Book Review: Come And Take It

Come And Take It is a book about 3D printing of firearms and the implications thereof by American entrepreneur Cody Wilson. The book details Wilson’s experiences over nine months in 2012-13 when he decided to leave law school and figure out how to use a 3D printer to make a functional plastic handgun. It also conveys his thoughts on political events of the time, such as the re-election of President Barack Obama and the Sandy Hook school shooting.

The story of Wilson’s entrepreneurship is not so different from many others; he must decide whether to make his venture be for-profit or non-profit, decide whether to work for the state or the people, figure out how and where to get funding for his operations, find the right people to work with, wrestle with the impulse to continue his schooling versus working on his entrepreneurial idea, and deal with legal challenges and roadblocks thrown his way by established interests. What sets it apart is the unique nature of his work.

Wilson’s story takes some interesting turns, such as trips to Europe and California where he meets with everyone from left-wing anarchists in the Occupy movement to a club of neoreactionaries led by Mencius Moldbug. This shows that the project to allow everyone to be armed regardless of government laws on the matter changes the political calculus across the entire spectrum, thus making him a person of interest to people of a wide range of political views.

The book is a valiant effort in creative writing and storytelling, but its subtitle of “The Gun Printer’s Guide to Thinking Free” is rather misplaced. It is not so much a guide for someone else to follow as an example which future entrepreneurs may study in order to adapt proper elements thereof for their own projects. The technical details that one might hope for in such a book are only partially present, though we may fault the US Department of State for that, as Wilson tried to include details of the production procedure for his plastic handgun but was forced to redact the material with large black blocks in the final chapter.

In a strange way, the book feels both long and short. Though it is just over 300 pages, it takes much less time to read than most books of that size. Come And Take It offers an interesting look into the mind and experiences of a true game-changer in the world of technology and self-defense, though the reader who is looking for thorough details on 3D printed weapons or a general manifesto on liberty must look elsewhere.

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Review: In Our Own Image

In Our Own Image is a book about the prospects of creating artificial intelligence as well as the cultural, economic, historical, philosophical, and political concerns about it by Greek author and scientist George Zarkadakis. The book considers the problem of AI from the perspectives of human evolution, cybernetics, neuroscience, programming, and computing power.

Zarkadakis begins by briefly speaking of his early years and doctoral research, then spends the rest of the introduction outlining what he will discuss in the rest of the book. The book proper is divided into three parts, each with five or six chapters. The first part covers the evolution of the human brain from the primate brain, especially the most recent 40,000 years. The role of language in accelerating human progress is discussed, as well as the effects of totemic thinking, story-telling, philosophical dualism, and theory of mind. The use of metaphor and narrative to understand the world is examined, along with the inaccuracies inherent in them. The invention, uses, and limitations of the Turing test are explored, as are Asimov’s laws of robotics and the role of AI in fictional stories throughout history.

The second part is about the nature of the mind. The differences in approach between dualism versus monism, rationalism versus empiricism, and materialism versus Platonism are discussed. The thought experiment of the philosophical zombie and the possibility of digital immortality are explained. On the matter of why there appears to be no other intelligent life in the cosmos, Zarkadakis shares an interesting hypothesis: science is an unnatural idea at odds with our cognitive architecture, and an intelligent alien species would be unlikely to widely adopt it. This means that the universe is likely full of Platos, as well as Ancient Greeces, Romes, Indias, Chinas, and Mayas, but is perhaps devoid of Aristotles and societies advanced beyond that of humanity in the early eighteenth century. Daniel Dennett’s explanation of consciousness is overviewed, as well as the contributions of a great number of scientists to the field of cognitive psychology. Finally, the field of cybernetics and its offshoots are examined, showing that the hard problem of consciousness is actually solved with ease. The brain-in-a-vat paradigm of consciousness is shown to be insufficient by applying cybernetic theory.

Everything up to this point lays the foundation for understanding the last part of the book. The third part details the history of computers and programming, from ancient theorists to more recent mathematicians, and from punched cards to modern electronics. The limitations of symbolic logic and the implications thereof against AI in conventional computers are explored, and possible solutions in the form of new electronic components and computer architectures are explained. Charles Babbage’s inventions are discussed, as well as the lost potential of their lack of adoption in their own time. The role of computational technology during World War II is considered, along with the results of government spending on computer research at the time. The development of supercomputers, including IBM’s Deep Blue and Watson, is outlined. The ‘Internet of things’ is compared and contrasted with true AI, and the possible societal impact of large-scale automation of jobs is considered. The possibility of evolving rather than creating AI is examined, as are the possible dispositions of an AI; friendly, malevolent, or apathetic. Interestingly, Zarkadakis shows that there is good reason to believe that a strong AI may exhibit autism spectrum disorders. A short epilogue that begins with a summary and then considers possible economic, political, and social implications of strong AI completes the book.

