Wednesday, June 09, 2010


What I've Learned About Political Ideologues from Reading Comments on Blogs

Right wing types, whether Randians, neo-cons, Likudniks or what have you, while they would wince at being labeled sociopathic assholes, have an ideology that justifies the morality of sociopathy and the moral status of assholes (although again, they wouldn't use those terms). On the other hand, there is a certain strain of leftist (and even some not-so-left-wing anti-Zionists) whose political ideologies are ostensibly the antitheses of justifications of sociopathy but who, when it comes down to it, are really just sociopathic assholes.

A lot of right-wingers do outrageous things and we liberal, lefty types accuse them of hypocrisy. But a close reading of what they actually do and say indicates that they really aren't hypocrites at all -- just garden variety jerks with a dangerous amount political influence. On the other hand, when it becomes clear that lefties are being hypocritical, e.g., about their views on Israel, they launch into a de facto defense of hypocrisy. And some liberals wonder why people view liberals as hypocrites?

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The Left, on the other hand, are secular creationists. Take creationism, subtract God, and apply the basic world view to economics and politics, and you get Leftism. Of course, the Leftist replaces God with himself, which is why every Leftist is so arrogant as to believe they are actually capable of knowing everything -- which of course is what is necessary for control of the economy. And this is assuming the best of the Left -- the history of mass murder by the Left is itself telling. Talk about sociopathy! Willful ignorance of history, possibly, or, if not, outright evil, since Leftism has repeatedly been shown to lead to the gulag.

What's the difference between the national socialists and the communists? The communists murdered far more people.

Leftism inevitably leads to oppressive dictatorship. That's sociopathy.
I don't know if I'd say all leftists are "secular creationists" (and certainly not all leftists are "Godless Communists"), but there is a strong element of "Puritanism" in some corners of the left. And by Puritanism, I don't mean that they hate the pleasures of life -- I mean that they believe in a specially saved elect. I have actually blogged about this in the past.

I'm also not sure if the "leftists" who murdered so many people (e.g. in Soviet Russia) were leftists at all, though. Certainly Russian Communism, as Hirschman has pointed out, owes much not only to Marx but also to turn of the century (Southern) Italian reactionary thought.

In short I wouldn't say that leftism is inevitably sociopathic in the end, but a number of leftists, who hide behind a visage of "kumbaya" are really as much selfish bastards as everyone else.
I guess to expand yet some more on my point -- yes, leftism has led to much death and destruction. But so has rightism. And centrism leads to wishy-washy thinking and hand-wringing that can't tell right from wrong because "both sides are sometimes right and both sides are sometimes wrong and the truth lies somewhere in the middle".

So by what should man live? By the beach? (c.f. You Could Live if They'd Let You).

Anyway, thank you for stopping by -- do come again! I do occassionally update my blog. :)
What I mean by secular creationist is that the Left apply the same world view religious creationists use to explain the order of the natural world to the social world. Religious creationists say a central authority is necessary to create the order we see in nature; the Left say a central authority is necessary to create the order we see in, say, the economy. Both reject bottom-up self-organizing evolutionary processes -- they just reject them in different realms is all.

I will say this: Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and see if I'm not right about the Left. I hope I'm not, but fear I am.

The mushy middle, of course, are exactly as you describe. They believe in nothing and, thus, end up falling for everything.
I am not sure if the left-wing critique of "bottom-up self-organizing evolutionary processes" as a way to run an economy necessarily leads to dictatorship (Chavez, IMHO, is yet another example of someone we drove to the dark side via our machinations). Speaking as a biochemist with some background in evolutionary biology, I myself am sceptical of the ability of "bottom-up self-organizing evolutionary processes" to produce a robust economy -- evolution sometimes gets it right, and sometimes gets it wrong (to paraphrase an old joke -- would you run a waste pipeline through a recreational zone? evolution did! and is that really a good outcome?).

