Saturday, October 03, 2015

Civil Rights and Mental Differences

Differences in thinking is the next area in which there needs to be social reform. We insist that people accept women, racial and ethnic minorities, gays, transgendered people, and cultural differences, but people continue to insist that everyone think exactly the same way.

I am not talking about ideology here (though there is a case to be made for more ideological heterogeneity in many situations, such as the social sciences and the humanities). No, I am talking about truly different ways of thinking -- what we all too often call mental disabilities.

Of course, we once considered homosexuality as a mental illness. Sexual orientation has since been normalized. We need to do the same with a variety of mental differences, and ceasing to call them mental disabilities is a step in that direction. Of course, mental differences result in differences in behavior, the same way that differences in sexual orientation result in differences in sexual behavior. A person who has autism is going to behave differently from someone who is neurotypical, yet everyone expects people with autism to behave like everyone else, and to respond in the same way as everyone else. But those are completely unrealistic expectations.

Of course, there are degrees of autism. There are people you may not suspect of being on the spectrum (I present myself as Exhibit A), but who clearly are if you fully understand the features of autism, the behaviors that result, and the interactions with others as a result (which very few do). These -- people with Asperger's or who are mildly or moderately autistic -- are people who could contribute in fantastic ways to society if just given the chance. But too many are not given the chance. Or, given a momentary chance, find themselves without a job without understanding why. And given all of the barriers our governments create to prevent people from starting new businesses (and given the fact that people on the spectrum are easily discouraged), alternatives to working for others are all too often far out of reach.

I understand this first-hand. I have had a difficult time keeping a job. On paper I look great (except to those who do not understand what they are seeing when they view my C.V.), and yet I have a hard time keeping a job. I never quite understood why, until I read a book about work and having Asperger's. That book was practically a catalog of all the problems I had in every job I ever had. All to often I found myself without a job without understanding what happened. But now I know. Now, you would think that knowing would help, but as it turns out, knowing you do certain things and being able to do something about it are quite different things. This is why it's important to have workplaces where people are prepared to deal with and interact with people on the spectrum.

This is important not just because only about a fourth of people on the spectrum are even working and only a fourth of those working are working full time or because people on the spectrum are almost twice as likely to get fired from a job as anyone else, but because they bring traits that ought to be of great value to a business. I have some recommendations along these lines on my autism blog, An Intense World.

People on the spectrum have a lot to offer the world, and it's a real shame that the rest of the world is almost completely unaware of that fact. Part of it is because people are truly afraid of people who think differently than they do. It is the last allowed and allowable prejudice -- to such a degree that if you tell your boss you have something like Asperger's, you can find yourself let go. And the person won't think anything of it. They would never fire someone because of their sex or race or sexual orientation, but if they find out you are on the spectrum, you could in fact get fired. But at the same time, if you don't say anything, you could end up getting fired anyway because of your differences in social behavior, learning, and thinking.

We hear a lot of lip service about the importance of different kinds of thinking, of creative thinking in the work place. We need more "diverse" work places to ensure we have a more creative environment. But in fact the vast majority of businesses want nothing but identical ways of thinking, so they hire people who will fit in perfectly, provide the same ways of thinking, and not rock the boat at all. This would be fine if we did not have laws on the books that enforce this prejudice throughout society. That they target what could be some of the most intelligent, most creative people in society -- in no small part because they are too often labeled as mentally disabled -- is all the more shameful and harmful to society.

While I have talked mostly about autism, since I know most about it, this is also applicable to many other mental differences, from dyslexia to bipolar to schizophrenia. Many such people could be contributing members of society, if only people accepted their eccentricities more. True, at the most extreme, help (like medication may be needed by many of the kinds of people I've discussed here, but at the same time, one has to wonder how much better many of these people's lives would be if we simply accepted them as they were and accepted them into society, cherishing their different ways of thinking. How many of their problems with living in society would disappear if the stigma associated with their differences in thinking were no longer stigmatized?

This is a civil rights issue. And we who are heterogeneous thinkers need to make it a civil rights issue. Like others who were Others before us, we need to stand up for ourselves and insist that we be treated like fellow human beings -- albeit differently-thinking human beings. We have much to offer, and there is nothing more shameful than the fact that practically everyone keeps rejecting the gifts we offer.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

New Podcast on Spontaneous Orders

There is a new podcast hosted by Kevin Rollins in which I participate. Well, I participate as much as my technology would let me. The microphone in my computer wouldn't work, and then for some reason, after I switched to my phone, they couldn't hear me on my phone. After I got that fixed, I eventually ran out of charge, and I tried to get back on the computer -- where the microphone was still not working. In any case, I may have managed to say something amongst all the technological interruptions.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Can Someone Point Me to the Road From Serfdom?

