Unions are against globalization. To listen to them, unions are a force for good for all workers (rather than just the workers who pay the union its dues). But to watch them, you can see that they’re in favor of cartelization. They don’t mind other people
competing against them, as long as those people are hobbled by the same pay rate, protections, and benefits as the union members have. In other words, they’re not allowed to use a lower cost of living, or a lower regard for their own safety, or a longer work week as a competitive advantage.
Sigh. Unions! Still selfish, after all these years.
In my last post I expressed disappointment that the authors of an article about material prosperity and life satisfaction did not acknowledge the sense of achievement that many people obtain from their work.
How do I know that meaningful work contributes to life satisfaction? It would be easy enough to make a fairly long list of people I know who probably get a great deal of satisfaction from their work. I expect many readers could make similar lists. There is also some research evidence on this question.
It is well known that unemployed people tend to have much lower levels of life satisfaction than people in other workforce categories (including those who have retired). The Australian Unity Wellbeing Index indicates, however, that unemployed people also tend to have much lower levels of satisfaction with what they are achieving in life. There is also a marked difference in satisfaction with ‘achieving in life’ between employed people who are looking for alternative work and those not looking for work. Robert Cummins et al, authors of the report, suggest that low satisfaction with what they are achieving in life may be one of the main reasons why people seek to change their employment. The authors add: ‘Many employed people gain a great sense of ‘purpose in life’ from their employment, and having a sense of purpose is central to wellbeing’ (See: Report 17, April 2007, p. 164-5 and Figures 8.9 and 8.18).
Research on the relative contributions to life satisfaction of orientations to pleasure, engagement (the psychological state that accompanies highly engaging activities) and meaning (pursuit of a meaningful life) is also relevant. Christopher Peterson, Nansook Park and Martin Seligman have found (using data from an internet survey) that orientations to engagement and meaning have a greater impact on life satisfaction than does pleasure. The authors also found somewhat higher life satisfaction scores for respondents simultaneously near the top of all three orientations and notably lower scores for respondents simultaneously near the bottom of all three orientations (‘Orientations to happiness and life satisfaction: The full life versus the empty life’, Journal of Happiness Studies, 2005).
A short article by Amanda Horne on the ‘Positive Psychology News Daily’ site refers to research by Michael Steger and Bryan Dik which suggests that meaningful work is associated with people developing a sense of identity which comes from knowing ‘who they are, how their world works and how they fit in with and related to the life around them’ and ‘people’s identification of, and intention to pursue, particularly highly valued, over-arching life goals’ (Chapter on finding meaning at work in Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology and Work).
One of the points emphasised by Peter Warr, the author of extensive research on happiness in the workplace, is whether individuals want to be in the role they have been assigned, the value to them of different role characteristics and the attractiveness of core tasks. He suggests that such matters can have major implications for individual happiness. Warr also notes:
‘Some happiness is not actually accompanied by feelings of pleasure, or satisfaction of desires. This second form of happiness invokes reference standards of some kind, perhaps some realization of personal potential’
(‘Searching for happiness at work’
, The Psychologist, Dec. 2007).
Some people might wonder why people who claim to get a great sense of achievement from their work often require high levels of remuneration for their services. I think this might have a lot to do with rationing of their time. Successful actors, sporting professionals, business leaders, artists etc. can be fairly sure that by requiring high levels of remuneration their services will be purchased by people who will appreciate them. They also know that can always give their wealth away if they feel embarrassed by the amount they are accumulating for doing things they might be happy doing for nothing.
Consideration of the way high-achievers allocate their time raises some obvious questions about the importance to life satisfaction of an appropriate balance between work and home life and between different domains such as ‘achieving in life’ and ‘personal relationships’. That might be a good subject for a later post.
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‘Contrary to both those who say money is not associated with happiness and those who say that it is extremely important, we found that money is much more related to some forms of well-being than it is to others. Income is most strongly associated with the life evaluation form of well-being, which is a reflective judgment on people’s lives compared with what they want them to be. Although statistically significant, the association of income with positive and negative feelings was modest’
(Ed Diener, Weiting Ng, James Harta and Raksha Arora, ‘Wealth and happiness across the world …’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
, (99:1), 2010, p. 60. Media reports: here
In my view this recent article makes an important contribution to understanding of the relationship between wealth and emotional well-being by attempting to disentangle the determinants of life satisfaction and positive feelings. The article, based on data from the Gallup World Poll, suggests that while satisfaction with standard of living has a substantial impact on satisfaction with life as a whole it has little impact on positive or negative feelings (emotions experienced ‘yesterday’).
