Thursday, December 29, 2005

Mao Tse-Tung on Political Power

Not posting on the PRC today.

"Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."

Thus Mao Tse Tung was quoted, and how true it is. I am amazed, however, by how many people look at that and say, "Well, that's not true. There are a lot of ways to achieve political power." We've been living in a representative/majoritarian republic for so long now many people simply can't imagine what power means. Lysander Spooner in "No Treason" referred to the ballot as, "a mere substitute for a bullet." People have forgotten this.

One fellow said argument and "power plays" are alternate routes to political power. I would love to see other examples of ways political power are established other than force, the threat of force, or fraud. The kind that is genuinely based upon the consent on those ruled can evaporate rather quickly--a few bad decisions, and people stop listening to you. Favor trading is a way to accumulate influence, but like in The Godfather, it's the threat of what will happen if the other party doesn't honor a favor owned that ultimately does the job. People are probably more honorable than some might think, but in a system with no penalty for dishonesty, the dishonest do get ahead.

No, political power is ultimately the power to confiscate property, to imprison people, to kill people who don't go along with what you say. One can make reasoned arguments, indebt people to oneself morally and economically, or keep one's reputation clean when everybody else is mired in corruption. Ultimately, however, one's power is based in the compliance of those who have the ability to enforce one's will upon others. There are many countries in which the military rules, because the military is an entity unto itself, and the military has the guns.

This is why the ability of the People at large to keep and bear arms is so important to a system of distributed power (ie. democracy). In a system where the general public is not considered to have a right to arms, there are two groups of people who hold the real power: police, and criminals. One's life is regulated largely by whichever element is closest to home, and on the border, one must walk a fine line between the Laws of the State, and the Law of the Streets. Each side encroaches on the freedoms of the "ordinary citizens," one side through theft and extortion, the other through more direct means.

When everybody has access to weapons, crime becomes a much riskier occupation. The chances of getting shot during a robbery go up considerably. The chances of getting shot while attempting to extort people go up considerably. And the government can never be sure which of their more oppressive policies will result in a few, or perhaps even many, people deciding to fall back on their guns, rather than just putting up with encroachments.

Mao was right. Power does flow from the barrel of a gun. And only a people that has guns has power.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Environmental Benefits of the PRC

I figured this was a necessary first-touch, since at first glance, this seems to appeal more to socialist types than to environmentalist types. Indeed, the "sell the national forests" tone that would be enabled via phase 1 of the process of creating the PRC would likely offend most, if not all, environmentalist types. This is unfortunate. I believe that, in the long run, the PRC would be the most environmentally friendly initiative ever made. In this article, I will detail why I believe this.

Let's look at the short-term benefits of this first. Yes, it would create a great incentive for the Federal Government to sell off its parks and forests. The downside of this is that we wouldn't have an agency of force preventing clear-cutting, strip-mining, and other environmental no-no's. The upshot is that we would no longer having an agency of force allowing them for dirt-cheap rents to their political contributors when the environmental movement was looking the other way. There would also be great economic incentives to manage the land well.

Say a timber company bought up a parcel of national forest land. If the government was smart about it (and I'm not saying they would be, but you can bet the next owner would be), it would sell the land at the highest price it could get--which would be a price that accounted for the presence of good timber on the land. Suppose they clear-cut it. They would make profits on the timber they'd cut. Suppose they then tried to sell the land off, now that it was worthless for their purposes. They would probably have to sell it at a loss, due to the fact that there is no longer good timber on the land. Not only that, but if they held onto the land, they would likely be subject to lawsuits from "downstream" communities, if all that timber they cut was previously preventing erosion and flash-floods. Very likely, said timber company would end up going out of business. The land would then be bought by someone else--perhaps a more environmentally responsible timber company.

Not only that, but the amount they managed to sell it for would impact the "land only" value of the area around it (since we would have an actual "land only" value to go by). This would lower the rent payments made by their competitors... increasing the dire circumstances for the environmentally unfriendly timber company. And these natural economic laws (as opposed to avoidable human laws) go for each and every harvesting operation that could commence on previously govenment-held lands.

Now, these arguments would hold even if we sold the land outright. But the benefits go even further than that, from the point the PRC takes posession of roadways onward.

The average person owning the average home in the day the PRC completes its purchase program would likely not pay anything to the PRC. The amount they owed in ground-rent and the amount they were owed in dividends would roughly balance out. However, the people managing the roads they used to get around would also be paying rents to the PRC. Assuming the roads were paid for by the people that actually drove on them (the ground-rent costs to governments owning road systems--and the presence of a corporation willing to buy it at whatever they will charge--would be a powerful incentive for them to relinquish control to groups that could find a way to charge based upon use) the homeowner would also be indirectly paying the ground-rent for the transportation system. The farther they commute, the more they pay, which would be a powerful economic incentive for more efficient urban development, and a disincentive to the suburban sprawl we see today. In addition, I am willing to bet that, with transportion systems no longer insulated from actual market forces by the government, alternative, more efficient modes of transportation would arise. Light-rail is only the beginning...

Additionally, from the very beginning (assuming the interstate system was granted to the PRC from the beginning), the additional cost in ground-rent to maintaining road systems would be an economic disincentive to the continued development of road-pork. Many road-building decisions are made based upon a legislator's desire to shift federal tax dollars into his state's construction industry (earning him votes of gratitude from construction workers and others who would otherwise be paid less or be unemployed). With every roadbuilding appropration having to include ground-rents paid to the PRC, it would be more difficult to push road-pork through Congress.

And to those naysayers who see the decay of our road system as the beginning of economic ruin, I remind them that the transition from our current system to the PRC system would be a gradual process. It won't happen in a day. Heck, it probably wouldn't even happen over the course of fifty years. The market would have plenty of time to adjust to the new paradigm, and I think it will be in even better shape once the transition is complete.

Then there is consumption of fossil fuels. Petrolium reserves could be sold off to companies, giving them an exclusive right to drill for oil in a given area. (The government could continue to hold onto ANWAR as long as you can keep them doing it, so long as the ground-rent could be paid through taxes.) However, they would have to pay rent based upon the market value of said reserves, and given how lucrative oil drilling is, they would pay a fairly high price. This would raise the price of the oil when it reached the market, which would cut consumption. This, in turn, would cut pollution.

Very simply put, when the two issues (economics and ecology) cease to be insulated from one another by government subsidies, the list of environmental benefits are endless. I'm sure there are more than I have listed here. This is an issue I am really looking forward to getting into a good argument with environmentalists on. Post your critiques; I shall answer them.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Public Resources Corporation

Heh, after writing last week's blog, I find myself wanting to describe the same concept from a different perspective.

The Public Resources Corporation would be chartered by the federal government. It's shareholders would consist of all adult citizens at the time of its inception. Each citizen would be granted a single share in this corporation. Once every citizen (child or adult) at the time of the chartering had his single share, the shares would be fixed. No new shares could be issued for sale, or to grant to any individual for any reason. Share numbers would be adjusted from time to time, but this would only be to make accounting easier (multiplying shares to make fractional shares whole--see below), not to rearrange the ownership.

All land owned by the federal government would be transferred to the PRC. The government would retain rights to said land, but would start having to pay rent to the PRC for control of this land (see below). The government would also retain the authority to sell their rights to any individual. The PRC would retain ownership of the land, but the rent would now be paid for by the new rights-holder.

