Akbar Interviews a True Conservative – Part II

gairdner

Below you will find Part II of Akbar’s interview with William Gairdner, conservative thinker and writer.  In this segment they continue their discussion of equality, democracy and economics and they end with a discussion of Global Warming and Gairdner’s essay “Global Warming in a Nutshell ” which is quite critical of the theory of Global Warming.

See more about him at www.williamgairdner.com

the * symbol indicates the part of the question that corresponds to each part of the answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question #1 – Concerning Wealth

Is there a point at which economic inequality begins to affect economic equity?  How do your ideas about wealth relate to issues of sustainability, as the world population grows, and we struggle with resources?  Is there a human agency that we can utilize to manage economics?

WG – An interesting question. Most people confuse “equality” with “equity”. But the two terms are quite different. For example, if you have three children and you want to treat them all equally in your Will, your decision rests on considerations of equality. you will strongly argue: I want to treat all my children the same.”


But if one of those children cheats. lies, steals, or is otherwise behave reprehensibly, you may switch to a notion of “equity.” You would then argue: “I want to give my children what they deserve, and the one who behave badly does not deserve the same treatment as the ones who do.”

So, the principle of equality has to do with sameness, whereas the principle of equity has to do with fairness – what is fair under the circumstances.

I have an essay on my website entitled “In Defence of Inequality” in which I argue that the more free a society, the more natural inequality will occur. And I am okay with that as long as there is a maximum degree of mobility, so that people who are rich one year but fall through bad luck or bad decisions, can strive to rise up again, and vice versa. As it happens, the mobility of the “poor” in free societies is quite amazing, and large percentages (I don’t have the figures at hand just now) who are “poor” one year, have risen out of that classification the next year, and so on. A large percentage of the “rich” also fall out of that class each year, and may rise again.

What mitigates against such economic mobility is the rigidities of the welfare state, which, out of “compassion” (I think that term contains a lot of the state’s power-interest as well), actually pay people, subsidize whole classes of people to stay as they are. Charles Murray wrote a great book about this in the late 80s called Losing Ground: American Social policy from 1950-1980 in which he demonstrated pretty cleanly that it was the advent of the welfare state that broke up the families of the poor, rewarded pregnancy and marriage avoidance in single mothers, and in many other ways led to the dissolution of society. He remarks that in the late 1950s some 80% of all American families were intact (had a mother and father in the home) and that by the late 1980s it was almost the reverse. today the dissolution of the black family is a social disaster of unprecedented scale in America.

As for “sustainability” – that has never been a problem in free market societies where people live under a rule of law and have private property rights. It is only a problem in socialist states. Some of your readers may remember the aerial photos of the former Soviet Union countries, which always had poor crops and were buying wheat from America even as they threatened to “bury America” ideologically. The photos showed rather starkly that all the common state-owned fields around the towns were desiccated and fallow and poorly cared for, whereas the small private plots (each family was allowed to grow on a small amount of private family land, were flush with colour of tomatoes, peaches, beans, you name it. What a contrast!

As for population? Not a problem. The problem is not masses of people: the wealthiest places on earth have the highest population densities: New York City, Tokyo, Paris, Berlin, Seoul, Hong Kong, and so on. Resources are not a problem, either. Switzerland, for example, has very few resources, but is entrepreneurially a star in terms of human capital: Many industries are Swiss world-beaters. Hong Kong has almost no natural resources at all. These places are rich because they are free and have low tax rates and smart trade policies and clever entrepreneurs.

In one of my last posts I mentioned the population situation. The Western democracies, in terms of natural increase, are actually in a death spiral because their women are having less than 2.1 children in their lifetimes. It is only immigration that keeps their populations limping along. But all are aging rapidly Canada, for example, now has as high a percentage of citizens over 65 as it has children under 14. Prepare for the coming demographic winter!

A human agency to manage economics? God forbid. The invisible hand does the best job in my opinion. You just need laws against force and fraud, and then … let people work and trade freely, keep taxes on work very low, and watch the wealth grow! Every where this has been tried, it has worked very well. In places where it does not work it is because of political and moral corruption or war and internal strife.

