Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Quote of the Day: On ‘racial identity’ and genius

 

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From her essay ‘Racism’ that previously appeared in her collection of essays The Virtue of Selfishness.

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No, the world isn’t going to hell in a handcart, and here are 10 reasons why not

 

Yes, the world faces severe cultural and philosophical headwinds. But it would be wrong to think it’s going to hell in a handcart, nor by any more up-to-date means of transportation.

In fact, according to Johan Norberg, author of new book Progress, “2016 is the best time to be born in all of human history so far.” True, “only 4% of Brits and 6% of Americans believe that the world is getting better.” And probably a similar number of NZers and Australians feel the same.

But despite this universal sense of dread, humans are actually more safe, wealthier, healthier, more free, less hungry, and more literate than ever before, Johan Norberg argues in his book Progress, which is published on September 1.
    Norberg, an author and lecturer in economic globalisation, says that the key reason we are so anxious about the state of the world is that we are sharing information so much more quickly through 24 hour news channels and the internet.

And for abundant reasons, which he explains, these are not good places to get all your news – or even (because the succcessful conclusion to a story is never aired) to get the full stories.

So progress is not inevitable, and those mamy cultural headwinds continue to make it more difficult, buy based on the data, Norberg has ten reasons everyone’s sense of doom is misplaced [read his piece for the fuller story]:

1. There are much fewer hungry people in the world.
The proportion of people worldwide who are undernourished has dropped from 50% in 1945 to just more than 10% in 2015…
2. More people have access to clean water than ever before.
More than 90% of the world's population now has access to safe water…
3. We are staying alive, on average, for much longer.
Older people who are nostalgic about the past ought to be thankful that they are still alive, according to Norberg's findings… ”Nothing happened in life expectancy for 100,000 years and then in 200 years we’ve doubled it," Norberg said. "It continues to outperform what all the scientists expected” …
4. The proportion of people in extreme poverty has shrunk.
In 1820, 94% of the world's population lived in "extreme poverty," according to Norberg. Now that figure is less than 11%. Moreover, much of that improvement has taken place in recent years. Every day between 1990 and 2015, 138,000 people were lifted out of extreme poverty…

now-fewer-than-10-of-people-live-in-extreme-poverty

5. Despite what it feels like, there is much less violence in the world.
While tragic wars in the Middle East and elsewhere rage on and dominate our news headlines, there are actually fewer people killed in these conflicts than in the wars of previous generations.
    "We have probably never lived in such a peaceful era as the one right now," Norberg said… [Meanwhile], the murder rate in Europe has dropped from a peak of more than 40 per 100,000 people in the 14th century, to one per 100,000 today…
6. We are making progress in reducing pollution and protecting the environment.
"If you look at the leading pollutants that we worried about in the 1970s — those which pollute our rivers and forests and so on — they've been reduced by something like 60% since the 1970s," he said. "We've reduced the amount of oil spilt in the ocean by 99% since the 1970s." … "[And] we must not forget that when we are creating these problems we are often solving other problems which are worse for mankind." …
7. The world is getting more literate every day.
The percentage of people who can read and write has increased from 12% to nearly 90% in the last 200 years…
8. Individual freedom and democracy has spread.
Legal slavery has transitioned from being the norm to unheard of since 1800.
While slavery and human trafficking still exists in crime syndicates and the underworld, just 200 years ago it was legal in many countries. The global slave trade began shrinking when it was abolished in all British colonies 1834 and has since been made "formally banned everywhere," Norberg said.
Even being a tax slave in a welfare state is better than being a literal slave in a slave state.
Alongside the abolition of the slave trade, the world has become much more democratic. [Not an undiluted virtue, it must be admitted – Ed. ] "By 1950, the share of the world population living in democracies had increased from zero to thirty-one per cent, and by 2000, increased to fifty-eight per cent, according to Freedom House, the civil liberties watchdog." ..
9. Societies are more open to all genders, races and sexual orientations than ever before.
The rights of ethnic minorities, women, homosexuals, and transgender people were almost unheard of in even the freest western democracies 100 years ago, Norberg argues. For example, in 1900, only New Zealand gave women the right to vote.
10. The next generation will have it even better.
The rate of child labour is constantly dropping (from 168 million in 2012 to 245 million in 2000). In turn, rates of child death are falling, and education is rising. Moreover Norberg argues that the number of people who own smartphones (soon to be three billion) will have a profound impact on the people's breadth of knowledge.

As Norberg himself understands, none of this progress is inevitable.

"If people don't understand the progress we have made, if we don't understand the alternative to the kind of open liberal societies that we live in, then there’s a huge risk," Norberg said. "We could throw it away, in exchange for the temptation of any kind of demagogue who promises us anything in return for our liberties."

Nonetheless, the world’s Atlases are still transforming the planet to make the human environment better – and still succeeding despite the many forces arrayed against them.

So instead of concentrating only on the headwinds, let’s keep our eyes on that wonderful prize: human progress.

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Objectivism 101: Axioms

 

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What is an axiom?

An axiom is a statement that identifies the base of knowledge and of any further statement pertaining to that knowledge, a statement necessarily contained in all others, whether any particular speaker chooses to identify it or not. An axiom is a proposition that defeats its opponents by the fact that they have to accept it and use it in the process of any attempt to deny it.

There’s more, and it’s the true foundation of what we call “common sense

[Pic from ‘Ayn Rand Lexicon - Objectivism from A to Z.’ Hat tip Louise Lamontagne]

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Mapping the world of trade

 

A millennia worth of maps here, mapping the world of trade that grew out of the age-old trading routes, many of them made by mercantilism (for better, and often for worse), that destructive idea that the object of trade is to build up hoards.

What is real trade built on? It’s built on difference: you produce cotton, gems and steel, we make cloth, glassware and instruments – and in trading what we do best we both win. So it has been since the world began. You produce what you’re best at and I’ll do the same, and by virtue of the Law of Association we’ll both win. That’s the very basis of trade: the way for Southern Europeans to get them all eight-hundred years ago (when one good shipment meant your fortune) was to produce wine:

01-world-trade-1340

And in New Zealand now we grow grass, and with it buy all the things the world produces. It almost seems miraculous, this splendid exchange (what some of us call “the miracle of breakfast”), so no wonder to this day so few fully understand it.

Just think, a “splendid exchange” that eventually wiped out even those stains on the map marked “slaves” -- a whole world built on the Double “Thank-You” Moment

PS: A very readable history here of How Trade Shaped the World:

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[Hat tip Duncan B.]

UPDATE: The tragedy of mercantilism outlasts its destructive period when the notion that building up gold and not goods was the key to the wealth of nations.

Examine the map below, at the start of this period, just as Europe was beginning to usurp the Middle East as the centre of world commerce (i.e., just after the period when “east of the Mediterranean and Black Sea ports, almost all the rest of the world economy was operated by Muslim merchant networks”).

04-mercantilist-world-1530-1776

So based on the pursuit of gold rather than goods, western Europe sent their finished goods not in trade to the Middle East or Asia who could havesent back things of value, but to darkest Africa who produced virtually nothing but slaves to dig bullion out of American mines.

