In my second article for the entrepreneur and startup website Alleywatch, I take on the myth that performance bonuses spur improved employee performance. Quite the contrary, they usually both cost money and reduce productivity. As I note,
Pink persuasively argues that financial incentives can lead to all sorts of negative consequences; from reducing internal motivation, fostering short-term thinking and crushing creativity. Probably the worst consequence of such incentives is that it incentivizes cheating though. If, for example, an employee gets a bonus if that employee sells 1K units, it’s hardly surprising if that employee uses some underhanded and perhaps unethical or illegal techniques to hit that mark.
It shouldn't at all be a surprise that employees may bend the rules to reach the benchmarks needed for a bonus. But further than that, performance bonuses reduce "intrinsic motivation." What is that you ask? Well, you'll just have to read the article to find out.
So Gillette decided the best way to sell razors to men was to tell us all how terrible we are:
Ahh yes, that "toxic masculinity" (a useless term dreamt up in fraudulent university departments). Just shave it off with Gillette! It's the best a manlet can get!
Corporate wokeness has gotten so tedious and tiring it's almost just window dressing at this point. Remember when the Left freaked out over Tim Tebow's sappy pro-life commercial (that said nothing about abortion) during the Super Bowl? Ahh yes, what's good for me is bad for thee.
Anyways, Gillette's customers seem to be less than impressed:
Gillette's marketing strategy appears to be to dethrone the last Youtube Rewind video for the most hated of all time. Obviously the best way to market to men is to create an ad that appeals to man-hating, blue-haired feminists... or something.
Kind of reminds me a of Nike's Colin Kaepernik ad:
"Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything."
A philosophy, of course, that's held by just about every terrorist:
I know, I know. Too soon.
Hey, remember the good old days when companies just sold products? Here's a Gillette ad from 1989:
That's more like it! Men doing awesome shit and kissing pretty girls and everyone being happy. Ahh nostalgia. Kinda makes we want to shave.
And what do the customers think?
Whatever you think of Donald Trump, it's hard to deny that he is absolutely hilarious (and intentionally so at least 70 percent of the time or thereabout.) Lately, he's been trolling it up with the best of them in a historic run. First target, the less-Native American-than-the-average-American Elizabeth Warren:
Not very "culturally sensitive," but damn that made me laugh. Oh, and her presidential campaign?
These LOL's Mr. President... I just can't handle all of these LOL's!
And then there's jumping on the conservative "dear diary..." meme that's been memetically employed against Jim Acosta for a while now (basically because everything he tweets sounds like melodramatic whining):
And the funniest bit is that all of these will be preserved for posterity in the National Archive. There just simply aren't enough laughing emoji's for the current year.
My new article for Mises.org is out, which is actually a reworked version of this older article that was also published on Mises. This one takes the newly elected congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (whom both the Left and Right seem to be obsessed with) to task for her absurd plan to tax the rich at 70 percent in order to get America's carbon footprint down to zero in 12 years...
Wait what? Seriously? Why did I spend my time to critique this nonsense?
Anyways, as I note, while the tax rates in history have been much higher (as high as 91 percent), the amount collected as a percentage of GDP has pretty much always been the same since the early 1950's. As I note,
Regardless, one should ask how much the rich were actually paying. It should be noteworthy that back in the 1950s, the government wasn’t actually collecting any more in tax revenue as a percentage of GDP. There’s something called Hauser’s Law, which basically states there is a maximum threshold on how much the government can tax out of its population. I believe this “law” is no such thing. If the government really wanted to expropriate more, it could do so. But Hauser’s Law is based on the fact that in pretty much every year since 1950, the government has collected between 16 and 20 percent of GDP in taxes. Here are the government tax receipts compared to the top marginal tax rate:
The reason there has been such a discrepancy between the tax rate and the amount collected boils down to the differences in the where the top marginal tax rate kicked in as well as a myriad of deductions that used to exist, but no longer do.
I go into much more of the history and explanation in the article, so check it out!
...follow you talent. I've been big on this since I read the thought-provoking book So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport. But this was highlighted to me by a great quote from Scott Galloway in his book about "The Four Horseman" of the digital economy (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon), The Four. (Which in its own right is a quality read that advocates breaking up the big tech firms, although he doesn't seem to be bothered by the danger they pose with their ability to censor and direct search results.)
Take responsibility for your own career, and manage it. People will tell you to 'follow our passion.' This, again, is bullshit. I would like to be quarterback for the New York Jets. I'm tall, have a good arm, decent leadership skills, and would enjoy owning car dealerships after my knees go. However, I have marginal athletic ability--learned this fast at UCLA. People who tell you to follow your passion are already rich.
