Language and Power

Faces

Michel Foucault (1926-1984) developed the idea that every kind of discourse is an attempt on the part of its user to exercise power over others. He was a deconstructionist like Nietzsche (see my 8/30/16 post), who probed down into the true motivation of the writer of an argument.  There are no facts, only interpretations. Every lawyer knows this as they begin a trial – “ladies and gentlemen of the jury, these are the facts……”  Neither truth nor virtue is centralized in anyone; those who claim to have a monopoly on truth or morality are just trying to exert power.

 

Considerable power was institutionalized in government, the media and academia but its strength in those institutions has been greatly weakened by the obvious exercise of that power to advance a Leftist agenda. Here are a couple of examples of ‘progressive’ bias:  Academics proposed the idea of a personality trait they labeled “Social Dominance Orientation” based on Social Dominance Theory (which sounds a lot like Marxism).  It suggests that the idea of a meritocracy (individual achievement) is a “legitimizing myth” designed to produce a false illusion of fairness.  I wrote about that horseshit nonsense back on 11/3/15 –Well isn’t that special (in the voice of the Church Lady from SNL).  If you don’t hold egalitarianism as an ideal, you’re a morally inferior, evil racist! 

 

Another example is all the hubbub over income inequality as measured by the Gini Coefficient. It’s based on the Lorenz Curve, developed by Max O. Lorenz in 1905, which graphs share of income against percentage of people.  As expected, wealth is always distributed in a power function (80/20 rule) allocation.  The Gini Coefficient measures inequality by calculating the ratio of the area between the “perfect” line of equality and the total area including under the Lorenz Curve.  The underlying assumption seems to be that the ideal distribution of income is equality and we are measuring how far off we are from that “ideal”.

Lorenz

Gini

The point is that discourse is always in pursuit of an agenda (or in defense against the imposition of one).  Everyone is biased, including me, but I happily recognize and acknowledge it.  I battle for my mass affluent tribe – an intellectual gladiator wielding my sword of reason against the egalitarian dragon.  I don’t root for inequality (that’s like cheering for the earth to be a sphere) but I strongly believe that egalitarians are morally and logically misguided in trying to attack those who own wealth.  It bears repeating – every competitive endeavor (golf, chess, spelling bees, sports, business, etc.) has a highly skewed distribution favoring the successful.  Trying to knock down the strong to pull up the weak is just wrong and will never work.  The strong fight back.  We have powerful cognitive, moral and pecuniary weapons in our Estate Planning War Chests.

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Peas in a Pod

Peas

UCLA Professor Jared Diamond wondered why European and Asian civilization had such a vast historical advantage in power and technology over the rest of the world. So he researched and wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning book Guns, Germs and Steel (1997).  Eurasia culture dominated and conquered the globe not because of any intellectual, moral or genetic superiority but rather because of cumulative advantage amplified by a positive feedback loop.

 

Successful families are fortunate because there are significantly fewer of them than everyone else. And they stick together, leveraging advantages over generations.  Financial success is dependent on many variables, many of which are beyond our control.  Recognizing an advantageous position and then protecting and augmenting it over time separates top tier wealth owners from the disgruntled, miserable masses.  It’s a natural phenomenon and some policy makers resent the hell out of it.

 

The Pareto Principal is based on the observation by Italian economist’s Vilifredo Pareto (1848-1923) that a vital few (20%) of the peapods in his garden produced the majority (80%) of the peas.  A minority of pods are hoarding peas… oh the injustice!  The “80-20 Rule” has broad applications across a wide range of fields from business management/sales to engineering and software.  It’s a fact of life and there’s nothing you can do to change it.  But our enemies keep trying.   Wealth redistributionists have an uphill battle because wealth is tucked away in tightly sealed pods.  Political forces seek to rip them open and redistribute the peas in them to the “less fortunate” peapods.

