There Is No “Secret War” in Pakistan

After three soldiers lost their lives in a roadside bomb explosion in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, American media seem to have suddenly discovered that their country is involved in Afghanistan’s volatile neighboring state as well.

The Huffington Post calls the conflict a “once-secret war” and quotes Wired‘s Noah Shachtman who asks, “Now can we start treating this like a real war?”

Shachtman wasn’t referring to the media’s previous lack of interest in the situation, though. Read more “There Is No “Secret War” in Pakistan”

Palin’s Smear Tactics

Sarah Palin is no asset to the Republican Party. Behind the image of no-nonsense folksiness she so likes to project, the former Alaska governor hides no intellectual depth whatsoever. She owes her popularity to her fierce criticism of the Obama Administration which has propelled her into the position of something of a spokesperson for the tea party movement. Republicans may applaud her right now, but they mustn’t forget that so far, Palin hasn’t revealed much of a political philosophy besides responding to every Democratic initiative with a nagging “no, no, no!”

What’s more, although she ran for vice president in 2008, Palin hasn’t showed herself capable of principled leadership yet. She resigned as governor for purely political reasons and went on to smear Democrats and Democratic plans alike with half truths and a fearmongering paralleled only the likes of Fox News television host Glenn Beck.

This Monday, Palin attacked President Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel who, “although known for his caustic, crude references about those with whom he disagrees,” had went to far this time by referring to liberal activist as “retarded”. That, according to Palin, was a “sick and offensive tactic.”

She denounced “Rahm’s slur on all God’s children with cognitive and developmental disabilities” while citing “a patriot” from Massachusetts who had a child born with Down Syndrome and demanded an apology. “This isn’t about politics,” the man told her, “it’s about decency.” He said he wanted to live in a country “free from mindless prejudice and discrimination.”

The Massachusetts man might not have written Palin for political reasons, but that is exactly why she posted his message. The truly “sick and offensive tactic” here is Palin’s use of children and parents struggling with a disability in order to get her name in the spotlight again.

Of course, calling people “retarded” is offensive and of course, a White House official shouldn’t be using such language but it’s hardly enough of an insult to fire someone over it. Indeed, it’s hardly enough of an insult to dedicate a column to the subject. Unless you’re Sarah Palin and you’re willing to say anything to score political points.

Palin appealed to the president, writing, “you can do better, and our country deserves better.” I say, the Republican Party can do better than Sarah Palin — and the country definitively deserves better.

Obama Privatizes Space

That’s right. As much as this (and the last) American administration has nationalized entire industries and promotes the overregulation of others to such a degree that the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom warns of “concerns about expropriation and violation of the contractual rights of shareholders and bondholders,” President Barack Obama seeks privatization in perhaps rather an unexpected field: space. It was about time.

Not only does Obama intend to scrap NASA’s return mission to the Moon; his 2010 budget proposes to enlist private businesses in the launch of astronauts into space.

After decades of doing very little actual space travel, several companies have stepped up to claim NASA’s place in recent years. With success. The commercialization of space will soon allow citizens to have a peek at the Earth from high orbit. A ticket is set to cost a fortune, of course, but remember that just half a century ago, air travel was similarly an indulgence of the rich. In the same time that the heavily over-bureaucratized NASA spent billions of dollars on watching solar flares and landing robots on Mars (which, admittedly, was rather cool), commercial flight made airplanes as common a mode of transport as ships, trains and cars. All the while NASA continued to fly forty year-old rockets and space shuttles. Read more “Obama Privatizes Space”

The Assault on Industry

The environmentalist gospel is heard evermore louder in public discussions today as governments the world over move to impose restrictions and regulations upon businesses for the sake of protecting the Earth. Products that are supposedly harmless to nature are quickly becoming the norm while companies happily promote themselves as “green” and ecologically responsible. Industry, meanwhile, caricatured as polluting and exploitive, is widely denounced and oftentimes, so is capitalism altogether.

Few seem to remember what immense prosperity free-market capitalism and industrialization brought the Western World. Commentators and politicians hardly bother to point out anymore in what short time industry bettered the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

In “Individualism and the Free Society,” an article edited from his book Honoring the Self: The Psychology of Confidence and Respect (1983), Nathaniel Branden points out what an “extraordinary transformation” the Industrial Revolution and the rise of capitalism brought about: “a revolution so radical,” he notes, “that it is still far from fully understood.”

With […] the development of the free-market society, people saw the sudden release of productive energy that had previously had no out-let. They saw life made possible for countless millions who could have had no chance at survival in precapitalist economies. They saw mortality rates fall and population growth rates explode upward. They saw machines (the machines that many of them had cursed, opposed, and tried to destroy) cut their workday in half while multiplying incalculably the value and reward of their effort. They saw themselves lifted to a standard of living no feudal baron could have conceived. With the rapid development of science, technology, and industry, they saw, for the first time in history, the individual’s liberated mind taking control of material existence.

