Saturday, 10 October 2015

Don't Cry for Me, Aristotle

Allow to me to pull on your coat about something: a wee story about Art, Tragedy and Catharsis.

You’re watching a good ‘weepy’ with a box of tissues on hand, and you cry your eyes out – that’s what we call ‘catharsis,’ isn’t it?

As everyone knows (or thinks they know) catharsis is a healthy purging of all your repressed emotions. You see a devastatingly good film or heroically moving play and pretty soon there ain't a dry eye in the house.

Aristotle himself suggested that’s what happens when you see decent drama – particularly a good tragedy like Medea or Oedipus Rex where the stage ends up littered with corpses, and the hero ends up … well … we all know where Oedipus ended up and what what happened to Medea’s children, don’t we. Who wouldn’t weeping over all that?

So, we all know about catharsis. Or think we know. And in case you don’t know, we got the whole notion from Aristotle who argued in his Poetics that catharsis is, in fact, the number one reason for good drama and good literature.

That’s quite a claim: that the number one reason for good drama and good literature is is a healthy purging of all your repressed emotions

Ayn Rand didn’t agree. She said the number one reason for literature, and indeed for all art, is that it anchors us to existence. Art we respond to, she argued, shows us in concrete form what our own individual world-view actually is.

We experience a performance of Tosca, for example, or we look at a statue of David or a painting of Icarus Landing, and we say to ourselves (if we’re healthy): “This is the way I see things. This is the way I feel about the world.” In short, when art truly touches us we say to ourselves: “This is me!” And it is.

This is why art is so crucially – selfishly - important for us. Because the human mind operates on the conceptual level, we need art to help us integrate our broadest abstractions, and to bring them before us in concrete form. You need art to concretise for you -- in a painting, a story, a piece of music -- the way that you view the world around you and how you feel you fit in. Everybody sees the world differently, some aspects being more or less important than others. The artist selects elements of reality to re-create and integrate into his work based on his own most profound choice of how he sees the world – and if we see it the same way we experience almost a shock of recognition.

So art, according to Ayn Rand, is a re-creation of reality. A selective re-creation of reality. The elements in each art-work are selected according to the artist’s view of what he sees as fundamental – as being of real metaphysical importance.   “By a selective re-creation, art isolates and integrates those aspects of reality which represent man’s fundamental view of himself and of existence.” That’s why we experience such a profound shock when we ‘recognise’ the artist’s selection as our own. That’s why art art we respond to we respond to so powerfully, and why it feels so personally important.

So we have two views of art that appear to be in fundamental disagreement. So it seems.

But … what if we got Aristotle wrong?

What if Aristotle didn’t actually say what everyone thought he said? What if Aristotle didn’t agree either that the the purpose of art and drama is simple sharing a protagonist’s emotions.

Well, arguably he didn’t. Arguably, our whole idea of catharsis and what Aristotle is supposed to have said about it is based on a profound mistranslation. Leon Golden, Professor of Classics at Florida State University and described as “the single most influential living authority on Aristotle's Poetics” argues that on this subject we’ve all got Aristotle wrong, and since 1962 he’s written a book and several articles arguing the case. The Greek word katharsis, he argues, has been mistranslated leading to our misunderstanding of what Aristotle was actually saying.

Based on some elegant philological detective work, Golden suggests that tragic katharsisis as Aristotle meant it is neither medical purgation, nor intellectual purification; katharsis, he says, is "intellectual clarification":

Katharsis is that moment of insight which arises out of the audience’s climactic intellectual, emotional, and spiritual enlightenment, which for Aristotle is both the essential pleasure and essential goal of mimetic art.

A moment of insight arising out of your climactic intellectual, emotional, and spiritual enlightenment. That’s a serious engagement with something!

So what does Aristotle mean by ‘mimetic art’? He means art that re-creates reality. Uh huh! You see where I’m going with this? As Leon Golden has it, mimesis comes from a fundamental "desire to know." People derive a pleasure of "learning and inference" from mimesis; a katharsis far different to one commonly understood by the word. This is what art that does re-create reality casts such a powerful intellectual, emotional, and spiritual spell upon us.

This is a view that must surely resonate with Objectivist aestheticians. Golden concludes his argument:

For Aristotle art is neither psychological therapy for the mentally ill nor a sermon directed at imposing an appropriate ethical and moral discipline on an audience. On the contrary, his aesthetic theory explains our attraction to tragedy and comedy on the basis of a deeply felt impulse, arising from our very nature as human beings, to achieve intellectual insight through that process of learning and inference which represents the essential pleasure and purpose of artistic mimesis.

It seems once again that the position of Ayn Rand and her teacher were once again not very far from each other. When Rand talks of art 'recreating reality' we can see her standing once again on Aristotle’s shoulders - one giant standing upon the shoulders of another.

One final word: none of this means you that you aren’t allowed to cry at the movies if you want to. If that’s your bag, then I wish you good weeping.

This post is based on my 2004 post at SOLO, archived here. But this one is way better.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Friday Morning Ramble, 09.10.15

“Hanlon’s Razor: Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity.”
~ Robert J. Hanlon

Lindsay Perigo likes Fox. [Although Bill O’Leilly is a piece of shit]
Formidable Fox – Lindsay Perigo, SOLO

“If we're tallying the social costs of obesity, what should we make of this one? ‘Obese men make more money than their slimmer counterparts…’”
Obesity and Income – Eric Crampton, OFFSETTING BEHAVIOUR

“The drop in Maori teenage birth is quite phenomenal. Though untested, the Youth Parent Payment reforms must be a factor.”
Bennett's biggest contribution – LINDSAY MITCHELL

“Our idea for flexibly responding to refugee flows: allow private refugee sponsorship.”
Welcoming Refugees – Free Press, SCOOP

“A better option than exclusion would be to restrict migrants’ eligibility for benefits.”
The Case for Open Borders – Bryan Caplan, TIME MAGAZINE

“Suggestions that strong net NZ migration (i.e. strong net immigration) will contribute to the unemployment rate increasing from 5.9% currently to 6.5% over the next year will be music to the ears of the anti-immigration lobby, but the opposite is likely to happen.”
The bullshit meter was set off by one of Westpac's economists – Rodney Dickens, RODNEY’S RAVING [4-page pdf]

“Barring people from carrying guns on campus made it particularly vulnerable to a ‘lone wolf’ attack.”
Strong support for guns in town shocked by college shooting – NZ HERALD

“Residents in Roseburg, Oregon, are rallying around the Second Amendment in the wake of the heinous attack on Umpqua Community College, suggesting the attack itself is proof of why citizens need to be armed for self-defence.”
Roseburg Oregon residents say school shooting shows why citizens must be armed – BREITBART

“Look at it this way. Do you want to live in a world where a violent criminal knows that all the nonviolent, non-criminals out there are disarmed?”
The Massive Ignorance Behind The Guns Cause Crime Agenda – Michael Hurd, CAPITALISM MAGAZINE

“People who go around saying ‘Violence never solved anything!’ should
study the sudden decline of Japanese imperialism in late summer 1945.”

