Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Purge: Pop Culture, Psychology, and the Broken Window Fallacy

by Dr. Gerard Emershaw

The 2013 horror film The Purge and its 2014 sequel The Purge: Anarchy present a near future dystopian (or utopian depending on your perspective) version of the United States. The year is 2022, and “the New Founding Fathers” have instituted a totalitarian government which passes a Constitutional amendment which suspends all laws for 12 hours from 7:00 pm on March 21 until 7:00 am on March 22. This event is known as the Purge and allows Americans to “release the beast” by satisfying their destructive urges. During these 12 hours, no laws are enforced by the police. Emergency services of all kind are suspended. While weapons above class 4 (weapons like grenades, bombs, or rocket launchers) are prohibited, all other weapons are fair game. All crimes (murder, rape, robbery, etc.) are excusable during the Purge. The only individuals who may not be victimized are government officials “holding Rank 10 or higher.” According to the narrative, as a result of the Purge, the United States is enjoying prosperity with only 1% unemployment. The logic seems to be that the poor and homeless are targeted the most, solving the nation’s “problems.”
Writers of science fiction and horror are often not the most knowledgeable when it comes to economics and human psychology. The paradigm case of this is the original “Star Trek.” In the “Star Trek” universe, Marxist economics somehow led a civilization that had been ravaged by a Third World War into a space age society. However, history, psychology, and logic all show that the incentives for such innovation are not and cannot be present in a Marxist system. (For a detailed discussion of how communism could not have led to the Earth society presented in “Star Trek,” read my new book The Real Culture War.) The Purge similarly makes dubious assumptions concerning economics and human psychology.
1. The Broken Window Fallacy
Frederic Bastiat ingeniously presents the Parable of the Broken Window in his brilliant 1850 essay “That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen.” In Bastiat’s parable, the careless son of a shopkeeper breaks the window of the shop. However, since the shopkeeper has to pay the glazier six francs to replace the window, money circulates. The glazier now has six francs to spend. So, this was good for the economy, right? But Bastiat points out that that is merely what is seen. What is not seen is that the shopkeeper would have used the six francs in some other way—buying shoes, a book, etc. In the case where the window was broken, there are six francs circulating. In the case where the window was not broken, there are also six francs circulating. However, in this second case, there is also one additional window. Namely, the window which was not broken. This second case is a world that is richer and better off. If a community could become better off by having a window broken and replaced, then wouldn’t it be even better off if each resident destroyed his or her house and all of the belongings inside and paid to replace them? This fallacy is what makes Keynesians wrongly believe that war is good for the economy. Destruction is never good. If Europe and Japan had not been destroyed during World War II, then the money used to rebuild them could have been spent on different projects. A world where World War II never occurred would have the old cities of Europe and Japan intact plus whatever projects the money was used on instead. This would be a richer world.
The Purge commits this fallacy. On one night each year, all crime is permissible and no emergency services are in place. The films mostly focus upon murder. But imagine other crimes that will be taking place. Joe X’s pizza place might be burned to the ground. Bank Y may have its funds stolen electronically by hackers. John Z’s car dealership may have its new vehicles destroyed. In both movies, it seems as though there is widespread destruction. Damaged businesses and homes will all need to be repaired. The injured will need to receive health care. With so many deaths, funerals and burials will need to be held. Inheritance taxes will need to be paid. Probate lawyers will be needed. Before the Purge even begins, individuals and business owners will need to spend a good deal of money to protect their families, homes, places of business, and business assets. None of this provides an economic benefit. Money is circulating, but there has been destruction. Replacing what has been destroyed is only getting back to square one. Money spent on extra security is money that could have been spent on shoes or books. Or laptops, cellphones, cars, etc. The Purge World has fewer goods than a world without a Purge. The Purge world is poorer and not better off.
