Friday, December 28, 2012

The Lesson Continually Never Learned

Chicago has reached a grim milestone this year with only 12 less murders than the entire year of 2008; which was a record I believe.  Now many will mention that Chicago has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country, yet it has had no affect on crime. This is true though more liberal, looser, gun control laws allowing more citizens to own firearms wouldn't make a difference.

This isn't to say that I am not for more liberal gun control laws, I very much am, but you have to recognize the root cause for Chicago's problems.  The inability for citizens to own firearms legally for their protection isn't the root cause for Chicago's problem, though it certainly doesn't help, it is corruption, economic stagnation, and ineffectual enforcement.  The simple truth is that Chicago has high crime because Chicago is rotting from the inside. It's institutions, its ethics, the police, and civil ethics have all degrading tremendously.

 The lack of focus on the root causes of crime is were gun control efforts get it wrong, and were gun rights advocates should start their arguments from.  My opinion, after reading many studies on gun violence, is that looser firearm laws won't necessarily have any impact towards decreasing crime, gun violence, or violence in general. More firearms in the hands of law abiding citizens won't necessarily reduce crime, but that is irrelevant. The fact is that it is societal decay this is the cause of violence and crime in America. It is also a fact that firearms in the hands of law abiding citizens absolutely does not increase crime, and that it gives would be victims of crime a fighting chance.  The argument for firearms, comes down to two simple arguments.

The first argument is do you want citizens to be able to defend themselves or not? It is that simple, doesn't matter if we are talking about crimminals, corrupt government, or foreign invaders, it is all a matter of defense. Those who argue for complete firearm prohibition do not want people to defend themselves; they want the government to do it. Now many will call my comments unfair, that they are not arguing for people not to defend their lives and property from aggressors. Here is the simple truth, telling someone that they cannot be equally armed to their would be aggressors might as well be arguing for them to not be armed at all. If an assailant was coming after you with a firearm would you want your fists, a bat, a knife, pepper spray, a taser, or a gun? I think we know the answer. Let me reiterate, in principle, asking an individual to be less armed than the person assaulting them is akin to asking them to not be armed at all. Or to use a more graphic example, to ask those being raped to not resist the person raping them.

You will have some individuals that do not argue for complete prohibition, but do not want individuals to be armed with 'miltiary style' weapons.  They will give you all sorts of reasons why Americans shouldn't have, or don't need, them (assault weapons) but that simply leads me to my next argument. Argument number two is this, do you or do you not believe in liberty? American society was founded on the concept that someone should be able to do something unless there is absolute proof that what they do will harm others, and even then there must be compelling evidence that restricting that action or item would provide a demonstrable good to society.  If you cannot provide definitive proof that certain actions do harm to others, and if you cannot demonstrably prove that laws against such actions will do any good, then you cannot in good conscious advocate laws restricting someones liberty and still consider yourself a lover of liberty.  You cannot  equivocate this, it is a simple truth, any excuses you make will ring hollow. Is the act of owning an assault rifle harmful to society? And would preventing that act actually benefit society?

So let us examine assault rifles. Now I could go on and argue how there is no definitive proof that legal assault rifle ownership is detrimental to society, but that is a futile argument to make to gun control proponents. So let us assume, for the sake of the argument, that assault rifle crime is a problem and that limiting legal weapons is a realistic option to stifle that social ill. Senator Fienstein claims based off a study on her website, which I will not link, that from 1994 to 2004 crimes committed with assault rifles fell by around 6% and that this is evidence that the ban was effective in reducing gun crime. Ipso facto the assault weapons ban is a boon to society and a morally justifiable limitation of a person liberty.

This claim is weak, and frankly, absurd considering the myriad of items that would factor into crime with assault weapons. There is no way any person can say in all seriousness that we can construct a model that would accurately show us the effect that legal assault rifles would have on assault rifle crime, it is an impossibility. There is no such thing as Hari Sheldon's psychohistory and there never will be. All we can do is infer, and the greater the shift in movement the more likely our inference will be correct.  Given that this is the case, a 6% drop in ten years means absolutely nothing because a whole host of other items, prison sentences, convictions, economic growth, so on and so forth, could have played into that rather small drop. Remember a 6% drop is about a six tenths of a percentage point each year, absolutely minuscule. If there were say 30% drop in assault rifle crime, then her claims would have some credibility, but there wasn't, so her claim doesn't.

Given that we cannot definitely say that assault rifle crimes will be impacted by an assault rifle ban, then you cannot argue for additional restrictions for them and call yourself a lover of liberty. But wait, someone might, this is about stopping gang bangers from killing each other with AKs, this is about preventing horrible atrocities like the one in Connecticut or Colorado. OK fine, let us examine this.

First off, as terrible as these acts are, they are anomalies, and history is replete with events like this.  Here is something for you to ponder. What is the difference between a mass killer, who kills a bunch of people at once, and a serial killer, who kills a bunch of people over time? The only difference I can think of is that one type of killer emphasises the statement that his actions makes, while the other just may like killing individuals, psychologically there probably isn't a big difference between them. And are serial killers somehow less terrible than mass killers? The answer is no of course.

Now, the claim that banning assault rifles would prevent these atrocities is rather weak. First off, even if we assume that it would have a measurable effect on mass killings, there is no promise that the mass killer won't simply opt to go the route of the serial killer. Secondly, while someone might be able to make an argument that this last shooting would be prevented by an assault weapons ban. The idea that it would prevent other mass shootings, or mass violence in general, is completely unfounded. Colombine happened in the middle of an assault rifle ban. The Oklahoma city bombing was done without an assault rifle. Gun free Japan experienced a mass killing via Sarine gas. And the worst mass killing at an American school was done with dynamite. You will never entirely prevent these events from happening, it is an impossibility. Evil exits, and as sad as it is, we must accept that.

