permits individuals to live how they wish, so long as they don't negatively impact others by their actions.

To bring it back to economics, in a libertarian society some might wish to live in a 'free market' capitalist economy. Some others might wish to pool their goods and labour, in a form of communism. Some others... well, you get the idea.

Libertarianism doesn't _dictate_ an economic model -- to do so would be coercive!

It's true that many libertarian minded authors have suggested that free market capitalism is the 'right' thing. They've done so for a variety of reasons, but any who would deny a group of individuals the right to adopt another economic model are, by definition, not libertarian.

Now, the UK Libertarian Party is in a bit of different position. It is a minarchist party, committed to working within the constraints of the electoral, economic and 'democratic' processes within a particular nation. As such, it makes perfect sense for it to adopt state-based, and state-wide, economic (and other) policies, and ones that facilitate economic activity with other nations.

But don't confuse the particular stance of the Party with that of more general libertarian thought. The party supports 'free markets', but individual libertarians are certainly not obliged to.

Anonymous said...

Thinking about this whole thing, I guess the debate can be reduced to a simple difference of perspectives, of what we value more: quantity versus quality.

The modern way of life is entirely geared around quantity -- from the amount of stuff that we produce and consume, to how long our decrepit frames can be kept alive.

Quality of life simply doesn't get a look in. Quality of goods likewise, as the churn in items is key to keeping our existing economic model functioning.

And the latter is a crucial point, as this economic model precludes both quality and quantity existing at the same time.

Given the choice, I go for quality. Others will make a different choice. But we all need to understand that it's a choice that we each make.

I'll shut-up now.

Ian B said...

Can you not see the circularity in your own argument?

I most certainly can not.


That acquiring stuff, that technology, have become the new religion?

And I said that where, precisely? I said that anti-stuffism is a quasi-religous dogma.

But it is, of course, a religion that can never result in lasting human happiness because you can never have enough. That's the joy of the system -- you consume to dull the ache of alienation, but no matter how much you consume, it's never enough. So you consume more.

Which is of course rubbish. "Alienation"? From what exactly? You are promoting exactly the same quasi-religionism that I argued against. So let's be clear; to say that attitude A is religous does not mean that the denial of attitude A is itself a religous stance. I am, effectively, declaring an atheism to that quasi-relgious moralism. A "none of the above" stance.

"If you drink beer you will go to hell" is a religious position. "I like drinking beer" is not a religious position.

To bring it back to economics, in a libertarian society some might wish to live in a 'free market' capitalist economy. Some others might wish to pool their goods and labour, in a form of communism. Some others... well, you get the idea. Libertarianism doesn't _dictate_ an economic model -- to do so would be coercive!

And this is where your reasoning is so horribly broken. You believe in the systems idea promoted by marxists- in order to promote their centralist system, they had to declare their opponents a "system" too. But the free market is absence of a system, again, an analogue to atheism. To favour the free market is simply to state "individuals should be free to do with their production what they wish". In a free market, you are not obligated to trade. You can give stuff away, you can share it, you can destroy it, you can do what the hell you like with it.

Free marketeers generally concentrate on trade because most people will for practical reasons prefer to trade their surpluses- because gifting and sharing only work on the small scale among families and friends- people intimately connected who can moderate gifting and sharing by various social peer methodologies. But a free market leaves the individual free to do whatever they wish, and if they grow a field of bananas and choose to give them to the old folk's home, that is just as free market as selling them off the back of a barrow or to Tescos.

The free market is the economic realisation of the non-coercion principle. That's all it is. It is simply pure economic freedom, the economic sphere of the greater general freedom to which libertarians aspire. The free market isn't the dictating of an "economic model". It is, by definition the absence of one!

Drexciya said...

"Quality of life simply doesn't get a look in."

Nope, you're quite right.

As I understand it, (most) libertarian thought is built around normative ideas, such as freedom from aggression, property rights etc. Notions of happiness, quality of life and material wealth are "positive" concepts that regularly lead us down the well-trodden path to social planning.

Ian B. appears to be arguing that relatively free people making relatively free decisions have been at the origin of most material advances mankind has witnessed. Consequently, it doesnt matter if we believe that these material advances are a "good" thing or not (and either Patrick doesnt or he's playing Devil's Advocate), from a Libertarian point of view we should accept them
as being virtuous because they are the result of free human action. That seems logical.

Of course, I'm not saying your opinions arent valid, just that I dont think they have much to do with libertarianism for the moment.

Anonymous said...

Drexciya wrote:
it doesnt matter if we believe that these material advances are a "good" thing or not (and either Patrick doesnt or he's playing Devil's Advocate), from a Libertarian point of view we should accept them
as being virtuous because they are the result of free human action. That seems logical.


It would be, if they were. But I would argue that we haven't enjoyed "free human action" for an awfully long -- since we were first domesticated, in fact. As a consequence, they are a product of coercion, and I've no problem (from a libertarian perspective) calling them out as such.


Ian B wrote:
Free marketeers generally concentrate on trade because most people will for practical reasons prefer to trade their surpluses- because gifting and sharing only work on the small scale among families and friends- people intimately connected who can moderate gifting and sharing by various social peer methodologies. But a free market leaves the individual free to do whatever they wish, and if they grow a field of bananas and choose to give them to the old folk's home, that is just as free market as selling them off the back of a barrow or to Tescos.

The free market is the economic realisation of the non-coercion principle. That's all it is. It is simply pure economic freedom, the economic sphere of the greater general freedom to which libertarians aspire. The free market isn't the dictating of an "economic model". It is, by definition the absence of one!


Rot, on two counts. Firstly, you'll note that I did use scare quotes around 'free market' in my previous posts, as we don't enjoy such a thing, and are highly unlikely to do so in the future. Secondly, you are presupposing the existence of property. Whether that is a valid supposition or not is another matter entirely, but it underlies any assumptions about 'trade'. You are, again, attempting to project your belief system onto libertarianism, which is, excepting the NAA, a value free construct.

@DK -- sorry that this has gone so far O/T.

Devil's Kitchen said...

"@DK -- sorry that this has gone so far O/T."

Debate is always good and I, for one, am enjoying it...

DK

Rich said...

The LPUK is obviously not the party to go for.

Patrick, your views are outrageously naive and completely anti-libertarian, so WTF?

DK, how can you think he's right "in the long run"? You're either for free markets at all times or you're not.

Well said Ian B, some great writing there.

Drexciya said...

"It would be, if they were. But I would argue that we haven't enjoyed "free human action" for an awfully long -- since we were first domesticated, in fact. As a consequence, they are a product of coercion, and I've no problem (from a libertarian perspective) calling them out as such."

Quite right. That was simply my interpretation of Ian's argument.

It's equally logical to say, "Our current situation is a product of coercion and therefore the status-quo has no greater value than at other times in the history of social man", which is how I had interpreted your response before you started talking about quality of life and happiness in the Middle Ages (which, I assume, was also a product of coercion)

Anonymous said...

before you started talking about quality of life and happiness in the Middle Ages (which, I assume, was also a product of coercion)

Yep, but less so than now. In bringing that period up, I was simply trying to cut a little ground away from under the feet of those who believe that _now_ is the most wonderful and free period of human existence, which is revisionist modernist rubbish. As I said, in reality we've not been free since we got domesticated, and formal social hierarchies, major gender roles, division of labour etc. etc. came into being.

Drexciya said...

In bringing that period up, I was simply trying to cut a little ground away from under the feet of those who believe that _now_ is the most wonderful and free period of human existence"

It's a point that isn't made often enough, so you were right to do so.

Although, in his defence, I'm sure Ian B. would be at the head of the queue to rebut those who are ready to blame our current economic woes on "free markets" and "libertarian policies".

I just get very uneasy when I see words like "happiness" and "quality of life" being used in the context of a discussion between libertarians of whatever stripe.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Drexciya,

"DK, how can you think he's right "in the long run"? You're either for free markets at all times or you're not."

I am in favour of free markets at all times. What I was agreeing with was Patrick's positing that we may, as individuals, come to value things differently over the course of time.

For instance, we may reach a point at which everyone has all the "stuff" that we could want (unlikely, but possible) and therefore come to value free time more than a new hi-fi, for instance.

I was agreeing that enough individuals' priorities might change to be able to talk about society's priorities having changed: that is all.

DK

Drexciya said...

DK, i agree, it was Rich you quoted ;)

Rich said...

I am in favour of free markets at all times. What I was agreeing with was Patrick's positing that we may, as individuals, come to value things differently over the course of time.

So who's going to tell us what to value? Patrick? Can't wait.

"Stuff" is great, but so are "experiences", "sensations", and increased opportunities for exercising the productive and creative faculties. These will all blossom under a system that is far freer than what we have now.

Drexciya said...

"So who's going to tell us what to value? Patrick? Can't wait."

Noone. And noone has said otherwise.

These will all blossom under a system that is far freer than what we have now.

Noone is disagreeing with you.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Rich,

"So who's going to tell us what to value?"

It seems that you have been living under a statist system for so long that you cannot conceive of people changing their priorities entirely voluntarily.

Either that, or you are being deliberately obtuse.

DK

Ian B said...

Rich-

So who's going to tell us what to value? Patrick? Can't wait."


Drexciya-
Noone. And noone has said otherwise.


Yes they have. Patrick has, quite specifically, disparaged the taking of pleasure in objects as a fascination with "shiny things".

Now this argument has a number of different threads in it and as that occurs people naturally start swapping from one to another. So we need to be quite clear here that one of the points of view Patrick is promoting is a moralist disapproval of personal wealth (in terms of goods, as well as, presumably, money). He is not promoting the idea that people should just seek to acquire those things that they may wish to acquire. He is not promoting some future utopia in which somehow nobody wants anything. He is actively arguing against people acquiring stuff and declaring it a moral bad. His arguments clearly presented so far are indistinguishable from the popular Left anti-stuffist perspective; that people are ruined by the avaialability of goods.

And DK, why on God's green Earth should we be looking to people to "change their priorities"? Again, this is the post-methodist moral hegemony speaking. Enjoying yourself and acquiring trinkets is bad. Go sit in a cell and eat turnips and be closer to God, except now it's not God it's some kind of vague nature spirit thingy.

Patrick speaketh-
Secondly, you are presupposing the existence of property. Whether that is a valid supposition or not is another matter entirely, but it underlies any assumptions about 'trade'.

In other words, this is a "liberty" without property ownership. It's not libertarianism. Not even a little bit. It's communism. Anybody who thinks you can "abolish" property without actually making all property the property of a coercive state is in cloud cuckoo land.

Let's remind ourselves again; libertarians seek a free society in which individuals are as free as possible to do what they wish with themselves and their property. That automatically implies a free market in which individuals may sell, barter, lend, share, give away or whatever they may wish to do with their property. But Patrick doesn't want a free market. He wants a no market. He doesn't approve of property, period.

This thing being promoted here is anarcho-communism. It's not doing as you wish with what is yours; it is a society of people with nothing, scratching a tribal existence from the hard earth. It is not a society without coercion; it is a society in which there is naught but coercion.

Drexciya said...

one of the points of view Patrick is promoting is a moralist disapproval of personal wealth (in terms of goods, as well as, presumably, money)

Thats fine, even though I disagree with it. Patrick may have moral views that appear difficult to reconcile with libertarian positions, but as yet he hasn't called for the use of force in favour of the former.


"Patrick speaketh-
Secondly, you are presupposing the existence of property


Well, I admit, I can't find much defence for that. To deny property is to deny liberty itself.

The North Briton said...

Been following the comment output of certain members of the LPUK for a while now, absolutely hilarious except that they have snatched the word libertarian. Proper libertarian ideas are going to appear on the radar pretty soon in the UK, and the proper libertarians will be explaining themselves to a much wider and more genral audience. Maybe we should agree on a different title, leave the braying primitivists to their LPUK.

I didn't see anyone pick up on Vessey's rephrasing of Ian's question 2/3rds down the thread:

Do you contend that the decrease in mental/physical health and happiness of western peoples over the past centuries has been wrong?

Decrease in physical health? Let's see you back that one up.

Also,

Libertarianism 101: nobody ever forced me to buy a shiny thing.

Vote LPUK! For freedom from shiny things! Especially ones with focus buttons:

http://lpuk.blogspot.com/2009/01/party-political-broadcast.html

Looking forward to seeing you all at future LPUK events: discussion to be conducted by smoke signal.

Rich said...

DK -

It seems that you have been living under a statist system for so long that you cannot conceive of people changing their priorities entirely voluntarily.



It seems you have been living under a statist system for so long that you can't conceive of not giving a stuff what others' priorities are.

Either that, or you are being deliberately obtuse.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Christ on a fucking crutch! I am not looking for anyone to change their fucking priorities! I am just saying that they might do so at some point. Why is this so difficult to understand?

DK

Ian B said...

Well DK, the problem here is that the "change of priorities" being sought is precisely the same change of priorities anti-property utopians always seek to effect. It's the hope for a Soviet Man. Faced with the question of why people desire stuff, the anti-stuffist presumes that they have been misled, since the "natural" state of man before the Fall was to not want stuff. Therefore the stubborn proleterian idiots must have been miseducated. QED.

You know that Mac of yours you're so fond of? You only like it because of capitalist propaganda. You don't really like it at all. Liking it is in conflict with your natural state. After you have been re-educated, you'll realise you don't need it at all, and therefore you can't possibly want it. In Utopia, you will be free of your harmful desire for Macs.

In the modern parlance, you will be "Macfree".

Of course, if you persist in wanting a Mac, you'll have to be shot to stop you poisoning the minds of your fellow citizens. Omelettes, eggs, y'know.

Pa Annoyed said...

DK,

I think you said originally "My view has always been that Patrick's view is probably correct in the long term, but not correct for the issues that we face now."

Do you perhaps mean "may turn out to be" or "could become"? Because the way it reads above, it looks more like "is" or "will become".

I still find that confusing, though. I thought's Patrick's view was specifically that it applied now and in the past. Do you mean that in the future it could come to apply to the past?

Which view of his are you talking about? That the increase in material wealth or decline (?!) in human health/happiness of the past millenia is a wrong that you want to be reversed, or something else?

Ian B,

I understand what you mean, but I'm not sure the combative approach is working for you here. Seek clarity.

Anonymous said...

The gold market is the final Ponzi scheme waiting to be played out. What most people think of as the "gold market" is in fact a derivative market. I've read estimates that for every ounce of real gold sitting in the vaults there are at least five people who believe they own it. The con trick brought about by gold leasing is explained here

http://www.gold-eagle.com/editorials_03/wallenwein052103.html

or just google "paper gold" there are lots of good articles that explain this scam. Gold is in effect a fiat currency.

At some point the music will stop, and there will not be enough chairs. The "value" of gold on the Comex will fall like a lead balloon. Only people with physical bullion will have a chance of escaping the game with their wealth intact.

Anonymous said...

"I am not looking for anyone to change their fucking priorities! I am just saying that they might do so at some point. Why is this so difficult to understand"

Well because that would mean that humans would no longer prioritise Advancement, Hope, Aspiration, Love, Progress, Learning, Cooperation, Desire, Difference, Yearning and what not and would prefer Obedience, Conformity, Submission, Similarity ...

Don't you get it?

This is what Ayn meant by describing Patrick's postion as "Anti-Life"

Thatcher's Child said...

