Sunday, June 12, 2022

Economic and linguistic inflation

F. A. Hayek’s classic paper “The Use of Knowledge in Society” famously argued that prices generated in a market economy function to transmit information that economic actors could not otherwise gather or make efficient use of.  For example, the price of an orange will reflect a wide variety of factors – an increase in demand for orange juice in one part of the country, a smaller orange crop than usual in another part, changes in transportation costs, and so on – that no one person has knowledge of.  Individual economic actors need only adjust their behavior in light of price changes (economizing, investing in an orange juice company, or whatever their particular circumstances make rational) in order to ensure that resources are used efficiently, without any central planner having to direct them.

Inflation disrupts this system.  As Milton and Rose Friedman summarize the problem in chapter 1 of their book Free to Choose:

One of the major adverse effects of erratic inflation is the introduction of static, as it were, into the transmission of information through prices.  If the price of wood goes up, for example, producers of wood cannot know whether that is because inflation is raising all prices or because wood is now in greater demand or lower supply relative to other products than it was before the price hike.  The information that is important for the organization of production is primarily about relative prices – the price of one item compared with the price of another.  High inflation, and particularly highly variable inflation, drowns that information in meaningless static. (pp. 17-18)

I would suggest that a similar problem is posed by what is called linguistic or semantic inflation.  This occurs when the use of a word that once had a fairly narrow and precise meaning comes to be stretched well beyond that original application.  The result is that the word conveys less information than it once did.  One way this occurs is via the overuse of hyperbole.  The author of the article just linked to gives as examples words like “awesome” and “incredible.”  At one time, if an author used these terms to describe something, you could be confident that it was indeed highly unusual and impressive – a rare and extremely difficult achievement, a major catastrophe, or what have you.  Now, of course, these terms have become utterly trivialized, applied to everything from some fast food someone enjoyed to a tweet one liked.  At one time, calling something “awesome” or “incredible” conveyed significant information because these terms would be applied only to a small number of things or events.  Today it conveys very little information because the words are applied so indiscriminately.

Now, the same thing is true of words like “racism” and “bigotry.”  At one time, to call someone a “racist” implied that he was patently hostile to people of a certain race, and to call someone a “bigot” implied that he was closed-minded about certain groups of people or ideas.  Accordingly, these terms conveyed significant information.  If someone really was a racist, this would manifest itself in behaviors like badmouthing and avoiding people of races he disliked, favoring policies that discriminated against them, and so on.  If someone really was a bigot, this would manifest itself in behaviors like being intolerant of those he disagreed with, refusing calmly to discuss or debate their ideas, and so on.

Today the use of these terms has been stretched far beyond these original applications.  In part this is a result of hyperbole born of political partisanship.  Labelling political opponents “racists” and “bigots” is a useful way to smear them and to stifle debate, just as hyping something as “awesome” or “incredible” is (or once was, anyway) a useful way to draw attention to it.  But the stretching of these terms has also resulted from the influence of ideologies (such as Critical Race Theory) that claim to reveal novel forms of racism and bigotry of which earlier generations were unaware – forms that float entirely free of the intentions or overt behavior of individuals.  The result is that even people who exhibit no behavior of the kind once thought paradigmatically racist and who harbor no negative attitudes about people of other races can still be labeled “racist” if, for example, they dissent from CRT or other woke analyses and policy recommendations.

In fact, the words have drifted so far from their original meanings that today it is precisely those who are most prone to fling around words like “racist” and “bigot” who are themselves most obviously guilty of racism and bigotry in the original, narrower and more informative senses of the terms.  They will, for example, shrilly and bitterly denounce “whiteness, “white consciousness,” and the like as inherently malign, even as they claim to eschew negative characterizations of any racial group.  They will refuse to engage the arguments of their opponents and try instead to shout them down and hound them out of the public square, even as they accuse those opponents of bigotry.

Partisan hyperbole and wokeness have thus introduced so much “static” (to borrow Friedman’s term) into linguistic usage that the terms no longer convey much information.  They now usually tell us little more than that the speaker doesn’t like the people or ideas at which he is flinging these epithets.  It is no surprise, then, that use of these terms is increasingly generating more eyeball-rolling and yawns than outrage or defensiveness.  As with “awesome,” “incredible,” and the like, overuse inevitably decreases effectiveness.  The indiscriminate use of “racism” and “bigotry” is like printing too much money – in the short term it produces a euphoric jolt, but in the long-term it is self-defeating.

Related posts:

“Pastoral” and other weasel words

Meta-bigotry

Some varieties of bullsh*t

81 comments:

  1. This article is pure linguistic common sense and very relevant. There are a lot of words like that out there. That said, I'd have liked an explanation of what to do about the linguistic inflation of terms like "racist" and "bigot." Do we try to "reclaim" these words, or do we avoid using them to avoid creating "static"?

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    1. Stick to the strict traditional definition.

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    2. How is that supposed to work?

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    3. I generally avoid using such words to avoid misunderstanding and to avoid perceptions of virtue signaling. At the same time, we need to insist on their real definitions in order to defend ourselves from spurious accusations of being 'racists' and 'bigots'.

      I also don't agree with the strategy adopted by some on the right of embracing the label 'racist' and claiming that because many of the behaviors that (falsely) get called 'racist' are not wrong, that therefore racism is not wrong.

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  2. George Orwell makes a very similar point in his essay "Politics and the English Language:"

    "The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’. The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice, have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. "

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    1. I was going to mention 'Politics and the English Language' as well.

      In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides.

      This is what I've noticed about political arguments. All involved seem to deliberately avoid the basic principles of a rational discussion. Of course the 'left' is worse at this, but what passes for conservatism is pretty bad too.

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    2. I am fairly familiar with the misuse of "fascism", and I can see that "socialist" is often used to describe things that only tend toward an end that might be socialist (as on a slippery slope), but are not per se socialist. And it is true that "democracy" is sometimes mis-applied to certain things, such as "the Democratic Republic" communist dictatorships, but they did so intending to invoke the semantic cachet of democracy, not to CHANGE the word's meaning to stand for "dictatorship".

