The presumption must always be in favour of individual rights and personal freedom

This was posted at the Societies for the History of Economics website a couple of weeks back.

Of course, with the spread of the COVID virus, I have been thinking of the libertarian arguments of the constraints of government on liberty. But now the constraint on liberty is not from the government but from nature where one’s individual actions can harm others. I would assume that for a responsible libertarian, they would recognize their behavior affects the liberty (health) of another, and change their behavior. Besides having rights, liberty also means individual responsibility to protect the liberty of others from one’s actions. But what if individuals don’t and add to the tragedy of the commons?

If one believes ecological economists, individual constraints are going to increase with global warming. It is only by acting collectively to control global warming that we will be able to protect personal liberty from the constraints that nature will force on us. The point I’m getting at is that besides demanding rights, individuals need to act responsibly. If not, then collective action needs to step in to protect the common good. The libertarian argument for me has only made sense if individuals besides demanding rights are also willing to respect and act to protect the rights of others. If not, you get too many tragedies of the commons.

Irritating, specially when he brought global warming into the picture, and then another pair blew in to support this same argument. But before I could buy in myself three others joined in to argue the other side so I let it go, until yesterday. Then I posted this:

I am sorry to be buying back into this exchange of views after so long, but in editing something today I came across a passage in John Stuart Mill from his On Liberty. These are the first two paragraphs of Chapter V, “Applications”, which I believe discusses the point made in this earlier post.

The principles asserted in these pages must be more generally admitted as the basis for discussion of details, before a consistent application of them to all the various departments of government and morals can be attempted with any prospect of advantage. The few observations I propose to make on questions of detail, are designed to illustrate the principles, rather than to follow them out to their consequences. I offer, not so much applications, as specimens of application; which may serve to bring into greater clearness the meaning and limits of the two maxims which together form the entire doctrine of this Essay, and to assist the judgment in holding the balance between them, in the cases where it appears doubtful which of them is applicable to the case.

The maxims are, first, that the individual is not accountable to society for his actions, in so far as these concern the interests of no person but himself. Advice, instruction, persuasion, and avoidance by other people if thought necessary by them for their own good, are the only measures by which society can justifiably express its dislike or disapprobation of his conduct. Secondly, that for such actions as are prejudicial to the interests of others, the individual is accountable and may be subjected either to social or to legal punishments, if society is of opinion that the one or the other is requisite for its protection.

If, during a pandemic, wandering down the street in the middle of the day, going shopping, or showing up at a cafe with friends, is deemed to be “prejudicial to the interests of others, the individual is accountable” then our individual rights may in such circumstances be abridged. Being restated was what John Stuart Mill had already made clear in 1859. With this found not just in Mill, but in his On Liberty, then it is hard to argue this undefined belief system he described as “libertarian”, whatever this may in reality be, is opposed to communal action of this kind on principle. Even so, the presumption must be in favour of individual rights and personal freedom. At the beginning when this virus had only begun to have an effect on individuals and our communities, no one had any clear idea of the extent of the problem we were dealing with. Now that the smoke is clearing, and we have become aware of how much of an exaggerated concern there originally was, the issue must surely have become not whether but how soon the restrictions that have been placed on society ought to be lifted. That too would be consistent with the arguments made by Mill, whose argument must be the terms in which these issues are discussed if we are to continue to live in a free society.

Is hugging a form of social distancing?

From Bettina Arndt.

How irritating to watch media everywhere fawning over NZ Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern, claiming her country leads the world in eliminating the COVID-19 virus.

In fact, Australia is doing a better job, with less shutdowns to destroy the economy. New Zealand has 0.4 deaths per 100,000 population while Australia has 0.3, according to a New Economic Forum analysis. And earlier this week infections were running at 26 cases per 100,000 people here compared to New Zealand’s 30 cases.

No doubt we will hear very little about Ardern’s attempts to hug her tattered economy back to life and her faithful media supporters will neatly avoid comparisons with countries like Sweden which seem to have kept a lid on the virus without causing massive unemployment. Nice to have a captured media ever ready to supply the right spin.

“Our political class just needs to just get the hell out of the way”

This was posted first at Powerline and then at Instapundit.

APRIL 28, 2020

I, MECHANICAL PENCIL: Why a socialist economy can never work.