What the PRC would do

The PRC would retain ownership of all the natural resources in its possession--it would never sell it to anyone. However, it would register rights to control natural resources, and charge rent for that right. Once a parcel of land (or band of electromagnetic spectrum, or rights to below-ground resources, or whatever other beneficial natural resource monopoly could be thought up) was purchased, the rights to that natural resource could not be transferred to a new rights-holder except with permission of the rights-holder. In return for absolute control over the given natural resource, the individual would pay a percentage of the market value of that resource to the PRC as rent, on a yearly basis. The PRC would own only natural resources, ie. things not created through human effort. Capital improvements (buildings, etc.) would belong to the individuals that created them, or those to whom they sold them. No rent would be charged based upon improvements to a parcel of land; only the land itself could be the basis of resource value calculations. How the calculations could be done will be the subject of a future article.

The only time a rights-holder could be deprived of his rights is in the event that he could not pay the rent, in which case just enough of the resource would be removed from his possession to cover the bill. Upon being without a proper owner, the resource would be open to public use, the precise rules for which would be decided by the board of directors, elected in the usual fashion (one vote per share). An example I would suggest is that unallocated land could be traveled upon or harvested from (food, timber, minerals, etc), so long as no harvesting tools or transportation equipment (vehicles) that use a non-living source of energy are used (ie no chainsaws, no cars, no tractors; only human or animal muscle). The construction of an enclosure (fence, building, etc), the claiming of the rights to decide what can and cannot be done on a plot of land, or the use of powered equipment would constitute a claim on the land, and the individual doing so would then be subject to rent costs for the area utilized for that year. An individual could disavow their claim to escape the following year's rent, though it would likely be more profitable for them to sell it to someone else who wants it.

Note that this entity would be separate from the government. As such, even the government would have to pay rent to maintain their facilities on public land. This would include any and all land the federal government maintains roads on (the interstate system, but again, they would be charged only for the space, not for the space plus the construction on top of the space). It should also be noted that any property taxes charged by the government would be collected from the rights holder, not from the PRC..

The PRC would have only three things it was allowed by its charter do with the money. The first thing would be administrative costs--the costs of collecting and disbursing the rent on natural resource monopolies. The board of directors would decide how much of the revenues is needed to accomplish this. The second would be direct payment of dividends to shareholders. The third would be the funding of a program to purchase additional, privately held land, until such time as all the natural resources of the country were owned by the PRC. The revenues remaining after administrative costs would be divided between these two purposes according to the percentage of the country's known natural resources owned by the PRC; if the PRC owns x percent of the country's known natural resources, x percent would go to the shareholders; the remainder would go to the purchase program. Obviously, once the PRC owned 100%, 100% would go to the shareholders.

The purpose of all this is to ensure that wealth goes only to those that deserve it, not those that merely inherit wealth. Wealth acquired through labor is obviously deserved. Wealth acquired through investment of capital (itself a valuable kind of labor) is also deserved; it takes brains to invest wisely, and capital growth benefits all. An unworthy heir of capital will typically end up spending more than he earns, and thus the undeserved wealth ends up in the hands of others. But the person who's wealth comes from exclusive control of natural resources--land deeds, etc.--can simply sit back and watch his wealth grow (as land goes up in value with population density), collect rent from those that use his land, and buy more with the profits, until this effect results in inequalities that are not only dangerous, but unjust as well. By making landholders pay rent to everybody else for their control, you prevent this from occurring

Allocating the Next Generation's Shares

When a child is born, that child would become instantly entitled to 1/x + 1/y shares from his biological father and mother, regardless of whether the father or mother was married, or even possessed custody of the child. x is the number of children fathered by the child's biological father plus one (for the father), while y is the number of children born by the mother plus one (for the mother). That share would be removed from the shares possessed by the father or mother, and until the time of the child's majority (reaching 18 years or otherwise emancipated from the family), the person having custody of the child would receive the dividens paid by The PRC.

As the adult continued to have children, the shares would be adjusted accordingly, so that each individual in a given family unit (the biological parent plus all biological children) would always have 1/x shares. Upon reaching 18 years of age (or otherwise emancipated), the child would gain possession of those shares outright. The birth of further children to a parent would no longer affect the number of shares the former child possessed.

Here are some examples to illustrate this principle.

Suppose you have a married couple with an only child. Each brought a single share into the marriage. Upon having the child, the child now has a single share--one-half of each parent's share. Each parent now has a half-share. When he reaches his majority, he will go into life with that single share, and the parents will go on with their half-shares--a single share between them.

If they had three children, each child would now have a half-share--two quarter-shares from each parent, while each parent would have a quarter-share. In a four-child family, each child's share would be two-fifths, each parent's one-fifth, and so on. Next, I'll illustrate a more complicated situation.

Suppose some jerk goes and knocks up some girl. Each of them has a single share to themselves. When the child was born, he would posses a single share--one half of each parent's shares. Assuming the father goes on his way, and does not stay to raise the child, he will go on with his half-share, and the mother would have her half-share, plus the whole share of her baby, for one and one half shares.

If she subsequently marries someone else, and has a child by her new husband (who has a single share and no children of his own), the first child would have a new share value. He would retain his half from his father, but the portion from his mother would be reduced to 1/3, making the child's total now 1/2+1/3=5/6. The mother's portion would now be 1/3. Her new child's portion would be 1/3 from the mother + 1/2 from his father (her husband), meaning he would also have 5/6. The father's share would be 1/2. The family total would be 1/3(mother)+1/2(father)+5/6(Child1)+5/6(Child2)=2 1/2 shares--one from husband, one from wife, and one-half from the jerk that knocked her up. The jerk's shares would never be reduced further due to her having more children by another man.

Suppose, instead, that the jerk wised up and ended up getting married himself (his wife coming in with a single share), while the girl continued to raise her baby and had no more. Suppose he then had two more children. His first child's share would now be 1/2(Mother)+1/4(father)=3/4. The single mother's total shares would be 1/2(her)+3/4(her child's)=1 1/4 to help her raise her baby alone. Meanwhile each of the former jerk's children each have 1/4(father)+1/3(mother)=7/12 of a share (a little over a half), while father's share would be 1/4, and mother's 1/3. Total for the family: 1/4+1/3+7/12+7/12=21/12=1 3/4

Now, suppose the young, single mother gave her baby up for adoption instead of trying to raise him herself. The baby would come with that single share (which would decrease as his parents had more children), and the revenues would go to the adoptive parent, or to the orphanage.

Every now and then, to simplify accounting, the stock would be split in whatever manner necessary to bring all people's share values into integer values. Supposing you've got a bunch of people who's shares are measured in 1/12ths, everybody would get more shares so that the person with 5/12 would now have 5 shares, the person with 1/2 would now have 6 shares, and the person with 2/3 would now have 8 shares.

When a person died, his share would be divided between his offspring. If he outlived any of his offspring, but they had offspring, that child's share would be divided evenly among the grandchildren. If he had no surviving descendents, his shares would be reabsorbed by the PRC.