I would agree that some leftists (of the Marxist sort -- but not all leftists are Marxists ... not even all the ones about which I am complaining -- although there is a correlation) are equivalent to creationists for the reasons you give. But then those who worship the free market are equivalent to the intelligent design crowd for similar reasons -- both act as if ostensibly evolutionary systems inevitably produce "intelligently designed" results.

Marxist leftists are not the only ones guilty of the creationist heresy (actually I am not sure how much that similarity between Marxism and Creationism has been explored -- but that is a good idea of yours that merits further exploration) in some form. Those who believe in the "invisible hand of the market" are just a hop, skip and a jump away from those who believe in the "invisible hand" of Calvin's God. There is a reason why the "Scottish enlightenment" happened in stereotypically Calvinist Scotland, after all.
Ah, but you see, by definition it does lead to dictatorship, as the one at the top is by definition a dictator in a top-down organization. One can have an "enlightened despot," I suppose -- but there will necessarily have to be a controller with top-down control.

Evolution does indeed produce plenty of robust systems. Every organism is a robust system. That doesn't mean everything is perfect. Hardly. But better than anyone could have designed? How could someone design something as complex as a cell? Even the "artificial life" just created was a hodge-podge of genes nature already invented, using plans already known to work. And it only worked with a simple bacterium -- a eukaryote would be an epigenetic nightmare. We still don't exactly know what all that "junk" DNA does, except that it's not really "junk." (Btw, two years of grad work in molecular biology, B.A. in recombinant gene technology, before I got bored; M.A. in English, Ph.D. in humanities with a dissertation titled "Evolutionary Aesthetics.")

Now, I don't know how much biolgoy gets wrong. There's a certain genius of efficiency in turning the same waste pipeline in men into a recreational zone -- certainly no engineer would have thought of that, or have done it so well. :-) But, again, it's not about perfection. Utopia is not an option. It's a matter of how to best organize complex information. Bottom-up processes have been proven to do that best and most efficiently. It's not perfect, but it is perfecting. It is also a complexifying process. And a growing process. Both are materially beneficial to people.

Now, I would actually equate interventionists with intelligent design. The free market only gives the appearance of design, even though there is not one. The creationist sees design, and expects a designer. The intelligent designer goes, "Well, sure, some of this can arise naturally, but the really complex stuff has to have been designed by someone." So it is the in-between people, the interventionists (of which most of liberals and conservatives in the U.S. actually are), who are more aptly understood as intelligent designers.
It's a matter of how to best organize complex information. Bottom-up processes have been proven to do that best and most efficiently. It's not perfect, but it is perfecting. It is also a complexifying process. And a growing process. Both are materially beneficial to people.

Best for what? Individual organisms? Species? Bio-spheres? "Living creatures"? The Universe? The observer?

Anytime words like "best" creep into a discussion of scientific theory, it makes me shudder. I rather prefer P.G. Wodehouses's favorite trope of having one character consider the foibles of another, which makes the first character reconsider whether humanity is Nature's last word, after all. The assumption is so easily undercut by observation.

Evolution is simply a theory of science that explains change in biology. It doesn't apply to the universe as a whole (rocks and stars don't evolve, they just are. Water doesn't improve with time, it's simply water.), doesn't imply any kind of "progress" or "improvement," and certainly doesn't make self-conscious creatures like homo sapiens Nature's last word. To the extent anything in the universe is "materially beneficial" to people, it is because people are part of the universe, and given the nature of life, without material benefits, people wouldn't have been around long enough to come up with a theory for biological change like evolution.

As for the thoughts below about "anti-Semites" and Narrative #2: I spoke to a Palestinian, a man who'd lived in America most of his adult life, was an M.D., a pathologist in Dallas, Texas, etc., etc. Neither a "terrorist" nor an "anti-Semite," yet he told me the story of how Palestine became Israel, as he was a young boy when it happened. Men with machine guns (and I wondered if one of them was Menachem Begin) came to his father's house, a prosperous jeweler, and gave him 2 hours to pack and leave.