So we come to the conclusion, and that conclusion, assuming that you are being intellectually honest, is given that an assault weapons ban does not have any measurable affect on assault rifle crime as far as we know. And given that we cannot prevent mass killings. Then the only reason why someone continues to argue for an assault weapons ban on legally acquired assault rifles is because it would make them feel better.  Feeling better is not a good reason for policy, and it is not an acceptable reason for restrictions of individual liverty for those that love, and understand, liberty. There are people who would feel better about America if there was no interracial or gay marriage, or if gays couldn't adopt, or if we taxed the rich at 100%, if we completely outlawed religion, or if we forcibly deported anyone who wasn't a white protestant from England, Scandinavia, or Germany; yet we don't enact laws based on those individuals feelings, because we as a society recognize them for the absurdity that it would be to do so.

Someone who wants to say that they love freedom and liberty, or even that they respect peoples fundamental rights, cannot in good conscious argue for an assault weapons ban. Even if you do not like assault rifles, can't understand why someone would want them, or dislike guns in general, the fact is, you cannot support this ban simply because of your feelings about guns and how nasty and icky they are. You need to look at the issue rationally. And someone, who actually uses rational and not emotive reasoning, will be forced to draw the conclusion that this ban serves no good purpose.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Total Government Spending And GDP

A post I wrote a while back covered America's GDP and Federal spending.  If federal spending were taken out of the US economy then it would be a rather large drop in productive GDP. The adjusted GDP, taking out federal government spending, the US economy hovered a little over 10 trillion dollars rather than 14 to 15 trillion reported by the government today. At the time I did not include state and local spending in the mix.  Well, after a trip to the website government spending com, I was able to gather more data to add to my previous GDP chart.

Here is the now updated chart that shows what our GDP would be if we subtracted state and local government spending. And as we can see, private sector GDP shrinks down to 7.9 trillion dollars.


To reiterate my earlier point, while it appears that the US has recovered from the 2008 recession with a 2010 GDP of 14.2 trillion dollars compared to a 2008 GDP of 14.3 trillion.  However, when factoring government spending private sector GDP still has yet to match its 2008 levels. Here is a bar chart showing the dollar amount of of GDP that is private sector versus government sector.


In 2008 private sector GDP reached its zenith of 8.5 trillion dollars, down from a high of 8.6 trillion the year before. In 2010 private sector GDP is 610.30 billion dollars less than it was in 2008 even though our GDP is ostensibly larger by 139 billion dollars. Funny how our news correspondents talk about the recovery, yet fail to mention this fact.  Perhaps because it points out the fact that there is no recovery. You can argue all you want that government is needed to pump the economy, but when the share of private sector GDP shrinks relative to GDP as a whole, then it is hard to argue the efficacy of such a policy.  At best it becomes a holding action.

However the growth of government spending has long been the hidden white elephant that the media, economists, and the masses could choose to ignore if they deigned not to look for it. Below is a chart showing the yearly share that of GDP that he private sector, federal, state, and local spending account for.



The chart shows two items. The first is that it shows the growing share that government spending accounts for GDP. Just eyeballing the chart you can see that in 1948 government spending at all levels accounted for only around 20% of GDP. In 2010 it appears to have almost doubled doubled. 


Below is a chart showing the yearly split between private sector and government spending that accounts for GDP since 1940 and the yearly economic growth rates of the economy.


This chart alone doesn't prove definitively that government spending is the cause for our downward trending economic growth rates. Correspondents and economists would have you believe, not without some merit, that our reduced growth rate is due to demographic and global economic changes.  But, in my opinion, to not even consider that our decreasing economic growth rates may be contributed by growing government spending is like a doctor simply attributing growing weight gain, bone loss, and heart troubles to old age and not acknowledge that the patient went from a 150 to 250 pounds.

The second item that you will also notice is that it isn't just government spending that has ballooned, state and local spending have also grown considerably as shown in the chart below.



Since 1950, outside of local spending, all levels of government spending now increased dramatically. I have a guess as to why local government spending was so high in 1950, and that is that most of that local spending is probably spending by the mega cities of Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and a few of the rust belt cities using the postwar boom to fuel their rapid expansion. Whatever the reason, government spending has undoubtedly increased and it begs the question: How can economists insist that the government is not spending enough money to goose the economy when all levels of government have been on a 60 year binge? At what point will they finally acknowledge that America, throughout our government, has a spending addiction?  

The other aspect that hasn't been covered is that not all of the government spending is backed by actual dollars. Some of it is backed by debt, and as the chart shows, since 1960, outside of the technology infused bubble economy of the 1990's and one year in the next decade, government has run at a deficit. 


This deficit results in government debt which has to be paid for at some point, there is no ignoring this simple fact. When we have to pay this debt and how much of a detrimental effect it will have on the economy remains unclear. But the debt will be paid, and it will have a detrimental effect.  I would hope that anyone reading this post will now acknowledge that government spending could very well have a detrimental affect on our economy; but I doubt I have presented enough evidence to convince those who aren't already convinced. What I do think I have done rather convincingly is show that the GDP figures do not reflect the reality of the ground in any way. Americas economy is on the ropes, not recovering.






Oh The Irony. The Delicious Irony.

When NBC news anchor David Gregory was arguing about banning high capacity magazines he displayed one on television in front of NRA chief executive LaPierre. In a delicious twist of irony David Gregory is now being investigated by the police for violation of Washington D.Cs ban on large capacity magazines.

I do not have sympathy for the man, not just because he is trying to infringe on 2nd amendment rights by arguing for laws that have no affect whatsoever on gun violence or violence in general. But also because a person arguing to make something illegal who doesn't take the time to make sure that what he is presenting isn't already illegal in the area he is presenting deserves what he gets. I doubt he has any sympathy for gun owners or gun store owners who have been nailed for failing to understand all of the byzantine labyrinth of our countries, state, and municipal codes, regulations and laws on firearms; so he gets none from me.

Note to all hoplophobs and gun grabbers. Being ignorant of not only how firearms work when trying to take away second amendment rights makes you look foolish; and only helps my cause. But as we see now, being utterly ignorant of the laws as well could also land you in trouble. Many, though unfortunately not all, gun owners are all too keenly aware of the wire thin line we walk when.  Maybe David Gregory will gain some sympathy for law abiding citizens who are turned into criminals because of ineffectual and ludicrous laws, but I doubt it.  So I will settle for some schadenfreude.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Scary Science

Liberals, conservatives, libertarians, young, old, Christan or Atheist. We all know this world is sick when more and more psychopaths seem to come out of the wood works. Perhaps more frighteningly we are learning how to make the legitimate psycopaths artificially.

http://chronicle.com/article/The-Psychopath-Makeover/135160/ 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Spain: In A Socialist Economy You Don't Get Paid

The effects of Socialism, as we are seeing with Spain, are nasty.  After decades of socialist policies that defy fundamentally sound economic thinking the nation has declined to the point were even private companies are no longer able to pay their employees. Naturally some of the workers will blame the companies, saying that they are greedy and keeping all the available money to themselves. But the truth is that those companies are simply not being paid by their customers, or they are not being paid enough.

