Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘Politics

A discussion of some recent news

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Recently, there has been a lot of interesting news, especially with an eye on topics in the PC-area, including restrictions on “allowed” opinions. Below, I will look into some of it in an eclectic manner:

  1. German* news-sources (e.g. Tagesschau) state that Brazil has declared homophobia (“homophobie”) illegal.

    *I have not investigated whether the same partial misreporting (cf. below) has taken place in other countries.

    Looking at the details of the texts, a confusing image appears. Apparently, the illegality is two-pronged: Discrimination based on homosexuality is now illegal and violence against homosexuals has the status of a hate-crime (whereas it was “just” a crime in the past).

    As is clear, either “homophobia” or “discrimination” is abused in a sense that is not compatible with correct use and which causes considerable confusion: Homophobia is a matter of opinion or feeling, and is not action. A ban on homophobia implies a ban on opinion (something utterly, utterly evil; something much, much worse than homophobia), implying that the use can only be correct if discrimination is abused in an absurd sense, e.g. to include attitudes rather than e.g. decision making.

    Barring further research*, I would put my money on abuse of “homophobia”**. This still, however, shows a lack of awareness of the difference between thought and action, and continues the Orwellian tendency of condemning things as evil based on thought/opinion/feeling/character and to see action as an inevitable result. (Something that might say more about the proponents’ self-control and morals than about their opponents’…) To re-iterate for the umpteenth time: When judging evil, actions count—opinions do not.

    *Note that this discussion is not about Brazilian law, it is merely triggered by it. The exact details of the Brazilian situation have no major impact on the big-picture discussion.

    **Or possibly a combination that limits the expression of opinion—something at least potentially very evil. (This would ultimately depend on the details of the law. I note that e.g. my native Sweden and adopted Germany have “hate-speech” laws that risk a too large infringement on freedom of speech. Also see the election-poster discussion below)

    To this might be added that the use of “-phobia” to imply e.g. hatred, rather than fear, is highly unfortunate. While I strongly discourage use of e.g. “homophobia”, “Islamophobia”, …, in a non-fear sense, that train is probably long gone.

    Looking at the hate-crime side, it might be partially welcomed that the treatment is now consistent with (as claimed in reporting) that of racism. However, this also demonstrates a flawed legislation in principle: legislation should be sufficiently generic that such aspects should only rarely need to be regulated on a case-by-case basis.* A quality law concerning hate-crimes would then speak not of crimes directed at an individual due to e.g. “race, color, and creed” but of e.g. “group membership”—where group also could include e.g. being a fan of the wrong soccer-team. (I have not investigated the details of the Brazilian law and law interpretation, but it is clear that one or both was not been generic enough in the past.)

    *A horrifying example of such lack of generic thinking is Swedish laws relating to group protection that explicitly include women but fail to include men. Even if we assume that women were in need of more protection (highly disputable in Sweden, but a staple of Feminist propaganda), there is no legitimate reason to exclude men or to be non-generic: If a man is never victim of a relevant crime, there is no negative effect of a more generic law—but if he is, the more generic law guarantees him equal protection. This especially because the situation can change: if men (or members of another group) were not in need of protection at the time the law was made, they might be a few decades later. The omission simply does not make sense (but it does follow a consistent pattern of one-sided pro-women regulation in Sweden, matched e.g. by demands for quotas to ensure a minimum percentage of women rather than of each sex).

    Of course, even “hate-crime” is an unfortunate term (arguably, one of the first abuses of “hate” by the PC movement), as it takes a term that should include any crime committed out of hate (e.g. the murder of a personal enemy) and reduces it to hate against groups and includes crimes committed against these groups for reasons short of actual hate. I suggest avoiding “hate-crime” in favour of e.g. “crimes based on group”. (I continue to use “hate-crime” in this text for consistency with reporting and because I only reflected on the inappropriateness of the term during writing. I am likely to proceed differently in later texts.)

    From another perspective, I have never been convinced that hate-crimes deserve special treatment in terms of punishment. Actions, not opinion, should count and there is no obvious reason why it should matter whether e.g. a gang beats up a passer-by because of skin color or because they want “a bit of fun”. If anything, I would see the latter as the marginally greater evil… Notably, any reasoning around the potential scope of the problem is flawed, because a greater scope would automatically* (assuming reasonable law) imply more punishable events and/or greater punishment per event—-even without a hate-crime modification. For instance, if the same group of people vandalize a small business (with or without a particular group belonging) repeatedly, the members stand to face worse punishment than if they do so once (and a greater risk that the police will bother to involve it self, and a greater risk of being caught, and a greater risk of sufficient proof being available).

    *If the criminals are caught and enough evidence is present, which will often be a problem for any crime. Here there is room for special treatment, however: it could be legitimate to give suspected hate-crimes preferential treatment in terms of e.g. investigative resources.

    Moreover, the presence of hate-crime laws and a focus on hate-crimes can easily lead to preconceived opinions about motivations—and I note that I have often seen claims like “the police assumes a hate-crime” attached to crimes against minority groups in a blanket manner. The simple truth is that immigrants (homosexuals, whatnot) are not magically exempt from regular crimes. Assuming “hate-crime” in a blanket manner does no-one a favour.

  2. As has been hinted for some time, the Tubman twenty-dollar bill will be delayed, or even eventually be lost in time. Good: As I wrote more than two years ago, the Tubman decision was fundamentally flawed—not because Tubman, herself, would be unworthy, but because the process was rigged to find as politically correct a candidate as possible and demonstrated several problems with distortions of democracy.

    Further, in light of newer realizations about U.S. trends, I strongly suspect that there is an element of Orwellian* revisionism involved, e.g. that the character of Andrew Jackson, based on flawed reasoning, has been cast as “evil” in the PC narrative and most now see all honors rescinded.

    *The term applies disturbingly often when it comes to certain areas of discourse, but I will try to avoid a third mention in this text.

  3. Lars Aduktusson, a Swedish politician and member of the EU Parliament for the Christian-values KDU party, has been attacked from more or less every direction, including press, political opponents, and even his own party members for … voting against abortion. (Cf. e.g. a Swedish source.)

    In effect, in his role as someone elected by the people, he is not allowed to vote by his conscience and convictions. I note in particular that the criticism does not appear to have been directed against a violation of the party line.* Instead, there seems to be a general opinion that anything but a pro-abortion stance is morally deficient. For instance, the given source quotes one complainant speaking of “okänslighet” (“lack of sensitivity”) regarding the voting and another who speaks of abortion in terms of “grundläggande rättigheter för kvinnor” (“basic rights for women”). Moreover, the reasoning used to support an abortion stance (at least, in the sources that I saw) followed the naive and simplistic “it’s my body” line… To re-iterate my take on the abortion issue: “The main issue is the body of the fetus, and involves sub-issues like when this body should be considered a human and when a disposable something else—which in turn involves medical, philosophical, and (for non-atheists) religious considerations.” While I have nothing against the pro-abortion stance, per se, and do not have a strong own opinion, I have nothing but contempt for those who reduce it to such a mindless and flawed slogan as “it’s my body”—or reduce it to a women’s right issue, or mindlessly condemn a “pro-life” stance.

    *Which might be bad enough as is: I disapprove of the whip and party-line mentality in favour of the own judgment of the individual.

