This is a really good talk. But it’s also Jordan Peterson, so that’s no surprise.
“It is well enough that people of the nation do not understand our banking and money system, for if they did, I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.”
Murray Rothbard – The Case for a 100 Percent Gold Dollar. (I’ll try to remember adding more Murray pieces after I finish them).
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I can’t recommend enough that people study economics. It has taken over my life, for the better. It is the ultimate red pill. Governments make sense when you study economics (if you’re studying the right places). It makes revolutions all the more understandable, and is truly frightening in making you realize that, very likely, you may be involved in a revolutionary war in your life time, or a political prisoner, or subjected to the whims of your “rulers”, whatever they may be. “Constitutional protections” are flimsy when the rulers just……….you know, ignore them. The ultimate answer is an education. That is truly profound. The battle between good and evil never ultimately ceases. We just, thankfully, get some breaks from it every now and then. Peace, of course, is preferable. But smart people know that evil people won’t hesitate to use evil to achieve their means. It is crucial that people be willing to accept their natural right to defend themselves.
It is already known that the Enlightenment changed the world. And such a relatively short period of time ago. But as government gets more and more involved in education, these truths become lost. We mustn’t let the little kiddies ever believe that they have a “right” to ever disobey us. This is why the warning bells have been signaled ever since America’s FOUNDING. The debate over the structure of the government. Thankfully, America was founded upon a rebellion against tyranny. The Enlightenment changed the world. Americans are the products of the Enlightenment. It truly makes one want to study world history, and see if America really was the first “free land”. Ireland, apparently, was “free” for a millennium. That’s astounding. History is full of revolutions. Now, more than ever, I am interested in studying world history. I finally no longer have my fingers in my ears while I sing “Our God is an awesome God” every time the subject of world history comes to my attention. The same for other subjects as well (thank God).
Many Americans have a “Revere” spirit. We still remember why America became a nation. And at least some of us still understand that this is always relevant. “Revolution” is not simply “historical”. It is always an option. Many Americans understand this, but sadly, more and more refuse to accept this truth. More and more, people become less skeptical of “leaders”. They refuse to believe that America could ever become, say, a North Korea. That type of attitude whittles away the revolutionary spirit that founded the nation. It is a very scary trend. The reason economics is so crucial to this cause is because people will ask, for example, what happened in 2008? Why did I lose everything? They look for answers. Their political leaders always offer them the solutions. And many of them listen, and believe the leaders. Even the most elementary glance at history shows the ultimate “conclusion” of government control. Americans are skeptical of this. “Wait a minute: weren’t we founded on a rebellion against government? Wasn’t that what the Enlightenment was all about? Something fishy is going on here. What am I missing?” The answer is economics.
……….Of course, educating oneself in other areas would help as well. I’m getting around to educating myself on world history. Currently, I’m too involved with economics to do both. You have to have a structure when learning. That, really, comes down to the individual student.
Ideological conflict is human nature. Us humans were given life on this planet, without a say so in the matter, and we live. Our very existence is a conflict. Within our existence, there exists “nature”. This “nature” provides us with things we need to live (air, water, etc.), and also things that can kill us (air, water, (hurricanes, etc.) etc.). This troubles me. It is often said that those things which one cannot change should not be the cause of stress, because there is nothing one can do about those things. But it is precisely the fact that I cannot do something about a thing which bothers me the most. Realizing the constant state of conflict in the world wears on my soul. It wears on all of our souls. It will always wear on all of our souls. We will be given breaks for indefinite amounts of time. But it will always wear on our souls. And that fact wears on mine.
I truly should be thankful for those times in which I live in the moment. In some ways, I think it is almost impossible not to be. Almost instinctively, we say the phrase “I am thankful.” There are often situations which are so great to us that we feel compelled to say thank you. The phrase “I am thankful” itself signifies gratitude, so there is an inherent gratitude that overwhelms us whenever we are thankful. It is in those exact moments that we are freed from the conflicts that we otherwise cannot escape.
I suppose this is a good time to bring up a specific conflict that I’ve had in mind. Quite simply, the conflict amounts to these two separate ideas: 1) that our wants do matter, and 2) that our wants do not matter. Among these, there, of course, branch off several different beliefs attached to each of these ideas.
I will approach the second idea first. The idea that our wants do not matter. This can be approached from several different standpoints. There is a religious standpoint (particularly self-defined as “Christian”) in which our wants do not matter because there is a “higher” purpose. This “higher purpose” is “God”. And I don’t want to discuss fully the idea of what “God” is in this sense, because that would take me forever to do so (and I probably would not be sufficient at doing so, anyway). The idea basically comes down to a few things: that we are sinners, and that we deserve to be punished. That we should punish ourselves for our own sin so that when we die, we may be rewarded. And it attempts to identify what is a sin (what should be avoided) and what isn’t, and, every single time, it creates anger, resentment, confusion, depression, guilt, and hopelessness upon the person weighing his own sins. His time is to be preoccupied with these emotions, and happiness just doesn’t fit into the equation. In fact, “happiness” means he is enjoying his sin. His flesh (including his mind that isn’t preoccupied with Heaven and Hell) will lead him to a path of eternal damnation; an eternal pain and suffering caused by an everlasting fire. But some mysterious spirituality residing in specific buildings will help him when he dies, say, 40 years from now. Constant guilt and beating oneself up for one’s whole life will show God that one is, in fact, holy, and worthy of being saved. The key to avoiding Hell when one dies is to not allow yourself to escape from thinking about it while here on Earth. That, in a nutshell, is the gist of the idea. It doesn’t make any sense to me (anymore), but that’s the idea.
There is also a standpoint with regards to the philosophy that our wants do not matter from a “depressed”, “defeatist” attitude. The idea that life itself does not care about our wants, because our wants are so often devastated, often horrifically, by things outside of our control. A lot of scientists and atheists take this approach. In the case of science, this “defeatist” attitude often comes from a lack of repeatable evidence. This isn’t always true, but it happens enough for there to be a noticeable “tendency”. The idea that life was an accident of nature. That everything was “just right” for life to come into existence, but without a purpose for coming into existence. The “Descartesian” approach: that reality is perceived through the senses, so all realities must be measurable by the senses in order for something to truly be a reality (even though he admits he’s a Christian in his writings. In college, my professor brought it up that he probably would’ve been tried for heresy if he hadn’t have admitted such, so that makes me “doubt” (haha) whether or not he truly identified as a Christian). “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
“Beliefs” cannot be seen, smelled, heard (from an outside source; they originate from “within”, and then can be talked (and, therefore, “heard”)), tasted, or touched. They are something separate from “the senses”. It is evident that beliefs are separate from the senses as someone can deny (through, say, shock) something that is seen in front of them, heard over the phone, etc. “Faith” is something that transcends the senses. It doesn’t have to be called “religious faith”.
Take, for instance, the case of a loved one dying in the hospital. No one wants to believe that the loved one is going to die. They know it is either possible or likely, but they still hope that the person lives. Knowing that they are likely to die is different than believing they are likely to die. Hope transcends the senses. Optimism, in this case, transcends the senses. The belief that the loved one will recover is an essential emotional tool. You can’t see, smell, taste, hear, or touch the recovery that you hope to happen, but truly believing that someone isn’t going to pull through is very difficult emotionally. People believe the loved one is going to make it through because it makes them feel better. There’s certainly a lot of scoffing at the idea that one would ignore a reality just because it makes one “feel” better. I’m included among these “scoffers”. But belief is an essential emotional tool for us humans. Optimism, hope, belief, and faith are essential. What makes one optimistic, or why one is hopeful, believes, etc., is up for debate. But the most obvious answer is that it makes one feel better, and this, by itself, does not disprove anything. The fact that one is hopeful that the loved one lives does not disprove that the loved one is going to live (of course, this goes without saying, that hope does not prove that the loved one will pull through, either). Hope, faith, etc. are things which cannot be measured, and are truths that exist separately from realities that are perceived through the senses. So, in conclusion, if the creation of life itself has no “purpose”, and our existence has no “purpose”, then why would our happiness have any “purpose”? If life was a happy accident, why can’t happiness be a happy accident? Why should we treat it as anything more than a “fortunate accident”? This, I think, explains, on at least some level, the noticeable depression among many “atheistic/scientific” types. This is one “atheistic/scientific” approach to “wants”. (There are, of course, atheists who believe that “purpose” is whatever we ascribe to our realities, and they aren’t particularly nihilistic. But the nihilistic atheists are worth mentioning). I should mention that I went through my own atheistic period, just to make sure the reader understands that I am not critiquing atheism because I was raised religiously and accept what I was taught uncritically.
The temperatures of space and the sun can be measured. The infinite majority of the universe is uninhabitable. There are searches for hospitable planets in the depths of space, but for every chance there may be a planet where life could exist, there are countless examples of places in space where life almost certainly cannot exist. If you very deeply value the idea of there being life outside of Earth, this fact, of course, will produce depression inherently. If you don’t care about whether or not there exists life outside of the Earth, this will not bother you. It is a matter of differences in personal values.
