Tuesday, April 29, 2008

D'Souza: "Moderate" Islam and Classical Liberalism Go Together.

Thanks to Ari Armstrong for posting this item on Dinesh D'Souza's Townhall column "What Muslims Really Think." In his column he does something that  find stunning. He asserts the hypothesis that most Muslims are freedom-loving individuals.

The problem for most Muslims is Western liberalism. But here we must distinguish between two kinds of liberalism. There is the classical liberalism of the American founding. Call this Liberalism 1. This liberalism is reflected in such principles as the right to vote, to assemble freely, to debate issues, to trade with others, to practice one’s religion, political and religious toleration, and so on.

Then there is the modern liberalism of the 1960s. Call this Liberalism 2. This liberalism is defined by such tenets as the right to blaspheme, the complete exclusion of religious symbols from the public square, the right of teenage boys and girls to receive sex education and contraceptives, the right to abortion, prostitution as a worker's right, pornography as a protected form of expression, gay rights and gay marriage, and so on...

Now we are in a better position to understand Islamic attitudes regarding the West. The vast majority of Muslims worldwide embrace Liberalism 1 while rejecting Liberalism 2. They are generally comfortable with classical liberalism while abhorring the tenets of modern liberalism.

Let's understand this. A religious, conservative commentator actually wants us to believe that it is religious traditions, both Christian and Islamic that are compatible and benevolent towards classical liberalism? The implication is no different than the philosophical interpretations of conservative legal intellectual Robert Bork in his Slouching Towards Gomorrah, which I blogged about recently. Except D'Souza gives it a religous basis, and in so doing, finds more in common with Muslims who tolerate radical hatred of the West.

Freedom and liberty exist to the extent that government is limited to the province of protecting individual rights, not trampling them in the name of some sort of social morality. Islam is not a peaceful religion held hostage, but is instead implicitly tolerant of the ideas that the radicals preach.

Our newest Oblogger, Kostubh, highlights the same argument being made half a world away, in his latest, "The Myth of Moderate Islam." In it he points us to an Indian review of a Pakistani film “Khuda Kay Liye” (For God’s sake) which attempts to equate the violence of radical Islam and the response of the US to the 9/11 attacks. And the author is wise to spot the contradiction.

What interested me most about the film was that in seeking to show Islam in a good light, it accidentally exposes the prejudices that make moderate Muslims the ideological partners of jihadis. In painting America as the villain of our times, the prejudices against the West that get exposed are no different from what Mohammad Siddique, one of London’s tube bombers, said in the suicide video he made before blowing himself up. In the video, that surfaced during the trial now on in London, he describes himself as a soldier in the war against the West: ‘I’m doing what I am for Islam, not, you know, for materialistic or worldly benefits.’

The same contradiction exists in D'Souza's piece of course. In mis-identifying the essentials of classical liberalism and liberty as the outgrowth of religious traditions, he unwittingly shows us his distaste for the very basis of individual rights. Notice the contradictions inherent in his lists of Liberalism 1 and Liberalism 2. The right to "debate the issues" unless your side of the debate questions the existence of God (blasphemy); the "right to vote" and submit to the will of the majority if the vote doesn't go your way on something like abortion; the "right to toleration" unless you're gay. ; the right to "trade with others" unless that trade involves paying someone to teach your kids the way you desire or to perform certain "questionable" medical procedures on your own body.

What interests me about the D'Souza piece is that in justifying the idea of a "moderate" Islam, he shows us the very mechanism through which "radical" Islam is allowed to perpetrate it's crimes. For if the blowback against elements of liberty that one finds distasteful is justified, in idea, then how long will it be before someone straps a bomb to their chest and puts the idea into practice? And who will actively oppose them?

