Thursday, February 24, 2011
Unforeseen Contingencies can hardly wait...
Thursday, February 10, 2011
A quick note on Egypt
In lieu of a longer post with analysis...
Mubarak's hand picked vice president Omar Suleiman says that Egypt isn't ready for democracy.
Good point, that. Being subject to suppression, arbitrary arrest, and torture must be good for them as they aren't ready for freedom. But it raises the question of when Egyptians would be ready and how we would know it... what conditions would have to be met? It can't be that the Egyptian people are currently too apathetic; they are badgering Mubarak a bit too much for that to be the case. It must be that they aren't sufficently developed to recognize the wonderfulness of being suppressed, oppressed, arbitrarily arrested, tortured, and killed by such a "wise" man?
Bah! It's high time this sociopathic egomaniac ends his thirty years of "service." He's a brutal dictator with no legitimacy at all, and should abandon his position, else he's likely to face the fate of scoundrels like Ceausescu...which is, frankly, something he deserves. Get the hell out, Mubarak, while you can!
Artwork by Pep Montserrat.
Sunday, February 06, 2011
31-26, Packers over Steelers.
"The Lombardi Trophy’s 14-year sabbatical from Wisconsin has ended..." I followed the game on a radio station from Cincinnati. Whenever something exciting happened, the combination of the announcers shouting and the static made it impossible to really tell what was occurring, and I was something of a wreck by the end.
I'll no doubt hear more complaints from my friends who are fans of Chicago, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Denver, and all those other also-ran teams about how the Packers are a community-owned, non-profit corporation. Yes, that's one more reason I am a Packer fan. Every time they beat one of those private for-profit subsidized corporate teams, it's a victory for peoples' capitalism over mercantilism. Hah!
Green Bay Packers, World Champs!
Saturday, February 05, 2011
Friday, February 04, 2011
UC defends two billionaires, attacks another!
...because liberty is our fundamental value...
In the last 24 hours, two of my close friends (who do not know each other) independently sent me two different "exposés" of brothers David and Charles Koch and the Charles Koch Foundation. I’ve dealt with the Koch Foundation and am very well informed on their activities, so I was quite taken aback by the viciousness of these articles and their plain dishonesty. There's been a smear campaign against the Kochs underway for a while, and it’s very disturbing. Unforeseen Contingencies explains.
The Kochs run an extremely successful private enterprise, and are billionaires because of it. They produce valuable goods and services that people actually are willing to pay for on the free market - this isn’t Halliburton getting sweet deal contracts from the federal government, paid for by the taxpayer, nor Goldman Sachs, getting special protection and bailouts from its agents in the federal government. Nor is it speculators, gambling that governments have overextended themselves, and hoping to trigger and profit off a currency collapse that harms millions of unsuspecting citizens. This is actual free enterprise, producing useful goods that successfully compete in the market because people want them.
The Kochs also use their personal wealth to fund libertarian activities - think tanks, academic institutes, scholars, and students. Institutes such as Cato Institute, the Mercatus Center, IHS, and Atlas Foundation are important recipients. These are serious and respectable operations.
The recent attacks appear to be coming from a variety of directions, and – to me – appear to be coordinated. But whether they are coordinated or not, they’re bizarre. Perfectly legitimate activity is being portrayed as sinister, and smeared in the most bizarre fashion.
Case in point is an article a German friend of mine sent (she's now an American citizen, and highly regarded professor of history at a nationally ranked research university). The article is an incredible (literally) smear: the article alleges, but does not establish, that Charles and David are shirttail relatives of important Nazis. This is enough for the authors to claim Nazism, the John Birch Society, neoconservatism, libertarianism, and the Tea Party are all pretty much the same thing...all Nazism, of course. It’s totally insane. My response to my friend:
"Good grief. Your grandfather was a Nazi, right? Therefore you are too, and your politics as well. That's the level of this "expose." [Note: my friend is a progressive with libertarian tendencies who voted Obama.] It's part of a continuing effort to smear and destroy libertarianism. There's been quite a bit of stuff written recently attacking the Kochs, from all sorts of unrelated angles. It seems to be an orchestrated smear campaign - I think because they are important financiers of libertarian causes.
Libertarians are enemies of the omnipotent state, and advocates of individual freedom. OTOH, Progressives can't say when government is too big, and can't identify any dimension of life in which the state can't intervene. American progressivism sprang from German Historicism, at least in part...the same intellectual tradition that German National Socialism came from. They are all for the omnipotent state, ultimately.