“Capitalism,” according to Branden, “was achieving miracles before human beings’ eyes.” Yet, from the very start, by majority, intellectuals were vehemently antagonistic to it. “Their writings were filled with denunciations of the free-market economy.” Broadly speaking, notes Branden, the antagonism came from two different directions: the medievalists and the socialists.

The medievalist school found its early outlet in nineteenth century Romanticism. It abhorred the disintegration of feudal aristocracy and the sudden appearance of self-made men from backgrounds of poverty and obscurity. They rejected the supposedly hollow concern with profit making and preferred that man embrace his “spiritual” side, echoing the age-old dichotomy of “soul” and “body” invented by religionists.

One finds the medievalists’ sentiments best expressed in the works of men as William Cobbett, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth and John Ruskin who wrote that, “Commerce or business of any kind may be the invention of the Devil.”

“The medievalists dreamed of abolishing the Industrial Revolution,” according to Branden. “The socialists wished to take it over.” They did away with the spiritualism of their contemporaries and stressed the miserable conditions which the working classes had now to endure. Men as Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx crusaded against the “dehumanizing” effect of the factory system which supposedly “alienated” workers from their labor. The rationale of the free market was “cold” in their view; laws of supply and demand, “cruel”. They painted a vague, rosy picture of a lost “golden age” of the working man which, they argued, the Industrial Revolution had destroyed — regardless of historical fact that many up to that time lived very short lives, on drag, meager diets, plagued by scarcity and disease. “There was nothing romantic or enviable,” notes Robert Hessen in “The Effects of the Industrial Revolution on Women and Children,” published in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (1966), “about a family living and working together in a badly lighted, improperly ventilated, and poorly constructed cottage.”

Men continued to endure hardships throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but conditions improved for the common man as industrialism marched on. As early as 1697, John Locke suggested in a report for the Board of Trade on the problem of poverty that all children over three years of age should be taught to earn their living at working schools for spinning and knitting where they could be fed. “What they can have at home, from their parents,” wrote Locke, “is seldom more than bread and water, and that very scantily too.”

How did children and workers fare under industrialism? In Human Action (1949) economist Ludwig von Mises reminds readers that, low as factory wages initially were, “they were nonetheless much more than these paupers could earn in any other field open to them. It is a distortion of facts to say that the factories carried off the housewives from the nurseries and the kitchen and the children from their play,” he writes. “These women had nothing to cook with and to feed their children. These children were destitute and starving. Their only refuge was the factory. It saved them,” according to Von Mises, “in the strictest sense of the term, from death by starvation.” Yet this future offered to them, nineteenth century socialists thought of as “inhuman” and “cruel”?

The truth is that industry provided men not born into nobility, for the first time in history, with the opportunity to better their own lives. Up to this very day, that chance is denied to billions of people around the world. In light of this, historian Thomas Southcliffe Ashton (1899-1968), writing in The Industrial Revolution, 1760-1830 (1948), gave perhaps the most cunning answer to critics of the Industrial Revolution:

There are today on the plains of India and China men and women, plague-ridden and hungry, living lives little better, to outward appearance, than those of the cattle that toil with them by day and share their places of sleep at night. Such Asiatic standards, and such unmechanized horrors, are the lot of those who increase their numbers without passing through an industrial revolution.

Today, of course, life in India and China is much better than is was half a century ago, precisely because after decades of experimenting with socialism, these states have embraced free-market capitalism, if only in part. They have opened their markets to foreign products and investment and allowed the best among them, the innovators and the entrepreneurs, to work and trade in relative freedom. Consequently, all of society prospers.

That capitalism works then, even modern day socialists cannot escape. Yet they insist that it has to be tempered; that its “excesses” must be controlled. But, as Hessen stressed, “the Industrial Revolution and its consequent prosperity were the achievement of capitalism and cannot be achieved under any other politico-economic system.” As proof, he offered the spectacle of Soviet Russia which combined industrialization — “and famine.”

But old dreams die hard. “In the writings of both medievalists and socialists,” notes Branden, “one can observe the unmistakable longing for a society in which the individual’s existence will be automatically guaranteed — that is, in which no one will have to be responsible for his or her own survival.” The ideal of the welfare state, still persistent in most of Europe, is ample evidence of this.

As the alleged cruelties of capitalism have been disproved, the antagonists of industry found different arguments to dispel it. Today, anti-globalists and eco-socialists argue that industrialism is no longer destroying livelihoods; it is ravaging the planet and condemning us all.