    Worse: It appears that Aduktusson, himself, was not necessarily opposed to abortion, being more motivated by the question of what issues should be decided on what level within the EU. However, not even this is enough of a justification for his “immoral” voting—on the outside, he is admitted the right to abstain from voting… This even though an abstained vote is unlikely to be recognized as a rejection, and is more likely to imply e.g. the lack of a strong opinion or a negotiated* non-vote to compensate for someone else being absent.

    *Such trickery appears to be fairly common, e.g. in that a member of party A is taken ill and the need to bring the him in to vote is avoided by a member of party B voluntarily abstaining.

    This type of intolerance of opinion is extremely dangerous, especially because there appear to be many areas where an opinion becomes universally programmatic once sufficiently many voters believe it or a sufficiently large group is likely to protest against non-adherence. For instance, I recently had a look at the 2018 party program of Moderaterna, who were the most reasoned, reasonable, and informed Swedish party during my youth, only to find various nonsense about women still being unequal, a weak version of the 77-cents-on-the-dollar fraud, claims of violence against women, … This nonsense is, at best, heavily outdated in Sweden, but we have reached an unfortunate point where those who object to it are run over with accusations of sexism and whatnot, and where far too few politicians have the courage to take a stand for the truth. (To which can be added that the lesser some problems are, the more complaints they appear to attract. For instance, as women’s disadvantages of old have disappeared, the complaints about disadvantages have grown louder and the conviction that they are present has grown stronger—never mind the facts at hand. Also consider e.g. U.S. phenomena like the micro-aggression issue, which are used to “prove” that the fight against this-or-that is as urgent and important as ever.)

  4. In Germany, election posters have been removed by the authorities for allegedly being Volksverhetzung—actions at least temporarily seen as legal by a court*. In the source, two examples are given: “Stoppt die Invasion: Migration tötet!” (“Stop the invasion: Migration kills!”) and “Widerstand – jetzt” (“Resistance – now”).

    *A preliminary court proceeding, possibly comparable to a motion for a temporary restraining order, has declined to put a stop to the removals.

    The latter appears beyond reproach by any reasonable* standard of free speech, and must be seen in the light of more extreme claims by Leftist extremists—including the Marxist-Leninist MLPD calling for revolution… Indeed, it is border-line obvious that the problem here is not the message, because a similar reaction to the exact same message by MLPD would not take place. The problem is the “who”—NPD, a strongly nationalist party with (at least historically) some Neo-Nazi contacts.

    *Note that it is not a given that local legislation has a reasonable standard. Germany definitely goes too far in its restrictions—however, even here I have great problems with seeing how the poster could be illegal (in general) or Volksverhetzung (in particular).

    The second, I could conceivably see as violation of the Volksverhetzung law, but it is truly a stretch. Moreover, even if it is technically illegal, it is hard to condemn it from an ethical point of view. The main point of criticism would be its factual correctness, with the “Migration kills!” part seeming far-fetched to me (I have not seen their reasoning)—but factual correctness has not been the deciding issue! To boot, other parties definitely make incorrect statements. For instance, the major parties SPD (Social-Democrat) and Die Grüne (“green” party) both repeated variations of the 77-cents-on-the-dollar fraud during the last parliamentary election—the SPD even admitted to knowing that it was a fraud upon my contact (Die Grüne never answered). Now, if there was a crack-down against incorrect claims, extending to all parties, I might* not object at all; however, again, this is not part of such a crack-down and it is clear that different parties are given different treatments based who they are—not on what they do.

    *In principle, I would not object at all; in a practical situation, great care must be taken to avoid undue censorship due to e.g. poorly informed or too partial checkers. In countries like Sweden, it is so bad that the truth might regularly be condemned as lie, while the lie be tolerated as truth.

    Looking at the actual law, it seems to be restricted to “national, racial, religious group or a group defined by their ethnic origins” (using the translation present in the linked-to Wikipedia article).* Firstly, the topic is immigration**, not immigrants, and it is conceivable that no ill-will is intended towards the actual immigrants—at blame might be e.g. a too lax German immigration policy, too generous social systems, unconscionable situations in the countries of origin, whatnot. Secondly, even if we do assume that immigrants are targeted, these categories do not apply here, in my eyes, because including immigrants in general as a group would be contrary to a reasonable interpretation. Note that immigrants include Swedes, e.g. yours truly, U.S. citizens, and Dutch people, as well as Somalis, Japanese, and Indians—even Hitler, himself, was an immigrant! The group would simply be too heterogeneous to be defined by more specific criteria than e.g. immigrant or not-German. In contrast, “Swedes out!” would have been directed at sufficiently specific group.

    *Here we have a good example of the poor laws discussed above: Men/women, homo-/heterosexuals, members of particular parties, adherents to particular ideologies, members of specific professions, …, are all implicitly excluded from protection. For instance, if someone were to apply a caste-mentality and declare garbage men to be “impure” or “untouchable”, the law would not be helpful.

    **Proof-reading, I see that the quotes do not even speak of “immigration”—they speak of “migration”. While it seems quite reasonable to assume that immigration is intended, a court proceeding would need to be very careful with interpretation, and only judge the statements in a bigger context of statements, e.g. a party program. At an extreme, an interpretation like “emigration kills Germany, because the brain-drain is so severe” would still be within the realms of possibility (but not likelihood) for a nationalist party.

    Moreover, the law gives several types of specific violations, none of which is strongly convincing and some of which are obviously not applicable:*

    *The Wikipedia translation strikes me as poor, and I partially give my own translation here. Beware that I might get the “legalese” wrong.

    zum Hass aufstachelt (incites hatred): Would require a generous interpretation of intent behind and/or effect of the statements, at least when applying reasonable doubt. By comparison, “smoking kills” does not imply that the speaker hates smoking, smokers, or the tabacco industry. The claim could be a perfectly unemotional warning by a public agency. (Indeed, as occurs to me right now, it is conceivable that the posters were written as a deliberate parallel. In that case, the “kills” part might even be seen as a metaphor or something “snow-cloney”.)

    zu Gewalt- oder Willkürmaßnahmen auffordert (demands/requests violent or arbitrary measures): No demand is made, or necessarily implied. In as far as a demand is implied, there is no sign of violence, and no arbitrariness that goes beyond what other parties get away with.

    die Menschenwürde anderer dadurch angreift, dass er […] beschimpft, böswillig verächtlich macht oder verleumdet (attacks the human dignity of others, through insults, malicious malignment,* or defamation): The first two do not apply, the third is a stretch (and tricky with regard to reasonable doubt), and only the fourth gives a non-trivial opening—if the claim can be proved to be sufficiently inappropriate** in context.

    *I am at loss for a good idiomatic translation, “verächtlich mach[t/en]” being an extremely rare expression, and draw on the Wikipedia translation, but have some doubts there too. A more literal translation would be “make despised” or, possibly, “[…] despicable”, which does not work at all in English.

    **Going by memory, German defamation laws sometimes apply even when a claim is factually correct. Depending on the details, it might not be strictly necessary to prove the claim wrong (and the burden of proof of correctness might lie on the alleged perpetrator to begin with). Then again, such crimes are normally directed at the individual, which might make the angle irrelevant. (I would need too much research to clarify this.)

    (The last part does contain a “Teile der Bevölkerung” (“parts of the population”), which might be seen as going beyond the listed groups.)