      Freedom, realistic, and justice, however, have different meanings because people cannot agree on the foundational formal and material principles of them, not because people are misusing the words. Which is also true of the word "happiness", although in a different way: there, people cannot agree on WHAT MAKES all persons happy, they don't disagree on whether happiness is desirable. Somewhat similarly, people disagree about what sorts of things will constitute just acts, but not about whether justice is better than injustice, nor about whether justice has to do with (in some way or other) what each is due. (Even a rabid materialist who might say "nobody is DUE anything because there is no such thing as morality", but in so saying he would be disputing whether people ought to bother with justice, but not about the fact that the word's meaning has to do with "what you are due".)

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    3. I recommend C.S. Lewis's *Studies in Words*. Watching him trace the history of words, often enough to the graves of their usefulness, is very instructive.

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    4. "This is what I've noticed about political arguments. All involved seem to deliberately avoid the basic principles of a rational discussion."

      Probably because it is a completely diferent thing...

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  3. Agreed.

    I think some on the Right have the same problem with labelling any situation, where taxes are used to provide social services, "communist" or "socialist". It's done so much that many ignorant people will gladly call themselves socialists thinking it is simply that: supporting of social services or the social welfare state.

    Now, since labelling someone "socialist" isn't deemed much of an epithet to them, the new move is to then try to equate socialism with fascism and call them "fascists". I'm not sure how successful that will be.

    I do worry that the word "groomer" might end up with the same problem. There is clearly grooming of kids in to weird sexual and gender ideologies going on, however, even stuff that isn't explicitly that is being lumped in, in an attempt to create a stigma that is all encompassing. Again, I don't know how successful that is going to be.

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    1. I don't think there's much risk of these terms being overused into meaningless by the right.

      The main reason the left had to keep expanding the definitions of "racist" and "bigot" is precisely because they were running out of any ACTUAL racism or bigotry among their opponents to make hay of, and in fact far there was (and is) far more of it on their own side.

      On the other hand, the sexual grooming of children that the left almost universally approves of keeps getting more extreme and overt, so there's less and less need to expand the description. And in the same way, the actions of the Biden regime, whether it be mass censorship and lockdowns, propaganda, show trials, political mob violence, attempts to disarm the citizenry, or economic policies leading to food shortages and rapid inflation, continue to more closely resemble actual Stalinist communism. And every sign is that the left's behavior is only going to continue in the direction of matching those unexpanded terms exactly.

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    2. Deuce is right. This goes back to the left's inability to meme. Memes show reality or it's opposite with preschool clarity, while leftist language is full of cognitive dissidence (static). Conservatives try to stay grounded, they conserve the meaning of words for the very purpose of conforming their thoughts to reality.

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    3. @Billy

      "I think some on the Right have the same problem with labelling any situation, where taxes are used to provide social services, "communist" or "socialist". It's done so much that many ignorant people will gladly call themselves socialists thinking it is simply that: supporting of social services or the social welfare state."

      That is quite a good point! A youtuber here made the same point: by equating these more moderate positions with socialism them the Right unfortunately tend to generate on common folks a association between being a socialist and wanting to help the poor or having sane positions on economics*, making people that would never tolerate socialism seeing it as something reasonable and a defense of market economies as something a likely evil person could make.

      Here even a lot of politicians and personalitied that are not socialists at all do use the label and the ones who tend to criticize that are only actual socialists.

      *are these positions good to the poor or the only sane ones on economics? Irrelevant, all that matters is that they are perceived as so

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    4. I beg to differ. The right is really bad about flinging the words "socialist" and "communist" out there for anything that is centrally organized, top down, limiting of "freedom" or free markets, or done by a government actor.

      A lot of beltway conservatives and libertarians would call a traditional view of government communist. The folks over at the National Review call Plato a socialist. It's ridiculous.

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    5. @Tim the White Truth isn't decided by memes. If that were the case, then you should convert to atheism, because their memes are much more on-the-nose than Christianity's.

      Truth is decided by logic and empiricism.

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    6. Infinite,

      I did not say truth was DECIDED by memes. I mentioned them as a form of language that lends itself to axiomatic expression.

      Of coarse Truth has more profound foundations.

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  4. I suspect that trying to reclaim them is a hopeless project. Making a point of using them properly (only in their more limited sense) does nothing to OFFSET the improper uses. Not using them at all will leave the ideological over-users a clear playing field of (over) use. Most likely, a dedicated attack would be the only thing that could be successful. For example, take a case of linguistic inflation that isn't connected to ideology), the silly use of "literally" to become an intensifier instead of distinction against "figuratively" or "metaphorically" or even "unexaggeratedly." It might work to reclaim it by having comedians relentlessly make fun of the over-use / wrong use of "literally", e.g.: by using phrases that compound the silliness, such as "literally figuratively" and its complement "figuratively literally" in satire, and in outright mockery. The problem is, outright attack such as this almost certainly would not work on ideologically-based inflation, as it would be taken as a direct attack on the ideological theory itself, rather than on its misuse of language. And that would not be tolerated.

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  5. The right has done something similar with "communist" and "socialist", although it's harder to see since most mainstream media leans left.

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  6. So true. Let me add the word "fascist", thrown around by the left without any knowledge about its original meaning, or about those who seriously studied it like Zeev Sternhell, or Henry Ashby Turner.

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  7. The question liberal churchmen can't answer. "What does it mean to have a pastoral approach?"

    Does it mean to treat men as if their souls are at stake?
    Does it mean to "smell like the sheep" if the sheep are trads?
    Does it mean encouraging examination of conscience and subsequent confession?
    Does it mean bringing more people to heaven?
    Does it mean helping people to avoid the eternal torment of hell?
    Does it mean rescuing people from "this generation['s]" or "the world the flesh and the devil[s']" propaganda?
    Does it mean teaching people to be cautious about near occasion of sin?
    Does it mean people should be good citizens in the face of radically unjust laws about corrupting or murdering innocents?
    Does it mean recognizing and pointing out the leaders who corrupt the flock and preventing them from continuing?

    I have to admit I'm a little lost.