Observe, for instance, the absurdities promulgated by Joel Kovel (1936) and Michael Löwy (1938) in their “Ecosocialist Manifesto” of 2001 which equates globalization with imperialism and claims that in order to survive, capitalism is resorting to “brutal force, thereby increasing alienation and sowing the seed of further terrorism.” The choice before humanity, they insist, is between socialism and barbarism.

According to the manifesto, socialism failed in the first place only because the “capitalist powers” were so hostile toward it. (Even though social-democrats came to power in former superpowers as Britain and France after World War II apparently.) Now, it can prosper anew as the “limits on growth” are obvious to everyone. Eco-socialism does not intend to impose scarcity and repression on people though. “The goal, rather, is a transformation of needs, and a profound shift toward the qualitative dimension and away from the quantitative.” What does this mean? How is to be achieved? The manifesto doesn’t answer these questions.

This, one might argue, is the point of view of radicals however. Mainstream environmentalists should be more moderate. They are, but their principles are no different.

In a report entitled Growth Isn’t Possible: Why rich nations need a new economic direction (2010), the British New Economics Foundation (NEF) asserts that “endless economic growth isn’t possible when faced with the threat of climate change and other critical environmental boundaries.” According to the study, “there is no magic technological bullet that will allow us to continue with business as usual in the face of climate change and other critical resource thresholds” even though rapidly, extraordinary progress is made in the fields of renewable energies today.

Since the early days of industrialism, man has always found ways to free himself from the necessity of adjusting himself to his surroundings, which is the state of the animal. Through industry, man is able to adjust his surroundings to himself. That, NEF despises. “Survival of the fittest,” i.e., that the best may prosper, isn’t the “natural” order of a society, they say. Rather the study proposes to “tame the worst excesses of capitalism and liberate society from the motivation of conspicuous consumption.” We are all victims of materialism, it seems, as man can’t handle the freedom to work, produce and consume for his own gain.

NEF promotes “true sustainability” and proposes a “stationary” or “steady” economic order. This, they argue, is natural, which is nonsense. Nature doesn’t stand still. It constantly evolves and improves. But NEF seeks “an economics of better, not bigger,” or, as the eco-socialists put it, “toward the qualitative dimension and away from the quantitative.” Governments should “change priorities,” they argue, “spending less on unproductive military expenditure and more on schools, hospitals and support for those who need care.” Who is to pay for it all? No answer.

The study continues to assert that in a non-growing economy, “it might actually be easier to approach full employment.” What if population growth persists as it has for the past few centuries though? No answer.

“At the corporate level, there are many other forms of governance that could reduce or remove the pressure to service shareholders who have a one-eyed obsession with maximum growth and returns,” according to the study. What other forms of governance? No answer. What else should a business be concerned with other than making profit? No answer.

NEF’s reverence in the doctrine of anti-growth is hardly a novel concept unfortunately. As early as 1957 philosopher Ayn Rand warned against this destructive obsession with sustainability instead of growth in her novel Atlas Shrugged. As the greatest of producers of the United States go “on strike” one by one, top-level bureaucrat Wesley Mouch is confronted with an economy that has seized to grow. His solution to the problem:

[O]ur sole objective must now be to hold the line. To stand still in order to catch our stride. To achieve total stability. Freedom has been given a chance and has failed. Therefore, more stringent controls are necessary. Since men are unwilling and unable to solve their problems voluntarily, they must be forced to do it.

Note that the “solutions” offered by the aforementioned environmentalists can only be implemented by force. People will only give up so much voluntarily; they will only sacrifice up to a certain point. That point is the line beyond which their sacrifice begins to harm their happiness and wellbeing. According to the environmentalist school, their voluntary sacrifices can never be enough therefore. They demand that people renounce capitalism and industrialism almost entirely which will inevitably make their lives harder.

The assumptions underlying NEF’s proposals are supposed to be clear with readers yet they are never stated explicitly: that industry is evil; that capitalism is “cold” and “cruel”; that free markets are exploitive; and that man must abandon progress to return to an imagined pre-industrial state of living in harmony with nature.

Man, the environmentalists argue, has “lost touch” with his deeper roots. The complexities of Western industrial society have alienated him from his “instinctual nature”. Yet the least developed of nations deserve a different treatment. The Third World, they say, “could not be expected to bear equal measures of growth reduction.” That would be unfair, surely. Western countries, although in moral and economic crisis, have been the most successful in history so they must suffer evermore as the Rest pollutes in the process of catching up.

This is medievalism and socialism wrapped together in a lethal, anti-human mix. Whatever man’s rights and wants, it is needs that must dictate his life, these enemies of industrialism assert: the needs of the poor; the needs of the sick; the needs of the Third World; the needs of the planet. They demand that man sacrifice, not just his freedom, but his material wellbeing, his wealth and his happiness, for the sake of serving some superhuman purpose that even its most ardent of defenders always fail to identify unambiguously. Sacrifice, some now claim, will actually “feel good” no matter how many liberties and luxuries one is deprived of.