The book is well-researched and impeccably sourced, at least in its core subject matter. That being said, the book struggles to find an audience, as it can be a bit too technical for the average layperson, but does not venture deeply enough into the subjects it covers to interest a professional in AI-related fields. In other words, it is lukewarm where being either cold or hot is best. Zarkadakis also commits some ultracrepidarianism, particularly in the fields of economics and politics. He seems to believe that AI will overcome the limitations described by Hayek’s knowledge problem and Mises’s economic calculation problem, but unless AI can get inside of our heads and know us better than we know ourselves, this is impossible. In politics, he briefly mentions the possibilities of AI leading to anarchism or to neoreactionary-style absolute monarchies with computerized philosopher-kings, but does not give these possibilities the amount of consideration that they warrant. Finally, the book contains more typographical errors and grammatical abnormalities than a competent editor should fail to correct, though we may grant Zarkadakis some leeway because English is not his first language.

Overall, In Our Own Image is worth reading for those who already have some knowledge of the subject matter but would like to fill gaps in their understanding, but there is room for improvement and expansion.

Rating: 4/5

Read the entire article at ZerothPosition.com

The Political Autism of Anti-Protectionism

There is a certain species of policy analysis which exhibits many of the symptoms which are commonly found among high-functioning autistic people. Among these symptoms are an inability to understand context, a troubling need for routines, an obsession with particular topics, difficulty with abstract thinking, difficulty in understanding other perspectives, a lack of empathy, an inability to process social cues, repetitive use of set phrases, and an inability to identify or think about groups or shared interests. Analysis that suffers from some (or even all) of these shortcomings can be found all over the political spectrum, but it seems to come disproportionately from libertarian thinkers.

The rise of Donald Trump has brought a protectionist view of trade policy back to the forefront for the first time in decades. Naturally, this gives libertarians pause, as protectionism violates individual liberties, is economically inefficient, and gives more money and power to the state. In a textbook-style vacuum, free trade is both more libertarian and more beneficial than protectionism. But to stop there and fail to address the relevant current conditions would be politically autistic by way of context denial. Thus, it is necessary to examine how protectionist policies can make sense in certain contexts, as well as the problems with supporting a policy of free trade in all circumstances.

On January 26, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer floated the idea of a 20 percent import tariff on goods coming from Mexico as a means of funding a border wall. This prompted outrage from the establishment media, along with claims and analysis showing that Americans would pay the tariff rather than Mexico because Mexican products would be more expensive for American consumers as a result. This would be true if all else were equal, but this is not the case.

The Context

Mexico already has import tariffs which can be as high as 140.4 percent and average 13.97 percent. For Mexico to tariff US goods while the US does not tariff Mexican goods puts American companies at a disadvantage. While the libertarian may note that smuggling to evade the tariff would be a morally acceptable response, this is not feasible on the level necessary to conduct a national economy. Revolution to abolish the governments that impose the tariffs would also be morally acceptable, but this is likewise unfeasible, at least for the immediate future. Eliminating government interference in the economy that makes it harder to do business domestically is another option which is better than protective tariffs, but doing so to the extent and with the quickness which would be necessary is unlikely. The next best option, then, is for the US government to respond with an equivalent counter-tariff to attempt to even out the discrepancies caused by another state’s tariffs, with an aim toward negotiating abolition of the tariff on both sides.1 Given that 81.2 percent of Mexican exports for a worth of $309.2 billion go to the United States and 15.7 percent of US exports for $236.4 billion go to Mexico, the threat of a trade war clearly gives leverage to the United States. Peter Navarro, who heads the White House National Trade Council, said as much to CNNMoney:

“The tariff is not an end game, it’s a strategy…to renegotiate trade deals. Tariffs wouldn’t put U.S. jobs at risk.”

It is important to remember that much like nuclear weapons, the primary purpose of tariffs is not to be directly utilized, but to alter the behavior of other states by serving as a deterrent. The threat of a trade war by way of tariffs and counter-tariffs helps to keep the economic peace, just as peace through mutually assured destruction does with nuclear weapons. A response to another nation’s tariff to gain leverage against it is the secondary purpose, as explained earlier. Those who fail to account for this are exhibiting political autism by engaging in context denial.

The Analysis

A 20 percent tariff would discourage Americans from buying Mexican products. This would also raise the cost of goods which are currently provided at the lowest cost by Mexicans. The increase would not necessarily be 20 percent; to illustrate this, let us consider a simple example. Suppose that avocados from Mexico currently cost $1 each, while equivalent avocados grown in California cost $1.10 each. The tariff makes it so that initially, the Mexican avocados increase to $1.20 while the California avocados remain at $1.10. Initially, the American consumer pays 10 percent more but switches to the California source as much as possible. This diversion of funds from Mexico to California allows the Californian producers to make investments to improve their techniques and expand their operations, which will lower the cost of their products over time, potentially even below the $1 level that consumers originally paid to Mexico.

