19 December 2011

With Havel & Hitchens gone, who now carries Orwell's torch?

Vaclav Havel and Christopher Hitchens both died this week.

They will both live on for a while though, because they each occupy a special place in my mind. They were both prominent fighters for human freedom against oppressive regimes. One, exorted the West with his intellect, wit and words to acknowledge its responsibility to fight for the ideals of freedom and against hypocrisy. The other was a politician, poet, playwright and philosopher who won a long fight with Soviet totalitarianism that will always inspire others. They were both in their own way heirs to the legacy of the contrarian genius of George Orwell, who helped define the 20th century's intellectual resistance to all forms of totalitarianism.

Vaclav Havel seems likely to go into the pantheon of our civilization's heroes of human freedom. In April 1975, after the Soviets had crushed the Prague Spring with tanks and installed a new puppet in power,  Havel (in Matt Welch's words)  "committed an act of such sheer ballsiness that the shock waves are still being felt in repressive countries 30 years later". He wrote an open letter to the Soviet installed puppet dictator, Gustav Husak, setting out why and how totalitarianism was ruining Czechoslovakia.
So far, you and your government have chosen the easy way out for yourselves, and the most dangerous road for society: the path of inner decay for the sake of outward appearances; of deadening life for the sake of increasing uniformity; of deepening the spiritual and moral crisis of our society, and ceaselessly degrading human dignity, for the puny sake of protecting your own power
This letter apparently was clandestinely distributed as a samizdat behind the Iron Curtain and has been attributed with being the catalyst for the growth of the dissident movement in Central Europe. "Absurdistan" he christened the Soviet Union. And that he was successful, with others, in eventually peacefully steering Czechoslovakia into democratic freedom is inspirational globally. Civilization is in his debt, because his example of resistance, dignity, courage and persistence can, and will be, drawn on for eons to come by those seeking succour under the oppressive yoke of totalitarian government.

Christopher Hitchens, though great in his own way: a brave contrarian and debunker of hypocrisy within the cultural cacophony of the West; and destined to continue be much loved by those that knew him or read his polemics whilst fresh, seems more likely to drift into obscurity. He will likely occasionally be dis-interned as a brilliant pamphleteer of our era by future scholars of the late 20th century, for this era could easily be forgotten, but for for the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 and 9/11.

Havel and Hitchens had much to say about both these events and their impact on our humanity and  civilizational values. The future will of course determine its own version of history on these matters, but it is to be fervently hoped that both these men will find their deserved place.

They have both been compared to, and at various times have metaphorically fought in the minds of others for the title of heir and successor to George Orwell. Hitchens wrote a book called Why Orwell Matters. In reviewing it in the Weekly Standard David Brooks argued that the great man's mantle and relevance had actually passed onto a new contrarian's shoulders: "At this moment, oddly enough, Hitchens matters more than Orwell." 

Whilst Matt Welch in the May 2003 of issue Reason argued:
At exactly the same time, the one man in the world of the living who could justifiably claim to be Orwell's heir was expounding almost daily on Saddam Hussein and international terrorism -- even while rushing through one of the most frenetic periods of a famously accomplished life. Vaclav Havel, the 66-year-old former Czech president who was term-limited out of office on February 2, built his reputation in the 1970s by being to eyewitness fact what George Orwell was to dystopian fiction. In other words, he used common sense to deconstruct rhetorical falsehoods, pulling apart the suffocating mesh of collectivist lies one carefully observed thread at a time.

So with both Havel and Hitchens now gone, who is to carry Orwell's great contrarian passion for human freedom forward?

It seems likely, and it is surely to be hoped, that the next chapter in this great and continuous battle for human dignity and freedom will be fought most intensely in the great rising super power of the East, China.

The inevitable huge tensions between the vast numbers of employers, industrialists and entrepreneurs gaining in wealth throughout China and their dysfunctional but all pervasive central and regional government overlords in the Communist Party, seems ripe territory for dissidence and courage of the scale and calibre that Orwell, Havel and Hitchens set. And even this analysis does not adequately acknowledge the role to be played by the "Power of the Powerless" in the vast social dislocation of  billions of Chinese peasants transferring from the verities of their rural villages to the relativism of urban alienation in cities on a scale never before seen in human history.  Somewhere there surely the new torchbearers for Orwell's passion for human dignity will be found and heard.