The study uses satisfaction with standard of living and a measure of whether people own luxury conveniences (TV, computers etc) as proxy measures of fulfillment of material desires. The basic idea is that people learn to desire material goods because of their social situation (including the influence of advertising) and the fulfillment of these desires leads to feelings of well-being. Some groups (e.g. the Amish) seem to be reasonably happy without much income because they have relatively low aspirations for material goods.
The authors link their findings to the distinction that Tibor Scitovsky made between comfort and pleasure (‘The Joyless Economy’, 1978). They suggest that ‘it may be that’ comforts increase life evaluations whereas pleasures increase reports of positive feelings:
‘Comfort comes from having one’s needs and desires continuously fulfilled, whereas pleasures come from fulfilling unmet needs and from stimulating and challenging activities. One source of pleasure according to Scitovsky is social stimulation, which he suggested lies largely outside the realm of economics. Novelty and learning can be sources of pleasure too. Thus, Scitovsky’s reasoning is in accord with our findings that wealth predicts life satisfaction, and social relationships and learning new things predict positive feelings’ p.59 .
I found that passage fairly challenging, but reading it didn’t give me positive feelings. I don’t have too many problems with the idea that being satisfied with your standard of living is closely related to comfort, but there other factors related to economic activity – such as a sense of achievement – that may make an important contribution to life satisfaction.
A couple of years ago I attempted to identify how necessary various domains of quality of life are to high satisfaction with life as a whole using data compiled by the Australian Centre on Quality of Life (reported here). The criterion used was the percentage of respondents with high satisfaction with life as a whole among those with low ratings on particular domains of quality of life. The percentages were follows (ranked in order of importance of each domain): personal relationships 10.8%, achieving in life 11.8%, standard of living 12.8%, future security 15.6%, health 15.9%, community connectedness 19.0% and safety 20.3%. The results suggest that ‘achieving in life’ is more necessary to high life satisfaction for Australians than is ‘standard of living’.
I do not claim that working for money is the only way that people can obtain a strong sense of achievement, but it would be very surprising if achievement is unrelated to economic success.
Steve Waldman has a very good post this week about the folly about the austerity vs non-austerity discussion which seems to be going the rounds at the moment. In fact, it you take a mental picture of the current financial market discourse most arguments can be bracketed along the two axes of austerity vs non-austerity (as a matter of preference) and inflation vs deflation (as a matter of prediction). Note in particular the following from Steve;
I think the austerity debate is unhelpful. There are complicated trade-offs associated with government spending. If the question is framed as “more” or “less”, reasonable people will disagree about costs and benefits that can’t be measured. Even in a depression, cutting expenditures to entrenched interests that make poor use of real resources can be beneficial. Even in a boom, high value public goods can be worth their cost in whatever private activity is crowded out to purchase them. Rather than focusing on “how much to spend”, we should be thinking about “what to do”. My views skew activist. I think there are lots of things government can and should do that would be fantastic. A “jobs bill”, however, or “stimulus” in the abstract, are not among them. If we do smart things, we will do well. If we do stupid things, or if we hope for markets to figure things out while nothing much gets done, the world will unravel beneath us. We have intellectual work to do that goes beyond choosing a deficit level. The austerity/stimulus debate is make-work for the chattering classes. It’s conspicuous cogitation that avoids the hard, simple questions. What, precisely, should we do that we are not yet doing? What are the things we do now that we should stop doing? And how can we make those changes without undermining the deep social infrastructure of our society, resources like legitimacy, fairness, and trust?
Elsewhere, in the world of academia, I also noted this piece by Mark Bauerlein, Mohamed Gad-el-Hak, Wayne Grody, Bill McKelvey, and Stanley W. Trimble in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the avalanche of poor research. The authors point towards a growing problem of sub-par research in general pointing to, as far as I can see, three things. First, that the growing amount of poor research is a strain on the system of peer-reviewed work (too many articles to review by too few able reviewers); secondly, that the pressure to produce in academic circles leads to quantity over quality and thirdly that the increasing tendency of money to flow to the amount of publications by default exacerbates the problem.
