Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why are more Liberals not Libertarians?

I am referring to American Liberals (i.e. socialist-leaning ideology) and not to European Classical Liberals, which are similar to libertarians in philosophy.

1) Liberals tend to favor security and social harmony at the expense of individual liberty. One example: liberals favor income redistribution through progressive taxation, to make people more "equal" and more likely to get along - whereas libertarians believe everyone is entitled to the fruits of his/her own labor, even if there are differences in earnings.

2) Liberals prefer centralized power (or a strong, theoretically impartial, father figure, generally a democratically elected government) to regulate the millions of transactions between individuals - or the market - again, with the end goal of social stability. Libertarians are very staunch opponents of strong government involvement in said transactions between individuals, claiming that giving a government a monopoly in enforcing rules is more dangerous and more corrupting than letting individuals or groups of people compete freely.

3) Liberals favor military intervention around the world, to spread their ideals and to solve humanitarian crises (let's not forget that, due to circumstances, the most war-bent US presidents since the 20th century have been leftist Democrats: Woodrow Wilson and WW1, FDR and WW2, Truman with the atomic bomb and the Korean War, Kennedy with the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis, LBJ with Vietnam, Clinton with Somalia and Serbia, Obama with Libya, Syria, ISIS, etc.) The one exception to this trend was the Bush dynasty. Right-leaning Republicans such as Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Ford, Nixon, Eisenhower, and even Reagan (despite his rhetoric) have been more wary of using military power to advance US goals. Libertarians even more so oppose a strong offensive military intervention, and prefer a purely defensive foreign policy.

4) Liberals often dislike unchecked free speech (although not in the US), often opposed to offensive speech. Libertarians believe that one of the pillars of a civilized society is for anyone to publicly espouse any belief without any fear of criminal repercussion. (Again, in the US, most people, including liberals, staunchly protect free speech - perhaps a cultural trait, but in most of Europe and the rest of the world, people can get arrested or fined for making certain ideas public).

5) Liberals are wary of freedom of association, with the assumption that one party in a transaction is always exploiting the other - hence the need to regulate agreements (e.g., establishing minimum vacation time in a contract between a private entity and a private individual). This is to protect the supposedly weaker negotiator. Libertarians believe that transactions between consenting individuals or groups should be left free, without interference from a third party.

5) Liberals tend to favor a strong central authority to affect economic outcomes, and pick "winners and losers" within market competition, through anti-monopoly laws, affirmative action, arbitrary taxation and tariffs, etc. Libertarians are wary of giving a strong central authority this power, with the belief that it corrupts the wielder of said authority.

6) Liberals tend to see people as part of various tribes: genders, races, age groups, economic status, and see some as inherently strong and others as inherently weak, intellectually inferior, unable to compete in a free market. Thus, they prefer policies aimed at benefiting the tribe as a whole, at the expense of the individual. Often, they see the tribes as antagonistic toward each other. Libertarians believe in color-blind, gender-blind, etc policies which apply to each individual exactly the same, stemming from the belief that all individuals can find their niche in society, regardless of the natural talents they possess at birth.

In a nutshell, liberals believe a strong central authority (run by their peers) is necessary to steer society to become better and more harmonious. Libertarians believe that individuals are best off left free to achieve their diverse goals, to cooperate uncoerced, and even if the end result is not so equal, society tends to be better off.

Thus, liberals and libertarians have incompatible sets of beliefs, and it makes absolutely no sense to look for any overlap.

Why is Romania poor, despite being rich in natural resources?

Here is the bad:

1) Very high taxes on fuel - which results in artificially high prices on almost every good (since most are transported by truck).

2) A very large segment of the population is employed by the government, being basically parasites of the economy instead of producers.

3) Economy-killing regulations imposed by the EU to protect Western producers (Romania was intended as a consumption market of the EU, not a competitor to politically-connected Western producers).

4) Poor infrastructure (roads, legal, etc.) causing delays and inefficiency.

5) Poor labor laws - which make it hard to fire people on the spot, lots of payroll taxes, and other burdens which make companies reluctant to hire people "legally"; as many people work "without papers", they do not have access to loans to buy cars or houses - and must pay for everything up front in cash.

6) Communist-era bureaucracy which makes it really tough to be an entrepreneur, and do it legally. Since most of the economy is forced to operate outside of the legal sphere, there is no legal stability for real investment.

