Archive for November, 2005

The Warlike Nature of the Human Species

Monday, November 28th, 2005

I think it is safe to say that, with only a few Ripley’s Believe It or Not exceptions, all human communities, large and small, in recorded and unrecorded history, have had one thing in common: If there are not enough brave, competent men, ready to lay down their lives to defend the group, then that tribe or village or dukedom or nation will cease to exist. It will cease to exist because some other band of humans will invade and kill the men, steal the goods, and rape the women, or, less harshly, simply enslave the population to a greater or lesser degree. Sometimes conquest can benefit the conquered, if the conqueror is more civilized and prosperous than the culture and economy that is absorbed, as was often true of barbarian tribes that became a part of the Roman empire. But, in any case, the undefended society disappears. It has always been this way. Maybe someday humanity will rise above its warlike nature, but that day has obviously not yet arrived.

It is true that in these modern, more enlightened times, there are nation-states in Europe and elsewhere who are essentially unarmed, but they exist because of the protective military umbrella of the United States, without which they would be part of Greater Yugoslavia or Russia or China. That they are allowed to continue without paying tribute of some kind to their protector is historically unique, but hardly a repudiation of the general principle of the necessity for self-defense. The only penalty they pay for lacking arms is that their voice carries no weight in international councils. If you do not have a credible military, you have no voice. If you have nukes, you have a very big voice indeed.

Given that this is how it is in the world, there is plenty of room for argument about how to proceed. But, arguments that ignore or deny this reality seem, to me, to be not worth my time. What is worth my time is noticing how many such arguments there are. The rich, enlightened Western world has been infected with a virus, the idea that “war is not the answer”. In its milder form, it becomes, war is not the answer if there are any casualties or exorbitant expenses. And in its much milder form it becomes, war is the answer, but Bush is doing it all wrong. If this point of view ever achieves majority status in this country, we are doomed. Yet, the three mutations of this virus encompass most of the Democratic Party base. Of course the “doing it all wrong” thesis could be valid, and inevitably is to some extent, but the alternatives proposed by its disciples consist of vague generalities like “train the Iraqis”,”withdraw troops as the Iraqis take over”, that have been government policy all along. It’s not constructive analysis and criticism, it’s just politics. While we are at war.

There are real arguments, most of them taking place among conservatives of one stripe or another. Is it possible to plant democracy in a traumatized culture that has never known it? Is Al Qaeda an existential threat, merely a serious nuisance, or something in between? Is the corrupt, incompetent, anti-American U.N. worth saving? The best case I have heard for saving it, by the way, came from a speech by Newt Gingrich on CSPAN. Why is all the serious discourse taking place almost exclusively on the Right? I’ve been a Democrat all my life. I’m not enamored with the Republican Party. But the Democrats have lost their soul. Even on issues where they should have something to say, like health care and alternative energy, they have no principles, any more than they do on the war. It’s all politics.

I am concerned for my country, and for Western Civilization, of which my country is the bulwark. I am concerned because if we, as a nation, ever fail to produce enough of the brave, intelligent, patriotic men and women who are serving in Iraq right now, we will be removed from history, and civilization along with us. I see so many tendencies in that direction that I am amazed that the people we depend on for our freedom still exist in sufficient numbers to man the barricades. I am astonishingly grateful to them, and to a country that still, in spite of everything, supports them.

It’s not an Intifada and it’s not civil war

Tuesday, November 8th, 2005

If you read the newspapers and watch network TV, you have recently been made aware of riots in France, about a week after they began. Nobody knows who is perpetrating these riots, except that they are young, “youths”, to be precise. And they are the children of “immigrants”. And they are unemployed. Nobody knows exactly what they are rioting about, and nobody has any idea what to do about it.

If you get your news and opinion from the blogosphere, as I do more and more, then there are plenty of theories about what is happening, and there is even a smattering of reports from the front, bloggers in Paris (sounds like a song). Although there is no shortage of opinion in the blogosphere, nor is there much agreement. Which means that pretty much anybody’s opinion is as good as anybody else’s, at this point. So this is an opportunity for Just Opinions to tell it like it is, without fear of contradiction by reality, at least for a few weeks.

