Tuesday, May 05, 2020

The inhuman consequences of Economic Thinking

Right now, as the Coronavirus and our local, state and national responses to it have nicely revealed how starkly polarized we are, we've united into a nice stew of concerns, where on the one side we've got folks lining up with
"You can't just shut down the economy, people need to work!"
, and on the other side we've got them wailing that
"I don't want to die for your haircut! Keep businesses closed!"
Ya know what I can't help noticing? Just how disturbingly much that they (Pro-Regressive Leftists, Libertarians, and Conservatives), agree upon.

What do I mean by that? Well... 1st off, what point of view do these positions frame the problems that America is facing today, through, the Economy or Justice? Sure, they'll quickly jump to phrasings of 'what's right!' and '___justice', but the words typically chosen by both to express their 'opposing' points of view, have been those above which are what we might call Economy-Centric, rather than what might be called a Justice-Centric (a term that'll aggravate those it's fun to aggravate), POV, of how well or poorly we are justly upholding & defending the lives, rights and property of all hasn't been the central concern of those experiencing either position.

2nd, both positions are supposedly in response to how the Coronavirus has been dealt with, and yet neither position deals with what we've dealt with at all. To recap, without the 2020 asssight... sorry... hindsight complete with anachronistic google goggles, in mid-March when decisions needed to be made about the dangers visible through Communist China's murky veil of obfuscation and lies, and only somewhat more clearly visible in its impact on Iran, and the very clear devastation it was wreaking on Italy, the Federal govt called for 'Social Distancing' guidelines, which some states followed, and some imposed with more severe blanket lockdowns, for the stated intention of slowing the Coronavirus's progress (not to stop or eradicate it), to contain any saturated outbreaks, and so 'flatten the curve' to give us the chance to prepare equipment, facilities and personnel to handle the disease. That's been done, and so now when we need serious discussion of where we are and what to do next, both of the above positions demand 'action!' without discussion. If they were interested in reasonable approaches to liberty, their 'position' might be expressed in something more like:
"The curve's flattened, we're prepared, what reasons & evidence warrant restraining people from reasonably going about their lives?"
That would at least invite reasonable discussion, from both 'sides', but neither side expresses reasonable positions, they express what they are driven by - fear - and both are demanding action, not discussion. There's a reason for that.

If you still don't see what I see the two positions as agreeing upon, ask yourself this: do their opposing positions, mean that they fundamentally disagree on everything? I don't think so. Look at it this way, imagine two rival football team's in the Superbowl: are they opposing each other? Well, on the surface, sure. But how fundamentally opposed to each other are they really, when both teams chose to play the same game, by the same rules, in the same stadium, on the same day and for the same trophy? They disagree on some particulars, obviously, but more importantly they fully agree on all of their shared fundamentals, and upon nearly everything else but who should win the championship. And perhaps most of all, they're agreed that people should be watching football, not baseball. Right?

I hate to break it to you folks, but with all of the factors that go into watching these economically minded 'opposing teams' play their game in America; they're not expressing fundamental disagreements with each other, but a nearly unanimous agreement upon every essential point but who should win their championship game - a sport which America wasn't playing when it originated.

Those who're all up in arms over all 'Social Distancing' guidelines being "A slippery slope to Socialism!" are very late in sounding the alarm - the biggest slip we've slid down that slope, took place decades ago when nearly everyone of the Left, Right & Libertarian views, gave up on the Justice-Centric concerns, and coalesced around the various positions of Economy-Centric teams and the pretense that they disagree on something important. They do not. The 'opposing' positions being offered are examples of 'Economic Thinking', and each are implicitly conceding, or explicitly advocating for, the notion that extended matters of life and death are the stuff of economic policies, and that serving and managing the economy is government's, and your, rightful purpose. That step having been taken, it's all been one slow and steady pro-regressive step after another, to where we are today.

I'm not saying that I'm unsympathetic to why people favor these positions (I'm strongly drawn to one, and not insensitive to the other) but the extent to which their support is decided by their preferred economic ideology, is the extent to which the decisions made in service to them won't be decided by the set of ideas that America was originally formed from and upon. Those earlier ideals led to the revolutionary concept of a people enjoying liberty by participating in self government - are the very ideas that are filtered out by the later theories of 'economic thinking' which held (and still hold) that experts should govern and direct the people based upon what their expertise determines to be for the 'greater good'. Someone a year from now might be able to look back on which team 'wins' this debate, and tell us which position was 'correct', but to the extent that position is determined by ideology, neither position can be true.