This followed the posting by Steve Hayward about how difficult things might be to re-start after the compulsory shutdown which is disrupting so many markets in so many novel ways: “WHAT HAPPENS IF WE BREAK THE PENCIL?”. This is the point he was making.

I don’t think our political class in Washington or the state capitols have the slightest idea of how they have disrupted the workings of our economy beyond the mere measure of the (huge) number of people filing for unemployment, which they think can be fixed simply by printing more money and sending out checks….

Contemplate the effects the shutdown is having on the millions of daily decisions made by producers and consumers alike. Maybe our political class just needs to just get the hell out of the way.

On a cost-benefit basis, the entire shutdown process has already turned out to be economic monstrosity: such a fantastically high cost – so few benefits (have there actually been any?). But if these same people start using the restarting of our economies as an excuse to add a few more of their favourite “stimulus”-type schemes, the costs will be magnified many times over.

The point of “I, Mechanical Pencil”, as well as its predecessor, “I, Pencil”, was to emphasise governments know nothing about how to direct economic activity or have the slightest idea how to choose projects that raise living standards and hasten economic growth. Seriously, would you want Scott Morrison to start funding his favourite projects? Or any of the state premiers any of theirs? More streetcars, say, or rail projects, perhaps? How bout pumping water up hill?

What is most notable to me about “I, Mechanical Pencil” is how difficult the point it makes is to understand, and how easy it is to ignore since most people never get the point. I will just say again, that if anyone actually believes an economy is driven forward by aggregate demand, they are as ignorant as the day is long about what it takes to make an economy grow.

They are laughing at you

The more I look at the Joe Biden story the more it is clear that our elites laugh at every one of their supporters as the dimwits they take them for. I am not even sure in which order we should look at things, but let’s start with Tara Reade before all evidence for the prosecution disappears.

Let’s just ignore Bill Clinton. Here the left decides to go all moral about male sexuality so they invent the #MeToo movement which was mainly about a number of actresses who seemed to have fallen onto the casting couch and now wish to seek some kind of retribution. It reached its peak during the nomination process for someone this accusation applies to less than possibly any other male I have ever seen in public life. With Brett Kavanaugh we reached the stage where someone could be accused of some kind of impropriety based on an obvious fantasy that was never ever corroborated in even a single element, and indeed there is no evidence that he had ever even met the woman in question. Yet everyone on the left lined up and counted themselves scandalised and shocked at these revelations.

On the other hand, there is now this story about Joe Biden and Tara Reade (who? – why have you seen her name in the paper?). Well there is this kind of news, for example, Timeline shows media, Dems’ different approach to Tara Reade accusation after Kavanaugh free-for-all. I cannot see a different approach myself. If it helps the Democrats, then they’re in. If it helps the Republicans, then they are out. No inconsistency there. Meantime, their supporters turn themselves into pretzels trying to show how different the situations are, while the Democrats and the media laugh at all of these idiot supporters of theirs who end up looking like the jerks they are in trying to evade the obvious. Joe Biden may really be a sexual predator. If that is an issue that matters in selecting a president – and Bill Clinton showed it isn’t – then why can Democrat supporters be counted on to refuse to look at the evidence?

Then there is this business about how important it is for a political leader to be honest and trustworthy, and certainly not use their political position for personal advantage for themselves or their children or anyone else. Joe Biden, on the other hand, has a son appropriately named Hunter. This is what you can find over at Google: The life of Hunter Biden: How Joe Biden’s middle child landed in Trump’s impeachment inquiry and a paternity scandal of his own. Hunter was kicked out of the Marines after a month or so for cocaine possession – do Biden’s supporters know that? – and ended up making an amazing amount of money working for a Ukrainian company knowing neither anything about the business nor Ukrainian. This is what you read at that the link written by some Democrat flunky who seeks to cover everything up:

Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s middle child, is at the centre of a controversy that is being stirred by President Donald Trump’s administration over a possible conflict of interest involving a business he was involved in and the Ukrainian government.

Come on, you stupid Democrat voter. Open wide while the Democrat establishment and its captive media hold you by the nose and make you swallow it whole.

In regard to the Ukraine one might go here: Biden’s Nepotism and Hypocrisy in Ukraine. Apparently they were paying him something like $50,000 a month.

