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Evolutionary Economics

by Michael Shermer, Jun 09 2009

On Thursday June 4, I attended the Cato Institute half-day conference in Century City, California, which started out with a lecture by U.C. Santa Barbara evolutionary psychologist Leda Cosmides, one of the founders of that science along with her husband John Tooby. Cosmides’ talk was on the evolution of cooperation, but for this audience she tailored her lecture toward politics and economics (Cato is a libertarian think tank in D.C.), by asking “Why do free societies arise so rarely and with such difficulty?”

Unfortunately, Leda tried to squeeze about two hours of material and powerpoint slides into a 35-minute talk, and so she was necessarily brief as she blasted through slide after slide, each up on the screen for only seconds, making note taking impossible. That’s too bad because there was a lot of data slides that I think the audience would have liked to absorb (I know I would have). Nevertheless, Leda’s central point was this: our brains evolved for solving specific problems in the EEA (the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation — the Paleolithic), and so we have domain specific programs that help organize our experiences. The problem is that the modern world is so different from the EEA that it causes conflicts. For example, most hunter-gatherer societies are egalitarian because they live in relatively resource-poor environments and are often unsure about their safety and nourishment, and so we evolved many cognitive instincts for cooperation, food sharing, and group cohesiveness, because everyone in the group was either related to you or you know very well, so as the political saying goes, we must hang together so that we don’t hang separately. But the modern world is nothing like this.

I’ve written about this problem in my book The Mind of the Market, which focuses on evolutionary economics, whereby the world in which we evolved of small bands of egalitarian hunter-gatherers is radically different from today’s world that is resource rich and with vast disparities of wealth between the richest and the poorest. Thus, we have a natural tendency to resent wealthy people, distrust free markets, and misunderstand the bottom-up process of modern economies and try to control them from the top down, usually with disastrous consequences (e.g., Alan Greenspan and the Fed’s constant manipulation of interest rates sent false signals into the market for the price of money, leading to artificially large bubbles that then burst).

Leda noted the difference between hunting and gathering in terms of risk and uncertainty: Hunting meat is highly variable, success is as much due to luck as it is skill, and 4/10 times the hunter comes home empty-handed. Thus, hunter-gatherers must pool risk to deal with frequent reversals of fortune through food sharing. By contrast, gathering foods is a low risk process that depends on effort, not luck, and the results are mostly shared only within the family and trusted partners, but not to the group at large. Cosmides explained that this evolved psychology can be seen today in which we make distinctions between people in need of our help because they were unlucky (as with the hunters who return empty-handed) versus the gatherers who don’t bring home the vegetables because they were lazy and were loafing on the job. We are inclined psychologically to want to help the former but not the latter.

The political and economic consequences of this evolved psychology can be seen today in debates about healthcare, welfare, social security, etc., which are all attempts to pool risk among everyone in society, but without any distinction between those who suffer because of bad luck versus those who suffer because of laziness or lack of ambition. Modern political states are in the business of redistributing wealth from those who have it to those who do not, and since there is no attempt to discriminate between those who were unlucky from those who were just lazy, the people who earn that money through hard work and talent who then have it confiscated by the government and given to people they do not even know, naturally feel resentful, even though statistically the wealthy are extremely generous in giving to private charities that they voluntarily choose.

Cosmides also noted the psychological difference between working land that you own versus working land that the government owns: the agricultural policy of the USSR allowed 3% of land on collective farms to be private, and it turned out that between 45% and 75% of all food in the USSR was the product of that 3% of private farms.

So, in conclusion, Cosmides noted that there is a mismatch between the ancestral and modern worlds, our minds evolved to navigate family and friends and small groups, certain laws and institutions satisfy the moral intuitions these programs generate whereas other laws and institutions regularly fail in the modern world. Cosmides concluded: “Liberty provides the solution to most social problems, but few appreciate it because of our evolved minds.”

The second talk of the day was by Dan Mitchell, the Cato Institute expert on tax reform, supply-side tax policy, the flat tax, and tax competition. His talk was titled: “America’s Looming Fiscal Meltdown.” We are shifting to a European size welfare state, he noted, dolling out blame to both Democrats and Republicans, starting with George W. Bush, who Mitchell noted in his eight year term increased the Federal budget from $1.8 trillion to $3.5 trillion budget, and then noted Obama says he wants change to even more government, adding another trillion dollars to the budget in his first term, if not more. Mitchell also busted the myth that Bush increased the budget for natural security after 9/11. Not true, he said: most of it was for pork projects for his political cronies.

Mitchell then noted that Keynesianism is bad theory: borrow money and then give it to people so they will spend it — but moving money from the right pocket into the left pocket does not produce more wealth; it’s just redistribution. It does not increase wealth. Only free markets can do that. And in any case, where does the government get the money to redistribute? From us! But they take their cut as the middleman, and therein lies the problem. Bigger government did not work for Hoover or Roosevelt, and all that federal spending to get us out of the depression did not work: we did not get back to 1929 GDP levels until WWII. Neither did federal stimulus plans work for Presidents Ford or Bush I during their recessions, and Keynesianism failed utterly in Japan during the 1990s, when its national debt went from 60% of GDP to 150% of GDP. I.e., Keynesianism does not work, and yet politicians on both the right and the left insist that the only reason it doesn’t work is because: “government isn’t spending enough.” Wrong!

We are on the road to serfdom, says Mitchell, as our federal spending is projected to jump from 22% of GDP today to 45%–55% of GDP in the coming years (mostly because of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid). Unless our GDP doubles along with federal spending (it won’t) the collapse is coming. Well, not a collapse, per sey: America will not become Argentina or Zimbabwe. But we will become France: instead of growing 2.5–3% a year, we’ll grow 1–1.5%, a difference that has enormous long-run implications, lowering per capita GDP 30–40% below what it otherwise would be. More spending means more taxes: more income taxes, payroll taxes, death taxes, double taxation of dividends and capital gains. And this doesn’t work. In 1980 Ronald Reagan cut the top tax rate from 72% to 28%, and between 1980 and 1988 the number of rich people (millionaires) rose from 116,800 to 723,700, and their share of paying for the federal government rose from $19 billion in income taxes to $99.7 billion in income taxes. In other words, lowering taxes on the rich generates more revenue for the federal government, which is counterintuitive.

In the end, however, there are moral consequences to such economic decisions. Mitchell: “Today there are over 2 million people in America who completely depend on welfare: prisoners; well, the welfare state is a prison for the human soul.”

131 Responses to “Evolutionary Economics”

  1. Ranson says:

    I have a psychic prediction — another comment thread will emerge here that goes on for days, that reseolves absolutely nothing, fills with relentless acrimony, and has virtually nothing to do with skepticism.


  2. Ranson says:



  3. John Paradox says:

    Like a thread on spelling?



  4. “Liberty provides the solution to most social problems, but few appreciate it because of our evolved minds.” One wonders where the prosperity will come from to fund all these social programs when capitalism has at last been killed completely.

    • MadScientist says:

      Don’t confuse libertarianism and capitalism. In libertarian philosophy, capitalism is absolutely compatible. Basically, capitalism will still be promoted, but any sense of a collective social conscience will be deemed heresy; individuals may develop their social conscience as they see fit. You will have to rely on Samuel Adams’ idea that the rich folks are all really nice guys and will put most of their wealth into improving society – you know, like they already do today. Just ask Dick Cheney what an awesome fella he is. (Gee, and people can’t understand why Keynes would break out in fits of laughter whenever such a scheme was mentioned to him.)

  5. The Goucho says:

    If lowering the taxes on the rich (1980: it was a very good year) raised that kind of revenue way back when, think of the monetary surplus we’d enjoy if the top tax rate for the rich were lowered again to around 2%. Wow! The middle-class tax rate would probably drop significantly, too, just like it did during the 1980s. What a wonderful world it would be! Am I wrong here? Am I missing something? Are my numbers off? Anyone interested in nominating me for the next Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences? Please?

    • MadScientist says:

      It will be even better when the government takes the taxes from the poor and gives it to the rich – the country really prospers then. Oh, wait, some people in government (ex: Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska) already do that sort of thing.

      Larry Lessig has written a lot about “perceived corruption” but we need to ask the question: Is our current system of government intrinsically corrupt? And if so, how can we change it. When the so-called representatives of the people seek primarily to represent themselves, then to represent commercial interests, it is a rare occasion indeed when the needs of the common citizen are ever addressed.

      • The Goucho says:

        “When the so-called…”

        You said it, Mad. With all the back & forth babbling going on for the last month or so, I think you’ve encapsulated the heart of the matter in a single, concise sentence. It’s no more complicated than that. Unfortunately it’s mostly about “moi” first, especially from the top down. The word plutocracy comes to mind. Or am I mixing the word up with the “yes, it’s a planet — no, it’s not” debate? I’m confusing myself. Anyhoo, you nailed it. Good stuff. Depressing, but good stuff. I think I need to watch something funny. The Stooges maybe. A beer, a pizza slice and the Stooges. That’s it!

      • MadScientist says:

        Ah, yes, the Howards are always great fun – especially their earlier exploits. “Have Rocket Will Travel” is still one of my favorites; great theme song and a hilarious parody of martian movies of the era.

      • The Goucho says:

        “HRWT” is such an awful “movie” (and title) that it’s funny, Mystery Science Theater 3000 funny. Unfortunately for 3S fans, though, Curly was dead when it was filmed.

  6. Beelzebud says:

    Another commercial for the CATO institute and libertarian philosophy with not one shred of skeptical thinking applied to any of it.

    • Talia says:

      Agreed. Shermer, DEBUNK YOURSELF. And I mean that in all seriousness. You’ve done it before; I read about it in Why People Believe Weird Things. Time to apply some skepticism to your own brain’s gyrations once again.

  7. SicPreFix says:

    Modern political states are in the business of redistributing wealth from those who have it to those who do not, and since there is no attempt to discriminate between those who were unlucky from those who were just lazy….