Under serfdom, the serfs lived on the land owned by the feudal lords, who took a portion of what the serfs produced in exchange for allowing them to live on and work the land.

Fortunately, we no longer have that system.

Today, we live on our own land, which we have to pay taxes on if we wish to continue to live in our own homes on our own land, and when we work, we have to pay taxes for the privilege of working.

Okay, maybe it IS that system.

But at least the main feudal lords have so much land that we can pretend we can freely move around -- within those borders, of course -- and choose which minor feudal lord to whom we wish to pay property and income taxes.

Yeah. That's different. Oh, and we get to choose our feudal lords. Who all pretty much act the same. And who we rarely if ever actually replace. So yeah, there's that.

How do we get on the road FROM serfdom?

Monday, August 31, 2015

Civil Society Man, Not Economic Man

If idle hands are the Devil's workshop, the Protestant work ethic would seem to naturally emerge from Christian theology. Of course, one can work as well as a serf under a lord for as for oneself, so this is hardly a sufficient condition for the emergence of wealth-generating free market capitalism, even if such willingness to work long and hard is one of its many necessary conditions.

Even so, the emphasis on work does not necessarily imply a concern with economic conditions. Neither, too, does the emphasis on innovation, as discussed by Deirdre McCloskey in The Bourgeois Virtues, imply this, not certainly does the emphasis on scientific discovery. Even Adam Smith's investigation into The Wealth of Nations was an exercise in moral philosophy first and foremost, an accompanying piece to A Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Indeed, most philosophers throughout most of Western history were primarily concerned with ethics and political philosophy, and any economic concerns were at best footnotes to that political philosophy. Why, then, the extreme emphasis on economic conditions in the 20th century and now?

If you read the great thinkers prior to the rise of Marx, economic materialism wasn't a primary concern. Political philosophy was. After the rise of Marxist thinking, especially in the 20th century, the concentration was increasingly on economic conditions and materialism. This so permeated the culture that even anti Marxists have ended up thinking in Marxian categories. Marxism is not and never really was an economic theory. It was a political theory. The fact we get that wrong underscores the degree to which Marx's materialism and making economic conditions primary has affected even our thinking about Marx. He was no economist, and he certainly never thought of himself as one. He was a political philosopher.
The fact that the West is obsessed with economic conditions rather than ethics or political philosophy can be traced to Marx. In fact, it's amazing the degree to which our thoughts have been influenced by Marx's materialism. If you see economics as the explanation of everything, you're in some fundamental sense a Marxist. Opposition to immigration can't be due to racism; it's because of concerns about the economy. Terrorism can't be due to religious beliefs; it's because of economic conditions. Nobody likes your art? Must be due to the dominance of the market economy. Crime? Can't be cultural or subcultural; must be due to economic conditions.

None of this is to say that the economy isn't a factor in people's lives -- in all people's lives -- but rather that for the vast majority of people, it's hardly the primary concern. Or even a secondary one. Economics is not the driving force in most people's lives. It is something we can use to meet certain needs for many other ends. I suspect it's almost exclusively anti-market leftists who are the most obsessed with the economy and materialism. Almost nobody else (other than those libertarians who think everything can be explained using economics) does.

Yet, our major thinkers and secondhand dealers in idea all treat economics as primary. And most of those people are leftists. It is they who think of humans as Economic Man. But Economic Man is but a small part of being human. What we need to revive is Civil Society Man. That is, people who are involved in the moral order, the artistic orders, the religious order, the economic orders, the scientific order, the philosophical order, the philanthropic order, etc. Not just political man, not just economic man, but civil society man is who we need to model, discuss, and think about. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

When Government Colonizes Different Spontaneous Orders

There are a variety of spontaneous orders. We too often only think of the economy as a spontaneous order, but there are also the scientific order, the philanthropic order, the philosophic order, the religious order, the democratic order etc.

I believe that each of these orders provide things the other orders absolutely cannot. This is why I oppose the colonization of the economic order by the democratic order. That colonization is called socialism. Socialism only involves the takeover of the economic order, or catallaxy. It does not involve the colonization of any other order.

