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Today I reprint a slightly edited piece I put together several years ago. I’d change a lot of it, from the content to the tone, if I were to do it over – but one must live with one’s younger self. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Four centuries after the celebration of the first Thanksgiving, there is still widespread disagreement about the reason for the Pilgrims’ feast. But whether it was a harvest festival, a strictly religious observance, or a thank you to the local Wampanoag Indians, such a feast would not even have been possible were it not for the abandonment of the utopian ideas the Pilgrims laid out in the original Mayflower Compact.

Imagine a world where the earnings you generate from teaching, or nursing, or tending your orchard, from working the cash register, or mowing some lawns – all of the fruits of your efforts went into a common pool. Imagine further that each of your friends and neighbors, and every stranger in Monroe County was entitled to an equal share of what was placed into the kitty. It didn’t matter whether you mowed 20 lawns per day or one, whether you treated 30 patients per day or none, whether you taught 50 students per day or none – you received the same “income” as everyone else in the community. Imagine further that your home was owned in common by all in your community and that rearing your neighbor’s children was as much your responsibility as anyone else’s.

Such was the intention of the Compact – by eliminating any semblance of private property and personal accountability, which were declared to be the foundation for avarice and selfishness – prosperity and brotherly love would result. How did it work out?

You need only look at the cleanliness of your office fridge or the condition of a public bathroom for a glimpse into the horrors of such collectivism. People suffered, starved and perished. Governor Bradford wrote in his diary, “For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For young men that were most able and fit for labor and service did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense … that was thought injustice.”

Most shocking perhaps is that this injustice generated penury, jealousy and sloth in a society comprised entirely of (self-professed) holy people, each with a common cause, each from a similar background, and in a community with less than 200 settlers. The lessons for a society comprised of people of varying degrees of “saintliness”, with differing interests and backgrounds, and hundreds of millions in size should be obvious.

Confronting the disaster of collectivism, Plymouth’s elders wisely “resorted” to a system of private property and free exchange. Bradford wrote of the reforms, “… it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression…By this time harvest was come, and instead of famine, now God gave them plenty, and the faces of things were changed, to the rejoicing of the hearts of many, for which they blessed God.”

I doubt many Pilgrims themselves properly understood the nature of their original problem, nor its solution – which is why I doubt that the first Thanksgiving was a celebration of liberty and private property. While they might have thanked Providence and luck for the bounties that followed the change in property institutions in 1623, it was only their industry, thrift and discipline in response to the formation of private property institutions that such a feast was even possible. For a truly detailed and incredible account not only of the first Thanksgiving, but of the sad and incredible struggle the local Indian tribes had with their new European neighbors, I cannot recommend more highly Nathaniel Philbrick’s bookMayflower in large part because of its telling of the largely forgotten yet historically important King Phillip’s War. 

Fast forward to 2019, where the most productive among us are made to feel like criminals, and the non-productive (those who are able) are portrayed as innocent victims of a tyrannical system of capitalism. That Thanksgiving is a “national” holiday is ironic – for it is was a celebration enabled by an explicit movement away from “nationalistic” ideals – a celebration made possible by the unleashing of the individual productive efforts of all in the Plymouth colony.

I am blessed to have a healthy family, the ability to have completed my formal education, and the discipline to work hard with the lot I was given in life. Providence and luck has been kind to me. I give thanks to that every single day of my life. But on this day, this 398th renewal of Thanksgiving Day, as many in our nation clamor to gallop anew down a 21st century style collectivist path (health care for everyone, financial bailouts, auto bailouts, fairer taxes, public/government schools, managed trade, green-collar subsidies, farm subsidies, licensing restrictions, “living wages”, public-private (i.e. cronyist) partnerships and more) littered with the tragedies of hundreds of failed experiments before us, let us remember what made the first Thanksgiving possible, and what has made our modern prosperity possible.he productive efforts of billions of individuals past and present who unknowingly cooperate each and every day in an effort to improve their own lots, have bestowed upon us a gift even greater than the yams, apples, turkeys, wheat, and other resources that we were naturally endowed with. Just how large a gift have they given to each of us? Imagine yourself alone in the New England wilderness on a cold and wet November day 500 years ago. The difference between the “fire roasted” yam you might conjure up with days of immiserating work in 1516 and the majestic spread set out before you today in 2019 is but a glimpse of the bounty that liberty and property have bestowed upon us. Let us hope that the light of liberty remains lit, so that we may see our way through harsh and brutal winters that might lie ahead.