While brilliant and progressive research continues apace here and there, the amount of redundant, inconsequential, and outright poor research has swelled in recent decades, filling countless pages in journals and monographs. Consider this tally from Science two decades ago: Only 45 percent of the articles published in the 4,500 top scientific journals were cited within the first five years after publication. In recent years, the figure seems to have dropped further. In a 2009 article in Online Information Review, Péter Jacsó found that 40.6 percent of the articles published in the top science and social-science journals (the figures do not include the humanities) were cited in the period 2002 to 2006.
Our suggestions would change evaluation practices in committee rooms, editorial offices, and library purchasing meetings. Hiring committees would favor candidates with high citation scores, not bulky publications. Libraries would drop journals that don’t register impact. Journals would change practices so that the materials they publish would make meaningful contributions and have the needed, detailed backup available online. Finally, researchers themselves would devote more attention to fewer and better papers actually published, and more journals might be more discriminating.
In the context of the world of academic economics which I am accustomed to I can see most of the issues the authors point. Especially, I would point towards the pressure to produce which is extensive in the context of economics. However, I am not sure about the point that a large bulk of research is bad because it, in itself, takes a lot of time to digest. I like to think that a study which might not be deemed relevant today may find its day in the sun in the future if the consensus and discourse changes.
Economist Kartik Athreya from the Richmond Fed (Virginia) is not too fond about econbloggers voicing their opinions on macroeconomic because, as he says, it is a topic much too complicated for econbloggers to understand (the original link to the essay is gone, but FT Alphaville and Scott Sumner provide good coverage and quotes). Now, I don’t even know where to begin here but as both an econblogger and a semi-academic economist I naturally ought to be able to muster some opinion. But really, where do you start here? Well, I especially noted this;
So far, I’ve claimed something a bit obnoxious-sounding: that writers who have not taken a year of PhD coursework in a decent economics department (and passed their PhD qualifying exams), cannot meaningfully advance the discussion on economic policy. Taken literally, I am almost certainly wrong. Some of them have great ideas, for sure. But this is irrelevant. The real issue is that there is extremely low likelihood that the speculations of the untrained, on a topic almost pathologically riddled by dynamic considerations and feedback effects, will offer anything new. Moreover, there is a substantial likelihood that it will instead offer something incoherent or misleading.
Let me be very, very clear here. The ability to solve dynamic optimization problems, to solve complex differential equations, to derive, on paper, various statistical estimators do not make a good economist. You do all this in order to become a part of the initiated crowd and in order to speak a language which dazzles colleagues and the greater public by its complexity and, crucially, is the main reason why economists today still form a gated community. This is natural since it takes half a mathematics degree to say anything which your fellow colleagues will accept as a real economic argument.
But I digress (and rant too). Math is not the problem as such but a symptom of some of the problems with modern economics. In general though, Math makes you smart and helps to build rigorous arguments which helps in any scientific context. As such, I will reciprocate Mr. Athreya’s point; just as the econbloggers are not stupid neither are academic economists (they are devilshy smart for the most part). Yet, the latter have remained stuck too long and too far up the ivory tower to see that the econbloggers are not leeches who prey on the public through simplification of a complex topic, but in fact helps to bring an otherwise unworldly macroeconomic discourse down to earth.
We as economists should encourage this, not move further up the ivory tower.
The transition from the Industrial Age to the Information Age is resulting in a sea change between protection and extortion. As the world gets increasingly complex the result is a diminishing ability to extort while at the same time tools of protection are getting cheaper and more powerful. The arbitrary walls are coming down.
I was sitting in trial today observing Bill Rounds, co-author with me of How To Vanish.com, as he was questioning a witness. This particular case is an example of complex business litigation that has been up and down the appellate ladder many times. The subject matter is fairly esoteric and even worse the law is unsettled. While unrelated to the case, the plaintiff is a world renown surgeon.
During questioning by Bill’s opposing counsel a funny scene happened. Bill stood up and the judge remarked, “Sustained.” The court reporter stopped and asked, “Was there an objection?” The judge replied, “No, but Mr. Rounds stood up and the coming objection is sustained.”
Those 5-8 seconds in the court transcript are but the faintest traces of an incredibly complex thinking process that the two attorneys and judge understood and applied which was backed by hundreds of pages of code and cases. Yet, I am almost sure that neither the surgeon nor the jury even knew there was a virtual ping-pong match being played.
