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What this is, is the opening shots in the inevitable decay of a Socialist economy. When productivity starts dropping and there are fewer resources available for redistribution, the leadership notes that the people aren’t working as hard as they used to. The obvious conclusion is that the people have gotten lazy, and the nomenklatura then start on a campaign to get people to work harder and more effectively. Look up some political posters from the USSR of the Twenties and Thirties for examples.
It isn’t true. What’s happening is that people are working more virtuously — in Socialist class-warfare terms.
The fundamental postulate of class warfare is that people who have “more” are to be envied. If they won’t give some (much) of their “more” to those who have “less”, they are Evil. People who are evil should be punished, and one way of punishing them is to take their stuff away.
Productive people always have “more” than unproductive ones, and as a rule feel proprietorial toward it. If they made it or grew it themselves, they feel that it’s theirs and will defend it. That means they don’t want to give it to those who have “less”, and under class warfare that makes them Evil. Nobody wants to be considered Evil, so people avoid doing things that gain them that label. Since productivity always results in the charge, the people choose virtue over evil — and productivity disappears. If there is no production, there is no wealth for the leadership class to control. The leadership class sees that and concludes that the people are lazy, where in reality the people are choosing virtuous behavior in the terms the leadership class have defined.
Several people have noted that college students today turn up their noses at the prospect of working for private corporations, instead choosing “public service” (a.k.a. Government employment) or NGOs that promote Good Causes. (See also: “Occupy Wall Street”) Working for a corporation would result in the corporation making a profit and therefore having “more” which it doesn’t choose to give to those who have “less”. It is therefore Evil to work for a corporation, and virtuous to work in organizations that attempt to suppress the Evil and distribute the “more” to those who have “less”. People who choose virtue in that context supply two hits to the economy. They do not themselves produce, and they work — work hard and virtuously — to suppress Evil productive activity.
A working definition of “Socialist” might well be “somebody who doesn’t realize that that cycle exists”. No Socialist can recognize the process, because it directly contradicts their ideals. They see that productivity is dropping and that as a result they have fewer resources to redistribute, and have no explanation for the effect. Since productivity is the result of work, they conclude that the people don’t want to work — that they are “lazy”.
But they can go to the factories and mills, or to the bureaucracies that support them, and see people working hard and virtuously. “Lazy” isn’t a sufficient explanation. Something must be preventing production, some malignant force that stops the production of wealth and makes their noble goals unattainable. The obvious candidate for that force is the people who say that Socialism doesn’t work. Those evil bastards must be sabotaging the virtuous folk, reducing production, creating poverty because they like poverty. If they didn’t like poverty, they would overwhelmingly support the actions of the Socialist idealists to eliminate it. It’s sabotage, pure and simple; tossing monkey-wrenches into the works just for the delight of preventing Good Things from happening. You’ll find those posters in the pre-WWII Soviet Union as well, growing more strident as the years pass.
I, personally, give it ’til about the first of the year before Barack Obama starts out on a major campaign against the “wreckers” and “saboteurs” who prevent him from achieving his Noble Goals. He and his sycophants have already started out in a small way, but for the moment the only villains they’ve identified are the “obstructionists” of the Republican-led House of Representatives and Republican Senators. It’s clear, though, that “obstructionism” isn’t sufficient to achieve the effects visible; thus the second step, “laziness”. Look for speeches vilifying “wreckers” and “saboteurs” starting in about January, if not a bit before. If you want to help Obama & Co. out, look up and translate some of Lenin’s speeches from the mid-Twenties. There’s plenty of material there that could go straight to the teleprompter without much more than substituting American idiom for Russian, and the original speeches were fairly effective; no reason to work at inventing something new. After all, that would be productive.
(Update: Reynolds reminds us that “hoarders” should be added to “wreckers” and “saboteurs”. )
Commenter prochazka_the_insane suggests that
The biggest factor that positively reinforces this kind of economic idea is the visible success of corrupt politicians and crony capitalists.