That D'Souza would draw a line in the sand and side with religious influence shows me the true extent to which religious intolerance has become a force in today's society. In doing so he is uprooting classical liberalism from its secular grounding. If he wishes to see the logical end of such an association he need only look to the best example of it's logical, consistent end in today's world, radical Islam.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Ben Franklin

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Argumentum ad "you're no better than we are"

SB over at One Reality in a post called Shaky Ground breaks down one of my favorite fallacious arguments that religionists posit regarding atheists: that atheism is its own religion.

Nice job SB!

Kendall's Daily Reads

Since I've switched over to Google's RSS reader, I've discovered all sorts of goodies inside the gmail/rss/picasa suite. One I'm sharing with you today is the feed [click here]for my tagged favorite daily articles. As I read through articles online, I tag them as a favorite. Now you can read those articles as its own feed in your RSS reader. This is stuff from other Objectivists, from other bloggers, from my favorite news sources. It's stuff that made me think, scratch my head, nod in agreement or boil over with infuriation. It's the cream of what I read each day. If you'd like to read this pull the feed link into your rss reader or click on the "My Favorite Posts" link in my sidebar to get an HTML version.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Fire Sale

I learned something interesting in a meeting this week. I was sitting in an demand planning meeting for one of my products and discovered that we had a few orders that were delayed. It seems that booking export containers and ships is getting increasingly difficult. What with the devalued dollar and everything, U.S. exports look pretty cheap and stuff that normally would never leave the country is flying off the shelves. Sure enough I found a similar article that day in The Wall Street Journal, Container Shortage Puts US Export Boom in a Box. For those of you who didn't know, exporting US goods to places such as Asia used to be dirt cheap. So many inbound containers from places like China were piling up that freight rates were held very low just to find something to put in them so they wouldn't head back to China empty. Now, there's a shortage!

That's great right? Sales. Revenues. Profits. The economic stimulus the FED has been doing must be doing the trick. Wrong. This is simply a temporary spike and the brick wall we're going to slam into on the other side of this spike is made worse by the FED's recent attempts to keep the domestic economy going.

Here's how it works. The FED has devalued the dollar. US goods look cheap to other countries. They buy lots more than they normally wouldn't. US volumes spike up, and revenues and thus profits are higher. All looks great. Until US firms have to buy new raw materials to replenish those goods they sold. Guess what. It's a global economy. A lot of those raw materials come from overseas. A ton of finished consumer goods also come from overseas. We have to pay more to get them because our dollar is devalued. Oops. That means the prices we were charging before have to be increased. It takes a while for all those costs to trickle in, but if you watch key import commodities like oil you'll see what we're headed for. Now we're forced to increase prices and hoping to continue selling our goods. But wait, our prices will eventually get back to the levels they were before the dollar was devalued, and foreign countries won't want our exports any more.

Sure enough the signs are there. Today's Wall Street Journal, "Dollar Slips Below 7-Yuan Barrier". We used to blame the Chinese for messing with our currency, but releasing the Yuan from it's peg to the "boat anchor" of the dollar was smart, and now we see the devaluation clearly.  And from yesterday's "U.S. Trade Deficit Widens" - import volumes ticking up along with exports. And the most telling, "Import Prices Show Broad Rise"

Import prices surged in March, lifted by not only oil but also the biggest jump in non-petroleum costs on record, a worrisome sign for inflation.

Petroleum import prices increased 9.1% last month and fell 1.9% in February; prices soared 60.0% in the 12 months since March 2007. Between March 2006 and March 2007, petroleum import prices climbed by 3.1%.

Excluding petroleum, all other import prices rose 1.1% in March, after increasing 0.7% in February. Prices excluding petroleum increased 5.4% in the 12 months since March 2007, nearly double the 2.8% climb between March 2006 and March 2007.

The FED has done the equivalent of announcing a "fire sale" on the US economy in the hopes that all while all that merchandise is going out the door no one will notice that we're actually destroying value by selling our goods too cheaply. On the other side of that is an even deeper slump. All the while the FED keeps pumping more money into the economy, and demanding greater regulatory authority. Argh.