"♬ ♪ ♫ Sunrise... Sunset...♫ ♪ ♬"
How can something be both correct, and not true? Well... in much the same way that one of my libertarian friends just gleefully announced that the position he took in January/February, now 'has been proven true!', which, while what he said then, may correlate with what eventually proves to be correct, his position was, and will in no way prove to be true. To see what I mean, think about whether the earth revolves around the sun, or the sun revolves around the earth - how a person goes about answering that, is, in the long run, more important than what their particular conclusion might be. How so? Back in Ancient Greece when it was still a subject of lively and unresolved debate, there were some smarty-pants philosophers such as Aristarchus, who proclaimed a Heliocentric universe (also wrong, BTW, we have a sun-centric solar system, not a sun-centric universe) and said that 'The earth revolves around the sun!', but their reasons for saying so, had to do, not with careful astronomical measurements and calculations of stellar parallax, etc., but instead were positions they said were 'true' because they felt they were a purer expression of geometry which should be reflected in the heavens, and therefore must be 'true'. Yes, earth really orbits the sun, but he didn't know that.

Aristotle, on the other hand, said that because the available measurements and data they had did not support that conclusion, he reasoned from what facts he could see were true, and concluded that the sun revolved around the earth (sorry, was that laughter I heard? Psst!: What do we call what happens at the start and end of the day? Yep, 'Sunrise', and 'Sunset', which are true descriptions of what we are perceiving, even though we now know they aren't actually correct. So pipe-down smartypants 😎).

Was Aristotle wrong? Well, yes, in the context of what we know today. But we only know that today, because centuries worth of investigators using methods derived from his methods of reasoning and proof, finally came to know that the earth does in fact revolve around the sun. So you see, Aristotle's method of reasoning - staying on solid ground while methodically getting from here to there - was true, even though his particular answer has been discovered in time to be incorrect.

OTOH, just imagine if Aristarchus's belief, that being smart in somethings, meant that what he felt should be true, was reason enough to proclaim it as actually being 'true' in other things - if his method of 'reasoning' had won the day, where might we be today? That tendency is one that smart people have always been dangerously prone to being seduced by, being so impressed by what they know that they know, they presume to know how best to do everything else, and everyone else must guard against their having the power to 'do good!' unto them because of what they think they know best about. This is one of those lessons of history that we've had to keep relearning throughout history, that when we let 'right thinking' people determine what we must take to be 'true', a perilously self-satisfied ignorance settles across the land (and in our minds).

Which... coincidentally... brings us back to the 'Economic Thinking' of today.

No matter which side of the 'go to work!' or 'stay at home!' coin toss it is that you might be rooting for, it's the same coin of 'Economic Thinking' being tossed in the same ideological game, and in most cases which team people root for, Left, Right or Libertarian, reflect differences of opinion that they've arrived at in much the same way that a person becomes a 'Patriots' or a 'Dolphins' fan: their family & friends always liked them, or they admired their winning history & championship wins, or they're fans of their star players (or their hot girlfriends)... and they give little thought to all of the detailed rules of team ownership, player drafts and marketing, that goes on behind the games being played out on the field.

That's all perfectly fine for selecting sports teams, but what do you know of the rules that the Economy-Centric league plays by? Do they reflect reality, or convention (𝜋 r2, or yards needed for a 1st down)? Since their positions affect and direct every facet of human life - shouldn't you know? If you bother to look,and methodically examine what you see, you'll find that modern economic 'principles' are built upon the often arbitrary ideas of the likes of Malthus, Comte, Ricardo, J.S. Mill, Karl Marx, Lord Keynes - men who, with a huge assist from American Pragmatism, didn't think that we either could know, or needed to worry about knowing, what was actually real and true, so long as, like the ancient astronomer Ptolemy centuries before them, they could simply 'adjust' their formulas enough to 'make it work'. Ptolemy was the guy who believed that the planets revolved around the earth, and when his calculations didn't quite account for the planet's puzzling backwards motions in the night sky, he carefully fudged some numbers into what he called an ‘epicycle’ to 'correct' for how they should be rotating around the earth. Before you simply laugh at that too, you should look into how key factors which hugely impact the orbit of your life, such as the Federal Reserve's Interest Rate, GDP & Consumer Price Index, are determined. Ptolemy at least had the virtue of being ignorant of how the solar system actually worked. Our modern 'Economic Thinkers', are aware of, yet deny, the observations and ideas of Adam Smith, Jean Baptiste Say, Frederic Bastiat, James Madison (yep), etc, and have no such excuse for proposing their 'economic principles' which at best obscure, and most often hide, the facts and principles of how a political economy functions.

