Last Week(s) in Weird

Bumbling Bees was dark all last week due to technical difficulties. Our apologies! Now to get back to business, and business is weird!

The one good thing about Hillary Clinton

She’s old and infirm, and, seventeen years after her humiliating electoral defeat, it is highly unlikely that she’ll still be haunting around trying to destroy human civilization for fun and profit. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Al Gore, whose pet foundation, the Energy Transitions Commission, is hard at work attempting to end energy generation for the sake of global fairness and also oh didn’t you see that picture of the polar bears on the ice floe??

In particular, the group has released a report outlining its plan to save the world from the dread existential terror of possibly being very slightly warmer than it is now, while at the same time also battling global inequality and presumably paying off your student loans too. It’s going to take a bit to build toward the punch line on this one, but it’s worth it.

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None Such

Years back, I was arguing philosophy with a friend of mine, and he asserted that the difference between us was that he would be willing to embrace socialism in a heartbeat if it could be shown that people would be better off under socialism, but that he didn’t believe I would. Uncharacteristic though it may be, I had no response to that; on the one hand, I surely don’t want to believe that I would gladly condemn the human race to immiseration before I would back down from my libertarian purism, but, on the other hand, I really cannot conceive of a reality in which I would endorse socialism.

This gave me quite a bit of trouble. As I’ve written before, if there’s a conflict between your ethical system and the survival of mankind, surely the former and not the latter is the problem. How was this to be reconciled with deontological libertarianism, though? Am I compelled to become a utilitarian?

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"How do you spell that? I dunno, 'Jeh?'"

Last Week in Weird

With thunderous applause

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the past few months, it’s that you just can’t trust them Russkies. I turned my back on them for one minute, and bam! They stole all of my elections. If you’re anything like me — and you know you are — you’re sick and tired of having your precious, hard-earned elections stolen by the Reds, but what can you do about it? Nothing, that’s what! Oh, if only someone from the government were here to help!

Citing increasingly sophisticated cyber bad actors and an election infrastructure that’s "vital to our national interests," Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson is designating U.S. election systems critical infrastructure, a move that provides more federal help for state and local governments to keep their election systems safe from tampering.

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Glad I could help!

Last Week in Weird

Olha, que coisa mais linda, mais cheia de graça

Rio de Janeiro has a bit of an image problem lately. Tourists getting murdered on the beach will do that to you, to say nothing of this year’s Plague That Will Destroy Civilization, the dreaded zika virus. Still and all, Rio’s newly-elected mayor has a bold plan that will restore the city to its well-deserved place as the crown jewel of Latin tourism. No, he does. Listen:

"Rio de Janeiro cannot continue treating its tourists as if they were an afterthought," Mr. Crivella, 59, told the audience, emphasizing the need to "shatter" Rio’s "negative image."

"This is something we need to discuss," he said.

You’re on to me, aren’t you. You’ve already guessed that this is going to be something absurd. Still and all, your humble narrator is willing to bet you aren’t guessing anything quite as absurd as the mayor’s actual plan, which is to pay reparations to tourists who are mugged while in Rio. Now, understand this: I don’t mean to say the mayor is setting aside a block of money to pay people who’ve been mugged recently, along with maybe some plan to reduce the muggings going forward. No, the plan is evidently to tell everybody "come to Rio! Sure, you’ll get mugged, but we’ll pay you back!" which I’m not a hundred percent sure is a good sales pitch.

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WHERE... ARE... MUH...

All Romes Lead to Roads

One of the foundational questions libertarians need to have a response to is the ever-popular "who will build the roads?" The question has a sort of superficial plausibility to it; most of the roads we see in our daily lives, after all, were built by, and are allegedly maintained by, some government or other. There is, however, no substance to the idea; the best and most concise explanation of how absurd this question is was given by Tom Woods, who said:

"Who will build the roads?" is the question that belongs at the top of every libertarian drinking game. If we didn’t have forced labor, the argument runs, there would be no roads. There’d be a Sears store over there, and your house over here, and everyone involved would just be standing there scratching their heads.

