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The FED is Trapped

Current Affairs Posted on Sun, September 20, 2015 12:51:34

The long anticipated 17th September final came. A lot of people thought that this would be the most important date of the year. The FED suggested that on this day they might final start raising rates from its 0-0.25% range by 25 basis points. And unfortunately, many people still take this committee of central planners seriously. They didn’t raise, in case you wonder. And I doubt that they will be able to raise in the future.

The reality is that the FED is trapped. The keynesian claim that it is possible to print an economy to prosperity simply is not true, in other words it is a lie. This lie however is so sweet that many people just really want to believe it. But the difference between reality and the keynesian model is slowly getting so absurd that even the biggest dreamer cannot ignore it anymore. And so this Thursday was probably a big steps towards waking people up.

The fact is that the US government has to cook the books to even make it look like there is a mild recovery going on. The measure of inflation is constantly redefined, to make it look lower than it is. This is done for example by so called Hedonic Adjustments. If a product in the basket of goods that is suppose to measure inflation is getting more expensive, it is simply being replaced by another that has not gone up in price and that the government thinks is equally good. So if for example beef is in the basket and goes up in price, but chicken is not in the basket and does not go up, then beef is replaced by chicken in the basket. The idea is that consumers can then substitute chicken for beef and therefore do not experience inflation. So you better like chicken! A cheeky trick to get a lower inflation rate. And that is just one of them.

The unemployment rate is another important statistic that is manipulated. If someone hasn’t found work in one year he is simply kicked out of the statistic as if he is no longer looking. That way the US now has an official unemployment rate of 5.1%. This, by historic standards is a really low rate that suggests that almost everyone who wants a job will find one. A good statistic to show how absurd this number is, is the labor participation rate, that means the rate of Americans in employment. That rate is at an almost historic low of 62.6%. How does that go together? The answer is that 5.1% unemployment is a fantasy.

Remarkable is that despite all the manipulation going on, the official growth of the US economy is only about 2% per year. That is of cause measured in GDP, which is a completely useless unit of measurement in itself. GDP does not measure the productivity of the economy. All it measures is the amount of money that is circulating. That means that if for example the government spends money, even borrowed money, it will show up as GDP growth, independent of how productive the money is spend. The government could employ people to dig ditches and others to fill them up again. The productivity of this work would obviously be negative, but GDP would still go up. GDP also goes up when unproductive asset prices like house prices go up. Amazingly, even though GDP can be manipulated, all the intervention by the government have not managed to get this statistic significantly up.

The FED is trapped. The interest rates in the US have been at 0% for over 80 month. In addition to that the FED has pumped over 3 trillion Dollars of printed money into the economy. And all that has done is to create official growth number of about two percent. The only effect it really had is the inflation of huge bubbles in bonds and equities. The reason for that is that the economy is simply at peak debt. Even at these low interest rates, people and companies cannot borrow more money, because they already have too much debt. The only people who can still borrow money are the financial sector who really gets this money for free and of course the government. Since they cannot kick start the economy again, the official line has been that as long as the stock market is OK, the rest of the economy cannot be too bad.

The trouble is that these bubbles are dependent on cheap money. In order to keep them inflated not only do interested rates have to stay as low as possible, they will soon have to start a new round of money printing. That is a problem, because in the long run, printing money will undermine the trust in the US Dollar. So far that has not happened, because the FED could make everyone believe that it has an exit strategy. Once the US economy is growing, it will hike rates again and buy back all the printed money.

But as I explained above, the US economy is very weak and based on debt. Therefore, if debt gets more expensive the rest of what looks like a productive economy will simply implode. If however they do not hike rates, then more and more people will realise that the exit strategy is not real. Therefore it will undermine the confidence in the Dollar. That way the US economy will also implode. So no matter what they do, it looks like that keynesianism has finally checkmate itself. With this month FED decision to rest rates at 0%, more and more people will realise that the economy is worse than it seems and that the FED is not really in control of the markets.

My guess is that they will not hike rates voluntarily. Eventually of course the market will force them to. There is a small possibility that they will raise rates by 25 basis point in the next few month, but even that is unlikely. The reason is that if they do raise rates, the economy will implode and they will immediately have to reverse the rise. That will make it look like they do not know what they are doing and undermine their credibility. And they cannot really raise rates without a really strong economy, because the US government is highly indebted too. That is the difference to 1981, when then FED chairman Paul Volcker raised rates to 20%. At that time the US government did not have a debt problem. Now they have one and if the economy implodes, tax revenues will go down and dept/GDP numbers will rise, making the debt situation of the government worse. If simultaneously interest rates go up, the government will quickly have to declare bankruptcy. And since the government has more guns than anyone else, they will get the policy that is best for them, that is low interest rates and lots of money printing. So hold on to your hats, there is an inflationary storm coming.



John Gray on Hayek

Current Affairs Posted on Mon, August 24, 2015 20:40:09

On 30
July 2015 in The New Statesman John
Gray wrote about “The Friedrich Hayek I knew and what he got right.” He has
written many books since he publically announced that he was no longer a
libertarian when he got to rather like New Labour in the 1990s. He has since
become an admirer of James Lovelock, and so become keen on Green ideas. None of
the books he has so far seem to be first rate. Many of them even seem
incoherent and rather like rushed hack writing, but the author seemed to find
his changes of mind rather productive.

Below, I
criticise a recent New Statesman
article of his where he, once more, has attempted to assess the liberal idea
and why it was so inadequate. What seems to be truly inadequate is the account
that Gray has given in his articles and books on pristine or classical
liberalism. His latest account reviewed below is no better than what he said on
the topic in his many books but seems, nevertheless, to be worthy of comment,
as do Gray’s books.

Gray
sees Hayek to be of the “New Right” of the 1980s but he called it classical
liberalism at the time of his enthusiasm and that was the historic old left.
Gray had been a Labourite earlier, which sprung from a tradition that owed a
lot to the statist sea-change that began to emerge in the Liberal Party in the
1860s and had almost totally taken over
by 1900, before which we might refer to that Party as still largely classical
liberal as opposed to statist modern liberalism that was dominant amongst the
leadership, as well as amongst the younger members, by the great free trade
election victory in 1906, making it something of a swan-song for free trade;
though the actual leader, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, was still mainly a pristine
liberal. What revived in the 1970s was the pristine classical liberalism.

Gray
says that many of those libertarians, called such to distinguish themselves
from the statist modern liberals, said that Hayek only valued the state for
three things: national defence, law and order and opera. So Hayek was an
economist and philosopher that stood for a freer market, if not quite complete
free; where freedom was simply freedom from the state. But he was not an
anarchist, so Hayek did not see the state as an unnecessary evil. Like the
early Tom Paine, Hayek saw it as a necessary evil. Most classical liberals were
like that. With Locke, they realised that we could have civil society without
the state but they thought that because of crime, the state could be a boon. So
reluctantly, they thought that the state was a good thing but only owing to the
problem of criminal activity being almost certain to emerge. Since the liberl
revival that Gray joined, many have thought that the state is not so good at
countering crime. The anarchist contingent is a significant part of the
revival.

Gray feels that this pristine liberal paradigm
came to power in 1979 but the reality is that it was the Conservative Party
that came to power at that time and about half in that organisation did not
like pristine liberalism one bit, and the people who liked it, like Mrs
Thatcher and her mentor, Keith Joseph, they were flirting with it rather than
seeing it as the main thing; but many both in the Conservative Party as well as
in the mass media and the rival political parties rather feared they did take
it as the main thing. However, pristine liberalism was a factor. It has
remained one since.

Gray
feels it is important that Hayek was an Austrian, despite him becoming a
naturalised British subject. Hayek was born in Vienna, where opera was
all-important, in 1899. His father was a medical doctor and his mother came
from a wealthy family. Gray seems not to know that liberalism was in decline
from about 1860, and that, thereafter, statism was the new fashion. The
inter-war years would become nationalistic as a result, for, in practice,
socialism was mere statism thus usually more nationalistic. Socialists do not
always agree and protest quite the contrary but in 1914 quite a few such
socialists, including Prince Peter Kropotkin, largely shed socialism to support
the nation state they denied they had owed loyalty to for decades. This was a big shock to those who remained
anti-nationalist but they were a minority.

Gray
says that Hayek saw the civilisation he grew up in collapse, but it was the war
that removed the form of state, and liberalism had been ebbing for over fifty
years before 1918. Hayek’s homeland was on the losing side of the war but that
is a bit different from a collapse, as Gray imagines, or at least says, as it
was not owing to the sort of imaginary perennial fragility that he refers to;
which is a major Tory idea and one that looks clearly false to me. I think the Whigs were right that society is
far sturdier than the Tory meme has it, such that a great war, like the 1914
war, could cause it to collapse. War does change society but it is not likely
to end it.

John Locke
was right to hold that civil society was almost perennial being in place long
before the rise of the state even if he errs, as David Hume made clear, on
social contract theory. The usual respect we show others in society, that we
peacefully pass them in the street, do not bother them if they do not bother us,
form what the sociologist might call the norms of civil society, and those
basic norms are not far off the liberal norms as well as being those of civil
society. As Adam Smith said, there is a lot of ruining in a great society. It
is not fragile.

Gray
says he first became interested in Hayek in the early 1970s. It was owing to
his interest in pre-1914 Vienna as much as in the rising paradigm of pristine
liberalism in the 1970s UK, he says. He met Hayek at the end of the 1970s and
asked him if he knew Karl Kraus, a famous journalist of Vienna before 1914. He
was told that Hayek had seen him but that he did not really know Kraus.

Gray
says that Hayek had independence of mind and this allowed him to face up to a
lot of opposition and criticism including big changes of fashion. Gray feels
the paradigm of Woodrow Wilson’s national self-determination imposed by the USA
after the war on Europe was one that posed problems for Hayek for the rest of
his life. He died in 1992. But he never could see how liberal values got on
with tribalism, says Gray.

On the
fall of Wilson, the USA, wisely, went back to political isolationism [with free
trade, the liberal meme on international relations].

Hayek’s
ideas on evolution and on the ideal liberal constitution were not germane to
that main problem, Gray says. Hayek had dropped his early socialist ideas owing
to the economic calculation argument [eca] put to him by Mises. This seemed to
Hayek and many others to be an effective refutation of socialism so he ceased to
be a socialist. He afterwards adopted liberalism, and Gray said he made it into
a sort of scientism; this is most ironic as Hayek was a major critic of
scientism, Gray openly admits. It was held by Hayek to be the inept attempt to
apply science to the human world. It was an example of Hayek often called a
mere pretence of knowledge when he was looking at the socialists. However, Gray’s
account looks weak there, as it so often does elsewhere.

In what
sense did Hayek lose the debate with Keynes? Did Keynes win it? Keynes rejected
equilibrium but, as he was a coward, he did it by picking on Say’s Law, which
few had heard of, and he gave an inadequate account of it, and Keynes also gave
an inadequate account of the orthodox economists in general, calling them “the
classsics”.

Ironically,
John Hicks, who thought he was going over from Hayek to Keynes and who won the
debate by a de facto rejection of
both of them, had found fault with the fact that Hayek scotched the meme of a
self-adjusting economy by ignoring it with an hypothetical lag owing to
malinvestment that Hicks held was unrealistic. The Hicks version of Keynes,
adopted by all the textbooks, had the meme that Keynes was out to dump at its
heart viz. equilibrium. The equilibrium so obvious to Hicks that he never seems
to have realised that Keynes was out to reject it, was, of course, just an account
of self-adjustment by the market.

All this
is lost on John Gray. It was enough for him that Keynes rather than Hayek or
Hicks was the nominal victor. Gray has most likely not read Keynes’ 1936 book
anyway. More oddly, it would seem that
Hicks never did either.

