We are so dependent on our drug of choice - debt - that the shock of allowing the market to eliminate (as it almost certainly would) fractional reserve banking is too great for most of us to contemplate. Decades down the road, people might - luxuriating in a stable society where money held its value long-term - wonder why we didn't do it sooner. But right now, the debtors who would be forced to admit that their lifestyle is many times beyond their means constitute if not a majority, a politically-decisive minority. And as for the politicians who would have to admit their complicity in the dangerous scam of fractional reserve banking, the idea is just beyond contemplation.
I cannot conceive of a view more diametrically-opposed to the conventional wisdom than that of Ludwig von Mises as explained in the linked article. The reason why trillions in taxpayers' money was kicked in to save the banks is because the banks are inherently unstable. Government support for them allows them to create the illusion of greater wealth in the good times, but comes at the price of propping up their business model in the bad times. A business model that, if applied to any other enterprise, would be considered insane.
I have never smoked (apart from the occasional celebratory cigar). However I do not understand the current campaign to denormalise (or is it demonise?) those who enjoy a legal, if dangerous, pleasure. Lots of pleasures are dangerous. I never know why smokers choose bungee-jumping or mountaineering as examples when they want to make this point. Going for a walk is dangerous. So is sex. Most accidents happen at home, so we should probably all go out for a drive. Except that driving's dangerous too. Essentially life itself is dangerous and ultimately 100% fatal.
The plain packs project is a particularly dumb example of the campaign's tactics. For once even the police, who are normally enthusiastic about any initiative that brings them closer to the role of their Saudi Arabian colleagues the mutaween, are pointing out the assistance it will give to forgers and smugglers.
More sinister however is the insight it gives into how our modern "democracy" works. The campaign to resist a damaging new law is understandably led by the trade associations for the shop owners and the manufacturers of the products concerned. This is sneered at as interference in the democratic process, though it's a weird democracy where people are not permitted to speak up in their own interests as long as they are open about their funding so that a suitable discount can be applied to their views.
The campaign for the law, however, is paid for by the taxpayers - including those whose commercial interests are to be damaged, those whose freedoms are to be curtailed and those of us who simply don't want our tax money wasted on lobbying for more laws! And the Minister concerned has been so indiscreet in expressing his own views during a public consultation as to which he claims to have an open mind that the campaign group we are being forced at not-entirely-metaphorical gunpoint to fund is boasting of his support.
As Lenin said, the only question is Who? Whom? I am pretty sure I am among the Whoms here. And so are you. And the Who in this case is not a rock band, but a bunch of self-interested statists whose contempt for us is total.
To add to my burgeoning parental pride, Miss Paine the Elder, already a Cambridge graduate, has earned a masters degree with distinction from the University of London. I fear I may burst.
Apropos of nothing else, but in sheer parental exuberance, I wish to announce that Miss Paine the Younger took a first in her Politics & History degree from LSE. Given her upbringing in post-communist Eastern Europe, it's somehow right that her favourite subject of study is the Cold War. For myself I am delighted that awful era has just become something for historians (not her of course) to get wrong.
The degree ceremony is on Thursday and we will have in mind amid the celebrations the sad fact that the late Mrs Paine's last ambition was to live to see it. She had even, as Miss P reminded me this week, bought a dress in preparation. If her own religious faith was right, she will be there. As to that, atheist that I am, I have never wished more strongly to be wrong.
The Soviets became more clever towards the end of their rule. Rather than continue to have show trials and make the rivers red with the blood of class enemies, they started to lock them up as psychiatric cases. Doctors "took care" of them, rather than executioners and jailers making class enemies of their friends and families. There was a grim logic to it. Faced with total state power, unrestrained by morality, you had to be mad to speak out, right?
So what to make of the (so far) milder modern notion of assuming one's opponents are psychologically predisposed to be wrong? Take this egregious example. Sir Keith Joseph was unsympathetic to the idea of an all-powerful state nannying every aspect of its citizens lives "in their own best interests" and "for their own safety" (two giveaway phrases that should always prepare you to be oppressed and bullshitted in equal measure). So he must have been autistic, right? If the poor guy had been a little less far along that spectrum, he would have voted to take other people's money by force to do "social justice" like everyone else.
I met Sir Keith a couple of times when I was a student politician. As a then recent convert from Marxism, I talked to him about my reservations on such issues as inherited wealth. He patiently explained why I was wrong. He was not remotely like the Werthers' Original grandfather. Indeed he had a crisp and measured way of expressing himself that smacked of professors before they decided they need to get down with the kids. But he was a thoughtful chap who had formed an honest view.
There's something disrespectful about attributing opinions to such causes, even when they are used to excuse rather than condemn. When a softist blames psychology, society, upbringing or the system for criminal conduct, that insults not only the poor and vulnerable who don't become criminals, but also the ones who do. We all have our issues and have taken our wrong turns but the least we can expect from each other is to be taken at face value. Isn't it?
We all fall short sometimes but "bad" is still only a criticism, not a diagnosis. Bad is something we can discuss and dispute. Bad is also something we can do something about. Mad just leaves us at your mercy to be cured so we think just like you. Please show us the respect therefore of treating our views as our own. Mistaken, we may be, but please don't insult us by attributing our differences from you to the way we were reared, the class we are from, the state of our mental health or even (perhaps most tempting of all) the arts/sciences/social sciences slant of our education.
Anyway just what, without fear of hypocrisy, are we to make of people so confident in their own world view (and their own sanity) that they consider dissent a psychiatric disorder?
A Right to Die? The Tony Nicklinson case.
I have written twice before about my ethical problems with "assisted suicide." Of course I sympathise with such people as Tony Nicklinson. I would hate to be in his position and would probably feel the same way if I were. However, hard cases make bad law and assisted suicide advocates seem often to be salami-slicing their way toward euthanasia, which would lead to many undetectable murders as lazy carers, socialised medicine rationers or greedy heirs masked their actions.
Even legalising assisted suicide (i.e. allowing someone to be an accessory to someone killing themselves) would lead to many more murders masked as such. Surely, however, there is now a technological solution. Mr Nicklinson is communicating his desire to die by using a computer. If he can do that he could also use one to drive a device - say a motorised syringe - to kill himself. So he doesn't need the change to the law of murder his lawyers are hopelessly requesting. He only needs an amendment to the Suicide Act of 1961. The revised law could permit the setting up of such a device only when a judge has verified that the person requesting it is both of sound mind and free from duress.
Of course no doctor with a religious or other ethical objection should be required to act against his conscience, but there would be many still willing and able.
I still worry that people might feel pressured to take such action by the expense and inconvenience their condition causes their families, but the need for a court order would provide some protection. Otherwise, I see no ethical or practical objection. Do you?
Friendly greetings to all American friends of non-totalitarian persuasions. Have a great Fourth guys. Totalitarian Americans won't want to celebrate today anyway.
Because for all their current problems and despite the current leadership of their federal government, the United States are still - at heart - the home of the free. Consider this remarkable video, for example. Whether you agree with it or not, ask yourself this; is there any well-organised group in Britain that could put out something of this quality along these lines?
When there is a well-funded organisation called "Britons for limited government", maybe we can start planning our own celebratory barbecues.