In praise of old men

In the West, it is said, we tend to admire youth.  That’s true, at least today.  Old people try to act like young people.  I even have a few old relatives who are on Facebook, and they are the same Baby Boomers who’ve been afflicted with trying to keep up with the Joneses their whole lives.

In the East, however, the old are admired.  The wisdom of years is given a respect that it no longer seems to enjoy in the West—if in fact it was ever enjoyed, at least to the same extent, in the West.   This is not to say that raw experience is valuable.  The dude with thirty years of experience who’s a clown is just a clown who’s had a red nose for thirty years.  One must seek mentors carefully, to be sure.

Perhaps old men need someone to come to their defense here in the Occident.  What the hell.  I’ll give it a shot.

I’ve always liked old men, at least the kind that aren’t telling war stories all the time.  There is a certain stillness about them.  When I was a child, I spent hours leaning over a fence talking to an old fellow three doors up the street.  Our kibitzing would outlast the June sunset.  He’d tell me stories about times past, which to a kid seemed to me to be in the great distance, but which,  as I have come to learn, weren’t really all that long ago.  I remember his relating to me the habits of one particularly unsuccessful high school football coach.  Every time, it was said, his play calling went like this:  On first down, run; on second down, run; on third down, pass.  Maybe that story is how I developed a crippling obsession with originality.

There are two old men more recently whom I’ve enjoyed batting the breeze with.  Let’s give them the fictitious names of Murray and Ludwig.  They’d sit at the bar, and talk about everything under the sun, or about nothing in particular.  They had a great sense of humour, and weren’t afraid to bust each other’s balls, and laugh about it the whole time.  Then they would bust my balls, and I had no choice but to revel in it.  One of the things that Murray and Ludwig taught me was that older men seem to have more of a tolerance for real personality than some of the more recent generations, who are seemingly tied down by the tyrannical peer pressure of egalitarianism.   Sadly, Ludwig died suddenly recently.  He collapsed on the way home from the bar.  But at least he died while living out the creed of making time for fun with friends, an underestimated value of the post-modern super-serious types.

Then there is the neighborhood barber.  He has a beautiful head of white hair such as I have always wanted, but will probably never have on account of my early baldness.  His shop is located along the route on which I run every day.  I pass it four times if I do my full six miles.  “You’re getting too skinny!” he frequently yells, as he comes barreling out the door at me.  Other times, he just points at me, or throws up his arms in somewhat mock disbelief if he sees me running in inclement weather.  Sometimes this would get on my nerves, but I finally realized that he actually admires what I’m doing—in fact, the first few times he saw me he was outright complimentary.  His goal, it seems, is to make sure that I’m taking neither running nor myself too seriously, and in a way it is working.

The thing about old men is that they’ve all “been there” before.  They have a sense of equilibrium about things, little tolerance for demagoguery or sanctimony, and a healthy disrespect for what the quacks around them think.  This frees them up to have more of  a personality.  Old men can find the humour in anything, and, most importantly, the source of that humour is often themselves.  They also like to be left alone, and in return for your leaving them alone, they’ll leave you alone.  Finally, they hate to vote.  They are perhaps the only age-based subset of society that realizes that politics is a gigantic racket; maybe they are ripe for conversion to various kinds of libertarianism.

In short, to hell with youthful idealism. It’s not only foolish; it isn’t any fun.  So paint my hair white and call me grandpa.

The Food and Depression Administration

Last weekend I was in the midst of throwing something of a temper tantrum after a particularly annoying day.  A friend of mine texted me, asking me to join the usual crowd for dinner, but I wanted nothing to do with it. They would be talking about the very subjects that were getting on my nerves, and I needed to spend some time away from all that.  “I am in a secure, undisclosed location,” I wrote, not sure if the Dick Cheney joke was lost or not on my interlocutor.  I was with another friend, at an alternate establishment at which there was almost no chance at all of our being found.

The other friend wrote back that I was depressed and needed to take vitamin D3.  Being a jackass, I brushed this off forthwith, but after a week of continued restlessness, sleeplessness, anxiety, etc., I dove head-first into the pharmacy, after doing enough research to ascertain that vitamin D3 is, in fact, believed to put a sizable dent into depression, particularly the seasonal kind, to which I’m prone.

One of the benefits of a free economy is the amount of choice that one has in his purchases, and this holds true for vitamins, too.  There was one bottle of vitamin D3 which looked more like caviar, so I left it alone.  Then I found one that looked more to my liking in the texture department.  Label reading is important, though, so I perused the fine print on this bottle before making my final purchase.  The producers of this vitamin supplement make all manner of claims for their work:  improved health of this organ and that.  And then there is the final, hilarious disclaimer:  “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.”

