Thursday, August 28, 2014

Random Thoughts about the Free Market, JR Pub, Ebola, and Racism

1) Free Markets don't need no regulations

As a Free Market capitalist, the story that has unfolded around JR Pub's sign about not wanting to admit Africans into their establishment out of fear of transmitting the Ebola virus carries all the attributes of the Free Market that I love.

Despite the fact that Korea (thankfully) does not have an anti-discrimination law, when it was shown that a business owner behaved in a racist manner (whether or not this was actually racist will be discussed later), the public – whether they were actual or potential customers – decided to punish the business owners by doing the only thing that they could do, which is also the most powerful thing that they could do. They chose to spend their money elsewhere. Then the owners of JR Pub took immediate steps to resolve the issue to placate the angry public.

There was no need for an army of bureaucrats or business regulations or legal statutes. It is a great example of the way Free Markets work; or at least the way it ought to work.

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2) So an Ebola patient walks into a bar...

A lot of noise was made about the ignorance that surrounded JR Pub's decision to turn away Africans from their establishment out of fear of the Ebola virus. Some people also correctly claimed that Ebola is spread through the contact of bodily fluids, and is not, in fact, spread through the air or through food.

However, in a hypothetical example, assuming you were minding your own business while enjoying a drink in a bar, if someone whom you recognized as suffering from Ebola walked into the bar, would you still stay in the bar knowing how the virus spreads? Or would you at the very least step outside the building to call the Center for Disease Control and Prevention?

You don't have to tell me what you will do. But honestly ask yourself what you would do in the situation. Personally, even if I knew for a fact that there was no chance for me to contract the disease merely because of the presence of a patient near my vicinity, I would leave posthaste. But that's because I have seen first hand the ugliness and brutality that a crowd is capable of committing, especially after a few too many drinks have been imbibed.

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3) Sincere Apologies

According to The Korea Observer, the owner who instructed his staff to put up the sign took sole blame and apologized. He also said that he would give a 50 percent discount on all drinks and food to those coming to the bar on one particular evening and that all proceeds of the night would “go to a charity and those who are in need of help.”

(I have yet to hear anyone explain to me why giving to charity would make things under this present set of circumstances any better, but whatever floats their boat, I suppose.)

However, though this is certainly not a scientific survey by any stretch of the imagination, there was a simple poll that the website's readers could participate in. When asked “Should we boycott the bar over the ban on 'Africans,'” readers could choose between “Yes, screw that apology!” and “No, the apology is enough.”

As of this writing, 780 people were in favor of boycotting the bar and 660 people were in favor of not boycotting the establishment.

Though it is unclear if those who think that the apology is insufficient would have any lasting effect on the business' profit margins, I cannot help but wonder just how much more apologizing they could possibly want.

A part of me is reminded of the way so many Koreans demand a “sincere” apology from Japan over its war crimes. No, I am not comparing actual war crimes to perceived racism. What I am comparing is people's seemingly unquenchable thirst for “sincere” apologies, which all too frequently does nothing more than to allow people to hide behind the cover of perennial victimhood.

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4) On Political Correctness

Has fears over the Ebola virus been blown out of proportion? Even with a Liberian man who has come to Korea about a week ago having gone missing somewhere in Busan (assuming that the man is still even in Korea), a country where there has been a Ebola virus outbreak, it is likely that the fear of the virus is still very much greater than the actual threat of the virus.

But why should any government, university, or pub, or individual for that matter apologize for trying to ensure that they remain contagion-free? The fact remains that even if there is little danger of the virus spreading to Korea, I don't owe it to anybody to have myself exposed to diseases brought into this country, potential or otherwise, no matter what problems exist in other countries or whose feelings might get hurt! In today's overly politically correct culture, not nearly enough people seem to be willing to even entertain such a thought.

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5) Racism vs. Ignorance

But now that we have brought up the topic of racism, what is racism? It is the notion of ascribing moral, social, intellectual or political significance to a man’s genetic lineage. It is one of the most primitive forms of brutish collectivism.

Does anyone have any real evidence to make the claim that the owners of JR Pub are, indeed, racists? Does anyone have unimpeachable evidence that their intent was malicious? In other words, did they put up their sign in order to make some kind of statement about the inferiority/diseased nature/undesirability of Africans? Or was it a decision made out of innocent ignorance? Racism may be intolerable but isn't ignorance forgivable?

