Do Certain Moral Values Complement Economic Growth?

There has been significant uproar in the news involving the quintessential philosophical dilemma that seems to haunt mankind: how much money should a man make, and how much should he give back? These questions are based upon the debated conception that there is a point at which having too much money is morally impermissible, or, similarly, that if someone has to much money (note the assumption), then said person must have obtained it by fraudulent or otherwise questionable means.

I, personally, find this type of idea, in all its forms, absurd. I think it demonstrates a serious lack of reasoning, but I will refrain from demonstrating why in this particular post. It is important to discover where this type of reasoning thinking comes from. Basically, we are dealing with an emotional justification. The idea that some person may have so much money that it is almost impossible that they spend it all, generates a type of resentment in most people. This resentment is not justified, however. That is because the resentment that is being created is contingent upon the assumption that a person should not have more than the individual thinker thinks they should have. The assumption is subjective; that is, that there is a point at which I think that a person should not have more money than they have, or that if they keep more than I think that they should keep, then they are acting immorally given that some people do not have even the basic amount of money for which to survive. The oversight is apparent when looking at the instance from a rights perspective. If we consider the fact that any one wealthy person has a right to that which they have justly earned, and that any imposition of our assumptions of wealth-limitations on them, would require that they lose certain rights while we, those who demand, gain rights, then we see that we are not only creating a condition that establishes a blatant contradiction of rights equality, but a violation of natural economic incentives.

The economic incentives that are violated relate to the idea that those who can produce will do so if and only if they are able to translate their productive powers into a vehicle that carries them to a goal. If the goal is wealth, prestige, or recognition, then regardless of the regulatory structure, those goals will be obtained. The only change is the way in which the producer will seek the actualization and completion of those goals. This is where the black market forces take action. Basically, if we demand that the rich be limited on how much they make, then there is an incentive not to make as much by either lowering their productive capacity, or by distorting their productive output (hiding their income). Both of the later options are what I call natural reactions to regulatory pressures -especially, tax pressures. Also, the risk that is waged regarding the concept that the rich lose rights because they now cannot have the same right to their property given the conditional: if I earn more, then more of my property is taken; whereas if I earn less, then less of my property is taken, deals with the fact that the producers might leave or stop producing. Not to mention the simple fact that the cost for getting into the market are higher that the cost of not entering the market; this entails that we would experience lower entrepreneurship and less innovation.

I believe that moral values are what dictate this phenomena of the wealthy producers avoiding taxation and regulation via the black market, and the people demanding that the wealthy producers surrender their property in the name of need. One is based on transcribing envy over a natural phenomena, and the other a justified action to avoid force. Thus, my question: Do certain moral values complement economic growth?


The Mises Institute Misses The Mark

Joel Poindexter, an economics student and contributor at the Ludwig Von Mises Institute website, posted an article titled, “Set Culture Free.” The article, overall, is well written and informative, but it makes the fatal assumption that intangible things cannot be owned. I will proceed by demonstrating why the standard Austraian view of property and tangibility are indefensible and create a serious contradiction.

Mr. Poindexter asserts,

“Over time, property rights emerged as a way of mitigating conflict over scarce goods. If there is a finite amount of something, say hammers, it’s possible that at some point conflict over the use of a tool may arise. Establishing property rights, and institutions to enforce those rights and arbitrate disputes, tends to reduce this conflict.”

He then buffers this view with the claim endorsed by Hans-Hermann Hoppe that in a resource-finite or scarce world, rules must be placed on the use of the resources. I have championed a similar view in my work on Logical Coordination, but the difference amid Hoppe and myself is that I do not exclude rules to only possible worlds that possess the attribute of scarcity. Why? Well, first, my theory of Logical Coordination holds that the necessary conditions of interaction hold in all possible worlds, and that conflicts would arise generally by the fact that there is no such thing as an actual infinite resource given that part of the value of a resource is contingent upon how I evaluate or perceive of the particular resource.

