Independence? day

Another anniversary of India’s independence is approaching. And there are children on the streets, at traffic signals, selling paper flags to anyone who wants to celebrate the occasion. Wonder what they do on other days? They sell a lemon and two (or is it more?) chillies tied with a string to anyone who wants to ward off evil spirits. So what exactly are we supposed to celebrate? Independence? Whose independence? From whom? More than 60 years ago, thousands of people gave their lives to achieve political “independence”. What did they achieve? They replaced British rule with democracy. Some of the British rulers were doubtless oppressing a people willing to be oppressed. But others were rendering a service – the white man’s burden. After “independence”, India’s government was led by men of the second kind – British educated socialists who resented the white man’s burden because they wanted to make it their own. They were men with a “noble” purpose; to teach the uneducated masses how to live – by taking control over their lives. These men had “noble” dreams, but their dreams were not dreams of what they would do with their lives; they were dreams of what they would do with other people’s lives. That meant that no one else would be allowed to dream. This was supposed to be independence. Inevitably, this “independence” has produced the worst kind of dependence imaginable. The politician is dependent on the poor, the uneducated, the superstitious, the irresponsible and the incompetent for their votes. And it is in his interest to let them remain as they are. And these people are dependent on the politician for favors or promises of favors. This dependence is the essential and defining feature of the kind of unchecked democracy that India’s leaders established after independence. The modern intellectuals call this dependence “corruption”. But the manifestation of the essential nature of a system is not corruption. Unchecked democracy is corrupt to begin with.

There is no such thing as political independence. The concept of independence is properly restricted to the realm of a person’s mind. A man’s thoughts, wishes, desires can be independent – of the judgements of other people. Like all virtues independence applies to individuals, not to a collective. And like many other such concepts, this one too has been stolen by collectivists to disguise their true goals. What the Indian political leaders fought for was not independence – of any kind. What they fought for was sovereignty – the state of affairs when a country is governed by people of the same race, religion or culture that have historically occupied it. There is nothing particularly desirable about sovereignty as such. Some of the most oppressive places in the world to live in suffer from sovereignty. It does not matter whether a country is governed by natives or not. What matters is the system of government.

The proper socio-political goal is freedom, not some meaningless independence or a tyrannical sovereignty. Freedom to believe and express one’s ideas – without being censored by the government or by thugs (M.F. Hussain); freedom to marry the person of one’s choice – without being murdered by one’s family or community (honor killings); freedom to develop a technology and market it – without having to buy the rights to do so (3g auction); freedom to buy land and use it for any purpose – without having to rely on the government (Tata Nano); freedom to contract with people on mutually agreeable terms – without being tied by labor laws; freedom to spend one’s money as one chooses – without having it confiscated for subsidies and hand-outs; freedom to run a school – without having to declare it as a non-profit; freedom to start a political party – without having to swear by socialism…

When will India become free? I am not holding my breath (remember the lemon and chillies?). And I am not going to celebrate “independence” day either.

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Nothing more simple

“Nothing more simple,” returned the count. “I had known the famous Vampa for more than ten years. When he was quite a child, and only a shepherd, I gave him a few gold pieces for showing me my way, and he, in order to repay me, gave me a poniard, the hilt of which he had carved with his own hand, and which you may have seen in my collection of arms. In after years, whether he had forgotten this interchange of presents, which ought to have cemented our friendship, or whether he did not recollect me, he sought to take me, but, on the contrary, it was I who captured him and a dozen of his band. I might have handed him over to Roman justice, which is somewhat expeditious, and which would have been particularly so with him; but I did nothing of the sort—I suffered him and his band to depart.”

“With the condition that they should sin no more,” said Beauchamp, laughing. “I see they kept their promise.”

“No, monsieur,” returned Monte Cristo “upon the simple condition that they should respect myself and my friends. Perhaps what I am about to say may seem strange to you, who are socialists, and vaunt humanity and your duty to your neighbor, but I never seek to protect a society which does not protect me, and which I will even say, generally occupies itself about me only to injure me; and thus by giving them a low place in my esteem, and preserving a neutrality towards them, it is society and my neighbor who are indebted to me.”

“Bravo,” cried Chateau-Renaud; “you are the first man I ever met sufficiently courageous to preach egotism. Bravo, count, bravo!”