This is the direct result of socialism, or social democracy as it is known in Europe, and the effects are being felt both those on the dole and those who are productive.  Though it only recently has been called socialism, this sort of thing has been tried throughout human history, and always ended the same way. Ancient Roman politicians like Tiberius Gracchus, Augustus, Domitian, and a host of others, instituted policies such as land redistribution, free grain handouts to the masses, and price fixing. These policies were widely popular with the common man, but in the end created a problem far worse than the one that they were trying to solve. And perhaps the worst thing about this scenario, is that rather than look at the unintended ill-effects of their policies, the politicians of Spain will double down.

Human nature makes this a near certainty.  We are wired to trust authority figures, like wolves and the great apes, our society started out with small groups lead by an alpha figure or perhaps a group of highly regarded individuals.  This sort of structure works for small groups, were honor codes and blood ties helps prevent rampant abuses, and it has become a part of our psyche. It is natural to view socialistic/technocractic/nanny state government as the solution because that is how we are innately wired. Socialism appeals to our instinct, while libertarianism and free market policy require that we use our intellect. And the sad truth is, for every human being on the planet, we are often more irrational that rational.

And so the people of Spain will continue to clamor for more of the policies that have lead their nation to great ruin. At the behest of their leaders, they will continue to throttle the evil rich who are not paying their "fair share" only realizing when the rich have become nothing more than a lifeless corpse, i.e completely disappeared, and seeing that their situation has only decayed further, that they will realize the folly that their leaders how convinced them as truth.  Sadly even that scenario is optimistic, as Argentina has shown, even after the destruction of socialism has become evident, the people still continue to believe the charade that socialism is.

Let me make this clear. Socialism cannot work, has not work, and will not work, ever. Any one who happens to think that it might, but is not too far down the rabbit hole, should take note. What is happening in Spain is a direct result of Socialism in action.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Roman Progressiveness: Tiberius Gracchus

As I mentioned in a recent post, I was planning on expanding upon the arguments I made before about America being in a very similar situation to Rome during the late years of its republic.  While not every event that happened in Rome's history can be correlated directly to the America, the fact is that the similarities between Rome and America are hard to deny.  There are also a great many similarities between the late republic and America today. So while we cannot with absolute certainty that something will happen, we can make reasonable guesses.

One of the most important, but surprisingly little known, events in Romes history is the rise of the Grachhi brothers.  While class struggle had always existed in Rome and political games had always been played by politicians; their careers marked the beginning of militant populism, violent class warfare, bloody political intrigue, and the dismantling of the Roman constitution.

Many histories paint the Gracchi brothers as revolutionaries, reformers, and good men.  This is all too simplistic view of these men and their actions. If you want a pretty balanced historical account of both men then I recommend listening this podcast for Tiberius, and this one for Gaius. 

Tiberius Semporius Gracchus was born to similar conditions that so many activists were, privilege.  His father was Tiberius the Elder, a prestigious states man who had held the office of tribune, consul, and censor, and also a member of the plebian class. His mother was Cornelia Africana, daughter of the famed Scipio Africanus the general and later statesman who defeated Hannibal, and a cross between Eisenhower's brilliance with the vanity of McArthur.

Now just because history mentions that his father was a plebeian it often causes individuals to stop right there in ascertaining why he became a ancient Roman progressive. The fact is that you can not divide patricians and plebeians into the wealthy and poor classes that so many individuals do. Plebeians could be incredibly wealthy, and powerful, and patricians could become impoverished.  What patricians had over the plebeians was blood line. Patrician families were direct descendants of the founders of the Roman republic, and political privilege.

In America today the equivalent patrician class would be members the Vanderbilt, Rockefeller, Bush and Kennedy families. Families that do have a lot of wealth, but more importantly have a highly regarded pedigree.  Individuals like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, the late Steve Jobs, and Donald Trump would be plebeian, incredibly wealthy and influential yes, but plebeian non the less.  The best description of Tiberius mother and father would be likening Tiberius the Elder to Arnold Schwarzenegger and his mother Cornelia to Maria Shriver. It isn't the best comparison, but it is the closest one I can think of off of the top of my head.

Now unlike many children born to wealthy and powerful parents, he wasn't drawn to activism out of a sense of crusaderism. Roman cultures culture largely made this an impossibility, and crusaderism for crusaderism sake is very much a recent phenomena. No, he had much more personal, and Machiavellian reasons. Like many young Romans he served a stint in the military, during the 3rd Punic war, and served with distinction, though  the story about him being the first soldier over the walls of Carthage is most likely a political fabrication by his political supporters.  During the Numantine war he had the misfortune to being assigned to an army that was horribly defeated.  In efforts to spare more bloodshed he brokered peace with the Numantines, using his family name and their respect for his father as leverage; unfortunately for Tiberius he broke Roman law, the first of many laws he would break in the future.

Only a legate, the equivalent to a modern day general, and his brokering of peace with the Numantines was a serious break of protocol. Even more horrifying to the patrician senators though was that the kind of peace he brokered, in their minds, made Rome look weak and losers of the war. Tiberius was called back to Rome, and the treaty he brokered never ratified. This was a major humiliation for Tiberius, and probably the impetus for his populism. Prior to the war he was a staunch supporter of the patrician class privilege, it was only after his recall from Spain that his politics took a populist bent.