The second problem I have with this idea revolves around the assertion made by Poindexter, “If there are an infinite number of hammers, or a device exists to infinitely reproduce them, then the problem of scarcity disappears, along with the need for property rights…” This creates a problem for both the Austrain Economist, and any libertarian thinker that endorses a similar view. The problem rests in how Mr. Poindexter cements the notion of rights. He wants to hold that if scarcity were removed, then property rights would evaporate. However, a simple example should demonstrate why this is absurd:

Suppose that I have a hammer, and further suppose that there are an infinite number of hammers that are metaphysically similar to my hammer. I use my hammer often, but one day someone takes it from me. I become angry and demand that they return my hammer, but the thief proceeds to instruct me in the obvious fact that there are an infinite number of hammers, and so I should just get a new one.

Interestingly, the thief, too, should have obtained a hammer by the same recommendation. Nonetheless, was I harmed by the thief? Can I even call this “hammer-taker” a thief? No, not by the analysis given by Mr. Poindexter.

This problem grows worse. The reason that I was harmed and that my rights were violated by the ‘hammer-taker’ is derived from the fact that my hammer is a unique hammer. By Liebniz’s law it must be unique. It takes up a certain space that other hammers do not take up, and it has certain properties that are specific only to it. Not only is it unique, but it is a scarce and particular hammer given its uniqueness. There is only one hammer that I may use for any one activity, and from that, I alone determine how that hammer has value; basically, I attach values that extend beyond the material composition and economic value of the hammer.

If this example is just not “hitting-the-spot,” think of any one thing that you have (a luck coin, ball, a pair of old comfy shoes, or even a special tool) that has memories and meaning attached to it merely because you used it or possessed it in relation to some event. If I came up to you and were to smash your special thing, then would you not be angry? Would you not be harmed? You would because property rights are a natural extension of your interacting with reality, an not merely because things exist -property rights exist because you exist!

Robert Nozick provides some valuable insight into this very subject. Nozick says, “because each person possesses an inviolability that all others must respect… Individuals have rights,” he continues, “and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights).” Basically, rights are not contingent upon external things, they exist because people do. They attach to individuals. Moreover, rights define and explain fundamental principles of action and morality of free agents that interact; for example, John Rawls states that the role of the right of personal property “is to allow a sufficient material basis for a sense of personal independence and self-respect, both of which are essential for the development and exercise of the two moral powers.” So, in a resource-infinite world, I would not be able to, if the Mises followers are correct, possess any type of independence or self-respect given that I could not secure ownership of any particular property available to me; but this is lazy and shallow reasoning. I could only identify and enjoy a limited number of elements of any infinite set give that my capacity to interact with the infinite number of elements is limited by time. The time spent with those elements would logically allow the necessary attachment of memories, preferences, and conditions which would cause me to gain respect and independence; thus, by Rawls, property rights would have to obtain by necessity. Interestingly, the independence and respect gained must then, as per Hoppe, become protected by rules… Which brings us back to the fact that property rights are inherent to conscience creatures.

The next move made by Poindexter is interesting. He attempts to make the case that the removal of property rights would not, all else being equal, harm the incentives that firms have to develop and investigate new methods, systems, and objects that enable them to remain competitive. He uses, for obvious reasons, the music industry as an example. In light of the claim that low CD or album sales are attributed to an augment in piracy, he asserts:

Many critics of digital downloading point to single-song sales as a terrible thing for artists. But this is only a terrible thing if the artist possesses marginal talent. Most people have probably experienced a time when they heard a song they liked on the radio and bought the CD, only to discover that overall it wasn’t that good. Allowing consumers to buy one song at a time provides musicians an incentive to produce not one or two good songs for radio, but an entire record’s worth of quality music.

Right, but what about the disincentives that exist to not invest my time, energies, and money into making a new album or song given that said song/album may be downloaded and distributed to several hundred of thousands of people without them buying it? Would my expected earnings not fall? And if the problem were serious enough, would I not just say “screw it” I am not selling any more albums because the cost exceeds the benefits? It is possible, and even likely that certain people do not (I know of a few, actually) actualize their ideas in the marketplace given that the are afraid of not being able to have the rights to their product, and that others would merely take their idea and profit from it leaving the idea’s create cold and hungry. It is the case that individuals may prevent their ideas from being actualized into material products, and this would cause that the consumer looses both the opportunity to purchase a product and to benefit from the competition amid firms.