Pointing out the material advantages of free-market capitalism won’t be enough to counter their claims. Pointing out the “practical” advantages of industrialism won’t do. As Branden notes, few defenders of capitalism ever bothered to attack the position of their opponents at the root; “not one of them challenged the altruist-collectivist frame of reference in which all discussions concerning the value of capitalism were held. Capitalism has lost more and more ground,” he writes, “because we have lacked a moral philosophy to sustain and support it.”

What unites opponents of capitalism, claims Branden, is their justification of force to be used “for the common good.” Capitalism, in its ideal, consistent form forbids the initiation of force entirely and is denounced therefore as being “anti-social”, “impractical” and “unprogressive”.

Whatever the differences in their specific programs, all the enemies of the free-market economy […] are unanimous in their belief that they have a right to dispose of the lives, property, and future of others, that private ownership of the means of production is a selfish evil, that the more a person has achieved, the greater is his or her debt to those who have not achieved it, that men and women can be compelled to go on producing under any terms or conditions their rulers decree, that freedom is a luxury that may have been permissible in a primitive economy, but for the running of giant industries, electronic factories, and complex sciences, nothing less than slave labor will do.

Whether they propose to take over the economy outright, in the manner of communists and socialists, or to maintain the pretense of private property while dictating prices, wages, production, and distribution, in the manner of fascists and welfare statists, it is the gun, it is the rule of physical force that they consider “kind,” they who consider the free market “cruel.”

“A free society,” writes Branden, “cannot be maintained without an ethics of rational self-interest.” A proper morality, a morality that values life and recognizes individual rights, banishes force from human relationships because only force can threaten life and diminish rights.

Capitalism is this proper morality. Capitalism is the only philosophy which protects man’s individual rights to life, liberty and property. It is the only philosophy which holds man’s life as an end in itself. It is the only philosophy which allows man to pursue happiness, fully and voluntarily.

Climate change is a reality and global warming a challenge that demands the best in man to ensure the continuation of our way of life. The solutions lie not in updated versions of ideologies of the past however; ideologies that have condemned millions to scarcity and starvation but still appeal to many intellectuals and politicians who promote “social justice”.

True justice can never entail the corruption of civil liberties nor the expropriation of property. It is just for men to live in freedom, not oppression; it is just that achievement is rewarded, not robbed; that excellence breeds success, not punishment; and that each and every man is entitled to pursue happiness on his own terms. This, at its core, is the meaning of free-market capitalism. And this is exactly what, at its core, environmentalism, consciously or unconsciously, denies man.

The American Dream Lives

The United States have always profited from immigration and up to this very day, argues The Economist, “The greatest strength of America is that people want to live there.”

The newspaper cites the story of a Korean immigrant who was startled, when he first came to the country, by its riches. “The roads are so wide, the cars so big, the houses so large — everything is abundant,” he said. Yet that was not why he became a citizen. For immigrants, America is the land that offers “the chance to be whatever you want to be.” Or, in the words of The Economist: “it is a place where nearly any immigrant can find a niche.”

Nearly all Americans are descended from people who came from somewhere else in the past couple of centuries. And the variety of countries from which immigrants come — roughly all of them, and usually in significant numbers — is unmatched. No matter where an immigrant hails from, he can find a cluster of his ethnic kin somewhere in America.

The size of the land, the diversity of its people and the many different cultures, traditions and governments spread over more than fifty states allow virtually every man and woman to find a place to their liking. America continues to be magnet for talent therefore. “Economic growth depends on productivity, and the most productive people are often the most mobile.”

As the world globalizes, creative minds have little trouble moving from country to country. According to The Economist, “They tend to pick places that offer not only material comfort but also the stimulation of being surrounded by other creative types.” And, as economist and Nobel Prize laureate Robert Lucas argued, “the clustering of talent is the primary driver of economic growth. ”

America’s openness toward innovation and the freedom it offers for talent to prosper have shaped American progress for centuries.

Even President Barack Obama appeared conscious of this fact when he declared in his State of the Union address that “it’s our ideals, our values that built America — values that allowed us to forge a nation made up of immigrants from every corner of the globe; values that drive our citizens still.” He stressed the “spirit of determination and optimism” which has always been at the core of American society.

As the country moves to impose stricter immigration laws, it is important to remember this history.

In spite of recent experiences, government in the United States has traditionally been one of limited interference in peoples’ lives and livelihoods. Yet the country knew progress and became one of the wealthiest in the world. A closed economy that protects its own industries, restricts immigration and seeks isolation from foreign markets can never sustain growth. The American experience proves that openness toward people, products and capital from abroad do not threaten a country; they bring it even greater prosperity. Americans today should remember that.

