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When was the last great statist movie?

by Andy Duncan on 03/03/2014

serenity

I’ve been struggling all morning to think of the last time I thought ‘That Movie was Great!’ and the movie in question was actively promoting collectivism or statism – And I am including the entire adult period of my life when I read ‘The Guardian’, declared myself to be a Marxist, and worked within the British Labour party.

However, there are plenty of what you might call ‘Individualist’ or ‘Libertarian’ themed movies to which the above phrase applies.

For instance; The Matrix, Avatar, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Serenity, Casablanca, Dirty Harry, Pitch Black, Jason Bourne, The Great Escape, The Simpsons Movie, and many, many more.

But what great ‘statist’ movies are there? The Harry Potter franchise is interesting because it was created by a statist. But even though J.K.Rowling is a supporter of Gordon Brown with her conscious mind, her unconscious mind keeps creating great anti-state memes, with constant criticism of ‘The Ministry of Magic’, the ease with which the ‘Death Eaters’ took it over in the final book, and with bureaucrats such as Dolores Umbridge coming in for particularly caustic opprobrium (as does the idea of compulsory state education, under Voldemort, which is a particularly significant meme in the last book).

I suppose that there are three major movie ‘genres’ where statism is at least in some kind of ‘generally-good’ background. This includes spy films, war films, and future human empire films. But even examining these three genres, James Bond is inescapably individualist in his approach to life, and even though he works for the state, he is usually working against an even greater state (of either the Marxist or the Theocratic kind).

The same can be said for Jack Bauer, a sorts of American ersatz version of James Bond, usually compressed into 24 hours. He may be a torturing neocon militarist in his actions, but he is indisputably an individualist who is usually the victim of horrific state stupidity at the hands of his CIA/NSA/CTU handlers. And the U.S. state is continuously shown on Jack Bauer shows as being rotten to the core and filled with innumerable bad apples who are just in it for what they can get out of it, with often Jack Bauer and the President being the only two people in the entire American government who you could actually trust – and we’re never really that sure about the President – indeed at least one of them has quite believably behaved even worse than Richard Nixon, in the TV series. (Yes, I’m jumping the gun on the 24 movie, but I’m sure it’s coming.)

Which takes us to war films, particularly those covering WWII. But even here, we are usually witnessing individualist heroes doing their individual best to bring down a more powerful state than their own, usually in the guise of Nazi Germany. Whatever we like about war films, it is generally the individualism of the characters involved and their fight to retain a shred of freedom from some greater tyranny that inspires us.

We’ve even had Tom Cruise recently, as a German, fighting to assassinate Hitler, in Valkyrie, to free the German people from this tyrant. (No, not a great movie, but still one worth discussing.)

Even in Downfall, we have the banalities and the stupidities of the state constantly on view, with Hitler as a raving mad man, and yet with the full machinery of the national socialist government still under his full control until his dying day, with not a single bureaucrat capable of pulling out a Luger and finishing the idiot off, and with none of them daring to risk the ire of this vegetarian anti-smoking nut by lighting up a cigarette within his presence.

Which brings us finally to ‘future human empire’ films, like Star Trek. Here, the background is of a benevolent Galaxy-wide government. But once again, it is riven with contradictions. In the original Star Trek series, it is always ‘Star Command’ which is filled with inept careerist corrupt Admiral bureaucrats, constantly trying to ruin the life of James T. Kirk with their stupid selfish decisions. And the ‘Greater State’ of the Klingons is generally the enemy against which the heroes fight, or the ‘Greater Romulan’ state. And once again it is individualism which is promoted (indeed, with the main space ship being named ‘Enterprise’, it is hard to get around this). Charlton Heston in Planet of Apes, is another example of our love of the individual against the state. He may have been a Nasa man, but it was his fight against the gorillas in government which wins our empathy, not his Nasa badge, and the most enduring image of the film is Heston’s own idea of this astronaut falling to his knees in rage when he realises that the world’s states blew up humanity’s home thousands of years previously, in their bid to wrest power from one another.