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Secularism, Enlightenment and India

A colleague sent me this link to an article in The Hindu and asked for my thoughts. From the article

For a long time it was held that a close link existed between the modernisation of society and the secularisation of the population. Consequently, it was argued that the influence of religion declined in post-enlightenment society. This assumption, Professor Habermas suggests, was based on three considerations. First, the progress in science and technology made causal explanation possible and more importantly, for a scientifically enlightened mind it was difficult to reconcile with theocentric and metaphysical worldviews. Secondly, the churches and other religious organisations lost their control over law, politics, public welfare, education and science. Finally, the economic transformation led to higher levels of welfare and greater social security. The impact of these developments, it is argued, has led to the decline of the relevance and influence of religion.
…the view that “the secularist certainty that religion will disappear worldwide in the course of modernisation is losing ground.” It is not only that this expectation has not been realised, religion has emerged as a powerful influence in the public sphere all over the world. This is particularly so in India.

The existence of the public sphere [in Europe] was contingent upon the access of all citizens to, and protection of individual rights by, the rule of law. In essence, the character of the public sphere as it evolved in Europe in the 18th century was secular and democratic.

Unlike in Europe the public sphere in India was not the product of a free bourgeois society; it took shape within the political, social and economic parameters set by the colonial government.
(Emphasis mine)

The article concludes with

Retrieving the secular character of the public sphere is therefore imperative; otherwise its religious character is likely to impinge upon the functions of the state.

The article with its implied positive evaluation of enlightenment ideas and recognition of their relevance to the issue of secularism is very much welcome in an age where enlightenment ideas have almost been forgotten. But it itself suffers from an incomplete understanding of all the implications of these ideas. Protection of individual rights by the rule of law is not compatible with democracy (atleast as we might understand it from concrete examples today). Democracy is about placing the control of human affairs in the public sphere. Individual rights are about limiting the control of human affairs to the actual individuals involved, primarily by the recognition of private property. (This might seem unrelated to the issue of secularism and the influence of religion, but bear with me for a while.) This uneasy relationship between democracy and individual rights (note the difference in character between the French revolution which was essentially democratic and the American revolution which instituted a government for the purpose of protecting individual rights) persists to this day and has been the apparant cause of the failure of enlightenment ideas to have as large and lasting an influence as might have been expected. But that is not all. It is worth noting that pre-enlightenment Europe was neither democratic nor did it have any conception of individual rights. How did both ideas emerge out of the same intellectual change?

I am no historian – or even a good student of history – but it seems to me that the enlightenment thinkers never really rejected religion in all its implications. Religion offers more than an explanation of the world. It offers moral principles. The progress in science that made causal explanations possible led people to abandon the role of religion in understanding the world. Note that this progress has been lasting. Even the church today accepts that religion is not a guide to understanding the world. But there was no equivalent progress in moral theory that would lead people to abandon the role of religion in evaluating the world and guiding human action. The enlightenment brought about political, scientific and industrial revolutions. It did not result in any moral revolution. The moral base of religion – altruism – was not challenged at all. On the contrary, it led some intellectuals to believe that morality is mostly irrelevant to progress. For example, the character of Enjolras in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables – the leader of an uprising, and in my reading, a mirror to Hugo’s own ideas – believed (if memory serves me right) that progress would be automatic and inevitable provided that people had access to (scientific) education. This was naive. Morality is indispensable to human existence.

It seems to me that enlightenment ideas split into two distinct streams. One stream could be characterized by the French revolution, militantly anti-religious and with an emphasis on democracy, equality and social justice. This stream secularized altruism without changing any of its fundamentals. It substituted God by society and the church and the king by the state. The other stream could be characterized by the American revolution, ambivalent to religion and with an emphasis on liberty and self-evident inalienable individual rights endowed by a creator. But a complex concept like individual rights cannot be self-evident. By not grounding individual rights in reason, this stream was left without a moral foundation independent of religion. The overtly-secular, altruist, democratic stream failed. It took Europe through several dictatorships, wars and misery. The liberal, pro individual rights but more religious stream succeeded. It allowed America to enjoy more than a century of uinterrupted peace and prosperity (except for the civil war that abolished slavery). But, over time, through lack of an explicit moral foundation, the American stream itself split into the modern secular Europe inspired liberals (an insult to the original classical sense of the term) and the religious conservatives seeking to conserve the political system of liberty with an incompatible base of altruist Christianity.