The Enforcement of Education

In many developed nations, education is one of the greatest expenses of government. In Great Britain, for instance, about £88 billion was spent on education last year, ammounting to 17 percent of the kingdom’s total budget. In the United States, where education is partly privatized, the federal government still intends to invest over $46 billion in education this year on a total budget of $3.5 trillion. What’s more, hardly ever is the government’s role in education contested. Rather it has come to be regarded as vital a task of the state as national defense.

The success of private schools and colleges sufficiently counters any claims that only government can provide quality schooling. A more convincing argument for state-run education is made by Ernest André Gellner (1925-1995), one of the twentieth century’s greatest scholars of nationalism and author of Nations and Nationalism, published in 1983. In this volume, Gellner argues that centralized education is necessary to sustain industrial society and he assumes that only government can provide it.

When the nation was just a state, writes Gellner, its monopoly of legitimate violence defined it. In the age of nationalism however, “Not the guillotine, but the (amply named) doctorat d’état is the main tool and symbol of state power.” The monopoly of legitimate education has “gelded” all of society. Where ancient rulers employed eunuchs and foreigners as advocates of high culture and state power, “the Mamluk conditions has become universal” today. Man is no longer loyal to a monarch or a religion or even a land; he abides to a culture.

In such a culture, advantages gained through ancestry, birth or connections are “explained away” and “viewed at best ambivalently.” Where “idle privilege was proud and brazen” in the past, modern nation states uphold the illusion or reality of social mobility. It is no coincidence that nationalism emerged alongside industrialism. “Industrialization,” claims Gellner, “engenders a mobile and culturally homogeneous society, which consequently has egalitarian expectations and aspirations.”

Gellner admits that “just how much reality there is to this appearance of upward and downward mobility varies” but key is the notion of egalitarianism inherent to it. Industrial society, he argues, “is rooted in a certain kind of division of labor, one which is complex and persistently, cumulatively, changing.” Indeed, “the persistence of occupational change” is “the one permanent feature of [the] social order.” To be able to cope with it, social mobility is an absolute necessity while people must be educated generically rather than trained in one specific profession. “Industrial society may by most criteria be the most highly specialized society ever,” notes Gellner, “but its education system is unquestionably the least specialized, the most universally standardized, that has ever existed.”

This is a good thing because the content of professional activity has changed as society moved from the agrarian into the industrial age. In the latter, work no longer means ploughing, reaping and thrashing. It is no longer “the manipulation of things, but of meanings” that workers are concerned with: communicating with other people or manipulating the controls of a machine. “Most jobs, if not actually involving work ‘with people’, involve the control of buttons or switches or leavers which need to be understood, and are explicable […] in some standard idiom intelligible to all comers.”

“In a traditional social order,” or the pre-industrial society, “the languages of the hunt, of harvesting, of various rituals, of the council room, of the kitchen or harem, all [formed] autonomous systems.” The use of language differed per profession and was shaped by the segment of society in which one lived. Nowadays, instead, “it is assumed that all referential uses of language ultimately refer to one coherent world, and can be reduced to a unitary idiom.” The homogenization of language, of culture, is what makes industrialism possible. This is how Gellner understands the notion of “nationalism”. It represents “not the awakening of an old, latent, dormant force” therefore, “though that is how it does indeed present itself.”

[Nationalism] is in reality the consequence of a new form of social organization, based on deeply internalized, education-dependent high cultures, each protected by its own state.

This theory has received its fair share of criticism, especially from academics who have pointed at pre-industrial forms of nationalism to discredit Gellner’s thesis. According to Gellner, such early instances of attachment to king or country were not quite nationalism although nationalist movements from the nineteenth century onward did claim their heritage. Only the industrial state makes nationalism, not the other way around, and in order to sustain it, government must at the very least ensure access to education if not outright monopolize it.

Gellner is, in the end, indecisive on the necessity of state-run education. “The notion of education or a viable modern high culture is […] fairly loose,” he admits in the final chapter of Nations and Nationalism. “Literacy is no doubt central to it,” as well “elementary numeracy and a modicum of technical competence.” This minimum of intellectual capabilities, required to function in an industrial society, “presupposes a well-maintained and effective centralized education system.” But nowhere does he unequivocally demonstrate that government, and only government, should organize it.

Philosopher Ayn Rand’s (1905-1982) thoughts on the proper purpose of education align with Gellner’s. In “The Comprachicos,” published in Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution (1971), she writes that, “The only purpose of education is to teach a student how to live his life — by developing his mind and equipping him to deal with reality.” The training man needs, she argues, is “theoretical” or “conceptual”.

He has to be taught to think, to understand, to integrate, to prove. He has to be taught the essentials of the knowledge discovered in the past — and he has to be equipped to acquire further knowledge by his own effort.