I’m sorry, but no. That’s Populist dogma — the Fat Cats and Moneybags Are Robbing Us Blind! — and the difference between Populists and Progressives is like the difference between Communists and Fascists, viz., the people in the camps are too busy trying to keep breathing to care what the Commandant preaches. What prochazka calls “Magical Thinking” has its roots much farther back.
Humanity originated as small bands of hunter-gatherer-scavengers, and lived that way for at least hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. If there is anything at all to the idea of “innate behaviors” those behaviors were developed during that time, which is long enough for evolution to develop traits. The few piddly millenia since the invention of language, tools, agriculture, et. al. (in whatever order) are not nearly enough for the slow mechanisms of natural selection to get a grip on the subject. In particular, rational analysis has only been around for a few centuries, and compared to the time our ancestors spent ranging the countryside hunting for food, that isn’t even a rounding error.
Emotional reactions are, at root, changes in endocrine balance, physical changes in our body chemistry, and (at least for most of us) aren’t subject to rational control, but like any other physical quality are subject to natural selection. We (at least some of us) have been subjected to training and education in early childhood and later, which enables us to override our emotional reactions (at least sometimes), but even the most rational of us feels the emotions developed by eons of evolution. That evolution took place long before there were any of the features of modern life, and were fixed at that time.
Now, if you haven’t already, go back and read the previous post. You may find it unbelievable, but I do not. What you’re looking at there is the reason long-range weapons were developed, from bows and arrows to tranquilizer guns, and dollars to doughnuts three-fifths of the suggestions readers might come up with as ways to handle the situation involve modern tools, from knives to pistols to tying the animal to the bumper of the pickup and dragging it. Even those might not help. I’ve known more than one hunter who’s shot a deer, approached the limp body, and been hurt when the wounded animal found the resources to lash out.
What that story confirms is the suggestion, made some time ago, that the “hunter” part of the description of our ancestors is likely to be highly overstated in the interest of self-image. The (now) Educated Rancher had on sturdy clothes, had a rope, a squeeze chute, and a pickup truck, and could have availed himself of a knife, a gun, or even a club. Imagine the Mighty Hunter of 1,000,000 BC, naked or nearly so, equipped with (at most) a rock. How would he have fared in that situation? It is to laugh, at this safe distance. MH probably didn’t find it at all amusing.
That points to what can only be speculation, but is persuasive nonetheless: what the hunters hunted for was stashes. Plants bearing fruit, growths of grain, recently-born litters of animals still too weak to resist, nesting birds, streams with fish, and (bonanza!) the kills of predators that didn’t finish them off had to be the goals of their search, and they would either bring their finds back to the tribe or lead the tribe to the food source, that they might eat and survive. This is not to say that they never made kills, but bearing in mind the relative strengths of humans and prey animals those had to be rare, at least until the relatively late time when weapons were invented.
The stashes existed or not, and the hunters found them or not. From the hunters’ point of view, stashes appeared more or less at random, not in any way subject to their control. There was nothing the hunter, or the whole tribe, could do to make the stashes. A hunter who did not bring the stash back home, or lead the tribe to it so they could feast, was a deep-dyed villain whose greed threatened the very survival of the tribe. Tribes whose hunters did that died out, so the desirable behavior — providing the stash to the tribe — was conserved by evolution, as was the emotional reaction that helped drive that behavior. Hunters who ate part of the stash before providing it to the others were more ambivalently villainous. Certainly they were depriving the tribe of nutrition, but on the other hand, the hunters had to be the strongest (and therefore the best fed) of the tribe in order to do their work. Emotional resentment of those who didn’t bring it all home therefore exists, but is muted.
