Sunday, March 16, 2008

The last post about Obama generated an intense interchange about public policies. This is a subject I don't want to write about [1], but I fear that I must, to provide adequate support to opinions that I hold that are not conventional.

I am a firm believer that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, therefore my approach to politics is to support minimization of government and maximization of the power of individuals and thus can claim to be Libertarian. But, just like Democracy is not a pack of wolves and a sheep deciding what to eat for dinner in an election by simple majority, the complete absence of coordination is not Liberty but the law of the jungle. Why am I so skeptical of Government?: Because Truth is elusive and relative, it is morally objectionable to impose one's Truth to others that don't share the same beliefs. There is some people that think that the solution, then, is to homogenize societies: All that share the same beliefs should segregate themselves from the rest; but then I have a strong objection against that principle: If every human life is valuable, then it should be that every one has something unique, and the celebration of that uniqueness must be among the most "humane" of pursuits. Furthermore, being a scientific/engineer myself, I clearly see how the creativity to crack mathematical incognitas or pose models of the Universe, and the creativity for invention are very directly correlated to independent thinking, that is, respect and promotion of doing the same thing differently until an objectively better way is found. Even more amazing, Nature has produced the most exquisitely diverse biological mechanisms by randomly mixing and matching genes (sexual recombination) and managing to actually benefit from predominantly (when seen individually) destructive errors in gene copying (mutations); that is, the uniqueness of combinations of genes is enough for Nature to do wonders, and errors are not only tolerated, but serve the positive function of "supercharging" the engine of diversity. On a final note about this subject, Evolution through Natural Selection does not have the slightest characters of hypothetical or unproven for me; I have done research on Artificial Intelligence (that is, how to help computers "learn") using so called "genetic algorithms", which are systems that begin by proposing multitudes of stupid hyphotesis, generated randomly, and have them compete for a chance to "reproduce" by combining their qualities with the qualities of other hypothesis in successive generations, that is, imitating Nature's Evolution through Natural Selection; not just "learning" actually happen, but Genetic Alogrithms as those used by John Koza has gotten to the point to generate inventions that have been patented. So, evolution through natural selection is actually a proven, quantifiable engineering technique based on the promotion of diversity; it turns out that Diversity is good not just in the Moral arena, but also in some practical matters.

What I mean by "classic" libertarianism, as codified in the U.S. Constitution + Bill of Rights, has always been for me the the Paradigm, but one must question whether the world has become qualitatively different in the last 50 years, 200+ after the framework was designed, so as to grant some updates to the classical framework. Must of "classic" Libertarianism assumes that individuals may face the consequences of their actions without disturbing other individuals. Today, the individuals are so interconnected, that it is virtually impossible to leave everyone on their own. In the last post, there was criticism of my stance that the only sensible approach towards health is universal, free of charge (meaning paid by the whole of society), care. Some have told me: "What about the drug abusers?, Why am I going to pay for their lack of responsibility towards themselves?" this is a good example: In principle, we should let the people who didn't have the restraint to not become addicts on their own, it is not our fault their problems, so, at first approximation, there is no justification to force responsible people to pay the expenses created by irresponsible people. The problem is that whether the responsible people wants it or not, indirectly or directly they end up "paying the bill", the reason, again, is that the world is too much interconnected. An opportunity to paraphrase JFK's words: A society that is not able to help the many who are poor [ stupid, irresponsible, crippled ] can not the save the few who are rich [ smart, resonsible, healthy ]. I come from a country where rich, competent people thought that they could segregate themselves from the poverty and misery around. For a while that's possible, but it becomes increasingly difficult, until such a system collapses under its own weight. Larger countries may think that they can protect their wealth from the misery that prevails in the rest of the world, but that is just not possible, it just takes longer for the collapse to happen, and when it happens, it usually ends up worse than what it would be had the adaptation began earlier. A system of health care primarily supplied through private institutions funded by private insurance naturally decays into a system for the management of disease, I mean: A system where disease is the primary generator of treatment business; universal, free care leads to see disease as a problem to be rooted out, hence a much more effective focus on prevention than treatment. I wonder what's the matter that people who would readily admit that just like it doesn't make much sense to have private courthouses and private judges (although market forces may help in Law Interpretation, the primary system for Law Interpretation must be the universal, free provided by the State [2]), can't understand so readily that the market forces generate distortions on public health, thus the primary means should be State-supplied. While I am at it, ditto for Education. In general, these three primary services, together with Defense, work best while their primary supplier is the State, given the interconnectedness of societies, private offerings in these areas can't be infinitely superior to the public, free offerings, therefore, very quickly the best of private offerings reach a quality limit that can only be improved by the improvement of the public offerings.