Article was a bit weak but the comments are fantastic!

One of the early anons got it right. The gold standard works because it can't be played by politicians or bankers.

It doesn't matter how much gold there is in the world, only that the value of it allows currencies to be compared honestly.

In effect it becomes the global currency- assuming all major currencies go down that route.

Don't worry, it will never happen!

Anonymous said...

The North Briton wrote:

I didn't see anyone pick up on Vessey's rephrasing of Ian's question 2/3rds down the thread:

“Do you contend that the decrease in mental/physical health and happiness of western peoples over the past centuries has been wrong?”

Decrease in physical health? Let's see you back that one up.


Where would you like me to start? Shall we go right back to the beginning?

Prior to the introduction of agriculture, man had an incredibly varied diet of meat, wild fruit and vegetables. Eaton and Konner suggest that we typically gained sustenance from between 100 and 200 different species at that time. This varied diet is what our bodies evolved to utilise, and what they are still adapted to deal with, even today.

The introduction of agriculture removed that variety, replacing it with a handful of different cereal grains and a few varieties of domesticated animals. The impact on human physiology was fairly dramatic. I'll quote Loren Cordain, from Vol #84 (1999) of “World Review of Nutrition and Dietetics“:

Generally, in most parts of the world, whenever cereal-based diets were first adopted as a staple food replacing the primarily animal-based diets of hunter-gatherers, there was a characteristic reduction in stature [4, 17–19], an increase in infant mortality [19, 20], a reduction in lifespan [19, 20], an increased incidence of infectious diseases [19–22], an increase in iron deficiency anemia [19, 20, 22], an increased incidence of osteomalacia, porotic hyperostosis and other bone mineral disorders [4, 19, 20, 22] and an increase in the number of dental caries and enamel defects [19, 20, 23]. In a review of 51 references examining human populations from around the earth and from differing chronologies, as they made the transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers, Cohen [19] concluded that there was an overall decline in both the quality and quantity of life.

---
4 Eaton SB, Nelson DA: Calcium in evolutionary perspective. Am J Clin Nutr 1991;54:281s–287s.
17 Angel JL: Paleoecology, paleodemography and health; in Polgar S (ed): Population, Ecology and Social Evolution. The Hague, Mouton, 1975, pp 167–190.
18 Nickens PR: Stature reduction as an adaptive response to food production in Mesoamerica. J Archaeol Sci 1976;3:31–41.
19 Cohen MN: The significance of long-term changes in human diet and food economy; in Harris M, Ross EB (eds): Food and Evolution. Toward a Theory of Human Food Habits. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 1987, pp 261–283.
20 Cassidy CM: Nutrition and health in agriculturalists and hunter-gatherers: A case study of two prehistoric populations; in Jerome RF, Kandel RF, Pelto GH (eds): Nutritional Anthropology: Contemporary Approaches to Diet and Culture. Pleasantville, Redgrave Publishing Company, 1980, pp 117–145.
21 Diamond J: The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution and Future of the Human Animal. New York, Harper Collins, 1992, pp 180–191.
22 Lallo JW, Armelagos GJ, Mensforth RP: The role of diet, disease, and physiology in the origin of porotic hyperostosis. Human Biol 1977;49:471–473.
23 Turner CG: Dental anthropological indications of agriculture among the Jomon people of central Japan. Am J Phys Anthropol 1979;51:619–636.
---


If you're interested in reading more about dietary changes -- and their impact -- have a look at the chapter “Stone Age Nutrition” in Volume 3 of the Encyclopaedia of Food and Culture (available -- probably not legally -- via Scribd, and that specific chapter in HTML here). I need only quote the conclusion of that piece:

The uncultivated plant foods and wild game that nourished ancestral humans and their pre-human predecessors were those to which our genetic makeup became adapted. Increasingly rapid cultural innovations during the past few thousand years have transformed our nutrition such that Cro-Magnons might not recognize many constituents of a typical meal. However, genetic evolution during the same period has been glacially slow; thus human beings' genetically determined biology remains adapted for the literally natural and organic foods of the remote past. This dissonance between human genes and human lives has critical implications for human health.

I hope that you'll allow me not to bother providing references for the implications of more recent dietary changes, as they are all too well known: over-processing of food removing nutrients, the rampant addition of salt and sugar, a huge reliance upon carbs – all leading to health problems from simple obesity onwards through hypertension etc. etc.

Similarly, I hope that you don't need any referenced evidence to accept the increasing sedentary nature of our existence (particularly since the industrial revolution), and the effects of that upon our physical health?

And, again, hopefully you are already aware of the crap that is now in your body that wouldn't have been there is times past – stuff like PCBs? All perfectly harmless, of cause [rolls eyes]

But what about mental health? Records are obviously sketchy going back in time, but if you look at just the last century that we've lived through, you'll find increasing rates of suicide (always a pretty good indicator of distress!), eating disorders (and similar) and illegal drug and alcohol use. Whilst folks might want to rationalise otherwise, the reason that so many people want to 'get out of it' is because 'it' isn't such a great place to be. Legal drug use, in the form of antidepressants and the like, has also gone through the roof in recent times, with (e.g.) 31 million prescriptions for antidepressants issued here in 2006, of which 16 million were for heavy-hitting SSRIs (figures from the National Health Information Centre, quoted by the BBC).

I realise that, just a Ian B attempted to rubbish my earlier observation that anthropology has recently had a rethink about how we used to live as leftist revisionism, it's possible to argue that mental health issues are simply being recognised and diagnosed more now than previously. God bless modern medicine, eh? Personally, I think that's bull, and I suggest that, as in the previous case, it will only be those looking to ignore the facts that conflict with their own cherished world views that will tend to adopt such an obtuse position.

We live in a socio-economic culture that -- quite literally -- is making us sick. Rather than dealing purely palliatively with this fact through medication and technological amelioration of the symptoms, I'm interested in the underlying causes of what ails us. The great misery of post-modernist thought is that it considers such questions as too complicated, and thus demands they be ignored as intractable. So much for 'progress'.

Devil's Kitchen said...

Ian,

"Well DK, the problem here is that the "change of priorities" being sought is precisely the same change of priorities anti-property utopians always seek to effect."

What the fuck? What is it with you people? I said that a change of priorities might occur: lest there be any doubt, that is the only part of Patrick's screed that I agree with, for fuck's sake.

For you to say that such a change will never occur is either dictatorial or ignorant.

davidncl,

"Well because that would mean that humans would no longer prioritise Advancement, Hope, Aspiration, Love, Progress, Learning, Cooperation, Desire, Difference, Yearning and what not and would prefer Obedience, Conformity, Submission, Similarity ..."

Is it libertarian to say that humans must always prioritise these?

Don't you get it?

Pa Annoyed,

"I think you said originally "My view has always been that Patrick's view is probably correct in the long term, but not correct for the issues that we face now."

Do you perhaps mean "may turn out to be" or "could become"? Because the way it reads above, it looks more like "is" or "will become"."


Yes, I mean "may turn out to be" or "could become". I assumed -- evidently incorrectly -- that the presence of the qualifier "probably" might be enough to signal that: I was wrong, it appears. In future, I shall put in so many qualifiers that you will all think that I'm an actual politician.

For the record, my position is that Patrick is probably right that we may come to prioritise different things, e.g. we may come around to the idea, as a default rather than the exception, that "free time" is worth more than another piece of "stuff". Some people already do, but it may become the norm. But it may not.

We may evolve a second head on our shoulders. But we may not.

Personally, I don't give two craps. But what I am not doing is endorsing Patrick's ideology on this (and we the two of us have already argued about this. A lot) which I thought that I would have got across by pointing out that I like "stuff", e.g. Macs.

But you all seem to want to "prove" that I am not a libertarian, or a free marketeer, or an absolute admirer of human ingenuity. Why? I wonder.

For you people, one comment somehow overrides four years and four thousand posts: what is it, precisely, that you are trying to prove?

For fuck's sake: people are jumping up and down on me because they have interpreted the meaning of what I wrote entirely incorrectly: I don't mind arguing against people when defending my actual position: it's when people are slating me for something that I never fucking said that really makes me frustrated. It's certainly the last time that I try to be diplomatic.

Fucking hellski...

DK

TomC said...

I expressed considerable disappointment when Patrick posted his original views over on the LPUK blog a month or two ago, and as a consequence removed it from my blog list and have never been back since.

There is no Libertarian Party in the UK; how can there be if their leader holds such anti-humanist views.

I entirely agree with IanB and am totally bewildered by some of the arguments above.

Let me take issue with some of the ideas here - "...value free time more than a new hi-fi..." or "
"Stuff" is great, but so are "experiences", "sensations"...

No one is against the idea of the so-called "values" of free time; or "experiences, sensations, etc."; whatever subjective bollocks that actually means; but the fact is that man relies on his mind to understand concepts and produce the values that maintain and improve his life. This means he has to use resources and discover technologies. Not to do so means to retrogress and stagnate. To do as Patrick does, and display a "moralist disapproval of personal wealth", that appears "difficult to reconcile with libertarian positions", is anti-human and anti-libertarian.

"...but as yet he hasn't called for the use of force." This is irrelevant; freedom requires man's right to the product of his labour. This is the basis of being human.

IanB, I admire your integrity. Shame on the "Libertarian" Party UK.

Pa Annoyed said...

Ah, right! ""free time" is worth more than another piece of "stuff"". That's something I'm happy to agree with - some people will think that and others won't, but thinking it isn't a problem. I'll wait to see what Ian says, but I suspect he'll probably agree too. Free time, for those who want it, is as much an economic benefit as iPhones or cheap food. That's why we go on holidays. No need to invoke future changes in priorities, we already do that now.

But that wasn't the aspect of Patrick's views that anyone was objecting to. (So far as I know.) It was the bit about economic growth being something bad that he wanted to reverse, mankind rashly using up the world's resources, and similar views. That seems to me rather different to what you just said.

So it's all been a terrible misunderstanding? :-)

By the way, being diplomatic is a perfectly acceptable explanation in my book. If you simply said you were being diplomatic to a fellow LP member, rather than shifting stories like a politician (not that I'm saying you did - this is all hypothetical you know) then I'd understand. We could all do with more diplomacy, I'm sure.

By the way, I very much like the blog, and think this has been an excellent debate. The undiplomacy especially. I look forward to more. :-)

Drexciya said...

"Well because that would mean that humans would no longer prioritise Advancement, Hope, Aspiration, Love, Progress, Learning, Cooperation, Desire, Difference, Yearning and what not and would prefer Obedience, Conformity, Submission, Similarity ...

Don't you get it?"


Ye, we get it. We just dont care. Voluntary means you dont get a say in what I think or what I prioritise. I know that Patrick has been slightly ambiguous, but this is getting tedious, and I dont even agree with him!

Anonymous said...

davidncl (me),

"Well because that would mean that humans would no longer prioritise Advancement, Hope, Aspiration, Love, Progress, Learning, Cooperation, Desire, Difference, Yearning and what not and would prefer Obedience, Conformity, Submission, Similarity ..."

DK:
Is it libertarian to say that humans must always prioritise these?

Don't you get it?

Me:

It's not that they must, it's that they cannot do otherwise, since that is it means to be alive, human and free. Humans have to be forced to choose otherwise.

Anonymous said...

@Tom C

I expressed considerable disappointment when Patrick posted his original views over on the LPUK blog a month or two ago, and as a consequence removed it from my blog list and have never been back since.

Had you done so, you would have found that I have expressed no such views there for a few months -- hell, I've hardly posted there -- as I didn't wish to give those who refuse to understand that it is a members' unofficial blog even the chance to rubbish the party based upon my personal views. As is happening here. And which suggests a completely different agenda.

There is no Libertarian Party in the UK; how can there be if their leader holds such anti-humanist views.

Erm, Ian Parker-Joseph has been leader of the LPUK since September last year.

Whilst your concern for the well being of the party is touching, considering that you weren't even aware of this fact suggests that it may be somewhat artificial [shock].

DK and I agree about a lot of things, and disagree about many also. I share his evident frustration, though, at individuals who believe they have a right to tell us each what we may believe, and what we may think and express as individual human beings. What kind of authoritarian bollocks is that? And yes, that was plainly a rhetorical questions.

NB. said...

Patrick,

Thanks for the information. I now understand a little better the 'different priorities' you have in mind for humankind---namely the hunting and gathering of over a hundred different foodstuffs.
Yipbloodypee, what a world that would be.

Anonymous said...

Patrick Vessey here today:

"Had you done so, you would have found that I have expressed no such views there for a few months"

Patrick Vessey on the LPUK blog in mid jan of this year (9 weeks ago):

Doomer drivel

Bishop Brennan said...

I'm surprised to see people who say they are 'libertarians' spouting enviro-fascism and other Malthusian nonsense. Disappointed might be a better word. :-(

Pa Annoyed said...

Fascinating link, davidncl.

"This political party doesn't exist to guarantee the satisfaction of your urges and desires, but for the benefit of the entire current -- and future -- UK population. If folks need telling an unpalatable truth, that's unfortunate. But it would be more remiss for me/us to spin them the line that they get from the other parties, that all is wonderful in the world and that the magic market pixies will somehow ensure we never run out of anything. Because natural resources aren't like money, they don't get created out of thin air."

Who is this "us"?

Unlike Ian and others, I am by now quite used to a large subset of libertarians talking nonsense, and not at all bothered by it. People can believe and say what they want, and I can tell them it's rubbish. But while you're free to hold and express any opinions you like, they do have consequences. And if you're a prominent speaker for a political party, they're going to have consequences for the party, too. We are naturally going to judge it by the expressed views of its most prominent members. I think that's the right approach - the Party is its people - but I think it is even more important that the members continue to express their views honestly, so that we all know what we're buying.

If that puts people off the LPUK, then they're going to be better off elsewhere anyway. So I'd like to thank Patrick for exposing his opinions to us on this - an honest politician. It was most informative.

On the other hand, if LPUK wants to tell us clearly, without any rancour, that they're happy for Patrick (or any other member) to carry on expressing his own opinion on this, but that it's definitely not that of the party, that would be informative too. And a refreshing change from the 'party line' approach elsewhere. But being 'diplomatic' about such matters is, I think, unwise in the long run.

Anonymous said...

Well quite.

Patrick matters not a jot - he's just yet another greenazi yearning for the long down of the endarkening.

But lets see the LPUK distance themselves from his toxic position.

http://www.cctvstar.blogspot.com said...

FOLLOW THE PAPER TRAIL: LABOUR DAMNED BY THEIR OWN BUREAUCRACY

TomC said...

Environmentalism and its offshoot ideas, sustainability, organic food, vegetarianism, Malthusianism and resource depletion, are intrinsically connected with Collectivist ideology. Here's why.

Collectivism is the subjugation of the individual to a group — whether to a race, class, state, the population of a planet, an afterlife, or our unborn descendants, it does not matter. Collectivism holds that man must be chained to collective action and collective thought for the sake of what is called “the common good.” Its moral philosophy is altruism.

Altruism states that man’s life, as such, is evil. Nature does not provide man with an automatic form of survival, and since he has to support his life by his own effort, the doctrine that concern with one’s own interests is evil means that man’s desire to live is evil. Death is its ultimate goal and standard of value.