There's also an Austrian economics connection with this. The Austrian School began in part in opposition to German Historicism. Schmoller and the rest of the Historicists self-identified themselves as the intellectual bodyguard of the House of Hohenzollern. Carl Menger, Bohm-Bawerk, Wieser, Mises, and the rest of Austrians fought them on theoretical and methodological grounds in the Methodenstreit, and also saw themselves as champions of enlightened liberalism opposed to German statism. Koch Foundation has been an important source of funding for Austrian economics. And while I've received funding, no one has ever monitored me or exerted even faint pressure on anything I've done. They don't finance people doing things antithetical to their purposes, obviously - no one does. But it's strictly legitimate fostering of intellectual inquiry in which they have an interest.
I'm always astounded when I hear people, especially Americans, denounce libertarianism and libertarians. Freedom seems like such an obviously valuable thing in itself; and being dictated to by government so offensive... it shocks me that people could be anti-libertarian... but they exist, and are the enemy."
Only minutes thereafter I received a second "exposé" of the Kochs from another friend. This one, from Salon.com, refers to Common Cause's ongoing campaign against the Kochs. Common Cause bused a large number of protestors to a remote resort in order to, umm, what? Disrupt a private conference. Some of the demonstrators were arrested after entering the resort and trying to break into the conference; to the Salon writer this means the Kochs have effectively suspended the First Amendment. My reply to my second friend:
I'm astounded by the barrage of attacks directed against the Charles Koch Foundation. Apparently the one idea wealthy people are not permitted to finance is libertarianism.
The story as told by Pareene is a complete misrepresentation of what happened, at least according to NYT and
ABC news and New York Times.
"Common Cause" is funded by billionaire George Soros, the man who
announced an objective to drive free market economics from the university system, and apparently receives hundreds of thousands of dollars from his Open Society Institute. They've been conducting a sort of war on the Kochs.
[I can send links re "Common Cause" and Soros-OSI to anyone who requests -- conservatives publish this stuff all the time, but I got mine off the OSI site, always preferring not to simply trust critics to get things right, and the links on OSI are a mess to wade through.]
So where is Pareene and the rest of the critics when this particular billionaire is spending at least $50 million to decide what is to be taught, and not taught, in universities? Or when he finances an attack on his intellectual opponents?
I should note that Kochs have been quite active in financing Austrian economics - not in trying to shut ideas they disagree with from academia, but simply financing an intellectual tradition they do support. I've been a recipient of funds from Koch, and noticeably, no one has ever checked to see if what I've done with the funds met a political litmus test. It certainly has not met the standard "creation of political consensus around various government policies that allow them to pollute as much as they want" since some of what I've done, and what others receiving Koch funding have done, is about how to reduce negative externalities such as pollution. The characterization of "free market economics" in this piece is so far from accurate as to not even be a cartoonish version of the truth - it's diametrically wrong.
This article is bizarre - the Kochs are bashed for financing libertarian think tanks while protecting their (own, honestly earned) money from taxes "for school lunch programs." You won't find Pareene making this argument about Soros or Kennedys or other billionaires who fund the left... even though open Society Institute shelters Soros' money from taxes and instead funds his own preferred political action groups -- e.g. those who pursue the Kochs. In these screeds "left" is intellectually respectable, and "libertarian" is evil, simply by assumption. This article is particularly dirty, though, since the headline could be taken to say that the Koch brothers are Christian right-wingers, and the Michelle Malkin-Chiken-Filet-Koch picture reinforces this, even though these are entirely different stories, and phenomena. Kochs are libertarians, not right-wing bible-thumping Baptists.
A more accurate account of this story would be: "Members of a leftist group financed by billionaire George Soros were arrested while trying to crash a private conference held by billionaires Charles and David Koch. Soros, who has created an institute to purge academic economics of ideas he opposes, is now financing political action groups to harass the Kochs, who have for years financed research by economists of the Austrian school." This has me wondering whether Soros or his affiliates own Salon.com stock. That would be an interesting story to investigate.
The level of venom and illogic in these attacks is quite dangerous. I take them quite personally because they are such outlandish misrepresentations of what I do, what my students do, what Cato Institute does, what Mercatus Center does, and what the Kochs do. (Kochs help a number of our students pay for college, you realize.) This kind of viciousness is plain evil.