~ Kevin D. Williamson

“Recent events in Syria have demonstrated that when the USA, and with it the Western world, decides to withdraw from being involved in other countries, that others will fill the vacuum.”
Abandoning foreign policy now means Pax Rus - is it what you wanted? – LIBERTY SCOTT

“With Saudi Arabia a critical player in the latest flare up in mid-east violence …  an honest and fresh perspective … into what is really going on in the kingdom was long overdue.”
A Deep Look Inside The Tyrannical Regime In Saudi Arabia – Ali Alyami, CONTRA CORNER

“Opponents of patents [and copyrights] often … say that “real” property rights do not expire, they go on in perpetuity.  Since patents and trademarks [and copyrights] expire after a certain period of time, they cannot be true property rights. To answer this question, it is necessary that examine the nature of property rights more carefully…”
 Can Patents be a True Property Right When They Expire? – Dale Halling, STATE OF INNOVATION

The chairman of the film and television production company South Pacific Pictures refutes suggestions that the extension to copyright under the Trans-Pacific Partnership will stifle creativity.
South Pacific Pictures' John Barnett defends copyright extension in TPP – RADIO NZ

“The idea that a drastically reduced copyright term will “encourage artists to keep creating new work” is probably the most offensively flawed statement too-often made in favour of radical reduction of copyright terms.”
Copyright Doesn’t Restrain Culture – Part II – David Newhoff, THE ILLUSION OF MORE

“Q:’Why do individuals or families (such as the Walton family) need or deserve millions and billions of dollars in personal wealth?’ A: In short, because they earned it.”
All Earned Wealth, No Matter How Big the Fortune, is Deserved Whether ‘Needed’ or Not – Michael LaFerrara, PRINCIPLED PERSPECTIVES

“Depriving patentees of licensing income based on these myths will remove incentives to invest and take risks in developing new technologies.”
Busting Smartphone Patent Licensing Myths – Keith Mallinson, CENTER FOR THE PROTECTION OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

“There is no such dichotomy as “human rights” versus “property
rights.” No human rights can exist without property rights.”

~ Ayn Rand

Yay capitalism!
World's 'extremely poor' to fall below 10% of global population – STUFF

“Just imagine if they tried immodest market liberalism."
Who Really Wants to Solve the Problem of Poverty? – Stephen Hicks, EVERY JOE

“The prevailing social dogma of our time — that economic and other disparities among groups are strange, if not sinister — has set off bitter disputes between those who blame genetic differences and those who blame discrimination.”
Economic Inequality: There is No Economic Determinism Under Capitalism – Thomas Sowell, CAPITALISM MAGAZINE

“Poverty occurs automatically. It is wealth that
must be produced, and must be explained.”

~ Thomas Sowell

DEBATE: Is Inequality Fair:

“There is no way to describe current Federal Reserve policy other than as monetary confusion and misdirection.”
Time to end monetary central planning – Richard Ebeling, COBDEN CENTRE

“Here is the current state of unemployment. In terms of pre-GFC it's not pretty, particular for females.”
Stalled recovery? – LINDSAY MITCHELL

“Our research indicates recession is very real possibility in 2016.”
They Say Recovery, We Say Recession – RUNNYMEDE CAPITAL MANAGEMENT

“It's shaping up to be the crummiest year for U.S. stocks since the implosion of Lehman Brothers.”
Brace for worst year on Wall Street since 2008 – CNN MONEY

Ben Bernanke says the biggest impact of QE was to “create jobs”:

…may change everything about the climate debate, on the eve of the UN climate change conference in Paris next month. A former climate modeller for the Government’s Australian Greenhouse Office, with six degrees in applied mathematics, Dr Evans has unpacked the architecture of the basic climate model which underpins all climate science. He has found that, while the underlying physics of the model is correct, it had been applied incorrectly. He has fixed two errors and the new corrected model finds the climate’s sensitivity to carbon dioxide (CO2) is much lower than was thought.”
Perth electrical engineer’s discovery will change climate change debate – Miranda Devine, NEWS.COM.AU
New Science 1: Pushing the edge of climate research. Back to the new-old way of doing science – Dr David Evans, JO NOVA

Warmist: "the apocalyptic version of climate change no longer works" to motivate people. Crying wolf too much?
Conservationist says apocalyptic views about climate change don't work to change minds – BLOOMBERG

Recycling: as much about the rituals as any other religion, and enforced even on non-believers. And equally ineffective.
Recycling: The Equivalent of Prayer in Urban Religion? – Michael Hurd, LIVING RESOURCES CENTER
The Reign of Recycling – John Tierney, NEW YORK TIMES

“Coal & oil, steam engine, electricity, roads & fertilizer saved more nature than all environmental laws ever written.”
How to strand assets – Ted Nordhaus & Michael Shellenberger, THE BREAKTHOUGH

“Those who argue that the science is "settled," also apply for millions in government
research grants to ... study the settled science further and settle it even further. Go figure.”

~ Vinay Kolhatkar

"It is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists.”
Top Scientist Resigns Admitting Global Warming Is A Big Scam –... – YOUR NEWSWIRE

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Dr. Robert Stadler…”
WATCH: Cruz Humiliates Sierra Club Prez at Senate Hearing – PJ MEDIA

“"Think about how many times you hear that 97 percent or some similar figure thrown around. It’s based on crude manipulation propagated by people whose ideological agenda it serves. It is a license to intimidate.
It’s time to revoke that license."
'97% Of Climate Scientists Agree' Is 100% Wrong – Alex Epstein, FORBES

“Despite our deeply rooted prejudices against ‘filthy lucre’, however, money is the
root of most progress….  The ascent of money has been essential to the ascent of
man…. Far from being the work of mere leeches intent on sucking the life’s blood
out of indebted families or gambling with the savings of widows and orphans,
financial innovation has been an indispensable factor in man’s advance from wretched
subsistence to the giddy heights of material prosperity that so many people know today.”