We are entering a world of "winner takes all" in almost all of the arts and "passion" careers. A couple winners (i.e. Taylor Swift, Chris Pratt and Pewdiepie) and a lot of losers. Passions can wait (or be hobbies). And given the fact that most people are out there "searching" for their passion and waiting to begin their career until they find it; following your passion can be very dangerous advise indeed.
Instead, follow your talent. Be so good they can't ignore you.
With Jeff Bezos impending divorce I thought it would be worth reposting this short piece I wrote for SwiftEconomics on a variety of famous divorce "settlements." Bezos infidelity may cost him a cool $69 billion! Oops. And yes, our divorce courts in the United States are a joke. And yes, these "alpha males" who couldn't stay monogamous if their life (and certainly most of their wealth) depended on it, should not be getting married.)
I’m not one for celebrity gossip; I find it to be a futile exercise in time-wasting, mind-numbing, soul-destroying, culture-wrecking stupidity. But I have to make an exception with a couple of recent celebrity divorce settlements that simply boggle the mind.
The first is Tiger Woods. Yeah, apparently 15 prostitutes is just a wee bit too much indiscretion for those good old marital vows to take, so his wife, Elin Nordegren, divorced him. I have no idea what goes on in these settlement hearings (nor do I want to) or how they come up with what appears to be an arbitrary (but ridiculously huge) number. This settlement cost Tiger over $750 million! Some of that sum was to buy Elin’s silence. The settlement prevents Elin from ever discussing Tiger’s infidelity in public (no book deal), but it also has a strange clause that bans Tiger from even introducing his kids to a new girlfriend; he has to marry her before they can meet. Given Tiger’s propensity for infidelity, doing that could cost him another $750 million.
Then there’s Michael Douglas, whose marriage with Diandra Douglas actually ended 10 years ago and cost him a cool $45 million. Well she’s suing him again. See, Michael Douglas is coming out with the sequel to Wall Street called Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (I kid you not) and there is a clause in the original divorce settlement that allows Diandra to receive residuals for any “spin offs” of movies Michael Douglas did while they were together. Does reprising the role of Gordon Gecko count as a spin off? I don’t know, but isn’t $45 million enough?
t’s almost like the court just takes a cut as if they were the house at a card game; so the bigger the number the better. There’s Paul McCartney’s $235 million nightmare of a divorce. Or you can scan through this list from Michael Jordan’s $168 million settlement to Mick Jagger’s $25 million settlement. From time to time it goes the other way, Guy Ritchie managed to snatch $75 million from Madonna when they split even though he was already a successful movie director.
But the trend typically involves some high status male who gets caught cheating and then forks over some obscene amount of money in divorce. Tiger Woods is simply the most obvious example and I should also note that Michael Douglas’ ex accused him of having an affair. Or hell, just think of the Democratic leadership of recent decades: Bill Clinton, John Edwards, and now Al Gore. Al Gore is way beyond infidelity. He’s [was] facing sex abuse charges, which is probably the fault of global warming… he couldn’t control himself, it was just too damn hot.
The thing is, these guys are alpha males. No doubt about it. Alpha males may be extremely talented (Woods), extremely charismatic (Clinton) or just a huge douchebag that is famous for some reason (Gore), but they do typically have some traits in common. First and foremost, fidelity is not something they’re particularly good at.
It’s not really their fault, well it is, but monogamy is kinda going against their nature. As Alan Miller and Satoshi Kanzawa at Psychology Today put it:
…powerful men of high status throughout human history attained very high reproductive success, leaving a large number of offspring (legitimate and otherwise), while countless poor men died mateless and childless… Men strive to attain political power, consciously or unconsciously, in order to have reproductive access to a larger number of women.
So let me offer some unsolicited advice. Ladies, if you want your husband to remain faithful, DO NOT MARRY AN ALPHA MALE! And alpha males, if you like NOT paying out multi-million dollar divorce settlements, DO NOT GET MARRIED! You’re going to cheat, because that’s what you do, and in all likelihood, you’ll eventually get caught. At which point an alpha male and his money are soon parted.
So luckily this proposal didn't really come to fruition, but I figure it's a good thing to republish an article I wrote in 2010 for SwiftEconomics on the military draft (or military slavery as I call it). Yes, we still have the Selective Service, but fortunately, we aren't, at least for now, bringing back the damn draft.