Even Asimov films, which I’m sure will eventually get around to his ‘Foundation’ novels, see the Galactic Empire as a big corrupt mess, with poor enslaved robots usually bearing the brunt of oppressive human direction and human individuals (as usually played by Will Smith) having to fight against corrupt government and mercantilist interest to right wrongs. Yes, this is usually handled as ‘corrupt big business’, but what exactly is corrupt big business? It is business which has bought enough politicians to not have to face the real market anymore. So who are the baddies? The corrupt businessmen or the corrupt politicians? You can’t be a corrupt businessman without a corrupt politician, so the causative agency of immorality is still always the government, no matter how the statist Hollywood glitterati try to spin it.

The problem for the statists, even the majority statists in Hollywood, is that statism is really boring and what really motivates audiences is the individual fighting back against the greater mass of corrupt statist collectivism (whether this is communism, nazim, theocratism, mercantilism, or whatever). I’m sure most of the Californian makers of Star Trek, both of the long-running TV franchise and the movies, were and are statist Democrat voters. But what is the most enduring image they created in the last 20 years? Yep, ‘The Borg’, the perfect symbolisation of the perfect welfare/warfare state and the very picture of where modern government is trying to take us. These statist producers are thus embedded within the J.K.Rowling trap.

Their conscious minds are statist and anti-individual. However, their unconscious creative minds are rebelliously anti-state and pro-individual.

Which brings us to another question. If the only really motivational movies that anyone can remember are always ‘pro’ the individual, why are there still so many statists around?

I think the answer lies within the heart of the Serenity movie, where all those poor children are sitting around being indoctrinated by the state-loving teacher. The state controls the education system, therefore to control the proles it is constantly pouring pro-state messages into the receptive heads of children to try to form them into tax-paying obedient serfs. And it is only with this continuous gargantuan effort that they manage to keep the game going, with a high human cost in the large numbers of children who rebel against this poison, usually becoming self-destructive as a consequence.

So that tells us what we need to do if we want to free the world from the noxious hydra of democratic collectivism.

We need to get the state out of education. Once we have succeeded in doing that, then the human condition (as shown by all the great movies that all of us actually like) will take care of the rest.

This is why I applaud the creation of the Mises Institute’s new education programmes to help with this process. Good work, everyone in Auburn, Alabama. You really are doing humanity proud.

UPDATE: Men in Black? Hmmmm…. it’s a possibility. But is this really a subtle attack on the power of the state, with the agents literally impersonating the agents in The Matrix? So on the surface, there is the patina of the ‘benevolent state’ looking after us mere proles. However, underneath we are continually having our minds blanked to prevent us from knowing what’s bad for us, at the whim of the agents, and our societies are being filled with aliens by the state, without our agreement or with our knowledge. With ‘Men in Black’ being a comedy, it is hard to say what is serious and what is not serious. Indeed, it really is a ‘black’ comedy, which must draw upon the baser aspects of human society to get a laugh out of us. It’s certainly not a motivational film of the kind I’m looking for, like The Simpsons Movie, which makes you get up out of your chair at the end and want to get rid of the idiots who are always trying to trap us in glass domes, for their own benefit.

I suppose too we have ‘Asteroid’ films and ‘Alien Invasion’ films. But these are only good if Will Smith or Bruce Willis are in them playing them for laughs, and they’re usually riven with anti-state feelings too, with most governments of the world locking themselves into bunkers they made the rest of us pay for, and leaving the rest of us to fend for ourselves.

There is still nothing I can really think of where we think, ‘Whew, isn’t it great that we have the state, so they can save us from asteroids,’ or ‘I’m glad I live in a democracy, because the President is standing by ready to save me from the aliens.’ The state can hardly evacuate New Orleans after a predictable hurricane. Saving us from malevolent aliens or rogue asteroids is something I think most of us realise is a mere pipe dream.

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Henry Hazlitt: Economics in One Lesson

by Andy Duncan on 20/02/2014

economics-in-1-lesson

In the classic novel King Solomon’s Mines, the witch Gagool leads a group of Englishmen, including the legendary Allan Quatermain, into an ancient treasure room deep inside a mountain carved within solid rock and chock full of gold, diamonds, and other splendid jewels.