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    1. Bill Solomon, to be "pastoral" is to accompany the children of God as they make their faith journey -- where "accompany" means "condone anything they do," "children of God" means "everyone," and "faith journey" means "any belief at all, from atheism to Islam."

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  8. Linguistic Inflation just means that a language is alive and humans are continuing to use it. That is part of the utility of ecclesiastical Latin--it acts like "metric" language. It's meanings are very precisely known and they are used in the light of those precise meanings. There is no slang in ecclesiastical latin, there is no drift of meaning, no "linguistic inflation", because it is used in a very narrow way for a very specific purpose. If we used Latin for common everyday speech, then it would cease to be a metric language and would experience linguistic inflation.

    I have heard it described that this is what happened to Hebrew, which was a metric language until it became revived for use in Israel and it has since begun to experience linguistic inflation which tends to happen when a language enters everyday parlance.

    Interesting article! The snippet on economics has given me a lot to think about re: economic inflation as well. Thank you!

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    1. Scoot, I think what you are referring to is "linguistic DRIFT", wherein the users cause the language to change by internal usages being different: such changes MAY cause certain words or forms to carry less OR MORE information, it can go either way. This is not specifically inflation, which refers to a unidirectional change and which effectively decreases information flow.

      The fact that living languages DO in fact drift, does not mean that all such drift changes are (a) good, or (b) unavoidable. It is entirely possible that a bad change in the making can be stopped in its tracks by a sufficient push from those who are invested in keeping the good of the existing form. I would argue, for example, that we are seeing the first movements of a drift in the proper first-person pronoun to be used as an object in compound objects: In the past 10 years, I have seen dozens - if not hundreds - of cases in public (i.e. on TV) or in print where the user says such a thing as "he sent John and I a book". If this is not combated attentively, I think that in 100 years that construction will be considered "proper" English, even though it has no foundation other than a pure, out-and-out mistake on what the "John and I" rule is about. But it is early enough that it COULD be stopped, if people who know the difference were to decide they care enough to speak up about it.

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    2. To be fair, if it were not for the tribalistic political battles we see them several words would not get overused to oblivion. "Democracy" make the process of development of language quite diferent than normal with some terms.

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  9. Stop me if you heard this one.
    The English teacher told the student that his composition was good except that he used two words far too often. One word was awesome the other sucks.
    After a short pause the student said, “Well what are they?”

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  10. At one time, to call someone a “racist” implied that he was patently hostile to people of a certain race, and to call someone a “bigot” implied that he was closed-minded about certain groups of people or ideas. Accordingly, these terms conveyed significant information.

    There is a difference between "considerable" and "narrowly-specified".

    According to your not-quite-a-definition, it would be impossible for a law to be racist (for example, a law against black people swimming in a specific pool), because laws do not have minds to closed nor open. People following the law (keeping black people out of said pool) would not be engaging in racist activities, because of their intent in following the law. Yet, despite there being no racist intent, it seems ridiculous to saw such a law is not racist. So, we can't just limit the definition of "racist" to a certain mind-set.

    Today the use of these terms has been stretched far beyond these original applications.

    Conservatives often complain of the word being used in new ways, but always, always fail to offer acceptable alternatives. Perhaps a person of your abilities will differ. What's the right word, in your opinion, for societal and legal structures that act against people of a specific race?

    In fact, the words have drifted so far from their original meanings that today it is precisely those who are most prone to fling around words like “racist” and “bigot” who are themselves most obviously guilty of racism and bigotry in the original, narrower and more informative senses of the terms.

    You are accusing many people being racists who deny there is a biological component to racism. It's almost as if your racial essentialism were so ingrained that you can't see the disconnect there. However, i have every confidence this is not true.

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    1. You are accusing many people being racists who deny there is a biological component to racism.

      I am unable to parse out what you even mean here. The "many people" that Feser was referring to would be, primarily, those who are most vocal in advancing CRT as a model of thinking about things political / cultural. Are you saying that many of these "deny that there is a biological component to racism".

      Actually, what would it mean for there to be a "biological component of racism"? Does it refer to a gene (or a complex of several genes) that CAUSE a person to be racist, so that (for example) a person with such genes would likely grow up to be racist even in a world that harbored absolutely no racist cultural or political problems (i.e. if all races were equal in every cultural and political matter). I assume you do not mean "a biological component of race", which could be genes groups which might be held in common by people with notably similar characteristics like hair color, skin pigmentation, or facial shapes. Would a person who bears a "biological component of racism" be LESS culpable for being a racist, since he is not responsible for his own biology?

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    2. Cut us some slack,
      We can't all be literal geniuses like you.

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    3. In that definition, Feser was clearly talking about the term as applied to people. Just look at the context. I've no doubt that he would have a similar and sufficient definition for laws as well.

      Laws don't just make themselves; they are conceived of and promulgated by a person or persons. If someone made a law with a hostile intent toward people of a certain race, or in a way that was close-minded, he would be racist and/or bigoted. If you could show the law was primarily made with such a motivation, and the law was effective at achieving such an end, you could easily call the law racist/bigoted.

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    4. "What's the right word, in your opinion, for societal and legal structures that act against people of a specific race?"

      Explicitly? Racist. In Feser's previous post on racism, he does just that. I think he is talking specifically about people in this instance, "to call someone a 'racist'".

      http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2020/09/scholastics-contra-racism.html

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    5. Billy,

      Why only explicitly, and not implicitly?

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    6. Anonymous,

      I agree with what you said. I would go further: social structures did not make themselves, they were made by people with power for the benefit of people with power. When you go along with a social structure that was created by racist norms and helps enact racist outcomes, even if you are unaware of this, it has a racist effect. Do you disagree?

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    7. One Brow,

      Because legal structures that coincidentally act against people of a specific race can't be racist. It's just a coincidence. Asians are currently the biggest benefiters of current legal structures by a wide margin, yet that hardly concludes that the legal structures are racist against Whites. It's just a coincidence.

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    8. @One Brow

      I don't disagree that IF social structures were created for primarily racist/bigoted motives and accomplish racist/bigoted outcomes (as defined above), then the structures could be called racist/bigoted. However, those who unknowingly go along with them, while perpetuating them, would not themselves be racist/bigoted, as this requires some amount of knowledge and intent.