Of course, colonization can be complete or incomplete. If the economic order is completely colonized, we have socialism; if it is only partially colonized, we have various degrees of interventionism. This is true of all orders, though for the sake of clarity, I want to deal with only complete colonization.

The colonization of the philanthropic order by the democratic order is known as the welfare state. When an area of philanthropy is colonized by the democratic order, we call that "crowding out."

The colonization of the religious order by the democratic order is known as theocracy. The same is true in reverse.

The colonization of science by the democratic order would mean that all science is being done in government-run laboratories. The goals of science would be predetermined by the government. This would be known as "socialized science." Michael Polanyi famously argued against this taking place.

The colonization of our educational institutions by the democratic order is known as public education.

The colonization of the health/medical order by the democratic order is known as "socialized medicine." 

The colonization of the monetary order is known as central banking.

Too many people are a little fast and loose with the term "socialism." Properly understood, socialism only involves anything in the catallaxy. This can include sub-areas within the catallaxy, such as medical provisions, meaning that if we have socialized medicine, that would be socialism applied to a particular area of the economy/catallaxy. But not everything is involved in the catallaxy -- nor should it be. I don't know what we have terms for the catallaxy colonizing other orders, but I would suggest that it would be as problematic as having the democratic order colonizing everything.

Thus, the colonization of philanthropy by the democratic order is not socialism. The philanthropic order is not part of the catallaxy. These are two quite separate orders, and rightly so. The arguments for and against the government colonizing either the catallaxy or the philanthropic order are and ought to be completely different. I would suggest that confusing the two only harms the arguments being made by those who argue against socialism. Further, too many who really favor an extensive welfare state think they favor socialism. They don't. Or, they don't necessarily. The two can be separated. The two are separate issues. And I think it would benefit everyone -- libertarians especially -- if they understood these distinctions and didn't mistake everything for being in the catallaxy.

I mean, suppose the democratic order decided to colonize the artistic order. Now all poems would be produced by government poets on topics determined by the democratic order. Is that socialism? No. But it's probably a recipe for a whole lot of really bad jingoist poetry.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Welfare is NOT Socialism

I have come to realize that too many people -- on the left, on the right, and even far too many libertarians -- are deeply confused about the nature of socialism. I keep hearing people claiming to want socialism when what they really want is welfare. I keep hearing people complaining about socialism when what they are really complaining about is welfare.

The issues surrounding government involvement in the economy qua economy are completely separate from the issues surrounding welfare provisions and the ways to pay for those provisions. It is perfectly possible to have a completely unregulated, free economy combined with government-provided welfare. Equally, one could have an economy completely controlled by the government without that government providing a single dime for welfare-type programs. We perhaps confuse the two because of Marx's combining them in his famous phrase, "To each according to their need, from each according to their ability." But they are not at all necessary companions.

One consequence of this confusion is the mistaken identity of welfare as socialism. I keep hearing people arguing for socialism, but when you get the details, they really only want more welfare provisions. One can receive money (it is always money, in a variety of forms, though some of those monies cannot be spent but in certain ways, depending on the programs) from the government without that government owning or controlling the means of production. More, most people don't understand that socialism means central planning -- even market socialism involves central planning. The latter attempts to allow for prices, but in the end, everything is owned by the central government and the economy is thus completely folded into the government itself. Most people don't realize that this is what socialism means, or that this model has been refuted over and over, in a variety of ways. If you want the complete destruction of the economy and the elimination of all wealth in the economy, socialism is the way to go. Why? It eliminates the entrepreneur, which is the only source of wealth creation in the economy. No entrepreneurs, no wealth creation.

Of course, most people who talk about socialism don't actually mean this. No, what they really are talking about is increased welfare provisions. Those provisions can extend from food stamps and housing to a single payer for health care to a basic income guarantee. This is why you can find some avid opponents of socialism and government intervention into the economy, like Hayek and Milton Friedman, making arguments in favor of basic income guarantees, negative income taxes, and even single-payer, universal health insurance. They were smart enough to understand that welfare has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with socialism or interventionism.