Believing as she did in the power of the free market, Rand would no doubt have added that there is no place for government in the whole endeavor. Indeed, she repeatedly stressed that the state has to limit itself to the basic tasks of providing defense, policing and courts of law: to protect men against their neighbors and settle legal disputes among them. A government monopoly on education would have been immoral according to Rand and impractical as a free market of supply and demand is better equipped to deliver the best service at the most economic of costs than any army of bureaucrats.

Facts prove her right. During the second half of the twentieth century, government spending on elementary and secondary education in the United States increased rapidly while student performance deteriorated: SAT scores declined by so much as 10 percent between 1960 and 1990. Schools, in turn, have come to oppose standardized testing, arguing that poor performance is harmful to a child’s self-esteem. Rather than allowing quick learners to advance, classes are rarely organized according to ability. Uniform curricula and peer pressure discourage excellence instead. Government-run schools now mass-produce mediocrity.

As much as industrialization fosters egalitarianism and as much as social mobility is a prerequisite for industrial society, many thinkers confuse cause and effect. Gellner himself reminds readers that, “Modern society is not mobile because it is egalitarian; it is egalitarian because it is mobile.” Nevertheless, schools have become an instrument in the rooting out of all kinds of inequality; in the crusade for so-called “social justice”. Striving for achievement is stamped out of children who are taught that winning is irrelevant; that the best is really no better a person than an underachiever. As Gary Hull notes in “Egalitarianism: The New Torture Rack,” (April 23, 2000) the excellent and the exceptional are perceived as a threat to egalitarianism. “Talent and ability create inequality. To rectify this supposed injustice,” he writes, “we are told to sacrifice the able to the unable. Egalitarianism demands the punishment and envy of anyone who is better than someone else at anything.”

In public education, this thinking has led to a dreadful situation. Whereas privately-funded schools and universities reward the most capable and productive of students, government-financed institutions devote evermore funding to “slow learners” while no special credit may be given to the best and brightest lest it hurt the feelings of others. Modern day education leaves young men and women with the impression that the smartest of them ought to repent for the “gift” with which they were unfairly endowed while the inane deserve all the time and dedication tutors can muster. “If you have ever wondered why the number of great artists, intellects and achievers has dwindled,” notes Hull, “you should blame egalitarianism.”

Is this the price society must pay for industrialism? The very opposite is true. It is precisely this mentality that undermines the very foundations of industrialism: the innovative spirit of the brightest minds, allowed to work and to produce and to trade freely on an unregulated market. Gellner is right to stress the importance of homogenized language and high culture but once it has pervaded the whole of society, which, he notes, “is the secret of nationalism,” no polity has to artificially sustain it.

A society speaking the same language does not make nationalism — let alone industrialism. What is further requires is “a common measure of fact, a universal conceptual currency, so to speak, for the general characterization of things.” Gellner draws here from the work of German sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920) who in his classic The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905) identified the rise of a new “entrepreneurial spirit” — which he linked to Protestantism — as instrumental in the success of mercantile capitalism and later, industrialism. “Two elements are conspicuously present in Weber’s notion of rationality,” notes Gellner: consistency; the like treatment of like cases, and efficiency; the cool rational selection of the best available means to given, clearly formulated and isolated ends. In other words: the qualities of the businessman.

No government schools taught the eighteenth and nineteenth century inventors and entrepreneurs how to industrialize the world. All they needed was to live in a society sufficiently homogenized to allow large-scale production and the freedom to work and trade. Social mobility improved and inequality decreased as industrialism marched on. The sad irony of modern day education is that it seeks to further destroy these perceived ills by fighting the very qualities which diminished them in the first place; that in order to achieve greater egalitarianism, it undermines the very forces which would otherwise promote it freely and voluntarily.

Sarkozy Bids Farewell to Capitalism

Government intervention in the economy is something of a tradition in France. As the the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom published by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal noted, French business “remains curtailed by the pervasive presence of the state in economic activity.” Government spends more than half of GDP and owns or controls many major industries. Taxes are high and so is the state’s expenditure. Indeed, few states spend more than France.

Since the recession struck, President Nicolas Sarkozy, although the foreman of France’s political right, has shown little love for free-market capitalism. He previously blamed the “freewheeling Anglo-Saxon” model of finance for today’s trouble and announced “the victory of the European model.” Sarkonomics have been disappointing for aficionados of the market.

“If there was any remaining doubt that the era of financial capitalism is over and the age of big government has begun,” writes Rana Foroohar for Newsweek, “Sarkozy dispelled it” with his keynote address to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last Wednesday. He “seemed to delight in bashing everything from laissez-faire capitalism to overblown banker pay,” according to Foroohar, and he complained that “nothing has gone to labor” during the past years. In Sarkozy’s words, “Capitalism is not an end — it should be a means to an end.” What end? Sarkozy didn’t say.