    Ah, I see. I was wondering how it was that over the last decade we finally got rid of poverty and homelessness, and how the gap between the rich and the poor shrunk.

    What? What planet do I live on?

    • SicPreFix says:

      Sorry, that should have been a quote:

      Shermer says:

      “Modern political states are in the business of redistributing wealth from those who have it to those who do not, and since there is no attempt to discriminate between those who were unlucky from those who were just lazy….”


  8. perplexed says:

    I’m confused is this a skeptical blog, or a place for inane economic theories?

    • MadScientist says:

      Just when you think it’s a skeptical blog, the economic theories jump out and grab you by the throat! As the Monty Python team put it: Ha ha! Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!

  9. PhilB says:

    Bigger government did not work for Hoover or Roosevelt, and all that federal spending to get us out of the depression did not work: we did not get back to 1929 GDP levels until WWII.

    The thing I’ve never understood about these lines of arguments is: USA didn’t have a standing army, or military industrial complex at the beginning of WWII, at least nothing like we do today. In any case, the industrial ramp up to America’s entry into the war was exactly the same thing……federal spending. That money didn’t just appear in America’s coffers, but came from taxpayers and buyers of war bonds.

    • John says:

      As Colbert put it:

      PUHlease! Except for some fringe, crazy, wing-nut liberal professors, historians and economists, everyone agrees that it was government spending on WWII and not government spending on the New Deal that finally got us out of the Depression

    • Peter says:

      GDP includes government spending. If the government spent trillions of dollars on Chia pets, GDP would be through the roof…but the country would just be going down the toilet that much faster. GDP is crap.

  10. SeanG says:

    Michael, I think you need to reframe these kinds of posts in a different language. I am here (as I think many readers are) because I support science, science education and because I would like to see less woo in the world. I want people to think critically.

    Despite the fact that I lean so far left people think I’ve never had any V8, I might be persuaded to agree with you if your arguments were framed in a more ‘skeptic friendly’ way. I would like to be a skeptical about the government and the economic systems that we use but I think you might need to build more of a bridge to get us there, versus if you were posting about UFOs or ear candling. Not everyone grows up believing in UFOs but all of us (at least US readers) have grown up in the government and economic system you’re writing about. It might take more to get us to follow what you mean, to get us to see economic policy skeptically. Politics may just be too subjective, it doesn’t lend itself well to empirical study. Yes, there may be numbers you can call our attention to, but there’s no country I know of or laboratory method to test libertarian philosophy and generate evidence that it is a better system.

    I am going to go back and read your other posts to make sure I didn’t miss something that would tie this all together. But all I get out of this post is “CATO institute good, social evolution works in small groups but not big ones, taxes bad, government spending bad, read my book.” I’m sure that’s not what you meant. Unfortunately I don’t have time to read all the books I need to and I rely on sources like the skeptic blog to pull it together for me. Obviously by the sheer number of responses you get to these types of posts you have a long way to go in educating us. With the economic mess we’re in I’m sure we need more skeptical thinking.

  11. JonA says:

    All of these theories are interesting, but where’s the evidence? I’m inclined to believe these theories, but you always warn us that is when we should be the most skeptical, when new claims agree with our world view.

    • John says:

      Economics is a social science, and social sciences are weak on *tested* theories (ie. actual theories as opposed to hypotheses ans conjectures). One consequence of this is these fields don’t have much consensus – for example there’s great disputes on hot to fix our broken economy.

      It seems that politics and economics are not ‘scientific’ in any meaningful sense because they lack the empiricism required to test theories and convince ‘the other side.’ Lacking the ability to build consensus, they remain in the nascent stage of conjecture and description, and thus they bear more resemblance to alchemy than to chemistry.

  12. marcelo says:

    This comment has nothing to do with this post, but as I couldnt find a contact page, I dedided to leave a message on the newest post.
    Mr Shermer, I had been a ultra-orthodox christian for more then 15 years, but stopped believing the Bible somehow after starting reading on the internet about Bible contradictions, among other things. But as far as a try, I still cannot disbelieve in it 100%. Can you and/or Tim Callahan get in touch with me by email? Thanks for your time and attention!

    • MadScientist says:

      Hi Marcelo,

      Have you had a look at the ‘atheist nexus’? ( You may find some suport groups there and people to talk to. Don’t be concerned about 100% belief or 100% rejection. If you’re looking for people to convince you to reject any beliefs, it probably won’t happen. You need to ask yourself what it is you can’t let go of, what is of value there that you are afraid of losing, and if perhaps there is something to take its place after all. But don’t expect to be a Mr. Spock with only logical beliefs. Few things that are worthwhile are either easy or simple.

      • oldebabe says:

        To remain in doubt (i.e. not to `know’)does seem like the most skeptical attitude… however, it is, admittedly, not the most comfortable.

  13. Mel says:

    The article assumes far too many things to be considered remotely skeptical.

    One major assumption was the redistribution of money, during Hoover and Roosevelt, was supposed to “get us out of the depression.” A better explanation is that the money was provided to the destitute, so that the destitute didn’t start a revolt or revolution, or even just begin shooting the rich (of which Roosevelt was one, after all). The idea of a worker’s revolution was in many people’s minds at the time; one had just happened in Russia, after all. The last civil war vet had died in 1938. People talked about that the way we talk about WW2 — most of us didn’t fight in it, but we remember it culturally.

    Assuming that Action X was designed to alleviate Problem Y, and then disparaging Action X because it didn’t stop Problem Y has a very skeptical term — Strawman. If you want to be taken seriously as a skeptic, you should check your assumptions and avoid logical fallacies.

  14. Sabio says:

    Skeptics who value liberty — please visit Skepticism & Liberty.
    Thank you Michael !

  15. Chris K says:

    Given that Michael Shermer’s most recent book is about the economy I guess this post kind of makes sense but at the same time I think it would fit much better on a libertarian blog than a skeptical blog.

    I detect very little skepticism in the above post and a large amount of political ideology. I read Shermer’s defence of his libertarian postings a few weeks back but I still don’t buy that this is the right place for these kind of posts.

    Essentially this reads like a promotional ad for the Cato institute and libertarianism. I’m really beginning to feel like Shermer’s current agenda is more libertarian than skeptical and that it’s now just worth skipping over Shermer’s contributions to the blog unless I want to read about libertarianism.

  16. Excuse me Dr. Shermer but what is so wrong with France that you would take it as the example of what not to do?
    Does it have more poor people? Do you have less chances of reaching the age of 60 there? Is there more illiteracy there? (in case you’re wondering, the answer to all those is no, quite the reverse).
    So what do we care about? GDP growth or statistics that actually reflect something meaningful to actual people?

    • perplexed says:

      Exactly, and at least in france you will still get the best medical treatment possible, even without private medical insurance. And you can get a university degree without it costing you an arm and a leg. But I guess these are bad things.

      • MadScientist says:

        Universally accessible education is evil. Only the offspring of the Lords and Masters of the peons deserve an education. This is why we saddle students with immense debts before they even finish their undergraduate studies; we certainly don’t want just *anyone* getting an education. At the very least we don’t want to *encourage* anyone to get an education.

    • Talia says:

      GDP is a simplistic measure which does not take into account human health or happiness.

      GDP “… does not allow for the health of our
      children, the quality of their education, or
      the joy of their play. It does not include
      the beauty of our poetry or the strength of
      our marriages, the intelligence of our
      public debate or the integrity of our public
      officials. It measures neither our courage,
      nor our wisdom, nor our devotion to our
      country. It measures everything, in short,
      except that which makes life worthwhile,
      and it can tell us everything about
      America except why we are proud that we
      are Americans.”

      – Senator Robert Kennedy, 1968

  17. I’m waiting for a Skepticblog entry on Skepticism by Milton Friedman.

  18. GAZZA says:

    Adding my voice to the choir: Dr Shermer is of course permitted to possess whatever economic and political ideologies he wishes, and even to proselytise these beliefs, in the right forum.

    But this is not that forum.

  19. dfings says:

    “Mitchell then noted that Keynesianism is bad theory: borrow money and then give it to people so they will spend it — but moving money from the right pocket into the left pocket does not produce more wealth; it’s just redistribution. It does not increase wealth.”

    It’s possible that recessions are a social coordination problem. If the demand for cash spikes, aggregate spending goes down as people try to accumulate enough cash reserves. This makes it more difficult for people to accumulate their desired level of savings, which causes them to spend less, etc.

    One way to solve this problem is to boost the amount of cash reserves in the system, allowing production to resume as people feel more secure in their financial situation. This is the view promoted by Krugman in _Depression Economics_.

    This view, it seems to me, has some merit The recession was triggered by a panic in the shadow banking system. Large hedge funds had to sell of their other assets to cover their losses from mortgage-backed securities. This drove asset prices down, increasing the demand for cash in those who thought they had enough money stored up in assets. This caused all production to fall off, not just that in the over-supplied residential and commercial property industry.

  20. Alan Kellogg says:

    I’ve noticed throughout this thread people loudly proclaiming, “Shermer said things that contradict what I learned in university, therefor he must be wrong.” A variation on the ever popular appeal to authority. Yet it is these people who are loudest when they accuse Michael Shermer of violating some sacrosanct rule of skepticism.

    People, reality is not as it should be, reality is as it is. And if reality includes short stretches of water that flows uphill, it then becomes incumbent upon one to learn why this is happening instead of flat denying it does.

    • Beelzebud says:

      Actually I don’t see anyone doing that. In lecturing us about an appeal to authority, you built up and knocked down a strawman to do it. If you actually read everything here, the only appeal to authority comes from Mr. Shermer and his apparent belief that any person from the Cato Institute or who holds libertarian economic beliefs are those to be listened to.

      • Alan Kellogg says:

        Because you don’t want to see anybody doing that. No, you loudly proclaim your ideologically based opposition to what Doctor Shermer says, then when people demonstrate your hypocrisy bitch and moan loudly. You are a man staring at a grapefruit and loudly proclaiming it to be a banana.