That was when I knew that I had struck gold, and that this product was exactly what I needed.  For once, we have something that can help with depression that doesn’t give you headaches, or erectile dysfunction, or make you feel like you’re living outside yourself in a drug-induced state of indifference.  That’s what all the FDA-approved drugs seem to do.  If that isn’t bad enough, many say that these chemicals get pissed right back into our water supply, and that we’re all essentially on this crap.  Who knows if it’s true.  I’m a bit young to be beyond surprise, but I am, nonetheless.

More to the point, who needs the evaluation of the FDA to know whether or not a drug is beneficial?  We’re talking, first of all, about an organization which shows severe signs of being under the influence (!) of large drug corporations, so how can its judgement be trusted?  Most essentially, however, is the fact that some drugs will benefit some people and not benefit others, and where are the scientists in Washington to draw the line?  Can we not make our own free choices on the market?

Perhaps the most laughable idea of all is the notion that the government actually gives a hoot about the effectiveness of the drugs we take.  For years now, under the guise of protecting idiotic meth addicts from themselves, they have been arresting and imprisoning innocent people who just want their noses to function properly.  Meanwhile, new substitute drugs come onto the market—drugs that are made by the very companies that pushed for that legislation that now has the government snooping into the shopping habits of consumers of decongestants—that don’t accomplish a damn thing, and the country is left to sniffle the whole way to May Day.

All of this comes down to control and to the idea that the acting man cannot make his own choices and manage his own risks on the market.  “It’s human nature!” the Statists cry. “We must take account of human stupidity.”  What they forget is that the State bureaucracies are run by mere humans and are just as prone to error as you or I.  The difference is that when they make a mistake, or limit our options, we’re all made to suffer.  The damage is not limited to one or even a few persons.  I am perfectly willing to take my chances with vitamin D3.  If it makes my nose turn orange—and I doubt it will—it will be my responsibility. And if it is artificially laced with soma and turns me into a Statist—well, I have friends that look out for me who will remove the bottle from my domicile.  But I don’t think that’s going to happen, either.  The pills are neither red nor blue.

Anarcho-Capitalism: Alive and Well in the City of Brotherly Coercion

The city of Philadelphia is not exactly known as being friendly to the principles of liberty.  In our town, of course, we have the Tyrrany Bell and Dependence Hall, two relics from the racket that was the American Revolution, which, from this distance in history, must surely be judged to have been a failure.  Hell, even from the day the Constitution was ratified it should have been apparent that the American Revolution was for naught.  Consider this:  Though George III was a tyrant, his authority to tax was at least in legal dispute; the Constitution, on the other hand, gave Congress, from day one, the power to levy taxes.

Philadelphia is also known as one of the most labor union-friendly cities one can find.  Even readers from far away are likely to remember the redundant plumbing that was installed a number of years ago in the Comcast Building, Philadelphia’s tallest (and ugliest) skyscraper.

Given the challenges presented by the prevalence of collectivistic thought in urban settings, and keeping in mind the particular degree to which this unfortunate circumstance exists here, when I batted around the idea of starting a local discussion group for anarcho-capitalists, I kept my expectations low.  I thought we’d be lucky to get ten people.  I wrote a fellow voluntaryist to see if he thought there was sufficient interest, and he did.  Facebook makes this kind of thing easy, and I was amazed that, within hours of posting the group, we had eleven people.  Within two days we were up to twenty-three.

Big deal, right?  Here’s some perspective:  I formed a group about the Austrian composer (not economist, for a change!) Anton Bruckner—hardly a controversial figure.  That group’s membership languishes somewhere in the low 20’s.  One would expect it to be much more.  In any case, it is the ideas that matter; not the mob-rule mentality of gathering as much of a following as possible. The an-cap group is decidedly young, and seems to consist mostly of college students.  After all, old men don’t like new ideas.  I can tell already that it is composed of passionate people who would rather read the right books than watch the most popular TV shows.  It should be an opportunity for us all to learn.  If you live in the area and are an anarcho-capitalist interested in joining, the information is here.

Walter Block’s The Privatization of Roads and Highways: Some initial impressions

It’s 4:15am, and I just finished reading Walter Block’s book on the privatization of roads and highways.  This seems like one of those books that has the potential to grow on the reader in the weeks following completion.  All in all, I find the conclusions of Professor Block to be solid, certain detours down rabbit holes to satisfy the demands of academic debate notwithstanding.