Congressman Charlie Rangel, despite being investigated for major ethics violations, some of which we’ve discussed before, is pushing for a reintroduction of the military draft. The bill is H.R. 5741 – The Universal National Service Act and it has reached committee. The text of it reads as follows:
“To require all persons in the United States between the ages of 18 and 42 to perform national service, either as a member of the uniformed services or in civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland security, to authorize the induction of persons in the uniformed services during wartime to meet end-strength requirements of the uniformed services, and for other purposes.”
It does at least offer a non-military alternative, but it’s involuntary and coercive “service” nonetheless. And “all persons” includes women too for the first time in American history; a huge step forward for gender equality indeed. You know, kind of like going up to Susan B. Anthony circa 1900 and saying “hey Susan, babe, let’s forget about this whole women’s suffrage thing. I mean. c’mon, women voting, you’re kidding right? Let’s just take the right to vote away from men and then we’ll all be equal.” Equality can suck for everyone.
The military draft, which H.R. 5741 basically reintroduces, is indefensible in anything other than an extreme national emergency (in which it would be almost certainly unnecessary). The reason it’s indefensible is simple enough, as Russell Kirk said, “the military draft is slavery.” Yes, quite literally, by definition, it’s slavery. Here’s the text of the 13th amendmentof the Constitution, and how exactly could the draft not be defined as anything other than a form of “involuntary servitude.”
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
Unless its a crime to exist there’s no way the military draft is constitutional. I don’t care if the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional because “compelled military service is neither repugnant to a free government nor in conflict with the constitutional guaranties of individual liberty” and “it may not be doubted that the very conception of a just government and its duty to the citizen includes the duty of the citizen to render military service in case of need, and the right of the government to compel it.”
If that sounds like the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard, it’s probably because it is. A “just government’s duty to its citizens includes the duty of the citizen to render military service”… huh? Are they arguing that its not just constitutional, but actually the duty of the government to conscript its citizens? Indeed, arguments that conscription is anything other than a euphemism for slavery are all quite embarrassing. The very weak arguments could be broken down as follows:
1) ‘Draftees get paid so it’s not slavery.’ [Irrelevant, slaves got paid with food, shelter, clothing, etc. And if slaves had gotten wages, would that have somehow made the institution justifiable?]
So yes, arguing that the military draft is not a form of slavery is quite literally arguing with a dictionary. This is not to imply that military slavery is as bad as the chattel slavery that existed in the United States before 1865. No, that was certainly worse for a host of reasons, primarily because it was typically perpetual. But the chattel slavery in the antebellum south was also worse than the slavery in ancient Greece and possibly better than the slavery in the Stalinist gulags (‘better’ being a relative term of course). There are certainly degrees of evil here, but they are all still forms of slavery and are all unjustifiable.
And unfortunately, Obama seems to like this proposal:
All I can say is I am disgusted. Call your Congressman or Senator, write a letter to the editor, post on your blog or something to stop this nonsense from getting passed.
My newest article for BiggerPockets is up on whether or not it makes sense for you to pursue your CCIM (Certified Commercial Investment Member) designation. I previously wrote about what the courses entail here, but this article outlines the pros and cons of pursuing your CCIM. In brief, the pros are:
1. Increased Credibility
2. Solid Education
3. Opportunities to network and make new contacts
And the disadvantages are rather simple:
1. The cost
2. The time
A lot of the decision comes down to whether or not you fit the mold. CCIM's are usually held by those in commercial real estate not those in residential. So a house flipper has little incentive to pursue one. The article contains a much more in depth discussion on the topic. Check it out!
And here is the second piece, originally from SwiftEconomics.com, on why political terminology often obscures more than it clarifies. I may have oversold it here, but I still believe it's good food for thought. See Part 1 here.
As seen in Part 1, political terms, such as liberal, conservative or libertarian, are muddled enough. Unfortunately, political organizations, popular terms and ideologies have many of the same issues. The political parties in the United States have gone through whole sale shifts in political ideology. Republicans used to be the party of tariffs and protectionism, now they are avid free traders. Democrats were the party of slavery and Jim Crow, before becoming the party of Civil Rights and Affirmative Action.