    In addition, the law specifically gives a prerequisite of a risk “den öffentlichen Frieden zu stören” (“to disturb the public peace”), which does not obviously apply either. Does it risk the peace? Is a specific enough group targeted? Is a sufficiently specific violation applicable? Is there sufficient proof? Whatnot. With the usual “not a lawyer” reservations, I find it hard to believe that an impartial and competent judge would actually deem this Volksverhetzung in a full trial.

Excursion on other parts of the Volksverhetzung law:
The part quoted by Wikipedia does not cover the entire law. (Cf. e.g. gesetze-im-internet.) Skimming the rest, I see nothing that influences the above analyses; however, I do see further concern in other regards. For instance, in my reading, giving a text deemed as Volksverhetzung to a minor would it self constitute Volksverhetzung and be punishable by up to three years in prison. There does not appear to be any restriction on the reason, e.g. due to a historical importance, as part of a comparison, as discouragement, … For instance, handing a minor a copy of “Mein Kampf” for a common critical analysis, e.g. with an eye on determining what information was available to the German people prior to 1932, would be illegal in my reading…

Extrapolating current (and absurd) trends and attitudes towards children’s literature, such laws might one day make it illegal to hand out the original text of e.g. “Tom Sawyer” to a minor, because it uses the word “nigger”, stereotypes black people, glorifies* slavery, or similar. I do not consider this scenario overly likely, but the risk is sufficiently large to prove such laws problematic—and there are people who would welcome such a ban.

*I have not read it in decades and cannot guarantee that this word would hold. If it does not, something like “does not sufficiently reject” might apply.

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Written by michaeleriksson

May 26, 2019 at 8:37 pm

The environment vs. the climate

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Looking back over the last few decades, I have the impression that the sub-topic of climate and climate change (in particular, global warming) has gone from being a marginal issue to dominating the environmental debate, e.g. in that the damage done by a certain technology, behavior, whatnot is primarily measured in terms of effect on global warming, “green house” gases, and similar, while more direct environmental effects are given less and less weight. My recollections of the 1980s include extensive debate around forest death, thinning of egg shells due to DDT, acid rain, local city pollution, and similar. Today, it is quite often just global warming this and global warming that… For instance, reading up a little on means of transportation for an example in a text on shallow knowledge, I found comparisons that focused almost exclusively on C02 emissions and other ways* that the different means might affect global warming—but aspects like local pollution, use of heavy metals, and whatnot were not or only tangentially mentioned.

*E.g. whether it was better or worse to have emissions high in the air, specifically with an eye on global warming.

I find this highly unfortunate for at least two reasons:

Firstly, there are many valuable environmental-but-non-climate topics that are not given their due weight in terms of political debate, public awareness, and actual counter-measures.

Secondly, considerable doubts has to be raised as to whether global warming is that bad a thing. This even under the assumptions that it does exist and is man-made.*

*I believe both assumptions to be true, but I have not personally looked into the research sufficiently deeply to have a definite opinion—in part because I consider the question secondary for the very reasons discussed here. (As for “personally”: I have learned the hard way that what politicians, journalists, and the like claim is not always correct—and very, very often simplistic or exaggerated. Correspondingly, I postpone final judgment until I have “seen for myself”.)

Reading this second point, half the readers and almost all the environmentalist readers might not believe their eyes, but there are (again) at least two reasons for this statement:

Firstly, we are in an era of the Earth’s history which is quite cold. In fact, we are in (an inter-glacial* phase of) an ice age… Looking at most of the known record, it has been warmer or considerably warmer.** If the temperature rises further, we will only be leaving an atypical cold period—not entering an atypical warm period. (Unless the trends get entirely out of hand.) We might bring the Earth to a certain new temperature range earlier or faster*** than what the non-human processes would have managed, but it would have gotten there anyway, sooner or later.**** Moreover, it is conceivable that the global warming is counter-acting a further fall of temperature that might otherwise already have started (or, if not, would likely start within some thousands of years). Such a fall of temperature, leading into a glacial phase, would be as bad or worse as a rise for non-human species—and almost certainly much worse for us humans.

*Ice ages are divided into glacial and inter-glacial phases, depending on the spread of ice. Sloppy language often misuses “ice age” to refer specifically to a glacial phase.

**Cf. e.g. Wikipedia’s Timeline of glaciation article. Note that common journalist claims like “the hottest July of all times” are outrageously wrong, and might well contribute to the common misconceptions discussed below. In reality, it is merely the hottest July since the beginning of measurements—with measurements usually going back to some point in the 19th century. (The exact time depends on the country in question.)

***A faster change, obviously, increases the risk that some species will be unable to adapt in time. This aspect should not be neglected (but also see below).

****And continued to alternately grow warmer and colder again and again and again, long after humanity has become extinct.

Secondly, of the human made changes that occur, such a warming would be a comparatively small issue in a longer perspective. While even the sum of all human activities are dwarfed by various mass extinctions, specifically global warming is almost negligible in destructive* impact on a geological scale. (In contrast, a further-going destruction of the ozone layer could have had far worse consequences before sufficient adaptions occurred. Or consider the many extinctions that humanity has caused or could in the future cause through over-hunting/fishing, farming, introduction of foreign species, …—all on a time-scale that makes adaption hard.)

*This restriction is important, because it could lead to extensive changes that are not destructive, e.g. because they allow for various species to relocate or adapt.

The hitch is that too many fail to realize that the world we live in is ever-changing, was so before humans arose, and will continue to be so after we are gone. Temperatures change, coast-lines change, the positions of land-masses change, ocean streams change, … Even the position of the Earth’s magnetic poles change. If someone takes a human life-span, or even the life-span of some nations, as the scale of comparison, it might seem that higher temperatures, less ice, a higher sea-level, whatnot, are drastic changes. Using time-scales of a few thousand, often even few hundred, years, gives a very different perspective—and applying a time scale of millions of years makes it seem almost ridiculous. As a variation of the same theme, assume that most of New York were to be lost due to rising water—cataclysmic, disastrous, uprooting millions of people, causing billions upon billions of dollars of damage, … Or? Another perspective is that most of the current buildings and almost all of the population have been there for less than a hundred years. On a scale of two hundred years, the citizens of today and of yore would be hard-pressed to even recognize the respective other version of the city as New York—starting with the population of yore being a fraction of what it is today. A “New New York”, further inland, might exceed the old New York within decades, and certainly* within a hundred years. Moreover: if the change was slow enough, the negative effects might be largely counter-acted by minor changes to independent events, e.g. that people have a decreased tendency to move there and an increased tendency to move away, that newly founded companies are less likely to head-quarter there, and similar.

*Barring other developments and complications, many of which would have impacted New York too, and assuming that a corresponding re-founding took place (other choices are possible).

Realistically speaking, the destructive effects of climate changes (of the currently projected size) could hit current human society hard, but when we look at the long-term prospects of humanity, human society, or most non-human species, the effects will be smaller and/or transient. Of course, such threats to current human society are of great importance, but not for “environmental” reasons and it is dubious to frame the debate mainly as an environmental or a “save nature from humans” one.

Excursion on reasons for the shift in focus:
Apart from the use of inappropriate time scales, I suspect three factors behind the shift in focus: Firstly, many of the “old” threats have been averted, turned out to have been exaggerated (notably, forest death), or have lost their appeal to the masses (e.g. because a threat of extinction has been present for decades without the point of extinction actually being reached). This has lead both to these specific threats fading from the discussion and to similar other threats appearing less dire. Secondly, the scope of climate changes make them a very useful noble cause for politicians looking for voters, movements looking for followers, and similar. Thirdly, climate issues might well have been under-discussed at earlier times, because the awareness of their existence was not there. (More generally, the history of environmental protection contains a long series of discoveries that what-we-thought-was-harmless-might-actually-be-harmful, e.g. with CFCs and the ozone layer.)

