Combs Spouts Off

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Posts Tagged ‘virtue’

Market entrepreneurs vs. political entrepreneurs

Posted by Richard on March 5, 2010

Daniel Henninger thinks we need to bring back the "robber barons." Well, some of them. Drawing on the insights of Hillsdale College historian Burton W. Folsom in his book, The Myth of the Robber Barons: A New Look at the Rise of Big Business in America, Henninger pointed out the difference between market entrepreneurs and political entrepreneurs. It's the former that we need, and the latter that we're getting more and more of:

Market entrepreneurs like Rockefeller, Vanderbilt and Hill built businesses on product and price. Hill was the railroad magnate who finished his transcontinental line without a public land grant. Rockefeller took on and beat the world's dominant oil power at the time, Russia. Rockefeller innovated his way to energy primacy for the U.S.

Political entrepreneurs, by contrast, made money back then by gaming the political system. Steamship builder Robert Fulton acquired a 30-year monopoly on Hudson River steamship traffic from, no surprise, the New York legislature. Cornelius Vanderbilt, with the slogan "New Jersey must be free," broke Fulton's government-granted monopoly.

If the Obama model takes hold, we will enter the Golden Age of the Political Entrepreneur. The green jobs industry that sits at the center of the Obama master plan for the American future depends on public subsidies for wind and solar technologies plus taxes on carbon to suppress it as a competitor. Politically connected entrepreneurs will spend their energies running a mad labyrinth of bureaucracies, congressional committees and Beltway door openers. Our best market entrepreneurs, instead of exhausting themselves on their new ideas, will run to ground gaming Barack Obama's ideas.

Read the whole thing. And then read Francisco D'Anconia's "Money Speech" from Atlas Shrugged. Read the whole thing, but here's a relevant excerpt: 

… Money is the barometer of a society's virtue. When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion–when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing–when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors–when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don't protect you against them, but protect them against you–when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice–you may know that your society is doomed. Money is so noble a medium that is does not compete with guns and it does not make terms with brutality. It will not permit a country to survive as half-property, half-loot.

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Celebrating the death of a murderer

Posted by Richard on July 25, 2009

At our breakfast gathering this morning, I told my compatriots about a joke Jimmy Fallon told regarding the probable killing of one of Osama bin Laden's sons. One person in the audience cheered, and a couple of people applauded. The rest sat in stony silence. A friend suggested that maybe they thought it wasn't appropriate to joke about the death of anyone.

I consider that explanation unlikely. I suspect that a significant percentage of the typical Jimmy Fallon audience considers slasher movies and Grand Theft Auto to be high entertainment. But it got me thinking. 

It's a common belief among Christians that all human life is sacred/valuable (many other religions/cultures share that belief, and some extend it to other creatures as well), and that therefore the death of even the vilest murderer or brutal tyrant should be mourned — or at least not celebrated.

I completely disagree. That belief shows a callous disregard for the murderer's future victims. When an al Qaeda leader is killed, how many people will not be blown up or shot, how many women and children will not be brutalized and subjugated, how many men will not be beheaded as a consequence of his death?

If you've studied free-market economics, you may be familiar with Frédéric Bastiat's essay, “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen.” In it, he argued that we tend to focus on the immediate, intended consequences of an action (what is seen) and fail to recognize the later, unintended consequences (what is not seen). For instance, when the government allocates a few hundred billion dollars for "shovel-ready" infrastructure projects, we see the jobs created (they put up big signs at the project sites to make sure we do). But we don't see the goods that would have been purchased, the investments that would have been made, and the jobs that would have been created if the government had left that money in private hands instead of taxing or borrowing it away. 

I contend that the death of a murderer represents a moral issue analogous to Bastiat's principle of economics. You can see the lifeless body of a terrorist or serial killer (or at least the news reports) and recognize that a human life has been taken. But too often, you fail to see the lives that have been spared in the future as a consequence of his death.

Not me. I celebrate the deaths of barbarians like Saad bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — because I'm gladdened by the thought of the innocent victims, the honest and peaceful people, who will be spared because of their demise. And I unashamedly value the lives of the latter more than the lives of the former. Ridding the world of such evil men and preventing their future acts of violence is the noble, decent, civilized thing to do. It is virtuous and it is just.

If you still insist that all killing is always wrong, here's a thought experiment. You see a man with his knife raised, about to stab the chest of a helpless, bound woman. There is a gun at hand. What would you do? Would you shoot him, trading his life for hers?

Would you do nothing, because taking any life is wrong? Then she dies, and he can move on to the next victim.

If all human life is equally valuable, and pain and suffering are bad, maybe you should shoot her! Either way, someone dies, and (since you don't care who) you can at least spare her a more painful death. 

I would shoot him without hesitation, and if I succeeded, I'd be relieved and happy for her and for his future victims. The lives of honest, peaceful, innocent people are infinitely more valuable than the lives of murderous predators.

Likewise, I hope that Predator drone did take out Saad bin Laden, and I'm gladdened by the thought of the lives that will be spared as a result of his death. Making a joke or two at the scumbag's expense is not out of order.

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Principled government

Posted by Richard on April 26, 2007

Speaking of carnivals, I finally dropped by Dana's Fourth Carnival of Principled Government, and you should, too. The theme of this one is character and virtue; the posts are few, but thought-provoking. Dana posted it less than a week after giving birth to her fourth child (congrats, Dana!), and seems rather apologetic about having "neglected" the carnival. Now, that's a dedicated blogger!

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