The best of humanity often emerges amidst the very worst
Michael Wells writes in with a fascinating story from Korea.
They have their own Arc de Triomphe, which is just like the one in Paris, only taller. They have a brewery that they bought in Britain and meticulously reassembled. A dead man is their eternal president. The EU sends them footballs. And every February, under threat of imprisonment, they celebrate the birthday of a small pudgy man in a jumpsuit. Natural wonders inevitably follow.
North Korea‘s psychedelic Stalinism has proved extremely durable, surviving even mass starvation and the country’s well-deserved status as planetary pariah. But there are signs that the regime may finally be losing its grip.
President Bush’s recent visit has overshadowed an amazing story. A man called Yoo Tae Jun escaped from North Korea in 1998 with his 3-year-old son. In 2000 he went back in for his wife! He was captured and imprisoned, but escaped again, turning up in South Korea on February 9. The Korea Times reported that he rode on top of trains and disguised himself as a soldier in order to escape. Think of it. Consider what it would take to escape from a place like North Korea, then imagine going back in and doing it all over again. Now contrast this amazing level of courage and resourcefulness with Robert Fisk’s thank-you-sir-may-I-have-another response to barbarism. Fisk would take his few morsels of food and thank the Dear Leader for his mercy. Yoo Tae Jun is the Anti-Fisk.
But Yoo Tae Jun is by no means the only defector. According to a recent AP story, defections from North Korea have nearly doubled every year since 1998, and there may be thousands more defectors in China. 74 defectors have arrived in the south so far this year. Pyongyang has increased the military presence along the northern border, but trying to feed them will be a major strain. The situation is beginning to look like Eastern Europe in 1989, when a trickle of defectors quickly became a flood. If China isn’t stopping them, North Korea could crumble pretty quickly.
The residue from that regime will be a sickening mess, but if there are more people like Yoo Tae Jun north of the DMZ, they’ll come through it.
Unlike most of the psychotic telephone bullies who hang yelling and screaming from the tits of our current British Government, my friend Tim really is a Spin Doctor. He spends his day using media messages actually to change (without being in any way a member of it) British government policy, health policy being his stamping ground. And the other sign that he’s a real Spin Doctor is that if I told you the rest of his name you probably wouldn’t have heard of it. Anyway, he emailed me today to tell me that Liberty Fund have launched a superb web site for libertarians/classical liberals. Check it out, he said. I did. It looks good.
I checked out in particular a piece by one of my favourite libertarian gurus, David Friedman, on the economics of crime. Here’s how it starts. It sounds familiar doesn’t it? But he didn’t get it from us any more than (until now) we got it from him. This particular truth is simply out there to be got, by anyone.
Economists approach the analysis of crime with one simple assumption—that criminals are rational people. A mugger is a mugger for the same reason I am an economist—because it is the most attractive alternative available to me. The decision to commit a crime, like any other economic decision, can be analyzed as a choice among alternative combinations of costs and benefits.
Consider, as a simple example, a point that sometimes comes up in discussions of gun control. Opponents of private ownership of handguns argue that in violent contests between criminals and victims, the criminals usually win. A professional criminal, after all, has far more reason to learn how to use a gun than a random potential victim.
The argument is probably true, but the conclusion—that permitting both criminals and victims to have guns will help the criminals—does not follow. To see why, imagine that the result of legal handgun ownership is that one little old lady in ten chooses to carry a pistol in her purse. Further suppose that, of those who do, only one in ten, if mugged, succeeds in killing the mugger—the other nine miss, or drop the gun, or shoot themselves in the foot.
On average, the muggers are winning. But also on average, each one hundred muggings of little old ladies produce one dead mugger. Very few little old ladies carry enough money to be worth one chance in a hundred of being killed. Economic theory suggests that the number of muggings will decrease—not because the muggers have all been killed, but because some of them have chosen to switch to safer professions.
If the idea that muggers are rational profit-maximizers seems implausible, consider who gets mugged. If a mugger’s objective is to express machismo, to prove what a he-man he is, there is very little point in mugging little old ladies. If the objective is to get money at as low a cost as possible, there is much to be said for picking the most defenseless victims you can find. In the real world little old ladies get mugged a lot more often than football players.