Finally, to hold the idea that only tangible things are claimable, demonstrates a failure to connect physical inventions (tangible property) to their idea representations (intangible property). Suppose I spend one million dollars in research and development to create a new oven. This new oven will cook bread, rolls, and pizza in a fraction of the usual time needed. I have struggled and toiled over thermodynamics, the components of certain refectories, and even the aesthetic elements of this oven to the point where I finally create a version that can be brought to market. Nonetheless, once I start to sell, I notice that a large company purchased one of my ovens and is now marketing an exact duplicate at a much lower price. The result is that I made a few dollars, but am not unable to profit (as I would have) from my idea. The fact that I can only lay claim to the physical instances of my oven and not the idea that is “my oven,” essentially requires that I do not have a right to my thoughts and the things developed in my mind. This is a violation of both the Kantian and Lockean tradition of rights and ownership. For Lock, I own the oven because I mix my labor with it, but I can logically extend this analysis to ideas. I own ideas because I mix my labor with them. Additionally, it behooves us to note that good ideas can be treated as commodity such that scarceness does apply.

Moreover, property rights can be said, as we found, to be natural extensions of my consciousness actions -of existence. This extending of rights is made possible only by action, and idea creation is an action; thus, ideas are extensions of my rights and can be placed under conventional and philosophical conceptions of property rights. This is akin to legal agreements and contracts (which we all know Austrians hold as sacrosanct), by the fact that they are rooted in action and delivered by ideas. Not to mention that any philosophy which favors such a cold empiricism, is usually committing a serious oversight to things not perceived by our senses -humm…so much for praxeology, eh?

Ron Paul and Neoconservativism -The Medved Quagmire

So, Ron Paul is rising in the polls in Iowa. Who cares? Well, I don’t. I admire Dr. Paul and think he would make a great president for several reasons (his taking only 38k a year is one of them). However, Dr. Paul is not a republican, nor can you label him as conservative. The reason you cannot do these things is because Ron Paul is not a republican, nor is he conservative (assuming conventional definitions).

My reason for pointing out this obvious fact is due to the interesting attacks levied against Dr. Paul. Many of which may stem from a failure to understand that Paul plants his ideological flag in libertarian territory -a place most conservatives consider darker than progressivism, or far too exciting (marijuana and sex ). Now, I would like to note that some of these attacks are valid (like his overzealous and conspiracy-laden world view, troubling racially-laded statements of his youth, and his dismissal of modern economic “pragmatism”), and some are not. I would like to point out the more common invalid attacks, and expose some of the sloppy reasoning behind them.

1) Ron Paul is an isolationist.
Consider this excerpt written by Medved:

America’s founding charter doesn’t place the President of the United States in charge of the economy, or social policy. But it does make him Commander-in-chief of the military and gives him principal power to conduct our relations with other nations.

This means that those who back Paul’s domestic policies but ignore his isolationist, moral-relativist approach toward America’s position in the world are actually saying they care more about presidential roles not specified in the Constitution than they do about the chief responsibility the Founders themselves had in mind. Dr. Paul wants America to play a less robust leadership role in the world—apparently agreeing with Barack Obama, but disagreeing with great Republicans Lincoln and Reagan.

So, the fact that the President is commander-in-chief of the military and holds the mantel of conducting international relationships entails that the founding father’s mind possessed the idea that we should be marching around the world shoring-up our economic interest by threat of force? Or, that we should dictate who can and who cannot have certain type of weapons? Or, that we can violate national sovereignty of other countries, just because we are at war with some vaguely defined enemy -terror? Right… I am sure that the entering any country and firing missiles would have really sat well with our founding fathers.

Mr. Medved, as do many conservatives apologists, assumes that he knows or, by some power, can determine exactly what the founding fathers had intended. This is a huge problem for me, because they are making an appeal to authority that can only be understood through a conservative-colored lens. They essentially limit the discussion to some odd regressive reality, which cannot be proven true nor false.

Moreover, how is it, Mr. Medved, that Paul’s desire to respect other cultures, governments, and economic systems, violate his duty as president? Where in the Constitution does it say that we have to be actively involved in all other countries actions?

2) Ron Paul values hookers, sex, drugs, pornography and violence.
This point is more common than [1], but it is not a Ron Paul critique. I know that Medved uses this as his standard ammo against Paul, but what he is actually doing is disputing libertarianism in general (Note: He advocates libertarian economics when convenient, but dismisses libertarian social views). Consider these points made by Medved in a recent article:

This addle-brained attempt to equate religious freedom with liberty to pursue profit as pimps or pushers counts as daft rather than deft. As a preening “Constitutionalist,” Paul ought to understand that the First Amendment explicitly protects “free exercise” of religion but says nothing about a right to operate bordellos or market recreational drugs.