In no area is this shift more apparent than in foreign policy. Today, Republicans are seen as the hawkish, militarists and advocates of an aggressive foreign policy while Democrats are seen as the peace-loving, doves. However, a quick glance at history reveals this is not the way it has always, or evenly recently, been. The four major wars the United States took part in during the 20th century were all entered into by Democratic presidents (World War I: Woodrow Wilson; World War II: Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Korean War: Harry Truman; Vietnam War: Lyndon Johnson), two of which were ended by the Republicans who promised to do so (Dwight Eisenhower with Korea and Richard Nixon, albeit pathetically, with Vietnam). Take a quick look at the party platforms from 1952 (Eisenhower vs. Stevenson) and 1968 (Nixon vs. Humphrey) and ask which one looks more aggressive:
“We urge continued effort, by every honorable means [italics mine], to bring about a fair and effective peace settlement in Korea.”
Even as late as 2000, George Bush and the Republicans decried Bill Clinton for nation building in Somalia, Haiti and Serbia. The difference in rhetoric between the 2000 and 2004 Republican platform is quite, well, embarrassing:
“In the last eight years the administration [of Bill Clinton] has squandered the opportunity granted to the United States by the courage and sacrifice of previous generations:
Or even more embarrassing, take a look at what George Bush, in his 2000 speech at the Republican National Convention, outlined as the requirements for the United States to use military force:
“A generation shaped by Vietnam, must remember the lessons of Vietnam. When America uses force in the world, the cause must be clear, the goal must be just and the victory must be overwhelming.” (3)
Well that’s a solid 0-3. At least George Bush was able to justify this about-face with a whole host of meaningless political rhetoric. What would politicians, of either party, do if they couldn’t throw words like freedom, liberty, democracy, change, hope, opportunity, or equality around?
Take the word “freedom,” which has been misused to point of pure, ridiculousness. For example, George Bush couldn’t go more than a few sentences without saying the word, even while passing legislation such as the Patriot Act, which obviously curtailed many of our freedoms here in the United States.* Or when France declined to support the United States in the Iraq War, the Bush administration decided to go all 3rd grade on those cheese-eating, surrender monkeys, and rename French fries, the very clever name of “freedom fries” (French fries are not actually French by the way).
“Democracy” is another word that has suffered a similar fate. The United States’ has made a mission of exporting it for crying out loud. However, we only like it when democracy goes our way. Take the Palestinian election in 2006, when Hamas was elected as the majority party. The United States refused to even recognize them! I’m certainly no fan of Hamas, but you can’t try to export democracy and then whine and pout when you don’t like the winner. If that’s the case, then you weren’t a fan of democracy in the first place, you were just a fan of the word “democracy.”
Then there’s “equality,” a term often used as a cudgel among the political-correctness police. The common, borderline Orwellian application tends to take the form of some interest group demanding “equal rights” through some sort of government enforced special privileges. It all boils down to whether equality means equality of outcome, or equality of opportunity; while discrimination certainly exists, the two types of equality can’t coexist, especially financially speaking, since everyone pursues different goals which lead to different ends. Still, “equality” remains an incessantly popular buzzword, especially on the left.
Finally, the word “change,” which every challenger uses when running against the incumbent party and which Barack Obama has made a career out of. Yet, as we’ve seen, whether it be foreign policy, spending, etc., a politician can run a campaign on change, without actually changing much… and Barack Obama is a perfect case study for this.**
So these words are continuously tossed around in a consistently vague and disingenuous way. I think politicians almost prefer not to define them. After all, if these words were defined, it would be much easier to see politicians are, basically, full of crap.
Unfortunately, politicians and political parties are not the only ones who use vague or hollow terminology. The same term is often used to mean many different things, by all sorts of different groups and organizations holding fundamentally different beliefs. Say if someone were to ask you: “Are you in favor of Civil Rights?” The answer would probably, well hopefully, be yes; but by what definition? The NRA and the ACLU have very different ideas of what “civil rights” entail. If someone were to ask you: “Are you a libertarian?” What do they mean? They could be referring to a civil libertarian, a libertarian by the American definition, a libertarian by the European definition or just someone who likes liberty. How about if someone were to ask you: “Are you a feminist?” Well, just a brief glance at Wikipedia tells us this question, to say the least, is a little vague, given the “subtypes” available:
It seems to me that gender feminism and womanism feminism are somewhat redundant; regardless, many of these subtypes are not subtypes at all. Some have diametric world views that are incompatible with each other. For example, individualist feminists and Marxist feminists agree with each other on almost nothing, other than the basic premise that “women are totally awesome.”
Even with religion, simple answers do little to suffice. Shiite’s and Sunni’s continue to kill each other in Iraq despite both groups being “Muslims.” This bloodshed is very reminiscent of the way that Protestants and Catholics killed each other for centuries after the Reformation (30 Years War, conflict in Ireland, etc.), despite both groups being “Christian.”