Half a millennia hence, we’re still paying historically for that rupture of natural trading partners and the global export of inhumanity, not to mention the wealth squandered in seeking gold and silver instead of goods.

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Monday, 29 August 2016

Free Ebooks: Five pro-freedom economists who will liberate your mind

 

eBooks

Five free ebooks here that every lover of liberty can now have with them at all times – five free ebooks that will liberate your mind, made available by FEE, the Foundation of Economic Education.

at FEE are happy to present the Essential series, five free ebooks collecting the key works of five great freedom philosophers: Leonard Read, Ludwig von Mises, Henry Hazlitt, F.A. Hayek, and Frédéric Bastiat. In each of these compact anthologies, you will find a powerful case for liberty.

But the ideas within are not mere fodder for debate. Like all great sages, these authors offer true wisdom that can inspire you and benefit you personally in your own life. Here is a discussion of just a few of the included works.

The Essential Leonard Read

Power corrupts and captivity degrades.

Leonard Read (1898-1983), FEE’s founder, dedicated his life to spreading “the freedom philosophy.” In addition to facilitating the contributions of others, Read himself was a prolific author and a font of wisdom. For example, in the included "How Socialism Harms the Individual," Read explains how the forced transfer of wealth degrades and cripples everyone involved. In addition to being directly harmed, the victim of the transfer becomes less provident and charitable. The beneficiary becomes less self-reliant and capable. And the enforcer of the transfer becomes power-addled and contemptible. Power corrupts and captivity degrades. Read cuts through the weeds of public policy debate, and counsels the reader to renounce any role in the redistribution of wealth "for his own mental and spiritual health."

In “I, Pencil,” his most famous work (also included), Read charmingly adopts the voice of a pencil who recounts the tale of its own ancestry. Despite its humble appearance, the pencil is the end result of a mind-boggling, globe-spanning feat of cooperation among millions of strangers. This triumph of coordination is all the more marvelous for having no mastermind. Indeed no central planner, however brilliant and public-minded, could have pulled it off. Such an intricate order can only emerge out of the voluntary interplay of free people. Read imparts to the reader his own sense of wonder at the miracles of the market. After reading Read, you’ll never look at the abundance that surrounds you the same again.

The Essential Frédéric Bastiat

Collectivism severs action from result.

Frédéric Bastiat (1801-1850) also devoted his life to spreading, in his words, “the idea of liberty.” Like Read, he especially sought to convey that idea to the rising generation. And so he began one of his major works with an open letter addressed, “To the Youth of France” (included in this collection). Bastiat describes what happens to individual character under a regime of wealth redistribution (or “legal plunder” as he termed it in his classic, mind-expanding essay “The Law,” which is also included).

Within such an incentive structure, as Bastiat writes, “the individual's sense of responsibility becomes more and more apathetic and ineffectual.” This is because collectivism severs action from result. Acting in error results in suffering, as it always does. But that detriment "strikes innocent parties” instead of falling “upon the one who has erred.” Artificially insulated from the effects of his own folly, the errant person does not learn from experience and has no incentive to adjust his conduct. So, as Bastiat writes, when individual responsibility is nullified by government intervention:

“...evil nonetheless follows upon error, but it falls upon the wrong person. It strikes him whom it should not strike; it no longer serves as a warning or a lesson; it is no longer self-limiting; it is no longer destroyed by its own action; it persists, it grows worse, as would happen in the biological world if the imprudent acts and excesses committed by the inhabitants of one hemisphere took their toll only upon the inhabitants of the other hemisphere.”

Bastiat’s analysis helps us understand the present world, and not just the failures of socialism. Through this lens, we see clearly the connections between reckless bank lending and the “too big to fail” doctrine, between police brutality and the “qualified immunity” doctrine, between the belligerence of foreign allies and the “collective security” doctrine. In all realms, collectivism corrupts.

The Essential F.A. Hayek

Every price is the knowledge and values of millions boiled down to a single number.

The distinguished economist F.A. Hayek (1899-1992) also noted the strong association among prosperity, freedom, and personal responsibility. In “The Moral Element in Free Enterprise” (included), he writes:

"Free societies have always been societies in which the belief in individual responsibility has been strong. They have allowed individuals to act on their knowledge and beliefs and have treated the results achieved as due to them. The aim was to make it worthwhile for people to act rationally and reasonably..."

The importance of individuals acting on their knowledge was the theme of Hayek’s groundbreaking article “The Use of Knowledge in Society” (included). Hayek asks, how are the innumerable scarce resources in a global economy to be used to best satisfy human wants? Of all the practically infinite possible ways of combining them, which is to be chosen?

Every tiny detail about the economy is relevant to this question. This includes every single preference of every single soul, and every relevant fact about every material resource. Existing knowledge about those myriad details is dispersed among billions of minds. How can all those bits of knowledge be integrated and utilized to inform the use of society’s resources? A central planning board could not possibly hope to gather and get a handle on so many bits, much less keep up with constant changes in knowledge and values. For a central planner to think otherwise would be “The Pretense of Knowledge” (which is the title of Hayek’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, also included).

Hayek argues that the market price system is the only way that humanity has discovered to meaningfully cope with “the knowledge problem.” Every resource price is essentially the knowledge and values of millions of minds concerning that resource boiled down to a single number. All individuals can use these simple, yet information-rich prices to guide their economic choices. Describing what he calls the “marvel” of the market price system, Hayek writes:

“In abbreviated form, by a kind of symbol, only the most essential information is passed on and passed on only to those concerned. It is more than a metaphor to describe the price system as a kind of machinery for registering change, or a system of telecommunications which enables individual producers to watch merely the movement of a few pointers, as an engineer might watch the hands of a few dials, in order to adjust their activities to changes of which they may never know more than is reflected in the price movement.”

The Essential Ludwig von Mises

In the market economy, consumer wishes are the guiding stars of production.

An essential feature of money prices is that they share a common denominator, so they can be subjected to arithmetic. Entrepreneurs can use them for cost accounting, and to determine if their investments resulted in profit or loss. The great economist Ludwig von Mises (1881-1973) identified such “economic calculation” as the key characteristic of the market economy. “Profit and Loss” (which is the name of an included essay) give the entrepreneur a simple metric that communicates how much his or her rearrangement of production has either boosted or impaired consumer welfare.

As Mises brilliantly demonstrates in “Planned Chaos” (also included), there can be no economic calculation under socialism. This is because there would be nothing to calculate in the absence of money prices, which presuppose market exchange and private property. Without profit and loss, socialist planners are economically adrift at sea without a compass.

Also featured is “Liberty and Property,” a speech in which Mises presented the most important features of free market capitalism. In order to earn profits and avoid losses, entrepreneurs must strive to arrange production so as to please consumers. Thus in the market economy, consumer wishes are the guiding stars of production. Mises called this “consumer sovereignty.”

Moreover, the serious money is to be made by serving mass markets. Therefore it is the average, not the elite, consumers who most sway and are served by the market. Capitalism, as Mises argues, means "mass production for the masses” and widespread, ever-rising prosperity for humankind.