This is one example of a very general implication of the economic analysis of conflict. In order to stop someone from doing something that injures you, whether robbing your house or polluting your air, it is not necessary to make it impossible for him to do it—merely unprofitable.
As you can see, if you need a quick high quality ‘fix’ of dispassionate rationality, it is well worth checking out the Liberty Fund website.
Several readers have written in on the subject of the term ‘liberal’ and the following e-mails from Evan McElravy and Joe Clibbens also make good points
Evan McElravy writes:
It’s worth noting that the positive connotations of our ideology are so overwhelming that not only have the left stolen “liberal” from us, they are now working on “libertarian” too. Noam Chomsky, notoriously, refers to himself as a “libertarian socialist” and I was just the other day reading an article claiming much the same ground for Rosa Luxembourg, on the basis that she opposed Bolshevik centralism. The independent bookstore Book People in Austin, TX, where I just returned from, has their political books organized roughly by orientation. In the conservative shelf is Pat Buchanan along with David Boaz’s The Libertarian Reader, and a few other books of theirs and ours muddled together, while the “Liberal/Libertarian” shelf is home to Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, and Ralph Nader, as well as those more mainstream liberal writers you’d expect. On the other hand, the magazine section had more copies of Reason than anywhere I’d ever been, prominently displayed, and outnumbering widely The Nation and the National Review. So I’ll give them some credit, even if their history section was decidedly pedestrian.
Joe Clibbens writes:
I could not agree with you more in this campaign, and I myself have for years used the ‘liberal’ label, albeit with the necessary addition of ‘classical’ in certain company, whenever possible and never use it to refer to social democrats, but I am writing to suggest you expand it to other hijacked terminology.
The term progressive has its roots firmly in liberalism, while socialism has always been reactionary and luddite. Every time I hear a socialist referred to as ‘progressive’ I go all bug-eyed, they are in fact the very antithesis of its true meaning.
Of course ‘leftist’, traditionally speaking, would also denote minimal government, and the socialist bludgeoning of the left-right paradigm is the very reason it no longer makes any sense.
Still, all’s fair in love and propaganda, but it’s time we started fighting back.
Up the Revolution!
[Ed: I have always preferred ‘Up the Evolution!’ myself, for rational libertarians are nothing if not radical evolutionaries]
My friend Adriana Cronin has already been indirectly responsible for an interesting posting here a few weeks back (about that computer game which is having “real world” economic impact), which Perry de Havilland actually did the posting of. Adriana is ‘Something in the City’, as we in London say of mysteriously rich and powerful or heading-that-way financial folks, and was also one of the normal women featured in the blog bash photos. (Her attendance fee is, I understand, in the post.) She will be joining Team Samizdata officially Real Soon Now.
Meanwhile, Adriana has emailed me about two items of libertarian interest. One is about Reagan and can keep a day or two until she is blog-connected. The other is more topical, and concerns the fact that the Libertarian Party of Illinois have, it would appear, been spamming little old ladies with anti-gun-control propaganda.
You can take this complaint from a British media source two ways. One: the Libertarian Party of Illinois are making enemies needlessly among the normals with their bad netiquette. (This is Adriana’s take on it.) Or two: the normals are by definition idiots about gun control who deserve (a) to be mugged every day and twice on Sunday, and (b) all the anti-gun-control propaganda our side can spam at them, and that these Illinois guys are damn good! (Adriana says I am wrong even to suggest that. Spam is evil evil evil, even if you are God spamming Satan. What can I say? She knows all this 21st century stuff a lot better than I ever will.)
The British government feels it no longer even has to hide the fact it wishes to be the centre of a vast spider web of surveillance. Gone are the days of ‘no comment’ regarding Echelon and Carnivore. Now the state is demanding the ability to control all communications between British scientists and foreign colleagues on pretty much any subject the state deems appropriate.