At this point in time there was very many things wrong with the Roman empire. Much like today select patricians benefited greatly, acquiring more and more property, while most other plebeians suffered.  There was a real need for land reform the economic situation for the common Roman was becoming increasingly dire, fewer manual  labor jobs were available for non-land owners due to the influx of slaves after Romes victories over Greece and Carthage. Much of the recently acquired land, which was supposed to be rented to members of the populace, instead went to relatively few set of connected patricians.  Adding salt on the wound, many of plebeians who had smaller land holdings, off fighting Romes numerous wars, . Add in the burdens of ever increasing taxation and you had a society that was on the brink of major civil unrest.

The bankruptcy of the Roman soldiers, and the subsequent loss of land, was the biggest potential problem. It was twofold issue. One was that eligibility for military service required that a person be a landholder. The idea in ancient Rome was that only those that had something to lose would fight to their fullest to protect Rome. There was some merit to that line of thinking as the professional soldiers of the later republic and empire had no compunction on turning their arms against their own, something that was much rarer in the early and middle republic. The shrinking size of the landholding class of Romans severely threatened Romes ability to muster the military that it required to defend its territories. The more immediate threat though was that instead of the mere rabble agitating against the patricians, you now had members of proper society baying for blood; and they knew how to fight.

It was under these conditions that Tibreius was elected as tribune to the people (Tribunis Plebis), a position that granted him with much power.  The Tribune to the People was a position that was created after the conclusion of the many political battles between the plebeians and the patricians of Rome.  Outside the consuls, the two executives of Rome and had executive power throughout the empire where the tribune of the people only had power within Rome itself, the tribune to the people enjoyed great power within Rome. They could summon the senate, propose laws, overrule magistrates, veto, and perhaps most important, he was sacrosanct. Which meant that laying hands on a tribune of the people was sacrilegious and the tribune could have the person executed.

Tiberius used the powers granted to him by his position decisively and aggressively. He proposed a land reform law known as the Lex Sempronia Agria, which aimed to strengthen previously ignored land reform laws that had been passed to ensure that public lands, lands conquered by the Roman state, did not end up in the hands of a few rich patricians. What made the law particularly controversial, is that it sought to confiscate the land of wealthy men who owned more than what was specified with in the various laws that had been passed through the centuries, though Tiberius did offer exceptions to allow for families with a lot of sons to own more than the legal limit as well as promises of payment to landowners that saw their property taken.

If Tiberius had simply tried to ensure that land distribution had gone out impartially, and in accordance with previous laws, then the law would not have been as controversial as it was. However, as controversial as his redistribution proposals were, it was how he pushed the law through that truly angered the Senate, and began the eventual dissolution of the Republic itself.

Laws were typically announced and passed within the senate halls. But Tiberius, knowing that the senate would never agree to his proposed law, decided to circumvent them altogether. He went to the plebeian council and proposed his bill. It was received enthusiastically. Now the ancient Roman republic had a myriad of legislative councils with varying degrees of authority and power, they had the senate, the plebeian council, century assembly, and the tribal assembly, but to keep things simple, the law was now about to be passed it the senate would be unable to overrule it. 

What Tiberius did was not against any law, or even against any custom. But it did insult the senate, and potentially alienate what senate support he did have. Think of someone being elected president and then refusing to appoint certain cabinet positions because he felt that those particular departments should exist. There is nothing legally requiring the president to appoint those positions, but tradition has made such appointments a certainty.

 Now the senate was not without a back up plan. Tiberius wasn't the only tribune to the people, and the senate was able to persuade Marcus Octavius, according to Plutarch Augustus was one of his direct descendants, to use his tribunal powers to veto the bill.  Tiberius was incensed and moved to have Octavius deposed by popular vote. He argued that Octavius had violated his oath to be a representative of the people and therefore was unfit to be a tribune to the people.  However, Octavius, using his tribunal power, vetoed the vote itself.  There was nothing Tiberius could do legally, he had been out maneuvered by the senate.  It is here that Tiberius crosses the point of no return. He had his supporters forcibly remove Octavius from the building and then called the vote to have him deposed.

It is here that the first major fissure that would eventually tore the republic apart appeared. Tiberius had violated the Roman constitution and had committed sacrilege, tribunes were sacrosanct, and he had just violated their sacrosanctity.  Tiberius justified his

 Now many of Tiberius supporters were fearful of what had just transpired and refused to vote on the deposition of Octavius. They had already broken Roman constitution and any further action would only be more outrageous. Instead, they convinced Tiberius to use his veto power to bring Rome to a halt. Every bill, proposal, or item, no matter how trivial  was vetoed by Tiberius.  This brought the civic, commercial, and even religious items that required passage by the assembly, to a complete halt. Tiberius was playing a game of chicken, one that he won.

The passage of the law made Tiberius a hero, however, the manner with which it was passed made him a hated man to many other Romans.  This was not lost on Tiberius and his supporters as they formed a protective guard to escort him to and from the chambers of the Senate. Perhaps even worse was that there was no real working relationship between Tiberius and the Senate, each one taking every opportunity to antagonize the other.  But it wasn't until the passing of Attlas of Pergamum, modern day western Turkey, that events boiled over.

King Attlas of Pergamum had been a long standing ally of Rome during his reign. He had no heirs, and sensing the risk of that his kingdom would be torn apart by civil war, so he willed his kingdom to the people of the republic of Rome. This would be the event that would lead to Tiberius downfall.  When the will stipulated that the kingdom go to the people of Rome it wasn't all that entirely clear what he meant.  Did he mean the actual people of Rome? Or did he simply mean the republic of Rome?  The word republic is from the word res public, which translates to thing of the people, so the literal translation of res publica roma is the thing of the people of Rome. Tiberus and the Senates differing views on what Attlas intended lead to their final show down.

Tiberius saw the gifting of Pergamum to Rome as a literal gift of land to the Roman people.  This meant, in his mind that the land should be distributed people of Rome.  And using his tribunal power he tried to allocate the newly gifted land to fund his agrarian law. But this proved to be the last straw for the senate as this was a direct attack on powers reserved to the Senate, and moreover, outside the bounds of imperium for the Tribunis Plebis.

Traditionally the Senate had jurisdiction over the Roman treasury, which had caused Tiberius no small headache as this meant that the senate could fund his agrarian commission with as much, or as little, money as the senate wished. Because of Tiberius previous actions, circumvention constitutional law, and because of the many enemies he had made, the senate crippled his bill. Tiberius move to use the lands of Pergamum to fund his commission was a direct move against powers reserved for the Senate; however that is not what incensed them the most.