To feel like Quatermain yourself, to discover an almost endless stream of flawless intellectual gems, and to experience writing of the highest classical quality, there’s little need to find a time-and-space machine to travel back to nineteenth century Africa. All you need do is get hold of a copy of Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, still the main hidden doorway into the secret treasure room of Austrian economics.

It is a particularly useful first book for anyone who has spent the last few years in a foggy miasma of Keynesian or Monetarist economics, which together form the state-sponsored mainstream of most economics schools, mainly because they award the state a sacred role in controlling all of the major levers of economic power.

But something has gone very badly wrong with the mainstream economics schools, who seem incapable of understanding just what happened in 2008, and whose only policy solutions seem to consist of doing more of the same, to solve the seemingly unknowable problems of economic collapse.

Fortunately, the Austrian School does have a clear idea of what happened in 2008, and does have a consistent framework of ideas of how to get back to a functioning and steadily expanding economy, based upon reality and truth, rather than fictitious state smoke and lying political mirrors.

But to reach that framework, it may first be necessary to clean out any economic shibboleths that may have infected your mind, pumped in through the mainstream education system, media system, and government system, which is the main ‘ground clearance’ task of Economics in One Lesson.

My own first impression of reading this book, was one of having infective giants ripped out of my mind. But done in a precise way, rather than a violent way, in the manner of a wizardly eye surgeon, rather than in the manner of a devilish chainsaw merchant.

This is because Hazlitt is arguably the finest technical writer in the Austrian School, with perhaps only Rothbard as a serious contending rival, with Hazlitt as Johann Sebastian Bach and Rothbard as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

If you’ve ever read the famous book on writing by Strunk and White, you’ll know that its motto is “omit needless words”. Throughout his own work, it is as if Hazlitt has swallowed a copy of Strunk and White, because he follows their motto religiously, without even a single comma being superfluous.

Economics in One Lesson is unusual, however, in that it is not explicitly about Austrian economics. Instead, Hazlitt draws inspiration from Frédéric Bastiat, the nineteenth century French classical liberal, who via his inspirational essay, What is Seen and What is Unseen, explained the lesson of opportunity costs, or, to put that in simpler terms, explained why having your windows broken may be good for your local glazier, in the short term, but worse for the general economy, in the long term.

With politicians and their paid apologists in the Keynesian/Monetarist economic industrial complex only capable of seeing in the short term, almost always in their own immoral narrow-minded selfish interest, we are always pointed at the benefits of the single group which benefits from any whimsical political policy.

What we’re never allowed to think about are the personal effects of having your windows broken and the things you now cannot purchase because you are spending all of your available money on paying your local glazier to repair your broken window, to get you back to square one.

After having your window broken, you now cannot visit your tailor to buy a new suit with that money you had to spend on the glazier, so you are out one suit and your local tailor is that much worse off without your planned trip to his emporium, which vaporised along with your broken window.

The glazier may cheer, of course, when your window is smashed, and vote for the politician that cheered the breaking of your window too, but all that has happened is that earned wealth has disappeared just to get society back to where it was before the window was smashed.

If the window remains unsmashed, society is up one suit, plus you are happier and your tailor is happier, though admittedly your glazier may be less happy. But who earned the money in the first place, anyway? You or the glazier? Did you earn it to make yourself happy or to make your glazier happy?

However, the politicians and the policy framework analysts never look at you and your tailor, says Hazlitt, they only examine the glazier’s situation. Therefore politicians keep getting away with their crazy policies of stealing from Peter, to pay Paul, and keeping a healthy slice of the proceeds for their own nefarious uses, all to the overall detriment of society.

It has got so bad that Keynesians, such as Paul Krugman, can even suggest that destructive war is good for an economy, as if Hiroshima and Nagasaki were beneficial for the Japanese economy.

(If you found yourself unconsciously nodding along to that last sentence, then you really do need to read Hazlitt’s book, as the virus of state worship has deeply infected your brain.)