Socialism is no substitute for capitalism. And neither is the “middle road” of “interventionism.” Every market intervention by the government harms the general public by countermanding the orders delivered by the sovereign consumers. If the government tries to address the ill effects of intervention with further intervention, the maladies will mount and elicit ever more intervention until every corner of the economy is subjected to government control. Thus, “Middle-of-the-Road Policy Leads to Socialism,” as Mises titled another included essay.

The Essential Henry Hazlitt

Henry Hazlitt (1894-1993) was another great economics educator. Like Mises, Hazlitt was a perceptive critic of interventionism, which is the theme of his “The Lesson” and “The Lesson Restated” (both excerpted from his classic Economics in One Lesson). Hazlitt’s “Lesson” (which is a modern update of “Seen and Not Seen,” included in The Essential Frédéric Bastiat) is that the art of economics lies in looking beyond the direct, narrow, and intended consequences of intervention. The vision of a true economist encompasses the long-term, indirect, and widespread repercussions of a policy as they ripple throughout society.

In “The Problem of Poverty," Hazlitt eloquently tells of how economic freedom allowed the West to grow amazingly rich after untold millennia of almost universal grinding poverty.

And in “The Early History of FEE,” Hazlitt lovingly tells the origin story of the Foundation for Economic Education, of which he was a founding board member.

These are just some of the highlights of these wonderful collections. Download the FEE Essential series today to be inspired by five of the greatest communicators of the freedom philosophy.

Tables of Contents

The Essential Leonard Read

1. I, Pencil
2. Neither Left nor Right
3. A Break with Prevailing Faith
4. Socialism Is Noncreative
5. How Socialism Harms the Individual
6. How Socialism Harms the Economy
7. The Most Important Discovery in Economics
8. The Greatest Computer on Earth
9. The Service Motive
10. Why Freedom Works Its Wonders
11. Asleep at the Switch
12. In Pursuit of Excellence

The Essential Frédéric Bastiat

1. To the Youth of France
2. What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen
3. A Petition
4. A Negative Railroad
5. The Law

The Essential F.A. Hayek

1. The Case for Freedom
2. The Use of Knowledge in Society
3. The Pretense of Knowledge
4. Intellectuals and Socialism
5. The Moral Element in Free Enterprise
6. Why I Am Not A Conservative

The Essential Ludwig von Mises

1. Liberty and Property
2. Profit and Loss
3. Planned Chaos
4. Middle-of-the Road Policy Leads to Socialism
5. The Place of Economics in Learning

The Essential Henry Hazlitt

1. The Lesson
2. The Early History of FEE
3. Understanding “Austrian” Economics
4. The Problem of Poverty
5. False Remedies for Poverty
6. On Appeasing Envy
7. Planning vs. The Free Market
8. Can We Keep Free Enterprise?
9. The Lesson Restated

Fill your boots up!

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Are you drinking enough? [updated]

 

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Are you drinking enough? This is not a trivial question.

It used to be said that non-drinkers lived longer, although maybe without consuming Bacchus’s fine gift it just seems longer. Yet health researcher after health researcher is discovering that in general teetotallers actually do die younger, yet this now-established fact is still conspicuously absent from most “official” alcohol guidelines, which are generally written by wowsers instead of researchers.

Consider new British guidelines which, despite all the abundant new evidence,

still recommend that men cut back their drinking from 21 units per week to 14, the amount suggested for women. They also advise pregnant women, who had previously been told they could safely drink one or two units per week, to completely abstain. And, in a rather prophetic move, the new guidelines offer the same advice for women who ‘think they could become pregnant.’
    Fourteen units is the equivalent of about six pints of lager or seven glasses of wine. We were helpfully reminded of this by press reports, because normal people measure drinks in glasses or bottles, not in scientific units.

Very true. Although I do like to measure my own by the gallon.

Public-health bores want us to be afraid of alcohol. But this doesn’t make a lot of sense, considering the substantial amount of evidence that drinking in moderation has health benefits. It is what’s called a ‘J curve’: the risk of mortality is lower for people who drink moderately than for people who do not drink at all. The risk only starts to rise once drinking increases past a certain point; and you would have to consume a significant amount more than the weekly guidelines allow to reach the same risk of mortality as a teetotaller.

And you’d at least you’d be having more fun.

    I am nothing if not meticulous in my research. So, having polished off my 14 units, I took the online Drinkaware quiz, ‘Are you drinking too much?’. I was told my drinking habits were ‘low-risk’, but not completely safe, ‘because drinking alcohol is never completely safe’. Given that drinking some alcohol is less risky than not drinking any, shouldn’t the website also provide a quiz for teetotallers titled, ‘Are you drinking enough?’.

I agree it should. It might also proffer the advice to drivers who drive while stressed – dangerously -- and as we all know, there’s one sure and rapid solution to that too!

Anayway, I went and tested our own local “Is Your Drinking Okay?” quiz, to be told my drinking is “medium risk.” It doesn’t say of what, but it does recommend cutting down rather than abstinence, so at least it’s better (somewhat) than the Brits’ version. Although our own official lemon-sucker, Doud Sellman, is still sicking to the ‘no safe level’ drivel.

As Naomi Firsht concludes at Spiked however:

While it is nice that the government has decided to stop scaremongering about the odd night down the pub, it would be nicer still if it realised that, while health information is useful, telling the public how many drinks they should have is not in its remit. Hopefully everyone will take the guidelines with a large pinch of salt – before downing a tequila shot.

Or two.

UPDATE: Good to see a young man setting an example on the weekend. A drink? He’d sure as hell earned it:

Barrett

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Clinton’s attack on the alt-right, and 7 differences between them and libertarians

 

Who or what is the “alt-right”? Answer to that very soon, but to the delight of that antediluvian bunch of self-described white nationalists previously confined to the more fetid parts of the internet, the Republican nominee has been forthrightly spreading their memes [read here for background] and in a major speech last week the Democratic nominee has now put them firmly on the map.

Clinton’s attack on this movement she says has “taken over” the Republican Party is “in no small part part, aimed at telling moderate Republican voters and GOP-leaning independents that their values aren’t truly represented by the nightmare ideology otherwise known as Trumpism.”

He may be the GOP nominee, but he has perverted and distorted Republicanism into something so twisted and horrifying, so unlike anything else we’ve seen in modern times, that they shouldn’t feel bound by party loyalty or political habit to stand by him.

The attack is calculated to drive a wedge between these traditional Republicans and the candidate and his team whom they would otherwise be beholden to support.

altright4This crowd of racist-right circle-jerkers being attacked however couldn’t care less about political calculations. The only thing for them worse than being calculated about is not being calculated about. So even if they’re being insulted, they’re a happy bunch of Trumpanzees.

Hoping to collect votes from both Republicans and Democrats appalled at their party’s respective nominees is Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson, who’s been running a very strong “I’m-the-sane-candidate” strategy against the loony tunes winging their way either side of him.

Confusingly however, many commentators mistake libertarians for these alt-right meatheads focussed on “white identity politics, many nascent libertarians themselves have found themselves seduced by the siren songs, and “more than a few” alt-rightists even claim some relationship to libertarianism – or once had one before sadly shedding their libertarianism later on.