The Tribunis Plebis had many powers within the city of Rome, however, they only existed within the city of Rome. Tribunes were not consuls, who held executive authority over all the empire, and his decrees had no legal weight, or power, unless backed by senatorial mandates. His action had no legal legitimacy, both Tiberius and the Senate knew this. But Tiberius was counting on popular support to win him the day. But Tiberius had a problem, his term as tribune was coming to an end.

Tiberius had violated the sacrosanctness of a fellow tribune, aggravated the senate, and exceeded the bounds of his power.  Despite his previous actions violating sacrosanctness of an elected tribune,  which the senate had already publicly declared illegal, he was safe from prosecution as long as he held his office. Moreover, Tiberius realized that it was not just the senate he had angered. He had also alienated some of the plebeians as well by his actions.  Senators publicly denounced Tiberius as a man who wished to reinstate himself as a king of Rome, and this left many Romans uneasy. And given the long line of men who would bring charges against him, and he current attitude many Romans had about him, he knew that he was in a precarious position

So Tiberius did the only thing that he could do to ensure his safety and avoid disgrace, he violating another Roman tradition and re-ran for a consecutive term.  Tiberius won his second term, promising to shorten military service requirements for citizens, abolish the exclusive right of senators to act as jurors, and increase the ranks of Roman citizenship with the allies of Rome. His latest victory would be his last.

The political situation of Rome had deteriorated drastically. The two political groups of Rome, the populares lead by Tiberius and the optimates lead by the senate leaders, were openly coming to blows in the streets of Rome. In a preview of the later years of the republic and early empire riots were becoming more frequent.  One day when Tiberius was traveling the Senate chambers, along with 300 of his supporters who acted as his body guard, were slain by a mob of senators and their supporters in the ensuing riot. A deadly preview of the murder of Caesar almost a century later.

It is tough to say whether Tiberius was simply a Machiavellian figure willing to grab the reigns of power through whatever medium was most available or if he truly believed in his populist causes and thought they would better Rome; it may have been a bit of both. But one thing is certain, the actions that he undertook, despite whatever intentions he had, were highly damaging to the Republic.

Tiberius, like many progressives, correctly identified many social ills that needed to be remedied. However, his proposed cures were worse than the ills he sought to solve. I wonder that if Tiberius had, instead of trying to take the lands of the wealthy patricians, had instead simply tried to ensure that future allotments would be distributed honorably and justly, that when he called for Pergamum to be distributed to the people of Rome that he wouldn't have been stymied by the senators. Not every patrician who possessed massive land holdings had earned through nefarious methods. But ultimately it wasn't the laws he tried to pass that hurt the republic, it was how he tried to pass them.

Tiberius had acted aggressively when pushing his agenda, so aggressive in fact, that he ended up circumventing the very laws that made republic, a republic.  It is one of the reasons why I, unlike so many other students of history, have a rather dim view of the man. Like so many progressive he justifies his actions because, while breaking the very foundation laws of Rome, he sought to improve the lives of the people.  Also like so many progressives, he arrogantly claimed that his actions were the will of the people he supported. Here is Tiberius, in a history written by Plutarch, justifying his actions of violating sacrosanctness.
"because he (Octavius) was consecrated to the people and was a champion of the people... If, then he should change about, wrong the people, maim its power, and rob it of the privilege of voting, he has by his own acts deprived himself of his honourable office by not fulfilling the conditions on which he received it; for otherwise there would be no interference with a tribune even though he should try to demolish the Capitol or set fire to the naval arsenal. If a tribune does these things, he is a bad tribune; but if he annuls the power of the people, he is no tribune at all... And surely, if it is right for him to be made tribune by a majority of the votes of the tribes, it must be even more right for him to be deprived of his tribuneship by a unanimous vote."
Here, if these words are remotely true, we see the true arrogance and naivete of Tiberius, and progressiveness  laid bare before us. The arrogance is shown  from Tiberius argument that he represented the will of the people while his opponent, Octavius, did not. This is dangerous because even if Tiberius is right, it doesn't take a stretch of the imagination to realize how this concept could be abused. What happens if there is opposition to Tiberius, or any populist politician for that matter, purely on the grounds of principal? Is a man acting in accordance with what he believes is right, and within the bounds of societies laws, and votes against popular will, is he truly an enemy of the people? Just because a law is popular doesn't mean its prudent or just.

The naivete is from the inability of many progressives, or perhaps the utter lack of concern, about how dangerous such precedents are.  Twisting the meaning of the constitution, from a sacred and eternal written laws to a base fluid living document opens up many terrible doors.  The tactics used by the progressives in their fight for a more egalitarian and equal society can be used against them by men of great greed and little principal. Every time you give more power to government, and its agents, to try and create a just society you also give them the power to do exactly the opposite. I highly doubt progressives ever imagined that their actions would help create a state that would waste its resources busting groceries that sold unpasteurized dairy.

Lastly Tiberius, if he were a true reformer, did great damage to his cause because of the actions he took. Even if he were acting in the interest of the people, by violating Romes sacred laws he lost moral authority.  You cannot say you act in the interest of the people, when you very actions lay those same people open to abuse by future despots.  This is were progressiveness really loses itself.  While preventing environmental degradation, abuse of the poor, and other causes of progressives are not inherently wrong, the actions they undertake are. What good is the victory if it only sets one up for greater defeat down the road?

This is why I have a rather dim view of Tiberius, as whatever his intentions were, they are overshadowed by his actions and the results of them. Tiberius alone wasn't the cause of the fall of the republic, the senate, patricians, and other politicians deserve their share of the blame as well. But if it were not for his actions, then his brother might not have even further eroded republicanism in Rome, and the crossing of the Rubicon may never have happened.

Crusaders, activists, progressives, and reformers take note. The beast that consumes our republic may be the beast that you unleash.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Even in the Lions Den

Illinois is one of the states that I have long given up for lost. But strange things do happen, and even a state like Illinois can move towards freedom sometimes.

On a related note, I haven't feed my firearm addiction in a while. Time to start saving and then start shopping.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Is Michigan A Future Glimps of China?