Note that no stream ever rejected altruism and it was the secular democratic, left-leaning intellectuals who upheld it most consistently. Now the case of India. Indian political leaders educated in Europe brought back the European ideas and attempted to foist them upon a servile, religious people. Worse, in attempting to fight colonialism, they absorbed Marxist ideas from Russia. Needless to say, they failed miserably, discrediting secularism in the process. As Gurcharan Das’s wrote in the article that I criticized in my last post, “Part of the reason that the sensible idea of secularism is having so much difficulty finding a home in India is that the most vocal and intellectual advocates of secularism were once Marxists”. Marxism – the most consistent political implication of altruism, is only for educated idiots. The uneducated “masses” – that Marx had such a disdain for – never have and never will accept it. But the association of secularism with Marxism does indeed make the spread of secularism difficult.

Anyone concerned with the increasing role of religion in public affairs in general and political affairs in particular should be looking to discover/establish a morality based on reason. Until such a morality becomes culturally dominant, it will be impossible to eliminate the role of religion. But that is not something the secularists in India understand. For a concrete example, consider the expose of the Khap Panchayat system in Today’s Times. Read it here, here, here and here. From the last link,

Daryal Singh, one of Tikait’s retainers, adds that “shameless people (lovers) deserve to die.’’ He gives graphic accounts of lovers being “hanged, tortured or nailed to death”. But Singh stands alone in providing the only real explanation for what sustains this medieval system: bad governance. “The government has failed to provide basic necessities. It’s impossible for people to survive without the samaj. They can’t challenge it,’’ he says.

It would be difficult to mis-diagnose the problem worse. Even the villagers are more intelligent than that. They know that they are following a moral code. Providing basic necessities is not going to change their moral code. And what basic necessities anyway? From another article in the links

There are pucca houses, cobbled streets, wellfed cattle, neat schools and sprawling green fields. It’s easy to be impressed by the colleges and professional institutes that dot the area. But Sanghi, like most villages in this prosperous belt, has dark secrets to keep. Here, rape is casual, murder-by-pesticide of teenage daughters acceptable and it is routine to dispose of their bodies by burning them in cattlecarts.

Defeat the morality and religion – with all its mindless rituals and superstitions – will go away. But without challenging the morality and in the lack of any alternative (socialist ideology is not an alternative), religion will continue to grow in influence.

Deep rooted altruism

Plenty of work coupled with a lack of motivation to spend time on editing has meant that its been quite a while since I last wrote a proper,  thought-out post although I do have plenty of accumulated material to write about. While the lack of motivation hasn’t changed, I thought I should just put this down.

In a short conversation over lunch, one of my colleagues talked about how hedge funds are now back in business after all the losses they made recently (probably based on a report from bloomberg.com). He then went on to say that there should be some protection – government regulation – for the consumers. As I resisted, the discussion went on to the food and drug industries. I mentioned how regulations against drugs prevents people from using new drugs even if they sorely need them and are willing to take the risk. He countered by saying that it is not possible for any individual to take responsibility for evaluating all the available goods (be they drugs or foods) and so a government agency is needed. I replied that doctors should certainly be capable of doing the required evaluation. He replied “saare doctors bike hue hain” – all the doctors are mercenaries and have been bought over (presumably by drug companies). I asked “And how about the employees in the government?” and that was the end of the conversation.