There are other “types” that believe that our desires to not matter from a philosophical standpoint. Unfortunate life circumstances have a tendency to make one extremely pessimistic and depressed. This will, of course, make one believe that the world doesn’t care. And that perspective certainly makes sense. “If God loves us, why does He allow for war, famine, and disease to happen?” I personally find that to be a very poignant question. A lot of Christians run from that question, for fear of angering God and suffering His wrath. But how can anyone not ask that question? It’s a very valid question. When it comes to matters of spirituality, I believe that honesty is always the best policy. Opening up your soul to The Great Beyond is always important and therapeutic. It is important to believe that one is able to do this. You can’t have peace spiritually if you are afraid. Comfort requires peace, and quiet, and poignant honesty. Admitting that you have problems with something. We, as humans, should not avoid the nature of our brains when we discuss spirituality. We can’t run from ourselves. It only makes us more miserable than we were when we first started running. And if God loves us, as Christians preach, why can’t we ask Him tough questions? Why can’t we say we have problems with Him? Why can’t we be angry at Him? Jesus Christ is said to have been God in human form. Human. It is said that we were made in God’s image. We, as humans, were made in God’s image. What does “image” mean, exactly? Well, perhaps the way we look is a part of it. I don’t know what “God” looks like, but Jesus was a human. I think it’s more than just cosmetics, however. The Bible makes it clear that God can both love and hate. Can’t we also love and hate? Of course we can. I think this is also what is meant by being made in “His image”.
So if there is, according to Christian doctrine, a strong connection between humanity and God, let’s think about some specific instances of relationships between humans. Let’s take loved ones for example. Can we not get angry at loved ones? We still love our loved ones. But can’t we get angry? Can’t we forgive our loved ones when we believe they have wronged us? I have to believe that these are also what is meant by us being made in God’s image: sharing some of His characteristics. That He can get angry at us, but also forgive us. That makes sense to me. I can’t comprehend completely the level of, say, His anger, or His forgiveness, but I can accept that He can “experience” both.
The atheists and Christians come together in their resentment of human choice. Speaking broadly, of course, the atheists’ nihilism leads people to believe that their actions have no significant influence, and the Christians’ condemnation leads people to believe that their desires are evil. Both of these stifle action. And action, of course, is driven by desire. Both the atheists and the conservatives are about creating misery. The sad thing is that they spend so much time fighting each other that they can’t see that, in that respect, they’re the same. “It doesn’t matter what you want because God isn’t real and life has no meaning and we’re all going to die” is, of course, an extremely similar message to “It doesn’t matter what you want because what you want is going to lead you to an eternity of suffering after you die.” Notice the similarity? (Hint: it isn’t just the fact that “in the long run, we’re all dead”).
This attitude of “it doesn’t matter what you want” extends beyond any religious/spiritual spheres. It’s common even among non-religious discussions. Of course, the basic fact is “You can’t always get what you want.” But there’s a certain attitude that comes with this reality that I rather despise. It, similarly, amounts to “It doesn’t matter what you desire”, which is ridiculous. Much like the hospital example I gave earlier. Does the fact that a loved one is almost certain to die mean that I should just “Get over what I want”? This attitude is extremely pervasive; not about loved ones, but desire in general. You can be that way if you wish, but I find it disgusting and repulsive.
Once again, I think this largely has to do with unfortunate life circumstances. Perhaps there’s an underlying depression that manifests itself through anger among those that so proudly declare to dreamers that “It doesn’t matter what you want” when the listener of those words is deciding upon which course of action to take in the common course of his life. It’s usually very hateful, which is a red flag to me. I’m not against hate completely, as there are many things that I “hate”. But the way that I so often hear “It doesn’t matter what you want” raises a red flag to me. It has for a very long time. I had this attitude for most of my childhood simply by observing my parents. I watched them leave for work everyday, and complain about it every single day. Of course, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this. But, to my child mind, I wanted something different (my parents certainly had a lot to do with planting this seed in my head in other, more intentional ways, as well). I grew up basically expecting that adulthood was going to suck, and that I’d never experience happiness again after childhood. It’s interesting, because that perspective influenced me in other regards as well. It basically became my overall demeanor for a long time.
It goes without saying, but several different things have affected my perspective. Religion affected my perspective; my mother abandoning me affected my perspective. The most embarrassing thing which affected my perspective in childhood was porn. I consumed porn as a child that affected my perspectives about women. Apparently, looking back on it, I must’ve been reading some dominatrix porn. At the time, I didn’t know anything about “kinks” or “normal human relationships”, so I thought this was just the way that women treated men. It made me resent them. Hey, it’s embarrassing. But honesty is therapeutic to me. (I must include that in addition to this porn, religion severely affected my perspectives about women. It made me hate the fact that they made me feel “sinful” things, and made me resent them because of it. Once again, it’s embarrassing. I already know what is going to be said: “Wow, sounds like Ed Gein.” Go ahead and get that out of your system. I know you’ll feel better for hating me). But the type of porn I discovered, along with religious guilt about sexuality in general, made me want to stay as far away from women as possible. Even to this day, I do not particularly desire women. It’s no surprise why. I realize that will make many readers angry, but hey. Therapy is good.
Also, as is the case with many, if not all people, you have crushes during your childhood that lead to absolutely nothing. And it continues through your teenage years. If it happens frequently enough, and you’re emotionally sensitive enough (as I was), you put your guard up. All of these facts lead up to why I don’t particularly enjoy dating, nor sex. I try to avoid attractive women because I don’t even want the thoughts to enter my mind. I’m developing a healthier attitude towards sex due to the way my life philosophies have changed regarding happiness, but the idea of being in a relationship does not interest me in the least. Casual sex doesn’t either, honestly. Friendships, of course, are fine: provided that I don’t get too physically or romantically attracted to the friend. Then, that just leads to more complicated feelings that I wish I could rid myself of. (I should also mention that my desire to be alone also originates just from my natural demeanor, without being influenced by “outside forces”. I just naturally enjoy my alone time).
It is quite unbelievable how long I spent trying to run away from my emotions about women. Trying to run away from physical attractiveness in particular. It doesn’t surprise me that it happened, but I can’t believe how long it has taken me to say “Uh, that’s just dumb.” I’m basically having to teach myself that sexuality is ok, and that’s a really bad thing to have to do. That should be taught from the beginning. I don’t recall exactly who “taught” me otherwise (I really don’t think it was my parents. I remember them speaking to me about condoms, and I was so overwhelmed with embarrassment that I tuned them out. I think it was pastors on the radio, or something. It’s crazy how one sermon can completely change your life forever. For the worse, even). Emotional sensitivity, shyness, dominatrix literature and conservative preaching have all been factors towards my feelings about women. I don’t hate women. Women are human beings. I know this. But I prefer to be alone and guarded. I know this will change with time, but it doesn’t really bother me that I am this way. It bothers me that people are going to think the worst of me based on what I’ve said, but it doesn’t matter what you do or say, you’re always going to have people that think you are an evil person. It’s just how it is. I’ll concede that I am a stupid person, but, hopefully, you understand why I’m a stupid person. I’m working on it, slowly but surely, and a large key to this is going to be my “happiness” philosophy. I’m having to retrain myself that my wants actually matter. That my wants aren’t “evil”. And I just don’t want romance. I’m also still hesitant about being sexually attracted to women, but there’s just some things that you can’t help. THERE TRULY ARE SOME THINGS THAT YOU JUST HAVE TO “ACCEPT”. Once again, I know you’ll think I’m weird, and that’s acceptable. Because I am weird. I just hope you understand where I’m coming from, and can maybe empathize with me, is all.
So, slowly but surely, I’m learning that wants (especially sexual) are not inherently evil. Physical attraction is not evil. It makes me uncomfortable, but it isn’t evil. I can see how trust is important when it comes to relationships. Learning that trust, love, etc. are important to relationships does not occur in the way that learning to fear God through the Ten Commandments happens. A major problem I have had is hearing basic facts about the world and judging them through this “Ten Commandments” logic. “Is this sinful, or is this not? I’m going to judge this to the fullest extent of holiness to see if it stacks up to God’s plan.” Basically, it is the idea of treating, say, the fact that love is built on trust to mean that you must trust anyone you have any attraction to at any time or else you are an ethical failure with regards to trust, and I guess that means you’re going to be punished for not trusting. This, of course, is a result of being taught that lust (a.k.a., sexual desire) is unholy unless you are married to the person you sexually desire. So it isn’t surprising to believe that you must develop an intimate relationship with anyone you physically desire, but it’s excruciatingly tragic. You push your warped logic to its extreme end. Most of us are aware of “conservative crazies”, but sadly, too many of us are those “conservative crazies”. It’s really stupid and depressing. There’s many of us that understand what warped conservative ideologies say, and, thankfully, many people that are critical of it. The amount of times that I treated being attracted to a girl to mean that I had to date her is physically repulsive to me. Shitty conservative ideas: “lust” (looking at a woman with sexual attraction with no intention of “marrying” her) should be avoided at all costs, you should ask God for forgiveness, masturbating is a sin, yadda yadda yadda. It truly is emotional child torture. It is so weird how, over the course of your life, people can affect you for the worst. Some people make your life better, others make it worse. Just another inescapable fucking reality of being here on Earth.