 

The moral and philosophical error/evil of Leftist radicals is their failure to accept that the most undesirable type of society is one in which centralized planning is imposed and dissent disallowed. A redistributionist society is necessarily coercively totalitarian because people won’t just voluntarily hand over their money so it can be reallocated for the “betterment of society”.  Hayek understood that, as did philosopher Karl Popper (1902–1994), who wrote The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945). Radicals seeking to impose an ideal, “perfect” social arrangement are wrong and immoral.  Karl Popper was the gravedigger for Marxism.  Our intellectual position, moral values and wealth are peas in a pod.

 

Next week the War Chest surveys some of the intellectual battle armaments in the war to convince you that inequality is caused by unnatural, unjust cultural oppression and that equality is the perfect end goal to which we should all strive.

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War Chest Weapon

BattleReady

Wealth is under siege by political and economic forces. The most vital economic weapon in our War Chest is Cumulative Advantage.  Simply put, it’s a mechanism operating across time (one lifetime and multiple generations) in which a favorable position becomes a resource that produces further gains and strengthens advantages.  There are many names for and voicings of this phenomenon.  Let’s take a look at a few:

 

The Matthew Effect was a term coined by sociologist Robert K. Merton in 1968. It is summarized by the adage “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” and takes its name from a Bible passage.  The Gospel of Mathew: For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken even that which he hath. Matthew 25:29, King James Version.

 

Preferential Attachment is another name for the cumulative advantage process used in scientific – mathematical and biological analysis.   It sets forth equations demonstrating how wealth (or credit for academic papers) is distributed among individuals according to how much they already have.  So, those that are already wealthy receive more than those who are not.

 

Power Law is a statistical concept that describes the relationship between two quantities where one varies as a power of another. For example, the area of square varies as a power of 4 with regard to the length of its sides.  Double the length the side of a square and the area is multiplied by a factor of four regardless of the size of the square.  This relates to wealth because the distribution1 of wealth is governed by a power law function whereby the few overwhelmingly dominate the many.  It’s quite natural and normal but social justice warriors hate it and want to redistribute the existing allocation of society’s resources by attacking the rich.  However, the wealthy few are protected by the power law distribution of wealth2.

PowerLaw

An example power-law graph, being used to demonstrate ranking of popularity. To the right is the long tail, and to the left are the few that dominate (also known as the 80–20 rule).

 

Our War Chest is defended by the undeniably powerful law of the vital few, also known as the Pareto Principle, named after an Italian economist in 1896, who noticed that 20% of the peapods in his garden contained 80% of the peas.  Hey, let’s explore the 80-20 rule next week.  These notions are potent weapons in the moral and intellectual defense of our wealth, which is under attack by those who despise the fact that wealth will always be concentrated in the hands of a few.

 

1 Using the word distribution implies that wealth is purposefully allocated in favor of some and not others.  It’s not.  Wealth allocates itself – not through some Marxist mechanism of exploitation.

 

2 This is Mother Nature not systemized oppression of the poor. There is a natural inverse relationship between the number of wealthy households and the size of their wealth.  Similarly, the frequency of earthquakes varies inversely with their intensity.  The number of cities with a certain population varies inversely with their population size.

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What We Deserve

Success

Meritocracy is a political philosophy holding that power and wealth should be vested in people based on their ability and talent. There’s been a flurry of books and articles attacking the morality of meritocracy.  Here are 2 articles that cite and refute those ‘anti-meritocrats’:

http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/07/24/targeting-meritocracy/

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/450101/american-meritocracy-needs-reform-not-replacement

It’s clear that 1) the U.S. economic system is a meritocracy (albeit an imperfect one); and 2) this is a morally just and highly efficient way to allocate power and resources.