But for the attorneys and judge the surgeon’s work is equally incomprehensible. And the work of engineers, architects, computer scientists, etc. are equally indecipherable to those outside the circle. Such is the modern world that is multiplying in complexity.
Everywhere complexity is increasing from the tadpole in the pond to the manmade computer operating system. But manmade complexity that is beneficial for humanity takes work. Bridges do not design and build themselves. As humanity has progressed so likewise has the economy from hunting and gathering to plows and silos to railroads, satellites and spaceships.
But all this time there have been malefactors and nefarious individuals that seek to destroy and wield violence like a dagger focused on the economy’s heart seeking coercion instead of consent. After all, the power to destroy and inflict pain, while immoral, is power nonetheless. A power wielded by those sadists who enjoy terrorizing innocents.
PROTECTION AND EXTORTION
The irony of government is that it attempts to provide protection through extortion. And like the blackmailer or extortioner the government’s ability to tax depends on the same vulnerabilities as extortion or the Godfather’s offer that can not be refused. As the Industrial Age progressed so likewise the nation-state rose because the assets created were larger and thus the need for protection was greater. After all, the capitalists either paid off those who could leverage violence against them for extortion or paid a military force capable of defending with brute force any attempted shakedown.
But the relentless advance of technology is blunting the sharp edge of violence’s dagger. Protection is being made easier to provide while extortion is being made more difficult to carry out profitably.
Why is this? A basic mathematical law: multiplying is easier than dividing. A simple example is that 3*3*7*11*13 is much easier to solve than reducing 9,009 to its prime components.
Or another example would be encryption. I like the open-source Truecrypt and in June 2003 the US National Security Agency reviewed and analyzed the design and strength of AES-256 encryption finding it sufficient to protect classified information up to the Top Secret level.
In effect, with this free tool I can spend ten seconds encrypting a text file that can take years of focused processing power to decrypt. And just for fun perhaps it only reads “Haha if someone wasted the resources to decrypt this!” But why transmit sensitive personal or business information without such protections? After all, recently 30,000 Hotmail passwords were compromised in a security breach and posted on the Internet. An ounce of prevention using free encryption software can be worth a pound of cure repairing a stolen identity.
PROTECTION IN THE INFORMATION AGE
During the Industrial Age the leverage violence could exert was much greater and is being greatly reduced in the Information Age. Thus the scale is tipping in favor of protection and away from extortion with its attendant allocation of scarce resources through bureaucracy. The digital infrastructure is allowing the previously unseen but highly complex range of systems to be perceived; Facebook is a prime example.
Then that perception is being harnessed in extremely productive ways through multiplication; as a result the economy is following economic law and moving away from inflexible command and control systems towards spontaneous adaptive mechanisms. But government systems still dragoon resources from higher-value complex uses to lower-value primitive uses. As Frederic Lane wrote on page 383-384 of Venice, A Maritime Republic:
Every economic enterprise needs and pays for protection, protection against the destruction or armed seizure of its capital and the forceful disruption of its labor. In highly organized societies the production of this utility, protection, is one of the functions of a special association or enterprise called government. Indeed, one of the most distinctive characteristics of government is their attempt to create law and order by using force themselves and by controlling through various means the use of force by others.
From machines to microchips, factory to laptop, mass production to small teams or even the lone entrepreneur the gigantic institutions of the Industrial Age are being reduced to smaller and smaller parts. As the Information Age advances the risk of violence decreases because as the scale of an operation declines so likewise does its potential for sabotage or blackmail and the increased location independence afforded by the Internet multiplies the inherent safety an asset or individual enjoys. Despite Sulter’s proclamation at 2:08, “I want this country to realize that we stand on the edge of oblivion. I want everyone to remember *why* they need us!” But we, humanity, do not need them even if they think they can clean up some oil.
For those who rely on coercion instead of consent the transition to the Information Age is being particularly harsh to their immoral business models. They are now opposing both natural and economic law. The financial elite and political elite of America and Europe are now beginning to infight. This is resulting in the State losing legitimacy in the eyes of the masses.
While the time frame is likely far into the future, first the European Union will collapse and later the United States. But this is not uncharted territory but instead a trend of the nation-state collapsing under its own weight which started with the Berlin Wall and Russia. To avoid being collateral damage I elucidated several tips in chapter six of The Great Credit Contraction.