News Flash: Kim Jong-il dies.

So that illness finally got him (old and bad joke). A horrible tyrant, who oppressed millions of North Koreans for decades, goes in the same week as these two great fighters for the dignity and indomitable spirit of free people. Both the good and the bad have died this week. It emphasises the need to publicly revere the good where we can see it working, and to publicly revile the bad works of those who have not bettered the lot of their fellow humans.

28 September 2011

Family debts


Someone recently emailed me this quite compelling explanation for why Standard & Poors downgraded US sovereign debt:

• U.S. Tax revenue:  $2,170,000,000,000
• Fed budget:           $3,820,000,000,000
• New debt:             $1,650,000,000,000
• National debt:      $14,271,000,000,000
• Recent budget cut:      $38,500,000,000

Let's remove 8 zeros and pretend it's a household budget:

• Annual family income:                              $21,700
• Money the family spent:                           $38,200
• New debt on the credit card:                   $16,500
• Outstanding balance on the credit card:  $142,710
• Total budget cuts:                                         $385

Hey is someone reading my mail.


What we need now is for someone to do a similar thing with the Euro family debt. I'd like to see what Daddy Deutschland's debt position is if it stumps up for the debts of all its Euro children: Greece, Portugal and Ireland and its profligate Euro in-laws: Spain, Italy and Belgium.

All these Euro family members have been borrowing on Daddy Deutschland's credit for decades and now the lenders want to be repaid.

Appropriately La Femme France seems to date to have been immune from such tawdry scrutiny. Uncle Ned is of course beyond reproach.

Some dumb questions:

  • Can someone explain to me why the market has all of a sudden become confident that the Euro experiment is not inevitably going to unravel over course of the next decade?
  • Surely some paltry public palliatives for Papendreou uttered by Angela Merkel are not seen as constituting something substantive to turn this slow motion train smash around?
  • Isn't that Wile E Coyote market just going to tank again tomorrow when it belatedly realises that it has just been duped by the Road Runner one more time, with the same old Euro political posturing?

29 June 2011

Will the Carbon Tax enhance our economic freedom?

It seems that there are many benefits flowing to people who live in societies that value and encourage economic freedom  (lid dip to Glenn Reynolds). 

A carbon tax seems inimical to more economic freedom. It raises the cost of energy. It requires a large and intrusive bureaucracy to collect and administer it. Business has more red tape to comply with. There are redistributions and reallocations of wealth that are susceptible to gaming.

How can the risk of taking such backward steps in our economic freedoms be considered worth it for the seemingly very remote possibility that taxing carbon dioxide emissions might help slow global warming if other nations do it too? Especially whilst the rest of the world just looks on?

Only people who put a nil or low value on economic freedom would be likely to treat such a trade-off as worthwhile. They do not seem to realise just what a valuable thing it is that they are imperilling with their fanciful hope of global climate salvation by introducing a local carbon tax. 

22 June 2011

Taxing CO2 in Australia now is a really bad idea

If your objective is to save the planet, then this tax will not help.

If your objective is to create prosperity, then this tax will help to impoverish us.

Though if your objective is to increase the size and power of government, then this tax would have to be a winner.

Here we are, yet again, accidentally having some easily accessible stuff that other nations are prepared to pay up for, and we decide it would be nice, in the name of helping Mother Earth, to deliberately make it more expensive for industries to set up or continue here. And we are going to make it more expensive now, before the rest of the world has done it too, to show the world how morally sophisticated we are, even when such sacrifice won't actually help the planet stay cool.

Brave? Yes. Sensible? No.

A carbon tax will inevitably cost us economically productive jobs. A carbon tax deliberately reduces our capacity to create wealth from using the most economically available resources to create goods and services. A carbon tax is specifically designed and intended to artificially increase the costs of our most economic and abundant sources of energy so that currently uneconomic and  more expensive sources of energy can compete. That is, a carbon tax  intentionally raises the cost of nearly all our productive economic activity for the purpose, apparently, of helping to prevent the Earth from getting warmer. Except that this tax will not have any effect on whether the Earth gets warmer or not.