What are the differences in outlook between alt-right ideology and libertarianism? Jeffrey Tucker reckons they come down to five – five different views on history, humanity, order, on trade & migration, and on emancipation & progress:

1. The Driving Force of History
Every ideology has a theory of history, some sense of a driving theme that causes episodic movements from one stage to another. Such a theory helps us make sense of the past, present, and future…

Ayn Rand argued that what drives history most fundamentally is ideas, of which reason and liberty are the most potent, but are by no means inevitable.

There is only one power that determines the course of history, just as it determines the course of every individual life: the power of man’s rational faculty—the power of ideas. If you know a man’s convictions, you can predict his actions. If you understand the dominant philosophy of a society, you can predict its course. But convictions and philosophy are matters open to man’s choice. There is no fatalistic, predetermined historical necessity.

altright3Libertarian Murray Rothbard reckoned the specifically libertarian story of history is of that liberty against power. “I see the liberty of the individual not only as a great moral good in itself,” he said, “(or, with Lord Acton, as the highest political good), but also as the necessary condition for the flowering of all the other goods that mankind cherishes: moral virtue, civilisation, the arts and sciences, economic prosperity. Out of liberty, then, stem the glories of civilised life.”

The alt-right reject this outright. On the question of liberty versus power, they come down completely on the side of power.

The movement inherits a long and dreary tradition of thought from Friedrich Hegel to Thomas Carlyle to Oswald Spengler to Madison Grantto Othmar Spann to Giovanni Gentile to Trump’s speeches. This tradition sees something else going on in history: not liberty vs. power, but something like a more meta struggle that concerns impersonal collectives of tribe, race, community, great men, and so on.
    Whereas libertarianism speaks of individual choice, alt-right theory draws attention to collectives on the move. It imagines that despite appearances, we all default in our thinking back to some more fundamental instinct about our identity as a people, which is either being shored up by a more intense consciousness or eroded by a deracination and dispossession from what defines us. To criticise this as racist is often true but superficial. What’s really going on here is the depersonalisation of history itself: the principle that we are all being buffeted about by Olympian historical forces beyond our control as mere individuals. It takes something mighty and ominous like a great leader, an embodiment of one of these great forces, to make a dent in history’s narrative.

Hence the union of white identity politics (an inversion of the identity politics of their political opponents) and the wistful longing for their “man on horseback” to wall out the barbarian hordes.

2. Harmony vs. Conflict

altRight2A related issue concerns our capacity to get along with each other. Frédéric Bastiat described the free society as characterised by a “harmony of interests.” In order to overcome the state of nature, we gradually discover the capacity to find value in each other. The division of labour is the great fact of human community: the labour of each of us becomes more productive in cooperation with others, and this is even, or rather especially, true given the unequal distribution of talents, intelligence, and skills, and differences over religion, belief systems, race, language, and so on.
    And truly, this is a beautiful thing to discover. The libertarian marvels at the cooperation we see in a construction project, an office building, a restaurant, a factory, a shopping mall, to say nothing of a city, a country, or a planet. The harmony of interests doesn’t mean that everyone gets along perfectly, but rather than we inhabit institutions that incentivise progress through ever more cooperative behavior. As the liberals of old say, we believe that the “brotherhood of man” is possible.
    The libertarian believes that the best and most wonderful social outcomes are not those planned, structured, and anticipated, but rather the opposite.
    To the alt-right mind, this all seems ridiculous. Sure, shopping is fine. But what actually characterises human association is deep-rooted conflict. The races are secretly at war, intellectually and genetically. There is an ongoing and perpetual conflict between the sexes. People of different religions must fight and always will, until one wins. Nations fight for a reason: the struggle is real.

The libertarian understands that when force is barred from human interaction and all human interaction is voluntary, that each other individual is a net benefit to us, For the alt-righter however, every other human being is a threat, especially those who are “not like us.”

altRight1Hence their inevitable racism, a “barnyard” form of collectivism  -- “ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage—the notion that a man’s intellectual and characterological traits are produced and transmitted by his internal body chemistry. Which means, in practice, that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors. Racism;” explains Rand, “claims that the content of a man’s mind (not his cognitive apparatus, but its content) is inherited; that a man’s convictions, values and character are determined before he is born, by physical factors beyond his control.”

Hence for them society is irretrievably divided “vertically” on racial lines, over which each tribe is determinedly in conflict. Ludwig von Mises captures this parallel brilliantly in his identification that, “Nationalist ideology divides society vertically; the socialist ideology divides society horizontally.”

As Tucker observes, “Here, as with many other areas, the far right and far left are strangely aligned.”

3. Designed vs. Spontaneous Order
   
The libertarian believes that the best and most wonderful social outcomes are not those planned, structured, and anticipated, but rather the opposite. Society is the result of millions and billions of small acts of rational self interest that are channelled into an undesigned, unplanned, and unanticipated order that cannot be conceived by a single mind. The knowledge that is required to put together a functioning social order is conveyed through institutions: prices, manners, mores, habits, and traditions that no one can consciously will into existence. There must be a process in place, and stable rules governing that process, that permit such institutions to evolve, always in deference to the immutable laws of economics.
    Again, the alt-right mind finds all of this uninspired and uninspiring. Society in their conception is built by the will of great thinkers and great leaders with unconstrained visions of what can be. What we see out there operating in society is a result of someone’s intentional and conscious planning from the top down.altright6
    If we cannot find the source, or if the source is somehow hiding, we imagine that it must be some shadowy group out there that is manipulating outcomes – and hence the alt-right’s obsession with conspiracy theory. The course of history is designed by someone, so “we” might as well engage in the great struggle to seize the controls – and hence the alt-right obsession with politics as a contact sport.
    Oh, and,
by the way, economics is a dismal science.

4. Trade and Migration
Of course the classical liberals fought for free trade and free migration of peoples, seeing national borders as arbitrary lines on a map that mercifully restrain the power of the state but otherwise inhibit the progress of prosperity and civilisation. To think globally is not a bad thing, but a sign of enlightenment. Protectionism is nothing but a tax on consumers that inhibits industrial productivity and sets nations at odds with each other. The market process is a worldwide phenomenon that indicates an expansion of the division of labor, which means a progressive capacity of people to enhance their standard of living and ennoble their lives.
    The alt-right is universally opposed to free trade and free migration. You can always tell a writer is dabbling in alt-right thought (or neoreactionary or Dark Enlightenment or outright fascism) if he or she has an intense focus on immigration or international trade as inherently bad or fraudulent or regrettable in some sense. To them, a nation must be strong enough to thrive as an independent unit, an economic or cultural sovereignty unto itself.
    Today, the alt-right has a particular beef with trade deals, not because they are unnecessarily complex or bureaucratic (which are good reasons to doubt their merit) but because of their meritorious capacity to facilitate international cooperation. And it is the same with immigration. Beginning at some point in the late 19th century, migration came to be seen as a profound threat to national identity, which invariably means racial identity.