      But I disagree that most social structures are made this way, that those at top always and only seek power, or that we can even clearly trace the origin of social structures, which usually draw from many aspects of a society over long periods of time.

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    9. One Brow,

      Do you think legal structures are implicitly discriminatory against people who are raised in single parent homes, simply because they are massively over-represented in crime statistics, even if coming from a single-parent home isn't known?

      If, say, courts did what some symphony orchestra's did with musical auditions, and made the court case blind, so no one could see the defendant, say that they even mask the voice and do their best to disallow any reference to the persons appearance or ancestry (even no names), if a particular race is still over-represented in convictions, would you still say its racist?

      By the way, those blind auditions were stopped by some because it was leading to less women and people of color being accepted. Funny that, huh? They basically stopped it because it wasn't being discriminatory against white men enough.

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    10. B9,

      When someone is stepping on your toe, do you want them to explain it's an accident and they had no intention of stepping there, or do you want them to get off your toe. If you had to choose, which would be more important?

      There are clear causes and lines to many of the current social structures, such as segregated neighborhoods, that were the direct intention of specific racist policies. It's not hard to follow at all.

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    11. When you go along with a social structure that was created by racist norms and helps enact racist outcomes, even if you are unaware of this, it has a racist effect. Do you disagree?

      "It has a racist effect" does NOT imply that the person who "goes along with it" IS a racist, even implicitly or derivatively or indirectly. For example, the law might have a racist effect but ALSO have good, worthwhile, and legitimate non-racist effects as well. If, on balance, the good effects it has outweigh the evil effects, the person who "goes along with it" might be (and should be presumed to be) intending and willing the overall good in spite of and without desiring the evil effects, and this is not racist. (This is just what the principle of double effect specifies.) Furthermore, the person who "goes along with it" might be going along with it ONLY in the sense that there is nothing he can see available to him to change it, within the prudent options, and therefore he "doesn't change it" only because he can't change it, not because he doesn't desire to change it. He would not be racist for "going along with it."

      The latter situation is, indeed, VERY MUCH the situation with many laws and social structures that have racist effects, for very many whites (and those of other races, too). For example, suppose my neighbor is a (self-proclaimed) racist and goes around spouting racist comments. I would like to be able to stop his saying such things, but under the 1st Amendment he has free speech rights. And there would be far more damage to society to get rid of the 1st Amendment than to simply allow him to continue making those comments. (Yes, this is a simplistic example, but there are vastly many complex ones that have similar logical features.)

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    12. What is a "racist effect" or "racist outcome"? Is that Ibram X Kendi’s definition of racism as any law, policy or institution that produces unequal racial group outcomes (i.e. equity)? This is the reason 'antiracists' believe meritocracy is racist (as well as mathematics, logic, science and grammar). When merit is rewarded, certain racial groups do not succeed as well as others. It isn't clear what a "racist effect" is. What we can be clear of are racist acts, i.e. particular unjust acts specifically motivated by race.

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    13. There are clear causes and lines to many of the current social structures, such as segregated neighborhoods,

      I agree that there were segregated neighborhoods. Since laws were passed making it illegal to restrict home sales (and mortgages) based on race, there are precious few neighborhoods that REMAIN fully segregated by race, though the proportions of race representation still bears some relation to those old segregation methods. However, BY FAR the main cause of the remaining difference in different proportions of race representation in any given non-white neighborhood are (a) income, and (b) free choice (i.e. by people who could afford to live in a higher-income racially mixed neighborhood, and decline the opportunity, and by people who could live in an equally income-depressed neighborhood with a different predominant race, and decline the opportunity). To the extent that income difference is, itself, racially caused, (a) is a race-related segregating cause. But it is not a uniform one, evidenced by the (many) examples of individual blacks leaving those neighborhoods to move into "whiter" neighborhoods by achieving even modest increases in income.

      Anecdotally, I have lived in moderately depressed-income neighborhood, which was VERY diverse racially, and in a moderately middle-class neighborhood, whose racial representation quite well matched the national population ratios. I have brushed shoulders with a number of high-income neighborhoods, and not once have I seen one whose racial make-up represents FULL segregation by wholly excluding blacks, (or Hispanics, or Asians, ...)

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    14. One Brow,

      Do you support school choice? The lack of school choice basically forces poor inner-city majority Black youth to go to terribly performing public schools, perpetuating problems in majority Black neighborhoods that don't perpetuate (as much) in other neighborhoods.

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    15. Billy,
      Because legal structures that coincidentally act against people of a specific race can't be racist. It's just a coincidence.

      I assume you mean "unintentional". Either way, neither "coincidental" nor "unintentional" is the same as "implicit".

      Asians are currently the biggest benefiters of current legal structures by a wide margin,

      In what way? I have serious doubts that this is true.

      Do you think legal structures are implicitly discriminatory against people who are raised in single parent homes, simply because they are massively over-represented in crime statistics, even if coming from a single-parent home isn't known?

      Actually, some of them are. Those that require bail, the ability to mount an effective defense when accused of a crime, pollution-free housing, good schools, etc.

      If, say, courts did what some symphony orchestra's did with musical auditions, and made the court case blind, so no one could see the defendant, say that they even mask the voice and do their best to disallow any reference to the persons appearance or ancestry (even no names), if a particular race is still over-represented in convictions, would you still say its racist?

      If possible, that would reduce one aspect of racism.

      By the way, those blind auditions were stopped by some because it was leading to less women and people of color being accepted. Funny that, huh? They basically stopped it because it wasn't being discriminatory against white men enough.

      I'm aware that one person called for an end to blind auditions in 2020 in the NYT. Where have they actually stopped?

      Do you support school choice? The lack of school choice basically forces poor inner-city majority Black youth to go to terribly performing public schools, perpetuating problems in majority Black neighborhoods that don't perpetuate (as much) in other neighborhoods.

      To my knowledge, in most metropolitan areas, the well-performing schools are in completely different school districts from the under-performing. School choice doesn't help when all you choices are inadequate. Even when there is a difference, in a city like St. Louis, having your kids commute 45 mins to bet to a better school lessens the benefit. In a larger area like NYC, I'm sure it can help. Then again, NYC had some school choice for high schools long before it became a conservative talking point.

