TCS Daily


Malthus And Scrooge

By Jerry Bowyer - December 25, 2008 12:00 AM

"Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.'' "Many can't go there; and many would rather die.'' "If they would rather die,'' said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

That phrase--surplus population--is what first tipped me off to Dickens' philosophical agenda. He's taking aim at the father of the zero-growth philosophy, Thomas Malthus. Malthus' ideas were still current in British intellectual life at the time A Christmas Carol was written. Malthus, himself, had joined the surplus generation only nine years before. But his ideas have proved more durable.

Malthus taught the world to fear new people. An amateur economist, he created a theoretical model which allegedly proved that mass starvation was an inevitable result of population growth. Populations grow, he said, geometrically, but wealth only grows arithmetically. In other words, new people create more new people, but new food doesn't create new food.

Malthus' influence, unfortunately, grew geometrically and not arithmetically. His ideas provided fodder for Darwin, and Darwin's lesser mutations used the model to argue for the value of mass human extinction.

Hitler's hard eugenics and Sanger's (founder of Planned Parenthood) softer one, both owed a great debt of gratitude to Thomas Malthus. So do the zero-growth, sustainable-growth, right-to-die, duty-to-die, life boat bio-ethicists who dominate so much of our intellectual discussion. Malthus turned out to be, ironically, right in some sense. His prediction of mass death has taken place; not because he was right, but because he was believed.

Dickens, I think, saw it first. Ebenezer Scrooge was clearly a Malthusian. When he turns away an opportunity for alms giving, he uses the zero growth rationale. When he meets the Ghost of Christmas Present, he reiterates it:

"You have never seen the like of me before!'' exclaimed the Spirit.

"Never,'' Scrooge made answer to it.

"Have never walked forth with the younger members of my family; meaning (for I am very young) my elder brothers born in these later years?'' pursued the Phantom.

"I don't think I have,'' said Scrooge. "I am afraid I have not. Have you had many brothers, Spirit?''

"More than eighteen hundred,'' said the Ghost.

"A tremendous family to provide for!'' muttered Scrooge.

At this, the Ghost rose in what I presume is indignation. Scrooge cowers and submits. Then the ghost raises his torch (in the shape of a cornucopia) and leads Scrooge to the public market, brimming with food from all around the world. Dickens especially emphasizes the fruits of trade: almonds, Spanish onions and oranges (in winter, no less). The message is clear: The dirge-ists of the day are wrong. England, even with its poor classes, is a prosperous society. The world is abundant. Rest is possible. So is generosity.

Scrooge's philosophy is not one based on the evidence; he ignores the evidence. He keeps setting aside the evidence of his senses with reference to the secular philosophy of his time. When he sees a spirit, he says that it's just a piece of undigested beef causing him to hallucinate. He denies the realm of the spirit until it becomes simply undeniable.

Scrooge is not following reason; he's following trauma. His mother died when he was young. He was sent to a boarding home where he and the other children were poorly fed. By the time he was brought back from exile to his home (which his sister said is 'like heaven'), the damage to his core personality was done.

Dickens' message is clear enough: The Malthusians of his day did not need evidence (which they ignored every day in the marketplace) or reason. They needed conversion. They needed healing. They needed to be reminded on the day where the world celebrates the birth of a child whom Rome and Herod try to assign to the role of 'surplus population,' that the frightened men who rule the world in the name of scarcity should not be followed, but saved.


Jerry Bowyer is a CNBC contributor.

This article first appeared on Forbes.com
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118 Comments

and also....
that other idiot Paul Erlich, all of them wrong, but I still see Erlich and his wife mouthing off all over the place as if they were right.
I think liberals tend towards this stupid Malthusianism also because they just don't like people much(cancer to the earth, etc)and wish there were less of them. Of course they're hypocrits on this matter too since they could easily rectify some of the problem by exiting themselves from the gene pool.

Tribal brains
I suspect these people have not or can not grasp the concept of wealth creation.
Their mentality is stuck in a hunter-gatherer time when they roamed the countryside searching/battling for limited resources.

Hope, faith and charity
Scrooge saves himself with hope, faith and charity.

Liberals try to destroy such hope, faith and charity unless it is hope and faith in government and that we all must 'give' to state.

Have you read 'Models of Doom'?
It was a solid critique of the computer models MIT used to predict the end of the world.

Fellow Men-tality
>"I think liberals tend towards this stupid Malthusianism also because they just don't like people much(cancer to the earth, etc)and wish there were less of them."

Oh they like people, all right -- as long as they're of the same philosophical/social mindset as themselves. I think it was P.J. O'Rourke who stated that the defining characteristic of the liberal is sanctimoniousness. As long as they can feel they are superior in their beliefs -- which in turn makes them by default simply better people overall than the rest of the rubes and hayseeds who aren't as caring or sensitive or cultured as themselves -- then they will consider themselves naturally endowed to be in control of the political/cultural landscape. It's what gives them faith in a selected group of "philosopher kings" (as opposed to those pitiful, ignorant masses) to truly lead society down a "progressive" path to the ultimate "just" existence. The superior-minded nannies will coddle the hicks towards the "correct" lifestyles, which in turn will usher in an eventual Utopia.

And yet, that very elitism (as opposed to the elitism of simply recognizing excellence) is what in the end reveals a disdain towards the very masses for whom nannyist liberals seek salvation; those wretched peons who prefer NASCAR to the Bolshoi or Country music to the opera, who shop at Wal-Mart and not Natural Foods, who drive Ford F-150s instead of Priuses are all hated for their low-brow ways and must therefore be bequeathed salavation in the form of gov't manipulation in order to "save them from themselves."

Merry Christmas.

