…Continued from Part I
What You Can Bank On
The only thing I can really say for certain about the future is that
it will almost certainly continue to be manned and manipulated by
individual human beings who are for the very large part autonomous (even in the context of slavery),
pursue values for their own reasons within a range they are able to
pursue, and when granted an inch of range in which to operate, strive to
take a mile (expand the range). That simply makes me bullish; and at times, sanguine. If I were to sum it up, I’d say that human nature is such that we are blessed or cursed (according to your perspective) to enjoy or endure (you decide) a continual struggle to outrun the state and out compete god. For me, that’s a blessing I strive to remember (so that I don’t forget to enjoy it). From a comment by Greg Swann I highlighted at the opening of Part I:
They can’t enslave us if they can’t catch us. Whether or not we are on the cusp of a Kurzweilian Singularity, it remains that we are out-running them and have been as a general trend for the entire recorded history of humanity. The application of production-line efficiency to mass murder was a genuine threat in the last century — but where is it now?
There will be profit taking (that’s a metaphor), sell offs (another
one), downturns, corrections, and you might even be unfortunate or
fortunate enough (you decide) to live through a financial
crash or clash of civilization and culture. You will be unlikely to do anything but
go along for the ride, and if you’re smart, you’ll strive to either
take advantage of the good (to further benefit) or exploit the bad to
eek out survival or something better. There are no guarantees; furthermore, nobody owes you any.
Ironically, for hundreds of millions of Chinese, life is getting
better all the time. They can see it and measure it and I’ll dare you
to tell them that their newfound liberties and opportunities over the
last two decades are meaningless — or even a danger to the rest of us
as some imply or explicate. At the same time,
many in America, including myself, note daily the added difficulty in
producing. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Increasing regulations
and restrictions increase costs which increase barriers to growth and
prosperity. Yet I press on. At the same time, I’m often confronted with
sneers whenever any news about China is greeted positively. Well,
that’s fine, but I will maintain that to the extent a thug is willing
to lay down a club in place of issuing a business license, that it’s
unequivocally a step in the right direction. It doesn’t supplant
genuine freedom to peacefully tend to one’s own affairs without any
preemptive interference from the state, and we should always point out
when such is wanting, but it’s not nothing and it doesn’t deserve to be
For decades statists have informed us that the fascist Mussolini
"made the trains run on time." You know: it’s unfortunate to break
eggs, but at least you get an omelet! The ends really can justify the
means if the ends are good enough. It is on the latter point that
libertarians have (metaphorically — because it’s not actually true)
turned the tables on the phase by pointing out that ends must be judged
on sound moral principles and not on a cost/benefit analysis of
results, as one might validly do within the moral confines and context
of a business.
But it seems to me that use of the phrase has morphed into a broader
realm, and specifically in response or reaction to what’s going on in
China and elsewhere, and also to the fact that in spite of increasing
government meddling and regulation here in the U.S., some of us set it
aside, strap on some good ol’ fashioned American Can-Do-ism, and manage
to do better in our business, financial, and personal lives year after
year. We are becoming more and more free — not by sitting around
waiting for the state to let us have it (it belongs to us, you know)
but by simply producing it for ourselves using the governments own fiat
currency to do so. So I wonder if, as libertarians, we necessarily get
to a point where we are faced with having to condemn all progress in
terms of material prosperity, increased leisure time to pursue (as-yet
non-financially profitable) passions, technology, and health as
purchased with "on-time-train stolen dollars," or face the harsh
reality that we are missing out on otherwise fabulous opportunities we
could have in a lifetime but that regardless of any freedoms we may
have, we don’t have the freedom to enjoy any particular result. We have
to make that happen for ourselves. I wrote in a comment to another post
here just yesterday (slightly edited):
If "having the trains run on time" is something akin to enslaving or
killing less people, clubbing less people and instead handing them a
license to operate a business, and all that translates to more material
prosperity and less brutal torment for more people then I must in part
Sorry, but fewer dead people and more people that have some
chance at a life with some enjoyment and leisure and happiness is a
positive development, no matter how you slice it. It is important for
those people fortunate enough for the opportunity to live better and I
think it ought to be acknowledged. I see no point in denying a positive
I think we ought to be more careful about dismissing "trains
running on time." It is very important (metaphorically) that they do.