You'll notice some interesting features in this system of inheritance. First, the children end up with more shares individually than either parent. This serves as a financial incentive for parents to actually raise their children, since the person that has custody has control over the child's share of the dividends. It also serves as a discouragement for accidental pregnancy, since the man that knocks up a girl and runs has much to lose from it. Given how easy it is to prove paternity these days, I doubt many would pass up the opportunity to claim their child's share.

You'll also notice that when they reach adulthood, the children come away with larger shares than their parents'. Hopefully, by the time their children are grown up, parents have developed skills and/or accumulated capital with which they can continue on without quite as much of a share of the public resources. (If the only skill they have is childrearing, foster parenting could be an option, as well.) The children, on the other hand, probably need extra money starting out. This enables them to continue their education, or acquire a loan to start a business, or even start their own families earlier (assuming they believe they'll be financially ready when their own children grow up).

Finally, upon reaching middle age, people would start inheriting their parents' shares, which would be helpful in retirement.

By fixing the shares at the inception of the corporation, and using the inheritance scheme rather than just giving every new adult a share, you provide an economic disincentive to out-of-control population expansion. A large family, once split up, would provide each individual with a smaller share of the public resources than a smaller family. To earn the same amount of wealth, they would have to perform more valuable labor (I consider capital investment to be a legitimate form of labor).

Finally, this could answer the issue of immigrants impacting public services. Because this new "welfare" would go only to shareholders, immigrants would not have access to it. Even their children, who would become citizens if born on American soil, would not also become shareholders. The only way to get their children a share of the resources would be to marry a shareholder--essentially, to marry into an American family. In the event that this results in a large underclass of immigrant families from a neighboring country being exploited by a shareholding minority, perhaps negotiations could be made to get the neighboring country to adopt a similar plan, and eventually merge the two PRCs.

In this way, the corporation could also extend into other countries some day. In return for a grant of all unallocated and/or government owned lands in that country, and the right to purchase more at market value, a median amount shares could be issued to each citizen of that country. Or, if another country had a PRC of its own, the two sides could negotiate terms for a merger, particularly if both had shareholders living on the other side of the border/ocean/whatever.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Extranational Property Corporation: Introduction

Lately, I've been exploring what are called Geo-Libertarian ideas. The basic idea is that, while all men are entitled to the fruits of their labor, natural resources, such as land, water rights, broadcast spectrum, rights-of-way, and so on, are not created by men, and as such cannot be considered to be owned absolutely by any individual. It is a good thing to allow individuals a monopoly over the use of a particular resource (plot of land, radio band, etc.) since the activities that result are very good. However, the benefits of this, under a system of absolute ownership, are concentrated in the hands of the landowners. The result is generally a system in which a small class of wealthy landowners dominate a much larger class of landless peasants and serfs.

The solution proposed is that the only legitimate tax is one which taxes the value of land (and other natural resources) before improvements. So if you own a plot of land with a house on it, you pay taxes on the value the plot would have if there were no house on it. If you own a farm, you pay taxes on the value of the land were the fields not cultivated, and your equipment not there. What do do with the tax is where Georgists divide. Some say distribute it right back to the people directly, others say use it to pay for services (treat it like any other tax).

While these ideas are neat, I have what I think would be an even better idea. It would be very difficult to implement on existing property, but as we're constantly discovering new natural resources that can be monopolized to the benefit of mankind in general, it would be pretty cool to establish a principle by which newly allocated property was subject to this new system, and old property could be added to the common pool voluntarily.

The concept is this: Where natural resource monopolies do not exist, all people live in the state all aboriginal peoples live: not filthy rich, but not dirt poor, either. The creation of natural resource monopolies results in many becoming better off than their ancestors, but many end up worse off, as well. Thus, we should decide that any *new* natural resource monopolies created (on resources, the value of which has either been only recently discovered, or is as yet undiscovered) will be part of a common pool. While the rules of this pool will be set up that nobody is deprived of previously established privelages without their consent, rent will be paid for the maintenance of said privelages.

To this end, I shall introduce the Extranational Property Corporation!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

How The Rich keep on Getting Richer

...and how to close the income gap

Or, On the Economics of Deficit Spending

Imagine, for a moment, that there is a group of people out there that produce a highly valuable commodity... a commodity that is valuable for all the right reasons. It makes the lives of everyone who has it better. It is also a new commodity... not many people are producing it yet. Those that do produce it make a lot of money.

As a result of this, lots of other people try to get into producing this product. Those who are already doing so come up with ways of making more than they already are, to generate more profits. The class of individuals and groups that produce this product grows, many lured into this business by the fact that it is a very good, well paying occupation. As more people get into producing it, the price for this commodity is driven downward. Pretty soon, everybody who wants some has some, and people stop buying it at the rate they used to. Prices drop so far that the producers start going out of business. Those that don't have to struggle just to get by.

Imagine that this makes you very sad. You understand history as the story of how noble, how valuable these people were. You regard this profession with a sort of nostalgic romanticism, and would like to see measures implemented that will preserve this class of men. What sorts of things could be done to help these people out?

Well, one thing you could do is buy up and destroy their product, ensuring a continuing level of demand that will keep prices up to where they can all make a profit. Another thing you could do is make them exempt from certain taxes, and paying a lower rate than most on others--this also helps their bottom line. A third thing you could do is pay them directly... a direct subsidy for these producers. All of these things would ensure that these people continue to make the profits they once did.

Every place you see a group of people making a great deal of money--without the use of force to ensure that no newcomers are allowed to horn in on their territory, or the use of force to take unearned resources directly--you can bet that the basic rules of supply and demand is the reason. These people produce a product or service for which there is great demand, but a low supply. Over time, however, the amount produced overall should increase, as more and more people get into that business. Eventually, prices fall, providing a windfall for the consumer.

On "The Rich"

One thing that everybody knows is that the more money you have, the more money you can make. A poor man spends all his money on necessities. A wealthy man can invest his money, thus making more money. In general, the reason for this is the same as for any case where one group of people is making more than another: they provide a valuable product or service. And the product these people provide is called Capital.

Capital can be used to meet any need in life. It can be spent to buy quality food, expensive clothing, fast cars, big houses, rare breeds of dog, and political influence. However, the person who spends capital this way exclusively will soon find he hasn't any capital left. It can also be used to buy tools, machinery, land, and buildings. It can be used to pay the salaries of scientists and inventors. In short, it is used to produce more capital, which can then be used to make yet more capital, and more, and more, and more...

And capital is a valuable commodity. When a person borrows money from someone who has more than they in order to start a business, promising to pay back with interest, they are essentially "buying" capital. Even the poor person who charges on his credit card and pays back with interest is buying capital, generally at a higher rate at anyone else. Capital is very useful, very valuable, and the wealthy who use it wisely in order to get more wealthy are also creating jobs for people who would otherwise be unemployed, and more products and services at better prices for consumers. The real estate investor expands the housing supply; the wall street investor expands the supply of products and services. This is why they make money. They provide a valuable product--capital.

However, like any product, eventually, the supply must exceed the demand, and capital is no exception. Eventually, all the money there is to be made has been made. Now, the factory owner, lacking machinery to buy, must start paying his workers more if he wants to maintain an edge over his competitors (the better paying factory gets better workers). Contractors and architects must make better buildings to attract buyers away from their many competitors--this means attracting more skilled laborers, which means paying them more. The person who's sole profession is investing sees slimmer and slimmer profit margins, until the day comes when investors need a day job. Labor becomes more valuable than capital, thus workers make more money than people who's sole virtue is access to a large supply of capital!