~ from Niall Ferguson’s 2008 The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World

“To understand something, especially something involved in the creation of evil, is to risk offending it. Evil and irrational people are usually quite cranky. You risk offending Nazis by trying to understand what animates such an ideology. The same applies to Islam. If you don’t like this fact, then you’re due to get over it.”
New Research: How Islam is Psychologically Toxic – Michael Hurd, DR HURD.COM

“What may be the world's oldest fragments of the Koran have been found by the University of Birmingham.”
'Oldest' Koran fragments found in Birmingham University – BBC

Theist and atheist have completed their series of articles debating key issues in religion. The full seven-round series is available here …
Theist vs. Atheist – STEPHEN HICKS 

Embedded image permalink

“Achievement Unlocked: 4chan pranksters wage successful hashtag campaign to get feminists to post peed-pants selfies.”
Feminists Fall For #PissForEquality Hoax – LEGAL INSURRECTION

“A real man is a thinker, a wrestler/boxer/physical figher and a reader. Knows guns. Not afraid of emotions, but knows how to control them. Understands objective truth and reality. Principled, but not a narcissist.”
25 Ways to Be a Real Man – AMERICAN THINKER

It's always an adventure with a woman in the passenger seat …

“Persuading laureates they’re winners can be a tough call; ‘it’s not a prank’.”
No, Really, You Won a Nobel Prize – WALL STREET JOURNAL

“I get a text message alerting me that my marijuana delivery will be at my apartment in four minutes.”
Farm-To-Table Weed Exists — & It Comes In A Mason Jar – REFINERY 29

“The sky is no longer the limit.”
Markets Could Take Us to Mars – Chelsea German, ANYTHING PEACEFUL

“Suppose the US Government made the following declaration: ‘The first person to land on Mars, and to live there some specified minimum duration (such as a year), and to return alive owns the entire Red Planet.’”
Mars: Who Should Own It – RON PISATURO

NASA has uploaded the entire catalogue of its 8,4000 Apollo mission photographic archive onto Flickr - with images spanning the Apollo 7 mission (the first manned test flight in 1968) through to Apollo 17, the final lunar mission in 1972 …
NASA gives us free space – THE 1709 BLOG

PS: “I had a pint of fresh 8 Wired HopWired IPA in one hand, a steaming bacon butty in the other, World Cup Rugby was on the big screen, England were getting knocked out of their own tournament and it was quarter to nine in the morning. It Was a Good Day.”
The Hunt for Red October, Rugby and Bacon – Neil Miller, MALTHOUSE BLOG

“The ANZ Bank has come out with the most detailed report on the New Zealand Craft Beer industry ever…”
NZ Craft Beer: Industry Insights – ANZ BANK

“The big brewer's win at the Brewer’s Guild awards is being questioned by some, but the process is transparent.”
Why Lion won top brewery award fair and square – Geoff Griggs, STUFF

“The exercise of drinking beers he often ignored, because they were common, seems to have been educational - if only to see why some beers were worth passing over.”
Find room in your fridge for familiar beers – Jono Galuszka, STUFF

“The interesting observation I made at the time was a lot of feedback from people was “I use to be a beer drinker but I drink wine now because it has a range of flavours.” Now 10 years on I can see a turning tide. The wine drinkers are returning to beer, this time its craft beer. Why? because it offers flavour, and a diverse range of styles.”
Craft Beer VS Wine in New Zealand – LUKE’S BEER

[Hat tips and quips Ayn Rand New Zealand, Stephen Hicks, David Burge,‏, Jesse Colombo, Andrew Wang, Jason Krupp, ACT Party, Bibliophilia, Bjorn Lomborg, Screwed by State, Luke’s Beer]

Thursday, 8 October 2015

The art of power


As Daryl Kerrigan sagely observed in The Castle, power pylons are a reminder of man’s ability to generate electricity. What he didn’t go on to wonder about is why they have to be so bloody ugly.

In Iceland however they’re not, Choi+Shine Architects explaining that their unique designs “transform mundane electrical pylons into statues on the Icelandic landscape.”

Making only minor alterations to well established steel-framed tower design, we have created a series of towers that are powerful, solemn and variable. These iconic pylon-figures will become monuments in the landscape. Seeing the pylon-figures will become an unforgettable experience, elevating the towers to something more than merely a functional design of necessity…

Even better . . .

    The pylon-figures can all be achieved from the modification of existing lattice towers.

All they require is imagination…



A great pity that Choi+Shine—or anything along the lines of creativity—never visited the many pylons now littering the Waikato, Franklin and around the foreshores of the Manukau Harbour.

[Hat tip CCR]

(Canadian) Quote of the Day:

What would cutting Canada’s emissions in half really look like? Which schoolbuses and fire trucks would Mulcair say we shouldn’t use any more? Which farms will be shut down? Which factories? (Has Mulcair he told his union friends about that last part?
    “Mulcair’s plan will cripple our country without changing the world’s temperature one degree. Because as the UN IPCC itself admits, even if every country in the world obeyed the Kyoto Protocol, including China, it would not change the temperature of the world by 1/100th of one degree, even after 100 years.
    “These cap and trade schemes are really about deindustrialising the West, and crippling capitalism and progress.”

     ~ Ezra Levant

[Hat tip Samizdata]

Why do so many people fear freedom and free enterprise? (Part 1)

The unhinged opposition to increasing free trade might make you ask the question “Why do so many people fear freedom and free enterprise?”

Fortunately, guest poster Nick Sorrentino asks and answers the question for you . . .


Since I write about capitalism and crony capitalism and government and business every day, I have the opportunity to read quite a lot about these subjects from various perspectives. I read libertarians, and conservatives, and liberals, and progressives, and just about anyone else who is interesting. I read the comments at my Against Crony Capitalism site, and at sites all over the web.

One of the things I am fascinated by is the degree to which some people are seriously afraid of free enterprise, the voluntary exchange of goods and services, of capitalism. It is bizarre to me as it seems pretty self evident that where free enterprise is allowed to flourish people also flourish. History has shown us this over and over and over. And yet people still fear.

Is it ignorance? Is it ingrained lessons from school? Is it an overall culture of statism? Is it the search for a religion in a world which often lacks religion? (I am convinced that “big government” is in fact a religion. I will admit this from the outset.)

There are probably dozens if not hundreds of reasons why some people fear free enterprise. Some reasons are more valid than others. I think however that there are some core reasons which can be readily identified and I’d like to take the space to explore some of them.

This essay will be an ongoing one which I will revisit periodically. Below are a few reasons why I believe people fear freedom and free enterprise. This is just the first batch.