It is curious how many people who say things like; Let’s have a human agency (government) to manage the economy. would never buy their car, their shoes, their groceries, or their house from a government supplier. Most people rightly distrust governments to run things. Look at the schools run by government. They are infected with union rigidity, laziness, insubordination of students, drugs, student-teacher violence, and the lot. In contrast, these problems do not exist in private schools, or are at least extremely rare, and I don’t think there is a single example of a gun massacre at a private school or university in America.

Cheers

Bill

 

AL – Hello Bill,  I apologize for a very late response to your thoughtful statement, I was away for a week.  Some of the issues you raise will allow for some great debate on our site.  I am going to stay on the issues you raise and respond with a set of questions that will represent Question #2.  I think it will be obvious that I disagree with some of your views, but I thought this would be the most exciting aspect of having an interview.

Question #2 (in parts):

In regards to equity:  using your metaphor, is it not possible to assume that having a set of 3 children, that one would still wish to choose an equal distribution as a way eliciting a transformative use of one’s demise.  In other words, if one had a child who cheated, lied, stole, would one be doing more harm by validating the negative principles that drove him/her, by withholding even more at one’s death.  I am not convinced of this perspective, but it is worth noting, with of course, its larger implications.  I am reminded of Socrates who I believe would agree that doing bad hurts mostly the one who does it, therefore a father/mother would be best to continue to do good to the child, since it is within his/her power to do so.
*
In regards to poverty:  (and this is possibly the most heated issue)  I am curious if you have ever found yourself in poverty?  But regardless of that, your argument concerning the negative affects of welfare seem to have a contradiction which is this.  If you can ascribe a natural desire for self-improvement that comes with an open market, how can that be perverted by the presence of given funds.  That would imply some corruptive power of unearned wealth, which would then threaten the notions of ownership you bring up, as many would be born with ownership unearned.  How do you resolve this?
**
In regards to regulation:  you state that the market ought to be protected from fraud, but isn’t that what is implied by active legislation.  Although I agree much of it is scandalous, is not regulation meant for the protection of the consumer?  More subtly, how, in an information society, can we defend the notion of the free hand of the market, when education and access is a primary resource, how do we, with such a structure believe the poor to have an equitable level of mobility, and if we agree that they do not, what is governments role in securing it?
***
Lastly, in regards to sustainability:  As I read your statement, am I right to assume you are not concerned about global warming, natural resources and how that relates to a growing human population?  It is my belief that the science is pretty convincing on this front, are you coming from a different perspective?
****

Thank you Bill as always, Globatron will find this exchange very provocative.  I hope you don’t mind my challenging questions.

All my best,
Akbar

Hello Akbar – My interlinear responses are below:

* In a free society with an appropriate law of inheritance it is almost completely up to the parents how they wish to treat their children via inheritance. I wrote “almost” because too often, in my view, the state interferes even to adjudicate the “fairness” of Wills. So even after death, we are not free! Too bad.

My contrast b/w equity and equality was just to demonstrate the difference in thinking that underlies these two principles. In the recent past we operated mostly on the basis of equity, because everyone understood that when people are free their differences will be expressed in the real world, as I mentioned. No one ever imagined introducing the Procrustean principle of forcing them to be equal when they plainly were not. Courts today still strive to make “equitable” judgments. That’s good. My complaint is with the modern democratic state that is now almost wholly devoted to  the principle of “equality” on the argument that people are only different (and have different life situations) because they have been oppressed, or disadvantaged, or abused, or suffered some other sort of “systemic” handicap. So the state steps in to “equalize” all. Hence the egalitarian state we now have. I don’t buy it is true that people do not start out in life with the same hand of cards. But I argue it is better to have a free society in which all may play the hand they have to the best of their abilities than to live under an oppressive equalizing state that takes some cards by law from your hand and puts them in mine, or vice versa. That philosophy is good for the state, but bad for freedom. I always say, the only “equal” society that exists is the local jail (not counting the guards).