Guilt is altruism’s stock in trade, and the inducing of guilt is its only means of self-perpetuation. If the giver is not kept under a torrent of degrading, demeaning accusations, he might take a look around and put an end to the self-sacrificing. Altruists are concerned only with those who suffer — not with those who provide relief from suffering, not even enough to care whether they are able to survive. This is the true purpose of environmentalist ideology.

Some so-called Libertarians are using such concepts as “inalienable rights,” “personal freedom,” and “private choice,” to claim that services to others are morally obligatory, but not compulsory.

Three of the psychological results of this submission to altruism are:

-Lack of self-esteem—since the victim's first concern in the realm of values is not how to live his life, but how to sacrifice it.

-Lack of respect for others — since he regards mankind as a herd of doomed beggars crying for someone’s help.

-A nightmare view of existence — since he believes that men are trapped in a “malevolent universe” where disasters are the constant and primary concern of their lives. e.g. the “Doomer drivel” in January's LPUK blog post. Thank you DavidNCL. You suggested running away at that particular juncture, which I in fact, did.

Such arguments are claimed to be free of coercive force. But “social justice,” demands the initiation of force against the non-sacrificial individual; it demands that others put a stop to his evil. Thus has moral fervour been joined to the rule of physical force, raising it from a criminal tactic to a governing principle of human relationships.

Altruism is incompatible with freedom, with capitalism and with individual rights. One cannot combine the pursuit of happiness with the moral status of a sacrificial animal.

Patrick claimed in his January post that too many people had been reading too much Rand. Well, maybe not enough people have? How about tackling Rand's ideas if they are so contemptible. If you don't like the heat, stay out of the kitchen (the room not the Devil's :). My point being that the only way to reclaim political direction in today's ideological desert, is to begin to challenge collectivism and defend capitalism using basic philosophical principles. I believe that Libertarianism in its true form could be the means by which we start doing this.

Some of the above definitions are from http://aynrandlexicon.com, for which I apologise, but I could never have defined these concepts as well as she did.

Anonymous said...

@TomC

I won't engage over Rand, if you don't mind, as that's pointless. You know as well as I do that her followers consider the views of those who disagree as 'irrational', and to be ignored. Debate in that context is unlikely to be fulfilling!

I will take huge umbrage with your assertion that I believe in a "malevolent universe", though, as you have the facts exactly 180 degrees arse about face. It is those who seek total control over nature through science and technology that actually hold this view -- fear is the basic driver for such control in the first place. Fear of darkness, cold, discomfort, want etc. etc. If we can agree on no more than this, that would at least be an honest start.

As regards the blog post you talk about. If I suggest that a glass is three quarters empty, of course somebody else might perfectly reasonably say "hey, that's OK -- it's still a quarter full". That's fine. But to say that nobody should consider what will actually happen when the glass does eventually become drained seems more than a little perverse. Simply hoping to chance or some future technological miracle to circumvent the basic economic equation of unlimited wants versus limited supply (and our resources are limited -- they're finite) certainly doesn't appear to be a rational position to adopt. So why is it not permitted to even raise the topic? Most bizarre.

Anonymous said...

So, is the LPUK really an eco nonsense party in drag?

If it is - I'm off!

The whole idea of worrying that the world is going to run out of stuff is a nonsense caused by being hard of thinking.

When we burnt peat for heat, we had druids telling us the world would end because we would have no more peat.

The same thing happened when we burnt wood. The forests which used to cover the UK were disappearing and we would soon be living in a tree less desert.

We started burning coal, which we used at a hell of a rate. In the 1850's some high level scientist type predicted that coal would be extinct by 1910. Was he wrong or what?

Peak oil is the current fashion, and the same thing will happen again.

Its all very well wanting to live a healthy stone age lifestyle, but if I was, I'd already be dead seeing that 25-30 years old was pension time - without a pension of course!

Eco nonsense is totally anti science and anti human ability. We have always found our way around problems, and will this time as well - if there actually was a problem. The point is, there isn't.

We are not running out of food, fuel or space. It is disappointing not to have Armageddon to look forward to but that's life!

Man in a Shed said...

The government can't make any more Gold, only sell it at the bottom of the market.

Cash on the other hand they can get the presses rolling for ...

TomC said...

Patrick, you claim that “it is those who seek total control over nature through science and technology that actually hold the view of a "malevolent universe". Sorry, but fear is and never has been, the “basic driver for science and technology as human control over nature”. Where is the evidence for this?

Invention, science and creation are to do with man supporting his life by his own efforts and concern with his own interests. This leads to enquiry and thus an overwhelming desire to comprehend the nature of his environment.

This leads me to take issue with your assertion that “fear of darkness, cold, discomfort, want etc. is the basic driver for holding the view of a "malevolent universe". ” Is fear of these things therefore unfounded? Should we thus turn unflinchingly to embrace these things as values?

I didn't know that Rand's “followers” consider the views of those who disagree as 'irrational', and to be ignored. Where is the evidence for this? And to whom is the debate unlikely to be fulfilling? I am more interested in rational and objective truth rather than subjective truth, as opposed to Randism or Objectivism per se. All I know is that to be free you cannot be controlled.

I never said we couldn't “raise the topic” of “unlimited wants versus limited supply”. There are no “unlimited wants”. People buy stuff because it is there and desirable, not because stuff is invented as a result of people “wanting” it. If it doesn't exist, you can't have it. People don't say, for example, “I really want to buy a “reverse microwave” that freezes food in seconds – one should be invented today”. Or at least not before chucking out time after a heavy night in the pub.

While there is no limiting factor, the graph may indeed look exponential – the moment a limiting factor becomes involved, the graph may level off or even decline. Why is this to be taken as a present problem, as opposed to one in which a limiting factor has already intervened? In reality, if you think the glass is emptying, it is in fact today, probably still about 90% full (I don't like this kind of subjectivity but I'm only demonstrating a concept). Why then, do we need to preoccupy ourselves with solving tomorrow's problems today at the expense of man's liberty?

In fact, no such imperatives will ever exist, since as someone pointed out above, resources are not, they become. This means that in the future they will revert, as difficulty of exploitation and therefore rising cost, limit the utilisation of the product, causing us to gradually abandon it or its derivatives and look to other methods to add to human progress. To condemn human progress is therefore unnecessary. For example, we are not “addicted” to oil, as the peakists shrilly cry; only to energy. And if we ever master nuclear fusion, energy will be cheaper than at any time in history (much to their chagrin). If we don't, then we might have to (in 100 years or so) pay through the nose for wind and solar, “Gaia” help us! :)

Either way, we should not accept ersatz collectivist-socialist constructions as moral imperatives for our lives and happiness today.

Pa Annoyed said...

Patrick,

I can agree on that. Fear of cold, darkness, starvation, disease, deprivation, poverty, death, etc. is the basis of technological progress.

My glass of milk is 3/4 full, and 3/4 of a glass is a finite amount. But I already know that I have a full bottle sat in the refrigerator ready and waiting, that the shops will be open in the morning, that there are cows, and that there are alternative beverages I can switch to if milk becomes expensive. The person who looks at the glass on the table and comments that it is finite is speaking the simple truth, but entirely missing the point.

There is a valid point sometimes made for your argument that we don't know for certain that the cows of human ingenuity will come through once more. Perhaps they'll suddenly and unexpectedly dry up. It's possible.

But we've been here hundreds of thousands of times in the past, and human ingenuity have always come through so far. It's a routine part of the way the market and technological progress works; it is how we've got so far. We don't know it for certain, but experience has shown us that it is very reliable, and getting increasingly so.

The odds are very much that life will continue as usual, and the burden of proof very much on the doomsayers to say exactly why they think we're about to run out of ideas. Because ideas are the ultimate resource that our society runs on, not copper or coal.

Are ideas finite? Have we reached the limits of technological possibility? There is no surer way to make sure that we do than to stop; to abandon technology. If you declare the glass of milk finite and try to eke it out slowly, the milk in the refrigerator will go off, the shops will go bankrupt, the cows will all be slaughtered. And your prophecy of doom will come true.

That's why we argue against this position so vehemently. It seems a madness to us to starve ourselves in the midst of plenty, and to so thoroughly misunderstand how the market actually works. It's as fundamental an error as Marx's "zero-sum" fallacy, although like Marx, it does seem to have got a lot of people convinced.

TomC said...

Pa, although I agree with the rest of your post, please allow me to dismantle your first statement, as it could be important. Nothing personal, it's not even yours.

“Fear of cold, darkness, starvation, disease, deprivation, poverty, death, etc. is the basis of technological progress. “

Therefore if we weren't afraid of these things, we would have no technological progress.

If we had no technological progress we would therefore live in ultimate happiness in our caves with our stone tools (I know, it's technology...) and no fear of anything, even if we died horribly from Sabre Tooth Tiger wounds at 15 years old. Being cold would be enjoyable, starvation a value to be achieved...

Or – if we are afraid, and can't help it, what is the intellectual process in such circumstances, by which we discover fire, or gravity, or the compass? “God, I'm scared. I know, I'll invent steam power, then I'll be safe!” That'll be why it was called the “Enlightenment”. Nothing to do with enquiry, self-esteem, achievement and human progress then?

The expression “fucking hellski” seems appropriate, given the place.

Pa Annoyed said...

TomC,

A good point. Survival is the basis of progress, but yes, there are other things built on top of that basis when the essentials are satisfied.

We discover fire because it looks like a good way to avoid dying of cold. We invent the compass because it looks like a good way to avoid getting lost at sea, and dying. Gravity we didn't need to discover, it's turned on automatically.

But I agree, in the modern era that direct fear of death no longer applies, but we still invent. However, we are still doing it in order to avoid milder forms of unpleasantness. Unemployment, boredom, ignorance, obscurity, maybe.

My point was that we invent to solve problems, to improve things, which implies that what went before was worse in some sense.

I disagree with your line that if we had no fear we would live in ultimate happiness in caves. If we had no fear, we'd die out. That no fear implies no progress does not mean that no progress implies no fear.

Patrick was correct in indicating that we are the ones fighting an uncaring universe; what I think you really meant was that the doomers believe in disasters brought about by a malevolent mankind. It's humanity they hate, and want to stop, not the natural world.

Anonymous said...

@TomC/Pa Annoyed

There are so many different threads of thought going on here that I'm going to try picking at a few separately, in little chunks. I'm not ignoring the "difficult stuff", but would hate to see anything important drop through the cracks.

TomC wrote: There are no “unlimited wants”. People buy stuff because it is there and desirable, not because stuff is invented as a result of people “wanting” it.

The presumption of "unlimited wants" is econ101. Or, if you -- as some are -- are uncomfortable with that, it gets phrased as (finite) wants that necessarily exceed the ability of resources to supply, thus value choices are made as to which "want" gets satisfied. Either way, some "wants" remain unsatisfied.

Your second point above is also in contradiction to market orthodoxy, yet is similarly true! Econ theory tells us that consumer wants drive producers to satisfy them through the production of goods. This is palpably false -- consumer demand is driven by what is available, as you quite rightly say, and is thus producer-led. That the reverse is true is one of the great fallacies of current econ theory.

Anonymous said...

@Pa Annoyed:

Patrick was correct in indicating that we are the ones fighting an uncaring universe; what I think you really meant was that the doomers believe in disasters brought about by a malevolent mankind. It's humanity they hate, and want to stop, not the natural world.

The label "doomer" doesn't sit comfortably on my shoulders, but I can't dictate how others perceive me ;-)

I need to point out, though, that I (and I am the only one that I can speak for, after all) don't hate humanity. Nor the natural world. What I hate, what I loathe with a passion, is what the socio-economic systems that man has put in place are doing to both mankind and nature. My simple contention is that we are harming ourselves in many ways.

Now, before we can even talk about how to address this fact, we need to accept that it is true. Some earlier commenters on this thread didn't even want to take that step, or the one prior to that -- to allow me to talk around the topic to try to present evidence of the veracity of this claim. Debate was stopped. Stone. Dead. The human qualities of inquisitiveness and rational thought seem to have deserted them. I'm glad to see in yourself and TomC that this is not the case! [lest there be doubt, I mean that quite genuinely, not patronisingly]

TomC said...

Let's be clear on this. We discover technological advances only from the exercise of human intellect and reason. Then we apply it to an invention; we do not invent things as a first step because we are afraid of darkness, cold etc.

We probably discovered fire from seeing wildfires, and our inquisitive nature found that it warmed us and later permitted the cooking of food. Only then did we harness it.

Our curiosity led us to observe that a magnetised piece of lode pointed in the same direction regardless of our position. Only then did get the idea of applying it to the notion of a compass.

Until the 18th Century, little was known about the nature of gravity. Newton's curiosity and genius led him to his Laws of Motion which had profound implications for physics and engineering. Few modern inventions could have taken place without this. In spite of "gravity not needing to be discovered, as it's turned on automatically".

I don't know what "econ101" is, but I do have some objective understanding of economics. "Wants remaining unsatisfied" is not a result of a shortage of resources. You are confusing the terminology usually employed to demonstrate the supply and demand dynamic, as in "for a market to be completely satisfied, there will always be some "unsatisfied wants" since not having them results in an excess of supply.

To conclude that consumer demand is producer led, demonstrates similar confusion, obfuscation or evasion. "What is available" in terms of the variety of products in existence, is irrelevant, since again, we are talking about supply and demand for a particular (any) product. For a market to be "producer-led" one would have to claim that manufacturers planned the quantity of supply and set the price, coercing the consumers to purchase, which is clearly nonsense.

Then there is this statement: "What I hate, what I loathe with a passion, is what the socio-economic systems that man has put in place are doing to both mankind and nature. My simple contention is that we are harming ourselves in many ways."

What is the socio-economic system doing to both mankind and nature? In what way are we harming ourselves? Let's discuss this objectively.

Allow me to end with a Randism - not to piss you off Patrick, I assure you; but we need to stop allowing the values of freedom and capitalism to be stripped away and sold off so cheaply to our enemies. Also it may give you an insight into why you said “Rand's followers consider the views of those who disagree as 'irrational', and to be ignored. Debate in that context is unlikely to be fulfilling!”

“When opposite basic principles are clearly and openly defined, it works to the advantage of the rational side; when they are not clearly defined, but are hidden or evaded, it works to the advantage of the irrational side.

In order to win, the rational side of any controversy requires that its goals be understood; it has nothing to hide, since reality is its ally. The irrational side has to deceive, to confuse, to evade, to hide its goals. Fog, murk, and blindness are not the tools of reason; they are the only tools of irrationality.

The spread of evil is the symptom of a vacuum. Whenever evil wins, it is only by default: by the moral failure of those who evade the fact that there can be no compromise on basic principles.”

Capitalism – the Unknown Ideal, Chapter 14

Anonymous said...

@TomC

Tom, you stated a couple of points that I agreed with. You now realise that they are not orthodoxy, and so are rowing back from what you said quite clearly. OK, let's look at your replacement argument:

I don't know what "econ101" is, but I do have some objective understanding of economics. "Wants remaining unsatisfied" is not a result of a shortage of resources. You are confusing the terminology usually employed to demonstrate the supply and demand dynamic, as in "for a market to be completely satisfied, there will always be some "unsatisfied wants" since not having them results in an excess of supply.

You do appear to still be agreeing with me here -- that all wants can never be satisfied within our current economic model (as, to do so, would result in 'wasteful' surplus). Is that correct?