Once like that
When I was in college, I was speaking with my former high school English teacher. She was telling me about a student who had no desire or interest to travel outside of South Dakota and she what was out there. We were both a bit contemptuous of that attitude.
Now that I have been around the world and lived abroad, Dorthy said it best, there is no place like home.
I am somewhat envious of those who know they like NASCAR, or/and the NFL and WalMart and...

My take away from Candide was that the grass is not greener on the other side. The best of all possible worlds is the one YOU make, not what others make for you.

abysmal ignorance
Malthus was a major economist, not an amateur, who formulated the first coherent theory of population. His ideas drew on Adam Smith, and Darwin's ideas, in turn, provided fodder for people like Karl Popper (Evolutionary Epistomology), and Armen Alchain, Gary Becker, and Milton Friedman (Evolutionary Theory of the Firm), among others. What's your point? That you don't realize that Ester Boserup and Julian Simon produced alternative theories that fit the data better?

Amateur means not being paid for the service.
Was Malthus paid for his services as an economist?

It is possible to be an amateur and be quite good at what you do. Bobby Jones comes to mind.

The author may have intended to imply Malthus was not as good a professional. (Were there any professional economists in those days?)

It is unfortunate his theories still are considered to have merit after having been disproven soon after they were published.

But that is the difficulty with economics. It attempts to describe human behaviour to the natural world. Unfortunately, human desire for power or the human capacity for innovation and adaptability is seldom taken into account in such studies.

Misunderstood Malthus
Bowyer is muddying up the actual ideas of Malthus with a lot of stuff that more properly should be laid at the feet of the much later Social Darwinists.. who, by the way, advocated ideas that Darwin himself would have disowned in a heartbeat.

In actuality it begs the point to cast the snide innuendo that Malthus was an amateur. In 1798, when he published his Essay on the Principle of Population, there was no such thing as a professional economist. He was one of the founding fathers of the economic approach to societal analysis.

Like the rest of those FFs, some of his ideas have become foundational while others have been modified. In general, there is little to be learned by summing up all of a person's work by calling it wither crap or the gospel truth. The marketplace of ideas constantly evolves, and most serious thinkers exhibit a mixture of acuity and error to their students centuries down the pike. So that whether one feels he belongs to the Marxist School or the Misian School, he should keep an open mind as to the possibility that his preferred idol may have at some point fallen into the ways of error.

But back to Malthus. I think Paul Harrison sums him up well in his essay, The Great Debate:

"Malthus did not propose any measures to rein back population growth. Natural checks worked continuously, and efficiently, to keep population growth no higher than the growth in the food supply.

"Malthus's baleful theorem was devised not as a sociological or natural law-- though it posed as one. Its main purpose was to prove the impossibility of all schemes to improve the lot of workers or to redistribute income. Malthus makes this quite explicit: the theorem was an 'insurmountable difficulty' in the way of the perfectibility of society. It was, he said, 'decisive against the possible existence of a society, all the members of which should live in ease, happiness, and comparative leisure; and feel no anxiety about providing the means of subsistence for themselves and their families'.

"The context is significant. The French Revolution exploded in 1789, awakening demands for radical reform in Britain. And reform was increasingly needed. Enclosures and the growth of the factory system were depriving many of the rural poor of livelihoods from land or craft. At the same time war hoisted bread prices. In 1795, as an attempt to alleviate poverty, the Speenhemland system was introduced. This supplemented labourers' wages whenever they fell below the bare subsistence level, calculated according to the price of a gallon loaf and the size of the family. Its net effect was to allow employers to cut wages below subsistence level, leaving the poor no better off than before.

"Thus Malthus, son of a landowner, wrote from an anxious position of threatened privilege."

The upshot is that if Malthus has descendants today, they are not so much political liberals as they are ethologists.. biologists who study the dynamics of animal populations. This is a field that's been pretty well explored by now, and there are few mysteries left as to the factors that limit population growth.

Also, of course, the philosophic descendants of Malthus include each of you, who, like him, believe that there is nothing to be done, or that should be done, about the questions of poverty and personal failure. And that it is simply Nature's Way that they stumble and die if their increase goes beyond their ability to earn.

The non-sleeping student will also not fail to pick up the message that welfare benefits are actually good for capitalists, in that they allow them to pay wages below the minimum necessary to support life. That is, they are able, in a welfare system, to privatise a gain that comes at the general expense of society.

The stereotypical liberal
"And yet, that very elitism (as opposed to the elitism of simply recognizing excellence) is what in the end reveals a disdain towards the very masses for whom nannyist liberals seek salvation; those wretched peons who prefer NASCAR to the Bolshoi or Country music to the opera, who shop at Wal-Mart and not Natural Foods, who drive Ford F-150s instead of Priuses are all hated for their low-brow ways and must therefore be bequeathed salavation in the form of gov't manipulation in order to "save them from themselves."

It hasn't been my experience that political liberals are cultural snobs any more than are political conservatives. For instance you can'tr get much more snobbish than Bill Buckley.

Let's take me as an example. I've seen both NASCAR and the Bolshoi (admittedly, not when the B was at its best). And I thought they were both pretty boring.

Country music or the opera? I incline with my father, a professional musician, in his feeling that within any genre you could find strikingly original music or repetitive crap that fails to make any statement. The recently deceased George Jones was a fine maker of music. Likewise, to me the opera that stirs one's heart the most is not to be found at the Met, but country opera in Italy, where you take the family out to the picnic grounds on Sunday and watch a local company do the old favorites.

I do shop at Walmart, almost invariably. Very occasionally, also at Natural Foods.

And my last truck was a fine old Ford F-250, with Sears-built racks for my tools.

Finally, I never thought government should get into the business of "saving ourselves". My feeling is that it is there to protect us from predators.

How do you protect yourself form predatory government?

Like many, Malthus had no vision
" It has been said that the great question is now at issue, whether man shall henceforth start forwards with accelerated velocity towards illimitable, and hitherto unconceived improvement, or be condemned to a perpetual oscillation between happiness and misery, and after every effort remain still at an immeasurable distance from the wished-for goal."

