Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rapprochement between Korea and Japan? Don't hold your breath.

My very first post on this blog was about how Korea and Japan can both improve their bilateral relations with one another. For those who don’t wish to read the whole thing, it came down to one essential idea – “Don’t feed the trolls.” It was my first post and it was a somewhat lighthearted attempt at writing about a complex issue between two countries whose historical relationship with one one another has had more downs than ups.

Although Seoul-Tokyo relations have always been thorny, it has taken a turn for the worse and has not gotten any better since 2012 when President Lee Myung-bak became the first sitting Republic of Korea president to have visited Dokdo.

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Since then, Japanese lawmakers’ annual visits to Yasukuni Shrine, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government’s attempt at historical revisionism, the issue over the euphemistically called comfort women, Japan’s claim about Dokdo being part of its territory, its increase in defense spending, and the possibility of reforming Japan’s pacifist Constitution have done nothing to help to improve Seoul-Tokyo relations.

Furthermore, Abenomics, which is just a Japanese name for Keynesian economics (it is Japan’s attempt at jump-starting its economy via monetary and fiscal stimulus packages), which has had little affect on improving Japan’s economy but has had significant negative effects on Korea’s economy, has exacerbated matters even further.

For its part, Korea has done little to help matters either. Until recently, President Park has refused to meet with Prime Minister Abe until he has expressed “sincerity” in regards to the issue of comfort women despite the fact that both leaders had been elected to their respected offices for a year. She has since reaffirmed that she would not meet Prime Minister Abe again.

Roboseyo has written a thoughtful piece about Korea’s desire for Japan’s “sincerity” on the issue (though it is most likely not a popular one among Koreans).

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Secondly, Koreans have been insisting that the Sea of Japan be renamed the East Sea; and have begun to include American state legislatures over this matter. Furthermore, the construction of a statue of Ahn Jung-geun in China, of all places, cannot be seen as anything else besides Korea’s willingness to do as much as it can to sabotage relations with Japan. Whereas Japan may be being blithe about its history and the feelings of its neighboring countries, Korea, for its part, seems to be showing all of the classic symptoms of PCSD (Post-Colonial Stress Disorder).

In a supreme example of unreasonable emotionalism, public outrage forced Korean peacekeepers in South Sudan to return 10,000 rounds of ammunition to Japanese Defense Forces after the commanding Korean officer asked the Japanese commander for ammunition when the Korean peacekeepers there faced an imminent threat from local militias. Apparently Koreans prefer to see their own soldiers placed in harm’s way than to show even a bit of cooperation with Japan.

Though it is more than likely that President Obama has various agendas that he would like to hit upon in his Asia tour, there is very little doubt that one of the things that he will discuss behind closed doors is his desire to see both Korea and Japan move on from the past in order to concentrate on the now and the future. As much as the United States has tried its best to remain above the bickering between the two countries, it must surely be an annoyance to have two of its closest Asian allies failing to be cordial with one another.

The question, of course, then becomes how effective President Obama will be. My advice: Don’t hold your breath.

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Of the two countries, the United States will have an easier time exerting its influence on Korea. With the United States’ negotiations with Korea over sharing defense costs, the transfer of wartime control, and even negotiations about Korea’s missile range, combined with Korea’s need to purchase more American military hardware as well as from other countries to combat what appears to be North Korea’s drone fleet, the United States has quite an array of diplomatic tools to convince Korea to play nice at the negotiations table.

Its diplomatic tools when negotiating with Japan, on the other hand, is a different matter entirely. Although Japan has had some heated clashes with China over the Senkaku Islands, unlike Korea with its erratic northern neighbor, Japan is not under the constant threat of existential annihilation. Furthermore, it was just announced that President Obama has stated that the defense of the Senkaku Islands is covered by the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, which means that the United States is obligated to come to Japan’s defense should an armed conflict ever arise between Japan and China over those islets.

Seeing how Japan is an ally and a trading partner (whose interests, most importantly, do not clash with those of the United States’) as well as that it is also the second largest holder of US debt, the United States does not have nearly as much influence over Japan as it does over Korea as evidenced by a Japanese cabinet minister and about 150 lawmakers visiting Yasukuni Shrine a day before President Obama arrived in Japan.

And, of course, all three countries are painfully aware of these facts.

