University Pelf

I went to my home state's flagship university for my undergraduate engineering degree.  I had a classmate there who thought he was particularly bright.  Most of us begged to differ, and he didn't have the most endearing personality.  He once laughed at me in 2006 for suggesting that Microsoft would loose market share to its competitors and that the specter of its "monopoly" would run its own course if left alone.  He struck me as particularly lazy, both intellectually and physically, and he was a poor leader of our senior design team despite his campaign to the contrary.  I was delighted to learn this morning in our alumni magazine that he is now a professor at the university and the new poster child of a considerable DOD grant to develop the next super weapon for the never ending War on Everyone.  I couldn't think of a more appropriate person to represent the suckling piglets of university pelf.  

pelf - money or wealth, especially when regarded with contempt or acquired by reprehensible means.

It has become an archaic term, but I suggest we bring it back.

The Need for Government - A Fallacy?

Is it just me, or does pretty much every argument for the necessity of government boil down to the argument from personal incredulity, "I can't think of how X can be true, therefore X is false."  These arguments come from Left, Right, Center and even radical Libertarian minarchists.  The story is always the same:

We have to have government because...

  • ... I can't conceive of how we would have roads without them.  
  • ... I can't imagine who would take out the trash.
  • ... it's impossible for people to pay for their own healthcare. 
  • ... no one would be able to keep law and order.  
  • ... I can't imagine parents educating their own kids. 
  • ... I don't see how businesses will regulate themselves such that they will produce high quality, safe products.  
  • ... I can't come up with a way to make basic science research profitable without subsidies.  
  • ... it would just be utter chaos without it.  
Perhaps I am missing something.  I'm sure you'll let me know.  

I Am Officially Getting in the Way

It's easy to miss the point of an article, blog or oral argument, especially when you are more interesting in grinding your ax than really understanding the other point of view.  It turns out this is even the case for highly skilled philosophy experts.

Every struggling upstart blogger is thrilled to see notifications of comments on one of their posts.  I am no different; I relish each of the 10 comments my site has received.  A few weeks ago I was delighted to see a new comment but was surprised to find that it was a tag from another blog.  I pasted the address into my browser and was delighted to find a rather lengthy article devoted to missing the point of my original commentary which was essentially a very simplified, sound-bite-style summary of the socialist calculation problem.  I never intended for the piece to be a thorough dissertation on the topic, but rather, a rant the blow off steam and preach to for four-person choir that is my following.  But I posted it nonetheless, so it is fair grounds for debate.  It is a curious strategy to pick on a blog nobody reads, but I am flattered still.
The argument, which was about 5 times the length of my original post, went something like this (parenthetical statements are to be taken from my perspective):

  1. Talented individuals do not always perform up to their expectations.
  2. Sometimes less talented individuals outperform more talented ones by better honing their skills and being more well rounded.
  3. Therefore skill is the relevant metric for predicting success as opposed to talent.  
  4. The quoted statement (from my post) implies that no one will ever be talented enough to effectively centrally plan an economy (a gross misunderstanding).  We already know how irrelevant talent is, therefore this statement is false.  
  5. Our institutions have it all wrong because they tend to look at talent instead of skill. 
  6. Parents who tell their children to follow their talents and do what they love are "almost criminal" because alot of people don't like their jobs.  
  7. Therefore, we can't give up on central planning because we haven't been appropriately looking for or demonstrating the skills required to be successful at it.  We have to keep our optimism and keep plugging away (in spite of a total lack of evidence to the efficacy of central planning).
I especially enjoyed the conclusion:

"This is just one more reason why I find libertarian bomb-throwing to be wearying: we already know that something is going wrong, and we already know how to make it better. What we need is for fewer people to pounce on the opportunity to be bitterly pessimistic and instead look around them at the ways in which we can, have, and do make things work - or, in the case of people who can't manage that, to at least have the courtesy to stay the fuck out of the way."

Really, "we" know how to make it better?!  Then why didn't "we" stop it from happening in the first place.  The author must suffer from the delusion that there was no central planning going on prior to the crash and that only the government can swoop in and save us from the dastardly deeds of "the market".  The original point he is missing, and I take part of the blame for being so terse to begin with, is not that no one is smart enough, talented enough or even skilled enough to manage an economy.  The point is that no one will ever acquire the knowledge needed to do such a thing at the time they will have needed to do it.  To think otherwise is pure hubris, and frankly, quite dangerous.  This is not pessimism per se; I simply disagree with the position. that "we" can and must do something.  I am quite optimistic that free individuals left to their own devices and allowed to live, innovate, and trade freely will prosper.

Besides all of the practical considerations, which I leave to Mises, Hayek and Rothbard for further detail, there is no moral justification for central planning.  No amount of skill gives anyone the right to force me to use a particular type of money or to spend it on a particular type of good.  No level of crisis gives anyone the right to take something from one individual by force and give it to another.  It seems pretty clear to me, that the man who proposes we give up on peace and start imposing the will of the state on formerly free people should bear an enormous burden of proof well beyond torturing a distinction between "talent" and "skill".  Further, it is clear that he is the one standing between us an prosperity.  

The author, after missing the finer points, has hit square upon the central purpose of this blog - to get the fuck in the way...

...of legal plunder*.

*If you didn't get this, you haven't been reading enough Bastiat.
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