{Malthus couldn't envision the 'unconceieved improvement'.}

"This natural inequality of the two powers of population and of production in the earth, and that great law of our nature which must constantly keep their effects equal, form the great difficulty that to me appears insurmountable in the way to the perfectibility of society. All other arguments are of slight and subordinate consideration in comparison of this. I see no way by which man can escape from the weight of this law which pervades all animated nature. No fancied equality, no agrarian regulations in their utmost extent, could remove the pressure of it even for a single century. And it appears, therefore, to be decisive against the possible existence of a society, all the members of which should live in ease, happiness, and comparative leisure; and feel no anxiety about providing the means of subsistence for themselves and families.
Consequently, if the premises are just, the argument is conclusive against the perfectibility of the mass of mankind."

http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~stephan/malthus/malthus.1.html

Today, I can see no limit to the number of humans that the universe can support.

If Malthus had some vision, he would have observed how much progress had been made, and that humans have the capacity to create their environments.

More importantly, given that humans now have capacity to create all the resources needed, why do so many still share Malthus's limited vision?

A fair question
I put up with their predation in return for the protection they offer. There are a diversity of benefits to be gained from ceding authority to a powerful government. And unacceptable risks involved in being just one free man against the wilderness.

The price, of course, is vigilance. One always has to audit one's government to see whether they are acting in the best interest of their public. And if they are found wanting, it is each citizen's duty to do what he can to bring government back to heel.

In the extreme it is not only permissible but mandatory to take up arms in defense of freedom. But we differ as to whether we are currently at that extreme. So if you were ever to do so, I'd be far more likely to take up arms against you.

We are each the watchdog of our own interests.

"We are each the watchdog of our own interests."
Too many, like you, want to use the state to take from me.
How do you justify that?

Civilization's carrying capacity
Malthus had a vision, all right. The entire thrust of his philosophy was that it was useless to come to the aid of any of the world's poor.. that in the end the population would still rise to some natural limit, and the excess would die from want. So prolonging the process would in the end be a wasted effort.

Ethologists know the premise very well. But in the human realm we don't have quick, clean deaths. We have starvation, increasingly feral behaviors and war. So in the modern era we concede that a bit of management is required.

"Today, I can see no limit to the number of humans that the universe can support."

You're in the position of a person with a little bit of knowledge. As technology advances, the carrying capacity of our culture increases. The Green Revolution is the prime example. It tremendously increased the carrying capacity of the planet.

But it would be unscientific in the extreme to posit that THEREFORE it had been proven that we will NEVER come up against natural limits. We have calculated, for example, how long it would take at a given rate of population increase to cover the land surface of Earth entirely with human bodies.

An even more productive method of analysis would have to do with the rate of conversion of bound carbon molecules to very nearly unbound molecules-- CO2 and methane. These end products of human activity are increasing greatly.. and all the known methods of converting CO2 back into higher organic molecules operate an order of magnitude more slowly. At some point we've converted them all into some form of energy.. and there is nothing to put back into the soil so that we all may eat.

That's a long term view of the problem. But we have plenty of short term examples. The proliferation of Dead Zones in the world's coastal waters, for example. Huamn and industrial watses from our population centers is flushed out to sea, replacing the nurseries of marine life with expanses of algal goo.

At the next level up, we find all our top predator species (tuna, sharks, swordfish, herring, etc), sources of badly needed protein, being replaced with not very butritious jellyfish. And very rapidly so.

We're carelessly wiping out resources we need by using them unwisely, too rapidly and inefficiently. Corn, for instance, comes at a price that makes it unwise to use for anything but food. Corn in your gas tank just wastes it, converting it to CO2 while being of little benefit to anyone in the long run.

Yes, we do have the capacity to create our environment. We should just take care that we create useful ones, and not burn down the entire forest before we save any useful trees.

Finally, "..given that humans now have capacity to create all the resources needed, why do so many still share Malthus's limited vision?"

Malthus was a laissez faire economist, as I have pointed out in some detail. Is it that you just don't read?

A tired and shopworn comment
"Too many, like you, want to use the state to take from me. How do you justify that?"

I really don't care whether or not you pay taxes. The important point is that I choose to live in an advanced society that is expensive to maintain, and to pay my dues into that society in the form of taxes.

How you live your life is your own business. Stay here, enjoy the benefits of living in America, and don't pay or do pay, as you choose.

Moon is a Harsh Mistress
In Heinlein's book, wheat farms were set up on the moon with the harvest launch back to earth.

There is NO technological limit to massive orbiting greenhouses or many other earth based options for growing food.

You are like Malthus, short sighted.

Too willing accomplis.
You are a too willing accomplis to the use of government force and do not question the expense to maintain such a government.

Water on the moon
That's a cool thought, setting up wheat farms on the moon.

Only one problem.. no water. Water is bulky and heavy. How do you propose carrying billions of acre-feet of water up there? Does your system presuppose a lot of avaiable carbon based fuel?

The numbers don't work, marjon. It's nice to come up with imaginative ideas. But at some point someone has to actually get the rubber to meet the road.

Malthus could not imagine, in 1798, that there would ever be any appreciable increase in the land's productivity. Because there never had been. The land's bounty was fairly static throughout the history he could see.

To condemn anyone today for finding anything in all of Malthus to agree with, just because of this issue, would be a faulty use of logic. Aristotle never foresaw the field of quantum physics, but saw atoms as being irreducible. His views on subjects like "substances" and "bodies" is nowadays very largely out of date. Is Aristotle therefore full of crap?

Today, on the other hand, we live in a very dynamic age. It would seem that all things were possible.. at first glance.

But the more we look into the art of the possible, the more we can discern some very real limits. Like getting water up to the moon in agriculturally useful quantities.