The conditions that make up an agricultural society, or even more an industrial one, are intellectual constructs that totally violate our emotional reactions. Agriculture depends on protecting the crop from opportunists before it is harvested for the use of the agriculturalist, but to the tribe from over the hill, still living as hunter-gatherer-scavengers, the crop is a gigantic stash that, if exploited, would enable the whole group to gorge themselves. The crop’s defenders are, to the tribe, interlopers to be driven off or killed and resented, even hated, for interfering with the tribe’s access to food, no different from the hyenas they had to compete with to get the remnants of the lion’s kill. The farmer, on the other hand, has achieved a triumph of rationality. To him and his fellows the growing crop is still a stash, but if they wait ’til it’s ripe, harvest it, and save some for next year’s planting, they can eat well for an indefinite period of time. Gorging on the stash is still attractive emotionally, but time-binding rationality overcomes the emotional reaction.
Capital goods — the “means of production” that are the foundation of wealth in an industrial society — are even worse, “crops” taken to some large power. There before us is an immense stash whose guardians, who ought to be acting like good hunters and distributing it to Feed The Children, instead defend it with fervor that can only be attributed (by the emotionally-driven) to the same “greed” that caused primitive tribes to die out, and therefore fixed the emotional reaction to “greed” in the survivors. The idea that that stash enables production, which will enable many more people to eat than it will provide if consumed directly, is an intellectual construct that runs counter to our emotional reactions. Watching the “fatcats” consuming a portion of that production before distributing it adds to the resentment, in the same way that the hunter who consumed part of the stash before bringing it home was resented.
Is that the whole of the explanation? You are dealing here with the person who proposed Ric’s Rule #1 (“It ain’t that simple”). Of course not! But if you observe the behavior of leftoids, from Populists wailing against “banksters” and “corporate greed” to full-bore Marxists, it’s pretty damned plausible. They are reacting emotionally to the existence of stashes, which their “instincts” (that is, the emotional reactions developed by hunter-gatherer-scavenger tribes) say appear at random without human input, and should be shared to insure the tribe’s survival. The rest is elaboration and rationalization, rather than rational analysis. It isn’t “Magical Thinking”. It’s primitive emotionalism.
So the next time a leftoid brags about how intellectually superior he or she is, laugh in their faces. They have rejected a rational analysis of the situation, substituting a rationalization of what is, in fact and at the root of all the pseudo-intellectualism, primitive emotion. They aren’t Progressives, let alone promoting the Advance of History; they are Retrogressives, looking “forward” to wandering the plains with a rock in hand, hoping to find a lion-kill with few enough hyenas to run them off and feast. The only possible result of implementing that philosophy is destruction of the industrial civilization that supports us all, and the fact that they’re oblivious to that only makes it clear that they aren’t any sort of “intellectual”.
 Eeew? It is to chortle. With the conspicuous exception of birds and fish, which are small enough for a bare-handed human to overcome and rot very quickly, it is well-nigh universal even today that meat which has been “hung” or “aged” — that is, allowed to rot for a bit — is tastier than fresh. The more pretentious steak houses even do it in class cases at the front of the restaurant, so people can see what they’re getting. This is actually one of the stronger points of circumstantial evidence leading to the above hypothesis.
The atomic unit of economics is the transaction. All analogy is suspect, but that one is better than most. There are “particle physicists” who study things smaller than atoms, and “chemists” who study the interaction of atoms without much concern for smaller units. Similarly, we have psychologists who study the internal details of people’s interactions with one another, and economists who study the interactions themselves and their ramifications. Particle physicists and chemists each gain some information from the other’s work, but their interactions are minimal. Similarly, psychologists and economists learn from one another, but (e.g.) studying pedophilia doesn’t give much insight into the price of eggs in Estonia, and vice versa.
There are several types of transactions, though many fewer than there are types of atoms. The word “transaction” is cognate with “transformation”, and that makes sense because, like a transformation, a transaction begins with an initial state and, via some action or set of actions, results in a different resulting state.
