Archive for February, 2016

New to Linux? Fedora, Please!

February 24, 2016

This is fairly off-topic for my blog, but it deserves to be said anyway.

I strongly encourage you to use Linux. If you are worried about privacy and security, you will use Linux. Sure, it cannot run all of your favorite apps, but I have found you don’t really need most of them and there are good free software alternatives.

Sidenote: “free software” refers to free as in freedom. See here. Note that you may have to pay for free software, but you are guaranteed software freedoms that will make us free.

There are a variety of linux distributions out there, each with their set of fancy promises. Let me list some of the more popular ones, and why you shouldn’t use them.

  • Linux Mint, which touts itself as really easy. The problem is it ships with non-free software and is insecure and buggy.
  • Ubuntu, which touts itself as really easy. The problem is it ships with non-free software and is insecure and buggy.
  • Debian, which touts itself as free. Yes, it is, but it is also difficult to work with. If you can make Debian work, more power to you. You are a better Linux user than me.
  • Gentoo, which touts itself as free and allows you to build all the software on your computer. This takes a long time, and there are some problems with the concept.

What is Fedora? Fedora is free as in free beer and free as in freedom. It is managed by the Red Hat company, which sells RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux). Red Hat makes its money by selling subscriptions to RHEL and by supporting the companies who use it. If you have lots of money to throw around, and you want to make sure your Linux just works, use RHEL. It is, by far, the best Linux distro out there that money can buy. If you are tech-savvy, you can use CentOS, which is RHEL but for free and without the tech support. It is not supported by Red Hat but it maintains a very close relationship with the software in RHEL, so if you’re thinking of going RHEL, you might want to experiment with CentOS at first. Or if all you know is RHEL, then CentOS is good for home use.

Fedora is the free as in beer version of Linux that Red Hat sponsors. All the software that goes into RHEL first goes into Fedora, where it is “baked”, meaning used by thousands and thousands of people. As they use it, they find bugs, and they report those bugs, and the bugs get fixed. Basically, Red Hat sees Fedora as its developmental version of RHEL.

Now, to get to my point on why you should use Fedora:

  • It’s free as in free beer
  • It’s free as in freedom
  • It has great support
  • It is probably the most secure Linux distro out there, besides Debian.
  • You want privacy? You can have it on Fedora.
  • It is very similar to RHEL, should you decide you need that
  • It has all the latest and greatest software
  • It is really easy to work with

Some people complain because of Fedora’s flaws. Let me list them and how you can overcome them.

  • There are a lot of “flavors” of Fedora. My recommendation: Run with KDE, and be done with it. Later on, you can experiment with others. If you decide to do Gnome, that’s fine too.
  • Fedora doesn’t include non-free software like Adobe Flash. You can still install this but you have to use a separate repository which is trivial to setup. I recommend not using Flash. It needs to die quickly. (I turn off flash on my windows and Mac laptops.)
  • Fedora is hard because it is so complicated. Yes, it is complicated because it doesn’t try to hide things from you. Learn your new Linux system bit-by-bit as you run into problems. Fedora and the Fedora help forums will teach you what is really going on rather than give you some magic commands that seem to make the issue go away. The Fedora community will treat you like a responsible adult.

And finally: Don’t install Linux on your computer directly. Get a program called VirtualBox, and create a virtual Linux instance and use that instead. As you spend more and more time in your Linux instance, you will maybe one day decide that you’d like it as your host software. As for me, I just run it in the VirtualBox and all is well.

If you have questions, ask me.

Here to There

February 24, 2016

A roadmap for how to minimize the size of government, in response to a comment:

What can you, as a regular citizen, do to minimize the size of government? Let me list the ways.

  • Vote for whoever promises to cut budgets and cut taxes.
  • Write to your congress and the president expressing your sincere desire to cut the size of government, and list the things that benefit you that you would like to see cut.
  • Encourage wise and honest people to run for office. Support them by volunteering to be on their campaign committee. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
  • Don’t rely on the government. Live your life in such a way that you don’t need any government benefits. That means getting out of debt, keeping a cash reserve, and living below your means. (Dave Ramsey can help you with this.)
  • Teach others not to rely on the government. Show them through your example how they can live independent of the government.
  • Help others out of poverty and out of government dependence. There are innumerable private charities, many of them run by churches, that need people like you.
  • If you work for the government, live as frugally as possible, and demand lower wages. Remember, every penny you earn is taken from someone else in taxes. If you work for the government, it should be seen almost as volunteer service. If you don’t want to give those things up, then don’t work for the government.