And while we're wending our way toward absolute mastery of the universe, many millions of currently excess population are murdering one another in a blind race to get a little bit of something to put in their mouths. There are more poor people alive today than the earth's entire population back in 1950. That's a bit of a problem.

A law unto oneself
"You are a too willing accomplis to the use of government force and do not question the expense to maintain such a government."

And you have never lived, as I have, in a place that had no effective government.

We all have a free choice as to whether to live here in America or in a place that's truly free of effective government, like Kosovo. There you would pay fealty to whoever the local crime boss was. Because there would be no government to stop him.

When we're young and adventurous, lawless places like that fulfill our desire for adventure. But when we want to retire, sit back and take it easy, we like a place that's more "all amenities included in price". So I like paying for effective police.. as opposed to having to sit up all night with my gun, looking out the window.

The cost of hiring government is, to me, quite a moderate one. I've lived without one and I know.

Water on the moon.
"US scientists have found evidence that water was held in the Moon's interior, challenging some elements of the theory of how Earth's satellite formed."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/7497715.stm

"Malthus could not imagine, in 1798, that there would ever be any appreciable increase in the land's productivity. Because there never had been. The land's bounty was fairly static throughout the history he could see."

He didn't do much research. I guess he had forgotten about the medieval warm period. And as Malthus was living through the little ice age it many not be surprising he was so pessimistic.

But he refers to others who did imagine.

"" It has been said that the great question is now at issue, whether man shall henceforth start forwards with accelerated velocity towards illimitable, and hitherto unconceived improvement, or be condemned to a perpetual oscillation between happiness and misery, and after every effort remain still at an immeasurable distance from the wished-for goal.""

http://www.ac.wwu.edu/~stephan/malthus/malthus.1.html

I am sure Malthus had heard of da Vinci who imaged all sorts of wonders.

Apparently you can't imagine either.

"There are more poor people alive today than the earth's entire population back in 1950. That's a bit of a problem. "

How could this be if Malthus was right? What are they eating?

Must accept bad government?
Again, you are too willing to accept government failure and excess in order to have some government.

Apparently Malthus was not right
"There are more poor people alive today than the earth's entire population back in 1950. That's a bit of a problem."

"How could this be if Malthus was right? What are they eating?"

Not enough to flourish, but enough to survive and have children. Malthus constructed a simple model for starvation, that had people conveniently wither prospering or dying. But what we're seeing is more and more people at the midpoint. Always hungry, not yet dead. M. did not plot enough points in his graph.

What do they eat? Most of them eat rice, millet, corn or wheat. They just don't eat very much of it.

Our current food crisis has been propelled by the movement toward biofuels. Who could have imagined the opening of new markets in converting grain to fuel would have resulted in a doubling to tripling of food costs for the world's poorest people?

The other thing, though, is that I can't help but notice you crowing triumphantly that Malthus has somehow been proven wrong. Are you thinking that my beliefs and opinions are dependent on what you think of as "Malthus"?

Good government is dependent upon an informed citizenry
There is a difference between thinking that government is perfectible and thinking it is perfect.

What am I doing about it? First, I inform myself. Second, I don't just vote. I go to public hearings, meetings with our elected representatives, and try in every other way I can think of to make my voice heard by those with more influence than I over the way things work.

What do you do, in support of your own views?

How do we have an informed citizenry when 'journalists' get tingles up their leg?
And when we have an education system in the tank for one political party?

"ROSE: I don't know what Barack Obama's worldview is.

BROKAW: No, I don't, either.

ROSE: I don't know how he really sees where China is.

BROKAW: We don't know a lot about Barack Obama and the universe of his thinking about foreign policy.

ROSE: I don't really know. And do we know anything about the people who are advising him?

BROKAW: Yeah, it's an interesting question.

ROSE: He is principally known through his autobiography and through very aspirational (sic) speeches.

BROKAW: Two of them! I don't know what books he's read.

ROSE: What do we know about the heroes of Barack Obama?

BROKAW: There's a lot about him we don't know. "

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2121217/posts

And you are in the tank for someone even sympathetic 'objective' journalists don't know.

Is this how you stay 'informed'?

Any current food crises is caused by government.
It is government policies of all sorts that contribute to food shortages, not free markets or limits on production capacity.

Confessions of an Environmental Scrooge
The "surplus population" mentality may have had an economic basis back in the time of Malthus and Dickens, but today it seems to have more of an environmental flavor.

I am reminded of a trip I took many years ago, when I was a youngster, living in Los Angeles, with several friends. We left LA, escaped the rushing crowds, and surrounded ourselves with mind-blowing natural splendor for a week in Yosemite National Park. It was awesome! (I bet it would have been awesome even without the mushrooms!) When we finally drove back to LA, the sentiment in the car was very "environmental". We were in awe of natural creation, and all felt that nature was awesome - the very embodiment of goodness. By contrast, the noisy, smoggy, smelly, ugly concrete city that we were returning to, crawling with "too many people", was the embodiment of all we had been taught to think about humans - that they are selfish, careless, noisy, poisoning the environment - man was the embodiment of evil. For a while, as a young man, I shared their disgust. But I didn't see things quite the same way. Yes, I saw their point, and I shared their love of nature, and her beauty, and I saw the ugliness of urban sprawl. I also saw the frailty of nature, how we could easily destroy natural life with carelessness, greed, poison, etc. But there was another side that they were not seeing. This city was full of several million people, and each one of them, even the most ugly, noisy, selfish ones, was, in their own special way, more beautiful, more valuable, than all the rocks, trees, and waterfalls in the world combined.

I was an atheist then, so I can't say it was my faith that made me different. But somehow, I didn't quite fit. I saw what they saw, but for some reason, I saw more. I tried to argue that despite our faults, man is an improvement on unadulterated nature, but it didn't go over well. They seemed to be of the opinion that man was a blight on the face of the earth (except, of course, themselves) and that nature had to be saved from mankind.