Western consultants, lawyers and investment bankers were hired by Burisma, not for their expertise on Ukraine or the gas sector—which none of them had—but to camouflage its corrupt origins and provide it with a glossier look. In other words, to launder its tattered image. As author Oliver Bullough asked in The Guardian: “Hunter Biden is an undistinguished corporate lawyer, with no previous Ukraine experience. Why would a Ukrainian tycoon hire him?”

You know why. Everyone knows why. The real question is why doesn’t anyone who votes for parties of the left care? Why can the Democrats count on their supporters to ignore this corruption entirely? And then, of course, Hunter also made a pile working in China. This for example is what we now find out about Hunter in China as portrayed by one of the usual Democrat shills.

  • President Donald Trump this week suggested that Hunter Biden had used his position as then-Vice President Joe Biden’s son to secure a $US1.5 billion deal with the Chinese state bank for a Chinese private equity company where he is a board member.
  • There is no evidence to this claim.
  • The $US1.5 billion appears to refer to a sum that BHR, the private equity firm, was trying to raise in 2014 to invest outside China, according to The Wall Street Journal.
  • But Biden’s lawyer said Biden has never profited from his work at BHR.
  • Here’s what we know about Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China.

No evidence to this claim! So swallow it whole once again, you captive morons, and defend Biden with all you are worth (which is hardly anything at all) as these people swindle their way across the world while laughing at the fools who nevertheless continue to support them.

But perhaps it’s Joe Biden’s deep intellect, policy agenda and sweeping command of facts and events that makes him so attractive.

OK, so he’s out of it, nine-tenths senile, but so what you say. It’s the Democrats in power that will provide the value in making Biden president. All this will be done in his name while he just signs the papers put in front of him. Well there’s this, of course: Biden: Let’s Fix The Economy By Repeating Obama’s Stimulus Fiasco. Worked so well the first time, even while Biden was the VP. Why not do in again?

There’s all that and more. But the point is not that Biden is a cypher, which he is, or that he is a thief and a liar, which is well known, or that the media will cover up, which they will, but that the people who will nevertheless vote for him are being made into fools and accomplices. Why do they put up with it, is the question.

We should stop arguing with the media who are merely left-wing shills. We know they will lie in every instance to protect the party of the left. The focus should no longer be on the media but on those who vote for “progressives” who steal, lie and rob at every opportunity they have. This is what needs to be asked. Why do you vote for them? What is in it for you? What have the parties of the left ever accomplished that has made you even the slightest bit better off? Other than providing a few freebie crumbs while they make your life a mess why would anyone with common sense vote for these people?

When you are with your lefty friends, make them explain why they vote the way they do. Don’t argue, just listen (I know, it’s hard). Then you can also have a laugh at their expense, in the same way that those who run campaigns for the left do themselves when dealing with the people who support them.

The media can get away with it because their audiences are desperate to believe what they are told

Let’s start here: Trump’s idea for “disinfecting” people to fight disease is already being done. Whether it is or it isn’t, he was only discussing some of the present possibilities.

If you spent any time on the internet on Thursday and Friday, or read a hard copy of a newspaper, you would undoubtedly have read stories or social media posts saying that President Trump told Americans to inject themselves with bleach or Lysol to cure coronavirus. Of course, that’s not true. The media were either stupid or malicious when they misreported Trump’s words. What Trump said was straightforward and thoughtful:

“And then I saw the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute, and is there a way we could do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning,” the president said during his White House press briefing. “As you see it gets in the lungs, it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.”

Even after all this time, the President thinks he is talking to serious adults who are with him in trying to find a solution to what is a problem. The media simply understand how dumb and desperate the members of the left are, who want only to hear bad things about the president: An aggrieved Trump blames press for furor over disinfectant comments. The assumption at CNN is that anyone who watches the network is a proven idiot whose will to believe their lies will easily overpower any limited desire they have to know what really happened.

(CNN)After shocking the nation last week with his toxic suggestion that the coronavirus might be treated with an injection of disinfectant, President Donald Trump avoided the briefing room Saturday and retreated into the recesses of the White House, emerging on Twitter only to air his grievances about his press coverage.

This is the reality in politics today, and not just American politics. All propaganda and no truth if the truth will help the President. Tell me what I want to hear and nothing else. It’s a disease of the mind and a destroyer of the civil order of the West. It’s party discipline on the left just like in the old days. CNN along with the rest of the media provide the party line and that is of itself all the truth one needs.