      • SicPreFix says:

        Bravo! Progressing from straw man arguments to ad hominems. Rich.

      • Alan Kellogg says:

        That phrase you used, I do not think it means what you think it means.

  21. epicurus says:

    Why do we need to help the unlucky but not the lazy? Morality aside, it seems to me both unlucky and lazy don’t deserve any help. We might as well abolish all forms of welfare. Yes that includes welfare to prisoners. Let them die so we can have a peaceful society.

    Or do we help others (altruism) not because they deserve it but because of our moral sentiments (compassion)? Should we abolish welfare just to make sure we don’t inadvertently help the lazy? I think people who are genuinely committed to altruism are not bothered by this “moral dilemma.” Lazy people condemn themselves to a life not higher than the poverty threshold despite welfare. If they want a better life, they have to work harder. An alternative hypothesis why people want to abolish welfare is they simply don’t care about others. Selfishness is the opposite of altruism. As one famous libertarian said “selfishness is virtue.”

    “Liberty provides the solution to most social problems…” Really? U.S. is one of the freest countries in the world yet one out of ten Americans are poor. Apparently liberty did not solve poverty. U.S. is the richest nation on earth (in GDP). It has more than enough wealth to end poverty. The problem is not wealth creation; it’s wealth distribution. “The welfare state is a prison for the human soul.” Nonsense. I say “the libertarian state is a paradise for the selfish soul.”

  22. Peterh says:

    more disillusionment.
    pointless debating this.

  23. Kavi says:

    I’m skeptical of the stated reasons for decreased sharing of food in agrarian societies.
    See Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel) on this issue: hunter-gatherers were egalitarian because their communities were by definition smaller than those of the agrarians, who produced more calories which supported larger populations. These larger groups expanded past the point where everyone was extended family to every one else, or even knew everyone in their community personally. That goes much farther towards explaining greater emphasis on family loyalty in distribution (and ushers in the rise of kleptocratic government to control distribution).
    I also don’t think it’s a fair generalization to state that agrarian societies didn’t farm communally – eventually they did not, but early, smaller agrarian communities harvested (and stored grain) communally for efficiency and security. Also, I would like to know how they came up with that simple ratio (4/10) for success in hunting, and whether they came up with a similar figure for the chances of crop failure, which is a constant threat even in modern agriculture. If your crop fails because of a late frost or a blight, does that make you lazy? Would people in general have thought so in the early years of agriculture? They might have thought thought you deserved your ill fortune for supernatural reasons, but if so, could they not make the same sort of accusation against an unsuccessful hunter? Certainly there is ample evidence of prayer to gods of harvest, as well as gods of hunting.

  24. J. Swift says:

    Once again, Shermer’s self-promotion and lack of true science education gets in the way of his own skeptical thinking. He should realize that he is promoting seriously questionable theories parading around in the guise of science when he should be promoting skepticism about everything.

  25. Jeff says:

    Well said, Epicurus (#21)! It’s been painfully obvious to me for many years that when libertarians, republicans and other varieties of the ‘growth’-obsessed talk about freedom they only mean the freedom to exploit others with as little regulation as possible and with a nearly complete disregard for consequences. We have seen where the lack of regulation leads us, not only recently but in several boom-and-bust cycles in our history. Watching the ‘conservatives’ (who are anything but) ever since Reagan systematically ignore the lessons learned from the Great Depression by deregulating everything in sight was like watching a Greek tragedy where the disastrous climax was inevitable from the start, and wondering how in the world the characters in the play couldn’t see what they were doing to themselves and their society.

    • CH says:

      I completely agree with everything Jeff just said.

      Libertarianism is pseudo-science, which is what this website is supposed to fight tooth and nail. Libertarianism has never been successfully implemented, so it cannot be repeated, and is therefore not science.

      Instead of badmouthing Socialist societies, show me a Libertarian society that has prospered, then show me another one. Once I’ve seen two prosperous Libertarian societies, maybe I’ll consider supporting the position. Until then, Libertarianism is nothing more than the new “God” that angry conservatives worship.

  26. jdcllns says:

    I, for one, am glad Shermer posts this kind of stuff. It’s easy for self styled skeptics to congratulate themselves for being rational for not believing in ghost or god. But when it comes to economics or politics, they’re still governed by emotions, deeply held beliefs and prejudice. They simply turn off their bullshit detectors. If your idea of skepticism is only about making fun of people who wear crystals, then I think you’ve missed the whole point of critical thinking.

    • MadScientist says:

      I like wearing nice shiny crystals. Opal, emerald, ruby, zircon – nice crystals. :)

  27. SDR says:

    Once again Mr. Shermer leads me further to believe that he is no Skeptic, but just someone who uses the term skepticism to give credence to his unskeptical ideas.

    And to think I used to respect him intellectually.

  28. Once again, a Shermer post without a tangible skeptical connection has got folks twisted up, hoisting pitchforks and torches, headed for the libertarian castle (or conservative), convinced their emotionally derived political and economic beliefs are the Right ones, unable and unwilling to consider how their conglomeration of other beliefs informs -or taints, take your pick -their economics and politics.

    Eschew Shermer, go with Twain:

    “In religion and politics, people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second hand, and without examination.” – Mark Twain

    “The rule is perfect: in all matters of opinion our adversaries are insane.” – Mark Twain

    But for Dog’s sake, please accept that positions on economics and/or politics are opinions only, there is no global ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ that can be applied to any situation.

  29. Jim says:

    Interesting post, Dr. Shermer, thanks. I hope you don’t let all the whiny socialists on here discourage you from writing more like it in the future.

    • Jeff says:

      Oh grow up, Jim, and stop labeling anyone who disagrees with you a “socialist.” I hear this word spoken with the same comical venom as “liberal,” when both of these words mean very good things to me.

      • K.A.D says:

        then don’t allow it to offend you.

        The fact of the matter is most of the people crying on here are doing just that, whining. Not because they’ve bothered to point out errors to the evidence he brought up, for example concerning Soviet Russia’s farmland production, or GDP numbers.
        Indeed, these posts lack even a riposte, a balancing stat, if you will.

        Admittedly I am of a libertarian bent as well. But the fact remains that no one, at least so far as I have yet seen, as attempted to counter what he said with anything other than what amounts to;

        hard to respect that, don’t you agree?

  30. Stephen says:

    Leda’s viewpoint has such a large blind spot contained within it that to speak of elephants in the room would not be an exagerration. It’s telling, and probably stems from economic bigotry, that Leda believes that there are two kinds of poor – the failed and the unlucky, but seems utterly unable to recognize that this same notion applies to the wealthy also.

    Is it ignorance, attribution bias, or something more sinister that leads to the pervasive false assumption that all those with economic means have somehow earned it? When one looks at the number of people who have actually made it a up an economic rung or two, versus the number of qualified hard working folks who try, it’s obvious that there is some luck involved.

    The truth is that the resentment works both ways. The wealthy may resent the failed poor. But no more so, and no more deservedly so, than the poor resent the lucky rich.

  31. TryUsingLogic says:

    I am mystified by the makeup of the Fundamentalist Liberal Mind.

    Liberal’s are absolutely sure they are undeniably right about the great salvation of government…but they don’t want to discuss it here. If they have a slam dunk case they should be able to use critical thinking and facts to prove their points while maintaining the level of respect Shermer shows in his presentations.

    But on this blog the Left does not want to talk about the failure of oppressive Big Government because they say the concept doesn’t fit into the Skeptic’s format. I think Liberals live in the world of Utopian bliss [the same way Christians live in the world of Heavenly bliss] and believe we should just accept absolute government power based on their faith in it, and not examine the historical facts and discuss the problems it presents to society.

    There are plenty of data about the facts, failures and successes of government systems in the world and history paints a bleak picture of socialism…..why are Liberal skeptics uncomfortable discussing this matter? Does it threaten their Utopian faith?

    Michael, thanks for the great article and open discussion of this important issue!


    • Jeff says:

      Have you ever crawled out from under your libertarian rock and actually looked at countries you would call “socialist”? Try going to Europe, for example: no one there has to worry about going bankrupt if they get sick like they do here, and the overall quality of life is light years ahead of ours – just ask them or look up some surveys.

      And another thing, it’s not an either/or, black or white choice as you seem to want to twist it into. We have plenty of socialism right here in the US already – ever hear of the military, or the roads, or police, or fire, or public works, or public education? Do you want to sacrifice all of these things on the altar of your narrow ideology?

      Libertarianism is a one-trick pony which claims that simply getting rid of government would make everything better. Such deep, careful analysis is truly dazzling, as immune to reality as it certainly is. At present, the most libertarian, government-free society I can think of is Somalia. I’d love to give you a one-way ticket so you may experience this paradise for yourself!

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        All societies follow paths. I haven’t seen Shermer or any fiscal conservatives demand any absolute extreme form of government. But they do project that the path of Liberal democracy, freedom and capitalism is more beneficial to everyone than oppresive governments that limit our freedoms in the quest for a Utopian society that abuses and stifles the liberties and dreams that make life worthwile. On the path to becoming the most prosperous and gracious nation on earth our strengths came much more from principles taken from the Libertarian handbook than from the socialist theories of Karl Marx. Surely you could agree with that! It is all about the path.

        Europe and other free nations in the world have prospered by the strengths gained by association with a capitalist America. Unfortunately the totlatitarian nations also prosper from the free world markets in order to build their power and oppress the citizens they enslave because their ruthless domination will not build their resources from within.

        Free markets build prosperity and our current problems are being caused by destroying free will competition and praying to the Gods of Government to give us heaven on earth. You are right about one thing….”we plenty of socialism right here in the US already”….and a skeptical mind should be worried about that!

        Mind control dictated by the God of government….Is that what all we want to get out of life?