Note the reason given to justify the existence of regulation – the people who are competent to evaluate are mercenaries and so, will not act in the interests of consumers, whereas a neutral government body not motivated by profit, will. There is plenty of evidence – living in India, I will not bother to write about it – about how “neutral” government bureaucrats – known, not so fondly as babus – act. How then does an intelligent guy offer such a reason? The short answer is altruism. Just a week back we had a discussion about altruism in which I argued that it is for moral reasons and not economic ones that people accept socialist ideas. My colleague is well aware of my views and probably does not explicitly believe in altruism himself. But he has not explicitly rejected it as evil either. The deeply rooted morality of altruism makes him look with implicit suspicion at the profit motive and – by extension – at all private activity. It seems safer to trust a faceless bureaucrat working in a non-profit organization than to trust a doctor who stands to profit by selling you unproven drugs regardless of all the corruption that the bureaucracy is famous for. After all, by the altruist morality, the non-profit government organization has a noble aim – to serve others. The private doctor is just a lowly human driven by his own profit (which tends to morph into greed). According to the altruist morality, the doctor would have to make a sacrifice to forego the quick cash that he could make by being unscrupulous. And as everyone knows, very few people make sacrifices. So the altruist morality implicitly implies that private individuals will tend be more unscrupulous than public organizations. The facts do not bear this out. And it is simple to see why. Once one assigns a face to a bureaucrat instead of referring to a convenient collective called the government, it is clear that the bureaucrat is also working for profit. And unlike the doctor, whose career depends on his reputation, his career depends on – as Ayn Rand eloquently described in Atlas Shrugged – the aristocracy of pull. If a doctor makes a mistake or even if he is simply thought to have made a mistake by the public, his career is ruined. The faceless bureaucrat has no such responsibility. The profit motive cannot be abolished just by choosing to think of a certain group of individuals in terms of a collective – government. Within a framework of voluntary trade, the profit motive is not evil but good. It is what makes individuals want to prosper. It is what motivates them to work. Within a coercive framework of government regulation, the profit motive produces what is called “corruption”. A bureaucrat has nothing to gain by being scrupulous and a lot to gain by being unscrupulous at little risk. So he chooses to be unscrupulous. If his actions ever get traced back to him, the altruists have a field day damning his greed and the profit motive. But what is it that is corrupt? An unthinking bureaucrat doing what everyone around him does? Or the ethical system that invariably sets up men in situations where they stand to gain by duping others?

One should also look at the secondary consequences of oppressive regulations (take a look at other pages on FA/RM too). Regulations enormously raise the cost of compliance to standards – both directly in terms of the costs of running a regulatory agency and indirectly through the aristocracy of pull (lobbying is a nice euphemism). This effectively puts local small-scale industry at an enormous disadvantage and gives an unfair advantage to the bigger players. It also converts local, easily correctable problems such as occasional food poisoning into large systemic problems (in the same way as centrally controlled money supply creates systemic problems in the financial sector). The first strengthens the aristocracy of pull. The second creates even more demands for its continued existence.

At the end of the discussion, another colleague with whom I recently had a long discussion about the concept of sacrifice (note the reference to sacrifice above) mentioned that it will take another 50 years for people to reject socialist ideas. Today people look to the government for a solution to every problem. That is true. But socialist ideas will never be rejected until one first rejects their basis – the altruist morality – and discovers the alternative – egoism. The history of the U.S. which is now descending into just the sort of socialism that India is coming out of is proof of this fact.

Book Review: The White Tiger

Aravind Adiga’s “The White Tiger” is a story of a man, Balram Halwai, born in some village in north India who goes on to become a driver in Dhanbad, robs and murders his employer and establishes a cab business in Bangalore. The story is narrated in the form of a letter written by Balram to the premier of China (Weird literary device, that). The only noteworthy thing about the novel is the utter ugliness of the story, the characters and the life it portrays. The language is crude and vulgar, well suited to the tale. There is not much of a story.

<Spoiler warning>

 Balram born in a poor family in a feudal village wants to make something of his life. He goes to Dhanbad, takes driving lessons from some taxi driver and is able to find a job as a driver (actually an all-purpose servant) in the household of a landlord from his own village. He is expected to behave like a feudal servant. The landlord’s son, Mr Ashok, who has recently returned from America is the only person to treat him with any sort of respect. There is another driver in the household, Ram Persad. Balram resents his seniority, and upon discovering that Ram Persad is actually a Muslim pretending to be a Hindu for the sake of his job, threatens to expose him. Ram Persad escapes and Balram becomes the senior servant. Mr Ashok goes to Delhi to bribe some minister and takes Balram with him. Mr Ashok’s wife, Pinky madam, wants to return to America and is angry with Mr Ashok for having lied to him about his intentions to stay in India. One day, after Mr Ashok and Pinky madam have got drunk, Pinky madam runs over a child on the streets of Delhi. Mr Ashok and his brother get a signed statement from Balram stating that he is the only one responsible. The matter, however is never investigated by the police as there are no witnesses. This is the last straw for Pinky madam and she leaves her husband and returns to America. Before leaving, she gives some money to Balram, who spends it on a prostitute. Mr Ashok sinks into a depression and starts drinking. Balram who has until then worked honestly, starts drinking and stealing. One day, as Mr Ashok is going to some minister’s place to bribe him, Balram murders him and runs away with the bribe to Bangalore, where he establishes a cab business, catering to call-centers.

