Category Archives: Austrian Economics

Inane Arguments Against Wealth Creation, Supposed Exorbitance

I read an article the other day. The title of the article is “Huge Houses Are Morally Wrong.” I had to read it twice to make sure the author wasn’t pulling one over on me. In the end, I am left feeling both a sense of outrage and sadness. And here is why:

  1. On his mention of Bill Gates’ fortune, and the $30 billion he has given away to charity, the latter of which the author decided isn’t enough, I say this: $30 billion isn’t enough? Is there a “moral” number? Do you, dear author, give away 40% of your wealth? I doubt you do. And if you did, I don’t care. It’s none of my damn business. So, in addition to the $3o billion, which in and of itself is a tremendous value, what about the value Bill Gates has brought to the world with Microsoft? But no, the author doesn’t seem to think that the billions of people who have benefited from his company is a matter of importance. I say poppycock. I hope Mr. Gates continues to make tons of money. But, in the end (and which will be my main point here), I don’t give a darn what he does make or doesn’t make, or does do or doesn’t do.
  2. On his mention of Peter Singer and his argument that no one is entitled to live beyond $30,000/year. What a sick, depraved way to live. It’s these type of folk that want us to revert to a time wherein technologies were of the simplest and less impacting variety. The argument disregards all of the tremendous value (jobs, wealth, well-being, more efficient and less expensive production methods, etc.). But, again, who cares? If my bachelor neighbor decides to move out of his one-room apartment into a 3-room house, that’s his prerogative; that’s his right. But Hamilton’s argument would say that my neighbor should not do this; that it is of waste; and that it is immoral. That’s bogus. Let’s say I want to buy an Apple laptop. It may be a bit outside of my price comfort range, but I desire the product, its accoutrement and warranty program. Is it immoral to decide to ditch my $300 Acer in place of the $1,500 Apple? Of course not. My money is precisely that. Mine. What I decide to do with it is entirely on me.
  3. In the end, for me, all that matters is this: it is theirs. Their money. Their wealth. Regardless of how they acquired the wealth (it could be via hard work and determination or nepotism or whatever), it is theirs, and they get to decide what they do with it. They could just sit on it. Literally. They could exchange it for gold and sell it. They could travel. They could buy million dollar homes. It doesn’t matter. Not I or the billionaire has any moral obligation to live by certain socially constructed means.

I say stop whining about what isn’t yours. What others do with their money doesn’t concern you (unless, of course, they are using the money to inflict actual harm).

I say, dear millionaires and billionaires, please continue doing what you’re doing. You provide me with entertainment in the movies you create. You make it easier for me to do business, in the software programs you create and the social media websites you develop. You make everyday staples of living less expensive and easier to consume. Your homes, your wealth, your success and celebrity are the things rational, reason-minded, positive people aspire to achieve.

Live well. Live “ridiculously well.”

As for the Hamiltons of the world, go ahead and keeping thinking squalor is of some intrinsic value. That’s fine. As long as you give up the iPhone, the laptop, the vehicle.

For other tidbits of mine on this topic, go here and here.

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Modern Toilets as Harbingers of Misery

I am reading Jeffrey Tucker’s wonderful Bourbon For Breakfast: Living Outside the Statist Quo at the moment (you can find it in PDF form online). It’s exceptional in many ways, but I do enjoy the parts in which Mr. Tucker provides the reader with a picture of the practical consequences of certain specific government regulations. One in particular I am truly fond of, and that is the chapter called “The Relentless Misery of 1.6 Gallons.”

In this chapter, Mr. Tucker outlines a few of the consequences of the Energy Policy Act, which was passed back in 1994. Allow me to quote the first paragraph from this chapter:

My order at my favorite Chinese restaurant was taking too long. I stopped into the men’s room. There I witnessed a common scene: the modern toilet disaster. An otherwise clean business had a restroom calamity on its hands, one so grim that I hesitate to describe it.

He then goes onto describe how this “calamity” had probably resulted in a series of disgusted customers and loss of business. But it’s not the fault of the business, he says. It’s that the Energy Policy Act mandated that toilets go from 3.5-5 gallons of water per flush to 1.6 gallons. If you didn’t comply, as a toilet manufacturer, you’d be fined and/or sent to jail.

I think upon this, and I picture that grimy, bacteria-laden plunger next to the toilet, or as far back behind the toilet as possible, so as not to gross your guests at too much. I think of the oval brush wand that sits on that odd pedestal- the one that is meant to scrape the “leftovers” off the toilet bowl. Naturally, these items wouldn’t have been needed (or, let’s say, they wouldn’t have been as prominently featured and utilized) if it were not for the Energy act.

As Mr. Tucker puts it,

So let us remember way back when:

  • Toilets did not need plungers next to them, and thank goodness. Used plungers are nasty, disease carrying, and filthy. It doesn’t matter how cute the manufacturer tries to make them or in how many colors you can buy them. In the old days, you would never have one exposed for guests. It was kept out in the garage for the rare occasion when someone threw a ham or something stranger down the toilet.
  • Toilet paper was super thick and getting thicker. None of this one-ply nonsense.
  • You never had any doubt about the capacity of the toilet to flush completely, with only one pull of the handle. The toilet stayed clean thanks to five gallons of rushing water pouring through it after each flush.