**
No. I grew up in a well-to-do family. But my Dad was a wonderful hard-ass and he booted my brother and I out pretty young to work with men. At 15, when school ended in June he gave us a one-way day-coach train fare on a 4 day and 4 night train to Vancouver, and said, “get a job and pay me back when you get home.” We walked the streets in Vancouver for two days good and hungry and got hired by a lumber company by lying our ages. We worked at the north end of Vancouver island for three months: Bull Gang, chokermen, Boom work, the lot. And we came back hardened men. And we paid my Dad back in full. Proudly. By then we could swear for three minutes straight without repeating the same curse word. The next summer we worked on a 10,000 ton ugly old British tramp steamer, the S.S. Kingsbridge, running coal from Sidney Nova Scotia to Montreal and back, twice. Then after two weeks of that we cleaned her up and took on a crazy load of machinery, high explosives, Beer cases as big as a house, a few thousand drums of high-octane airplane fuel, and went up past Baffin Land and Greenland to Resolute Bay on Cornwallis Island. Check it out. It’s way up there, about 750 miles from the North Pole. We were to supply the northernmost Arctic base of the US and Canadian defence against Russian missile attack  Our captain got so drunk we kept hitting “growlers” (huge ice flows) on the way up. But we made it, damaged bow and all, without sinking. Then we realized we weren’t going to get back to school in time by Labour Day, and so we had to jump ship while we were up there. Snuck off in a rowboat after midnight,  and got a job working from an Icebreaker unloading the same ship we had brought up! It was snowing like crazy on August 15th! Also almost got thrown in jail by the police for hiking across miles of tundra to an Eskimo camp. What a site: came over the hill and saw translucent icebergs like ghostly towers floating in the bay below, husky dogs running around barking, tents made of skins and boards, smoke swirling upward, little kids with faces surrounded with fur tentatively reaching for the candies we brought. No one there had ever seen a white man except the police, and suddenly we heard the siren on this whopper truck and the cop yelling at us to get the hell out of there and go back to our ship. We did that, pronto. They were terrified of us passing along white men’s diseases.

I see I got off on a story here, without answering your question. I think unearned wealth does corrupt people to a great degree. On the other hand, it’s a trade-off. If you want the enormous advantageous ingenious people bring to millions of others by means of their ideas and inventions and hard work, you are going to have a lot of children around with “unearned wealth.” But wealth tends to slip through their hands, and by the third generation or so, most of the family is ordinary again. The best hope in a free society is that charity is stimulated and a lot of that wealth is voluntarily put to good purposes. Despite what people on the left like to think, America is the most generous society ever seen in the history of the world. Any study of philanthropy will tell you that. For example, the average American gives twice as much to charity every year as the average Canadian (even though Canadians imagine themselves to be a less greedy people). It would be almost impossible to total the number, the millions of American charitable societies, organizations, foundations, etc, that exist. When I went to Stanford University, for example, there was a book about 500 pages in size, small print, listing the different scholarships and bursaries available … from generous alumni! Amazing, really.

And I am all for charity, of course. I am just against states engaging in phony definitions of the poor and then trapping them in their underclass by paying them to stay like they are. AFDC (Aid to Families Withy Dependent Children) used to do that. You got $X per month per child (so, more illegitimate children the better $) and the only reason you ever got cut off, was … if you got married. Read Charles Murray’s book Losing Ground on this whole topic, a great book that will end forever your beliefs that welfare is a good thing. I believe in a hand up, rather than a hand out. And I don’t believe that welfare (or charity) is a “right” – a vastly over-used word today. I also believe that the welfare state dries up the wellsprings of private giving (as it has in Canada). The reason is that when we get requests in the mail for charitable donations, the thought is, what for? I pay my taxes. The governments supposed to be doing this (so I don’t have to do it). In this dynamic, the state severs the natural compassion between citizens.

***
There is no such thing as a totally free market, except on the unregulated frontier. Government is necessary to set the rules, and protect us against force and fraud (including illegitimate government force, and fraud by the state itself!). So yes, regulation ought to protect consumers. However, setting the rules is not playing the game, and what we see in the rising statism of all western democracies, where, as Fareed Zakaria pout it, we have “more democracy, but less freedom” (especially now in the USA under Obama ) is government playing the game instead of just refereeing it. That is a form of liberal fascism (see Jonah Goldberg’s book Liberal Fascism).

Furthermore, to the extent that we surrender our ancient confidence in Caveat Emptor (buyer beware) we shift more and more of the responsibility for our actions to the state. This contributes to a less careful people who don’t bother to check out the qualities or guarantees of things they buy. They just figure if something goes wrong, they’ll sue. So .. we are now  super-litigious people. America graduates twice as many lawyers every year, as engineers, when it ought to be the reverse.