Excursion on other damage vs. natural changes:
To some degree, other types of environmental damage, extinctions, whatnot, can be vulnerable to similar counter-arguments. For instance, sooner or later any given species will either go extinct or develop into another species—if humans do not exterminate the black rhino it will still go disappear at some later time, following the footsteps of e.g. the triceratops. I would, however, not use this type of reasoning to declare human-caused extinctions harmless: human intervention reduces species diversity, intra-species genetic diversity, and causes “unnatural selection”, all with a much deeper impact than global warming. If it had been “just” the black rhino, I might have let the argument hold—but the number of species concerned is much larger. Indeed, if we look at e.g. mammals in Europe, there are few, if any, species that have not been impacted by humans, be it through hunting of the species, hunting of the species’ predators or prey, shrinking biotopes, pollution, commensualism with humans, … True, if humans were to go extinct today, nature would ultimately bounce back; and true, the impact is still much smaller than that of the presumed dinosaur-killing asteroid. However, it is also much larger than impact from gradual global warming.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 26, 2019 at 2:57 am

“The Crimes of Grindelwald” and recognizing evil

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“The Crimes of Grindelwald” is a very disappointing* movie, but it does point to a few issues that I have addressed repeatedly in the past.

*My main criticisms: The otherwise weakish predecessor was carried by streaks of comedy and the dynamics between/charm of the four main protagonists, especially regarding wizard–muggle interaction. These aspects were largely lost. (The comedy aspect is even replaced by dread and dire and a too depressing visual tone.) The plot is unengaging, seems poorly though-through, and is confusing to boot. New characters and relationships are mostly too bland, boring, and/or unsympathetic to warrant interest and emotional investment, which is a particular negative for several “tragic characters”.

This includes the fact that there will be persons, usually very many, on both sides of a conflict who are convinced that they are “the good guys” and that their opponents are “the bad guys”—implying that even the strongest conviction of being right (that the opposing party is evil, whatnot) does not, in it self, justify extreme means. Indeed, looking at e.g. party programs from more-or-less any party, I can find a lot that makes sense in principle or, at least, is sufficiently plausible that I can understand that weak thinkers are swayed—thought, a knowledge/understanding of the issues, and/or insight into other positions is often needed to see why the program is flawed or would make a poor policy.* Calls for evil actions for “the greater good” tend to be particularly dangerous—it is no coincidence that this phrase is often used by madmen, terrorists, dictators, dystopian societies, whatnot in fiction. (But note that those who call for the greater good in real life rarely do so using the explicit phrase.)

*Consider e.g. a simplistic “women earn 77 cents on the dollar; ergo, the government must intervene to create justice”, which collapses on closer inspection. (See several older texts, including [1].)

It also includes that opinions (goals, ideals, …; I will use just “opinion[s]” below) must not be a primary factor when judging who is more or less evil in most* conflicts.** Instead, we have to consider the following (overlapping) issues:

*Exceptions are sufficiently rare that I cannot give a strong example of the top of my head. They are likely to exist, however. (Possibly, relating to a legally clear situation.)

**With the corollary that condemning an opinion as evil, because of evil methods used to enforce that opinion, is equally as bad as (cf. above) using an opinion perceived as good to justify evil methods.

  1. What methods are used? Do the methods include e.g. unprovoked violence, censorship of dissent, character assassination, …?

    Overlapping with the above, I would even replace the common, misguided, claim that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” with “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to use evil means”. (Where, at least, my “good” refers to self-perception, as demonstrated by many Soviet/Chinese/whatnot Communists and the Nazis.) Very many evils in this world go back to the use of evil means for purposes seen as good; and by refraining from evil means, such evils are considerably reduced or avoided altogether. Vice versa, a believer in the naive original might well take it as a reason to cause, not oppose, evil in the name of good.

  2. How do the counter-parts interact with opposing opinions? Are the opinions evaluated neutrally and with an open mind or are they rejected as wrong, or even evil, in a blanket manner? Are the counter-parts willing to adjust their own opinions, should the evidence call for it? Are arguments engaged with counter-arguments or with insults? Etc.

    I note that this is not just a matter of fairness. Two other important implications is that (a) those who are more open-minded tend to be right more often, (b) a destructive attitude threatens the right of others to develop their own opinions and can limit both societal and scientific progress.*

    *Note e.g. the destructive effects of how parts of the PC movement denounce scientifically supported claims around I.Q., the influence of “nature”, whatnot—to the point that some scientists avoid certain research topics for fear of repercussions. The problems are so large that a pseudonymous journal is in planning to alleviate it (the linked-to article also contains several good illustrations of the problem).

  3. What basis do the opinions originally have? Are they based in reason or wishful thinking, factual arguments or uncritical belief in what one is told, correct or incorrect interpretation of statistics, …?

    Again, those with a good reason tend to be right more often. I note that e.g. pushing policies based on faulty ideas or premises can do an enormous amount of harm to society, as with e.g. how an unduly positive belief in the benefits of school* and a wish for more school (to solve any number of problems) wastes enormous amounts of resources, takes large chunks out of the lives of the students, and often leads to only marginal improvements—or even has negative effects (e.g. through taking time away from self-studies among the bright or frustrating and over-taxing the dim).

    *As opposed to education—a very important differentiation. However, even more education is not always sensible, being dependent on the individuals interests, abilities, and goals in life.

  4. With what degree of honesty do the counter-parts push their opinions and agendas? Do they believe what they say and say what they believe, or do they e.g. have a hidden agenda or do they use arguments that they do not hold-up to scrutiny?

    As a specific example: Was Grindelwald a true believer—or did he rather create and manipulate true believers for his own personal gain? (I strongly suspect the latter to hold.)

(Additional issues might be worthy of consideration, e.g. whether an agenda is driven by partisan benefit* vs. ethical principles or the good of society as a whole.)

*Not to be confused with the above case of e.g. having a hidden agenda of personal power: Here the issue is e.g. wanting to benefit a certain partisan group (say with a laborers’ party, a farmers’ party, a make-our-region-independent party, whatnot).

A particular interesting overlap between the movie and some texts is that the use of evil or disproportionate methods can drive people into the enemy camp, cause radicalization, or similar. This through at least two mechanisms, (a) that “mild” opponents might be left with no where to go but the camp of the “rabid” opponents, (b) that the use of evil methods causes a negative reaction. This, incidentally, appears to have some parallels in other areas, e.g. in that anti-drug legislation often does more to cause crime and worsen the life of the drug-users than to improve matters, or ditto for anti-prostitution* laws. Particularly the (b) case appears to have been working to Grindelwald’s advantage, when the government(s) used evil methods of its own.

*As claimed in an article I encountered a few days ago (note several links to further discussion).

Excursion on necessary evil means:
There might be situations where the use of evil means can be necessary even in a good cause. (A widely accepted example is using reasonable amounts of violence in self-defense against an unprovoked attacker.) However, here great care must be taken to not overstep a reasonable minimum, to minimize the effect on third-parties, etc. A more thorough discussion would be well outside the scope of this text, might be impossible without stipulating a number of ethical principles, and might have to include considerable analysis of individual examples. Consider e.g. questions like when and to what degree it might be allowable to interfere with civic rights for fear of terrorism or to accept civilian casualties during warfare.