5. Emancipation and Progress

The libertarian celebrates the profound changes in the world from the late Middle Ages to the age of laissez faire, because we observed how commercial society broke down the barriers of class, race, and social isolation, bringing rights and dignity to ever more people. Slavery was ended. Women were emancipated, as marriage altright7evolved from conquest and dominance into a free relationship of partnership and consent. This is all a wonderful thing, because rights are universal, which is to say, they rightly belong to everyone equally. Anything that interferes with people’s choices holds them back and hobbles the progress of prosperity, peace, and human flourishing. This perspective necessarily makes the libertarian optimistic about humanity’s potential.
   
The alt-right mind can’t bear this point of view, and regards it all as naive. What appears to be progress is actually loss: loss of culture, identity, and mission. They look back to what they imagine to be a golden age when elites ruled and peons obeyed. And thus we see the source of their romantic attachment to authority as the source of order, and the longing for authoritarian political rule. As for universal rights, forget it. Rights are granted by political communities and are completely contingent on culture. The ancients universally believed that some were born to serve and some to rule, and the alt-right embraces this perspective. Here again, identity is everything and the loss of identity is the greatest crime against self anyone can imagine.

It should be obvious from Tucker’s analysis that where libertarians view each of us individuals with the power to think and choose, the Alt-Right views each of us instead as part of a “tribe,” our identity irretrievably given us at birth and needing “leadership” to be grafted into its proper whole.

So while libertarianism is indivualistic, the alt-right is demonstrably collectivist. This on its own should stop the mainstream media from lumping us all together. (Yeah right.) And make no mistake, says Tucker: the alt-right knows exactly who its enemies are, and we libertarians are among them. 

To Tucker’s five main differences I would add two more: two contrasting views on The Power of Reason and The Impotence of Evil.

12219593_10153643336842534_6846607398605838587_nFollowing Rand, Libertarian Objectivists recognise both the power of Reason and the impotence of Evil – recognising reason to be not just the driving force of history but man’s unique means of survival and flourishing, and evil (being its negation) being essentially parasitic, unable even to survive without mooching on those it would seek to destroy. (This is just one reason a religion like Islam essentially resides in the moral, cultural and historical vacuum created by others, and always has.)

The Alt-Right however consciously reject this thesis. For them it is not man’s mind that has power in the world but his blood. They repair instead to the notion that “intelligence,” culture and all values are simply a product of race, over which none of us has any control; and they see themselves as the true guardians of “white culture,” which is beset on all sides by evil hordes who cannot be reasoned with yet who somehow possess the power and the means to destroy us.

Evil itself has power therefore, and humanity itself becomes our enemy.(“Humanity as a whole is still sub-human” says one former NZ Objectivist, who desperately need to be “wiped out” by some “intervening cataclysm” so that “we” can start over.)

The irony is that in talking up the power of those forces they feel are arrayed against them, so powerful that they must be banned, barred, wiped out and walled out, they implicity stress both power of evil and the impotence of reason to address its challenges; they argue for the power of the culture they damn and the weakness of the culture with which they identify to stand up to those forces. In other words then, the culture they protect they view implicitly as weak and cowardly, and the “intelligence” that they so fitfully measure has no power for them to ultimately move the world.

In that then, the alt-right is not just a racist movement of un-reason, it is one of irredeemable cowardice.

UPDATE:

Objectivist Amy Peikoff discusses the Alt-Right with Stuart Hayashi, who’s recently been analysing Stefan Molyneux’s brand of “race realism”:

 

 

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Friday, 26 August 2016

Trading on E. Sunday, not for me or thee to decide

 

After years of shops being shut on Easter Sunday because religionists and unionists say so, I guess it should be good news that New Zealand’s archaic Easter trading laws have finally had an overhaul.

But like a presidential candidate unwilling to directly address an issue by punting it down “for the states to make that decision,” the Key Government has amended this one by punting it down to councils to make the call.

To councillors. Whose biggest decision every year is whether to put rates up by a lot or by an awful lot.

So expect an annual three-ring circus to erect its tent at every town hall about six weeks or so before Easter as every whacko with an agenda heads in to lobby his local loony about what he thinks other people should do.

The “argument” for punting th decision to council goes, I guess, that decentralised decisions are best. But only, I suppose, when the decision is a politically sensitive one.

But if decentralising decision making were truly valued, then what would be wrong with decentralising the decision to open or shut shops to the owners of the shops themselves. To individual shop owners.

I mean, they do own the shops, don’t they?

So who else’s bloody business is it anyway?

Yours?

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Thursday, 25 August 2016

Johannes Gutenberg's information revolution holds many lessons for today

 

gutenberg

If history is a battle of ideas, then the man most responsible for allowing ideas to be widely spread must be among history’s greatest heroes.
Lawrence Ludlow examines that man in this guest post – and argues there are still important lessons to learn from his story about innovation, immigration and freedom of information.

In a previous post some years ago, ‘NASA, the Aerospace Welfare Queen,’ I explored what happens when technology is grafted on to big-government militarism and the bread-and-circuses mentality of the state. The result? The kind of scientific 'achievement' described by Ayn Rand as Project X in her novel Atlas Shrugged. Not very inspiring. But this post will be uplifting. It will focus on a true benefactor of mankind, Johann Gutenberg, the inventor of printing with moveable metal type. His innovative application of printing technologies was not only a showcase example of market entrepreneurialism, but a greater source of benefit to mankind than state-sponsored technologies can ever hope to be. His is a story not only of invention and innovation, but of immigration, opposition to politically connected interests, and freedom of information.

Remember the Millennium?

Nearly ten years ago – in time for the millennium celebrations – Johann Gutenberg (ca. 1400-1468) was singled out as the greatest inventor of the past 1,000 years by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC). Life rated his printing of the Bible as the top event of that time period. In addition, the Exlibris news and discussion group (University of California at Berkeley) dubbed him Man of the Millennium.

Gutenberg1There were good reasons to celebrate Gutenberg's innovation – not to mention subsequent related breakthroughs such as (1) offset printing, which transferred images from page-size plates onto paper beginning in 1904, (2) digital printing, which developed in the 1980s, and (3) web-page publication, which developed in the 1990s and was the result of a decision (in 1988) to end the 30-year stranglehold of the U.S. government on Internet development.

And while some may argue that the origins of the Internet lie in the government-sponsored ARPANET, the ARPANET is yet another example of state-sponsored Frankenstein technology – a relative dead-end that did not yield significant benefits until it was released from its state-enforced dungeon to become transformed by the private sector into the World Wide Web.

In a sense, the Web has multiplied the potential of Gutenberg's original invention: first, Gutenberg made possible the publishing industry, in which scarce resources are concentrated to fund the dissemination of information from relatively few replication centers; the Web and the app economy take it further, making it possible for everyoneto become a publishing center.

Fact and Fiction: The Discovery of Printing

Let's look at what Gutenberg did and didn't do. He did not invent either book printing or moveable type. In The Gutenberg Bible, James Thorpe, former director of the Huntington Library, points out that the earliest known wood-block printing of a book took place in 9th century China with the 16-foot-long roll of the Diamond Sutra. To produce it, entire pages were carved into flat wooden blocks that were inked and pressed onto paper rolls.

