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.