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As a result, any attempt at mediating between Korea and Japan will likely backfire for the United States. Korea will resent being treated like the lesser partner in the trilateral relationship, which could push Korea toward China’s sphere of influence as was evidenced by Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se’s statement about how Korea should consider forging a pact with China on sharing military intelligence, which is a shocking statement considering that Korea scrapped a similar pact with Japan, a country which shares a mutual alliance with the United States, before it could even be signed after a public outcry in 2012.

Though there isn’t a single Korean (who isn’t clinically insane) who believes that Japan would ever pose a military threat to Korea as it did in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, hatred toward Japan is so intense that some Koreans are seriously considering forming closer military partnerships with the People’s Republic of China, a country that is known for being, among other things, North Korea’s only ally!

(That being said, China is also Korea’s largest trading partner and Korea is rightly wary of being entangled in a possible new Cold War with the United States and Japan on one hand, and China on the other.)

Though the United States would not have to worry about losing Japan as a key military ally, it does need Japan to fully commit to the Trans-Pacific Partnership in order for it to be viable, which could become the world’s biggest free trade agreement. However, the United States needs the TPP more than Japan does. Japan has already signed many bilateral trade agreements with the countries that are interested in joining this FTA; as has the United States. However, the United States needs the TPP more precisely because it is one of the central pillars that is needed for President Obama’s “Asia Pivot” to work. Japan can make things much harder for the United States (as it has already done) if the United States overly pressures Japanese leaders to “lose face” by having to apologize to both Korea and China over its wartime atrocities yet again.

Korea does have legitimate grievances with Japan. However, there is another reason why Korea has become more abrasive with Japan in recent years than it has in the past. Rightly or wrongly, Koreans believe that their time has come.

Whereas Japan’s economy has not been able to escape from its thirty-year-old deflationary trap, this was about the same time, despite the financial meltdown of 1997, that Korea experienced the Miracle on the Han River. It would seem that K-pop has overtaken the once unbeatable J-pop juggernaut. Whereas Toyota, Sony, and Panasonic used to be household names until the 1990s, these days, those names have been replaced with Hyundai, Samsung, and LG.

Of course, Japan is now the third largest economy in the world and Korea ranks fifteenth. Korea has a long way to go before it can even hope to be Japan’s equal when it comes to raw economic power. However, and despite the irony that Koreans appear to be the unhappiest lot in the OECD (The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), it would appear that Koreans are more optimistic about their future in relation to Japan.

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With the ascendancy of the nationalists in Japan following decades of deflationary economics and a voting public that is more willing for Japan to be more assertive in its international affairs on one hand, and the economic rise of a former colony on the other, both sides have begun more and more to look at each others’ relationship as a zero-sum game.

(How and why the nationalists became more popular in Japan requires another and much more thoughtful analysis than I am qualified to write about.)

I have entertained the possibility of there needing to be a third party that poses a mutual threat to both Korea and Japan for both countries to bury the hatchet. However, such a scenario is overly simplistic as it conveniently ignores the inner political and economic dynamics of each country.

For the foreseeable future, at least, it would seem that the power dynamics in East Asia is not conducive for a rapprochement between Seoul and Tokyo. For good or for ill, it would seem that the relationship between both Korea and Japan will stay frosty.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I Despise Earth Day

Like many people, I, too, have been paying attention to the Sewol Disaster but I have decided not to write anything about it.  The emotions are too raw and the facts are not yet fully clear.  I think it will be a while before the facts are revealed.  So for the time being, seeing how today is Earth Day, I decided to write a post about Earth Day instead.




When I was growing up as a kid, I wanted to be Batman. Hell, I still want to be Batman. Why would any man not want to be Batman? During the day, Bruce Wayne is a multi-billionaire who drives Lamborghinis and dates the most beautiful women in the world. The whole relationship he had with Robin back in the 1960s was a little weird but I'm going to ignore that. But at night, he drives the Batmobile and beats criminals to a pulp with his bare fists and, as Jack Nicholson put it so well, his wonderful toys. But that's the (not-so-grown-up) adult in me talking. When I was a kid, there was only one reason I wanted to be Batman. He was a hero and who doesn't want to be the hero who gets to save the day and get the girl?

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And he gets Catwoman.  I mean, c'mon!