The city of Jakarta is sinking quite rapidly because of land subsidence (they are removing tons of groundwater).  It is reported that the Northern part of the city has sunk … eight feet … in just the past decade.

Why?

Largely because city residents freely pump groundwater, causing the land that sits above it to subside.

Why?

No one owns the groundwater, and the city officials seemed to have done a poor job providing water to residents from other sources, despite hte abundance of water in the area.

So, the city is considering all kinds of emergency options to deal with this – including the possibility of relocating the capital to another city.

But this is the year 2019, so when I opened my news up this morning, I didn’t just get to read the article describing the problem in Indonesia (link here), I got this:

Folks, this has almost zero to do with climate change, and here we have reporters tweeting out to thousands of likes, “Good morning, welcome to climate change.”  Now I think one can put a charitable interpretation on the tweet – which would be something like, “The problem in Jakarta has nothing to do with climate change, but the fact that the city is rapidly going underwater illustrates the problems faced by cities who are threatened by rising sea levels,” or something to that effect.  I think that is still possible to deliver that message in 280 characters.

Much more to say. But suppose this IS what we see when climate change gets bad (remember the city is sinking in parts by up to 8 feet, climate change scenarios are expected to raise sea levels here by 9 inches to 12 inches over a century), note that the city is already beginning to adapt, and relocate … what is the implication of this response for the long term impacts of climate change?

My back of the envelope guess of what the market value of the top 10 oil companies in the world, and all of the coal producers in the world, is about $3 trillion.

If climate change is the worst thing to ever face humanity, and we are opposed to nuclear and we don’t think we can scale up wind and solar in any meaningful way to get us where we need to go, who is on board for buying every last one of the coal companies, and all of the largest oil companies, and then just sitting on the reserves forever?

Maybe I am two days late to be having these thoughts?

Here is the policy-making equivalent:

The 1994 discovery of arsenic in groundwater in Bangladesh prompted a massive public health campaign that led 20% of the population to switch from backyard wells to less convenient drinking water sources that had a higher risk of fecal contamination. We find evidence of unintended health consequences by comparing mortality trends between households in the same village that did and did not have an incentive to abandon shallow tubewells. Post-campaign, households encouraged to switch water sources have 46% higher rates of child mortality than those not encouraged to switch. Switching away from arsenic-contaminated wells also increased adult mortality.

Paper here.

For years I have waffled back and forth between being way too reactionary and concerned about the insane ideas that are put forth, or way too lax in trying to stay out of the news. For my own mental health and for what I thought would help contribute to good debate, I have chosen to just take a back seat and try to focus on some longer term type questions.

But it turns out that the debates are real. It’s not “green” vs. “not green” (to take one example), there is a conflict of visions (see Sowell of course) between a constrained view of the world vs. an unconstrained view. There is a conflict of visions between our own freedom and other people’s freedom. There is a conflict of visions between real freedom and coercion. And more. These are real – and almost every argument today (e,g. capitalism vs some other abhorrent “system:) is just a veiled argument for it. It’s toxic, and the root of the problem is that we don’t just come out and have the ACTUAL argument, we have fake arguments about other things as social and cultural and political cover.  What is the proper role of government? What is the proper scope and size of the government at all levels? What things should be left to the voluntary actions of a free and responsible (and even irresponsible!) people? We don’t have those arguments. We have empowered the government(s) to do so much, that we are fighting to control that power, fighting to control what other people do, and we are all less free, less healthy, less safe, less clean environmentally, less productive as a result it.

Which brings us to the news du jour. I sadly just learned that the fools in my state have decided that BANNING plastic bags is a good idea, so here we are. This is yet another program that is being put in place that will absolutely have little to zero benefit for the planet and which will make our lives either a little bit or a lot suckier. It’s the supermarket version of low flow toilets, low water pressure, temperature limits on appliances, energy efficient appliances, CFC light bulbs – all ideas that absolutely make our daily lives much less comfortable and enjoyable, make life more miserable, and DO NOTHING for the planet. Nothing. It doesn’t even make advocates feel good now that those things have been enshrined, because they can’t demagogue those ideas anymore. There is no evidence that those things do any good, and it is not surprising to anyone who has spent any actual time thinking about it as to why it has not worked. Why the fascination with banning things and telling us how to live our lives?