The most common type of transaction, and the one most fundamental to understanding an economy, is the exchange or trade. It begins with the initial state
A has X, B has Y
and the process results in the final state
A has Y, B has X
Chemical reactions do not occur without something to drive them. Similarly, economic transactions do not occur unless some force promotes them. That force is want, which can be understood in either of its two most common usages: lack and desire. At this level of analysis, the two meanings are identical. A person who lacks food desires some; a person who desires food is in lack of enough to satisfy that desire. Either way, want drives the “exchange” transaction.
That sets up additional conditions for the initial and final states. If we start with the initial conditions above, we can add four possibilities for want:
- A wants X.
- A wants Y.
- B wants X.
- B wants Y.
They can then be combined:
- A wants X, B wants Y.
- A wants X, B wants X.
- A wants Y, B wants Y.
- A wants Y, B wants X.
Beginning with the initial state, there are then four possibilities:
- Each is satisfied, that is, each wants what they have. No transaction occurs.
- A is satisfied, but B is not. B would prefer that the transaction occur, but A resists. No transaction occurs.
- B is satisfied, but A is not. A would prefer that the transaction occur, but B resists. No transaction occurs.
- A and B are both dissatisfied. The transaction occurs, driven by mutual want, ending in the final state.
The transaction thus transforms state 4 to state 1: at the beginning both A and B are dissatisfied because they want what the other has. At the end each is satisfied by having what they want. As is required by the laws of physics, the process includes (an analogy to) entropy, that is, it isn’t reversible if only that limited set of conditions is considered. Reversing it would convert state 4 to state 1, which goes against the wants of both parties and thus requires an external force.
The name of the entropy-analogy is profit. In the transformation of state 1 to state 4 each becomes more satisfied, that is, each profits by the exchange. More subtly, A and B are in the real world embedded in a society, and the fact that each is happier, more satisfied, wealthier than before the exchange translates into greater wealth for that society.
This analysis is not nearly sufficient for understanding all of economics; just so, knowledge of “molecular bonds”, the fundamental unit of chemistry, is not sufficient to understand, say, the synthesis of Teflon® from petroleum feedstocks. However, a wannabee chemist will never understand the subject without knowledge about molecular bonds, and a wannabee economist will never figure out what’s going on without an understanding of transactions, particularly the trade or exchange. Beware of “economists” who claim that state 4 can be transformed to state 1 without external forces; more to the point, be very wary of anyone who claims that states 2 and 3 can be transformed to state 4 without cost. Explosions may result.
During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Christians were not supposed to charge interest. Therefore, the most common moneylenders-to-kings were Jews. They could loan money at a profit, and were thus more likely to lend it.
But whenever the King’s debts got too large to repay, he began to demonise the Jews. And eventually came a pogrom. And hey-ho, the debt went away along with the Jews.
I’m seeing the demonisation of banks. I wonder how long before government throws a pogrom?
The Jews then, and the banks now, will lend you money, but the cinchy bastards not only want it back, they want more back than you borrowed. This is vile and evil behavior, deserving of punishment. The fact that if you punish them you don’t have to pay the money back, let alone the interest, is purely incidental, and has no bearing on the criminal charges, right? It all makes we wish I’d posted a private communication, in which I suggested to Norm Geras that the pogrom was imminent. Soothsayers take great pride in finding others who agree with them.
I’ve noted before that this is a matter of terminology. Most Western and Western-derived religions and all popular sentiment demonize lending at interest — yes, even Judaism, although the Jews handle it by making those passages historical rather than canonical. It ain’t right! An example demonstrates why.
Lots of people don’t have a pickup truck. They’re expensive and big and get lousy gas mileage, and HOAs think they’re ugly and don’t want them parked where they’re visible. Once in a while, though, there’s a couch or a fridge or something else too big to fit in the Prius that needs to be taken elsewhere or brought home, and a pickup would be useful. Lots of people have friends who have pickup trucks. Such a person might go to the friend and ask to borrow it to carry the unexpected load, and an indulgent friend might agree to lend the cargo-hauler.