According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, there are almost 34,000 different denominations within Christianity alone. (5) Some are relatively similar, say Anglicanism and Methodism. Others are worlds apart. The Gnostic’s, whom no longer exist, believed that the God of the Old Testament was actually at odds with the God of the New Testament. The goal of these Gnostics seems somewhat Buddhist actually: teaching that human souls are trapped in a material world, the goal of which, is to escape said material world. Even today, many Christians are at theological odds with each other. Many old-school Catholics, who protest the reforms made by Vatican II in 1962, believe that only Catholics will go to Heaven. Mel Gibson even went so far as to imply his Protestant wife would actually go to Hell (they’ve since filed for divorce… shocking, I know). Given all these differences, even to say one is a Christian or Muslim is, at best, only a partial description.
It becomes quite evident that these labels, political or otherwise, are simply shortcuts, if not meaningless altogether. In my opinion, if you fall in line completely with either the Democratic or Republican platform (as discombobulated and contradictory as those platforms tend to be), or just about any other political organization, you are, in all likelihood, a complete tool. There is no reason that someone who is pro-life should necessarily oppose gay marriage. There is no reason that someone who supports the gold standard should necessarily oppose the minimum wage. There is no reason that someone who supports drug legalization should necessarily support a gun ban. These are different issues, and as painstaking as it may be, an opinion on each one needs to be arrived at individually, if one’s opinion is really to matter.
Sometimes it may be better to just say “I don’t know.” The situation in Sri Lanka, for example, is a complex one: Are the Tamil Tigers ruthless terrorists, or are they freedom fighters standing up against the oppressive Sinhalese government? I honestly don’t know and don’t really have the time or motivation to find out. But to just say “I don’t know,” often is better than identifying blindly with an ideology, political party, organization or buzzword. At the very least, it’s less muddled and confusing.
* For example, the Patriot Act allows federal agents to write their own search warrants and enter suspect’s homes without their knowledge before or after. This is in direct contradiction with the 4thamendment of the U.S. Constitution, which reads as follows:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” (6)
**While the standard rhetoric from Democrats and Republicans would make it seem like Barack Obama and George Bush are worlds apart, their policies are actually very similar. I discuss this in detail here, but briefly, both have substantially raised government spending, deficits and increased regulations. Furthermore, Obama’s plan to withdraw from Iraq is similar to what Bush had already negotiated: Obama voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act and while he shut down Guantanamo Bay, he is still using the rendition program Bush put in place. The Cap and Trade policy he just pushed through Congress is similar to what John McCain proposed as well, the candidate Bush endorsed.
(1) The American Presidency Project, “Democrat Party Plaform of 1952,” “Republican Party Platform 1952, Democrat Party Platform 1968,” and “Repulican Party Platform 1968,” http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/platforms.php
(2) Ibid., “Republican Party Platform of 2000,” and “Republican Party Platform of 2004,” http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/platforms.php
(3) George Bush, 2000 Republican National Convention Acceptance Speech, August 3rd, 2000, Transcript can be seen here: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/election2000/gopconvention/george_w_bush.html
(4) “Feminism,” Wikipedia, Retrieved July 1st, 2009, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminism
(5) Quoted from Religious Tolerance.org, “Relgions of the World,” http://www.religioustolerance.org/worldrel.htm#wce, David Barrett et al, World Christian Encyclopedia,Oxford University Press, 2001
(6) “The United States Constitution,” 1787, U.S. Constitution Online, Retrieved July 1st, 2009, http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html
So here's an old article I wrote for SwiftEconomics almost 10 years. I'm not as confident in this pronouncement now, but at the very least, political terminology has made for very simplistic categorization. Or perhaps it's just because the Left is kinda boring and monoculture while the Right is all over the place (seriously, this is scientifically proven now). Regardless, I still think there is a lot to gain from this piece and Part 2 which I will republish tomorrow:
At the risk of venturing to far from economic wit, I feel a need to comment on political terminology. Economics is, after all, related to politics, so I’m not venturing too far off base (or at least, I’ve deceived myself into thinking I’m not). Recently, there has been a litany of media reports and diatribes about a significant growth of “extreme” right-wing groups. Liberal economist and New York Times editorialist, Paul Krugman explained it as follows
“Back in April, there was a huge fuss over an internal report by the Department of Homeland Security warning… [of] an upsurge of right-wing extremism… Conservatives were outraged. The chairman of the Republican National Committee denounced the report as an attempt to “segment out conservatives in this country who have a different philosophy or view from this administration” and label them as terrorists. But with the murder of Dr. George Tiller by an anti-abortion fanatic, closely followed by a shooting by a white supremacist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the analysis looks prescient…[and this] right-wing extremism is being systematically fed by the conservative media and political establishment.” (1)
Krugman’s argument is interesting insofar that it is hyperbolic, hypocritical and paints with way too big of a brush, all at the same time. Sure, conservatives have been up in arms over Barack Obama’s policies and have said a multitude of vitriolic things, highlighted by the daily rants of Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh types. However, the same thing happened to George Bush during his presidency (most of which, Bush deserved, in my opinion). And Krugman was at the front of the line in that barrage of vitriol.
