Menagerie of Happy Men

Permit me a personal anecdote. I have a physicist uncle who is a professor at an important American university. He is a brilliant fellow, only a hair or two away from genius. When I look at the articles he publishes in professional journals, I am staggered by the complexity of their subject matter. The mathematical formulas in these articles are both beautiful and mystifying. Here is a typical and relatively easy passage:

Jiang et al. have used Eqs. (14)-(16) to find the temperature dependances of the in- and out-of-plane resistivities of (Y1-xPrx)Ba2Cu3O7-δ single crystals, and their evolution with Pr concentration. Due to the typical sample dimensions L ~ 1 mm, D ~ 0.04 mm, and relatively low anisotropy ε ~ 10, it was necessary to take into account several leading terms in S(ε) and Vbot, Eqs. (15) and (16). By trial it was found that even for the samples with the lowest anisotropy (ε*π*D/L ~ 1) it was sufficient to retain in Eqs. (15) and (16) only the first three terms, k = 0, 1, 2 to obtain convergence of the results better than 0.1%.

A few years ago he and I had a little venture which on my part involved doing a lot of programming, as well as understanding what the above means. I found this latter task to be quite difficult.

Now the reason why I am bringing my uncle into this and possibly putting him in danger of violent repression by the fashion-impaired thugs is because of what he said right after September 11. (Whatever libertarian views he holds, it is because I influenced him. He is innocent, comrade Bush! As a matter of fact, while I was studying for my B.S. in Computer Science, he took care to introduce me to hard-core conservatism. The very first book of this sort I read was Robert Bork’s Slouching Towards Gomorrah. I was terribly impressed with it and even quoted it a couple of times just to see what would happen while hoping all the time that no one would ask me precisely why I disagreed with the opposite views.) My uncle said it with such unshakable conviction that it was obvious that the possibility of the contrary never occurred to him. Here is what he said:

The authorities will take care of it.

There was no mistake. The authorities — my uncle said — will take care of it. In other words, we are from the government, and we are here to help. This reminded me of a joke which goes like this.

Einstein dies and goes to Heaven. While he is waiting to be shown in, he meets three other people who died at the same time he did. “What is your IQ?” he asks one of them.

“182,” the first replies. “Great, we can discuss my theory of relativity,” says Einstein.

“153,” says the next. “Excellent, we can talk about how to achieve world peace,” says Einstein.

“89,” says the third. “What do you think the economy’s going to do in the short term?” asks Einstein.

Of course, the punchline can be altered to make fun of any group of pretentious individuals. But my intention here is different. My uncle is not only a very talented guy, but also someone who emigrated from the cursed Soviet Union long before it was popular to do so. Yet when he comes down to my level and talks about world peace and the related matters, he is utterly oblivious to the possibility that the state is anything other than a benign protector to which it is best to display childlike trust — a mother and a father who will “take care” of everything. And, after all, isn’t that reasonable? Isn’t that what the authorities are for? To take care of things?

It should be noted that the relationship between the conservative public and the state is more complicated than the simple acceptance of the status quo on the part of the former. For example, in the 90s we witnessed a very real mass conservative rebellion against the Clinton regime, which I in my naivete mistook for an ideological movement. Of course it was none of the sort; when the theocrat George Bush II took power, distrust toward the government evaporated and contentment ensued. George Bush, after all, is an “adult,” a grave and serious man, who will clean up the sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll Clinton party. One wonders whether or not we would be better off with Al Gore as president. It is possible that his far-reaching socialist “master plans” would be vigorously resisted, and he would end up doing less damage than Bush.

Be that as it may, it is clear that we libertarians have our work cut out for us.

Memo To: Jude “Saruman” Wanniski

In his book The Real Lincoln Thomas DiLorenzo briefly mentions one curious justification for the War Between the States, viz. that it was necessary for the preservation of the “mystical union” of the states. Among those who subscribe to this view is Jude Wanniski, who also holds that Lincoln must have been right simply because he won.

Without going into the general problem of the extent to which individuals living under a common legal system resemble the state of holy matrimony or into the subtleties of the 19th century American religious thought, it is useful to draw an analogy between our present regime and the more conventional mystical union.

It would seem on reflection that the United States today is the union between the federal government as the king of Siam, and the fifty states as its fifty slave-concubines whom this government ravages every day of every year — even on Christmas, for the government has no shame whatsoever. Now forgive me for being rude, but this is merely another way of saying that the “political union” amounts to the right of the central state — a relatively small group of people who tend to cluster around Washington, D.C. — to wreak havoc over half the North American continent as opposed to, say, one quarter of it.

It may strike one as odd how easy divorce is in today’s society yet that political secession is looked at with horror. Even more telling is the fact that being “on top of the heap” justifies for Wanniski conquest, the tremendous loss of life and property, the revival of total war, the awful economic policies that included everything from high tariffs to the suspension of Wanniski’s own beloved gold standard, and a bloody and preposterous revolution when, as Wanniski points out, he is already “66 years old.” At that age he is still “status-anxious”?