Unfortunately, however, being a real life hero is nowhere near as sexy as Batman makes it out to be in the comic books but that's because being a hero and feeling like one are two completely different things. A real life hero is someone like the late Dr. Norman Borlaug, a man who worked quietly in a lab to figure out how to feed the world's billions of people, who by the way, was the man who started the Green Revolution. In the past several millenia that human civilization has been around, the world has seen many great men and women. But in my opinion, Dr. Norman Borlaug is the greatest good man the world has ever seen.


Today, many people in the world are celebrating Earth Day. Many of these people want to save the planet. Like everyone else in the world, they too want to be heroes. But are they really saving the world or are they just being herded around by politicos who have their own sets of agenda? I sincerely believe that the latter holds true.


The fact of the matter is that this pro-environmental hysteria that so many people have fallen victim to is really a secular religion and like most other religions in the world, this is a religion that is based entirely on fear. Listen to whatever many of these environmental leaders have to say and I can guarantee that whatever they're saying, they're saying it with an alarmist tone, one full of fear.

This is in no way to suggest that environmental issues are of no concern.  There are certainly environmental problems that have to be dealt with.  However, the pro-environmental hysteria that I am referring to is not the environmental issues that are brought up by learned scientists but rather by the masses whose knowledge of economics, politics, or climatology is next to nil.

Every year on Earth Day, young people march in large cities while beating drums, chanting meaningless slogans of one sort or another, spreading alarmist propaganda about how the world is coming to an end, talking about how Mother Nature will retaliate against the evil humans, and declaring that capitalism and corporate greed are the bane of humanity.

In church, people would be playing guitars, saying amen to whatever the preacher has to say, the preacher would talk about the Rapture, and people talk about how people's sin is making God angry with us. The parallels are uncanny.

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Because the word "rape" is so conducive to talking reasonably

If you look at many of people in these so-called environmental movements, it won't take you long to realize that they aren't so much pro-environment as they are anti-corporations. They'll say something along the lines of “Corporate greed is destroying the world because corporations don't care about the environment. The only thing they care about is the bottom line – which is maximizing profits. Unchecked capitalism is destroying everything in its path and we have to educate the people so that we can change the system.”


What that translates to is this: We hate corporations because we don't understand capitalism or how this economic system came into being and we need to send more people to college to pursue liberal arts degrees so that liberal professors can use their various social engineering tools to brainwash everyone so that they will think just like us.


By the way, these are the same people who argue that globalization is evil and that is hurting the world's most vulnerable people. For some reason, however, they don't seem to have any problem whatsoever in using cell phones or the Internet. Hypocrisy at its finest.

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Now with the Internet, they can raise start-up capital for their anti-globalization movement

While we're looking into the environmental movement, why don't we also take a look at the demographic of the people who are part of the movement? The vast majority of these live in the First World. These are the same people who want to prevent new nuclear power plants from being built despite the fact that they will provide cheap energy to entire regions of a country.

They want to cease logging despite the fact that timber is needed to build homes for people – rich, middle class and poor alike. They want grocery stores to only carry organic food and not carry anything that has been genetically modified (thus giving a huge middle finger to Dr. Borlaug) despite the fact that genetically modified food is needed to feed the world's billions. They also claim that there are too many people in the world and talk about how there needs to be fewer people in the world without ever talking about who needs to die and how billions of people ought to be killed.

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Can anyone argue with any level of seriousness that the environmental movement is not an elitist movement? A movement that clearly does not understand the needs of the struggling poor? And I don't mean elitist to mean a person with an education – I mean people who are filled with unearned self-righteousness.

Most people in the environmental movement appear to be people who have for years been guilt tripped into believing that the very fact they are alive is causing the world to be destroyed.

Patrick Moore was one of the founders of Greenpeace. However, when he realized that Greenpeace had lost its pro-environment roots and had been hijacked by anti-corporation/capitalism politicos who have no understanding of reality, he left the movement. The following YouTube clip is one whereby Patrick Moore talks about the mindset of present-day environmental leaders in the documentary “Not Evil, Just Wrong.”


It's not wrong to want to save the planet. After all, who wants to live in a dirty home? And yes, Earth is the only home that we have and if we want to preserve humanity, or at the very least make sure to leave behind a habitable world for future generations, that's all well and good. But current day environmental movements are false religions and the salvation that they are promising people is nothing more than snake oil.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Meaning of Life

A few days ago, a reader sent me an email and asked, “as a fellow atheist, I've been struggling with a super cheesy but important question: what is the meaning of life?”