One problem area that might be mitigated is the repetition that occurs throughout the book.  This is a function of its being a collection of (mostly) previously published essays and is perhaps to some extent inevitable.  Nevertheless, toward the end of the book the reader gets the sense that he can finish Block’s sentences for him.  Maybe some of the essays simply could have been eliminated.

Another misgiving I have about this book is that I think Block might well over-state the government’s responsibility for the 40,000 annual deaths on our highways.  Surely some of these deaths can be attributed to mismanagement or poor maintenance, or even inefficiency in ensuring safe driving practices.  But there would seem to be a limit to how far one can take this.  We need not go hog-wild with this idea to justify the privatization of the roads, and we certainly don’t need to stretch it too far in order to be on solid ground in advocating the anarcho-capitalist system.

Traditionalists who are skeptical of Block’s work might take some comfort in the fact that roads throughout history have been privately owned.  Pragmatists might find interest in the axiom that the private sector can accomplish the same task the public sector undertakes for only half the cost.  And enthusiasts of natural right and the work of philosophers such as John Locke will be attracted to the privatization of roads given the possibility it presents for the elimination of coercive taxes to pay for transportation, as well as eminent domain.

Oh, an extra thing about eminent domain.  The constitution says that those whose property is seized by the government are to be paid a fair market price for their loss.  The problem with this is that a fair market price cannot exist without mutual agreement, and eminent domain is coercion.

All in all, this book is worth a read.  It will, of course, be beneficial to have some basic Austrian economics reading under one’s belt before starting it.  I recommend Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson and Mises’ book on Socialism.

Whether the realization of anarcho-capitalism would create just a different kind of State: a brief reply

More than occasionally, an objection is raised against anarcho-capitalism that goes something like this:  Since the private courts, private security, etc. envisaged by anarcho-capitalists would employ coercion against people, then anarcho-capitalism would just be a different kind of State, but a State nonetheless.

At first blush, this may seem to be true, but upon the tiniest examination it falls apart.  First, we must keep in mind the true scope of the non-aggression principle:  it is far more circumscribed than opponents of anarcho-capitalism would have it.  It states, briefly, an ethic of not initiating violence against another person or his property.  If, however, some clown breaks into your house and steals your best pair of shoes, then, in the anarcho-capitalist system you can take him to court to mete out some kind of justice for this theft.  The thief, in this case, is not  a victim of coercion; he is an aggressor.  (That being said, this doesn’t mean that I support much of what our modern criminal justice system does, even in cases of real crimes such as theft, as distinguished from the non-crimes dreamed up by positive law, such as the requirement to have your car inspected every year, or the ban on certain drugs deemed “illicit.”)

The system of private courts, etc, is far different than that which obtains under a State, however; for in a State, very often the violence is initiated by the government itself.  The citizen has done nothing wrong, is just trying to live his life, make it through his day, feed his children and buy his wife something nice for her birthday.  Then the tax man comes and says, “Give us half your money or else…”  Let’s say he makes a mistake on his tax return.  He could be fined, to say the very least.  This is aggression; it is even violence, since taxes are collected, ultimately, at the point of a gun.  Or there’s a lazy ass teenager sitting in his mother’s basement, smoking pot and playing video games, wasting his life and embarrassing everyone who loves him.  Then one day a judge warehouses him for smoking the bud.

But what have these citizens done?  They have neither inflicted violence on anyone, nor have they stolen from anyone.  Why, then, should the law be concerned with them?  Yet the State concerns itself with non-violent “criminals” all the time.  Since these non-criminals have violated no one’s rights, but only the Utopian schemes of the authors of positive law, then they are the ones who are the victims of aggression when the State puts them in shackles.

Murray Rothbard cleared new land by combining the tradition of natural rights with the system of capitalism.  For more on this subject, his book The Ethics of Liberty is strongly recommended.  In this work he outlines how the anarcho-capitalist system will work, not through violence and coercion as the State operates, but through mutual exchange based on private property rights.    The work of Rothbard needs to be advanced as much as possible, so that one day the inalienable rights of mankind will rule our law, not by force of positive diktat, but by the triumph of the non-aggression principle, enshrined as the starting point for the ethical system on which our society is based.

Blog of an Austrian economist

I don’t know why it took me so long to find this, but there is a new blog I’d like to bring to your attention, which belongs to Patrick Barron, a professor of economics who is in the Austrian tradition.  I haven’t gotten through much of his material yet, but this definitely looks to be worth looking at.