Even landlord/tenant law in Texas, hardly an enlightened beacon of tenant's rights, is kinder than that.

To the extent Israel was formed from that kind of process, was founded in that kind of violence, they have truly sown dragon's teeth and reaped the whirlwind. Not to say violence is justified, or even to argue about who started it. But it ain't necessarily anti-Semitic to regret how the Palestinians were handled ab initio, and to recognize that violence always begets violence.

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Hello and welcome back to my quaint digs, RMJ!

It doesn't apply to the universe as a whole

But if there were multiple universes competing with each other, evolution would apply, but it would start to sound like a Monty Python sketch.

In general, I think the political question about evolution is how good it is as a "design tool". From my perspective as a biochemist -- studying some reactions that are "well-designed" and some that are not -- the results are mixed. But if you think that evolution produces results that are always optimal, then your perspective on "evolutionary systems", including the free-market system and "Social Darwinism" is going to be different than if you think that evolution is more of a mixed bag.

And, as you point out, the big question is "who benefits" -- which is the political question too is it not?


Certainly, pace the claims of some within the Jewish community, not all who hold to Narrative #2 are anti-Semitic. However, I would, as I indicated, be very wary of right-wingers holding to Narrative #2, given its affinities. What bugs me in particular about many on the left vis-a-vis Narrative #2 is that they, even as they claim to be all about the importance of listening to people's narratives, whole-heartedly accept Narrative #2 and completely reject Narrative #1 out of hand. The question is why are some narratives privileged over others. The answer seems, for many Jews, to be anti-Semitism.

The other thing about Narrative #2, of course, is that the reason for its resonance with certain groups of people is a reason that excludes Jews -- that Narrative #2 will resonate with any "native" while we Jews are not "native" anywhere.

Of course, I am also not sure if violence always begets violence. It often does. But did the violent expulsion of Jews from Arab lands beget violence (well maybe it hardened the attitudes of Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews resulting in their support for more right wing politics in Israel than they otherwise, given their socioeconomic status, would have supported -- allowing the Likud to eventually reach a majority -- but that is rather indirect)? Did the expulsion of German speakers from the Sudetenland beget violence? What about the expulsion of the Karelian Finns?

In many cases violence begets violence. In some cases, however, it does not. So who is to blame for the violence begotten by violence -- the original violator? (and how do you know "who started it" anyway?) If so, then is it fair that some original violators get off the hook easily because, for reasons that they did not control, their violence did not beget violence?
Talk about reading too much into something. Please note what I said bottom-up self-organizing complex networks do best (vs. every other kind of system): process information. If the universe is a information-processor, and one can equate wealth with an increase in information (vs. information's opposite: entropy), then this suggests that an economy similarly structured would best process information. It thus solves various knowledge problems inherent in any sort of top-down organization. To say that a certain organizational strucutre best processes information is an objective statement, not a qualitiative one.
I am not sure if bottom-up networks are always the best approach to process information: oftentimes they are, sometimes they are not. Certainly, "the market" does a highly imperfect job of processing information -- although whether any other economic approach can do better is a matter of debate. Although it is, in a sense "an objective" statement -- i.e. to say that markets do the best job of processing information is a falsifiable statement: you can quantify how well information is processed and then look for a system, if any exists, that does a better job than do markets.

Of course, it's because the statement is "scientific" (e.g. falsifiable) that it is not a matter of "creationist-like" faith but also that it can never be known for certain whether it is false -- maybe markets are the best, maybe we just haven't found anything better.

I guess you could make a wealth=information equivalence, but there is information not only in wealth but also its distribution. Of course, especially in a free market context, that distribution would tend to have as little information as possible, which seems to occur when wealth distributions follow a Pareto distribution -- which, btw, is a completely unfair distribution of wealth that characterizes a stagnant and even feudal economy. Economies at such equilibria really cannot grow as there is no mass market for innovations.