Now we may very well appreciate his concern for the need for Americans to be “on top”; however, allowing one’s ambitions and power lust to go out of control is not the proper means towards a harmonious union and general happiness. Does Wanniski not share these values? Even more damning is the fact that the correct way to success, wealth, and, indeed, power (insofar as this power is creative and not destructive, a distinction which seems lost on Wanniski), is through freedom and peace and not through mercantilism and war.

The problem is therefore twofold: First, whether the war corrupted American power, and second, whether America would be even more influential had the war never occurred and had secession been allowed. What reason does Wanniski have to answer either question in the negative? Is it not the modern state, this amalgamation of an astonishing variety of human vices that have been institutionalized, raised to dizzying heights, and glorified, that permitted men like Richard Perle whom Wanniski himself calls the “Prince of Darkness” to come to power, while he, a self-proclaimed prophet of God, is ignored and despised? Has he considered whether such a thing could happen in the antebellum America? Finally, is it genuinely helpful to define “power,” as Wanniski does, not as the ability of individuals to create a thriving civilization, but as the ability of Caesar (afterwards deified) to crush anyone who stands in his way?

Well, may we all have a great victory.

Perhaps Wanniski’s obduracy can be explained as follows. Whatever does actually happen, he thinks, is for the best. Divine providence is such that all evil has a purpose; indeed, as Augustine writes, “Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.” Thus, while it is appropriate to make judgments about those matters in regard to which the outcome of the struggle is still uncertain, past actions are not worth evaluating, because whatever happened was meant to happen and was part of the divine plan.

Yet from this argument Wanniski’s attitude towards the War Between the States does not follow. First, there is a difference between that which is good in itself and that which is evil yet which results in good consequences that somehow outweigh that evil, perhaps unbeknownst to or contrary to the intent of the evildoer. The wrongful act passes, but guilt remains. Does not then justice demand that evil be seen for what it is, regardless of the consequences that follow it?

Second, Wanniski cannot know precisely what good is to come from Lincoln’s “squelching” of the voluntary union, for if he did know, then he could point out to us the greater good that resulted from it. His belief that this greater good is the current American world dominance is, as argued above, unreasonable. (Even the commonplace belief that the benefits of the abolition of slavery were “greater” than the costs of war seems more defensible.) Hence if the war was, indeed, foolish and evil, then prima facie it is worth saying so regardless of our belief that all will be well in the end, whatever that end may be. Is it entirely possible, furthermore, that this greater good may never be known to us or that it will be manifested only in the distant future. Does Wanniski believe himself privy to the precise details of God’s design? Is the American empire really the crown jewel of creation?

We may observe, however, that Wanniski himself does not adhere to this position when it comes to the more recent wars. In order to be consistent, ought not he to defend the United States’ past “squelching” of Bosnia, Iraq, and a dozen other places? Are we not the great power? Is this not why George Bush, too, should be “admired” — for his destructive omnipotence? For the important question is indeed not what “Abe Lincoln and Slobodan Milosevic have in common,” but what Abe Lincoln and Richard Perle do.

Perhaps there is another way to get to the source of Wanniski’s beliefs. If the supporters of a decentralized society have not yet attained their vision, he may think, then that vision must not actually be very good. The failure up until now of the lovers of liberty to succeed beyond “delay[ing] for a while some especially obnoxious measures,” as Ludwig von Mises put it, suggests that liberty may actually be a bad idea. For, surely, if it were good, it would be accepted as such a long time ago. Once again, the crude power of the state is self-justifying. There is no need to enter in the refutation of this view, for nothing will convince those who deify the state.

Finally, we may wonder if Wanniski’s hope is that if he sends a sufficient number of memos to the politicians, the latter will realize the error of their ways and obey the will of God, such as Wanniski believes it to be. If so, then we may wish him all the luck in the world.

Letter to David Gordon

Dear Professor Gordon:

In your review of Atheism, Ayn Rand, and Other Heresies you write that Rand might argue against faith in this manner: “Reason is the key tool to man’s survival. If one uses some other means than reason to arrive at one’s beliefs, one is acting against reason. Such conduct is anti-human, since it impedes survival.”

I was wondering if it might be possible to object as follows:

Reason is not the only tool to man’s survival. As Thomas Aquinas writes, “to faith those things in themselves belong, the sight of which we shall enjoy in eternal life, and by which we are brought to eternal life.” To a believer, then, faith is at least as important a “tool” as reason in assuring his own survival or salvation. Pascal’s wager, it seems to me, is precisely that — an admonition to an unbeliever to acknowledge at the very least the practical utility of faith and hope that in time genuine faith will emerge.

Further, also according to St. Thomas, faith, being the free assent of the intellect to the “unseen” knowledge of God, must first be “infused” into man by the grace of God. If true, then the “Clifford principle” is wrong, because there are other ways of gaining knowledge than argument or evidence.


Dmitry Chernikov

Michael Bloomberg’s Reply

(To my letter to him.)

Dear Mr. Chernikov:

Thank you for your letter expressing the idea that New York City should secede from both New York State and the United States. This is quite a controversial suggestion, and in light of the recent tragedies in New York, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania, I would have to strongly disagree with New York City becoming an independent entity. Although your points are intriguing, these past two weeks have seen an America that cares deeply for our City, as demonstrated by the Federal government’s commitment to the rescue and recovery efforts at the site of the World Trade Center. Likewise, America needs the spirit and talent of New Yorkers at this important time in our nation’s history.