Regarding NAFTA, it seems nobody understood the subtlety that while I am all for it, at the same time have objections. Regarding free trade with Mexico, I have the objection that the impairment between the incomplete freedoms that Mexican workers enjoy and much better freedoms the U.S. workers enjoy mean that it is easier for companies to go exploit Mexican workers, thus, the exercise of freedoms to trade erodes the freedoms of workers in the U.S. while strengthening the exploitative system in Mexico. As a libertarian concerned with maximizing overall freedoms, the tradeoff is anything but evidently positive. The solution here is to improve the freedoms of Mexican workers. Do you see? Liberty's price is eternal vigilance, the smart libertarian defends liberty when the attacks are incipient, it is easier and cheaper to defend one's liberties by fighting the attacks on other people's liberties: Other people's liberties are the firewall that would protect our own. Words attributed to Martin Niemöller very succinctly describe the collapse of freedoms:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Going back to my departure with classical libertarianism, the world is so densely interconnected that the only sensible approach is to provide assistance to those that either by irresponsibility, stupidity or sheer incapacity can't help themselves. Should that "help" be imposed?: No.

Unsurprisingly, it turns out that my principled approach actually works more efficiently in the real world. Take for instance drug addiction: The "classical" libertarianism prescribes an approach of "leave alone the abuser", because the drug abuse does not directly infringe on any of the liberties of non-abusers. Nevertheless leaving the drug addicts on their own lead to nasty problems, so, almost all countries fight addiction, and since one of the sources of addictions is the availability of drugs, enormous amounts of efforts are spent in fighting their availability (a mild form of imposing "help"). Furthermore, some countries actually criminalize drug addiction (meaning that some countries impose criminal penalties to activities inherent of addiction), another form of imposed help. But these impositions are as expensive as ineffective. On the other hand, it is proven that spending efforts into helping addicts to voluntarily get out of the vicious cycle of addiction is both effective and efficient. I prefer the apparent contradiction of calling myself libertarian and still support programs that help people deal with the consequences of their own irresponsibility than the hypocrisy of calling myself "libertarian" and support the criminalization of fundamentally private activities.

Classical libertarianism suggest that the first step towards helping with the problem is to strengthen individual responsibility. How is it possible to improve responsibility if the punishment for irresponsibility is diluted? that's a valid objection, just that drug addicts become a problem for themselves at the same time they become a problem for everyone else. I have somewhat concrete ideas about how to strengthen the instincts of responsibility, they had to do with breaking legal systems that "baby" people, excessive and abusive intromission of government into people's lives, this, in turn, goes to the heart of why this country turned into a litigious society, a problem that was mischaracterized as something to solve within the realm of Health Care Reform; but I won't succumb as usual to the temptation to write an article about something like infantilizing laws, irresponsible citizenry, and societal litigiousness inside an article about something like Liberties.

The war of ideologies already finished, Liberty won, hands down. There is universal evidence that the support and promotion of the value of uniqueness is the engine of progress. Since all other ideologies were defeated, the task of this generation is to perfect the classical model of liberties, and I suggest to begin with adaptations to the qualitative differences derived by the vastly superior degree of interconnectedness of contemporary world. It pleases me that the friendly politician I met several years ago, Barack Obama, who for some people appears to be friendly to even more government intromission, in reality strikes me as both a libertarian and a pragmatist, is making merits to become the most representative figure in this generation to resume the greatest tradition of this country: To have served at times as the beacon of Liberty for the rest of the world.

[ 1 ] The reason why I don't want to talk about this subject is because it is not suitable for the rushes of blog reading even if I were to do the work to document the thesis adequately. Not only that, I have the great disadvantage of it being improper of me to praise or criticize any concrete example of public policy of my host country

[ 2 ] About my usage of the word "State" for U.S. readers: In the U.S., "State" almost always refer to the non-federal, state-level; and "Government" is used in place for the concept of State, but the correct meaning of government is almost synonymous with the executive branch of what here is called "Governement". I know that it is impractical to use the proper meanings when talking about politics of the U.S. because then it becomes tedious to qualify issues as State-level or Federal level, but since I am not talking about U.S. policies, I use the proper meanings.