To conclude that consumer demand is producer led, demonstrates similar confusion, obfuscation or evasion. "What is available" in terms of the variety of products in existence, is irrelevant, since again, we are talking about supply and demand for a particular (any) product. For a market to be "producer-led" one would have to claim that manufacturers planned the quantity of supply and set the price, coercing the consumers to purchase, which is clearly nonsense.

And manufacturers don't dictate quantity of supply? They don't dictate price? There's a sophistic argument in our economics which says that consumers determine these things, based upon demand. But consumers can only demand that which exists. If this appears a bit chicken and egg, then that is at least an improvement in reasoning over the position that all production is consumer driven.

As regards specific product availability itself, this is entirely producer driven. You mentioned your freezing microwave. I could mention a personal bete noir of mine -- a half decent toaster. One that doesn't break every 18 months. I want to buy one. I suspect others do too. But nobody makes one (and if you think that Dualit's, say, are better quality because they are more expensive, do some digging -- they're still made of cheap Chinese component that break, and simply assembled in the UK). The reason that consumer durables aren't, any more, is that to make a decent product would be to destroy futures sales. Future sales (even of a competitor's brand) is necessary for growth. If I despair of Morphy Richards, I might buy a Dualit. If someone else despairs of Dualit, they might buy a Morphy Richards. Consumers lose in the long run, and all producers gain. A 'growth' oriented market economy literally demands that products are disposable, in order to keep itself operating. Quality is sacrificed to appease the god of quantity.

Now, that's not my only objection to what we're doing right now, but a simple example of one of the contradictions inherent within an economic model which prides itself on 'efficient' use of resources, yet is destined always to actually make very inefficient use of them.

Let's leave coercion of consumers and how we're mentally and physically harming ourselves until after we've nailed this point -- by agreeing or agreeing to disagree.

Bishop Brennan said...

Patrick - economics does accept that companies set prices / supply, in some circumstances, i.e. in markets where there is imperfect competition (most markets in practice). Look up Bertrand and Cournot markets in Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cournot_competition)! And, believe me, it gets a lot more complex than that (Hotelling, differentiated products... bad memories of exams... :-)

Industrial economics also explains your toaster problem - that durable goods compete with new ones, and therefore tend to have obselescance (sp?) built into them.

I know Blair tended to use Econ101, but most economists (perhaps excepting the Austrian and Chicago schools - which might explain your view, since these are common to libertarians - other than me!) accept that the real world is often different from the basic economic models that we use to help think about the world. Models are just tools, not the dogma that the Chicago school make them out to be! :-)

TomC said...

“And manufacturers don't dictate quantity of supply? They don't dictate price? There's a sophistic argument in our economics which says that consumers determine these things, based upon demand. But consumers can only demand that which exists. If this appears a bit chicken and egg, then that is at least an improvement in reasoning over the position that all production is consumer driven.”

Theoretical increasing of the the supply of a product doesn't eliminate “unsatisfied wants”. In theory, all it will do is lower the price to a level where the excess product is absorbed through extra buyers in the market. This will cause inefficient producers to cease production through lack of profitability, thereby re-establishing the original supply and price level.

Theoretical reducing of the supply of a product increases the price. There are still “unsatisfied wants” since some former buyers can no longer afford the product. But the increased price means there are better margins to be made, encouraging new producers to enter the market, increasing the supply and reducing the price to the old level as more buyers come back in at the lower price.

The “unsatisfied wants” in these cases, exist because some potential buyers would always require a lower price to become buyers. Not from any shortage of resources.

Government printing of money causes consumers to have more money, therefore artificially increasing demand. This puts the price up as a shortage is created. But at this level of demand the price increase is permanent, even after the shortfall is met. It follows a line on a graph which I am sure most of us have come across at some stage. In this case the whole supply / demand line moves up.

If a supply becomes restrained due to a shortage of resources, this will happen because the raw material cost increases, and the less efficient producers then cease trading, reducing the supply and increasing the overall price as some consumers turn to other products, reducing demand.

A company discovering a new low cost method of production makes a higher margin until competitors catch up. If the price of the product becomes cheaper as a result, there will be a greater number of customers at this lower price level. The intersection point moves down the line on the graph.

All of which demonstrates that supply, demand and prices, are not remotely dictated by manufacturers. I think you'd find yourself in a seriously small minority in insisting that this was the case.

Pa Annoyed said...

Patrick,

Regarding what you hate or don't hate, I'll take your word for it. I can only speak of the apparent aims of some of the most vocal advocates for the movement generally. I do not claim to be telepathic.

I have some difficulty with the contention that we are harming ourselves and nature in many ways. At the level of individual cases, it is almost trivially true, but I think you're talking more generally about the overall effects of technological and economic progress, in which case I think it is false - a myth.

This is all part of a long and in places vitriolic debate that has been going since at least the mid 1970s, and the hostility you experienced earlier is part of the fallout from that debate. The view you expressed is associated with a profoundly destructive, anti-human movement, and it has come as a shock to people deeply familiar with the debate to see you espousing it. However, I'm aware that the counter-position isn't well-known in the public sphere - I only came across it fairly late in life myself - so I find it quite credible that you haven't heard about it.

So I'd be very happy to talk about it with you. Or if you want a much better, in-depth explanation of the details, the two best books on it are Julian Simon's The Ultimate Resource, which explains the idea, and Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist, which started as a vaguely-lefty, environmentally inclined statistics Professor's attempt to debunk Simon's book, and turned into a compendium of the overwhelming statistical evidence in its favour. Text-only versions of Julian Simon's books can be seen at his website. (Many of his articles and essays are worth reading too. How can you resist a title like "The Insouciant Immorality of Government"?) In my view, Lomborg's book is better supported, I think you can get a (probably cut-down) version on Google Books.

If you've read those and still think you have arguments worth debating further, then come back to us. That promises to be interesting.

Or if you prefer, I can try to explain the ideas in them myself, and you can explain to me why they're wrong. Either way, I definitely think this is a debate that you ought to be aware of and well-informed about.

Pa Annoyed said...

Regarding your toaster - a different topic entirely - the simple answer is that lifetime is a part of the product being sold. If a long product lifetime costs the manufacturer, that cost has to be paid somehow. They have to factor it into their price. You can pay much more for a longer lifetime - which will compensate the manufacturer for the reduction in future sales (they don't care how it happens, so long as they get the money) - or you can be offered the choice of buying time-limited products that gain the advantages of high-volume manufacturing.

The idea that built-in obsolescence simply ensures future sales is akin to the 'broken windows' fallacy. Why deliberately break something so you can make and sell another, when you could instead simply make and sell another kind of product?

But in a free market you can get planned obsolescence as a product feature, because of its association with high-volume, high-turnover manufacturing methods, better cashflow, and the different assignation of overhead costs.

I'll try to illustrate this. Say it costs me a million pounds to build a toaster factory, and there are a thousand customers who want toasters. I can offer you each a toaster that will last a lifetime, get a thousand sales, and they have to be a minimum of a thousand pounds each. Or I can offer you toasters with a built-in 1 year life time, make 50,000 sales, and offer them at under £20 each. Which product do you want? Which one is actually better for the consumer? And if the cheaper price means I can actually sell to 10,000 toaster-buyers instead of only 1,000, which means I can build a bigger factory with 10 times the capacity for two million pounds, what does that do to the price?

It is entirely possible that with planned obsolescence the consumer can actually get better overall value. That's not to say it is always so, but to some degree you can say that if there was a big profit to be made by extending lifetimes, someone would do it. The resource costs are all already factored in.

Anonymous said...

@Pa Annoyed

Thanks for the reading recommendations -- I will look. I know enough to recognise that I don't know enough, if you know what I mean ;-)

I'll try to illustrate this. Say it costs me a million pounds to build a toaster factory, and there are a thousand customers who want toasters. I can offer you each a toaster that will last a lifetime, get a thousand sales, and they have to be a minimum of a thousand pounds each. Or I can offer you toasters with a built-in 1 year life time, make 50,000 sales, and offer them at under £20 each. Which product do you want? Which one is actually better for the consumer? And if the cheaper price means I can actually sell to 10,000 toaster-buyers instead of only 1,000, which means I can build a bigger factory with 10 times the capacity for two million pounds, what does that do to the price?

If it were me, as a generality I'd like the more expensive product that lasted. Seriously. And so would quite a few others; the anecdotal evidence is around -- just ask folks.

This, of course, would be based upon a cost/benefit decision upon my part.

I must point out, though, that your use of figures implies a frighteningly high cost for true durables as opposed to disposables, which doesn't actually reflect reality, and might be construed as attempting to subconsciously sway the reader in a particular direction!

I also need to point out that relatively durable products were still the norm until fairly recently. It's not that we can't make them, it's that producers don't want to.

[With regard to toasters (again), there does seem to me a perfectly sensible way to make a far more durable product via the use of halogen heating plates. I was actually curious why nobody did this a while back when our most recent toaster went belly up, and found that, yes, it was a patented idea. Just not being manufactured. But I don't really want to drag IP into things (yet, anyway)]

But back to main points. Even if I am in a tiny minority (and I don't believe that I am; that's irrelevant to the discussion, but worth stating nonetheless) in wanting true durables, Econ101 (sorry BB) again suggests that somebody will step into the market to provide those. If there is a demand that can (profitably) be met, it will be. This clearly hasn't happened in the specific toaster case, and I'm sure that you can think of many other examples. The reason is not that there is no demand to satisfy, or a profit to be made, simply that more profit can be made by channeling demand into products that require replacing. The situation is, as I said earlier, producer and not consumer led, and works in the interests of the producer, and not the customer. And nor is it anybody's best interests to waste resources that may be employed elsewhere. Is it?

Ian B said...

Okay, I sort of abandoned this argument because anti-capitalists and capitalists arguing will never change each others minds due to different value systems and it's all hot air. I started off this thread just trying to explain that individual actions drive growth, not imposed government power, which presumably even Patrick agrees with as the article posted on the LPUK blog explicitly makes that point- but then like Patrick tries to deny it by a strange argument of "individuals make improvements that cause growth... so then government has to "encourage" growth to make up the labour deficit", thus suggesting the idea that people wouldn't start new businesses without "encouragement", which is ridiculous. Government stands in the way of the new businesses. But any way, the point I was really talking about was that Patrick's views are basically anarcho-communism, and aren't libertarianism. You're entitled to hold those views, Patrick, but being in a libertarian party is much like a devout christian calling themself an atheist. Actual atheists are going to call you on that.

But anyway, the issue of the toasters. Patrick, being an anti-capitalist, needs to dig away at the truism that the market is never perfect and suggest this is a fatal flaw. The market is always converging on supply the wants of customers, but of course it can't produce every possible desired product. If I want strawberry flavoured sardines, John West can't be expected to knock out one tin a week for me. However what should be recognised is that the market will always do a better job of satisfying wants than a planned economy, because, (and this is Libertarianism 101) it contains more implicit data within its structure than can ever be collected. Effectively, it knows things about customers and producers that they themselves don't know about themselves.

The key mechanism is that it asks actors in the economy to make comparisons trillions of times a day. If you're contemplating buying a £20 toaster, it asks "is this toaster worth more to you at this instant in time than the £20 note in your pocket?" Humans are very good at making these simple comparisons. And the choice we make integrates a whole set of our values, which we do not know explicitly, regarding our tastes, or priorities, practicalities, and so on.

There's no way for planners to accurately collect this data; not least because the reality is, that what people claim after intellectual consideration to desire, often isn't what they actually choose when asked to make the "is the product worth more to you than the money?" question. Human beings don't have intellectual access to our own decision making processes, which occur in parallel at low levels of the brain. We like to think we know ourselves, but we don't.

So, when intellectually asked what type of products they want, many will say "I want quality products at local, friendly stores", but when actually making the choice, they buy the cheap stuff from Wal-Mart. The market gets to what they actually want, not what they think will sound good to their friends or in a survey.

People will thus bemoan the lack of quality toasters that last forty years, but they don't buy them. They buy a plastic one from Argos. Their decision making processes integrate their feelings regarding price, style, quality, etc. If there's no market for what the commentator describes as a "quality" product, it's because it's just the wrong product. People don't want it. It might last 40 years, but it's 40 years at the wrong price.

And, there is another issue regarding "built-in obsolence". We live in a world of rapidly changing technology. It's not much use making a toaster that will last 40 years, because its features will be horribly out of date by 40 years time. It may well not even be considered safe any more, even if it's in perfect working order. Electrical standards change. We don't use bakelite that ages, tracks, and cracks these days. Fabric-insulated cable (remember that on things like kettles and irons and toasters in the 70s?) that frayed and broke down has been consigned to the dustbin of history. In the rapidly accelerating phase of technology, which we are currently in (and it won't last forever, of course), you only need to make things that last until they become out of date. That's a very short time. An electrical appliance from 1960 would now be considered a feature-poor, antiquated deathtrap. A mobile phone from 10 years ago... laughably out of date. The market hones its product lifespans to that which is good enough, and no more. Thus, ironically, saving resources. That cheap plastic toaster is cheap because it cost far less resources to build (materials and labour) than a cast iron behemoth from 1920.

Pa Annoyed said...

I picked the numbers merely to illustrate the concept. They're not meant to be realistic, just to show that it's possible.

The sort of monopoly control you suggest may be possible for some small number of products (and if there is a real monopoly here, why don't they simply raise prices?), but when an economic feature like disposable goods becomes so common across so many different industries, I am suggesting that it's worth considering that there may be a deeper economic reason for it.

I'm saying that reliability could be bought at a price. If you work out how much they gain from their planned obsolescence scam and add that to the price, plus a bit, then all other things being equal the manufacturer clearly gets more profit by selling the more durable goods. They also get the money sooner, for less personal effort. That's got to be good. So the idea that this is purely due to manufacturer's selfishness doesn't fly. There has got to be another reason for it.

The only way there can be more profit in disposable goods compared to durable ones is if the demand side of the equation isn't willing to pay the price necessary to make durable goods more profitable.

Yes, of course everyone wants goods to last longer. They also want them with more features, higher performance, and easier to use. Manufacturers can do all of that, of course, but there's a trade-off. That may not be the only reason for the change, but it's a powerful possibility.

Francis Crick, commenting on the failings of armchair biologists' reverse-engineering of the natural world, once quoted Orgel's second rule as "evolution is cleverer than you are". I say the same goes for the market.

TomC said...

Toaster economics.

I would first look at the global market for toasters and the amount produced and sale price ex-works for the average toaster. If I wanted to produce 10,000 toasters per year in a market for 10 million, I would expect the price to come down (perhaps temporarily) by 10k / 10M. That would set my income budget. You can't “factor in the price for long product lifetime”, how would the consumer make this value judgement?

My projected costs would determine my margin. I would have then to look for set-up finance payable from my margin, for buildings, plant and cash-flow, either from a bank of from shareholders, and in view of the situation today some would say, stop there, it's not worth it, but then I can't believe I'm discussing the economics of toasters in the presence of a UK politician, so let's persevere shall we? :)

If the supposed finance left me with less than 4% profit, I could forget shareholder capital and I would not bother with the bank either. My project would be dead in the water.

BUT, if I had an economic advantage and could use new ground breaking toaster production methods, benefit from lower paid labour in China perhaps, (or way fewer but better paid British workers than the competition), and had designed a non-oxidising long lasting heating element and could make a 12% margin, share capital would come rushing in. AND I could sell way more toasters because I wouldn't be much affected by the lowering of price that would be entailed by the increasing number of toasters on the market. Also, many competitors would consequently be driven out of business.

