Monthly Archives: October 2012

Hiatus

Going to go on hiatus from making blog posts for a while. Not sure how long, but at the very least, I won’t be making posts regularly like I have for the past few months.

It’s been just over a year since I started this blog, and I’ve definitely learned a lot by making it. I realized what a bad writer I am and hopefully have improved somewhat on that front. Learning to express your ideas in writing is a great way to learn those ideas themselves. You find out what you know well and what you don’t know so well. It’s a great way to expose holes, big and small, in your knowledge.

I’ve also always been really bad at this reflection stuff ^. That’s all I got to say, so yup, until next time.

Voter Apathy? Quite the Contrary

“Go out and vote! It’s your responsibility!” says the concerned citizen. Once he accepts this seemingly innocuous statement as his premise, the derision of those who don’t vote with the phrase “voter apathy” naturally follows.

“Well, if you don’t vote, it must be because you just don’t care!” But is it really our responsibility to vote? And is it really out of only apathy that someone could choose not to vote?

Let’s start off with a clear understanding of what the State is. The State is a monopoly of force over a given territory. What the State decrees is forced upon the entire nation, upon every individual who may or may not be opposed to that decree.

Voting is an act of taking part in the State’s process of forming decrees. By voting, you are imposing your opinion on someone else.

We all have opinions and surely have the right to have an opinion. But when you take part in the political process, you are forcing someone else to go along with your opinion.

For example, if 51 people vote that we all dye our hair red, and 49 people vote against it, all 100 people end up having to dye their hair red even though 49 did not want to.

So by its very nature, politics turns into a “them vs. us” situation. I want black hair, and you want red hair. Normally we can both go our separate ways and choose whatever hair color(s) we want. If we disagree, I can try to convince you that keeping your hair its natural color is a better idea, and you can try to convince me of the opposite. We may have differing opinions, but there is no inherent animosity between us just because we disagree. But as soon as this turns into a political issue, animosity becomes far more likely just because we disagree. It immediately becomes the red-dye hair people vs. the natural hair people (well, now that I think about it, I guess natural red heads can be on either side).

A more realistic example: people who believe only heterosexual marriage is valid vs. those who think homosexuals should be able to get married as well. Wait a second. Why not individually define marriage as we desire and go from there? If we think someone’s marriage is invalid or immoral, why not peacefully persuade instead of forcing our opinion on others? Answer: it’s part of the political process.

Now that we understand what the State is, let’s go back to our original two questions. Is it our responsibility to engage in the political process outlined above? After all, if everyone decides not to vote, how will the country be run? The answer is simpler than expected. All the current functions of the State have at one time or another been handled without the institution. There is no necessity of the State, therefore no necessity to vote, and therefore no responsibility to vote.

What about the second question? Do people who choose not to vote only act such a way out of apathy? Quite the contrary. It is precisely because I do care that I do not vote.

I care about my friends, my family, and society. I care about myself.

I think we all want to change the world for the better. We see problems and we want to fix them. We see suffering and we want to get rid of it. What I’m advising though, is to reject political action as a means of changing the world. Your primary focus should be on yourself. You have direct control over yourself and so logically that’s the first person you should change. But happily, this is also the best method if you want to change others. Start by setting an example. And if someone is open to conversing with you, use peaceful persuasion. But never use force. If you want others to change for the better, they have to change of their own free will. Forcing them to accommodate to your beliefs is not only wrong-headed, but it’s contrary to your original goal. After all, do you really want to live in a world where people force their beliefs on others?

It’s Your Responsibility to Vote for Someone Who Will Put Your Child in Harm’s Way

So I was googling articles about the “responsibility” citizens have to vote, and I came across this paragraph:

“If you are a Spouse or Family member of someone in service to our country, do you not support that person as much as you can? What greater lack of support can be shown than to not participate in the process of choosing the person who can and will send your service member off into harm’s way?”

Haha, I completely understand the point this guy is trying to make here, but his wording is absolutely terrible. Great job man! Voting for the guy that can and WILL put your child in a deathtrap is your responsibility, and I’m glad you care so much about your son!

Anyway, I’m going to make a post about this topic sometime in the next few days, so come back and read it if you’re interested (prob. Mon. or Tues.).

This Nonsense about Social Security That Many Are Propagating

It’s old news that Social Security is unsustainable. In fact, I myself made a post about it last December.

According to Glenn Greenwald though, this is all a big lie concocted by right-wingers and neo-liberals to “slash entitlement benefits for ordinary Americans.” Earlier criticizing Martha Raddatz in the 2nd presidential debate for her wording of a question about SS, he stated “That social security is “going broke” – a core premise of her question – is, to put it as generously as possible, a claim that is dubious in the extreme.”

He then cites a passage from David Cay Johnston stating:

Which federal program took in more than it spent last year, added $95 billion to its surplus and lifted 20 million Americans of all ages out of poverty ()?

Why, Social Security, of course, which ended 2011 with a $2.7 trillion surplus.

That surplus is almost twice the $1.4 trillion collected in personal and corporate income taxes last year. And it is projected to go on growing until 2021, the year the youngest Baby Boomers turn 67 and qualify for full old-age benefits.

Well, I have a great idea. Why don’t we take Greenwald’s own method, that of examining premises and assumptions, and apply it to what he and Johnston have said about Social Security?

There is no lockbox. There is no treasure chest lying somewhere in Washington with a bunch of surplus money from SS laying around, ready to be used. Yet Greenwald and Johnston are operating on the assumption that there in fact is.