</Spoiler warning>

The story serves as a prop for Aravind Adiga to describe the feudal village life, rigging of elections, corruption among the socialist leaders, the brutal repression of the poor by the landlords, superstitions, family burdens, treatment of servants, abysmal living conditions in the city slums, etc. By making Balram the narrator, Adiga seeks to present a poor man’s perspective of modern India. For Balram, human life is and always has been all about class conflict – a struggle between the rich and poor, each class seeking to defeat the other. At several places, there is a mention of the cliched idea of two Indias – a modern, Western, rich India and a feudal, poor one.

There can be no doubt that most of Adiga’s descriptions are accurate. This should be no surprise to anyone who has looked at a slum in any Indian city. The motives and ideas that he gives to his characters are questionable. He describes the poor (in the cities) as living in anticipation of an insurrection. Really? There is a naxal threat in several places in rural India, but insurrection in the cities?

Finally, the book seems quite pointless. Why describe that which everyone knows and sees if you have nothing new to say? The wikipedia entry on Aravind Adiga says “At a time when India is going through great changes and, with China, is likely to inherit the world from the West, it is important that writers like me try to highlight the brutal injustices of society (Indian). That’s what I’m trying to do – it is not an attack on the country, it’s about the greater process of self-examination.” First, the great changes seem to be over. After a decade of some much needed economic reforms (in the 90s), India seems to be settling back into a slumber. The political situation has already hit rock-bottom and there are no signs of any improvement. Yes, there are brutal injustices and everyone knows it. With Adiga having nothing new to say, “The White Tiger” comes across as poverty porn (a phrase coined after the release of the movie Slumdog Millionaire, which I haven’t yet watched).

Economics in one unlearnt lesson

I recently found the time to read Henry Hazlitt’s book “Economics in One Lesson” (available online here). The book conclusively demonstrates that any attempts to coerce the free market can only result in the short term gains of special interest groups at the expense of everyone else and that even these short term gains are more than canceled out in the long term. The value to me in taking the time to read it was not in learning anything particularly new but in knowing that a detailed and very well-written explanation of a number of statist ideas exists in one place. Hazlitt writes that all statist fallacies essentially consist of considering only the immediate and visible consequences of a particular policy while ignoring the secondary and not-easily-visible consequences – an idea that was expressed by Bastiat long ago in 1850.

More than the book itself, what is interesting to me is the fact that the fallacies in statist ideas have been exposed long ago (Hazlitt’s book was published in 1946 and Hazlitt himself takes no credit for being original) and yet these ideas continue to be widespread among the general public as well as among trained economists and policy-makers. In fact, the financial crisis we are seeing at the moment is the inevitable result of some of these same fallacies (more on that in future posts) and the alleged cure is more of the same. The inescapable question then is: Are statist ideas really fallacies or mere rationalizations? Are they really held out of genuine ignorance and/or confusion or is there some other explanation? Hazlitt seems to think that they are genuine fallacies caused by the fact that the immediate consequences of interventionist and coercive policies are all too obvious while the secondary and long term consequences are not so obvious. I think that is a far too charitable view. It is inconceivable to me that simple arguments cannot be grasped by trained economists or intelligent laymen. Hazlitt also mentions how the paid spokesmen of special interest groups are able to drive out “dis-interested” writers simply because of their dis-interest (a mechanism also discussed by Zakaria in his book The Future of Freedom). While this is certainly part of the reason why special interest groups can control the government, it does not explain the support for statist ideas among the dis-interested public.

As an example, a few days back, I had a long and futile argument with some colleagues about the ineffectiveness of statist policies. Now these colleagues are certainly intelligent enough to grasp the fallacies inherent in statist ideas. Moreover they have no reason to support such ideas for any special interest. Yet they continue to defend them. And inspite of any concessions they may have made during the argument, I am sure that the same points will come up in the next argument. As one of them put it, (paraphrasing) “I am not opposed to capitalism, but I am a socialist at heart.” To me, that is the source of the persistence of these fallacies. Altruism is totally incompatible with the working of the free market. But as long as it is accepted, no amount of rational argument (such as the ones in Hazlitt’s book) can genuinely convince a person that collectivist and socialist ideas always achieve the opposite of their stated purposes.