The situation is little better in the USA and as the editorial in the latest print edition of New Scientist aptly puts it:
The government there is withdrawing thousands of technical papers that amount to cookbooks for chemical and biological weapons. It has also asked journal editors to leave out details from papers that would be essential for anyone replicating the work. This undermines the whole notion of ensuring that research results can be checked by others. It also raises a paradox: terrorists, it seems, are deemed smart enough to understand arcane science, but too dumb to fill in the gaps in research papers
The deadening effect this will all have on a vast swathe of scientific progress is not hard imagine. Inevitably some types of research will just migrate to places where the state does not impede its development resulting in more, not less, diffusion of critical knowledge and technologies. Rather than a narrowly targeted moderation of clearly weaponised technologies, the state has elected to implement an Orwellian oversight on all technical discussions on subjects to be determined by semi-qualified bureaucrats who will always have a presumption of the legitimacy of intervention. A disappointing response but hardly a unexpected one to someone such as myself who assumes the worst of states and is rarely surprised.
When The State watches you,
dare to stare back
I have heard news on the radio that vile mass murderer from Bosnia i Herzegovina Radovan Karadzic is surrounded by troops trying to arrest him. I hope they do not take him alive. I also hope he is feeling some of what so many other people felt when they realised that armed man more powerful than themselves were surrounding where they lived.
We received an e-mail from Kevin Connors on the issue of the term ‘liberal’
I believe David’s piece on the label “liberal” is quite ill-advised. I have a hard enough time trying to explain libertarianism to people and differentiate it from conservatism without swimming against the tide on an issue of semantics.
However I must disagree with Kevin. I think this is a useful point to raise for several reasons.
It is useful to put the evolution of the term into historical perspective, as Tom Burroughes has done, in order to understand the evolutionary process by which a term can come to mean the opposite of its original meaning, at least in the USA and to an extent the UK.
It is also useful to note that in the process of defining a word, it forces people to contrast it against opposing concepts and thus discover synonyms and antonyms. It is very helpful indeed to be able to point out that liberal is just a synonym for socialist and that it is mostly because ‘socialist’ has such negative connotations in the USA that members of the Democratic party use the term liberal. Thus a little discursive musing on the term ‘liberal’ makes that point rather hard to avoid. There is little daylight between modern ‘democratic socialists’ in Europe, Liberal Democrats in the UK and Democrats in the USA: they are just the modern faces of socialism.
Pointing this out is far from ill-advised. Many in the UK who vote for the ‘Liberal Democrats’ do so because of quaint ideas that they are the ‘middle way’, whereas the truth is that they are further to the socialist left than the Labour Party. In the USA many who would sooner use the star-spangled banner as a doormat than vote ‘Socialist’ nevertheless vote ‘Democrat’.
All we are doing is trying to introduce a little coherence into the political taxonomy!
Bravo David Carr! I must say I agree that the word liberal, often used as a term of abuse across the big ditch, needs to be rescued. To my mind, the term connotes open-mindedness, freedom, skepticism about overweening plans for the betterment of mankind, endorsement of the free market and respect for privacy. Thanks to Roosevelt’s New Deal, and the “reforms” of the British Asquith government before the First World War, however, it has taken on an altogether more interventionist meaning since then, both in the U.S. and to a lesser extent, in the U.K. David is quite right to note, too, that liberal means something closer to what I hope it does mean when used in Continental Europe.
I think this issue of terminology matters because of the need by genuine liberals to distinguish themselves from conservatives, who may buy the economic side of liberalism but reject the social/cultural part, such as Britain’s Conservative Party. Vive la liberte!
Tom Burroughes (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Something has been bothering me for a while now and I regret to have to say that the source of my concern emanates from across the pond. Wonder what it is? Well, it’s the use of the word ‘Liberal’ when referring to someone of the leftist persuasion which is nothing less than a complete inversion of the term.
It gives me pleasure, therefore, to link to a campaign being undertaken by Bureaucrash, a group of seriously well dug-in and commited US student capitalist activists (and it feels so good to be able to type those words in earnest).
“Here in the birthplace of modern freedom, liberalism has come to identify a view that favors the use of force — force exercised by the bureaucratic state — to achieve supposedly noble ideals.”