Gordon Chang, an an article in Forbes, notes some of the changes that are happening to China's manufacturing economy.  According to him six cities, including Shenyang a city I once visited, are now allowing defunct and abandoned industrial sites to turn into farmland. Now this doesn't necessarily indicate a larger trend, though I do find it interesting that a city I had visited less than two years ago, and was growing at an exorbitant pace, is allowing land to return to nature.

What is even more interesting is that the rising costs of manufacturing on the east coast of China have forced manufacturers to either move inland or overseas. This is nothing new, and has been documented for some time now, China is getting more expensive and losing it's competitive advantage. This is interesting because China has always had issues with regionalism. The wealthier coasts will probably do everything they can to try and keep industry where it is while the interior will do everything it can to take industry away.

Friday, December 7, 2012

The Fall of the Roman Republic. Is This A Glimpse of Our Future?

I was thinking about the event, otherwise known as the collapse, and thinking how it has and will affect society when something began to creep into my mind. I was reflecting on the increasing number of young individuals living at home with their parents, even if gainfully employed, and realizing that this was a return to the norm. That young men going off on their own, excluding instances of dire need, to work and live in their own apartment and start their life was strictly a 20th century phenomena. Most guys I know around my age either live with their parents, or are subsidized by their parents if they live alone or live with roommates. And I am not talking about an early 20 something fresh out of college, but guys whose 20s are starting to come to an end.  Where 22 used to be the point that a young man was completely independent now it is 25 and they are only partially independent.  But I digress, while I was thinking about this another thought came to the forefront of my mind as I thought about family structures going back to antiquity.

As often happens, having studied Latin in high school and college and spend much of my free time studying the foundational societies of western civilization, I began to compare and contrast Rome to America; as I often do. Aurini, a man who often says things that I find uncomfortable, but then comfort should never be the metric upon which we measure truth or insight, articulated how someone should approach history perfectly; I honestly could not have said it better myself. That is that a person needs a hypothesis when looking at history. During your first run through it is fine and good to learn just the dates, names, and the general basics to get you somewhat familiar with the landscape of the era. But if you fancy yourself a historian, or even an educated individual, you should revisit history with a definite hypothesis. I had always read Roman history with a few specific questions:
  • Why was Rome and not Greece the most powerful civilization in the west during the age of antiquity?
  • What about Rome, specifically their society, made them more powerful than their neighbors?
  • Why did the Republic fall and what lead up to its fall. Or more specifically, what conditions lead to the rise of men like Marius, Sulla, Caesar, and Octavian?
  • Assuming that there is something about Roman society that made them the power of the ancient world; what similarities exist between ancient Rome and America?
Approaching history in this manner is how a person gains insight.  The fact is that most individuals understanding of history is pretty limited and covers only a few points of history very shallowly. I would say, and being generous, that most Americans know that there was a man named Julius Caesar, a narcissistic emperor named Nero who fiddled while Rome burned, and that Rome ultimately fell. Those with a larger breadth of understanding would know that there was the Roman republic, that formed after it broke away from Etruscan influence, that there was a Roman Empire that rose around the time of Caesar and Augustus, that Rome became increasingly unwieldy was unable to deal with barbarian incursions and then eventually fell.

A view of this history isn't wrong, but it is lacks nuance into the hows and whys. When you delve into Roman history in depth you will notice that Rome had been beset and plagued by barbarians throughout its history; it was sacked twice during its formative years. You then ask was the deposition of Romulus Augustulus by Odoacer, a barbarian who was a higher up in the Roman military establishment, marked as the end of the empire? When throughout Roman history the emperor had been deposed. And why did the Eastern Roman Emperor not seek to exert hard influence, a public display of submission, on the usurper? Approaching history in this context you begin to gain real insight and learn to see fundamental trends and causes. And this is how I approach history.

As my mind drifted off to sleep I worked my way through the differing periods of Rome and then suddenly my drowsiness dissipated and I was fully awake; the gears in my mind spinning vigorously. I had remembered something about Roman patronage and how it worked in the early and late republics.  Patronage was the practice in Rome were men would pledge loyalty, service, and commitment of varying degrees to their patrician benefactors.  The patrician benefactors would give their patroness gifts, money, government positions if they could, in exchange for their loyalty; which meant votes in republican Rome. That is perhaps the most condense summation I can give as there were various types of 'partonage' in ancient Rome.

There were obligations for both parties involved and though many obligations had no legal basis, only dishonorable men (and this is a society were it was considered proper for dishonored men to commit suicide) would break an obligation of patronage; and patronage didn't just exist between plebeians to patricians. Other patricians could be patrons to other patricians and very complex familial and honor based ties were created within Roman society. However, towards the end of the Republic these systems began to change, and even break down. But before I go into the change I need to cover one very important aspect of Roman society.

Republican Rome, much like colonial and early Republican America, was oriented around the ideal of the citizen farmer. Participation in the military and civil government required that a man be a landowner, and a man wasn't really a true Roman unless he was a farmer. The society of Rome was oriented around owning land. If a man did not own land, the goal was to eventually be able to purchase some, he often was employed as a laborer on a farm, and one day, if he was driven, frugal, he may purchase his own land to farm and join the ranks of the noble citizenry.

However, many had changed from the foundation of the republic after the end of the third Punic war in 146 BC.  Rome had risen from a city state, overshadowed by the Etruscan and other Latin cities of the time such as Alba Longa, and considered a backwater by the wealthier and more culture Hellenistic city states. To the foremost military power in the Mediterranean after their only major rival, Carthage, had been completely defeated and subsumed into the Roman Empire. Coincidentally, 146 BC is also the point when Rome started occupying large parts of Greece, whose city states had long since been the lesser 'partner' in military alliances with Rome.

All that remained for Rome was the constant harassment of the barbarians to the north, and even they had been reduced from an existential threat to a mere nuisance, the pirates of the Mediterranean, and the growing disgruntlement with her Italian allies.  The Social War, the attempted secession from the Roman confederation by Italian city states tired of what they viewed as an unfair alliance with Rome, ended with a Roman military victory but with concessions granting full citizenship to Italian cities who remained allies with Rome. By 88 B.C Italy was truly unified under a Roman government. The other major event was the Third Servile War, lead by Spartacus, and relatively easily put down. However, the two wars illustrated two important changes that were happening in the ancient world.