Furthermore, as early as the 11th century, printers in China (and Korea) were experimenting with pieces of moveable type made of baked clay. That invention, however, did not endure in East Asia because too many distinctive pieces of 'type' (the baked-clay letters) had to be created to print a book. In contrast to the 26-letter English alphabet, for example, the Chinese language uses approximately 40,000 ideographs – far too many (at the time) to offer any labour-saving advantages through printing.

Copying Books by Hand

In Europe until the time of Gutenberg, books were copied by hand, usually on some type of parchment (the skin of an adult sheep, goat, or cow) or on vellum (skin from a newborn calf). During the early Middle Ages, most of this copying took place at monasteries in a scriptorium, but by the 13th century, busy manuscript-copying establishments were located in major cities – usually near the early universities where books were in demand. Wherever manuscript copies were made, however, they contained errors.

The quill pens used by copyists – usually made of goose feathers – required frequent refills from ink pots, and the tedium of copying led to errors consisting of repeated or omitted portions of text. Even the introduction of wood-block printing in Europe during the late 14th and early 15th Centuries (usually for illustrations) offered few advantages. For example, wood-block carvings were laborious to create and could be ruined with a single false stroke of the carver's knife. They also wore out quickly and could not produce clear imprints for very long.

And while it is true that manuscript copyists used abbreviations to save time, new books still required about a year to produce. Not surprisingly, they were very expensive. As a result, the literacy rate was low – only 30% in some English towns during the 15th century.

The Printing Press in Action

The idea of printing with reusable pieces of durable, moveable type held definite advantages for Europeans. Since the Latin alphabet had only 23 basic letters, only a limited range of metal pieces of type had to be cast and replicated. Once created, these pieces of type could be arranged into orderly rows and pages of text on a printing forme. The letters were inked up, and damp paper or parchment was lowered onto them to receive the ink impression.

The result was hundreds of nearly identical copies of books. Once a set of pages were printed, the pieces of type could be reassembled again and again to print other pages and books until they finally wore out after many uses. All things considered, printing with re-usable, metal type yielded savings in labor and cost, greater accuracy and consistency in the final product, and a remarkable increase in the volume of books available.

A Market-Driven Process

The invention of printing, however, did not occur in a vacuum. Like any other product, it was subject to market conditions to which Gutenberg responded in an entrepreneurial way. We already have seen how the Western alphabet – with its limited set of letters – played a supporting role in the success of European printing.

To this, we can add the availability of paper in 15th century Europe – a cost-effective substitute for parchment and vellum. According to Warren Chappell and Robert Bringhurst (A Short History of the Printed Word), the process of making paper from plant fibers was discovered in China in the 2nd century. It spread to the Middle East in the 8th century (where it was improved), and the Moors brought it to Spain (11thcentury). By the late 13th century, a paper mill that used linen and rag fibers was operating in the Italian town of Fabriano . From there, it spread rapidly through Europe – just in time for Gutenberg's invention.

Gutenberg2Gutenberg was responsible for the print process itself, and his story has been outlined by Christopher de Hamel in The Book: A History of the Bible. As a stepping stone to the invention of printing, however, Gutenberg may have developed a mechanical-stamping process in the late 1430s. Details of his metal-stamping process, however, are unclear, and what little we know is based on the much-debated record of a lawsuit that was filed after the death of one of his business partners.

Nonetheless, it appears that while living in Strassburg, Gutenberg and his partners intended to mass-produce small, inexpensive convex mirrors by using Gutenberg's metal-stamping process. They planned to sell the mirrors to pilgrims visiting the holy relics in the city of Aachen. The relics were displayed every seven years, and pilgrims would pin the expensive mirrors to their hats, or they would hold them up as they viewed the holy objects. The mirrors would reflect – and thus capture – some of the spiritual presence of the relics.

Unfortunately, Gutenberg and his partners miscalculated the date of the pilgrimage (or perhaps it was changed); the pilgrimage took place in 1440 instead of 1439. This delay and the partner's death led to the failure of the enterprise. Nonetheless, this business venture may have contributed to Gutenberg's later innovations when he moved to the city of Mainz in 1448. Note, however, that this was an entirely private endeavour. No risk was forced upon taxpayers.

Gutenberg's Test Projects

In Mainz, where Gutenberg eventually established his printing operation, a legal document once again provides the few reliable details that have been passed down to us. The document (called the 'Helmasperger Instrument' after the notary who signed it on November 6, 1455) describes the attempted recovery of two loans taken out by Gutenberg in 1450 and 1452. It also mentions Gutenberg's project as 'the work of the books,' and it is described in Johann Gutenberg and His Bible, by Janet Ing.

Despite a settlement that obligated Gutenberg to repay with interest any money not used on the project, the settlement may have favoured Gutenberg – despite a legend that he was bankrupted as a result. Furthermore, it is possible that Gutenberg continued to print books in Mainz during the 1450s even though his moneylender (Johann Fust) and his assistant (Peter Sch'ffer) became partners in their own printing business there.

In 1454, the year before he printed his Bible, Gutenberg completed a few smaller projects, and they testify to his entrepreneurial spirit. They included a pamphlet warning of the danger posed by the Turks, who had just captured the ancient capital of the Byzantine Empire in 1453. In addition, there were four printings of indulgences, which were sold to raise funds for a war against the Turks. He also printed a New Year's greeting in German and a small Latin grammar. These small projects indicate a businessman who was 'ramping up' his operation for a bigger undertaking, such as the printing of the Bible. Once again, Gutenberg's projects were entirely for profit.

Marketing the Bible

In the case of the Bible, Gutenberg was targeting a specific group of customers: religious institutions such as monasteries. They were his best potential customers because they needed large Bibles for public readings. Only a limited number of wealthy individuals could afford the other copies. Providing a glimpse into Gutenberg's sales effort, we have a letter written by Aeneas Silvius, who subsequently became Pope Pius II in 1458. He personally witnessed Gutenberg displaying several sections of his not-yet-completed Bible in October 1454 at a conference of nobles in Frankfurt. The purpose of the conference was to rally public support for war against the Turks.

Gutenberg clearly perceived the anti-Turk hysteria as a boon to his sales effort – a kind of rally-round-the-Bible marketing opportunity that exploited Christian fears of Turks and their faith – Islam. From the letter of Aeneas Silvius, we also learned that Gutenberg had pre-sold every copy of his Bible before its completion.

Furthermore, there is undisputed evidence that Gutenberg had to increase the size of his print-run by about 33% to meet the high demand. This required him to re-set (with type) and re-print additional pages of some early sections of his Bible and purchase additional paper and parchment. The re-printed sections of his Bible contain subtle differences that can be seen today in the surviving copies.

Short-Term Benefits of Printing

The scale of the Gutenberg Bible project was astonishing for its time. Each printed Bible consists of two volumes totaling 1,286 pages and measuring 11-' by 16 inches. They are set in two columns of large, Gothic, black-letter type with 40 to 42 lines per page, and they can be read at a distance of three feet. Approximately 160 to 180 copies were printed – 75% on paper and the rest on parchment. Paper copies weigh 30 pounds each, and parchment copies weigh 50 pounds – each requiring the skins of about 160 animals (over 6,000 skins for all of the copies).