The poor will never have what you call an “equitable level of mobility.” That is just an eternal truth. The poor man’s means of wealth-creation is honesty and hard work. Many studies have told us simply this? If the poor 1) graduate from high school, 2) get a decent job  3) hold onto it for more than a year 4) get solidly married and do not leave their wife and kids, then their chances of staying poor are almost nil. Just ask any Korean or Chinese or Japanese immigrant to Canada: Many arrive dirt poor. But they don’t stay that way, for the above reasons. And the vast percentage of them are never on welfare. Too proud. Too family oriented, too hard-working to take money form the state. My new son-in-law’s family is from Egypt. His father came here with $300 and never took a dime from the government. He worked his butt off at three different jobs, and now they are a reasonably well-off middle-class family, firmly established.  He would spit at government hand-outs, still. In my former business my CFO came to me and said he wanted to hire a new accountant, but … what should he do? She wants to come in at 7:00 a.m. and we don’t open until 8 a.m. I aske him if he trusted her? He said yes, and I said, so give her a key. He came back ten minutes later and told me there was a problem.What problem, I asked? He said she already had a 6-hour a day job working from 4 until 10 at night and so wanted to come at 7 a.m. so she could get a little sleep. I was so moved by that, I said: “Hire her, for sure. It was a great story. He moved on eventually, and today she is CFO of that company! She, too, would rather spit on hand-outs. And it is people like her who make the country go full steam.

****
Well, I think it is junk science, and so am going to send you my piece, “Global Warming in a Nutshell,” and I encourage you to make it available to your readers. That will answer this question.

Thanks Akbar, this was fun

Bill

 

Question #3 (more of a response)-

1.  Adventure has an aspect to it that is free from these intellectual games.  I find that wonderfully refreshing, and so I loved the story of your adventure in the north, that sounds like a great memory and one worth reliving.  Many of us have such hero-journeys and mine comes from living in the inner-city Miami, as a poor white kid in a predominantly black neighborhood.  I saw and experienced great acts of violence and also great acts of desperation, and then great acts of selflessness.  Life in poor America has all of these things, and I have been gifted with a mix of intelligence and luck that has freed me from the bondage of poverty.  So, you will understand why I have a different understanding of it.  Point is, I find in your arguments a bit of an over-estimation of the self-interest to be found among the poor, a self-interest that can be corrupted by welfare.  Ironically, that self-interest is tied to an underlying implication that the self-interest is somehow different to the self-interest that free-market thinking celebrates, and therefore works against them when given opportunities.  This seems again to have somewhere a conflict with the ‘invisible hand’ mentality that says if we free people from government intervention the self-interest will allow for virtues to emerge.  If there is no ethical substrate for the invisible hand, then I wonder how it could be argued.  If inequality is natural, and government intervention adds to that inequality, and inequality is not a negative, I am having trouble finding the ground in this perspective.  To take a shortcut, it seems that fear plays an integral role in your idea of character construction.  Although I believe that is true philosophically, as in your adventure story, and mine, that fear must always be tied to very real threats.  I’m not sure I know how I feel about this, but I think I err more on the side of over-estimating the innate community-mindedness of my fellow human beings, the kind of good that would use social aid in a responsible way, as I have done.  One more point, although social aid might be wasted on a great many, it might also be argued that allowing a small window for the few talented children stuck below the poverty line might be worth the wasted funds.  Tolstoy, for instance, felt that the military was the largest welfare population, a viewpoint I am sympathetic to, a far greater form of government intervention that corrupts human beings.