The fear created by perceived (and sometimes real) powerlessness

rapids cc

A sense of powerlessness induces fear. If one feels that one is simply being swept along by the economy, with no ability to determine direction, with no ability to steer one’s life, one is going to look for solutions. As such many people who feel tossed around and out of control look to the government as a stabilising force.

That the government has often created the raging river they are trapped in is not readily apparent nor does it matter much when one thinks that one is drowning. (And one may be.) One is going to reach for whatever solution one can. Politicians, who know the power of relieving pain, are always there to “help.” Vote for me and I’ll tame the raging waters. I’ll throw you a life preserver. The flailing flood “victim” grabs whatever he or she can get.

The fear that markets are “unfair.”

It is true that free markets do not distribute wealth uniformly. That in a system of voluntary exchange some will be better at deriving value from such exchanges than others.

Some people for instance absolutely hate to haggle over the price of a car or a house. It makes them uncomfortable. So when someone who is better at haggling, who is more comfortable (or overcomes their discomfort to a greater extent) with haggling, who enters  the dealership better informed etc. gets a better price than the people who don’t want to haggle, the non-hagglers may think that an injustice has been done. Why don’t the people who don’t want to haggle get the same price as the person who was good at haggling? That isn’t “fair.” We should all get the same price.

Thing is the person who haggled paid for their discount. They entered the fray, overcame their discomfort, researched the purchase, so that they were able to extract the lower price from the dealer. They earned the cheaper car payment.

Still, many see this difference in price as unfair.

The fear of perceived and real privilege

There is such a thing as institutionalised privilege. That’s what I write about at my site. But what many people who are most concerned about countering this privilege fail to understand, tragically (often people who come from privileged backgrounds by the way), is that free markets offer the best way to counter such privilege.

When people can gather capital over time, without the government or a mafia stealing their earnings, wealth can be created. Work, ingenuity, insight, just plain hustle can be converted into a living. Then from a living perhaps into a nest egg. Then, if invested with a keen eye perhaps that nest egg can become a fortune.

It is true that some people are just born with fortunes. (Not very many people but some.) But in a free market/free price system this can be a good thing. This is capital which can then be invested into various productive enterprises. Traditionally some of this money often finds its way into the charitable sector too, where it also does much good. This is not appreciated as much as it should be.

Regardless, unless one is talking about a full-on Maoist redistribution of wealth (with the ensuing death and ultimate grinding poverty and moral deprivation) it is always the people of “privilege” who end up running a large government apparatus, and almost always to their own advantage. This is almost without exception around the world. A large government further entrenches the “privileged,” who now have official control over the levers of power to protect their privileges and exclude those who might challenge them economically.

If you want to make sure that the families which occupy an aristocracy stay there generation after generation, then institute a heavy-handed government. Free markets threaten the status of such people. Free markets allow for the emergence of new power centres that challenge and overturn the old. As such the “privileged” have often argued against free markets. (Kings historically have not been big fans of free enterprise and capitalism.)

One does not see capitalism defended in this country’s most elite universities for instance. At the universities of the particularly privileged, almost universally there is a refrain of statism which comes out of the halls of economics and pol-sci departments. Why? Do you think that these folks are suicidal? Of course not. Big government is to the advantage of the “privileged.

The fear of competition

participation cc

This is not completely different from the tendency to think that markets are unfair.

Some people don’t believe that trophies should be awarded. That when someone rises above the crowd in sports or business  or whatever this shouldn’t be celebrated. Such celebration exacerbates the inherent inequalities in any endeavour. Better to give participation ribbons to everyone than to risk hurting the feelings of anyone. (Other than the winner of course.)

Better to have a broadly egalitarian society within which everyone lives their life in a shade beige than to suffer the inequities of a rainbow. Even if free markets facilitate beautiful hues. the beige the state can impose is better because everyone is the same. (For some reason.)

Part 2 next week.

Nick SorrentinoNick Sorrentino is the co-founder and editor of
A political and communications consultant with clients across the political spectrum, his work has been featured at Chief Executive Magazine, Breitbart,,, Townhall, The Daily Caller, and many other publications. He has spoken at CPAC, The Commit Forum, The Atlas Summit, and at many other venues. Sorrentino is the CEO of Exelorix Consultants and a senior fellow at Future 500. A graduate of Mary Washington College he lives just outside of Washington DC where he can keep an eye on Leviathan.

Jane Kelsey struggles to find things to object to #tpp #tppa

If this is all Jane Kelsey can find to damn the just-signed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement as “toxic,” (her word, meant seriously) then one wonders what she normally takes as poison:

Who gave the Prime Minister and Trade Minister the right to sacrifice our rights to regulate foreign investment, to decide our own copyright laws, to set up new SOEs, and whatever else they have agreed to in this secret deal and present it to us as a fait accompli?

That “damning” paragraph (my word, meant very unseriously) comes as the culmination of two-thousand of her words calling for the “campaign” against the agreement to “move into a new phase.” Yet in all those words she gives few to engender any reason to campaign against, and many more to campaign for.

She huffs and she puffs and fails even blow off a door. Indeed, the more she talks about the agreement, the more I shift from grudging approval for the agreement to outright enthusiasm. Were you aware, for instance, that under the agreement

future governments may not be able to establish new state-owned enterprises … which foreign competitors say has an adverse effect on their activities.

So no new nationalisations then? Or that

[foreign] investors are also expected to be able to use ISDS to enforce their contracts …

And that

The cross-border services chapter … will require governments to maintain the current failed risk-tolerant light handed approach to regulation of services.

And while listing it among her own “downsides,” she grudgingly admits “New Zealand’s patent laws currently meet the final TPPA threshold.”

So on close inspection, it seems the only real downside appears to be that she no longer has any valid reason to complain. Because even through gritted teeth she has to admit “there do appear to be more significant gains for beef, fruit, seafood, wine, forestry products, lamb – but, as the Australia Japan FTA showed, the devil will be in the detail.” If these are the details she chooses to highlight, then it seems more like a benevolent deity hidden with than a harbinger of dark satanic mills.

And but me no buts, there seem few if any real reasons for her campaign to move into any phase other than one called “shutting down now.”

Equally Bryan Gould struggles to maintain relevance for himself, let alone the “campaign.”  The TPP he says:

is about managed, not free, trade - and trade that is managed in the interests of large, international, and mainly US corporations…

his evidence for which is, apparently, that it “represents”

a further, large, and largely irreversible step towards the absorption of a small economy like New Zealand into a much larger economy – an economy that is increasingly directed from overseas, not by politicians or even officials, but by self-interested and unaccountable business leaders.