Hayek
was rejected as an economist after leaving the LSE [owing to irrelevant personal
reasons, rather than to economics] as a result. At Chicago, he was allowed in
only as a moral philosopher. A version of Keynesianism had won, Hicks version,
but it was not anywhere near what Keynes had wanted. He wanted to reject market
adjustment but Hicks largely retained that. Keynes had wanted it to be the rule
that the market did not clear, as had Malthus tries to defend against Ricardo
in the first decade of the nineteenth century but Hicks innovated a version
that suggested that Keynes should have called his book The Special or
Particular Theory rather than his actual title of The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money (1936).

I see no
sign that Hayek ever believed that he had lost a debate, intellectually, to
either Keynes or to Hicks. Hayek saw the LSE go over to what was called
Keynesianism, of course.

Hayek
did go somewhat statist owing to emotional pressure, I suppose, but not ever
did he become Hicksian or, still less, Keynesian. Keynes truly remained out on
a limb as regards his hated equilibrium, that remained as strong as ever, even
if a version of Keynes was adopted, and what was called Keynesianism was
granted lots of rather incoherent lip service based on supposed rejection of the
still largely unknown Say’s Law. Indeed, Keynes caricature of that was accepted
completely by the 1950s.

But
Hayek did recommend a safety net and it was the state’s safety net that alone
caused the mass unemployment of the 1930s, not the supposed lag that malinvestment
caused that somehow suspended Keynes hated equilibrium, as Hayek had held. The
unemployed adjusted to the dole rather than to the market. We might say they
joined the sinecure section of the state sector, only they did not, as in the late
USSR, pretend to work. Indeed, the few who took a black market job pretended
they were not working.

Hayek
took the economic calculation argument [eca] from Mises but later found it in a
few nineteenth century authors like Baggage, so Hayek made no pretensions to
being “most original” in the knowledge finding function of the price system, as
Gray has it. But Gray knows the eca, if not all its implications. However, he
nevertheless is still silly enough to say it also applies to the free market.

Gray
incoherently says:

“The trouble is that it also applies to unfettered market capitalism. No
doubt markets transmit information in the way that Hayek claimed. But what
reason is there to believe that – unlike any other social institution – they
have a built-in capacity to correct their mistakes?”

The eca
applies to unfettered market, says Gray, yet they do find viable prices as Hayek
said too. That is “no” yet also “yes” too; or P&-P too. Gray is being quite
absurd here.

Gray
then asks how can the market self-adjust, unlike any other institution [is
there a tacit “except the state” assumption there?] overlooking that the answer
is by the ever adjusting price system. The market is dynamic as it is always
adjusting by the price system.

History itself supports no supposition or
thesis.

Panic
obfuscates prices? How? Gray has adopted mere bluff from backward Keynes. There
never was any irrational exuberance but there has been exuberance but it has
not stopped the market from clearing. Why should it?

Yet Gray
is content to say, to the backward readers of The New Statesman, founded by backward Keynes himself, that:

“History
hardly supports the supposition. Moods of irrational exuberance and panic can,
and often do, swamp the price-discovery functions of markets.

When
considering how to overcome the Great Depression, Hayek opposed Keynes-style
fiscal stimulus for the same reason he opposed monetary expansion of the sort
later advocated by his friend the American economist Milton Friedman
(1912-2006). In attempting to generate recovery by macroeconomic
engineering, both monetarism and Keynesianism required a knowledge of the
economy that no one could possess. Unlike monetarism – with which it has sometimes
been confused – the Austrian school of economics that Hayek promoted insists
that the quantity of money cannot be measured precisely, and that
expanding the money supply cannot reflate the economy in a sustainable way.”

Friedman did
adopt aspects of Keynes, as did Hicks, but they did not reject what Keynes
detested: equilibrium. Gray continues:

“For Hayek, the causes of the Depression lay
in earlier central bank policies of cheap money, which resulted in large-scale
misallocation of capital. Because no central authority could grasp the shifting
pattern of relative scarcities and prices, only the market could determine the
right allocation. Accordingly, believing that misguided investments had to be
liquidated, Hayek argued in the 1930s for policies that were more
contractionary than those that were actually pursued. The task of government
was to get out of the way and let the process of adjustment run its course.”

Quite, Hayek
was right there but he thought a lag might be created but he erred there as the
market is a non-stop process of adjustment; Gray says it yet he also wants to
deny it too; again P&-P too.

Gray seems
to see how the market adjusts but he still perversely wants, or he writes as if
he wants, the state to stop it. Then he, rather stupidly, denies that the
market even can adjust.

But he
continues:

“If they had
been adopted while the crash was under way, Hayek’s prescriptions would have
made the Depression even worse than it proved to be – a fact he later
admitted.”

He did not
admit anything like that, which I can recall. New buyers would have come in and
the readjustment would have been fairly rapid.

If Hayek
thought the depression would have been worse, if not for the state, why did not
Keynes win him over? Anyway, it seems that the state prevents rather than aids market
readjustment and that stagnation is alien to it. As Gray says of Hayek:

“But he never accepted Keynes’s core insight
that large-scale economic discoordination could be the result of the workings
of the market itself. For him it was always government intervention that
accounted for market disequilibrium. More sceptical as well as more radical in
his turn of mind, Keynes questioned the self-regulating powers of the market.
His work on the theory of probability disclosed insuperable gaps in our
knowledge of the future; all investment was a gamble, and markets could not be
relied on to allocate capital rightly.”

Questioning
the market is fine but the price system is clear enough there as a
self-adjustment process to fresh conditions, so any serious questioning might
have led Keynes to realise that. It might also lead Gray to do so too. He
continues:

“There were booms and busts long before the
emergence of modern central banking. Left to its own devices, the free market
can easily end up in a dead end like that of the 1930s.”

No, the
market does not stagnate. The dole was needed for mass unemployment to muster
in the mass urban economy, and it is true that Hayek did go statist enough to
agree that the masses would need a safety net, the very thing that stops the
market from clearing. Freedom or liberty means we all need to be responsible
and for us all to have savings, that Keynes repeatedly made a very poor case
against, for some savings are vital to tolerate the intrinsic self-adjustment
of the market.

But Gray
feels that Keynes knew more about markets than did Hayek, as Keynes was a
practical and successful investor for his college. Indeed, he claims that Keynes was one of the
most successful investors in the twentieth century! So he knew about the
uncertainty of markets in a way that Hayek did not, says Gray. He was aware of
how the misguided economic policies might upset society in a way that Hayek did
not, for Hayek ignored all those hazards. Here Gray seems to have lapsed into
imagining that it is Hayek advocating state control by political policy rather
than Keynes.

Gray says
that Hayek’s blindness on politics was all too clear when he advised Margaret
Thatcher to cut the state sector, that Gray calls public services, and to cut
inflation so that the state budget might be balanced. This was exactly as he
had advised in the 1930s, says Gray. He told Gray, in private conversation,
that Trade Union power might be broken if the state made cuts. Gray thought Hayek was indifferent to mass
unemployment that then, in the 1980s, stood at over three million. Gray does
not realise that cuts might get rid of mass unemployment, as he never seems to have
seriously thought much about such problems. Instead, Gray said that cuts would
increase unemployment. But it is only the dole, paid for by the state from taxation,
which can do that.

Gray says:

“Fortunately Hayek never had any influence on
Thatcher’s policies. (Her chief economic adviser in these years was Alan
Walters, a Friedman-style monetarist.) Equally, and perhaps also happily,
Thatcher had no understanding of Hayek’s ideas.”

Gray says
she haply never read the stint at the end of
The Constitution of Liberty (1960), where Hayek explains “Why I
am not a Conservative” for he rejects because conservativism rejects
progress, says Gray. “Unlike Hayek, Thatcher understood and accepted the
political limits of market economics” Gray says, but Gray and Margaret Thatcher
never saw how damaging the state was to society. The main fault with Hayek is
that he too had too much tolerance for backward politics. Politics is perverse
wastage that needs rolling back, or cutting out completely, by tax cuts and
privatisation.

Liberalism
went out of fashion around 1860 but Gray imagines it actually collapsed, a very
Romantic idea that is utterly unrealistic, given the nature of civil society.
War would not have set liberalism back so much had liberalism remained the
fashion, but socialism/collectivism was, by then, the fashion. War did end the
empire that Hayek grew up in but nor was that particularly liberal in itself:
no empire ever, quite, can be. Civil society, that is the basis of liberty, is
not one whit fragile and it is very stupid indeed to imagine that it is fragile.
No wonder they called the Tory Party “the stupid party”. This idea that society
is fragile is about as unrealistic as one can get about civil society. But Gray
simply does not see the pounding the backward state hands over to society every
single day, thus showing it to be very durable.

But Gray is
right that Hayek badly over-rated the law. It never could be the basis of civil
society as so many, with Hayek, imagine. Like the state itself, law is at the
periphery of society. Nor can it really protect liberty from the state. Gray is
right there. Indeed, statutory law is a
tool of despotism and privilege. Liberalism
is about repealing illiberal laws rather than establishing new statutory laws.

But liberal
values, if fostered amongst the public, can see off war. Private property is a
problem solver. The state, by contrast, is a trouble maker. So the less we have
of the state, the better.

Why Gray imagines the political
entity of the Austro-Hungarian Empire kept politics at bay is not one iota
clear. Gray is right that the European Union is not going to aid liberalism as
it is a warmongering pact, despite the pretense it has of being for peace. The
EU is out to be top dog superstate, but it is taking its time. It is almost as slow as the progress towards
full liberalism itself. But all societies, even the backward late USSR, had the
liberal civil society in their practical everyday life. In any society most
members respect the liberty of others. But also all allow the state to scotch
liberty at will; that privilege granted to the backward wasteful state by the
people is the main problem. They give up this liberty to form state privilege by
suspending normal moral values in its favour. As Edmund Burke said: “The people never give up their
liberties but under some delusion.” The
delusion here is that the state is a boon. Even John Locke thought so.

Gray fails
to reproduce Popper’s attack on Hayek and Michael Oakeshott saying that Hayek’s
spontaneous order as “rubbish” is no explanation of its faults whatsoever but
Gray says it is exact!

However, Gray witnesses civil society every
day in which strangers in the mass urban society freely pass him in the street,
which is done as part of what Hayek would say is a spontaneous order. My guess
is that Gray has no case against civil society; nor any good case against
liberalism.

The change
of fashion away from liberalism towards socialism after 1860 seems to have been
flimsy, though it was aided by some haziness amongst the liberals as well as some
youthful charismatic dash as well as sheer ignorance amongst the rising statist
liberals, like Joseph Chamberlain and Charles Dilke in the UK’s Liberal Party.
The pristine liberals were aging and pragmatic anyway. That there was a generational difference
greatly aided the change of fashion. Gray
makes the quip that there is nothing liberal about the mafia, and that is quite
right but that is also true of the state too, but despite Chamberlain’s talk of
public service it was more like rule than
service that the new man management and more state control of the new fashion was
to embrace.

Gray has the
idea that a mafia would arise spontaneously, even though he also wants to be
sceptical about that meme from Hayek, to say it was exactly rubbish in fact. .
However, the culture developed over a long process of real full privatisation,
designed to shed government and all government policy rather than as a mere new
way to further state policy by political use of the market, as that called
privatisation has been since the 1980s, would result in security services that
would have had lots of time to crowd out the mafia problem.

Herbert
Spencer was right that there was a social movement towards liberalism before
1860 but he also saw the fashion change towards socialism later on too. He
argued against socialism. But he ironically had a holistic meme that the
socialists used to even a greater extent than they used Marx. Just look at
almost any Jack London novel to see a socialist in love with Spencer. William
Hurrell Mallock saw such faults in Spencer, who later admitted to Mallock that
he was too collectivist, though he never met Mallock. But pristine liberalism
lost out to the new fashion of statist liberalism; and to socialism generally.
It revived a bit in the 1970s when Gray joined it. But Gray always did love
pessimism.

