Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Chile - a degrading liberal state?

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All the signs suggest that Chile is destined to degrade into a liberal state. The cards were always on the table when you consider the anti-intellectual foundations for the nation. The modern 'successful' state was born out of intellectual repression. As it turns out repression can be good, when the ideas being repressed as are socialism. General Pinochet is criticised broadly for suppressing and killing political activists. Those who lost loved ones are however fond of forgetting that the activists were extortionist socialists intent on turning Chile into a socialist paradise. They might soon have their way. So we will explore the question of - cost or 'opportunity cost'.
There are of course those who will argue that life is an intrinsic value; but actually everything we understand about life tells us that it is objective and conditional upon humans recognising the requirements or life-affirming values to sustain and prosper. So how is Chile destined to fail?

Pinochet should be a national hero because he denied individuals rights to those who spurned their value. How can the socialists of the 1960s, like those of today:
1. Be critical of human right violations when they were no less intent upon curtailing said rights. The difference is only one's choice of victims. Pinochet curtailed the victimisation only to the socialists who threatened the rights of others, rather than the socialists who threatened to takeover the country and renounce everyone's rights.
2. Avoid the correlation between personal freedom and prosperity. Since Pinochet's transformation, the nation has achieved outstanding growth. It is true that a lot of the prosperity has resulted from the mining boom. That said, the nation will struggle to sustain the levels of spending being considered by the new socialist government.

The regime of Pinochet is not without its problems. The greatest threat is posed by low standards of education. The truth is that no nation around the world conveys a healthy framework of human values. Chile is no exception in this regard. It however can be considered to be very vulnerable because:
1. Spanish cultures were never famous for their personal or intellectual discipline
2. Spanish cultures always gave primacy to lifestyle considerations
3. Spanish cultures have always been firmly collectivist, spurring the rights of individuals for the sake of social harmony.

Does this suggest that we are destined to see another oppressive political step by the military. Well, that is possible. This government is relatively popular. The implication is that:
1. Chile could see a return to oppressive militarist rule - but this time round the military may be more corrupt than under Pinochet
2. The socialist coalition of 7 parties might well break down, so it loses credibility, and is unable to implement much of its program

In the favour of the socialist government is the health of the Chilean economy as well as the underlying disparity of wealth. Commodity prices have likely seen the bottom, so we can expect export revenues to have reached their low. Chile will however be going against the international trend of austerity. Partially this will serve to debase a currency that is destined to be a 'hard currency' at a time of robust mineral prices and devaluing international currencies (i.e. EUR, JPY & USD). The problem lies in the potential impact of state education. In some respects the reforms could be construed as positive, however given that it could greatly enlargen the state bureaucracy, there needs to be considerable scepticism about the direction of said policy. Nothing can be taken at face value. It matters less than education is state or privately run; it matters more that the values conveyed are healthy. So what exactly is the nature of this program?

Currently, education in Chile relies upon household funding. The implication is that the poor are precluded from entering 'skilled' work which pays higher. The implication is that Chile is trying to elevate its standing as a 'skilled nation'. That is admirable. The problem is that there is only so much demand for skilled labour. You therefore have to wonder whether Chile's skills development will be as beneficial as in other countries, which already have skilled trainers. This is a threat. The opportunity presented for Chile is that they might well be able to position their nation to be the 'skills capital' of the Latino world. That is a strategic opportunity. There is really no centre of commerce in the Latin world. The Australian Stock Exchange, the Johannesburg and Toronto/Vancouver Stock Exchanges are centres of finance serving their respective markets. There is every reason to believe Santiago could displace Toronto, Sydney, NY and London as the Latino centre of capital, particularly given its growing importance to mining and its shared Latino language.

The negative aspect is the expectation that any wealth created can be pilfered by the state 'in the interests of the common good'. In fairness to Chile, the government is only talking about raising its tax rate from 20% to 25%. This might be construed as recognising its improved sovereign rating - barr immense changes like this. The government is also talking about dropping tax concessions on capital works. Large scale mines tend to undergo expansion. Tax deductions on further capital expansion therefore favours further 'expansion' to defer mining profits, and therefore taxes, until later years. In Chile, the mines are immense. So the miners are able to defer taxes. Deductibles are bad policy as they greatly complicate and distort a 'user pays' system, but so does relying on income taxes. The question is for how long will miners be able to defer tax through deductibles. It is fair to say it will not make much difference because they will merely restructure their spending accordingly. In that case, we can expect 'corporate loopholing' to leave the budget under-funded, demanding more tax increases. The nation should move towards a consumption tax with user pay charges on identifiable and privatised services. Education, if it must be state-funded, should be on the basis of a voucher system, so that people's education dollar is discretionary. If families don't use their education coupon, then perhaps it should carry over towards their social security. The funds should go into a resource fund to protect future savings from inflation. Of course must depends on the nature of education policy; however a state solution is generally a bad idea. Is there any reason to think it will be worse than any other nation? No, but relativism is hardly a solution to what might be construed to merely a 'funding problem' for education. This is a justification for a coupon system - not a Western style state system which has decimated student's capacity to learn. One could be forgiven for hoping for a crisis of confidence from rising inflation to precipitate the suspension of the Bachelet-government's program.

Her other reform initiative is constitutional reform to adopt an electoral system. The problem with representative democracy is that it causes bitter in-fighting over an issue which is really superfluous. Representative democracy is extortion. Policy development should be about 'good rational ideas', not extorting influence as a 'numbers game' or strategic manipulative game-play, that electoral politics ultimately descends into, with lobbyists buying votes. This is not a paradigm that has served any Western nation in the last 80 years. It will never achieve its stated goals - because its is institutionalised corruption, on a poorly conceived idea. Its not stable government; its repressive, disenfranchising, alienating tyranny. The fact that it constraints political leaders almost as much as its citizens is not a saving grace. It is a capitulation that is destined to end in tyranny by forcing the renunciation of the human mind. Having said that, her proposal for reducing the entrenched power of the mainstream parties could be construed as a positive. If they adopted a system like NZ or the Philippines MMP list seats, or even Australia's proportional electoral preferencing system, then minor parties would have greater voice. It would still however be a 'extortion-based' system, where parties are rewarded for extortion. In fact, we might argue that it affirms the wrong value. It says that any competitive system is fair, even though the system rewards or affirms extortive imposition of force.

Of course, the Bachelet-government can be praised for its initiative to liberalise abortion and gay rights. She is not exactly a new face in politics, having led a coalition government from 2006-2010. In that time, she was undoubtedly challenged by her thin majority and the global financial crisis, even if commodity prices were relatively high in this period. On reflection, it does not seem that the Bachelet-government poses such an immense threat given that she will have to rely on the Right for some concessions, and her 7-party coalition might end up being a substantial vulnerability regardless.

It is difficult to compare Chile to Nixon's New Deal. There might be 'centre-left' protesters clamming for change. But at this point there is no crisis demanding such policy. This might however occur by necessity. If Westerner governments are going to continue to poor USDs on the global market, then 'relatively' hard currencies like Chile will be forced to debase their own currencies to remain competitive in international markets. We can expect therefore some profligate spending. The positive news might well be the plan to direct this spending towards 'value-added' education. The question is whether the nation's leader is able to pull off that feat. Its plausible that Chile will be a Mecca of learning for the region. The question is - how well will they do. This demands some understanding of the current value of Chilean education. Perhaps the outlook is positive given its 'discretionary' funding model to date. That question demands investigation.

For more information on the Chilean economy, read BBC News.

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Monday, October 14, 2013

Israel's Occupation of Palestinian Territory - a critique of a liberal soldier

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I don’t profess to have a complete knowledge of the Israeli Occupation of Palestinian Territories, but it does not strike me as ‘rocket science’ to give some moral appraisal of the issues at hand. I have just listened to a video interview by Yehuda Shaul, a former soldier who performed military service with the Israeli Defence Forces for a little less than 3 years in Israel & Occupied Palestine. He has since the end of his service come out to strongly oppose 'The Occupation' of Palestine. He has set up a Facebook page to ‘Break the Silence’. He has also written a book “Our Harsh Logic”, which includes testimonials from some 950 Israeli soldiers who are against the nature of the govt’s military campaign.
It is an appealing interview because he is an articulate man and he has first-hand experience of the conflict. However upon listening, based on my ‘peripheral knowledge’ and his argument, I find myself less than supportive of his campaign for several reasons. He makes a number of moral failings:
1. Empiricism – He argues that “the facts are not in disputed” – The fact is that they don’t have to be.
2. Democratic ‘conservatism’ – He seems indifferent to the nature and disposition of the political regime in Palestine, and the fact that Palestinians choose to live in the Occupied Territories rather than "unoccupied" Palestine. Why? Because they are in effect, economic refugees, who settled in 'Occupied' Palestine.
3. Moral ignorance – Yehuda honestly concedes that he was ‘righteous’ whilst in the military. He thought he was a ‘good person’. He thought this way for over 2 years. So are we to believe that he has passed from morally ‘lost’ to moral crusader in a few months; or might we instead expect that there is no reason to expect ‘moral certainty’ since he has had no ‘new education’. He only left the military. That’s not an education in ethics. I have already argued that he conveys a very ‘empiricistic view’ citing ‘undisputed facts’. I will explore the issue further.