Consumers would end up with cheaper and better toasters. These are the consequences of capitalism, the only moral system in history, the only system based on an objective theory of values and their free and voluntary exchange among men. Please let's stop allowing it to be discredited and propagandised by ideas such as built-in obsolescence (the corrupt corporations are exploiting the poor consumers!) Let's stop being made to feel guilty about men's self-interest and fight for what we believe in – a better and more prosperous world for everyone, including the poor and the 3rd World - through capitalism. Has the Soviet experience taught us nothing?

Paul Lockett said...

TomC, you seem to be using the terms freedom and capitalism almost interchangeably. They are two separate concepts and even in a completely free society, people may choose not to pursue capitalism. Mutuals exist widely in market economies and would almost certainly continue to exist in a libertarian society. No doubt others would choose to live a subsistence lifestyle or operate as localised gift economies and as far as I am concerned, so long as there is no coercion, that is entirely consistent with a libertarian society.

You can't have universal freedom and universal capitalism. If you want to enforce the latter, you have to erode the former. That's the problem when people support freedom because of the benefits it brings, rather than for its own sake; when you give people freedom, they often won't do what you personally want them to do with it.

Anonymous said...

Tom and Ian both seem to be uder the impression that I'm calling for a centrally planned economy -- at least that's the inference that I draw from them railing against such an idea.

I'm not.

Why can't we simply talk about the problems inherent in our present system without making knee-jerk assumptions that because I think that A is not great, therefore I desire B? Maybe it's such thought patterns that have actively stopped mankind coming up with C, D or E previously? Is the dismal science so called because it remains stuck in the past, and doesn't enjoy the 'progress' of the other sciences? Or is it that science itself -- and thus our science based culture -- demands dualism, and fails to recognise the possibility of options outside of have/have not, light/dark, on/off etc.?

Anyway.

Pa Annoyed wrote: The sort of monopoly control you suggest may be possible for some small number of products (and if there is a real monopoly here, why don't they simply raise prices?)...

This will no doubt confirm the worst fears of those who think me as some loopy lefty*, but it is the simplest way that I answer this question: what is the most effective strategy for a parasitic organism? Is it to bleed the host dry (if a blood sucker), resulting in the death of the host? Not if that means the death of the parasite. A regular, controlled bleeding is more in the interest of the parasite -- the fact that it is also more in the interest of the host is ameliorated somewhat by the fact that the host would be better off without the parasite in the first place!

Extracting maximal immediate profit is not necessarily the best long term strategy for business. Ensuring consistent availability of profit over time may well be.

Producers regularly fail to aggressively raise price to 'breaking point' in a monopoly situation, if that outcome would mean the end of the monopoly -- through pissed off consumers, government action, one of them breaking ranks (in a cartel situation) etc. etc. Sometimes the rational self interest of these producers is cooperation, rather than competition. But our economics doesn't appear to admit such a possibility.

Nobody fell into the trap with toaster example of suggesting that I start manufacturing halogen ones myself. Obviously I can't, as somebody else has a patent on the idea. Or, maybe I could, if the other party were willing to sell or license the patent to me. The fact that such toasters aren't currently being manufactured suggests that the holder won't sell, or that the licensing terms are too steep to make it economic. I've argued long and hard within the LPUK that IP is clearly anti true free market, to no avail. But IP is, of course, only one way that existing producers can stifle the competition which 'free' marketeers claim. I've already mentioned cartels, and industries as diverse as airlines and supermarkets have shown this in action. Then there is constraint of supply, in order to offer some control over price levels (oil, diamonds). We also see existing producers with deep pockets selling products at a loss, to quickly kill off competition. We see governments using monetary and fiscal policy to favour (or trash) certain industries. Oh, and exchange rate controls. And on, and on, and on.

There is nothing resembling a truly free market out there.

In fact, the only place that I see the theoretical free market in action is in the case of a direct barter exchange between two individuals. Even introducing the intermediation of a money can bugger that up, as some other party will control the value (quantity in circulation) of the money, and thus it might change between uses.

Now, straight personal barter seems a rather unlikely way for us to attempt to do business these days. But that doesn't mean that we shouldn't recognise the blatantly obvious failings in the systems that we do use, and consider if there might be another way to go about things.

One of you used the phrase "good enough" in some other context earlier. That beautifully sums up mankind's approach to everything these days -- it just needs to be good enough. Not great! or wonderful! or awesome! (sorry, I'm coming over all Tom Peters), but just good enough. A thin, grey gruel of a life. I personally think that that blows chunks, and I'm truly amazed that so many seem to be happy to settle for mediocre in every aspect of their lives.

But they do. They shrug and say "that's just how things are". Then they pop another Prozac and go to the mall. Come on, gents. If you can't see the connection between a "just good enough" culture and the human misery all around us...


---
* When threatened, label the other and kick. Doesn't matter what the label is, so long as it's something the peer group of the threatened party finds abhorrent. For the record, I'm not a lefty, and I don't see how pointing out, if not that the emperor has no clothes, then at least he's strutting around in his underpants, ought to be threatening.

Pa Annoyed said...

Regarding moderation in parasites, point taken.

Regarding the existence of a free market - no market is entirely free, least of all barter. There are massive barriers to trade in information, trust, and property rights. Many of the more sophisticated forms of trade are impossible, and it is difficult to raise capital on property, without which capitalism fails to work at all. It's at the root of many of the developing world's economic problems. I know I'm piling on the book recommendations, but Hernando DeSoto's The Mystery of Capital explains this point very well.

But back to the point, markets are only free to a greater or lesser degree. The same goes for political freedom. We are freer than the North Koreans. And just because we are not perfectly free either doesn't mean the difference isn't real and significant, and worth the fight. The same goes for 'free' markets.

I'd be more cautious with IP, because it is mixed up in the philosophy of property rights. I see property law as a necessity for a market to operate, and I don't see any philosophical reason why it should not be possible to 'own' intangibles like technologies, as much as you can own land or mineral rights, or fiat money. There are people who say the same sort of thing about land ownership (like Georgists) and complain about somebody buying land up and then keeping it out of economic production. What you're really buying (or claiming, for first comers) with land ownership is a right to control exploitation. The justification for land value is the investment you have to have made to make it productive.

In the case of IP, the company who owns the patent may indeed be using it to keep competition out - or may simply be waiting for someone to pay them what it's worth - but they had to pay to get it. They had to spend money doing the R&D to invent the idea in order to make the claim. If you don't think the price they paid is high enough, then outbid them with your own R&D funding, and invent another way of doing it.

I agree that there are some philosophical difficulties with the concept, particularly with people inventing ideas independently, and I don't insist on it. I'm a lot less sure of this than I am some of the earlier stuff I mentioned. But I don't think it's as clear where IP lies in the philosophy of the market as you indicate.

I will say, though, that I don't think it's implemented very well.

TomC said...

Paul, I take it you are talking of the difference between Anarcho-Communism and Anarcho-Capitalism?


"You can't have universal freedom and universal capitalism. If you want to enforce the latter, you have to erode the former.
That's the problem when people support freedom because of the benefits it brings, rather than for its own sake; when you give people freedom, they often won't do what you personally want them to do with it.”



What do you personally want them to do with the freedom when you “give it to them”? Freedom should already exist; removing it required coercion (whoever was responsible).

How do you “enforce” capitalism? It is the only moral system in history, the only system based on an objective theory of values and their free and voluntary exchange among men. It is not “enforced”, only misrepresented, falsely discredited and coercively denied to men. Therefore it doesn't follow that you have to “erode freedom” if you want to “enforce capitalism”.

On the contrary, you have to enforce all other means of economic transaction between men, since no other system respects man's freedom as does capitalism.

That mutuals (Co-operatives, is that what you mean?) exist, only shows that some men freely choose to sacrifice themselves to the “common good”. This is the means by which they “choose not to pursue capitalism”.

Only there is coercion, you see. “Social justice,” demands the initiation of force against the non-sacrificial individual – the outside world, or maybe the rebel in the commune; it demands that others put a stop to his evil. Thus has moral fervour been joined to the rule of physical force, raising it from a criminal tactic to a governing principle of human relationships. For proof look at the events of 1917 and then say that this was a good thing.

Therefore, as a Libertarian, I would respect their free choice but it would not stop me attacking the corrupt philosophical premises on which their choices are based.

So no, I disagree; Capitalism and Freedom cannot exist independently and still retain moral justification. People are still free to go and live in communes though, if that's what floats their boat.

How can one “support freedom because of the benefits it brings, rather than for its own sake”? I don't understand this as a concept.

Anonymous said...

"TomC, you seem to be using the terms freedom and capitalism almost interchangeably. They are two separate concepts and even in a completely free society, people may choose not to pursue capitalism"

Let me reply to this in the most erudidte fashion I can muster after a bottle of vodka.

Blow it out your ass you commie cunt.

TomC said...

Wonderful David. I obviously haven't drunk enough yet tonight! lol

Paul Lockett said...

Tomc:

That mutuals (Co-operatives, is that what you mean?) exist, only shows that some men freely choose to sacrifice themselves to the “common good”. This is the means by which they “choose not to pursue capitalism”.

No, they exist because some people see them as a better way to satisfy their wants and as a libertarian, I don't see any problem with that.

Only there is coercion, you see.

No there isn't, otherwise they wouldn't be co-operatives. Nobody is forced to use a building society rather than a bank - it's free choice in a free market, something you claim to want but in reality clearly hate as much as the next authoritarian, because it allows non-conformity.

“Social justice,” demands the initiation of force against the non-sacrificial individual – the outside world, or maybe the rebel in the commune; it demands that others put a stop to his evil.

You're churning out the same kind of drivel that socialist authoritarians do - if people use their freedom to make a choice that differs to yours, then they clearly are too stupid to make their own lifestyle choices. The only difference is that, as you want to think of yourself as a libertarian, you have to convince yourself that there is coercion in the situation, when there clearly isn't.

Paul Lockett said...

davidncl:

Let me reply to this in the most erudidte fashion I can muster after a bottle of vodka. Blow it out your ass you commie cunt.

It's certainly a lot more erudite than most of the authoritarian shite you spout.

Pa Annoyed said...

Paul,

Freedom and Capitalism are indeed two separate concepts, but the examples you give aren't counter-examples to it. The main distinguishing feature of Capitalism in most definitions is private (as opposed to state) ownership and control of the means of production and distribution (the capital). A cooperative has been defined as an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise - thoroughly Capitalist. A subsistence lifestyle is an independent concept, with no conflict. A gift economy where participation is voluntary could likewise be arranged not to conflict, although that might be a little harder.

It's only forced collectivisation and national ownership/control that is a symptom of Communism/Socialism.

There is one additional caveat I'd add to your no coercion criterion, and that is respect for private ownership of property, even from a government (or other collective) with a popular mandate for seizures. If you're prepared to accept that, then I would suggest that Capitalism could be considered a subset of freedom.

Paul Lockett said...

Pa Annoyed, I would tend to agree with most of that.

The view of capitalism I was addressing was TomC's, where co-operatives would not appear to have a place.

Whether co-operatives can be considered thoroughly capitalist depends on your viewpoint. For me, as they fit into a free market situation, I think they can be. For others, the fact that they might have the potential to be used as a vehicle to undermine the profit motive seems to create a different view.

The one thing I would definitely disagree with is the idea that capitalism could be considered a subset of freedom. I think most definitions of capitalism could be satisfied in a society with very little freedom. In that respect, I think capitalism is a bit like democracy - it is associated with freedom, but it certainly doesn't guarantee it.

Pa Annoyed said...

Capitalism being implementable in a society with little freedom does not imply that it isn't a subset of freedom.

You can have free speech in a society of slaves - they can complain all they want but they can't do anything about it. That doesn't imply that free speech isn't a subset of freedom.

Tim Carpenter said...

Just for the record:

1. I like shiny things sometimes. I am quite capable of resisting advertising most of the time. A few years starting your business teaches you that not buying boxed set DVDs is, in fact, quite possible without the entire planet collapsing.

2. Mankind often wants and likes to trade. I believe free trade existed until some ruler/leader worked out the concept of Rent-Seeking and decided to control who could do what and either took a slice or granted concessions. The two mechanisms have been going on in parallel for millennia IMHO. I suspect it was primarily arranged to fund wars of expansion.

3. Mutuals. If you want. If you don't, you should not have to. Period*.

4. Beware "the national mill owner".

5. As animals we are at best symbiotic (if we only eat fruit, nectar), but mostly we are just plain parasites. Suck it up.

6. I sit in primarily DK/IanB land.

7. To think we can only be happy as hunter-gatherers (as in stone knives and bearskins) is, IMHO, to see our lot in "modern times" through a prism of our own dysfunctional social democratic/Fabian, Statist western nuclear family perspective**. Men in hunter-gatherer societies have an average lifespan of, IIRC, 37 years. This is not due to bad diet, environment or from the rigours of hunting. The most common, and in fact main cause of death was at the hands of another male.

Rule of Law, Ladies and Gentlemen. That, as Leon Leow states, is the key to happiness and prosperity. I have a very strong feeling he is right. If we work out how to do it without a State of some sorts, then I suspect we shall have just evolved the State, not removed it.

My mind is open, but not so much so that my brains fall out.


* I hate the term "end of". I wish we could see the end of end of.
** Let me know if I missed something off there.

Anonymous said...

Tim C wrote: "5. As animals we are at best symbiotic (if we only eat fruit, nectar), but mostly we are just plain parasites. Suck it up."

Disagree entirely. Man has a place in the world, and can exist alongside other man and everything else without being parasitic. It is our existing socio-economic culture that requires us to behave in such a manner, and it's that behaviour which causes so much human misery (IMHO).

The view that man is inherently fallen is, of course, one of the great controlling myths of many religions...

To all: earlier in this thread, davidncl said "humans ... prioritise Advancement, Hope, Aspiration, Love, Progress, Learning, Cooperation, Desire, Difference, Yearning". I agree that these are some of important characteristics things that define 'man'. So why are so many of you so quick to hold your hands up and say that things are just as they are, that they can't get drastically better? You are denying your own humanity by adopting that position.

Tim C wrote: "Rule of Law, Ladies and Gentlemen. That, as Leon Leow states, is the key to happiness and prosperity."

Disagree even more vehemently. Law started simply as a codification of social norms and values, when society reached a stage (I think they call it 'progress') when individuals starting to fail to act in a 'socially moral' manner without formalised coercion. If people still 'policed' themselves, formal law would be unnecessary.

What I've been trying to reach for throughout this whole discussion is to explore why such changes have taken place. Why we need law is obviously part of that. What's different now that so much formal law (any, actually) seems necessary?

At the risk of pissing off the absolute individualists, I'd suggest that it is exactly that individualism, the separation from others, that is at least one of the root causes. When you rely upon others in your life, and they upon you, you tend to get on. Or at least make more of a fist at getting on than you do if no such reliance exists. Today, this is really visible only in familial situations, as every other interaction that we have is with replaceable strangers. I don't care if I piss off the local pub landlord (provider of beer), as I know that there is another down the road. Likewise, he doesn't care if he pisses me off, although he'll do so more circumspectly as he relies on my trade (still, there are plenty of other punters out there). Most of the time we don't piss each other off, but it wouldn't drastically impact either of our lives were it to happen. And that is within the context of a greater 'relationship' than most every other aspect of our lives. Our food, shelter, clothing, shiny things etc. etc. are all provided by interchangeable strangers. There is no basic need to seek out or work to maintain human relationships any more. We're all strangers.