One was the increasing difficulty in finding suitable land with which to settle their citizens. The Social War largely resulted because of unequal distribution of newly conquered lands, most of them going to Rome, wealthy Romans specifically. Rome herself was facing great strain with an increasingly restless Plebeian population due to the lack of adequate farmland. The strain was becoming so great that it bolstered the career of two political activists who sought land reforms for the plebeian poor, the Grachhi brothers, Roman era social activists and progressives of their era. However, like many activists, they broke the rules and abused their power when it suited their ends.

Tiberius Gracchus fell from grace when he tried to push through reforms that sought to redistribute land from patricians to the plebeians. As he tried to run for reelection the Senators gathered a mob of 300 like minded individuals stormed the Senate and club Tiberius and his supporters to death, the first time blood had been shed within the Senate in more than 400 years; and a glimpse of the politics of the next 100 years.

Tiberius' younger brother Gaius was more successful. He included the middle class, known as the equestrians, plebeians in his cause and gathered large support around himself. The equestrians also made up much of the judiciary of Roman society so he was able to use this power to get patricians removed from the ranks of the Senate for misconduct and replace them with men loyal to him.  Gaius did things such as fix the price of grain, accelerate land redistribution, and win an unconstitutional third as the Tribuni Plebis.  However, like his older brother he over extended himself. When he sought to extend rights to non Roman citizens he lost a large portion of his power base. Eventually he was killed during street fighting between the optios, patrician oriented political party, and the populares, his political party.  But rather than end the civil strife within Roman society, it only became more strained.

The other was that large influx of slaves in Roman society and their increasing prevalence in the labor force. Slavery had always existed in the ancient world. But during the formative years of the Republic slaves they were a much smaller portion of the labor force. This meant that poor Romans, or Italians, who did not own land could find work as a laborer or a field hand. With the influx of slaves that resulted in the defeat of the Greeks, Carthaginians, and other enemies of Rome, they increasingly edged out the lower rung of Roman society.  This, along with the death of the Gracci brothers, helped contribute to the outbreak of the Social War.

Moreover, the with the Marian Reforms of the Roman military, easing the requirements needed and establishment of a standing military, it helped lay the ground work for the rise of Sulla, Pompey, Crassus, Caesar, and finally Augustus, signalling the beginning of the end of the Republic.  With few ways for poor Romans to earn a living, and middle class Romans increasingly seeing themselves squeezed out by richer patricians, it left those classes few choices. Joining the Roman military, organized crime, gladiatorial games, prostitution, and patronage. Patronage started to become the method of choice for many of the urban dwellers living in Rome. However, it had changed slightly.

Whereas before the patronee had only one patron, the lower classes had soon discovered a way to game the system.  Traditional Roman values had decline and honor was not regarded quite like it was.  Many Roman men, not all of them members of the lowest social classes, would begin their day by visiting their patrons paying respects and collecting sums of money for paying their respects.  They would do this throughout the morning, and then spend the rest of their day drinking, gambling, or watching the games.

And so the common Roman was reduced to holding out their hand and expecting coin to be put in it for simply saying a few sweet words of adoration to the man who held the purse strings.  Moreover, the patricians were not oblivious to what was happening, in many ways they encouraged it. They knew that they simply had to offer more coin than their rivals to buy the persons loyalty. And if patronage alone was not enough, there were the games, and frequent allotments of free bread that would be distributed under the name of the right and honorable so and so.

Politics increasingly became a game of occupying office, abusing its power to gain wealth and prestige.  There had always been corruption in Rome, more so than what would have been acceptable in America, but there were understandings that came with it.  Corruption had to be quiet and discrete and within reason. That was no longer the case. The office of consul, with its legal immunity while in office, became a means for wealthy men to enrich themselves.

This is the world that Caesar grew up in. Were men used their private armies to bully the Senate into submission. Were political enemies were exterminated. And where all it took was money, and buying the love of the masses with it, to wipe away those sins.  Caesar was no different than Sulla, Crassus, Pompey or the legion of others who abused their power for person gain. He just was bigger, louder, and more flagrant than anyone before him. He pushed the boundaries, what little remained of them anyways, of Rome sociopolitical norms and was put in a position where, he either had to take power, or be ruined. Later on his nephew, and adopted son, Octavian, was the victor of a series of wars that resulted from Caesars depth.

He was very different from Caesar, and his predecessors in that his formative years were amidst the worst in terms of the decay of Roman society and civil strife.  He sought to restore Rome's stability, which he did, and return it moral society with it, which he largely failed to do. He made a great show of returning power to the senate, restoring the Republic, but the truth was that he controlled everything behind closed doors.  And in actuality the Republic been effectively dead for almost 70 years at that point.

While mulling this information over in my mind I couldn't help but notice the eerie similarities during the late Republican era of Rome and now. There is a lot more that I have not put in my blog post for the sake of brevity, which I will elaborate on in future posts, but here are some of the similarities I have noticed:
  • Calls for land redistribution then. Calls for income redistribution now.
  • Decreasing ability for citizens to find farmlands then. Decreasing ability for individual Americans to start businesses now.
  • Growing coalescent of farmlands in the hands of a few politically connected patricians then. Growing conglomeration of business companies in the hands mega corporations now.
  • Labor crowded out by slaves then. Labor crowded out by illegal migrants now.
  • Growing flagrant corruption and disregard for their constitution then by their elected leadership. Growing flagrant corruption and disregard for our constitution now buy our elected leadership.
  • Government increasingly reliant on warfare for wealth and economic health then. Government increasingly reliant on warfare for economic health now.
  • Middle and lower classes of Roman society increasingly reliant on patronage of patrician leaders for their livelihood. Middle and lower classes of American society increasingly reliant on entitlements for their livelihood.
  • Excessive inflation during the waning years of the Republic. Excessive monetary printing now.
  • Absolute control of the Mediterranean by the Romans. Absolute control of the oceans by Americans.
The list could go on and on but my post is rapidly approaching three thousands words so I will wrap it up here with the plans to explore these items more closely in subsequent posts. I have always posited that America is closer to the fall of the Republic rather than the fall of the empire. While there are no guarantees in history, as you could make sound and legitimate arguments for America being circa the fall of the empire, my research has convinced me that it isn't quite the case. And this is very important. When the Republic fell it was a travesty, but the travesty wasn't felt for many years later. The reign of Augustus was a good one, and it seemed that reign under an enlightened despot was preferable to the chaos of the late republic. But then came the reigns of lesser men, and with it madness, blood, economic decline, and eventually total societal collapse. And the worst part was, that when Rome finally did completely and utterly disintegrate centuries later, no one even cared to try, frankly they didn't even know how, to put the pieces back together and start over.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