2.  As far as government involvement in financial concerns, I ask, is it possible that when a company has total access to a particular resource, that the power of access and ownership, and the execution of power, is itself a form of government, a way of manipulating the populace, through the very practice of business.  Here too, there is a set of tensions.*  Your argument against the use of government intervention goes against a notion of democracy whereby the people are free to use the government as they see fit.  I know this is simplistic, but nonetheless democracy is occurring, and how are we to argue our points.**  It seems that underneath these tensions there are values that we are hoping for more of.  For instance, the notion of hard work is one that I agree with on one level, but I feel about it, the way Jesus did about praying, that hard work is better done privately without pointing it out, since I feel that hard work is itself its own reward, if that work is guided by an inspiration to serve.  Hard work itself cannot be a primary virtue, or can it?  Since we can agree that there are people working very hard in government against your values.***

3.  Lastly, as far as this tension between conservatism and socialist tendencies, is it not practical to consider that there is a more universal middle-ground that addresses human beings as a mixed bag.  Is there not value in people like you and I who are quite divergent in practice, actually finding we are similar in values, constructing new practices?*  As I opened up to this discussion with you, I had to swallow a bit of my gut-reaction to some of your views in order to investigate my own prejudices, and in doing that I find that some of your criticisms are necessary and good.**  The global warming paper you wrote has questions of scientific validity that must be answered for someone who claims an interest in this debate.  I would not have access to those if I had dismissed the paper as my ‘team mentality’ told me to.  I think this is something both sides of the polarity are guilty of, and perhaps there is room for the building of a new consensus.***

I know these are more commentaries than questions, but you have shown an openness to a wide-ranging dialogue.  I was very impressed by the global warming piece, and I will address that next.  When I told a friend about it, he was almost foaming at the mouth in anger, I thought that would make you laugh.****  Anyways, there is a special thrill in the kind of freedom of thought to directly face divergent views, and so I am grateful for your participation.

best,
Akbar

 

WG response –

1.    Unfortunately, I had a longer response written out and nuked it by mistake.  Suffice it to say that I agree with you on the self-interest point.  A good deal of poverty is a result of culture, and the same is true of crime.  The poorest five foot square front yards in Scottish villages have a little grass, a few flowers, and the owner comes out to sweep every morning.  The same yards in America or Canada are a disaster – scraps of paper and food containers blowing around in the cigarette butts among the unread newspapers.  One of the poorest groups in America in the past century was the Chinese in a certain area of San Francisco.  Yet in the entire California prison system in the 1980’s there were only five orientals.  (See James Q. Wilson: Crime and Human Nature)

2.
*    I think all free societies need laws against monopolies, either private or public.

**    Everywhere in the Western world we are seeing more ‘Democracy’ but less freedom, as burgeoning welfare states impose their tax harvest on the wealth of citizens and then smother them with regulation and the goods of the nanny state (all a camouflage for state power)

***    All social scientists agree that anything done by government costs more than the same quality of service provided privately, on a 2:1 ratio.  Almost always twice as costly.  What happens in welfare states is that the cost of government itself crowds out wealth.  In America Tax Freedom day is April 13th this year.  In Canada it is June 6th.  When will this stop?  In the quasi-socialist USA in recent years total tax as a percentage of GDP has been around 27+%, in mixed-socialist Canada it has been around 33.4% in totally socialist Sweden it has been 50.7% so…Do you see where USA and Canada are heading?  (Obama’s regime change is really going to accelerate this trend for you).

3.

*    Yes, we likely want almost exactly the same good things for ourselves and for others.  Where we will tend to differ is in the means we think will produce them.  For me, equality and freedom are like a teeter-totter, the more of one, the less of the other.  Some have to choose our fundamental values first, and then go from there.

**    I have enjoyed this myself, and I always say:  I am open to a better argument than my own… when I hear it.

***    Consensus always feels better than the opposite but the most important value when it comes to debate, in addition to decency and respect, is getting at the truth, with or without consensus.

****    Actually, it makes me sad, because so many have lost the art of friendly and incisive debate.  They substitute anger for argument.  When I give a speech and someone inevitably stands up very angry and tells me how outraged they are at what I have been saying, I reply:  You couldn’t be more outraged than I am.  So now that we have got our anger out of the way…What is the point you would like to make?  Then, they usually settle down to the table and try to debate properly.