My next book, which I have co-authored with Bill Rounds, is currently with the publisher and hopefully will be available within a couple months. It will magnify the suggestions from chapter six and I think many will find it tremendously useful. As an old Chinese proverb says, “Of all the thirty-six ways to get out of trouble, the best way is – leave.”
DISCLOSURES: Long physical gold, silver and platinum with no interest in the problematic SLV, Streettracks Gold ETF Trust Shares or the platinum ETFs.
In a post a few months ago I discussed whether Ayn Rand actually viewed selfishness as a virtue. I suggested that in arguing that selfishness is a virtue she was adopting a peculiar view of selfishness because the heroes of her novels did not seem to me to be particularly selfish.
The point was explained more clearly by Neera Badhwar in the recent discussion of Ayn Rand’s ethical thought on Cato Unbound (What’s living and dead in Ayn Rand’s moral and political thought):
‘Like Aristotle, Rand holds that the virtues, including justice, are not only means to the agent’s happiness, but also an essential, constitutive part of it. Julia Annas calls Aristotle’s ethical egoism a “formal” egoism because it essentially incorporates regard for others. Rand’s eudaimonistic egoism, likewise, is a formal egoism’.
Some other participants in the Cato discussion were not so sure that Rand viewed the virtues as an essential, constitutive part of the agent’s happiness.
Roderick Long noted that Rand appears to waver between treating virtue as a constitutive part of the agent’s own interest and as an instrumental strategy for attaining that interest: ‘The constitutive approach predominates in her novels: the chief reason that Rand’s fictional protagonists … do not cheat their customers, for example, is pretty clearly that they would regard such parasitism on the productive efforts of others as directly inconsistent with the nobility and independence of spirit that they cherish for themselves, and not because they’re hoping that a policy of honesty will maximize their chances of longevity’. He suggests, however, that in her philosophical writings that ‘her emphasis began to shift, though never unequivocally, to the instrumental reading’.
Other participants suggested that Michael Huemer had an instrumental reading of Rand’s views in mind in his initial contribution to the discussion. Huemer suggested that: ‘ethical egoism posits that the only thing that ought to matter intrinsically to me is my own welfare—for me, my own welfare or happiness is the only end in itself. It follows from this that I ought not to regard other individuals as ends in themselves; rather, I should see them only as means to my happiness—just as I see everything else in the world. This is a very simple and straightforward implication of the theory. I cannot hold my own well-being as the only end in itself, and simultaneously say that I recognize other persons as ends in themselves too’.
In defending the constitutive interpretation, Neera Badhwar made the point that ‘Rand shows her philosophy in the worlds she creates in her novels better than in her non-fictional statements’. I think this is a good point. Rand’s ongoing influence stems mainly from her novels rather than her philosophical writings.
Much of the Cato discussion centred on the question of whether what is good and right for one individual can ever conflict with what is objectively good and right for another individual. Douglas Rasmussen expressed his view that ‘if human flourishing is individualized and agent-relative … then this would mean that human flourishing is different for each person, and thus it is possible for there to be conflict—that is, there is no way that one can in principle rule this out’.
Roderick Long was closest to endorsing Rand’s view that there can be no conflicts between two people’s rational interests: ‘One’s individual nature can make the requirements of human nature more specific, but it cannot contradict them. …So the fact that the human good is individualized differently for different people doesn’t entail that one person’s good can conflict fundamentally with another’s.’
Neera Badhwar responded by suggesting that such fundamental conflicts, including situations where there are two equally good candidates for one job, occur frequently.
I think it is appropriate to give Douglas Rasmussen the final word in this highly selective summary of a complex discussion:
‘I do think that it is possible for people to cooperate peaceably. This is why basic negative rights are so important, but the issue here between me and Rand seems to be whether the existence of such rights depends on the assumption that what is objectively good for one individual cannot ever conflict with what is objectively good for another. I don’t assume this. She did.’
John Stuart Mill assisted in the triumph of the idea of progress in the 19th Century but he also had concerns about the future that still seem relevant today. Richard Reeves comments: ‘Mill was not a knee-jerk critic of what Ruskin dismissed as the “steam whistle society”, but nor was he a blind advocate of industrialization for its own sake. As an avid botanist and walker, he was acutely sensitive to what would today be called environmental concerns’ (‘John Stuart Mill, Victorian Firebrand’: 233).
I will focus here on the views on progress and, in particular, concerns about public opinion that Mill put forward in ‘Civilisation’, published in 1836, when he was about 30 years old.
