First Anniversary!

Anniversary #1!   The first of the articles in this blog appeared one year ago today.  This will be the 380th post.  I hope you have enjoyed some at least and perhaps learned a little from another or perhaps discovered a new way to look at some aspect of your world.  The totality is eclectic, because they arise from something I found and thought odd at the time, or something that I thought years, sometimes decades, ago and still find interesting. 

I have gained the most from this process.  It has helped me to learn new things and clarify old things.  I am amazed at the vast troves of information there are on subjects about which I previously knew nothing.

Today is such a case.

I subscribe to a blog called Unlearning Economics.  It is a little beyond my capacity for economic thought, but I always learn something.  One recent post referenced “Whig History” which was a new term to me.

In researching the surface of the subject, I came to the realization that much political thought relies on faulty analysis.  I suppose “political thought” might imply “based on faulty analysis” but nonetheless Whig history is interesting.

Whig History contains the belief that economies and other systems progress over time and naturally reach their current position.  It is a bit like the idea of evolution.  Natural progression to perfection.  If memory serves, and it sometimes does not, in philosophy this is teleology.  Nature progressing toward a purpose or end.

There a couple of obvious flaws in the Whig history idea.

  • The theory supposes that where we are is where we should be.  While possibly true given decisions we made, it says nothing about where we could be if we had made other decisions.  In simple terms, we need to believe, without evidence, that we are here because we should be here, and it is the best place.
  • Further, we need to believe that known decisions caused us to be where we are.  It is often a mistake to establish agency.  We cannot know, with certainty, that things changed as they did because of some action.  Assigning agency to an observed outcome is precarious.
  • On the political side, governments and their bureaucrats, again possibly redundant, make decisions or propose action based on the belief that we are where we should be and it is because of some action they instituted.

For example, Tim Worstall in 2010 found this from the European Commission;

“In many developing countries, the sustainable provision of public services that is necessary to achieve and maintain the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) requires an increase in domestic revenue. Their tax-to-GDP ratio ranges between 10 to 20% as opposed to 25 to 40% in developed countries.”

This pronouncement makes two mistakes.  Where we are going is where we should be going and the agency for being here and going there is that a greater share of GDP is spent by and controlled by governments.

You can see the problem if you ask yourself the question:  “Does larger government spending cause increased wealth, or does larger government spending come after wealth develops?”

I suspect, but do not know, that government spending follows wealth, it does not precede it.  In my belief, government spending is a luxury good and in times of austerity, luxuries should be the first expenditures dropped.  Not presently the dominant thought.

While I consider myself a conservative albeit a bit liberal on social issues, I find that instead, I am a classical liberal.  Less government, more freedom of action.  Help each other when we can.  I think change is good, but not all of it is good.  The classical liberal approach includes try many uncontrolled (at least by government) experiments, sustain the best and lose the rest.  Nature’s way.

It seems that sometime in the past 200 years or so, the idea of a liberal has become one that uses government as the agency of change.  Two hundred years ago, that would have been the antithesis of liberal.  Perhaps we have allowed the labels to continue without examination of what they mean.  A form of doublespeak?

I will need to spend some more time deciding where I fit in the political spectrum.

Thank you for reading the articles.  Please continue and invite others to subscribe if they might  find them useful. The link is below.  Best wishes for the next year.

Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.  |  Twitter @DonShaughnessy  |  Follow by email at moneyFYI

One Comment on “First Anniversary!

  1. G’day eh! I seem to missing these on my BB these days. Kinda miss ‘em!

    BTW, did you contact Steve Allen? Haven’t seen him this week.


    Jules Besseling, 705 740 3282 Before buying anything, it is well to ask if one could do without it. ~Sir John Lubbock

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