      Most schools aren't run on a capitalistic basis, and those that are seem to be inferior to those that are not. Introducing capitalistic paradigms into a non-capitalistic institution creates tension in the objectives. After all, some people are going to wind up at the poorer school, regardless.

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    16. Tony,
      "It has a racist effect" does NOT imply that the person who "goes along with it" IS a racist, even implicitly or derivatively or indirectly.

      So, you're more interested in personal exoneration than creating change, and don't like using that adjective to describe it? Are people supposed to sympathize with you on this?

      For example, the law might have a racist effect but ALSO have good, worthwhile, and legitimate non-racist effects as well. If, on balance, the good effects it has outweigh the evil effects, the person who "goes along with it" might be (and should be presumed to be) intending and willing the overall good in spite of and without desiring the evil effects, and this is not racist.

      Unless you can demonstate that the good effect is impossible to obtain without racial harm, it's incumbent on us to improve the law to remove the harm.

      He would not be racist for "going along with it."

      Such person should at least perform an analysis to verify that they are causing minimal harm.

      For example, suppose my neighbor is a (self-proclaimed) racist ...

      I don't advocate outing people for their opinions., and I don't blame harms caused by individuals on society generally.

      However, BY FAR the main cause of the remaining difference in different proportions of race representation in any given non-white neighborhood are (a) income, and (b) free choice (i.e. by people who could afford to live in a higher-income racially mixed neighborhood, and decline the opportunity, and by people who could live in an equally income-depressed neighborhood with a different predominant race, and decline the opportunity).

      You forgot to include the effects of housing appreciation on the ability to afford more expensive neighborhoods. In non-redlined areas, housing values rose and created wealth for their owners. In redlined neighborhoods, which were often set aside in environmentally unfriendly areas, housing values stalled. This affect not only the ability to trade up, but also local schools, libraries, etc. None of these effects ended when red-lining went away.

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    17. So, you're more interested in personal exoneration than creating change, and don't like using that adjective to describe it?

      I am not "intent on exoneration" as such, I am intent on doing the most good and least harm possible (where "possible" takes into account REAL constraints and is not pie-in-the-sky imaginary).

      Unless you can demonstate that the good effect is impossible to obtain without racial harm, it's incumbent on us to improve the law to remove the harm.

      There are two competing goals here: eradicating a known evil, and preserving a known good. The principle of double effect, which applies to such cases, assumes as a criterion that the good cannot be achieved without the harm being allowed also. Where there IS a method for the good to be achieved without the harm, "double-effect" has no bearing and you just use that method.

      You are posing an added constraint about the epistemic problem of knowing whether the good can or cannot be achieved without the evil. This problem attends ALL prudential moral judgments, and constitutes no distinctive elements of difficulty for the double-effect cases: probable reasoning, preponderance of the evidence, etc apply. However, the conservative principle stands as a modeling standard: that custom and long practice are in themselves conducive to certain social goods, and therefore should not be upset unless it is established that the change will produce harms less damaging than the goods that will be achieved. The "establishing" will, normally, entail the same prudential reasoning with projections of probable outcomes, i.e. probable reasoning, and not absolute proof.

      Hence, where there is a law or custom that was clearly made from the beginning with racist animus as its motivation, there may be a fairly strong presumption that changing that law will cause fewer evils (relatively speaking) and bring good than most other changes, but the prudential balancing must still be carried out. Where the law was NOT clearly made with a racist motivation, there will be less reason to make that presumption and more cases are likely to pose difficulties as to whether changing the law brings more good than evil.

      Delete
    18. Tony,

      I read you comment, and I believe I largely agree with it. thank you for the dialogue.

      Delete
  11. And the result of such linguistic inflation is most likely to result in an increasing number of genuine instances of racism, bigotry, awesomeness, etc also being met with yawns and eye-rolling, as with the boy who cried wolf.

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  12. Tony,

    I meant to thank you earlier for pointing out my lack of clarity. I should have said something closer to 'You are accusing many people being racists who deny that there is a meaningful biological feature that justifies creating a separate group for humans'.

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    Replies
    1. Sure thing. And thanks for this clarification / adjustment.

      Would it be a useful addition to your "closer to" adjustment, to add to it "You are accusing many people of being racists who deny that there is a meaningful biological feature that justifies coordinately meaningfully separate groups of humans for separate treatment"?

      Here's an example of what I mean: one might posit that "Having dark-pigmented skin IS a distinction from having lightly-pigmented skin, but it is not a meaningful distinction justifying different treatment." But someone might reply that "well, in MY case it is, because my employment advertisement was intended to get applicants for commercials for sunscreen, and in that context, skin pigment is indeed meaningful for different treatment. If I employ someone who naturally has very dark skin, I cannot show the manifest difference between using the sunscreen and not using it on him." That would imply that "meaninful" really depends on circumstances. Similarly, it would seem to be idiotic to demand that a medical researcher use as a sample population just as many whites as blacks for a drug testing prevention of cycle cell anemia effects.

      The point, I think, is that difference in skin pigment doesn't have a meaningful relationship to an appropriately-judged difference in treatment, in a vastly huge range of social and legal interactions.

      Delete
    2. Tony,

      Even in your example, as you should know given your experience, there actually would be a difference between using sunscreen and not using it.

      Is there a difference in how sickle cell presents in people of various races? There might be important reasons for the inclusion of white people.

      Overall, I agree with you in what should be.

      Delete
    3. 'You are accusing many people being racists who deny that there is a meaningful biological feature that justifies creating a separate group for humans'.

      I don't understand this objection. It seems to be just straightforwardly begging the question.

      Delete
    4. Even in your example, as you should know given your experience, there actually would be a difference between using sunscreen and not using it.

      Absolutely: black people need protection from UV rays too. My point is that the VISUAL difference is not as readily apparent on darkly-pigmented skin, regardless of the race of that person. So someone making a commercial to visually SHOW the difference the sunscreen makes would not work as well with, say, a very deeply tanned white person, or a person from India with very dark skin, or a black person from Nigeria with very dark skin, or a deeply tanned person of Mayan descent from Guatemala.