Here's the rub, as the recent Productivity Commission report makes plain, Australia will be alone in the world in having an economy wide tax on its carbon dioxide emissions. This is from a country whose largest export is, wait for it: COAL.

We are doing the reverse of subsidising our industries. We are, with this tax, deliberately handicapping our businesses and industries against our global trade competitors. In fact Australians are subsidising our international trade competitors by exporting to them our cheap and abundant coal. You see it can be burnt overseas without being taxed. Burning our coal here would put businesses at an economic disadvantage because we will have a tax here that is actually designed to make burning it here it too expensive. This tax  will actually encourage more coal to be exported to the rest of the world. CO2 will still be emitted into the Earth's atmosphere when this coal is burnt. It will just now be burnt somewhere it is not taxed, although Australia will now no longer get the economic benefit of coal as a cheap source of energy, our competitors will.

Please someone explain how such a tax in these circumstances can work to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions.

Please someone explain to me why or how anyone can be morally sanctimonious about such a tax.

Please explain to me how fostering such outcomes could in any way be described as a sensible policy.

Please explain why a sane person who has the best interests of their fellow citizens at heart, could advocate for such a tax.

The suggestion that introducing this tax now prepares the Australian economy for the world's imminent low carbon future is based on wishful thinking or pure fiction. What world low carbon future? Where is it? Who else has one? Not who has said they'd like to have one or that they have a plan to introduce one. These are mere words. If Australia acts now on this we will be on our own in a spectacular folly.

China doesn't tax CO2. India doesn't tax CO2. The USA doesn't tax CO2. Russia doesn't tax CO2. Brazil doesn't tax CO2. Japan doesn't tax CO2. Korea doesn't tax CO2. Indonesia doesn't tax CO2. South Africa doesn't tax CO2. Not even sanctimonious and broke Europeans tax it. They have a market which prices it. Very badly, if your objective is to reduce CO2 emissions.

We Australians are about to shoot ourselves in the foot with this carbon tax. 

Suggesting that a Carbon Tax now is a truly bad idea has nothing to do with denial or scepticism about man made global warming .  Such an argument is delibrately distracting polemical fluff and a transparently irrelevant straw man. It's pretty clear that man's activities are having a climate effect. This is not the point of why this carbon tax is such a bad idea for Australia. It is also not a question of being opposed to having a world price for carbon that is determined by the market, so that long term sustainable investment decisions can be made for the betterment of humankind.. That might be a good idea when such a global market actually exists. But it doesn't.

The point is that to do this alone now, will cause Australians a self-inflicted economic harm for no climate benefit. No one else is going to follow our example in noble self sacrifice. The rest of the world needs to be actually with us, doing the same thing, when the whistle is blown and we plunge into the brave new low carbon world. They cannot just be waving us on from the officers' mess, sending us signals about our courage in going over the top for the cause. Alone. Such sacrifice would be in vain and an appalling vanity.

This tax is yet another episode in a continuous stream of spectacular intellectual misadventures that Utopian dreamers in power choose to inflict on trusting citizens, seemingly without remorse. It seems our bureaucratic elites believe the rest of us must just accept these morally superior soft headed policy idiocies, because they  mean well.

Implementing this tax now would be a middle class moral self indulgence that will cost Australians dearly for nothing.

I believe it was Frederick Hayek who said 

"The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design. "

There is great hubris in store for all the politicians, economists, scientists, journalists and bureaucrats who are proposing and advocating for the massive "reform" of our economy that the proposed carbon tax necessarily entails. I guess this could be called "reform" if you take reform to simply mean change of any sort. There will certainly be a lot of change.  But if reform is taken to mean change for the better, then this carbon tax is not reform. The Earth's climate will not change for the better because of it. Our industries will indeed now change so that they are less internationally competitive. The numbers of Australians in productive employment will change, downwards. Our national wealth will change for the worse.  And the huge structural change required will substantially increase the size and intrusiveness of central government.

It is a curious thing indeed that so many of our economists have let their imaginings about the power of their fiscal designs take such a hold that they have convinced themselves that a tax implemented in Australia alone can somehow save the planet  And then they proceed to have such grand designs imposed on their fellow citizens even whilst they know it must necessarily make us poorer.