Gutenberg3Although the Latin alphabet has only 23 letters, a complete set of metal upper- and lowercase type used to create the Bible – including abbreviations, diphthongs, and punctuation marks – consisted of 290 characters. Four to six employees were busy setting type, and the print office held 200,000 printed pages stacked up for binding at the conclusion of the project.

Today, only 48 copies survive – 36 on paper, 12 on parchment. Only two parchment and four paper copies are in the U.S. , and prices have risen dramatically. A copy sold for $2,600 in 1847 and $50,000 in 1911. In 1978, the going price was $2.2 million, and in 1987, one volume (1/2 of a set) sold for $5.4 million at Christie's. Nobody knows what Bill Gates paid for the complete copy he purchased in 1994, but some say it was nearly $31 million. A single leaf can easily fetch more than $60,000. Contrast this with NASA. Who wouldn't happily pay to shut it down – along with its succession of orbiting money-pits that disintegrate and rain down debris from the sky?

The influence of Gutenberg's Latin Bible was tremendous, and by the end of the 15thcentury, 80 more Bible editions were printed in Europe – all but two of them based directly on Gutenberg's text (which was itself based on a 13th-century version of Jerome's late-4th-century Vulgate translation).

Even more important were the spread of printing beyond its birthplace in the city of Mainz and the consequences of that proliferation. By 1470, there were printers in 14 European cities, and by 1480 they were located in more than 100. By the end of the year 1500, over 1,100 print shops were doing business in more than 200 European towns, and they had printed over 10 million books. We refer to these early printed books (through the year 1500) as incunabula, from the Latin word for swaddling clothes or cradle, because they represent the infancy of printing.

Long-Term Benefits of Printing

The creation of large numbers of books was not the only spin-off benefit of Gutenberg's invention. The abundance of books was reflected in the growing size and number of libraries as well. Before the advent of printing, libraries existed only in a few centres of learning and were very small. In England, for example, the largest libraries were located at Canterbury and Bury – each holding about 2,000 books.

Gutenberg6Cambridge University Library held only 300 titles at the time, but today it holds over 5.5 million books and more than 1.2 million periodicals. With the widespread availability of books, the literacy rate increased. From a 15th-century rate of 30% in some English locations, it rose to between 30 and 40% in the 16th and 17th centuries, 60% in the 18th century, and 90% in the 20th and 21st centuries (although today's government schools are doing their best to curtail independent thought and churn out slogan-spouting automatons instead).

While the literacy rate rose, there also was a shift from oral learning to learning through reading – which made self-education even more widespread. There also was greater access to ideas and an increase in knowledge on the part of literate men and women. This helped to unleash an era of innovation and invention that continues today.

Some people even credit the success of the Protestant revolt to the printing press. If we consider the World Wide Web to be an outgrowth of the printing process, the number of 'publishing' centres continues to grow. For example, a Netcraft survey compiled in June 2006 identified 85,541,228 sites. There are now well over a billion, and growing.

Immigration: China to Islam to Westminster

We already have seen how the art of paper-making had its roots in East Asia and spread to the civilization of Islam before arriving in Europe. The free movement of people across borders – immigration – enabled the rapid spread of the new technology, and the story of William Caxton (ca. 1422-1492) illustrates perfectly the spread of printing and ideas from one country to another.

Gutenberg4Caxton is famous because he printed the first book in the English language and introduced the printing press to England. Nonetheless, he spent much of his life abroad. By the year 1446, he was living in Bruges (Belgium). There he printed the first book in English in about 1473/1474 – the Recuyell(compilation) of the Historyes of Troye, which was his own translation of a French courtly romance. He completed this translation while living in Koln (Germany), and he probably learned the art of printing from Ulrich Zell, a priest from Mainz (Germany).

He moved back to England in 1475 or early 1476, and he set up a print shop near Westminster Abbey. There he published the first books printed on English soil. Among these were Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (1476) and the Dictes and Sayings of the Philosophers (1477). The latter was based on a work that originally was written in Egypt by Mubashshir ibn F'tik in the 11thcentury. The original was translated from Arabic into Spanish, then Latin, and finally French before being translated into English. For those who suffer from the current xenophobic infatuation with impermeable borders and immigration restrictions, the story of printing offers a powerful and much-needed antidote.

Special Interests Oppose Innovation

With its many benefits, one would think that the invention of moveable-type printing was universally hailed, but vested interests can be counted on to oppose changes that threaten them. Just ask aerospace engineers how they would feel if competitors such as Burt Rutan and SpaceShipOne eliminated their NASA gravy train. In the case of 15thcentury printing, calligraphers and illuminators levied political pressure to restrict its spread. Resistance was strongest in the city of Florence , where (according to Chappell and Bringhurst) calligraphers and their customers were 'contemptuous of what they considered the vulgar and mechanical imitations of good manuscripts.'

Oddly enough, the establishment of printing by the end of the 15th century did not spell doom for calligraphers. As more people learned to read, more learned to write. Consequently, the art of calligraphy continued to thrive. The 16th century was distinguished by many of the most beautiful manuscripts, and it also was the age of the great handwriting manuals.

Printing 'or Imitation Handwriting?

To understand the early opposition of calligraphers, we must remember that Gutenberg and other early printers did not conceive of printing as a way to produce a new kind of product. They viewed their technology as a way to produce handwriting. Consequently, calligraphers viewed printing as a direct competitor. Perhaps the greatest authority on early printing, Konrad Haebler (author of The Study of Incunabula as well as The German Incunabula and The Italian Incunabula), wrote extensively about the goals and practices of early printers. He explained that early printers – to comply with the aesthetic demands of their customers – were compelled to use confusing (to us) abbreviations in their printed products even though they were rendered entirely unnecessary by the new technology.

Gutenberg5It is easy to understand why scribes made use of these labour-saving shortcuts: it reduced the amount of writing they had to do. But the printing press made it possible – and easy – to spell out every letter of every word without additional effort. In fact, the creation of unique pieces of type to imitate abbreviations (and diphthongs) was an additional burden and expense.

As Haebler explained, however, any attempt to break this rule resulted in products that could not be sold because they did not comply with the exacting standards of customers. Book buyers expected to see abbreviations, and printers gave them what they wanted. It was only in later years that they could depart from this imitation of manuscript models and take full advantage of the new technology. In a similar way, modern architects only gradually understood the new design possibilities made available by building materials such as steel and glass curtain-wall. The result is the sleek, geometric, glass-sheathed structures of today's skyline.

The Customer Is Always Right

Haebler described other characteristics of manuscripts that also were preserved by early printers. For example, the beginning of new chapters and other important sections of a book included oversized initial capital letters that were several lines high and projected into the body of the text and into the margins as well. Early printers – including Gutenberg – left large blank spaces in their columns of neat text so that calligraphers and illustrators could fill them in with large capital letters and decorations by hand. To this day, many incunabula contain all of their original blank spaces because rubricators were never hired to decorate them.

In a similar attempt to replicate the standards of hand-written text, books on medicine, law, and theology were printed using Gothic type almost exclusively. Otherwise, they could not be sold. Furthermore, when the art of printing spread from the German-speaking world to Italy in 1465 (with the arrival at Subiaco of German printers Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz), Roman letters – the ancestor of our Times Roman font – were used for the first time instead of Gothic letters.