But then there was also this: No, you aren’t meant to take Trump’s medical insights literally or seriously. It says it’s The Spectator USA, which does not sound at all like its Australian version.

Every time you think Donald Trump has lost his talent for making people’s heads explode, he somehow excels himself. His latest? Telling Americans that injecting disinfectant and shining UV light could cure COVID-19 patients. You’ll have seen the clip already, everybody has, but it is worth watching again.

Your civilisation and way of life depend on these people not getting their hands on the reins of power. Having only a single House of Congress has already been disastrous for good government. Imagine electing Joe Biden, who might really truly actually win.

FROM THE FISH FACE FILES: Via my addled former friend in California who has now sent me 3755 anti-Trump emails since November 2016 this being the latest: Trump’s Disinfectant Remark Raises a Question About the ‘Very Stable Genius’. It’s in The New York Times.

Mr. Trump’s performance that evening, when he suggested that injections of disinfectants into the human body could help combat the coronavirus, did not sound like the work of a doctor, a genius, or a person with a good you-know-what.

Even by the turbulent standards of this president, his musings on virus remedies have landed with uncommon force, drawing widespread condemnation as dangerous to the health of Americans and inspiring a near-universal alarm that many of his past remarks — whether offensive or fear-mongering or simply untrue — did not.

How fantastically ignorant these people must be. It must take superhuman powers to remain so wilfully stupid.

Flock immunity

I wish I knew how better to deal with the lying and duplicity of the left. And for some, the triumvirate of media, entertainment and the academic world is almost enough to generate a majority in every situation. It is also clearly not enough to just answer their stupidities with logic, facts and reason. We have to make their opinions uncool and widen the appreciation that their solutions to everything are uncaring and heartless. They only do harm. We need a better means to make clear that in supporting typical Democrat/left-side solutions to a problem, many people, specially among those who are poor or on low incomes will inevitably be made worse off in the medium term and even more so in the longer run, even if not immediately. But thinking past the immediate moment is the shortest of suits among the left. Historical thinking is no more their forte than logic. Impractical sentimentality is their means to a solution which is why none of their solutions have ever provided an answer to any social problem. We are better off today only because the left live within a capitalist economic structure that provide the goods and services they do nothing to create and very little to distribute towards those on the bottom of the income scale.

It is a conundrum for us. We collectively have only the thinnest sliver of an attachment any longer to the principles of individual responsibility that made our societies what they are. Where we go from here is a great worry. I laugh at the “OK Boomer” notions of the millennial generation whose notion of wisdom today is the hippy idiocies of my generation way back then. We, at least, had the leavening of the actual adults amongst us when we were kids. Now we are the adults so there is all too little that any longer provides that leavening so far as I can tell.

Anyway, we shall see. It worries me that even Donald Trump seems to take this virus business as a serious matter. I think at the beginning he did know it was a scam, but he has been isolated by those others with another view. Socialist isolation is a very bad outcome.

The left are like a plague of locusts, destroying everything in its path. The phrase I use is that we need some means to deal with the “flock immunity” of the left. Those on the left seem impervious to either logic or the real world horrors where their policies have been put into place. More needs to be done. Beyond that, there needs to be greater coordination amongst us on the conservative side of the political divide on how to deal with the viral intellectual toxicity that is highly contagious, specially among the young.

In the hands of idiots

It seems to me that every political leader wants to be remembered as the Winston Churchill of their times, when the reality is that there is no greater truth than rooster today, feather duster tomorrow. It is incredible what a bunch of fools this country is led by, state and federal.

We here in Victoria are blessed with the Laurel and Hardy duo of Dopey Dan and Slo Mo. Possibly the stupidest statement to come out of our present situation is from Paul Kelly in relation to the PM: “Political capital built during the virus crisis must be spent wisely on reform”. The only form of capital that occurs to me is capital punishment. We are led by such power-driven idiots that it is hard to have imagined this outcome. If any kind of reform is needed it is to find ways to limit the power we seem inadvertently to have put into the hands of our political leaders. Let me therefore take you to this from Adam Creighton – Coronavirus: We’re paying a high price for saving not many lives – who shows a great deal of what is now missing everywhere, common sense.

He discusses the absurd numbers flowing from the Victorian government. Whoever wrote the document he refers to should resign in disgrace:

The most absurd document published by an Australian government in recent times must be from Victoria’s Health and Human Services Department, which claimed 36,000 Victorians would have died from COVID-19 without the tough lockdowns brought in by Premier Daniel Andrews.