Clearly roads are a socially desirable good, and, given that it’s rather a challenge for people to get to work or go shopping — which is to say: produce or consume — without them, there’s quite an obvious and powerful incentive to build them. It should go without saying that, even in the absence of coercion, roads would get built. As to the specific question of who would build them, here it’s important for libertarians to be cautious; there’s a natural tendency to push the argument too far and attempt to outline some scheme by which we imagine the roads could be built, but, in reality, the most a libertarian can say in response to "who would build the roads if not the government" is "somebody else."

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Against Socialism

Libertarians do a terrible job fighting against socialism, but the tragedy of it is that we think we’re winning. In the end, though, it’s impossible for us to win as long as we fail to understand our opponents, which is the key problem; libertarians devote so much time to fighting against Bernie Sanders and Kshama Sawant and their idiotic promises of free this and free that that we come to identify the "free stuff" mentality itself as the heart of the socialist ideology. Don’t get me wrong, now; Bernie is wrong, as any fule kno, and it’s important that we keep pointing that out, but smashing dopey politicians is playing the short game. The long battle is fought by the philosophers, and no serious Marxist philosopher bases his philosophy on a foundation of "rich people will pay back your student loans."

We libertarians are often fooled into believing that we can smash the socialists forever by pointing out that socialist economies are notoriously unproductive, and that a hundred million people starved to death under their reign in the last century. While that does pretty effectively blow up the bumper-sticker socialism of a Sanders or a Sawant, it should be noted that, as a philosopher, Bernie Sanders makes a great long-distance runner, while "Kshama Sawant" is a Hindi phrase meaning "intellectual lightweight." Just because those two goobers have literally no comeback at all when faced with the obvious failures of real-world socialism doesn’t mean that the serious thinkers haven’t considered the problem. They have — and the answer they’ve come to is so far afield of what libertarians are used to dealing with that we basically don’t even realize it’s there.

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There is a huge contradiction in the witness' testimony!

What Do Words Mean Anyhow?

The Adam Smith Institute’s Tim Worstall claims to be one of the world’s foremost experts on scandium. Whether or not this is true I am ill-equipped to say, as I know almost exactly nothing about scandium. I assume they use it to make scanners, and I was figuring it was probably from Sweden, but then I realized I was confusing it with Scandinavium, a similar metal so heavy that Iron Maiden’s played there nine times. Anyhow, the point is: I don’t know anything about scandium, and I freely concede, in advance, any arguments about scandium I ever get into against Tim Worstall, who knows much more about scandium than he does about socialism. Sadly, it’s the latter he’s chosen to write about today, in an utterly bizarre article nominally about the mining strikes in Bolivia.

If you haven’t been following the Bolivian mining strikes, they’ve now escalated to the point where Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Rodolfo Illanes was recently kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by the strikers. Our friend Tim Worstall would have us believe that the strikers are protesting against socialism, but is that really the case? We’ll explore that very soon, but before we dive into the pièce de résistance, we need to whet our appetites with this lovely little amuse-bouche of stupidity:

Around here we usually make fun of Bolivarian socialism by reference to the idiocies which Nicolas Maduro has been imposing upon the people of Venezuela. They do, after all, call their system "Bolivarian socialism." Across the continent, in Bolivia, we also have a closely related Bolivian socialism. Evo Morales has often said that he takes inspiration from Hugo Chavez, and that the system he is using in Bolivia is similar. So, Bolivarian socialism in Bolivia then. Umm, perhaps both Bolivian and Bolivarian socialism?

Why yes, those do sound rather similar! What an astonishing coincidence! On a related note, I’ve always found it weird how similar the titles of Superman and Superman II are. What do you suppose were the odds that would just happen by chance, as it so obviously did? The universe is a mysterious place, my friends!

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"The Problem With SoCalism," on the other hand, is a book about... oh, the same thing.

Book Review: The Problem With Socialism

Dr. Thomas J. DiLorenzo’s new book, The Problem With Socialism, hardly could have come at a better time; the socialist fever is riding high in the United States, with demagogues like Vermont senator Bernie Sanders selling the idea that ancient, discredited economic philosophies are somehow the wave of the future, while simultaneously telling people that the failed government economic planning that has dominated most of our lifetimes is somehow a function of "capitalism." Those of us who value the truth are always in need of new weapons in our arsenal, and this book is a valuable addition.