Neat theory, but I'll bet you're wondering why this doesn't seem to happen. We've had two-hundred years of capitalism, and the gap between rich and poor continues to widen, largely due to the seemingly inexhaustible value of capital. Why is this? Remember: I began this essay with a discussion of the means by which a government can prop up a particular class of producers who are no longer benefited by the laws of supply and demand, due to the fact that they are overproduction. Let us look at each one in turn.

The third was to pay the producer a direct subsidy. I don't know enough about the different subsidies to demonstrate direct payments by government to the capital class, so I'll move on.

The second was lower tax rates for the producer than for everyone else. Capital gains taxes are lower than income taxes--labor is taxed at a higher rate than making money by spending it. The tax code also contains many tax breaks you need a tax lawyer to find... thus the rich can avoid those as well, while poorer people cannot. The property tax exemption is most valuable to those with the most valuable property... another way the rich are taxed at a lower rate.

However, the first I mentioned is the biggest benefit of all to the upper class: purchasing and destroying product to artificially drive up prices. The government does this through massive amounts of deficit spending. When the rich run out of real investment opportunities, there are always government bonds to invest in. The government "buys" capital from these people, and then "destroys" it, by paying bureaucrats to do nothing, or do what they do inefficiently. Every time some liberal proposes more spending to benefit the lower classes, what they're really proposing is yet more buy-and-destroy to prop up the wealthy, while throwing a very small bone at the people they are claiming to help.

Government funded research is another way the government helps the wealthy stay ahead. Technological progress opens up new demand for capital, as new tools and techniques are invented and discovered. Capital is required to exploit these new technologies. And for the general investor, it doesn't matter that these new techniques are open for anybody to exploit--all they have to do is invest in multiple firms, and they get a piece of the action wherever it appears. An added bonus is that because government research is typically politically (rather than technologically) motivated, it is less efficient than private sector research... thus wasting more capital. The best part is that technological progress goes forward without investors having to risk their capital paying for the research. Government bonds get paid back with interest, no matter how unsuccessful and inefficient the borrower is.

Notice that both of these things are things that liberals advocate, ostensibly to benefit the poor and the general public. Their efforts are quite counterproductive. The real benefactors are people whose sole virtue is access to a large pool of capital.

Probably the best thing liberals could do to advance their cause is to join with fiscal conservatives in a genuine call for balanced budgets. As capital stops being wasted through this "government purchase program," the people who have it will have to invest it elsewhere. The value of labor will increase as the supply of capital outpaces demand. The minimum wage would go obsolete! If this sounds like "Reganomics", remember that the deficit soared during his administration. He may have talked the talk, but he most certainly did not walk the walk. Were liberals and fiscal conservatives to get together on this issue, the result would be a windfall for labor, and a severe blow to the capital class.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Bad Writers

It's that time of year again! It's time for all good Californians to sit and wade through their beloved Official Voter Information Guides!

Take a look at the pro and con arguments. Do these guys hire used car salesmen to do their writing or something? Take a look at this.

Prop. 74 is Real Education Reform
They could hardly restrain themselves. Take a look at what would've gotten through if their editors hadn't restrained them.

OMFG!!11!one! PR0P0$1T10/\/ 94 1$ TEH B1P@R4T1$@/\/ R&F0R/\/\$ U MUST V0TE 4!!!11!111!one!
nOW, DON'T GET ME WRONG... ahem.

excuse me.

Now, don't get me wrong. I support proposition 74. And the rebuttal contains far more capital letters than the one in favor. :p I swear, I am tempted every year to reward the one who uses the least capital letters and exclamation points by voting the way he would like me to, regardless of the content of the argument--or the proposition itself. Who could possibly read through this book without cringing?

Actually, that question is not rhetorical. If there are any readers out there who would like to defend the writing style of the arguers, please do so. I am genuinely curious. But I don't want to hear from writers giving theoretical justifications for this writing style. I want to hear from readers who are actually moved by it.

In the very near future, I'll be posting serious blogs--my own take on the various propositions.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

In Support of Nullification

Recently, the Supreme Court has ruled questionably on several issues: Eminant Domain, Medicinal Marajuanna. In both cases, they ruled in favor of the continuation of increasing government power. For Eminent Domain, they supported the authority of local governments to take whatever they want for whatever purpose they choose--whether or not that purpose is "public" in nature. For marajuanna, they ruled in support of the broadest possible misinterpretation of the commerce clause: every human activity counts as interstate commerce, according to this court.

However, there is something odd about the marajuanna ruling. While they did not strike down the portion of federal drug laws that apply to marajuanna grown and smoked on the same parcel of property (where's the interstate commerce?) they also did not strike down the state law that permitted it. Basically, they said, "Well, the feds can do whatever they want, but so can the states. The states don't have to spend any time and effort enforcing federal laws they do not wish to." I wonder how far this principle could be taken? Because, while the ruling supports the status quo where the Commerce Clause is concerned, it may take us in the direction of a formal nullification principle! Both concepts are unconstitutional, but if we're abandoning the constitution--well, that sword cuts both ways.

This almost looks like the states-rights people did something very sneaky (and praiseworthy, if this is what they intended). This almost looks like a form of nullification. Basically, "Nullification" was an old idea that a state could pass a law in opposition to a federal law and prevent its enforcement within the state. While the option opened up for pro-marajuanna states isn't exactly an endorsement of open nullification, it does open the way for a curious form of obstructionism.

Basically, under the doctrine that the states are not under any obligation to enforce objectionable laws, no local, county, or state official has to take any action to enforce the law.

I can imagine a state deciding it doesn't like any of the drug laws. A law could be passed declaring that no state money could be used to enforce those laws, and what you'd end up with is a few federal agents making a few high-profile arrests, while a drug culture flourished and grew in the absence of support from local and state officials. Were a federal law sufficiently unpopular, a plausably deniable level of obstruction from local officials could occur. The way is paved by the marajuanna decision: that the federal and state governments may have conflicting laws, and so long as it can't be demonstrated that the state is using its power to stop enforcement of federal statues, no crime was committed.

I'm not sure how to regard this. Both the interpretation of the commerce clause and the negative nullification are blatantly unconstitutional, but I can't help but laugh at the fact that supporters of an absolute federal government are being mocked by the very monster they unleashed.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Legality and Morality

That which is legal is not necessarily moral. That which is illegal is not necessarily immoral. That which is immoral is not necessarily illegal. And yet, I am continually astounded by the number of people who cannot distinguish between legality and morality. I was brought to this topic by a little rhyme I heard a few minutes ago on KMJ. A doctor was quoted as saying, "Getting high because you're sick and going to die is not a good idea... because it's illegal."

Now, taken at face value, it's not that bad a statement. Regardless of the benefits, doing things that are illegal is generally little more than a way of making one's own life more difficult. One has to hide one's activities, constantly be looking over one's shoulder, and if caught, there can be serious consequences. Sometimes, despite the lack of a good moral argument against a particular action, it's just better to avoid the trouble doing something illegal can start. And if you're representing a group, it is best to avoid illegal activities altogether, since if your name is damaged, so is theirs.