This is truly a form of policy madness. And the Australian people implicitly understand that this is madness. Why can't our elected and taxpayer funded leaders in Canberra also see this? Is the maintenance of its power by placating the Greens so important to the Australian Labor Party and the rural independents in the Federal Government that they are prepared to persist in this self indulgent moral folly at the expense of the prosperity of their fellow Australians?

The only potential benefit in this for Australians is the tawdry and self defeating prospect of some much promised but as yet unspecified redistributive allocations to householders of large portions of the money obtained from penalising Australian industry with the carbon tax. That might feel good for some for a little while, until they lose their jobs because the tax cut or rebate they receive from the Government has come directly at the expense of making employers less competitive, and the employers have to cut back or fold as a result. 

What kind of economic folly is this? What sensible and serious person who is concerned for the well being of their fellow citizens could support it?

19 May 2011

Mad hatter bumps into ceiling at tea party

Whatever toxins may come along with it, the Tea Party movement has been a wonderful example of grass roots democracy in action in the flagship democracy. Citizens holding their overlords in government to account for their sense of entitlement and profligacy with the taxpayers' dime, is an empowering and encouraging prospect.  The Democrats former (and in many cases continuing) moral righteousness about Guantanamo, Global Warming, Iraq, Afghanistan and the well-being of workers, has not been met in office with any actions materially different from the previous Republican administration, even when the Dems controlled both the House and the Senate. Obamacare, the one possible legislative success of Obama's first 2 years, at the moment just looks like an even more gigantic bureaucratic fiscal snafu than usual, at a time when the US can least afford it.

And America seems to have gone morally backwards in many areas under Obama, in spite of all the hope: more wars, more unemployed, more drone killings, gloating over state sponsored assassinations, and continuing glacially paced military trials for enemy combatant detainees in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

If, on the other hand, one sensibly sets aside such glib media-packaged morality shtick and concentrates on the hard nosed business of advances in delivering prosperity to and for the people, then the magnitude of the US Federal and State debt problem does look like the serious blockage to meaningful progress. Whatever else may be said about them, the Tea Party seems to have got that part of it pretty much right. Witness the US federal government now bumping up against its previously unimaginably high debt-ceiling of $14 trillion.  Increasing taxes can't reverse the vortex of perpetual hole digging in a blackhole of that magnitude. Tax hikes would only impede the economic growth required to raise enough revenue to just pay the bills. Drastic, painful, socially dislocating spending cuts by a severely overstretched government seem essential if the US is not to become broke. People of responsibility will have to risk being unpopular in the populist republic and be given power by the people, if the US is to have any real chance of prospering again. The EU or China won't bail them out and the IMF is now on remand in Manhattan without bail.

In the meantime the A$ climbs to US$1.06 and more. The commentariat is now even talking here about the US$ halving in value in the early part of this century. My meagre mind goes numb with pain just trying to roughly game out such a scenario for the world's economy. And though Australia's prosperity is now inextricable linked to China's seemingly unquenchable thirst for its primary resources, we need the US to start growing vigorously again for the world to prosper. A return to high inflation now looks almost inevitable in the next decade in the US under current FED monetary settings. This might help ameliorate the debt problems, but the other consequences could be dire. Yes, interesting times. Buy gold?

28 March 2011

25% of NSW now vote ALP: "a good outcome"

According to Labor electoral genius, House Government Whip,  former Minister of Defence and Federal member for the Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon, this electoral result was "a good outcome". 

For once I find myself agreeing with this nepotistic, entitled, reality-challenged blowhard. Saturday's vote removing the Australian Labor Party from office in New South Wales was indeed a very good outcome for the people of this state.

The bastards deserved everything the electorate gave them. They had become incapable of even understanding that being elected to government requires you, as a minimum, to believe in acting responsibly in the interests of the people you govern.

It was not a victory of one view of what is in the best interests of the people over another such view, as is ordinarily the case in such battles in advanced democracies. It was more a crushing defeat of a party who didn't even know anymore that the interests of the people it governed mattered. The Union movement, who run the ALP, has a lot to answer for. It put the maintenance of its power over others above all other interests. After 15 years of refinement, this is the end result: dumped and abandoned by the electorate.