What this whole mess elucidates is, as far as politics (and subsequently, economic policy) are concerned, actual positions are of little importance. All that matters is that you root for your team, be they Democrats or Republicans. Thus, we see Fox News begin to attack every push for increased state power, while MSNBC defends such policies. Under Bush, it was the opposite. The truth is, political terms can mean just about anything and political parties have shifted their positions radically throughout history. Individual policy positions are important and Krugman certainly has firm beliefs on a myriad of issues. However, in this instance, Krugman is just rooting for his team: the Democrats. Much the way Rush Limbaugh roots for his team: the Republicans.
The key question we have to ask is what are the “extreme” right-wing groups that Krugman and his ilk are referring to? Certainly the murderers Krugman refers to are terrible individuals with terrible ideologies. However, on the larger question, is he referring to fascists, radical free-marketers, religious zealots or the racist, Confederate types? Or is he talking about all of these groups? For its part, the Department of Homeland Security report Krugman mentions, describes right-wing extremism as follows:
“Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.” (2)
This covers an awful lot of ground. Under this definition, every group mentioned above could be considered part of the extreme right, yet they are, in many cases, the polar opposites of each other. Several even have fairly “liberal” beliefs.
Fascists, at least the fascists of the 1930’s, favored a massive welfare state, state control of industry and strict gun laws. Adolf Hitler and the Nazi’s even launched large campaigns to stop smoking. To list just a few of the Nazi’s 25 campaign points:
13. We demand the nationalization of all trusts.
Maybe the “socialist” part in National Socialists actually meant something. After all, even the BNP (British National Party) is usually decried as far right for being racist and anti-immigration. They are also in support protectionism, higher taxes and “[giving] workers a stake in the success and prosperity of the enterprises whose profits their labour creates by encouraging worker shareholder and co-operative schemes.” (4) Hardly right wing.
Radical free marketers, typically libertarians (who are very much anti-government and pro-local control), on the other hand, tend to favor drug legalization, gay marriage and a very dovish foreign policy; positions usually seen as being on the left. And given that, how can both of these ideologies be on the “extreme” right-wing? Anyone who really thinks fascists and libertarians are even remotely similar should strongly consider visiting their friendly, local neurologist.
The left can be seen in many of the same ways. The best example is that both communists (total state) and anarchists (no state) are seen as movements of the left. It is true that Karl Marx believed the state would magically “wither away” after capital was eliminated (a ridiculous proposition, given that those in power would have to voluntarily give up their power, preceded by an impossible task, since capital is anything of value and can’t be eliminated). Still, to advocate for eliminating the state (as anarchists would do) and having the state take over everything (as communists would do), would require the exact opposite policies. Yet, both groups are on the “extreme” left.
Furthermore, these terms also change over time, or by geographic region, or simply by which group of people you’re hanging out with. Take the term centrist. A centrist is a centrist only by modern and geographical definitions. For example, one of those white, nationalist crackpots who believe slavery was probably bad, but who also believe a “superior” and “inferior” race can’t coexist, would have been a centrist position 200 years ago in the United States, perhaps even progressive (forgive my use of such a vague phrase, to be discussed later). Thomas Jefferson, as enlightened as he was, unfortunately, was of this persuasion. Racism is a relic that comes to us from prehistoric tribalism. Our brains instinctually see different, as dangerous. This mental trait is to our advantage when say, that different thing is a hungry tiger. With race though, to put it mildly, this view is a bit outdated. Yet 200 years ago, it would have been a centrist position.
The same could be said for radicalism. By who’s definition is one a radical? By standard political dogma, of course. To be fair, radical is often used as a compliment: the founders of the United States were radical. Martin Luther King Jr. was radical. However, the term is often used in a derogatory fashion, especially when used in the present tense.