When Social Security earns a surplus, the money is used to buy government bonds, i.e., loaned to the government. The government owes this money to SS and pays interest year after year. Interest paid from the government to SS above what SS needs for its expenditures are reinvested in government bonds. This is not a lockbox; this is an IOU.

Social Security’s income is derived in two ways, from payroll taxes and from the above mentioned interest payments from the federal government.  If for some reason, interest payments and taxes are not enough to cover the program’s required expenditures, SS will be forced to call upon the federal government for some of its $2.7 trillion back.

But the government doesn’t have this money. It, too, derives its income in several ways. It can tax, borrow or print. Taxes are already not enough to cover government expenditures. The federal government currently borrows nearly 40 cents for every dollar it spends.

The current state of SS is that in 2010, its expenditures started exceeding non-interest income. In other words, interest income is starting to play a larger and larger role. The federal government is being relied on more and more to pay this expanding interest income.

In 2010, this deficit of non-interest income v. expenditures was $49 billion. It is projected to be about $66 billion from 2012 to 2018, and then shoot up tremendously.

How is the government going to pay all this money? Well, it’s going to have to borrow even more than it does now. And paying off a credit card with another credit card simply isn’t sustainable.

 

UPDATE 10/18:

I may have set up a straw man in claiming Johnston and Greenwald are “operating on the assumption” that there is a lockbox. Nothing is mentioned by Greenwald to change my opinion regarding him, but after re-reading Johnston’s post, there are a few statements he makes that point out he does understand how the surplus is funded. However, I do stand by my reply below in the comments that is he understating the problem.

Be Careful with your Words. You Might Just End Up Saying the Opposite of What You Mean.

It’s amazing how the insertion or replacement of one word can make a sentence have a drastically different meaning than what it would have had otherwise. I’m not talking about inserting words such as “not” into a sentence. That’d make for the bestest blog post ever, but it’ll have to wait =/.

Stefan Molyneux in this interview (at about 10:11) says the following:

“Okay, what about, you know, the praxeological argument that if you increase the money supply without a concurrent increase in goods and services or other nonmonetary phenomenon, you will NOT add to the general wealth of society, you will only increase prices.” [emphasis original]

Molyneux here is trying to explain an example of a praxeological statement. When I first heard it, I interpreted it (the way I believe Stefan Molyneux meant it) to mean “if there is an increase in the money supply, ceteris paribus, general wealth will not increase.” That is why Molyneux included the phrase “without a concurrent increase in goods and services or other nonmonetary phenomenon”; because there very well could be an increase in general wealth if there were more goods and services.

However, after watching this clip, Robert Wenzel of EPJ criticized Molyneux for implying that he (Molyneux) thought that increases in the money supply are called for when goods and services increase. At first, I thought “Wait what? There’s no way he said that” but after further explanation I became convinced Wenzel was correct.

So to explain, let me restate Molyneux’s quote with my emphasis in bold:

“Okay, what about, you know, the praxeological argument that if you increase the money supply without a concurrent increase in goods and services or other nonmonetary phenomenon, you will NOT add to the general wealth of society, you will only increase prices.”

So here, if we take literally what Molyneux says, Wenzel is clearly correct. By saying “if you” increase the money supply without a concurrent increase in goods and services, “you” will not add to the general wealth, Molyneux is setting up a cause-effect relationship between the person increasing the money supply and that same person not adding to the general wealth. However, the implication of this is that if the person increased the money supply in the opposite circumstance, i.e., when goods and services did increase, that person would have increased the general wealth!

So if we change the quote slightly, it makes sense in the way I believe Molyneux intended it to:

“If there is an increase in the money supply without a concurrent increase in goods and services, the general wealth will not increase.”

In this case, there is no forced connection between the money supply and the general wealth. In other words, there is no implied belief that if there was an increase in the money supply with a concurrent increase in goods and services, it would be the increase in the money supply that caused the increase in general wealth.

Now, I have no reason to believe Molyneux believes what was implied by his statement. In fact, I have every reason to believe the opposite. He constantly critiques the Federal Reserve’s expansion of the money supply, and so I doubt he holds the position that comes across in his words. But what this shows me is that slight variations in language can have drastic effects on what you actually say versus what you really mean.

Are Traffic Lights Necessary?

It’s pretty amazing how many unquestioned premises actually turn out to be false upon examination of them. I saw these videos a few months back, so day before yesterday when I was reading Buchholz’s New Ideas from Dead Economists and bumped into this passage about Adam Smith’s invisible hand, I had a good laugh:

But if everyone charges ahead in his own direction, why does society not resemble anarchy, something like a complex highway intersection with broken traffic lights? Shouldn’t we hear a frightening crash when self-interests clash? If roads cannot be safe without a traffic authority designating who shall move, can a community survive without a central planning authority to decide who produces and what is produced?

Yes. Not only will it survive, but the community will thrive far more than any community with central planning. More surprising, it will surpass both in output and social harmony any economic system based on altruism.

Just to clarify, the argument is not that we should get rid of all our traffic lights (as may seem implied by the libertarian’s stance of getting rid of all central planning or even my title). But what is apparent from the two cases above is that traffic lights aren’t required everywhere, and certainly in some situations it would be better to have no traffic lights at all. But a central planning agency is going to have a much harder time figuring out where is where, and as usual there will be a tendency to create uniform rules rather than going through the pain of distinguishing. Only a free market in roads can determine where traffic lights are efficient and where they are not and continue to innovate new ways to encourage the smooth flow of traffic while maintaining safety.