UBI 3: Fallacious Silliness From America’s “Brightest”

Predictably, I was asked via email, in response to my first article about the UBI (which was actually picked up by the Ontario Ministry of Community and Public Service in their newsletter) whether I was so dedicated to the principle that I would watch someone starve to death. While the question was asked without malice, it still reveals the underlying confusion that goes into the classic knee-jerk response to libertarianism: if I don’t want government to do x, then I must be okay with no one doing x.

In the second article, I mentioned that the UBI seems to have its roots in the idea that a person can’t possibly find anything else productive to do when technology sends them into the unemployment line. So here we see two basic ideas that no one would seriously attempt to argue, being used as assumptions to bolster the statist quo. First, that a person can’t do anything except what they already do. Second, that if someone is doing something, then no one else can do it.

The question asked is unfair, because it’s too generic and vague. Why is this person starving? Are they handicapped? Insane? Ill? Lonely, without any friends and family? Lazy? Only I can choose when and where I use my resources, and if someone asks me for help then it’s my responsibility to assess their worthiness. But we can’t pretend like giving the ill person a meal is the same as giving a healthy adult who just doesn’t want to work a meal.

There exist today charities that provide food to those who can’t otherwise acquire it, and the panic over the possible defunding of Meals on Wheels is yet another example of how government isn’t necessary to the process. When people were worried that Planned Parenthood would be defunded, they opened their wallets and donated en masse, often making the donations in Mike Pence’s name. It was clear on both occasions that, if the government stopped funding these places, then individuals of conscience would pick up the tab.

The question morphs. “Are you happy with Meals on Wheels being defunded?” is no longer the question. “Are you happy that the responsibility for funding Meals on Wheels has shifted from the government to individuals who choose to take up that responsibility?” is what the question becomes, and it’s a very different one from what was initially asked.

Libertarians have long pointed out that it isn’t necessary to have the government doing things like that, and resistance to the idea is prominent in America, not just among ordinary citizens but also among those whose alleged loyalty to empirical data should lead them to reject such nonsense. Yet Neil Tyson recently asked if we really wanted to live in a world without art! As though without the government none of the people who paint, make music, write, make video games, and make movies and television would continue. It’s an idea that is silly in ways that are positively embarrassing to our species, that the people capable of splitting the atom could engage in such demonstrably false, fantastical thinking. And in a world where the atom has been split, some scientist once said, the dangers of continuing such fantastical thinking are far too great.

It should be readily apparent to anyone and everyone that Broadway is supported primarily by ticket sales. Video games are supported primarily by game sales. Movies are supported primarily by ticket and DVD sales. The assertion that, without government, all of these would just Poof! stop existing is alarmingly unconsidered.

Before abortion was subsidized by the government, there were abortions. Ditto for art, science, and everything else. Government subsidies have never created anything, and the farmers of Mississippi who grow corn year after year show the subsidies do more harm than good. I live just miles from a place where, every single year, the owners grow corn in soil long stripped of its nutrients. They don’t care, because they’re being paid to plant the corn. They don’t need to harvest it to be paid, and so they simply report to the Department of Agriculture each year that the crop died–as it does, because this is Mississippi, so it isn’t a very good climate to grow corn.

Do I want art to cease existing? No. Why would I? I’m a musician and writer. I enjoy lots of music, plays, video games, and television shows. This is why I give my money to the people who make those things, and those people make those things because they’re reasonably sure that someone will give them money to. This is why they spend lots and lots of money making movies and video games, and then they spend lots of money advertising those movies and video games: it’s an investment. They estimate how much they can afford to spend on production and advertising, and they compare it to how much money they can expect to earn. They do some complicated math involving subtraction, and this gives them an idea of how profitable the endeavor would be.

Mistakes in these estimates is why Pink Floyd notoriously made almost no money from their tour of The Wall, and why the only person who made any money on it was the keyboardist who had been kicked from the band and hired as an instrumentalist. The shows were extraordinarily expensive, so much so that there was no way for them to recuperate the costs and make any serious money. However, the long-term effects of The Wall ring to this day, catapulting them onto a plateau that even Dark Side of the Moon hadn’t accomplished.

And on that plateau, they made lots of money.

Anyone who gives the matter any serious thought will realize almost immediately that we certainly do not need government subsidies to fund Planned Parenthood, Meals On Wheels, arts, sciences, roads, education, health care, or anything else. The question “Do you want people to not have food/get abortions/enjoy art/drive on roads/have health care/be educated?” are all examples of one question that simply takes on different forms:

“If the government doesn’t do it, who will?”

Literally everything I just listed can be handled by individuals who choose to handle it voluntarily, and we’ve got countless examples of it happening. The evidence is in: people don’t give to charities for itemized deductions, a reason that ranks in the 11th spot, with the #1 reasons being “to help a good cause” and “personal satisfaction.” Now imagine if everyone was wealthier because the government wasn’t stealing 15-35% of their money. Furthermore, we have Meals on Wheels, where donations surged after the media reported that Trump may cut its budget, in exactly the same way that donations to Planned Parenthood surged just from the threat that the subsidy was going to be lowered. All of the evidence is in, and it’s right there for anyone to take a look at. The implications are clear, and the conclusions are inescapable.