Underlying all the above is the idea of “power”. Power is something people are given. It comes from trust and respect. When you trust and respect someone, and do what they say, they have power over you. Don’t give power to the government! Start by not trusting or respecting it, and continue by disobeying it. Limit government for yourself, and teach others the same, and government will be limited.

Our fight is not in the ballot box. Our fight is definitely not in the courts or in congress. When things get there, our fight is already over, whether we have won or lost. Our fight is in the hearts and minds of the people. It is a religious struggle, where the two factions are those religions which teach self-reliance and those religions which teach government-dependence.

In all this, keep in mind that you don’t need to break any laws to limit the power of government. Suppose you lived in the time of Caesar. You could keep the laws, but at the same time, not worship Caesar as a god. That’s what we need today.

So, I think the best thing you can do is immerse yourself in the Bible and fundamental Christian teachings. Then live by them. Christ taught us how to be free from the world.

The Tacoma Methanol Plant Objections

February 24, 2016

I’m going to do a series on the objections people seem to have about the Methanol Plant. The outline is:

  1. Why building here is best for the world and best for us
  2. Why methanol manufacture is safe
  3. Why the methanol industry is good for the environment
  4. Why Using our water is a good thing for us
  5. How we should act as responsible citizens

Each of these topics I believe will answer all the hysteria that certain environmentalists are inspiring. There is a lot that people who are not familiar with the chemical industry don’t know, and I intend to clear everything up. I am going to show why true environmentalists will enthusiastically endorse the construction of the methanol plant right here on the tide flats.

By way of disclaimer, let me disclose all the relevant facts about myself.

  1. I currently live in Northeast Tacoma. I can see the flats from my house.
  2. Although I am living here, my house is for sale. I plan on moving not too far away, just across the border into Federal Way.
  3. If the methanol plant was moving forward at this time, I would be slightly more encouraged to stay here. Having a profitable business right in my backyard would do wonders to alleviate the tax burden I carry and even increase the quality of life here.
  4. I do not work in the chemical industry nor am I being paid to write these articles.
  5. My training is in Physics (BS) and math (minor). I work as a software developer for a startup in Seattle, and I’ve been doing that since 2000, more or less.
  6. I have a wife and five kids, and they are my highest priority. If I thought for one moment that building the methanol plant here would hurt them, I would be protesting it.

Let’s begin with the first topic: Why building here is best for the world and best for us.

There are two reasons why it is best: One has to do with simple economics. The other has to do with economic reality.

Simple economics says that profit is revenue minus costs.

  • Revenue is what a company earns. It is usually the money coming in, but it can be anything that is accumulated.
  • Costs are what the company has to pay to stay in business and make that money. It can be measured in dollars, but it is also measured in units of time or effort or even discomfort.
  • Profit is what is left over. Again, it can be measured in dollars, but sometimes it is simply a sense of satisfaction of a job well done.

In simple math terms, Profit = Revenue – Costs.

Simple economics says that people will not do unprofitable things for long, if at all. In fact, people will try to maximize their profit.

This is pure greed and selfishness, the same greed and selfishness that compels you to protest the building of a methanol plant in your backyard. We are all looking out for #1 — ourselves. Or rather, we are all looking out for the things we want, even if it comes at the expense of what others want.

Mother Theresa is a great example of this. She wanted, more than anything else, to serve Jesus Christ by going to India and helping the poor there. So she decided that “paying” for her service by living in a third-world country and struggling each day to treat the innumerable sick and poor was worth the benefit of serving her Lord and Master.

We often associate economic things in terms of money, but really, most of what we decide to do has little to do with money and everything to do with less monetizable factors. For instance, someone might choose to live near their aging parents. Others might choose to live in the Puget Sound area because of the mild climate or friends or associates. These people could make more money or live in bigger houses with higher property values if they chose to move to other parts of the country, but they choose not to because whatever non-monetizable factors are at play are more important for them.

Indeed, money can’t buy everything, and everyone knows this. We can’t put a price tag on human life, and so we choose to be much poorer than we otherwise would be if we trivialized human life.