I could not have put it better. Just what happened to the word? From 18th Century up until around the 1960’s ‘Libertarianism’ in this country was called ‘Liberalism’. It denoted support for free trade, limited government, low taxes and property rights. But these trends being what they are, Britain has been influenced by the US terminology and now the word denotes, regulation, nanny state, high taxes and hate speech laws. The latter is not ‘liberalism’ it is ‘socialism’. The very word ‘Libertarian’ was conceived as a means of distinguishing us from them.
You can test this theory if you ever go to Continental Europe where the term ‘Liberal’ has retained its original meaning. Just go up to any European socialist and tell him/her that you are a ‘liberal’. Note how their faces swifty transform from the customary rictus of hate to a rictus of seething hate shot through with horror.
I don’t know if was an underhand tactic by the left, a cruel happenstance of fate or mere sloppiness that allowed our political foes in the Anglosphere to grab our cloak and wrap it around their own bodies but it is way past time that we grabbed it back.
So I support the Bureaucrash campaign and, whilst I know it will stick in many a craw, I invoke all my fellow Capitalists, Libertarians and, yes, even you Conservatives to join in and declare; “Say it once, say it loud, I’m a Liberal and I’m proud!!”
Perry is doubtless on to something in his post below. Stephanie Dopeout or Stuffy Dupont or whatever the bit of fluff mishandling Brian Linse’s office calls herself is doubtless miffed at not being invited to the Bash. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s also more than a tad jealous that Brian is enjoying the company of other women, especially intelligent ones that don’t have a price tag dangling in their cleavage. Has anyone else noticed how familiar Stephanie is with that whole “babe for cash” routine?
Here’s a tip, Stephanie. Copy Brian’s Roladex (that’s a phone number index, not a watch) while you have the chance. Stockholm Syndrome aside, we at Team Samizdata can be persuasive, verrry, verrry persuasive, and I would not be at all suprised if, upon his return, Brian sends you back to the low budget temporary help office where he found you. If you’re lucky, he’ll even give you a map so you don’t get lost again.
One more thing. Brian can’t afford a PETA lawsuit, so go easy on the hamsters. Remember: The water goes in the bottle. The food goes in the bowl.
Like many who walk the cutting edge, I have friends in the cryonics field and have my little Alcor freezer dogtag hanging about my neck. Well, to be honest, it’s void at the moment as entrepreneuring in Belfast is a better way to end up in the poor house than the cryostat but that is another story. A lot of stories actually.
Needless to say, I found this bit of eurofascism both troubling and astounding:
“A French couple who were frozen when they died in the hope that medical advances would one day revive them are facing a thaw at the hands of local authorities,” the BBC reports. When Monique Martinot died in 1984, her husband, Raymond, put her on ice. Last week he died, and his son stuck him in the same fridge. “What has been done is outlawed in France,” a prosecutor tells the BBC. “In this country, bodies must either be cremated or buried.”
The BBC notes that “many European countries have legislation in place restricting the preservation of dead bodies in such a way.”
In my book the prosecutor will be guilty of a double, premeditated homicide if he goes through with this. Some of you are now thinking: “Huh? But they’re already dead!”
To paraphrase a former American president (and beat you with a dead cliche): it depends on what you mean by “dead”. Cryonics exists on the premise that so long as the brain and memories are intact, a technology will exist at some arbitrary time in the future capable of both undoing the cause of death and repairing the damage caused by freezing. I think most would agree there is at least a possibility of resuscitation.
What we have here are Schroedinger’s People, neither alive nor dead, suspended in a quantum world of chance. So our French prosecutor will be a quantum murderer if he opens the box. He will intentionally kill two people and extinguish their chance to once again walk a Riviera beach side by side.
Note: I was led to this story by the Opinion Journal e-mail news.
The tasks of the party are … to be cautious and not allow our country to be drawn into conflicts by warmongers who are accustomed to have others pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them.”
-J V Stalin.
[It was said at his speech to the 8th Congress of the Communist Party on 6 Jan 1941, some six months before the Germans invaded.]