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Will Wilkinson attacks libertarianism again

This started as a comment to this blog entry about a dispute between Jonah Goldberg and Will Wilkinson.

Goldberg claims:

[I]t seems to me that the stimulus debate clearly puts the lie to the idea that liberals and libertarians can see eye to eye on the large questions of political economy, at least for the foreseeable future. The first principles simply aren’t aligned.

Wilkinson responds:

I’m not that interested in short-term partisan politics. I’m interested in a much longer-term project.

That sidesteps Goldberg's claim rather than dealing with it directly. Goldberg's claim is about "first principles" and therefore not about "short-term partisan politics". He believes that what is happening now tells us something about "first principles", whereas Wilkinson, apparently, does not. So the first problem with Wilkinson's answer is that he doesn't deal with Goldberg's claim.

The second problem with Wilkinson's answer is that reality is nothing but a sequence of "now"s, and his unwillingness to accept what is happening now as evidence hints that he may be impervious to evidence from any particular "now" (why, after all, reject just the evidence from today's "now"), and therefore impervious to evidence full-stop.

Wilkinson writes:

The stimulus bill vexes me not at all. It’s what you’d predict knowing the current extent of Democratic power, the opportunity that the perception of crisis creates, and the composition of the Democratic coalition. As a student of James M. Buchanan, I’m no romantic about democracy.

but then writes:

what is it about the era of George W. Bush that makes Jonah think that conservatives and libertarians see eye to eye on the large questions of political economy? I understand it is now politically expedient for Republicans to oppose whatever Obama is trying to do. But, frankly, the recent performance of the Republicans in Congress has been pathetic, managing to do little more than fight to get a bit more for their constituencies and a bit less for the majority’s.

Wilkinson has just got done excusing the behavior of Democrats as the predictable outcome of the forces that James Buchanan talked about (as opposed to being a reflection of their first principles), but then he proceeds to identify conservative ideology with what the Republicans did when they were in power. That is a double standard.

Wilkinson says about libertarians:

And the most common forms of libertarianism are, I think, still pretty well shot through with conservative reflexes bred by the long Cold War alliance between libertarians and the right. For many libertarians, hating the left just feels like home.

Never mind the new New Deal, for that matter never mind the old New Deal. Never mind that American liberalism is largely defined by its canonization of FDR and its ideological approval of such things as the New Deal and the Great Society programs. Libertarians are anti-leftist because of reflexes (implied: unthinking reflexes - a reflex is, after all, pretty much defined by lack of cognition) left over from the Cold War. Any description of an ideology as largely a reflex (and an obsolete fossil of one at that) is an attack on the ideology. Hence the title I have chosen for this entry.

Wilkinson briefs us on his political position:

I want to use this time of ferment to work on developing the missing option in American politics: an authentically liberal governing philosophy that understands that limited government, free markets, a culture of tolerance, and a sound social safety net are the best means to better lives.

A lot of libertarians are going to choke on "a sound social safety net", but Wilkinson's account implies that this is because they have "conservative reflexes bred by the long Cold War alliance between libertarians and the right." Here's a better explanation: opposition to a "social safety net" (by which I do not take Wilkinson to mean private charity) follows from the nonaggression principle.

Furthermore a lot of libertarians are going to wonder what to make of Wilkinson's call for "a culture of tolerance" not because they are personally intolerant but because "tolerance" does not follow from the nonaggression principle - that is, it falls outside the purview of the nonaggression principle.

The nonaggression principle is a deeply entrenched obstacle to Wilkinson's attempt to portray the aspects of libertarianism which he disapproves of as unthinking obsolete contagion from a past alliance with "the right". He needs to discredit the nonaggression principle in order to carry his argument forward. Wilkinson has, unsurprisingly, attacked the nonaggression principle as follows:

Now it seems to me that non-coercion libertarians tend to reason backwards. You start with a list of kinds of action considered impermissible, struggle to classify them all instances of coercion, and then say that your philosophy is based on non-coercion and not on whatever principle (if there was one) that led you to try to include some classes of actions (that are not intuitively coercive) but not others (that seem pretty coercive) under the coercion rubric.