      Delete
    5. Ian,

      As I understand it, racism creates a separation into groups based on biological criteria. If a mind accepts there is no meaningful biological criteria with which to segregation, the conditions which allow racism do not exist in that mind.

      Delete
    6. One Brow,

      That would be precisely what would be disputed though: whether or not the fact that one denies that there are meaningful biological criteria with which to distinguish groups entails that he cannot be guilty of racism.

      One could imagine an interlocutor for instance charging that his very rejection of the reality of racial distinctions is racist because it refuses to acknowledge a key feature of people's identities.

      (Whether this interlocutor is right or wrong is not the point, I'm only pointing out that he has been given no reason to accept the premise.)

      Delete
  13. Billy,

    If a law is drafted that requires every person who has ever used a handle of "Billy" in a comment section to pay $1000 extra in taxes every year, do you really think that 1) such things happen by accident, and 2) even if it were unintentional, does that really matter to you when your forking over the $1000?

    I am curious how you think "Asians are currently the biggest benefiters of current legal structures by a wide margin". That's not what I see at all.

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    Replies
    1. One Brow,

      You are designating explicitly the handle, "Billy". There is nothing implicit about it. If, say, it applied to all people who started using any handle at all in a certain period of time, and "Billy" was overrepresented in that time period, then it could easily be an accident. More investigation could indicate it's not an accident though, but the mere overrepresentation isn't enough by itself to imply anything.

      Asians are, by a wide margin, the most successful racial group in America. They are overrepresented in practically every positive statistic there is, and underrepresented in practically every negative statistic there is. This even applies across different socio-economic statuses. Related to legal structures, in criminal convictions alone, Asians are the most underrepresented, being 5.9% of the population, but only 1.5% of all convictions. The mere underrepresentation of a race, or mere overrepresentation, doesn't by itself prove any explicit or implicit bias.

      Delete
    2. Billy,

      Just because I used it explicitly does not mean a hypothetical law would. It might use some combination of letter values in fancy ways, with "Billy" being an unintended consequence. At any rate, you did not answer my question.

      Many Asian came to this country with degrees, funding from family or other sources, etc. They came in as middle- or upper-class people, and slightly underperformed for their original social status. None of this is related to their legal status.

      Delete
    3. One Brow,

      If it's unintended, it is by accident. And would it matter to me that its unintended? Nope, but it doesn't mean I should assume it is discriminatory against me.

      How about this real life example that just showed up in the last few days. Bow and Arrows coffee roasters literally just put an ad out on Instagram for staff, with the last line stating "yt CIS males are back of the line"

      Is that racist, sexist, and cis-phobic?

      BTW, they removed it and apologized to "LGBTQ2SP+ & BIPOC communities that may have read our de-prioritizing the hiring of CIS white males as therefore a requisite for outing oneself if not presenting or as passing as white and CIS."

      I wish I was making this up. It's now racist to everyone except whites to explicitly de-prioritize white people over everyone else.

      As for your point about Asians, again, they still perform better than any other race, even whites. Whites have dramatically dropped off, if we are looking at status over time. Clearly, the system is benefitting them more so than any other race. I'm not sure about your point about legal status. Generally, everyone has equal legal status in America today (except when the Biden administration tried to exclude white farmers, and only white farmers from stimulus packages last year).

      Delete
    4. Billy,

      If something treats you differently based on your internet handle, it's discriminatory regardless of intention.

      https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/discriminate

      Is that racist, sexist, and cis-phobic?

      When the people in question become oppressed minorities, then yes.

      I wish I was making this up. It's now racist to everyone except whites to explicitly de-prioritize white people over everyone else.

      That's not what the apology said. It said that people's right to deal with oppression by not coming out should be respected.

      As for your point about Asians, again, they still perform better than any other race, even whites.

      This has been studied. When you adjust for economic status, education, etc., Asians don't outperform white people. Have you ever looked up the "model minority" syndrome?

      Delete
    5. "Is that racist, sexist, and cis-phobic?"

      When the people in question become oppressed minorities, then yes.


      This is the fundamental flaw in progressive thinking. It discriminates against individuals based on race, sex, and gender, which indeed is racist, sexist, and in this case cis-phobic. It doesn't somehow become okay just because the victims of discrimination are not perceived to be "oppressed" by certain people.

      Delete
    6. This Asians are smart meme needs to die.

      Delete
    7. Anonymous,

      Flowing into the oppressive vectors of society feeds oppression, fighting those vectors lessens oppression. It's not complicated.

      Delete
    8. Flowing into the oppressive vectors of society feeds oppression, fighting those vectors lessens oppression. It's not complicated.

      So you're saying that hiring a straight white male is participating in oppression, but discriminating against them due to those traits is perfectly acceptable? Because that is seriously repugnant on a moral level, utterly unfair to any white male, and blatantly racist and sexist.

      Seeing as how that would be an awful belief, I assume that's not what you are saying, but I'm not able to come up with an alternative explanation.

      Delete
    9. Anonymous,

      Hiring a straight white male is not necessarily participating in oppression, while discriminating against those traits might not be fighting it.

      However, as a white, cishet male I've received so benefits from that status over the course of my life that it would border on whiny neuroticism to insist that I could never be disadvantaged in some minor way as compensation. I wish I saw some sign that you cared about the seriously repugnant, utterly unfair, awful treatment dished out to people who are not white, cishet males, but right now you are coming across as someone standing on the hilltop and angry that it's not higher.

      Delete
    10. However, as a white, cishet male I've received so benefits from that status over the course of my life that it would border on whiny neuroticism to insist that I could never be disadvantaged in some minor way as compensation.

      That you think not only do these traits define you, but somehow make you deserving of discrimination, is a mindset I will never share. You don't deserve to be discriminated against except over behavior or things under your control.

      I wish I saw some sign that you cared about the seriously repugnant, utterly unfair, awful treatment dished out to people who are not white, cishet males, but right now you are coming across as someone standing on the hilltop and angry that it's not higher.

