21 August 2009

Wonderful Socialism

Carlton Meyer over at The Bankrupt Empire is an excellent chronicler of the waste and inefficiencies of the biggest and most destructive bureaucracy out there - the United States military. Therefore upon gazing my eyes on the title of his post from a week ago the Wonderful Socialized American Medicine I expected it to be tongue in cheek, but it turns out that Meyer is this time actually taking the side of a bureaucracy, the Veterans Administration, calling its health care wonderful and going so far as to complain that socialism has been demonised when actually not all socialism is bad showcasing the VA health care as an example of the good variety of socialism. Basing the view on his personal experience of having received quality care from them.

There is a fallacy right there. VA health care is not a socialist programme. Socialists programmes are egalitarian and universal meaning that the costs are borne by everyone but the benefits are also received by everyone. On the contrary the VA only provides health care for disabled and low-income veterans. It is a programme whose costs are borne by everyone but the benefits are received by only a chosen class of people. As such it is an example of modern feudalism rather than of socialism. It is a scheme were the warrior caste is guaranteed quality health care and the general populace foots the bill whether it likes it or not.

This incidentally is also the secret of the programme`s apparent success (at least if we deem Meyer`s own experience to be more typical than the experience of the veterans from Walter Reed). It has ample funds but only a limited number people to treat. This is not unusual. Soviet Union had a separate chain of hospitals that provided first rate health care – to officers of the KGB. The level of the socialist, universal health care provided to the general populace on the other hand was poor so that becoming life expectancy actually decreasing slightly in the 1970s and 80s. Meyer seems to realise this intuitively since despite saying that every American deserves „free health care" he nowhere suggests that the VA model be adopted for everyone, instead the farthest he goes is to suggest a further of 3 million people, the military retirees and their spouses, be taken under its wing.

Expanding on the not-all-socialism-is-bad theme he goes on to mention that ordinary Swedes apparently have a positive view of their universal socialist medicine. Personally I make no claim to know what the Swedish public opinion is in regards to their health care system, it certainly sounds plausible that it would be positive. That however is completely irrelevant. The Swedes may be satisfied with the services provided by their hospitals but being tax plunder funded they have no way of knowing how much money is being expropriation from them in exchange for it. They have no way of knowing if they are getting their money`s worth and thus are in no position to make an actual cost-benefit analysis.

They are in a similar position to a sclerotic investor who one day remembers he still has 100 shares of ACME company. He sells them and with the proceeds buys a new automobile. Naturally he is happy about his brand new car. But what if being a sclerotic he can for the life of him not remember how much he originally paid for the shares for? He can be satisfied with the new car all he wants to be but he has no way of knowing if buying and holding those shares was actually good business.

For a more real-life example Lets take for example the Soviet Union's sports programme. To be sure nobody ever polled the Soviet citizens on the issue but It is highly unlikely that Soviet public opinion viewed it negatively. It was a programme that grew countless word class athletes that brought home medals and prestige and great amounts of satisfaction for the viewing public and the sports enthusiasts. But the trick was the public had no way of knowing how much exactly it was paying for these achievements. No way of knowing if it was getting its money worth. Absolutely, most Soviets were very pleased with their country dominating the gold medals counts at the Olympics, but was any Soviet citizen ever asked if he preferred Soviet athletes won a dozen more medals or if he preferred instead he (and everyone else) be given a set of winter tires, a case of bananas, or a pair of jeans? And what would be the answer? Can anyone claim a large proportion of people would not prefer to get some other benefits for their money?

09 August 2009

A Desert Called Peace

We are plagued by crusaders. Crusaders for the environment, crusaders for women's rights, crusaders for animal rights, crusaders for decency, crusaders for democracy, crusaders for Darfur, crusaders for Tibet, crusaders for Diversity, crusaders for this and that. At times it seems there is hardly a noun left without a crusade movement attached to it. But there are two crusades that are clearly the largest and the most central to the crusading phenomenon. They are the crusade for tolerance and the crusade for equality.

Tolerance and equality are in themselves worthy goals and therefore the struggle for them need not be a plague onto the world. The trouble is not in the tolerance or in the equality parts, but in the crusading part. The trouble is that like the original, the modern crusaders too fight for a word instead of for its meaning.

The original crusaders purported to fight for the Holly Cross, but conducted themselves in a way that was anything but Christian. Likewise modern crusaders purport to struggle for equality or for tolerance, but without ever pausing to examine just how egalitarian or tolerant their ideal really is.