Wilkinson is here opening up the possibility that libertarianism (what Wilkinson here calls "non-coercion libertarianism") is not truly principled, but rather is really a hodgepodge of different ideas - some of them unthinking reflexes. (Granted, Wilkinson uses the term "non-coercion" rather than "non-aggression" but what he's trying to do is not merely to question one of several formulations of libertarian principle, but to undermine the very idea that libertarianism - i.e. "non-coercion libertarianism" - is genuinely principled.)


Obama the Hypnotist

Exposing Obama's Deception May Be the Only Way to Protect Democracy

I love this kind of thing. The meat starts on page 16. Obama's speeches are analyzed and found to be attempts at mass hypnosis.

Somewhat amusing and may have elements of truth. Googling NLP suggests that it is pseudoscience and debunked. But in the process of accusing Obama of being an evil hypnotist, the paper does point out some truths about his speeches.

Elementary pacing examples from Obama include, “now is the time”, and “as I stand here before you.” These statements are undeniably true in the simplest terms and commonly used parts of his pacing techniques, because of course now is the time, and if he is there speaking, of course he is standing before us.

(chuckle)

Three of Obama’s favorite hypnotic paces are “that’s why I stand here tonight”, “now is the time”, and “this moment.” Just these three pacing statements are used by Obama a total of fourteen (14) times throughout this single speech.

The paper lists every instance. It's quite funny. To me anyway.

After repeated and continual pacing an entire audience of millions with statements that are undoubtedly true that lower our critical factors’ defenses, Obama just slips in the hypnotic command (the lead) e.g. ...“and that is why I will be your next President.”

Heh. We might call this "blatant nonsequitur". To those of us not being hypnotized by Obama, the following may apply to his many nonsequiturs:

A non sequitur (pronounced [ˌnɒnˈsɛkwɨtɚ]) is a conversational and literary device, often used for comical purposes (as opposed to its use in formal logic). It is a comment which, due to its lack of meaning relative to the comment it follows, is absurd to the point of being humorous or confusing.

Continuing on...

Saying, for one example: “We need change...and...that is why I will be your next President.” is a basic pace and lead. No person can disagree with “we need change.” Change is inevitable anyway, certainly when problems exist. However, the fact that change will happen, or that we need change, has absolutely nothing to do with being a valid reason why the choice for President should be none other than Barack Obama.

Ha. This is priceless. The writer continues in the vein:

The subject walks away believing we need change, therefore we need Obama. It doesn’t matter whether the cause and effect linking statement has any truth or logical connection to it.

I'll stop here but the paper goes on for quite a bit. Includes an analysis of his hand gestures.


Wealth versus cash

Going through the same quote as Jonathan did 6 days ago.

If we (hypothetically) decide to eliminate takeout from our menu and eat tuna sandwiches instead, we are saving money. But the restaurant loses it. By foregoing spending, we are pulling money out of the economy. This is the insight behind the liquidity trap--if everyone tries to hoard money by selling more goods and services while buying fewer, the total demand for goods and services will drop, and we will make ourselves worse off.

Elementary microeconomic treatment, applied to money.

The above-described thriftiness can be analyzed in terms of supply and demand - specifically, supply of and demand for money. If people start trying to hoard money, they are revealing that their demand for money has increased. Since the quantity of money is fixed (the supply curve is vertical at the quantity), an increase in demand increases the purchasing power of money.

It's possible for everyone simultaneously to save more money than they were saving before, measured in purchasing power. While the average money held remains constant provided a constant population, the average value of money held can go up through an increase in its purchasing power. An attempt by one person to hoard purchasing power for a rainy day causes the purchasing power of everyone else's money to go up slightly. If everyone wants to hoard more purchasing power, they all can.

This continues until the value of money hits the intersection of supply and demand, which is a new equilibrium.

So:

If we (hypothetically) decide to eliminate takeout from our menu and eat tuna sandwiches instead, we are saving money.

Assuming this money is not spent on something else, or invested, but is rather kept in our pocket for a rainy day, then we are demonstrating that our demand for money has increased.