Businesses that need to spend so much money to protect themselves and possibly to later repair damage will have less money to hire new workers or to give raises to the workers they currently have. It is difficult to see how the world of The Purge can have only 1% unemployment or be prosperous at all.
2. Cull the Useless Eaters
According to the logic of The Purge, eliminating the poor and homeless somehow produces prosperity. It is difficult to see if this is simply a “neato” idea that writer James DeMonaco came up with or if there is a political point to be made. Is it the idea that we ought to kill the poor and the homeless? Is it the idea that we should choose to be humane even though doing so is economically disadvantageous?
Killing these “useless eaters”—to use the disgusting language of Collectivist “Philosopher-Kings”—will not lead to prosperity. Corporate welfare is a much greater drain on taxpayer resources than government assistance for the poor. Furthermore, poverty and homelessness are not the causes of economic malaise. They are symptoms. These problems are generally caused by a lack of jobs. Job shortages are caused by government overregulation and overtaxation of business and by inflation caused by central banks such as the Federal Reserve “printing” too much fiat currency. As long as a central bank and progressive, socialist, or fascist government policies regarding business are in place, economic problems will persist. Killing off members of society will not help solve these problems but will eliminate consumers and destroy human capital.
3. Release the Beast
The Purge also suggests that committing murders, rapes, robberies, etc. one night out of the year will have some kind of therapeutic effect. For example, it will allow society to get violent impulses “out of its system.” But is this true? Would allowing a pedophile to rape just one child help him “get it out of his system?” Or will it just make him want to commit another such crime? Furthermore, is it not possible that many will commit crimes because of the Purge that they wouldn’t have committed otherwise? The government not only condones going out during the Purge but encourages it. It has become a national holiday. In addition, in order to better defend themselves during the Purge, the poor and defenseless are likely to commit more crimes during the rest of the year in order to get money to pay for the means of defense or to eliminate those who might pose a threat during the Purge. If you suspect that your much stronger, meaner, and better armed neighbor might want to cull you on Purge night, why not take him by surprise and kill him on one of the other 364 nights of the year? There is simply no reason to believe that a United States which practices the Purge will have lower crime rates in the course of a year than a United States like ours which does not.
4. Mistrust and Fear
A nation that practices the Purge is going to quickly become a nation of mistrust. How can you trust a government that chooses not to defend the natural rights of its citizens one on night a year? How can you trust that the government is not using it as an excuse to be more lawless than usual? Remember, government agents can also participate. It is likely that the government would send death squads out or at least violate Constitutional rights on an epic scale. What would prevent the President from simply droning anybody that he or she feels like? Furthermore, does anyone believe that if you and I might be trying to legally murder, rape, or rob each other on the night of March 21 that we will be cordial to each other on March 20, March 22, or any other night of the year?
A society that practices the Purge is also one in which it will be rational not to stand up to bullies during the rest of the year. Did someone assault or sexually abuse you? It is probably not a good idea to seek to have him or her prosecuted. On Purge night, he or she may come looking for revenge. Did a megacorporation harm you? It is probably not a good idea to sue it. If you win a judgment against Global International Conglomerate Consolidated, it may hire a hitman to take you out on Purge night. In essence, the Purge would lead to injustice not only on Purge night but during the rest of the year.
(For a much more detailed discussion of the economic and social issues discussed here, read my new book The Real Culture War: Individualism vs. Collectivism & How Bill O’Reilly Got It All Wrong. Available now on Amazon in both print and Kindle.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bill O’Reilly Does Not Understand What Racism Is