But the simple economics remain the same: Profit = Revenue – Costs. If there is no profit, there is no reason to do the thing. And you should always look to maximize profits.

Considering the above, why do the Chinese want to build the world’s largest methanol plant here in Tacoma? Because Profit = Revenue – Costs. They believe that they will maximize their profits by locating their methanol plant here in Tacoma. They have included, of course, monetary factors, but being Chinese, I am 100% certain that they have included non-monetary factors as well. I know this because I know, for a fact, that Chinese are humans too, and all humans don’t value money above everything else.

Suppose we tell the Chinese “No.” Just flat out, “No, you can’t build here, no matter what you do.” What will they do? Well, they could give up building the plant altogether, or they will move to a different, less profitable location. I believe they will choose the latter.

What will be the effect? The effect will be that the people who want to build the plant will earn less profit. There will be less benefit for them. It may not show up in their pocketbooks, but it may manifest in terms of time spent away from their families, the quality of the methanol, or the costs of keeping it environmentally clean.

Regardless, they will get less benefit.

Now, suppose that we say, “Yes, but there are conditions.” We carefully consider what conditions we should place on the construction, additional costs that they will have to bear. We could demand, for instance, higher than normal worker safety, or less than normal pollution. If we are wise, we can attach these kinds of conditions, but not so many that they will decide to go elsewhere. The point here is that when profits are being made, then we can negotiate better conditions for us, because they have more to give away. This is the key fact, the reason why profit is important not just for them, but for us.

Consider this. Let’s say your neighbor comes over to your house and says, “Hey! I got this great deal on this 72″ TV!” What is your immediate reaction? You can react with envy, thinking, “I should’ve gotten this, not him.” This is a purely selfish emotion with no good in sight. Or, you can celebrate with him the fact that he made a ton of profit. This is how many more traditional communities look upon profit. When their neighbors profit, they are happy. Isn’t this a wiser way to live? Doesn’t it just sound more stress-free and simply happy?

Why would cultures develop this habit of feeling good for their neighbor’s success? I think it is because we know that when those around us are profitable, then we will benefit. My neighbor having a huge TV might invite me over for football games so I can enjoy it as well. Or he might have extra cash to pay my kid to mow his lawn. Who knows? All I know is that profit is spent, and in a way, everyone benefits.

This is all simple economics. The key takeaways are:

  • Economics deals with much more than money.
  • Profit = Revenue – Costs
  • People try to maximize their profits.
  • Where there are profits, you can negotiate for better prices.
  • Profits benefit everyone.

Now, let’s talk about economic reality. Why would building here in Tacoma be better than anywhere else in the world?

Let’s look at the geography. The methanol plant will be, for all intents and purposes, built along the shore of a remarkably calm bay. This area is known for its lack of dangerous storms, only minor earthquakes, and a mild climate. If you can tolerate the wet climate, it is one of the easiest places to live and build things. There are not many places like it. Combine that with the fact that we have something most of the rest of the world doesn’t have — political stability — and you should see why Tacoma, along with  the entire Puget Sound region, is prime real estate for chemical plants.

The access to the bay and thus the ocean means you can literally ship whatever you need in or out at rock-bottom prices. In the days of sailing ships, the cost to move things across the ocean was the food needed to feed the crew and the materials needed to keep the ship well-repaired. Today, it’s even cheaper as the crews are dramatically smaller and the ships built out of steel and fueled with crude oil. This fact works both ways: it’s cheaper to bring things in and it’s cheaper to take things out.

Tacoma has the curious property of having a vast excess of potable water. We are fed by glacier water and the annual snowfall in the mountains. The vast majority of this water simply runs through our vast wilderness, untouched by human hands. We tap into a tiny portion of it for all of our water needs, and we have more than enough with our current supply. Yes, occasionally we have droughts, but our droughts are nowhere near as serious as the ones experienced in California. In Eastern Washington, there are a series of dams designed to help Eastern Washington thrive despite the occasional droughts, but we have needed no such system here. California, on the other hand, is using so much water that they literally can’t keep their dams stocked with enough supply to weather the occasional droughts. We have no such problem.