The problem I have is when comments like that are made by people who really mean, "it's wrong because it's illegal." I am continually frustrated by the general inability of the average person to have a political discussion about our drug policies becase, "It's illegal." They trot that out like it's the trump argument, as if God Himself delivered our laws to us and we can't do anything about it. I suppose our political system is so confusing to the avarage person that, so far as they can understand, our laws really *are* some immutable force. But it's just so stupid.

Our laws are written by men we elect and send to the various legislatures that represent us. Those laws are enforced by men who we elect, and cases are judged by men who are either elected by us or appointed by those we have elected. So "it's illegal" simply cannot be a moral argument against an act, because our laws were written by men, and can be changed by men! There is nothing immoral about saying, "I disagree that this law ought to be." And yet, in our society, there seems to be a taboo against suggesting that an act which is illegal should not be illegal. I'll say, "I really don't see what harm there is in letting a guy smoke a joint in the safety of his own home. It may not be a good idea for him, but I fail to see how he harms others with his habit." "But it's illegal!" is the retort I have often gotten. Yes, it is. The point I am trying to make is it oughtn't be.

It's no wonder our legislatures are so unresponsive to the desires of the people. We've become sheep, regarding our legislators as instruments of divine will. So many people think illegal=immoral that it's nearly impossible to overturn a law once it has gone into effect.

I can just imagine these people cringing at the thought of sheltering a legally oppressed class. Nazis could be going around, hauling off Jews for slaughter, and the few who have the ability to distinguish law from morality will attempt to protect these people in whatever way they can. But the sheep will sit there and say, "But it's illegal!"

Friday, July 22, 2005

Incremental Liberty

This started out as a response to another blog, but it began to take the shape of a full-sized blog. So I've expanded it, and posted it here.

I think the sales analogy used by the reform movement is an excellent analogy. We want to sell them a constitutionally limited government. They may well benefit by it, but they are afraid that the cost will be too high. Now, when a salesman has a product that he really thinks is good enough it can sell itself, he gives out either a free sample, or offers a test drive.

So it is with what some libertarians might call “half-measures.” Take medicinal marajuanna. Some libertarians might say that doesn’t go far enough, and fear that if we go for that, many for whom that’s “far enough” will jump ship, and then we’re stuck with medicinal marajuanna, and don’t have total freedom where drugs are concerned. The belief is that if we get a compromise solution, the pressure the real world facts give for legalization will be allieviated, and people will no longer be looking for a solution. Good theory, but its obvious that strategy simply does not work. This is proven by the fact that drugs are still illegal, and almost nobody is calling for the repeal of drug prohibition--and those that do are labeled crackpots.

Government itself is like a drug. While some can quit cold turkey, many, if not most, need a more gradual cutoff. What I think more likely is that, if we support, and successfuly implement medicinal marajuanna policies, there will be two effects. First off, there will NOT be that amazing increase in crime and delinquincy that the hardcore anti-drug crowd predict. While they will try to say that’s because of the medical restrictions, most people will know better. The second effect is that, because of our involvement, others in the medicinal movement who were not previously libertarians will be exposed to our thinking on it in a friendly setting. They may consider that there are benefits beyond the medical uses of marajuanna to ending prohibition outright.

Another example is taxes. Many libertarians consider any and all forms of taxation to be "theft." Therefore, any policy that falls short of the complete repeal of all taxation (or, for the "lesser extremists" simply the outright repeal of the income tax) is sacreligious and must be vigerously opposed... even if the proposal is to lower taxes! This is what turned me off of the Libertarian Party for years. I remember reading the policy statement of a libertarian cantidate for some state office. This woman actually advocated the repeal of the income tax IN HER CAMPAIGN STATEMENT! Given that the office she was running for was executive, not legislative, how does that have anything to do with her election? What can that do but turn off someone who is not a raving extremist?

Now, understand that I, too, would like to see the repeal of the income tax... some day. There is much that must be done *before* that can happen, if ever. I, for one, favor replacing the income tax with a carbon tax. Such a tax could pay for government at current levels for quite some time, would reduce significantly the intrusion of government into people's personal lives, lower significantly the minimum business size necessary to do business effectively (benefiting small businesses), and have the added benefit of making tax evasion and conservation of fossil fuels (and lower pollution emissions) one and the same, meaning we automatically turn tax dodgers into fully legitimate environmentalists!

But, a hardcore libertarian would say, "NO! That's an increase in government power! The government does NOT have the authority to tax AT ALL!!!" Well, sorry folks, but 99% of the electorate and the very Constitution of the United States of America disagree with you. And furthermore, were we to somehow repeal all taxes TODAY, we'd destroy our credit rating completely. Our economy, so dependent on government cash flows, would collapse. Such a collapse would be temporary... assuming the masses of unemployed don't turn to violence to fill their bellies... assuming foreign governments don't use our failure to repay our debts as a pretext for invasion (and with no money to pay a military, they will win)... assuming a lot of things that just plain wouldn't be true. No taxation whatsoever is a great goal, but it will only be reached slowly. There are debts to be paid, and segments of the economy that need to be weaned off government money. A sudden ceassation will throw millions into joblessness, including soldiers. A slow weaning is not only actually politically feasable, it'll give these segments time to "see which way the wind is blowing" and find other options.

The statists have been nickeling and diming us to death for years. This was a natural phenomenon, since the big government people were split between the two major parties. Most who were involved in that practice really did believe they were doing the right thing (whether it be big-military Republicans or big-welfare Democrats), and though they opposed one another, because it is easier to create a law than it is to roll it back they took turns increasing every aspect of the government. Bi-partisan legislation also always seems to be aimed at increasing the power of government.

We need to nickel and dime them back. Extreme measures will never catch on. But if we manage to roll back the power of government a little bit, in an area that will benefit the largest number of voters, they’ll say, “Hmm… I like that. A little more, please?” The generation that reaches its age of influence under a smaller government will support smaller government still, so long as we’re not stupid about it. Even if we don't reach the dream of worldwide libertarian utopia, wouldn't you rather live under a smaller government than we have today? Or are you so accustomed to victim-thinking that even you are dependent on our current level of government?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Libertarian-Progressive Alliance

Both the Republicans and the Democrats seem straddled between their extremist and moderate elements. The Republicans seem to be a coalition of economic libertarians, big business interests, and conservative religious-nationalists, and people who fear Democratic extremism. The Democrats seem to be a coalition of socialists, hardcore environmentalists, social libertarians, and people who fear Republican extremism. I have long thought that a new second party composed of the libertarians of both parties would work well, if only it could come into existance. The problem is that the libertarians of both parties are the sort that fear the other party too much to take the risk of letting the other party have too much control. As it is, the Libertarian Party--the theoretical home party for these people--is generally composed only of those who fear both major parties equally. How on earth could one pry these members of both parties?

Huh, I just came up with a possible idea. What if I came up with a sort of "matching service" wherin I matched up a would-be libertarian Republican with a similar Democrat, getting both to agree to jump ship of the other does. This isn't what this blog is about, but I may develop it in a future blog.