As we once had Christians introducing Christianity to heathens by killing them, likewise today we have Liberals that would have tolerance by having us all think the same and Egalitarians that would have equality by having us all own the same amount of property. In essence what they both fight for is neither equality nor tolerance but sameness.

Liberals invoke tolerance, but they use it in place where approval would be more appropriate. They do not want society at large to simply tolerate gays, lesbians, cultists, heathens, heretics, loose women, metalheads, punks, long-haired freaky people and men with earrings. It is not enough that we not throw mud at men with earrings and refrain from calling them names when they pass us by in the street. No, we must take sensitivity classes to learn to appreciate them, to find out about all the wonderful contributions they have made to science, to learn about all the hardships they have suffered through the ages and to learn to enthusiastically anticipate the International Day of Men With Earrings. They want every last single person to approve of them, to like them, to love them. But where there is approval no tolerance is needed.

Someone who approves of smoking does not at all need be tolerant to tolerate smokers. His tolerance is as remarkable as a sandwich tolerant of baloney. To brainwash everyone into holding the same set of judgments on practically every lifestyle issue and then preach tolerance is like preaching a hippie about the dangers of soap – wholly redundant.

Like-minded people do not need to be tolerant to tolerate each other. The only people that have a use for tolerance are people that have different takes on what is proper. This is also the only time tolerance can be remarkable. When people around you find your take on life distasteful to the extreme, but let you be. And when you in turn let them be and in doing so extend the same sort of tolerance to their take on life.

Similarly Egalitarians talk about the need for equality and propose to go about it by making sure we all own the exact same amount of property. The more enthusiastic among them have figured out that would take a lot of paperwork so they propose to outright outlaw property and make sure we all own zero property. To make us equal they have to first make us all equally poor. I suppose it is only a matter of time before they figure out that is not going far enough and propose to start a thermonuclear war to make us all equally dead. That would be true equality! We could call it „equality in vaporization“.

Egalitarians barge into absurdities because they confuse equality for uniformity. We do not need to be uniform to be equal. To be equal we do not need to all live in equally expensive houses any more than we need to all be equally good at basketball, singing, or cooking. Any more than we need to have equal number of cousins, be equally literate or be equally tall. The whole point of properly understood egalitarianism is not that we should be equal, but that we are equal. Already. Despite all the variations including the difference in wealth.

It means that just because I live in a shack while another person lives in a villa it does not give him the right to tax me. In fact one of these days I am going to his place to take back all the stuff he bought with my tax money. Mayhap after I am done with it he will be the one living in a shack. That is equality. I want all my money back, I am not leaving the scoundrel some of it, so that we two may be equally wealthy. But it is not required that I do. I am an egalitarian, I do not feel myself to have rights over property of another and will therefore not tax him, so he can be my equal even if he is a lowly shack dweller.

There are those who are shrewd and there are others who are dull. But because they are equal despite this difference neither gets a claim on the wealth of the other. Equality means nobody can justly pray on another. Weather by fraud or by popular vote. Classical Liberals asserted that just because a king, unlike the peasantry, wore a crown and bathed regularly that gave him no right to hold down the peasants. That is egalitarianism. Not pretending that actually the peasants smelled as nice.

In reality any programme of redistribution of wealth is inherently non-egalitarian. Egalitarianism means treating people as equals ie under the same set of rules. But if you are taking money from one set of people to give it to another set of people then you are treating then you are not treating them the same.

It is actually impossible to be an egalitarian and hold to the Egalitarian`s basic motto: „From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.“ If to consider someone your equal you need him to work as hard as you do then frankly you are not much of an egalitarian. How come a slacker, who lives at subsistence level and prefers to work as little as he needs to, can not be your equal? Why does he need to be dragged to a reeducation camp to be turned into a workaholic who will work according to his ability? And how are you two being equal when you are forcing him into something? Does that not make him your slave? I can see how everyone working as hard means uniformity, but what does it have to do with equality?

Socialist Egalitarianism would, at its final, result in a society of uniformity and sameness. But there is nothing remarkable about recognizing equality within a set of people who are exactly alike. If it were then we would call Anglo-Saxon supremacists "egalitarians" for believing all men are equal provided they are Anglo-Saxons. That would plainly be absurd, but it is no different from Socialists who believe all men should be equal provided they contribute according to their ability. An argument could be made that the Socialists are qualitatively better because being a slacker is a choice while people can not help themselves not being Anglo-Saxons. But it would be a false argument. The issue is not of choice, but of right. A man has as much right to be a slacker, as he has to not be an Anglo-Saxon. Possibly more.