The other factor that Tacoma has is we have access to some of the best educated, honest and hard-working people in the world. I beg you to try and find anywhere else in the world where blue and white collar workers compose themselves with such dignity and respect. People don’t realize this, but the reason why Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Google want to import Chinese and Indian engineers here in Seattle is because when they bring those engineers here, they learn how we do things in the Pacific Northwest. Boeing is the #1 engineering company for a reason. They have the #1 engineers out there. No other company can really compete with their engineering experience and talent. Along with that, our machinists and others are also top-notch.

If you want to build a chemical plant right, you need the right people and the right culture to do it. That culture and those people are here.

I don’t think people really “get” this fact. So let me propose to you a scenario, and you tell me what you think would happen in your workplace. Suppose that your boss comes to you, and says, “We want to ‘bend’ the rules a bit, business is tough, and we’re not making enough money. Surely we can be a little more lenient when it comes to safety protocols and engineering standards.”

What would you do? I am pretty certain that everyone of you would tell your boss to stick it where the sun don’t shine. I think this culture came from Boeing, where every engineer knew that their decisions could doom hundreds or thousands of people to a fiery death. But I have found in my startup experience that this culture exists pretty much everywhere. People here insist on doing things right.

We haven’t had a lot of corruption issues with our government, either. When things go wrong, as they occasionally do, our voters are very consistent with voting in change and new leadership. We are, after all, more purple than blue. Sure, here in Tacoma, we are mostly democrats, but we have the strong republicans in Eastern Washington that keep us honest. It’s an ideal system. Should any one person or party become wholly corrupt, rest assured that the other party will capitalize on it. Look at the flak that Governor Inslee is getting over the early release of prisoners, and you see what I mean. No one is immune to criticism and political repercussions here.

If I were a Chinese communist official, and my job was figuring out where to build this Methanol plant, and I were facing the kinds of environmental issues that I see China facing, along with the inevitable corruption and lack of spine among the engineers, I would like to see my country learn from the Puget Sound region. I would like to have my Chinese engineers work side-by-side with Tacoma engineers and come back to my country with their insights and experience.

After all, given all that we do here in the Puget Sound region, our place is pretty dang clean. We have worked out, more or less, a good set of compromises that has allowed our region to flourish even in dark economic times.

Most of these things are intangibles that are hard to quantify with dollars. However, they are real economic advantages that make Tacoma a uniquely ideal place to build this particular plant.

What will be the effect of having the world’s largest methanol plant in our backyard?

  • More jobs for us
  • More tax revenues for us
  • We get to show the world how to do things right
  • We get to hold the methanol industry to the highest standards of conduct
  • We get to show everyone that environmental responsibility can be combined with economic prosperity.

Having the world’s biggest methanol plant will make the entire world turn their eyes to us. Foreign engineers and managers and executives are going to come here to see how we balance things, how we make things work. Foreign activists will come here to see how we can be responsible activists, balancing the interests of environmental cleanliness with economic prosperity. Perhaps we can be the “shining beacon on the hill” that will allow China to completely reform their economy so that they can enjoy the same high standards of living we enjoy and at the same time, have a pristine environment that anyone would be proud of.

If that were the outcome of building the plant here, wouldn’t you be in favor of it? Imagine future generations of Chinese industrialists and engineers saying things like, “I studied the Tacoma Methanol Plant, and I believe we can make things better here if we do things more like how they do things.”

In the next post, I’ll discuss why methanol manufacture is safe and why we shouldn’t worry about it, as long as we keep the proper oversight and safety protocols in sight.

There is no such thing as nuclear waste

February 11, 2016

Oftentimes, when people talk about nuclear energy, they think the process works like this:

Nuclear Fuel -> Energy + Nuclear Waste

While it’s true that the result of any particular nuclear reaction is energy and some by-product (which is itself usually radioactive), what people seem to miss is that the waste itself is nuclear fuel for another process.

There are, in all of existence, only so many elements. Each element has a number of isotopes, depending on how many neutrons are in the nucleus. Different isotopes behave differently.