In other words, it connects little old New Zealand much more closely into the worldwide division of labour. Hardly a bad thing.

Look, the TPP looks to be about as close to full-blown, unhampered, knock-your-socks-off free trade as Dan Carter looks to putting a forty-point game together. But to complain, as both Gould and Kelsey do, that because, you know, NZ dairy doesn’t achieve full tariff-free access to the US, Canada and Japan while ignoring the small sliding tariff reductions that are allowed for is like a teenager whinging because their mummy has bought them the wrong coloured iPhone for their birthday.

It’s not full free trade—but trade between the 12 nations will be freer than it is now. There is some cronyism, but since even the cronies are quietly whimpering about things there’s less clearly less than they thought they paid for. So on balance, there are more reasons to be for than against-and being against would be to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

And since the increasing expansion of the worldwide division of labour has already meant around 138,000 people have been moved out of poverty every day for the last 25 years, unless you think that’s a bad thing rather than a good, the you and I would surely see very little to complain about that expansion continuing.

Embedded image permalink

NB: Mind you, only to Chris Trotter have the full horrors of the TPPA been fully revealed . . .

'La Belle Heaulmiere' by Rodin

Now, this piece will confound a few of you: La Belle Heaulmiere by Rodin, also known as 'She who was once the Helmet-Makers Beautiful Wife,' or 'The Old Courtesan.'

You might see this work by Rodin and ask, “WTF?” "Why the ugliness?” “Who would want to look at that old crone?"

In answer, let me quote the words of two masters.

An artist can look at a pretty girl and see the old woman she will become. A better artist can look at an old woman and see the pretty girl she used to be. A great artist can look at an old woman, portray her exactly as she is... and force the viewer to see the pretty girl she used to be... more than that, he can make anyone with the sensitivity of an armadillo see that this lovely young girl is still alive, prisoned inside her ruined body.
~ R. Heinlein via Jubal Harshaw, speaking about on 'La Belle Heaulmiere' in Stranger From a Strange Land.
Or you might consider the sentiments of Shakespeare from his Sonnet 73, apposite here, in which he spoke of:
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west…

So, d'you think Rodin has pulled it off the task described by Harshaw?

Or do you have the sensitivity of an armadillo?

(Or, perhaps, are you just not letting on . . . )

[Previously posted in 2007]

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Economics for Real People: Trade Policy in NZ’s recent history

With the finalisation of a TPP deal yesterday, could this week’s discussion hosted by our friends at the Auckland Uni Economics Group be any more topical?  (And remember, you’re all invited whether students or economists … or even, most especially, if not).

Seminar: Does New Zealand Economics Have a Useful Past?
    Looking at the role that economic thought has had on the economic development of New Zealand, and focussing mainly on trade policy over the period from 1920s to the early 1980s, the newly-appointed editor of the History of Economics Review Dr. Geoffrey Brooke will explain the different perspectives taken by academic economists in New Zealand, and relate these to the activities of policymakers over that period.
    And he asks: Is the often held view that the reform decade beginning in 1984 illustrated the power of what J. Maynard Keynes had called the “gradual encroachment of ideas” trumping the “power of vested interests”?

        Date: Thursday, October 8
Time: 6-7pm
Location: Room 040C, Level Zero, University of Auckland Business School
                       (plenty of parking in the building’s basement, entry off Grafton Rd)

        ALL WELCOME!

About the Speaker:
Dr. Geoffrey Brooke is a Lecturer in Economics at the Auckland University of Technology. Dr. Brooke holds both a Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) and a PhD in Economics from the University of Auckland. Prior to this, he completed a Bachelor and a Masters (Finance) in Business Science from the University of Cape Town.
His research interests are equally divided between economic history and the history of economic thought.

#TPP : Mooching on drug producers and consumers

Annette King, Jane Kelsey, and Uncle Tom Cobley and all have denounced what, they say, “the TPP will mean with regards to life-saving drug costs.” It’s unfair, they say, that drug companies should have even the five years recognised by the TPP to make the most from selling the many future life-saving drugs that wouldn’t have existed without them.

Is it not too much to recognise where all these life-saving drugs actually come from that everyone takes so much for granted?

And to acknowledge that we in NZ are, to be blunt, mooching on the people who develop and pay for them.

As Jason Potts says of similar folk in Australia, Don't Complain About TPP Pharmaceuticals, We Already Free Ride Off US Consumers:

These folk present themselves as fighting for the public health care system by holding firm in an intellectual property battle against big greedy US pharmaceutical companies who want provisions that will cost sick Australians [and NZers] hundreds of millions of dollars. The media optics are clear about who is on the side of good and who is on the side of evil in this fight.
But biologics are extraordinarily expensive, difficult and risky to make. All the huge costs are upfront, with very small marginal costs. The spectacular economics of a few blockbuster drugs need to be set against the enormous costs, and often losses, of the many stages of testing and developing safe and effective new biologics.
So who pays for this?
The reality is that the US healthcare consumer pays for most of this - this is why the US spends a much larger fraction of its GDP per capita on healthcare (about 17.4 percent) than Australia (about 9.8 percent) [and NZ (about 8.7 percent).
Let me put that more starkly – Australian healthcare consumers are free-riding on US healthcare consumers. Sick people in the US are paying more so that sick people in Australia can pay less. That's the issue here. This is about fairness and Australia doing its part to pay its share of the cost of developing life-saving drugs that benefit everyone in the world.

Let’s put it more starkly for NZ readers: Spending on healthcare in New Zealand is the second lowest per person among a group of developed countries. New Zealand healthcare consumers are free-riding on US healthcare consumers and producers. Sick people in the US are paying more so that sick people in New Zealand can pay less. That's the issue here.

Is it fair that the folk paying for and producing life-saving drugs are given so little recognition, either legally.morally or financially?

The End of Extreme Poverty

Absolute poverty will be gone by 2030
Guest post by Marian Tupy

According to the World Bank, for the very first time in human history, “less than 10 percent of the world’s population will be living in extreme poverty by the end of 2015.”

The bank has “used a new income figure of $1.90 per day to define extreme poverty, up from $1.25. It forecasts that the proportion of the world’s population in this category will fall from 12.8 percent in 2012 to 9.6 percent.”

As scholars have noted, historically speaking, grinding poverty was the norm for most ordinary people. Even in the most economically advanced parts of the world, life used to be miserable.

To give one example,

by a test employed in Lyons, France, in the 17th century, poverty was reached when daily income was less than the daily cost of minimum bread requirement – in other words, when a person could not make enough money to buy a crust of bread.

The condition was common.