He goes on to say that the Energy act was essentially a step backwards “from a central aspiration of mankind to dispose of human waste in the best possible way.” I have to agree. I want my toilet to flush; and I want it to flush the first time I pull the lever. I don’t want to have to pull it twice, or three times. I don’t want to feel it necessary to keep a trusty plunger available at all times. Nor do I want to keep that fecal scrubber nearby.

But of course, as is often the case, government has the power to make these decisions. And society thinks that government is in the business of deciding what is best for us. I will steadfastly disagree. The environmentalists that pushed this decrease in flush per gallons forget about the unintended consequences. Ah, the unintended consequences. They never think of that. For instance, remember that push to get all babies into cloth diapers? But they easily forget that by doing so, there involves more cleaning, and as an unintended” consequence, more water usage. Same is true for the toilets. The unintended consequence is that people are having to flush two, three, four times before they feel comfortable enough to exit the stall, or home bathroom.

And sometimes, “conserving is not a good idea.” Some activities “cry out for the expenditure of resources, even in the most generous possible way. I would count waste disposal as one of these. ”

I wholly agree. I want my 5 gallon per flush toilet back. I want to witness the power of the flush, and see that everything is clean and porcelain white. There are ways humankind can do things better, and sometimes these ways are to be mindful of our environment, and with the intent of conservation. There’s value in some of those things, certainly. But not in this. This is a step back to the primitive.

Read all of Jeffrey Tucker’s excellent book online here. The toilet chapter is on pages 25-28.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

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Subsidized Bike Rentals in Paris – Failure

From the NY Times, via the Mises Blog:

Many of the specially designed bikes, which, when the system’s startup and maintenance expenses are included, cost $3,500 each, are showing up on black markets in Eastern Europe and northern Africa. Many others are being spirited away for urban joy rides, then ditched by roadsides, their wheels bent and tires stripped.

With 80 percent of the initial 20,600 bicycles stolen or damaged, the program’s organizers have had to hire several hundred people just to fix them. And along with the dent in the city-subsidized budget has been a blow to the Parisian psyche.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that, while possibly well-intended, the bicycle sharing idea, with the lack of rules and measures of protection, is wholly irrational. Such is the case for many “well intended” government-subsidized ventures. Would such an operation exist in the real marketplace? Absolutely not. Without any of the proper, rational mechanisms to protect the investment in the product/operation (i.e. GPS, collateral, et al), it will invariably fail, as is seen in Paris.

Alternatively, if measures were put into place to prevent theft and hold both the business (the bike rental company) and the renter accountable, then there would be a stronger chance for success. Bureaucrats and government bodies can’t make decisions about business. And with the backing of said government, where is the incentive to make a profit, be successful? Businesses need to be mindful of the long-term. They need to understand their target audience, their market, and act accordingly. They need, above all, to be cognizant of what it is that makes them a successful, healthy, thriving operation.

This venture, sadly, is not one of these.

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To Tenure is to Disregard Value

The notion of tenure is despicable.

No, it’s not a matter of justifiably rewarding those teachers that have “done their time” and that may “deserve” such treatment. That is silly and irrational. And no, I am not a teacher-hater. I adore the profession and deem them to be of inestimable value. And no, I am not saying that all tenured teachers are complacent slugs. What I am saying is that tenure, the idea and the practice, should be banished; and that slugs exist everywhere.

Think about the concept for a moment. You are rewarding an individual for what is more or less their ability to last awhile, or some such similar euphemism.

Consider the consequences if a business decided to implement a similar rule. The business would go under in a heartbeat. Undoubtedly. Because, at the end of the day, you’re telling a working employee, after a certain, predetermined time period, that their job will be secure. That they don’t have to work as hard if they choose not to. That they may simply, and rather casually, go through the motions.

But those are really just the results, the reactions to implementation; and I don’t care much about that.

The crux of my concern is with the following:

Tenure is attained and maintained without (much, if any) regard to the only attribute that matters: the merit of the individual, and the value said individual brings to the institution. If the merit isn’t of worth, assessment should be made, and individuals of desired worth should come in and replace those of lesser worth. And this should be done constantly.

Never to rest on one’s laurels. Never to consider the duration of one’s employ as anything more than a number.

If you want to better schools, better the process by which you evaluate teachers.

Get rid of tenure.

If you want to get a taste of how difficult it is a task to fire a tenured teacher, take a gander at this in-depth LA Times article.

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons

 

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Intricacies and Beauty of Homemade Ice Cream

Over at the Mises blog, Jeffrey Tucker muses about the concept of what actual “homemade ice cream” is, what it would take to make it, in consideration of the nuances and intricacies of the division of labor. He asks, “is it really homemade?”

Definitely not.