Interestingly enough, in addition to me being a fucking retard about women, I’m also a doormat. When I was younger, I made sure not to step on anyone’s toes, and this came at the expense of me asserting myself pretty much at all. You want to date me? Sure, why not. It doesn’t matter what I want: I exist to make other people happy, because that’s a holy thing to do. Showing that I “care for others” as God commands. Jesus fucking Christ: when have I not been stupid? Time after time after time, I dated a girl simply because she wanted to, when I had no interest in doing so whatsoever. Because I’m just a pushover that couldn’t assert myself. Of course, I doubted myself because of perceived “peer pressure”: “Everyone else is fucking, man! Why don’t you care about dating?” Finally, after several years of emotionally tormenting myself, I accepted that I just wasn’t interested. I was still physically attracted (and emotionally attracted a few times), but not interested. That was a huge, great first step for me. Asserting myself. Defending myself is the next step I see, but there is a value in ignoring criticisms, whether they be just or not, and entering your own bubble. That’s blasphemous to those who aren’t being widely criticized, but privacy and solitude are beautiful blessings indeed.
The final step, at least thus far, towards my “accepting happiness as a valuable, worthy goal” philosophy was tackling religion on a different front. Not the religious ideas that I’ve already mentioned in this piece, but ideas that I’ve mentioned before in other pieces. I reached a breaking point as far as money and God were concerned. The conflict between making money on the one hand (thus, avoiding God, in my mind) or choosing God and remaining in poverty on the other proved to be my breaking point (the dichotomy, of course, existing because “this world is sinful”, etc.). By a miracle, I finally accepted that the two ideas were not mutually exclusive: they were not incompatible. The misery I experienced in my youth regarding my parents being miserable with their jobs was gone. I always ran from my desire for money by saying “Well, if my parents don’t like making it, why should I make it?” “If money is the root of all evil, why shouldn’t I avoid it?” “If CEOs are greedy, horrible people, why would I want money?” Then, of course, when I actually needed money, I faced a huge contradiction. Thankfully, this was resolved for me by realizing that I can choose both. A truly revolutionary idea that has basically zero traction in common discussion, which goes: Either we should focus on God and not care about money (because of “greed”) or we should abandon God altogether. I have not seen many connect the two dots. I have not seen many say that one can be wealthy and be a Christian. Often Biblical verses are cited to prove that one cannot be both simultaneously, but I’d have to be skeptical of this analysis from several points. On the one hand, why should poverty be something to be “helped” if wealth is also a bad thing? In other words, how can poverty and wealth both be conditions undesirable to God? What other “state” is there? Middle class? Is there a specific amount of money that God will allow? That seems ludicrous to me. Let’s say I start out at this “specific” amount of money that makes me “holy”. If I buy something, I’m “below” that monetary amount. Likewise, if I sell something, I’m “above” it. Is the amount which determines “holiness” dependent upon money, or materials? How exactly is this “value” to be measured? Once again, I consider the whole idea of God demanding a “specific” amount of money to be a Christian a ludicrous idea. I also consider the idea of there being a holy “range” of money to be just as ludicrous.
Many interpret the Bible to mean that Christ hated wealth itself. As I’ve been studying economics for quite some time now, I find this to be absurd. I have learned that wealth is created through common, beneficiary exchange. Why would God dislike humans working together to become happier? Still yet, others may say it is the wealth disparity that God hated. Once again, I don’t think this would be the case. On the free market, wealth is created through voluntary exchange, whereby individuals trade because they believe to be better off. Those that are wealthy have traded more valuable things to more people, and thus, have increased the happiness of all of those involved in the trading (of course, there is such a thing as “buyer’s remorse” and “seller’s remorse”, but one buys or sells when one believes one will be better off, more satisfied, when he or she buys or sells). Why would God be upset with the traders if they are benefiting the people around them more so than the poor? (Of course, many will say that, for example, those with disabilities can’t trade as much with others, if, in fact, at all, and thus, are at an economic advantage. Surely God cares about the disabled, correct? The argument I’m making isn’t that God hates the poor because they are poor, but that He doesn’t hate the wealthy just because they are wealthy. I don’t think He hates the wealthy simply because the poor exist. I don’t think God is a Socialist (I don’t think He has ever been accused of being an egalitarian in hardly any sense: He’s been condemned for being a “favoritist” more often)). Certainly I don’t think it is wealth that God has a problem with. I’m sure he has problems with how wealth is created (I don’t see how God can issue a commandment “Thou shalt not steal” but be ok with stealing from the rich to give to the poor (it is a commandment, afterall). But what about the murder commandment? What about “just holy wars” where people die? What about self-defense? All valid questions that I don’t have answers to), but I don’t think there is a problem with wealth per se. Wealth can do great things to people. One has to be wealthy in order to donate wealth to others. In other words, you can’t donate unless you have. Why would having be evil, while giving be praised? Once again, I think the whole idea is ludicrous. And even if a rich person spends their money “selfishly”, other people are still getting paid. Whatever the rich person buys is being given to the people involved in getting the product (or service) to the rich person, whether it be producing, distributing, storing, or whatever. The whole idea that God hates wealth is nonsense. Why would Heaven be described with “streets of gold” if gold (a symbol of wealth) is this inherently evil thing? I don’t think God is displeased with us humans because, within the past several centuries, wealth has been created for humanity on a scale never before created in humanity’s history. (This makes me think of conservatives, who lament at “the good old days”, back before people were “Godless”). I can’t believe that God has a problem with the free market, and that He has a problem with wealth. Of course, it is easy to compare the rich to the poor, but the fact that all money that is spent helps out somebody is a reality that should be understood. Whether a rich person gives it to another rich person that owns a business and employs people and gives customers goods and/or services, or gives it to a charity to help children born with life-threatening conditions, it should be understood that his wealth helps whomever he gives it to. (It should be noted that there would be no money to give to charities without profit). I do not think this means that God has a problem with saving (“hoarding”), because saving simply exists for future consumption. Everyone knows that it is dumb to, for example, be buried with your money after you die. I think that is part of the problem with wealth that God may have: stuff that is already obvious to us. I think the fact that it is obvious to us is evident that God would have a problem with it (the “human connection” between God and man).
My life changed forever on that day when I realized that God and money were not completely incompatible. I desired to learn about what money actually was, and I’ve been studying economics ever since. I’ve also, largely thanks to my best friend, been developing a “happiness” philosophy. I enjoy introspection, and unraveling why I am how I am. I’m always going to do this with my writing. This, typically, is done in retrospect. But now, I actually have a philosophy to anticipate developing in the future. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a time in my life where I actually looked forward to the future (pun unintended), at least long-term. It’s really overwhelming: I’m not quite sure what to do at times. I feel like a dog that has been abused, who, thanks to a very loving owner, wags his tail violently and jumps and runs around uncontrollably simply due to glee and relief. I love listening to my best friend talk about religion. He has taught me a lot, and I owe him a lot. His personal battles, past and present, are interesting to me, and I’m interested in seeing how God develops us over time. What will our similarities within the faith be, and what will be the differences, as I’m sure there will be? I’m very interested in finding that out.
I, also briefly, would like to mention something else regarding to my past sensitivities, morality, etc., and that is the idea of debating. I don’t really believe I was taught this, but it has just always been a natural disposition of mine. When I was younger, I never liked it when people “debated”. I hated arguments (even harmless ones), and I didn’t like loud noises. I never liked gregariousness (which explains why I spent so much time alone, away from, for example, my father). Of course, you learn, change, and grow over time. People help influence you, and I’m clearly different than I was as a child (God, I would hope so). But now, I dislike debating for other reasons. I won’t mention them all here: I’ll save them for other pieces. Change always makes me wonder why in the fuck I was ever the original way in the first place, but, at least if the change is clearly for the better, I can be thankful that it, at least, happened at all.
I’ve been influenced for the better; I’ve been influenced for the worse. I guess I’m just a human being.
I certainly understand the idea that “you can’t always get what you want”. But what I don’t understand about people who so proudly declare that “it doesn’t matter what you want” with so much sass is that everything we do is an attempt to satiate some desire that we have. What we desire drives our actions. I don’t understand why this isn’t widely believed, or, at the very least, why it isn’t widely disseminated. I am indebted to various economists I have read over the past several years for the revelation that “human beings use means to achieve ends”. This, of course, means that humans desire. Desire is what drives all economic activity: the desire to live, and to live how one wants to the best of his abilities, doing the best he can for himself because he desires what he considers to be in his best interest. So, in other words, all of those miserable people who, so proudly, declare that it doesn’t matter what you want, are, essentially, driven by their own wants. Once again, I don’t know why this isn’t widely accepted and disseminated. The conservatives want to go to Heaven, and the best way they can see to do this is by condemning the “sinful” world around them (sadly). Atheists, I suppose, want to learn sensible truths, or, at the very least, want to avoid the negativity that often comes with being religiously conservative, and want to call out those who make others purposefully feel like shit, even if for a “higher purpose”. Of course, there’s countless motivations and reasons for what people do, but the point is that they are driven by intrinsic desire to obtain their goals, and they take actions in an attempt to satisfy these goals for themselves. This, in the words of Mises’s magnum opus, is “Human Action”.