Now, as a Christian, I reflect on the fact that God Himself apparently feels the same way I felt that day. So much so that, even in man's fallen condition, full of selfishness, greed, hatred, etc, God still gives him dominion over all His creation on earth.

I also reflect on the fact that if there were no humans to stop and stare at Yosemite, and to gaze in wild-eyed wonder at its beauty, and to reflect on the glory of its Creator, it would not be significantly different than any other pile of rocks in this vast universe. It would exist, and then it would cease to exist - unseen, unheralded, unappreciated, unloved.

Merry Christmas! Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men!

Define "Laissez Faire economist"
"Malthus was a laissez faire economist, as I have pointed out in some detail. Is it that you just don't read?"

"Adam Smith advocated a truncated state, limited in its functions to defending its citizens against foreign and internal aggression, and creating and maintaining certain necessary public works and institutions "which it can never be in the interest of any small number of individuals to maintain" because the profit would not repay the expense.*8 Of course, the inclusion of this "public works" category of permissible state intrusions nullifies the claim that Smith was a laissez-faire purist, or a consistent advocate of natural harmony of interests."

"Of course, we would be grossly remiss not to mention Malthus's idiosyncrasies, particularly his rejection of Say's law (i.e., that supply creates its own demand, thus denying any pervasive disequilibrium within a general market). This deviation from the position of the Classical School led Malthus to propose government intervention to correct the market during depressions, including the endorsement of government debts and large public works projects for the unemployed.
P.13

From the impetus of another peculiar Malthusian doctrine, Malthus also broke the otherwise unanimous ranks of the economists in their efforts to repeal the Corn Laws. In contrast, Malthus's population theory which portended an immutable conflict between population growth and the means of subsistence, led him, as it did Ricardo, to vigorously advocate a gradual termination of the Poor Laws. It is in Malthus's introduction to the Principles of Political Economy (1820) that we first hear a refrain that would be repeated by other Classical economists—McCulloch, Sidgwick, Cairnes—that absolute laissez faire was not a doctrine endorsed by Smith and that such a blanket condemnation of all government regulation is nonsensical:

It is obviously, therefore, impossible for a government strictly to let things take their natural course; and to recommend such a line of conduct, without limitations and exceptions, would not fail to bring disgrace upon general principles, as totally inapplicable to practice."

http://www.econlib.org/library/Essays/LtrLbrty/fplLNB1.html

After reviewing this essay, laissez faire economist is equivalent to saying creationist scientist.

This is why Economics is not a hard science. Real science is governed by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. If economists observed and documented an economy, they may approach the equivalent of hard science. Instead, economists develop theories based upon their personal bias, advocate for their implementation by the state and THEN observe the effects continuing to revise as the data does not meet their expectations apparently oblivious to the significant uncertainty in their data.

Well said.
Another example of why Christianity is so powerful, there is always hope.

Apologies to Malthus
I apologize to Malthus for helping the continued misrepresentation of his work on population. I agree he was simply stating the obvious that there are limits to growth in a closed system.

I take exception to those who advocate government coercion to address the population and resource sides of the equation.

That is where the appropriate critique should be applied.

You lived where?
You mean you lived in Somalia, the example you always give. But even Somalia has government, just in the form of war-lords.

millions of excess"
Where are these millions of excess people murdering each other in a blind race..."? Most people who do murdering are not hungry but are usually governemnts or their agents; the sudan, africa, etc.
In any case, I'll bet those 'exess population' would be really pissed at you for calling them that.

Government and its absence
I've lived in a variety of places, under a variety of governments and as well, places with a virtual absence of government. And frankly, some of the lawless places I like pretty well. Therefore I won't let the secret out by saying which ones the good ones are.

But you make a mistake if you don't distinguish between having an established government and just having rule by local mafias. If this is all the same to you, words mean nothing.

There's a continuum. At the heaviest, most statist end of the scale you've got totalitarian places like those run by Stalin and Hitler. And at the other end you have total anarchy, such as China in 1945 or Russia in 1919.

At either end of the scale are extremes greatly to be avoided. The most comfortable spot is in the middle, with a government so mild mannered and responsive it even asks of its citizens how they would like to be governed.

A good example is the USA.

It's not a derogatory term
When I use the term "excess population" I refer to those people who have no place within the economy. Here in the US currently we have an excess population of 10.3 million job seekers who can't find work,

http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm

plus two million people in prison, plus those members of the underclass.. people who aren't seeking work nor are capable of doing meaningful work. In all, let's call them 20 million Americans. So in practical terms, a person who didn't mind paying taxes so long as it went toward job creation would like to see a program that added ten million jobs.

Combine that with the very long list of things that need doing. Infrastructure repair, for example, for public structures like roads and bridges. Assistance for the cash strapped states, who will have to let more people go if they can't find federal funding.

America could be greatly improved by judicious expenditures within well managed programs.

"Most people who do murdering are not hungry but are usually governemnts or their agents; the sudan, africa, etc."

One can find many instances when it serves a government's purposes to tolerate murderous behavior on the part of one minority against another. The Turks hired their Kurds to kill off their Armenians, for example, by arming them and promising them they could have the vacated lands of the people they killed.

More recently in Darfur, the government armed the herding tribes to kill off the farming tribes, in order to depopulate the area and make it easier to sell mineral concessions (oil and uranium). But in every case, there has to be some precipitating factor that makes people want to kill each other in the first place.

That would be competition for declining resources, such as food, water or land. People who lack these most basic amenities are indeed "excess population", in that the world has no room for them.

How to understand Obama
"In the tank"? "Tingles up their leg"? I'm afraid I have no idea what you're talking about. You fellows seem to be developing your own sub-language.