Adam Creighton also puts a number of what this is costing:

The cost [per life saved] is looking enormous and far more than we typically spend to save lives. If we’d followed the Swedish trajectory we might, crudely, have an extra 4500 fatalities by now (our population is 2½ times the size).

For the federal government alone, that works out at $48m per life saved, given the $214bn in budgeted federal assistance.

That is only the additional tally for federal money spent, leaving out the states. I did another similar estimate based on lost GDP which came to $300b per life saved. But let’s work with merely the $48m per individual life saved.

We are in the hands of idiots of such colossal proportions that no one will ever again be able to look back at the Salem Witch Trials and laugh at the people of their time since we are among people so far in advance with their own superstitions that believing in witches will eventually seem rational compared with the dolts we are in the hands of today.

What would an historian of economics know about John Stuart Mill?

Classical Economic Theory and the Modern Economy

I posted the note below onto the Societies for the History of Economics website in regard to François Quesnay, an eighteenth century French economist, but it’s really about John Stuart Mill. No one has responded among the 1200 who are part of this website. Lots here that is scandalous to me, but the easy peasy way it is to demonstrate that at the very centre of the study of the history of economic thought, there is no one who has the slightest idea what Mill said about the theory of value which they nevertheless continue to ridicule. This is part of the reason I wrote my Classical Economic Theory and the Modern Economy.

I found this, from Spencer Banzhaf, the most astonishing sentence I may have seen in quite some time, and I could not agree more.

“One cannot possibly discuss what happened to the role of agriculture/nature in value between Quesnay and today without talking about what happened to the meaning of “value,” conceived of as a moving target.  Rival theories of surplus value from Quesnay to Jevons will have to come into play.”

I often go on about the disastrous effect on economic theory of the Keynesian Revolution, but almost equally disastrous was the Marginal Revolution which undermined the classical theory of value, which was outlined comprehensively by John Stuart Mill in Book III Chapter VI of his Principles. Before I state my conclusion, I will just mention this, which comes from the brief profile of Mill that is on the HET website:

“John Stuart Mill’s greater economic performance was his magnificent 1848 Principles of Political Economy, a two-volume extended restatement of the Classical Ricardian theory.  He believed  Ricardo’s labor theory of value to be so conclusive that, in the beginning of a discussion on the theory of value, Mill confidently notes that:

‘Happily, there is nothing in the laws of Value which remains for the present or any future writer to clear up; the theory of the subject is complete: the only difficulty to be overcome is that of so stating it as to solve by anticipation the chief perplexities which occur in applying it.’ (J.S. Mill, Principles, 1848: Book III, Ch. 1).

“Thus putting a stone on the matter, and burying supply-and-demand theory for another quarter-century.  When Jevons’s later grumbled at the ‘noxious influence of authority’ preventing the development of economics, there is little doubt he was referring to J.S. Mill.”

That is all we think we know about the classical theory of value and it could not be more completely wrong. Mill did not restate “Classical Ricardian theory”. He explicitly discussed supply and demand. If you go to Mill, the first two of the seventeen elements in his theory of value are firstly, that the issue is not price as such, but relative prices, and then secondly, that the “temporary or market value” of something can be determined by supply and demand. There is no labour theory of value to be found anywhere. This is what Mill wrote:

“I. Value is a relative term. The value of a thing means the quantity of some other thing, or of things in general, which it exchanges for. The values of all things can never, therefore, rise or fall simultaneously. There is no such thing as a general rise or a general fall of values. Every rise of value supposes a fall, and every fall a rise.

II. The temporary or Market Value of a thing, depends on the demand and supply; rising as the demand rises, and falling as the supply rises. The demand, however, varies with the value, being generally greater when the thing is cheap than when it is dear; and the value always adjusts itself in such a manner, that the demand is equal to the supply.

The shallow reasoning and lack of depth in a modern textbook is a scandal, but is kept from most of us because no one knows what the economic theory of the past actually consisted of. If Spencer Banzhaf intends to be stating that “rival theories of value from Quesnay to Jevons” will need to be examined, then that is absolutely the case. What astonishes me is that both macro (which has replaced the classical theory of the cycle) and micro were much more profound among the later classical economists than amongst the majority of the economics profession today. We have more diagrams, they had a deeper understanding.