Whether this is a superior outcome for the American consumer depends upon a variety of factors, such as the available farmland in each location, the weather patterns over the next several years, the intelligence of American agriculturalists versus Mexican agriculturalists, and so on. What is known is that as few Americans as possible will be paying the tariff to the US government, and as many as possible will instead pay only part of it to American producers. This will not create net jobs, but it will have influence over where jobs will be created, which will give some American consumers more money to spend. The inability to think abstractly to get beyond the basic free trade position is an example of political autism.

Rationalism, Not Empiricism

Many economists will attempt to argue for free trade on empirical grounds, but this is a flawed approach. Economics is not a science, but an a priori discipline akin to logic and mathematics. The logical truths of economics can be illustrated by using empirical examples, but the discipline itself is not data-driven.

Most empirical cases for free trade rely upon David Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage. But comparative advantage makes several starting assumptions which are not always true, such as non-diminishing returns, the presence of multiple trade commodities, inelastic demand, domestically mobile labor, and internationally immobile labor. Although the available evidence suggests that free trade raises living standards, increases purchasing power, and accelerates economic development, these studies suffer from both the cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy and the absence of counterfactuals for each case. This is not cause for dismissal, but it is cause for suspicion. A proper case for free trade must rest on logic, not observation.

Although free trade usually provides more net benefit than protectionism in the long run, people do not live in the long run; they live their lives and feel economic pain here and now. Furthermore, a net benefit does not mean that each individual person benefits; only that the sum of all benefits and malefits is greater than zero. It may be the case that a minority sees great gains while a majority suffers somewhat smaller losses, and this would explain why a democratic system would produce protectionist policies. Political autism manifests here in the form of the lack of empathy for those who are harmed by free trade in the short-term, the difficulty of understanding their perspective, and the inability to think properly about individuals versus groups.

Trump And Adaptation

The desire for protective tariffs among Trump supporters fits into a larger picture. Following Trump’s election, many leftists have criticized Trump supporters as being unwilling or unable to adapt to a changing world, and Trumpism as a reaction to that changing world. But an organism faced with a changing environment has three options: fail, adapt itself to the environment, or adapt the environment to itself. Most species are almost exclusively capable of the former two options, but humans are uniquely capable of the latter option. In seeking to reverse unfavorable societal trends, Trump supporters are doing something uniquely human and perfectly understandable. A libertarian may question their methods, but their motives make sense. Those who oppose Trump but express a desire to understand the other side would do well to consider this point.

Conclusion

There are good reasons to oppose protectionism in the abstract, but to simply state these reasons and fail to appreciate the context in which protectionism is advocated is an example of political autism. In theory, there are better courses of action, but these options are not always feasible. The threat of tariffs as a means to deter other states from imposing tariffs is an important tool for deterring trade wars, and a nation that refuses to consider such a deterrent is at a disadvantage against other nations that have no such scruples. The empirical case for free trade, while intriguing, is not true for all people in all circumstances, and does nothing to help those who have lost their livelihoods to foreign competition. In a perfect world, no protectionism would be justifiable, but that is neither this world nor the world of the immediate future.

Footnotes:

  1. Note that the use of barriers to free trade as a negotiating tactic is nothing new in US-Mexico trade relations. When Mexico tried exporting avocados to the US in the 1990s, the US government resisted at first, but gave in when Mexico started erecting barriers to US corn exports. The end result of using counter-barriers against barriers to free trade in this case was freer trade.

The Strategic Libertarian Case For Supporting Hillary Clinton

The 2016 election season has been a contentious and divisive time for libertarians. Some have decided to side with Republican candidate Donald Trump as the lesser of two evils. Others are supporting Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson despite his long odds and shortcomings as a candidate. A few are turning to Constitution Party candidate Darrell Castle, despite his lack of sufficient ballot access to obtain victory. Some who do not understand or care about economic liberty have even suggested Green Party candidate Jill Stein as an option for libertarians. A significant number are disgusted with all of their options and plan to stay home on Election Day. What no one seems to have contemplated is the case for a libertarian to support Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, so let us explore that case.

Clearly, there is no straightforward, face-value libertarian case for supporting someone with the track record of warmongering, corruption, thievery, and deception that Clinton has in their quest to preside over the most powerful and dangerous state apparatus in human history. But almost all libertarians have decided to stop there in their consideration of Clinton and look to the other candidates. What can be argued that has not been argued thus far is a bootlegger’s case for Clinton, in which she is supported not for the ostensible purposes of granting her the Presidency, but because her administration will cause effects that libertarians can exploit for their purposes. The overarching theme is that the leftward drive of statism in general and democracy in particular cannot be forestalled by the means at hand, so the alternative is to push leftism even faster and farther than leftists had planned in order to hasten its collapse. It is this sort of case which will be made here.