The philosophical attacks on meritocracy stem from concerns about what people deserve.  Power and wealth generally flow to people who deserve them in a meritocracy.  You can object to the mechanism of how this is accomplished or what defines merit, but it’s hard to argue that those with greater merit (superior skill, ability, talent, work ethic, etc.) do not deserve more of society’s good things.  But some writers do.  Here’s an articulation of the idea by Freddie de Boer from a book review cited in Scott Alexander’s article:

I reject meritocracy because I reject the idea of human deserts. I don’t believe that an individual’s material conditions should be determined by what he or she “deserves,” no matter the criteria and regardless of the accuracy of the system contrived to measure it. I believe an equal best should be done for all people at all times.

More practically, I believe that anything resembling an accurate assessment of what someone deserves is impossible, inevitably drowned in a sea of confounding variables, entrenched advantage, genetic and physiological tendencies, parental influence, peer effects, random chance, and the conditions under which a person labors….. Reality is indifferent to meritocracy’s perceived need to “give people what they deserve.”

That’s a rational argument but it misses the point and doesn’t stand up to the practical necessity of having the best people in the hardest, most important jobs, making the difficult most critical decisions. Numbskull egalitarians would destroy incentive, motivation and natural economic processes in order to somehow make the world fairer by forcing a social justice based regime.  Just because it can be difficult to assess merit or that such assessments can be abused (or that the system doesn’t appear equitable because the “rich get richer”) does not mean we should abandon meritocracy.  Your Estate Planning War Chest is built upon a foundation of merit.  And that’s a good thing.  Next week, we’ll examine the natural phenomenon of exactly why the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor across generations.

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Privilege

View

There was an opinion article in this Sunday’s New York Times by a law professor: White Economic Privilege Is Alive and Well.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/29/opinion/sunday/black-income-white-privilege.html

It’s an interesting example of radically differing ways of viewing the world. One of the comments nails the essence of the disagreements over this controversial issue; it highlights Leftist ideologues’ intentionally use of the word privilege.  Words matter.  Economics is the competitive allocation of resources.  Privilege has a highly negative, racially hostile connotation. It implies profound unfairness and oppression, which is not what’s going on in America.  A more appropriate economic word is advantage.  In economic competition, like sports or military conflict, some competitors enter the playing field with advantages; but you wouldn’t call them privileged.  Look, those football players are bigger and faster than the other team, they’re privileged.  Wow, that nation’s army is bigger and better trained, they’re privileged.

 

Those who have an economic War Chest had and continue to have economic advantages. Calling us privileged, racist or dream hoarders is offensive.  Here’s the full unedited comment on that article:

M Peirce

Boulder, CO 1 day ago

Words matter. Stop using “privilege.” It makes non-privileged whites and non-blacks angry. Rightly so. Start using other words, like “advantage,” which are cleaner and clearer, and more justified in import. People who have nice opportunities, who grew up in the upper middle class and are likely to stay there, are privileged. People outside of that sphere are not. Most whites are not privileged, and are not given privileges. Most whites have an array of comparative advantages over non-whites: They’re given the benefit of the doubt comparatively more often, don’t have to live down prejudicial preconceptions, are not red-lined, and more. Most, in other words, are accorded basic human rights and dignity that should be extended to everyone, but aren’t. But that’s not the same as being “privileged” and should not be labeled as such. Using “privilege” is hyperbole, like labelling demeaning remarks as “violence.” Using “privilege” as a label connotes that the thus-labeled person is well-off. Calling a person who is struggling to make ends meet “privileged”, accordingly, is asking for a fight, one likely to deepen racial animosities instead of repairing them. Moreover, it implies directing fewer resources toward those who are just struggling, and so, setting up a who’s worse-off fight within the ranks of the poor, pitting poor against poor for resources that every poor person needs. So cut the crap and use a different word.

