Sunday, September 30, 2012

Comprehension of the Past as the Cure of the Future

The Most Interesting Man in the WorldAmidst the political discussion swirling through the veins of America this electoral season, there is a greater question worthy of our time. Have we come so far into the future that we no longer remember the past? Are the lessons of history understood, or even acknowledged? Do we care enough about the wisdom harvested from the fields of experience to sow a different future? 

 The federal government of America has become the government we deserve. It is no accident that a nation rooted in personal debt is governed by an entity unapologetic of deficit. It is no deviation of human behavior wherein the nation so oft clamoring for imperial war is mired in our longest conflicts. It is no artifact of history that the society pleading for the government to care for it in the 60’s is asking for ever increasing levels of provision in 2012. The means of governance are quietly and quickly regressing to that loathsome standard of the human condition, tyranny over the actions of man. 

 George Santayana coined the axiom “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.  By forgetting and ignoring the lessons of the past, predicable consequences are upon these United States. Failures of federal fiscal stimulus in the Great Depression, and the subsequent 20 years of Keynesian failure in Japan is evidence enough for any concerned observer to doubt the efficacy of counter cyclical federal stimulus. Intentional inflation was counterproductive in solving the economic woes of Rome, Sung China, Weimar Germany, Chile, or Zimbabwe, yet we pursue increasing the money supply. Wars do not stimulate economic activity; they break valuable creations and kill people. Money that flows through the government will invariably find special interests and corruption, to expect otherwise is to deny the corruption inherent in humanity. It is simply untenable to provide incentives for graft and siphoning and expect officials to behave with character. The fraud of the Transcontinental Railroad’s Credit Mobilier, Rosco Conkling’s Republican Stalwarts of graft and the House Banking scandal are all ample enough opportunities for comprehension. While I find it disgusting that there are many in power fully aware of these events and proceed apace with expanding the status quo, it is far from obvious that anything approaching a substantial minority of the electorate has a sufficient understanding of the lessons of history to properly forecast the results of the future. 

 Liberty is lost when a people have no understanding of the alternatives, and this is the ground we now stand upon. History is understood through two primary lenses, and often like binoculars, a combination of both. The first is to look at history as a grand sweep of the inevitable leading invariably to the present, known frequently as determinism. Today is the product and consequence of socio-economic trends, natural causes and curious accidents of history. Prominent example of this historical analysis is Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, which purports to explain the superiority of some civilizations based on numerous factors. An alternative view of history sees the consequences of the past as a result of the actions of individuals; the human action drives forward the society surrounding it. Liberty is best understood in this lens as the increase in liberty comes seldom without the direct action of individuals. The study of history through the eyes of the individuals provides a far more memorable and applicable understanding of history then does a sweeping narrative of inevitable change. The context surrounding significant events is even better understood in this manner. Pedagogically this is a more difficult approach, as it is difficult to form standardized tests and multiple choice exams in relation to the motives and desires of the individuals. 

 It is the responsibility of those who vote to understand the context and consequences of the past. Read history. Watch history. Discuss history, not as some cathartic vessel of high school days gone past, but as the eclectic, fascinating and vibrant collection of real and personal stories that it is. When you look to read your next book, engage yourself in a work of personal lives which changed the world. Perhaps start on Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard, Thunderstruck by Eric Larson, or Mayflower by Nathanial Philbrick. When the opportunity presents itself, discuss the past and how it effects today with others who are willing to think and engage. I have no pretense to offer a solution which is broad and sweeping and will change the nation. I can only entreat you to begin or continue a lifelong journey of understanding the past, so that we will not always be condemned to repeat it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

On Cities and A Future

He wears his tie and thinks obliquely. I looked up one morning to see the flash of good news upon the horizon. In the heat of Hondouras, a new sun is seen rising.  The private city, the model city, the Regiones Especiales de Desarollo (aka RED), the charter cities will soon be upon us. Honduras will be granting to the MKG group three separate locations[1] to develop new Corporate-States. 