It's apparent from the comments on this thread that many have read more economics theory than I. It's also quite apparent that I've read more psychology theory than many others. Denial of the palpable reality of the alienation of man within modern society may make some of you feel better, but is plain flat wrong. If you don't want to confront that, that's fine -- we don't need to carry on talking. To most of you, I am just a stranger, after all! You can drop this conversation if you're bored, pissed off at me or whatever, with no impact on your own lives. Hmm, sound familiar...?

Pa Annoyed said...

"When you rely upon others in your life, and they upon you, you tend to get on."

Speaking of familial situations, I recall some women who were financially reliant on husbands who, let us say, were not nice people. It was like a prison sentence for life. You get good bits, but you have to remember there are bad bits to being utterly dependent on others, too. You have friends, but you can have enemies, too.

"Denial of the palpable reality of the alienation of man within modern society [...]"

Oh, if you're talking about the psychology of alienation from the modern world, the fact that pessimistic thinking is so popular, I wouldn't dream of denying it. In fact, I regard it as a really serious problem, one we ought to devote more attention to. I only deny that much of it is based on objective reality.

People can be interchangeable strangers, but they don't have to be. We have the choice.

TomC said...

Paul. Mutuals. My apologies. I thought you were talking about communal societies. I didn't think the notion of building societies or the Coop would have been worth a blog line. So yes, mutuals, whoever wants them, do it. Although they are mainly distribution networks. I am a member of some. But try to create or manufacture in a communal fashion and it's likely to be the first step down the road to serfdom.

Tim C. The corruption of man's freedom by rulers over the centuries. Let's not forget that to rule effectively it has been necessary to evade and misrepresent human nature by using guilt to promote altruism / collectivism and thus deny man his right to live for himself; first through religion, then when that became too transparent, through divine right of kings, then by discrediting capitalist values (“the common good”), and now in our times, by environmentalism. This can also be applied to “mostly we are just plain parasites”.

Rule of Law. Yes, so long as they are natural laws applied objectively, that all can understand and are not arbitrary and pointless, or authoritarian. But if we do it with a state, then we are not truly free. I know, I know, I have no answer to this. But realistically you can't commit a crime against the state, only against other people.

But I mainly agree with you. One point though. Statistically, the main difference in evolution of life expectancy is through far fewer stillborn and infant deaths, not through not being killed by another male. This dates from the 19th Century and is therefore quite contemporary.

Patrick. “Our food, shelter, clothing, shiny things etc. etc. are all provided by interchangeable strangers. There is no basic need to seek out or work to maintain human relationships any more. We're all strangers.”

But our free consumer choices (to which free producers have responded) demonstrate that we don't want to spend our time going round farms, tradesmen, weavers and manufacturers, preferring Tescos and Argos instead. Because of this we can spend more time working to earn money, and afford nicer houses and cars and have more free time. It's not obligatory. You can choose to go backwards. George Monbiot does. (Actually he probably doesn't, but he does want everyone else to). :)
You might philosophically regret that you can't come and buy fresh bread and veg from me in picturesque country surroundings, but I can't do that because I make more money driving a big John Deere up and down a field, just as you wouldn't want to go back to whatever mind-numbing existence pre-dated your present occupation. We can't have our cake and eat it. Let's just be optimistic.

Which brings me to psychology. Which I know bugger all about so this may turn out to be your typical half-baked blog comment, but there is a thing called self-esteem which people generally seem to lack these days. I happen to think that high self-esteem comes from self-reliance, achievement and the use of one's mind and intellect. This doesn't stop me from making mistakes and getting shafted sometimes, but we're only human and that's the principle to which I stick and this is why I enjoy life. I believe this is the thing people regret when they say “there is no basic need to seek out or work to maintain human relationships any more. We're all strangers.” Or talk about “denial of the palpable reality of the alienation of man within modern society”.

The problem is in the perceived solution. To “rely upon others”. Because this is the road to serfdom. Relying on others means relying less on our own resources, mind and intellect. This is what our enemies desire, the immolation of ourselves to the collective, our self sacrifice for the “common good”. I'd prefer to meet new friends in the pub personally.

I am an absolute individualist, but you haven't “pissed me off”. Are you a collectivist then? If so, what does freedom mean? :)

richard allan said...

The view that man is inherently fallen is, of course, one of the great controlling myths of many religions...

Yes, particularly the primitivist religion you seem to have fallen for, which states that everything was fine until we stopped eating nuts and berries.

Besides, what you seem to call the "domestication" of man is the product of enclosure of the commons (eg. land) by private interests, as everyone needs land to survive but can't produce it for himself. But you oppose land reform from a pure "fuck you, I've got mine" perspective, that you (incorrectly) believe that it would stop you from living a purely hermetic existence without being beholden to anyone else (ignoring the fact that you are one of a tiny fraction of the world's population fortunate enough to have access to land). And then you turn around and say that "it is exactly that individualism, the separation from others, that is at least one of the root causes." I agree, "individual" as opposed to "collective" ownership of common resources is responsible for a wide range of the things that ail us. So why are you so adamant not to reverse it?

Moreover, the last time I suggested land reform you claimed that "no apologies are necessary for slapping such suggestions down in a libertarian forum" (my emphasis), which is a far cry from your claim that libertarianism is value free and proscribes no economic model!

Anonymous said...

Out if sequence, as it seems to make more sense:

TomC wrote: "I am an absolute individualist, but you haven't “pissed me off”. Are you a collectivist then? If so, what does freedom mean? :) "

I don't think that I am a collectivist, no. And I do understand the desire to label -- it means that you can make other assumptions about my values and opinions, without actually having to go to the effort of finding out. It also means that you will have a ready supply of stock views about those values and opinions. It's a great labour saving approach, but an absolute killer to thoughtful debate!

TomC wrote: "The problem is in the perceived solution. To “rely upon others”. Because this is the road to serfdom."

But you do. That is a major part of my point. You absolutely rely upon others for virtually everything in your life -- far more so than man has in the past. And the people that you are reliant upon are strangers, and the only reason that the system functions is because you, and the strangers that you rely upon, both value and trust in money. If I took away all of your funds and prevented you in some way of earning in the future, you'd be fucked. Truly fucked. Now, you might counter that for that to happen would require coercion on my part, but it needn't. It could happen to you as an individual due to an horrific accident, it could happen to society as a whole through the destruction of the value of currency via hyperinflation.

Lest there be doubt, this isn't a "money is the root of all evil" type argument (misquoted as that is). Money isn't the root of all evil, but the extent to which we rely upon it, and have faith in it, as opposed to reliance upon and faith in other human beings is certainly something that I'm suggesting. Money and separation/alienation are a chicken and egg thing, and I don't know which really came first, but they certainly feed each other: a money based economy causes (further) specialisation and economies of scale, these in turn lead to a reliance upon strangers for all your needs and wants.

Again, I'm not proffering any solutions -- I don't have any. I'm just talking around things, as I don't see why we have to accept the limitations of our current socio-economic model as, for the want of a better phrase, God given. They aren't. Man has lived differently before, and may well do so in the future. But we won't if we simply shrug and say that "this is how things are".

TomC wrote: "But our free consumer choices (to which free producers have responded) demonstrate that we don't want to spend our time going round farms, tradesmen, weavers and manufacturers, preferring Tescos and Argos instead. Because of this we can spend more time working to earn money, and afford nicer houses and cars..."

Of course it makes sense (rational self-interest) within the context of our current money-based economy to approach things as you suggest. Utter sense. But that's just a circular argument, as our model is 'designed' to be self-reinforcing. Would the behaviour you mention make sense outside of money-based economy? Do the perceived benefits of a money-based economy outweigh the perceived downsides? Indeed, is there any way for a money-based economy to operate differently, to be arranged differently, leading to different outcomes than we see today? And, before anyone jumps on that last comment as statist/communist/blah blah, consider that the money-based economy today is arranged in a specific manner; that manner being partly the result of law, and partly the result of convention (e.g. usury).

TomC wrote: "...and have more free time"

That's plain incorrect. Some of us might have more free time, but we are the exception, rather than the rule. Those of us sat typing here obviously have time to do so; many are working their arses off, holding down a couple of jobs just to pay the mortgage and put food on the table, never mind acquiring all the shiny things! Increasing, not decreasing, working hours are a feature of our civilisation. From ancient times to relatively recently, that increase was fairly gradual; with the advent of the industrial revolution (and all that wonderful 'labour saving' technology?!) the rate really took off. And it's still increasing. Google is your friend if you really need references (or I can), but I'm sure that you really know this anyway, but just choose to ignore it or think that because it doesn't apply to you specifically it is of no consequence (I'm genuinely not trying to be rude, here -- again, our current socio-economic system forces all of us to put ourselves at the centre of the universe, so why should we care [or even be interested] if others are having a rough time of it?).

Pa Annoyed wrote: "Oh, if you're talking about the psychology of alienation from the modern world, the fact that pessimistic thinking is so popular, I wouldn't dream of denying it. In fact, I regard it as a really serious problem, one we ought to devote more attention to. I only deny that much of it is based on objective reality."

Arrghh! If it exists, then it exists. Whether you think that it is 'only' subjective is of no consequence to those suffering. It doesn't make their suffering any less real, does it?

Look, to say that there is no objective basis to it is like saying that there is no objective basis to, say, love. Now, some who really self-identify with the machine of our culture will actually go that far, and proclaim that love is simply the movement of certain chemicals in the brain, the firing of certain neurons etc. etc. Totally mechanical, and totally deterministic. Most people get very uncomfortable with that, as they know, can feel, that love is actually something greater. But can they prove that? No, because it's a subjective feeling. But it's none the less real for that, is it?

If we go right down the deterministic path, then what place is there for free will, or any of the other attributes that davidncl helpfully ascribed to man: "Advancement, Hope, Aspiration, Love, Progress, Learning, Cooperation, Desire, Difference, Yearning"? Hope goes straight is the bin. As does aspiration, love (obviously), desire and yearning. The others might be left: advancement, progress, learning, cooperation and difference. I'm not even sure about cooperation. And of those left, all could equally be ascribed to an AI program, or any other machine that's capable of 'learning'. Indeed, that's how determinism sees man; it's how science sees man; it's how our socio-economic system sees man -- we're all just little inconsequential and interchangeable cogs in the great machine of society. Personally, I don't find that appealing, and yearn for a more fulfilling life, for myself and others. And that is a perfectly natural human response.

Anonymous said...

@Richard A

What is right for a minarchist party needn't be right 'full stop'. Context, dear boy, context.

I'm also quite capable of discussing and thinking from conflicting viewpoints, whether here or within the party's private forum area.

Within the context of the discussion here, though, can I point out that your argument is similarly dualistic to the others that have been touched upon before your intervention. You see land as a special case, where private ownership is not 'right' for a number of reasons (including fixed supply). Your response to that is to therefore aver that there ought to be communal ownership of land.

Seems reasonable at first glance, and the only two options on the table. But they aren't. Another option is that land is unowned, full stop. Whilst the difference between that position and communal ownership might seem small (in practical terms), it's absolutely huge from an ideological perspective, and how we would then view land. In either ownership case, land definitely remains a 'resource', subject to man's will. If unowned -- because it isn't property at all -- I think that you'd find we all viewed it in a different light.

[Usual caveat I've found necessary in this thread: I'm neither endorsing nor rubbishing the approach above, just pointing out faulty dualistic thinking]

Devil's Kitchen said...

It doesn't matter whether land is communal or unowned: the Tragedy of the Commons will still apply.

In other words, either option would be insanity.

DK

richard allan said...

Seems reasonable at first glance, and the only two options on the table. But they aren't. Another option is that land is unowned, full stop. Whilst the difference between that position and communal ownership might seem small (in practical terms), it's absolutely huge from an ideological perspective, and how we would then view land. In either ownership case, land definitely remains a 'resource', subject to man's will. If unowned -- because it isn't property at all -- I think that you'd find we all viewed it in a different light.

I didn't mention the third possibility, but only because most people tend to discount it on practical grounds, given that it would make any kind of lifestyle beyond hunter-gathering impossible. Of course, this suddenly makes sense in context of your statements above!

However, previously you've decried land reform from the opposite direction, as I pointed out, and your "caveat" makes me think that your position hasn't changed. "If I can't own land then I can't tell everyone else to fuck off!"

And DK, "common" land ownership doesn't preclude enclosure, as long as it occurs by an accountable process that compensates the "community" for loss of common value; something like yearly land use auctions. Also, I have to ask: have you ever actually read Garret Hardin's article? Because he comes to some conclusions that you might find surprising. Also, it's worth pointing out that the man himself wishes he had entitled it "The Tragedy of the Unmanaged Commons".

Anonymous said...

Richard A wrote: "And DK, "common" land ownership doesn't preclude enclosure, as long as it occurs by an accountable process that compensates the "community" for loss of common value; something like yearly land use auctions. Also, I have to ask: have you ever actually read Garret Hardin's article? Because he comes to some conclusions that you might find surprising. Also, it's worth pointing out that the man himself wishes he had entitled it "The Tragedy of the Unmanaged Commons". "

I don't think that many have read it. We obviously both have.

If you accept Hardin's argument, then your (Richard's) position is eminently sensible. However, there is so much flat wrong in Hardin's piece from a historical perspective that I find it simpler to reject both positions! Although, I'm much closer to Richard than he would think, given how much the two of us have bickered over the months.

If you guys can put aside your preconceptions, here is a good deconstruction of Hardin's piece (and further discussion here). Yes, the author is a Marxist, but that doesn't mean that his analysis is de facto bollocks. And if do read Hardin, you'll find definite Malthusian tendencies -- complicated old world, isn't it ;-)

Tim Carpenter said...

Parasitism

Disagree entirely. Man has a place in the world, and can exist alongside other man and everything else without being parasitic.

By parasitism I mean we live off other things. Plants, animals. We do not produce our own food like a plant does, but, with the exception of fruit which is created with the intention of being eaten, we take without consent, most of the time involving the ending of a discrete life, be it plant or animal.


The view that man is inherently fallen is, of course, one of the great controlling myths of many religions...

Irrelevant, Patrick. Nothing to do with it.

Tim C wrote: "Rule of Law, Ladies and Gentlemen. That, as Leon Leow states, is the key to happiness and prosperity."

Disagree even more vehemently. Law started simply as a codification of social norms and values, when society reached a stage (I think they call it 'progress') when individuals starting to fail to act in a 'socially moral' manner without formalised coercion. If people still 'policed' themselves, formal law would be unnecessary.

TomC got what I was on about and surely you should know what I mean when I say "Rule of Law", as in property rights, due process. You think we can do without due process? Even when we police ourselves, I would expect due process, such as "innocent until proven guilty", habeas corpus and trial by a jury of our peers.

What I've been trying to reach for throughout this whole discussion is to explore why such changes have taken place. Why we need law is obviously part of that. What's different now that so much formal law (any, actually) seems necessary?

Could it be that we have the feminisation of our systems - the desire to "protect" as opposed to "defend"?

snip...We're all strangers.