This is possibly one of the most difficult questions that has been posed by humanity since we have been capable of thought; and people are still seeking answers to this question. By tackling this question, I am in no way saying that I have the definitive answer to that question that will end the debate once and for all. My answer is mine alone.

However, before I begin, I have to state that I am, indeed, an atheist. Therefore, the answer that I am about to give will not deal with the supernatural or anything else that cannot be scientifically verified.

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As such, I am not entirely sure if the question itself is appropriately phrased. Concepts, the basic ideas that people carry in our minds, can have meaning precisely because we give them meaning. The fact of the matter is that existence exists. What that means is that even if humans were to become extinct some day, and there was no more sentient/teleological/intelligent beings left on the planet, it will not change the fact that existence will still continue to exist. Matter, though changeable, is indestructible; but life, and subsequently thought, is fragile and always caught on the precipice between existence and non-existence.

Whereas concepts can have meanings, I do not think that it is possible for non-concepts, such as life, to possibly have any objective meaning. For instance, can a rock have any meaning? A rock is a rock. True, people can mold a rock into something useful but that is a different thing entirely. To change a rock into a tool or an ornament that people value is the process of our minds being able to conceptualize and taking the necessary actions that are needed in order to transform the rock into something else that is useful to us. However, that does not change the fact that until an intelligent being comes along to change a rock into something else of value to the intelligent being, a rock is nothing more than just a rock.

Therefore, the only answer that I have to the question, “what is the meaning of life,” is this – “Life can have no meaning. It simply is.”

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Of course, I am being very literal with the word “meaning.” I have to be. As I said, I am an atheist. I do not believe that some kind of supernatural being invented life. If it could be objectively proven that life were an invention that was created by some kind of mystical entity, then I could apply the word “meaning” in a more non-literal way and say, “The meaning of life is love” or some such nonsense. However, I cannot and will not do that.

So, I never liked the way the question is phrased. Logically, there can be no answer; at least none that is satisfying. Therefore, in order to have a meatier answer than “it just is,” it is necessary to change the question. I prefer to ask “What is the purpose of life?”

Once asked that way, then the question can be answered with a bit more thought. And my answer to that question is this: “The purpose of life is simply to live.”

However, that answer breeds more questions. Firstly, what then does “to live” mean? Secondly, what is the point of it all? After all, the fact of the matter is that all living organisms inevitably die. It is the ultimate change in condition. To live is complex. There are innumerable things that a person has to do in order to maintain and improve one’s life. Death, on the other hand, is that permanent state of being where one simply ceases to live. With that ultimate goal hanging over all of our heads, what then is the point of it all?

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Wondering what the point of life is when we will all inevitably die, however, lies the assumption that, like death, life is a condition – a state of being. Though it is certainly true that life is, indeed, a state of being, it is an answer that has never satisfied me. That is because life is more than just a state of being. Life is also a process; a process of self-sustaining and self-generated action.

The important word here is “process.”

Life is not merely a state of being people achieve (by pure accident) and simply maintain until the day we meet the proverbial Boatman, but the process of reaching it. Life is action. It’s the things we do. It’s the process of accomplishing goals, not just the end results of the goals. It is the things that we do and accomplish.

For example, everyone needs money. However, none of us, with perhaps the exception of the genuine miser, makes money simply for the sake of making money. We make money in order to be able to better afford the things that we need and want to live comfortably. And living comfortably may be the end goal, but it’s the process of producing goods and services that we wish to buy and sell, the act of loving and being loved, that I would call life. Life is not simply the ends. Contrary to what Machiavellians might think, the means matter.

So, for example, if we are talking about money, it matters a great deal how we make the money we made. Did we earn it? Or did we steal it? Or did we come across it simply by sheer dumb luck? In other words, values matter because the values that we cognitively decide upon as being good are there not just to maintain life, but also to improve our ability to live our lives.

Bernie Madoff
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So what values must we pursue? Life is the end in itself. As such, the values that we must pursue are the values that help to maintain our lives. What is considered good and evil must therefore be measured by how it affects our lives. The most basic way to understand what is good and evil is Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian principles, which recognizes the fundamental role of pain and pleasure in human life, and equates good with pleasure and evil with pain. However, utilitarianism alone is insufficient.

