Wednesday, January 31, 2018
TOCQUEVILLE FORESAW THIS
Alexis de Tocqueville:
[The power of government] covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power… does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, until each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and hard-working animals, of which the government is the shepherd.’
I disagree with Tocqueville about “such a power..does not tyrannize”, it certainly does tyrannize, and to a greater degree than many of the kings and emperors of the past. Neither George III or Kaiser Wilhelm II ever thought to issue edicts about which pronouns people were allowed to use. This California bill is in the true spirit of the totalitarianisms of the 20th century: Naziism and Communism.
Speaking of totalitarianism, here’s Arthur Koestler, in his novel Darkness at Noon. Rubashov, an Old Bolshevik who has been arrested by the Stalinist regime, is reflecting on his Communist beliefs and where they may have led him astray.
A short time ago , our leading agriculturist, B , was shot with thirty of his collaborators because he maintained the opinion that nitrate artificial manure was superior to potash. No. 1 is all for potash; therefore B. and the thirty had to be liquidated as saboteurs. In a nationally centralized agriculture , the alternative of nitrate or potash is of enormous importance: it can decide the issue of the next war. If No. 1 was in the right, history will absolve him, and the execution of the thirty-one men will be a mere bagatelle. If he was wrong . . .
Isn’t this reminiscent of today’s leftist who say that climate change is a a matter of “enormous importance”, it can decide not something as relatively minor as “the issue of the next war” but the entire fate of the human race and hence, free speech on this matter must be suppressed?
Koestler’s Rubashov explains to himself that since the Revolution has overthrown all the rules of ‘cricket-morality’, the State is now ‘sailing without ballast’…and begins to see where this must inevitably lead:
to settle a difference of opinion, we know only one argument: death, whether it is a matter of submarines, manure, or the Party line to be followed in Indo-China. Our engineers work with the constant knowledge that an error in calculation may take them to prison or the scaffold; the higher officials in our administration ruin and destroy their subordinates, because they know that they will be held responsible for the slightest slip and be destroyed themselves; our poets settle discussions on questions of style by denunciations to the Secret Police, because the expressionists consider the naturalistic style counter-revolutionary, and vice versa.
We are not yet at the point in America where people are sentenced to physical death for political deviations, but now on a regular basis people have their careers destroyed–sometimes a form of economic death–for such deviations.
And it is worth noting that the California bill in question was introduced not by some back-bencher no one has ever heard of, but by the Democratic Majority Leader of the California Assembly.
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
ARE THOSE ROBOTS SLACKING OFF ON THE JOB?
Much concern is being expressed these days about technological unemployment driven by robotics, artificial intelligence, etc. But labor productivity numbers have been more in the direction of stagnation than in the direction of a sharp break upwards…see for example this BLS analysis. Note especially Chart 5, which compares productivity growth in three periods: 1947-2007, 2001-2007, and 2009-2016.
See also this piece, which looks at total factor productivity across continents.
So, what is going on here? Why have the remarkable innovations and heavy corporate and government investments in technology not had more of a positive effect on productivity? I have my own ideas, but am curious about what others think.
Friday, January 19, 2018
BONHOEFFER ON STUPIDITY AND THE PUBLIC SPHERE
Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. … The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.
Thursday, January 04, 2018