Barack Obama, on the other hand, has the gift of articulation. It's very easy for me to understand exactly what he's saying and thinking. He doesn't especially talk like a politician.. although he does choose his words very carefully.

And when I want to become informed as to what he's thinking, I listen to him speaking. I don't read Free Republic.

If these people, Brokaw and Rose, don't know what he's talking about, I can't speak for them.

Malthus's thoughts
"After reviewing this essay, laissez faire economist is equivalent to saying creationist scientist."

Certainly you are capable of making a distinction between economists who believe the market works best when it is unregulated by government strictures (Milton Friedman as an example) and one who see pitfalls in untrammeled capitalism, such as the ease by which Ponzi schemes can be foisted on a public possessing imperfect knowledge. We tend to call the one "laissez faire", and the other, well, not.

I used the term loosely. I don't happen to have a copy of Malthus handy.. but I recognize the person who would do away with the Poor Laws, while I don't recognize the person who proposed "government intervention to correct the market during depressions, including the endorsement of government debts and large public works projects for the unemployed." For the most part, he felt that man was born to work, and that if he had no useful work he could be neglected until he had the good grace to disappear utterly. Advocating welfare just doesn't sound like him.

But it is an intriguing thought. I do recall that late in life he had second thoughts on a number of subjects.

"Chris Matthews leg tingle goes to his head"
Pay attention!

" CHRIS MATTHEWS: Yeah, well, you know what? I want to do everything I can to make this thing work, this new presidency work, and I think that --

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Is that your job? You just talked about being a journalist!

MATTHEWS: Yeah, it is my job. My job is to help this country.

Matthews wasn't done with his odd new job description . . . An incredulous Scarborough kept pressing, astonished at such a complete 180 from Matthews's repeated insistence during the Bush presidency that he had to hold the government accountable.

SCARBOROUGH: Your job is the make this presidency work?

MATTHEWS: To make this work successfully. This country needs a successful presidency.

Matthews will hardly be alone in that sentiment. Once Obama assumes office, the "speaking truth to power" line we've heard so often during the past eight years will be a thing of the past.


"

http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2008/11/chris_matthews_leg_tingle_goes.html

"KEITH OLBERMANN: John McCain speaking after his three victories in the Potomac primaries tonight, from Alexandria, Virginia, to the tunes of Johnny B. Goode, instrumental only. And in a statement which I hope transcends political orientation and party affiliation and all that, I would think, Chris, as we start to analyze what we have heard here, the rule has to be, if you can, always speak before Barack Obama, not after Barack Obama.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: I have to tell you, you know, it's part of reporting this case, this election, the feeling most people get when they hear Barack Obama's speech. My, I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don't have that too often."

http://newsbusters.org/blogs/brad-wilmouth/2008/02/13/matthews-obama-speech-caused-thrill-going-my-leg

What objectivity!


BHO can deliver a great speech. He doesn't think on feet very well. I suspect he won't be doing many live press conferences. And he is already tiring of the press coverage.

"The media glare, the constant security appendage and the sheer production that has become a morning jog or a hankering for an ice cream cone – it’s been closing in on Barack Obama for some time."

http://www.politico.com/news/stories/1208/16882.html

What is "untrammeled capitalism"?
Capitalism: "a social system based on the recognition of individual rights, including property rights, in which all property is privately owned. Under capitalism the state is separated from economics (production and trade), just like the state is separated from religion. Capitalism is the system of of laissez faire. It is the system of political freedom."

Ponzi schemes like Madoff's are assisted by government regulations. After all, the SEC (the government) certified his 'fund'.

Maltus' essays are easily obtained on-line.

Don't be a pinhead
We could go on like this indefinitely.. with me making a statement and you asking me to define every term. You're just throwing sand into the gears. You know perfectly well what I mean when I say "untrammeled capitalism".

Ponzi schemes like Madoff's are not "assisted" by government regulations. In order to illustrate that you would have to show us how such schemes could not appear in an unregulated system. In fact his schemes were facilitated by the weakening of the SEC's mission and by the fact that he was a prominent investment figure.. and considered by most to be above suspicion.

But leadership comes from the top. And there has been insufficient direction from the last two presidents to seek out and prosecute malfeasance in the investment world.

Your comment is akin to saying that crime is "assisted" by police work.

SEC facilated Madoff's fraud
SEC failed, many times to catch Madoff in spite of numerous tips.

When the police fail to enforce the law, it inspires more to break it. That is the danger of making too many laws that won't be enforced, or even worse, selectively enforced, or even worse, laws no one even knows exist as in the IRS code.

You advocate for more laws which will only create more opportunities for crime.

"An enforcement case 16 years ago gave the Securities and Exchange Commission its first shot at figuring out how Bernard Madoff could rack up favorable returns with such uncanny consistency. After that, it received repeated warnings from outside whistle-blowers and at least twice looked into Mr. Madoff's brokerage itself. Each time, it blew its chance."

"Corporate frauds arguably were facilitated because there was too much investor confidence, as indicated by investors' willingness to ignore what the market knew about questionable accounting and to not question firms' extravagant claims about unproven business plans. Overselling regulation might perpetuate this misjudgment and mislead investors back into the same complacency that contributed to the recent frauds."

"This quote applies well to what happened in Madoff. Fraud regulation and financial supervision are supposed to increase investor confidence. But given regulators' inherent defects, there's a real problem of investor over-confidence. What you want is healthy investor skepticism.

The second danger comes from fixing the first. A determined regulation advocate will insist that at some level we can really make investors safe. But even if that's true, the necessary regulation would seriously constrain the kind of risky activity that is necessary to grow the economy. We'd have to distrust all innovation, particularly financial innovation, and turn business people into bureaucrats. Just what we don't need right now. "

http://busmovie.typepad.com/ideoblog/2008/12/lessons-from-madoff.html

I couldn't agree more
"When the police fail to enforce the law, it inspires more to break it."