In the end, it looks to me very much like George Soros and his scoundrelly friends are out to smear and silence the few people who speak out consistently for individual liberty, including freedom of individuals to trade: the free market. It's not a battle of ideas at this point, since this kind of vile attack has no pretense to better ideas – it's obvious disinformation, and an attempt to simply destroy opposition. Since it’s directed at exponents of freedom, it follows that it’s on behalf of statism, tyranny, and dictatorship. Soros' Institute for New Economic Thinking is explicitly about replacing economic reasoning that concludes free markets work with economics that begins by assuming the state and socialism have an important role. "Never mind science, our pre-conceived conclusions are too important for that." Well, to hell with Soros and his lackies in this.
Ironically, if I were pressed to do it, it would take me less than five minutes to document that there are worthwhile institutes and activities that Kochs and Soros simultaneously fund…and not much longer to document that the Lewdwig von Rockwell Institute thinks they are all neocons. But let's not go down those rabbit holes.
Disclaimer: I have on occasion received funding from both the Charles Koch Foundation and from George Soros' Open Society Institute. I estimate that I've received roughly an order of magnitude more from Soros. Neither one has ever imposed any check or attempted to influence my research, teaching, or opinions. And unfortunately, neither of them has paid even a cent to Unforeseen Contingencies.
Thursday, February 03, 2011
Emergent phenomena and civil disobedience
Here's a fascinating piece from the Guardian. Computing, GPS, and social media are being combined to thwart police tactics against crowds of demonstrators. At a secret location, computer geeks track tweets, texts, and GPS readings from demonstrators, and maybe police reports as well, and text information back to demonstrators. In a recent demonstration in London, police failed to "kettle" (i.e. trap and effectively arrest en masse) a crowd, apparently because of this.
The amount and power of information now available to individuals is astounding and revolutionary. We're essentially at the point where an assembly of people in the streets might move like a flock of birds, in which information available to one person at one point in the crowd might almost instantly be communicated to the rest, or in which a central command center might direct a crowd to move effectively against police or counterdemonstrators. (In Egypt these seem to be the same thing.)
I've not written on how information technology empowers citizens, because I've not had much to say. But it's clearly a development of crucial importance. AlJazeera has been webcasting a powerful documentary about Egyptian bloggers who have opposed the state and been persecuted as a result. Great stuff. Early seeds of what is happening now. I hope they succeed.
BTW, the blog of the young couple featured in the film isn't currently accessible. I have no idea whether it's still in existence, but the URL is www.manalaa.net.
Wednesday, February 02, 2011
A few thoughts...not necessarily connected.
I think the Tunisian and now Egyptian stories are quite exciting, and I hope the Mubarak regime is at an end. It's a mixed bag because both liberals and Islamists have been repressed; they have common cause now, but are probably incompatible. And more generally, opposition to economic stagnation, corruption, and dictatorship is not equivalent to support for a better system. But this revolution is a necessary thing, if these societies are to modernize, as they must. It's also inevitable. A regime can't perpetually govern against the will of the majority. Mubarak now seems to prefer civil war to losing power...a sure route to losing power. May he go soon, and to hell with him. And may Egypt move to a freer society and economy.
This revolution also reminds me of the limits of America today. The administration seems utterly unable to fathom what to do. (Condemning dictatorship a long time ago might have been a nice start.) The American media seems unable to cover the story coherently -- both government and media seem to have been blindsided by these events and very slow to respond.
AlJazeera, on the other hand, has had great coverage. I particularly recommend their live English language webcasts, which are quite informative, professional, and non-sensational. As I listen now, there's more or less a war of attrition in Tahrir Square.
AJ also has a very surprising op-ed (surprising to me, at least) on Jews praying for the Egyptian opposition. I found it sort of moving.
But for sheer Middle East strangeness, it's hard to beat the this one: the Saudi government has arrested a vulture for suspicion of being an Israeli agent.
Of course, when it comes to being blindsided, Unforeseen Contingencies is right up there. My own recent dismissal of social networking looks silly to me now, after Tunisia, and after seeing how frightened Mubarak is of Facebook and Twitter.
As usual, I see these events as part of a growing process for human civilization. Kardeshev theory predicts tumultuous times. Here's hoping we build something better out of the tumult.
Flag of Egypt image courtesy of 4 International Flags
Update: the war of attrition just got hot, as there's substantial gunfire and tanks moving. It sounds very much like the anti-Mubarak protesters are being attacked, and the army is -- maybe -- trying to intervene. If indeed Mubarak's forces are attacking, he should be tried for it.