That is because utilitarianism fails to define what “the good” is. When taken to its logical extreme, utilitarianism eventually boils down to majority rule whereby the majority can do whatever it damn well pleases at the expense of the minority. Furthermore, it fails to take into consideration how people reach the conclusion about what is good. Do they use reason, or do they resort to base epicurean whim? Although Bentham’s succesor, John Stuart Mill, later on built upon Bentham’s foundation by dividing pleasure into “higher” and “lower” forms of pleasure, utilitarianism still says nothing about reason.

Beyond pleasure and pain, we also have to take reason into consideration.

A good example of this is farming and storing food. Hunger is certainly painful and the best way to alleviate hunger is, of course, by eating. But how do we get the food?

Why can’t we simply steal the food?” a utilitarian might ask. “After all, as long as our goal is to live, isn’t the willful decision to steal food – the choice made to end pain and promote pleasure – a result of us using our reason?”

No, it is not. Firstly, we must separate reason from logic. When I was in middle school and I first learned about computer programming, a phrase that I came to learn was GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out. If our reasoning is faulty, we can still take our faulty reasons to their logical conclusions. That does not change, however, no matter how logical, that the reason (and the most likely outcome) is bad. Secondly, that is because we have to remember that before anything can be stolen, it must first be produced. Furthermore, we have to remember that human action does not take place in a vacuum. For every human action, there tends to be a direct and opposite overreaction. If we resort to violence to steal food (or anything for that matter), there is a very good chance that our actions will come back to haunt us in a myriad of ways.

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After we have reaped and sowed our crops, what then? Do we then eat everything that we produce? It will certainly end hunger. But then what happens next year? If we eat everything now, including the seed stock that is needed for planting next year, yes, we will be full now. But we will not stay full for long.

However, before all that, does anyone imagine that it would even be possible to farm without using reason? If we tried to grow a crop without the necessary knowledge that is required for farming, we would not be able to grow anything. This applies to the production of anything else. That is because our minds are the root of all production and therefore, the root of our survival.

It bears repeating that our minds, our reason, are the root of our survival. As the purpose of life is simply to live and our survival depends on our ability to use our reason, the barometer that is used to gauge our values is measured by how those values, which are defined by reason, help us to live. Values by themselves are not axiomatic. They must be of use to our lives in order to be considered virtuous or vicious.

From here on out, then we must weigh the options that are in front of us in regards to which values that we keep or toss. What are the values necessary to be respected and loved? Which are the ones necessary to become wealthy? Which are the ones needed to be happy? It is only through a process of reason and rational decision making that we can achieve those values that are good so that we may enjoy our lives.

In order to enjoy our lives, then what we need to pursue are the things that make us happy. So what makes us happy? I personally do not like to pose the question that way. That is because when the question is posed that way, it takes us away from the position that life is a process. For example, people assume that if we have a lot of money or if we find someone who will love us it would make us happy. However, my position is that that is not the way to look at it. The better way to look at happiness is to ask ourselves a series of questions such as “Am I excited about my future? Do I love the people in my life? Am I proud of who I am, and what I have done?”

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Essentially, happiness is an emotional response to a rational evaluation of my own life. Friendships and love are not mere ornaments that we collect. They are meant to be enjoyed.

However, seeing how death is inevitable, then what is the point of it all?” some may (and do) ask.

I have often thought that this was a ridiculous way to look at life. Life is “meaningful” precisely because we will all die some day. We have to go back to how we define values.

Our values are the things that we uphold in order for us to live. However, let us assume for the sake of argument that we are immortal; like some kind of omnipotent and omniscient god, we are immune from disease or pain or death. Only then would we be able to honestly say that we have nothing to lose or gain. Any action that we take or thought that we entertain will be meaningless. There would be no need to have values. There would be no need to be reasonable or unreasonable. There simply would be no reason to be. An eternity (itself a terrifying concept if any serious thought is given to it) of meaningless existence is far too evil to wish upon our worst enemies.

None of us can ever achieve immortality and despite Ray Kurzweil’s passionate arguments in defense of immortality in the form of the Singularity, I am disinclined to believe in its supposed merits. However, we can be immortal until the day we die. What I mean here is that we can remain true to our values; to ourselves. With every passing day, people die just a little bit. Try meeting that piss-and-vinegar filled idealist friend whom you had in college after not having met him for ten years. I can guarantee that he/she will not be the same person that you met last.