Mill identified three characteristics of civilisation:
• the development of commerce, manufactures and agriculture;
• people acting together for common purposes in large organisations; and
• peace being maintained within society through arrangements for protecting the person and property of members.
He suggests: ‘Wherever there has arisen sufficient knowledge of the arts of life, and sufficient security of property and person, to render the progressive increase of wealth and population possible, the community becomes and continues progressive in all the elements which we have just enumerated’.
Mill goes on to argue that the most remarkable consequence of advancing civilization is ‘that power passes more and more from individuals, and small knots of individuals, to masses: that the importance of the masses becomes constantly greater, that of individuals less’. He gives several reasons: economic growth results in the growth of a middle class and the dispersion of knowledge; the development of habits of cooperation and discipline in large organizations enable development of associations of different kinds, including benefit societies and trades unions; and improved communications through newspapers that enable people to learn that others feel as they feel.
Mill argued that political reform would follow inevitably: ‘The triumph of democracy, or, in other words, of the government of public opinion, does not depend upon the opinion of any individual or set of individuals that it ought to triumph, but upon the natural laws of the progress of wealth, upon the diffusion of reading, and the increase of the facilities of human intercourse’.
Mill’s concern about the growth in power of public opinion was that the individual would become lost in the crowd; although the individual depends more and more on opinion (reputation) he is apt to depend less and less upon the well-grounded opinions of those who know him. Mill suggested that with the growth in power of public opinion ‘arts for attracting public attention formed a necessary part of the qualifications even of the deserving’. His main concern was that ‘growing insignificance of the individual in the mass’ … ‘corrupts the very foundation on the improvement of public opinion itself; it corrupts public teaching; it weakens the influence of the more cultivated few over the many’.
One for the remedies that Mill proposed was ‘national institutions of education, and forms of polity, calculated to invigorate the individual character. Mill then proceeded to castigate the English universities for acting as though the object of education was to inculcate the teacher’s own opinions in order to produce disciples rather than thinkers or inquirers. Mill wrote: ‘The very corner-stone of an education intended to form great minds, must be the recognition of the principle, that the object is to call forth the greatest possible quantity of intellectual power, and to inspire the intensest love of truth: and this without a particle of regard to the results to which the exercise of that power may lead, even though it should conduct the pupil to opinions diametrically opposite to those of his teachers’.
Massive changes have occurred in university education over the last 174 years, some of which correspond to Mill’s suggestions. Does this mean that Mill’s views on university education are now of only historical relevance? Do our universities now inspire the intensest love of truth? Are these standards of truth-seeking now reflected in the mass media and politics?
Unfortunately, there seem to be many people in universities these days who would regard Mill’s aim of inspiring the intensest love of truth as a philosophically suspect idea that is inconsistent with the modern purpose of universities in training technicians and inculcating them with politically correct views.
Over the past few days I have received insane Facebook status updates from a close friend. The stream that followed has left me with profound respect and caused me to reflect on some lessons that can be learned.
14 January 2009 9:54 a.m. I am packing for Haiti… so many things bring to help. How am i going to carry all this?
15 January 2009 12:26 p.m. I am STUCK in Dominican Republic trying to arrange a chartered flight to get us and the 36 rescue workers 4 dogs and 7,300 pounds of rescue gear to get them on the ground in Haiti. it is FAR too dangerous to cross on land WE NEED A FLIGHT. can you help in ANY way?
17 January 2009 7:33 p.m. I was put in that situation NO ONE EVER wants to be put in tonight… I got to ground zero to a hospital in the capital of Haiti, we were told needed us. The doctor pulled us aside and to a woman that had a gash in her calf big enough to put a football in, he siad, what do you do? I quickly replied, a tourniquet 1.5 inches above the knee… he said perfect DO IT.
There are two options: coercion and force or freedom of choice. My friend exercised his freedom of choice to spend his own money, which he has very successfully and morally earned through many entrepreneurial ventures, to board a plane and fly straight into a third world hell hole where it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people have died in the recent earthquakes. Despite the economic conditions an estimated $10M of donations has been raised for Haiti relief efforts.
Fortunately my friend, like so many other good people, still has enough resources to perform this service while Obama struts around like a hero for using extorted tax revenue for aid.
THE DRIVE TO SURVIVE
Life has an unquenchable drive to survive even at the expense of other life. It is the ability to reason that largely separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. But that is not to say that humans, both in rags and pinstripe Wall Street suits, do not act like animalistic barbarians trampling other’s freedom of choice.