The Problem With Socialism is a short book, clearly designed for a popular and not a scholarly audience — if you’re looking for a deep philosophical disquisition about the flaws and failures inherent in socialism, Ludwig von Mises’ 1922 classic Socialism remains the gold standard in the field. The Mises book, of course, is six hundred pages long and dense in the way that only German philosophy can be, and requires days if not weeks of study to comprehend, making it unsuitable for people who want a quick introduction to the field, or for giving to one’s friends or children who have become "socialism-curious;" they’ll simply never read it. DiLorenzo’s book, on the other hand, is admirably suited to the task, fluidly written, easily readable in one setting and accessible enough that even a socialist could understand it.

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Why Socialism Is Impossible

Libertarians traditionally do a terrible job of explaining why socialism can’t work. Which is to say: we’re great at explaining it to other libertarians, but we think we can talk to our Bernie Sanders-supporter friends the same way. If you’re talking to someone who doesn’t already understand the problem, and you just say something like "in a socialist environment there can’t be market prices," you have to realize that person will think that’s a feature, not a bug. Most of us libertarians know about the socialist calculation problem, but to the wider audience it’s pretty esoteric stuff; it’s not just plainly intuitive to most people that the absence of market prices causes discoördination in production. Either way, it seems like ultimately you have some guy deciding what products, and how many, to make. Can’t we just put those successful entrepreneurs — the Bill Gateses and Jeff Bezoses of the world — in charge of the planning boards and have it work just fine?

This, of course, is where libertarians tend to fall down. We’re great at extolling the virtues of the entrepreneur, but, in a very significant sense, we miss the most important element: what’s critical about entrepreneurs is not that they make amazing, successful things, but that they’re able to fail in a controlled manner. When a product fails on the market, only the entrepreneur and those closely connected to him suffer, which is important for two reasons: first because it means that random people, uninvolved with the failed project, don’t have to bear the cost of the failure, and second because, by concentrating that cost on the people responsible, the failure is made immediately apparent, and the pressure to cease failing is substantial. Amazon’s Fire Phone, by all accounts, was a neat piece of technology, but nobody cared enough to buy one, and Amazon cut it loose after a few months of disappointing performance. Microsoft’s Windows 8 suffered a similar poor reception, which encouraged the company to proceed in a new direction (and quite swiftly!) with its replacement. While the successes are, of course, the ultimate goal of the market economy — the production of goods and services people want — the only thing that makes those successes possible is the market’s robust failure mechanism. When governments attempt to "soften the blow" of failure by socializing the losses, that not only creates a massive injustice (as innocent people unconnected to the failure are now forced to pay for it), but it also encourages businesses to linger in failed products and failed practices longer than they should.

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Nasty, big, pointy teeth!

Presidential Rankings #23: Jimmy Carter

We cannot resort to simplistic or extreme solutions which substitute myths for common sense.

Whatever else one has to say about the presidency of James Earl Carter Jr., one must admit that he was not a warmonger. A technocrat, yes; a utopian socialist, probably; a warmonger, no. The Carter presidency brought the United States as close as it has been to peace since the days of Herbert Hoover; sadly, with the cold war still raging and the Iranian people overthrowing the American puppet Shah, president Carter would find himself dragged into foreign entanglements all the same. Still and all, it was something close to peace, and that’s not nothing.

President Carter had the good fortune to be the first president since World War II not to inherit any military boondoggles in the far east. This was, in fact, part of the reason he won the election of 1976; as a relative unknown with no nationwide name recognition, he was at a steep disadvantage running against a sitting president during the bicentennial. However, the Carter campaign nimbly took advantage of president Ford’s two main areas of weakness: Watergate and Vietnam. As an outsider, Carter sold himself to the American people as a "reform" candidate who wasn’t enmeshed in any of the national political scandals, as against president Ford, who was still suffering from issuing the Nixon pardon two years prior. He was also able to tar Ford with the eventual final disgrace in Vietnam. In other words: Jimmy Carter ran on a "hope and change" ticket, spinning his inexperience and remoteness as a positive.

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