Hazlitt shows how raising prices of a particular product (whether by tarrifs or other methods) to create employment penalizes all the consumers of that product (the public interest?), how lowering prices of a particular product drives out all the marginal producers (the disempowered?) and also creates shortages so that only those with more purchasing power can afford the product, how minimum wages cause unemployment by preventing people whose services are worth less than the minimum wage from being employed at all (the most needy?), how rent controls raise the rents in new buildings enormously (housing for the poor?) while simultaneously removing all incentive for (or even ability to) improve/repair existing buildings, how inflation – necessitated by deficit spending to fund all the welfare programs – essentially acts as a tax whose impact is felt highest by the poor etc, etc, etc… not to mention that all these measures also reduce the total product of the economy (the public interest?)

But the point is that the cure suggested by all these fallacies – regardless of any evidence – the free market, where every individual is free to pursue his own interests and is not legally responsible for the “welfare” of others is morally unacceptable to the altruists, and no amount of merely economic arguments can change that.

Political systems and success

In a comment on my previous post “History is not the case against collectivism”, Mark asked

I also just realized, that a system/ideal can be judged from a moral standpoint separately from a history: then is it possible for an ideology that is inferior from a moral standpoint to actually succeed in history?

The question is important enough to deserve a post of its own, so here goes.

A judgement based on history(and nothing else) is a consequentialist judgement. It is based on a consideration and evaluation of the consequences. It is of the form “X is good (or bad) because what followed X was good (or bad)”. The problem with such a judgement is that consequences do not necessarily indicate causality. To arrive at causality, one needs a theory that explains why X led to the consequences. Consider an example: Dictatorship is bad because the Soviet Union collapsed after several dictatorships. To which someone might say: Dictatorship is good because Singapore (or China) is doing well under one. An appropriate theory of market behavior and the difficulty of determining prices without markets can be invoked to explain the collapse of the Soviet Union. But what if a ‘wise’ dictator is able to replace (if only partially) the market with his commands? Would his dictatorship ‘succeed’?

political ideal is a moral ideal, not an economic one. A political system is an economic/organisational structure that attempts to realize political ideals. A political ideal of economic equality leads to a political system of communism (example: The Soviet Union). A political ideal of ‘equality of opportunity’ or ‘social justice’ leads to a political system of socialism (example: India until the 90s). A political ideal of national superiority leads to a political system of fascism (example: China). A political ideal of liberty leads to a political system of capitalism (example: the early USA).

Only political ideals can be judged morally. The construction of a political system is a matter of science (political, legal etc…), not of morality. For example, whether to have a presidential system, or a parliamentary system; whether the tenure of elected representatives should be 4 years or 10 years; whether copyrights should be granted for 20 years or 50 years; whether the minimum voting age should be 18 years or 21 years; etc.. are not moral questions.

The success of a political system is the extent to which it achieves its ideals. Just as the construction of a political system is a scientific matter, the evaluation of its success is a scientific matter. It involves analyzing the relevant historical facts with an appropriate theory of causality. It is like measuring the efficiency of an equipment.

There is no such thing as the success or failure of a political ideal.Ideals do not succeed or fail. They are accepted or rejected. While the failure of a political system might cause some people to reject (or at least question) their ideals, the failure does not prove that the ideals are wrong. As long as one still holds the same ideals, the failure of a particular political system is simply useful empirical data for constructing a better political system.

Now coming  to the question “Is it possible for an ideology that is inferior from a moral standpoint to actually succeed in history?”

Consider some concrete cases:

The political ideal of economic equality is an impossible ideal. Men are not equal in their abilities or their experience and nothing can make them equal. No political system that holds economic equality as an ideal can ever succeed and none ever has.

The political ideal of equality of opportunity is also an impossible ideal for the same reason. No political system can ever achieve it. But since, equality of opportunity is a less extreme ideal than economic equality, systems which attempt to realize it merely cause economic stagnation and not collapse.

The political ideal of national superiority is a fuzzy ideal (like all collectivist ideals). Because of its collectivist nature, it can never be defined or understood precisely. Depending on how it is defined, political systems that attempt it may or may not succeed. If winning the maximum number of gold medals in an Olympics is a measure of national superiority, then China’s political system succeeded. If achieving a high economic growth rate is a measure of national superiority, then China’s system has succeeded.

So my answer to Mark’s question is:

As long as its political ideals are not impossible to attain, a political system can succeed even if it is not moral. Of course, that raises the question “How does one decide what ideals are moral and what are not?” My upcoming post on my case against collectivism should answer a part of that question.

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