A blupete Essay

Notes, to blupete's Essay
"The Siren's Song"

1 Socialism is "a theory or policy of social organization which aims at or advocates the ownership and control of the means of production, capital, land, property, etc., by the community as a whole, and their administration or distribution in the interests of all." (OED2.) Or more simply, a state of society in which things are held or used in common. Collectivism, socialism, communism: it's all the same. A communist, incidentally, it has been said, is merely a socialist with the courage to express his views openly and with conviction. And, the theory of communism may be summed up in the single sentence: "Abolition of private property." (Marx, 1848.) Therefore, we see, essentially, socialism is, as H. G. Wells put it, "a repudiation of the idea of ownership in the light of the public good." The question essentially boils down to property rights.

2 Joseph A. Schumpeter, an economist whom the socialists love to claim as their own, stated the principal difficulty: "Any kind of centralist socialism, therefore, can successfully clear the first hurdle - logical definiteness and consistency of socialist planning - and we may as well negotiate the next one at once. It consists of the 'practical impossibility' on which, it seems, most anti-socialist economists are at present inclined to retire after having accepted defeat on the purely logical issue. They hold that our central board would be confronted with a task of unmanageable complication, and some of them add that in order to function the socialist arrangement would presuppose a wholesale reformation of souls or of behavior - whichever way we prefer to style it - which historical experience and common sense prove to be out of the question." (Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942), Harper & Row, 3rd ed., 1962, pp. 184-5.)

3 "A cardinal trait in all advancing organizations is the development of the regulative apparatus. If the parts of a whole are to act together, there must be appliances by which their actions are directed; and in proportion as the whole is large and complex, and has many requirements to be met by many agencies, the directive apparatus must be extensive, elaborate, and powerful. That it is thus with individual organisms needs no saying; and that it must be thus with social organisms is obvious." (Arthur Seldon, Capitalism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), pp. 16-7.)

4 It was James Anthony Froude (1818-94) who said: "The first principle, on which the theory of a science of history can be plausibly argued, is that all actions whatsoever arise from self-interest. It may be enlightened self-interest, it may be unenlightened; but it is assumed as an axiom, that every man, in whatever he does, is aiming at something which he considered will promote his happiness. His conduct is not determined by his will; it is determined by the object of his desire. Adam Smith, in laying the foundations of political economy, expressly eliminates every other motive. He does not say that men never act on other motives; still less, that they never ought to act on other motives. He asserts merely that, as far as the arts of production are concerned, and of buying and selling, the action of self-interest may be counted upon as uniform." Then there is Emerson: "On the whole, selfishness plants best, prunes best, makes the best commerce and the best citizen." ("Montaigne," Representative Men.) And finally, if one is truly proceeding in what is in his best interest, he will be kind and considerate to all those around him; a rational person will not normally do things for momentary gain if he thinks the action will cause him grief in the future. "Caution," as Woodrow Wilson said, "is the confidential agent of selfishness."

5 See the philosophy of Sir Karl Popper and in particular The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945). The guiding public policy put forward by Popper in this grand work of his, is this: "Minimize avoidable suffering," this in contradistinction to the Utilitarian maxim, "Maximize happiness."

6 See Mill's work On Liberty. John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was an English philosopher and economist. Though socialists will often misquote him and claim him for their own: they cannot, for John Stuart Mill was, pure and simple, a believer in the necessity, for the benefit of the whole, of the freedom of choice for the individual, and stressed in his writings the danger of putting too much power in the hands of the state.

7 Popper was of the view that any "social engineer" can only proceed on a "piecemeal" basis. "... only a minority of social institutions are consciously designed while the vast majority have just 'grown' as the results of human actions." (See The Poverty of Historicism.) I would venture to give but a couple of examples of the consciously designed social institutions: the government mechanisms themselves (legislative, executive and judicial), national armed forces (fully answerable to the proper political authorities), local police forces, jails, food inspection, health inspection and school inspection. Certain social institutions would arise quite naturally as the result of human interaction: there is the all important activity of food production and distribution, housing and clothing -- all of which have arisen and maintain themselves quite nicely, thank-you, without government intervention; and, also, I would include, the delivery of health care and education, notwithstanding, that there are those (invariably on the government payroll) who would be aghast to think that these (admittedly) important social institutions should be left to the free market to sort out; hoping, as they do, that the taxpayer will forget that fortunes are being spent by government with, demonstratively, poor results.

8 That the political process is treated with disdain or wholly ignored by millions, is evident by the turn out at election time. Compare this with the market system where all the voters spend every dollar with infinitely more thought, knowledge and responsibility. (For development see Seldon at p. 320.)

9 For a development, see Bruno Leoni's work Freedom and the Law (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 3rd Ed., 1991), p. 15. Leoni was a professor of the University of Pavia, Italy and the Past President of the Mont Pelerin Society.

10 The Law Society Gazette, vol. 28, p. 201.

11 The scientific method might be best summed up by stating that all conclusions in science are empirical, tentative, and undogmatic. Scientific theory has its roots in the Humeian view that all concepts must be built with ideas of substance, ideas of matter which truly exist in the external world and not figments of pure imagination -- ideas consistent with all observed phenomena. The approach calls for the gathering in of all observations, all the available pieces of the puzzle, so to speak; and, then, to use the imagination to fill in the gaps, sufficient to make a statement about the whole, a supposition, a theory. We then (at least we ought to) proceed to conduct our affairs on the basis of this theory, until we come onto a piece of evidence that doesn't fit the theory. It is at this point we ought to adjust the theory; not only to fit the new observation, but the old observations too; and then to set out once again. Hume was an empiricist from the school of Locke. He challenged the rationalistic school and the social contract theories as were developed by Hobbes, Locke and, later, Rousseau.