Gray simply
errs left right and centre in his rather silly ideas about alternative economic
systems and choice. The USSR never was non-capitalist, for example. An increase
of the state ownership is not an alternative economic system but the
enlargement of a sort of quasi-dole or semi-dole; the rise of where, in the
late USSR, they said the workers in the state sector pretended to work and the
state pretended to pay them. Many thought that in the UK this was “mixed economy” but in reality it was just an
over-taxed market economy that supplied some job security. The mixed economy is
a mixed up idea. There is only the market economy. The state sector just means
higher taxation.

Communism is
a myth, not a real rival to the price system, and the late USSR did not even
claim to be communist but rather it claimed to be socialist, that Lenin said, a
few times, was state capitalism. It
would be clearer to just call it capitalism. But it was anti-liberal. Gorbachev
tried to reform it but Yeltsin got rid of it. No collapse in sight.

The idea that the Afghan war brought it down
is an example of Gray’s inability to judge actual events. There is no choice of
economic systems. It is either capitalism or capitalism. But we can always have
a bit more of the wasteful state.

Of course,
Hayek and Spencer had a lot in common as Gray said. They were both liberals.

Again, China
was capitalist, if statist too, under Mao. Deng Xiaoping simply freed it up a
bit. Pristine liberalism will free it up yet more.

Letting the
banks go under would not have been all that bad from liberal point of view. The
fresh banks that would have emerged to replace them would have most likely be
in better shape today had the state allowed that to happen back in 2007, as Hayek might well have recommended.

Hayek erred
on the fairness of the market. He thought it was wise to say it is unfair, but
few people in the larger society have ever thought that. Most people think it
is fair enough, but no end of fools in colleges think they know better; so do
schoolteachers but not most students in the colleges or most pupils in the schools,
even though they may be usually a silent majority. Hayek thought that the idea
that the market was unfair had something to it, but it looks to be merely a perverse
idea.

Gray, for
all his silly cynicism and pessimism still has not realised how unpopular the
college/mass media sacred cow or ideal of democracy has always been, and always
will be. The “anarchic energies of
global markets” clearly serve the public way better than democracy ever
will.



Debunking Hoppe on Immigration

Philosophy Posted on Thu, July 23, 2015 13:32:00

Hans-Hermann Hoppe is
known for his skepticism of open borders. He thinks that open borders
are inconsistent with libertarian principals. Therefore, real
libertarians have to oppose this policy, at least as long as the
state exists. I think Hoppe is mistaken on the issue. His arguments
seem deeply confused and I am going to show why. As he claims to be a libertarian and the state is basically illiberal, then in order to make a supporting statement of a very intrusive state policy like immigration, his argumentation just has to be very messy. There is no real
case for the support of this policy. To show exactly how this works,
let us look at two of his articles on immigration.

Recently,
LewRockwell.com re-published two of such articles. The first was
entitles “Free Immigration is Forced Integration” and the second
“Immigration and Libertarianism”. Let us start with the first,
“Free Immigration is Forced Integration”.

In this articles
Hoppe tries to make essentially one argument. The argument is that
“free” immigration violates the property rights of the locals and
can therefore not be libertarian. To get to this conclusion, Hoppe
needs to distract the reader with a number of argumentative tricks to
make it look like, his conclusion follows from his premises.

Let us go through
the article systematically. The article is divided into 7 parts. He
starts by summarizing what he describes as “the classical argument
for free immigration”. I am not sure if there is such a thing as
“the classical argument”. There are definitely a number of
different arguments in favour of open borders. Hoppe, in a side note
even concedes this in the second part of the article. But he makes it
incorrectly look like this is another route to dispute the open
border claim by calling it a “first shortcoming” of the free
immigration argument. No, what Hoppe calls “the classic argument”
for free immigration, is merely the economic argument for it. But
fair enough, it is an important argument and Hoppe, as far as I can
tell summarizes it correctly. He also explicitly agrees with the idea
that free immigration does not cause economic problems. He
understands correctly that this would be an argument against free
markets in general.

In the second part
of the article, he then goes on to say that trying to criticise open
borders by pointing out negative effects of the welfare state is also
not persuasive. These are problems of the welfare state and not of
open borders in and of itself. I think this is correct. If the
welfare state or for that matter any other state policy leads to
negative effects of freeing up markets, then libertarians should
attack these policies and not the freeing up of markets. So far,
Hoppe seems to make the case in favour of open borders. One thing that
is important to note until this point is, how he uses the word
‘free’. The word ‘free’ is used in the libertarian sense of “free
from constrains”.

Now, from the third
part of the article, Hoppe starts making the libertarian case against
free immigration. His argument is that in an anarcho-capitalist
society, everything worth owning is already owned. Therefore, there
cannot be freedom of immigration. So the property prevents the
freedom. Wait a minute, what? Why is property in contradiction with
freedom? This is a strange argument coming from the founder of The Property
and Freedom Society
. But maybe they serve free alcohol there? But
seriously, isn’t the whole point of libertarianism that property and
liberty are closely linked with each other? How can Hoppe make the
argument that since we have property, there cannot be freedom. That
sounds very confused to me. It should be clear that Hoppe at this
point has started to use the word freedom in a non libertarian way,
as in ‘free of charge’. He argues that we have property, therefore
immigration cannot be free of costs. In this sense of the word
however, libertarianism is also in contradiction with free markets. A
free market would be a market in which everyone can help themselves
to everything they like, free of charge. That clearly is not
libertarian. That is more a socialist way of using the word freedom.
Libertarians explicitly stress that their idea of freedom is to be
free from proactive impositions from others. Even more remarkable is
that Hoppe just a few sentences earlier has used the word in exactly
this libertarian meaning. And now he just changes the meaning of
“free” without even telling the reader about it. One wonders why?
Is he not smart enough to realise that he is using the word with the
different meaning, or is he speculating that his audience won’t be? I
don’t know the answer, but I know that at least one of the two needs
to be true.

So let me make
clear, what a libertarian like myself means when talking about “free
immigration”, or for that matter immigration. Immigration is a
collectivist term. It means the movement of people over some form of
collectivist borders. These can be cultural borders or state borders.
As such it is not always completely clear when to call the long term
reallocation of a person to another location immigration and when he
is just moving house. Simply moving house from Charles Street a few
miles down the road to Summer Lane is usually not called immigration.

In today’s statist
world, immigration is usually understood to mean the long term
reallocation of a person from one side of a state border to another.
Free immigration therefore means that people who would like to make
such a move are free from not interpersonal liberty maximising
compatible restrains. The biggest of such restrains right now is
state immigration controls. These come in the form of state issued
passport controls at state borders and visa licensing systems that
allow the state to control who is on its territory for how long and
what reason.

I am not trying to
argue about words. If Hoppe has a problem sticking to a consistent
meaning of a word let us just argue about the meaning itself. Can we
agree that the state is violating people’s liberty with these types
of policies or not? And can we therefore agree that these policies
have to go unconditionally or not? Unfortunately, Hoppe seems to
really believe that state immigration controls, to some degree are
not in violation of liberty. However, as I argue above, the attack on
open borders via redefining the word ‘free’ can hardly be taken
seriously. So what other arguments does Hoppe have?

Although, not so
fast. At first he seems to continue the article, explicitly rejecting
state immigration controls as unnatural in part four. However,
immediately after he has done so, he starts to develop a new way of
arguing that current immigration is violating the liberty of people.
Hoppe says that since we have a state, that state then employs
policies like building roads that are not market results. This
distorted market will also have a distorting effect on immigration.
And this is what he calls forced integration, because we now have
more roads than we would otherwise have and therefore the locals have
to put up with more immigrants than they would normally get.

This is a really odd
argument in many ways. To start with, he seems to contradict himself.
In part two of the article, he argued that trying to argue against
immigration with the welfare state would not be convincing, as this
is a problem of the welfare state, which will have to go. But now he
is applying the logic that he himself rejected earlier, to do just
that. If immigration leads to problems with other state policies than
libertarians need to argue against these policies instead of making
themselves advocates of more statism.

But his argument is
also not economically correct. Yes, the state is distorting the
economy. But it is hard to tell what the exact market result would
have been. How does Hoppe know, that we now have more streets then we
would otherwise have? If we could figure that out without the market,
then we would have a pretty good argument in favour of central
planning. Maybe the opposite is the case. Maybe now, we have less
roads than we would otherwise have. In that case the same argument
would lead to the opposite conclusion of forced exclusion. As a
scholar of Austrian economics, he should know that?

Next he argues that
in today’s world the government and not the market is fully in charge
of admitting people. That however, seems simply wrong. Behind the
state borders, especially domestic property is still mostly owned
privately. So despite the fact that we have state borders, the control
over who comes into the country is still to a large degree in the
hands of the market of that country. Without anyone renting out or
selling a property to the immigrant, the immigrant still has a
problem. But there does not seem to be a shortage of people doing
that and I cannot see why there would be a shortage without border
controls. Quite to the contrary, with the freeing up of markets it is
reasonable to assume that accommodation could become cheaper as
productivity increases.

Hoppe however argues
that immigration controls lead to forced integration and forced
exclusion. I can see how immigration controls are forceful
exclusions. If a property owner on the inside of the fence would like
to invite someone, the government can prevent this. That is why it is
not libertarian. I find it harder to see a case of forceful
integration. If the government lets someone through the state border,
the people inside the fence can still say no to the person. And if
everyone does, then the person would have simply nowhere to go, even
in today’s worlds. In order for this to be forced integration, it
would need to be the case that someone is invited by the government
and the government gives that person an accommodation. This does not
seem to happen very often. If it does however, it is indeed not
libertarian. But then again, instead of establishing general border
controls and a visa system, the way to deal with that would be to
abolish these state programs too. In fact, in this case, border
controls and visas are clearly of no importance, as this obviously
happens with or without these policies in place as well. So Hoppe is
simply wrong if he concludes that it is the immigration controls
itself that lead to forced integration.

Up to this point in
the articles Hoppe has failed completely to establish an argument in
favour of libertarian state border controls. However, in the
remaining three parts, his arguments actually get a lot worse. While
up unit now, he at least tried to make it look like he was making a
consistent argument, he completely loses this in what is coming. It
is a mixture of wild speculation and false conclusions that is not
concerned with principals or consistencies. Let us have a look at it.

In part five he
argues that if we had an absolute monarch that owned the whole
country, then we would get similar results to free market
immigration. It is beyond me how he comes to this bizarre conclusion.
I guess, his line of thoughts goes something like this:
Libertarianism is about property. If we had a single ruler, then the
country could be seen as property. Therefore this would produce
similar results to free markets.

Just like in the
case of the word ‘free’, Hoppe has probably confused himself with
words. He calls both property and therefore it becomes the same
thing. He does not seem to realise that a King owning a country has
absolutely nothing to do with property as being advocated by liberty
loving libertarians. To be fair, a lot of libertarians do not
understand the link between liberty and property. They therefore
cannot distinguish between liberty maximising and non liberty
maximising property. They simply think liberty is property. And
Hoppe’s argument is probably a result of that confusion.

But at the very
least, he should realise that it is very dangerous to even just
approximate a head of state to a private property owner. This is an
argument often done by statist who want to justify things like
taxation and regulations. They will argue that really no one owns
anything, everything is owned by the state and therefore the state
can tell you what to do with it or even take it away from you.

He continues this
strange argument into part six, where he approximates a democratic
government as the owner of the country. But since this owner, is not
a single person anymore, but a changing committee, it will produce
very different immigration rules than a king, so he argues. Fair
enough, but what does that have to do with libertarianism? The state
simply should go out of the way. The problems of immigration that
Hoppe correctly or not incorrectly describes in this part are not
problems coming from open borders, but from other state policies. And
as he himself argued in part two, that is not a good argument against
open borders.

