Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Life and its Alternative Uses

Today's column by Sowell contains a few zingers. He cites Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said that "a good catch phrase could stop thinking for fifty years." That's a Dávila-worthy insight, in that the left is a mansion of many clichés.

And once inside a cliché, it can be difficult to leave, because the doors lock from the outside. To paraphrase Dávila, there are words we use to deceive others, and more importantly, words we use to deceive ourselves. It is the latter which ensnare us, for which reason "the only man who saves himself from intellectual vulgarity is the man who ignores what it is fashionable to know."

Today, for example, it is fashionable to think it courageous for a sick man to convince himself he is a woman, or to direct animus toward the one race that has, for whatever reason, contributed so disproportionately to the welfare and betterment of mankind. Modesty and good breeding forbid a gentleman from crowing about such an unmerited blessing, but what is the alternative when these barbarians insist you are a devil instead of a benefactor to all?

Oh well. "Intelligence, in certain ages, must dedicate itself merely to restoring definitions" (Dávila). You know, like marriage. I don't give a fig about soccer, but the other day my son asked who I wanted to win in the World Cup. I promptly answered "Japan." I didn't tell him it was because if Japan won, at least children would be spared the spectacle of some musclebound freak kissing her "wife." I remember when perverted old men had to pay good money to see that sort of thing.

Prejudice? Of course. "Prejudices defend against stupid ideas" (ibid.). One man's prejudice is another man's Collective Wisdom of Mankind. After all, we are descendants of the very people who held that particular prejudice. I am personally grateful my mother wasn't encouraged -- or bullied -- to "explore" same sex attraction in college. I mean, it's unsettling enough to think of one's mother having an opposite sex attraction.

"No one wanted to be a slave," writes Sowell. However, until the spread of Christianity, this was never a principled opposition.

Rather, "their rejection of slavery as a fate for themselves in no way meant that they were unwilling to enslave others." There is abundant anthropological documentation for the fact that the mentality wasn't "slavery is morally evil" but "enslave or be enslaved." So a slave didn't so much want to be "free" -- an abstract category that didn't exist -- but simply be the guy with the slaves.

In the link above, Happy Acres Guy alludes to the same thing vis-a-vis collectivism. Think about it: in the zero-sum economic world of the left, the wealthy man is a kind of criminal whose success has come at the expense of "the poor." Therefore, the leftist aspires to be the mirror image of the corrupt plutocrat via state power. Like the erstwhile slave who enslaves, Obama is the man of once modest means who now wields his power like a corrupt mafia lord.

Likewise the Clinton crime family. For them there is no possibility of clean power. Rather, they wish to seize power by any means necessary under the pretext that it will only be used for the benefit of the anonymous multitude of hapless rubes. The leftist convinces himself that his lust for power exists because it is in the service of others. Which is very much like the slaveholder who rationalized that without his paternalism, the childlike and ineffectual slaves would be incapable of caring for themselves.

Speaking of which, Dávila reminds us that power doesn't corrupt, rather, that it "frees up latent corruption." Power did not corrupt George Washington, or Calvin Coolidge, or Winston Churchill, or Harry Truman.

Back to our discussion of the metaphysics of economics. Much of it comes down to the principle that an economy is not really about money or wealth, but rather, about information. This is why we can say there is such a thing as "economic truth."

In a free market, for example, a price consolidates and conveys a vast amount of information about how much of a thing exists and how many people want it -- or about its scarcity and desirability. If too many people want what is too scarce, then the price naturally rises. But at the same time, because of the rising price, more people will be willing to jump in and produce the scarce thing. You can make something a "right" -- like healthcare. But that will hardly make it less scarce.

Especially if the state gets involved and decides the price is "too high," as in college, housing, and medicine. Of course, the state can do nothing to alter the actual cost, which costs what it costs. Reducing the price of diamonds won't magically create more. To the contrary, in the long run it will inevitably result in fewer diamonds. Money doesn't talk. Rather, prices talk and money listens, flowing to where its return will be greatest.