I personally refuse to accept that what I personally desire isn’t valuable: that it is a “waste of time”. I certainly reject the proposition from a Christian standpoint, which, ultimately, I believe, is the “life” standpoint. As a Christian, I refuse to believe that God loves and cares about me, but somehow doesn’t care about my happiness. Once again, if I said I care about, say, my best friend, but didn’t care about his level of happiness, can I really say that I care about him? Sure, I can rationalize and try to be “moral” and “preachy” and tell him all the reasons why what makes him happy is wrong. But the idea that being happy itself is wrong is, quite simply, just wrong to me. Incorrect.
Because, as I have said, I don’t desire debating, I’d rather not go into too much detail into what it is that I want. As I’ve said, I know I’ll get a billion different reasons as to why I shouldn’t want what I want, or why I’ll never get it, etc. etc. Of course, I write about what I want all the time, but I want to defend wanting itself in this piece.
Despite the fact it will always be the case that I will never be completely satisfied always, this does not mean that there is something wrong with wanting in general. I sincerely hope more people discuss this (I’m probably just looking in the wrong places) and understand that every thing we do is an attempt to satisfy some want. I hope more people will become more comfortable with expressing and accepting their honest feelings about wanting. While I certainly understand the phrase “You can’t always get what you want”, I reject the notion that what I want doesn’t matter. I implore everyone else to believe the same thing for themselves.
And people trying to tell you that what you want doesn’t matter or is impossible to achieve will only make the satisfaction of that desire all the more sweet. (Let’s say that what you want is impossible to achieve, and you finally realize this, and change course of action. …Who cares? Who should be the one to decide when one should change course of direction, and to which direction?) That’s a gigantic motivation for me, personally. I want to prove people wrong that say I’m never going to succeed at what I want to succeed at. More than anything. Almost more than the success itself. “What do you possibly have to offer to the world, Cody?” Let’s just wait and find out, shall we?
Life is a learning process because we aren’t omniscient. Our wills drive us. Our entire lives will be battles between satisfying our desires and the desires of others, and not satisfying our desires nor the desires of others. Human interrelations are so complex that it is seemingly impossible to discuss all of its nuances. Sometimes, we do good, and other times, we do evil. Sometimes, we helplessly make things worse, while other times, we do good accidentally. I don’t really have any good way of explaining why things are the way they are between us all. I’d be highly skeptical of the one that says he does have a good way of explaining it. When you get right down to it, ultimately, the answer to the question “Why?” does seem to come down to: “It just is.” But we should all ask “Why?” as often as we are comfortable with asking, and, for me, that’s quite a bit. Why are many people content with not doing so? Who knows. “They just are.” But if they proclaim, from a deeply philosophical sense, that my wants (or anyone else’s wants, for that matter) simply don’t matter, they are wrong from multiple standpoints. In my opinion, they are taking the easy way out because they themselves are miserable, and that’s the great tragedy behind all of this. I may not know why some men commit heinous evils while others do not, but I can be thankful that I don’t want to commit evil, and I can be thankful for the others that feel that way as well. I am thankful that we don’t all want to be evil, even though, inevitably, it will slip out from all of us, from time to time, to varying degrees. That’s the best I can hope for while I’m alive: that our evil doesn’t destroy us too much. That remains to be seen, but I’m hopeful. Of course, I’m not in a gulag, so that’s easy for me to say now. If I were, I probably wouldn’t be as hopeful. But, in the long run, maybe that’s all we have: hope. Because we want good, even when we create bad. (I reserve the right to be pessimistic, especially for comedic purposes).
Left-liberal intellectuals are often a wondrous group to behold. In the last three or four decades, not a long time in human history, they have, like whirling dervishes, let loose a series of angry complaints against free-market capitalism. The curious thing is that each of these complaints has been contradictory to one or more of their predecessors. But contradictory complaints by liberal intellectuals do not seem to faze them or serve to abate their petulance – even though it is often the very same intellectuals who are reversing themselves so rapidly. And these reversals seem to make no dent whatever in their self-righteousness or in the self-confidence of their position.
Let us consider the record of recent decades:
1. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, the liberal intellectuals came to the conclusion that capitalism was suffering from inevitable “secular stagnation,” a stagnation imposed by the slowing down of population growth, the end of the old Western frontier, and by the supposed fact that no further inventions were possible. All this spelled eternal stagnation, permanent mass unemployment, and therefore the need for socialism, or thoroughgoing State planning, to replace free-market capitalism. This on the threshold of the greatest boom in American history!
2. During the 1950s, despite the great boom in postwar America, the liberal intellectuals kept raising their sights; the cult of “economic growth” now entered the scene. To be sure, capitalism was growing, but it was not growing fast enough. Therefore free-market capitalism must be abandoned, and socialism or government intervention must step in and force-feed the economy, must build investments and compel greater saving in order to maximize the rate of growth, even if we don’t want to grow that fast. Conservative economists such as Colin Clark attacked this liberal program as “growthmanship.”
3. Suddenly, John Kenneth Galbraith entered the liberal scene with his best-selling The Affluent Society in 1958. And just as suddenly, the liberal intellectuals reversed their indictments. The trouble with capitalism, it now appeared, was that it had grown too much; we were no longer stagnant, but too well off, and man had lost his spirituality amidst supermarkets and automobile tail fins. What was necessary, then, was for government to step in, either in massive intervention or as socialism, and tax the consumers heavily in order to reduce their bloated affluence.
4. The cult of excess affluence had its day, to be superseded by a contradictory worry about poverty, stimulated by Michael Harrington’s The Other America in 1962. Suddenly, the problem with America was not excessive affluence, but increasing and grinding poverty – and, once again, the solution was for the government to step in, plan mightily, and tax the wealthy in order to lift up the poor. And so we had the War on Poverty for several years.
5. Stagnation; deficient growth; overaffluence; overpoverty; the intellectual fashions changed like ladies’ hemlines. Then, in 1964, the happily short-lived Ad Hoc Committee on the Triple Revolution issued its then-famous manifesto, which brought us and the liberal intellectuals full circle. For two or three frenetic years we were regaled with the idea that America’s problem was not stagnation but the exact reverse: in a few short years all of America’s production facilities would be automated and cybernated, incomes and production would be enormous and super-abundant, but everyone would be automated out of a job. Once again, free-market capitalism would lead to permanent mass unemployment, which could only be remedied – you guess it! – by massive State intervention or by outright socialism. For several years, in the mid-1960s, we thus suffered from what was justly named the “Automation Hysteria.”1
¹ Ironically, the conservative economist Dr. George Terborgh, who had written the major refutation of the stagnation thesis a generation earlier (The Bogey of Economic Maturity ), now wrote the leading refutation of the new wave, The Automation Hysteria (1966).
6. By the late 1960s it was clear to everyone that the automation hysterics had been dead wrong, that automation was proceeding at no faster a pace than old-fashioned “mechanization” and indeed that the 1969 recession was causing a falling off in the rate of increase of productivity. One hears no more about automation dangers nowadays; we are now in the seventh phase of liberal economic flip-flops.
7. Affluence is again excessive, and, in the name of conservation, ecology, and the increasing scarcity of resources, free-market capitalism is growing much too fast. State planning, or socialism, must, of course, step in to abolish all growth and bring about a zero-growth society and economy – in order to avoid negative growth, or retrogression, sometime in the future! We are now back to a super-Galbraithian position, to which has been added scientific jargon about effluents, ecology, and “spaceship earth,” as well as a bitter assault on technology itself as being an evil polluter. Capitalism has brought about technology, growth – including population growth, industry, and pollution – and government is supposed to step in and eradicate these evils.
It is not at all unusual, in fact, to find the same people now holding a contradictory blend of positions 5 and 7 and maintaining at one and the same time that (a) we are living in a “post-scarcity” age where we no longer need private property, capitalism, or material incentives to production; and (b) that capitalist greed is depleting our resources and bringing about an imminent worldwide scarcity. The liberal answer to both, or indeed to all, of these problems turns out, of course, to be the same: socialism or state planning to replace free-market capitalism. The great economist Joseph Schumpeter put the whole shoddy performance of liberal intellectuals into a nutshell a generation ago: “Capitalism stands its trial before judges who have the sentence of death in their pockets. They are going to pass it, whatever the defense they may hear; the only success victorious defense can possibly produce is a change in the indictment.”² And so, the charges, the indictments, may change and contradict previous charges – but the answer is always and wearily the same.
² Joseph A. Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (New York: Harper & Bros., 1942), p. 144.
The Attack on Technology and Growth
The fashionable attack on growth and affluence is palpably an attack by comfortable, contented upper-class liberals. Enjoying a material contentment and a living standard undreamt of by even the wealthiest men of the past, it is easy for upper-class liberals to sneer at “materialism,” and to call for a freeze on all further economic advance.³ For the mass of the world’s population still living in squalor such a cry for the cessation of growth is truly obscene; but even in the United States, there is little evidence of satiety and superabundance. Even the upper-class liberals themselves have not been conspicuous for making a bonfire of their salary checks as a contribution to their war on “materialism” and affluence.
³ Cf. the interpretation in William Tucker, “Environmentalism and the Leisure Class,” Harper’s (December 1977), pp. 49-56, 73-80.
