Monday, May 30, 2005

France's Recent Vote

Please see my latest article at the Von Mises website on the economic situation in France, here.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Economics Dimwits

I don't want to be mean; after all, that would be stooping to the level of The Right Honorable Thorn in the Side (see my post and comments here), but I've gotta be truthful. Liberals, lefties and Democrats (and some Republicans) just don't seem to get basic economics.

"Profit is bad." "Corporations are evil." "They're all in cahoots." That's all you hear. I was listening to the Ed Schultz show on Air America (not a very good source for economics debates, but a good place to study how the other side thinks), and a caller from a website that tracks gas prices was whining that they were actually decreasing. (Sounded like good news to me, but you just never know with these people.) He was also careful to point out that they're still 30% higher in California than they are in the midwest.

Well, *duh* ... of course they are higher on the West Coast. Has anyone taken a look at the regulations put upon gasoline producers, refiners and retailers out here? Jeesh. It's enough to wanna pull the whole kit and caboodle out and move it to Arizona.

Then Ed threw in the hackneyed harang (and I'm paraphrasing), "It's the greedy corporations. Their profits are higher than ever. The shareholders are getting rich on the dime of the poor working Joe's." (Ah yes, those evil rich shareholders. Of course, no one in the middle class has any stocks.)

He went on, "And it'll all probably be over at the end of Memorial Day weekend. They just want to fool everybody into thinking they're nice people. 'Research and development' my ass."

That's a paraphrase of one nincompoop's version of Economics 101. [Sigh.] Good grief. Our road is going to be long and hard, ladies and gentlemen.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Hold the Presses!

Can't resist sharing this.

Was anyone else listening to Janeane Garofalo on Air America on Friday? (I listen to 'em all. Gotta get the whole, colorful palette.)

I will paraphrase her:

"... those free-market wackos with their 'invisible hand' mumbo jumbo."


How's that for a lefist economics lesson?

Friday, May 20, 2005

Liberal Debating Techniques, and Other Comic Relief

I want to take a moment to thank my commentators for their useful feedback - Vache folle, whose blog I find very interesting, Franko the faithful, Gordo and Jim H my defenders, and all the others who encourage me to continue. Even Fred, who didn't take to my style, is forcing me to look at myself and admit I can be didactic - oh all right, downright pedantic at times, and has provided me with some useful feedback.

Just for fun, for those who haven't seen it, and at the risk of appearing to enjoy self-flagellation (not my idea of a good time as a rule), here is Fred's comment regarding my latest Government Lesson No. 8 on the nature of science:

"I randomly stumbled upon this blog and sincerely regret the 5 minutes of my life lost to the inane babble of government lesson number eight. While I trust you will snicker at me from your perceived lofty intellectual perch for employing a quote from Billy Madison, I find it most appropriate for your post:

"What you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."

Thank you, Fred, for that nice piece of borrowed humor. However, if you don't mind, I would like to profit (capitalist that I am) from this occasion to point out a defect in your thinking that very much resembles that of liberals: You resent anyone who may differ with you or whom you don't understand, and your immature and irrational reaction is to use tantrums, personal attack, ridicule, and/or sleight of subject to avoid the real debate. (I hesitated between "liberals" and "most liberals," but in order to be a liberal in the first place, this kind of emotive gymnastics is a prerequisite; so I went ahead with the generalization.)

The avowed liberal, Professor Krugman, whom I slapped around in a previous post (shameless ignorant upstart gadfly that I am), is also guilty of this technique. In fact, one of his academic colleagues, Professor Arnold Kling, who is a much more frequent contributor to the Tech Central Station website than I, has put his finger quite squarely on the problem here.

From Fred's own performance, I'll go right ahead and jump to the conclusion that he has at least leftist tendencies (although I could be mistaken, because I also got a very definitive "?" from another reader/blogger whom I wouldn't describe that way.) Having said this, I wish to tell them both that (1) I have learned from their contribution and will henceforth try (a) to put a lid on my pedantry (the "Lesson" idea was pretty lame, I suppose), and (b) to bring all of this down a peg while attempting to maintain the same philosophical punch; and (2) I have given my ego a thorough lashing and, thanks to them, have managed to get it back into its ill-sealed box, at least for the moment.

Seriously though, I'd like to invite them both back so we could attempt to have a real dialog (although I doubt that's possible with those of Fred's ilk - prove me wrong, Fred), or at least so I could knight him The Right Honorable Thorn in the Side, as a reminder to strive at all times for clarity, humility, humor and, last but not least, respect for - or at least tolerance of - each other's opinions, differences, and personality.