Of course, conservatives, like Pareto himself, would declare such a distribution inevitable and claim that any intervention to perturb the distribution of wealth is futile. Progressives, OTOH, generally want to perturb this distribution away from equilibrium for reasons of both fairness and to promote economic growth. Historically, we have had the greatest periods of economic growth when government policies have been in place perturbing the distribution of wealth away from its equilibrium. Of course whether this is correlation or causation is debatable.

Interestingly, Hirschman has linked the conservative thinking of Pareto and Mosca to the formation of Lenin's world-view. So I am not sure how far away even "bottom down" economic thinking is from Communism.
So far as we can tell, it is the way the universe has consistently discovered to process extremely high amounts of information most efficiently. I will also note that such systems/networks are always far-from-equilibrium systems, so any equilibrium theories are not applicable to understanding complex, self-organizing systems. Equilibrium does in fact lead one logically to socialism/communism. So equilibrium theories are not in fact bottom-up theories. Pareto may lead to communism, but Hayek and Mises do not.

Wealth, by the way, cannot be redistributed. Riches can. But when you redistribute riches, you destroy wealth. The dissipation of information is entropy. There is thus an inverse relationship between progressivist "fairness" and the creation of wealth. Of course, it's better to be poor in a wealth-generating spontaneous order economy than it is to be anyone in an economy where everything is distributed "fairly" -- which inevitably means that it is distrubted according to the designs of some individual or group with ultimate power. Heaven help you if you fall afoul of them. "He who does not work shall not eat" becomes "He who does not obey shall not eat" under progressivism.
I will also note that such systems/networks are always far-from-equilibrium systems, so any equilibrium theories are not applicable to understanding complex, self-organizing systems. - Troy Camplain

This is very true. The problem is that all the economic theory (at least at the Econ 101 level) that used to justify free-market theory in the popular sphere is based on the idea of markets at least reaching local equilibria rather quickly.

I am sure that at least some professional economists know better, but at least in popularized eocnomics, there is a rather un-addressed tension between seeming truth that an economy must always grow otherwise we're screwed and a theoretical framework supposedly for promoting said growth that is based 100% on the behavior of economic systems at equilibria.

Part of the issue is that many economists are, in a case of physics envy, wont to cast their theories as mathematical dynamical systems, but they really don't have an appreciation for the underlying math or what said math means when it's applied to physical systems.
But when you redistribute riches, you destroy wealth. The dissipation of information is entropy. There is thus an inverse relationship between progressivist "fairness" and the creation of wealth. - Troy Camplain

I don't know if this is necessarily true. The maximum entropy distribution for wealth, AFAIK, seems to be the Pareto distribution. Thus, re-distribution of wealth actually adds information to the system (of course the question is "what kind of information is added to the system?" -- if someone or something or some agency is re-distributing wealth, the information they are adding is not necessarily good information -- it could be a list of political cronies to whom to distribute wealth!). Certainly an economy where only the rich have wealth (which is the state toward which economies, left unfettered, tend) is a very fragile economy as its base is only the few rich people who can afford to participate.

Self-organizing systems are generally far more robust, but as you point out, they are also non-equilibrium systems. Life happens on earth because of the constant input of energy from the sun that perturbs the ecosystem from equilibrium (except at deep sea vents where the input is from geological processes that will take billions of years to reach equilibrium). In order to have one of those robust, self-organizing systems, don't you need similar perturbation from outside forces to maintain the system away from equilibrium?

Of course, this is all theorizing. We can't do many controlled experiments in macro-economics. But we can look (of course we can never fully distinguish correlation from causation or know the direction of causation -- and even if we discover some kind of causation, we never can know if a government intervention could really replicate the causation discovered) historically at what works to build economies and what doesn't. And what seems to correlate to economic growth and prosperity includes tarrifs (most industrialized econonomies, including our own, did so behind a wall of tarrifs), a distribution of wealth perturbed from equilibrium (often by government action of breaking up large, feudal estates) and generally Keynesian economic management.