He also takes this
ownership analogy way too far, as if the democratic state would
directly allocate people into properties. The reality however is,
that this rarely happens. Most of the residential properties in the
US as well as all the other western countries are owned privately.
The state in such an environment going out of the way is just a
policy of liberty.

Finally in part
seven, he comes to a conclusion. This is not a logical conclusion.
His argumentation so far was all over the place. He uses words in
different meanings as it suits him in every given sentence. He wildly
speculates about results of all kinds of systems and presents the
conclusions of his speculation as market results if he likes them.
And he simply is not very bothered with contradicting himself. In one
word, his argumentation is a big mess. And so he concludes not what
has followed, but what he wanted to conclude all along; that as long
as the state exists (and to his credit, he stresses that the state
will have to go), libertarians need to support certain state
immigration policies which Hoppe thinks are close to market results.
This is nonsense and I cannot see that he has even come close so far
to an argument that would justify such a conclusion on libertarians
principals.

A similar mess is
the second article, “Immigration and Libertariansm”. Here he
repeats a lot of the arguments that we have already seen. However, he
makes some new ones. But first he start by attacking
“left-libertarians”. He suggests that those are not real
libertarians. I can see some people who might be called left
libertarians that really are not, like Noam Chomsky. However, Hoppe
never explains who exactly he means by that. But from the article, it
seems that if you believe that the state should get out of the way of
immigration unconditionally, then you are a left libertarian as
opposed to just a libertarian. Silly attempt of an ad hominem attack.

His new arguments
are first, that one could see the state as a trustee of all its
citizens (he seems obsessed with constructing arguments that present
the government as legitimate property owners. He never talks about
liberty, property is clearly all he knows). On the basis of this
argument he then goes on to outline what he thinks a sensible
immigration policy would be. By that he means, what he would like to
see. It is not at all clear why his proposals should be the results
of a trustee.

Seeing the state as
a trustee of its citizens is of course absolute nonsense from a
libertarian point of view. Again, this is exactly the kind of
nonsense that statist are trying to sell us. The state is not a
voluntary and therefore legitimate organisation that can legitimately
make decisions on behave of its citizens.

Hoppe actually
concedes that seeing the state as a trustee is not a good way of
looking at it. But his reason for that is really strange. He does not
reject the idea because it violates people’s liberty, no. He think
this is a bad analogy because we don’t see the immigration policies
that he thinks we should see, as Hoppe sees them as market results.

In reality, since
the state cannot be seen as a trustee, any policy that comes out of
the state restriction the free movement of people on the basis of
private property has to be seen as illegitimate, no matter what these
policies are. And Hoppe never comes up with an example of the state
actually violating the property of domestic people by letting
“foreigners” through the state gate. Sure there are plenty of
other policies in place that do violate private property rights. But
those are separate policies from immigration controls.

Policies like the
welfare state, which he goes on to blame for some negative effects on
immigration. The welfare state might or might not produce these
effects, the case is actually a lot less clear than he might think.
In any case, Libertarians are not advocating welfare, just open
borders. And again, Hoppe himself rejected the argument of conflating
the two in his other article, so why does he bring it up here?

At one point he
actually not only concludes that immigration is bad for the welfare
state, but that “a financial crisis of unparalleled magnitude would
result”. This is really beneath Hoppe. There is not a shred of
evidence that immigration is causing economic problems. If it did, it
would be an argument against free markets in general. And as we have
seen above, Hoppe knows this very well.

It is a bit
difficult to make a clear conclusion from all of this. Why is Hoppe
coming up with such a mess of an argumentation? Is he too stupid to
realize what he is doing? He might be, but it is not the impression
that I have of Hoppe. I think he knows what he is doing and he is
doing it deliberately. It looks to me like that he knows that there
is not a case for libertarian state border controls. But he really
does not like the outcome of this particular free market policy. So
he is deliberately creating a messy argumentation. That way he can
suggest to the anti immigration crowd that they are ok rejecting
immigration on libertarian grounds. And that crowd seems more than
happy to ignore the mess and pick up the ball. On the other hand, if
a critic comes along trying to suggest that he is not a libertarian,
he will point to the sentences in which he says that he does not like
the state and wants to get rid of it. But that does not change the
fact that these sentences are in contradiction with lots of other
things he writes. He is clearly trying to avoid that critics can
easily pin him down. It is easy to pin someone down who has a good
argument but is making little mistakes. Than a critic can point to
the specific mistake. But if someone’s arguments are all over the
place, criticism becomes more difficult as it is difficult to find a
starting point. It is also harder to totally dismantle the mess. And
so he can create the illusion that, although he might have made a
mistake or two, there still is a case for libertarian state border
controls. This is nonsense, as I have shown.

I don’t like what
Hoppe is doing. He makes libertarianism look disingenuous.
Libertarianism looks like statist conservatism, an ideology which,
like all statist ideologies is only in favour of some freedom, but
also has its favourite state programs. We do not have to trick people
into Libertarianism. If we cannot argue honestly, this movement will
fail.



The Economics of Intolerance

Economics Posted on Thu, July 16, 2015 12:37:28

Libertarianism is advocating to maximize the liberty of individuals. The idea is that every person should have the right to be left alone as much as that is practically possible. Originally, I was under the impression that Libertarians must be people who have a lot of faith in human beings. That is because, one of the major arguments against liberty seems to be that a lot of people are simply not fit to make their own decisions in every aspect of their lives. They need to be forced or at least guided with some mild pressure to make the right choices. While libertarians will be quick to admit that people are not infallible and not all of them are decent, they nevertheless believe that even a superior elite group, or a single genius, cannot get the right personal choice better for the average or even below average person than the person can for themselves. They also believe that there are only a small amount of potential or real trouble makers. The vast majority of humans are basically good, trustworthy people. This to me, seems to be a very positive and optimistic view of humans.

Over the years however, I came to notice that libertarianism does seem to attract some people who are not particularity positive about humans in general. Their attraction to liberty seems to be two things. Firstly, they are attracted to the idea of liberty allowing them to reject others so they do not have to deal with a lot of humans that they do not like. In other words, it is the ability to dodge others, to be intolerant of those that they do not like, that is attracting some people to libertarian ideas. And secondly, they seem to have come up with the idea that economic forces will be an even stronger restrain on people’s behavior than the state. In other words, they paint the picture of a libertarian society being mostly homogenous and conservative.

Their arguments never made much sense to me and I am going to explain why. I am going to argue that a libertarian society will most likely be very colorful and multicultural.

Let us start with the first argument that liberty is about the right to discriminate. It seems clear that we can only have absolute unrestricted liberty in a world of superabundance. But since we live in a world of scarcity, it is inevitable that our liberty will be limited by the liberty of others. What is the best way of maximizing the ability of people to be left alone in a world of scarcity? The libertarian answer to that is to grant people certain property rights. Only with these property rights, it seems possible to practically leave people alone at least to some degree. With property, I am at least able to do what I like with a small part of the real world, most importantly with my own body and life. Without property I would not be able to make any decision without asking all other people interested in the same property for permission first. Therefore, it seems correct to assume that property really does maximize liberty.

From this, the intolerance crowd will follow, “see, liberty is all about discrimination, therefore a libertarian society will see more of it”. Well, not so fast. Just because in principal you can do something, does not mean that it is always a good idea. Yes, it is absolutely true that liberty entails the right of people to exclude others from their property or business activity for very shallow reasons. But then liberty gives you the right to do all kinds of things. You could restrain from showering and being polite to other people. But from that does not follow that this is a good survival strategy. I would suspect that it is probably not.

People who stress the ability to intolerance through property overlook the fact that property is not absolute liberty. It is merely a strategy to maximize liberty in an otherwise scarce world. As such it also demands a lot of tolerance. While it is true that you can use your property in any way you like, it is part of the property deal that you absolutely respect other people to do the same with their property. That means that you can for example prohibit people from burning the Koran on your property, but you also must not interfere if your neighbor is doing something like that on his. This might not be an easy thing to do. Liberty therefore clearly demands tolerance from people.

Our well being as individuals very much depends on the cooperation of us with other humans on this planet. And the larger the amount of people we are cooperating with the better, in other words the larger the market in which we take part, the better off we are. This is causing a few problems to intolerant people. First, if you really do not want to be confronted with things that you find hard to tolerate, you will have to do more than just own a small piece of property. You will have to find a way to legitimately control your whole neighborhood. There are of course ways of doing that. But no matter how you do it, whether you are buying up all the properties in your neighborhood or join a gated community, the costs for this lifestyle will be higher than for people who are more relaxed about their neighbors. And the more intolerant you are, the further away from other people you will have to move, or the higher walls you will have to establish around you. This however drives up the costs to cooperate with others. This is the reason, why so many people are living in crowded cities. Having a large amount of diverse people around you, opens up a lot of possibilities. That means it is economically costly to pursue an intolerant lifestyle. Sure in a free market, everything will likely become cheaper as productivity rises. But the relative economic disadvantage compared to people who are tolerant remains.

And there is more economic disadvantage. Say you are running a company and you are a racist. In that case you are excluding a lot of potentially helpful people from your business. That should cause you disadvantages compared to a competition that is more open minded. There is a reason why racist societies force people to be intolerant by law. Left on their own, most people quickly start realizing that hatred is not a very attractive philosophy.

What about the claim that a libertarian society will likely see more conservative lifestyles. I don’t find this completely convincing either. I think conservatives are right in one aspect. Cooperation on a free market demands responsibility. So some of the irresponsible behavior we see being produced by the welfare state will likely go away. On the other hand however, markets are known to produce a lot of wealth. And particularly creative people are doing well on free markets compared to rigid bureaucratic structures. If people are more wealthy they are less dependent on others approving of their lifestyle. In other words, free markets tent to benefit individualism.

This can be seen historically. For example, to my knowledge it was not so much feminism or the welfare state that made women independent from their husbands. It was the industrial revolution. Factory owners often paid for facilities where mothers could leave their children while at work. That way they had access to their labor, which was needed. Or mothers were earning enough to pay for child care themselves. So it was the wealth production of free markets that allowed women to break out of conservative family structures.

I cannot see much basis for the idea that liberty is about intolerance or that a libertarian society has to be conservative. This seems to be wishful thinking from some libertarians. If that is true, then the question arises, are they really libertarians or are they people who see libertarianism as a means to achieve very different ends? And if the latter is true, are they trustworthy to stick with liberty even if liberty appears to produce different results?

I think a good test to answer these questions is state immigration controls. Are libertarians willing to support getting the state out of the way of the free movement of people or not. It seems to me that people who are arguing in favor of state immigration controls give away that they really are more interested in their conservative/racist idea of a society than in liberty. And they seem to sense that it really needs the state to produce this result. If we get the state out of the way, we will likely see an increase in multiculturalism. The economic incentive of people to mix seems too large.

Since this is not a result that these libertarians expected, they are quick to proclaim that really this is all due to other state policies like non-discrimination legislature or the welfare state. But this is an odd argument in many ways. While these policies are indeed anti-libertarian and have to go, there does not seem to be much evidence that supports the idea that they have a big influence on immigration. At least no were near enough to support the idea that without them, we would not see a lot of movement of people from all over the world. And regardless of how many people will end up moving, it seems false to argue that the state cannot be rolled back unconditionally, as that would lead to problems. That argument can be used to prevent any rollback, as almost any abolition of a policy will cause some trouble for some people. So if this argument sticks, we will be stuck with the status quo forever. No, if the abolition of one policy causes problems with other policies in place, then we just need to abolish more state until the state is no more.

For all these reasons I personally remain skeptical of people who are interested in liberty because it promises them intolerance. Of course it is good when people are interested in libertarianism and want to call themselves libertarians. Any common ground is a basis for debate. However, I don’t know how much I can trust them when it comes to the fight for liberty. I also don’t believe this image of liberty is helpful to spread the message. We are sharing this planet with a lot of people. And we will have to find a way to live peacefully with them. Our standard of living is also very dependent on a maximum of collaboration with others. I therefore consider tolerance to be an important value. Intolerance simply does not seem to be a good survival strategy. But tolerance can be difficult. It needs to be learned. That will take some training. Telling people that it is perfectly fine to be intolerant is therefore not very helpful.