Excursion on Grindelwald:
Is Grindelwald evil? In my opinion, “yes”—because I have the impression that he does let the end justify the means, is callous of the rights of others, has hidden agendas, … (Then again, my impression might be incorrect, seeing that the movie was not always explicit, that I might misremember previous information, and that earlier books, which mention him as evil, might have predisposed me towards this interpretation.)

Note that my reasons do not (at least consciously) include that he “looked evil”, that the main protagonists opposed him, that he was condemned as evil by officials, … Consider Professor Snape (from earlier books/movies) for someone who gave many superficial signs of being evil, but who was actually* a great hero and an important ally—and contrast him with several good-seeming-but-evil other teachers.

*Notwithstanding that an accusation of “being a mean bastard”, “having an unfair personal dislike of Harry”, or similar might have been true.

Here, as elsewhere, it is important not just to draw the right conclusion (X is evil; Y is good; …), but to do so for the right reasons. Evil in the real world often has a friendly face; good often does not—much unlike in children’s cartoons.

Written by michaeleriksson

February 21, 2019 at 10:41 am

Hypocritical treatment of the Right and the Left / Yellow vests

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I have often touched on issues like the hypocritical treatment of the Right* compared to the Left, the uselessness of the Left–Right scale, and how often various derogatory and debate killing labels** are thrown around by the Left (the PC crowd, whatnot).

*One of the aspects of the uselessness of the Left–Right scale is that the “Right” is too heterogeneous to be a truly useful term (unlike “Left”). I use it here for consistency with typical discussions.

**For instance, (more often than not) unfounded accusations of someone or something being “Fascist”, “sexist”, “racist”, … I note e.g. the use of “Fascist” by Soviet Communists to refer to other Communists or the condemnation of the entire West-Germany and/or the “Western Bloc” as such by the East-German leaders (e.g. by referring to the Berlin Wall as “antifaschistischer Schutzwall”—“Anti-Fascist rampart”).

The treatment of the Yellow-Vest movement (in at least German and Swedish) media is a good example:

The movement is based on a mixture of general or politically neutral dissatisfaction with dissatisfaction of a Leftist type. It has a strong analog in preceding German movements that were built around general or politically neutral dissatisfaction with dissatisfaction (dubiously) considered “Rightist”.*

*Notably, regarding e.g. immigration, which I consider narrow-minded to not view as neutral on the Left–Right scale (and/or as further proof of its uselessness).

The latter have often been strongly condemned as “Rightist extremists” or “Rightist populist” (“rechtsextremistisch” resp. “rechtspopulistisch”), despite having comparatively little overlap with most Right-wing opinions. They are first (misleadingly) classified as “Right-wing” based almost solely on issues like migration—and then the debate focuses strongly on their being “Right-wing” and “populist” or “extremist”.

Not so with the Yellow Vests, however: I cannot recall seeing a single instance of them being labeled as “Left-wing” (let alone ‘Leftist extremist” or “Leftist populist”). Instead they are discussed in terms of their more specific complaints, issues, and behaviors. In it self, this is good—this is how it should be. But: Why is the same courtesy of issue-based description not extended to movements considered on the “Right”? Why are they blanketed away as “Right-this” and “Right-that” without looking at what they actually believe in detail? Why are they blanketed away as “dissatisfaction movements”* without taking their concerns seriously?

*I am unaware of a corresponding English family of words, but e.g. the Swedish “Missnöjesparti” (“dissatisfaction party”) is long established as a derogatory way of dismissing concerns by the implication that the party just populistically rides dissatisfaction without anything to offer, that its adherents complain about things that are no big deal, that the adherents project their own dissatisfaction in life onto external issues, or similar. Label something as “Missnöjes[something]” and it can be ignored in a blanket manner.

This is the odder as the Yellow Vests have been more prone to e.g. violent behavior than their German counter-parts and do not trail in terms of dissatisfaction mentality and whatnot.

I actually have some fear that the Yellow Vests will be paradoxically condemned as “Rightist” (!) whatnots at some future time, because someone will eventually make statements that are or can be misconstrued to sound e.g. nationalist, xenophobe, or anti-Islam during a major protest—which will allow a pseudo-classification as “Right”…

Written by michaeleriksson

February 9, 2019 at 5:08 pm

Democracy failure in Germany

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Shortly after a recent democracy failure in Sweden, following a German precedent, Germany is trying to pull ahead again:

Apparently, the Bundesland (“state”) of Brandenburg has pushed through a highly ill-advised law that parties must present alternating* male and female candidates on their election lists ([1]).

*As I read the source. It is possible, but less likely, that a 50–50 overall was intended.

This is negative and anti-democratic for at least two reasons:

Firstly, it is an illicit form of discrimination based on sex, which does not consider factors like appropriateness for the position, number of willing and suitable candidates available, how many supporters a party has of each sex, etc. I note in particular the complication that more men than women appear to have the interest/ambition and dedication to pursue a political career. The result on the state parliament is that the quality of the elected will take a hit through the smaller pool from which half the candidates come.* The effect on men is that many who would have made strong** members will be left out; the effect on women that many too weak will be forced in by necessity. The effect on parties is that they cannot pick the candidates they consider suitable, worthy, or attractive-to-voters freely, and those male-dominated will be particularly poorly off. Indeed, a party that is sufficiently dominated by women*** might see similar troubles.

*Even discounting a likely difference in ability distributions.

**Relatively speaking and using the word somewhat loosely: These are politicians, and the proportion of great thinkers will likely be on the low side either which way.

***The Swedish Feminist party “Fi” might be a candidate.

Secondly, this demonstrates a complete failure to understand and respect how a representative democracy works: The elected are not intended to be chosen to reflect the demographics of the people—they are intended to be chosen by the people, in order to best represent the interests of the people. Not only is this law a violation of the principles involved, but it also leaves the people worse off—if the people wants more women elected, it should vote for more women. Similarly, if it prefers to vote for men, people of a certain age or a certain background, whatnot, it is up to the people to do so. Limiting the people’s right to chose through such mechanisms is anti-democratic.* Further, the consequences of such “demography thinking” can easily be seen to be absurd: If sex is a valid quota criterion, then why not age, educational background, profession, country of origin, sexual orientation …? What about the demographics of the party?** How can we justify excluding those below (e.g.) eighteen, if demography is an important criterion? Etc.

*It could be argued that the list systems used in e.g. Germany and Sweden are themselves problematic for similar reasons, and it might be a good idea to move to another system entirely.

**Many parties (especially in multi-party systems) have a heavy tilt in several demographic directions and often see themselves as representing a particular group of people—how is that compatible with being forced to find candidates that reflect a different demographic?

If “demography thinking” is to be considered at all, a completely different system is needed, e.g. one based on random choice instead of election. Consider e.g. a pool of candidates consisting of the entirety of the population, or a portion of the population satisfying certain criteria*, and a computer picking out the “elected” based purely on chance from this pool.

*Notable possibilities are “is above eighteen” and “is a citizen”, but criteria that include e.g. a certain level of demonstrated accomplishment are conceivable. Great care must be taken, however, seeing that such criteria could easily lead to skew (“must be an Aryan”, “must not belong to the bourgeoisie”, “must be dedicated to diversity”). Indeed, even something as innocuous as “must be willing” could be problematic. On the other hand, having no additional criteria would lead to parliaments even less qualified and more easily manipulated than today’s.