Fortunately, black groups are beginning to understand the significance of liberal anti-growth ideology. In January 1978, the board of directors of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People opposed President Carter’s energy program and called for the deregulation of oil and natural gas prices. Explaining the NAACP’s new position, chairman of the board Margaret Bush Wilson declared:
“We are concerned about the slow growth policy of President Carter’s energy plan. The issue is what kind of energy policy will lend itself to. . . a viable expansive economy, one that is not restrictive, because under slow growth blacks suffer more than anyone else.”
Paul Delaney, “NAACP in Major Dispute on Energy View,” New York Times (January 30, 1978).
The widespread attack on technology is even more irresponsible. If technology were to be rolled back to the “tribe” and to the preindustrial era, the result would be mass starvation and death on a universal scale. The vast majority of the world’s population is dependent for its very survival on modern technology and industry. The North American continent was able to accommodate approximately one million Indians in the days before Columbus, all living on a subsistence level. It is now able to accommodate several hundred million people, all living at an infinitely higher living standard – and the reason is modern technology and industry. Abolish the latter and we will abolish the people as well. For all one knows, to our fanatical antipopulationists this “solution” to the population question may be a good thing, but for the great majority of us, this would be a draconian “final solution” indeed.
The irresponsible attack on technology is another liberal flip-flop: it comes from the same liberal intellectuals who, thirty-odd years ago, were denouncing capitalism for not putting modern technology to full use in the service of State planning and were calling for absolute rule by a modern “technocratic” elite. Yet now the very same intellectuals who not so long ago were yearning for a technocratic dictatorship over all of our lives are now trying to deprive us of the vital fruits of technology itself.
Yet the various contradictory phases of liberal thought never completely die; and many of the same antitechnologists, in a 180-degree reversal of the automation hysteria, are also confidently forecasting technological stagnation from now on. They cheerily predict a gloomy future for mankind by assuming that technology will stagnate, and not continue to improve and accelerate. This is the technique of pseudoscientific forecasting of the widely touted antigrowth Club of Rome Report. As Passell, Roberts, and Ross write in their critique of the report, “If the telephone company were restricted to turn-of-the-century technology 20 million operators would be needed to handle today’s volume of calls. Or, as British editor Norman Macrae has observed, “an extrapolation of the trends of the 1880s would show today’s cities buried under horse manure.”4
4 D. Meadows, et al., The Limits to Growth (New York: Universe Books, 1972); P. Passell, M. Roberts, and L. Ross, “Review of The Limits to Growth,” New York Times Book Review (April 2, 1972), p. 10.
While the team’s [Club of Rome’s] model hypothesizes exponential growth for industrial and agricultural needs, it places arbitrary, nonexponential, limits on the technical progress that might accommodate these needs. . . .
The Rev. Thomas Malthus made a similar point two centuries ago without benefit of computer printouts. . . . Malthus argued that people tend to multiply exponentially, while the food supply at best increases at a constant rate. He expected that starvation and war would periodically redress the balance. . . .
But there is no particular criterion beyond myopia on which to base that speculation. Malthus was wrong; food capacity has kept up with population. While no one knows for certain, technological progress shows no sign of slowing down. The best econometric estimates suggest that it is indeed growing exponentially.5
5 Passell, Roberts, and Ross, op. cit., p. 12.
What we need is more economic growth, not less; more and better technology, and not the impossible and absurd attempt to scrap technology and return to the primitive tribe. Improved technology and greater capital investment will lead to higher living standards for all and provide greater material comforts, as well as the leisure to pursue and enjoy the “spiritual” side of life. There is precious little culture or civilization available for people who must work long hours to eke out a subsistence living. The real problem is that productive capital investment is being siphoned off by taxes, restrictions, and government contracts for unproductive and wasteful government expenditures, including military and space boondoggling. Furthermore, the precious technical resource of scientists and engineers is being ever more intensively diverted to government, instead of to “civilian” consumer production. What we need is for government to get out of the way, remove its incubus of taxation and expenditures from the economy, and allow productive and technical resources once again to devote themselves fully to increasing the well-being of the mass of consumers. We need growth, higher living standards, and a technology and capital equipment that meet consumer wants and demands; but we can only achieve these by removing the incubus of statism and allowing the energies of all the population to express themselves in the free-market economy. We need an economic and technological growth that emerges freely, as Jane Jacobs has shown, from the free-market economy, and not the distortions and wastes imposed upon the world economy from the liberal force-feeding of the 1950s. We need, in short, a truly free-market, libertarian economy.
Conservation of Resources
As we have mentioned, the selfsame liberals who claim that we have entered the “postscarcity” age and are in no further need of economic growth, are in the forefront of the complaint that “capitalist greed” is destroying our scarce natural resources. The gloom-and-doom soothsayers of the Club of Rome, for example, by simply extrapolating current trends of resource use, confidently predict the exhaustion of vital raw materials within forty years. But confident – and completely faulty – predictions of exhaustion of raw materials have been made countless times in recent centuries.
What the soothsayers have overlooked is the vital role that the free-market economic mechanism plays in conserving, and adding to, natural resources. Let us consider, for example, a typical copper mine. Why has copper ore not been exhausted long before now by the inexorable demands of our industrial civilization? Why is it that copper miners, once they have found and opened a vein of ore, do not mine all the copper immediately; why, instead, do they conserve the copper mine, add to it, and extract the copper gradually, from year to year? Because the mine owners realize that, for example, if they triple this year’s production of copper they may indeed triple this year’s income, but they will also be depleting the mine, and therefore the future income they will be able to derive from it. On the market, this loss of future income is immediately reflected in the monetary value – the price – of the mine as a whole. This monetary value, reflected in the selling price of the mine, and then of individual shares of mining stock, is based on the expected future income to be earned from the production of copper; any depletion of the mine, then, will lower the value of the mine and hence the price of the mining stock. Every mine owner, then, has to weigh the advantages of immediate income from copper production against the loss in the “capital value” of the mine as a whole, and hence against the loss in the value of his shares.
The mine owners’ decisions are determined by their expectations of future copper yields and demands, the existing and expected rates of interest, etc. Suppose, for example, that copper is expected to be rendered obsolete in a few years by a new synthetic metal. In that case, copper mine owners will rush to produce more copper now when it is more highly valued, and save less for the future when it will have little value – thereby benefiting the consumers and the economy as a whole by producing copper now when it is more intensely needed. But, on the other hand, if a copper shortage is expected in the future, mine owners will produce less now and wait to produce more later when copper prices are higher – thereby benefiting society by producing more in the future when it will be needed more intensely. Thus, we see that the market economy contains a marvelous built-in mechanism whereby the decisions of resource owners on present as against future production will benefit not only their own income and wealth, but the mass of consumers and the economy as a whole.
But there is much more to this free-market mechanism: Suppose that a growing shortage of copper is now expected in the future. The result is that more copper will be withheld now and saved for future production. The price of copper now will rise. The increase in copper prices will have several “conserving” effects. In the first place, the higher price of copper is a signal to the users of copper that it is scarcer and more expensive; the copper users will then conserve the use of this more expensive metal. They will use less copper, substituting cheaper metals or plastics; and copper will be conserved more fully and saved for those uses for which there is no satisfactory substitute. Moreover, the greater cost of copper will stimulate (a) a rush to find new copper ores; and (b) a search for less expensive substitutes, perhaps by new technological discoveries. Higher prices for copper will also stimulate campaigns for saving and recycling the metal. The price mechanism of the free market is precisely the reason that copper, and other natural resources, have not disappeared long ago. As Passell, Roberts, and Ross say in their critique of the Club of Rome:
Natural resource reserves and needs in the model are calculated [in]. . . the absence of prices as a variable in the “Limits” projection of how resources will be used. In the real world, rising prices act as an economic signal to conserve scarce resources, providing incentives to use cheaper materials in their place, stimulating research efforts on new ways to save on resource inputs, and making renewed exploration attempts more profitable.6
6 Passell, Roberts, and Ross, op. cit., p. 12.
In fact, in contrast to the gloom-and-doomers, raw material and natural resource prices have remained low, and have generally declined relative to other prices. To liberal and Marxist intellectuals, this is usually a sign of capitalist “exploitation” of the underdeveloped countries which are often the producers of the raw materials. But it is a sign of something completely different, of the fact that natural resources have not been growing scarcer but more abundant; hence their relatively lower cost. The development of cheap substitutes, e.g., plastics, synthetic fibres, has kept natural resources cheap and abundant. And in a few decades we can expect that modern technology will develop a remarkably cheap source of energy – nuclear fusion – a development which will automatically yield a great abundance of raw materials for the work that will be needed.
The development of synthetic materials and of cheaper energy highlights a vital aspect of modern technology the doom-sayers overlook: that technology and industrial production create resources which had never existed as effective resources. For example, before the development of the kerosene lamp and especially the automobile, petroleum was not a resource but an unwanted waste, a giant black “weed.” It was only the development of modern industry that converted petroleum into a useful resource. Furthermore, modern technology, through improved geological techniques and through the incentives of the market, has been finding new petroleum reserves at a rapid rate.