School Boards Should Be Abolished

I think what the principal did at this school was fantastic. It is all too apparent that the politically correct method of discipline, sending individuals home, doesn't work. If a person is too stupid to care about their education, and many youths are very stupid, then they cannot appreciate what they are being denied.  Moreover, the only individuals suspension works for are those whose parents give a damn, or enough of a damn to have the wherewithal to instill motivation in their children; funny thing about that, kids with those kinds of parents generally don't get sent to detention.

There are only two things that can keep ne'erdowells, and most kids who get into fist fights at school are the ne'erdowells, is physical punishment and public shaming.  This used to be common knowledge as little as 50 years ago, but in this <s>impotent</s> softer age it has become forgotten.  My grandmother was a teacher and she said she rarely had to administer corporal punishment back in her day and that kids actually listened and behaved. Not that they were more inclined to behave then versus now, she worked in a poor rural school with farm and migrant kids, but that it only took one or two times with the switch to set them straight. Interestingly enough she became the teacher responsible for teacher the problem children because she had an ability to keep them in line. But I digress.

This leaves us with one, and only one, method that has any hope of working and that is public shaming. Now some limp wristed individuals are going to complain that this is some how homophobic, it's not. The fact is that at that age kid are terrified about being teased for liking someone, regardless of gender. You could take a guy and a girl who loathed each other and they would be just as mortified, okay almost as mortified, as those two boys. The social structures for teenage individuals are like the lion wild prides of Africa, brutal. These young men are going to have to deal with the teasing and the ribbing for a little while, and chances are decent that it might prevent such an encounter between the two again; at least on campus anyways.

It isn't a surprise that the school board takes exception to what the principal did. Governing bodies operate on the opposite principal of the exponential power of two or more minds. Rather than being two heads are better than one, implying that you at least have double the brain power, it has an inverse effect.  Each of those individual board members could be highly intelligent, it doesn't matter, they might as well be mouth breathers for all the common sense that comes from those bodies. Government bodies have a life of their own, and with that life comes its own mind. It is more worried about potential law suits and the loss of face that would result rather than the long term well being.  We would all be better if school boards were abolished and the final decision making power rested in the hands of the principal; the title ultimately coming from the Latin word principalis -e which translates to first in rank.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Raising Taxes Will Not Make a Lick Of Difference


This is a chart I did not make myself, rather I pulled it from an MSN article that was trying to make a case saying that the American tax payer has had it easy for a long time.  The author simply cannot, or just will not, see that we have a spending problem.  Though I will be fair and give the author credit for admitted that Al Gore also promised to cut taxes, however, when both candidates of two different parties are promising to do essentially the same thing, only differing in the matter of degree, is that not indicative of something larger?*

Moreover, the author is missing something entirely. He can believe that the American tax payer has had it easy, receiving more 'benefits' from the government than what they have been willing to pay, but that is ignoring that at one point marginal tax rates on the rich were far higher than they are now. This chart does not go back that far stopping at 1990 because by going back any farther it would disapprove the authors attempted point, that we need to raise taxes in order to goose government revenue.  Here is the chart the author should have posted if he were to be intellectually honest.


 
 
As you can see government revenue as a percentage of GDP has stayed very constant, never exceeding 20% of GDP and never going under 15%.  This has been the case for over 60 years regardless of the nominal tax rate.  In 1945 to around Kennedy's tax reforms in 1962 the top marginal tax rate was 91%, far higher than they are now, yet revenue is hardly any different.  In fact, even just eyeballing the chart you will see that revenue dips roughly correspond to economic recession that occurred in the United States.

 
 
 
It should be no wonder then that tax revenue has fallen recently, and it should be equally clear that raising marginal rates will make no difference on how much revenue we receive.  The rich are people like everyone else, save that they have more options available to them, and if they think they are getting fleeced then they will hall up and move.  This has long been a tenant of free market theory, and has been proven empirically, just look at Great Britain.
 
It is then, with this new knowledge and awareness, that we see by looking at the original chart posted by the MSN author, that it clearly shows a spending problem.  Never in our 60 year history has tax revenue ever exceeded 20% of GDP, regardless of marginal tax rates, yet spending has consistently exceeded this mark. . If real world empirical evidence shows this, and it does, then only a wilfully foolish individual would contend the opposite.  But that is how propaganda works, contend that something is right and true whether or not reality reflects this.  The Soviets were able to do so for over 70 years, but in the end Communism was shown to be the broken house that it was. It will not be too much longer until democratic socialism is shown to be just as broken.
 
Finally, this is what angers me most, is that whether or not you believe the rich should pay more of their income in taxes, you should still be tempered by reality, and not the reality of one's own choosing but as it actually exists. And reality here clearly shows that we will not receive more than 20% of our revenue in GDP, we have 60 years of data to back up this statement. Barring any fundamental change towards Americans attitudes towards paying taxes this will not change. So any effort to try and do so is a waste of time and resources that would be better spent elsewhere.  Imagine all the brain, monetary, and legal power that is wasted towards pursuing an end that cannot be achieved, and what would happen, if it instead, all that energy was directed towards more more attainable and productive ends.
 
 
*Lastly, without going into my rant on how the surplus never really existed, the first chart should point out something all too clear. That the surplus was temporary, and that if we were to maintain an actual surplus then spending has to remain below the 50 year trend line.

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Seattle resident whose real name is Kevin Daniels. This blog covers the following topics, libertarian philosophy, realpolitik, western culture, history and the pursuit of truth from the perspective of a libertarian traditionalist.