  • Some are stable or very stable. They do not change for a very, very long time. That means they are completely safe (from the perspective of radiation. They may have chemical properties that make them toxic.)
  • Some are rather stable, meaning, they decay but very slowly. The nuclear fuels we use today fall in this category. Without coaxing, they will not decay very quickly at all, making them almost completely inert. However, when put in a particular configuration with other materials, they can be made extremely active, enough to heat isolated water that can be used to heat exterior water that can drive a turbine to create electrical energy.
  • Some are very unstable, meaning they decay rather quickly and don’t sit around for long. These isotopes do have a use in medicine, but otherwise they are considered as a step in a larger process.

The other thing to consider is there are only so many types of decay that any isotope can exhibit.

  • Neutron radiation, which accompanies a change in isotope or element. This is what plutonium and uranium exhibit. Neutrons are mostly harmless. Only some isotopes react with it, and only when the neutrons are traveling the right speed. This is why making a nuclear bomb or reactor is not simply a matter of making a big pile of uranium.
  • Alpha radiation, which is basically a helium ion. Alpha radiation is harmless unless you eat something that emits it and it gets into your bones and vital organs.
  • Beta radiation, or in other words, electron radiation. This will ionize chemicals, meaning, it will cause a chemical change to occur. Beta radiation is dangerous, and can penetrate the skin. A thin skin of lead or metal is enough to stop it, however.
  • Gamma radiation, which is basically very powerful light waves, much more powerful than X-rays. These will cause all sorts of damage and are almost impossible to shield against, unless you have a lot of lead.

If you go through the chart of isotopes, you will see not only which isotopes are stable or unstable, but their half-life and decay possibilities. However, you will come to the same conclusion that all nuclear physicists come to:

Radioactive Isotope -> Energy + Another Isotope (which may be stable or radioactive)

I have heard it several times, and I believe it, that there is no such thing a nuclear waste. The reason why we “store” nuclear waste rather than “dump” it is not because it is dangerous. Many of the by-products of nuclear reactions are harmless and found naturally in the environment. We store nuclear “waste” because we know it is actually nuclear fuel for tomorrow’s reactors.

Now, some things to consider. We have, to date, as the human race, only built so many kinds of reactors. We’ve had obvious failures in the past — failures that have already been predicted and protected against. There are three that stand out in our minds today:

  • Three-mile island: Lots of things went wrong, no one died, and we can’t even detect any effects at all, let alone pollution.
  • Chernobyl: Things went catastrophically wrong in the most insane way imaginable, and only a few people died and we’re not even sure if there are going to be any long-term effects. All signs point to the environment around Chernobyl being perfectly safe.
  • Fukushima: Things went horribly wrong, and there was an explosions spewing radioactive material everywhere. However, the net effect is basically nothing, and we can barely detect that anything happened at all.

It’s important to understand some things about radiation and reactors. When I say things went “wrong”, I am also saying that a lot of things went right. For instance, in the case of Fukushima, it was designed to explode in the case of catastrophic failure. Yes, it is bad, but there were worse alternatives. Nowadays, modern reactors are designed to fail. That is, even when everything goes wrong, it will be completely harmless. It’s not terribly difficult to build reactors like this, since getting the radioactive material to radiate is rather difficult and only occurs in specific circumstances.

It’s also important to note that we know two things about radiation:

  • A little bit is harmless.
  • A very large amount is harmful.

Unfortunately, we have very little data on the in-between, moderate radiation. We simply don’t know what happens because only a few people have every been exposed in that moderate range. There is a fear that it is harmful, which is why we don’t let people get exposed, and which is why we don’t have that data. I suppose we could do experiments to find out what happens, but that would be highly unethical. We know from history that over time, we’ll get the data through human error though.

Outside the immediate danger zone, Chernobyl experienced the moderate radiation. Over time, the highly radioactive isotopes have fizzled out, leaving more stable isotopes in their place. It was a worry that some of the more stable isotopes were elements that would work their way into our bones and vital organs, and so they would be harmful. However, the data simply isn’t showing any significant effects.

The key take-away is this: We know a little radiation is safe. We know a whole lot is dangerous. But we have no idea what happens in the moderate range. We erred to the side of caution, but the data suggests we may have been too sensitive.

Final note: It is simply a problem of engineering. Give engineers some money and some time, and they will figure out how to build a nuclear reactor for every isotope in the universe. We’ve already done it for uranium and plutonium. We have early designs for thorium. It’s not difficult to see how we can do the same for every other isotope that we call nuclear “waste” today.