Looking more in detail at the source, there are several disturbing claims made:

Personen, die sich weder dem männlichen noch dem weiblichen Geschlecht zuordnen, können frei entscheiden, ob sie für die Männer- oder die Frauenliste kandidieren.

Translation: Persons, who do not identify as male or female, can chose freely whether to candidate for the men’s or women’s list.*

*This in reference to internal lists, prescribed by the law, that are used as a basis for the final list of candidates presented to the voters.

This allows manipulation by dishonest candidates, e.g. in that a man claims to identify as a woman in order to be let in with less competition, or that some group (e.g. members of a Feminist faction) claim to identify as members of the “opposite” sex to skew the list away from 50–50 proportions.

(Quoting or paraphrasing the chair of the Leftist extremist “Die Linke”, Katja Kipping.)

Mindestens jeder zweite Platz bei der Listenaufstellung für die Bundestagswahl müsse von einer Frau besetzt werden

Translation: At least every second position on the lists for the (federal) parliament election must belong to a woman.

This demonstrates the typical hypocrisy and poorly hidden agenda: If more that every second position belongs to a woman (and by implication less belongs to a man) this is apparently not a problem at all.

(Quoting Ulle Schauws of the usually Left-leaning and often, without hyperbole, out-of-touch-with-reality Green Party.)

Das neue Gesetz sei “ein erster Schritt, um gleiche Zugangschancen für Frauen in der Politik herzustellen”.

Translation: The new law is “a first step towards equal opportunity for women in politics”.

Women already bloody well have equal opportunity in politics—by law. Furthermore, they have had so for a long time. Indeed, since more than half the voters are women, it would have been no problem for underrepresented women to turn things around, had they been blocked internally in some parties: Just vote for another party or found a new party. If too much of the female vote goes missing, any such recalcitrant party would be forced to adapt. The truth is that we have a long history of fewer qualified women being sufficiently interested and dedicated—if you want more women in politics, Frau Schauw, change that!

(Quoting Katerina Barley, member of the social-democrat SPD and current (federal) minister of justice.)

“Unser Ziel muss eine Reform des Wahlrechts* sein, die eine gerechte Beteiligung beider Geschlechter im Parlament unterstützt”

*Here and elsewhere, I translate with “election law”. It is possible that some other phrasing, e.g. “election legislation”, would be more accurate.

Translation: “Our goal must be a reform of the election law that supports a fair participation of both sexes in parliament”

The same as above applies, with an additional pointer to previous comments on representative democracy.

(Quoting Franziska Giffey, also a member of the social-democrat SPD and the current (federal) family minister.)

Auch [sie] plädierte dafür, […] Frauen verstärkt anzusprechen und für politische Beteiligung zu gewinnen. “Das Wahlrecht kann dabei ein wichtiger Hebel sein”

Translation: [She], too, pleaded* […]** that women be more strongly addressed and won for political participation. “Election law can be an important lever for this purpose”

*The English word might be stronger than its German cognate (“plädierte”).

**The deleted portion has only a marginal effect on meaning, but is hard to translate in context and consists of unnecessary political verbiage.

Unlike the preceding, Frau Giffey appears to have an eye on the ball—lack of female participation. However, this type of law is not suited to achieve an increase, and I doubt that there is any other law that would be suited. There can be a positive effect through women realizing that they would get a leg up compared to men,* should they participate, which might actually move some of them to do so. However, this comes as a cost to everyone else (cf. above) and I would view it as an abuse of law-making. If official measures are at all needed and/or justifiable,** better such would simply encourage women to participate, e.g. through pointing to how non-participation increases the risk of, in some sense, “too few” women being elected.

*Or on the outside, through some women who used to (incorrectly) believe that they were disadvantaged now (and now incorrectly) believing in a fair playing field.

**Which I doubt: It is not the government’s decision what people do with their lives.

Notably, no-one who disagreed was quoted, no man was quoted, and no-one not on the Left was quoted, which raises the suspicion of partiality and poor journalism on behalf of the source. It does, however, note that two parties (CDU, AfD) voted against the law and consider it unconstitutional.

Oh, and by the way: The German Chancellor (highest elected politician) for the past thirteen years has been Angela Merkel—a woman. The current cabinet appears to contain 9 men and 7 women (including the Chancellor), according to Wikipedia on Merkel IV. Those poor powerless women…

Written by michaeleriksson

February 1, 2019 at 8:14 pm

Further damage to democracy / Follow-up: The 2018 Swedish parliamentary election

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As a further sign of how democracy is increasingly lost, Swedish politicians appear to be going down the same perfidious path that the Germans have pushed with their unholy CDU/CSU and SPD coalitions.

Shortly after the Swedish election, things seemed to point to a non-Leftist government, with the traditional non-Left alliance of parties being roughly on par with the Social-Democrats (S) and their support parties, and upstart SD being less likely to support S. Item 6 of the linked-to text is particularly interesting in light of actual developments…

However, just as in Germany, there were endless* delays and negotiations, with the added perfidy that two parties of the decades long non-Left alliance have decided that it is more important to keep SD without influence than it is to support the alliance and to be true to their voters.** This despite a very clear understanding among the typical alliance voters that a vote for any one of these parties was a vote for the alliance as a whole and against S. To boot, said two parties (according to current reporting) would not even get seats in the government as a part of their thirty silver pieces, which would have given some pseudo-justification to this move. They have received some promises of policy changes, but likely none that could not have been handled better with an alliance government to begin with. Of course, these concessions also potentially open S up to criticism, but a lesser one, seeing that it actually gets most of the cake…

*My first text on the election was published four months ago, to the day.

**SD is still, despite having the support of more than every fifth voter in some polls, treated as a pariah by some other parties, in entire disproportion to their actual opinions, and is seen as carrying some type of guilt by association. (Well in line with typical Leftist propaganda methods of condemn-everyone-insufficiently-PC-as-evil-to-the-core: SD is critical of immigration policies and rejects the gender-feminist world-view of “Patriarchy” and “constructs”.) For my part, I would consider S the more extreme and unbalanced of the two… Certainly, it is absurd when parties refuse to even risk winning a parliamentary vote through SD’s support. Consider, by analogy, if the U.S. Republicans (Democrats) would refuse their own bills and nominations if they needed the support from a handful of Democrats (Republicans) to push them through. See also several older texts, including e.g. [1] from before the 2010 election.

As far as I am concerned, the said two parties,“Centerpartiet”–“the center party” (C) and “Liberalerna”–“the liberals”* (L), have de-legitimized themselves entirely, and I cannot at this juncture consider either of Sweden and Germany a true democracy: Democracy is more than just formally having a democratic system—it also requires that the players behave democratically and do not just use the voters as a mere tool for their own purposes.

*I note that the Swedish word “liberal” kept its original meaning for a lot longer than in the U.S., whose “liberals” are often anti-liberals by older standards. Indeed, as late as when I was a teenager, I used the word to describe myself and was correctly understood. However, L has long flirted with the U.S. style of “liberalism”—the more so since a name change, a few years back, from the then “Folkpartiet” (“the People’s Party”).