Why are those ideas turned away from? Because despite the Justice-Centric universe we were founded upon, we've been nudged into living in an Economy-Centric universe, and whichever team - Leftist, Conservative, Libertarian - might try to convince you that their economic model is correct, they are all wrong, and because what is true - that an economy is what results from how justly or unjustly a society treats the individual rights and property of its people - is at odds with each of those models, they all cooperate in fudging the numbers so that their systems seem to 'make it work'.

The modern field of economics was created as a vehicle for a narrow, politicized, and cherry-picked worldview of the 'social sciences', and it was pasted over the top of the still developing field of Political Economy towards the end of the 19th century. From the start, it pointedly discarded the understanding that an economy is what results from how well, or poorly, a people understand and exercise their individual rights, within a reasonable political and judicial system, within their culture, and within their understanding of what is real and true. Instead, Economic Thinking discards all concern for such depth and instead teaches that govt should use its numerous agencies to nudge it's people's lives and actions in order to improve those financial measurements they wrap up in the nice bow they call 'the economy'. But whether that leads people to measure lives by dollars and cents only - whether in abundance or by a lack of them - both filter the measure of being human by their narrowed focus on this or that ideological (positions divorced from truth) view.

Saying that 'Economic decisions' do or should determine the direction of society, is the game that both the 'go to work!' or 'stay at home!' fans are cheering on (loosely sponsored under the 'Socialist' and 'Capitalist' economic leagues), which is a case of the tail wagging the dog - and the only reason to propose it, is to eliminate the 'dog' - AKA: what is human, from society. The processes which various & sundry 'experts' (those with an unbalanced knowledge of a single narrow field of thought) use to exclude a messy humanity from the neat views of society, are the fields which modern Economics was created to marshal (and no, it's not just me saying this, this Princeton Professor has written on it, and others have as well).

'Go Team!'
Even though I despise the game they're both involved in playing, it's probably no surprise that I'm more sympathetic to the 'go to work!' fan's position, not because I think they agree with me, but because their enthusiasms at least usually correlate with mine (sorta like how the quantity of cheese consumed correlates with the number of people strangled in their bedsheets), and as I've been criticizing them the most over my last few posts, this time I'll first focus on the other team in this economic game.

And does the 'stay at home!' team ever make their message easy to criticize. Sure, the cheer-leading chant they rouse their fans with, that human life is more valuable than getting a haircut, is factually correct and sounds good on the surface, but beneath the surface it's troubled all the way down, fumbling it's facts well before making a truthful 1st down. How so? Look at what their words fully mean. The meaning behind their chant:
"I don't want to die for your haircut! Keep businesses closed!"
, has about as much concern for justice as that of a lynch-mob. It assumes that our lives serve the economy, it assumes that economic policies are the tools that should be used to manage our lives, for the benefit of the economy (if you scoff, see Wickard v. Filburn), and that all we need to 'live!', are better economic policies to be implemented and made sustainable by economic stimulus checks, Universal Basic Income, etc,. That's a pure fail and multiple flags should be thrown on the field. But it pales in comparison to it's other presumptions.

Sure, it's true that my choice to get a haircut, is, for me, a trivial one, but look at what has to be ignored in the fuller meaning of their own statement! To the life of the lady who cuts my hair, my choosing to have her cut my hair, is not a trivial matter, at all. My choice, and her other customers choosing her services, while perhaps trivial on our parts, is a very serious matter to her life, as cutting hair is how she makes it possible to live and to provide for her family; as is the case for the owners of the business which employs her to cut my hair; as is the case with the shopping center which provides the facilities for that particular hair cutting business to operate in, as well as dozens of other businesses, which are all essential to an enormous number of families, who, only because of the operations of those businesses - landlords, owners, workers and customers - are they able to have and maintain the numerous neighborhood homes outside of those businesses, which together provide the very essential matters of shelter for the lives and property of those who live in them, and so on, and so on, and on, across the city, county, state and nation.