Predictions of imminent exhaustion of resources, as we have noted, are nothing new. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt, calling a Governors’ Conference on natural resources, warned of their “imminent exhaustion.” At the same conference, steel industrialist Andrew Carnegie predicted the exhaustion of the Lake Superior iron range by 1940, while railroad magnate James J. Hill forecast the exhaustion of much of our timber resources in ten years. Not only that: Hill even predicted an imminent shortage of wheat production in the United States, in a country where we are still grappling with the wheat surpluses generated by our farm subsidy program. Current forecasts of doom are made on the same basis: a grievous underweighting of the prospects of modern technology and an ignorance of the workings of the market economy.7
7 On these mistaken forecasts, see Thomas B. Noln, “The Inexhaustible Resource of Technology,” in H. Jarrett, ed., Perspectives on Conservation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1958), pp. 49-66.
It is true that several particular natural resources have suffered, in the past and now, from depletion. But in each case the reason has not been “capitalist greed”; on the contrary, the reason has been the failure of government to allow private property in the resource – in short, a failure to pursue the logic of private property far enough.
One example has been timber resources. In the American West and in Canada, most of the forests are owned, not by private owners but by the federal (or provincial) government. The government then leases their use to private timber companies. In short, private property is permitted only in the annual use of the resource, but not in the forest, the resource, itself. In this situation, the private timber company does not own the capital value, and therefore does not have to worry about depletion of the resource itself. The timber company has no economic incentive to conserve the resource, replant trees, etc. Its only incentive is to cut as many trees as quickly as possible, since there is no economic value to the timber company in maintaining the capital value of the forest. In Europe, where private ownership of forests is far more common, there is little complaint of destruction of timber resources. For wherever private property is allowed in the forest itself, it is to the benefit of the owner to preserve and restore tree growth while he is cutting timber, so as to avoid depletion of the forest’s capital value.8
8 On timber, and on conservation generally, see Anthony Scott, Natural Resources: The Economics of Conservation (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1955), pp. 121-25 and passim.
On ways in which the federal government itself has been destroying rather than conserving timber resources, from highway building to the indiscriminate dams and other projects of the Army Corps of Engineers, see Edwin G. Dolan, TANSTAAFL (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1971), p. 96.
Thus, in the United States, a major culprit has been the Forest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which owns forests and leases annual rights to cut timber, with resulting devastation of the trees. In contrast, private forests such as those owned by large lumber firms like Georgia-Pacific and U.S. Plywood scientifically cut and reforest their trees in order to maintain their future supply.9
9 See Robert Poole, Jr., “Reason and Ecology,” in D. James, ed., Outside, Looking In (New York: Harper & Row, 1972), pp. 250-51.
Another unhappy consequence of the American government’s failure to allow private property in a resource was the destruction of the Western grasslands in the late nineteenth century. Every viewer of “Western” movies is familiar with the mystique of the “open range” and the often violent “wars” among cattlemen, sheepmen, and farmers over parcels of ranch land. The “open range” was the failure of the federal government to apply the policy of homesteading to the changed conditions of the drier climate west of the Mississippi. In the East, the 160 acres granted free to homesteading farmers on government land constituted a viable technological unit for farming in a wetter climate. But in the dry climate of the West, no successful cattle or sheep ranch could be organized on a mere 160 acres. But the federal government refused to expand the 160-acre unit to allow the “homesteading” of larger cattle ranches. Hence, the “open range,” on which private cattle and sheep owners were able to roam unchecked on government-owned pasture land. But this meant that no one owned the pasture, the land itself; it was therefore to the economic advantage of every cattle or sheep owner to graze the land and use up the grass as quickly as possible, otherwise the grass would be grazed by some other sheep or cattle owner. The result of this tragically shortsighted refusal to allow private property in grazing land itself was an overgrazing of the land, the ruining of the grassland by grazing too early in the season, and the failure of anyone to restore or replant the grass – anyone who bothered to restore the grass would have had to look on helplessly while someone else grazed his cattle or sheep. Hence the overgrazing of the West, and the onset of the “dust bowl.” Hence also the illegal attempts by numerous cattlemen, farmers, and sheepmen to take the law into their own hands and fence off the land into private property – and the range wars that often followed.
Professor Samuel P. Hays, in his authoritative account of the conservation movement in America, writes of the range problem:
Much of the Western livestock industry depended for its forage upon the “open” range, owned by the federal government, but free for anyone to use. . . . Congress had never provided legislation regulating grazing or permitting stockmen to acquire range lands. Cattle and sheepmen roamed the public domain. . . . Cattlemen fenced range for their exclusive use, but competitors cut the wire. Resorting to force and violence, sheepherders and cowboys “solved” their disputes over grazing lands by slaughtering rival livestock and murdering rival stockmen. . . . Absence of the most elementary institutions of property law created confusion, bitterness, and destruction.
Amid this turmoil the public range rapidly deteriorated. Originally plentiful and lush, the forage supply was subjected to intense pressure by the increasing use. . . . The public domain became stocked with more animals than the range could support. Since each stockman feared that others would beat him to the available forage, he grazed early in the year and did not permit the young grass to mature and reseed. Under such conditions the quality and quantity of available forage rapidly decreased; vigorous perennials gave way to annuals and annuals to weeds.10
10 Samuel P. Hays, Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959), pp. 50-51. See also E. Louise Peffer, The Closing of the Public Domain (Stanford: Standord University Press, 1951), pp. 22-31, and passim.
Hays concludes that public-domain range lands may have been depleted by over two-thirds by this process, as compared to their virgin condition.
There is a vitally important area in which the absence of private property in the resource has been and is causing, not only depletion of resources, but also a complete failure to develop vast potential resources. This is the potentially enormously productive ocean resource. The oceans are in the international public domain, i.e., no person, company, or even national government is allowed property rights in parts of the ocean. As a result, the oceans have remained in the same primitive state as was the land in the precivilized days before the development of agriculture. The way of production for primitive man was “hunting-and-gathering”: the hunting of wild animals and the gathering of fruits, berries, nuts, and wild seeds and vegetables. Primitive man worked passively within his environment instead of acting to transform it; hence he just lived off the land without attempting to remould it. As a result, the land was unproductive, and only a relatively few tribesmen could exist at a bare subsistence level. It was only with the development of agriculture, the farming of the soil, and the transformation of the land through farming that productivity and living standards could take giant leaps forward. And it was only with agriculture that civilization could begin. But to permit the development of agriculture there had to be private property rights, first in the fields and crops, and then in the land itself.
With respect to the ocean, however, we are still in the primitive, unproductive hunting and gathering stage. Anyone can capture fish in the ocean, or extract its resources, but only on the run, only as hunters and gatherers. No one can farm the ocean, no one can engage in aquaculture. In this way we are deprived of the use of the immense fish and mineral resources of the seas. For example, if anyone tried to farm the sea and to increase the productivity of the fisheries by fertilizers, he would immediately be deprived of the fruits of his efforts because he could not keep other fishermen from rushing in and seizing his fish. And so no one tries to fertilize the oceans as the land is fertilized. Furthermore, there is no economic incentive – in fact, there is every disincentive – for anyone to engage in technological research in the ways and means of improving the productivity of the fisheries, or in extracting the mineral resources of the oceans. There will only be such incentive when property rights in parts of the ocean are as fully allowed as property rights in the land. Even now there is a simple but effective technique that could be used for increasing fish productivity: parts of the ocean could be fenced off electronically, and through this readily available electronic fencing, fish could be segregated by size. By preventing big fish from eating smaller fish, the production of fish could be increased enormously. And if private property in parts of the ocean were permitted, a vast flowering of aquaculture would create and multiply ocean resources in numerous ways we cannot now even foresee.
National governments have tried vainly to cope with the problem of fish depletion by placing irrational and uneconomic restrictions on the total size of the catch, or on the length of the allowable season. In the cases of salmon, tuna, and halibut, technological methods of fishing have thereby been kept primitive and unproductive by unduly shortening the season and injuring the quality of the catch and by stimulating overproduction – and underuse during the year – of the fishing fleets. And of course such government restrictions do nothing at all to stimulate the growth of aquaculture. As Professors North and Miller write:
Fishermen are poor because they are forced to use inefficient equipment and to fish only a small fraction of the time [by the government regulations] and of course there are far too many of them. The consumer pays a much higher price for red salmon than would be necessary if efficient methods were used. Despite the ever-growing intertwining bonds of regulations, the preservation of the salmon run is still not assured.
The root of the problem lies in the current non-ownership arrangement. It is not in the interests of any individual fisherman to concern himself with the perpetuation of the salmon run. Quite the contrary: It is rather in his interests to catch as many fish as he can during the season.11
11 Douglass C. North and Roger LeRoy Miller, The Economics of Public Issues (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), p. 107.
In contrast, North and Miller point out that private property rights in the ocean, under which the owner would use the least costly and most efficient technology and preserve and make productive the resource itself, is now more feasible than ever: “The invention of modern electronic sensing equipment has now made the policing of large bodies of water relatively cheap and easy.”12
12 Ibid., p. 108. Also see James A. Crutchfield and Giulio Pontecorvo, The Pacific Salmon Fisheries: A Study of Irrational Conservation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1969). On a similar situation in the tuna industry, see Francis T. Christy, Jr., “New Dimensions for Transnational Marine Resources,” American Economic Review, Papers and Proceedings (May 1970), p. 112; and on the Pacific halibut industry, see James A. Crutchfield and Arnold Zellner, Economic Aspects of the Pacific halibut Industry (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, 1961). For an imaginative proposal for private property its parts of the ocean even before the advent of electronic fencing, see Gordon Tullock, The Fisheries – Some Radical Proposals (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Bureau of Business and Economic Research, 1962).