This isn't to say that the taxes necessary for welfare or the welfare itself won't have an effect on the economy. But having coincidental effects is not the same as legislation directly regulating what a given business can or cannot do. One can oppose the minimum wage while favoring welfare. Equally, once can oppose welfare while favoring the minimum wage (as a way of getting people off of welfare, though that would ignore the fact that increasing the minimum wage necessarily increases the number of those unemployed, meaning it increases the number of people on welfare). Some early progressives favored having a minimum wage precisely because it would create unemployment among minorities, who would be starved out because there was no welfare available -- it was an attempt at eugenics through economic interventionism.

At the same time, not all taxes are created equally. If you want to discourage something, tax it. If you tax income, you discourage work. If you tax sales, you discourage buying. If you tax capital gains, you discourage business creation and expansion. If you tax property, you discourage property ownership. There are some things, like business creation and expansion, which you probably do not want to discourage. One could make the argument that since jobs are a cost, income taxes that encourage businesses to automate more and thus drive down prices are good for the economy over the long run. Licenses are also a tax -- on starting new businesses. If you want to discourage the creation of new businesses, licenses and capital gains taxes are the way to go.

Equally, subsidies encourage certain behaviors. Subsidies can come in a variety of forms, including artificially cheap loans, insurance, or government protections. If you want to encourage risk, make risk cheaper. Socialize risk by providing cheap government-provided insurance. Government flood insurance encourages people to build in flood plains, creating far more property destruction and loss of life when people's property is flooded.

Those who confuse government regulations on the economy or government control of the economy with welfare are confusing taxes for subsidies, and vice versa. Also, the data on things like negative income taxes and basic income guarantee suggest that they do not encourage people to not work per se, but rather give people the leeway to hold out for better jobs or to create new businesses. As such, these programs can in fact improve economic conditions. But only if the government doesn't at the same time erect barriers to entry and growth such as licenses, regulations, and taxes on capital gains.

Those who truly want people to have better lives need to understand the difference between socialism/interventionism and welfare. The arguments for and against each are completely different. They really have nothing at all to do with each other, and confusing them only harms the arguments in favor of free markets. The arguments for free markets and against interventionism/socialism are one thing; the arguments for and against various welfare programs are quite another. Each of these can be combined in a variety of ways. If we understand this, we can understand how Hayek and Milton Friedman were able to argue for some of the programs they did, even while completely supporting free markets.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Approaches to Economics: A few definitions

Classical Economics -- complex model building using a combination of empirics and logic to explain those empirical observations. 

Econometrics -- making simple mathematical models of the economy and then recommending policies to make the real world fit the models.

Keynesian Economics -- given the institutions we currently have, what will fix or maintain the current situation right now, with little to no consideration of the future.

Marxist Economics -- an anti-empirical, logic-based system beginning with the premise that value is created through labor; given that value is subjective, the entire system completely collapses (much like actual attempts to realize Marx's vision in the real world).

Central Planning Socialism -- given econometric models as ideal and given the belief that the economy can be completely predicted and controlled (through econometrics), the ideal system; given that prices cannot ever be calculated, the worst idea ever.

Democratic Socialism -- replacing the market with votes; the end-result is the creation of government monopolies and the inability to determine prices to help with the most efficient distribution of materials, goods, or services.

Complexity Economics -- algorithmic model-building with the goal of getting the models to match the real world. Both negative and positive feedback taken into consideration.

Austrian Economics -- an approach to economics beginning with human action and human motivations to satisfy their perceived needs and values. It also uses empirics and logic to explain those empirical observations. It also uses algorthmic model building to explain the emergence of spontaneous orders and how they affect human (inter)actions.

Behavioral Economics -- humans do not act rationally, so we need equally arational humans to design systems to make people act more rationally, to fit our econometric models. Potentially, an insightful approach to economics, once it completely abandons mainline economics / econometrics.

Neoliberal Economics -- whatever system progressives disapprove of. It means anything and nothing.

Progressive Economics -- changing whatever we have, regardless of any understanding of economics, regardless of whether or not what we have is now working ir if anything in the past worked.

Fascism -- a form of political economy in which the government controls the economy through regulations and by allowing private citizens to pretend that they are the ones who run and own the means of production when it is in fact the government which does. Also known as corporatism, as it takes the corporation as the ideal model on which all of society should be designed. A combination of nationalism and socialism. Given its dominance in the world, the most successful threat to free market capitalism ever developed. Its success comes from the fact that it is structured in such a way that its failures can be blamed on a non-existent free market or "deregulations" that never took place, creating the conditions for more regulations to be imposed on the economy.