The friend wants his truck back when the borrower is done with it, and a wise borrower will return it full of fuel and possibly offer a few bucks, or a compensatory favor, in return, but there’s no quid pro quo involved. If the friend wants to charge for the use of the truck, it creates resentment. That isn’t what friends do to one another.
But if the prospective borrower doesn’t have any friends who own pickup trucks, there’s another alternative. He or she can go to an agency, like U-Haul or Enterprise, and rent a truck. The terms here are quite different from borrowing from a friend. The agency specifies exactly how long the renter can use the truck; it wants something to reassure that the truck will be returned in good order, and (most importantly) it wants payment based on usage. The renter may resent the necessity — it would be much cheaper to borrow from a friend if one were in a position to lend — but the agency itself, and the rental terms, don’t cause resentment. It’s just perfectly normal business, and even at the height of the anti-usury campaign the Church itself was happy to serve as a rental agency for capital, luxury, and real property articles, and make a nice profit doing so.
As technology and commerce advanced it was discovered that “borrowing” at interest served the needs of both “lenders” and “borrowers”. Instead of renting a truck, the person can “borrow” the money to buy one. The “lender” specifies the term of the “loan”, wants reassurance that the money will be returned, and charges a fee for the transaction. From the standpoint of the “borrower” there isn’t a whole lot of difference. He or she provides assurance of repayment (a “security deposit” or “collateral”), and pays a periodic fee for use of the truck.
In other words, instead of renting a truck, the person rents the money to buy one. The terms may be different in detail, but are identical in principle to the case of renting the machine, and the advantage to doing it that way is that the “renter” gets to keep the truck — a capital good, which can be used for hauling all kinds of things — at the end, instead of returning it to the agency.
Neither Citibank nor The Shady Corner Finance & Extortion Agency “loans” money. They rent money out, on exactly the same terms U-Haul rents out trucks: the user pays a periodic fee, based on the value of the item rented, for the use of that item. SCFEA is not your friend; Citibank is even less so; using “loan” to describe what they do confuses it with transactions between friends that are in reality totally different, both in what happens and in the underlying philosophy behind them.
We would be better off if “lenders” discarded that terminology and used terms that better reflected what was really happening. Instead of renting a house, you can rent money from the bank to buy one; instead of renting a truck, you can rent the money to buy one from GMAC. The terms and conditions for renting the money are the same as for renting the house or truck: security (assurance that the money or the item will be returned in good order), a periodic payment, and a defined period of rental. Getting the words right would make it clearer just what it means when Obama & Co. want to rent a trillion dollars to bestow largesse upon their friends and dependents. It’s just too bad that the Medicis didn’t think of that when they established the system. It might have saved a lot of heartache for a lot of people over the years.
Norm Geras considers the role of Government, beginning with a quote from a friend:
On Twitter yesterday, a friend put up a tweet carrying this quotation from Adam Smith:
“Civil government…is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor” [Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, bk 5, ch 1, pt 2]
It’s an idea that’s probably more familiar to many in its Marxist variants, amongst the best known of which is this one from the Communist Manifesto:
The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.
He goes on to maintain that whatever the purpose(s) of Government, that’s at worst only one of them, and offers a list of things a Government should do. I could of course quibble with his list of priorities, but what’s amusing to me is that he doesn’t seem to see the inside-out applicability of those quotes to Socialist aspirations.
It was perhaps clearer in the days before modern agriculture, when a return of 10:1 on the seed planted was cause for rejoicing. One of the many threads that make up the origin of Government was the necessity for guarding the seed grain. Here is this enormous store of food — but if the group eats it, or Feeds the Children, there is no crop next year and everybody dies. A guard must be posted, lest shortsighted (and hungry) individuals get into the store and kill everyone whilst satisfying their hunger.
The guardians of the seed grain are “rich” — they control a lot of food. They are even authorized to dip into it for their own sustenance, especially during times of privation. Guards who are listless from lack of nutrition won’t be effective. There must, in the past, have been many groups who found that offensive and took steps to spread the wealth. They don’t appear in the modern record, because they died out before leaving any traces.