Exactly so. And it was a pattern within the Bush administration from day one to put heads in place in all the regulatory agencies who would pass the word: lax enforcement.

Case in point, appointing Nancy Chao to head the Dept. of Labor. Intensely anti-labor, she gutted the department.. which essentially did no more work as long as she was there.

"That is the danger of making too many laws that won't be enforced, or even worse, selectively enforced, or even worse, laws no one even knows exist as in the IRS code."

The danger is not in making laws. It is in making bad law, as in an utterly opaque and Byzantine tax code. And in failing to enforce the good laws on the books.

Don't blame the law. It's a poor carpenter who blames his tools.

SEC was informed in 1999, Clinton was boss.
"The danger is not in making laws. It is in making bad law, as in an utterly opaque and Byzantine tax code. And in failing to enforce the good laws on the books.

Don't blame the law. It's a poor carpenter who blames his tools."

But you want to make MORE laws. How will you assure the bad laws are repealed and 'good' laws are implemented?

You want to increase the size and power of government, which will only increase the bureaucracy and ensure MORE bad laws.

The most effective military branch is the Marines because they are small.
Companies around the world have discovered great efficiency by cutting the size of middle management.
What has been PROVEN to work you ignore hoping that the 'right' leader will be elected which will lead us all to paradise. You thought Chavez would do it, now you think BHO will do it.
Until you acknowledge the system is flawed, you will be continuously disappointed and be promoting more failure.

Madoff supported democrats
http://www.newsmeat.com/fec/bystate_detail.php?last=Madoff&first=Bernard



"To Christopher Cox, the Republican chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the need for action was obvious in the spring of 2006.

His agency, which would later be criticized for a 2004 ruling that let banks pile up debt, had grown deeply concerned about lack of oversight of the nation’s largest credit-rating agencies, like Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service. Linchpins of the financial system, their ratings are vital to safeguarding investors by evaluating the risks of bonds and other debt. After the collapse of Enron and WorldCom, which had repeatedly been awarded favorable ratings, the agencies had agreed to meet voluntary standards.

But the S.E.C. concluded that those agreements were inadequate, so Mr. Cox urged Congress to give his agency oversight powers. “Without additional legislative authority, the S.E.C. will not be able to regulate in a thoroughgoing way,” he told the Senate banking committee at an April 2006 hearing.

The plan drew broad, bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. But executives at the credit-rating agencies soon began pressing Mr. Schumer and other allies in Congress to block the proposal or at least limit its reach, according to current and former employees.

“They knew Schumer would support them,” said one former Moody’s executive, who asked not to be named because he still works in the industry. “He was their go-to guy,” the executive said. "

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/14/business/14schumer.html?pagewanted=4&_r=1

"Monday led a long list of officeholders and groups expected to give up more than $430,000 in political contributions from Bernie Madoff and his family.

"My money, I'm returning," Schumer said. The $6,000 Madoff gave him over the years would be sent to charity, he said.

The $100,000 Madoff donated to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, run by Schumer until last month, should also be returned, but "that is their decision," Schumer said.

A spokesman for the committee, now headed by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), said, "We're reviewing it."

Madoff, whose investment firm allegedly pulled off a $50 billion swindle; his immediate family, and other relatives gave $433,700 in political contributions since 1994, according to federal records reviewed by the Center for Responsive Politics.

President-elect Barack Obama received at least $2,800 in Madoff money, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) $4,600 and other politicians lesser amounts, including $1,000 each to Reps. Charles Rangel (D-Manhattan) and Vito Fossella (R-S.I.). "

http://www.nydailynews.com/money/2008/12/15/2008-12-15_sen_chuck_schumer_among_politicians_givi.html

Palin is a 'good' leader by your definition
She succeeded in extracting more taxes from oil companies pumping AK oil. She wants the federal government to allow the people of AK to control more of their resources.
She saw corruption and opposed it by beating the corrupt politician in a primary election.

She should be your ideal government leader.

Perfectable?
"There is a difference between thinking that government is perfectible and thinking it is perfect."

Do you believe that government perfectable? I don't because that would require human beings to be perfectable, but we aren't anything of the kind. Sure, one can propose a perfect system of government, but people must be plugged into the government to make it go. At this point, even a perfect system of government becomes imperfect.

This brings me to Obama. Does the fundamental change he proposes go to the federal government system or to its personnel, or both? Is he really closer to perfection than Bush? And what standards and measures does one who believes this apply?

Finally, does good government really depend upon an informed citizenry? The answer depends on several things, assuming that information is not propaganda: (1) What information must the citizenry have in order for good government to follow; (2) what percentage of the citizenry must have this information (assuming democracy); and (3) does the information require that the citizenry add their own analysis to it?

If the information a citizenry must have requires them to add their own analysis to it, another obvious hitch arises. Different factions among the citizenry provide startlingly different analyses to the same information at different times. Could not a coalition of factions comprised of informed citizens apply a flawed analysis to information from which bad government follows? Of course. Therefore, good government is not only dependent upon an informed citizenry, but also one who is in principal part capable of analyzing information according to the principles of good government. But what are the principles of good government, and what if the citizenry is not in accord on what they are?

I could go on and on, but enough has been demonstrated to show that good government does not necessarily follow from an informed citizenry, and even this much America does not have. So, in light of the foregoing, is the American system of government perfectable given its uninformed and misinformed citizenry? Only someone who should never be allowed to vote on grounds of mental disability would believe so.

absence makes the heart grow fonder
It's at least good of you to admit that some of those secret lawless places you lived in you liked. But weren't you afraid there was no governemnt to protect you from crooks like: Moffa, Enron, house invasion, street mugging, drive by shooting, etc? But wait a minute, that's in the US where you can't depend on the cops for all that stuff.

