By Mike Cronin

Today we celebrate our nations’ birthday, codified by the Declaration of Independence.  It is one of the watershed documents of human history – not for its eloquence (though it is wonderfully written), but for what it accomplishes. In modern parlance, it is the “vision statement” of a new country (the preamble of the Constitution is the “mission statement,” while the body and the Bill of Rights are the “operating manual”) – one founded on the concept that the purpose of government is to protect the individual rights of the citizens – and not much else.

The kind of freedom espoused in the Declaration does not come freely.  An individual free from government oppression must by definition also be “free” from dependence on government – he or she must be self-reliant.  He or she must produce what they need to survive, either directly, through the hard physical work of living off the land, or indirectly, by doing the hard physical or mental work of producing something worthy of exchanging for the food, water, shelter, clothes, and other goods and services one needs to survive.  Under this vision of freedom, survival is the basic underlying motivation for producing: either you make your own shelter and grow/kill your own food, or you make something to sell to others, or work for someone else in exchange for money so you can buy those things, or you don’t eat and don’t have a roof over your head!

Basic survival is the foundational motivation, but it is not the only one.  Since any surplus produced belongs to the producer who created it, it can be saved for a rainy day, or exchanged for something else – a luxury, perhaps, or something that will make the future effort of producing “a living” go a little easier, i.e. an investment. In this manner, the “rugged individualists” are producers of wealth.  They have no expectation that anything will be given to them, and they demand that nothing be taken from them – but they trade value for value amongst each other. All economic exchanges are conducted voluntarily to mutual benefit. This is how wealth can be created.  It is the essence of Capitalism.

Critics either cannot or will not see this creation of wealth, this “enlargement of the pie.”  To those folks, the “pie” is finite. There is only so much wealth, and if someone has more if than another, they must have stolen the excess, or received it unfairly.  The “pie” (wealth) is distributed, not produced!  They also argue that no one, not even the “rugged individualist,” can go it alone, that each of us must depend on the benevolence of others, or of the state (i.e. the same thing) – under the threat of force, if necessary.  They use that formulation to argue for and justify all manner of violations of our rights by the government (that is supposed to defend those rights), and then point to the artifacts of those intrusions (roads and railways and schools are favorite examples) as proof of their assertions – as if those things have not been and could not be made by private parties.  This is the essence of all forms of Collectivism.

To make it work, they have to cram the word freedom through the Orwellian doublespeak machine. What comes out the other end is all but unrecognizable. To this crowd, freedom means the absence of want or need or responsibility for one’s choices. Since they “can’t” handle the requirements of individualism, they must first hook as many people as possible onto the drug of state dependency, and then they must vilify and penalize those who insist on being individualists.  Therefore, you must want government regulation and government assistance for everything, right? It’s what’s best for you.  Surely, then, you‘ll understand and appreciate the tax man taking 40-50% or more of everything you produce, right? And when that doesn’t cover the costs of all the “benefits” and “entitlements” the government is “bestowing” upon your neighbor, you’ll understand when the bureaucrats will take even more of your wealth by manipulating the value of the currency, right? (Oh, wait, they forgot to teach that part at the government –run schools they “bestowed” upon you.) Thus, the 1800 square foot house your parent’s bought in the Denver area in the 1960’s for $18,000 goes for $350,000 to $400,000 today. The value of the house might have gone up – it might have even doubled or tripled, based on the popularity of the city and the neighborhood, but it didn’t go up 22 times. Rather the dollar has been devalued that much or more over 50 years – and salaries haven’t kept up.  An $18,000 house was an affordable investment for an engineer with ~3 years’ experience, making a $7K or $8K annual salary in the sixties.  How does the salary of an engineer with ~3 years’ experience compare now, relative to the house that has “gone up in value” 22 times? The median pay for an electrical engineer in Denver, CO is $76K per year now.  The value of the house “went up” 22 times, but the pay of an engineer only “went up” 10 times during the intervening 50 years. The lag between rising prices and rising salaries is the stolen wealth zone.