Capital is the modern, industrial-society equivalent of the seed grain. It is resources, wealth, taken from society and embodied in the means of production. Like the seed grain, it is there before the society, clearly visible, but cannot be consumed, because if it is consumed the means of production no longer exist, and their products cease to be available. Like the seed grain, it must be guarded against the shortsighted — and the custodians and guardians of capital are “rich”. This is true independently of the means by which the guardians and custodians are selected.
“The People” is an abstraction, incapable of any real action. As a practical matter, The People form a Government to act in their behalf. That Government must, of necessity, take on the responsibility of guarding capital against opportunists and the shortsighted. If capital is converted to consumption, the means of production cease to exist and the society can no longer support itself.
But the guardians and custodians of capital are “rich”. Even if they aren’t specifically authorized to do so, they will inevitably dip into it a bit for their own sustenance — and in fact they are so authorized. The Cadre, the Vanguard of the Proletariat, must of course support itself in order to do the Work of the People.
So however socialist its ideals may be, the Government thus formed is obliged by sheer necessity to defend “the rich” against “the poor”. Is it not delicious?
One of the major innovations that form the basis of Western civilization is what might be termed the collectivization of retributive justice. Every society wants to see retributive justice done — people who do Bad Things should have Bad Things done to them. In tribal and tribal-descended societies, this is done by the victim and/or the victim’s relatives, friends, and neighbors. However, there is no guarantee that the victim has any relatives, friends, or neighbors willing to go to the necessary effort, so many offenders suffer no consequences, and there is the ever-present danger of escalation, resulting in retribution all out of proportion to the original offense. Combined, those disadvantages and others make it difficult to create a large, cohesive society which can build wealth by cooperation.
Europeans were once as tribal as any people on the planet. For good or ill, Europeans also were (and remain) some of the most murderous b*ds to be found anywhere. The result of that was millenia of wars, beginning with intertribal conflicts that weakened the tribes, causing them to coalesce into larger groups composed of the remnants of tribes; those larger groups then fought, weakening them to the point that they coalesced into even larger groups, which fought one another… rinse and repeat. The reason Europeans were such formidable conquistadores is that they’d had thousands of years of practice on one another. In the end, except for some remnants like the Scots, the tribes of Europe had been for all practical purposes wiped out. The people survived, but their groupings were no longer tribal except at the very top level (“nations”).
Lacking a tribal structure to implement the revenge system, Europeans assigned retributive justice to the nascent States. This turned out to be very useful. A Government is (at least in theory) relative, friend, and neighbor to all its subjects, so no person need suffer the lack of retributive justice because no-one was available to provide it. A Government also (again, at least in theory) puts together an impartial structure under which retributive justice can be performed without running into re-re-revenge: the Rule of Law. The theory actually worked well enough to enable widespread cooperation, without the danger of either friendlessness or rampant escalation.
Western Governments of the “liberal” or Progressive inclination have been reducing their role in providing retributive justice for a long time. Prisoners have rights! The accused deserves a fair trial! All of the rationales provided are individually plausible, but the net result is that the average citizen can no longer expect his Government to provide retributive justice. Violent offenders get slaps on the wrist or no punishment whatever; people attempting to defend themselves are sanctioned instead. The United Kingdom has been in the forefront of that development. There is no doubt that the anecdotes we hear in Westpondia are selected and/or exaggerated, but when a society that once announced “An Englishman’s home is his castle” prosecutes even one householder for unkind treatment of burglars the notion of the State as an instrument of retributive justice goes out the window.
At the same time that development was in progress the notion of social justice began to be accepted. Social justice demands that the Haves give to the Have-Nots, and must be implemented by force because the Haves are rarely ready to give up their possessions. However, it is accepted to some degree in every society that taking things away from people by force is a Bad Thing. Fortunately there is a loophole: One of the ways of punishing people who do Bad Things is by taking things away from them. Social justice practitioners therefore uniformly declare that having things is a Bad Thing done by Bad People, who can therefore be justly punished by having their things taken away. Because retributive justice is a function of the State, punishing the Bad People by taking their things away from them is something the Government should do.