(1) It’s “free”. You see, if you ban plastic bags, you are not raising anyone’s taxes.

(2) It’s noticeable. You see, if you continue to develop Gen4 nuclear, the electrons coming down your wire are no different, and it’s also “giving in” to some bogeyman “other side”.

(3) No one does or can ask the question of what impact any of that has on the planet

(4) It’s hard to make anyone accountable when the stream of unintended consequences follow. Low flow toilets? Who is responsible for the extra chemicals and energy required to run our wastewater treatment now? You see?

So the bag ban is just a terrible idea – and the beauty is that now this is yet another thing that someone who is supposed to show “environmental cred” is going to be induced into putting into their policy stream.

We have written quite a bit on the insanity and stupidity of the plastic bag ban (and no, there is no need to be charitable here, it is stupid). For a refresher course, here are some of the links.

Now please excuse me while I go run my “reusable” shopping bags through my energy efficient, low-heat washing machine.

We’ll write up a lot more on this and some other “educational content” soon …

From my friend Chris M:

I wonder how many people share both of these sentiments concurrently?

  1. The last U.S. election was invalid because the electoral college usurped the popular vote.
  2. The brexit results were wrong and we should have a revote.

Indeed. When I hear the words “more Democracy” uttered, I simply hear, “I want to impose my will on you.”

Coase, on Coase

“This is, of course, a very unrealistic assumption … these operations are often extremely costly … to prevent many transactions.

That was him referring to the oft-straw man argument by opponents of Coasean insights about “transactions costs being zero.” Coase obviously knew that. And he obviously was making a different point. The Coase Theorem as you are told about it is not the Coase Theorem as is. In any case, Coase did not coin the term Coase Theorem either.

I almost have a hard time believing that this article and experience is not a case of double trolling.

Underlying these alleged “social constructions” is the most deeply concerning of them all. This is the belief that in urgent need of “disrupting” is the simple truth that science itself—along with our best methods of data-gathering, statistical analysis, hypothesis testing, falsifying, and replicating results—is generally a better way of determining information about the objective reality of any observable phenomenon than are non-scientific, traditional, cultural, religious, ideological, or magical approaches. That is, for grievance studies scholars, science itself and the scientific method are deeply problematic, if not outright racist and sexist, and need to be remade to forward grievance-based identitarian politics over the impartial pursuit of truth. These same issues are also extended to the “Western” philosophical tradition which they find problematic because it favors reason to emotion, rigor to solipsism, and logic to revelation.

As a result, radical constructivists tend to believe science and reason must be dismantled to let “other ways of knowing” have equal validation as knowledge-producing enterprises. These, depending on the branch of “theory” being invoked, are allegedly owned by women and racial, cultural, religious, and sexual minorities. Not only that, they are deemed inaccessible to more privileged castes of people, like white heterosexual men. They justify this regressive thinking by appealing to their alternative epistemology, called “standpoint theory.” This results in an epistemological and moral relativism which, for political reasons, promotes ways of knowing that are antithetical to science and ethics which are antithetical to universal liberalism.

What I find most fascinating is how young students coming out of high school seemingly have adapted this method of “analysis” and “thinking.” Indeed, isn’t there a power imbalance between those doing the indoctrinating in the classrooms and those being indoctrinated?

You really do need to read this whole thing, even if for the popcorn-y nature of it.

 

Just a few scattered thoughts:

  • Universities are corporations
  • It is probably closer to the truth to appreciate that non-profits exist to serve the interests of their donors and workers more than they do their stated “charitable” objective
  • Almost every entity that engages in some kind of production and planning, from the most wild free-market agencies to the socialy-ist of the socialist entities are … capitalist. Note the little “c” here. Ask yourselves, what is capital, and hence what does the appendage “-ist” or “ism” imply? Do not universities or foreign aid charities or free government health programs or K12 education systems or even state development and planning agencies use capital? What is capital but a factor that is itself produced (from land/materials/labor) for the purposes of producing something else. There is some foregone consumption in order to produce it, so that “we” can have more “stuff” in future. Find me any economic entity that does not employ it.

The key distinctions ought to focus not on weak usages of terms that no one understands. The key distinctions is whether we recognize the ability of individuals to own property in themselves and then other material things, or not. When you hear someone discussing some particular “-ism” and using it in “analysis” it is very helpful to clarify exactly what we are all talking about.

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