The Goal of Libertarians

It may seem odd at first glance to speak of a unifying goal for all libertarians, as libertarians have all sorts of goals, some of which are at cross purposes with each other. However, the root of the word ‘libertarian’ is ‘liberty’, so it is reasonable to conclude that a libertarian has the practical goal of maximizing the amount of liberty present in one’s environment. Liberty is generally defined as the freedom to do as one wishes as long as one respects the right of other people to do likewise and commits no aggression against them. But liberty is meaningless without private property in which to enjoy it, insecure without rule of law to defend it, precarious without peace and justice to preserve it, and absent without freedom of association. If a state is present, it will fund its activities through taxation and civil asset forfeiture, take private property through eminent domain, and restrict the use of property through intellectual monopoly, zoning, and environmental regulations. Its officials and agents will choose the nature of the law and the enforcement thereof, meaning that they rule the law and not vice versa. Its enforcers will initiate the use of violence against people who are known to disagree with government statutes and acts upon their disagreements, thus presenting a constant threat to peace. Its agents are allowed to do that which is considered criminal for anyone else to do, and the system is set up to keep them from being held to account. It will force people to associate with it regardless of whether they want to use or pay for its services. For these reasons (and many others), the maximization of liberty requires abolition of the state.

Abolition Requires Revolution

Unfortunately, the state will not abolish itself; the control and maintenance of the state apparatus is too valuable to give up for those who benefit from it. Those who bankroll political campaigns receive a far better return on investment than they would receive from any free market use of capital, and if they did not make such donations, their business rivals would. Wielding political power causes the same biochemical responses as drug abuse. There are people who carry weapons in the name of the state for the purpose of enforcing the edicts of politicians because they lack the skills and temperament to be productive members of society. There is a dependent class of people who have become accustomed to existing parasitically upon the productive members of society. All of these people are used to their way of life, and they will not give it up without a fight. Any strategy that does not deal with this fact, as well as the fact that an institution based upon initiatory force will resort to force to counter attempts to remove and/or dismantle it is doomed to failure. There are many other methods that libertarians have proposed and tried to increase the amount of liberty in society, and some have achieved some limited success. But electoral methods, agorism, cryptography, seasteading, civil disobedience, education, and peaceful parenting all fail to address the fundamental problem. Thus, they will fail to defeat the state by themselves at best. At worst, they will ease some of the pain of oppression, which allows people to tolerate more evil before they must take action to end it. Their usefulness, if any, is to push the state toward collapse while growing the population and resources of libertarians to such an extent that revolution becomes feasible.

A Successful Revolution

A revolution to end the state can only be successful if enough people participate. Moving too soon plays into the state’s hands, as it will only give the state more cause to grow and sour the reputation of libertarianism. The personnel and resources necessary to carry out a revolution are not yet assembled, so the task of the libertarian is to figure out how to assemble them. Let us begin by noting what the Declaration of Independence says about the matter:

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

This is indeed what history shows us; people tend to overthrow governments only if they believe themselves to lack better options. Regardless of whether war, famine, or pestilence visits a population because of their government or in spite of it, a failure of a state to meet the needs of its people in a crisis has precipitated more revolutions than anything else. Although the tyrannies inflicted upon the American people by the federal government are far greater than those which inspired our forefathers to take up arms, the comforts of modernity and the civic religion of democratic statism have made evils more easily sufferable. That which would once have led people to revolt is now merely a minor inconvenience, to be brushed aside and endured because the next sports game is on. Clearly, conditions must get worse in order to make enough people believe that they must rise up against the system rather than keep trying to play the fool’s game of working within it.

Use It to Destroy It

Given that liberty requires anarchy, anarchy requires abolition of the state, abolition of the state requires revolution, revolution requires a sufficient number of participants, the number of potential participants is lacking, people revolt when they believe themselves to be out of other options, and more people will believe themselves to be out of other options if conditions get worse, the next order of business is to see what can be done to make conditions get worse. In a democratic state, the ballot box is the primary means by which decisions are made. Conditions sometimes change slowly in a nation with a deep state of unelected bureaucrats that is largely impervious to the winds of politics, but conditions do deteriorate when bad rulers are elected. While this is always the case, some candidates for office are clearly worse than others. The obvious strategy, then, is to intentionally vote for the worst candidates in an effort to push the current system toward ruin.

Who Is Worst?