I reckon that if the ALP is ever to be a force again here it needs not to return to nineteenth century working class labour collectivist socialism, as some would have it. Rather it should openly proclaim advocacy of progressive middle class liberalism, including all its seductive shallow populist fallacies. We know that the electorate can still be suckered by such saccharine nonsense. Unlike the working class pathologies of Marxist rhetoric, which the electorate understandably no longer is capable of falling for.

Al least if they were clear sighted enough to badge themselves as trendy progressives they might claw back some ground from the Greens. They might also then be an electable alternative to a fiscally rigorous and socially conservative establishment. The good news is that this looks unlikely to happen, in the short term anyway, because the Union heavies and hard leftists appear to have gained ground in the rump of the party that remains.

15 March 2011

Eve lures the innocent serpent to its doom

You can''t make this stuff up.
This is what now happens to vipers who are clutched to the breast.
Satan is no match for silicon implants.
A parable for the innocence of merely biblical evil in the 21st Century?

09 March 2011

Never fight a Land War in Asia ...

(... except when you have to ?)

George Friedman in his peice at Stratfor wants this old and glib defeatist rubric (allegedly uttered by Douglas MacArthur to JFK and kinda quoted more recently in the movie "Princess Bride"), elevated to "a principle of U.S. foreign policy".

It looks to me more like a thin and easy assertion of tactical rhetoric masquerading as grand strategy (how apt therefore that its source should be the egomaniacal MacArthur). The more compelling proposition is probably something more like: now that China is a real military threat to the US, a land war in Asia is more likely than ever to be a disaster. This is just a statement of the obvious.

Friedman's (and MacArthur's) proposition however seems to wilfully elide some more important issues. Firstly, to publicly proclaim such a doctrine would be to unilaterally substantially weaken the US's ability to influence events in Asia. And that is just plain dumb. Secondly, it bespeaks of a Kissinger like return to mere realpolitik pragmatism in US foreign affairs that would represent a pusillanimous retreat from grander strategic goals. The US has since the Great War, with a few of isolationist intervals, seen itself and held itself out as being prepared to stand up for democracy and a belief in the primacy of human freedom against totalitarianism. If the US is to continue to stand for and support such ideals it must also, in extremis, still be prepared to fight land wars in Asia again, as it has done in the past

A brutal dictator was deposed and there is a now democracy in Iraq. The Taliban was removed from power in Afghanistan. The dominos of south-east Asia did not fall to communist dictatorships after the US intervention in Vietnam. South Korea is a prosperous capitalist democracy because the US stood up for it. These land wars in Asia by the US had huge costs in blood and treasure on all sides. Were such interventions worth these incalculable sacrifices? Only if one believes that the value of democracy and freedom is also incalculably great to humanity. Should we now just give up on fighting for these ideals in some geographic regions and not others, because the going has become too rough? None of these things would have come to pass if the US then had had a doctrine such as the one proposed by Friedman in this essay. The consequences of not standing up for what you believe in even when it is difficult and the risks are great is that other even worse adverse consequences are likely to prevail.

I disagree with George Friedman's proposition. Adopting it would be adverse to the strategic interests of the West and the civilizational values of humanity.


04 February 2011


An inert but harmful and all pervasive heavy element consisting of constantly re-organising dense neutron clusters. It impedes, constricts and then suffocates almost everything it touches. It was described in the literature in 2005, after observations of the automatonic responses of vast concentrations of peons combined with the recognition of the overwhelming atomic force of the moron.

10 January 2011

Major Dick Winters has died.

Major Richard Winters of E Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, US Army, passed away peacefully on 2 January 2011

He died in Pennsylvannia aged 92. He was a true leader and a hero. All who value the sacrifice and resolve of the generation who took on and defeated totalitarianism in the Second World War will mourn his passing. He is one of the finest representatives of that greatest generation. Most of us only knew him  through the magnificent TV mini-series "Band of Brothers" or the book of the same name on which it is based, which narrated the formation, training and actions of Easy Company in the 2nd World War.

But we know him from there as the leader who 'hung tough' in the toughest of circumstances and showed us the true meaning and value of courage, loyalty and resourcefulness. I acknowledge my unbounded admiration for this man and celebrate his life as a testament to the lasting value of taking responsibility, doing your duty and honouring your friends and family by your actions. These are the words of his by which I will remember him:
Your reward for a good job done is that you get the next tough mission.”

Rest in peace soldier. You will not be forgotten.