      The only hill I'm standing on is the one for people who oppose all discrimination based on uncontrollable demographic traits like skin color or sex, which means that yes, I absolutely do care about those things. I would venture to say I care about it more than you since I apply the same concern to white straight males, while you don't seem to care if they get discriminated against.

      Such discrimination is morally wrong. Every time.

      Delete
    11. "You don't deserve to be discriminated against except over behavior or things under your control... I apply the same concern to white straight males, while you don't seem to care if they get discriminated against."

      Very well said Anonymous.
      Discrimination on the basis of characteristics over which an individual has no control (race, sex, etc...) is always immoral, period.
      The end can never justify the means.
      The rights of an innocent person can never be sacrificed for the, alleged and hypothetical, good of the group.
      We must always treat each other as indivuals, as persons, not as members of groups.

      Delete
    12. Anonymous,
      That you think not only do these traits define you, but somehow make you deserving of discrimination, is a mindset I will never share.

      The definition of me includes how other people relate to me, and those aspects of me affect how other people relate to me. This is unfortunate, yet unavoidable and completely real. "Deserving" has nothing to do with it.

      You don't deserve to be discriminated against except over behavior or things under your control.

      I also did not deserve to be discriminated in favor of. Yet it has happened, time and again. It's notable how you are so concerned with the injustice of the minor occurrences of "against", yet so cavalier about the more sizable instances of "in favor of". This is a perfect example of the type of neurotic whininess I referred to earlier.

      The only hill I'm standing on is the one for people who oppose all discrimination based on uncontrollable demographic traits like skin color or sex, which means that yes, I absolutely do care about those things.

      Spoken like a man on the top of the hill.

      I would venture to say I care about it more than you since I apply the same concern to white straight males, while you don't seem to care if they get discriminated against.

      Such discrimination is morally wrong. Every time.


      AFAICT, you only care about the discrimination you notice, which is the one that affects people that look like you.

      Delete
    13. Jonatan Blais,

      When discrimination against the oppressed is eliminated, you'll find discrimination against white cishet males disappears at the same time. It'll be like magic to you.

      Delete
    14. If, as it seems to be the case, you really see people as first and foremost members of either an “oppressor” or an “oppressed” group for no other reason than their unchosen characteristics like sex and race, and you’re willing to discriminate against innocent people of one of those group simply on the basis of such characteristics, then I really find your views profoundly repulsive and immoral.

      “When discrimination against the oppressed is eliminated, you'll find discrimination against white cishet males disappears at the same time. It'll be like magic to you.”

      And I suppose we should just trust your words on that ? By the way, if you think that western societies are full of “oppressed” people, you mustn’t have traveled very far. Go ask a few Uyghurs in China what oppression looks like…
      Throughout human history, some people have tried to justify targeting and discriminating against other people based on some goup identity by saying that these people somehow deserved it and it would lead to a greater good. This sort of ideologies have always resulted in horrible injustices and atrocities. It is our duties to oppose such immoral and rotten ideologies, of which “wokeness” is the latest incarnation. The end can never justify the means. Individual rights can never be sacrificed for alleged group benefits. Human beings are persons, not group members.

      Delete
    15. Jonatan Blais,

      When you confuse the context of a single discussion for the whole of a person's outlook, it's only natural that you will commit grievous mischaracterizations. I find humans first and foremost as apes with a veneer of rationalization laid over the top. I'd be more impressed with your determinations of repulsive and immoral were they directed toward the school-to-prison pipeline or environmental racism. Right now, they strike me as convenient and shallow.

      I don't expect you trust me on anything, hence "it'll be like magic". Fiercer oppression elsewhere does not excuse oppression here.

      If you really believed that it was your duty to oppose to fight targeting and discrimination, you'd be join the very groups you dismiss, instead of choosing sleepiness over wokeness. Human beings are suffering.

      Delete
    16. If you're trying to justify discrimination against some innocent people (those you call "cishet white males") simply on the basis of characteristics like race and sex, in order to favor some other groups, here are some of the fundamental moral principles (not exhaustive) you're violating:

      -Two wrongs doesn't make a right
      -The end doesn't justify the means
      -The rights of an individual cannot be sacrificed for the good of the group

      Hence, I find such views profundly immoral.
      You may not find that's a big problem since you consider human beings to be first and foremost "apes". In this case, I can understand that morality may not be a very important subject in this framework...

      Delete
  14. Oktavian ZamoyskiJune 15, 2022 at 12:45 PM

    If Barthes were to look at CRT, he'd no doubt see it is a remythologizing of American, etc. culture, replacing one myth with a new myth. Foucault would no doubt see a power move. But what myth and whose power?

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  15. Your usage appears to me to be an example of linguistic *deflation*.

    You wrongly suggest that the term 'racist' previously exclusively referred to those who hold an obvious and explicit dislike of a particular race. This is just not the case: the word has a long history of being used to refer not only to activities deliberately designed to persecute a particular race, but also to acts which unconsciously and accidentally discriminate. This is not a recent phenomenon and does not represent a watering down of the concept at all.

    Moreover, when certain politicians and so on are labelled as 'racist' - while I agree this can often be hyperbole - we should remember that ignorance is not often a comprehensive defence. There are plenty of people who, yes, do not explicitly dislike a certain race, but nevertheless support policies which harm them. If this is genuinely made in good faith, all well and good. But generally people should be held responsible for harmful beliefs and actions - those who do not use their reason to examine the world around them and condemn themselves to ignorance are neglecting their natural duty as a citizen to look after their fellow man and contribute towards civic life, and are thus culpable when their wilful ignorance indirectly leads to the ungodly implementation of racist policies.

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  16. Laudator Temporis ActiJune 16, 2022 at 5:23 AM

    A good post, but from what you say, why use "racism" in the title of your new book? Not that "racism" was ever an honest term: it was created by people who hated the Church, Western civilization and whites, and its supposed misuse today was ready to emerge right from the start. Were he alive today, Belloc would explain who was behind all the dishonesty and hesperophobia (hatred of the West).