With a strategy discovered, the next question concerns application. Which candidate in the 2016 presidential election would do the most to push the current system toward ruin? In other words, who has no intention or motive to make any significant changes to current policy? Who would amplify and accelerate the current course of the federal government?

We may begin by considering only the candidates who have a chance of winning, as a candidate who cannot get into office in the first place will fail a fortiori at making conditions worse while in office. This reduces our options to Clinton, Johnson, Stein, and Trump. All of the other minor-party candidates lack the ballot access to gain the Presidency, even if everyone voted for a particular one of them. Stein may also be dismissed, as polling has shown her to be in fourth place in nearly every national and state poll that has been conducted. (Though if Stein had a chance, this would be a case for supporting her instead of Clinton, as the implementation of her platform would accelerate the national debt, grow the size and scope of government, and push the nation toward economic ruin faster than the platforms of the other candidates.)

Johnson and Trump offer respites from many of the failed policies of recent administrations, though to varying degrees and for different reasons. While both focus on economic matters, Johnson takes a more libertarian approach while Trump is more nationalist. The practical upshot is that a Johnson presidency would be likely to offer much more relief over the short-term but ignore important demographic concerns, while a Trump presidency would offer much less immediate relief but address concerns over demographic shifts which are hostile to liberty. But the strategy being discussed is to vote for the worst, not the best.

A look at Clinton’s platform reveals that she favors higher taxes, more programs for minorities, more taxpayer funding for college tuition, strengthening of entitlement programs, stricter gun control measures, universal healthcare, ending the sequester for both defense and non-defense spending, amnesty for illegal immigrants, more funding for clean energy, a continuation of unproductive anti-terrorism policies, curtailment of civil liberties, and more government intervention in the workplace. She is also far more likely to start new wars than the other candidates, and this would speed along the decline more than any other policy. In other words, she will amplify and accelerate the current course of the federal government much more than Johnson and somewhat more than Trump.

Resolution in Defeat

It is also necessary to consider the impact that the election is likely to have on the supporters of the losing candidates. If Johnson loses, his supporters will likely get the result that they expect, as third-party candidates have almost no chance in a system rigged to produce a two-party system. Although a Johnson victory is technically possible if everything plays out just right, the more realistic question is whether he can get 5 percent of the vote, which would make the Libertarian Party a more significant election machine going forward. As such, voting for Johnson is more of a punt on 2016 with hopes set on 2020. That said, a disastrous result for Johnson will affirm the need for the LP to stop running the milquetoast candidates they have fielded since 2008 and put forward openly radical, even anarchist, voices.

A Clinton loss will have the effect of opening a pressure valve on populist and nationalist resentment, just as the Brexit victory did in the United Kingdom. If liberty is the goal, then a pressure valve to release steam that is needed for a revolutionary explosion is counterproductive. For as long as Trump remains in office, the right would rally behind him, turn a blind eye to many of his negative tendencies, and forget their anti-state sentiments because their man is in charge. While Trump could cause some disillusionment when many of his lofty campaign promises do not come true, many on the right have some understanding that this will be the case and that he must speak bombastically to keep his base energized and motivated. Trump could also do some good in the form of neutralizing the tactics of social justice warriors, but he has already done this and could likely not do much more in this regard. Of course, the political pendulum will swing again, for Trump is not Pinochet and never will be. Trump has given no indication that he would do anything meaningful to abolish democracy or eliminate the programs which create left-wing moral degeneracy. The left would return to its excesses as soon as it regains the Presidency, using state power to press its thumb on the scale even harder to try to ensure that nothing of the sort can happen again.

With the exception of cuckservative neocons who would count Clinton as one of their own, a Trump loss would further inflame the right and grow the reactionary movement. The right would increasingly come to realize that the democratic process as it currently operates is no longer in their interests, just as many Southerners did after the election of 1860. Due to demographic shifts, a Trumpian candidate will likely never have an easier path than in 2016, and the path is quite difficult now. While a Clinton victory is unlikely to result in a revolt before the 2020 election, it could produce other interesting results, such as renewed interest in the idea of nullification, an Article V convention, or even a serious effort by a state to secede.

Objections

Naturally, a plan to deliberately worsen conditions in one’s own nation will invite sharp criticism. Let us consider some of the most likely objections to such a plan. First, there is the objection that this will harm innocent people. This is not necessarily the case, depending upon how one defines innocence. To return to the Declaration of Independence,

“But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

In this sense, the American people are in dereliction of their duty to throw off oppressors. While those who say that we get the government we deserve are victim blaming to some extent, they have a point in the sense that revolution is far more practical than most people think, yet the American people have not revolted against the state in a meaningful way since 1794. (The Civil War was a meaningful revolt, but it was not anti-state in nature; the Confederates sought to replace one government with another.) But even if we grant that this will harm innocents, it is not as though innocents will go unharmed otherwise. The state violently victimizes the innocent by its very nature, and other plans for ending the state will not prevent such victimization before the state is abolished. It is thus a question of degree and duration, much like that of ripping off a bandage rather than pulling at it slowly.