I also would like to take a moment to thank some webmasters and bloggers who have referenced me in their links:

- The Von Mises Institute, at this site

- The Prudent Bear people, here

- Gil, over at MacroMouse, who has been kind enough to republish some of my stuff and to put me up in his links column

- L-Train, a co-blogger whose ramblings I really like, in spite of the fact that he/she sent me Fred. Here's L-train

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Government Lesson No. 8: Hypocrisy and Hippocrates, Science and Epistemology

I've spent all of Lesson No. 7 berating economics Professor Paul Krugman for his change of robe from sober academic black to papal golden filigree; but I don't mean to slight the importance of religion in the life of us humans. In fact, I've always said that all people - and that includes me and even the atheists - have a pigeonhole in the brain where some form of religion, or at least a degree of faith, resides. I am proposing here that socialism easily fills that pigeonhole for the secular humanist. The vacuum therein attracts faith not in a God, but in an unproven political construct based on a fantasy of social justice through pie-in-the-sky, human-orchestrated egalitarianism.

In his fantasy, the socialist sees certain individuals (usually including himself) as members of "the Elite," capable of governing all the rest of the human race. This belief in an Elite with a contrived social and political Master Plan is not scientific, of course, nor is it based upon anything scientific. If anything, it borders on a fascist scheme; but this doesn't deter him. He does not believe in a "laissez-faire" policy, a system that would permit each of us to have greater autonomy, because that would be tantamount to anarchy. (Strangely enough, the secular humanist wants total liberty in his love life, but he wants everyone to conform to his idea of "Social Order." 'Tis a puzzlement.)

So as defined by Webster's, neither religion nor faith requires proof or evidence to be believed. An idea accepted "on faith" is assumed to be true, perhaps indeed for lack of scientific disproof. The question then arises: What is science supposed to be, as contrasted to religion?

Science is "systematized knowledge derived from observation, study, and experimentation carried on in order to determine the nature or principles of what is being studied." You'll note the conspicuous absence of anything here about belief or faith without proof; on the contrary. Remember, - and this is important - science does not address every and all aspects of the universe. It does not pretend to take the place of religion; that would be impossible. The two words and "worlds" are contradictory, by definition. Science can only address those aspects of the universe that lend themselves to be observed, studied, and experimented upon. Therefore, IT IS OF PRIME IMPORTANCE that all scientists discern VERY CAREFULLY the chimeric line between scientific probability and imaginary speculation, lest they trespass on domains where, at a given moment, only faith may have jurisdiction (although these can change, with the advance of science into many areas that were once thought to be unattainable.)

Consequently, scientists are presumed as a class to be patient, painstaking, observant, modest, careful, open to reasoned debate, and loathe to jump to conclusions. According to the unspoken "Hippocratic Oath" of the Scientific Method, which is the universally accepted set of research guidelines in which most of today's upright researchers put their faith and to which most pledge their honor, only the open exchange of ideas and of source information, and the devotion of much painstaking testing over time, can ensure the rigorous consistency and viability of a good scientist's work.

As my father once explained to me (see more about him in my March posts), some of humanity's greatest thinkers best defined this methodology about four centuries ago. In contrast to the often mistaken certainty-seeking of old, this new technique allowed them to come to useful hypotheses (called "warranted assertions") that are never fixed in stone but rather remain fluid, perpetually subject to revision by future generations of thinkers. It is this new open-endedness of research that allowed Newton's work to supersede in part that of Galileo, for example, and later to some extent Einstein's to supersede Newton's, and that surely will invite the next genius to extend Einstein's. Einstein himself would have been the first to declare that what he formulated would be modified in future by someone else's description.

Unlike their predecessors of earlier centuries, these intelligent men of the 1600s were aware that no one is ever the holder of any ultimate Truth; that one can only attempt to formulate more and more useful, albeit perforce tentative, descriptions of a particular subject matter. (For more on this subject of epistemology, read Useful Procedures of Inquiry, by Rollo Handy and E.C. Harwood, available at the publishing Institute's website.) It is thanks to this "discovery" that we have made such remarkable progress in the hard sciences like neurology, biology, physics, chemistry, medicine, and geology.

This was a revolutionary concept for scientists and philosophers in the 17th Century, and from the looks of things, it still is today, especially in the social sciences like economics. As I pointed out in the Krugman post, the prudent, humble, patient, disciplined and wise researcher is still all too rare, even with our 21st Century academic sophistication, and especially among those who manage to creep past what I will call the "Public Awareness Threshold," as Professor Krugman and others have. Most often, it is not the discrete true lovers of sunlight that get the attention of the public, but rather the limelight-seeking faux-scientists who claim privileged knowledge of "the Truth," and who exhibit their erudition like God's own stamp of approval. For some reason, once the flattering eye of the public falls upon these Smeagols, they throw off the shackles of scientific discourse and run up on the first stage that presents itself. Then, once they achieve name recognition and the social status they once only envied, they set about publishing their pet theories and text books. With the help of the story-craved media, they begin to believe their own rhetoric and start to dismiss every challenge, valid or not, as so much jackal jealousy.