Michael R. Bloomberg

Letter to Michael Bloomberg


126 E 56th Street
New York, NY 10022

Dear Mr. Bloomberg:

Please consider an idea of mine. I propose that the New York City secede from both the New York State and the United States and become a free city-state, rather like Hong Kong. This idea is not without precedent, as over a hundred years ago NYC mayor Fernando Wood recommended the very same thing. The following are just some of the benefits of secession to the people of New York:

1. No more federal and state taxes. Why send our resources to the federal and state bureaucrats who will “invest” it into absurd projects on the other side of the country, or subsidize poverty and vice, when we can leave in the hands of the productive classes, or spend it on local needs? The feds will no longer be able to extort us by withholding “funding” (our own tax money) and in so doing make us do their evil bidding.

2. No more federal and state regulations, most of which, as you know, do a great deal of damage to the economy. If necessary, we can make our own to suit our needs better. And what better way to save public education than to rid our city of the influence of the Department of Education and the NEA?

3. Our own immigration policy. We’ll have the whole world to choose from, because thanks to our independence and freedom from the heavy hand of government, we’ll quickly become the most prosperous country in the world, and everyone will want to live here. I would suggest that we grant a very limited number of citizenship applications per year, and only to the best and the brightest.

4. Our own currency, pegged either to the dollar or (my own preference) to gold. Sound money, free of political control, will fuel our economy like nothing else. You can even put your picture on it!

5. We’ll kick the evil U.N. bureaucrats out of the city-state. You will have to work out a deal with the state and federal governments regarding their property in our new country.

Sir, the main benefit of secession is self-determination. The central government in Washington, D.C. is a machine dedicated to destruction of wealth, corruption of American society, and endless warfare and foreign interventionism. New York State doesn’t do us any favors either. Let us sever the political ties with them, while maintaining all economic ties. Oh, you will be denounced in many newspapers, and the lawyers will have to work overtime, but I do not believe they will try to stop us by force. In fact, the rest of the country, especially the “red” states, will be happy to let us go (they don’t like us much), and you will make history.


Dmitry Chernikov

Re: Jude Wanniski (RIP) on the Market

Wanniski records the following opinion:

The [Wall Street] Journal editors look down from their mountaintop and proclaim that the free marketplace will sort things out, with the help of technological advance.

From his prison cell, I think Unabomber Ted Kuczinski is closer to the truth, that technology plus the jungle of the marketplace is a mindless combination that is increasingly wrecking the lives of most of the ordinary people on earth — always excepting those who live and hold their meetings at the top of the mountain.

Wanniski, to me, did not seem like someone who studied economics either formally or informally. And just like David Horowitz, he remained a commie in his heart, as manifested in Wanniski’s fondness for Marx even after his conversion to supply-sidism and in ridiculous metaphors like “the mindless jungle of the marketplace.”

At any rate, the editors of the WSJ are neocons, not libertarians. Hence their support for free markets is severely attenuated. There is no such thing as free markets during a war or a nationalist frenzy.

Our author goes on:

When I ask the leaders of the ordinary people what they want, they tell me “access to capital and credit.” That is shorthand for “opportunity to get from the bottom of the ladder to the top, if at all possible.”

This is a crass misrepresentation of the market order. Under any system it is possible to get to the top. Even in the most regimented societies a man with a gift for political intrigue, who is unscrupulous enough to murder and steal and lie and generally excel at the sort of things that governments do, can ascend into the ruling class, e.g., become High Priest of the socialist empire of the Incas. But it is only capitalism that requires the elites and extraordinary men to serve, rather than subjugate and loot the rest of us, if they want to advance to the top. Conversely, men who are good at lying and stealing are as likely to end up in prison as in government. The idea is not to reshuffle the social hierarchy (does it matter whether Jack or Jill is at the top?), but to allow for progressive improvement in our standard of living. We allow good entrepreneurs to become as rich as they can (or should allow), because in the process they cannot help but benefit us all.

Thus, the purpose of a “fluid society” is not social mobility per se, but to discover and use those individuals who are best at fulfilling consumer wants. The entrepreneurs who are most successful at any given moment at filling the needs of the consumers become part of the “fluid” natural aristocracy. As an “ordinary person” (in the sense of not a millionaire), what I want is access to capital and credit not necessarily for myself, but for those few people who have sufficient entrepreneurial talent to succeed in business. I want all capital to be “high-powered,” i.e., in the hands of the best of the best.

Furthermore, cheap credit coupled with fiat currency and Fed-induced inflation results in malinvestment and business cycles, something I don’t think our author realized or would want.

Wanniski makes another bizarre error of is his writings. He imagines society as a pyramid, with the poorest at the bottom and the richest on the top. Perhaps feudal Japan looked this way, though I doubt even that. The American society looks like this:

 /  \
/    \

The widest part of this figure is the middle crass, the “bourgeoisie.” It’s a bell curve.