Then there’s the problem of milk. I could buy a cow but that’s a lot of upkeep. I understand that you have to milk one of these things regularly whether you are making ice cream or not. And there’s the problem of feed and waste and many other issues. Raising and keeping this animal healthy might turn into a full-time job, with no time left over for making, much less enjoying, ice cream.

Of course you need refrigeration and ice, without which matters are rather hopeless. It took most all of recorded human history to invent the refrigerator, which only became common in American homes in the 1920s and 1930s, and so it is pretty presumptuous for me to assume that I could construct one on my own. Plus, these things run on electricity, and I thought I had dispensed with that in the name of authenticity. So long as I’m using electricity to store the milk and ice, why not just let electricity turn the crank too?

I’m back to plan A: get a generator. I’ll pretend not to notice the problem of making homemade gasoline to power it. After all, I could use a river (need to get one of those) or erect a giant windmill (prepare for dead bird carcasses to litter up the yard), but then there’s no power on windless days. How about a solar-based generator? Break out the Windex (can I make that at home too?). This is getting expensive.

Of course you need eggs, which means chickens, which I wouldn’t entirely rule out, but everyone I know who has tried to raise chickens for eggs eventually throws in the towel. It is a disgusting job, fully of unexpected headaches, like getting rid of varmints and keeping the chickens warm and buying expensive feeds and dealing with filthy critters and chicken coops.

It’s quite wonderful and beautiful, actually. All of the steps along the way, the people- the specialists, skilled and unique- as part of the equation, engineering the machinery, farming the cows and chickens, mining the salt.

Read all about it here.

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I, Pencil by Leonard Read: Audio Version

The classic 1958 essay from Leonard Reed, regarding the wonders of innovation and the inherent dangers of central planning as it pertains to that innovation. As Lawrence W. Reed put it in his introduction to the 50th anniversary edition of the essay, he says:

Ideas are most powerful when they are wrapped in a compelling story. Leonard’s main point- economies can hardly be ‘planned’ when not one soul possesses the know-how and skills to produce a simple pencil- unfolds in the enchanting words of a pencil itself. Leonard could have written ‘I, Car’ or ‘I, Airplane,’ but choosing those more complex items would have muted the message. No one person- repeat, no one, no matter how smart or how many degrees follow his name- could create from scratch a small, everyday pencil, let alone a car or an airplane.

Part 1:

Part 2:

For more information about Leonard Read, go here.

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Walter Block on Why We Must Discriminate

From the Ludwig von Mises blog, and an excerpt from Walter Block’s own book The Case For Discrimination comes this quote:

It is clear that discrimination on the part of individuals, but of course not the state, is part of our birthright of liberty.

If not, coercive bisexuality would be the logical implication of the antidiscrimination movement. Why? Well, male heterosexuals despicably discriminate against half the human race as bed/sex/marriage partners: all other men. Nor can female heterosexuals plead innocence against this dread charge; they, too, abjure half of their fellow creatures in this regard. Can male homosexuals deflect this deadly indictment? No, they, too, refuse to have anything to do with all females in such a context. Similarly, female homosexuals, lesbians, also avoid entangling alliances of this sort with all men — again, half the human race.

No, it is the bisexuals, and only the bisexuals, who are entirely innocent of discrimination of this sort. They are the only decent people in the entire sexual spectrum to refrain from this evil practice. (We now disregard the fact that bisexuals also make invidious comparisons based on beauty, age, sense of humor, etc.)

Therefore, if we really opposed discrimination in matters of the heart, we would all embrace bisexuality. Because we do not, the logical implication is that we should be forced to do so. For to hang back from this conclusion is to give not only tacit but active approval to discriminatory practices, surely one of the worst things in the politically correct panoply.

It might well be objected that the laws against private parties discriminating should apply only to business, not personal, interactions. But why just in commerce and not also in human relations? Surely, if there is any such thing as the right not to be discriminated against, it applies in all realms of human existence, not merely in the marketplace. If we have a right not to be murdered, or stolen from, and we do, then this right pervades all realms of human existence. It is equally improper to be killed or robbed in the bedroom as it is in the store.

And, as a matter of fact, present antidiscrimination law does not even apply, across the board, in the commercial realm. Rather, it depends upon “power” relationships, a rather meaningless concept, at least as employed by our friends on the Left.

For example, if I hate Chinese people, and therefore will not patronize their restaurants, I violate no law. However, if the owner of the Chinese restaurant, for example, despises Jews, he will not be legally able to forbid them from entry onto his premises. Why? Because sellers, in this case, are deemed to be more “powerful” than buyers.

But it does not always work in this way. If a large buyer, say, Wal-Mart, refused to purchase from any female-headed firm because of their taste for discrimination against women, they would not for a moment be able to get away with such a policy.

Read the rest here. Buy the book here!

I personally, and philosophically agree with Block on this. We discriminate every day. It’s how we decide who we should befriend, who we should stay clear from; who we should love, who we should distance ourselves from. I’ve written about this before. See here and here.

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