This sort of vague persecution of capitalism is unfortunate when it is practiced by opinion makers. Coming from a world leader, it is dangerous.

Sarkozy never explains how exactly capitalism failed besides pointing at high bonuses and blaming the short term vision of bankers. He never provides a viable alternative besides promising to “do something” for “labor”. Yet he has enacted greater protectionism of French industry and proposed greater oversight of the financial sector, all intended to curtail capitalism, not do away with it altogether, of course.

The truth is that by curtailing capitalism, it seizes to function. Financial markets have been subject to regulation for years. Their failure is interpreted as proof that more oversight is necessary but more of the same won’t do any good. Punishing banks won’t work.

Bailing Out Bernanke

In the coming days, the United States Senate will vote on whether or not Ben Bernanke will go on to serve as Chairman of the Federal Reserve for another term. Some legislators are skeptical.

Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky said Tuesday on CNBC that Bernanke’s own staff recommended against bailing out insurer AIG in September 2008 and that he subsequently tried to cover that up. Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner quickly came to Bernanke’s defense, stating that AIG had to be saved in order to prevent a “catastrophic” blow to the American economy. According to Geithner, the goverment’s intervention in the financial market has created a system that is stabler and in a better position to provide the credit needed for a recovery. Evidently, we are to assume that were it not for Washington, even more businesses would be craving loans right now.

House Republican Darrell Issa of California, who has been investigating the AIG bailout, claimed that a whistleblower informed him of “troubling details” of the Fed Chairman’s role in the process. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, a Democrat and Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, is having none of it. Bernanke has done “a very good job,” said Dodd on Monday. “And but for his work, we would be in a very different position in this country today.” The senator admitted that it’s “hard to prove a negative,” but didn’t hesitate from warning that “our entire financial system might have collapsed but for [Bernanke’s] leadership.”

Senators from both parties set to confirm Bernanke for a second term credit him with averting a Second Great Depression. His actions, they argue, outweigh what blame he deserves for causing the financial meltdown in the first place. The Fed was in part responsible for the crisis but Bernanke refuses to admit it. According to his supporters however, the American people should be thankful for he could have done much worse.

Senator Bunning has asked Dodd to subpoena emails and other documents that prove him right. Bunning and other committee members have been allowed to review the documents in question at the Federal Reserve already but are bound by confidentiality from revealing their contents. Whether Dodd will oblige before the vote, if at all, remains to be seen.

With about forty senators lined up already to confirm Bernanke, it seems likely that the man will remain in place for another four years to come, in spite of his shared responsibility for today’s recession and regardless of whether or not bailing out AIG and banks was necessary to begin with.

The Environmentalist Gospel

A new, thoroughly twenty-first century threat to domestic harmony is emerging, reports The Independent. “In some relationships, it is said to be causing as much discord as those age-old battlegrounds, sex and money. The problem is environmental incompatibility.”

Therapists across America are reporting a sharp increase in what they call “green disputes”. Couples are finding it increasingly difficult to agree about how much their little unit should contribute to that great cause of our age, the saving of the planet.

The Independent‘s Terence Blacker, fortunately, provides a little common sense as we shake our heads and wonder what has gotten into people. “The high priests and priestesses should, for the sake of their case, give the rest of us a break,” he writes. “All this scolding, bossiness and moral superiority is not only bad for relationships, but it does more harm than good to the planet. Spreading guilt is never a good way to convert souls, even to the great secular faith of our times.”

An interesting choice of words on Blacker’s part for environmentalism is increasingly becoming a dogma uncontested in media and academics.

As early as 1995, in Acton Institute’s Religion & Liberty (Volume 5, Number 2), Robert H. Nelson, a professor of environmental policy, warned against what he called “The Ecological Gospel“. Infuriated with Christian sentiment, environmentalists in the United States more than ten years ago preached against the progress of the modern age already, which, according to them, “has not meant the advance of mankind, but has instead plunged human beings into evil ways,” as Nelson put it. They denounce our modern day consumer society and like to think of human beings as a “cancer” on the planet. Our “addiction to growth,” they insist, “will destroy us all.”

Apocalypse hasn’t quite unfolded yet though 2012 Scare is a recent example of popular fright that environmental collapse is imminent nonetheless. That belief is only enforced by opinion- and policymakers the world over who threaten that life as we know it will come to an end unless we do something, now. The end is nigh, they cry, and we better repent for our environmentalist sins. Back in the 1990s, Nelson knew that “the wide fears of recent years about global warming […] have more to do with religion than science.”