But the real link between metaphysics and economics has to do with time. Recall our definition of economics: the study of the use of scarce resources which have alternative uses. And the flow of scarce resources into this or that use will have a cost. But what is this "cost" in absolute terms? We can't say the cost is this or that amount of money, because that is related to a host of factors, and always changing.

Thus, the real cost of anything is the value of its alternative uses. That's a tricky one to wrap your mind around, but you can apply it to life itself. For example, what is the "cost" of watching television? It is simply the forgoing of whatever else you could have done with the time, which is gone forever. Time is the ultimate nonrenewable resource.

So, I wrote this little memo to myself in the margin: the real value of your life is what else you might have done with it. So choose wisely, my friends!

11 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

I've seen it written, though I couldn't say where, that money is actually an exchange of time - either the time it takes to create, or the time it takes to earn. Thus, for instance, the practice of taking from the productive and giving to the underemployed is in truth a theft of slack. Diabolical.

7/07/2015 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Yep, ultimately money is our means of attempting to manage the scarcest resource of all, the Time of our lives.

7/07/2015 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Therefore, the leftist aspires to be the mirror image of the corrupt plutocrat via state power.

I doubt that most of them even think of the state as somehow morally better (God help them if they do). Rather it is the power they think they can control.

7/07/2015 10:58:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...

At a certain point, Lear passed out of politics. As an old man he decorated himself with the flowers of the earth and thought only of Cordelia and her faithful love and life. Then that, too, was taken away from him.

It takes effort sometimes to rouse myself from feeling maudlin.

7/07/2015 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Magister said...

"Rather it is the power they think they can control."

Which is why they repeat that tired adage that communism could certainly work, it just hasn't been tried. Put me in, coach, and I'll make communism work, honest!

The irony is totally lost on some of them.

7/07/2015 11:30:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Or rather, most of them.

The sad thing is, I think most people who fall for it really do mean well. They are just incapable of understanding why it doesn't work, in any of its permutations. Again, thinking of some genuinely decent people I know who really thought some kind of government-run healthcare would be good for everyone, particularly those who have suffered from either catastrophic or long-term illness. Now that it's been implemented, they don't understand why they can't get healthcare, even though they're covered, and everything is so horrifically expensive. Not sure how much of it is due to a lack of intellectual capacity (that is, the inability to grasp the actual ramifications over the simplistic fantasy), and how much the overpowering need to believe that a genuine Safety Net is possible to defend people from the reality that suffering will happen, and healing always exacts a cost.

7/07/2015 11:45:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"So, I wrote this little memo to myself in the margin: the real value of your life is what else you might have done with it. So choose wisely, my friends!"

Aye, the Cosmic economy of slack. Am I feeding my slack or am I eating crack?

Jimmy cracked corn and I don't care, unless Jimmy tries to force me to crack corn.

7/07/2015 09:07:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Speaking of which, Dávila reminds us that power doesn't corrupt, rather, that it "frees up latent corruption." Power did not corrupt George Washington, or Calvin Coolidge, or Winston Churchill, or Harry Truman."

That's a good point, Bob.
It usually doesn't take long to see the latent corruption in many politicians. Their goals are based on it.

7/08/2015 01:43:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Especially if the state gets involved and decides the price is "too high," as in college, housing, and medicine. Of course, the state can do nothing to alter the actual cost, which costs what it costs."

I cooncur the state can't lower prices but they sure can make prices higher.

7/08/2015 01:45:00 AM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"Time is the ultimate nonrenewable resource."

Bureaucracies destroy time. The robbing hoods of the left are out to annihilate our slack.

7/08/2015 01:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

" until the spread of Christianity, this was never a principled opposition."

Slavery was a Christian construct. So was genocide against Natives... Manifest Destiny.

7/10/2015 09:33:00 AM  

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