If you are truly conscious about safety, the environment, and at the same time, want to make sure we have clean electricity that doesn’t come from coal, then you should be supporting nuclear power. It is truly the energy that will unlock a clean, cheap energy source that can power us for the foreseeable future.

Why You’re Wrong about Immigration and International Trade

February 5, 2016

Dear Conservative Protectionist,

I’m writing this letter because I want to address a flaw that I’ve heard in your reasoning. You see, you’re out there, speaking on behalf of conservatives everywhere, and telling everyone how it is a conservative ideal to seal up our borders, keeping out valuable labor and the import of trade goods.

It really isn’t hard to show you why you are wrong about these two issues. I can use any number of ways to demonstrate your error. If you are a practical conservative, then I offer you the practical history of the world. In every case, when free trade and free immigration has been implemented, wealth has always followed. Those nations and states and cities which have embraced free trade and free migration have always come out on top. In fact, these sacred principles are encoded in the Constitution itself: there will always be free trade and free migration between the states, and the federal government was instituted to ensure this very thing. If you don’t believe me, go read the Founding Fathers on this matter.

From a moral standpoint, the reasoning is clear. If Joe wants to buy and sell, or work and hire, what right do we have to tell him no? The only case I can think of is where he is trafficking and trading in immoral goods, or treating his employees unjustly such as slavery. In all other cases, I can’t imagine why we should want to tell Joe what to do in this realm of his life. Now, consider this carefully: Does it matter if Joe is American, Canadian, Mexican, German, or any other nationality? As long as Joe is here to work, to trade, and to do things legally, I have no qualms whatsoever with Joe.

You talk about closed and open borders, but really, there are two characteristics of borders that need to be considered, and they are orthogonal. In other words, they have nothing to do with each other. You can have one or the other or both at the same time. One characteristic is openness. This is the quality that determines who we allow to come and go. I suggest to you that as long as people are coming and going to legitimate reasons, such as vacation or business or anything really except something illegal or related to warfare or spying, no conservative would oppose it. Dare I say it — those muslims who come here to buy and sell we have no problem with. Those muslims who want to change our culture and language are also no problem, provided they stick to legal methods of open dialogue and peaceful persuasion. It’s only when people are here to do violence or to break our laws that I and I believe all conservatives get concerned.

The other quality is security. This quality has to do with how the rules of who is allowed to go and come are enforced. The fact is, our borders are insecure. Because they are insecure, they are open to everyone, even those who want to do us harm or want to break our rules or who are carrying infectious diseases. The solution to an insecure border is to secure it, not to close it. You can have an open border that is secure if you simply enforce the fact that crossing the border can only happen at well-defined and well-managed checkpoints. You can have open, secure borders and thus allow people to freely come and go but only if they are here for peaceful purposes. Thanks to technology, it’s really not hard to identify people with technology like facial recognition. We’re living in an age when we can apply technology and force of will to make a safe, secure border.

If you are truly conservative, then you should at least understand why free trade and open, secure borders are the right thing to do. If you are conservative, you’ve likely been convinced that even though they are right, and historically beneficial, we still need to protect our jobs. Lately, a lot of hay has been made about the H1-B visas. I work in the technology sector. Let me tell you why Microsoft and Amazon and everyone else wants to import the world’s tech talents into our country: It’s because outsourcing simply doesn’t work. For some reason, when you bring Indians and Chinese and others into our country to work in our companies side-by-side with us red-blooded Americans, the Indians and Chinese become red-blooded Americans. They learn how to question authority, how to stand their ground, and how to make great things the world has never before seen. When you leave them in their native countries and cultures, they never develop these abilities and thus cannot excel as engineers and software programmers. That’s why we want to bring them into the US.

Am I worried that a Chinese or an Indian will take my job? Absolutely. Every day, I wake up trying to be the very best at my job so that my boss will want to give me a raise, or at least, a hearty recommendation for my next job. This is America, after all, where we are free to do what we think is best. I don’t need to be protected. I feel confident that my abilities are sufficient and I know that even if we don’t bring the Chinese or Indians here, I’m still competing with them. But to be honest, they don’t scare me: My fellow Americans are the ones who are most competitive and who my boss will likely replace me with.

Please educate yourself on these important issues. I recommend reading pretty much any book by Milton Friedman along with Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations. There you will see not only why free and open trade is best, but why we are richer for it.