Prior to the advent of industrial capitalism (in roughly the 1760s) the lot of the English working class was generally miserable. Utter destitution was rampant, literal starvation not uncommon and the country was overrun with paupers. “There was, in point of fact, widespread poverty of the most abject kind in England and other countries of 18th century Europe.” It is difficult for men in the industrial West today to conceive of the kind of poverty that was widespread in pre-capitalist Europe.

Thanks to industrial revolution and trade, economic growth in the West accelerated to historically unprecedented levels, and the numbers in grinding poverty pushed back. Over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries, real incomes in the West, at least, increased fifteen-fold. But the chasm that opened up as a result of the Western take-off is now closing. 

The rise of the non-Western world is, unambiguously, a result of economic growth spurred by the abandonment of central-planning and integration of many non-Western countries into the global economy. After economic liberalisation in China in 1978, to give one example, real incomes rose thirteen-fold.

As Princeton University Professor Angus Deaton notes in his book The Great Escape,

The rapid growth of average incomes, particularly in China and India, and particularly after 1975, did much to reduce extreme poverty in the world. In China most of all, but also in India, the escape of hundreds of millions from traditional and long established poverty qualifies as the greatest escape of all.

Capitalism destroyed poverty in the west. It is now rescuing people in the east and elsewhere.

You’d think more people would be celebrating this.

imageMarian L. Tupy is the editor of and a senior policy analyst at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. 

A version of this post first appeared at the Cato at Liberty blog.

Pierre de Wiessant - Auguste Rodin

The character ‘Pierre,’ from Rodin's evocative Burghers of Calais ensemble sculpture is a great figure in his own right, one of Rodin's finest in my view, and part of a piece of intense nobility and powerful human drama -- and doesn't that hand just say so much?

The Burghers of Calais (Les Bourgeois de Calais) is one of the most famous sculptures by Auguste Rodin, completed in 1888. It serves as a monument to an occurrence in 1347 during the Hundred Years' War, when Calais, an important French port on the English Channel, was under siege by the English for over a year.

The story goes that after a victory in the Battle of Crécy, England's Edward III laid siege to Calais, whereupon Philip VI of France ordered the city to hold out at all costs.

Philip himself failed to lift the siege and starvation eventually forced the city to parlay for surrender. The dealing did not go well. Edward offered to spare the people of the city if any six of its top leaders would surrender themselves to him, presumably to be executed. Edward demanded that they walk out almost naked with nooses around their necks, and be carrying the keys to the city and castle. The burghers volunteered, to save their city, and began their final short journey  …

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

TPP: Dismantling the negative railroad

Few details have been released on the final TPP deal agreed last night in Atlanta, but enough to get a broad overview—and to realise much of the opposition to it has been as unhinged as it has been incoherent. “Peak Kelsey” as one politician dubbed it. An orgy of uninformed eloquence, said another. And a very good reason for Labour to keep talking about lack of details as they work out how to quietly backtrack from the anti-TPP corner they inastutely painted themselves into.

In evaluating the deal that places us smack bang into the world’s largest semi-free-trade zone (to be excluded would be, as former PM Helen Clark suggested, unthinkable), it’s worth just recalling why human beings trade: because as Frederic Bastiat pointed out many years ago, left to our own devices few if any of us would be able to produce enough just to get through a mild winter, let alone produce enough to survive and flourish and hang around long enough to produce a mid-life crisis and a second family. Yet when we trade with each other the products of our efforts, we can, and we do. (Without trade, even a simple sandwich is beyond our individual means.)

Somewhere or other, I’ve called this the Miracle of Breakfast, the realisation that the division of labour is as benevolent as Adam Smith once explained.

As John Stossel would say, “What could be more benign than the freedom to trade with whomever you wish?”

Trade between nations connects us to the worldwide division of labour.

Trade between individuals demonstrates how trade benefits both parties to it—the double thank-you moment demonstrating that we each benefited from the exchange. 

How many times have you paid $1 for a cup of coffee and after the clerk said, "thank you," you responded, "thank you "? There's a wealth of economics wisdom in the weird double thank-you moment. Why does it happen? Because you want the coffee more than the buck, and the store wants the buck more than the coffee. Both of you win.
    Economists have long understood that two people trade because each wants what the other has more than what he already has. In their respective eyes, the things traded are unequal in value. But this means each comes out ahead, having given up something he wants less for something he wants more. It's just not true that one gains and the other loses. If that were the case, the loser wouldn't have traded. It's win-win, or as economists would say, positive-sum.
    We experience this every time we have that double thank-you moment in a store or restaurant.

That we each trade to get the things we want, and we all want very different things, are the two facts at the heart of free trade’s many benefits.  The benefits accrue not just because we allow access to our markets—to use the language being bandied around this morning by peak-Kelseyites—but because the benefits increase exponentially as the network of exchange expands.

Of course, we don’t need volumes of paper to make a “free-trade deal.” All it takes for free exchange to happen is legal protection and no outright bans. (In Adam Smith’s words, "the Division of Labour is limited by the Extent of the Market.")

But free exchange can be hampered. It can be hampered by distance—which is why people build shipping lines, roads and railways to get goods and people to markets more easily and more cheaply—or it can be hampered by tariffs and quotas that make getting goods and people to markets is more difficult and more expensive, all but cancelling out the many benefits of those shipping lines and railroads. No wonder Bastiat likened the effect of tariffs and quotas to a negative railroad—one with so many breaks in the track that costs and delay are as certain with the railroad as they are with tariffs and quotas.

I have said that as long as one has regard, as unfortunately happens, only to the interest of the producer, it is impossible to avoid running counter to the general interest, since the producer, as such, demands nothing but the multiplication of obstacles, wants, and efforts. . .
    Whatever the protectionists may say, it is no less certain that the basic principle of restriction is the same as the basic principle of breaks in the tracks: the sacrifice of the consumer to the producer, of the end to the means.

The TPP deal doesn’t take away all the breaks in the track, but it does remove many of them:

In terms of the substance, there seem to be three broad themes.

  1. Eventual elimination of all tariffs in all industries except beef and dairy
  2. Minor concessions from Canada on dairy but better deal with Japan on beef (tariff dropping from 40% to 9%)
  3. Most of the potentially “bad”* stuff has been resisted (change to Pharmac model, the US demands on ISP liability for copyright, tobacco companies can’t use ISDS provisions)

And it begins momentum to for those other breaks to be dismantled. Eventually.

Because free trade really is breaking out everywhere.

