Bypassing the campaigns

The differences between Romney and Obama are minor, mostly a matter of the particular interest groups they’re connected with. Asking which one I prefer is like asking whether I prefer arsenic or cyanide. I may cast a protest vote for Gary Johnson, but it’s not worth spending a lot of effort pondering whom to vote for in November, if anyone.

In present-day America, most people look at what favors they expect from a candidate, how they can most effectively get the unearned at someone else’s expense. There’s nothing I can do about that, but I’m not going to play the game, and I’m not going to sink into bitterness any more than I can help. Whatever I can do to maximize freedom for myself and other people who still value it, political campaigns aren’t the way to do it.

There are two other ways that people like me (and hopefully like you) can still do something for freedom: education and legal action. I can remind people of the inevitable consequences of everybody looting everybody, and I can point out news stories that may still shock some people. Both of these have personal value for clarifying my own thoughts, so I can keep at them even if I’m not obviously influencing anyone. Education isn’t an easy job. Bastiat’s broken-window fallacy, for instance, is easy to explain, but getting people to stop believing their favorite case is different isn’t. News stories can have impact, and I regularly mention some outrageous ones on Twitter, but people interpret them according to their own narratives, so using them to demonstrate principles can be hard.

For me legal action doesn’t normally mean going to court myself, but giving money to organizations such as the Institute for Justice and FIRE. In this area I can see positive results, so there’s a more concrete kind of satisfaction.

I can encourage activities which are doing some good, giving them positive publicity. Recently I found an article about organizations, including a group at Harvard, that monitor online censorship and gather detailed statistics about it. Simply knowing what the censors’ aims are — for instance, that the Chinese government is more concerned about suppressing organized activity than individual criticism — can be a first step toward overcoming them. Giving them a bit of thanks gives me a bit of hope.

Some might say these things aren’t a lot to hang hopes on, but giving up is never a worthwhile policy. Saying something is better than being silent or grumbling.

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4 Responses to “Bypassing the campaigns”

  1. Alan T. Says:

    Thank you for pointing out Bastiat’s essay.

    Bastiat: “When an official spends for his own profit an extra hundred sous, it implies that a tax-payer spends for his profit a hundred sous less.”

    Economist Robert Shiller: “If a country raises taxes and expenditures by the same amount in a time of high unemployment, and if monetary policy is accommodating, the national income grows by exactly the amount of the tax, so that after-tax income is unchanged.(http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/20/business/economy/how-national-belt-tightening-goes-awry-economic-view.html)

    Bastiat and Shiller are equally logical, but the start from different premises. Bastiat assumes that all money is spent. This assumption, known as Say’s Law, implies that recessions caused by lack of demand are impossible. Say’s Law was widely believed prior to the Great Depression.

    Shiller assumes that any individual taxpayer spends some fraction r of the money he or she receives. The effect of the money spent by a taxpayer propagates through the economy over time as an infinite series: r + r*r + r*r*r + … The government, on the other hand, spends all the money it receives: 1 + r + r*r + r*r*r + …

    • Gary McGath Says:

      You’re quoting Part III, “Taxes,” and I was citing Part I, “The Broken Window.”

      What Bastiat is actually assuming isn’t that all money is spent, but that marginal spending is exactly the negative of marginal taxation. This is doubtful, of course, unless “spending” is taken in the broad sense of all uses to which they money might be put, which may be what Bastiat is doing. Taxes usually cut into savings as well as spending. Shiller’s statement that after-tax income is unchanged — effectively, that tax increases are free money if monetary policy works the right magic — makes even less sense, though.

      Savings aren’t dead money; most people don’t put their savings in the Posturepedic Savings Bank. They’re really lending their money to a bank, and that gets used for other investments.

    • William H Stoddard Says:

      I find that a really strange formulation of Say’s law, given that Say’s actual claim was about the production of commodities, and it can be formulated perfectly clearly without reference to money, in terms of the operation of a barter economy—and, in fact, it can be proven by mathematical induction on the number of commodities.

      It’s true that Say’s law was widely rejected after the Great Depression, but that was largely because of the influence of Keynes—and Keynes’s formulation of it, “supply creates its own demand,” was not merely oversimplified but actually a different and false proposition (the supply of fish does not create the demand for fish!). I’m sorry to say that that sort of thing is pretty typical of what I encountered when I struggled through the General Theory a couple of years ago.

  2. filkferengi Says:

    I like your attitude. It reminds me of the old saying, “It is better to light a single candle than to sit and curse the darkness.”


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