      • Talia says:

        Or, one could say: Government, applied using careful checks and balances and bolstered by science, has the potential to build sustainable prosperity for the greatest number of people. Praying to the Gods of Free Market Capitalism is likely to result in a destroyed environment and maximum wealth for the craftiest few.

      • Kavi says:

        ‘It’s all about the path’? That’s a bit of hand-waving, isn’t it? I think that capitalism has been successful in America because it has been pulled back from the brink of disaster by government occasionally, just like the labor movement was successful because it was prevented by market forces from completely endorsing communist revolution. Let’s consult Twain again (never a mistake): democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. He’s right because our system allows for separate ideologies to coexist. Libertarianism is an interesting line of thought that is good for the general discourse, but its implementation would require political extremism (before it failed, probably quickly).

  32. I look at a successful ant colony, what do I see? Socialism.
    I look at a sponge, once again I see socialism. Put the sponge through a sift and allow individualism to spread throughout the sponge cells; two things can happen. One, they scramble to repair the bonds that were broken by the sift and regain order, or two, they whither and die.

    There are countless examples of successful, and even necessary, socialism in nature.

    Humans are a product of nature. Orangutans are solitary, but look at our closer relatives; Chimpanzees, Bonobos and Gorillas are all social. Specifically in human cultural evolution, we had families which then formed tribes, tribes gathered and formed city-states, today nations belong to international unions (UN, NATO, EU, etc). We see a natural progressive movement from less social behavior to more social behavior.

    Of course, one could argue that there are also many examples of solitary/individualistic behavior in nature. So what is the variable that decides whether an entity has success by social means or by solitary means?

    Population. Ant colonies require a social system due to their sheer numbers. However tigers, bull sharks, pythons, and 99% of reptiles are solitary by nature.

    It seems to me, and of course I could be wrong (after-all this is only my opinion), in order for humanity to be successful in such great numbers then a system of socialism is required. And if we would prefer individualism to reign successfully then of course we would need to alter one variable: population.

    The severity to which population would need to be controlled/reduced for individualism to be successful is unknown to me.

    However I must admit, I do have a bit of personal cognitive dissonance going on in this case. Part of me seeks and desires individualism, yet the other part of me recognizes the necessity of socialism. I guess it comes down to deciding which I consider to be more important, myself or humanity? In my opinion, I am most assuredly temporal; my individual is but a very brief occurrence in the grand scheme of time. Yet, humanity has hope. Humanity has the chance to transcend time (place emphasis on chance). When I die, the whole to which I was a constituent part will continue on. Thus I place my loyalty with humanity and with socialism.

    Imagine if your cells up and decided it was time to assert their individual freedom. You would cease to exist. And your cells may only briefly realize their fatal error before they too will cease to exist. Thus I am a humanist.

    Thoughts? Criticisms? (preferably constructive)

    • epicurus says:

      Egoism is just as natural as altruism. Man has a tendency to pursue his self interest and also to help others sometimes even against his self interest. Egoism is good for individual competitions like when men compete for sexual partners in primitive societies (actually even in modern). Altruism (within the group) is good for group competitions like when tribes compete against each other for supremacy. A group of egotists doesn’t need a competitor. It will self destruct on this own.

      Adam Smith held that capitalism produces an altruistic society, even when individual capitalists are selfish, because of the so-called “invisible hand.” This may be the reason why Shermer and other libertarians believe there’s no conflict between altruism and libertarianism. Smith may be right if you assume a perfect free market economy where there are many small players and no dominant players, no oligopolies, no monopolies, no cartels, no collusions, no powerful lobby groups tilting the playing field in their favor, no cut-throat competition eliminating small players, just pure, clean and fair competition. Look around you if this is what the real economy looks like.

      If you want to see what a society without government looks like, look at Singapore in the first half of the 19th century. It was colonized by the East India Co., the largest and most powerful private enterprise at that time. Singapore was a lawless land dominated by criminal organizations engaged in opium trade, prostitution and slavery. It became Asia’s Tiger economy in the second half of the 20th century under the authoritarian government of Lee Kuan Yew.

    • TryUsingLogic says:

      I look at socialism and I see an ant colony and a sponge too….working the slaves to death inorder to support the Queen and the sponge soaking up and killing each individuals dream of freedom and liberty to support absolute power.

      And yet the left compares socialism to Heaven on earth…


      • I definitely can see your point TUL. As I said I do have cognitive dissonance on the issue. The pattern in nature, it seems, reinforces the viewpoint that species in large populations require a socialistic system.

        But, I do agree with you in that I cherish freedoms and liberty as well. And I certainly don’t like being a pawn.

        So what is the solution to this problem? I have an opinion on this as well. I think the key lies in developing our technology in a spectrum of key areas. If we can hand off the task of fulfilling our basic survival and comfort needs to an advanced automated system, i.e. robotic farming, automated transport systems, automated maintenance, bio-medical tech, etc, effectively eliminating the need to provide essential services, then people can devote their time to whatever tasks they want: poetry, entertainment, sports, philosophy, developing their own virtual utopia perhaps. Of course to create such a system, people and society would need to make some temporary sacrifices (dump loads of money into research and development, which probably means higher taxes… but think about the end result!)

        Effectively this could solve the problem. We’d have the socialistic system required for the preservation of humanity and we could also still have our freedoms.

        But until we get to this point, I guess we’re just going to have to tough it through.

  33. This refers to the write up on “Evolutionary Economics” and the so-called evolutionary psychology. I am from the east: For me, I am totally averse to the shoddy concepts of Western “psychology”. Reading the article my stand is once again confirmed: Psychology of the West cannot escape from the subjective mindset that is attuned on the strings of “psyche” (soul) and that is the reason for hanging around “luck”, “lucky” “unlucky” and all that. In this objective physical world what (you) guys mean by luck? Those who have no food belong to two categories viz. those who are unlucky and those who are lazy. One can understand the pros and cons of being lazy. But what about luck? May be the evolutionary psychologists and the evolutionary economists would suggest to approach “god” to bestow the unlucky with some luck at least for food!………….So great!!!

    • TryLogic says:

      Let’s take a little fairer look at starvation. The free democracies have hungry people but they do not starve to death because of the compassionate outreach of the citizens and resposnible government The totalitiarian socialist societies have used hunger, murder, genocide, democide, and rape to maintian their control. The best luck for the “lucky” and “unlucky” is to live in a free, capitalistic liberal democracy! Luck has little meaning if you live in countries dominated by totalitarian thugs who claim to be gods.
      Evolutionary economics actually proves that.


      • spurge says:

        Typical dishonesty from a fundamentalist Libertarian.

        The difference comes from a country being free or totalitarian not capitalistic or socialistic.


      • TryUsingLogic says:

        There is extensive reasearch to prove that liberal democracy is the best path to freedom and social order and that capitalism is the best market system to raise up quality of life for all citizens.

        What is pathetic is you can’t see that by your own statement…”The difference comes from a country being free or totalitarian not capitalistic or socialistic” that your” is that you can’t see that socialism is the path to totalitarianism. And so far in my life no one has presented any examples of totalitarian regimes that are “free.” And of the democracies the ones that are not socialist are more prosperous than the ones with oppresive government regulation.

        Surely you can use your intellect to show more awareness than your respsonse indicated?


      • spurge says:

        Your assertion that socialism leads to totalitarianism is baseless.

        Do you always just make up crap to support your economic religion?

        Have fun in your black and white world.

      • Max says:

        “And of the democracies the ones that are not socialist are more prosperous than the ones with oppresive government regulation.”

      • Max says:

        A bunch of graphs about violence and tyranny that don’t address spurge’s or my points.
        Verdict: troll

        Where’s Norway on your democracy/socialism scale?

      • ‘Fairer look’ is what is necessary to establish truth, but the truth established through or by fairer look almost always turns out to be partial because the ‘fairer look’ remains relative to the caliber and all round knowledge of the one who assumes to look fairly. Therefore, ‘fairer look’ seldom represents universality and it lacks objective reality. It amounts to fallacy to assume that free democracies are epitome of compassionate outreach to the rescue of starving millions. Do not we find the so-called free democracy bomb and destroy thousands of innocent citizenry for no fault of theirs? Do not we see the encircled citizenry starving to death because of the siege imposed by the attackers who are said to be representing ‘free democracy’? Then, what would be the mechanism by which the ‘free democracy’ could bring ‘best luck’ to the besieged citizenry to enable them to live in a “free capitalist liberal democracy”?

        The point here is not the jugllararies of subjectivism. Evolutionary economics cannot conclude its findings on luck and laziness and leave the blame on bad luck and laziness for starvation. Instead the study should have to objectively analyze the factors that count for “luck” and laziness and then to suggest economic solutions.

        “Luck” is closely related to belief in fate which is believed to be ordained by “god” according to his scheme of creation. In the real world, these beliefs have no material presence. In the process of evolution, the most important factors that are involved, are internal and external environs of the individual humans as well as the social surroundings. These environs determine the nerve connections in the central nervous system that makes all what is of an individual. Solutions for economic emancipation have to base their findings on the environs. Satisfying oneself on the premise of “luck, laziness” et al would be unscientific. These conclusions would never be solutions.

  34. spurge says:

    This blog has become pointless.

    Most of the other contributors cross post to their own blogs. I won’t be missing out on anything.

    Is this blog here to support a show that I would love to watch or is it a platform for pushing one mans political agenda?

    • TryUsingLogic says:

      I repeat…..simply because you are a clear example of the problem…

      I am mystified by the makeup of the Fundamentalist Liberal Mind.

      Liberal’s are absolutely sure they are undeniably right about the great salvation of government…but they don’t want to discuss it here. If they have a slam dunk case they should be able to use critical thinking and facts to prove their points while maintaining the level of respect Shermer shows in his presentations.