 Nation states are nations of at least several cities or a large land mass, such as Chile or these United States. City states are nations contained within a city, such as Singapore or the Vatican.[2] Corporate city States will soon find their existence renewed in Honduras. The MKG group will soon set up three new cities, in previously under developed regions, with full legal responsibilities. The development, sanitation, law creation, enforcement, property ownership, taxes and services are all the prerogative of the owners of model city. Honduras has done no less then sign away legal authority of these regions to corporate governance with a modicum of oversight.[3] The stated objective of all parties is economic growth and job creation through a mélange of free market policies.

Corporate states are not new, merely forgotten. The colonization of the new world was often through monarchal grants to corporate entities, who would in turn found trading cities. Hong Kong, Jamestown, and Taiwan are good examples. It is interesting to note the discrepancy between locations colonized under British rule and those of other nations in terms of development in the post-colonial era.[4] In general, those managed by British rule have had a higher respect for property rights, in turn leading to increased economic welfare. In the general, these charter cities are different, as the sovereign government of the nation is inviting a separate entity to take over with voluntary economic rational. Where colonization involved the forceful invasion of territory by the newly occupying powers, this is an invitation for a new way of life. Unquestionably there exists objective and moral opposition to the new arrangement, particularly those Hondurans who are to be supplanted. While we see and acknowledge the dark side of this arrangement, it will be interesting to see what will come from it. It is not as if any experiment in human history has been born of perfect surroundings, and the sad reality is these RED locations will not be no different. What should excite all acolytes of liberty are the possibilities of the future. (Click for second half...)

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Symptom of Failure

(Cross posted at Advancing Liberty).
 I would like to present a case study on the “success of gun control”. The legal climate of New York City is strongly prejudiced against possession of firearms. While the “Big Apple” may do a lot of things poorly, the Sullivan Act of 1911 and its continuations are enforced with vigor. The city is often cited as the showcase of success for advocates of fire arm control, as the crime rate is low for such a large city.  On the morning of August 24,2012, the only armed individuals in the vicinity of the Empire State Building were Jeffery Johnson and a multitude of the legally armed NYPD.  That Friday morning, Jeffery Johnson walked into his former office, destroyed the life of Steven Ercolino, and walked back out.

Johnson makes a quiet getaway, foiled only by a lone construction worker with the wits to follow and alert police. As he ambles through the concrete jungle, he is confronted from behind and engulfed in a barrage of gunfire from officers of the NYPD. Within seconds, nine bystanders are injured in the flurry of hot lead, with Johnson ultimately downed as well.  This lone gunman was confronted by neither an armed vigilante nor hostile mob, but by trained, experienced and professional police officers. The result is nine injured bystanders and a dead suspect. 

 Consider, for a moment, a thought experiment:  What if Johnson was also without a gun, utilizing a different instrument to commit his crime? A knife, a rope, a candlestick, it does not matter so long as it would be legally possessed within city limits. How many men would have been directly targeted and killed by the murderer? All things being equal, there would be only the murder of Steven Ercolino. 

 The Johnson shooting and subsequent collateral damage teach a valuable object lesson. Observe a situation where gun control is near universally effective, the best resources of the city on hand to handle the criminal, and no vigilantes interfered. The failure was neither the implementation nor enforcement of gun control, but in the disarmed citizenry and counterproductive police response. 

 This is a symptom of failure intrinsic to the very concept of gun control. There exists an inherent fragility in the doctrine, as the illusion of safety can be maintained only as long as no criminal acts are committed. Johnson committed his crime, and the illusion was shattered by both the murder and the response. It is difficult to envision a scenario in which an armed private citizen would cause more collateral damage than did the NYPD in this incident. To remove weapons from the hands of citizens does nothing to enhance the safety of citizens and may increase the danger from both criminal and state actors.