As long we’re free to seek salvation in heaven, we must be free to enjoy drugs and hookers while we’re alive?

Wallace also asked the crotchety candidate if he was “suggesting that heroin and prostitution are an exercise in liberty?” In effect, Paul agreed that they were. “Well, you know, I’d probably never use those words, you put those words some place,” he stammered, “but yes, in essence, if I leave it to the states, it’s going to be up to the states.”

This suggestion of leaving regulation to local authorities makes no sense at all when it comes to the drug trade, which usually involves international (or, at the very least, interstate) commerce. Moreover, his invoking of the First Amendment in the need to “protect liberty across the board” means that the states would have no more right to outlaw bongs and brothels than the federal government. The Supreme Court has federalized Bill of Rights protections since 1925 ( Gitlow v. New York), meaning that First Amendment protections restrict state power (under the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection”) just as much as they limit the Washington bureaucracy. If the feds can’t interfere with selling smack or sex (under some bizarre misinterpretation of a constitutional right to free expression) then states can’t touch those activities either.

This comment is as addle-brained as any conservative rhetoric can get. Medved wants to hold that there is some type of philosophical or metaphysical chasm amid religious freedom and social/economic freedom, and he claims that this chasm is contained in our laws. In fact, Mr. Medved points out that the Supreme Court has federalized Bill of Rights protections and that certain modern interpretations of he constitution invalidate Paul’s claims.

This is a sad, and a weak position. To argue that a law is objectively true -or maps to a true proposition- or that the laws are constitutionally consistent in their current form because some group of men decided that they were, puts a lot of trust in these men who wear those black robes -maybe, his one year of Yale law stuck well with him (if it did, then I would not expect Mr. Medved to understand that legal arguments don’t mesh well when applied to inherently philosophical documents). I would add that progressives act inversely in this particular case. They tend to hold that social freedom is exempt from constitutional oversight and that economic action is not, but a true conservative would surely hold that economic freedom should be exempt (or, maximized) and that social action should not (minimized). Medved does this, up to a point, as we soon will see.

Here is another inflammatory quote:

The only possible argument for this constitutional interpretation would involve a sweeping expansion of the fictitious “right to privacy”—a whole-cloth invention of the Warren Court that conservatives (and originalists) generally hate. If the Constitution actually hints at a right to privacy so comprehensive that it protects a previously unrecognized right to sell sex, then how can it not guarantee the freedom to terminate your pregnancy? But Paul insists he remains fervently pro-life and speaks with (appropriate) contempt of Roe v. Wade.

Did the Founders ever intend to guard “personal habits” from governmental regulation? If so, then why did prior generations fail to employ Paul’s argument to challenge the long history of strict local, state, and federal supervision of the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages?

At this point it becomes important to reconcile this chasm that Medved so blindly holds in-between freedom in practicing religion and freedom of action. First, what if I were to choose to follow a religious practice in which I must consume large quantities of Ayahuasca? Ayahuasca is a psychedelic. It is a drug. Can the state regulate that? Well, before 2005 they did. However, in December 2004, the Supreme Court lifted a stay thereby allowing the Brazil-based União do Vegetal (UDV) church to use a decoction containing DMT in their Christmas services that year. This decoction is a tea made from boiled leaves and vines, known as hoasca within the UDV, and ayahuasca in different cultures. In Gonzales v. O Centro Espirita Beneficente Uniao do Vegetal, the Supreme Court heard arguments on November 1, 2005 and unanimously ruled in February 2006 that the U.S. federal government must allow the UDV to import and consume the tea for religious ceremonies under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. So, it must be, by Medved’s previous arguments, legal to use drugs as a religious practice… I mean, the sacrosanct Supreme Court said it is, so it must be true, right? Well, obviously this case show that there is a strong similarity -and arguably a possible equivalence amid religious freedom and social action.

What about me wanting to have sex. Suppose that I desire sex, and that my girlfriend just can’t allocate the time for me to engage in this very natural and spiritual act. Suppose that there is some girl that I know (suppose she is a friend) who says that she will give me sex if I give her $500. This $500 compensates her for her time, and expertise (rumor has it that she is really good at giving sex). Is this illegal? Yes, it is illegal (unless you live in Nevada). The real question is: Is it constitutional?