That I understand. To me, this has been greatly exacerbated by the desire to make The State replace The Family.

Anonymous said...

Tim C wrote: "TomC got what I was on about and surely you should know what I mean when I say "Rule of Law", as in property rights, due process. You think we can do without due process? Even when we police ourselves, I would expect due process, such as "innocent until proven guilty", habeas corpus and trial by a jury of our peers."

What you are saying is that you "would expect" that which we have. In itself that doesn't validate those things that we have, does it? It merely states that you can't comprehend of a way of not having them?

Paul Lockett said...

DK: "It doesn't matter whether land is communal or unowned: the Tragedy of the Commons will still apply. In other words, either option would be insanity."

I'm not so sure about that. If it's communally owned, then people aren't going to be happy at others using more than an equal share, so there would have to be some agreement about acceptable usage.

If it is unowned, issues could arise, but not if there is some degree of management which reflects an equal claim. One example of that is the broadcast spectrum, which is auctioned off to be used by one entity and the revenue (at least in theory) is used to finance public services to benefit all. Other examples are licences for the exclusive use of oil fields or fishing quotas. Perhaps the best example is the Alaska oil dividend, which is paid directly to the electorate, rather than being spent by the state.

I don't dispute that absolute private ownership of natural resources can create some benefits, but I don't think it has any moral basis and it creates bigger problems than the ones it solves. For example, privatising the atmosphere might create a greater incentive for the owner to charge for pollution than currently exists and therefore keep the air cleaner, but the flip side is that we'd have to pay somebody else for the right to breathe. That seems like too great a price to pay for the benefit gained.

TomC said...

Ok, the “more time working” and “more free time” apparent contradiction in my last post:

What I meant was, we are more productive, this is why we are relatively wealthier than our ancestors. This is made possible by technology, education and division of labour. We actually work fewer hours, historically speaking. Are you that delusional as to believe people worked fewer hours in a cotton mill in Bolton in 1850 than they do today? With our coercive legislation?

We have more free time because we have fast transport, centralised distribution and buy our stuff from Tescos and store it in fridges and freezers and can therefore afford to spend a few hours a week in the pub instead of fucking around in a market half the day.

We should be pleased about this state of affairs. Instead we lament that we can't have a personal relationship with our local butcher and baker because they have been replaced by some spotty kid in ASDA who's called “colleague” instead of “Wayne” or whatever.

Let's stop being delusional. In the past, your bread and meat cost you more, and you made less money to pay for it. You didn't appeal to your butcher's better nature, you appealed to his desire to exchange his lamb chops for your gold coin. (at last something relevant to this post) :). Nowadays, nothing has changed except for the centralisation and division of labour, and that the food is way cheaper. As a result we have more money left over to spend on shiny things, but this is not what is making people unhappy.

In which era do you think we would be happiest?

What makes people unhappy is the pressure to compete with others in doing the above while relying on their own mental and physical resources. This is deliberate on the part of our enemies, in causing us to believe that the solution is in the redistribution of wealth. If we steal money from the productive and give it to the feckless, we wouldn't have to live like this, goes the lie.

In which world do you think we would be happiest?

On other points:

The “desire to label” bit. Patrick said “At the risk of pissing off “absolute individualists...” My reply was meant as a criticism of this term. How can you be a “partial individualist”? Only anarcho-communists can be as delusional as to embrace such a corrupt dichotomy of objective definition. You cannot be free and at the same time sacrifice yourself to the “common good”. Inconsistency and hypocrisy are not strong enough words.

The communal ownership of land thing: If it is being maintained that common ownership of land would be good for human progress in the light of the millions of poor bastards that died from famine in Soviet Russia and Maoist China, then there really are some truly evil people out there.

Tim C said “By parasitism I mean we live off other things. Plants, animals. We do not produce our own food like a plant does, but, with the exception of fruit which is created with the intention of being eaten, we take without consent...”

Let's leave aside the obvious argument that all animals' lives involve the “ending of other discrete lives, be it plant or animal”. So what are we supposed to do then, lie in the sun and photosynthesise? Stop feeling guilty. We are humans, individuals, we think, we create. It's a good thing. Because of this we can control our impact on nature. But we need to stop thinking that nature trumps humans, just because we feel guilty and hate our lives. If we weren't here, what objective value would nature have, with no one to give it? It's not our fault that our survival does not happen automatically. But that is the case so let's deal with it and stop trying to bring everyone else down to the lowest possible level of misery and pretending it's a good thing. As of all life on earth, we have a right to live and exist. Be proud of it.

Paul Lockett said...

TomC: "The communal ownership of land thing: If it is being maintained that common ownership of land would be good for human progress in the light of the millions of poor bastards that died from famine in Soviet Russia and Maoist China, then there really are some truly evil people out there."

On the flip side, it doesn't seem to work too badly in Hong Kong.

You could reverse the Soviet Russia and Maoist China argument and say that anybody supporting private ownership of land is truly evil given the potato famine in Ireland.

I think the reality is a little more complicated in both cases.

richard allan said...

Paul you bastard, you beat me on both the Hong Kong and Irish famine fronts. But don't forget the Indian famine!

And Patrick, I agree with some of Garret Hardin's arguments, but not his conclusion (overpopulation is too far away to be a problem, it will have been "solved" by then). But you aren't addressing my point about how you can rail against the "imposed" nature of our "current socio-economic system" while refusing to reverse the thing that caused it to be "imposed" in the first place, ie. enclosure of the commons. I was of the impression that when I argued for "common" ownership, I was arguing for Hardin's "managed commons", and that when you mentioned "unowned" land, it was to be the "unmanaged commons" (as ownership is management and vice versa). I would argue (as would Hardin, I believe) that it's the unmanaged commons that leads to tragedy. Let's not forget that he describes privatisation of land as "objectionable" along with the managed commons.

Whether "tragic" or not, surely you must recognise that returning to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle would entail a massive drop in population, if nothing else?

Anonymous said...

TomC wrote about working patterns: "Are you that delusional as to believe people worked fewer hours in a cotton mill in Bolton in 1850 than they do today? With our coercive legislation?"

A very selective example, and still misleading.

Anthropologists give us an idea of how much Stone Age man worked, and it's also instructive to look at other 'non-developed' tribes in existence now (or at least until recently; i.e. before 'civilised' man impacted their lifestyles ). Marshall Sahlins is well known for his work in this field, and a short and accessible introduction can be found in his classic The Original Affluent Society.

I'll skip forward to the Middle Ages, partly because work patterns didn't really change much between our original domestication (agricultural/livestock) and that period, and because of the relative paucity of written records of the life of common man prior to then. A good source of information on working patterns during this time can be found, for example, in Le Goff's Time, Work and Culture in the Middle Ages.

As we come further towards the modern era, the amount of work done steadily increased, albeit slowly. That changed a lot when we hit the Industrial Revolution, as you quite accurately point out. But there are a couple of things that you overlook when you compare now with the mid/late 19th century through early 20th century. Firstly, in seeing our workload decrease somewhat during the mid/latter 20th century, you ignore the first rule of capitalism: wherever possible, externalise your costs. Yes, man in Britain was indeed working slightly less hard in this latter period, but only because some poor sod elsewhere in the world was picking up the slack. The overall quantity of work wasn't decreasing, it was simply getting spread around the world -- out of sight, out of mind. Secondly, you are also quite right to point to legislative changes making it more difficult to work long hours in this country but, as in the case of externalisation, that doesn't necessarily hold where such legislation doesn't exist. For example, in the US the average amount of work being done has actually increased since the 1970s (and real wages have also fallen during this period, just as a bonus); plenty of sources out there, e.g. "...during the same period (1970-2002) per capita hours rose by 20% in the United States and by more than 15% in Canada and New Zealand": OECD Clocking in and clocking out: Recent trends in working hours and Development, 2004.

Now, even if you take all of this on board, you can/will argue that we are (as a global population) simply working more because we like what it brings us -- the glorious shiny things, as I so condescendingly refer to them. But we know this to be false. Study after study after study has shown that man's happiness does indeed increase with affluence, but only up to a very low level, thereafter we're looking (at best) at minimal gains. Diminishing marginal utility is a well understood attribute of economic thought, and it applies to the effect of wealth upon human happiness as well. As I mentioned previously, once survival/basic comfort needs are met, psychologically what man values most is human relationships. The combination of our basic material needs and our social needs being satisfied is what leads to human happiness. And happiness is the ultimate human good.

This is where I came into this interesting thread in the first place; by questioning the inevitability and desirability of economic 'growth'. But our entire economic system is predicated upon, demands, constant growth. Without growth, it would simply collapse. Even if nothing else, how we currently create money precludes any other outcome. As a consequence, we're stuck on a planetary treadmill which is not actually leading to more happiness, but less. This is why I've been questioning the basic premises of our socio-economic system; because we appear to have a genuinely systemic failure on our hands. The prevailing model simply can't provide what we thought, hoped and expected it would.


To briefly address your other major point:

"The communal ownership of land thing: If it is being maintained that common ownership of land would be good for human progress in the light of the millions of poor bastards that died from famine in Soviet Russia and Maoist China, then there really are some truly evil people out there."

My own take is not that communal ownership is the ideal, but no ownership; that natural resources should be unownable, not property at all. But that does require a bit of a major rethinking of ones current belief system -- inculcated over the last 10-12,000 years of our domestication -- to get your head around. However, it is hardly a new way of looking at things; it's the default for indigenous people the world over. Indeed, to (say) a Native American, the very idea that land could be bought and sold as property would be seen as obscene, unthinkable. And the interesting thing about that is that their view isn't held because either they believe that the land (a) belongs to all of their kind or (b) belongs to a supernatural entity, but rather that they are the land. They see no separation between themselves and the land, and the idea of selling a portion of it would be like selling a physical portion of themselves.

This is something that we in the 'civilised' world do all the time, of course, when we sell the very hours of our lives to feed the socio-economic machine that we have created. I would rhetorically ask whether the system works for us, or us for the system? Who gets the better end of the deal? And isn't the deal starting to look more than somewhat Faustian?

Tim Carpenter said...

Patrick What you are saying is that you "would expect" that which we have. In itself that doesn't validate those things that we have, does it? It merely states that you can't comprehend of a way of not having them?

So you need to outline your alternatives, Patrick.


TomC: As of all life on earth, we have a right to live and exist. Be proud of it.

For sure, and it now seems both Patrick and TomC have totally missed the point! We live off other things and almost all other animals do so the talk of "parasitism" earlier should be used carefully, that is all I was trying (badly) to say. Is this the 5min argument or the full half hour?

Paul Lockett: On the flip side, it doesn't seem to work too badly in Hong Kong.

That is because all the land was either taken from the original owners by force or was never owned in the first place.


Patrick,

How does your communal land concept work with immigration? Do you think the Plains Indians were not at war over this land? Most of all, it is all very well talking of a "there", but we also need to see how we get from "here". It also needs to cope with the fact that not everyone will agree and how it can co-exist with dissenters, those who will not comply and feel under duress? Maybe for another post.

Paul Lockett said...

Tim Carpenter: "That is because all the land was either taken from the original owners by force or was never owned in the first place."

I'm not sure what point you are trying to make there Tim. The original point was that state ownership of land in Hong Kong hasn't created the same problems as it did in state communist regimes. It wasn't a comment on the morality of ownership.

Of course, all land was unowned in the first place and all systems of land control have involved people being excluded by force, so your point is no less valid when addressing the UK system which is the result of enclosures, clearances, feudalism and conquests.

TomC said...

“...the first rule of capitalism: wherever possible, externalise your costs.”

What rules are these then, who makes them and who enforces them?

“...some poor sod elsewhere in the world was picking up the slack.”

No one is forcing them to work long hours, they make the free value judgement that doing so is more worthwhile for them than not doing so. When they reach our level of affluence, they will presumably have similar laws and customs to our own.

“The overall quantity of work wasn't decreasing...”

Well, it is, relatively speaking, as productivity is increasing at an even faster rate. Also, what you term externalisation, is not, really. Exporting manual production is simply a sign of differences in comparative advantage; in other words, a country should not undertake production of any goods in which it doesn't have an advantage in productivity over another country. Generally that means countries such as India and China will be better at production that entails high levels of unskilled manual labour, while Britain in theory would hold a comparative advantage in production of goods requiring skilled and highly skilled labour.

“For a Native American...the very idea that land could be bought and sold as property would be seen as obscene.”

Quite, given the level of civilisation they enjoyed. That's one reason why they hadn't progressed to anything like our own level.

“...their view isn't held because either they believe that the land (a) belongs to all of their kind or (b) belongs to a supernatural entity, but rather that they are the land. They see no separation between themselves and the land, and the idea of selling a portion of it would be like selling a physical portion of themselves.”

It's still the same old primitive tribal mysticism / collectivism ideology though, bereft of any objective insight.

“...we sell the very hours of our lives to feed the socio-economic machine that we have created. I would rhetorically ask whether the system works for us, or us for the system?”

We didn't start the fire. Man has to manipulate his surroundings in order to survive and prosper. This is the nature of man. No one forces others to be part of it, but it is true that to choose not to take part would be the road to misery if it weren't for the Welfare State.. The system works, for us, because of all the benefits I keep banging on about. If you think you work, for, the system, then by extension you think you deserve better, or are looking for unearned values at the expense of others who created them. There lies statism, collectivism, and the enemy.

But man's nature should not require him to connect himself with the idea of a “system”, in front of which he is a sacrificial pawn. If people were really free, independent and individualist, they would take pleasure in existing, accomplishing, and thinking. Be proud of it.

richard allan said...

Patrick you still haven't answered my question as to whether you recognise that to make all land enclosure illegal would drastically reduce global population (it would, of course, by making agriculture all but impossible, transforming "private" land and the "managed commons" into the "unmanaged commons").

To which I can add that when you said...

"If you have LVT, you cannot opt out. You cannot choose not to engage with society/the economic system -- you have to pay it, no matter even if you are totally 'self sufficient' on your own land. It is the ultimate poll tax, and an authoritarian's wet dream. And yes, I did used to think that it was quite a good idea, until I -- as someone who wants the state out of my face -- thought through the consequences."

...you were lying, because when land is unowned, you cannot opt out of that system either, because anyone can come onto your land and do what he likes with it, correct?

Also the idea that FRB requires "constant growth" is a worthless canard because all the debts don't come due at once, rendering a smaller amount of money perfectly capable of paying a larger volume of debts. Also, even if it did require a constant growth in the money supply to pay for increasing debts, that doesn't have to translate into constant economic growth in the form of goods and services.

Anonymous said...

TomC wrote: "If you think you work, for, the system, then by extension you think you deserve better, or are looking for unearned values at the expense of others who created them. There lies statism, collectivism, and the enemy.

But man's nature should not require him to connect himself with the idea of a “system”, in front of which he is a sacrificial pawn. If people were really free, independent and individualist, they would take pleasure in existing, accomplishing, and thinking. Be proud of it.
"

I couldn't agree more, and disagree more.

Where we appear to have our major difference of opinion is at a fairly fundamental level.

You believe that we are now free, and that our socio-economic system encourages and nurtures that freedom.

I believe that we are not free in the slightest, and that our current socio-economic system is actually the crowning height of the collectivism that you claim to abhor, albeit that it is largely self-directing (i.e. that there is no nasty state coercing us [much], but that the entire cultural setup does so with tremendous force). At the same time, I see this system destroying the good things about voluntary collectivism -- intense social bonds being a fundamental part of man's nature.