He argues that the military ‘has its own logic’; but might he be construed as ‘having his own as well’, and that his logic changes as ‘rapidly as the seasons’. I have always argued that ideologically liberals and conservatives are 'one and the same' people; since they merely approach a problem from two different perspectives:
1. Conservatives from a repressed sense of optimism
2. Liberals from an indulgent sense of tragedy

Perhaps coming out of the ‘safe’ military life he was at a loss of what to do. Military men often feel lost coming out of the military, partially because military life (i.e. In his case "searching houses") does not prepare them for career life. His ‘apprehensions’ about his future might be construed as a foundation for a ‘flip’ to the tragic path of a liberal. There does not need to be any deeper moral appraisal of the issues in the Occupied Territories. “The facts are not in disputed”. Indeed they are not; and nor are they new. So what otherwise would account for his change in thinking. This strikes me as a plausible rationale for the ‘flip’, which he does not really elucidate. I would however like to get his perspective. Many retired Israeli soldiers become ‘hire mercenaries’ in other countries, working for other governments, or even private corporations. Was he simply facing a ‘career crisis’? Anyway, this might explain, apart from the Western liberal media’s penchant for attacking conservative governments, why he has launched this ‘new career’ attacking conservative governments; whilst has culminated in tours to Western countries and 'a book'. The fact that there is a ‘conflict of interest’ here, is not in itself an issue, and yet this does not stop liberals from constantly attacking ‘Big Oil’ or ‘corporate lobbyists’ for having a ‘conflict of interest’. There is that false conservative-liberal dichotomy rearing its ugly head again. A bit of pot-kettle I’d say; although this criticism applies to most liberals - not necessarily all of them. Nor does it need to end the debate because there is plenty of material upon which to build a case.
Of course it is easy to criticise people as traitors. Smear is par for the course of ‘conservative-liberal’ politics. I’ve been smeared as ‘anti-American’ by Conservatives because I think constitutions are a bad thing. No deeper argument, and so I have at least some appreciation for his attempt to make a case. It just strikes me as hopeless at best given the selectivity of his case. Yes, we might well expect more of 'civilised Israelis'; but he would have us believe that Palestinians are of equal standing. Well, it must be conceded that Palestinians do not exactly 'show their traitors' do they? How often have Palestinians surrendered information about their colleagues and family members who have 'conspired to injure Israelis'. Now, in fairness, they might well fear reprisals, or even unempathetic treatment by Israel, but I suspect the very few. Yet in contrast, Yehuda is free to criticise Israeli's role without adverse consequences.

Yehuda makes the point that these practices were a deliberate ‘campaign strategy’, not the actions of rogue soldiers. Typical measures included random raids on Palestinian houses, though he also argues that inspections at checkpoints were dehumanising or degrading to Palestinians. If I reflect on these policies, I would conclude that:
1. The borders of Palestine are ‘porous’ so there is a need to patrol.
2. The military cannot allow Palestinians to develop ‘safe houses’ from which to launch offensives against the Israelis
3. These policies are similar in intensity to the screening of passengers who board flights in any city around the world.

Perhaps the biggest failing of the interview, and perhaps this question is addressed in the book, is the question of what alternate policy Yehuda would suggest. Surrendering the Occupied Territories strikes me as ridiculous because:
1. Giving sovereignty to Palestinians would allow Hezbollah to mount rocket launchers on the borders of Israel.
2. Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are probably thankful for Israeli security; as much as they might resent the intrusion into their homes at ‘inconvenient’ hours….just as most of us would hate getting out of bed at 4AM each morning, if that was our life. We might even curse the world for it.
3.     Concessions to Hezbollah would only fuel Palestinian nationalism, and embolden them to the point of precipitating more violence.

It raises in my mind what alternatives the Israelis have. I would think that:
1. Israel relies on US support for the actions it takes because the withdrawal of a US sanction could prove harmful
2. Israel is challenged by the need to balance offensives against Hezbollah with the threat of injury to ‘innocent civilians’.

One of the failings of Western observers, and perhaps also Israelis, is to forget that Palestine is already (in a sense) an Occupied State, in the sense that it is a ‘tyranny under the authority of Hezbollah and other militants. Now, “modern” liberals will support them because:
1. They are the legal or legitimatised authority of Palestine
2. They are weaker; so in their minds ‘powerful interests’ are the oppressors

This is the type of thinking that underpins liberal disdain for ‘dictators’ like Pinochet in Chile; whilst welcoming or sanctioning the extortionary demands of socialists, who in fact pushed Pinochet to a brutal crackdown. Socialists will castigate Pinochet for killing thousands; but rather than describing these 'innocent victims' as hostile, socialistic revolutionaries intent on overthrowing the government, they are simply 'honored indifferent victims'. That is of course the same selective 'collectivist' lie you get from liberals.
The issue is that, in the absence of an all-powerful Israel in the Middle East; the liberals would be supporting the oppressed people of Palestine against Hezbollah. But in the current context, they consider Israel the aggressor simply because ‘they are more powerful’ and able to defend themselves. i.e. Israelis are 'unethical' simply because they have a life-affirming value system, i.e. Western democracy. The modern liberal will romanticise the ‘hapless Palestinian’ because they are ‘exploited’ or ‘have nothing’, or plausibly because they ‘have lost everything’; but the reality is that they are poor and destitute because their philosophical values are a repudiation of life. i.e. They have always been poor. If you look beyond Palestine, the entire region is poor; except where Western technology has made possible, with a little good fortune from the earth, the ‘blessings’ of rich oil discoveries. The region should thank those ‘Big Oil’ companies; but instead they invest the proceeds in the subjugation of their people (rather than education) and hateful propaganda of the West, who made it all possible. Understandably the West is only too happy to see Arabs 'disempowered' under Arab autocracies if they take that view. Critics might say I am engaging in 'Arab hate'. No. I don’t hate these people; I just think that they are ‘spoilt’, ‘entitled’ unthinking ‘savages’ who are victims of their religious values and sabotaged education. There is a good reason why Hezbollah has not raised the education of their people. They want them indolent, vengeful serfs who take the war to the West. The expectation that ‘surrendering the Occupied Territories’ will result in a peace is na├»ve. I hope they can learn to understand the nature of their geopolitical destitution. Until that day approaches I will be sure to keep this entire region at 'arms length'. I am pleased to say that I've met charming Arabs, including Palestinians, and I'm sure they all have their moments, as all people do. But on points of conviction, there is simply a great deal of moral treachery in this reason, and Israel is right to 'contain the problem'. Of course they should not thwart the chances of their development; only their illegitimate power. By no means do I think Israel should subsidise the development of the Palestinian people. That would only betray their own value. Palestinians have to become self-reliant and recognise their own potential. Foremost is getting out from under the oppressive 'tyranny' of Hezbollah, in the same way that Syrians are challenging President Assad.

I do have some questions which some people can perhaps answer. Is there any evidence to suggest that the Israeli government is preserving its vigilance in order to preserve its administration? The question is: Does Israeli policy serve to:
1. ‘Psychologically pacify’ the enemy? It seems this is not going to be the case; at least psychologically; though it might be argued that their measures are effective at securitising the Palestinian Occupied Territories and Israel to keep the conservative govt in power. The occupation therein could possibly serve as a ‘sore point’ to preserve the fight.
2. Facilitate the permanent annexation of Palestinian lands. I’m not sure if Israel has land pressures’ but certainly the military action could serve as a strategic rationalisation to ‘keep their land’. It might be argued that ‘Palestinian attacks’ need to be compensated, and occupying Palestinian land is a way of recouping some level of financial loss, as well as serving as a security buffer. It is noteworthy that Israel is barely occupying Palestinian lands, i.e. It is really a 'military zone' rather than an 'Israeli housing estate'. This I think is not true for the West Bank.
4. Simply preserve a ‘security buffer’ around Israel, to prevent mortar attacks on Israel.