When times get tough it is the rare human that showcases the supernal spark by willingly sharing the last breadcrumb or boarding a plane and descending into chaos with the intent to relieve suffering.
THIN VENEER OF ORDER
Sure, there is the bad man who may steal or even rob a piece of bread. But we can have at least some sympathy for this behavior when considering the totality of the circumstances. And the bad man also realizes his badness.
But the truly evil man is the one that struts around thinking he is doing good by robbing the piece of bread from another to then allocate how he sees fit.
America, like Haiti and the rest of the world, has a tiny fraction of the population which produces the food. When there are disruptions, whether it is a hurricane in New Orleans or an earthquake in Haiti, the thin veneer of order tends to evaporate for many reasons.
SURVIVALISM IN THE SUBURBS
The Telegraph reports that Royal Caribbean International, who has pledged $1m to relief efforts, maintained the schedule to send its cruise ship to dock at a private beach a mere 60 miles from the devastated Port-au-Prince. Of course, some keyboard rescue workers think providing revenue for the locals in that city is insensitive and the trip to Labadee should have been canceled. But that is about the worst thing that could be done. But how far away from a disaster zone should activities be canceled? 60 miles? 600 miles?
Sure, dialing an 800 number or texting a $5 donation is commendable. But to make a real lasting impact the issue is the need to be prepared locally with medical supplies, food, power, etc.
I compiled a collection of suggestions in Survivalism In The Suburbs for how an individual can be better prepared for possible disruptions and the dissolving of social order. Being prepared bestows a position of power and the ability to act with a higher standard rather than resort to baser animalistic impulses.
Additionally, I recommend people have a ‘last plane account’ which answers the questions: if you have to take the last plane out of your city then (1) where do you go and (2) how do you maintain your standard of living? I have used my own preparations several times over the years.
THE REAL CAUSE
Since the earthquake is just the most immediate action in the causation chain it is credited with killing the tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. But how many deaths could have been prevented but for do-gooder politicians voting to send foreign aid and market restrictions that destroy wealth and thus prevent the ability of the Haitian population to make adequate preparations? But for these giant wealth destroying machines how many more resources would be available to respond to and relieve suffering?
Like the socialized roads in America that result in about 40,000 deaths per year; in this instance the blame is not being squarely placed on the criminal gangs costumed in government regalia who have made serious decisions months or years before that are both actual and proximate causes in the deaths of hundreds of thousands.
It is so much easier to lay the blame on an unaccountable ‘act of God’ in an attempt to absolve the truly culpable parties. Ideas have consequences and bad ideas have bad consequences which are resulting in hundreds of thousands of dead Haitians.
I am grateful for those who have donated to help relieve the suffering in Haiti. I admire my friend who has traveled into chaos to look his benefactors in the eye. Hopefully he returns safely.
The Haiti earthquake of 2010 can be a teaching experience for us all. When considering physical preparation I think the best insurance is a three month supply of food and a 72 hour kit. We can inventory and bring current our supplies.
But to strike at the root we need to help others understand the source of humans rights and the proper role of government.
Since individuals are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” and because individuals form governments to protect property, life, and liberty, it follows that individuals are superior to their creation of government. Individuals can grant to their creation at most only those rights they possess.
No individual possesses the right to unjustifiably infringe on another individual’s autonomy, and because individuals create governments, no government can possibly be justified in the possession of such a right. Neither does an individual possess the moral authority to use coercion and force to compel another to perform charity against their will. Therefore, legitimate government must act within the constraints of the Non-Aggression Axiom. Otherwise those actors are merely criminal gangs costumed in government regalia.
Government represents one of the most powerful forces on earth. Therefore, an individual’s political beliefs reveal with perfect clarity his or her moral character.
Over just the past five years I have been in hurricanes and earthquakes in America, a massive civil disturbance in Argentina and several other life threatening situations. It can happen here and there. Once we understand the philosophy then we can live in harmony with it and attempt to persuade others to do likewise.
You can not feed someone else when your own stomach is empty so why not at least get a 72 hour kit. You can also persuade others through your example. What better way than your local food bank or getting on a plane like my good friend?
Gary Becker (link) and Richard Posner (link) discuss the economic perspective in the empowerment of women and the weigh costs and benefits of public policy aimed at the empowerment of women.