The Collectivists don’t want you to look behind the curtain. They don’t want you to realize that their formula requires you to be a producer so that more and more people who won’t produce can ride on your back – until it gives out and you beg for assistance yourself – but at that point there won’t be anyone left to provide assistance, and we will have become Venezuela…or worse.

When you celebrate our independence today, will you be celebrating independence from tyranny, or independence from reality?

It’s a Conspiracy!

Paranoid Android

By Mike Cronin

Last week I wrote about critical thinking.  This week I thought we might look at an area that is ripe for its practical application: Conspiracy theories.

Some people believe the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by our own government in order to provide the Bush administration a pretext to go to war. Others believe the Apollo moon landings were faked.  Conspiracy theories abound: Aliens at Area 51. JFK’s murder. Chemtrails. Black helicopters. The list keeps growing.

How do we get at the truth? Sometimes we can’t. While the truth may be discoverable, the means of discovery are not always available at the time the conspiracy theory is popular, nor is discovery always worth the price to find out even if the means are available.

On the other hand, we have thinking tools to help us decide whether a given conspiracy theory is plausible. These allow us to dismiss the implausible theories.  One of these tools is called Occam’s razor.  In a nutshell, Occam’s razor says that there is seldom any need to consider complicated answers when simple ones will do.

Let’s take the case of UFOs at Area 51.  The theory generally postulates that aliens crashed on earth near Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 and the US government is holding their bodies and recovered spacecraft at Area 51.  In order to believe that, you have to accept:

  1. Out of all the possible places the aliens could visit in our galaxy, the aliens came here.
  2. The aliens have faster-than-light travel (which our science believes to be impossible) or they can hibernate for hundreds or thousands of years. Either way their technology is fantastically beyond ours.
  3. Their fantastic technological advantage both failed them utterly (because they crashed) and succeeded spectacularly (because their bodies and spaceship survived the crash roughly intact.)
  4. Out of all of the possible places they could have crashed, they wound up hitting rural New Mexico.
  5. Our government bureaucrats have been savvy enough to keep the real truth secret all of this time.

It might be possible…but the “evidence” to support the theory to date amounts to not much more than fuzzy pictures and unverifiable “eye-witness” testimony, while the holes in the theory are powerful. For example: Remember the space shuttle Columbia disaster?  If the aliens’ spacecraft made it through reentry intact, there would have been a huge crater at the impact location like the one near Winslow, Arizona:


If it broke up during reentry, there would have been debris scattered for hundreds or thousands of miles along the descent path:


Let’s apply Occam’s razor: It is far more likely that there was never an alien spacecraft crash in 1947 or any other year. Most likely, whatever the government recovered in New Mexico in 1947 was man-made and that whatever goes on at Area 51 now is wholly human activity devoid of alien influence. Why believe that?  Because there is no evidence beyond the circumstantial that intelligent extra-terrestrials have visited earth.

Why does there always seem to be a slate of such conspiracy theories “active” at any given time?   Because conspiracy theories are fun and profitable!  There is no shortage of people who will “investigate” such mysteries and sell their findings in the form of books and special reports. There are others who make and market souvenirs. If the theory gains enough of a following, there will be entire TV shows dedicated to “solving” (i.e. perpetuating) the myth or even movies that popularize various explanations. (For example: there was a movie called Capricorn One that gave credence to the idea that the government could fake a maned Mars landing – which no doubt fueled the Apollo conspiracy). It’s all meant to keep the gravy train on track.

The conspiracy theory-industrial complex is mostly harmless when understood for what it is.  For example: Like most people, I can enjoy a sci-fi mega-flick like Independence Day or its forthcoming sequel Resurgence (which romanticize the idea of aliens at Area 51). However, for me to enjoy such movies, I have to suspend my disbelief (i.e. “ignore” my faculty for critical thinking).

On the other hand, there is a dark side to the conspiracy market. It manifests in at least two ways:

  1. There are an abundance of Americans whose education neglected to cover critical thinking. They cannot “suspend their disbelief” because they don’t have any!
  2. A viable market for conspiracy theories is also fertile ground for politicians to play upon people’s fears: “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.” (H.L. Mencken)