Just as interesting of course is the US justification for Israeli support. Of course there is an alliance; and Israel is the ‘lighthouse’ of Western democracy in the Middle East. There is a lot of support for Israel in the USA; however liberals are largely unsympathetic. Is the US going to be sympathetic to the annexing of Palestine land? I would think not. You do have to wonder have to wonder where the US is getting value from the relationship. What exactly is the nature of the US ‘support’? Cheap weapons? Certainly satellite intelligence.
Yehuda Shaul, Co-founder of “Breaking the Silence”: “I was trained in the Israeli defence force to defend the country (whether Syria, et al start a war against us), to defend our borders, but what I did at the end of the day was enforce our military rule over the Palestinian people….to make sure they are stripped of dignity and freedom….[so they] don’t live as equals to us. 
Perhaps Yehuda presumes too much. There is no question that Palestinians will not appreciate being woken up in the middle of the night. If the question was ‘wake me up for Israeli security’, they would probably take the security and wonder how waking them up at 2AM in the morning helps to preserve it. That is the luxury of indulgent thinking; you need not be drawn on points of detail. The issue however is; is Yehuda’s disdain, and is the disdain of the ‘oppressed Palestinian’ justified? I don’t think so. I think its very selective thinking. The Palestinian lacks dignity because Israelis identify as enemies of Palestine, and the Hezbollah identify as being Palestinian nationalists. Perhaps if the Israelis identified as ‘Arab nationalists’, seeking a better world for Arabs, then perhaps they might be seen in a different light. I personally believe they will be cursed as ‘heathens’ because of their religious differences and their history.
Yehuda Shaul, Co-founder of “Breaking the Silence”: “At the end of the day, when I served for 14 months in Hebron…, my job was very clear, to protect the Israeli settlers who live in the city of Hebron…Which is very different from defending Israel. When I served on the Lebonese border in the north, my task was very clear….protect/defend the northern border of Israel”. 
I disagree because this ‘buffer zone’ serves as shelter for aggressors to mount attacks. It is the unpredictability of the Israeli occupation that serves to protect Israel. As long as Palestinians in the region are free to leave (to Palestine) I see no moral dilemma; and I’m sure no one would have it any other way. Either you lock people into Palestine or you lock people out Israel. No security is otherwise possible for Israelis. These people identify as Arabs; so you lock them out of Israel, and you deal with them on your terms; which just happen to be ‘commensurate with the security interests of the Palestinians’ in the Occupied Territories…that’s why they stay and settle there.
Yehuda Shaul, Co-founder of “Breaking the Silence”: “In the Occupied territories he saw himself crossing lines he never thought he would be crossing….until the point where every Palestinian in front of him was no longer a human being to him….an enemy, a potential terrorist”. 
Well, given that he professes a moral ambivalence, that’s perhaps not surprising. At the end of the day, his role has to be precautionary because he does not know who the enemy is. We see even in the West that police are intimdatory and disrespectful to ordinary citizens. I’ve often wondered why this mode of engagement; but at the end of the day, it’s likely that it reflects the ‘need for operational discipline’ in military and policing roles. It’s not comforting for those who observe it, because like police & military personnel, we also think we are good people. i.e. We like to be treated as humans. So by no means is this a ‘Israeli problem’. Perhaps the problem is the need for more education in military (as well as police) zones. There is certainly a role for empathy on all sides. We need to empathise with the role of police. Surprisingly, Yehuda seems to have lost sight of this perspective.

The fact that Yehuda is ‘confronting Israeli beliefs’ and not hearing contrary arguments strikes me as suggestive that there is:
1. A great deal of moral apprehension in Israel and Palestine
2. A great deal of cynicism that precludes intellectual engagement – simply because the political policy or agenda thwarts debate and any hope or motivation for change.
For these reasons, I sense that he is not finding the counter-arguments he needs to hear. I hope he hears them when he travels around the US and Europe. I do however tend to think that due to the nature of such events, that he will end up ‘preaching to the converted’.
Yehuda accepts that others have a different opinion….I guess its easy to do that because he once believed what he is doing is ok. People get angry because militarism has long been apart of the Israeli (as well as Palestinian) identity. It is actually more so for the Palestinians, because at least Israelis lead productive lives and are able to run sophisticated businesses. Palestinians are living in the dark ages; living under propaganda and a degraded education system, with no protection of basic rights, and no expectation of basic services. For this reason, the Palestinian government seems to have an even more pressing ‘vested interest’ in preserving a police state. In fact, far from saying that we should leave Israel alone; or negotiate a peace, the Palestinians seem determined to extinguish Israelis…and preserve ‘the flame of discontent’. How is the Israeli government going to thwart that paradigm without invading the country? Surely, liberals will be up in arms. Personally, its hard to imagine any sense coming from the resulting power vacuum. That would be a huge investment for Israel to make.
“This is a fight over the soul of our country….this is a fight over the moral values which will define whom we are as a people”.  
Agreed; but is it not he who is ambivalent about these questions…insofar as he went almost 3 years through a process of risking his life before he seems to have asked those questions. Yehuda assembled a list of 950 combat soldiers who are against ‘occupation’. But even in a ‘democracy’ this is a minor ‘contingent’ compared to the thousands of others who accept it. If this is so ‘oppressive’, how come the Palestinians are still able to kill so many Israelis? If this is ‘ineffectual’, what does he suggest will kill fewer Palestinians, insofar as Hezbollah’s soldiers are not going to be any less determined? Is not the reality that the Palestinian enemies are not the ‘general populous’ but those ‘militia’ hiding among them? In this case, does not their fear of their privacy invasion by Israelis stand in small contrast to the fears of death from betraying Hezbollah? There is no freedom of speech in Palestine.
Yehuda does not think it’s possible for an Israeli soldier to serve in the Occupied Territories with a clear conscience….”because there is no way of treating Palestinians as equal humans to you”.  
During Yehuda’s 14 months serving in Hebron, they would randomly enter the homes of Palestinians to ‘make their presence felt’. They do this ‘so they will be afraid to attack’. These random attacks entail separation and searching of the houses. That is only a little more ‘violating’ than the body searches done at all Western airports; albeit a lot more ‘inconvenient’, and the first time, ultimately a little scary, particularly if you had not heard third-party accounts. The intent is ‘to create the feeling of being persecuted”. Is that really the intent of government policy? Or just a ‘liberal’ former-soldier’s interpretation? If not, what in the intent? Might it simply be to thwart planned attacks?
Yehuda Shaul: “If this is your mission, there is no way of doing it nice”.  
The issue is not whether its ‘nice’; the issue is whether it’s justifiable intrusion. From my research, I note that the Israeli authorities have actually reduced the inconvenience over time by reducing the number of checkpoints substantially.  These changes would surely have allowed them to develop a database to determine the effectiveness of their measures; and they have probably used this to reduce administrative costs, as well as inconvenience to all concerned.

Another issue is whether Palestinians have a choice about it. I would of course hope that the Israeli government is sensitive to the needs of the Palestinians; as it serves the Israelis to keep the Palestinians ‘onside’. But there is perhaps another reason why the Israel administration might want the military to ‘treat them all the same’ (i.e. subhumane). It strikes me as likely that the military command does not want its solidiers to get ‘careless’ by diminishing the risk posed by Palestinians who ‘appear nice’. If they start treating them ‘differently’, or as ‘humans’, then they become vulnerable to manipulation, and then vulnerable to the threat of Israelis turning against their government. This is the price any government pays for preserving a morally ambivalent fighting force. Rather than offer a moral education; contemporary military wisdom is that you ‘ensure your military command remains ‘repressively’ servile and obedient. i.e. That they follow orders withour question. The video interview by Yehuda alludes that ‘culture’ and value system. He is repressed until he is placed in an unfamiliar challenging environment, where he along with other Israelis is compelled to make an income outside of the military. So it’s understandable that Yehuda only started to question the policy once he left the military. That might be a reason to change the ‘military culture’; but actually the problem is the greater moral ambivalence even among civilians. And in this regard, I’m afraid Yehuda is not helping his country or the Western countries, where he is sharing a deluded Western interpretation of his nation’s military affairs.

It’s worthwhile considering exactly what Palestinians could do. Let’s consider their options:
1. They can move to Palestine to be under ‘Palestine authority’ – which I suspect is not so good because its oppressive.
2. They are not permitted to move to Israel; so the best they can do is work for Israeli-Palestinian enterprises in the West Bank. That’s far more than they can get than in ‘peaceful’ Palestine.
3. Living in the Occupied Territories gives them work and relative security from the Palestinians; albeit at a highest cost than would otherwise be necessary if Palestinian authorities did not preserve with their ‘power games’.

The point I think is that they are settling in the ‘Occupied Territories’ themselves; for work, and that by necessity means, ‘living on Israeli terms’. If the Israeli terms were worse that Palestine’s, then Palestine would be a beourgeoning democracy, not Israel. Like Yehuda himself argues ‘he is not persecuted as a traitor’ for defying Israeli policy, despite this being a question of ‘identity’ for their respective people. What does that say?
“This is our national project for 46 years…all our resources are put into controlling another people”.
Would he prefer a more ‘decisive’ acquiescence or belligerent attack upon the Palestinian hard-liners? It is possible that this has been ruled out by the US government, which provides support to Israel.
Yehuda argues that they are raised with an ‘instinct for violence for which you answer everything…in ruling others, and used to not see others as equal to you”.  
Well, this is perhaps a good thing if it keeps the nation safe. After all; Israel is still a free country.
Yehuda Shaul believes his analysis is in the minority; but he argues that “the facts are not in dispute”.  
The political idea is not the problem…it’s the political mission…When we send our military to preserve a prolonged occupation, that’s how it looks [i.e. occupation].
Israelis are prohibited from entering the Occupied [Palestinian] Territories, except if they are soldiers, diplomat or journalists. The implication is that:
1. There is no concealment
2. There is no attempt to occupy these lands by Jews
I am not sure why he calls his book ‘Breaking the Silence’ insofar as he argues that the facts are not in dispute. If that is the case, he should have called his book “Israel Occupation: An alternative (liberal) thesis”. From his own account, there is ‘no silence to break’. The implication is that he is a traitor of soughts, even if a self-righteous, well-intended, articulate one. The problem with Yehuda Shaul is that he offers a sanction for the liberals in the West who hate Israel’s conservatives. That is why he is going to find a lot of support from them, including the media. He already has 24,000 likes on Facebook, as any good populist is destined to attract, given his media support.

If you are interested in connecting with Yehuda’s cause, you can find him on Facebook. I hope he takes the time to read my blog and address the shortcomings I have with respect to his campaign, because at this time, I was not convinced by his attack on Israeli policy. The best thing that he could do would be to articulate a realistic alternate mode of engaging with Palestine. His well-articulated interview seemed to skirt any mention of Palestine, or the nature of its government. Palestine lies under an oppressive regime. Syria is in a civil war. Palestine is under an even more repressive regime.