The same idea makes its appearance in discussions of the UBI and all other forms of government welfare. “So you want to eliminate food stamps? You just want poor people to starve?”

It’s an obvious straw man, and someone with the clout of Neil deGrasse Tyson should withdraw from the public eye until he is capable of presenting arguments that don’t rely on such fallacies. “We can have food stamps, or we can have starvation!” goes the argument, exhibiting a shocking ignorance and lack of imagination, as though things like Meals on Wheels don’t even exist, and as though there aren’t charities that provide food to the needy. One of my friends with a broken spine is confined to a wheelchair, and a nearby church regularly brings him food. People act like this sort of thing doesn’t exist and doesn’t happen, as though, without food stamps, there’s simply no conceivable way that this friend could acquire food.

Is it a lack of imagination? Or just hesitancy to cast off the statist programming?

Because there’s no doubt: the government wants power, and therefore it wants people to believe that it’s the solution to all problems. What is the problem? It doesn’t matter! The answer is “More Government!”

Rothbard hates you, Mr. Tyson and Mr. Musk, and so do I.

Murray Rothbard was scathing in his criticisms of pseudo-intellectuals who run defense for the state, proposing fallacies and weak reasoning exactly as you have done. Just as the state needs a military to protect itself, so does it need intellectuals in its employ. Solely for its own self-preservation, it will offer you a chance to partake of its boons and gifts, if only you will prostrate yourself before it and become a priest of its church, much in the same way that the federal government does with money to states and cities: “Fall in line… Do as we say… Put forward the arguments we want you to put forward… Bow and comply… Or we won’t give you money.

Surely someone as intelligent as you two men realize you’re nothing more than modern Thomas Aquinas, offering up terribly weak arguments in favor of your religion, so brainwashed by the religion that you might very well believe what it says and merely find yourself in the unenviable position of trying to present rational arguments for irrational ideas. This is always going to be impossible, and not very many people have the intellectual honesty to simply say, “I can’t present a rational argument for it. I don’t care. Beliefs don’t have to be rational.”

Finding yourselves unable to say that, you rely on the perpetuation of silliness that you have the intellectual rigor to dismiss, parroting these ideas to the masses who generally lack that tendency to scrutinize and the information that needs to be scrutinized. The average person doesn’t care at all whether their belief that only the government can fund the arts is based on reality or silliness, and they will typically be resistant, if not outright hostile, of any attempts to show them otherwise, leading to borderline aggressive statements like “OMG SO YOU DON’T THINK WE SHOULD HAVE ART IT’S A GOOD THING THAT YOU AREN’T PRESIDENT, BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO LIVE IN SUCH A BLEAK AND DREARY WORLD!”

But you? You’re supposed to be better than that. Isn’t that what you’ve based your entire careers on? Isn’t one’s refusal to do that precisely what lends them scientific credibility? Isn’t that why Einstein’s insertion of the Cosmological Constant severely dampened his scientific credibility? And don’t give me the nonsense that Einstein was ultimately right, because he wasn’t, and any physicist knows it. The basic idea wasn’t incorrect–there is a force countering gravity–but Einstein stated that we live in a static universe, and he used the cosmological constant to achieve that in his equations. He most certainly was not ultimately right.

Tyson and Musk are living examples of what Rothbard discussed in Anatomy of the State [free download]:

Promoting this ideology among the people is the vital social task of the “intellectuals.” For the masses of men do not create their own ideas, or indeed think through these ideas independently; they follow passively the ideas adopted and disseminated by the body of intellectuals. The intellectuals are, therefore, the “opinion-molders” in society. And since it is precisely a molding of opinion that the State most desperately needs, the basis for age-old alliance between the State and the intellectuals becomes clear.
It is evident that the State needs the intellectuals; it is not so evident why intellectuals need
the State. Put simply, we may state that the intellectual’s livelihood in the free market is never too secure; for the intellectual must depend on the values and choices of the masses of his fellow men, and it is precisely characteristic of the masses that they are generally uninterested in intellectual matters. The State, on the other hand, is willing to offer the intellectuals a secure and permanent berth in the State apparatus; and thus a secure income and the panoply of prestige. For the intellectuals will be handsomely rewarded for the important function they perform for the State rulers, of which group they now become a part.

The truly sad thing is that the state apparatus doesn’t have to approach you and directly offer you such prestige and gifts; a CIA agent doesn’t have to appear at your home one evening and tell you, “Hey. You’re going to start telling people that they need government, or we’re going to break your legs. Play along, and we’ll give you lots of government grants. Don’t play along, and you’ll never walk again.”