I define radicalism differently. I don’t think a Marxist or an anarcho-capitalist is a radical. They just have a different opinion than me. Radicalism isn’t bad, extremism is. Extremism, in my view, is the belief you are right, with such conviction, that nothing can change your mind and furthermore, that the ends justify the means. Blowing up abortion clinics or medical labs where research on animals is going on is extremist. Aside from being blatantly immoral, it is destructive to your cause. How much of the peace process in Israel has been stymied by terrorism? Even when in response to some justified grievance, it does more harm than good. This is the kind of radicalism that should be condemned, not just being radically outside the mainstream. After all, as Mark Twain said, “The radical of one century is the conservative of the next. The radical invents the views. When he has worn them out, the conservative adopts them.”
While time changes things drastically, geography presents similar problems for political terminology. I believe in the separation of church and state. In the United States, this is a fairly centrist position. Religion is personal; politics is public, and quite dirty for that matter. However, do you think this position is centrist in say, oh I don’t know, Iran?
When time and geography come into play, these things can get real messy. The term “libertarian” is a great example of this. The famous, leftist, intellectual Noam Chomsky considers himself a libertarian socialist. When a student asked him how he could be both, given that it’s a contradiction in terms, he responded as follows:
“You’re right, the terms I’m using are contradictory in the United States, but that’s a sign of the perversity of American culture. Here the term libertarian means the opposite of what it meant to everyone else all through history.” (5)
Professor Chomsky is right. I’ll leave out his diatribe about how “American” libertarians are “extreme advocates of total tyranny” and how the United States is responsible for every evil in the history of the world. However, his main point, that most of the world thinks libertarian is synonymous with anarcho-syndicalism or libertarian socialism, is correct. What Chomsky leaves out is why American libertarians are called what they are (other than our perverse culture). I mean, we have to have a name for these extreme advocates of total tyranny, don’t we?
Since “tyrannyians” would be a poor rallying cry, Americans of this political persuasion were forced to a look for a more appealing term. So how did they come up with libertarian? Well it’s not that complicated, though it requires a quick history lesson. Libertarians advocate a political ideology that is similar to classical liberalism; a philosophy popularized by the likes of John Locke and Adam Smith, and was very prevalent in the 19th century. The popular saying, “your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins” sums it up quite succinctly. In more specific terms, both philosophies advocate free markets, social freedom, and limited government. Libertarians tend to emphasize freedom, whereas classical liberals emphasized utilitarianism; however, they each hold both in high regard. The main reason classical liberals in the United States are now known as libertarians is that the term “liberal” was no longer available.
Why, you ask? Well, politics in the United States started to change around the beginning of the 20th century with the famous progressive movement. Government had been a “necessary evil” in the U.S. for almost its entire history. However, with an industrial revolution and mounting poverty (or at least, more visible poverty), many people thought the government could be used as a tool for social improvement. The idea that “the government which governs least, governs best,” was replaced with an interventionist government appropriated with the tools to help the oppressed and down-on-their-luck types.
In sticking with our current theme, the progressives of the early 20thcentury bare little resemblance to the progressives of today. Both groups favor an activist government, but progressives of the early 20th century favored prohibition, were often infatuated with eugenics and many of them supported the United States’ entry into World War I. None of this resembles the drug legalizing, racism hating (albeit, identity politics loving), peaceniks of self-described progressives today.
Interestingly enough, this sheds light on what is the opposite of a progressive; labeled and derided as reactionary. Some things are obviously reactionary, say human sacrifice, although other terms, such as “bad,” would work better. However, to label many policies as reactionary, just because they’re old or passe, usually winds up in a contradiction. Take drugs, which progressives tend to want to legalize (a position I support). This is seen as progressive, perhaps because it is “enlightened,” perhaps because it is a better policy, or perhaps because it is new. Unfortunately, for consistency’s sake, legalizing drugs is in fact very old, thus not “progressive.” Not only is this position the opposite of what progressives of the early 20th century favored. After all, many helped pushed through the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, the first major federal drug law, under progressive president Woodrow Wilson. What’s key to note is that the first significant federal drug law came in 1914! Drugs had been legal in the United States for most of its history. Thus, couldn’t drug legalization be seen as a reactionary position? Or do these terms even matter in the first place?
But I digress. Returning to our discussion on libertarianism, during the Great Depression, advocates of the free market, namely classical liberals, became harder and harder to find. Who could support free markets when unemployment was over 20%? It’s certainly difficult to advocate freedom when that freedom is the freedom to starve to death. Thus, the term liberalism shifted from advocates of a free market economy to a mixed economy. When Franklin Roosevelt, implemented the New Deal, the meaning of “liberal” had all but finished its transition. Those who wanted to reduce the size of the welfare state (or eliminate it entirely), took up the role of conservatives. However, conservatives maintained the belief that government had a role in monitoring moral values and have famously laxed on their free market ideology.