The heating of the earth, global warming alarmists tell us, will melt the polar ice caps, raise the seas, and thereby cause widespread flooding. Higher temperatures will parch the land, creating famine. Global warming will alter the normal weather patterns of the earth, bringing on drought. Perhaps it will encourage insects and bacteria, spreading disease. Flooding, famine, drought, pestilence, all are the traditional instruments of a wrathful God imposing a just punishment on a world of many sinners.

“In environmental theology, the traditional Judeo-Christian categories of good and evil have been replaced by ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’,” a phenomena that is all the more powerful today as companies “go green” while more and more “eco-friendly” products turn up in our shopping carts. It would appear that many have forgotten that it were chemicals, synthetics and the exploitation of the Earth that allowed us to reach our current state of civilization and luxury in the first place.

Denouncing industry and the progress that it has brought man is not the way to overcome climate change. Yet, as Nelson dreaded, “environmental policies often are not shaped by pragmatic concerns of how to improve human welfare. Instead, [they] follow a logic grounded in an environmental theology” which loves everything “natural” and abhors all that is anti-nature. Thus windmills, for instance, though hardly economical, are subsidized with hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars while lawmakers try to ban everything that pollutes. Increasingly, the state acts as a protector, not of its citizenry, but of nature, making life more difficult for the common man in the process.

The majority of the people, “who simply want a clean and attractive environment,” according to Nelson, “are paying a high price — many tens of billions of dollars — for their current willingness to leave much of environmental policy making to those people who see it as a religious crusade.”

Haiti’s Avoidable Death Toll

Some expect Haiti’s 7.0 earthquake death toll to reach over 200,000 lives. Why the high death toll? Northern California’s 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was more violent, measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale, resulting in 63 deaths and 3,757 injuries. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake measured 7.8 on the Richter scale, about eight times more violent than Haiti’s, and cost 3,000 lives.

As tragic as the Haitian calamity is, it is merely symptomatic of a far deeper tragedy that’s completely ignored, namely self-inflicted poverty. The reason why natural disasters take fewer lives in our country is because we have greater wealth. It’s our wealth that permits us to build stronger homes and office buildings. When a natural disaster hits us, our wealth provides the emergency personnel, heavy machinery and medical services to reduce the death toll and suffering. Haitians cannot afford the life-saving tools that we Americans take for granted. President Barack Obama called the quake “especially cruel and incomprehensible.” He would be closer to the truth if he had said that the Haitian political and economic climate that make Haitians helpless in the face of natural disasters are “especially cruel and incomprehensible.”

The biggest reason for Haiti being one of the world’s poorest countries is its restrictions on economic liberty. Let’s look at some of it. According to the 2009 Index of Economic Freedom, authorization is required for some foreign investments, such as in electricity, water, public health and telecommunications. Authorization requires bribing public officials and, as a result, Haiti’s monopolistic telephone services can at best be labeled primitive. That might explain the difficulty Haitian Americans have in finding out about their loved ones.

Corruption is rampant. Haiti ranks 177th out of 179 countries in the 2007 Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Its reputation as one of the world’s most corrupt countries is a major impediment to doing business. Customs officers often demand bribes to clear shipments. The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom says that because of burdensome regulations and bribery, starting a business in Haiti takes an average of 195 days, compared with the world average of 38 days. Getting a business license takes about five times longer than the world average of 234 days — that’s over three years.

Crime and lawlessness are rampant in Haiti. The United States Department of State of State website, long before the earthquake, warned, “There are no “safe” areas in Haiti. […] Kidnapping, death threats, murders, drug-related shootouts, armed robberies, home break-ins and car-jacking are common in Haiti.” The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade warns its citizens that, “The level of crime in Haiti is very high and the police have little ability to enforce laws. Local authorities often have limited or no capacity to provide assistance, even if you are a victim of a serious crime.” Crime anywhere is a prohibitive tax on economic development and the poorest people are its primary victims.

Private property rights are vital to economic growth. The Index of Economic Freedom reports that “Haitian protection of investors and property is severely compromised by weak enforcement, a paucity of updated laws to handle modern commercial practices, and a dysfunctional and resource-poor legal system.” That means commercial disputes are settled out of court often through the bribery of public officials; settlements are purchased.

The way out of Haiti’s grinding poverty is not rocket science. Ranking countries according to: (1) whether they are more or less free market, (2) per capita income, and (3) ranking in International Amnesty’s human rights protection index, we would find that those nations with a larger free-market sector tend also to be those with the higher income and greater human rights protections. Haitian President Rene Preval is not enthusiastic about free markets; his heroes are none other than the hemisphere’s two brutal communist tyrants: Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Cuba’s Fidel Castro.

Haiti’s disaster demands immediate Western assistance but it’s only the Haitian people who can relieve themselves of the deeper tragedy of self-inflicted poverty.

This story first appeared at Creators Syndicate, January 20, 2010.