Second, there is the possibility that this plan will backfire. We may make conditions worse, but perhaps a sufficient number of people will never decide that they have had enough. This may occur because they blame those who voted us into a crisis and do not wish to fight alongside them, or because they simply lack the fortitude to revolt. This is a legitimate concern, but the possibility that people no longer have the fortitude to forcefully resist the state will be a concern regardless of the method used by libertarians.

Third, Clinton may also make leftists look for more radical methods, as she is likely to further upset the people who supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. This is actually a feature in a plan to overload and collapse the system, as it pushes the establishment toward ruin even faster. And if the far-left and the far-right come to blows in America, the rightists have a clear advantage in manpower, firepower, and the concern to target one’s enemies without harming bystanders (although neither side is perfect in the latter regard).

Fourth, there is no guarantee that Clinton will be worse than Trump. But there is no guarantee of anything promised by politicians to voters; this is the very design of democratic statism, and one of its intractable problems. Both major-party candidates are known to be serial liars, but based on their track records both inside and outside of politics, it is reasonable to conclude that they will at least attempt to advance the agendas in their platforms.

Conclusion

If one understands that the problems with which the democratic state presents us are intractable in its presence, and that the best use of the ballot box is to vote for the worst candidate in order to hasten the demise of this broken system, then supporting Hillary Clinton for liberty makes a great deal of sense. The common objections to such a plan do not withstand scrutiny, as other methods of action or inaction have the same or worse potential shortcomings. The effects of her defeat would only slow the decline rather than reverse it, and the effects of her victory would galvanize the anti-state movement like no other result that can be achieved in 2016.

On Peter Schiff, minimum wage, offensive terminology, and philosophy

On the Jan. 28 episode of “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” correspondent Samantha Bee interviewed businessman and financial commentator Peter Schiff on the subject of the minimum wage. In the interview, Schiff made the controversial statement that the work of a mentally retarded person would be worth only $2 per hour.

The interview provoked a response by Allen Clifton of Forward Progressives. While Schiff’s comments certainly deserve a thoughtful response, this was not quite it. Let us examine this piece philosophically and provide rebuttal where necessary.

“I’m sure many of you have met those people who ‘just don’t get it.’ I had a friend growing up who was born into a wealthy family. I remember a debate I had with her once about who had it harder, rich people or poor people. She said rich people did. Her example was that when her basement flooded the damage amounted to over $100,000 to fix, whereas a poor person who can’t pay for their electric bill only needs a couple hundred dollars.

I remember this debate so vividly because I honestly couldn’t believe the ignorance. She just didn’t get it.

Well, that’s the same feeling I had watching an interview from The Daily Show where the CEO of Euro Pacific Capital, Peter Schiff, discussed his ridiculous beliefs about the minimum wage.”

With only the information given, the girl mentioned above does appear to have an ignorance of economics. But as we will see, Mr. Schiff’s position against the minimum wage is not ignorant, even if he does make a terrible argument in defense of his position.

“His belief is in line with many ‘free market loving’ Republicans who believe that workers should be paid what they’re worth. Which sounds great, until you realize the reality that the “worth” of a worker is determined by the person paying them – a person whose only real concern is growing their wealth, not yours.”

The quotation marks around “free market loving” are fair, as Republicans are statists who do not believe in a truly free market with no government interference. However, the next sentence is false. The truth is that the worth of a worker is not determined solely by the person paying them; it is also determined by the maximum worth of that worker assessed among all possible employers, modified by the costs of travel to a different place of employment, the inconvenience of finding a different employer, the inconvenience of starting one’s own business versus continuing to work for someone else, and so forth.

“By all means if we want to hire tens of millions of independent arbiters to go into every job, assess the work each worker does then assign a fair value to each employee that their employer must pay – then I fully support abolishing the minimum wage. Because I can promise you one thing, most workers would be paid much more than they are now.”

This is not an abolition of the minimum wage at all. It is just a more intrusive means by which the state could interfere with the labor market by mandating a certain wage for a certain amount of labor of a particular type. As for a fair value, it cannot be determined in such a manner. A fair value is a value agreed upon by both buyer and seller without the use of coercion or fraud. An arbiter as described above, who is actually not independent because he or she is employed through the state, will have his or her assessments enforced by coercion applied by agents of the state. Essentially, this would create a planned economy. Take a close look at North Korea or the former Soviet Union to see how well this tends to work.

“Honestly, who really feels that they’re paid what they’re worth?”