Sources:
1. “Israeli Soldiers Speak Out About War Crimes Committed On Palestinian Civilians”, XRepublic.tv, website, October 13, 2013.
2. “Palestinian freedom of movement”, Wikipedia, website, retrieved 12th Oct 2013; “Easing of Restrictions in Judea and Samaria in 2009”, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, website, 9th July 2009.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

Nice parable about the insidious nature of welfare statism

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There was a chemistry professor in a large University that had some exchange students in the class. One day while the class was in the lab, the professor noticed one young man, an exchange student, who kept rubbing his back and stretching as if his back hurt.The professor asked the young man what was the matter. The student told him he had a bullet lodged in his back.

He had been shot while fighting communists in his native country who were trying to overthrow his country's government and install a new communist regime. In the midst of his story, he looked at the professor and asked a strange question. He asked: "Do you know how to catch wild pigs?"

The professor thought it was a joke and asked for the punch line.

The young man said that it was no joke. "You catch wild pigs by finding a suitable place in the bush and putting wheat on the ground. The pigs find it and begin to come every day to eat the free wheat. When they are used to coming every day, you put a fence down one side of the place where they are used to coming.  When they get used to the fence, they begin to eat the wheat again and you put up another side of the fence. They get used to that and start to eat again. You continue until you have all four sides of the fence up with a gate in the last side.  The pigs, which are used to the free wheat, start to come through the gate to eat that free wheat again.  You then slam the gate on them and catch the whole herd. Suddenly the wild pigs have lost their freedom. They run around and around inside the fence, but they are caught. Soon they go back to eating the free wheat. They are so used to it that they have forgotten how to forage in the bush for themselves, so they accept their captivity."

The young man then told the professor that is exactly what he sees happening in Australia . The government keeps pushing us toward Communism/Socialism and keeps spreading the free wheat out in the form of programs such as supplemental income, tax credit for unearned income, tax exemptions, unmarried mothers support, carers income support, payments to illegal immigrants, welfare, medicine, drugs, etc, while we continually lose our freedoms, just a little at a time.

One should always remember two truths:  There is no such thing as a free lunch, and you can never hire someone to provide a service for you cheaper than you can do it yourself.

If you see that all of this wonderful government "help" is a problem confronting the future of democracy in Australia , you might want to send this on to your friends.

If you think the free ride is essential to your way of life, then you will probably delete this email.

BUT, God help us all when the gate slams shut!

Source: Unknown. This was emailed to me and a search for the author demonstrated that its widely distributed. Please aid authors by providing citations to your material. I know that it take a certain level of skill to understand, but it takes something else to be original, so I'd prefer to cite if possible.

My concern with this parable is that its not clear enough for some people. Here was a response by someone to this email.
"Good email. I think that the pure weight of numbers is going to make us become more socialistic (China ,India, Indonesia..3-4 billion).I think it will be in more diluted form of socialism...One that can get things done more quickly......a government that has a plan.....like Northern Australia ..not so much bureaucracy!"
There is good and bad in this reply. It is true that the extortion-based imposition of representative democracy is bad for society. That is why socialists love representative democracy, calling themselves 'social democrats' or 'democratic socialists'. If you were thinking these people were 'softer socialists' or 'diluted' friendly versions, then you simply don't appreciate the tyranny involved. When a group of people, whether democrats or gang bangers resort to the use of force, or even the threat of force, then its extortion, and it does not have to be violent. This is the basis of our political system. If they are 'dilute' or 'soft', its because they don't have the confidence to more brazenly impose their will. Rest assured there will come a day when people like me are not going to speak out in fear. We will instead be more concerned about protecting our life rather than simply our wealth, friendships or career, as we are inevitably going to isolate ourselves for retaining convictions. I actually don't think emerging markets are a threat to the West as much as the West is a threat to itself. Asia is very prosperous and they are far less tragic in some respects than the West. They have a far  more tragic legacy; but they are quickly shaking that legacy off, and embracing the opportunities presented. The issue is whether exposure to Western culture is going to exposure them to better thinking, and sadly the answer is sadly 'No'.
The good news is that many people are bypassing education and learning on their own initiative, simply because they know their state education is bad, and Western education is unaffordable. This deinstitutionalisation of education is a good thing because it means people are being motivated by their interests, goals, and curiosity. It means they are more likely to be exposed to different views; particularly if they are debating people on social media. In the state universities however, they will be told what the facts are according to the state.
This feedback comes from a 'conservative' voter. He superficially values the 'expediency' of government. Yes, governments can impressively marshal resources and make decisions, but look at the results. In the first instance, they have stolen the money, and given that they have acted with haste in order to create the superficial impression that they are responsive to the taxpayers needs, and to show they are 'people of action', they inevitably drive through poor policy that, not simply wastes the money, but causes more problems than were originally there. There are too many examples. I think you could probably look at 90% of government policies or executive decisions and conclude it would have been better if nothing were done, whether its:
1. Taking Australian aboriginal children from their homes and fostering them out to white families. There was no research into the impact; it was a 'practical decision', that seemed so 'self-evidently' right in the midst of an intellectual vacuum.
2. Subsidies for solar panels in Australia that resulted in shoddy installations, price escalation trumping the subsidy. This was the case with heat pumps as well. A heat pump ($3000) is a glorified 'reverse' refrigerator ($1000), so offering a subsidy is just exporting money whilst the subsidy is claimed by installers who perform shoddy service with poorly trained staff because they struck a gold mine with government systematic extortion.

In this case the respondent is impressed with efforts by the Australian government to boost development in North Australia. Why? Clearly because they like the 'self-evident' look of progress. What is missing is the understanding of the context. The context is that resources are going into 'Northern Australia' at the expense of more productive investment elsewhere. Of course, 'you cannot have your cake and eat it too', and more can you compare the impacts of the two 'spending alternatives', and nor would you even notice the difference. One is inclined to see these issues in isolation unless you conceptually appreciate that:
1. There are a limited amount of financial resources
2. The fact that a development proceeds, i.e. plants and infrastructure is built, that the fares for the train ride are cheap; this simply does not make it a 'good investment'. Those projects have to sustain themselves by offering a return to build other projects, otherwise we simply suffer a sustained recession for years until the long-suffering taxpayer's financial resources rebuild.

Now, in the case of Northern Australia, the various governments have committed to building railways, fibre optic connections, new port infrastructure, even though there is an oversupply of resources worldwide. The paradox is that there are small resource companies starved on capital and being taken over by multi-nationals for the 'sin' of being marginalised by government tax concessions on superannuation and small investors who think for themselves. The UK government belatedly recognises its folly, but rather than fixing the problem, it decides to offer small investors tax concessions. This is how the world works under statism. It does not even require state intervention; it just requires state statutes which manipulate conduct, which ultimately result in the 'dumbing down' of people, the suspension of thinking, and ultimately the outsourcing of what it means to be human.
So I say there is nothing more dangerous than a 'government with a plan' because it was in all likelihood conceived in an attempt to appeal to the unthinking mob, the government will carry no responsibility since they are not a counterparty, and they legally bear no responsibility anyway, unless there is a vote in placing more burden upon you as a taxpayer. You sure as hell don't feel responsible, as you might not have known; you might not have even been around in the 1950s when aboriginal children were 'stolen' (i.e. The Stolen Generation).
The least offensive aspect of government is the unproductive bureaucrats you can count, its the mess that you don't, and its your mental suspension that you don't even perceive because you can't comprehend what it means to be a conceptual critical thinker, unless you were one. This knowledge is not something that you need to read in a book; you can create yourself, just as the guy living on welfare can create himself. All he needs is the compulsion of being responsible for his own life. Humans need to see responsibility as being the engine of initiative, and a government's actions as 'theft' for stealing that initiative. Perhaps its about time that a welfare recipient sued government ministers for 'stealing their initiative', their value proposition which underpins their humanity, their capacity and desire to think. Given them back that responsibility, and you give them the pride of place. Not your place, and not relative to you, but the pride in being the best person they can be in the context of their circumstances, and the pride of not depending on others to sustain that life. Not relying on others in the first instance, or any sense of guilt they might begrudgingly offer, but respectfully renouncing any sense of entitlement or claim to the lives of others. I think people might be surprised by the generosity of people who have 'earnt their disposition', whether it is good or bad. Whether people's response is fair or tragic, ultimately its fairness is a question of values. Life-affirming or life-negating, there are simply too many people who don't understand human nature, you would have us living off some government and neglecting to see what those 'underwriters' of government depend upon for their survival. Neglecting to see the sanction that governments depend upon to extort the wealth they attain by force.

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Saturday, June 08, 2013

The adverse impacts of religion on libertarianism

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Libertianism is a 'dirty political movement'. The sad reality is that it shouldn't be. Its dirty not in terms of its motivations or political strategy, so much as its underlying motivations or values, and the problem in this respect comes down to religion. Libertarianism is dominated by conservatives. Worse because the libertarian movement has even appended themselves to the conservatives. The problem is that, by appending themselves to conservatives, whether the Republican Party in the USA, the Tories in the UK, the National Party in NZ, the Liberal-National Party in Australia, and the Conservative Party in Canada, they are doing the following:
1. They are allowing Conservative religious persons to determine the underlying values of the party
2. They are aligning themselves with the incoherent values of the Conservatives
3. They are denying themselves a political identity and a value proposition

The problem with appending themselves to the Conservatives is that they ultimately are delimited by the relationship. They can't grow because they don't convey an independent identity, and they retain only the mere 'sanction' of a 'faction' of the Conservative Party. The problem is more serious in the USA because of the first-past-the-post voting system precludes minor parties from achieving any substantial vote outside the Senate; and even then its hard to get the publicity.