Thank you for your patience and for your questions

BILL

 

AL –

Response #4 –  Firstly, I think our exchange is a great example of something I have been trying to express on Globatron that artists have very often secluded themselves from engagement with oppositional perspectives and I find this intellectually lazy, and by including this wide range of topics on Globatron we are not making it less artistic, we are making art more expressive of the wide scope of human issues.  Now to move away from economics I would like in this last question to address your paper on global warming (I will make it available in the post).  Your paper, I must say, should be required reading for anyone interested in this debate.  I will point to 4 issues you address that are great questions with scientific merit.  1.  The choice of measurement location as a primary critical question is almost existential in importance, it points out the deepest difficulty with this issue.  2.  The favorable plant response issue is also convincing.  3.  The Global Cooling Hysteria is also instructive.  4.  Your calling our attention to the dramatic coldness of space and the effectiveness of the thin atmosphere to manage such dynamic daily change is hard to ignore.

I must say I was convinced by your paper, not so much convinced of any scientific truths as I am not a scientist, but convinced that the growing consensus around this issue is less ‘scientific’ than it claims to be.  My criticism of the paper, not so scientific, but it is that you start it out with a characterization of the ‘green’ people that is so filled with your own frustration that the very people who ought to read it, like myself, have to push through a tremendous amount of defensiveness to get to the actually very dramatically valid scientific points.  Even though I agree with your science, I must say that the green movement has called my attention to how I think about my environment, how I think about resources.  Perhaps in some way conservatism already accounts for such things as wastefulness and excess, but there are many in the environmental movement who are fighting against the types of business freedom that permanently destroys rivers, ground water and local environments.  To make a criticism in the form of a suggestion, perhaps you could angle your argument in such a way that claims resources for environmental cleanliness are being taken away by the fraudulent global warming scare.  Do you contest that certain industries have toxic affects on some communities?

Look forward to hearing from you,

Akbar

 

Hi Akbar,

I agree with you.  The start of the paper is a little heavy on the criticism of the left-wing enviros, so please if you want to publish the paper on your site, just remove the first part.  That’s OK with me.

As for your question on pollution and corporations?  I agree there are lots of polluters out there, and it makes me very sad.  But I think the way to deal with that is with tougher laws and penalties, with ordinary solid laws protecting those who are harmed and enabling them to sue for damages.  Free enterprise, business, if left without a rule of law that protects us from its bad effects in this way is a whore for money, and will do anything it can get away with.

In this same way, government is a whore for power and control.  But this is no surprise.  I think most people are whores for money, personal gain, and so on.  But that is a human universal that we know for certain.  It is knowledge we can use to control the consequences of individual or corporate or governmental selfishness by determining in advance what the damage is going to be and then setting up the laws to corral such people.

No one loves a nice clean stream more than me.  So I am with you on making certain we have a clean environment.  But in turn that means we have to discern the truth:  What is the true effect of our actions on nature, and what is false?  In fact, it is tough to discern because so much of the science is opportunistic:  Enviros looking for facts to justify their theories, and ignoring facts that do not help their theories.  For example, we have had one of the coldest spring seasons ever up here.  But not a word about that from the climate catastrophe folks.  But if it had been the warmest spring ever, we would have heard about it incessantly.  So my view in general is that in this field there are too many theories chasing too few facts.  We could say that the modern environmentalist movement, since the fall of communism, has become a substitute revolt against the west.  I think there are indeed lots of things in the west of which I am not proud.  But I just don’t think we should throw out the baby with the bathwater.  And there is progress:  In Lake Ontario thirty years ago all the salmon were gone.  Nada.  Today there are large salmon-fishing derbies right off Toronto – Sometimes 30 pounders are caught!  That’s progress through a combination of penalties and laws.

Best wishes,

BILL

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1 Comment

  1. globatron
    June 20, 2009

    This interview is outstanding. I haven’t read the global warming paper yet but intend to this afternoon. I’ve yet to hear Akbar so nearly convinced by a paper that I implore everyone also who wants to understand both sides to do the same. Thanks Mr. Gairdner for sharing it.

    It reminds me of Frost Nixon interview a bit. Not to say that Gairdner is Nixon. But that was one of Akbar’s last posts and it seems to flow into this rather well. You too are so opposite in your views yet have a civil interview/debate. I find that honorable and think that’s really the nexus of this site. There needs to be more of this in America. The world.

    If we could find a middle ground on the issues and throw out the dated us vs. them mentality of the right/left paradigm we’d be a much healthier nation. Heck, we might even survive as a species as I feel deeply finding a middle ground might be the key to our survival.

    Reply

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