I fear we'll have to agree to disagree on this.

Anonymous said...

Richard A wrote: "Patrick you still haven't answered my question as to whether you recognise that to make all land enclosure illegal would drastically reduce global population (it would, of course, by making agriculture all but impossible, transforming "private" land and the "managed commons" into the "unmanaged commons")."

I'm a two finger typist, FFS! I'm writing a longer reply to Tim's last post which does address this -- patience.

Richard A wrote: "PV wrote: 'If you have LVT, you cannot opt out. You cannot choose not to engage with society/the economic system -- you have to pay it, no matter even if you are totally 'self sufficient' on your own land. It is the ultimate poll tax, and an authoritarian's wet dream. And yes, I did used to think that it was quite a good idea, until I -- as someone who wants the state out of my face -- thought through the consequences.' ...you were lying, because when land is unowned, you cannot opt out of that system either, because anyone can come onto your land and do what he likes with it, correct?"

Notwithstanding your utter rudeness for copying part of post from a place of private conversation (the LPUK forum) into the public domain without asking first, you totally miss the point. Again.

You are thinking as people do now. If you'd actually read my last post to TomC, you'd have seen this (emphasis added):

PV wrote: "My own take is not that communal ownership is the ideal, but no ownership; that natural resources should be unownable, not property at all. But that does require a bit of a major rethinking of ones current belief system -- inculcated over the last 10-12,000 years of our domestication -- to get your head around."

Of course it would be impractical to go down this route without us all changing our views, as I clearly say above. I'm not denying that! You are simply projecting the outcome of current modes of thinking onto a different beast altogether -- and of course the result looks ugly.

Again, I'll be covering this in my post to Tim, as he asked the most relevant question: how to get from 'here' to 'there'? What changes would need to be made, and how? You'll have your response later.

TomC said...

Freedom, in a political sense, means freedom from the coercion of the state.

It does not mean freedom from your employer, landlord, creditors or whatever.

I fail to see why you think the "system" should provide / fails to provide you with the "intense social bonds" you crave. What's wrong with living for oneself?

Paul Lockett said...

TomC:

What rules are these then [the first rule of capitalism: wherever possible, externalise your costs], who makes them and who enforces them?

Self-interest does. Given that you have declared altruism to be incompatible with capitalism, then doing anything other than externalising costs whenever possible would be incompatible with capitalism. Your self-interest would not be served by involuntarily bearing a cost yourself when you have the potential to avoid it.

TomC said...

What rules are these then [the first rule of capitalism: wherever possible, externalise your costs], who makes them and who enforces them?

Paul replied - “Self-interest does. Given that you have declared altruism to be incompatible with capitalism, then doing anything other than externalising costs whenever possible would be incompatible with capitalism. Your self-interest would not be served by involuntarily bearing a cost yourself when you have the potential to avoid it.”

Except that capitalism is not about excluding the self-interest of others. Although it does not surprise me that the enemies of freedom would not hesitate to misrepresent it as such.

Collectivists conclude that capitalism is not in the interests of the “common good” therefore it can only be in the interests of the “self”. It is collectivist ideology that has “declared altruism to be incompatible with capitalism”, Paul, not me. I simply presented the malevolent nature of altruism if you remember.

The problem is, there is no such thing as the “common good”, a tribal slogan that has served as the moral justification for all the tyrannies in history. It is an undefined and undefinable concept. Society is only a number of individual men. “Good” and “value” pertain only to a living individual, not a disembodied aggregate. What is the “good” of individual men, and how does one determine it?

In the mystical, elastic world of the collectivist, it becomes a moral blank cheque for those who attempt to embody it, i.e. the “good” of some men take preference over the “good” of others, who become sacrificial animals.

Capitalism is the only system based on an objective theory of values and the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned. It is not about the interests of the self, to the exclusion of the interests of others. Men are free to cooperate and deal or not, as their own judgements, convictions and interests dictate, with the right to disagree with others if they wish.

No man may initiate the use of force against others. Externalising costs as in the context used by Patrick and Paul would violate the rights of others. Whether the use of force in retaliation should be the domain of the state or the injured individuals is another argument.

Paul Lockett said...

TomC: It is collectivist ideology that has “declared altruism to be incompatible with capitalism”, Paul, not me. I simply presented the malevolent nature of altruism if you remember.

You said:

Altruism is incompatible with freedom, with capitalism and with individual rights

I can only respond to the viewpoint you present.

Capitalism is the only system based on an objective theory of values and the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned...No man may initiate the use of force against others. Externalising costs as in the context used by Patrick and Paul would violate the rights of others.

To some extent, but it isn't completely objective. I view absolute private land ownership as being incompatible with capitalism, as I view it as being reliant on an initiation of force. Others disagree and there is no way to prove one or other viewpoint correct as it will always rely on a subjective judgement. The same applies to the atmosphere, the broadcast spectrum, the seas, copyright, patent and so on.

One man's legitimate property is another man's initiation of force and that is why any system is subjective.

Anonymous said...

Tim C wrote: "PV wrote: 'What you are saying is that you "would expect" that which we have. In itself that doesn't validate those things that we have, does it? It merely states that you can't comprehend of a way of not having them?' So you need to outline your alternatives, Patrick."

I can't, because I haven't got that far through the thought process yet! I certainly haven't got 'all the answers'; if I raise some pertinent questions then that's good enough for now. As we both know, it's only scummy politicos and their ilk that think that there has to be an instant answer to everything -- hubris is all. You and I know that isn't the case; indeed, there may not even be an answer to every specific question.

Tim C wrote: "...Most of all, it is all very well talking of a "there", but we also need to see how we get from "here". It also needs to cope with the fact that not everyone will agree and how it can co-exist with dissenters, those who will not comply and feel under duress? Maybe for another post."

The $64,000 question. And that in itself is telling: that such an amount was once considered a damned impressive sum... Anyway.

[I've just re-read what I've written below, and an attempt to answer a simple question seems to have turned into a mini-thesis/polemic. Sorry. It is also somewhat speculative in nature; whilst I obviously can't objectively/empirically support that speculation, I can the various strands that underpin the speculation.]


From the reading that I've done, there appear to be three approaches posited of how we're likely to transition from 'here' to 'there'. Firstly, you've got the technophiliacs, who see science leading inexorably towards an enlightened and near work-free future. The more thoughtful of these are typified by the likes of Fresco, whose Venus Project featured heavily in the second part of the movie Zeitgeist: Addendum. I advisedly describe Fresco as one of the more thoughtful futurists, as he at least recognises that you can't get a a quart out of a pint pot -- our planetary resources are finite. Others who envision a technotopia without admitting to that fact are plainly simply delusional nutters, to put it in the vernacular. Now, whilst I have few problems with the approach of resource-based economics per se, I'm really cautious about the futurists' explicit reliance upon technology to achieve their end goals. Technology has been one of the major problems to date, and the usual refrain that we need yet more technology to solve problems caused by technology in the first place is wearing a tad thin. Junkies always need "that one last shot" before getting better.

Although I've touched on the problems of technology in these posts, I've only done so at a superficial level. If you want an overview of how and why technology has led us to where we are today -- including an explanation of why the Benthamesque policies so beloved by New Labour are historically inevitable -- I'd recommend Jensen's Welcome to the Machine, which, whilst not the best written book in the world, pulls together the ideas of some key thinkers in this area: the likes of Mumford and Ellul.

Speaking of Jensen brings us to the second approach suggested for transitioning society. Nowadays, Jensen disavows the label of anarcho-primitivist -- I believe that he and John Zerzan have had their differences. Zerzan remains, of course, the place to start to gain an understanding of the anarcho-primitivist movement, and I do highly recommend his philosophical essays. His thoughts on the impact of mans move from a cyclical to linear view of time, and our transition into symbolic representation are particularly worthy of note (taster). The deep ecological approach championed by Jensen is probably best represented in his two volume work Endgame.

Jensen et al believe that the dangers are so great, and that time is so short, that they don't look for a gradual transition to a new mode of human society: in their view, the situation demands that we 'tear it all down', right now. Whilst the call for the violent destruction of society seems less than agreeable, the logical reasoning -- as far as it goes -- behind such calls certainly makes a great deal of sense. As far as it goes. In a way, Jensen reflects a wider line of thought in anarchist circles these days, which claims to recognise the futility of non-violent action. In a nutshell, I could sum that up as the understanding that if the state (or coercive agent of whatever description) permits and sanctions certain forms of dissent, you know damn well that those activities are going to be futile anyway -- otherwise they would be repressed. For more intellectual meat on these particular bones, see (for instance) Ward Churchill's Pacifism as Pathology.

One of the main strengths of Jensen's approach is also one its key weaknesses: he is entirely anti-anthropocentric (is there an antonym?). That is, he believes that we should just rip society apart in order to prevent man's depredation of the natural world. Remove the tools, and you remove the capacity to do damage with them. Of the consideration of what would come after, Jensen doesn't give it too much thought.

To me, that seems a somewhat naive approach, regardless of any moral judgments. If mankinds' attitudes don't change, then our relationships with others (human/animal/biosphere [and look who is dropping into dualistic thought here; aarghh!]) won't change either. The outcome will be not a lot different, albeit we'll likely have slowed the destruction of the world that we inhabit due both to the inevitable setback to technology that societal collapse would engender, plus the reduction in economic demand arising from the death of many of our own species.

To summarise the two above positions on transition, then: the first posits continual human technological progress, leading to a technotopia (for what percentage of the current world population is anybody's guess). The second demands the violent dismantling of civilisation as we know it.

I naturally don't buy the first, because I don't see technology as necessarily a good thing for man (for why, do read some of the works mentioned; also note a possible distinction between technology and tools -- the former is larger than us, and can and does control us, the latter are 'human-sized' and we remain in control). The second approach is, I believe, doomed to failure as it doesn't adequately encompass the need to change the perspective that we all hold about our place in the world, but simply attempts to rearrange some things forcibly.

There is a third position, though, and I personally believe that it is the most likely to come to pass; I'd actually go further, and say that it appears to be inevitable. This is the collapse of our existing socio-economic system; a collapse not brought about by anyone actively working towards that goal, but simply because our way of life, our basic premises and systems, are fundamentally unsustainable. However, whereas you might be tempted to ask me to don the 'doomer' hat at this point, I don't see why -- the collapse of what we have now could be a wonderful opportunity for mankind to genuinely progress.

I realise that I'm probably typing into the ether here, so I won't spend time going over the various areas of life that seem to be heading towards crises; we all know what they are: environmental destruction and pollution, failing human mental health, an increasing gap between rich and poor (a psyche problem, even if you deny a practical one), mounting anger towards the loss of mans traditional liberties, a global inadequacy to supply even the most basic human need -- potable water, rising violent crime, monetary collapse, increasing conflict over natural resources (particularly fossil fuels); and on, and on, and on. Whilst any of us might accept (at least) some of these things as being true, and deeply regrettable, I don't believe that we often consider that they are all simply expressions of a much bigger problem. As such, we think that we can take measures to ameliorate them in isolation; which, of course, is bound to fail -- as surely as modern medicine is largely focused upon palliative measures, rather than affecting a bodily (systemic) cure.

People rarely change their attitudes unless placed in a position of extreme stress. Familiar examples of this include that of the person given (say) 6 months to live, or that of somebody recently bereaved. Facing such moments, a common response is to suddenly drop what society considers as important, and adopt an outlook that is oriented towards living now, "as if every moment mattered". You can explain that away, if you wish, in the case of someone given a few months to live, as rational economic behaviour -- what's the point of denying yourself today, simply to gain tomorrow, when you know that tomorrow isn't necessarily coming? But we know (from psychology) that the actions which that 'rational' actor are taking are actually that of rejecting our current norms/values because they are simply less -- or totally -- unimportant to that actor having had the experience in question; they suddenly recognise the inherently unfulfilling nature of modern life. There's a subtle, but huge, difference there. And, as a rhetorical ponderer, who knows which of us will be here tomorrow, anyway?

Our current socio-economic system is entirely predicated upon the 'jam tomorrow' principle. Its systems literally dictate that we deny ourselves today, in order to gain (more?) at a later date. Even if you fail to see this elsewhere, it's an in-built feature of an interest-bearing/debt-based monetary system. The reverse, of course, is true of more 'primitive' cultures. As some of the links that I've given above and previously will show you, 'uncivilised' people live in the now. They trust to nature to provide. Now, if that seems a bit risky, we do exactly the same thing -- only we trust to technological progress to provide. And that's all that we have. The 'primitive', however, doesn't just have nature to look to, but also his fellow man. There's a great quote reported by Everett who spent time studying the Amazonian Pirahã. When he asked them about how they provision for the future, the response was "I store meat in the belly of my brother". That is, should you be sick or simply unable to find sufficient food (or whatever) for yourself at some future point, your fellow tribesmen will look after you. No questions asked. Contrast that with our position today: if you are unable to support yourself, the state will (sort of) look after you. And that's whilst we have a welfare state -- many of us, myself included, wish to see it gone. When it has, if you aren't able to rely on others in times of need you will be fucked. Totally fucked.

But we will be able to rely upon others, providing that the major 'disasters' I'm suggesting are inevitable do indeed come to pass. As a species, we always pull together in times of crises; think back to the Second World War, or what effect that the (last, for now...) Great Depression had upon inter-personal relationships, charitable giving and so on. These periods of stress are just like the bereavement example I gave earlier -- they are powerful enough to break our societal conditioning, and get man acting like man again. The difference I expect to see next time around is that there won't be a 'recovery', meaning that such behaviour patterns don't get a chance to be subverted back into those of selfishness (both the day-to-day and the Randian meaning). Such attitudes are not part of our nature, but a response to the systems that we live within. As Paul L correctly pointed out, altruism within our monetary/property-based/capitalist system doesn't make rational economic sense. But these sort of behaviours are natural for man, as the social sciences and numerous anthropological studies clearly tell us (there's been some interesting writing on gift economies, if you're so inclined).

Our current socio-economic system is inherently at odds with mans true nature, and once that breathes its last, such behaviours as altruism, trust and so on will return to be recognised as the natural virtues they once were. And outside of the context of our current system, they genuinely are, with the added bonus that they also are entirely rationally from an economic (big sense) perspective.

I was going to write a whole load more on things like alternative monetary systems and the like, but that's enough for my two fingers for now.

To close: much of the above is, by necessity, speculative. I'll be the first to admit that I can't see into the future, and we can all interpret the events of the past and the present in a myriad of ways (albeit that the evidence for the past is much more in my favour than to those holding on to the shared Hobbesian cultural myth).

To ensure that Richard doesn't think that I'm evading his question: I do envisage that the human population will be decimated at some future point as collapse occurs. I do not welcome such an outcome, but I recognise that it's built-in to the fabric of the socio-economic systems that have developed over time, and which are inescapably doomed to fail -- it's simply not my fault or your fault that there are going to be a lot of deaths, but that of the system. Providing that the collapse is suitably catastrophic, man will inevitably learn the lessons and not attempt a repeat performance. Sadly, there's an awful lot of rope left out there with which to hang ourselves, so it could well be a very long time indeed before we get a chance to start again, and to build ourselves a genuinely humane and balanced society.

Henry North London said...

My I have missed a big debate....

Edinburgh here I come

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