This is what I think is going on. The reason the “youths” are doing what they’re doing is because they perceived that they could, and they could get away with it. They’ve been doing it at a low level for many years. They live in a lawless subculture festering in the Stalinist highrises on the outskirts of all major French cities. What are the root causes? As Marlon Brando said in The Wild Ones, “Whattaya got?”. That is not to say that there are not many well-organized Al Qaeda cells in France, and radical imams in the “suburbs”, who are gleefully seizing the day, and attempting to make hay while the sun shines. I don’t know if they can pull it off or not, probably not. France has a serious problem that makes the inner-city ghettoes in the U.S. look almost tractable. I read one account on some blog (I am sorry I can’t remember where), that quoted one of the rioting “youths” to the effect that his heroes were “Osama Bin Laden and Rodney King”. This is key. This is a ghetto riot. Watts looked like fertile ground for Black nationalists and communists, and Paris looks like opportunity to Al Qaeda.

France will more than likely come up with whatever it takes to quell the riots. But then, obviously, some kind of painful re-examination of French policies and French politics is in order. If they decide that this is somehow Capitalism’s fault, as many Europeans seem to be saying, then they are doomed. They just don’t get it. In the United States, Anglo-Saxons, Italians, Jews, Mexicans, Irish, Puerto Ricans, Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Africans, Vietnamese, and, yes, Muslims, to name a few, seem to get along fairly well, with the partial and gradually improving exception of African-Americans. The reason for that is because the American dream is not a nationalist or religious or racial or ethnic dream. It is a universal dream. In France it’s all about being French. In America, it’s all about being free, and seeing what happens.

I’ll be honest with you. I hope we kill every single one of those Al Qaeda bastards, everywhere in the world. But these riots in Paris are not really about that, unless Al Qaeda succeeds in co-opting them, which I kinda doubt will happen.

Tax Reform – a Modest Proposal

Thursday, November 3rd, 2005

We must have some government, local, state, and federal, and government needs money to do the things that we need government to do. There are disagreements about how much government should do, but there is little or no disagreement that government is necessary to do some things. So how do you finance government? Currently we do this with taxes. Taxes not only impose an inescapable financial burden on individuals and corporations, they also impose an enormous bureaucratic and paperwork burden that severely impacts productivity at every level. The second burden is completely unnecessary.

The federal government is in charge of the money supply. Between the fiscal and monetary policies of Congress, the President, and the Federal Reserve Board, they decide how much money there is. There is obviously little correlation between tax revenues and government expenditures at the federal level. Whatever the tax revenues, government spends what it needs to spend, by issuing interest-bearing notes to make up the difference.

The idea that individuals and corporations give some of their money to the government to carry out its duties is an illusion. There is no real exchange of money. It’s all smoke and mirrors. There is no reason for anyone to fill out all of those incomprehensible tax forms, or for the government to employ thousands of people to process them. All that needs to happen is to pass a law that says when the government writes a check, everyone is required to honor it. Abracadabra, no more taxes. Currency, printed by the federal government in quantities decided by it, are already such a government check. Maybe there needs to be some mechanism for putting a cap on how much the federal government can spend, but there is no such cap now and we seem to muddle through alright. Of course these government checks increase the money supply, thereby fueling inflation, but what else is new? Government deficits already do that.

A dollar is worth whatever people believe it is worth. It has no intrinsic value. The present tax system serves two purposes. firstly, it shores up the illusion that money is something real, rather than a convenient fiction for replacing the inefficiency of the barter system. Secondly it is a means of social engineering, encouraging such things as home ownership, marriage, and drilling for oil, and discouraging activities like smoking, alcohol consumption, and driving. But nobody, economists least of all, really has any idea how the tax burden plays out. Sure, you can tax corporations, but then they raise prices. So who is really paying? Are renters paying to support home owners? Are rich people paying more or less of their fair share? Nobody knows.

We should just eliminate taxes altogether, let the government write checks for what it needs to do, and quit bothering us with all this nonsense.

Now, because of the United States’ unique federal system which grants a certain degree of sovereignty to the states, this becomes more problematical at the state and local level. The states don’t have any control over the money supply. They used to be able to print money, in fact individual banks used to be able to issue their own brand of currency, but those days are long gone. States don’t get to run deficits. They can issue bonds, but sooner or later the piper must be paid, and the budget balanced. So the only way to eliminate state and local taxes is for the states to give up some of their sovereignty and have the federal government apportion some of the money to the states based on a formula of population and productivity. The states in turn could then apportion some of this money to county and municipal governments.

The result? A huge increase in productivity, enriching us all, and a huge increase in intangibles like happiness and peace of mind.