Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Elites and the Underground: No Law vs. Rule of Law vs. Excessive Law

“Rule of law” is an unquestioned prerequisite today for any free society and growing economy. Unfortunately, there is too little rule of law for 80-95% of the world’s population and too much for the rest.

The former population are what Hernando de Soto calls “extralegal” poor who want and need to be able to join the middle classes and thrive in those segments of the developed world that are now a decided minority (1, 2).

The latter are the political and economic elites who live in varying degrees, depending on country, officially under the rule of law but are facing, year after year, increasing erosion of that protection with the growth of dictatorship by excessive law.

The extralegals, as de Soto’s research has found at his Institute for Liberty and Democracy in Lima, Peru, have no legal existence in most third-world countries. They have no titles to their property, no legal descriptions of its location and other public records, and therefore no way to accumulate and protect assets—also known as capital. Yet most of these productive and innovative black-market entrepreneurs want to join the rest of their societies and be just as prosperous as everyone else.

The problem is that most of the ruling elites don’t want them to prosper. The solution is property rights and the rule of law.


Monday, September 29, 2014

“They’ll Be Fine”—Two Takes on Indifference to Psychology

The chiding phrase “they’ll be fine” can be found abundantly on the Internet aimed, deservingly so, at the hysterically paranoid helicopter parents who hover endlessly over their children.

In a different way, the phrase is also used dismissively when, say, a child must be away from the family.

Consider the helicopter parents first.

The anxious, and now self-righteous, helicoptering has become so pronounced that some hoverers use the law to have working moms arrested if they dare leave their nine-year olds alone to play in a crowded park (1, 2).

One such nine-year old left in a park was sent to foster care and the mother went to jail. How good is that for the child (or mother)?

And four children, ages five to ten, were recently taken from a widow who left the children home alone while the mother pursued her college education attending night classes; the children were split up by social services, bounced around, and possibly even abused in the bureaucratically indifferent and incompetently run foster care system.

Power over others, as this mother observed, not empathy or protection, is what the busybody hovering is all about.


Monday, August 25, 2014

The Whistleblowers: An Indictment of the Mixed Economy and Bureaucracy

Socrates was an early whistleblower. He exposed many leaders of ancient Athens as hot-air know-it-alls and was executed for his efforts.

Today, whistleblowers usually avoid execution, though the enemies of Edward Snowden would like to bring the death penalty back for him. Most whistleblowers are harassed, labeled as troublemakers and, perhaps, as unstable; they are demoted, fired, prevented from collecting unemployment insurance, blacklisted from obtaining new employment in the same field, and sometimes sent to prison.

This is the reward they get for exposing the sleazy, dishonest practices of their superiors in the political-power-laden bureaucratic management of government.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Fixed vs. Growth Mindsets

In 1964, Minnesota Vikings football defensive end, Jim Marshal, picked up a fumble and ran 66 yards the wrong way, into his own end zone, causing his team to suffer a safety, or loss of two points.

To many, a faux pas such as this could result in humiliating embarrassment and a devastating blow to self-esteem. Marshall, however, realized he had a choice: either sit in his misery or do something about it. In the second half of the game he caused a game-winning fumble that was picked up by his teammate and carried to the correct end zone for the score.

This incident in essence illustrates the difference between the two mental habits or, more technically, psycho-epistemologies, described in psychologist Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Neoconservative’s Defense of Pseudo-Honor

The origin of the concept “honor,” along with its two historical meanings, can probably be traced to battle.

James Bowman in Honor: A History cites a line from the movie Black Hawk Down that suggests this. When the bullets start flying, paraphrasing a key character, politics and everything else go out the window. “It’s about the men next to you.”

The two meanings are the praise, respect, fame, and glory that derive from your peer group (the men next to you) or the value you place on human life—yours and the men’s next to you—such that your egoistic pride propels you to do whatever is required to accomplish the objective of battle, namely, to kill the enemy before he kills you.

In such a situation, it would be nice to have others at your side who share the same value. But your honor does not derive from the good opinion of your foxhole mates.


Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Role of Honor in Moral Revolutions

In her 1974 West Point Military Academy address, Ayn Rand said, “Honor is self-esteem made visible in action.” It is a sense of worthiness and competence that others can see in one’s deportment. It is not pseudo-self esteem that requires praise or respect from others lest an affront occur that demands satisfaction. It is not psychological dependence.

Yet that is precisely what Kwame Appiah in his book The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen means by honor. The book is interesting because it chronicles the role of honor, or at least what certain cultures have understood to be honor, in supporting and eventually eliminating the practices of dueling, footbinding, and slavery.

Appiah also suggests a desperately needed role for honor in bringing about an end to the modern, horrific practice of honor killing.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Thoughts, Not Environmental Conditions, Cause Criminal Behavior

For over forty years, clinical psychologist Stanton Samenow has been interviewing criminal offenders for the courts (1, 2, 3). His conclusion is that criminals are not criminals because of their upbringing or environment, or because of what they see on television or in movies.

Criminals are who they are because of the thoughts they hold, and have held, in their minds from an early age.


Friday, March 28, 2014

Filling the Swiss Cheese Holes

A major problem with our current one-size-fits-all education is the gaps that occur in learning. Thirty or forty kids are presented with material at one time. They may work on some problems or research one topic, but then the instructor moves on. Those who don’t get it fall behind. Even those who do get most of the material, move on with what Salman Khan calls Swiss-cheese-like holes in their learning.

Khan has the solution for filling the holes. It is a technological solution, as many before him have promoted, but this one may stick in certain subjects.


Monday, February 17, 2014

Plagiarism—Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Plagiarism is the unacknowledged, intentionally deceptive use of another’s words or ideas. It is not easy to prove.

Those who seek to punish guilty parties—teachers, in particular—need to be aware of the difficulties of proof, lest they become guilty of committing injustices to their students.

The mere fact that a paper “looks better than it should be,” considering the student who wrote it, or “looks like it was copied from someone else’s paper” does not provide prima facie proof of wrongdoing.

Friday, January 24, 2014

How the Government Kills Industries

Growing up in a small midwestern town in the 1950’s, I had two fantasies: traveling the country someday as member of the saxophone section of a big band and traveling to far away places on sleek, swift passenger trains. At some point in my adolescence I came to the considerably disappointing realization that both industries were dying, if not already halfway in the ground. As a result, I felt compelled to switch interests to other areas.

The government played no small part in destroying both the big bands and railroads, especially the passenger trains.

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