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    1. I don't think the dubious motives of those who coined the word 'racism' should matter: regardless of its origins, the term still points to an intelligible concept.

      https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2014/05/15/why-i-am-anti-anti-concept-and-you-should-be-too/

      Delete
    2. Laudator Temporis ActiJune 18, 2022 at 3:17 AM

      "Transphobia" is an intelligible concept too. It is wrong to torture and murder people for being "transgender." Should Dr Feser therefore write a book called All One in Christ: A Catholic Critique of Transphobia and the Trans-Industrial Complex? After all: "There is neither ... male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

      The term "racism" is beyond rescue and should not be used by anyone who supports the Church or Western civilization. For many examples of why it shouldn't be used, simply watch the continuing reaction from the left to Dr Feser's book.

      Delete
    3. I generally avoid using the word 'racism' myself, so I'm not necessarily opposed to your position as a practical matter. My main point was just that the word's origins are irrelevant and tend just to muddy the waters.

      Delete
    4. 'Transphobia' is an intelligible concept, but like unicorn, there are no 'transphobes'. A phobia is an irrational fear. I have not seen one example of anyone harboring fear, let alone an irrational fear of the 'transgendered'. There are incidents where people act unjustly to the transgendered motivated specifically because they are transgendered, but as with 'racism', this falls under the umbrella of tradition justice.

      Racism does have an essence, i.e. injustice motivated by race, but the public usage of the world is nothing more than a bludgeoning tool to silence political opponents. 'Racism' has been defined differently by the ADL, Ibram X Kendi, Robin Diangelo and critical race theorist. They are all extremely problematic definitions for numerous reasons. Calling someone a 'racist' today is name calling. It doesn't mean anything anymore and for that reason I also avoid using the word 'racism'.

      Delete
  17. Hey, Dr. Fese. Will you be addressing the topic of race realism in your upcoming book? Most Thomists maintain that race has no independent ontological existence, and I wonder if you would agree.

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  18. Inflation is typically due to budget deficits and is across the board. I personally hate neoliberal economic and find anyone who studied even neoliberal economics who, at age 30 or older and still believes in it, either a paid hack or just stupid (I mean people who like myself actually studied it is higher Ed.).

    In a cost benefit paradigm neoliberal economics counts charitable monetary giving in the same category as hobby spending, which most North Americans know is a social duty if you have at all the means to. Giving money to help starving people eat or a poor family enjoy a decent Christmas is not the same as buying a video game for a hobby video game player. Neoliberalism is fundamentally a Sodom and Gomorrah doctrine of mindless greed: it teaches that selling hot air is the smartest thing a person can do. Study Microeconomics and see for yourself if I am wrong.

    Governments typically try to reduce inflation’s impact on necessities but end up actually increasing their prices. Hence in Ontario, Canada (where I am presently residing) one bedroom apartments are going for 1,400 - 1,600, utilities are 275 - 400//month (as high as almost 500 in winter) and a grocery bill is about 200 for every 3 three weeks for one working adult male or anyone doing physical labour who needs real nutrients.

    There is also a labour shortage here even though before COVID unemployment was the biggest problem. I suspect it is because no one is working as they become poorer for their troubles and so too many people are working at behind the scenes and under the table kind of work to get by.

    Abraham Lincoln invented printed money in order to pay Union soldiers, knowing full well no one would risk refusing to exchange their goods for that currency of a battle hardened war veteran. In principle nothing is wrong with fiat currency as such, just so long as the society realizes that it ultimately boils down in value to its own willingness to work and repay its debts. The second prong is that if government is going to inflate it must make sure its citizens are not effectively mass robbed or, in other words, that inflationary spending is not focused on benefiting a few at the expense of the many.

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  19. Abraham Lincoln invented printed money in order to pay Union soldiers,

    Fair enough as regards the US, but the IDEA of printed money long predated Lincoln. Bank notes were, in essence, "printed money," from the late 1500s. And there were earlier examples.

    In principle nothing is wrong with fiat currency as such, just so long as the society realizes that it ultimately boils down in value to its own willingness to work and repay its debts.

    More or less true, I think, except for 2 factors: (1) fiat money never became viable as a monetary system except by riding piggy-back on a prior system (and, I think, which implies that it rides on the social equity built up by the prior system), and (2) the fiat nature allows the officials running it to tend almost inevitably toward undermining the system on which it is built, because there is no built-in restraint against playing god with the details, i.e. by extracting value from one sector to put it where YOU want it instead of where everyone wants it by voting with their pocketbook. The pressure to play god can be virtually irresistible.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you Anonymous for your engaging reply.

      I think we agree in most respects. But exactly who in U.S history was “playing god” by signing off off on more inflationary spending? As I wrote, the first time it happened was in the matter of basic justice and made the U.S richer (Abe printing to pay U.S troops).

      A terrible example was Bush printing to pay for nothing and to pay a few - effectively paying the same system and people Abe was using it to bypass.

      COVID printing has caused a 20 - 50 percent increase in most basic goods and necessities. It would have caused a civil war except that it was liberally distributed but the problem is back even clearer: massive unemployment. You can’t repay your debts if you can’t afford to even feed yourself. This is also the reason Western currencies have not tanked at all: everyone knows it has nothing to do with real North Americans willingness to repay their debts. It’s an artificial and unnatural systems issue.

      Delete
  20. There is a serious problem when people use a word that they do not even know the original meaning of. This happens with a word like "fascist" People in today's western world think it means a philosophy of right wing authoritarianism that advocates violence and racism. More often people just use "fascist" to mean "people I really hate" The historical meaning of the word is as a political system invented in Italy in the 1920s. The italian word "fascio" means a bundle of sticks. They symbolize the belief that the people are stronger as a unitary collective than they are individually. If this sounds similar to socialism, that's because it is indeed quite similar. Mussolini was one of Italy's most prominent socialists before he created the fascist party. The fascist theory was created by two Italians Benito Mussolini and Giovanni Gentile. It inspired the British politician Oswald Mosley who created the British Union of Fascists. The German Nazis had many similarities to Italian fascism, but they built a system that was far more focused on racial politics. The Nazis called themselves National Socialists rather than Fascists. There is hardly anyone in the world today who describes themselves as fascists. It is a name that people usually apply to someone who does not self-identify as fascist. Today people may think they know what fascist means, but they do not know its original meaning.

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