The libertarian movement simply needs to split into its constituent 'factions'. The reason why it needs to do that is because whatever group you construe as 'right' or 'good', they need to convey integrity in order to win. The libertarian party cannot convincingly do that where they are simply an alignment of interests wanting small government. Unfortunately libertarians are so disjointed or uncoordinated, they have a split in organisation, so not only do you not have a division of organisational units on the basis of values, but as in NZ, you will confront a litany of organisational units split on the basis of personalities. In NZ there are 4 main parties; plus 4 very minor libertarian parties. This would be great if they had different policies and values, but they don't. They are all conservative-based parties for the most part. They just differ in degrees...which is inevitably the problem if you have a movement based on 'dogma' rather than contextual principles. The parties in NZ are:
1. ACT Party - gained 1.7% of the vote - its been as high as 8% in prior election
2. Conservative Party - gained 1.3% of the vote
3. Libertarianz - not party structure yet
4. New Liberal Party - new party, nationalism based

There are another of other parties too who could be construed as 'conservative' like NZ First, and of course the centre-right government of John Key's National Party, but they are by no means libertarian. There is also a Decriminalisation Party for marijuana that has a lot of 'grass roots' support. All of the parties above are libertarian if the measure is 'advocacy of small government. The problem is that they are simply splitting the vote. There is no substantive difference between these parties. ACT might be construed as 'conservative' on certain issues more than others because they lack some of the 'dogmatism' we'd associate with conservatives. In fact I find them quite 'contextually' or intellectually engaged on some issues, but on other issues they inevitably fall into conservative The type of division that would actually expand the 'libertarian pie' would be the following split:
1. Randian-style intellectual libertarians - advocating self interest is good; its just an 'enlightened' self-interest
2. Conservative Christian libertarians - perhaps swinging from National support - I would suggest the Christian reconciliation of self interest and social interest/identity demands utilitarianism.
3. Anarcho-capitalist/socialists - who advocate decriminalisation of drugs - a causeless movement which is simply anti-authority, perhaps somewhat jaded or disparaged by personal experience or observation, all too ready to 'dispense with th bathwater'.

This is why it is ultimately hard for the right to expand its market because ultimately it is not an intellectual movement. If politics is going to change, it needs to become intellectual, because the labour/Greens/Nationalist/Maori movements are united in their extortion-based politics of expropriating wealth. There is very little between the Greens and Labour; other than the pragmatism of Labour which sees them selling our or compromising with business in order to win some financial support in the wake of union decline. You'd think this would have led to a renaissance of ideas and the libertarian party driving it. That cannot happen as long as you have Conservatives driving the agenda. We know that libertarianism splits Conservatives and Liberals - so why the focus on 'economic criteria'? You'd have to wonder, particularly since few people would be looking for a radical change in political outcomes, if only because it takes time to change a system - right?

So what is the nature of the Christian scourge. Well, let's examine some libertarian values to explain the superficiality of their 'conservative' values, and why its a point of contention that's not addressed. The following quotes are a series of extracts from the Acton Institute, a Christian libertarian group in the US. I want to convey the problem with their values or 'core principles'.
"Dignity of the Person - The human person, created in the image of God, is individually unique, rational, the subject of moral agency, and a co-creator. Accordingly, he possesses intrinsic value and dignity, implying certain rights and duties both for himself and other persons. These truths about the dignity of the human person are known through revelation, but they are also discernible through reason".
Well, we immediately fall prey to the dogmatism of intrinsic value of humanity by the grace of god. The problem with this is the failure to distinguish between conditional value and inherent value. A value is something we act to gain or keep. Its contextual relevance lies with particular people, however generally it can be said to apply to a certain type of person, a consciousness to be sure, but what we are concerned with is the 'rational value' as the basis of a modern society that respects values. Dignity by necessity has to be earned. So its not intrinsic; though the capacity is intrinsic. Rights don't come from having 'dignity'; they come from a conceptual agreement demanding a consensus on terms, or an objective understanding of terms. So we can see here that Acton Institute attempts to reconcile reason and divine revelation. And what would they do if these paradigms crossed paths? They'd simply abandon rationality that defied their divinity.
'Social Nature of the Person - Although persons find ultimate fulfilment only in communion with God, one essential aspect of the development of persons is our social nature and capacity to act for disinterested ends. The person is fulfilled by interacting with other persons and by participating in moral goods. There are voluntary relations of exchange, such as market transactions that realize economic value. These transactions may give rise to moral value as well. There are also voluntary relations of mutual dependence, such as promises, friendships, marriages, and the family, which are moral goods. These, too, may have other sorts of value, such as religious, economic, aesthetic, and so on".
This is nonsense of course because a great many people arrive at fulfilment without ever recognising the existence of God. It is equally concerning that these people should make 'social values' more critical than personal values, which they pay scant regard for. They suggest that a person is fulfilled by others. I would argue that whilst others can be a source of validation, they cannot and should not be a substitute for personal  mental understanding. A person's ultimately earns self-esteem by taking pride in a personal contribution to a group, or in their personal sense of efficacy. These Christians might be inclined to preclude divorce, because whilst its a 'voluntarily' relationship, if people marry for 'good or worse', that would preclude divorce. You'd think so based on their conceptual foundation of altruism and social contract. That entails marriage as 'indentured servitude'. Of course they would no doubt sanctify the 'marriage relationship' as a blessing, in which case they are either giving humans an omniscience they don't deserve, or they are sanctifying the marriage as 'god's gift'. This last option introduces dogmatism and the spectre of any 'unfettered' rationalisation to achieve 'god's will'. So state socialism is an abomination; but family chosen socialism is 'pride in renunciation'. This rests on the idea of voluntarism, which they don't make much of a case for. Should people indenture themselves to a relationship for a lifetime? Well, I'd argue 'no' because ultimately people change, for good or worse, and among those qualities which compels change is the 'discretion' of counterparties not to sanction misconduct, or to betray their interests. But of course relationships don't just break for moral breaches. There are more implicit or complex aspirational and security values determined by our experience, intellectual state and psychology. Conservative servitude gives no consideration to these issues. You enter into a marital contract, you defy it and think less of yourself, or you find some pride in renouncing your personal interests....at least until you can earn the right to be morally indignant. The Christian is destined to tire of their self-righteousness....and you can expect spurious rationalisations to ultimately defend their actions, which on the day, are going to look highly 'distorted' or misproportionate. i.e. You wanted low-fat milk rather than full cream milk, and you didn't think that was a deal breaker.
"Importance of Social Institutions - Since persons are by nature social, various human persons develop social institutions. The institutions of civil society, especially the family, are the primary sources of a society's moral culture. These social institutions are neither created by nor derive their legitimacy from the state. The state must respect their autonomy and provide the support necessary to ensure the free and orderly operation of all social institutions in their respective spheres".
Social institutions are indeed important, but Acton Institute have inverted their role. They are not a 'source of society's morality', they are an expression of it. You don't get morality from an institution, but rather expect institutions to be structured to affirm certain moral principles, and that those principles are compatible with your own, or you don't sanction those groups. Why must the state support these 'social institutions'? They don't; but instead, they support those who finance support for those institutions. Of course some institutions which in some respect serve government, whether by creating jobs or sanctioning their policies, will indeed find favour with government.
Human Action - Human persons are by nature acting persons. Through human action, the person can actualize his potentiality by freely choosing the moral goods that fulfill his nature.
Not a lot of depth to their ethical prescriptions here. That perhaps explains why they argued above that morality devolves from institutions. If anyone thought they were coming from God, i.e. from the sermon on the mount, people are likely to get a little apprehensive. So we are natural, we are voluntary, we are rational. So why do people break the law, and where is the compelling reason not to? I would argue that there is basically two fundamental justifications for crime, and thus two justifications for offering support to people to avoid crime. Those reasons are (i) 'destitution' as a motivator. If you are going to lose your life, you will do anything to preserve it. This is just common sense because you are effectively pre-moral since morality pertains to a higher 'abstract' framework of values. This is of course why sending British convicts in the 18th century off to Australia did not result in a crime wave there; because their needs for food were in the first instance met, whilst in Britain, they were estranged from that capacity. A conviction for stealing bread. A little disproportionate most would say. But this is the 'morality of causeless renunciation' that persisted at the time. There was no rational science; only the morality of 'non-self' which alienated a person's ego, and would unquestionably make them jaded.
Sin: Although human beings in their created nature are good, in their current state, they are fallen and corrupted by sin. The reality of sin makes the state necessary to restrain evil. The ubiquity of sin, however, requires that the state be limited in its power and jurisdiction. The persistent reality of sin requires that we be sceptical of all utopian "solutions" to social ills such as poverty and injustice.
This is a highly implausible framework of understanding for morality, which conveys a lack of understanding of human nature, i.e. an ancient ignorance founded on 'ancient' ideas accepted dogmatically. Not all people are good, not all are bad, but they are some degree of both for different reasons, in varying contexts. The notion that political power should be constrained because people cannot trust governments might equally apply to any wealthy people, large companies, smart people who intimidate apprehensive people. After all, selfishness is sinful. So why does this not translate into a socialism? Well, it does really in a belated form called utilitarianism, where people take in order to give. Making or profiting is to redistribute at your 'voluntary' discretion. No pressure though; well perhaps a little guilt and political pressure from extorting liberals, and the inevitable fact that you can't take your wealth to heaven or hell, and besides, you don't really like your children do you? This is of course the moral bankruptcy of Conservatism. It really doesn't explain the origin of sin. It suggests that lofty ideas are utopian, irrespective of their value or argument. Moral scepticism abounds - except when viewed through the eyes of the Lord. I think people would be surprised how little state is actually required if it society was based on healthy values. I think they might question how healthy society would be if government was not the presiding 'authority' extorting in the first place, then acting as a misplaced custodian in the second place.
Rule of Law and the Subsidiary Role of Government - The government's primary responsibility is to promote the common good, that is, to maintain the rule of law, and to preserve basic duties and rights. The government's role is not to usurp free actions, but to minimize those conflicts that may arise when the free actions of persons and social institutions result in competing interests. The state should exercise this responsibility according to the principle of subsidiarity. This principle has two components. First, jurisdictionally broader institutions must refrain from usurping the proper functions that should be performed by the person and institutions more immediate to him. Second, jurisdictionally broader institutions should assist individual persons and institutions more immediate to the person only when the latter cannot fulfill their proper functions.
This is a further reinforcement of the idea that religion's moral code of altruism culminates in socialism; not in the first instance, but the second. After serving your needs, you are obliged to serve others. In fact, your selfishness in the form of market participation is ultimately only to serve others. You take to serve others. This was of course the romantic idea behind Robin Hood. Simply ending taxes did not have the same romance as stealing back for noble motives. The best form of slavery is the one that gives. People are not an end in themselves; others are ultimately the end. This of course gives rise to a great deal of hypocrisy, and in these stakes, the liberals are not better, because in the case of their altruism, they want the wealthy to give; at the very least, more than them.