      But on this blog the Left does not want to talk about the failure of oppressive Big Government because they say the concept doesn’t fit into the Skeptic’s format. I think Liberals live in the world of Utopian bliss [the same way Christians live in the world of Heavenly bliss] and believe we should just accept absolute government power based on their faith in it, and not examine the historical facts and discuss the problems it presents to society.

      There are plenty of data about the facts, failures and successes of government systems in the world and history paints a bleak picture of socialism…..why are Liberal skeptics uncomfortable discussing this matter? Does it threaten their Utopian faith?

      Michael, thanks for the great article and open discussion of this important issue!


      • SicPreFix says:

        It seems to me, TUL, that the various and multiplex people you too comfortably group into the singularity “Liberal skeptics,” a group you claim is made up of individuals harshly limited by what you call the “Fundamentalist Liberal Mind,” are in fact more than willing to discuss these issues, and more.

        What they are not willing to do is to remain mute in the face of Shermer’s baseless absolutism, proselytization, and propagandizing of his faith-based belief system that is his political ideology. We are not comfortable with his use of this forum as a politcal stump to pander his dogma.

        Perhaps it could fairly be argued that the rather rabid pro-Libertarians who fondle Shermer so fervently are no less closed minded than are the targets of their directed accusations.

      • TryUsingLogic says:

        You are another good example of why I am mystified by the makeup of the Fundamentalist Liberal Mind. When you say things like “What they are not willing to do is to remain mute in the face of Shermer’s baseless absolutism, proselytization, and propagandizing of his faith-based belief system that is his political ideology” you present the same old concept of Liberals are right, any disagreement is stupid and we don’t want to talk about it here, argument.
        Shermer never presents his thoughts and comments in the way his leftist critics do! The people I meet that are the most absolute and arrogant about their views are mesmerized by government or religion.

        Perhaps it could fairly be argued that the rather rabid pro-socialists who criticize Shermer so fervently are even more closed minded than are the targets of their directed accusations.


      • SicPreFix says:

        Well, you know, I probably should have made my point more quietly, and with better clarity.

        What I am saying is two-fold.

        One: I am not a Fundamentalist Liberal Mind by any stretch. For the record I tend to straddle a lot of fences. As many well educated, intelligent, and skeptical people will, I can see good and bad points in many systems, many ideologies. I can even see some good points in the Libertarian ideology. So, what I am getting at here is your somewhat ill-based assumption that any of the people here who make disagreement with Shermer must therefore hold a Fundamentalist Liberal Mind. Shermer’s army of defenders, or at least you, seem to feel there are two groups: Shermer’s Army of Libertarians, and everyone else who because they may not wholly agree with Shermer and/or Libertariansim are therefore socialists or limited by a Fundamentalist Liberal Mind. So, what’re ya sayin’? With us or agin us? That’s a false limitation.

        Two: For many of us the primary disagreement is not with Shermer’s politics — hell, he can be believe in any faith-based belief system he wants to, that’s not really anyone’s business. The problem is the inappropriateness of these posts in this place. Others have put it better than I, but a blog that is stated to be “…a collaboration among some of the most recognized names in promoting science, critical thinking, and skepticism,” is, many of us feel, not the appropriate place for one individual to misuse or abuse his power of position by trying to advance a political, hence inherently non-science, non-skeptical, and arguably non-critical thinking agenda. This is not an attempt to limit freedom of speech; it is an attempt to point out the simple inappropriateness of location and the soft yet unyielding arrogance that Shermer displays in using this location for his proselytization.

        As to how Shermer presents his thoughts here, while you are right, that statement is nonetheless irrelevant and off-topic.

  35. Shermer holds different political views than I do.
    Shermer posts them on this blog.
    Therefore, this blog is pointless to me.
    Therefore, this blog is pointless, period.

    Universe, meet your center: Spurge

    • spurge says:

      Way to miss the point DA.

      • Oh, I think it’s pretty clear your assessment that the whole blog is “pointless” springs from your dislike of one member’s economic/political beliefs.

        The notion that, if a thing is meaningless to you, it is meaningless, is the definition of self-centeredness, hence placing you figuratively at the center of the universe. Highly immature as well.

        This is further underscored by your false dichotomy:

        “Is this blog here to support a show that I would love to watch or is it a platform for pushing one mans political agenda?”

        I don’t think there is any doubt that if Shermer happened to share your economic/political beliefs, you wouldn’t be making any complaints.

      • spurge says:

        “I don’t think there is any doubt that if Shermer happened to share your economic/political beliefs, you wouldn’t be making any complaints.”

        I think you may have a good point here and I will have to give it some thought.

        I don’t know exactly how I would react to the posting of political views I agreed with more that seemed irrelevant to the point of this blog.

        I guess I should have been more specific and said that this blog seems pointless for me.

        If this were his personal blog I would never bother making such a comment since people can put whatever they want on their own blogs.

        I assumed this blog had a more specific point and I do not see how these types of posts do anything to promote it.

        Maybe you can explain to me how his posts are going to help get this show on the air and promote skeptical thought?

        So far all they seem to be good for is starting acrimonious comment threads that drive people apart.

        I don’t see why you have to be such an ass about it.

        As far as you calling me self centered.

        You don’t know me and you can fuck off.

      • “If this were his personal blog I would never bother making such a comment since people can put whatever they want on their own blogs.”

        Well, it’s a multi-person blog, with Shermer being one of the persons.

        “Maybe you can explain to me how his posts are going to help get this show on the air and promote skeptical thought?”

        No, I can’t. Shermer’s posts on libertarianism strike me as a sort of bullying from a pulpit in that he seems to take advantage of a readership that primarily comes here for entries more directly specific to skeptical topics and concerns, and to the prospective TV show ‘The Skeptologists’, of course. Whether I agree with Shermer’s libertarianism is, to me, irrelevant in that it is practically and essentially unfalsifiable, just as is socialism, etc. Technically, yes, you could test them, but I doubt there is research $ available to set up test countries, eh? One can review historical records of the efficacy of the various economic and political models, but too much depends on how well they were implemented to really inform us as to their efficacy as a model. In the end, it all boils down to personal preferences and opinions, affected virtually 100% by the pre-held biases and beliefs of the individual judgers.

        When it comes to skeptical topics and articles, I do care to hear what the Shermers, Novellas, Plaits, et al, have to say on those topics. However, I personally don’t have any interest whatsoever in who Novella thinks is the best rock and roll guitarist, nor in what color Plait thinks is the best, nor in which movie Shermer thinks is the best. Those are items of personal opinion. So too, in my rarely humble opinion, are the various economic and political models. One might argue totalitarianism or dictatorships are always wrong – unless one happens to be Josef Stalin, Adolph Hitler, or Pol Pot. Such arguments assume everyone wants the same things for a given population, which is grossly untrue.

        “So far all they seem to be good for is starting acrimonious comment threads that drive people apart.”

        I agree, in essence. The problem is that too many posters believe everyone wants the same things for a given population. Another problem is that few posters are willing or able to acknowledge personal biases and pre-held beliefs that impair the ability to objective;y evaluate various models.

        To me, the worst aspect of the Shermer libertarian posts is that he never responds to any of the comments, never answers questions, never clarifies points made. It comes to feel a bit like he regards the readership as some sort of collection of lab rats upon which he tries out his writings on libertarianism. We copuld ask him, and he’s been asked plenty, but he apparently will not deign to answer.

        “I don’t see why you have to be such an ass about it. As far as you calling me self centered.
        You don’t know me and you can fuck off.”

        Perhaps the time will come when you can read your own entries and recognize the self-centeredness ironically evidenced in your own denials of self-centeredness.

  36. Brian says:

    Some say Michael Shermer’s post is not skeptical.
    Is that to say that skeptics never make assertions?
    Skeptics only pick apart other people’s assertions?
    So safe and comfortable to be a skeptic.
    Nothing ventured nothing gained.
    Keep the ideas coming, Michael!

  37. AndrewB says:

    I appreciate that Shermer is trying to shine a skeptical light on the bogus ideas common in politics and economics. I don’t think that this article made enough of a connection though.

    Specifically I’m left wondering exactly what is wrong about the Keynesian theory? I didn’t study this at school so kindly correct if I get some points of it wrong. Any of the gross inaccuracies might be the result of listening to Dubya as he was explaining the stimulus.

    The Keynesian view appears to be that the consumer is the driving force in the economy. Essentially a person spends money to make a product or provide a service, which is then sold for a profit, and when people buy things it allows for the store to pay their employees and continue buying goods from the people who make them. The consumer drives demand and therefore the economy. Faced with a recession where it looks like the consumers aren’t spending any money the solution seems to be give the consumers money and they’ll spend it. Is any of that off track from what Keynesian’s believe?
    What wrong with that image?
    If the consumer isn’t causing the slow down, who or what is?

    I saw Peter Schiff (who I take is not a Keynesian) on the Daily Show, if I understand him he attributed at least part of our current problem to an overspending on credit, that and the interest rate set by the fed.
    If consumers didn’t have the money to spend and were putting their purchases on credit plus given incentive to spend by the government’s low interest rate. That could create a bubble, correct? In the Keynesian view Bush should have given people the money to pay off their debt? The bubble still would have popped, as the level of spending would hopefully have become more restrained. The argument for bad behavior being rewarded by the government not withstanding.

    Bush did give us some money and then told us to spend it. Which I did but other people were likely to pay off some of their credit debt (which should have helped some of the credit crunch, as the money found itself back into banks.) However the money Bush gave people likely wasn’t enough to pay off their debt so why is the argument that the “government isn’t spending enough” wrong? If Bush had just paid off the debt of the American people, what do you think would have happend? What should Bush have done, and now what should Obama be doing?” Schiff said something about becoming a savings economy. I don’t know what that means, is that something you agree with and can you explain it?

    What Bush did by beginning to bail out the banks which I don’t know if that is Keynesian or not. Seems far worse then had he just given people the money to pay off their debt. As the Government borrowed money from future generations in an attempt to have return the banks to solvency. Meanwhile there are a lot of American still in deep financial debt.