The growing international conflicts over parts of the ocean only further highlight the importance of private property rights in this vital area. For as the United States and other nations assert their sovereignty 200 miles from their shores, and as private companies and governments squabble over areas of the ocean; and as trawlers, fishing nets, oil drillers, and mineral diggers war over the same areas of the ocean – property rights become increasingly and patently more important. As Francis Christy writes:
… coal is mined in shafts below the sea floor, oil is drilled from platforms fixed to the bottom rising above the water, minerals can be dredged from the surface of the ocean bed. . . sedentary animals are scraped from the bed on which telephone cables may lie, bottom feeding animals are caught in traps or trawls, mid-water species may be taken by hook and line or by trawls which occasionally interfere with submarines, surface species are taken by net and harpoon, and the surface itself is used for shipping as well as the vessels engaged in extracting resources.13
13 Christy, loc. cit., p. 112.
This growing conflict leads Christy to predict that “the seas are in a stage of transition. They are moving from a condition in which property rights are almost nonexistent to a condition in which property rights of some form will become appropriated or made available.” Eventually, concludes Christy, “as the sea’s resources become more valuable, exclusive rights will be acquired.”14
14 Ibid., pp. 112-113. For a definitive discussion, economic, technological, and legal, of the entire problem of the ocean and ocean fisheries, see Francis I. Christy, Jr., and Anthony Scott, The Common Wealth in Ocean Fisheries (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1965).
All right: Even if we concede that full private property in resources and the free market will conserve and create resources, and do it far better than government regulation, what of the problem of pollution? Wouldn’t we be suffering aggravated pollution from unchecked “capitalist greed”?
There is, first of all, this stark empirical fact: Government ownership, even socialism, has proved to be no solution to the problem of pollution. Even the most starry-eyed proponents of government planning concede that the poisoning of Lake Baikal in the Soviet Union is a monument to heedless industrial pollution of a valuable natural resource. But there is far more to the problem than that. Note, for example, the two crucial areas in which pollution has become an important problem: the air and the waterways, particularly the rivers. But these are precisely two of the vital areas in society in which private property has not been permitted to function.
First, the rivers. The rivers, and the oceans too, are generally owned by the government; private property, certainly complete private property, has not been permitted in the water. In essence, then, government owns the rivers. But government ownership is not true ownership, because the government officials, while able to control the resource cannot themselves reap their capital value on the market. Government officials cannot sell the rivers or sell stock in them. Hence, they have no economic incentive to preserve the purity and values of the rivers. Rivers are, then, in the economic sense, “unowned”; therefore government officials have permitted their corruption and pollution. Anyone has been able to dump polluting garbage and wastes in the waters. But consider what would happen if private firms were able to own the rivers and the lakes. If a private firm owned Lake Erie, for example, then anyone dumping garbage in the lake would be promptly sued in the courts for their aggression against private property and would be forced by the courts to pay damages and to cease and desist from any further aggression. Thus, only private property rights will insure an end to pollution-invasion of resources. Only because the rivers are unowned is there no owner to rise up and defend his precious resource from attack. If, in contrast, anyone should dump garbage or pollutants into a lake which is privately owned (as are many smaller lakes), he would not be permitted to do so for very long – the owner would come roaring to its defense.15 Professor Dolan writes:
With a General Motors owning the Mississippi River, you can be sure that stiff effluent charges would be assessed on industries and municipalities along its banks, and that the water would be kept clean enough to maximize revenues from leases granted to firms seeking rights to drinking water, recreation, and commercial fishing.16
15 Existing “appropriation” law in the Western states already provides the basis for full “homesteading” private property rights in the rivers. For a full discussion, see Jack Hirshleifer, James C. DeHaven, and Jerome W. Milliman, Water Supply; Economics, Technology, and Policy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), Chapter IX.
16 Edwin G. Dolan, “Capitalism and the Environment,” Individualist (March 1971), p. 3.
If government as owner has allowed the pollution of the rivers, government has also been the single major active polluter, especially in its role as municipal sewage disposer. There already exist low-cost chemical toilets which can burn off sewage without polluting air, ground, or water; but who will invest in chemical toilets when local governments will dispose of sewage free to their customers?
This example points up a problem similar to the case of the stunting of aquaculture technology by the absence of private property: if governments as owners of the rivers permit pollution of the water, then industrial technology will – and has – become a water-polluting technology. If production processes are allowed to pollute the rivers unchecked by their owners, then that is the sort of production technology we will have.
If the problem of water pollution can be cured by private property rights in water, how about air pollution? How can libertarians possibly come up with a solution for this grievous problem? Surely, there can’t be private property in the air? But the answer is: yes, there can. We have already seen how radio and TV frequencies can be privately owned. So could channels for airlines. Commercial airline routes, for example, could be privately owned; there is no need for a Civil Aeronautics Board to parcel out – and restrict – routes between various cities. But in the case of air pollution we are dealing not so much with private property in the air as with protecting private property in one’s lungs, fields, and orchards. The vital fact about air pollution is that the polluter sends unwanted and unbidden pollutants – from smoke to nuclear radiation to sulfur oxides – through the air and into the lungs of innocent victims, as well as onto their material property. All such emanations which injure person or property constitute aggression against the private property of the victims. Air pollution, after all, is just as much aggression as committing arson against another’s property or injuring him physically. Air pollution that injures others is aggression pure and simple. The major function of government – of course and police – is to stop aggression; instead, the government has failed in this task and has failed grievously to exercise its defense function against air pollution.
It is important to realize that this failure has not been a question purely of ignorance, a simple time lag between recognizing a new technological problem and facing up to it. For if some of the modern pollutants have only recently become known, factory smoke and many of its bad effects have been known ever since the Industrial Revolution, known to the extent that the American courts, during the late – and as far back as the early – nineteenth century made the deliberate decision to allow property rights to be violated by industrial smoke. To do so, the courts had to – and did – systematically change and weaken the defenses of property right embedded in Anglo-Saxon common law. Before the mid and late nineteenth century, any injurious air pollution was considered a tort, a nuisance against which the victim could sue for damages and against which he could take out an injunction to cease and desist from any further invasion of his property rights. But during the nineteenth century, the courts systematically altered the law of negligence and the law of nuisance to permit any air pollution which was not unusually greater than any similar manufacturing firm, one that was not more extensive than the customary practice of fellow polluters.
As factories began to arise and emit smoke, blighting the orchards of neighboring farmers, the farmers would take the manufacturers to court, asking for damages and injunctions against further invasion of their property. But the judges said, in effect, “Sorry. We know that industrial smoke (i.e., air pollution) invades and interferes with your property rights. But there is something more important than mere property rights: and that is public policy, the ‘common good.’ And the common good decrees that industry is a good thing, industrial progress is a good thing, and therefore your mere private property rights must be overridden on behalf of the general welfare.” And now all of us are paying the bitter price for this overriding of private property, in the form of lung disease and countless other ailments. And all for the “common good”!17
17 See E. F. Roberts, “Plead the Ninth Amendment!” Natural history (August-September 1970), pp. 18ff. For a definitive history and analysis of the change in the legal system toward growth and property rights in the first half of the nineteenth century, see Morton J. Horwitz, The Transformation of American Law, 1780-1860 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977).
That this principle has guided the courts during the air age as well may be seen by a decision of the Ohio courts in Antonik v. Chamberlain (1947). The residents of a suburban area near Akron sued to enjoin the defendants from operating a privately owned airport. The grounds were invasion of property rights through excessive noise. Refusing the injunction, the court declared:
In our business of judging in this case, while sitting as a court of equity, we must not only weigh the conflict of interests between the airport owner and the nearby landowners, but we must further recognize the public policy of the generation in which we live. We must recognize that the establishment of an airport. . . is of great concern to the public, and if such and airport is abated, or its establishment prevented, the consequences will be not only a serious injury to the owner of the port property but may be a serious loss of a valuable asset to the entire community.18
18 Quoted in Milton Katz, The Function of Tort Liability in Technology Assessment (Cambridge: Harvard University Program on Technology and Society, 1969), p. 610.
To cap the crimes of the judges, legislatures, federal and state, moved in to cement the aggression by prohibiting victims of air pollution from engaging in “class action” suits against polluters. Obviously, if a factory pollutes the atmosphere of a city where there are tens of thousands of victims, it is impractical for each victim to sue to collect his particular damages from the polluter (although an injunction could be used effectively by one small victim). The common law, therefore, recognizes the validity of “class action” suits, in which one or a few victims can sue the aggressor not only on their own behalf, but on behalf of the entire class of similar victims. But the legislatures systematically outlawed such class action suits in pollution cases. For this reason, a victim may successfully sue a polluter who injures him individually, in a one-to-one “private nuisance” suit. But he is prohibited by law from acting against a mass polluter who is injuring a large number of people in a given area! As Frank Bubb writes, “It is as if the government were to tell you that it will (attempt to) protect you from a thief who steals only from you, but it will not protect you if the thief also steals from everyone else in the neighborhood. . .”19
19 Frank Bubb, “The Cure for Air Pollution,” The Libertarian Forum (April 15, 1970)
1. Also see Dolan, TANSTAAFL, pp. 37-39.
Noise, too, is a form of air pollution. Noise is the creation of sound waves which go through the air and then bombard and invade the property and persons of others. Only recently have physicians begun to investigate the damaging effects of noise on the human physiology. Again, a libertarian legal system would permit damage and class action suits and injunctions against excessive and damaging noise: against “noise pollution.”
