Quick Roundup 413

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sixty Years Ago Today

Ludwig von Mises' Human Action was published. Debi Ghate of the Ayn Rand Institute quotes a letter of Ayn Rand's on why the book is still relevant today:

As to your statement that "laissez-faire" capitalism is the cause of depressions-this is an issue of economic fact and is simply untrue. The cause of depressions is government interference into economics. For proof, I refer you to such books as Capitalism the Creator by Carl Snyder, Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt, How Can Europe Survive by Hans Sennholz, and the works of the great economist Ludwig von Mises.
That recommendation should strike a chord with the public. As I write, Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged ranks third in sales at Amazon.

Black Boy American Hunger

For about a year, I have been slowly working my way though Always in Pursuit, a collection of essays by Stanley Crouch. In one of his shorter pieces, I encountered the following interesting revelation about a book that was part my high school literature curriculum:
Wright's actual struggle is usually misunderstood. As Black Boy shows, he realized early on that color preceded his essence as a human being. He was a Negro in the skin but intended to become a man of his own making. What he really wanted was to be a writer whose work could stand up next to the best.

Because of decision at his publishing house, Wright's original title for his autobiography, American Hunger, was changed and the second half of it was removed. That vital second half was set in the North and pulled the covers off the urban Communist movement. Now, in its full form, the book is remarkable.

The reader can feel the sweat, the bruises, and the cold, and understand the dreams as the boy fights the Southern restrictions imposed on him by the Negroes as well as the whites. When Wright comes North, he isn't overly impressed by the black or the white people nor is he taken in too long by the communists, who have no use for his intellectual probings and his desire for individuality. His insights into the totalitarian techniques of dominating mass thinking are as good as anyone's. [bold and hyperlink added] (115)
Or perhaps I should have said, "half a book" in reference to Black Boy.

Human Action, Atlas Shrugged, and American Hunger: That's three books I wish the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue could have read before he took office. But I'll settle for millions of voters discovering the second of these.

For once, ...

... the Texas legislature might pass a semi-good law! As quoted by Kingsport TN Government:
As College Station is expanding its red light camera program, a state representative is trying to stop it.

A Lubbock legislator has filed a bill that would end red-light cameras in Texas, and a local driver is offering help.

Lubbock did away with its red-light cameras last year when the citizen group that oversaw the cameras, determined the cameras hadn’t made Lubbock’s streets any safer.

At that time, the cameras also hadn't made Lubbock any money. A College Station man is supporting that Lubbock legislator; he says money is what the cameras are all about.
I say "semi-good" (which may still be generous) because I don't know all the details of this law, and banning such cameras would not really be the right step to take. It is the use of such cameras by government entities to generate ticket revenue, and probably also for general surveillance, that should be banned.

While the use of such traffic cameras might be legitimate and useful in a society in which all roads were privately-owned, they are little more than automated bandits in our current context. (And, based on my experience of passing by one of them on my usual route to work each day, the "little more" consists of encouraging dangerous, sudden stops in heavy traffic, even when the roads are slick.)

Why do I hold that there is a difference?

A private road owner who abused such devices in order to cheat customers out of money would face bad publicity, boycotts, and litigation. This is because, in a free society, the government is delimited only to the task of protecting individual rights. Nobody would be forced to deal with such a business and anyone who did would have recourse to government protection if a business did attempt to resort to force or fraud.

On the other hand, the government, as the sole legal wielder of force in our semi-free society, is able to codify such abuses as law and is, therefore, all but immune to such corrective measures. As a further effect of the government illegitimately owning roads, the element of choice is guaranteed to be absent with its monopoly. (This does not mean that monopolies as such should be illegal: just government-created or -enforced monopolies.) The existence of competition alone would discourage the misuse of these cameras, while also encouraging their use in situations where having a camera around might actually promote better driving.

Fun with Math

En route to something else, I stumbled across a collection of humorous, mathematics-themed bumper stickers. My favorite was, "Alcohol and calculus don't mix Never drink and derive."

-- CAV


Burgess Laughlin said...

Qutoing Ayn Rand: ". . . and the works of the great economist Ludwig von Mises."

A few of your readers might like to know that Study Groups for Objectivists will, this summer, be conducting a three-week study group examining one 3-chapter essay by Ludwig von Mises:

"Monetary Reconstruction"

(appearing as an addendum to the 1952 edition of Mises's The Theory of Money and Credit)


The essay is Mises's strategy for restoring the gold standard. In other words, this is in-line activism. From his own platform of expertise in economics, Mises is advocating a definite program to take in restoring the gold standard.

Along the way, he explains:
- the history of the rise and fall of the gold standard.
- the nature of the standard.
- its alternatives.
- the pitfalls that any mixed-premises restoration will encounter.

The purpose of this very brief study group is initial familiarization rather than in-depth study.

Gus Van Horn said...

Thanks for passing that info along!

Daniel said...

Nice bumper stickers!

PC said...

Hi Gus,

I vowed to read some Stanley Crouch after watching the Ken Burns's 'Jazz' series, in which he features.

Sounds like what I saw in that series is confirmed in what you say here. He's one out of the box.

Sounds too like if you're enjoying his book of essays you should check out the 'Jazz' series. By all accounts Crouch was one of those steering the direction in which it went, which was mostly to celebrate the real musicians and demote the noodlers and reed-chewers.

It really was magnificent.

When Ed Cline talks about "The great black musicians who contributed to American culture, e.g., Scott Joplin, Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, and Louis Armstrong," who he says have been "disowned" by modern Afro-centrists "in favor of the malevolent 'dissing' and droning of 'rap'," he (and we) need only look to someone like Crouch who's far from backward in promoting those heroes.

Like I say, I can enthusiastically recommend the series, even if it does come from PBS. :-)

Gus Van Horn said...


Crouch is always worth reading, even when I don't quite agree with him. He's a very entertaining and intelligent writer. And thanks for pointing out the series on jazz.

Regarding the development of American popular music generally and jazz in particular, I read Martha Bayles' Hole in Our Soul: The Loss of Beauty and Meaning in American Popular Music about a decade ago, and found it very thought-provoking. I recommend it, and will probably read it again myself some time.


PC said...

Thanks for that, Gus. I'll keep an eye out for it.

And while I think about it, there was another writer in the series who was similarly impressive about whom I've wanted to learn more: Albert Murray, who was apparently Stanley Crouch's teacher.

Gus Van Horn said...

Haven't heard of him, so thanks for mentioning him.