To be sure, scientists and academics have just as much right as I to express their opinions, or even to proselytize their "science"-cum-religion, I suppose; but what they do not have is the right to use the privilege of their stature to validate their faith-based theories as fact, in blatant disregard for their duty to the public to be impartial, unprejudiced, open-minded researchers and educators. To cross that delicate line is the ultimate in hypocrisy, and serves oneself before humanity.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Government Lesson No. 7: Socialism's Religious Zealots

With my little light turned onto the subject here, in Lessons 2 through 6, perhaps you begin to decipher as I do how socialism's respectable theories are really inviable, even when they're disguised as some hybrid progressive capitalism like Blair's "Third Way" or Europe's quasi-statism. As I pointed out in my previous post, progressivism also has many of the attributes of a faith-based ideology or religion; and, like all religions, it has its priests and voodoo artists.

The occasional over-zealous ministers you find scurrying around the edges of the more classic religions are not the only people who attempt to hypnotize our emotions. There are more than a few such poisonous persuaders around us, in many fields of endeavor including the sciences and education. The most dangerous and sometimes hypocritical of these are the ideological agenda-pushing preachers of economics, jurisprudence and political science - dangerous because their stature lends credence to the wily politicians, who are not stupid and who know how to put them to good use.

Even though these misdirected albeit erudite academics wear the same robes of distinction as their more noble and impartial brethren, they are no less astute than the religious soothsayers at orchestrating the hopes, fears and guilt of the naive. Some are no less calculating; and a few even have the same evil personal ambition for enrichment, self-preservation and aggrandizement.

The accomplices in this crime are fourfold: the scientists themselves, the school boards, the politicians, and the media, each of them using the academics' status as a catalyst to validate their particular agenda. What's worse, in these scientists' haste to impose their "findings" (opinions) upon the young and the impressionable, they commit procedural errors that can reach catastrophic proportions before any subsequent corrections can be issued, too little too late, just like those errata we find at the bottom of the newspaper column. The damage is done, and the profit taken.

This type of crusader, already bereft of modesty, sometimes arms himself with ridicule and bombast. I could give a number of examples, but I don't intend to cast more than one stone today, which I've saved for someone in the field of economics: Paul Krugman.

Let me hasten to say that this is not a personal attack. Krugman is infinitely more learned than I, and if I may permit myself, he sounds like someone who might be a delight to be around at a dinner party (although I'm sure the feeling is not mutual.) His sense of humor is biting, and his metaphoric soliloquies are engaging; but as a responsible scientist, he has left openness and humility at the door of notoriety, very much like Greenspan and Friedman, only to a much greater degree. (See Economics Lesson No. 5 for more on those two.)

Preacher Krugman has a most deservedly illustrious academic background, based upon the contributions he made during his more humble years. Lately, however, and for obfuscated reasons, he has decided to renounce his respected scientific crown, only to replace it with the artificial halo worn by the Democratic establishment mountebanks. What Krugman promulgates today seems to have nothing to do with his past work. He spends all his time blasting the Bush administration and everything it stands for, without bothering to present the relevant facts and a reasoned argument.

Of course he has a right to his opinion; but I think the nobility of the sciences should cause him to reflect upon how he has allowed himself to be used as the hothead mouthpiece for the political goals of the NY Times editorial board. He's no longer an economist; he has become the Loony Left's Pope of Fiscal Policy.

To use one's scientific diploma to push a political party or a religion seems hypocritical. Scientists cannot be priests. They must choose between science and religion. If they cannot refrain from choosing sides in a political debate that at least half of the country believes centers on speculative theory, then they are no longer true scientists and should renounce their tenure. But Krugman is far from renouncing. On the contrary, between classes at Princeton and writing his political commentary, he is coming out with an economics textbook - the real test of his acceptance among his academic peers. (He should have no trouble. Statistics show that an overwhelming majority of academia is progressive, i.e. they claim to have the answers to the shortcomings of capitalism, among other things, do not tolerate dissent among their ranks, and do not admit they might be wrong - just like Pope Paul.)

Ever since PP the 1st began to contribute his invective-filled columns in that progressive bible, the New York Times, he has done nothing but vituperate the Republican Party's fiscal policies with a religious fervor that would be a delight to observe, if only it weren't for its aura of ulterior motive. We all know that neither Party can balance a budget without a Fed-created business boom (see my article Waiting for the Big Wave), so the whole charade is like watching one of those ridiculous wrestling matches between Hulk Hogan and Dusty Rhodes, with Krugman and his friends as the sweaty, favorite-playing, whistle-blowing referees.

Paul's brand of economics-cum-religion may be spicy and fun to read; but it is verbal legerdemain and promotion of experimental social architecture at best, and at worst it's simply ambitious grandstanding. The one thing it is NOT is science, in spite of what he and the editors would have you think.

Perhaps he's bored with the mundane, just like some of the big-government jurists who have begun legislating from the bench. I could understand that one might be tempted to venture away from the sober, socially unexciting scientific arena and jump into the fun of the Washington fray. It makes perfect sense. After all, if you're going to advocate a big party, you might as well get in on the action. The Big Government party-goers are simply returning the favor, "Thanks, guys, for lending us a hand. Come on up behind the scenes and join us for some caviar." I guess they've heard their calling.