    • Peter says:

      It’s hard to understand how anyone of a skeptical bent can hold any truck with Keynesianism. Keynesianism is, in fact, a good example of woo – the economy is controlled by “animal spirits” and similar supernatural phenomena? Pfuh!

      What wrong with that image? If the consumer isn’t causing the slow down, who or what is?

      If you really want to know, the best exposition I know of is in chapter 5 of (the whole book is well worth reading!)

  38. Robert says:

    If I could interject something reasonable into this debate:

    I think that most of the people who have been objecting to Michael’s recent posts about libertarianism are not objecting simply because they disagree with his point of view. It seems to me that most people are objecting because he’s presenting something that seems like an opinion or an ideological point of view, and he’s presenting it in an uncritical way. It’s not that any of us would object to a skeptical discussion of economics or politics, but Michael’s posts on the subject haven’t been very skeptical.

    I’m neither a libertarian nor a socialist. I have my opinions about the way things work, but I’m not an ideologue. I can be swayed by facts. I am a skeptic. And Michael’s posts on this subject just haven’t seemed at all skeptical or critical to me. As I read his posts I get the impression that he cherry-picks data to support libertarianism just as some of the comment-writers cherry-pick data to support socialism. Again, this is not because I disagree with libertarianism. I would be equally unhappy if Michael were uncritically touting the benefits of higher taxes or universal healthcare.

    I think that all of us can agree that there are no examples of purely libertarian or purely socialist societies (at least among the well-functioning economies). I think that neither Michael nor most of his critics here would really argue that a purely libertarian, or a purely socialist society would be best. Clearly what we should be talking about here is what is the best balance. Certainly there has to be a significant amount of individual freedom and market freedom, but there are probably also things that in general governments do better than individuals. We should be having a reasonable discussion about which things are best done by the government and which things are best left to individuals.

    We have to be honest. There are no really good data here. That’s why these are such difficult questions. Nobody really knows the answers. You can’t do controlled experiments, so it’s almost impossible to tease out causation. It’s impossible to know, for example, whether the New Deal helped, hindered, or was neutral. You can argue it any way you like, but there’s no way to know for sure. Hopefully, little by little, we (humanity) can figure out what sort of government/economic system works best. But it will be very difficult, and it doesn’t help for people to take emotional positions and refuse to consider the other side.

    One last thing: is it possible that Michael is pulling all of our legs? I’ve been reading his stuff for a long time, and this just doesn’t seem like him. He presents all this libertarian stuff so uncritically and generates so much controversy. I wonder if he’s experimenting on us to gather material for a new book or something.

    • SicPreFix says:

      Thanks Robert. I’ve been trying to say something like that for weeks, but my temper and lack of eloquence just keep getting in the way.

      I very much agree with everything you’ve said. Cheers.

    • Kavi says:

      Recall that Michael once posed as a spiritual medium to test the techniques of mind-readers! I really like his work, and having seen him on panels with the religious, I think he is both a good listener and a compassionate person, which is important in these matters. I will give him the benefit of the doubt that his critical mind is intact even in the company of his libertarian friends.
      What concerns me about libertarianism (and also the ‘invisible hand of the market’ belief system) is that like fundamentalist book-faith, it excuses the believer from dealing with complexity and contradiction. The bible believer just goes to the bible regardless of the situation, and the libertarian just tries to eliminate the regulations, faithful that the efficient market will somehow make a wise decision. But markets, and books, cannot make decisions. We are a huge country and coming up with compromises for the good of all will never be neat and quick. I understand the longing for a clear guiding principal. Seek it for your private life; don’t expect it in the town square!
      One glaring problem here is that there is are really no unregulated markets: the biggest players in a ‘free’ market manipulate the market whenever they can for their own benefit (Microsoft, cable providers, etc.), keeping down their competition, which is exactly what anyone would expect them to do. This is regulation, in fact, by the market leader. It’s not fun to have the government regulate your business, and there will always be abuses and the threat of favoritism, but whom would you rather have making the rules: a government answerable to the people, or a corporation answerable only to its shareholders?

      • Peter says:

        and the libertarian just tries to eliminate the regulations, faithful that the efficient market will somehow make a wise decision.

        It’s not about faith; we understand why the market works; there’s nothing mysterious or magical about it. But your use of the term “efficient market” betrays you…

      • Peter says:

        but whom would you rather have making the rules: a government answerable to the people, or a corporation answerable only to its shareholders?

        The corporation, of course…precisely because it can’t “make” rules: it has no way to enforce whatever “rules” it might pretend to make. Microsoft doesn’t send out guys with guns to threaten/kill you if you don’t buy their products – except when they have the support of government-guys-with-guns. How exactly can any corporation “manipulate the market”, other than through government?

      • Kavi says:

        Microsoft doesn’t send out guys with guns because the government has a monopoly on force. Do you think that companies wouldn’t resort to violence if it would ensure profit for themselves, especially if they knew that their competitors also had recourse to violence and coercion?

        I take your point, Peter, that government is a useful tool for a powerful company to use when they want to push around the marketplace, and greedy politicians are never hard to find. But I think it’s a better approach to try to root out such corruption from the government, than to take government out of the equation. Like I said before, if the government isn’t regulating the market, then others will. They won’t call it ‘regulation’, of course – and noone in the community will have the right to demand transparency of them after they drive their competitors out of town.

      • epicurus says:

        What happens when you “take government out of the equation?” Look at Singapore in the first half of the 19th century. It had no government. The country was colonized by East India Co. It was a free market economy with absolutely no government intervention. It was ‘regulated’ by criminal organizations engaged in opium trade, prostitution and slavery. They had the monopoly of guns and violence, until the British government took over and the rest is history.

  39. J.F.Soti says:

    Have any of Dr. Shermer’s critics even bothered to read his book, “The Mind of the Market”?

  40. unbound says:

    Interesting post with a lot of information to think about, but there are some claims that I’m rather skeptical about (due mostly to Mr. Shermer’s unreasoned (IMO) bias towards free markets). As an example:

    “…even though statistically the wealthy are extremely generous in giving to private charities that they voluntarily choose. ”

    I’ve seen this stated before as though this is established fact, but I’ve yet to see any study that actually verified this. In fact:

    “For the most part, donations tended to be a relatively small proportion of wealthy participant’s income, although there were some important exceptions to this general rule.”

    Even if donations were to be a relatively higher proportion of the wealthy’s income in general, that measurement is deceptive since 5% in donations for a family of 4 with an income of $40,000 represents a substantially higher burden than 10% in donations for a family of 4 with an income of $400,000 since $2,000 digs in much deeper to discretionary income for the first family that $40,000 will dig into the discretionary income for the second family.

    One other example:

    “It does not increase wealth. Only free markets can do that.”

    Once again, I’ve seen this stated before as though this is established fact, but I’ve yet to see any independent study that actually verified this in what is the current marketplace. Free markets may very well increase wealth if they actually did exist. Reality must intervene before seriously considering a free market solution.

    In a free market, the consumer would have many (i.e. dozens of) choices for identical goods or services. Forget identical goods or services, how many providers of goods or services actually exist in any market segment today? Walk into your local WalMart or equivalent and take a close look at what choices you actually have (not many) that may be considered even remotely identical. Not sure if you want to buy Iams or Eukanuba or Ol’Roy or Science Diet food for your pet…doesn’t matter, it’s the same company (Menu Foods). The competition is where?

    In a free market, the seller would have to compete for the attention of the consumers. Competition with other sellers would trim your profits to a minimum. So Exxon Mobil, BP, and Conoco Phillips must be subsisting on razor thin margins (with their dozens of competitors)…except we all know that every one of those companies are racking in beautiful profits.

    In a free market, the seller would have to compete with other sellers to get high quality employees, which means money spent on salaries would have to be better distributed across the workers. So the C-level executives might have total compensation that is probably no more than 5X (10X at the absolute highest) than the lowest level employee. We currently stand at average CEO compensation sitting around 400X higher than the average salary and approaching 1,000X higher than minimum wage.

    In a free market…well, enough about fairy tales.

  41. unbound says:

    @robert – I think you are dead right

  42. Anthony O'Neal says:

    The main problem with all these “evolutionary economics” examples is that they are all just theory and conjecture. You don’t have any evidence to back it up. You assume that libertarianism is 100% correct, then pop up an “evolutionary economics” to explain why everyone is flawed and not jumping all over it. There is no evidence for your conjecture. It is sort of a special pleading.

    Also, you terribly misrepresent economics and Keynesianism in this article. I really don’t know where to begin. I’m just going to say that the point is to restore the balance between savings and investment in a general glut by having the government invest directly in the economy. It’s not just taking money from one person and sending it to another person. That’s just Austrian pop-economics pseudoscience nonsense.

  43. TryUsingLogic says:

    Max says:
    “June 11, 2009 at 9:02 pm
    A bunch of graphs about violence and tyranny that don’t address spurge’s or my points.
    Verdict: troll
    Where’s Norway on your democracy/socialism scale?”

    I thought about this for a while and realized this just another rude statement coming from the supreme arrogance of the left.

    The man who created those charts was a socialist in the 1950’s and after seeing the many diversions by his friends and professors away from the tuths of history he discarded socialsim [because of his findings!] for the clear benifits of democracy, liberty and free maarkets he unveiled through research and good skeptical thinking….this change came form 50 years of research and he has written 24 books on war, government, genocide and democide. Prof. Rummel is one of the most referenced authors in the world on these subjects. R.J. Rummel has amazing credits and background and his research factually and scientifically backs the Democratic Peace theory. I think the problem is that you are not capable of reading the charts or making intelligient comments about his work. He has the same class and character of a Michael Shermer because he uses research, knowledge and criticial thinking to make points…not insults like you and your friends…..

    Please, check out Rummel’s references and then tell all of us what knowledge and research qualifies you to be an arrogant fundamentist liberal…….