The remedy against air pollution is therefore crystal clear, and it has nothing to do with multibillion-dollar palliative government programs at the expense of the taxpayers which do not even meet the real issue. The remedy is simply for the courts to return to their function of defending person and property rights against invasion, and therefore to enjoin anyone from injecting pollutants into the air. But what of the propollution defenders of industrial progress? And what of the increased costs that would have to be borne by the consumer? And what of our present polluting technology?
The argument that such an injunctive prohibition against pollution would add to the costs of industrial production is as reprehensible as the pre-Civil War argument that the abolition of slavery would add to the costs of growing cotton, and that therefore abolition, however morally correct, was “impractical.” For this means that the polluters are able to impose all of the high costs of pollution upon those whose lungs and property rights they have been allowed to invade with impunity.
Furthermore, the cost and technology argument overlooks the vital fact that if air pollution is allowed to proceed with impunity, there continues to be no economic incentive to develop a technology that will not pollute. On the contrary, the incentive would continue to cut, as it has for a century, precisely the other way. Suppose, for example, that in the days when automobiles and trucks were first being used, the courts had ruled as follows: “Ordinarily, we would be opposed to trucks invading people’s lawns as an invasion of private property, and we would insist that trucks confine themselves to the roads, regardless of traffic ingestion. But trucks are vitally important to the public welfare, and therefore we decree that trucks should be allowed to cross any lawns they wish provided they believe that this would ease their traffic problems.” If the courts had ruled in this way, then we would now have a transportation system in which lawns would be systematically desecrated by trucks. And any attempt to stop this would be decried in the name of modern transportation needs! The point is that this is precisely the way that the courts ruled on air pollution – pollution which is far more damaging to all of us than trampling on lawns. In this way, the government gave the green light, from the very start, to a polluting technology. It is no wonder then that this is precisely the kind of technology we have. The only remedy is to force the polluting invaders to stop their invasion, and thereby to redirect technology into nonpolluting or even antipolluting channels.
Already, even at our necessarily primitive stage in antipollution technology, techniques have been developed to combat air and noise pollution. Mufflers can be installed on noisy machines that emit sound waves precisely contra-cyclical to the waves of the machines, and thereby can cancel out these racking sounds. Air wastes can even now be recaptured as they leave the chimney and be recycled to yield products useful to industry. Thus, sulfur dioxide, a major noxious air pollutant, can be captured and recycled to produce economically valuable sulfuric acid.20 The highly polluting spark ignition engine will either have to be “cured” by new devices or replaced altogether by such nonpolluting engines as diesel, gas turbine, or steam, or by an electric car. And, as libertarian systems engineer Robert Poole, Jr., points out, the costs of installing the non- or antipolluting technology would then “ultimately be borne by the consumers of the firms’ products, i.e., by those who choose to associate with the firm, rather than being passed on to innocent third parties in the form of pollution (or as taxes).”21
20 See Jane Jacobs, The Economy of Cities (New York: Random House, 1969), pp. 109ff.
21 Poole, op. cit., pp. 251-52.
Robert Poole cogently defines pollution “as the transfer of harmful matter or energy to the person or property of another, without the latter’s consent.”22 The libertarian – and the only complete – solution to the problem of air pollution is to use the courts and the legal structure to combat and prevent such invasion. There are recent signs that the legal system is beginning to change in this direction: new judicial decisions and repeal of laws disallowing class action suits. But this is only a beginning.23
22 Poole, op. cit., p. 245.
23 Thus, see Dolan, TANSTAAFL, p. 39, and Katz, passim.
Among conservatives – in contrast to libertarians – there are two ultimately similar responses to the problem of air pollution. One response, by Ayn Rand and Robert Moses among others, is to deny that the problem exists, and to attribute the entire agitation to leftists who want to destroy capitalism and technology on behalf of a tribal form of socialism. While part of this charge may be correct, denial of the very existence of the problem is to deny science itself and to give a vital hostage to the leftist charge that defenders of capitalism “place property rights above human rights.” Moreover, a defense of air pollution does not even defend property rights; on the contrary, it puts these conservatives’ stamp of approval on those industrialists who are trampling upon the property rights of the mass of the citizenry.
A second, and more sophisticated, conservative response is by such free-market economists as Milton Friedman. The Friedmanites concede the existence of air pollution but propose to meet it, not by a defense of property rights, but rather by a supposedly utilitarian “cost-benefit” calculation by government, which will then make and enforce a “social decision” on how much pollution to allow. This decision would then be enforced either by licensing a given amount of pollution (the granting of “pollution rights”), by a graded scale of taxes against it, or by the taxpayers paying firms not to pollute. Not only would these proposals grant an enormous amount of bureaucratic power to government in the name of safeguarding the “free market”; they would continue to override property rights in the name of a collective decision enforced by the State. This is far from any genuine “free market,” and reveals that, as in many other economic areas, it is impossible to really defend freedom and the free market without insisting on defending the rights of private property. Friedman’s grotesque dictum that those urban inhabitants who don’t wish to contract emphysema should move to the country is starkly reminiscent of Marie Antoinette’s famous “Let them eat cake” – and reveals a lack of sensitivity to human or property rights. Friedman’s statement, in fact, is of a piece with the typically conservative, “If you don’t like it here, leave,” a statement that implies that the government rightly owns the entire land area of “here,” and that anyone who objects to its rule must therefore leave the area. Robert Poole’s libertarian critique of the Friedmanite proposals offers a refreshing contrast:
Unfortunately, it is an example of the most serious failing of the conservative economists: nowhere in the proposal is there any mention of rights. This is the same failing that has undercut advocates of capitalism for 200 years. Even today, the term “laissez-faire” is apt to bring forth images of eighteenth century English factory towns engulfed in smoke and grimy with soot. The early capitalists agreed with the courts that smoke and soot were the “price” that must be paid for the benefits of industry. . . . Yet laissez-faire without rights is a contradiction in terms; the laissez–faire position is based on and derived from man’s rights, and can endure only when rights are held inviolable. Now, in an age of increasing awareness of the environment, this old contradiction is coming back to haunt capitalism.
It is true that air is a scare resource [as the Friedmanites say], but one must then ask why it is scarce. If it is scarce because of a systematic violation of rights, then the solution is not to raise the price of the status quo, thereby sanctioning the rights-violations, but to assert the rights and demand that they be protected. . . . When a factory discharges a great quantity of sulfur dioxide molecules that enter someone’s lungs and cause pulmonary edema, the factory owners have aggressed against him as much as if they had broken his leg. The point must be emphasized because it is vital to the libertarian laissez-faire position. A laissez-faire polluter is a contradiction in terms and must be identified as such. A libertarian society would be a full-liability society, where everyone is fully responsible for his actions and any harmful consequences they might cause.24
24 Poole, op. cit., pp. 252-53. Friedman’s dictum can be found in Peter Maiken, “Hysterics Won’t Clean Up Pollution,” Human Events (April 25, 1970), pp. 13, 21-23. A fuller representation of the Friedmanite position may be found in Thomas D. Crocker and A. J. Rogers III, Environmental Economics (Hinsdale, Ill. : Dryden Press, 1971); and similar views may be found in J. H. Dales, Pollution, Property, and Prices (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1968), and Larry E. Ruff, “The Economic Common Sense of Pollution,” Public Interest (Spring, 1970), pp. 69-85.
In addition to betraying its presumed function of defending private property, government has contributed to air pollution in a more positive sense. It was not so long ago that the Department of Agriculture conducted mass sprayings of DDT by helicopter over large areas, overriding the wishes of individual objecting farmers. It still continues to pour tons of poisonous and carcinogenic insecticides all over the South in an expensive and vain attempt to eradicate the fire ant.25 And the Atomic Energy Commission has poured radioactive wastes into the air and into the ground by means of its nuclear power plants, and through atomic testing. Municipal power and water plants, and the plants of licensed monopoly utility companies, mightily pollute the atmosphere. One of the major tasks of the State in this area is therefore to stop its own poisoning of the atmosphere.
25 Glenn Garvin, “Killing Fire Ants With Carcinogens,” Inquiry (February 6, 1978), pp. 7-8.
Thus, when we peel away the confusions and the unsound philosophy of the modern ecologists, we find an important bedrock case against the existing system; but the case turns out to be not against capitalism, private property, growth, or technology per se. It is a case against the failure of government to allow and to defend the rights of private property against invasion. If property rights were to be defended fully, against private and governmental invasion alike, we would find here, as in other areas of our economy and society, that private enterprise and modern technology would come to mankind not as a curse but as its salvation.