Concerning Conflict

We live in a world of scarcity. We will never know a time when a single thing, like an apple, can be consumed by more than one person at a time (i.e. not shared, wholly consumed). As a result, humans have developed methods of avoiding conflict over scarce goods such as through the development of, and adherence to, property rights. When conflicts do arise, those involved are directly impacted by the outcome of the conflict. As a result, the vast majority of people avoid conflict whenever possible. This is not the case when conflicts arise between states.

The bellicose leaders of the governments of the United States and North Korea have recently seen fit to rattle their nuclear sabres over the north Pacific. One is an elected bully accustomed to getting his way and the other is a self anointed “supreme leader” of a nation oppressed by his communist regime. These distinctions aside, their common penchant for conflict is increasingly on display. Conflict is far more easily entered into when the combatants have no skin in the game.

Kim Jung-un rules with an iron fist over a nation of people shielded from 21st century advances. Donald Trump commands the most powerful military force in the history of earth. Each willingly proposes to send people under their command into the nuclear breach. Neither will shed blood should bombs begin to rain. Neither will see his son or daughter’s flag-draped coffin return from a distant battle zone. It is this absence of direct consequence which makes each of these fools far more willing to enter into war.

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Someone Else’s Money

One of the many reasons for government inefficiency and waste can be found in the source of funding. Be it through taxation (i.e. theft), borrowing (i.e. future taxation/theft), or monetary expansion (i.e. theft through devaluation), all government programs are funded through use of someone else’s money. As a result, little regard is paid for need, effectiveness, efficiency, or return on investment of any government led undertaking.

In Toronto, a city park received a bid to build a set of steps for between $65,000 and $150,000. When a local resident spent $550 and built them himself, the city paid to have his steps removed. While Mr. Astl’s efforts may have resulted in an inferior solution, he certainly proved the exorbitance of the estimates offered by the city.

In New York, John Stossel shows a bathroom built by the city for a price of two million dollars. When Mr. Stossel questions city officials, they assure him that this price is reasonable. Perhaps just as egregious is the length of time needed to build such a facility in the city: years rather than months.

Finally, it would be difficult to measure the amount of waste directed by Congress toward the U.S. military. Many stories abound of appropriations for weapons systems and equipment which are neither called for nor used by the military. While a nation $20 trillion in debt might make better decisions, the choices that concern other people’s money are easy to make, particularly since repercussions are few and far between.

Regressivism

One of the common arguments against free market capitalism is the claim that child labor and other labor abuses result from a lack of government oversight. However, as has been pointed out here before, child labor, which persists today in the poorest countries, existed long before economic liberalism and reflects instead a lack of productivity. As the industrial revolution progressed, individuals became more productive and could therefore support their family without significant contributions from all family members.

In the United States, productivity increases eventually resulted in the single earner household; while it was largely men who made up the workforce, both men and women were often sufficiently productive to allow their spouse to remain home with their children.  Productivity gains further increased leisure time enabling shorter work weeks and longer vacations. This progress was the result of productivity brought about by greater freedom, competition, and investment.

Progressivism seeks to increase government regulation and oversight in an effort to eliminate the aforementioned “evils” of capitalism. Rather than seeking greater productivity, progressivism and its more insidious cousin socialism aim for more work available for more people. In a progressive utopia, idle hands don’t exist. Spreading the workload across the population moves human society back toward the time before the improvements of productivity. Rather than leisure, the inhabitants of a socialist society can enjoy more work as they contribute to the greater good. While the term “progressivism” likely has its roots in the belief of progressing toward Marx’s supposed inevitable “communist future,” it will instead result in regression.