    • Max says:

      “I thought about this for a while and realized this just another rude statement coming from the supreme arrogance of the left.”

      Well then think some more about it, troll.

      Where do those charts address the points that we were ostensibly discussing?
      1. Socialism leads to totalitarianism.
      2. “And of the democracies the ones that are not socialist are more prosperous than the ones with oppresive government regulation.”
      3. And their prosperity isn’t all concentrated at the top (low Gini coefficient)

      Where’s Norway? Where’s bankrupt Iceland?

  44. David Gluck says:

    And so Michael Shermer persists. May I make a suggestion Dr. Shermer? Start a blog of your own and post this kind of stuff over there. Come here and post those things that are relevant to skeptics. You know, the kind of stuff that is implied in the title of the “skepticblog”.

    My guess is you would not write what you wrote in the above blog in your column at Scientific American, so why do it here?

    I know you have a passion for the subject and that’s fine. But this is not the place for it, anymore than it would be the place for the other bloggers to promote liberalism or conservativism.

    We all have political opinions, so you can be assured that moving the kinds of blogs that deal with the promotion of your favorite political and economic view will not stop us from reading those kinds of opinion pieces on sites where they belong. Hell, we do that already.

    Give those of us who have a passion for skepticism and love a good skeptical read a break…

    • SicPreFix says:

      I will second that!

    • dglas says:

      Whatever your political stripe, it defeats the purpose of skeptical inquiry to be held as synonymous with any particular political ideology. We cannot expect someone like Shermer, who shields sacred cows with artificial limits to the scope of skeptical inquiry, to understand why reality must not become a matter of mere politics. We must understand it, however, lest we find ourselves voting on the age of the Earth like they do in Texas.

      Shermer is trying to forge a cult of personality out of skepticism, complete with a radical political ideology. The proof is in the introduction to every “Skeptic” magazine and in “Why People Believe Weird Things.” If dedication to one political philosophy is the “result” of skepticism, then I, as a pure skeptic, am happy to be excluded from Shermer’s chosen ones. His claims to a particular political ideology for skepticism are precisely why we cannot artificially limit the scope of skeptical inquiry.

      Skeptical inquiry is for the rich and the poor. Rational thought is for the rich and the poor. Science-based reasoning is for the rich and the poor. Reason is for everyone. It cares nothing about the wealth-states of individuals. It, itself, doesn’t play favourites, but it can be made to seem so by those who are only too prepared to warp it out of shape for political purposes.

      To wield skepticism like a dogma is akin to introducing faith-based evidence to science – it defeats the entire purpose of the enterprise, subverting inquiry to precisely what it is a defence against.

      We skeptics and freethinkers are compared to cats, due to independence of thought. Don’t start lapping cult-like nonsense up like dogs now.

  45. John Laing says:

    Paleolithic brains are at work here.

  46. Brian M says:

    Every time you post some of this mindless parroting, I lose a little respect for you. You are making some pretty bold assertions that philanthropy is the norm amongst the rich, but it is nowhere near the levels needed to pay for those who NEED it.

    I agree, we need to weed out the lazy from those with bad luck, but making blanket claims that a more socialist state is bad, is patently absurd. You like to throw numbers around that are meaningless to peoples quality of life. Perhaps you should look at those numbers before you assume that a higher GDP equals better lives for the population. And as I am sure you would agree, with this being our only life, a higher quality of life for all is paramount.

  47. John Laing says:

    Skepticism is not just 1960’s rebellion and iconoclasm. Skepticism should be productive, not just sophmoric destruction of the status quo.

    Transcend the past; open your minds; the defense and advocacy of egalitarian envy sounds in the paleothic.

    • AndrewB says:

      I would agree but not every here has the same understanding of economic theory. Myself for interest, and this posting just listed several assertions made by libertarians. What they say might very well be true, but this article contained no proofs that there were true, it didn’t explain much of anything it was all presented very unskeptically. Are readers to take what Mr. Schermer say as the truth based on faith?

      When all is said and done, two equally logically and reasonable people might still disagree on the morality of certain economic and political policy, which is what makes Schermer’s post such a point of contention. Its very subjective and seeming has little place on a more scientifically oriented fact based blog.

      I’m interested in learning more of what Schermer believes about the economy but it’s not asking to much that he actually presents a proof. Don’t just tell us it’s wrong, why is it wrong.

      (Reading Schermer’s post for the 4th time maybe all that’s meant by it is a rundown of things he heard at a econ conference. Still given his commitment to Libertarian theory, it should hardly be a surprise that no on took it as such. Still Skepticblog seems like the wrong forum for it.)

      • John Laing says:

        Read Mind of the Market.

        The tension between equality and liberty is nearly primordial; actually, it is paleolithic. Advocates of altruistic egalitarian taxation, who choose to ignore the accompanying disincentives to the general welfare created by the affect of their policies on individual conduct, are emoting more than they are thinking. Advocates of pure libertarian individualism are subject to a similar “me” centered form of emotional non-thought that overlooks the necessity of society to individual well being.

      • AndrewB says:

        That’s all fine and as I said before I would agree. Could you explain the connection between the first half of Schermer post and the second where he starts quoting Dan Mitchell. Mitchell insist that “Keynesianism does not work” and that’s it’s wrong.

        I do not see the connection, the stimulus policy for example; does not seem like it’s designed around the idea of achieving equality.
        And I have not studied enough economics to know if the above statement is true or not. That seems like an assertions stuck into the article. The proof might have been given to Schermer at the conference but its absent from the post.

        Considering you acknowledgement that both advocates have their bias. (I would agree again) A great skepticism is required by both the readers and the writer to not fall into them. That’s why I’m just asking question. Thanks for the recommendation of the book I’ll look for it.

      • John Laing says:

        Unless I mis-read the book, Mind of the Market, is an exploration of economics, not as a stand alone hard science, but as an aspect of socio-biology, or evolutionary psychology. That is, the thought processes of homo sapiens lack complete free will; contrary to economic theory, we are not rational economic beings, and we are certainly not rational political beings. Our thoughts and conduct are more the product of our evolutionary past than they are the product of present reasoning.

        Actually, our economic and political choices are pitiful. We are just awful. A good example – diet. Our tongues evolved to reward eating sugar, salt and grease. Now (through markets’ application of knowledge) we have cheap and ubiquitous sugar, salt, and grease. The result – we are walking heart attacks! We are admonished not to eat that stuff but our paleolithic tongues and brain stems trump our frontal lobes – almost every time.

        So, why should we believe that humanity’s political choices are any better than our dietary choices?

        Human innovation, in all aspects, has outstripped human evolution. Our political choices, as with our dietary choices, they too are made in a far different context. Do envy and jealousy and loyalty to the group still serve genetic fitness as much as they once did? We are using a brain that evolved to its present state in the paleolithic but it is forced to operate in the post-paleolithic.

        So, what default thought patterns do politicans make their appeals to? We have buttons to push. . .

        Private property and keeping what one catches or creates are concepts that did not serve the genetic fitness of the communal paleolithic brain. The markets and specialization and comparative advantage that thrive in the presence of property rights and individualism and generally enable the modern standard of living are largely incomprehensible to the paleolithic brain.

        As for the Mitchell part, Mitchell spoke at the same conference. Shermer wrote a report. Enough said. IMO, Keynes offers the perfect policy choice for a vote-buying politician who can’t be said to be a “do nothing” so he or she has to do something and that something is to spend other peoples’ money to buy votes and buying votes is usually “button pushing” on the envy and jealousy buttons that evolved in our evolutionary past. So, there, after all, there’s your connection.

      • epicurus says:

        Shermer’s evolutionary economics is interesting but it looks contrived to serve libertarian ideals. For instance, the claim that free market, specialization, property rights and individualism are incomprehensible to the Paleolithic brain is an exaggeration. After all, Paleolithic brains invented all these unless libertarians have a different brain anatomy than the rest of humanity.

        Individualism and selfishness are also evolved psychology like communism (not the political ideology) and altruism. They evolved in different contexts. Individualism and selfishness are a good strategy for survival when competition is on individual level like search for sexual partners and hunting for food where humans share only with their immediate family (who are also co-hunters). When humans started forming larger communities (tribes), competition shifted to the group level and communism and altruism became a good strategy for survival. Communities whose members share and care for each other had a better chance of success.

        Helping others gives us a sense of satisfaction and pride because altruism is an evolved psychology. Rejecting an evolved psychology because it is ‘irrational’ seems arbitrary. That we feel bonded to our spouse and that we find sex pleasurable are also evolved psychologies. If I were selfish, I’ll get rid of altruism but retain spouse and sex. If I were impotent, I’ll get rid of sex but retain spouse and altruism. If I were promiscuous, I’ll get rid of spouse but retain sex and altruism. Sure anybody can reject any evolved psychology at will but I don’t see a strong scientific basis why we should all do that, like we’re suckers for sugar but we should moderate eating sugar because it causes obesity.

  48. Jason Lee says:

    Nationalizing industry is a bigger pipe dream than libertarian economics. It might lead to better working conditions, but industries become inefficient and unprofitable because there’s no competition to motivate workers to perform better on the job? How could a socialist society succeed without the incentives of profit and constraints of competition?

    • epicurus says:

      Being anti-libertarianism doesn’t mean one is pro-socialism. Nationalizing industries is just as bad as privatizing government. Social welfare and government regulation of industries are not tantamount to socialism. If that were the case, then almost all countries in the world are socialist and we would be talking of the triumph of socialism instead of its demise. I think the debate is not libertarianism vs. socialism but unfettered free market capitalism vs. regulated capitalism. Libertarians want minimal or no government intervention. Non-libertarians believe government has an important role to play in society.