Hazlitt makes us answer the question that if war is that good for us, why don’t we just burn down all of our own houses now and shred all of our own clothes, to save on the cost of munitions, to really get rich? That would really ‘stimulate’ the housing and clothing industries. However, to ask the question, is to begin to understand the answer that Hazlitt is driving at. To wit, that we must always look beyond the immediate beneficiaries of any economic policy before we sign ourselves up to their consequences. And as we saw in England in 2011, with the city centre riots, where various towns were ripped up by hoodlums, even the crassest of politicians had to think twice before saying that these events had ‘boosted’ local economies.

As you progress through Hazlitt’s book, these kinds of ‘in extremis’ questions start enabling us to see through the fog of statist fallacies surrounding and supporting the warfare/welfare state beloved of the Keynesian/Monetarist nexus, virtually all of whose members suck at the teat of the state, in one form or another, for example via grants from the Federal Reserve, tenured posts at universities subsidised by government-administered student loans, or by luxuriating in lucrative positions inside state-subsidised banks.

At this point, I would say that you should now just download Hazlitt’s book for free from Mises.org, and start reading, but if you need more persuasion, and if you’ve ever been puzzled by any of the following economic questions, then you’ll now know what to do to satisfy your curiosity.

I’ll use the first couple of examples of Hazlitt’s wave of incisive question-and-answer sessions, to show how he demolishes all of his target economic shibboleths.

For instance, doesn’t government spending on something like a bridge provide extra employment? Yes, but only at the expense of other jobs lost (or never created) elsewhere, where that money taken in taxation to pay for the bridge is now never spent. We see the bridge, or the Olympic stadium, or the dam, and we are impressed. We never see all the work that would have otherwise been created. And if the bridge is a ‘bridge to nowhere’, then it becomes nothing other than a white elephant. Bridges are only ever built voluntarily with private money if they fulfil a genuine need. Government bridges are often built merely to win the next election.

My own perversely favourite boondoggle bridge is the Humber Bridge here in the UK, built by the horrific Labourite socialist government of the 1970s. Not only is this a typically governmental bridge to ‘nowhere’, it is also a bridge from nowhere to nowhere, and for sixteen years, the longest single-span bridge in the world.

Although not the most gigantic waste of money indulged in by British governments, which is a prize either earned by Gordon Brown and his bailing out of the British banking system in 2008 or by his selling of half of the British government’s gold reserves at the bottom of the market in 1999-2002, the Humber Bridge is still perhaps the finest physical embodiment in Britain of the uselessness of allowing politicians to make and take financial decisions.

But surely it’s okay for governments to take taxes to generate employment in this way? Notwithstanding the points raised above, another problem with taxes is that they discourage production and thus reduce private employment. If government takes 40% corporate taxes on profits, then the motivation to generate profits in the first place is reduced. As taxes increase, then the total amount of wealth generated in a particular society is reduced (though government income may unfortunately rise, to waste on bureaucrats and other parasites).

And this leads us to a secondary beauty of Hazlitt. Not only does he shatter the socialist economic nostrums of his own time, he enables you to take apart the socialist economic nostrums of our time.

For instance, his explanation above of ratcheting government destruction of the motivation to create initial wealth takes us straight towards the infamous Laffer curve. What this curve implies is that if the general taxation rate is 0%, then the government will receive no income, no matter how much private wealth is generated. But if the government taxes us at 100%, then it also receives no income, because nobody gets out of bed in the morning, because all wealth-generating motivation has been obviously destroyed, outside the portals of a dystopian science fiction novel peopled by drugged or cloned human ants.