Lots of PC controvery

Current Affairs Posted on Mon, June 22, 2015 18:04:47

A
weekend of Politically Correct [PC] controversy

What PC controversy the weekend of the third week of
June 2015.

We have the continuing reaction of some scientists
to the PC anti-sexism against Tim Hunt, for they seem to be attempting to have
tolerance instead of strict Politically Correct [PC] equality rules in science,
the pro-PC report in the top science journal, Science, on no hiatus in global warming, as they say that, all
along the eighteen or so years, there has been a lot of error in the way the
data was collected, and this report is just in time to aid the new Green
campaign of the current Pope.

Then we have the asking of whether Rachel Dolezal
has the right to call herself black, then, later in the week, the very odd
question of whether the terrorist who shot the nine people in a church in an
attempt to start a race hate war in Charleston USA was truly a terrorist, or
not.

Then there is the BBC licence fee coming up for the
“left” leaning BBC, though the free access, or price free, London Evening Standard makes it look moderate, but then it could
be catering to London, where the Labourites actually won in last May’s General
Election, together with the supposed voices appearing in the head of Jeremy
Clarkson on being offered his job back, though the BBC aired advertisements all
week for his due grand new series, despite its claims never to ever advertise.
Tony Hall, the Chief Executive Officer or Director General of the BBC said on
Sunday, 21 June 2015 on The Andrew Marr
Show
that he had not changed his mind since he regretfully parted with
Clarkson, but he confessed that he did not know that others might have reopened
the offer, and he said nothing about those advertisements, or programme
trailers, nor did Marr.

David Cameron’s speech on extremism, that Muslims
feel is the position of The Daily Mail but against them, the
week-long repeated media of press articles, TV and radio programmes enquiry as
to why so many Muslims liked jihad, and why they often liked ISIS too.

Thousands were said to be marching in London, against
what they call “austerity”, where Jeremy Corbyn MP, the new star, or so some Labour
MPs imagine, says he is due to tell them that austerity obfuscates inequality.
Corbyn is said by many to have emerged as a star in the staged Labour
Leadership campaign that began earlier this week at Nuneaton, shown on BBC2 at
7pm on Wednesday 17 June and discussed at 10:30pm and in the press the next
day. It was the first of many meetings in constituencies that Labour needed and were expected
to win in May 2015. On Saturday, the meeting was held in Stevenage, where the
Tories increased their share of the vote instead of falling to Labour. At the
first meeting, all the reporters credited Liz Kendall as replying to Andy
Burnham, who had said that the Party matters most of all, that the country
mattered far more than the party. But most of the applause was for Jeremy
Corbyn at that, and also at subsequent meetings, like that of the following
Saturday in Stevenage, so he has, now, emerged as a star, with younger Labour MPs
thinking he might even be the next leader and saying so on The Sunday Politics, such as Clive Lewis, as well as older ones
like Diane Abbott.



Let’s do something!

Politics Posted on Fri, June 05, 2015 16:21:39

If you attend a lot
of libertarian gatherings, you will start feeling like everything
talked about is very repetitive. Every argument being made sounds
familiar and if someone new might show up you can predict what their
objections are going to be. Nevertheless, I am not really getting
tired of them for a number of reasons. There is the psychological
aspect of feeling sane and understood. I know a lot of libertarians
who come to meetings for this reason alone, as it is an experience in
contrast to what they are experiencing in their normal environment.
And sometimes you might actually come across an interesting viewpoint
that you have not heart before. So despite all the repetition, you
might actually learn something. In any case, arguing a lot, even if
repetitive, certainly trains you in making your points in other
debates. In the end it helps spreading libertarian ideas.

But there is a
series of talks that come up fairly regularly that annoyed me from the
first time I attended one of them. It is a series that I would like to call ‘Let’s do something’. The ‘Let’s do Something’ talks follow a
common structure. Whoever gives the talk will start by saying that he
or she has observed that libertarians are arguing too much and spend a
lot of time with books. That is all nice and well, but he or she has
decided that now the time has come to stop this childish complaining
and take real action instead.

The proposal to ‘do
something’ is always presented as some kind of fantastic new break
through idea that obviously a lot of libertarians could not come up
with themselves. And the moment the words ‘Let’s do something’ have been
uttered you will find some libertarians getting overly excited. From
this moment, they do not let any argument count, as arguing looks
like falling back into the childish complaining status. As a result,
any proposal following these words will be seen as worth supporting
and superior to talking.

Don’t get me wrong,
I am all in favor of taking action. So are most if not all
Libertarians. One topic that is reliably discussed on every
libertarian gathering is, how do we get to a libertarian society or
at least, how do I get the state out of my life. Libertarians are
spending a lot of time trying to figure out a solution to the state
problem. However, this problem, not surprisingly turns out to be a
very difficult problem to solve. If the power of the state was so
fragile that all it needed to topple it was for some people to get
together and ‘do something’ it would have gone away a long time ago.

Having said that,
there are some strategies that libertarians have come up with that
actually might get us to a libertarian society in the long run. However, the
remarkable thing about the ‘Let’s do something’ talks is that they are
consistently disappointing in coming up with persuasive solutions.
People who start their talks with ‘Let’s do something’ will usually
not tell you about strategies like agorism, how to reduce your tax
burden, how to use alternative currencies or stop the state from
spying on you. No, none of that. People who start their talks
dismissing debate and demanding action fairly reliably will give you
the proposal to get involved in politics one way or another.

The most common one
is to propose a new libertarian party. “Hey guys, a lot of you are
just sitting around debating. But a few of us have decided to grow up
and we have founded this new libertarian party that will change things in this
country”. Sorry mate, but this is not new. It has been tried many
times with not very persuasive results. So why come up with the same
old non solution?

The last talk in
this series that I attended and that inspired me to write this piece
was from an MEP of the Tory party who somehow is sympathetic to
classical liberalism. Becoming an MEP I guess was his idea of doing
something. I could not quite figure out how this action is helping,
but then again if I were to fight MEPs I should probably start with
the less libertarian ones. At least he seemed like a sincere guy. Although, he did have this typical talking style of a politician of being deliberately vague to please as many listeners as possible.

He thought one of
the big problems of libertarianism is that they don’t have a good
answer to the problem of poverty. They are just assuming that the
poor will be better off in a free market, without delivering any proof
for it. That is why people do not understand the libertarian
solution. So instead of talking, libertarians should practically show
how the market helps the poor. He proposed going into the community and help poor
people run their own businesses. An example he gave was, how he
helped a drug dealer using his entrepreneurial skills to now run a
sandwich shop instead.

This proposal is odd
on many levels. First it smells a lot like central planning for
politicians to go around and tell people how to run their businesses.
It does not need the guidance of the state to run businesses. Maybe
the drug dealer is now better off selling sandwiches, or maybe not. I
don’t have a principal problem with either one of those businesses.
But for the life of me, I cannot figure out how getting him into the
sandwich making business is helping Libertarianism. No tax has been
reduced, no regulation has been abolished. The structural problem of
the state remains. I told him that, but his answer was that
regulations, while nasty are not the main problem. There are still
many entrepreneurs who succeed in a statist environment. So the problem has to be the attitude of people.

True, people in
state education are systematically educated to be irresponsible. But
then again, that is a structural problem of state education and the
welfare state. To say that regulations are not the main problem, is a
dangerously wrong analysis of why the standard of living of so many
people is going down. True, there are successful entrepreneurs in this
statist environment. Some people are so productive that even after
all the taxation and regulations they still are able to run a
profitable business. But these are strong people. This is exactly not
a solution for the poor, who tend to be a little bit less skilled.
The less skilled a person is, the more likely every stone you put
into his or her way will kill his or her ability to run a profitable
business. It is exactly the poor who are most dependent on us solving
the structural problem of the state, for they are the first to suffer
under it. And btw isn’t ‘not letting you being put off by regulations’
exactly what drug dealer are doing? Here you can see, how regulations are helping the strong. They get even richer than they
deserve to be, because the state has killed the competition.

It is indeed
unfortunate, that economics can be counter intuitive, as one needs to
understand that a lot of consequences are not directly visible. And
to be honest, my suspicion was that the MEP did not fully understand
that himself. He seemed to suggest that poor people really are benefiting from the state. Of course it is not intuitively clear why poor
people are better off if the welfare state stops giving them money.
But it is nevertheless true and therefore there is no alternative to
spreading this idea. If you do not spread the idea, whatever actions
you take could still produce non libertarian results.

Which brings me to
the biggest fallacy of the ‘do something’ philosophy. Ideas are not
useless chit chat. They are the most powerful weapon this movement
has. Therefore, spreading propaganda very much qualifies as doing
something. And it is probably the best thing most people are able to do. If we
look throughout history we see the powers of ideas everywhere. For
example, how did democracy or socialism become so powerful? They
started out as ideas of a few nutters. These ideas slowly started to
grow before their time finally had come. That is why you cannot just
implement a democracy in countries that never had any democratic
process. People do not yet understand the idea.

Because ideas are so
powerful, you will find strong forms of censorship in every
dictatorial system. The reason why a country like North Korea is so
cut off from everything is not because they fear the nice consumer
products from the rest of the world. Their real fear is that ideas
will come over and topple the regime.

Ideas are also the
foundation of actions. If someone acts against the state he first
needs to identify the state as a problem. There might be some people
out there who are really able to do something great against the
state. But first they need to understand that the state is a problem. Whoever invented the block chain for example certainly was
influenced by libertarian thoughts. With these ideas in mind, he then realized that he had some skills that could be turned into action. If it was not for libertarian propaganda, this might have never happened.

In my experience it
is not that libertarians are too lazy to act. They are more than
willing to do so. But that does not mean they have big opportunities
to do so. Most people find small opportunities to increase the amount
of freedom in their lives. Few are capable of inventing something big
like Bitcoin. I certainly could not have done that. But I don’t have
to. The division of labor also works for Libertarianism. The best thing most of us can do is to spread ideas, so that
those with the exceptional skills to act on it can be influence by
libertarianism.

The problem with
ideas is that they don’t show immediate results. You will not step in
front of a crowd of statists, explain libertarianism to them and see
them collectively saying ‘I was blind, but now I see’. Whether people
are listening to you depends on many things like their motivation,
their age, intelligence, personality etc. Not everyone can be
persuaded and it is a slow process. That makes ideas very annoying
for impatient people. They start concluding that spreading ideas is a hopeless exercise. It also makes you feel like you are not in
control of the process. However, there does not seem to be a real
alternative to ideas if you want social change.

If your ideas are
correct and attractive, they will sooner or later win followers. The
good thing about ideas is that once they pick up steam, they can grow
exponentially. We also don’t need to win over everyone. A lethal
doses of ideas for the state is far below the threshold of persuading
everyone. We just need a significant number of the right people. So
let’s not complain about people not doing anything. Everyone does what they can do best, just like in the rest of the economy. But one thing that really everyone can do is to continue spreading ideas.



Is this the end of the Labour Party?

Current Affairs Posted on Fri, May 15, 2015 21:12:24

Are the prospects
of the Labour Party to ever rule again now dead?

In Spike, Mick Hume says the election
destroyed Labour! Hyperbole? Yes, for it still is the second largest party in
the House of Commons. But can it ever win power again? The loss of Scotland
makes this question way more pertinent than at any time in the Labour Party’s
history. It now looks as if Labour has locked itself out of Scotland and if
that is the case then it truly might mean that Labour never wins a UK election
again.