I don’t mean a change in tastes or the way we look or even the way we think. I mean the way people compromise, deny, and contradict their values – because it is supposedly the adult thing to do – until one day, they can no longer recognize themselves. That is something that we can avoid. That is how we achieve immortality. Not by avoiding death but by remaining true to our values, which are intended for us to enjoy our lives. And that is what the point of it all is – to last forever now.

One of my favorite plays that I have ever read is Goethe’s Faust and at the end of the play, the eponymous character recognizes at the “highest moment” that “the last word of wisdom” is:

No man deserves his freedom or his life
Who does not daily win them anew.

Once we understand that, then we can begin to understand what our purpose in life is and, perhaps, find meaning, too.


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Of course, if this was too long for you to read and you want something funnier, then I suppose you could always just watch Monty Python's The Meaning of Life.


Monday, March 10, 2014

Answering Readers' Comments

After having written several blog posts about the superiority of laissez-faire capitalism, I have seen quite a few comments that ranged from thoughtful responses to shrill insults. I have decided to focus on the comments that were aimed at my arguments than at my person. The following are the most common comments that I have received and my answers to them.


1. The free market, when left alone, does not solve every single problem.

I suppose that it is possible that I have been living under a rock but I have never heard of anyone, at least no one intelligent, on my side of the argument who has ever subscribed to such a caricature of an idea. The free market is merely the function of the free exchanges of goods and services entered into by individuals. How can the free exchange of goods and services “solve” anything other than the immediate needs of the sellers and the buyers to sell or buy the goods? Furthermore, I don’t understand where people get the idea that I think that the market “always knows exactly what to do and when to do it.” If I truly believed that, then I would need to come up with an answer as to how I would account for businesses that go bankrupt.

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2. Capitalism is immoral because the market economy is controlled by humans who are susceptible to greed, corruption, and exploitation.

People who think like this don’t ever seem to consider that government officials and bureaucrats, whom they want to regulate those greedy, corrupt, and exploitative corporations, might be susceptible to the same kind of greed, corruption, and exploitation. When I raise such an objection, they are quick to counter that such people can later be voted out of office, which, though charming, does not really hold much water considering incumbency rates that reach up to 90%. Furthermore, they do not ever seem to think that it is much easier to “vote out” businesses that they do not like simply by refusing to buy their products. As crazy as this may sound, unlike the government, businesses, not even the Almighty Samsung Electronics or the Great Exxon Mobil can force people to buy their products.


3. If free market principles were allowed to rule, what that means is everything would be based on maximizing profits.


And even if they did, this is bad because...?

I simply do not understand why there are so many people in the world who seem to think that profit is synonymous with evil. What is profit? Merriam-Webster defines profit as “the excess of returns over expenditure in a transaction or series of transactions; especially: the excess of the selling price of goods over their cost.”

With all due respect to Merriam-Webster, however, profit is more than that. It is also society’s way of ratifying a business’ past production decisions. To explain, when a business makes a profit (assuming that it makes a profit honestly without having to be bailed out by taxpayers), it is an indication that it is able to make products that consumers want to buy aka something that people think is beneficial enough for them to fork over their hard-earned money.

If a business does not provide goods or services that people feel is worth paying for, the business won’t be in business for very long.

Furthermore, if these people do think that profits are evil, then barring the profit motive, how exactly should resources be allocated? We can either allow consumer preferences to guide production, or let the personal preferences of a monopolist (i.e., government) dictate what should be produced and how. But of course, the question is never posed this way.


4. Maximizing profits would mean that the quality of goods sold would suffer because greedy businesses would do everything to cut corners to make an extra buck.

As I mentioned earlier, no business can force people to buy their goods and services and businesses don’t always attempt to maximize profits. Furthermore, if a business owner were stupid enough to cut corners at every turn to maximize profits, consumers will eventually catch on and will seek alternatives. Goodbye, profits.

Incidentally, does that mean that when businesses are not motivated by profit, i.e. the desire to sell products that consumers want, the quality of goods sold would then improve? Would businesses then start to produce high quality products solely for the benefit of the Proletariat or the Fatherland? I suppose they would. If they were threatened with death but that arrangement will most likely not last for very long.

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5. Profit maximization means that only the rich will be able to afford to buy things like healthcare insurance or a good education, while the poor will have to stay poor.