We're headed for Jimmy Carter-era stagflation folks, and the FED is putting its foot on the accelerator to get us there. All the while they blame the financial markets for the woes that they directly caused. The solution is not going to be pretty. I wouldn't be surprised if we see double digit interest rates again before this is all over.

The real solution is not more government regulation over the economy, it's less, nay no government regulation of the economy. Lasseiz faire! The FED caused this mess. Had monetary policy been privatized, this wouldn't have happened. It's going to get much worse before it gets better, folks.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Carnival

The next Objectivist Round-up Carnival is over at Rule of Reason. Check it out!

Also, don't forget, Andrew Bernstein's talk on Religion vs. Morality at U of M (Go Blue!) is tonight.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dumb, and Dumber (and Dumbest): Bernanke, Paulson and Bush neck and neck (and neck)...

... for Moron of the Year.

Hellooo..... it's the economy, stupid(s).

A few years ago I bought Brian Simpson's, Money Banking and the Business Cycle. It's an excellent course, with a very simply premise: that the business cycle of boom and bust that we've all become so familiar with over the last few decades is caused by government intervention in the banking industry, namely the FED as the chief instigator of monetary policy. I work in an industry that is very much cyclical and affected by this cycle moreso than others, and was curious about this thesis. It made sense once I listened to it.

And now, today, I get to watch every move Simpson said is typical of the cycle being played out in real life, with almost complete predictability. It is as if the hysterical Wesley Mooches of the world are there before my eye.

First we have the FED, and Ben Bernake. After causing this financial crisis with a loose dollar policy, they lately resort to tactics that are sure to bring us recession. First, as the threat of an economic slowdown looms, they are quick to drop interest rates, the last move a whopping 0.75%, in the hopes of "stimulating" the economy. Second, in the hopes of "stabilizing" the financial industry, they inject capital in the form of subsidies, bail-outs and other forms of corporate welfare.

This stuns me. It really does. The problem in the first place was excess liquidity, caused by the FED. Injecting even more capital, in these two forms is compounding the problem, not fixing it. This is the fundamental aspect that Simpson highlights in his course. It stems from a fundamentally Keynesian notion that government regulators can fundamentally stimulate demand. It ignores one of the basic laws of economics, Say's Law, which says that supply constitutes it's own demand. That supply is inexorably linked to demand. Injecting excess liquidity only temporarily boosts demand. The unintended consequence is that it also destroys supply, and in doing so the long term response of demand is a slump, and ultimately recession. The FED needs to mop up liquidity, not provide more of it. This is exactly the wrong move to make.

What is more stupid that this sort of monetary policy? Treasury secretary Henry Paulson proposing that the solution to avoid this sort of incident again is to grant the agency that came up with this failed monetary policy, broader regulatory authority! This stems from the idea that somehow the market has failed and it is regulators that must prevent such an occurrence. This is the moral equivalent of putting the fox in charge of the hen house, and it accepts the same premise that was accepted by Elliot Spitzer in his recent tirade that I blogged about last month. The irony is that while Spitzer was explicitly bashing Rand in that statement and while Paulson represents himself as a friend of free market capitalism, they both exemplify the worst of the regulators of Atlas Shrugged, with their near hysterical belief that government is our last hope.

And finally, who has done the most to hurt the cause of laissez faire capitalism in the last years than anyone, from the largest increase in socialized medicine to allowing this sort of financial debacle to occur on his watch? Our own version Mr. Thompson? None other than the present administration and President Bush.

People sometimes tell me when they read Atlas Shrugged that Rand's scenarios are overblown, that nothing like that really happens. Just look around. Honestly, you can't make up stuff this bad.

Honestly, my heart hurts. I see our oil executives and our banking executives being hauled before congressional committees and have to take a browbeating for supposedly causing this crisis, and I watch their pitiful excuses. Where is our Hank Rearden? When will one of these executives assert his right to his profits? When will one of these executives point the finger where it needs to be pointed and demand the thing that is the only solution to these problems. Government get out! Laissez faire!