But either way, does it matter? If the owners are indeed racists, though they might not have changed their minds, they will most certainly think twice about giving voice to their racist thoughts in the future. If it was a result of ignorance, you can bet that these men, or at least the one who made his employees put up the sign, will have certainly learned a very valuable lesson about avoiding anything that can even be remotely considered to be racist.

And isn't that what is supposed to matter? On one hand, ignorance is rectified.  On the other hand, if they were, indeed, racists, even if we don't respect or like the way other people think, aren't we supposed to tolerate others so long as their actions do not lead to the harm of others?

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6) Predetermined Judgments

In the Asia Pundits article that was quoted earlier, a woman who is a white African was informed that whereas black Africans could not enter the establishment, she could. Others, including the woman in question, were quick to conclude that this was therefore a case of blatant racism. But does it really refute the claim of ignorance? Is it possible that those owners and employees of JR Pub were ignorant enough to have thought that black people were more prone to suffer from the virus than white people?

I was neither there nor have I spoken to anyone involved. So I cannot say one way or the other. But too many people, who were also neither there nor spoken to the involved parties, seem to have determined what had happened.

There are very few epithets that carry as much weight as “racist.” However, armed with nothing but moral assertions and unimpeachable political correctness, which would never be given any serious consideration in any respectable court of law, hundreds, if not thousands of people who have most likely never even met the owners have accused them of being racists.

During the Jim Crow laws in the United States, the idea that you can tell who is good and who is evil by the color of their skin was the law of the land. Since the laws were abolished, and not just in the United States but throughout the civilized world, that line of thinking has been rejected. However, in modern times, as soon as the perceived victims are black, that mentality comes roaring back. That is because the mentality has not really been rejected. It has only been put under new management.

The way much of the public has responded, or at least those who have bothered to respond, has not given me much reason to rethink my position about mobs and their non-thinking tendencies.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Don't Let Rich People Own Apartments They Don't Live In?

I've been wondering what to write about lately. There are plenty of things to write about, I suppose. The Pope is in town, but I already called him a wolf in sheep's clothing before. I don't need to write another post about that ignorant shaman just to rehash what I had said earlier. There is also the murders/wrongful deaths that have occurred in the ROK Army as well as a spate of suicides. But I also wrote a bit about the military before and I really don't want to talk about this depressing topic again. At least not for a while.

So, with no intent to write anything, I was going through my Facebook feed when I saw a post from Gawker, a website that I had never heard of before, that was shared with the caption “It's just simple economics.”

I don't know how anyone can ever spend a single moment trying to understand the economy and somehow imagine it to be "simple."

Of course I had to give it a read. As expected, it was ridiculous and before I knew it, I wrote a comment. And I kept writing. When I finally hit the “Enter” key, however, I saw that it was long enough to be an actual post by itself. So I decided to repost it here.

(Well, I never denied that I suffer from long-windedness. And no, neither the original article nor my response to it is related to Korea. But, hey, it's economics and economic laws do not recognize national borders.)

So here are the reasons why this article, “Don't Let Rich People Own Apartments They Don't Live In” is really “simple” economics, and I do mean “simple” as in “mentally retarded:

1) There was no mention of the original cause of why so many low income earners cannot afford low income housing – rent control.

2)There was no mention of the reason for why so many corporations purchase property in order to use them as tax shelters – New York has one of the worst business tax climates in America.

3) There was no mention of what such a law would do to landlords. You know, the people that the poor would have to rent from? If landlords can't keep their apartments because they can't afford to pay those high taxes because they don't live in them, then who are the poor going to rent from? Are the poor somehow magically going to find money under their mattresses to buy apartments in Manhattan suddenly?

Every poor person's bed

4) There was no proper definition of “public good.”

5) There was no information about who will oversee this “public good” (Does anyone really trust de Blasio or Cuomo or Spitzer or Paterson or Bloomberg or Giuliani to know what the public good is or even know how to achieve it?). There was also no mention that rent control has always been justified as being “necessary for the public good.”

6) There was no mention of how successful (but really, I want to say “unsuccessful” but that seems far too much of an understatement) “confiscating rich people's property for the public good” has been in any country in history that has ever attempted it.