There is therefore some percentage of taxation, says Laffer, where the government extracts the maximum amount of revenue. (For the sake of argument, and so we can save a hundred thousand words in this book review, let’s make this rate 50%.) This actually makes sense, as far as it goes, and we can all agree that increasing taxation rates gradually diminish the will to generate initial wealth. However, Laffer only looks at things in terms of how the government benefits (the glazier). Just as Hazlitt taught us, decades ago, Laffer fails to look beyond the initial situation, as is usual with all similar government worshippers. His curve, and all of its apologists, fail to take into account the total level of societal wealth production (you and the tailor), with most such economists being incapable of thinking beyond the needs of the state.

firstHaz

For instance, let’s assume that government spending is equally as productive and efficient as private spending (which is a very big ‘if’) and introduce a subsequent simple rule to examine Laffer’s curve in the way Hazlitt encourages us to think. This rule will take into account Laffer’s idea that increasing tax rates diminish the incentive to generate wealth, so let’s assume that every incremental percentage of tax decreases the motivation to earn private wealth by a single percentage point. (This seems reasonable to me, though you may like to insert your own figures.)

At very low tax rates, such as one or two percent, perhaps extracted by a local mafia running a protection racket, this effect is negligible, but it soon ratchets up, as we head upwards towards the protection racket taxation rates of western democracies.

Even Laffer admits that a 100% taxation rate destroys all wealth production motivation, so let’s extend that basic insight to examine what Laffer has left unseen in his curve above.

At a corporate tax rate of 0%, let’s postulate that $100 million dollars of wealth, in total, is the maximum that might be earned by private companies in a simple model economy, based upon an entirely taxless version of somewhere like Hong Kong, Singapore, or Liechtenstein, with totally voluntary economies. In this wonderful Lafferesque universe, the government will receive none of this entirely private money.

At a 1% tax rate, $99 million is generated by the private sector and the government receives $990,000 dollars. The government worshippers rejoice at this newfound ‘free money’, and so keep increasing the corporate tax rate until they hit their Laffer curve maximum.

Proceeding onwards and missing out a few periods in-between, at a tax rate of 49%, $51 million of total wealth is generated, with the government receiving $24,990,000 dollars.

Going one step further, at a tax rate of 50%, $50 million dollars is now generated by private industry, with the government receiving $25 million dollars. And at a tax rate of 51%, $49 million dollars is generated, with the government receiving $24,990,000 dollars. From here on in, if tax rates continue to increase, the government tax receipts diminish to zero.

However, as far as Laffer is concerned (in this simplified experiment), the government should set the tax rate to 50%, as this maximises its revenue (to $25 million dollars). And this is all that any politicians, with a few Ron Paulian exceptions, are capable of seeing, too.

What Laffer and all the other non-Hazlitt-reading government worshippers fail to see, despite it being plainly in their face, is that the overall wealth in society generated is now half of what it otherwise would have been, even according to their own insights.

Even if we assume that government spending is as efficient as private spending, and even if we assume that the government’s own costs in this taxation transfer operation are nil (two spectacularly generous assumptions), even if the government spends its entire $25 million dollar ‘take’ wisely on lasting job creation, it has denuded society of half the wealth (to spend on job creation) that society otherwise would have possessed.

secondHaz

And this is just one application of what Hazlitt makes possible, if you start to think with his methodology. His method is timeless and his illumination is stunning.

Fortunately, Hazlitt explains his way of thinking much better than any humble book reviewer ever could, and covers many other examples of economic fallacy. If my attempt to explain his thinking above left you feeling a little confused, then I must apologise. Read the real thing and it will become much clearer.

Hazlitt’s book covers all of the following major economic insights, all informed by an Austrian framework and by Bastiat’s idea that we should always look beyond the obvious if we want to find the truth:

  • The Broken Window
  • The Blessings of Destruction
  • Public Works Mean Taxes
  • Taxes Discourage Production
  • Credit Diverts Production
  • The Curse of Machinery
  • Spread-the-Work Schemes
  • Disbanding Troops and Bureaucrats
  • The Fetish of Full Employment
  • Who’s “Protected” by Tariffs?
  • The Drive for Exports
  • “Parity” Prices
  • Saving the X Industry
  • How the Price System Works
  • “Stabilizing” Commodities
  • Government Price-Fixing
  • Minimum Wage Laws
  • Do Unions Really Raise Wages?
  • “Enough to Buy Back the Product”
  • The Function of Profits
  • The Mirage of Inflation
  • The Assault on Saving

If any of these conundrums have ever puzzled you, then simply download the book and start reading.

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