We do not need to crack down on diversity of opinion, diversity of effort in labor and diversity in consumption to bring about tolerance and equality. In fact tolerance and equality are only meaningful in diversity and freedom. Freedom of opinion and freedom of exchange. There is nothing remarkable about tolerance and equality inside an ant hive.

Jet that is the world the Liberal and Egalitarian crusaders would jointly bring about. They believe they fight for a world full of tolerance or equality, but what they really fight for is a world where there is no need for toleration and equality. A world where there is no nobility left in tolerance and egalitarianism because we all already think the same, work as hard and consume as much. I suppose that is the reason for the ever greater convergence of Socialist and Liberal parties. They would both make a desert and call it peace.

01 August 2009

Escalation Blues

What is happening in Afganistan? The past month has been, with seventy-five dead suffered by the occupation formations, the worst one for the Empire so far. But then, we know what is happening in Afganistan. And we knew it would. There is only one way an escalation can go. The guerrilla coolly matches the ante. And then some.

The new emperor promised to escalate the war on Afganistan and make it the central front in the never ending Struggle To Grow the Empire. To that purpose he would send additional troops on occupation duty to that part of the world. He did, sending 17,000 legionaries to reinforce the occupation. They arrived weeks ago and were sent on a sweep of Helmand River Valley. To a predictable result - the aforementioned record setting casualty count.

The Empire is in trouble because it is merely a state. A state with a seemingly infinitely inflatable budget, but just a state non the less. Any state is effectively powerless when its chosen subjects refuse to subject. The Empire only knows how to subdue other states. When the states fight they throw their war budgets at each other and the state with the larger war budget wins.

But in Afganistan the Empire is not fighting a state. It is fighting a people, the Pashtuns. A people does not work with a budget. It works with sacrifice. The more force is thrown against it, the more it is stomped on, the more sacrifice it is willing to bear in order to drive an iron spike through the stomping boot and bring the repression to an end. The more violence aligned against a people the more it makes sense for them to bear sacrifice in order to destroy that force which is descending on them. Provided the people resisting has a sufficient demographic base this dynamic can and will match any budget, any escalation.

The Pashtun fight because they do not want the Americans there. They have proven they consider it a fighting offense. If there is more Americans in country they will fight that much more, not less. Maxi-occupation is more objectionable than mini-occupation. For the state to hope to win by making what is objectionable even more objectionable is absurd. Imagine a king who having increased taxes faces a revolt so to avert the revolt increases the taxes still further. That is what the Empire is doing in Afganistan. The Pashtun tribesmen clearly demonstrated they do not want 80,000 imperial and auxiliary troops in their country, so the Empire raises the number to 105,000 to see if that proves more acceptable.

It is plain as day the Pashtuns are not going to resign themselves to the occupation at its current level of objectionability or they would have done so long ago. The Empire can not make them accept it. It could theoretically exterminate them or bribe them, but it can not force them to consent. 70,000 imperials can help here no more than 50,000 or 500,000 could.

The more foreign troops there are in the country the truer rings the cry of the guerrillas for the urgent need to expel them. The more sweeps they go on to, the more households they search, the more of their countrymen they snatch to be locked up at Bagram air base, the heavier weights the pressure to do something about it on the shoulders of every fighting age Pashtun. The more checkpoints they man, the more buildings they raze, the more unidentified but "suspicious" individuals they zap from drones the more the households that feel the need to shelter the fighters. The more bombs they drop on their the hamlets and the villages, the more weddings and funerals they wipe out from the air, the more opium crops they burn the more villages that feel duty bound to feed them.

To escalate the violence and beef up the occupation only drives more people to do more for the resistance. There is 13 million Pashtuns in Afganistan and twice as many in Pakistan. Sufficiently irritated they can commit a few million to the fight. Can the Empire in turn send a few million troops to subdue them? To ask is to answer. American insistence on escalation is playing chicken with a brick wall.

The most the occupiers can achieve in such wars is to not look utterly ridiculous when they finally retreat. But the way to do that is by deescalating not escalating. The best way being a deescalation on steroids. An abrupt and complete evacuation that leaves no doubt that the imperial legions retreated on their own terms rather than being driven out. Of course that would be the smart thing to do and smart things are not in the nature of empires. They do it the dumb way. Retreat after being made into a broken, dysfunctional army by the war. As the dysfunctional legions did from another central front in 1972. And in 1989. From just this place. So far they are on track for seconds.