Friday, February 27, 2009

Glibertards unite, you have nothing to lose but your minds

Anyone who thinks the rich are running a huge conspiracy to defraud the rest of us should read Megan McArdle and quickly realise that they must be doing it by accident, because this is one of their bright lights talking:
It seems to me that this sort of acts like borrowers shouldn't have any obligation to repay money on an asset that has fallen in value--as if there were some sort of moral right to take highly leveraged bets on housing and pass off any losses to someone else.

McArdle is, it may shock you to learn, talking about homeowners, not the banks.

McArdle is one of those sad creatures: a libertarian. Libertarianism is basically richism: it's a "philosophy" invented to justify being wealthy. Its pillars are the rights to property and freedom. Just reading that, you know it's bullshit. Rights to freedom and property are of course inimical to each other. One of the main constraints on our freely enjoying this world is that some fucker already owns all of it.

But that's the essence of libertarianism. Someone owns everything and they want to be free to stop you from sharing it. Libertarians expound a philosophy in which each is entitled to possession of their body and the fruits of its labour, which would not be completely objectionable if it were actually feasible that that should be all we possessed. But it isn't. We possess property, advantages, privileges, access to education, social networks, lots of stuff that makes the playing field so far from level as to resemble a mountain.

Of course you don't think anyone should take what's yours when you're on top of the mountain. But when you're in the foothills, you may feel that actually, level ground would be better for all. I understand the right's argument that if we don't allow there to be the prospect of mountains, people won't work hard, but the fundamental flaw in the rightist worldview is, of course, that those at the peak actually did work harder than you or I to get there. We are all perfectly aware that the hardest working among us are, rather, those in the deepest valleys. We do not reward hard work. We mostly reward privilege, cunning and willingness to consider others negligible.

Libertarians' main gripe is that they have to pay taxes. Now I'd agree with you that taxation is out of hand. States take far too big a take of the national wealth and waste a ton of it. But I'd rather have a bloated, ineffective state than none, while we have mountains and valleys. (I'd rather have no state, but the conditions in which that is possible are not achievable currently. A problem political philosophies that trade in ideals or utopia suffer is that you cannot get there from here without going through somewhere else. Those that have tried have generally caused a great deal of suffering on the journey.)

No poor person could be a libertarian. Tell the poor that the only rights they have are to be free and to own stuff, and they will laugh in your face. They don't own anything and if you're free to exploit them 24/7 they never will. They need the right to be protected from the rich. And let's be clear: no one is free if the alternative to working for the rich is starvation. This is, all in all, the reason libertarianism will never have very wide appeal. Sure, there are some American working class adherents, but the American white poor seem to be much more aware of the possibility of the dice's falling so that they suddenly become enriched (through a lottery or a win on a game show or being discovered as a star or whatever) than they are of the probability of its happening, which is of course vanishingly small. I think that they have become convinced that because the number of "celebrities" increases all the time, it will eventually grow to encompass everyone. In any case, they are convinced that everyone can be rich, which is not true.

Indeed, the impossibility of everyone's being rich is going to be one of the bigger problems of the coming century. It just isn't possible for the emerging world to be as rich as we are if they want a planet they can live on. And we'll continue to try to prevent any but a few of them from becoming rich.

Where will it end? If I ruled the world, we'd find a compromise, in which none stood at the peak and none in the troughs, but all were able to live in gently rolling countryside. But I don't, so it will probably end in a lot of gunfire.


At 1:05 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And let's be clear: no one is free if the alternative to working for the rich is starvation."

Quite true. Shall we shoot off a lot of guns then? Oh wait, you've assumed that's the only alternative. Oh my.

At 1:06 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

No, let's all acquire smallholdi... oh shit, not many smallholdings for sale at 2K are there?

At 3:15 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

boots sez:

I'm not sure what "smallholding" means, Zen.

With $2k you can open a brokerage account that will enable you to trade options. About 10 days before expiry it is not difficult to make 10-15% in a one-hour trade of options on companies like MSFT or indexes like the NASDAQ. I know that because I have done it.