It is
the way that Labour got thrown out of Scotland that makes a comeback difficult.
But in any case, as so many others have said, Scotland was encouraged by Labour
in the past to go in for an unrealistic amount of welfare, as Greece did in
milking Germany but it was to a much lesser extent milking England by the
Barnet formula, that Joel Barnet himself has repudiated, but the SNP under a
clear pretence of independence, held the EU gave it Germany as a much better
cow to milk if ever it got free of England. But the Greeks, who, despite the wonderful
Scottish Enlightenment, courted a fondness in Germany with a far greater
cultural heritage of 2500 years back, nevertheless Greece queered the pitch
with the Germans not only for themselves but for the Scotch too, in the future,
for they ensured the Germans were bitten hard enough to make them more than merely
twice shy. But the SNP tend to overlook that.

Walter
Bagehot in The English Constitution (1867)
held that the largely tacit, or unwritten, constitution had its ornamental and
functional parts. There are two sorts of politics, ideological and practical. The
major parties are largely concerned to be practical, but ideology itself has
some practical or functional parts. If we go back to the UK of the 1960s and
1970s, the two major parties had their ideologues as well as their parties, the
Labour Party had Tony Benn as an ideologue as well as a practical Minister for
Technology where and when he took advice from the civil servants of the time,
that had little bearing on his ideological aspect, though it would need to be roughly
compatible with it, if both were to flourish.

Dr
Johnson set out to gauge the difference between the Whigs and the Tories in the
eighteenth century whilst Sir Robert Walpole was, what historians today agree was
the first Prime Minister, up to 1742. When others took over, Dr Johnson was rather
surprised that they adopted many of the same positions, apart from opposition
to war, as Walpole had taken. There was then, as since, a practical continuity
between supposedly distinct ideological administrations that tended to share
the same experts in the civil service that may not have been somewhat immune to
fashion or to ideology as they were supposed to be, but whom certainly saw
themselves as mainly practical or functional. Ideology or fashion was, for the
most part, if ever quite completely, ornamental rather than functional.

So we
might see that quite a bit of this ideological clash that usually takes place between
the two major parties, if not all of it, is ornamental rather than functional.
However, it can become rather unrealistically tribal with some politicians and
it has tended to do so with the Labourites a bit more than with the Tories. In Scotland
it emerged that the Labourites demonised the Tories quite successfully,
especially after the rise of Mrs Thatcher, whom many in Scotland detested. They
successfully ran the Tories out of Scotland by such demonization. But when
Blair, later, adopted many of the Tories policies, as so many parties do in the
UK’s two party system, this allowed the SNP to say that the Labourites were
quasi-Tories, so they were as bad as they themselves had earlier said that the
Tories were. This allowed them to see off the Labourites on their own anti-Tory
demonization culture. But it is not going to be an easy culture for future
Labourites to counter, as the SNP have no need to adopt any earlier policy
changes from the Tories. So it looks like Labour have lost Scotland and that
some new opposition might rise there against the SNP rather than ever again
either Labour or the Tories. Will Scottish Labour do it? It failed to do so
this time, and it might never do it. It
does not look easy. It is not impossible but nor is it an ordinary setback.

The Economist holds that the Labourites have a
threefold task against the SNP in Scotland, the UKIP in the north of England
and the Tories in the south [Friday, 15 May 2015 (p30)] but though the three
clash the real problem is in Scotland with SNP. Labour has never won without
Scotland before and maybe they cannot do it.



Beverly Hills Tale

Arts Posted on Mon, May 04, 2015 22:15:30

I composed this little tale about fifteen years ago, and sent it to a
couple of magazines which promptly rejected it.
I then forgot about it until recently and thought of sending it to a few
more, but upon re-reading it I see it is out of date in many ways but not yet
ancient enough for retro appeal (“zero cool” still had a gleam at the time, but
is now covered in verdigris). My first
thought was that I might update it, but that would actually be a lot of work
and I might never get around to it. So
rather than just waste it entirely, I’m sticking it here.

I’ve never been to Beverly Hills, except in
the sense that we all have.

KIND OF A POWER

By

DAVID RAMSAY STEELE

Lucy moved all her stuff into Dan’s old office. The last item she carried in was the “Under
urgent consideration” pile of current scripts.
She placed this in the tray on the left of her desk, then gazed with
satisfaction at the Sony Pentium notebook, the phone, the bowl of polished stones,
the herbal bouquet, and the purplish black candle in the little silver
candlestick. This desk would never look
so tidy again, until maybe, a couple years down the road, she had her next
major promotion, probably to president of the agency. And then someone else would take over from
her the office she had now taken over from Dan.

The phone rang. It was Fiona in Human Resources. “Lucy, I have an Officer Martinez here, from
the police. Do you have a minute to talk with him? It’s about Dan.”

Ninety seconds later,
Fiona appeared at the office door, with a young man, single by the look of it,
who was wearing, not a police uniform, but a gray-green jacket and aqua shirt
which went quite well with his dark skin tone.
Not bad, thought Lucy.

This being her first
day, in fact her first five minutes, in her new office, she had a choice of
uncluttered chairs to offer Martinez. He was looking at her Welsh brooch.

“Is that . . .?”

“A spiritual
symbol. Would you be a spiritual
person?”

“No.” And then by way
of explanation: “Catholic.”

“Oh.”

“Just a few points we
need to clarify. This was Daniel
Zegarac’s office? Ms. McGregor informs
me you now have Mr. Zegarac’s job.”

Martinez’s black eyes darted about like a
snake’s tongue. Lucy had been looking
forward to a few minutes alone to gloat over her new corner office with the
zero cool view and enough bookshelf space to encompass a basic herb garden in
seven earthenware pots. It might have
been better to have seen the cop in a conference room.

Martinez asked a few general questions about
Dan and quite naturally slipped in a few about Lucy. She explained the nature of Dan’s job, now
her job. She gave Martinez
her routine little chat about the work of the agency, representing creative
talent in the Hollywood jungle, getting the
most promising scripts to the right people in the studios. Fiona
should have taken care of this
.

She
vaguely wondered why the police were interested at all. Maybe they needed to rule out suicide for
insurance purposes, though if she’d considered it seriously, she’d have known
that wouldn’t be police business.

Martinez paused and
Lucy picked up a hint of awkwardness.
She thought she knew what he would say next. She almost helped him along by inquiring
“Just what kind of a script is it?”

But she was
mistaken. Martinez was not about to
mention his screenplay, or his girlfriend’s or brother-in-law’s screenplay.

He said: “We now
believe that Daniel Zegarac’s death was not accidental. Mr. Zegarac was murdered.”

His eyes had stopped
their restless flickering. They were fixed
on Lucy’s face. What he saw there was an
instant of pure, unfeigned astonishment.

“We were told it was
an accident,” said Lucy. “Wasn’t he
working on a boat?”

“He was building a
yacht. He fell and broke his neck. Since the autopsy, we now believe someone
gave him a push.”

Deftly massaging the
truth was second nature to Detective Martinez.
He didn’t explain that a witness had seen someone leaving Dan Zegarac’s
place close to the time of his fatal fall, and only because of that had the
police and the coroner looked more closely for signs of foul play. There was nothing in the autopsy report to
definitely indicate homicide. Once they
looked, however, they found details of the fatal scene that were atypical in
this kind of accident.

She said: “Wow, that’s . . . Why would anyone
kill Dan? You have any idea who did it?”

Fortunately, Lucy had not yet put up her
movie festival posters. Martinez was
sitting in front of a plain peach wall, which made it child’s play to
scrutinize his aura. Applying her
well-honed technique, she could instantly make out that this aura had blue and
turquoise points. Not a man to be taken
lightly, but no signs of unusual potency, at least not of a spiritual kind. Years of experience had taught her that by a
little deeper concentration she could see beyond the immediate manifestation,
to a faint kind of secondary aura, invisible to all save the most spiritually
discerning. She perceived a thin brown
smoke, some underlying ominous quality, an emanation of violence. Not surprising in a homicide detective, given
the kinds of experiences he must be familiar with almost daily. This whole analysis took less than two
seconds. Lucy was very good at it.

“It’s early in the
investigation,” said Martinez. How well
did you know him? Would you know if he
had any enemies?”

“Not really. Not that I can think of. A lot of people around here didn’t like him,
but not enough to . . . want to hurt him.”

“Not mixed up in
anything shady? Drugs or anything like
that?” The purpose of this question was to ascertain whether Lucy would snatch
the opportunity to send him off in an irrelevant direction; she merely shook
her head.

“Did you personally
like him? Did you get on well with him?”

He made my life a misery. When I
heard about the accident, I felt like celebrating.
“Dan could be very trying. We had our issues, work-related issues. But . . . I was just appalled that he died. I couldn’t believe it. I was really upset. We all were.”
If Martinez had not already been informed that she had loathed Dan and
fought him bitterly over the recent negotiations with Bernstein at Columbia
TriStar, someone was sure to tell him.

“Okay.” Martinez made a slight movement in his chair,
a hint that he was about to get up and leave.
“Uh, one last thing. This is a
routine question we have to ask everyone.
Where were you on the night of May 6th?”

She checked her palm
pilot. Nothing on that night.

“I must have been at
home watching TV. Yeah, I’m sure I
was. Then in bed. Asleep.”

“Alone all the time?”

“Totally.” She pulled a mock-dismayed face and added:
“No alibi.”

Martinez didn’t smile,
but his voice was soft enough to perhaps indicate sympathy. “It’s routine. We have to check on everyone.”

Not so routine was the
call she took from Detective Martinez a few days later. He asked her to stop by police
headquarters. He was ready to say that
she needed to be there to look at an artist’s sketch of the person seen leaving
the scene of the homicide. Surprisingly,
she agreed to be there, without any need to invoke this contrived rationale.

When she showed at
headquarters, Martinez had more questions of a general nature. Then: “Would you say you’ve been lucky in
your career?”

Uh oh. “Some good luck. Some bad luck. A whole lot of hard work.”

“As a matter of fact,
you’ve had some lucky breaks.”

Lucy guessed what was coming next.
So they’ve noticed. Well, they can’t
know anything. And even if they did,
what could they do about it?

“As I look at the trajectory of your career,
I see you’ve had three big breaks. And
each one of those lucky breaks has been precipitated by the death of a
colleague.” Trajectory. Precipitated. Definitely has a screenplay.

Lucy felt slightly dazed but not
anxious. If she’d been even moderately
perturbed she’d have gone straight into Great Pan breathing for serenity of
soul, but this hadn’t been necessary.

Martinez said: “Quite
a coincidence.” He paused and looked around the room in an oddly unfocussed
way. Lucy abruptly knew that colleagues of
Martinez were watching her reactions from an adjacent room and—of course—videotaping them. Weren’t they supposed to warn you in advance
when they did that? Or at least tell you
they considered you a suspect? This is so LAPD. Either they would swear under oath that they had warned her, or, if they thought they
had a case against her—not that this could ever happen—they’d swear that not
informing her was a careless and deeply regretted slip.

Martinez had Lucy’s
basic bio on a sheet of paper, and was checking off each item. Yes, in her previous job she had worked for
the Tom Davenport agency. Yes, twelve
years ago she had been assistant to Mary Nolan.
She got on badly with Nolan, who had recommended that Lucy be canned.

“Business was bad,”
Lucy recalled. “They were looking for
headcount reductions.”

“Nolan’s body turned
up in her swimming pool. So they got
themselves a headcount reduction.”
Martinez kept the irony out of his voice. He didn’t reveal that the drowning had been
viewed at the time as suspicious and a police report had been generated. An unidentified DNA sample was on file. The report was inconclusive and the
investigation had been shelved.

Lucy had taken over
Mary’s job, an arrangement that was eventually made permanent. When business improved she got her own
assistant.

Five years later,
Lucy’s boss at Davenport was Eddie McInerny.
Though she had been Eddie’s protégé—Martinez didn’t yet know she had
also been his mistress—their relationship soured and they held sharply opposed
views on the future direction of the agency.