While it may be necessary in an emergency to temporarily halt some activities to preserve the lives and community, it is not possible to separate any one business from others, for any significant length of time, without destroying the entire web of choices and actions that people must make in living their lives, which we've desensitized ourselves into referring to as 'an economy'. And to think that the wealth which the interweaving of their choices and actions produces, can somehow be accessed and distributed by a government which has prevented their actions and choices from producing it; to think that even some of that wealth can continue to be had for any significant length of time, while all of it is stopped in its tracks, is, aside from being deliberately stupid, is nearly criminally negligent in failing to consider what human life is, requires, and depends upon, to be lived - which, BTW, is an excellent summary of exactly what 'Economic Thinking' is, and means.

And to take it a step further, as responsible reasoning requires, to trivialize the very real and inescapable needs of living life as a human being, is to trivialize the desire and concern for living amongst similarly minded people in a society that is able to pursue and enjoy the liberty to do so. To characterize the system of individual choices within a system of laws that makes it possible to live in liberty, as being of a trivial nature, is an unforgivably narrow minded and willfully stupid thing to say and support. Have you considered what those 'trivial ideas' separate you from? Tell me, without them, what objections could you offer to 'belonging' (assigned) to a collective - of the scale of a nation state or a tribal pack is unimportant - that exists by pillaging, murdering and raping competing tribes for power, food and shelter? What objections would you be in a position to offer against enslaving 'others' (and a great number of your 'own people'), so as to make that primitive process sustainable? Cue AOC, Pelosi, The Press, etc., who are actively proposing just that.

And make no mistake, their desire, their yearning, to give to government the power to shut our lives down, under the false flag of 'the economy', is just the most recent display of the stunted nature of the pro-regressive desire to give government mastery over every aspect of human life as is on display in the shutting down of church services, playgrounds, and just daring to play.

What they also trivialize, is history's horrifyingly large number of lessons that are readily available for learning how well such 'ideals' have proven to turn out, from the Terror of the French Revolution, to the slaughters of Nazi Germany, USSR, Communist China and on down to the here and now in Venezuela. Those lessons don't matter to them, because they don't engage with them, they simply open their eyes into a passive 'wokeness' of nice thoughts, and that's enough for them to just know the evils of going out to get haircuts; not for them is the need to bother with facts and observations, they know important things (probably having diplomas attesting to the belt size of their smarty-pants), and they are seduced by how smart they presume themselves to be. Aristarchus would be so happy to trade admiring glances with them.

When they mutter of one statist scheme or another that 'it'll work this time...!', they do so in ignorant denial of the fact that it's not the people running the governments who fail their supposedly ideal system - if they replaced any of the current or past thugs, with those they see as being the very best they can find or imagine today, they too would soon find themselves heading up systems that would turn out the very miserably same. That pervasive misery is what those 'economic systems' produce, and they do so, not because of how efficient their 'economic policies' are, or are not, but because of the reality of human nature which they ignore, and the need for a system of justice that's compatible with it, which their 'high ideals' deny, denigrate, and destroy.

The Virtue Signalling they are promoting is spreading sympathetic feelings for, and actual instances of, real evil. Fix that. Please.

If you don't want them to have power over you, you need to do more than blame them, you have to do more than just chant for the other team. You have to actually identify what it is that you are looking at, and choose to learn something of its nature, and methodically integrate that knowledge with other matters that you've learned to be true - adjusting your assumptions to meet facts, rather than the other way around - in order to understand how the appearances of 'high ideals', might give a nefarious cover to the reality of evil and destruction, which no socialist/communist/fascist system can avoid producing.

That being said, let's turn to the team I'm more inclined to be sympathetic towards.

What a shame....
Well first... I've been glaring at them for weeks, and I've already noted how their own statement of "You can't just shut down the economy, people need to work!" concedes a power and purpose of government economic policy over that of individual rights and law, and I've already called them out for giving so little attention to how dependent individual rights are on properly considering the context that lives are being lived in, and I've already pointed out how incompatible some of their ideas of 'rights!', are with liberty itself. So I'll start (while keeping in mind what I just said about the integrated nature of our lives) with noting that when 'my team' says that "You can't just shut down the economy, people need to work!", minimizes the life and death issues involving this virus, and it shows an appalling disregard for the reasonable concerns of their fellows, that such thoughtlessness could cause the virus to spread. That doesn't mean that mandated social distancing policies shouldn't be lifted, but only that some care should be given to the procedures for doing so, and to the concerns of those who've been given reason to believe that they could adversely affect them.