Excursion on the election procedure:
A potentially severe flaw in the Swedish system is that the new government (resp. the prime minister who appoints the government) is elected within the parliament on a negative basis: Rather than picking whoever can get a majority (or plurality) behind him, the job goes to whoever is not explicitly rejected by a majority. This peculiar system has likely strongly contributed to the current problems, and was behind the absurd 1978 choice of L as sole government party—with 39 (!) out of 349 MPs and roughly one in nine of the (popular election) voters as a basis. (According to Swedish Wikipedia, the in-parliament vote showed 39 for, 66 against, and 215 abstaining, and since the 66 were well short of half… While I see nothing wrong with minority governments in principle, this is too much.) It might be time to experiment with e.g. a knock-candidates-out-until-one-has-a-majority system.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 11, 2019 at 8:50 pm

Thoughts around social class: Part II (prices etc.)

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As I have often remarked, the best way to create a society with a higher degree of wealth for those* with relatively little wealth and income, is not to redistribute the existing wealth (often at the risk of reducing it)—but to increase the overall wealth (even should it result in larger differences in distribution).

*I am troubled to find a good phrasing, with “poor” often being highly misleading, “disadvantaged” simultaneously a euphemism and (potentially) interpretable as a statement about opportunity (where the intended meaning relates to outcome), “lower class” too fixed in perspective, “less well off” either a euphemism or covering too large a group (depending on interpretation), …

The most obvious sub-topic is economic growth (e.g. in the rough GNP sense); however, for my current purposes, the area of prices and purchasing power is more relevant.* Trivially: If earnings rise faster than inflation** then every major group will (in real terms) earn more.*** This is, in turn, closely connected to factors that, directly or indirectly, relate to economic growth, including government policies, introduction of new or improvements to old technologies, energy prices, wastefulness or efficiency of business planning, …

*However, I have a text planned on some other aspects relating to growth.

**But note that inflation also has an effect on e.g. bank balances, which implies that not everyone will automatically grow wealthier in a stricter sense. These effects, however, will naturally hit people harder the more money they have—and might even be beneficial to those in debt.

***With a number of caveats and reservations when we look at the gritty details, e.g. that the distribution of increases is sufficiently reasonable, that there are no upsetting changes in (un-)employment patterns, and similar. Discussing such complications would lead to a far longer text.

A few observations relating to this sub-topic:

  1. The current “economic power” of e.g. a well-todo (but not outright rich) German is quite great in some areas, e.g. relating to food; however, it is quite poor in others, notably where the government or major businesses tend to be involved. For instance, laying a single meter of Autobahn costs roughly six thousand Euro—under ideal circumstance. In extreme cases, it can be more than twenty times as much. (Cf. [1], in German.) A clear majority of all Germans could not afford to build a single meter of Autobahn out of their monthly income—even taxes and living expenses aside… Looking at “discretionary income”, most would need to work for several months for this single meter—and real low-earners might need years.

    Through such examples, we can see a clear difference between living in a wealthy/well-fare/whatnot state and actually being wealthy. Indeed, as will be argued in a later installment, the vast majority of people are still (and might permanently remain) second- or third-class citizens in a bigger picture. (While, I stress, having far less to complain about than their grand-parents.) This includes very many who typically consider themselves successes in life, e.g. middle managers, most upper managers, professionals in good employment or running small businesses, …

    The Autobahn example also raises some questions on the effective use of tax-payer’s money: Chances are that these costs could be a lot lower with a greater efficiency—but when the politicians pay with someone else’s money, there is little need for efficiency.

  2. A particularly troublesome issue is rent, prices of apartments/houses/land, and building costs: Looking at the vast improvements in most other areas (in terms of better products and lower prices) we might expect even relatively poor earners to affordably live in their own houses or large apartments. The reality, excepting some unattractive areas, is very different. In booming areas, prices can even be preventative for many. Even in non-booming areas, the monthly rent or mortgage payment is often the single largest expense. To further increase the economic well-being of the people, reducing these prices should be a priority.

    To some part, these prices are caused by high localized population growth that is hard to work around in a timely manner—and lack of land can be a long-term issue for the duration. (Someone happy with an apartment can be accommodated e.g. by building higher; someone looking for a large garden either has to be loaded or live somewhere else.) However, there are other issues, including too long delays in building new apartments, building* costs, taxes**, luxury renovations***, “unnecessary”**** and temporary***** rentals, and undue realtor fees (see also several older texts, e.g. [2]).

    *For one thing, these are generally quite high in Germany, for reasons that include great demand, personnel costs (taxes and the employment construct; cf. a later installment), VAT, and a mentality with a disconnect between the value delivered and the price. For another, building methods, materials, “pre-fabrication”, …, have not advanced at the rate that they should have—possibly, because the building industry has little incentive for progress.

    **If a landlord makes a profit, he must pay taxes. Even if he does not make a profit, VAT will often be an issue. (Generally, note that taxes do not just hit an employee when he earns his money—they also hit him when he spends it, although usually in less obvious manners than income tax etc.)

    ***German law allows landlords to make many renovations, with a corresponding rent increase, even against the will of the tenant and in alteration of the terms of the contract. This is often used to artificially increase the rents considerably, and often with the side-effect that old tenants are forced to move out to be replaced by better earners.

    ****A common investment strategy in Germany is to buy a single apartment for the purpose of letting it for rent. This does increase the number of available rentals, but it also decreases the number of apartments available to those purchasing for own living, which (a) drives the prices up unnecessarily, (b) forces some people to rent who otherwise would buy.

    *****In times of project work, temporary assignments, and whatnot, increasing numbers work in cities for so short times that it does not pay to rent or buy a regular apartment, but still long enough that living in a hotel is unnecessarily expensive. This has led to a market of furnished apartments that are rented for weeks or months at a considerably higher than ordinary rent—and each of these apartments is removed from the regular market, increasing the deficit.

  3. A drop in prices is increasingly countered by product alternatives, product improvements, and product “improvements”, that partially or wholly move inexpensive products of the market in favor of more expensive ones. Consider e.g. the boom around various coffee machines, like Nespresso, Dolce Gusto, Senseo, which allows the sale of coffee grounds with an immense increase in markup.* Another good example is the continual replacement of computer models with more powerful and pricey versions. This is to some degree good, however, the simple truth is that, for most people, a modern computer already is more powerful than it needs to be, and that the average customer would be better off if technological advancements were directed at lowering costs. A particularly perfidious** example is toilet paper, which becomes more and more expensive the more plies it has, even at the same overall quantity***—and where even two-ply paper has been artificially removed from the B2C market.

    *This is an example where the customer still has the option to use the older and cheaper versions—and often are better off doing so. For instance, I have repeatedly had a Nespresso in temporary (furnished) apartments, but actually grew tired of the taste and tended to prefer drip brews. In my own apartment, I have a Dolce Gusto, which I used on a daily basis for a while, enjoying the greater variety, but I ultimately returned to drinking drip brews almost exclusively—I have not used the Dolce Gusto in months, despite having a dozen capsules still lying around. A Senseo that I owned some ten or fifteen years ago produced outright poor coffee, having a shorter preparation time as the sole benefit compared to a drip brew.

    **In the other discussed cases, I pass no moral judgment: That businesses try to gear customers towards more profitable products is only natural, while the customer does gets something in return and often still has a choice. The result might or not might not be unfortunate for the customer, but at least there is only rarely an ethical wrong-doing. With examples like toilet paper, the customer is left with no improvement and no choice—and is forced to pay the additional and unnecessary cost.