by Dr. Gerard Emershaw

In a recent column, Bill O’Reilly calls Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri “fresh kindling for America’s racial arsonists.” The likelihood that a grand jury is not going to indict the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown is seen by O’Reilly as some kind of evidence that racism does not exist in the United States. While O’Reilly correctly criticizes the cynical and inappropriate use of “the race card” in declaring anyone who opposes President Obama a racist, he incorrectly accuses anyone who dares to point out that there is racism in the United States as “race hustlers.” For a Traditionalist like O’Reilly, there are only two possibilities. Either the United States is “racist to the core, a place where ‘white privilege’ is this nation's past, present, and future” or there is no racism in the United States. Recognizing that there is racism in the United States does not amount to telling “young black Americans that they just can't make it, the deck is stacked against them” as O’Reilly claims.
There is a good deal of racism against blacks in the United States, and the most egregious are examples of institutionalized racism created and/or fostered by the government. The truth is that the stereotypical racism of white supremacists wearing sheets and burning crosses is a minor threat compared with the racism that government perpetuates. The following are just a few examples of the real racism that O’Reilly and most other collectivists on the right and left typically ignore.
1. The Federal Reserve
In the last several years, the American public has been realizing the corporatist and unconstitutional nature of the Federal Reserve. But how exactly could a privately controlled central bank be racist? By “printing” money—through the purchase of securities—the Federal Reserve causes inflation. But not immediately. The recipients of the “new” money—usually crony capitalists—benefit by being able to spend these funds before the inevitable inflation. Later, when the expanded supply of dollars causes prices to rise, those who are politically unconnected suffer the effects of higher prices. It is the poor who suffer the effects of this “inflation tax” the most as this is the most regressive of taxes. Many blacks had already been economically disenfranchised by the effects of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, Progressive economic policies, the counterproductive “War on Poverty,” etc., and the Federal Reserve just exacerbates that. In the century that the Federal Reserve has existed, its inflationary policies have taken away as much as 95% of the value of the dollar. When money buys less and less, the poor suffer. Over 27% of Black Americans live in poverty, so the Federal Reserve has adversely affected that community more than any other in the nation.
2. Progressive Business Regulations
The black unemployment rate is twice that of whites. So, any government policies which destroy jobs or impede job growth are inherently racist since these policies will affect blacks disproportionately. Progressive business regulations and burdensome business taxes are corporatist policies which aid large corporations at the expense of small businesses, workers, the unemployed, and the poor. Every dollar that a business is forced to pay to comply with business regulations is one less dollar that that business can use to pay new workers. Businesses that are forced to pay the cost of government regulations have done nothing wrong. They are essentially paying the price of negligence for which they are not liable. Businesses which commit acts which amount to negligence, recklessness, or torts that harm individuals should pay the price in court. Business regulations simply give large corporations—whose lobbyists often write the regulations on behalf of the government—the ability to bankrupt their smaller competitors. A study by the National Association of Manufacturers found that:

[B]usinesses spent more than $2 trillion in 2012 to comply with federal regulations. More importantly, compliance costs for businesses in the United States averaged $9,991 per employee that year, with manufacturers incurring a per-employee cost of nearly double that amount, at $19,546. Small manufacturers with less than 50 employees spent a whopping $34,671 per employee, illustrating the massive burden placed on many of these firms.
In addition, occupational licensing requirements put further obstacles in front of blacks who wish to be entrepreneurial and start their own businesses. None of these regulations actually protect Americans from anything but greater prosperity.
3. The War on Drugs
The War on Drugs is an institutionalized form of racism which has devastated the black community perhaps more than any other government policy. Although blacks and Hispanics use and sell drugs at roughly the same rate as whites, 61% of the people incarcerated in state prisons for drug offenses are black or Hispanic. Human beings possess a natural right to liberty, and this includes the right to use and to sell drugs. The War on Drugs is nothing but a corporatist war against the people—particularly against people of African or Latin heritage. The beneficiaries are alcohol companies, tobacco companies, Big Pharma, drug cartels, private prison corporations, and law enforcement. The biggest losers are the blacks which are thrown into prison for nonviolent drug offenses and forced to work for the Prison-Industrial Complex like 21st century slaves. Locking up black men and women for nonviolent drug offenses and property offenses that are committed in an effort to get money to buy narcotics (which have been artificially inflated in price due to prohibition) destroys families, taking away parents from their children. This puts many black families even deeper into poverty. Unnecessary drug convictions then become like badges of slavery, preventing black ex-cons from being able to get jobs.
4. Social Security
Because blacks have a shorter life expectancy than whites, they tend to receive less in Social Security benefits. Upon death, a worker may not distribute accrued benefits through his or her estate to heirs. Therefore, black workers tend to benefit less than their white counterparts. If the United States had a government pension system by which workers could keep the proceeds which they pay in and distribute it to their heirs upon death, black families would be able to build wealth over generations instead of having those funds essentially confiscated for the “crime” of dying.
5. Minimum Wage
Minimum wage laws are perverse in that they harm the poor—of which blacks make up a disproportionate number—despite having been designed to help. In addition to violating the natural right to contract of both employer and employee, minimum wage laws produce two unintended negative consequences that greatly affect poor blacks. First, requiring employers to pay an artificially high wage means that businesses will hire fewer workers. Secondly, low-skilled workers will not be hired at all at minimum wage and will never learn basic job skills. The frustrating thing is that minimum wage would not even be an issue were it not for job-killing government regulations on businesses. A laissez-faire free market would most likely produce an abundance of jobs. As the number of jobs increases, supply and demand will inevitably increase wages.
(For a much more detailed discussion of Racism and Bill O’Reilly’s Traditionalism, read my new book The Real Culture War: Individualism vs. Collectivism & How Bill O’Reilly Got It All Wrong. Available now on Amazon in both print and Kindle.)