Do I have to mention again that businesses don’t always attempt to maximize profits?

About halfway through the movie Elysium, I had to force myself to stop rolling my eyes lest they stay that way forever. At the end of the movie (SPOILER ALERT), Matt Damon and his band of merry revolutionaries raid the excess medical beds found on Elysium and then give universal health care to all the suffering masses.

Of course, non-economists who watched this movie did not seem to wonder why these excess beds were being stocked on Elysium when they clearly weren’t being used. It stands to reason that people are more likely to make a profit by making goods widely available to anyone who can afford to pay for them. Initially, prices would be high, just as the first cars or the first mobile phones were ridiculously expensive. However, over time, as more people consume products, the more it becomes mass produced. This means that in the long-run, per/unit cost falls.

But why try to make sense when people can instead make a dumb movie with a straw-man argument about universal healthcare with cyborg-like humans and robots shooting lasers and missiles at each other?

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6. The free market has to be regulated.

The people who make such an argument seem to have either never heard of or simply wish to ignore the vast amounts of literature on regulatory capture. Somehow, all regulation seems to be solely for the public good!


7. Deregulation was what got the world into its current-day economic mess.

Firstly, deregulation is a myth. For one thing, when financial institutions like Goldman Sachs are allowed to make riskier bets while the government still insures their deposits, that’s not deregulation.

Furthermore, people who make these arguments are prone to believe that the world has undergone a revival of laissez-faire economics since the Reagan-Thatcher years. I would like to know what they’re smoking because that seems to be really powerful stuff.

All of that aside, however, can any of those people actually empirically prove that we are indeed living in an era of deregulation? Have the number of regulations increased or decreased? Do governments spend more or less money on regulations? Are there more or less regulators or bureaucrats? What about the number of legislation on the books? What about the number of administrative agencies today versus thirty years ago?


8. Capitalists are all about competition until the government steps in to provide competition.

This fails to take into consideration that in the free market, despite the size of certain businesses, a large business does not, in fact, have the ability to dictate every single transaction the way it wants. If that were indeed possible, Wal-Mart shouldn’t have to pay for anything. However, that is simply not the case. That is because, though some are indeed bigger than others, it does not change the fact that all businesses are “players.”

However, once the government engages in the business side of any given industry, not only would it be the biggest player in the business, it would also be the umpire. This fact alone should make any sensible person averse to government engaging in business.

Secondly, businesses and the government are motivated by very different things. A business is typically motivated by profit maximization or market share maximization, etc. The governments actions, on the other hand, is motivated by politics.

The government has no rational basis to determine what to produce, or in what quantities. It gets its money not by providing a good that people voluntarily choose to purchase, but by seizing the funds from its subject population. Since it therefore lacks a profit-and-loss feedback mechanism, every single production decision it makes is absolutely arbitrary, and necessarily wastes resources. Case in point, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the Post Office, etc. etc. etc.

Furthermore, private businesses compete for consumers dollars and bear financial risks and absorb financial losses (again, this is assuming that businesses are not bailed out by the government). The government, however, is subsidized by the taxpayers, and the taxpayers would assume the risks and the liabilities for whatever mistakes or losses that the government incurs.



And these were my favorite ones. Perhaps some day I will come up with another list.


If your argument is not here and you’d like to see it addressed, feel free to write it in the comment section.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Arizona’s “Anti-Gay/Religious Freedom” Legislation

On February 20th 2014, the Arizona state legislature passed SB 1062, otherwise known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act SB 1062, and has since transmitted the bill to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, a figure who is no stranger to controversy, to be signed into law on February 24th 2014. As yet, Governor Brewer has not officially announced whether to sign the bill into law or not.

The controversy behind this bill is that it allows business owners to refuse to serve anyone whom they perceive to be members of the gay community so long as the business owners were acting solely on their religious beliefs.

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For those of you who are familiar with this blog and my pro-Free Market stance, you might think that I am jumping for joy because this bill seemingly allows businesses to be regulated less by the government. You’d be wrong.

From my pro-Free Market point of view, I am not thrilled with this bill because it does not go far enough. No, I do not mean that I think the government should legalize the lynching of homosexuals. What I mean is that, just like no one should be forced to patron any business that he/she doesn’t like, no business person should be forced to deal with any client he/she doesn’t want to serve.