Otherwise, people starve and die. I’m not claiming that it is to render real
freedom moot, or satisfies the requirement, but it is an important
element to human prosperity and happiness. Its importance should never
be downplayed, dismissed or scoffed at as I think we principled libertarians are often prone to do.
…I’ve had this crazy idea since living in Japan for five years in
the 1980s (during which I traveled all over Asia, including communist China) that
Asian financial and productive dominance could be among the things that turns
us (America) around — that gets the freedom pendulum to begin swinging in the other direction. I don’t believe that China wants to rule the
world with clubs & guns — or, at least, believe they understand the difference between fantasy and practicality, as do our own politicians who would rule the world if they could. I think they want to rule it through
finance, incentives, licenses, barriers, politics and so on (kinder,
gentler clubs & guns). Recall that Japan was a brutal regime that
had no philosophical enlightenment that I’m aware of. They became
industrial and we tamed them through war.
I visited Hong Kong no less than seven times pre-1997 and always
referred to it as "my favorite city in the world." I liked it so much
that in 1987 or ’88, when I gave my parents tickets to come visit me in
Japan, it included tickets for us all to go spend a week in Hong Kong as
well. I had a lot of places to choose from but
that’s where we went. I just could never bring myself to buy into the
hype (and it was miles high) and fathom that
the Chicoms would take it back and destroy it. And I thought that if
they did not, then they would ultimately make China itself into a
Hong-Kong like powerhouse economy. Twenty years later and I see every evidence that they are not only on a path to do that, but to vastly exceed the wildest imaginations ever dreamed for Hong Kong. I think I was
exactly right about that and the vast majority of others were wrong.
At the same time, I have never thought that Asian culture could dominate the world in any respect like American culture does. They simply aren’t, as yet, very open to integrating the best from all cultures and making a big soup of it. (I think Singapore is actually the closest to that: an Oriental meting pot).
I don’t think America and Americans (even Asian ones) are going to
take kindly to being a second-rate economic power in the world behind
China, but it is definitely headed in that direction and I have no
doubt in my mind that such is exactly the goal of China’s rulers, and really, I have to say good for them if it is. The
interesting thing is that they ought to be able to do it quite easily at the current pace of things.
And, they are avoiding so many of the stupid mistakes Japan made by
being economically xenophobic with respect to foreign holdings and
financial interests in their own country. China is courting international
capital in quantities and at rates unprecedented in all of human
history. Just by sheer volume and numbers alone, they are going to be
an economic force to be reckoned with.
Those who sneer are just going to be left sneering. It’s really that simple.
The silver lining I hope might come to pass is that we find ourselves
but with one way to compete and stay on top, which is to let loose the
reigns of American productivity. Whether such economic freedom will rub
off, so as to usher in more political and social freedom I don’t know.
But I do believe that America’s slide into nanny-statedom and
Euro-style bureaucracy will only be turned back by competition. Europe
has always been America’s ugly stepsister in terms of industrial
prowess, so they’ve never really sought to unseat us in that regard;
and if that’s what the EU-thing was meant to do, it’s going to be a failure.
You don’t beat someone economically by increasing regulation.
But the Euros, just like the Japanese, always believed in centralized
and tight control. So does China, apparently, but with important
differences they learned from Hong Kong — and that combined with its sheer magnitude might be enough. You can
be somewhat inefficient, but if you’re big enough, it doesn’t matter.
So my point is that you don’t predict the future based on ideas, or even values. Ideas and values change. Sound moral principles often go out the window but that seems to be a human condition we’re a very long way from rectifying, if we ever do. What you can observe, through all of time is that human keep running and they keep out-running, like Greg pointed out. You can bank on that, and by consequence, you can bank on their striving to do better. In spite of the many setbacks at the cost of millions of unjustly lost lives, things do get better. With a little luck, you won’t get caught up in any of that, and certainly, you ought try to avoid it
Next up in Part III: Doom and Gloom in all of its manifestations. Nobody, and I mean nobody seems to be immune.