Why Vote for a Socialist?

February 2, 2016

I’m having a very strange experience as I watch some of my libertarian friends get sucked into the siren song of socialism. I think the comparison with sirens from Greek mythology is highly relevant here. For those who don’t know, the sirens would sing so beautifully that the sailors who dared travel their waters would be tempted to veer off course and into the rocks and certain death. I think this is what is happening here. People are tempted to listen to the socialist here in question because he sounds so good and resonates so well with their feelings.

What to do? Really, I don’t know if there’s much that can be done other than to stop up their ears with the wax of truth.

First, the socialist points out all the problems in society, particularly in relation to government. In this sort of sob story session, they build empathy and compassion, and pull on the heart strings of the listeners. In pointing out the problems in society, the socialist often points to a scapegoat, an individual or group of individuals who can be blamed for everyone else’s problems. This sort of narrative is tempting, and it is easy for anyone to fall in the trap. Once you see the trap, and understand how it works, it’s easy to disarm though.

The fact of the matter is the vast majority of the problems everyone experiences are mostly due to their own actions. For those problems which are caused by outside factors, it is the individual’s choice in how to deal with it. For instance, take two people facing terminal illness like cancer or some other incurable disease. One person will face their doom with fear and anger. The other will accept it and live the last days of their life with compassion and understanding for the pain of others. We can choose to be the latter, rather than the former.

It’s also useful to point out that making people out to be the bad guys means you have to do something about it. If the “rich” or whatever are to blame for everyone’s problems, then perhaps we should kill them all, right? Faced with the horrible conclusion of such conversation, people might realize the error of their ways. Humanize humans, objectify objects. Bill Gates is a person just like you and I, and rich people are really not much different than any of us. When we treat them like the Nazis treated Jews, then we should realize the end result of that.

That’s not to say we excuse crime. We punish crime, but only after a crime has been committed and the person given a chance to defend themselves in a court of law. The court of public opinion leads to mob action, and while that may feel good for a while, wait until it’s your turn to be the target of mob action and then let’s see how you feel about it.

The socialists proposals to solve life’s ills fall in two categories: Punish the successful, and reward the unsuccessful. But let’s peek a little bit under the covers to see what happens in real life. They punish the successful with higher taxes and more regulations. To what end? Is it really a good idea to take those people who create the greatest value in our economy and shackle them in bonds similar to slavery? And who are we kidding anyway — they are the rich and powerful, and they are going to be calling the shots when it comes time to mete out the punishment. They won’t punish themselves, they will punish those who threaten them, and that means they will punish the up-and-coming rich and powerful. We’ve seen this pattern repeat time and again throughout history. Give someone the power of the sword, and next thing you know they are cutting the weak and powerless.

The idea to level the playing field by rewarding failure is also tempting. But let’s look at what goes on here. On the one hand, you can just write a check to all the poor people. What happens, though, is you’re only “feeding the bears”. Rather than learn to forage for food naturally, the bears will keep coming back to the humans who feed them, exactly where you don’t want them to be. That’s why you don’t feed wild animals. Well, unless your goal is to tame those wild animals. Is that what the socialist really wants — a population of people who are basically at their beck and call?

Or perhaps you want to give them in-kind support, things like medical care or food. What happens here is you setup a massive bureaucracy to distribute the food or medical care, only to find out it’s not what they need and it’s extremely inefficient at meeting their needs. Perhaps you want to crack down on all the waste and fraud, so you hire even more bureaucrats to watch the bureaucrats. When things get very bad, you hire even more bureaucrats to make sure the bureaucrats are performing properly. It’s a never-ending circle of life for the bureaucrats, and circle of death for those they are supposed to be helping.

Throughout history, socialism has never worked. Our medical system today is a direct result of socialist tinkering with our previously free-market system. The free market is the only thing that is keeping it more or less functional, but even there, it is rapidly losing power and we’re watching the end result of socialism in practice. We’ve had it in our schools for a long time, and look at how our kids are outpacing the rest of the world! Or rather, they’re not. You don’t have to look very hard to find signs of socialist failure throughout the world, and trust me, you’ll never find a place where it works.

Don’t listen to the siren songs of the socialist. Instead, listen to the hard truth of how human nature and the natural world really works.