7) There was no mention of how some renters have no choice but to leave for extended periods of time. Like, oh I don't know, military servicemen? And you can bet if there are exemptions made for one group of people, everyone else who can afford it, and their special interest groups (oh you can bet that there will be a multitude of special interest groups) will be lawyering up to get those sweet, sweet exemptions. Because why not clog up the courts more than they already are anyway? What's the worst that could possibly happen?

8) Basically, there was no mention of any kind of cause and effect; like as though people don't adapt and change their behaviors and actions depending on changing incentives and disincentives. Like as though all of this taxing and shaming will somehow magically take place and people will just accept their new lot in life without so much as a complaint. This may be difficult for many of the world's moralizing armchair pseudo-economists to take in, but the fact of the matter is that life is NOT static.

So how might people respond to such changes? Oh, I don't know, increased taxes on “excess” property could make businesses “rent” said property to their own shell companies or their own employees, who may or may not be full time, or part time, or union, or non-union, or contracted, or non-contracted employees; or just someone's grandparents that they happen to know. Which would then allow them to get tax breaks on top of owning the property.

Believe me, if I can think of such a loophole without even getting paid to do it, you can bet your mother's pension that there are a whole lot of well-paid accountants at Goldman Sachs who will come up with even more ingenious ways to get around those taxes that would make everyone feel like they just got knocked around by Mike Tyson.

The original author of this post, Hamilton Nolan, is a raging idiot. Or a really naive fool who can't see beyond his own nose. Or he's a brilliant troll.

The fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as a simple solution for the world's ills. Least of all a simple economic solution. The economy is far too complex for there ever to be a simple solution. If there were, people who are way smarter than us would have thought of them long ago. If anyone ever claims to have a simple economic solution, you can be sure that they are either peddling snake oil or sheer stupidity.

The following is a quote by Murray Rothbard that I have used many times before. I'll stop quoting it when pseudo-economists stop being stupid.

“It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a ‘dismal science.’ But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance.”

Monday, August 11, 2014

What is “The Will of the People?”

What is this thing that politicians call “will of the people?”

I had earlier predicted that the ruling Saenuri Party would lose the July-30 by-elections. Ruling parties almost never win in by-elections. However, the Saenuri Party has surprised everyone by having won a super-majority in the National Assembly, including a seat in the South Jeolla province, which has been a liberal stronghold for decades. The Saenuri Party now holds 158 out of 300 seats in Korea's unicameral legislature.

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But does this electoral win mean that President Park or Saenuri lawmakers have gained a mandate of some sort? Only 32.9 percent of eligible voters turned out to vote in the by-elections.

To quote a line from a TV show that I like, it's true that decisions are made by those who show up. And to the victor goes the spoils. But a mandate? To put it mildly, that seems like a stretch.

As for the New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) Party, with its two co-chairmen Kim Han-gil and Ahn Cheol-soo having all but officially given up their roles as party leaders, the party leadership has fallen onto the shoulders of Park Young-sun. Due to her party's diminishing popularity, in her very first press conference as de facto party chief, she pledged “to do her utmost to rebuild the largest opposition party by winning the hearts and minds of the people, saying that the NPAD 'failed to honor their will.'”

However, what neither Saenuri nor NPAD lawmakers seems to understand is that there is no such thing as “the People.” As much as politicians may wish to simplify everything into quantifiable polls, it does not change the fact that though there are millions of individuals who all have different wants, needs, and priorities; this ridiculous concept of a single blob-like People is actually non-existent.

So what the hell do politicians mean when they talk about “the will of the People?”

Start small and local.
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However, let's say for the sake of argument that there is such a thing as “the People” and let's say that they have Borg-like characteristics and all have a collective mind.

Is it a good idea to obey their every whim? Yes, one of the central tenets of democratic republicanism is majority rule. But has no one in the National Assembly ever even heard of Tocqueville? His book “Democracy in America,” details the perils of democracy by pointing out the dangers of majoritarianism and mediocrity, and that the people in their ignorance tend to meekly obey despots that are disguised as democratically elected leaders.

Or have they read Tocqueville but decided to embrace all the things that he warned against?

More than majority rule, the most important thing about a stable democratic republic is the absolute importance of the rule of law. And the rule of law requires principles. It requires sober and rational thought. It requires a system of morals and ethics.

What it most certainly does not require is gross and unthinking populism.

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