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Power and Responsiblity

PistolCocked

With great power comes great responsibility”.  That quote is attributable to a variety of sources (from Spider-Man to Voltaire) and it is an undeniable truism.  Power manifests itself in many forms:  Physical prowess, financial wealth, a leadership position in business/politics or a loaded firearm.  David French wrote a nice article Saturday about how conceal and carry laws have changed the ethos of America for the better.

http://www.nationalreview.com/article/449754/concealed-carry-permits-increasing-good-america

 

Those who are licensed to carry a weapon are fully aware of a gun’s power and danger. It is evident that permit holders are extremely law-abiding and repeatedly come to the aid of friends and neighbors in need of help.  They have proven themselves responsible, courageous and independent.  It’s the psychological aspects of independence, power and responsibility by which gun ownership parallels wealth ownership.  Carrying a gun instantly changes a person’s relationship with the State.  They are immediately less dependent on Government.  They are no longer a ‘protectee’ – they are a protector of themselves and others.

 

The power of wealth gives similar independence and it must be vigilantly respected. Those who control substantial wealth have a duty to utilize it responsibly – to protect and preserve it for good use (securing the well-being of one’s family, self-improvement, helping others), not wasted or used destructively (on lazy unnecessary consumption, drugs, gambling or other immoral expenditures).    Parents are fully aware that they should not give complete control of an inheritance to their children too early.  A Trust controlled by a responsible adult Trustee should manage wealth until the child is mature enough to control the wealth wisely.

 

Wealth is raw power and it should not be transferred from one person to another without assurance that it will be used responsibly. Government cannot and should not be put into the role of provider, particularly in today’s corrupt culture of irresponsible, able bodied working-age adults who refuse to provide for themselves.  [see my 10/18/16 post on the immorality of idleness]  Mona Charen writes “The American character has been corrupted by multiple generations of government dependency, and the loss of important virtues like self-control, delayed gratification, family stability, thrift and industriousness.”    The vast majority would be irresponsible with the power of wealth.  James M. Stone writes that moderately wealthy Americans understand that wealth redistribution would be “wasted on transfer payments to unworthy recipients, who will use their government largess to support less-than-commendable lifestyles.”

 

Wealth is like a loaded high caliber firearm; it should not be confiscated and handed over to irresponsible masses. Your Wealth War Chest is a strongbox of responsibly wielded power.

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Fatal Conceit

Conceit

Friedrich Hayek’s last major work was The Fatal Conceit: Errors of Socialism (1988).  It built onto the analysis of his essay The Intellectuals and Socialism (1949).  Ideas begin with brilliant theorists and original thinkers but they are spread by intellectuals, whom he called “second hand dealers in ideas”.  Intellectuals then decide which views and opinions are important enough to reach us.  This is how a society can become so obsessed with fatally bad ideas.  Intellectuals are the gatekeepers of ideas and they often open the floodgates for bad ideas (like collectivism) that cause death, misery and economic devastation.

 

Pro-market minds (advocates of spontaneous human order created by competitive markets) tend to become businessmen, engineers, doctors and lawyers. Anti-market minds (those who demand a deliberate arrangement of human interaction by central authority based on collective command over resources) tend to become intellectuals and scholars.  The anti-market mind, for Hayek, is highly intelligent but wrong.  Why?  Intelligent people tend to overvalue intelligence.  They think everything worth knowing can be uncovered with intellectual examination and find it hard to believe that there is any useful knowledge that is not deliberately unveiled. Intellectuals neglect the traditional, natural cultural evolution that produced the current order, including the highly moral institutions of private property, freedom and justice.

 

To understand our civilization, it’s important to recognize that the current political economy arose unintentionally as individuals conformed to specific moral practices, many of which intellectuals tend to dislike, whose significance they fail to understand, whose validity they cannot prove, but which are spread by means of an evolutionary selection. The relative wealth of a small minority of the population derives from groups of people who happen to follow these moral practices.  Hayek writes “The unwitting, reluctant, even painful adoption of these practices kept these groups together, increased their access to valuable information of all sorts, and enabled them to be ‘fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it’ (Genesis 1:28). Our War Chest was naturally born and is protected from incorrect, anti-market intellectuals by correct, pro-market moral order.

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