Medved and other conservative parrots want to hold that it is not, or that we would experience mayhem if states could regulate this type of activity on their own -but Nevada does not seem to be falling into some Sodom and Gomorrah state of chaos is it? Moreover, what about the black market? What about the fact that prostitution abounds already, as does drugs and that the simple economic laws of supply and demand make these things more readily available because there is an incentive to do so?

Seriously, where in the constitution does it prohibit a adult female from providing me with sex in exchange for money? Well, it doesn’t. What happened is that some right-wing nut job decided -either by convention or religious ideals- that prostitution is a bad thing and that it is therefore ipso-facto anti-constitutional.

The $500 sex-job that I may get form some girl, is merely an action. The girl freely desires to actualize her rights. She is harming no other person, nor is she causing any type of problem in society. She is merely providing a service. How can that seriously be unconstitutional?

This is where Ron Paul hits a cord with most people (Conservative and Democrats). He is saying that we have become an authoritarian state whose efficiency and productivity, both social and economic, is stuck in a mire of regulations, international affairs, and twisted federal laws. This is why he is very popular among the left-leaning group of Occupy Wall Street folks.

The most interesting thing, here, is that Dr. Paul is consistent in his application of personal freedom; sadly, conservatives tout “free-market” ideals, but when presented with free-market systems that involve acts or products that don’t mix well with the ideas of that God that they invented, or with the words written in some archaic script (that was written by a man), they backpedal like a lumberjack on a log-roll.

Just take a look:

At its rotten (in fact putrefying) core, the Paul logic obliterates the crucial distinction between private, intimate activity and commercial enterprise


So, commercial activity cannot be private? It cannot be intimate? My using this computer to write this post involved a plethora of necessary commercial activities -yet, the act of writing this is private… This idea that commercial activity and private activity are separable, requires that commercial activity be somewhat equivalent to public activity -which is problematic for any conservative who endorses a free-market world view.

Both private and commercial activity are metaphysically and ethically inseparable. Private property and private action are not contingent upon where a good, service, or idea may lay in the economic spectrum (for a man who claims that Atlas Shrugged changed his life, he sure sounds like Wesley Mouch).

Mr. Medved, like all other conservative puppets, cannot seem to separate reason form religion, which is why conservatism is dying in America.

Note: I don’t condone Mr. Medved’s bias, nor do I condemn his inflammatory and twisted logic; Mr. Medved is in the business of making people angry, emotional, and politically charged. He makes money by feeding off the energies of others.

What is it? Poverty and War -An Informal Questionnaire.

When you see the picture above, what do you think? Do you wish that you could give the boy some bread? Maybe a full meal? What about an education, a future? Maybe some healthcare? What drives you to want to help this child? Pity? Empathy? Or, are you just a really nice person? I am curious. Tell me what touches you.

What about this? What do you think of this place? Do you feel the same as the above photo? What solutions do you think would fix this place up? Could we make it more livable, and could it become economically prosperous? I am interested in your solutions.

What about the above image? Terrible right? Are situations like this (i.e. The Holocaust) preventable? Why do they happen? Envy? Hate -if so, where does it come from?

Does this woman deserve her lifestyle? Is this a fair state of affairs? Should she give some of it up (the gold doors maybe?)? Why should she?

Epistemic Risk

People do not wish to engage in discussions involving a lot of “why” questions (i.e. philosophical inquiry), because “why” tends to test their beliefs; and once that happens, people are placed in a curious light of either reprimand or vindication; this is a situation that involves a type of epistemic risk.

Epistemic risk occurs in almost any debate given that each player’s general strategy is either to disprove or protect a position. The execution of the strategy requires that someone loses (I am talking about a discussion amid persons and not some moderated debate; albeit, risk occurs there as well, but not the same type given that the more formal the setting, the more protective barriers exist). I have found, as most do, that political, religious, and economic/philosophical debates seem to produce the most risk. I am fascinated by this because people tend to dismiss such issues as “unimportant” or “pointless” – tend to feel that they do this in an attempt to justify not participating.

I wonder to what extent epistemic risk may be involved in legislative activities, institutional actions, and enterprise?

Just some thoughts.