Interestingly, Acton Institute contradicts itself here. It argues for rule of law, but then argues that local jurisdictions have more credence as moral agents because they are closer to the person. For me, this ultimately becomes a point of argument because national agencies might have more skills, but a local agency might have more understanding of the specific context of the case. It really doesn't deal with issues when governments are immoral; though it doesn't seem to constrain governments so much that this could not be a problem. Really, it matters very little if you are subjected to local or distant justice; what matters is that it presides over reasonable law. More skilled legislatures afar makes more sense if they are accountable. By accountability I don't mean the unconditional sanction given to a 'representative'. What is this notion of representation anyway? How did it come to be, that we had representation, but no inkling as to whether they were representing our views, or their best estimate of what is good for us. Is that 'estimate' implausible without knowing the context of our lives. Actually it does not matter if we have the discretion to not sanction them - but we are forced to pay tax and in so doing to sanction their institutions, and ultimately to even accept laws that are often flawed, simply because legal tradition never bothered much with integrity.
"Creation of Wealth - Material impoverishment undermines the conditions that allow humans to flourish. The best means of reducing poverty is to protect private property rights through the rule of law. This allows people to enter into voluntary exchange circles in which to express their creative nature. Wealth is created when human beings creatively transform matter into resources. Because human beings can create wealth, economic exchange need not be a zero-sum game".
This is fine as a political solution; but we might ask why wealthy people are not educating the poor to be wealthy. Its not as if they are offering, and are being shot down. They are just not asking. Now, they might rationalise that people need to learn to be independent. But who is to teach them that message? Experience? If its experience, we might wonder why we are all ultimately sinful, because aren't we destined to be good by experience. It does not seem to be working. Might that be because of the lack of intellectual engagement by dogmatic Christian libertarians. Yes, the wonders of capitalism are something to be praised; but how is capitalism compatible with 'faith' except as an equivocation called 'confidence'. We must succeed before we can sustainably bestow our 'utilitarian' surplus upon others. We might however empathise with a wealthy Christian if they were fearful and apprehensive? Reading the Bible, about people 'sinful by nature' and growing atheism, we might wonder if this explains the apparent tragic absence of giving by business people in a Christian country. I don't see Americans drawing that tangent because the bible is fare removed from their lives. But I would suspect that taxation steals the 'nobility' of people to be good Christians. Is the tragedy ultimately that people are spurned into giving; and that paradoxically causes them to fight against giving. i.e. Is the American state making us selfish? But here is my answer - yes - but more importantly - the Christian conception of altruism is backwards. We need to take care of our well-being; and when we do that, we have a natural propensity to take care of others, because we love problem solving. In any country, problem solvers are alienated from and by the 'political process'. Americans though are the most charitable of all, just lack the knowledge to be more charitable because of specialisation, dubious incoherent values resulting in intractable problems. This is why materialistic commercialism has such appeal, and why Bill Gates probably needed to become tired of Microsoft before he helped others. He even conveyed that business does not know how to help people.
We might also examine the mechanics of labour pricing in the context of the current world. Should the utilitarian Christian be giving to charity, or simply be paying their workers more. If the 'noble gesture' is to give to charity, then clearly only a few retiring billionaires are 'contextually' so motivated and appropriately so. Australia has a minimum wage of $15/hour, compared to $7-8/hour in the US.  The difference is that commodities have for the last decade been a huge boon for Australia, so they can afford it. The Australian unemployment rate is 5.5% compared to 7.5% in the US. I'm not criticising market pricing, but wondering why America is not so pensive towards skilled labour? In Europe, people are skilled labourers. The tendency is to simply outsource to emerging markets. Did the US overstate the benefits of Asia and Mexican outsourcing, or did they have other strategic motivations? Whether avoiding tax or growing global market share? Perhaps they simply found Asian governments easier to deal with. It is not as if they have sabotaged their nations capacity to invest in  labour. Workers could have upskilled and certainly some did. Perhaps the problem is that the unskilling was regional, and the mid-West simply was not aspirational or connected with global markets to benefit. The problem I would argue is mixed and unequal. Some who got the skills training benefited whilst those who did not have been replaced with Asian labour. These people live in the same community; and comprise the have's and have nots. You see the same in Asia. Some families who have siblings abroad are rolling in money, whilst others are struggling day-to-day. It seems to be the unevenness of the experience. The positive in Asia is that you are inevitably priced cheap because your cost of living is low, and your economy is growing at 7% per annum. There is still a skills distinction to make as well. Filipino programmers are earning a shrinking discount to those in the West. Their skilled labour justifies higher wages. It is fair to say that 'formal' employment has lost out to informal illegal aliens as well, as people have sought to avoid tax. That is simply one of those distortive, false economies introduced by government. So we can see we have government 'distortions' which are the responsibility of government, and we have government distortions which markets are correcting.
Are Christians simply too tragic or apprehensive to offer any 'altruistic value'? I make no imposition upon them. I am against coercive expropriation. We might ask whether in the market place they should at least be bestowing their 'utilitarian surpluses' upon counterparties with less? Should they not construe that economic surplus as a gift for the poor? I don't want people to do so; but that might be construed as the implication of their utilitarian values. Well, let me give them a bone. In the current context of global labour markets, there is more utilitarian value in a corporation or wealthy individual investing in more jobs in emerging markets than than there is in giving people higher wages. They are certainly doing this to some extent. But here we are in recession, and it makes less sense to develop capacity, and competition makes it hard to raise wages. There is simply no market incentive to do so. Markets are frugal and we need to respect markets for that. I might also mention that extortive liberals are demanding higher (minimum) wages in the West or for corporations to bring jobs back home. This ought to dispel the idea that liberals are in fact caring people, for they seem to be 'self-destructively' spurning the interests of Asians, who have the capacity to generate more jobs. This of course assumes that the motive for US companies investing abroad is purely cheaper labour. The reality is 'tax concessions' might be an important reason....in which case, its 'evil government' again distorting markets. The parochial liberal seems once more to be a 'market destroyer' along with government.