Probably no one, from lowliest worker to wealthiest CEO. But feelings are economically irrelevant unless one acts upon them. A person who feels he or she is worth more should demonstrate this by either becoming more productive, finding another employer who will pay more, or starting his or her own business. There are government barriers that make these actions more difficult, and these should be targeted and eliminated.

“Look at teachers. They mold the minds of our future generations, yet their salaries are often below $50,000 per year.”

Under the current system, teachers mostly indoctrinate children with a pro-state view of the world. There is no reason to assume that a state-run public education system is necessary, especially with developments of private alternatives such as the Khan Academy and the theories of unschooling and natural learning. If the system is unnecessary, then the jobs will not exist, so speaking of the salaries for such jobs becomes meaningless.

“Firefighters risk their lives saving others, yet they’ll never be part of the top 1%.”

This is because there is a difference between loss prevention and wealth creation. If acts of loss prevention were to create a “top 1 percent” degree of wealth for those preventing losses, then they would have to cost more than the objects whose loss was prevented. Then it would make no economic sense for there to be activities of loss prevention, such as firefighting.

“So don’t give me this nonsense about ‘workers should be paid what they’re worth.’ Especially when you see the pay of some of these executives making 300-400 times more than the average employee at their company.”

On the contrary, paying workers an amount other than what they are worth is nonsense. Paying workers less than what they are worth makes it unprofitable for a worker to work at a certain job, while paying workers more than what they are worth makes it unprofitable to keep employing them. As for executives, if they make this much more in a free market, it is because their efforts are worth that much to shareholders. Of course, there are government interferences that help to create this disparity in the current market, such as a corporate law system that tends to shield the wealthiest people from competition, criticism, and liability.

“Well, Mr. Schiff took it a step further by basically saying the ‘mentally retarded’ should only be paid about $2 an hour. In other words, if you suffer from some kind of disadvantage in life which has precluded you from obtaining many skills required for better employment opportunities – you should be devalued as a human being.

Oh, but he wrote an ‘explanation.’ Basically he blamed Comedy Central for airing that part of the interview, claiming that the only reason he used the phrase ‘mentally retarded’ is because he couldn’t think of the proper phrase.

Using that logic, it’s perfectly acceptable to say anything derogatory if the socially acceptable term escapes your mind.”

What Mr. Schiff said about “mentally retarded” people is factually incorrect, and he deserves to be criticized for it. There are many people who have mental disabilities who are capable of producing enormous labor value, such as savants.

But let us look at the term “mentally retarded.” While this term has fallen out of favor, it is the subject of a euphemism treadmill. As Nicholas Cummings and Rogers Wright note in Destructive trends in mental health: the well-intentioned path to harm, the terms “mental retardation” and “mentally retarded” were invented in the mid-20th century to replace the previous set of terms, which were deemed to have become offensive, such as “imbecile” and “feeble-minded.” Now these newer terms have come to be widely seen as disparaging and in need of replacement. At some point, it is necessary to recognize that a negative condition is going to be described by negative-sounding terms and stop viewing such things as offensive. Or, to return to Mr. Schiff’s mistake, we could stop defining people by their shortcomings and assuming that those shortcomings must necessarily diminish one’s worth.

“But let’s think about his $2 per hour comment for a moment. That would be $80 per week x 52 weeks = $4,160 per year.

Basically what this man is advocating is that businesses should be allowed to pay workers based on ‘what they’re worth.’ So if they deem a worker to be worth no more than $2 per hour, how’s that worker expected to live on that?

Oh, I know – they can rely on government programs.

Then these people will come out complaining about the millions of people on these government programs, while simultaneously supporting policies which force more people to rely on government programs.”

The worker may not have to live on $2 per hour if he or she can find another employer or become self-employed in order to earn more. But let us consider the next argument; that people will come out complaining about the millions of people on government programs, while simultaneously supporting policies which force more people to rely on government programs. The government programs are the root problem, as companies would not be able to pay such low wages without them. Over the long term, people cannot work for less than what will keep them alive, and this natural minimum would be higher without a social safety net that allows people to survive on lower wages. While this position is frequently caricatured as heartless, it is actually one of the best ways to raise wages throughout the economy.

“Not to mention that by drastically cutting the pay for millions of Americans you’ll hurt demand for products.”

This ignores the fact that lowering pay for workers lowers the operating costs for a company. This means that the company can sell goods and services cheaper, as labor costs are usually the most expensive costs of a company. So while workers would receive less currency for their labors, that currency would have more purchasing power. Note that the opposite effect will occur if the minimum wage is raised, which is why a minimum wage increase will not help the economy.

“And again, don’t give me this nonsense about ‘paying workers what they’re worth.’ The reason why we have a minimum wage in the first place is because businesses weren’t paying workers enough. If they were, there wouldn’t be a minimum wage.”