7) Large regulatory bodies which basically act as corrupt power-brokers - shutting down outside companies which threaten those of people with ties to the politicians.

8) Demographics (aging population no longer fit for the workforce).

Notice I did not mention corruption - as that is a result (and not a cause) of the large number of regulations, and the large power the central government has.

Here is the good:

Romania was doing ok economically before the Communist invasion. Before WW2, its economy was much stronger than Spain's or Portugal's for example (although not quite in the league of industrial powerhouses such as Czechoslovakia). After Communism, it became one of the poorest countries in Europe. Now it is rising again, a middle class finally exists, and there are also positives:

1) Internet connectivity: with a very tech-savvy youth, and one of the fastest internet connections in the world, it might be a blessing that traditional employment is discouraged by the laws. Thus, many young people work online with foreign firms and develop skills for the future.

2) Education, despite all hysteria about how it has gone down the drain, is still ok - judging from how well Romanians emigrants fare in their new countries.

3) National debt: still very low for an EU country, the government lives (almost) within their means and don't spend much more than they take in.

4) Stable national currency - the government does not debase the national currency for short-term political gain. Thus inflation has been kept in check for a while, leading to monetary stability (not sure if to give Romanian politicians credit, or their IMF/World Bank/EU overlords, but who cares, given the result is positive).

5) Very low crime rate, even for a European country.

6) Romanians perceive Romania as a very poor backward country, because many have the opportunity to travel abroad, and compare it with Western European capitalist countries. Thus, the image is much grimmer. They would do better comparing Romania in 2014 with Romania in 1990, 2000, and 2010 to see it has gone a long way toward more stability and prosperity. There are lots of things to do, but the old generations raised in Communism have to die off, the Nanny State mentality has to disappear, and things can continue to improve - slowly but surely.

That is, until the next superpower decides to invade :)

Why is Communism evil?

A person on Quora asked a more long-winded version of the question in the title, and this was my response:

Karl Marx's ideas were evil because they were based on hatred and antagonism (class struggle) rather than tolerance and diversity. In his proletarian utopia, only one kind of human could survive. Since that human did not exist in the real world, when the system was put in practice, existing humans had to be transformed into that type or be killed off. Luckily nobody was able to implement pure Communism as Marx had dreamed, but many were seduced by the dogma and tried it out on real people, causing untold amounts of suffering.

Let's look at the system when put in practice:

1) Political Failings:

Communism tried to solve existing social problems and inequities by concentrating power in the hands of a small elite unaccountable to anybody. Without a system of checks and balances, this system inevitably lead to large excesses by these ruling elites - more often than not leading to genocide and mass murder.

2) Economic Failings:

Communism concentrated economic decision-making into the hands of a small elite, unaccountable to anybody. Time and time again, this way of running an economy proved much less efficient than a free market for goods and services.

Think of an analogy: if google maps were updated by a centralized institution, would it be as efficient as the model it adopts now (open source, with millions of users updating the data in real time)?

With such an inefficient economy, most communist societies ended up in dire poverty; for the most case, the regimes which survived had to radically transition from the communist economic model to a freer market.

3) Foreign Policy Failings:

Communism was an aggressive dogma, and communist societies were required to spread the ideology by force around the world. That is why you had Cuban fighters in Angola or Russian soldiers in Afghanistan. Often the ideological need for conquest coincided with more practical needs - with such a poor economic model, the stronger communist countries (such as the USSR or China) needed resources from other countries in order to survive economically.

I never understood why people often say "it's a nice utopia, it just can't be put into practice". Communism has a bad reputation in the civilized world for very good reasons.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Education in Fairfax County

I was contacted by Fairfax County Public Schools to fill out a survey, and this is what I had to say in the comments section:

I understand the philosophy is to provide an education to each kind of child, and the goal is admirable, but with this philosophy you hurt the more gifted kids by not challenging them enough. The curriculum (especially math, sciences, foreign languages) is laughable in the US (although Fairfax County is better than most) compared to many poorer parts of the world (Eastern Europe comes to mind, where in villages with no running water they learn advanced algebra and trigonometry etc a few years before kids in the US even touch those subjects). There is no way American children will be able to compete with foreign kids as long as they are treated like half-wits who should not be challenged, lest the slower ones fall behind. By keeping the curriculum so simple, everyone will lose in the long run. I would suggest more school differentiation - like having magnet schools for the smartest kids, trade schools for the kids who are not capable of higher education, etc. And this differentiation among the children should be done strictly based on results, not on race, gender, and other such criteria, in order to ensure the best education tailored to each type of child.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Political advice for a neophyte