What is the record for neo-liberal economic prescriptions that force countries to do the opposite of what nations historically have done to grow economies? What is the record for Hayek's or von Mises' ideas?

If you look at some broad-based measure of prosperity (e.g. how well the lower-middle portion of the middle class is doing and how many people are at least in the bottom edge of the middle class), you can't do much better than, e.g., the US in the 1950s when Keynesian policies ruled the day. Pace your remarks, it seems that people tend to do best in economies where tax policy, etc., are actively working to redistribute riches and create a broad-based, non-equilibrium wealth distribution that allows as many people to fully participate in the economy as possible creating a robust and growing economic system.
There is little question that there is physics envy among the classical economists -- who, by the way, all do in fact believe in equilibria. The Austrian economists do not, and it is on this point in particular that the classical economists tend to ridicule the Austrians.

When we are talking about equilibria, we are talking several within an economy (not the economy as a whole reaching it, which makes no sense as a complex system). But if we take any given good, the price of that good cannot reach equilibrum precisely because of changes in demand for various reasons that may have little to do with the good itself, because there are often changes in production practices that change costs, and because alternatives are often invented. At a high enough price, more firms produce that good, driving prices back down -- price equilibrium cannot be achieved in a dynamic market economy, precisely because there are so many external factors at play. It makes little sense to talk about equilibrium in "the economy" as "the economy" is a bit of a fiction, is it not?
Now I certainly agree that "information" is added to the system when there is redistribution, but the real question is: information about what? Not all information is beneficial. The evidence more than suggests that in regards to the information known as wealth, riches redistribution destroys that information. But it does create a lot of other information regarding the benefits of free riding, political power to be gained through such exercises, political cronies, as you pointed out, etc. Now, I could not disagree with you more that unfettered economies tend toward only the rich having wealth. The evidence is strongly against such a contention. In fact, the more "egalitarian" the economy, the more likely it is that a few have a lot of money (those with the power of redistribution), while almost everyone else is poor. In an unfettered free market, you have creative destruction, meaning those at the top will often fimd themselves at least midways down, or even at the bottom, while others move up. It's a very dynamic situation. Monopolies are not the outcome of truly free markets, but of controlled markets, where particular companies are given benefits others aren't given. Benig pro-market isn't the same as being pro-business. I'm as much against governments benefitting businesses and the rich as I am redistribution. In mixed economies, we see more of a tendency toward the problems you point out. Those aren't features of free markets.

The constant input into the economy certainly doesn't have to come from government (and it almost never does), but rather comes from individual creativity, various resources, the culture, etc. There are plenty of other systems which can help provide input into the economy. Entrepreneurship is one of the strongest drivers -- and it comes from the creative mental system of the entrepreneur, who may invent new things or new ways of doing things for a lot of reasons, even if the end result is the person ending up wealthy because of it. The things you list as perturbations do perturb, but more often than not they send the system out of a good basin of attraction and into a poorer (less shallow) one. Just because there was a positive correlation between tarriffs and economic development doesn't mean that there is a causal connection. The economies in question could (and likely would) have grown even faster without them. The Smoot-Hawley Tarriff in fact was one of the primary causes of the Great Depression. Keynesean economic management gave us the stagflation of the 1970s.

A few places that tried neo-liberal economics were Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, and Hong Kong (pre-Chinese rule). The Japanese tried Keynesean policies, and ended up with the lost decade of the 1990s. Keynesean policies are currently being tried in the U.S. -- with no beneficial results to speak of. (The unemployment rate did go down, but that was becasue of temporary census workers being hired -- who will all lose their jobs after the census is over -- and people not being counted because they have stopped looking for work, even though they don't have jobs.)
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