The problem of excess global labour arose from authoritarian government and we need to repudiate this as a framework for 'distortion' and not curse capitalism - the cure. So, in this context, it seems sensible to accept that it takes time for markets to create the distortions created by authoritarian governments in the third world. The best we can do is remove the unjustified 'arbitrary' imposts on business, so they can remedy the problem as quick as possible. So accumulation of capital is a reasonable rationalisation that business can make for now. When labour is fully absorbed in 20 years time, we can expect business to face higher wages. That's not to say that workers should have to wait 20 years to 'earn' just wages, the argument is that justice demands unfettered markets free of the distortive impacts of government to function effectively.
"Economic Liberty - Liberty, in a positive sense, is achieved by fulfilling one's nature as a person by freely choosing to do what one ought. Economic liberty is a species of liberty so-stated. As such, the bearer of economic liberty not only has certain rights, but also duties. An economically free person, for example, must be free to enter the market voluntarily. Hence, those who have the power to interfere with the market are duty-bound to remove any artificial barrier to entry in the market, and also to protect private and shared property rights. But the economically free person will also bear the duty to others to participate in the market as a moral agent and in accordance with moral goods. Therefore, the law must guarantee private property rights and voluntary exchange".
The Acton Institute construe 'liberty' to be, not so much a 'gift of god' but a 'trade' in which you start down, and you have to conditionally earn your rights by fulfilling certain obligations. This they call freedom. You are 'duty-bound' to remove barriers in the market; one suspects for the same of the 'utilitarian' common good. We are duty-bound to act in the market place, where own interests as a trader are somewhat removed from us. I frankly don't see how you can construe market activity as anything other than selfish. Market action is based on self-interest; your good, not the counterparts. This is not a license to cause injury, but a question of responsibility. The fact that people guiltily subscribe to others good after the fact, is another 'action' driven by another motive. No one enters trade to lose or surrender all gains, yet the market is indifferent to your non-profit; though it might conceivably have an interest in your loss if you have much to lose. But this is not compatible with any conception of capitalism that I'm familiar with. But then it is, it is compatible with Bill Gates life, given that he can afford to be indifferent to loss. But never so much loss as to give away more than that which he cannot take with him, or to sustain himself to the end of his life, nor is he so humble as to surrender control of his money. That's not to say it was simply a theme to avoid tax.It was probably the best possible means to do what he wanted to do. Why did he wait so long before doing it? It was not a humble decision. He did not humbly consign the job to another. He did not think himself the lesser man to do it. There was rather the pride of efficacy. So where is the personal renunciation here? He thought himself up to the task. Other billionaires will probably simply outsource to his foundation. Good decision? I personally think his philanthropic focus is anti-intellectually focused on doing what markets could be doing if the fundamental abstract issues were being addressed. Having said that, clearly he is not the man for that job. Since he is saving lives and not sabotaging Microsoft Word, the markets appear to be belatedly working. :)
"Economic Value - In economic theory, economic value is subjective because its existence depends on it being felt by a subject. Economic value is the significance that a subject attaches to a thing whenever he perceives a causal connection between this thing and the satisfaction of a present, urgent want. The subject may be wrong in his value judgment by attributing value to a thing that will not or cannot satisfy his present, urgent want. The truth of economic value judgments is settled just in case that thing can satisfy the expected want. While this does not imply the realization of any other sort of value, something can have both subjective economic value and objective moral value".
Economic values are subjective in the sense that they pertain 'contextually' to particular people with specific needs in the specific context of their lives. There is also an over-arching objective value as well, which pertains to the fact that we are living in a world where humans have a particular nature, particular capacities, which are shared with all other humans, and that there are universal values that derive from that nature, like self-esteem, pride, honesty, and human rights. We might wonder what the 'economic Christian' considers to be 'sinful'. Is it the urgency of wanting, or the means they are prepared to go to get it? Everything is subjectively wanted, though we cannot argue that its a subjective value. The objective value derives from its reconciliation with our nature. A thing is either life-affirming or life-negating.
"Priority of Culture - Liberty flourishes in a society supported by a moral culture that embraces the truth about the transcendent origin and destiny of the human person. This moral culture leads to harmony and to the proper ordering of society. While the various institutions within the political, economic, and other spheres are important, the family is the primary inculcator of the moral culture in a society".
There is ultimately a denial or betrayal of causation in this argument because it suggests that the 'truth' is not for us to know, but for us to accept 'voluntarily'. We are passive, compliant sould subjugated to God's standards. This is not destined to work out for us in a political realm where indignant liberals are destined to control power and drive Christians to moral acquiescence, as occurred during WWII.  Morality does not spring from 'heaven eternal', it needs to be fostered in people's minds. The Christian offers no explanation for the escalation of 'sin'. He can only decry the growing selfishness; which is not even an accurate explanation of affairs. In what sense can we consider family the foundation for morality. Ultimately the children are 'blank canvasses' and the parents draw upon historic 'Christian' values - not completely without conscious conviction, but since rationality is not compatible with faith (i.e. acceptance without evidence), there is no prospect of mental efficacy here. Don't we have to look towards the trained values of the parents. I might add that there is no track record of moral rectitude from Christian or state schools. Why? I'd argue that they are equally scornful of the mind.

In this essay it is evident that Christianity ultimately results in a utilitarian perspective of the good, as Christians seek to reconcile the 'selfish' market place with the good of others. I once asked by conservative grandfather why he was a Christian with a high regard for markets. I said to him that markets entail the self-interested trade of value for value. If we don't derive a value, we don't trade. Christianity expounds the importance of giving, not taking. So how does he reconcile these. He was very upset with me for these comments. I dare say, conveying that faith was incompatible with reason; and that his disdain for my comments was actually a deflected disdain for his incapacity to answer me. I'd say that he was actually not prepared to answer these  'unidentified' issues. It is easy to accept that he did not want to judge himself, as life required judgement, but when one judges oneself, one is destined to find truth or error; and he could not acknowledge the inconsistency that would ultimately betray his values. Ultimately this moral ambivalence comes to bite people. In his case, he would lose a great deal of wealth fighting a court case where he simply did not have the legal support or personal conviction to ensure the outcome he deserved. The point of issue; a solicitor who was able to reverse a property purchase at the peak of the 1987 bubble on a technicality. The $4mil property was sold later for $1.8 million because the purchaser could not build a tennis court.

Addendum - Issues raised by a reader
My primary concern here was Christianity and libertarianism, although I do take issue broadly with liberals. I do not deal specifically with Christian liberals. They might well see coercive policy as 'utilitarian', or they might regard altruism as practical as direct intervention, i.e. forcing people to be good. I'd argue that it has the opposite impact, causing people to 'react' and spurn their minds for self-preservation, ultimately culminating in a tragic outcome of evading persecution.
One reader makes an interesting point which I should have drawn attention to explicitly, and that is his argument that "the United States libertarianism represents a belief in freedom in all aspects of society". I have a problem with this because I believe in conveys a 'conservative' repression to not judge 'social' values. It is not that we should not judge, as a Christian purports not to judge, its to say that, unless there is causal reason to attribute another's actions as injurious to us, then we should not be intruding in their lives. i.e. Gay marriage. Unless we can prove that gay marriage injures others, its not reasonable to make negative constraints upon them. Creating a civil union structure is judging them adversely. This argument therefore strikes me a a rationalisation or compartmentalisation of economic and social values. This of course is why the 'conservative' is able to impose their social values upon people. Their 'social value' intrusion, particularly in the context of the family, is destined to have critical 'material' or 'economic' impacts. Leave it to a Christian household to destroy the mind of their children. Are all Christians so jaded? Of course not. But ultimately, they are not 'saved' by faith or dogma; they live and prosper in spite of it. They have a better chance than in pre-Industrial Middle East. American Christians are therefore, thanks to some persuasive rationalisations relatively healthy and productive people. The issue is therefore one of optimising integrity.

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The moral threat and material benefits of Bill Gates - misdirected philanthropy

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In an open forum on ABC's Q&A last night Bill Gates offered some insights into the values of the man. He was discussing a number of issues surrounding his philanthropic investments in health and education, however I was more interested in his personal values. Ultimately what I want to see is 'just how smart is this guy'. He did not fail in the arena of business; but he does fail in the arena of ethical values. This is not to say that he does not convey a code of values; but rather than he has some misplaced values. His values are no worse than most business people; in fact they are rather commonplace, which I would attribute to the fact that such business people are so compartmentalised in their actions, that they don't reflect on the broader implication of their values, aside from satisfying themselves that 'they complied with the law'. This is bad for two reasons:
1. They are sanctioning the 'evil' taxation system and extortive political system
2. They are sabotaging the global economy with their moral relativism

You can listen to his values on the ABC Q&A website. They even offer excerpts of his contreibution by topic. i.e. You can see an excerpt on his attitudes to tax evasion. So what is wrong with his views? Well, I had the following issues:
1. He reiterated the advice of Warren Buffet - that the private sector should take on 'tough projects' which are too hard for the public sector. This of course stands in contradistinction to what most people view as the role of government, to take over the 'tough projects' that business will not fund. Though you might say that business will not fund projects which have a long development lead time....yeh, they are the tough projects...its not a construction problem like developing a dam or oil rig, which the private sector tends to do. So why is he not an advocate of small government? Well, we should learn its his conservatism.
2. He conveys a great lack of intellectual malfeasance. He says that 'the greatest injustice is a woman who has to bury her baby'. No, the greatest injustice is the sovereign nation which spurns the rights of its citizens, such that mothers need to bury their children. Destitution is not an environmental factor, its a political system and value failure. He does however support capitalism, but clearly he is not a consistent advocate, since he is completely morally 'repressed' when it comes to moral conviction. But what a minute.
3. The other gross failing of his presentation was that he argued that business are not moral agents. True, we can accept that corporations don't have to feel any moral justification to pay taxes; but its encumbent upon them to be moral agents. So this selective repression is not good. He contradicts himself too in two respects:
      (a) In Pakistan women are routinely raped. I don't think he would sanction his moral right to rape his wife in Pakistan merely because that is the local rule. The argument that he will accept any tax rate then is morally evasion. i.e. conservatism. We can expect that behind the scenes he would fight to oppose a global increase in taxation.
      (b) He was critical of a woman who wrote a book critical of his efforts in Africa. He even considered her 'evil'. This strikes me as a convenient departure from his previously expressed values.