* “Bad” is by the estimation of David Farrar, whose summary this is. There is much to be said about each of these things at some point, but suffice to say now that extended 12-year patent protection for drugs pertains not to present drugs but to future miracle drugs, preserving at least some part of the golden goose that will help us all age disgracefully.

‘Red Vineyards’ - Vincent Van Gogh

I confess, I haven’t always been an admirer of Van Gogh’s work, but the more I see now the more I see to enjoy. Not so much what he chooses to paint —which is often little more than another peasant scene in the manner of Millet—as the depth he achieves with some few very coarse brush strokes.
He paints in three dimensions, experimenting with what paint can do to make two dimensional paint give a bold three-dimensional image.
I love the sweep of the trees away from that golden orb hanging ominously above the ensemble; the slight changes in hue of the coarse paint stroke that effortlessly delineate the depth of field; the people who quietly emerge to (eventually) dominate the scene; the feeling that one can sense the earth’s curvature going on beyond the horizon; the reflections on the pathway leading to … somewhere; the house (the abode of man) that quietly competes with that golden orb to dominate the composition.
This is one of those paintings that rewards opening up as big as you can and just sitting in front of for several minutes at a time, to discover how it affects you. (Click the painting to go to the largest pic I can find.)

Monday, 5 October 2015

Oregon shooting: The root cause

The step-sister of Oregon’s mass-murderer said the shooting didn’t make sense. “All he ever did was put everyone before himself, he wanted everyone to be happy,” she told KCBS-TV. This is key to understanding the crime’s root cause, suggests Dr Michael Hurd:

“All he ever did was put everyone before himself, he wanted everyone to be happy,” she told KCBS-TV.
    [The murderer]’s step-sister (like most people) thinks self-sacrifice is a virtue. But when you have no rational concern for your own interests, you don’t have much of a life, you possess no self-esteem, and you have nothing much to live for; mix those qualities with a tendency and fascination for violence, and you’ve got a recipe for tragedy...
    ...Another of [the murderer]'s blog articles reportedly lamented materialism as preventing spiritual development. He probably did not like capitalism, since he condemned materialism. People who detest capitalism tend to detest America most of all. They see millions of others having a reasonably good time in a cultural and economic environment they consider rotten to the core. In some, the festering hatred turns to violence, but the hatred towards America (by Americans, especially younger ones) is probably more widespread than most of us realise.
    Anti-materialism, anti-capitalism. Anti-individualism. These are the dominant themes of many public schools and certainly most of academia, with regard to philosophy, culture, social/behavioural science and the humanities. Could these ideas be toxic and unhealthy? Not as an excuse for violence, but as an explanation for mental unhealthiness which only varies in degree from one young person to another, unless they reject those ideas?
    ...Again and again, these shooters are young men who seek out educational settings. It’s almost as if they’re trying to tell us something, in a dark and twisted way: “The ideas you’re teaching us are wrong, toxic, silly and unfounded. See what you’ve created?”

Read the whole article: Whatever Happened to the Search for “Root Causes” of Crime?, Dr Michael Hurd.

RELATED POST: The Arrogant Ignorance of Supporting Gun Control, Dr Michael Hurd (2013):

The arguments for gun control or gun confiscation basically boil down to this: “If guns were illegal, they would not be available. If they weren’t available, people like that crazy killer in [fill-in-the-blank-with-location-of-latest-shooting-here] would not be able to use them.”
    This assumes that a crazy psychopathic killer, hell-bent on murder, would let an obstacle like finding a gun legally stop him. This is absurd…
    The people who claim that violence can be controlled by outlawing guns show how little they understand about the nature of criminals and criminal psychology.
    I suppose this is why the self-same people who favour gun confiscation are the very same ones who plead for all manner of excuses for criminal behaviour. They tend to be the same type of people who feel that everything and everyone is responsible for criminal behaviour, other than the criminal himself.
They can’t understand, or perhaps don’t want to understand or come to grips with, the psychology of evil. It’s admittedly disturbing to try and do so. But this is no excuse for eliminating the right of the nonviolent, noncriminal majority to protect themselves from violence by making it harder or impossible for them to purchase weapons for self-defence.

Made from oil

Just a small fraction of the many things you probably take for granted …

Here’s just a partial list, 144 from over 6000 everyday products, that you probably didn’t know were made from oil …

[Pic by Calgary Herald]

No, Sweden Doesn't Have it Figured Out (with Johan Norberg)

Guest post: Tom Woods interviews Johan Norberg

imageBernie Sanders,” Tom Woods writes, “United States senator from Vermont and self-described socialist, has surprised everyone with the vigour of his 2016 presidential campaign, both in terms of size of his crowds and the strength of his fundraising.
    “His message, on the other hand, is garden-variety leftism, particularly in economics, where he speaks as if the private sector can be ceaselessly burdened with no ill effects on anyone, except a bunch of greedy fat cats who deserve what they get.”
     One of the garden-variety myths the moron is peddling is about Sweden and the alleged success of their brand of welfare-state socialism. As Scott Sumner
points out:

The heart of the Democratic Party is now with Bernie Sanders, whatever the polls show. And let’s not have anyone accuse me of McCarthyism, he calls himself a “socialist.” When asked, the head of the Democratic Party couldn’t think of a single difference between socialists and Democrats. And please don’t insult my intelligence by talking about Sweden. Sweden is not a socialist country. Venezuela is socialist. When Sanders starts advocating free trade and investment, liberal immigration rules, privatization, zero inheritance tax, 100% nationwide school vouchers, a $0/hour minimum wage rate, then come back to me with your Sweden talk. For now, he just wants the bad parts of Sweden.

In the first chapter of his latest book Bernie Sanders is Wrong, [which he’s made available for free download]Tom Woods asks Swedish author, lecturer and documentary film-maker Johan Norberg about the truth behind what everyone hears about Sweden …

WOODS: Sweden comes up with surprising regularity in the United States, and it comes up not because people have some interest in Swedish history and culture, I’m sorry to say.

It’s because they want to use Sweden as an ideological bludgeon with which to beat people who are skeptical of state power. So I want to talk to you, as somebody who was born in Sweden, who is speaking to us from Sweden right now, and who is very knowledgeable about Sweden, to help clear this up for an American audience.

Are Swedes aware that their society is held up as a model for how political organization and the economy ought to be arranged?

NORBERG: I think we are aware of that. We have noticed throughout the years that people actually tend to like Sweden for some reason, perhaps because we’re kind of small and insignificant, and we’re not very threatening. So people tend to think of Sweden as a nice, decent place, peaceful. We don’t bother people.