One shouldn’t have to cite a religious reason for denying service to a potential customer. So long as businesses are not harming anyone (no, hurt feelings don’t count), a business should be free to act for whatever reason it chooses. At best, this bill is a half-step towards economic liberty. At worst, it is a law, which is supported by diseased degenerates who think that a person’s sexuality can make him/her subhuman, that permits people to remain ridiculously irrational while hiding behind the supposedly respectable cover of a book that was written in the Bronze Age because that just sounds like it is chock full of good ideas!

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The other problem that I have with this whole mess is the complaints that progressives have thrown at it. Firstly, I have heard many people comparing this bill with Jim Crow laws. That is not very accurate.

Jim Crow laws, as the name suggests, were laws that were passed by state governments that compelled businesses, as well as the government itself, to segregate, whether they wanted to or not.

This law that progressives are critiquing (for all the wrong reasons) allows businesses that want to enter into contract with everyone to do so, and allows businesses that want to cater to only members of the KKK to do so as well. So it is not a blanket law like the Jim Crow laws were like.

I also read what George Takei said about this when he said, “It gives bigotry against us gays and lesbians a powerful and unprecedented weapon.”

Now George Takei is a great actor whom I’ve seen on television since childhood who has gotten only better with age. That being said, allowing businesses to discriminate against people is hardly unprecedented. For example, I have seen numerous bars while I was in the United States that have posted signs that said “We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason.”

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Even the bar that I spent many of my weekend evenings while I was in college carried such a sign. And it was a bar that was owned by an old hippie, who insisted that everyone call him “Loopy,” whose favorite song is John Lennon’s Imagine. Should Loopy be taken to court for that sign?




And for another, George Takei seems to imply that overturning this bill and continuing to force all businesses to serve LGBT people would somehow end the bigotry against LGBT people. There is no evidence that laws end hatred. It certainly forces people to hide their prejudices but it doesn’t get rid of them.

Why not let businesses declare to the whole world what their prejudices are? That way, people can know where not to spend their money.

That’s the fundamental thing that I don’t understand. Instead of wanting to know which businesses are being run by assholes so that people can know where not to spend their money, people who are advocating for laws that force businesses to serve everyone is saying “Excuse me, Mr. Government, there are these sexist/racist pigs that I want to give my money to so that I can be provided with services – services which will most likely be shoddy seeing how I am someone whom they have declared publicly to hate. Could you, please, force them to take my money so that they can make money, while providing me with what will most likely be shoddy services that I’m not sure that I really even want?”

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I’ve heard people say that the change in laws would lead to a change in culture. But I have never seen any evidence of that happening before. I’ve seen cultural changes eventually leading to changes in the law but never the other way around. Ending slavery did not end racism. It simply ended slavery. Ending Jim Crow laws also ended only the laws. It did not end racism. Both of which, by the way, were government laws that were put in place due to the prevalent culture of the time. Similarly, passing laws to force all businesses to serve LGBT people whether they want to or not won’t end homophobia. That will only happen after a change in the culture, which has already been happening for a while.

As a counter-example, assuming that the Westboro Baptist Church hires an actual PR team and changes tact and sends several of its members to a gay bar to order drinks, would the bartender have to serve them? The proper end result ought to be a huge bear of a man wearing leather straps telling them to get the fuck out unless they want their necks snapped. But a law that forces all businesses to serve everyone would then give the Westboro Baptist Church the legal precedent to sue the bar’s owners in court.



People might counter that being gay and/or black and/or female is not the same as being a religious bigot because people cannot choose their gender or sexuality or ethnicity when they are born but religion is something that people can choose. Although that is a valid moral point, legally, it’s irrelevant because what progressives are advocating is about identity, not the choice (or the lack thereof) of one’s identity.

So forcing all businesses to serve others is both illogical and potentially counterproductive.

I get the anger that progressives are feeling. And those bigots that people are angry at deserve moral censure, as well as healthy doses of boycotts, the one thing that George Takei got right in his letter, which is a right that every consumer has. But this law won’t change anything. The change that we want to see has to come through cultural changes. No, cultural changes are never fast enough but that’s the only sure way of moving on from anything old and decrepit.

Let those diseased idiots remain in their cesspool and let the rest of us associate and spend our money the way we want. They will die out sooner or later. The future is on our side.