Lately, however, I have been hearing a lot about a possible collapse of the Democratic Party. Basically, the story is that the historically allied interests of the Party are finding themselves less and less allied. Labor Unions and Public Employee Unions don't necessarily get along. Socialists and moderates don't necessarily get along. Labor and Environmentalism don't necessarily get along. Democratic Hawks and Pacifists don't get along... the biggest split during the 2004 elections. Career bueraeucrats don't necessarily get along with everybody else.

The first place I heard about this was the Sean Hannity Show. Not the most credible source, I admit, but that was the beginning. That was the first time I heard someone else say it. The next place was in an article that can be found at The Heartland Institute, which predicts a Democratic Party split by 2008 which will be followed by a similar split in the Republican Party. This article at the Ashbrook Center shows that people have been talking about this as far back as 1998. Thomas Harrison speaks of "the demise of the Democratic Party." The Red Critique in a socialist diatribe talks of "the all but 'official' collapse of the Democratic Party." The Daily Pundit states "In the US I expect a huge realignment of political parties, starting with the Democrat's collapse..." The Armed and Dangerous blog speaks of "Post-democratic possibilities," my favorite (and his) clearly being his "Case Gold."

Personally, I think the only thing holding the current party system together is the previous generation's fear of the other party's extremes. There is a reason lefties compare the Right to Nazism... compassionate conservatism contains enough socialist elements, and the religious right enough nationalist elements, that a very real America National Socialist entity can be percieved by one who fears that possibility. For the Right, the Left has done enough flirting with the worldwide Communist movement in the past for many Republicans to see the shadow of Stalin (or even Napolean, among the more historically minded) in a Democratic victory. There are potential Libertarians in both parties... but they fear their opposing major party so much they don't dare break away and hand victory to either Hitler or Stalin..

A Democratic collapse would change everything. If the far left (the greens and the reds) abandoned the Democrats, the remaining rump would hardly be large enough to oppose the Republicans. With the baggage ejected, three possibilities emerge. The Democrats, with the Big Government reds and greens gone, could become a more libertarian party, and both Libertarians and Republicans actually jump into the newly invigorated Democratic Party. Or, the Libertarians somehow manage to clean up their image and stop clinging to the nineteenth century and libertarian Democrats say, "What the heck; we're not doing any good over here anyway," and go ahead and join the Libertarian party. Many libertarian Republicans follow as the Libertarians become more and more credible as a real alternative. A third possibility is that the Republicans crack immediately afterward, and that an electoral free-for-all results, with a temporary multiparty (more than two) system results, which shakes out into an upper-lower quadrant divide, rather than the right-left divide we have today.

I discovered while researching this issue, and let me tell you: this is an excellent site. It contains elements that have the potential to marry the libertarian movement, the progressive left, and even the religious right! Seems impossible? Perhaps it is, but in the event of a real electoral shakedown, this upper-left quadrant style of thinking just might become popular. (Today, none of the major political entities occupy the upper-left quadrant; see the site for what I mean by "quadrant.")

I do believe there is an opportunity for a new political entity to arise within my lifetime.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Eminent Domain and Solomon

I wonder how many people are actually surprised about the recent decision regarding how far the power of eminent domain streatches? They really shouldn't be surprised. This has been going on for as long as written records have been kept. Consider Ecclesaiastes 5:8
If you see a poor person being oppressed by the powerful and justice being miscarried throughout the land, don't be surprised! For every official is under orders from higher up, and matters of justice only get lost in red tape and bureaucracy. Even the king milks the land for his own profit!
This is just government behaving in the way it always does. Not even our vaunted "democracy" preserves us against this. Certainly the "parchment barriers" of the Bill of Rights are no defense against this.

I wonder if local governments would go through with this if they knew full well that the poor posessed the means and the will to excercise their very basic right to defend their own property rights? This is the real reason for gun control. The government cannot grow when people posess the means to defend their rights themselves. Therefore, the means must be taken away.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Foreign Policy

I'm pretty certain I have stated my opposition to the Iraq war in the blog. Indeed, I have even at times said and written things that might indicate that I am an isolationist. I want to take the time to state that I am not, and show what I believe our foreign policy ought to be.

First off, we need to remember that any alliance we make should be temporary, directed toward specific goals, and potentially dissolved once that goal is achieved. However, that does not mean we should ever be without an alliance of some sort. Far from it. The reason I think obselete alliance organizations ought to be dissolved is to make sure that everybody involved understands that is is an alliance, and not a surrendering of soverignty. As time passes, people change, and a people that made a great ally for a previous generation may not necessarily be such a great ally today. A former enemy may be capable of being a new ally. And the institutional leadership of such a body may need to be changed in a way that reflects the reality of who who has the energy to lead in such a way.

Thus, with the USSR no longer in existance, I believe we ought to withdraw from NATO. The problems European face today are problems they really should be able to handle themselves. If they wish to continue NATO, that's fine; let them redefine its purpose, perhaps a committment to continental peace and mutual defense. What why do they need our help with that?

Having done so, we should create a new alliance which has as its purpose the mutual defense of nations that have a good record where the respect of individual liberties is concerned. Presently the greatest threat is that of rising militant ideologies--militant Islam among them, but it is hardly the only one. Religeous freedom--the separation of church and state--ought to be the cornerstone of this alliance. Note that this does mean that in countries with a strong religious presence, we should be tolerant of expression of that religion in their society, so long as coercion is not a part of the program. We should also be tolerant of a failure to "promote" prograss through coercive government programs--something our colonialist European forbears were not tolerant of. Our goal should not be the promotion of the "secular state" in whatever form it appears (as the Europeans preferred secular dictatorship to religious democracy). Our goal should be the promoting of ANY form of government that results in respect for individual property rights and religious expression--even a traditional monarchy or even theocracy that is restrained from excesses of power by a slavish devotion to tradition..

As we see today, "democracy" is no guarantee against individual rights. The Supreme Court has ruled that local governments have the right to take property from one private party and give it to another (paying a pittance for the property). I would be inclined to accept as an ally a monarch that refused to allow such practices occur, rather than a democracy ruled by a people with no respect for liberty. I would accept a limited, constitutional monarchy or single-party rule before I would a majoritarian tyranny. At least a king can be dealt with, where foreign policy is concerned. The majoritarian tyranny is a headless monster that can be neither predicted nor controlled.

So lets create an alliance with other nations that respect individual rights, whatever form their political machinery takes. Let us not judge the trees by their leaves, since we will never know what the best tree will look like in the end. Let us judge the trees by their fruit.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Garden of Eden

I just want to posit a possible reading of the Fall of Man story, incorperating Daniel Quinn's ideas, adding a few of my own. Starting from the beginning of Genesis 3, I'll list each element as I come to it:

The Serpent: Snakes, when they shed their skin, gain a very deathlike appearance. But if you continue watching, the snake comes out, alive and well. Perhaps some people during the period during which this story was constructed made a leap from a live snake coming out of a dead snakeskin, to a live human spirit coming out of a dead human body; ie. they first came up with the idea of the Immortal Human Spirit, and another realm to which it belongs. If this is what the Serpent refers to, then the writer considered this to be a deception, that rather, " are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Genesis 3:19) Perhaps a belief that death isn't necessarily final leads men to believe that we can do whatever we want, the consequences being merely temporary and leading ultimately to a higher existance.