If you think that you can enjoy liberty, while advocating for public policies which fail to show a reasonable regard for your fellows, it's not liberty that you are seeking, but only a way to impose your own 'your way' upon your fellows, which, ain't liberty at all.

I think I should also poke just a bit more at those who claim to know so much, from so little, those recklessly smug folks, who, overly represented in the Libertarians (whose concerns for the economy, trump what they think govt should and shouldn't do) and neverTrump'r contingents, who, largely fueled by their newly found powers of googled expertise in how diseases spread, they imagined themselves to be so incredibly smart & wise that they could immediately, and responsibly(!), call out to all who'd listen 'It's a con! You fools, it's no worse than the Flu! It's all a con!!!' as early as February (BTW, those Flu mortality rates we've all been so comforted by? Turns out they're not so comforting. At all.). But what they demonstrate most, is a style of thinking that bears a very close resemblance to those ancient Greek smarty-pants who said 'the earth revolves around the sun', and like them, while in a narrow sense some of their facts taken in isolation may tally as factually accurate, in that the Coronavirus hasn't produced the numbers of dead that had been initially feared, they too had no sound basis supporting their belief that it 'should be' so, beyond their own ideological assumptions. Once again, Aristarchus would be so happy to trade admiring glances with these 'new' thinkers.

We're here - now what?
We chose in the face of a pandemic emergency, to act, and that's where we are now. That elected officials chose in the face of those conditions, to take emergency actions, which are very much inline with why 'governments are instituted among men' (to uphold and defend our lives, individual rights and property), was neither surprising nor an issue for me, but how well or poorly (and far more poorly than well) that they've chosen to take actions appropriate to the conditions closest to the level of intelligent decisions being made (Subsidiarity), has been my greatest concern (see this post). Those who still claim to be all about 'liberty!', chose to deny the reasonable concerns that their fellows had for their lives, and demanded that all such decisions were unconstitutional assaults on 'muh liberty!', which given similar decisions by America's founders, made a mockery of themselves, and, IMHO, aided in the spread of even more unreasonable measures.

Policies of 'Social Distancing', are fine to advise, but less fine to impose without regard to clear conditions on the ground warranting them - not only do they then become ineffective, they are prone to abuse, and to result in excessive (and very understandable) reactions and pushback from those they are less appropriately imposed upon. If you are surprised by that, shame on you.

Likewise, if you are surprised that emergency measures are required in an emergency, shame on you. Here's a real reality all should be paying close attention to: In the context of an emergency, elected officials will and should impose measures by means of the authority which We The People have put into their hands - if you have the wrong people in power, whose fault is that? And of course, if they seek to extend temporary emergency measures, into permanent policies as a 'new normal' with no push-back from you, shame on you as well. If you don't take your government and your vote in it seriously, shut up and sit down. If you prefer not to 'dirty your hands' with politics, then maybe shut up and enjoy being ruled over by those you foolishly enable to get power over you.

Without getting into how wise the particular judgments made have been, to deny that govt has and should have those powers in an emergency, is to deny the very reasons that govt is implemented and diminishes the Individual Rights it is intended to secure, and it makes a mockery of the Liberty that our founders fought to secure for us (as pointed out in this post).

Stop playing the 'Economic Game', open your eyes and mind to the deeper reality which that ideological shell game misrepresents, conceals and evades. You are a human being, you have inalienable rights and powers by the nature of being human, but you cannot exercise them, you cannot even pursue, let alone achieve, 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness', without adhering to a method of reasoning that looks both to the perceptible facts, as well as to the ever higher abstractions which enable us to conceive and perceive truth through. To imagine that can be ignored, is to take an inhuman view of human life, which is to be Economy-Centric, rather than Justice-Centric, point of view.

It'd be nice if the 'go to work!' & 'stay at home!' fans would put their economic games aside for the moment, and spend a bit more time and thought on what is right, and true, wise and Just. We're all going to continue going around in circles if we don't, and America will remain outside their orbit until we do.

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