Roman type became the necessary standard – in Italy – for all printed works of philosophy, literature, science, art, and authors from classical antiquity. It suited the aesthetic tastes of the learned men of Italy, who had imbibed a humanistic Renaissance education and had an appreciation for ancient Roman inscriptions. Again, the customer always came first.

Below is an example of what is now considered the perfected form of Roman type, printed in 1478 by Nicolaus Jenson in Venice (from Plutarch's Lives, or Vitae illustrium virorum).

ludlow2

Below is an example of Gothic type, printed in 1480 also by Nicolaus Jenson in Venice (from Antoninus Florentinus, Summa theologica, part IV).

ludlow3

In contrast to the sensitivity of these early printers to the preferences of their customers, the 'products' and 'services' of government agencies are usually provided in abysmal fashion or are forced upon the public under threat of a penalty. Next time you are compelled to 'contribute' to any state bureaucracy, remember the early printers and ruminate on what has been lost.

Epitaph for a Genuine Benefactor

It is not surprising that Gutenberg's name faded from memory shortly after his invention. His Bible is not dated, and it does not mention him by name. In fact, Gutenberg's connection with his Bible was only recovered many years later and after much research and controversy.

Nonetheless, a rector of the University of Paris, Professor Guillaume Fichet, wrote an early testimony to Gutenberg on December 31, 1470, just a few years after Gutenberg's death.

'Not far from the city of Mainz, there appeared a certain Johann whose surname was Gutenberg, who, first of all men, devised the art of printing, whereby books are made, not by a reed, as did the ancients, nor with a quill pen, as do we, but with metal letters, and that swiftly, neatly, beautifully. Surely this man is worthy to be loaded with divine honors by all the Muses, all the arts, all the tongues of those who delight in books, and is all the more to be preferred to gods and goddesses in that he has put the means of choice within reach'of mortals devoted to culture. That great Gutenberg has discovered things far more pleasing and more divine, in carving out letters in such a fashion that whatever can be said or thought can by them be written down at once and transcribed and committed to the memory of posterity.'

Gutenberg is a hero in the history of ideas. Everybody reading this is in his debt.


Lawrence Ludlow is a freelance writer living in San Diego.
This post previously appeared at FEE and Strike the Root.

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Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Prices are stable?

 

The idea of a general price level is as stupid as the idea that inflating credit and the money supply with it doesn’t create inflation, yet the ‘Consumer Price Index’ that measures this imaginary figure has achieved virtual Holy Writ status, and is written into laws, contracts, and payment plans.

For Ludwig Von Mises, any decent analysis of this “inflation figure” would begin by “decomposing” the so-called macroenomic aggregates “into their micro-economic components by rigorously analysing the ‘transmission mechanism’ of a monetary injection.’”

But this is precisely what mainstream commentators wish to avoid. It would demand they recognise that the figure itself is illusory, and their practice credit injection damaging.

Let’s see what the aggregate figure of the general price level hides:

INflation1

Quite some disparity, eh?

Anybody who thinks there is such a thing as a single inflation figure should be warned. And anyone who reifies it should not be in charge of a baked bean, let alone of being any kind of bean counter. Especially one who constantly “warns” that we have no inflation in New Zealand.

The big lesson, as Hayek once explained: “Mr Keynes’s aggregates hide all the mechanics of change.” In this case, of destructive change.

There’s another important lesson to draw here. The items below the “index bar” all represent the result of of invention, of innovation, of productivity—of everything that makes real wages higher – of the Hank Rearden effect that makes prosperity more widespread and abundant -- all the things the central banks rely on to keep their own phony inflation figure down while their monetary inflation goes through the roof, all while screwing the Hank Reardens around.

Whereas the items in the top of the index bar represent things that the government subsidises, or heavily regulates.

Mind you, the graph is only for the US, although doing one for NZ would look very much the same.

And just to make ours more realistic, I added in the results of our rampant house-price inflation (taken from REINZ figures). Which puts a whole lot of things in perspective, don’t you think?

INflation2.

[Hat tip Catallaxy Files]

A little sense from Greens, a lot of nonsense from Little

 

I’m a little late in giving full credit here, and I doubt we’d agree on how it should or might be done, but for a politician Greens’s co-leaderene Metiria Turei shows more sense on this than many others in saying:

AUCKLAND HOUSE PRICES HAVE T0 DROP 50 PERCENT – GREENS

That would take them back to around 2009 levels. Hardly killing. And down to just five times median incomes instead of ten. Still not completely in the “affordable” bracket, but a good start.

"Auckland house prices should be deliberately reduced by up to 50 percent over a period of time to make the market affordable again, Greens co-leader Metiria Turei says. The average house price in Auckland has risen to nearly $1 million, or 10 times the median household income. Ms Turei said the only way to reverse that was to slowly bring prices back down to three or four times the median household income….

Mind you, like all the other politicians, she has no solution to do that.

She told Morning Report the Green Party was considering what timeframe would work without crashing the market and hurting people who already owned homes. "The only way to prevent a bust, and to protect families in the short and long term is to lay out a comprehensive plan, which means using every comprehensive tool that we've got so that we can slowly bring down house prices so that they're reasonable."

How? With a comprehensive plan using every comprehensive tool. Wow.

Sounds like a non-plan.

The Auckland Council's chief economist had suggested bringing prices down to five times the median household income by 2030, she said.

Yes, he did. Mind you, he had a few solutions too.

Labour leader Andrew Little said Ms Turei's declaration that Auckland house prices should be deliberately reduced was irresponsible.

It’s irresponsible to say houses should be affordable? What a prick.

There was no way a Labour-led government would consider the idea, he said.

There’s no way Labour would consider the idea of making housing affordable? What a dick.

"We have a very clear plan. It's not about crashing house prices. It's about stabilising prices.

So what the hell does that mean. Dick.

"We don't want to cause undue economic harm to those who - in good faith - have bought homes, entered into mortgages. That's not a responsible approach." Labour and the Greens recently struck a co-operation agreement, including a no-surprises policy.

It’s probably no surprise to the Greens that Little is a dick. So that’s fine.

Ms Turei said a more comprehensive capital gains tax, restricting property purchases to permanent residents and citizens, and removing tax exemptions were also needed to cool the property market.

Mind you, it’s no surprise either that the Greens’s way to fix the intersection of three most regulated parts of the country with more regulation. And more tax.

Ms Turei said the government was not admitting there was a problem with housing prices, let alone putting in place a plan to deal with it to protect families.

And that much is true.

Mr Little said a Labour-led government would build affordable housing, as outlined in recent policy announcements.

And that much is untrue, because their plan involves being able to build each stage by making profits from each earlier stage – but with costs as they are those profits are as illlusory as their plan. In short, their affordable housing plan is literally unaffordable. Mind you, if they were to make it work, if they were to achieve the impossible, it would do more than just “stabilise” prices now. It would also help build the slums of tomorrow.

What’s wrong with just taking off the vice grips and letting folk build how and where they want. That’s not just one plan, that’s a hundred-thousand plans.

And what’s wrong with a liltle churn? It makes better houses as well as it makes good butter.

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