McInerny’s house burned down. Something fatty
had been left simmering on a kitchen stove.
He slept through the thickening fumes and was dead of smoke inhalation
before his flesh began to char. The body contained traces of cocaine and three
other controlled substances.

“He could have been
zonked on drugs and forgotten to turn off the stove. Or he could have had help.” Help with the zonking or help with the fire,
or both. Still, there was no proof this
wasn’t a typical accidental blaze.

So here was a second
apparently accidental death of a colleague with whom Lucy had developed an
acrimonious relationship. A second
career boost, as it turned out, for Lucy had quickly concluded the deal that
Eddie had been working on, the deal that turned the Davenport Agency around.

Opinions might differ on whether two deaths
and two career boosts were or were not an extraordinary coincidence. Subsequently Lucy, with a number of lucrative
movie deals to her credit, had moved into a senior position at the Paulsen
Creative Talent Agency. And after five
years here, bingo, we have a third seemingly accidental death of a colleague
who clashed with Lucy, who quarreled with Lucy, and whose removal would likely
help Lucy. Surely this is beyond
ordinary coincidence.

Martinez had read
about individuals who’d been struck by lightning on three separate
occasions. Astounding coincidences could
happen, were bound to happen once in a while.
Or perhaps some persons had physical qualities or chosen habits that
made them unusually likely to be struck by lightning. Could there possibly be people whose personal
qualities made it fatal for others to get in their way? Detective Martinez didn’t think so. He was open-minded but not unduly credulous.

Martinez was an excellent listener.

“Yes.
I did a good job,” Lucy was saying.
“You can’t say I’ve coasted to the top by wasting the competition.” She didn’t intend to sound amused, but a
little of that came through.

Martinez was
thoughtful: “It could be fifty percent job performance and fifty percent
luck.” He might have been speaking of
his own career in the police department.
“A person could do okay on job performance and still decide on some
pro-active interventions to improve the odds.”

Even as he said this, Martinez
couldn’t make himself believe it. The
story just wouldn’t walk, it wouldn’t bark, it wouldn’t wag its tail. And whether he believed it or not, no one in
the DA’s office would want to parade it on a leash in front of a jury. Some link had to be found between Lucy
Armstrong and the death scenes. So far,
nothing.

Looking at her soft
countenance, long red hair, and nicely curved figure, Martinez briefly
considered the possibility he was mentally exonerating her because he liked the
look of her. He didn’t think so. Only six months before, he had not hesitated
to pursue and arrest the mouth-watering Mrs. Mulligan, who had quite
understandably, after more than ample provocation, hired a contract killer to
dispose of her exasperating but well-insured husband.

Martinez could have placed Lucy as a serial
murderer if she’d worn tight black pants, cropped hair, a leaner physique, a
bonier face. Or, given her actual
persona, if Nolan, McInerny, and Zegarac had been poisoned. Any type of person might commit murder, but
he couldn’t see Lucy sneaking out to Zegarac’s house at dead of night and
pushing him off a ladder. Also, the DNA
found at the Nolan drowning was male.
And the person seen leaving the Zegarac homicide scene was believed to
be male.

Suppose pure
coincidence is ruled out. Suppose also
Lucy Armstrong did not kill these three people.
What are we left with?

Lucy thought of mentioning that she’d been in Denver when Mary Nolan
died, and in Paris when Eddie McInerny died.
Did Martinez know that yet? He
would find out about Europe first, then about Denver. Let him
find out
.

Martinez was trying a
different approach. “You must have
thought about this yourself. What did
you think?”

A little shrug.
“Coincidence?” There are no coincidences.
Synchronicity is a law of nature, just like gravity.
That was Zuleika,
holding forth in her preachy way.
Zuleika had been right about synchronicity, of course.

“Anyone
else ever comment about this coincidence?”

One time, just before
she’d left Davenport, when someone had gone quiet, tailed off in mid-sentence,
and the other two people present had looked embarrassed. As though they had some knowledge in
common—probably knowledge of a conversation in which they had speculated avidly
about Lucy’s benefiting from two deaths in a row.

Then there was
Laura. Laura had said: “So the spells
worked, then.” Lightly enough to show
she wasn’t concerned. Warmly enough that
it could have been more than just a joke.
Lucy smiled at the recollection.

“What?”

He’s sharp. “Someone joked about
it. Said the spells work.”

“Spells?”

Why not? He can find out anyway. “I was into Wicca.” Blank stare from Martinez. “I belonged to a coven.”

“You’re a witch?”

“We called ourselves
students of Wicca. This was a few years
back. People around the office knew
something about it. There were
jokes.” Let the Cowans mock.

“You’re not into this
anymore?”

“The coven was
disbanded. I haven’t really kept it
up.” Like the South Beach diet, except
that she really hadn’t kept that up.

Disbanded. You could say the Spirits of Light Coven had
been disbanded. Zuleika sputtering with
rage, her lips positively frothing. “I offered you the world and you betrayed
me, you loathsome creature, you rotten hypocrite.”
Her Russian accent thickened as her
adrenaline level rose. “Your pathetic little act is finished. You’re under my curse . . . yes, my curse!”

“You worshipped the
Devil?” Martinez wanted to know.

A brief exhalation of
amusement. The usual misconceptions. “Wicca has nothing to do with His Satanic
Majesty. Really. It’s nature worship, not devil worship. Though I do know a couple devotees of Satan,
and they’re, like, totally nice people who wouldn’t hurt a fly. . . .”

Lucy found herself parroting one of Zuleika’s
set pieces: “Wicca sees the divine manifest in all creation. The cycles of nature are the holy days of
Wicca, the earth is the temple of Wicca, all life-forms are its prophets and
teachers. Wiccans respect life, cherish
the free will of sentient beings, and acknowledge the sanctity of the
environment.” That’s about all the Cowans need to know.

Martinez considered
this. “So. Did you nature worshippers
put spells on people you wanted out of the way?”

“We were so totally not about that. Wiccans believe for every action there’s a
reaction. If you send out evil energy,
it’ll return to you threefold.” Only if
your enemy is protected by a sufficiently strong charm.
“Using spells to coerce or injure is always
evil.” But possible. And evil’s kind of
a relative thing.

“Didn’t
stick pins in voodoo dolls?”

The absurd preoccupation with physical props. “Oh no.
I respect voodoo as an authentic grassroots religion of the Haitian
people and an expression of community solidarity in the face of neo-colonialist
exploitation.” Lucy had majored in
Sociology at Berkeley. “Voodoo is a
totally valid kind of folk tradition; Wicca is different.”

She didn’t mention
that the Wicca tradition does involve acquiring some of the enemy’s hair or
fingernails, and burning them over a black candle with appropriate
incantations, on four consecutive nights when the Moon is waning. Let him
do his own research. Why do I pay
property taxes?
But this was a
portion of the tradition that she had repudiated, and the online record of her
dispute with the Reverend Zuleika LeGrand would attest to that. In any case, it was all totally
academic. The DA’s office was not going
to indict anyone, in the twenty-first century, for casting spells.

The meeting had been a formality, the concluding handshake to months of
negotiations. In the Paulsen Agency’s
glass conference room, amid blue sky and green palms, business was over, the
chit-chat was winding down, lunch was in the offing, and there came an
unexpected voice.

“Ms. Armstrong, do you have a moment, please?” It was Martinez,
standing in the doorway, lithe and springy on his feet.

Around the table were
Paulsen’s president, Jay Maxwell, Bill Rescher from Public Relations, the
writer Joss Whedon, and, in a rare appearance, the legendary Clyde Paulsen
himself. Whedon would rewrite his story
along the lines agreed to, and the agency would pay him half a million for the
option.

“Just a couple of
questions.” The voice was as gravely
courteous as ever. Maxwell and Whedon
didn’t seem to notice: Martinez might just as well be the limo driver. Rescher looked distinctly annoyed at the
interruption. Paulsen appeared
fascinated, but then, he always did.

Lucy found Martinez’s
feeble ambush both mildly diverting and mildly irritating. For him to appear like this, without prior
warning, while she was with other people, was a planned attempt to disconcert
her. She was slightly embarrassed for
him because it wasn’t very well done.

“How can I help you
this time? Why don’t we go to my
office?” A warm smile and a cheerful
lilt, but in that moment Lucy decided this would be the last interview. Before saying goodbye to Martinez, she would
let him know that all future communications had to go through her lawyer. One-on-oneing with Martinez had been fine,
but she wouldn’t be Columboed, even ineffectually.

Over the next few weeks, Lucy’s attorney Steve Gordon heard from
Martinez a couple of times with what seemed like trivial inquiries. Martinez appeared at the Paulsen offices more
than once, and she heard of other people who had been questioned.

Laura was away in Cannes, lucky Laura. In the evenings, there seemed to be more
squad cars than usual, making more commotion than usual, near Lucy’s
condo. Before going to bed, she would
call Laura—it was early morning in Cannes—and exchange reports. They would enjoy a good chuckle about agency
office happenings, who was doing what to whom in Cannes, Laura’s own
hair-raising adventures, Hollywood scuttlebutt, the hunk Martinez, and the
strange investigation into Dan Zegarac’s demise.

The day before Laura was to get back in LA,
Gordon took a call from a female cop named Bennett, asking to set up a
meeting. Bennett said just enough to
convince Gordon that his client was not a suspect, and that she would
personally benefit from being present.
When Gordon called Lucy, she immediately insisted on co-operating.

So here they were. The two cops, Lucy, and her lawyer.

“We requested this meeting,” said Bennett,
“because of a few points we need to clarify, and because we have information
Ms. Armstrong needs to be aware of. Let
me say right away that Ms. Armstrong is not a suspect. We’re grateful to her for her co-operation. We do have a few questions for her. Then we’ll explain the latest developments in
this case.”

Gordon turned to Lucy and was about to
whisper something; she held up her hand and shook her head. “I’ll answer. Go ahead.” But
don’t trust them.

Martinez asked: “How well do you know William
Rescher?”

What the . . .? “I’ve known him for yea long. He was with Davenport.”

“You
both worked at Davenport, and now you both work at Paulsen. He followed you here.”

“Yes. He joined us a year ago.”

“Do you know him
well?”

“Don’t see much of
him. He’s not involved directly with the
talent side of the business.”

Bennett asked: “On May
4th, did you tell William Rescher you were leaving town for several days?”

Lucy remembered
sharing an elevator ride with Bill. He’d
asked her if she was leaving for the airport, “for that Nebraska thing.” She’d said yes. She had been selected as one of the judges at
the new Nebraska festival. But the
festival had been called off, some scandal about funds.

“I was in a
hurry. Conversations with Bill tend to
go on too long. I was taking a taxi to
LAX but that was to say goodbye to a friend who was leaving for Europe. I didn’t want to take the time to get into
the convoluted messy story of why the Nebraska festival was cancelled.”

There was actually a
little more to it. She had lied on
impulse, not just to save the time of explaining, but because she somehow
instinctively didn’t want creepy Bill to know where she was or what she was
doing.

It occurred to Lucy that if she’d gone to
Nebraska as planned, she would have had a way solid alibi for all three deaths,
not just the first two. Yet still the
significance of this fact didn’t dawn on her.

“Did you ever date
William Rescher?”

Where’s this going? “Yeah. A
long time ago. That was, let me see now,
twelve years ago.” The week after she
started at Davenport. Bill was already
there, and that’s where she had first met him.

“Who terminated the
relationship?”

“There was no
relationship.”

“Can you recall
whether one of you wanted to go on dating, the other didn’t?”

“Oh, that would be him
kind of wanting to go on, me wanting to stop.”

“He upset about that?”