So while libertarians tend to favor conservatives over liberals, they have significant differences with each.
What’s interesting to note here, is that while a similar cultural shift happened in Europe, the terminology did not follow suit. In Europe, liberal political parties called themselves the labor party or for people further to the left, social democrats. It’s hard to say exactly why the shift in terminology happened here but not across the pond (well, I think it’s hard to say, I really just don’t feel like researching it), but ideologically, liberal Democrats and the labor party are quite similar. So the word “liberal” in Europe still, for the most part, represents what it did in the 19th century: free markets, small government and individual liberty. This, if you remember, is basically what “American” libertarianism stands for.
So to counterpoint Chomsky on this matter, one could say, if Chomsky ever called himself a liberal socialist, that would be a contradiction in terms; it’s only not considered a contradiction because of the perversity of American culture. However good Chomsky’s political arguments are, he’s simply demagoguing here.* There’s no real perversion, or conspiracy, or anything like that. This is just how the world works. Libertarians broke with the traditional right as it became more and more obsessed with fighting the Cold War and decided to use the term “libertarian” primarily because it simply put an “ian” on the word liberty. And if you’ve ever met a libertarian, you know they love the word liberty. Anyways, libertarian sounds a lot less hokey than their second choice: freedomian (tyrannyian came in third).
This muddling of terms is by no means a lone case. These types of political terminology shifts are quite common and can make history lessons even more confusing for socially awkward, self-esteem lacking, unquenchably horny, ADHD-inflicted adolescents to understand. Good thing they gave up trying to understand many years ago.
Just go back to the word liberal. Today, you may hear neo-liberalism tossed around, usually with a negative connotation regarding free trade. Neo-liberalism is often used synonymously with classical liberalism, though not to be confused with regular liberalism, which tends to oppose both. That is unless we are referring to “liberalizing” some part of the economy; say trade, which would reduce trade barriers. Then you can drop the neo/classical and just say “we are liberalizing trade,” despite the fact that most self-described liberals would like to “de-liberalize” trade.
Or how about neo-conservativism, which is neither neo (new) nor conservative. Neo-conservatism is fine with the welfare state (not conservative), dislikes federalism (very not conservative), is fine with policing morality (not particularly conservative, unless we’re talking about the religious right) and has an extraordinarily hawkish foreign policy (not conservative in the “old right” sort of way, at least). Neo-conservative founders, Irving Kristol and Leo Strauss, even drew much of their inspiration from Leon Trotsky (the concept of a world wide “permanent revolution” especially, except they replaced socialism with democracy). So neo-conservatives are not conservative, neo-liberals are not liberal, classical liberals are neo-liberals, but not regular liberals, libertarians are classical liberals in the United States but anarcho-socialists in Europe, reductio ad-absurdum.
Each term itself is filled with many subgroups to make things even more confusing and less relevant. What becomes obvious is that blanket terms such as the “extreme right-wing,” that the likes of Paul Krugman like to throw around, are simply used as cudgels to denigrate multiple groups that are not even remotely associated with each other. The only thing these groups tend to have in common is that they oppose Krugman’s team.
Continued in Part 2.
*On a side note related to this discussion, I should mention that Osama Bin Laden, a radical “right-wing” Islamist, promoted one of Noam Chomsky’s, a leftist, pseudo-cult leader, books in one of his recorded messages to the West. It should also be noted that these “right-wing” Islamic countries have very controlled economies (i.e. not free market economies), as you can see here.
(1) Paul Krugman, “The Big Hate,” New York Times, June 12, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/12/opinion/12krugman.html
(2) Department of Homeland Security Report, Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment, Pg. 3n, April 7, 2009, a copy can be found here: http://video1.washingtontimes.com/video/extremismreport.pdf
(3) “The 25 Points of Hitler’s Nazi Party,” The History Place, retrieved June 25, 2009, http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/riseofhitler/25points.htm
(4) See Daniel Hannan, “There’s Nothing Right Wing About the BNP,” The Telegraph, February 22, 2009, http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/danielhannan/8679468/Theres_nothing_Rightwing_about_the_BNP/
(5) “Noam Chomsky – Libertarian Socialism: Contradicting terms?,” retrieved June 25, 2009, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ugq86q9KyPE
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