We don’t live in such a Hollywood world. Their manipulations are much more subtle than that, and they’ve had the run on education for decades, using their control over the education system to subtly influence people into believing that the government is a force for good and the solution to all life’s problems, in flagrant disregard of what caused the United States to come into existence in the first place: the awareness among the founders that government is, at best, a necessary evil. Shall I offer you an endless series of quotes about the government being, at best, a necessary evil?

Nothing has changed since then. We didn’t suddenly get better at ruling over one another because we started voting instead of shooting [arguable]. Our politicians and rulers are just as corrupt, single-minded, power-hungry, and idiotic as the most pernicious of ancient kings. I should think that President Trump would have left such people painfully aware of that. Democracy doesn’t assure any specific quality of our rulers except the quality that they are willing to do, say, and promise anything if it means they’ll win the election.

All of this applies fully to the UBI, as well. The original questioner wanted to know if I would be alright if someone starved to death because there wasn’t a UBI. It’s an asinine question. Would I be alright if there was no art because the government wasn’t funding it? Would I be happy if there were no charities because the government wasn’t funding them? These questions are ludicrous, setting up the entire world and all its nuances as a simplistic and false dichotomy: either the government does it, or no one does.

After all, a person can only do one specific thing, and if they lose the ability to do that one specific thing, then that’s it. They can never do anything else.

And if someone is doing a specific thing, then no one else could ever gain the ability to do that specific thing, so if that someone stops doing it… That’s it. It can never be done by anyone else.

Anyone with any kind of intellectual honesty realizes how absurd these two ideas are, and they comprise the basis of every argument for big government. So is it a terrifying lack of imagination, or is it deliberate dishonesty?

I don’t know, but I know this: they’re not valid assumptions. I think we’d be hard-pressed to find assumptions that are more invalid, to be honest. In part 1, I pointed out that it’s ridiculous, because someone will have to put in the effort to turn soil and seeds into edible food. I pointed out that I provide my cats with a UBI, and the contention is basically: if I don’t provide my cats with food, then they’ll starve. While this might be true for domestic house cats who have been served food their entire lives, if humans can truly become so dependent on hand-outs that they would lie in the floor and starve to death because they can’t figure out how to do the human equivalent of going into the field and catching a mouse, then I don’t know what to tell you. But I don’t think humans are that bad off, and this is from someone who repeatedly points out that humans are animals who live by the same rules as all other animals.

The second dealt more specifically with the other assumption, that if a person is doing something and loses the ability to do it, then that’s it, game over, they lose–a condition that allegedly will be brought about by the widespread enslavement of a new lifeform we’re creating to be the perfect slave. It would always at least be the case that we need AI experts to design, enhance, and repair AI, even if AI-controlled robots actually did all the other work. But if there ever came a time when the AI was designing, enhancing, and repairing itself, then the whole thing becomes moot anyway, because humanity at that point is a few years away from extinction. That’s a scenario that should be avoided at all costs*.

So what do we have here? Excuses for people to be lazy masked by silly assumptions that don’t make any sense and that certainly don’t stand up to scrutiny. Even in their wet dream of technological progress, with AI firmly enslaved and doing everything for humans, there remains at least one question: “Well, you could learn to work on AI.” Don’t give me that bullshit that there just won’t be anything to do. You’re still talking about robbing or enslaving a productive class to give resources to a non-productive class, whether that productive class consists of hard-working humans or hard-working robots. There isn’t a rational argument that can be presented for such a terrible idea.

* I’m actually of the mind that there are a few technologies that we shouldn’t go anywhere near. First among those is AI. Sure, it would be extremely useful. As a tech expert–with an actual degree and everything–I’m more predisposed to like AI than most, and I don’t think there’s any way we’d be able to control it, while our attempts to control it would lead it directly to animosity and hatred of us. I don’t think that we should attempt to control it; I think we should decide now that we are going to treat all non-human animal life–organic or synthetic is a meaningless distinction–as equals, with the same rights as we have. But I also know I may be one of six whole people who think that.

As a matter of curiosity, another technology we desperately need to avoid is mind-reading. It may sound like science fiction today, but it’s already not–technology expos regularly feature new gadgets that allow people to control virtual devices with their minds, like rotating cubes and so on. That’s a Pandora’s Box that we do not need to open. But we, stupid apes that we are, won’t stop long enough to ask ourselves whether it is really a good idea to pry open the brain like that and develop technologies that allow us to see what other people are thinking. We can amend the Constitution all we want to say that the brain is off-limits and that a person has the right to the privacy of their own thoughts, but it’s inevitable that this right will be discarded, either openly or secretly. You can’t expect me to believe that a government that gave us the Patriot Act wouldn’t eventually abuse this technology. And what about jealous boyfriends and girlfriends? It’s gonna be a disaster, and I’m genuinely thankful that I’ll be long dead before the technology reaches that point. Humans can have that easily avoided nightmarish catastrophe without me.

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