And then they tend to like different aspects of what they see. I think of Sweden as a kind of Rorschach test, a kind of psychological test where you have some ink which doesn’t portray a particular picture or anything, but you see what you like to see.

You see what you think about in the back of your mind and in your subconscious. So some people see this as a nice, open economy – a globalized, free-trade economy. Others look at the government and think, oh, it’s the perfect, big government, socialist country. And others see other things. It could be free love or the pop music. People tend to like Sweden. That’s something we’re very aware of.

imageWOODS: You have an article alleging that Sweden actually succeeded economically not because of welfare state spending and government intervention, but both in spite of those things and prior to those things. So can we go back and look at the history of Sweden?

When do we begin to see robust economic growth, and what was the role of the state at that time?

NORBERG: When you start to think of when Sweden was really a successful economy that the rest of the world looked at, you begin to notice Sweden in the 1950s, ’60s. In 1970, Sweden is one of the richest countries on the planet. I think the per-capita income is the fourth most prosperous on the planet, and that’s after a 100-year period of rapid economic growth – one of the fastest in the world.

Probably only Japan beat us during those years. So you would have to say that this starts sometime in the 1870s, which is interesting, because at that time Sweden had gone through a liberalisation and deregulation process.

Between 1840 and 1870, we had a major political movement of classical liberalism, of a laissez-faire liberal attitude where they wanted to reduce government to open up to free trade, deregulating industry and so on.

And it’s sort of a funny anecdote: the minister of finance, who was one of the pioneers of these reforms, left in the mid-1860s after having really liberalised and opened Sweden up, and his opponents said, oh, now you’re leaving because you don’t want to see the failures that you brought upon us and the problems that Sweden will experience after these reforms.

imageBut what happened was that growth really took hold. If you want to look at one particular set of numbers, between 1860 and 1910, right before the First World War, real wages in Sweden increased by 25 percent per decade in manufacturing. That’s much faster than before and much faster than afterwards -- which is interesting, because that’s 20 years before the Social Democrats ever got power in Sweden.

So the real boom happened during this laissez-faire period. Public spending was still below 10 percent, and Sweden was one of the most open economies in the world.

WOODS: This seems to be a common feature of a lot of left-wing commentary. They’ll look at a snapshot of a society in a particular year without looking at the video, so to speak, of that society. What had been going on prior to that snapshot?

We see this in the debates over the regulatory state in the U.S., for example. We’ll look at a regulatory agency, and we’ll see that after they created it, the result was that – for example – there were fewer workplace fatalities. What they don’t ask is: what was the already existing trend in workplace fatalities before we got this agency? And it turns out that workplace fatalities were already falling dramatically! Likewise, in the story of Sweden, we don’t get what you just told us about the growth in wage rates before all the interventions came, but that’s three-quarters of the story!

NORBERG: Exactly. That’s an incredibly important point. A lot of people look at Sweden and say – and especially, they used to do that when we were at the peak of the big government and the welfare state in the 1980s – look, Sweden is very prosperous, and at the same time, taxes and spends heavily. It’s a very almost socialist economy, and yet they are rich. Why is that? Well, it reminds you of the old joke: how do you get a small fortune?

Well, you start with a big one, and then you make a couple of mistakes, and then you end up with a small fortune. We had this tremendous growth during the years when Sweden had the most open economy and the smallest government. Even when the Social Democrats began to get power in the 1930s, they understood this economic model, and they didn’t want to interfere too much. They were actually heavily influenced by a couple of famous classical liberal economists.

[TW note: “Classical liberalism” refers to 19th-century liberalism, which was much closer to modern libertarianism than it was to modern American liberalism.]

imageSo most of the time, they were open for business and chose free trade. As late as the early 1950s, Sweden had lower taxes and less public spending than in the United States and the rest of Europe, and that gives you a perspective on why this happened. You built this big fortune under these circumstances.

In early 1970, Sweden was one of the richest countries, and then the Social Democrats began to hike public spending, increase taxes, and so on, but they could do that only because we already had that wealth because of this free-market period -- and also, obviously, because Sweden had stayed out of two world wars. That meant that our industry was intact, we exported to both sides, and the young men of the country were still alive and able.

WOODS: I think a skeptic might come back at you and say, if Sweden really had been doing that well, then how could the arguments for the welfare state have gotten any traction?

NORBERG: Yeah, and that is a good question. It’s one that both historians and economists think about quite a lot when that happens, but actually, it follows a fairly normal pattern in most countries around the world.

You get rich, and then you begin to take that wealth for granted. He who has satisfied his thirst turns his back on the well in a way. You begin to take it for granted. You don’t think of the preconditions for creating more wealth, building these new businesses, and the kind of fierce competition and openness that it takes.

So instead, you begin to demand all of it at once. You begin to build these pressure groups who want more access to this wealth and more evenly distributed wealth. And that’s, I think, what began to happen in the 1970s. We were so rich so that we thought that we couldn’t make any mistakes anymore.

We could throw out the economics textbooks, and we could begin to think of other things, like a fairer distribution of wealth, how to make sure that everybody got a piece of the action.

imageWOODS: And that is one of the arguments that is made by American progressives today. They will say: whatever else you can say about Sweden, it has more economic equality than we see in the United States.

NORBERG: And that is true, partly because of more redistribution. But also, even here you need some historical perspective to understand where we’re coming from. Sweden had a fairly equal distribution compared to many other countries during this openness period as well, partly because it’s a very small country -- even today just 10 million inhabitants -- and a homogenous country, which meant that there weren’t these huge diversities when it came to wealth. Sweden didn’t even have a feudal period like the other European countries.

So we were all, in a way, property-owning farmers when we started out. So we had a history of more equality, more trust, societal trust, between people. This social trust, though, also made it easier for people to accept bigger government. Because when that happened in other places, people were very suspicious: what happens when they take our money away? Will they just divert it to their own use?

Will it be inefficient? Will it be bureaucratic? Well, Sweden has always had in a way a fairly efficient and non-corrupt public sector and civil servants. And a lot of trust: you don’t think of the government historically as someone who is there to loot and take it all away from you. They’re more like your neighbours, in a way.

So you trust them, and then you trust them a bit too much. And of course, all power corrupts in some way. And that’s what happened during these years, when the government grew rapidly in the 1970s and the 1980s and public spending actually doubled in just two decades, from 30 percent to 60 percent. That was really the start of the welfare state in Sweden.

Click here to download your FREE copy and keep reading…

Johan Norberg -- a native of Sweden, a classical liberal and a globalist -- is an author, lecturer, and documentary filmmaker.  Visit his website at
This post first appeared at Laissez Faire Books.