      Debate is good. It exposes dubious claims such as government spending (‘moving money from left pocket to right pocket’) does not produce wealth. Only private sector spending increases GDP? Actually the only way to produce wealth is to move money around. The Equation of Exchange holds MV = PQ where money supply (M) times velocity of money circulation (V) equals price level (P) times volume of all goods & services produced (Q). The product of PQ is the nominal GDP. What Shermer calls ‘left to right pocket wealth redistribution’ increases V. Taxing and spending by government do produce wealth. If the economy isn’t growing fast despite government spending, perhaps it is because the private sector isn’t spending enough.

      Another dubious claim is lowering taxes on the rich generates more revenue for government. Shermer shows taxes paid by millionaires increased five-fold when their tax rate decreased by 40% and calls it counterintuitive. Well maybe not. The number of millionaires increased seven-fold so expect their taxes to increase seven-fold. Did they become millionaires because of the tax cut? If they started as non-millionaires, how can a tax cut on millionaires enrich them? An alternative hypothesis is they did not become rich because of the tax cut and if not for the tax cut, tax collection would be even higher. This is not counterintuitive. It is rational.

      • Roy Edmunds says:

        A lot of good stuff here. I have noted Shermers limits of understanding which is common to us all. An American raconteur said a long time ago that we are all ignorant, just on different things.
        What I like about Shermer is that he jumps in fearlessly where angels fear to tread and stirs up one hell of a hornets nest. And it is stimulating to read the hornets incredible variety of responses with stings as individual as their finger prints.
        As someone who delights in thinking and exploring others thinking, and engaging in debate, discussion, postulating and thinking about what one is thinking about, the whole process is very envigorating.
        But ultimately it is the doers who change the world when all the dust of debate has settled. Something is going to happen. Lets hope the doers get it right. History suggests that when a nation has run its course, nothing can save them from subsiding into mediocrity or oblivion.
        Somehow I believe the United States of America is not ready to slip away. After all I think you are in the process of re inventing America with a black American at the helm. A guy who is eloquent and incisive.
        I hope he cuts ties with communist china, re regulates, introduces tarriffs to protect American industry from imports produced in slave labour states, like China, India, and any other country which does not celebrate the moral standards of free association, rule of law, human rights, work safety, and every other standard that we in our democratic cultures take for granted but which were fought for with people laying down their lives to protect. Lets not forget those who gave their lives for causes we have turned our backs on in recent times which have resulted in the mess we have to wade through for decades to come.

  49. AndrewB says:

    To John Laing The evolutionary psychology stuff is really interesting and I’ve heard people talk about it before. The Mitchell part really confuses me on an economic perspective, But you’re right that politicians manipulate voters emotions as well as tribal “team” mentality.

  50. Alan Hoch says:

    Again, we get yet another article from Michael Shermer presenting Libertarian ideology as established fact. I find it especially disturbing how he seems to resist if not outright reject calls for supporting many of the ideas which his posts take as fundamental givens.

    For example, the notion that it is established fact among economists that Kenyesianism “does not work” is nothing more than Libertarian wishful thinking that borders on an outright falsehood. If anything among many economists the current crisis is seen as confirmation of Keynesian theory. Now, whether or not later generations will ultimately agree with this conclusion doesn’t matter – the point is that the universal distain for Keynesian ideas that Shermer assumes as a self-evident truism is clearly invalid. As a result any deductions rising from that point are likewise invalid until he first demonstrates the superiority of his interpretation of events.

    Yet, this is a reoccurring flaw of his economics posts – time and time again he takes libertarian ideology as established fact. As such he ends up coming off as a preacher for the great church of libertarianism more than a scholar interested in empirical evidence. He is like a creationist who, surrounded only by other believers and sources professing the “truth” of a young earth, fails to even realize there are other alternatives. It doesn’t even seem to occur to him that his libertarian assumptions can’t fairly be taken as fundamental truisms – let alone that they might be so flawed as to in the end be flat out wrong.

    This attitude also makes real debate on the matters he raises difficult to impossible. He clearly is expecting a discussion of the finer points of his ideas if not outright praise only to instead be met with a legion of detractors questioning his fundamental assumptions. Such a fierce reaction would normally call for some self-reflection or at least stepping back to debate fundamental principles. Instead, there is no evidence he is listening to dissenting opinions at all let alone questioning his own assumptions. As a result his libertarian posts come off as those of a faith based believer who sees dissent as just expressions of ignorance. After all, it’s “obvious” he can’t be wrong.

    If Michael Shermer is interested is having real debates on libertarian ideas then he needs to realize that he has to prove his points starting from the beginning – and that he needs to respond meaningfully to his critics. If instead he continues with his current attitude of bringing the true faith to the ignorant masses regardless of the evidence and facts brought up disputing his views then I suggest he drop discussing this topic completely.

  51. “If Michael Shermer is interested is having real debates on libertarian ideas…..”

    He is not interested, at least not in this blog. Here, he posts, posters wail, no one gains nor loses, and that’s pretty much that.

  52. John Laing says:

    Why say “this is the wrong place to say what you said,” instead of “what you said is wrong because . . . ?”

    Calls for self censorship . . . . hmmmmm . . . if you don’t control the site, I guess that’s all you can do . . . . . . . . . . . . . sometimes, the truth hurts.

  53. I’d point out also that Mr. Shermer’s libertarianism posts are typically accompanied by a pic of his book, including a link for purchasing said book from his website. In that he will not deign to respond to commenters, we might assume his interest in presenting here is financial – making book sales.

  54. Roy Edmunds says:

    Did anyone listen to Obamas Green Bay address. Got it here in Australia. I think his administration is simply pre occupied with cleaning up the mess. To do nothing would be morally reprehensible. The human suffering in America because you have no universal health scheme is significant. You could turn your back on it, but is that an ethical thing to do? Obama does not want Govt. to take over everything, but he wants it to pick up what private enterprise does not in the health care society. I think that is a moral stand. If not now when, if not his administration, whose?
    Then there is the role of regulating. No one can rightly allow private enterprise to do anything they like. Human beings are an unstable animal, does anyone disagree with that? Just look at the mess the world is in. No other animal in history has succeeded in destroying completely as many other forms of flora and fauna and threatening his own existence on the planet as the human animal.
    People are just no damn good.
    So Obama has to re regulate. We tried, we failed, people are still people it seems. I mean, what incredible narcisistic types aspire to be CEO’s and rip out incredible sums of money from public companies while presiding over the collapse of the company. I know greedy people. Make a million and they want two, then four, then anything they can lay hands on. They die being worth millions, unspent on a million possible socially needed things and it is a sickness of the spirit. It has been around for a long time this sickness of acquisitiveness. Jesus railed against it.
    But we tend to think in broad terms instead of looking at specific people and understanding their psychological disorder. Clever, brilliant crooks. Narcisicism is alive and well and has to be regulated for otherwise we return to the ugly period of early industrial revolution times or like present day communist China in other words. And you should stop trading with the bloody communists for Gods sake. What the hell do you imagine you are gaining by trading with a totalitarian ruthless govt. which has scant regard for human rights and even less for the environment. It is the greedy narcisists in the business world who merely regard china as a billion dollar signs or a great source of cheap slave labour. Shame on all who trade with this evil govt. on equal terms. Slap on a tarriff on all their products and to hell with them. Doing deals with the devil is going to bring you all down. Not that I believe in the devil or God which is probably the reason with America today. You are neither one thing or another. You don’t fear God even though you profess belief in it/him/her and you don’t have relative ethics in your social relationships otherwise you would not go back to dealing in slavery which is what you are doing by trading with communist china. Australia is just as guilty.

  55. Cult of Reason says:

    The Skeptical/Fundie Atheist Community, much like the Libertarian community is such a clusterfuck of nonsense, that it often resembles a group of homeless people muttering random thoughts to themselves on a street corner.

    The only thing that these debates usually end up proving is that very little can be proven. At the very least, calm down. If this post somehow makes it to the future, please excuse the nonsense. We overvalued our knowledge, just as you will overvalue yours.

    Yes, this silly little huddle of animals, whose size, in relation to the Universe, is comparable to that of pond scum, believed that they had at last figured it out…for real this time!

    The Internet is depressing.

  56. Well, actually… your rather depressed nihilism comes far closer to the ramblings of the homeless, but thanks for sharing.

    “You are not superior just because you see the world in an odious light.” – Vicomte de Chateaubriand

  57. Jody says:

    As a bit of a counter to this post by Dr. Shermer, Dr. Massiomo Pigliucci, also a noted skeptic, interviewed with Atheist Talk Radio last week on economic systems, evolution and human nature.

    He presented a far more nuanced take on economics and liberty, pointing out that generally speaking, capitalism is better at providing happiness, wealth and liberty — except when it it doesn’t.

    It was a brief interview, but his summation was that a mix of free economics and social welfare measures are necessary to achieve the old greatest good for the greatest number.

    Discussion over points Dr. Pigliucci, or people like him, raise- strengths/ weaknesses of economic systems in light of research, not either/or but how much of each — would be a far more interesting and far more in keeping with the spirit of skepticism and a search for truth.

  58. Cult Of Reason says:

    “You are not superior just because you see the world in an odious light.” – Vicomte de Chateaubriand”

    No, I’m superior to you because I acknowledge the limits of the human mind. But hey, bickering about it clearly gives you something to do, and, at times, it probably makes you feel superior to certain people.

    You wouldn’t be the first self-described skeptic to get something wrong.

  59. Hasan says:

    I would be interested to know if there is any phenomenon that would falsify economic libertarianism. Too often, it seems to be portrayed as an ideology in a similar vein in which proponents of marxism still continue to defend marxism and attribute its failures to misunderstanding of the theory. Free markets work best in situations of open competition. But when the market is such that it is inherently monopolistic/oligopolistic, like power distribution for example, or where significant barriers to entry exist, then there is a chance that market players will resort to the basic human motive of minting money by taking undue advantage of the market.

    Although reegulation should be limited and aimed at ensuring transparency, the fact remains that there will be market failures in future as well. And given that many of us like to go for short term gains, this attribute of human nature would in itself fuel the market in a not-so-optimal direction.