I agree with your comment that it's a continuum, and certainly some governments are less rapacious than others.
But how can you say now that you prefer a mild mannered governemnt, when we continually see you advocating for more and more regulation? It doesn't jibe.

And on the other angle of your continued mention that if I don't like it in the US I should just move to Somalia. This line of thought reminds me of those conservatives, or right wingers etc. who have those bumper stickers like: love it or leave it. Do you really associate yourself with rednecks who, in a country that claims to have free speech, say you must leave instead of criticize the government?

not derogatory just paternalistic perhaps
I'll have to take you at your word, but I hope you don't call any unemployed guy that to his face. And in such an instance I don't think you will be able to depend on the government to proctect you.

Re all those 20 millions of unemployed. Imagine if there were no minimum wage laws, how many would you have to subtract from that figure. What if there were program to give money to girls who mother bastartd children, how many more subtracted? Many people who are not working have an incentive not to; when you have afree meal ticket, why work? Remember the mexican prez saying the other year that mexican wet backs are only doing the work that EVEN the black in the states won't do. Very un-PC to tell the truth right? And I remeber when there were a bunch of riots in some ghetto against Korea shopkeepers. Apparently the black residents where outrages at these shops, and some reporter had the unmitigated gall to ask them why they themselves didn't open up such mom and pop shops themselves. Now what could the answer for that have been? I know, you will probably say it would hurt the self esteem of american blacks, or humiliate them, right?

I agree with your extra example of the state sponsored Armenian massacre, which also gives evidence to my counter point that it is governments and their henchmen who committ most of the worlds atrocities. And still what you call the 'precipitating factor' is the very same government oppressing them. In the Sudan instance it gives more evidence of my claim that if you don't submit to the goveremnt, they will kill you. If you remember the same thing happened in the US during the war of northern agression, where the circumstance were about the same as in the Sudan; the south wanted to succeed from the union. So what happened? The governemnt went and killed a whole bunch till they succumbed. So much for your argument that governments don't use deadly force.

There is no problem with declining resources even in the Sudan, or Zimbabwe etc. either. It's more a matter of power, control, racism etc.

Sowing obfuscation and confusion
"I could go on and on..."

You do go on and on. One understands your courtroom technique.. which is to throw so much sand in people's eyes that they forget for the moment what their point was.

That makes it look like you've won the debating round, to all the people who are too dull and unfocused to actually follow the thread of the argument.

Yes, government may be improved. And yes, human effort is involved. Those who don't work constantly toward making a difference become the dead weight that holds us all down. It depends botyh on will and intelligence, as well as on good information.

I know ALL of these concepts will be highly suspect in your eyes. Forget it. You know what I mean.. and I know what you mean.

A reasonable exchange of views
"It's at least good of you to admit that some of those secret lawless places you lived in you liked. But weren't you afraid there was no governemnt to protect you from crooks..?"

I enjoyed the flavor of life there, when I was young and had nothing to lose. Every day was an adventure. And I found the way to gain protection was to offer my services to the biggest crooks in town. Their shield protected me from the petty ones.

If you despise statism, you might find the same kinds of places preferable. No impersonal set of laws oppressing you. Just an understanding between you and the local El Jefe as to what you were doing on his turf. It's an easier, more basic way of life. And there's no income taxes.

Of course there IS an informal income reporting requirement. And that is, that if you're doing the kind of business there that turns a profit, he gets a piece of it.

The size of the piece is negotiable. And that alone is, I think, a lot more fun than trying to negotiate with the IRS.. although I have done that too, and come out better than even.

2. "But how can you say now that you prefer a mild mannered governemnt, when we continually see you advocating for more and more regulation? It doesn't jibe."

From where I sit, it's the rush to deregulate that's wrecked the markets. The Republican form of government puts market operators in charge of the rules, with regulators nowhere in sight (viz, the SEC). Unsurprisingly, in time the markets implode. There's been a very well established trackl record: Global Crossing, Enron, the S&L debacle, the Asian Meltdown of the late 90s... the list is too long to compile.

I don't like these perennial boom and bust cycles. I now have something to protect. And I want strong rules that will protect it. Plus, of course, swift and sure enforcement of those rules.

Unemployment
I'm sensitive to issues concerning unemployment for a couple of reasons.

First, it's the root of most problems with our economy. The loss of one's livelihood has cascading effects. You get behind in your mortgage, so the holder loses an income stream. You can't buy any stuff, so stores sell less. In an economy like the current one, several million such events result in massive layoffs of employees whose employment depends on money coming in from others.

Thus there is a feedback mechanism that says that the more jobs that are lost, the more will be lost in turn. This spiral downward is behind all recessions and depressions. And protection against economic downturns requires that the workforce that is willing and able to work should be WORKING. Fortunately, nearly everyone in the country understands this point very well.

That means usually that the unemployment figure be kept at around four percent, for optimum performance.

The second reason these issues concern me is that I've been an employee, and have had three or four jobs shot out from under me. This kind of thing causes a LOT of trouble, and an inevitable income loss while locating fresh work.

In those instances, I found unemployment insurance to be an invaluable aid to help pay the bills while I was working for zero income (that is, looking for work). And as the UI fund is one I paid into whenever I was employed, I felt entitled to use it when I needed it.. like any other kind of insurance. This alone is a program I would support our federal government for providing.

The last time out, I didn't bother to apply. I was weary of employment problems, and used my time to set up my own business rather than waste it on the UI reporting requirement.

In sum, any government that doesn't devote itself primarily to doing what it can to promote full employment is not working for us. I evaluate contenders for public office by their interest in employment issues.

Government is also useful in providing a safety net for workers whose work disappears unexpectedly. And if we did not have job retraining programs, UI, etc we would have more severe and intractable downturns than we do.

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