On the other hand with your propensity for failure (no offense meant, I see it as a simple fact) you'd lose the $2k in almost no time at all. I know that because I have done it.

I have also started a small business making a product about which I knew virtually nothing and selling it over the internet. Within a couple years I had mastered it and had customers worldwide nearly (from Taiwan to Switzerland anyway) who were paying premium prices.

There are many things that can be done to make money. Not all of them involve working for the rich.

What I have found to be most important is to follow the inner compass regardless of where it points, but I am a simple madman and of no account.

When the time of shooting guns comes, I will be bent over picking a flower, or shot dead; in the end the result will be no different.

At 3:18 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

So your suggestions are to play options or to try to invent a product to sell online?

And this will provide an income right now?

As for the former, I'd rather carry on learning poker. As for the latter, yeah right.

At 3:29 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

boots sez:

You might have read somewhere that declining to take any action is one action that is always available to us.

It takes balls of steel to remain still while the world turns to shit around you, but my experience is that when you've decided to accept death rather than an unsuitable offer, the terms of the trade change instantly.

Most people lack the balls for it, and I make no claims of courage; it is something I learned at a time when what I most wanted was to die but I found that doing the wetwork myself was lacking dignity. The result was that I dared the world to take its worst shot in hopes it would end, and that turned out to be the right choice for the wrong reason.

I hope you find your way, whatever it is, however you find it.

At 3:32 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

I have no idea what it is. It's my opinion that I cannot find it here, that's all.

My life is too small. Do you know what I mean? It does not consist of enough for me. I don't know how to make it bigger. I mean, I know ways, but I do not know which will work, or which will be ways that will make it bigger in a good way. That lack of understanding paralyses. I don't know the cure for the paralysis. If I did, I expect I would take it. I had hoped that poker would be part of the road out, but I am constitutionally unfit to find out, it seems.

At 3:52 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

boots sez:

"My life is too small. Do you know what I mean? It does not consist of enough for me."

You've said before that it's too small but I still am not sure I understand how you mean that.

There have been times in my past when I've gotten supremely stoned and sat beside a flowerbed. Really paid close attention to it, to all the life going on there in microcosm. Oddly that seemed to make the entire world seem larger.

Perhaps you're meaning something else, too few opportunities, too few sensory inputs, or something entirely different.

"I had hoped that poker would be part of the road out, but I am constitutionally unfit to find out, it seems."

I once set up a stock trade that would be massively profitable and could not lose unless the markets came to a dead halt. The next day was 9/11 and the markets came to a dead halt. Some things may not be, but learning the what and why of it can show us more than we'd ever had gained if we had our own way.

At 8:10 pm, Blogger Sopwith-Camel said...

I am, paradoxically, both a libertarian, and poor.

But then, I am only poor in the pocket. Inside my head is a treasure-trove.

And I also know that of all the deadly sins, the one which does the most damage to oneself is jealousy.

At 8:12 pm, Blogger Dr Zen said...

I find it hard to believe you actually are a libertarian. You've always struck me as too much the humanist to that. Are you quite sure you're not some sort of anarchist?

I mean, I'm libertarian in a lot of my views (not a fan of the nanny state etc), just not a "big L" libertarian iykwim.

At 11:47 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

boots sez:

What a silly thing it seems to me when a person says "i am a xxxxx" because then one's views are expected, perhaps even by himself, to conform to all the things an xxxxx holds.

Religions and political parties, they have so little to do with what one actually believes.

At 1:29 am, Blogger Sopwith-Camel said...

Dr Z said "Are you quite sure you're not some sort of anarchist? "

Good spot, Dr. Z. I was espousing views just for the fun of it, as one might debate an issue. If I am anything, I am a surrealist. And even then, I'm not a real surrealist.

At 3:45 am, Blogger Looney said...

It seems taking on a label of any sort is rather limiting and usually not very accurate.



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