    ***One segment of four-ply is more expensive than two segments of two-ply, etc., even though the overall weight and volume is virtually the same, and even though the customer could just fold the two two-ply segments over another for what amounts to four-ply.

    Without such artificial market alterations, life could be a whole lot cheaper.

  4. A partially overlapping area is convenience products that reduce the work-load for the customer at an increase in monetary costs. This is most notable when it comes to food, where e.g. very few people bake their own breads and whatnots today, because the convenience of store-bought alternatives almost always outweighs the additional* costs—and despite own baking once being almost a given.** Indeed, most bread loaves appear to be sold even pre-sliced today—unlike just a few decades ago.*** Coffee was regularly ground by hand in earlier days; today, it is mostly**** bought pre-ground. “TV dinners” can reduce effort considerably, but are a lot more expensive than own cooking. Etc.

    *In this specific area, we might have reached a point where even the monetary cost of own baking exceeds the price of ready-made products; however, if so, this is not generally true and it was not originally true in this area either.

    **Indeed, further back, even more elementary steps (e.g. grinding flour) might have taken place at home; while subsistence farmers might even have provided most of the ingredients.

    ***Here the additional cost in the process is likely to be very small; however, the customers are potentially hit from another angle: Pre-slicing reduces the expected “best before” date.

    ****And the exceptions are likely almost exclusively for use in coffee machines that automatically grind beans.

    As an aside, these convenience products do not only bring a money–effort trade-off, but often result in less choice and/or suboptimal products. Consider e.g. the German pre-sliced cheese vs. the block cheese for manual slicing that is common in Sweden—to me, the former slices are too thick, simultaneously reducing how long a given quantity of cheese lasts and making sandwiches less healthy. Or consider the often quite poor nutritional profiles of TV dinners compared to own cooking.

  5. Luxury and brand products is an area bordering on the perfidious: Often these come with a value added; often they do not; and only very rarely is the value added comparable to the price hike. For the rich, this is not much of an issue; however, even the “middle class” is often well-advised to stay away from brand products without a plausible real* value added. Unfortunately, a liking for brand, or even luxury, products is quite common even among those who earn little—and here the effects can be outright dire, e.g. when a low-earner spends most off a small yearly surplus on shoes** instead of putting it in the bank for a rainy day.

    *As opposed to e.g. one that is explicitly or implicitly claimed in advertising, or one that only applies to other groups than the actual buyer: If, hypothetically, Nike brings a value-added to an Olympic runner, it is not a given that a junior-high student taking physical education also benefits.

    **To take an extreme fictional example, the infamous Carrie Bradshaw once discovered that she (a) could not afford her apartment, (b) had spent forty-or-so thousand USD on shoes over the years. Generally, she might be a good example in that she likely was not that low-earning, instead creating her recurring economic problems through wasteful living.

    In particular, it is a very great fallacy to assume that “more expensive” also implies “better”.

  6. Attempts to gain through large scale salary/wage increases, as attempted by unions, will not be overly successful without a simultaneous and independent trend towards lower prices (relative earnings). Not only will people with more money have a tendency to spend more,* which drives prices upwards, but the additional cost of work will also have an effect on product prices. Notably, there are often chain effects, e.g. that a wage hike in the mining industry increases metal prices, which increases costs in e.g. the machine industry, both metal prices and machine prices affect the tin-can industry, etc. If we, hypothetically, were to increase wages and salaries with a blanket ten percent, the individual businesses would not just see a ten-percent increase of cost of work—they would also see an increase of almost all other costs. While these other increases might fall well short of the full ten percent, they can still be sizable—and they will lead to a greater price increase on a business’ products than would a similar cost-of-work increase limited to only that business. (Also note e.g. that a three percent wage increase at two percent inflation is slightly better than a ten percent increase at nine percent inflation.)

    *Or e.g. work less to keep income roughly constant with an increase in spare time. Similarly, an employer who must pay his workers more might opt to employ fewer of them, e.g. through use of more automation. Such aspects will be largely left out, for the sake of simplicity.

    To some part, such increases can even amount to a competition between different unions and their members, in that any increase drives prices upwards, and that those with smaller increases will see a larger part killed by the resulting increase in prices. At least in theory, there could even be a net decrease in purchasing power for one union/member connected to the net increase seen by another.

  7. For similar reasons, naive sometime suggestions from the radical Left that everyone should earn the same, that the fortunes of Billy Gates et al. should be confiscated and divided among the people, and similar, will work poorly (even questions like ethics aside): Give people more money and they will (a) buy more, which drives prices up, and/or (b) work less, which forces businesses to page higher wages/salaries, which drives prices up. After a period of fluctuation, the lower earning/less wealthy would be back at roughly* the same purchasing power as before, and little would be gained. At the same time, the incentives to start businesses, come up with inventions, earn money, whatnot would be reduced, which would harm economic growth…

    *It would probably be a bit higher, but by nowhere near as much as expected in a naive calculation. Indeed, in some scenarios, the prices of lower-priced goods are likely to see unusually large increases, which would be particularly harmful. Consider e.g. a simplistic world of poor peasants and rich noblemen, of which the former live on bread and the latter on cake. Turn the noblemen into peasants and divide their money in equal shares among the population—and watch cake prices drop while bread prices increase. Either cake has to grow cheaper, or no-one will now be able to afford it. Bread, meanwhile, will be eaten by more people than before (unless the price decline for cake is very sharp) and the increased competition for this traditionally scarce resource will drive prices up.

As an aside, some of these items allow the customers a degree of own choice and prioritization, and quite a lot of money can be saved by making the more frugal choice.

Excursion on myself and brand products, etc.:
While I do not take frugality to an extreme, I have almost always tried to avoid expenses without a corresponding practical value to me. This includes avoiding brands that are “famous for being famous”, buying lamps* at hardware stores instead of department and pure lamp stores, having no qualms** about going into a “one euro” store, usually preferring the cheaper hotel to the hotel with more stars, and having never owned a car***. Outright luxury items have been quite rare and restricted to times of high income.

*For instance, when new in Wuppertal, I wanted to buy an uplight (?). Asking around, I was directed to a lamp store where prices started around three hundred Euro. I spent the extra time to find a hardware store and bought a perfectly satisfactory specimen at (possibly) sixty Euro. To boot, I found the visual design of the latter to be superior…

**These days, I suspect, few people are hesitant, but in earlier days I have heard strong negative opinions expressed towards these and similar stores, both in terms of perceived product quality and the risk of being seen as a pauper for visiting them. (Quality can be a legitimate concern for some products, but mostly the products are fine enough.)

***I have mostly lived in major cities with decent public transportation, and I prefer to walk when it is reasonably possible. Having a car would rarely have been worth the cost.

This, however, does not mean that I am skimpy when I see a benefit. Most notably, I have repeatedly taken sabbaticals to spend time on studies/writing and to enjoy life—while a year-or-so off work is very expensive, it really brings me something. (I strongly recommend it to those fortunate enough to have the opportunity.) However, I have also had no qualms about living in hotels or temporary apartments when working in other cities, even at distances where most others commute. If I can afford to cut out that extra one-to-two hours a day, with all that extra stress, having to go up earlier in the morning, having to wait longer before I can relax in the evening, etc., then I have a very real benefit. At the same time, I have always adapted to my income, e.g. in that I spend considerably less money on food, eating out, clothes, whatnot today (on a sabbatical) than I did a year ago (working full-time).

Written by michaeleriksson

November 12, 2018 at 1:15 am