The Woman: Anthropologists speculate that agriculture grew initially out of women's traditional role as gatherers of edible plant materials (the stereotypical division of labor between hunters and gatherers). Perhaps it was women who first went about the business of what Quinn calls "Totalitarian Agriculture," simply because men were too busy hunting to develop this idea, the idea that humans ought to make the choices of good and evil (that is, to rule the world) to increase their food, rather than leaving it to the gods. That is, they ate of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. Of course, men followed suit rather quickly, as agriculture reduces space for hunting food.

The Man: Followed the woman into a lifestyle that involved the subjugation of matters of life and death to mankind. Representative of a single culture: those that practice our way of making a living.

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: Eating from it is analogous to using one's ability to rearrange the biosphere in an effort to increase one's food supply and the expense of others.

Nakedness: The realization that there is something very wrong happening with our culture...

Fig leaf loin coverings: Religion of human invention, a futile attempt to deal with the problem of what's gone wrong by pretending we have nothing to do with it... covering up the fact that our way of life is the very thing that will destroy us.

The Serpent's Curse: I'm not really sure... and I feel like this is important. Quinn has dismissed the Serpent altogether as an actor in this story, but I'm not ready to do so...

The Woman's Curse: Perhaps this refers to the fact that the birth of new societies out of old ones, in our culture, in response to changing conditions, is always done violently.

The Man's Curse: There is no doubt that agricultural societies work harder for a living than any other.

The Flaming Sword: WAR. Very simply put, if anyone attempts to "return to the Garden of Eden," that is, to attempt to live in the way all men lived before all this happened, he is rather quickly subjugated or eliminated by his neighbors. War is a fact of life, and the main reason we have to work as hard as we do is to support the armies that protect us from our neighbors. If anybody tried to live as an aborigine in the United States, he would rather quickly be taxed out of existance (an aborigine can't afford to pay property taxes, and would be chased off someone else's land). Try it in a place where property taxes aren't a problem, and someone is bound to cut down your forest, plant crops, and shoot you if you try to say anything about it.

Monday, January 24, 2005

The Error of Capitalism

Here I am, reading yet more from Danial Quinn, and I find myself thinking about the fundamental difference in worldview between Capitalists and Socialists (in the either-or fashion), and finding myself forced to re-examine my own position on the matter... and at the same time coming closer to finding the "third way" beyond, not between, the two extremes.

Basically, what Quinn said was this:

the knowledge that every single action God might take--no matter what it is, no matter how large or small--is good for one but evil for another
This got me thinking about the notion that every bit of wealth one gains is a loss for another. Very simply put, many people have the unconcious notion that wealth is always gained at the expense of another, and thus you can identify the wealthy as some kind of cheat, by default. You may not know the exact mechanism by which they cheated, nor do you have to: because wealth is a static thing, a gain by one is a loss by another, and thus the wealthy are all scoundrels who cheat others out of their fair share.

On the other end is the Capitalist, who recognizes that trade isn't about one cheating another out of their share, but rather about this equation: one person has more of item A than he wants but less of item B, while a second person has more of item B than he wants but less of item A. The two trade A for B, and both are enriched by it. Even if the first is smarter than the second and gets a better deal than the second, both have more than he began with at the beginning. Had the trade never occured, the second person may not have ended up with relatively less than the first, but he also wouldn't have as much of item A as he wants, and far too much of B. So, trade is good, and wealth is simply the result of being better at making such transactions.

The thing is, I am coming to recognize that there *is* a reservoir from which all this extra stuff comes from. Human labor transforms natural resources into commodities—things that people can eat or use. In the case of things we can eat in particular, the natural resource in question is animals and plants. Hunter A may have more meat than he needs, farmer B may have more grain than he needs. They may trade meat for grain, and in the end, both have a better meal than he would have had otherwise, but the wealth wasn't created by the trade. It was created through the death of another living creature.

Now, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the death of other living creatures. All creatures live off material that was once the living tissue of another creature—yes, even the green plants, which draw nutrients from the soil, by-products of the action of bacteria feeding on the remains of another living thing. Humans are no different, nor should we think we can be otherwise. As long as we continue to exist, we will subsist of the death of other creatures.

The question to be raised is, what happens when we run out of living creatures to kill? For the herdsman kills more than he needs, in order to trade with the farmer and feed his children. The farmer plants more than he needs, in order to trade with the hunter and feed his children. As generations go by, there are more and more people, but where did the things that make up their bodies come from? They came from other creatures.

This is fine, as long as we live in a balance with the rest of the ecological community. But this is not how we are living. Our population continually grows at the expense of the rest of the ecological community. This doesn't seem to be a problem, until one realizes that if we keep growing, eventually, we'll reach a point where we are eating more than the ecological community can replace. We have already gotten to this point; this is why species go extinct at the rate they do.

Even this wouldn't be a problem, if all we were doing was replacing grass and deer and trees with wheat and cows, but the thing is, we're now converting areas to farmland and pasture that simply cannot support this sort of thing for very long. Eventually, farmers *do* ruin their land. Eventually, the soil becomes totally leeched, and formerly productive land becomes wasteland. This is as true in the developed world as it is in the developing world, though, if I understand correctly, it happens even faster in tropical regions. Cut down the rainforest, and you end up with a thin topsoil that blows away in the wind, leaving a worthless wasteland.

So what will happen when we finally run out of other species to eat? Why, we'll have to eat each other. I sincerely doubt this will be conducive to an enjoyable lifestyle, particularly if we set upon one another with the same gusto we set upon other species. While one can imagine "recycling" becoming our typical death ritual (eating those who pass away from natural causes), I can easily imagine death gangs being set up to "harvest" less economically productive humans to feed the more economically productive ones—the rich will feed upon the poor in a very literal sense.

Ugh, this is yet another "True Ramble" on my part—where the heck was I going with this?

Oh yeah, the whole Capitalist Worldview vs. Socialist Worldview thing. Basically, so long as we continue to think of the resources of Earth as being essentially infinite, we will eventually reach a point where we have run out of resources. The Socialist is locked in an earlier time when our exploitation of resources was limited, and thus wealth was typically gained at the expense of other human beings. But now, we are much better at extracting wealth from the Earth itself, and now it is not the Poor that suffer and the hands of the rich, it is Everything (including the poor, though the burden on them is less than it was in the past). Even the poor of this country live better than the wealthiest during the middle ages (they didn't have air conditioning, for example), but it is other species that suffer as a result of our opulance. Now, I don't really believe in "animal rights," but I do believe that the ultimate result of doing this completely thoughtlessly is that, one day, we're going to find ourselves without any natural resources to exploit. Then, we will starve.

The question is, what does one do about it?

(BTW, if anyone has a problem with the irregular pattern of my posts, the "non-weeklyness" of the Ramble, drop me a line. If I have any actual readers, I'll try to regularlize it again, rather than simply treating this as a repository of my thoughts.)

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil

My wife and I are re-reading through Daniel Quinn's The Story of B again, and we found ourselves debating about the viability about Quinn's hypothesis regarding the Abrahamic story of The Fall of Man (meaning, the Garden of Eden). It's on page 95 (of my edition, anyway), the story of The Tak. In this story, he defines some of the features of totalitarian agriculture ("...chickens may live but foxes must die... wheat may live but chinch bugs must die... Anything we eat may live, but anything that eats our food must die—and not merely on an ad hoc basis. Our posture is not, 'If a coyote attacks my herd, I'll kill it,' out posture is, 'Let's wipe coyotes off the face of the earth..."