She had given it
barely a thought for twelve years, but now it came back to her. Bill had been younger and cuter then. She’d felt a bit mushy about being so brutal. God, there were tears in his eyes. He was all, “I can’t go on without you. You mean everything to me.” Sweet, at the time, but what a loser. Surely he got over it quickly. Four months later he married that anemic
blonde at the front desk, was still married to her, as far as Lucy could
remember.

Lucy’s next date was Brad Pitt. It was only once and that was six months
before the release of Thelma and Louise,
so he wasn’t big BO. But there was a
picture in Hollywood Reporter. That kind of publicity never hurt an agency,
and Eddie McInerny had been impressed. So
much for Bill Rescher.

“William Rescher is in
custody, said Bennett. “He has confessed
to the murder of Daniel Zegarac.”

What? That’s way wacky.”

“He did it,” said
Martinez. “We have independent corroboration.”

“He’s
totally putting you on. Did he even know
Dan?”

“You’re
right. He barely knew him.” It was odd that Martinez said this as though
it clinched the case against Rescher.

Lucy sensed that they
were now getting to the whole point of the interview. What
kind of a trick is this?
Lucy was
absolutely sure that Bill could not
have killed Dan. This just had to be a
smokescreen. But why?

Bennett cleared her throat and said: “Ms.
Armstrong, we have to tell you . . . because this may cause you some
embarrassment when he goes to trial.
William Rescher committed murder because of you. He’s seriously . . . infatuated with
you. He has been obsessively in love
with you for fourteen years. His motive
for killing Daniel Zegarac was to help you out.”

Lucy’s head was spinning. She instantly went into Great Pan breathing.

A long pause.
Martinez asked, “Did you have any idea he felt this way about you?”

“But that’s just . . . He must be . . . totally out of his mind.”

Lucy was rapidly computing. Numerous little recollections of subtle
oddities in Bill’s speech and behavior, at rare intervals over the past twelve
years, suddenly made sense. What the
police were telling her struck her with stunning force as true, even obviously
true, a truth screaming for recognition.

Yet it had to
be false,

because it contradicted her certain knowledge that she could bring down her
enemies by the sheer force of her mind.
She knew perfectly well that she had deliberately caused the deaths of
Mary Nolan, Eddie McInerny, and Dan Zegarac by her own unique magickal hexing
power. Therefore, Bill Rescher could not
have killed them.

“This must be a shock
for you, and also disgusting, like a violation,” said Bennett, seeking to
soften the blow by empathizing. “However
the evidence is that you’ve been the center of William Rescher’s thoughts for
the past fifteen years.

Don’t panic. Need to think. “You’re saying he did those other killings
too?”

“He may never be
charged with them, but . . . yes, we believe he did them.” Martinez chose not to reveal that a DNA trace
from the Nolan death matched Bill Rescher.
Rescher would be offered concessions for confessing to at least two of
the three homicides, preferably all three.
It didn’t matter anyway: Rescher would likely be acquitted by reason of
insanity and incarcerated for life in a mental institution.

In kind of a vertigo,
Lucy heard Bennett’s voice, as though from the other end of a long, winding
corridor: “Did Rescher ever tell you what he did before he got into the agency
business? He worked for an insurance company,
investigating claims. Before that he’d
been a small-town sheriff for a few years.
He knew something about domestic accidents and crime scene
investigations. So when he . . .
developed this psychotic obsession about you, he could easily see a practical
way to help you out.”

It took less than three minutes of turmoil
for the mist to be dispelled, for the simple truth to shine forth in all its
clarity, and for Lucy to feel once again completely in control. If Bill had directly engineered the deaths of
Mary Nolan, Eddie McInerny, and Dan Zegarac, this showed, not that Lucy didn’t
have the power to kill at a distance by the trained exercise of concentrated
thought, but that this formidable power of hers worked through a human
intermediary. Of course. She should have known it. Hadn’t she known it?

Zuleika had once said: “All occult powers
work through the human world; all human powers work through the natural
world.” Actually the gross old manatee
had said this more than once. It was one
of her irritating little sayings, as if she could have attained to some kind of
privileged wisdom. At the time, of
course, they had all hung on Zuleika’s every goddamn word.

All occult powers work through the human
world, the mental world. It was true
enough, and obvious enough, and therefore it was something Lucy must always
have known. Of course Bill was besotted with her and consumed with the mission of
serving her interests. Bill was an
instrumentality of the hex.

Within a few seconds of this surprising
thought, she began to feel that she had never been surprised at all. She conceived that she had been struck with
fresh force by a fact she had always taken for granted. The only surprise, it now seemed to her, was
the identity of the human agent. And she
would soon begin to recall that she had known all along, on some deep level of
her being, that it was Bill.

She could picture herself one day explaining
the principle of the thing to Laura and a select inner circle of devoted
followers: “What’s more in keeping with Wicca wisdom? That a witch might cause the death of an enemy
by using mental power to make a ladder collapse? Or that a witch might cause the death of an
enemy by influencing the mind of a third person who then kicks over the
ladder?” The answer could be no less
self-evident to Lucy and her followers than it had been to the sorry old fraud
Zuleika.

Now Lucy had Bennett
figured out. She was the kind of
sympathetic cop who would be first choice to talk to a rape victim or to a
witness who had seen a loved one blown away.
Probably had a degree in social work.

Okay now, what would they expect me to say in this situation? “This is just awful,” Lucy wailed. “I thought I’d made it this far by my own
efforts.”

“It would be
unproductive to let that distress you.”
Bennett’s tone was almost maternal.
“Chance enters into everyone’s life.
Many people fail to get the promotion they deserve because someone
doesn’t like them, for instance. You
didn’t ask Rescher to do any of the things he did. And as far as we can see, he was not mainly
concerned about helping your career. It
seems he was thinking that each of these victims, at the time, was getting you
down, causing you severe emotional pain.
The way he thought of it, he couldn’t bear to see you suffer.”

Detective Martinez felt good about the case. Everything, or almost everything, had clicked
into place quite smoothly. A week after
his first meeting with Lucy, he’d found she had a cast-iron alibi for the death
of Dan Zegarac, an alibi she evidently didn’t even know about.

On the afternoon of
May 6th, Jordan Pirelli, actuary, e-trader, body-builder, occasional model, and
currently unbooked actor, had gone out of town leaving a faucet trickling in
his jacuzzi. When wet stuff came through
the ceilings of the condos below, the janitor, Frank Vucovic, had to make sure
of the source of the flood. Since Pirelli was a security-minded person who had
installed additional anti-theft devices, janitor Frank needed to have the fire
department break into Pirelli’s condo through the window. Before going to such lengths, Frank wanted to
be very sure of the source of the flooding, so he had called the neighboring
apartment, Lucy Armstrong’s, at 12:30 in the morning, and when she answered and
said she was still up, he had personally gone into her apartment, talked with
her, and checked around for any signs of leakage. This had taken about a minute. It wasn’t remarkable that Lucy didn’t recall
it—some people do forget unimportant occurrences in the few minutes before they
fall asleep. Frank vividly remembered
the whole sequence of events, which he was obliged to report in tiresome detail
to the building management later that morning.

It was a perfect
alibi. Not only did it place Lucy two
hours away from the scene of the crime, it was also a purely chance event;
there was no way she could have engineered it, certainly not with the required
precise timing. This ruled out the
possibility that she had arranged to provide herself with an alibi, knowing in
advance that the murder would take place.
It tended to eliminate her as an accomplice or accessory.

When Bill Rescher
displayed an interest in the questioning of Lucy, Martinez, in a reflexive
impulse to sow misdirection, hinted that she was the hot suspect. The calamitous look on Rescher’s face
intrigued Martinez, who began to feed Rescher with suggestions that Lucy was
the investigative target, and to ostentatiously pull her in for
questioning. Then Martinez had staged
his arrival at Paulsen to confront Lucy in Rescher’s company.

Bill’s pathetic
eagerness that Lucy should come to no harm, skilfully manipulated by Martinez,
had soon prompted Bill to confess to the killing of Dan Zegarac. Bill knew many details of the fatal scene. It was a couple of days before Martinez
mentioned to him that he was also a suspect in the Nolan and McInerny
killings. Once this matter was raised,
Rescher became exceedingly cagey. He
knew that Lucy had excellent alibis for those killings, so he had no motive to
confess to them. Martinez had not yet
informed him that DNA placed him at the scene of Mary Nolan’s drowning.

Hours of questioning
of Rescher and of Lucy had convinced Martinez that they had not been working
together. Rescher had acted alone and
without anyone else’s knowledge.

There were no major
loose ends. Something felt not quite
right about Lucy’s failure to volunteer her alibis for the Nolan and McInerny
deaths. But she was, after all, a deeply
spiritual person, which Martinez quite benevolently took to mean: occasionally
out to lunch and in need of a little practical guidance. For all her quick shrewdness, her mind could
sometimes be way off someplace on a broomstick.

The Council of Thirteen, the trustees of the coven, were all
there. Zuleika screeched: “You’re under my curse . . . yes, my curse!”
and slapped Lucy’s face. The next few
seconds of intense silence made that slap seem like the snapping of a bone,
though some eye-witnesses later argued about whether any blow had actually
landed. Lucy didn’t flinch but just
glared. Most of the onlookers felt
awkward as well as awed. Wiccans don’t
talk much about curses, and when they cast them, the entire rigmarole is
decorous and painstakingly slow. Yet
Zuleika was Zuleika. The members were embarrassed but also filled
with foreboding. They fully expected
something bad to happen to the delinquent Lucy, though possibly not for years.

That night, Zuleika,
never at a loss for captivating words, was paralyzed and rendered permanently
speechless by a stroke. Within hours,
self-effacing Ben Goldberg, Zuleika’s reliable lieutenant—and heir apparent now
that Lucy had vacated this role—was hit by a truck and put out of action. From the following morning when she heard the
news, Lucy never doubted her own awesome gift.

No member of the Spirits of Light Coven had
any doubts about what these events signified.
Lucy didn’t have to say anything.
For a few days, she thought she might assume the throne vacated by
Zuleika, but most of the members melted away.
They were impressed, even intimidated, but having been Zuleika’s
apostles they were not ready to switch allegiance to this disconcerting young
witch. Only Laura remained. And then, over the years, contacts were made with
a few more interested seekers: a new coven was discreetly in the making.

Martinez turned the steering wheel.
Bulky shoulders and taut arms, an efficient instrument of justice. He spent some time in Dave’s Gym, no time in
Dunkin’ Donuts. He wore a demeanor of
solemn dignity like a ceremonial robe.
His ancestors, Lucy divined, had been priests of Quetzalcoatl. They could be relied upon to hack out the
hearts of an endless procession of sacrificial victims to gratify their
ineffably potent god. Lucy was enough of
a postmodernist to feel at home with her vision of this vanished mystical
empire, with its pitiless established church ever thirsty for more daily
gallons of fresh human blood. Our own
society is brutal enough in its way, just kind of a different way, what with
corporate greed, global warming, and all.

Martinez thought he
was beginning to know Lucy better, to pierce beneath her unruffled
surface. She had never acted as upset as
he’d expected. She was calm; most of the
time she radiated an awesome sense of calm; he couldn’t help admiring her
amazing calm. Inside of her, she
undoubtedly did experience turbulent emotions.
Learning of Rescher’s sick obsession had shaken her. The observable signs were subtle, subdued,
yet there was no mistaking the juddering impact of tremendous shock, an eight
on her personal Richter scale, at the moment when she had learned of Bill’s
confession. She definitely had been
shaken. She was still shaken. Better see her right to her door.

“For me this is another case to be filed
away. For you it must be a little bit
traumatic.”

He for sure
has a script
. Detective Martinez stopped the car right on
the corner by Lucy’s condo building.

She said: “I guess you come across some,
like, really weird stuff in your job. As
weird as anything in the movies. Or even
weirder.”

“As a matter of fact . . .,” began Hugo
Martinez.

© 2001 David Ramsay
Steele



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