The rioters in England have all been steeped in the concepts of social justice since infancy, and take its tenets for granted. People who have things are Bad People, who must be punished by taking their things away. They have also been taught that the Government will do that on their behalf, so they needn’t bestir themselves — but they have also learned that the Government cannot be trusted to provide retributive justice. The Government has promised to act as an intermediary, taking things away from the Bad People and giving them to the Good, but it is no longer a trusted intermediary. It will neither punish housebreakers, muggers, rapists, and the like, nor tax the Bad Rich People enough that they no longer have things. Its members are also quite clearly opportunists who rake off a substantial percentage of the take from the Bad People without passing it on to the Good Ones.
When an intermediary is no longer trusted it will be bypassed whenever possible, and if you read their Tweets and proclamations that’s exactly what the rioters are doing. The proprietor of the electronics shop has plasma televisions, and the Government isn’t punishing this evil being as he deserves, so the People ignore the intermediary and do it themselves. Her Majesty’s Government, having discarded the principle of State provision of retributive justice, finds itself no longer trusted to provide retributive justice in the service of social justice, obliging the People to act on their own behalf.
People attempting to defend their homes, shops, and possessions have been accused of “taking the Law into their own hands”, but in fact it’s the rioters who are doing that. The Government isn’t punishing the Bad Rich People sufficiently, so the Good People must do it themselves. As Vonnegut said in a different connection, the prospects for peace are awful.
There are two categories of anti-capitalists: murder/suicides and liars.
The first can be divided into two categories: negligent (the majority) and intentional (the lunatic fringe). The negligent simply don’t know what they’re talking about, and should they succeed will be incredulous for the few seconds before they join the 6.5+ billion people their negligence killed off. The intentional are actually desirous of destroying the facilities that provide the necessities of life for the vast majority of the people on the planet, but since they’ve never been farther than ten steps from a sidewalk when outside, their delight (should they win) will be quickly replaced by the same expression as found on the negligents’ faces.
The second category, the liars, is populated by those who understand that “capital” is the resources diverted from living expenses to provide the means of production, and intend that that should continue to be the case. They simply want all the capital assets to belong to a single entity, with themselves and their friends in charge of that entity — which is to say, they aren’t anti-capitalist at all (hence “liars”), they are monopoly capitalists on a scale that would give John D. Rockefeller pause.
Protest as you will. The analysis stands.
What is capital? Capital is a thing (or service) that is produced not for consumption but for further production. The existence of capital industries implies several stages of production, or up to thousands upon thousands of steps in a long structure of production. Capital is the institution that gives rise to business-to-business trading, an extended workforce, firms, factories, ever more specialization, and generally the production of all kinds of things that by themselves cannot be useful in final consumption but rather are useful for the production of other things.
As Hayek emphasized in The Pure Theory of Capital, another defining mark of capital is that it is a nonpermanent resource that must nonetheless be maintained over time in order to provide a continuing stream of income. That means that the owner must be able to count on being able to hire workers, replace parts, provide for security, and generally maintain operations throughout an extended period of production.
Mr. Tucker might also have noted that capital is a red flag (literally!) to the covetous. There’s a lot of money there! Gimme some of it! For the CHILDREN (after suitable deductions for reasonable expenses, of course)! The real tragedy is that Sean Penn, who is “…actually living there, chugging up and down the hills of a shanty town, unshaven and disheveled, being what he calls a “functionary” and getting stuff for people who need it”, will never figure that out — or, if he should, would be cast out by his fellows as a pariah. There’s more than one Sean Penn out there.
A friend manages an Internet list, and got some of the spam so familiar at other sites. She doesn’t follow geekdom, so after bouncing the spammer she asked
“…would I be safe in assuming that there is a way that he could simply set things up to post to every thread sequentially, without the intervention of human hands?”