The implication is that I got my answer to the motivations for Bill Gates actions. They are not entirely healthy. What can you expect of business people who are so focused on the 'material'. They consider their mindlessness purposeful and practical. But he we are, after 300 years of moral abdication by business leaders, still fighting socialism because 'socialism is good in theory, but does not work in practice'. We have Bill Gates ironically to blame for this false economy, as well as the cohort of business leaders who spurn the moral significance of a 'tax statute' for a beneficial tax loophole, and then argue that the government should just change the rules if its not happy with tax receipts. This is the moral abdication that leads to fascism.

To his credit, he recognises why business people don't give money to philanthropy. He argues that they have no sense of efficacy in the task. This is true and its a good thing. When business develop a sense of moral efficacy; that is the time for them to invest in philanthropy. Until they develop that skill base, we are better off with them investing 'concretely' and in a 'compartmentalised' fashion in commercial endeavours. They should continue to avoid tax as they do, since the government is a poor custodian of spending, and we should support their actions.

He properly repudiated a jaded child who argued that capitalism has caused greed. He correctly argued that capitalism is under-appreciated for its contribution to human prosperity, including reductions in poverty. Capitalism does not cause poverty; tyranny does. The greed of tyranny is a consequence not of capitalism, but arbitrary, subjective statism.

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Saturday, April 06, 2013

The legacy of king making and socialised standards

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Contemporary society is all about hierarchy. Why shouldn't it be? We recognise a hierarchy in knowledge; there is a sequence and succession in the entire universe, from causation to more specific examples of evolution and social organisation. Ok, so we have established that hierarchy is necessary and 'natural'. The question is - how should it be framed. It is a value system; but what should be the standard of value.
I reflect on this question because of two issues:
1. The case of a politician who I suspect is being vetted to fill a certain position.
2. The case of a student given a generous scholarship to an American university.
3. The case of my own life experience

The question of the politician 'making good' highlights in my mind the question of why this person and not another. This guy is confident, engaging, charming, has a history of success, and probably wants the job. But there are a lot of people like that, many of these salesmen. Organised and an effective leader? They are certainly important traits as well. And yet this politician probably had to develop those capacities as well, and his family already had politicians in the family, so he was perhaps 'born into it'. The question I entertain is - born into what? What standard of value? If this system posits certain standards, and everyone who is 'made king' is required to meet these conditions, is it not inevitable that they will affirm those values which made them successful; which affirmed their value. Of course its possible that they could 'humbly' or 'honestly' extricate themselves from the 'system' later in life, but how many people are so honest to do that, and how many people are such critical, reflective thinkers to start off with. We might even ask whether, under contemporary standards we are in a position to know whether a person is successful or not, because of their own efforts, or because of the people under them. A lucky pick or is their natural talent to pick and develop the skills of people. The truth is - we don't know or care. We as a society only care about the 'concrete' results. When it goes wrong; we don't care about the reasons; we punitively spurn failures and elevate success. Its the same for criminals as well. We only take an interest in criminals when the offend our sensitivities. I would argue that crime prevention, like empathy, is a conceptual capacity. I don't wish to cite the politician I am discussing here because I suspect he will end up being my local MP. Time will tell. Truth be told, he will probably be a good politician, 'according to contemporary standards'.

The next case is the student making good. I watch with interest his development. A smart kid to be sure. Better than any other kid? Well, he won the prize, so apparently so. But by what standard? The standard again in this case is an external appraisal. Some people came to regard his academic and civic track record as exemplary. But how fair was the race; and is that important. I know this child's family from a distance. The parents are proud, hard-working, engaging, and they'd do anything to contribute to the success of their child. In fact, I suspect it was the parents who were seeking opportunities to win scholarships, but perhaps they were offered through the school. In any respect, engaging parents are a solid basis for the development of a child's self-concept, and equally important in terms of their broader 'non-academic' education, as well as important in terms of shaping their values. But might we ask what role this plays in shaping a child's success. I suggest its critically important; and most reflecting of the parents engagement rather than a child's actual academic skill, and still less perhaps their own values. This is a controversial point. How well versed is the child with their own values, or merely reflecting:
1. The values of their parents
2. The values of the gatekeepers to credentialism - the pursuit of titles.

Not just this student but another student who was the son of an old boss, who got a Rhodes Scholarship. He is entering politics as well. The king makers have chosen well or are they merely cultivating certain measures of success. To what extent did they kids choose the values they were judged by? Given their parents custodianship; to what extent did their parents choose their success? They didn't. These philanthropic institutions presided over by king makers decided their values; the hurdles they would have to jump, the standards of value which will apply. What society will eventually conclude is the measure of the good. The philanthropists are deciding this - setting the standards of success - for the ultimate admission to the kingdom of the chosen. 

This is where I enter the picture. I contrast very differently with these students in a number of respects. I did arguably go to a worse school than one of these students, but a better school than the other. This is I believe less important than the level of engage by my parents. I can never remember getting any advice from any of my parents about anything. Perhaps for that reason I never asked them questions. No career guidance, no lessons in morality. They did provide for every material need, and perhaps felt obliged as a parent to send me to a private school because they went to one. They were rather insistent about they. I did not get a reason; and was rather defiant. This might be construed as typical of conservative values. Who is to know whether I would have otherwise been convinced. I did not get the opportunity. The fact is that I was forced to develop my own values; I did not get any support in this regard. No one went looking for scholarships for me, and no one offered them. Maybe that was a good thing. Judging by the fact that my father 'forced me to go on a holiday to Canada' (yep most people laugh at that) and that I was disruptive & disagreeable for the entire trip, he may have (when I was 16yo) decided that there is something to be said about parental engagement. Nope, as it turns out he did not later reflect on that decision. 
So it was not from my parents that a curiosity was evoked. That would come from science in school, and eventually philosophy in early university. If there is anything to convey from this blog post, its that:
1. Values are a source of success - depending on whether they are life-affirming or compatible with social institutions.
2. Values are a source of disruption - there I was at the age of 19yo - an ardent materialist pursuing money as a mining analyst, eventually a mining entrepreneur, and I was being pulled in another direction by such profoundly important philosophical questions and answers, that I was about to change my entire life direction.

The question is - was I better off or less a candidate for success because:
1. I was self-reliant - I had no parents to depend on. I consider it their role as custodians to prepare; though they might argue that 'disengagement' was their mode of preparation, and my critical insight and conceptual awareness is a testament to their success as parents. Its a nice rationalisation for them; but no. I think their mode of engagement was in fact a reflection of their own parents lack of engagement and ardent conservatism. My parents custodianship was actually 'outsourced' to my (private) school. 
2. I challenged convention - I would later walk out on a geology field trip because my lecturer was ineffective. I would defy the traditional career path in mining finance and travel to Japan. I would become self-employed and attempt to make money from philosophy. 

Irrespective of those issues, it might well be argued that I was free but ineffectual. I did as I pleased, or did as I thought important, but was it right? I personally think it was the best I could do in a bad system, coming from a partially unsupportive 'anti-intellectual context'. The good news is that that historical legacy was critical in giving me a new lease of life at age 19yo when I discovered philosophy. The problem however was that my success in many respects was written in the sand when I was young, and it would take years to overcome shyness and largely anti-authoritarian values. 

The positive of course is that, having had that philosophical education in my 20s and evolved as a critical thinker from that age, I was able to advance my education a great deal. But actually I have nothing to show for my brilliance. It is seldom that I don't win a debate, even in my field (resource analyst), and I don't even consider it my strength. The reality is that people only measure you for those 'tangible successes', which all too often don't even depend on you; which are not even a reflection on you. Too often those 'successes' are written in the stand at birth, and we are validated for a path rather than for the particular values we embody. We debate in society the causes of crime; whether its nature or nurture. I think its none of these. I think its values. You are not born with a criminal mind; you are not defined by your environment; you are shaped by your mental engagement. That 'engagement' depends upon being confronted by opposing standards of value. i.e. Two different parents. I had two parents the same; so I was invalidated and otherwise disengaged from parental insight until I discovered philosophy. I don't begrudge my parents to this day. I think they are simply products of their parents and society, simply because they were not challenged by 'differentiated' standards o of comparison that demand 'a choice' - to think or not to think. To think the way others think, or to forge one's own path. To react against other's values, or to develop an independent, coherent framework of values. Probably most people will take the money and be defined by others values. I wonder if you can do both. I tend to think you will get away with that once before you will be defined by your track record. Critical thinking is merely differentiated thinking. If you want to be a critical thinker, you first need to depart from conventional values in some fundamental way. Then you are destined to confront a litany of problems which you will have a very different 'solution'. This I would suggest to you is the foundation for genius. Basically I don't believe in genius. But I can say is that history shows that the reputed geniuses were rebels. Einstein and Nicola Tesla come to mind. Their trick was to place themselves in a place and systematically express 'differentiated thinking'. They did not seek out captains of industry until they were successful; until they offered something of 'recognised value'
So I say to people, define yourself differently, and piss your parents off. Let's rock this edifice until it changes. Let's destroy this hierarchy; a legacy of feudal times. The institutions have reformed only to preserve old conventions. As it turns out Einstein became 'institutionalised', whereas Tesla was arguably destroyed by institutional investors like J.P. Morgan. I have read different accounts of these facts. 

Truth be told; fundamentally I respected objectivity rather than social acceptance. 

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