He then claims that we have a record of the moment we assumed this attitude, from an outside observer. When asked the viewpoint of "some nomadic herders of ten thousand years ago" regarding who decides what lives and what dies, Fr. Jarred Osborne's answer was, "The Gods." B then identifies the knowledge of who lives and who dies with the knowledge of "good and evil. "What the Zeugen (the Witnesses) perceived is this, that every choice the gods make is good for one creature but evil for another, and if you think about it, it really can't be otherwise. If the quail goes out to hunt and the gods send it a grasshopper, then this is good for the quail but evil for the grasshopper. And if the fox goes out to hunt, and the gods send it a quail, then this is good for the fox but evil for the quail. And vice versa, of course. If the fox goes out to hunt, and the gods withhold the quail, then this is good for the quail but evil for the fox."

He then released the zinger: "When the Zeugen saw what the Tak were up to, they said to themselves, 'These people have eaten at the gods' own tree of wisdom, the tree of the knowedge of good and evil.'"

After going back and forth about how much this explanation makes sense to Jarred and every biblical scholar B has spoken to about it, B goes on. "I felt I had to bring this out in order to drive home the point I've been trying to make about this revolution. Even the authors of the story in Genesis described it as a matter of changed minds. What they saw being born in their neighbors was not a new lifestyle but a new mind-set, a mind-set that made us out to be as wise as the gods, that made the world out to be a piece of human property, that gave us the power of life and death over the world. They thought this new mind-set would be the death of Adam—and events are proving them right."

I hope I have provided enough of the text to demonstrate Quinn's message to one who has not read The Story of B. (I highly recommend it, by the way.) First off, I want to say that I think this explanation to be the most probable I've ever heard... indeed it's the only probable explanation I've heard. Up to now, it was just a really old story, the origin of which we could not possibly know. To begin by presenting our agricultural policy—no, our very worldview where the subject of food and other species are concerned—as the cause of our ultimate destruction of the world, and then go on to say that the second story in Genesis is another culture's "I told you so" before we went an absorbed them, gives Quinn an indirect claim to an authority he seems to deny... a religious claim. Indeed, he has identified the Original Sin, through which Death has entered, but that Death was not the death of individuals, but the ultimate Death of the Whole World: Because we are set upon devouring the whole community of life, once we are done with it, we must then turn upon one another, and then the destruction will be complete.

However, my wife wasn't so much concerned with the particular interpretation of the Genesis story than with Quinn's story of where it came from... a claim she thinks is flawed. Earlier in the book, he writes against those who "angelize" "leaver" peoples (hunter/gatherer/garderner/herdsman types), but then he identifies a neighboring "leaver" tribe as the wise ones who pointed out our error long before the nature of it could possibly be apparent. On the one hand, we can't possibly imagine how life will be in two-hundred years, any more than reniassance thinkers could possibly imagine the ultimate consequences of their own thought revolution. However, somehow the Zeugen managed to do exactly that, or so Quinn seems to suggest. I tried initially to argue that the origin of the story isn't necessarily important, that Quinn is just telling a story... but then I put some thought into it.

I identified a consistant tradition within our own culture that could very well have reacted that way to the mind change that produced what we today call the "Agricultural Revolution." Let us go deeper into speculation about that period of time, and I shall tell a little story that makes even more sense to me.

Once upon a time, there were a group of farmers, of the old type. These types planted their crops, protected them, but had no "agricultural policy" per se. If a wolf or lion came to kill their sheep or cattle (or children), they would kill that individual wolf or lion. If they found rabbits in the vegetable garden or deer in the corn patch, they would kill and eat that. Generally, they weren't very ambitious about creatively increasing yield. Indeed, much of what they ate still came from the wild plants and animals that surrounded them. And when the crop failed, or herds were eaten by predators, they simply sighed, resigned to the will of the gods.

Then one day, someone got the brilliant idea of going out and killing as many wolves as they could, to better protect their sheep. They started building fences. To avoid drought and flood, they came up with the idea of dams and canals, to channel the water advantageously. Little thought-of by them were the species that depended upon the old arrangement of things; their ideas were progressive, and brought greater comfort to the people living there.

There was another group, however, that were appalled by this. To them, drought was the will of the gods, and to dare try to prevent drought—it was unthinkable! To them, success or failure in the hunt, whether by men or by beasts, was the will of the gods, and to attempt to rig the system was a horrible overturning of the natural order of things, a rebellion against God. They argued vociferously against the new changes, predicting dire punishments from the gods if this continued. A few generations passed, prosperity continued, the new way of life spread at an incredible rate (spurred by population pressures wherever this new way of life was adopted), and generally, the prophecies of the nay-sayers were generally forgotten. Indeed, it's a wonder that the Genesis story even still exists.

Does this look familiar? Look at medical history. Every time somebody comes up with a potential new way to prevent or treat disease or injury, there's always somebody piping up with the notion that whatever it is they're meddling with is the province of God, not men, and should not be meddled with. Whether it be air-conditioning (to help sufferers in warm environments), vaccination, or today, genetic engineering, scientists and doctors (and their predecessors) have spent nearly all of recorded history having to answer the charge of "playing God." This is the common thread, which can easily be imagined to reach all the way back to the first to tell the story that ultimately made its way into Genesis.

Now, to comment on the matter itself...

Of course, we always believe that life is better now than it was before, because of these advances... but look at what else it accomplishes. It brings comfort to a generation or two... and as a result of that comfort, that generation or two breeds at a higher rate than the previous generations. More food equals more births. Better medicine equals less death. The two together result in higher and higher population, which requires even more advances to reach previous levels of comfort, which opens the floodgates for even more population growth. There are those who think we can continue this cycle indefinately, that scientific and material progress will ensure that we never outstrip our resources, since we end up discovering more every time we need to.

But what happens when we finally reach the limit on—not iron, oil, or any other mineral resource, but biomass? What happens when the population of the world literally reaches the point where we have eaten everything? According to Quinn, 200 species go extinct every day, and not because we are careless, but because we need to make room for ever more food production. Rain forests are devoured by would-be farmers, for miniscule returns. I have little doubt that, so long as our population has the food to grow, it will grow, with medicine, sanitation, and engineering making possible greater and greater population densities. Every time we think we've conquered yet another source of death, be it disease or strife, we simply bring ourselves closer and closer to that Ultimate Death, that point where we literally experience worldwide famine, and the ecosystem is literally so ripped apart that it can't recover in time for us. Then, we go extinct, and evolution starts over again at the microbal level.

So what do we do about this? I don't know. I mean, it's one thing to say "make less food" or "pollute less" or something, but its quite another to figure out a way to actually get people do do this. Quinn says that its enough to change other people's minds on this matter, that people with changed minds will find ways to implement the change in their daily lives. I do hope he's right, and I do hope that, if I have any readers, at least some of you come away with some notion that there's something going wrong here.

So... go read Ishmael, and The Story of B, and possibly more. I can't think of anything else to say, or do, about this subject.