12 "The rich have become richer, and the poor have become poorer; and the vessel of state is driven between Scylla and Charybdis of anarchy and despotism." (Shelley.) In Greek mythology Scylla and Charybdis were two monsters. All Greek monsters have very familiar backgrounds: Scylla and Charybdis were not always monsters, they had been lesser Gods condemned by the more superior Gods. Scylla is to be permanently found where the Gods had condemned her to be, on the shores at the tip toe of the boot of Italy; Charybdis, on the other side of a narrow Strait of Messina, on the shores of Sicily, lies on a rock on the Italian shores, barking like a dog; she has twelve feet and six heads extended on long necks, each head is armed with three rows of pointed teeth. On the other side is Charybdis, living under an immense fig tree; he swallows up the sea three times a day and spews it out again. The expression between Scylla and Charybdis has come to mean that a person or a group must mind that they do not fall into one evil in the effort to avoid the other. Shelley, the romanticist, in his Defence of Poetry, speaks of another time, a time when the landed gentry owned it all, and democracy had yet come to full bloom. Shelley's quote, though, has as much application today as it ever did. Instead of the royal aristocrats versus the have-not people; we have, today, those who are at the government tax taps and those who are taxed; the sliver of the whole -- the poor and disadvantaged -- hardly count when it comes to the larger discussion.

13 I editorialize and say that there is no need to pass a law where there exists a moral duty, simply, because, moral actions (by and large) occur to a greater degree and to a greater extent and more often (need I add less expensively) than a law compelling the same action (assuming that such a law could even be formulated).

14 There is an agenda being served in Canada in our fight against poverty, and I fear it is not the agenda of the poor. We might define poverty at least in two ways: The first way is to establish "official poverty lines," this is how Statistics Canada has defined it. This is a relative definition of poverty, it focuses on a person's standard of living in comparison to others within the community. This approach presumes that we as human beings measure our well being in relation to what others enjoy. By this definition we are poor if our standard of living is substantially below what most others have, regardless of whether we have met our basic needs or not. This concept of our basic needs brings us to the second definition: one is poor where he or she cannot acquire all the basic needs required for physical survival; this is the more traditional way of defining poverty; it is an absolute and not a relative definition. To accept the first definition means that most all of us are poor, as most everybody will find someone else who possesses more stuff; while under the second definition a state of poverty will only exist if there exists a situation of genuine deprivation of certain of the necessities of life, a situation in which the physical well being of a person is threatened, a situation where the person is on the borders of being cold, hungry and sick. To accept the relative definition of income is to accept: there are, where everyone is equally deprived, no poor people in Somalia; that in an economic depression, given that everyone's income decreases at the same rate, there are no more poor in the country than there was before the depression began. Thus, it can be seen, why is it socialists readily accept the relative definition of poverty. To accept such a definition means one must accept the manner in which poverty is to be fought: redistribute income and property from those who have more to those who have less. It may well be a worthwhile object to redistribute wealth (I would argue otherwise); but it is not honest, and brings fog to the field of battle, when we redistribute wealth in the name of fighting poverty.

15 See Seldon at p. 307.

16 In Plato's scheme, families, at least in the upper classes, were to be abolished; children were to be raised collectively; women, well, they were to be shared! "... women shall be common to all men, and none shall cohabit with any privately, and that the children shall be common, and that no parent shall know its own offspring nor any child its parent."

17 Seldon at p. 198. "... since the power to persuade and organize others in collective organizations is itself unequal, the ability of people to advance as individuals in the market without waiting for others is in the end more egalitarian than the socialist method of waiting in the political process for agreement, universal or by majorities, in debating chambers. The evolutionary spontaneous freedom under capitalism for individuals to act without collective restraint is necessary for some to forge ahead and show the others the way. In the end, as the others follow, more can share in the advance. Inequality in action is the way to equality in result." (p. 153.)

18 "The great principle, that societies and laws exist only for the purpose of increasing the sum of private happiness, is not recognized with sufficient clearness. The good of the body, distinct from the good of the members, and sometimes hardly compatible with the good of the members, seems to be the object which he proposes himself. Of all political fallacies, this has perhaps had the widest and the most mischievous operation." (Macaulay, "Machiavelli.")

19 The chief problem with social "scientists" is that they confuse, as Sir Karl Popper points out, laws with trends.

20 Popper likens "social science" to "midwifery"; it is the mother who is obliged to go through the untidy and the painful business of delivering her baby. An important point that is to be made, by the way, is, that, not only can a state not be run by a controlling mind, but it cannot, as the Roman statesman, Cicero, pointed out, be set by one controlling mind: a lasting state can only evolve through the passing of several generations, viz., it comes into being only after the passage of a considerable period of time. "Our state, on the contrary, is not due to the personal creation of one man, but of very many; it has not been founded during the lifetime of any particular individual, but through a series of centuries and generations. For he said that there never was in the world a man so clever as to foresee everything and that even if we could concentrate all brains into the head of one man, it would be impossible for him to provide for everything at one time without having the experience that comes from practice through a long period of history." (As quoted by Leoni, at p. 88.)


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