O yes, and in fact it’s worse than that. Antivirus software sellers always make their pitch by referring to loss of data, compromise of identity, and such, but the most malicious computer malware nowadays goes out of its way to do no damage and remain as unnoticeable as possible. All it wants is a few processor cycles and an Internet connection, and once it has those it communicates with other computers thus infected and with the master controller of what is called a “botnet”. (The neologism is derived from “robot”, of course, but for those of us with horses the resonance with the little yellow eggs of the botfly, found on the hair and capable of maturing into a parasitic pest, is remarkable.) The function of a botnet is to send email messages and posts to blogs and the like, and the reason for that is search engines.
Google, et. al., use complicated algorithms to decide which twenty of the 2,349,994 results of your search to display first, but down at the root of all those methods is popularity. The more often a term appears, and the more often it is referred to from elsewhere, the more popular it is assumed to be. This gives rise to a minor sub-industry called “SEO” or “search engine optimization”, which tries to insert keywords and other search terms in such a way as to raise visibility to the search engines. If there are millions of emails, blog comments, and other items out there, all of them with links to a particular site and associated keywords, then a search on those keywords is more likely to return the site on the first page of the results, and it’s therefore more likely a person searching for that item will go to that site to buy. Botnet controllers use their hijacked networks to spam the URLs of their customers to as many places as possible, so the search engines will see that URL as “popular” and promote it to an early place in the search results list. If they did it all from their own computers they’d be easy to frustrate. Having thousands of computers, each with its own Internet Protocol address, doing the spamming makes it hard to block them.
So unknown and invisible to you, your computer may have been incorporated into a botnet. If so, it’s the source of some of the spam emails we see every day. The first bots were resource hogs; a computer thus infected ran notably slower. Newer ones are more discreet, even noting your usage and shutting down while you’re downloading, so as not to be noticeable. One of the things you can do to help the fight is CTL-ALT-DEL or otherwise call up the “Windows Task Manager”, and learn which “tasks” are normally there. Even the most discreet bot has to have a task name, and if it’s running it’ll be on the list. If you don’t know what a particular task is you can usually Google or Bing for it, but be careful about spelling, especially single-letter substitutions.
Many years ago the magazine InfoWorld carried a cartoon showing a massive atomic attack, followed by urgent inquiries from the Kremlin. The response was, “Oh, never mind, we’re just nuking a spammer,” and the Russians reply, “Da, need more rockets?” The kicker, in the last panel, was the spammer himself emerging from the rubble, battered and scarred but with his precious disk of fruitful email addresses in hand. It always seemed to me that the useful approach would be to track down the “Johns”, the people who profit from hiring spammers. Find out where the credit card payments go, and nuke it from orbit… recently a slightly more pacifistic approach has been used, working back from who got paid to the operators of the botnets, and several such nets have been shut down in the last few months. It’s a story that stays under the radar except among the geeks, and that’s just the way the geeks like it.
There are still vandals around who giggle at having screwed up other peoples’ computers, and probably always will be, but when you send your money to the antivirus people the main thing you’re supporting nowadays is the bot-battle. This is because a botnet doesn’t have to be a relatively innocuous spammer — the bots have taken over computers at the deepest possible level, and there’s no reason the Master Control couldn’t simply issue a command to disable everybody. Remember the Stuxnet story? Shutting down Iranian nuclear research by poisoning the computers that run it? That isn’t even the tip of the iceberg, it’s more like the sun-glint off the tippy-tip of the ship-wrecker. Needless to say the Intelligence and Military Intelligence people are deeply concerned, but their main value is that, of late, they’ve been willing to deploy goons to deal with the offenders in meatspace. The expertise in tracking them down belongs to Aspies in dim rooms, surrounded by empty Jolt Cola bottles and flat screens, with OC3 connections blinking on the nearby wall.
…knowing I’m not the only weirdo out here.