Most successful politicians are very charismatic people who generally make a great impression in person. However, that does not mean that they will actually advance your interests (unless you get to know them well enough to bribe them, most likely in an indirect way at this level). I would not worry so much about issues that affect a small part of the population (gay marriage, abortion, etc) since these are rather the "circus" in the "bread and circus" spectacle of politics. Economic policy is more important to our daily lives (but it is very similar for both parties despite the rhetoric); also foreign policy and monetary policy. In the last two aspects, the two parties are 99.9% identical. Like one party rule in China or Cuba. 

For economic policy, the Republicans favor lower taxes (in theory), and individual economic freedom (again in theory). The Democrats' philosophy is more collectivist (we need to spread the wealth around for everyone's good and for social harmony). Who decides how that wealth is spread around (in return for votes or corporate pampering) is another story. However, we must keep in mind that one (the Republican) can lower taxes in name, but at the same time make us poorer. How? An easy way is by printing money - so they finance their populist agenda, but at the same time make the money we hold less valuable. This is a hidden type of tax. Another is by increasing import tariffs (imported products become more expensive, but it is not technically a "tax" if we aren't aware of it). Democrats do the same things, but aren't so loud about "cutting taxes". 

I rambled long enough and I need to come to a conclusion. My sincere advice is to burn your registration in either party. It is tough if you live in Washington DC, but try to keep pure in this corrupt world. If, like me, you don't mind being a clown, you can support a third party (e.g., Libertarian Party, which advocates lower taxes, lower regulation, less centralization, focus on defense rather than imperialist expansion, and a stop to wasting our resources on victimless crimes and other such populist whims). However, despite my fondness for this party, I still realize they are total wankers. For this reason, I rarely vote (and when I do, it is in local elections, which matter a lot more to me, since they affect property taxes, the building of a walkway over a highway, etc - things that affect me in the short run). 

Also, keep in mind that most political discussions are NOT based on logic, but rather on tribal sentiments and unleashed feelings. Politicians know that very well, and usually hire psychologists to help rally the masses behind various slogans. When you analyze it closer, they promote an "us versus them" mentality which gets people heated, and motivates them to go to the voting booth. Politicians, to be successful, cannot take the risk of following a principle and sticking to it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Monkeysphere

I found a really interesting view on society (very entertaining short read at the same time) and, without further ado, I am posting the link here:


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

An argument against the concept of child support laws

Imagine I had a frail constitution, including a well-known predisposition for asthma attacks (for the record, I don’t), yet a friend invited me on a hiking trip. I couldn’t resist the temptation, and I accepted, without taking proper precautions or taking any preventive medication. Imagine that the hike made me sick with an asthma attack. Would it be fair to blame my friend, or would I be the one responsible for my body's response? If I asked him to pay for my expensive evacuation and asthma treatment, some members of society would find my request laughable, some would find my chutzpah offensive, but most would agree that I am being completely and utterly ridiculous. If I were to take my actions to court, no honest judge would award me any compensation.

Allow me to change the underlined words in the above paragraph.

Imagine I had a uterus, including a well-known predisposition for pregnancy (for the record, I don’t), yet a friend invited me to have sex. I couldn’t resist the temptation, and I accepted, without taking proper precautions or taking any preventive medication. Imagine that the sex made me pregnant with a child. Would it be fair to blame my friend, or would I be the one responsible for my body's response? If I asked him to pay for my expensive childbirth and child rearing costs, some members of society would find my request laughable, some would find my chutzpah highly offensive, but most would agree that I am being ridiculous.

Unfortunately (for the fans of logic), the last statement in the second paragraph is not accurate in our society, despite being completely on the mark in the first one. However, this basic argument makes it clear why I am opposed to child support laws as commonly applied in the Western world (where the man is forced to pay for a woman's pregnancy and child rearing costs).

Is the concept of personal responsibility dead in the West? Do we, as a society, allow the shift of responsibility or blame so easily due to sentimental or political reasons? If we are to survive, as a society, it’s time we re-calibrate our moral compass.