The first federal minimum wage law was passed in 1938, and they were passed not to protect workers from business owners, but to codify racism and eugenics into law. The major proponents of minimum wage laws were white union workers who did not want to be out-competed by black workers. If there is a mandated wage floor and the white union workers are paid at that level, then no one can legally undercut the racist employers and employees by hiring black workers and paying them less. But if there is no mandated wage floor, then a non-racist employer can hire previously rejected black workers for less money, thereby running a more efficient business and making a racist employer pay a substantial cost for his or her racism. The minimum wage removes the ability of the free market to punish prejudice.

Of course, some on the left who embraced eugenics policies understood how the minimum wage could destroy opportunity and create unemployment for the most vulnerable people, but they thought it to be a positive development. As Thomas Leonard writes in Eugenics and Economics in the Progressive Era, “The progressive economists believed that the job loss induced by minimum wages was a social benefit as it performed the eugenic service ridding the labor force of the unemployable.”

“It’s the same reason why we have child labor laws. If companies hadn’t tried to exploit child labor, we wouldn’t need child labor laws.”

Child labor was also outlawed in 1938, and it was also done not to protect children from exploitative business owners, but to shield established workers from competition. Defining a whole sector of the workforce out of official existence is a handy way to lower the unemployment rate, and it continues to this day in the form of manipulated numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Barring children from working was not even effectual by this time period; in 1930, only 6.4 percent of male children and 2.9 percent of female children between the ages of 10 and 15 were employed, and of those, 74.5 percent of the boys and 61.5 percent of the girls worked on farms.

Today, such laws mostly have the effect of preventing children who are knowledgeable about technology from being paid for their skills.

“But this belief that by just allowing businesses to ‘regulate themselves’ and all will be right in the world is ridiculous. These businesses operate to make profits, not jobs.”

This is a straw man. Businesses are not regulated solely from within; they are regulated externally by their customers. If the customers of a business believe that the owners and/or employees of the business are doing something reprehensible, then those customers are free to boycott the business, support a competitor, or start a competing business which does not do the reprehensible activity.

“Most employers make their employees well aware of the fact that they’re replaceable. If you don’t like working for them, quit – we can find someone who will.”

The correct response for an employee is to provide value to such a degree as to become irreplaceable.

“Even with regulations, most companies do anything and everything possible to get around them. Why do you think there’s such a big push by many of them to eliminate the minimum wage? It sure as heck isn’t to pay their workers more, it’s so they can pay them less.”

The truth about regulations is that they are written by the wealthiest players in a given industry. The wealthiest players in an industry have every incentive to bribe politicians and regulators to write and enforce regulations in a way which is favorable to them and unfavorable to their competitors. By increasing the cost of doing business through compliance costs, regulations can drive smaller companies out of business, thereby allowing larger companies to increase their market share. This is how large corporations become mega-corporations. Those who fail to understand this process, such as most left-wing statists, then call for more of what caused the problem in the first place.

“Quick question: Without regulation on offshore drilling, do you think we’d have more or fewer environmental disasters like the BP oil spill in the gulf a couple of years ago?

If you really believe we’d have fewer of these instances, you’re crazy.”

As Socrates said, “When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.” But let us actually address the question. While there would probably be more environmental disasters if restrictions on deep-water drilling were lifted, the choice between government regulation of offshore drilling and open access for anyone is a false dichotomy. In a free market in which private property rights are respected, polluters are made to perform restitution for damages they cause, and there are multiple mechanisms to prevent polluters from setting up shop in the first place. The area in which the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred should have rightfully been owned by the fishermen who labored in the area, as property is justly acquired through the homesteading principle by mixing one’s labor with natural resources. Under such a system, the fishermen could simply refuse to grant permission to oil drillers, and could hire private military companies to defend the area if the oil drillers sought to trespass and build anyway.

“The same goes for the minimum wage. If we ended it, these companies would abuse a society that didn’t have protections for its workers.”

A society cannot be abused, because there is no such thing as a society. Each individual person exists; a collective is just an idea with no independent form in physical reality. The idea of the minimum wage as a protection of workers has been refuted above, and the idea that it is the only protection for workers is refuted by the presence of unions and workplace safety standards, among other measures.

“Instead of having $2 an hour sweatshops like they have all over developing Asian countries, we’d have them here.”

$2 an hour has more purchasing power in developing Asian countries than it has here, so this is comparing apples to oranges.

“This whole argument is absolutely absurd. And Mr. Schiff’s ignorance about it was appalling.”

Indeed it is. It is clear that while Mr. Schiff made a terrible argument against the minimum wage, the case against the minimum wage is solid. To claim otherwise on the basis of a bad argument is to commit the argumentum ad logicam fallacy.