But the restaurant loses it. By foregoing spending, we are pulling money out of the economy.

We are forcing the restaurant to work harder for the money - to sell us more for less money. We are increasing the purchasing power of money.

This is the insight behind the liquidity trap--if everyone tries to hoard money by selling more goods and services while buying fewer, the total demand for goods and services will drop,

An increase in demand for money leads to deflation. This does not go on forever but stops at the new equilibrium defined by the intersection of the new demand curve with the vertical supply curve.

and we will make ourselves worse off.

This has not been demonstrated.

Here is a reason deflation is good: We hold money because of uncertainty about the future. After all, if we knew exactly what we were going to want at all times in the future, we could immediately purchase all those things, spending all our money immediately in exchange for future goods. We are prevented from doing this by uncertainty about the future.

When uncertainty (e.g. uncertainty created by government activity) about the future increases, then it is a good idea to have more money in our pocket for dealing with the increased uncertainty. The quantity of money is fixed, but what we really need is increased purchasing power, and deflation gives us that despite the fixed quantity of money.

This is extremely serious. Running out of purchasing power can be extremely unpleasant, even unhealthy, even deadly. The more uncertainty there is, the more purchasing power we need in order to minimize the chance of running out of it, thus minimizing the chance of an unpleasant, unhealthy, or even deadly event in our lives.

Government programs which have the effect of frustrating our attempts to hoard purchasing power are playing a dangerous and deadly game with our lives.


Darwinism must die?

Darwinism Must Die So That Evolution May Live

That's the title of a NYT opinion piece.

My first reaction: huh?

Searching for an explanation, I find this:

We don’t call astronomy Copernicism, nor gravity Newtonism.

Maybe not specifically, but science is filled with things named after scientists - including Copernicus and Newton. For example, the Copernican principle.

“Darwinism” implies an ideology adhering to one man’s dictates, like Marxism.

Not necessarily.

And “isms” (capitalism, Catholicism, racism) are not science.

Formalism? Adaptationism? Aneurysm? A joke, but argument-by-word-suffix seems terribly weak.

“Darwinism” implies that biological scientists “believe in” Darwin’s “theory.” It’s as if, since 1860, scientists have just ditto-headed Darwin rather than challenging and testing his ideas, or adding vast new knowledge.

That is putting an awfully heavy load of interpretation on a single word.

Using phrases like “Darwinian selection” or “Darwinian evolution” implies there must be another kind of evolution at work, a process that can be described with another adjective.

So now the reason given is that it suggests that there are more than one actual mechanisms of evolution. How about this for an alternative: that there are more than one proposed mechanisms for evolution - such as Lamarckian evolution, which has been falsified but which surely is still talked about (e.g. when discussing the history of science).

The author really does seem to be throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks. Notice also that we have switched from "Darwinism" to "Darwinian". It's not really the "-ism" that was the offender, was it? I wonder what the words "Darwinism" and "Darwinian" have in common...

But the term “Darwinian” built a stage upon which “intelligent” could share the spotlight.

Seems rather a stretch to blame the name for the religious assault on the theory of natural selection. The roots of the assault run fairly deep and it seems doubtful that the choice of name would have made a detectable difference in how far it has gone.

Almost everything we understand about evolution came after Darwin, not from him.

So now the attack is on Darwin himself, or rather on his place in the history of science. It is, apparently, not the "-ism" in "Darwinism" that offends, nor the "-ian" in "Darwinian", but the "Darwin" in both. The use of his name gives him too much credit, or so it is suggested.

And yet we talk about Newtonian physics and Euclidean geometry, and there was plenty of progress in these fields after Newton and after Euclid, respectively. Using the names of Newton and of Euclid here does not give them too much credit.

In brief: I was not persuaded.


Zorg defends the broken window fallacy

Defense starts at about the 30-second mark.


The Stimulus Centralizes and Destroys Medicine, Intentionally

Centralizes medicine:

One new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective. The goal is to reduce costs and “guide” your doctor’s decisions (442, 446). These provisions in the stimulus bill are virtually identical to what Daschle prescribed in his 2008 book, “Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis.” According to Daschle, doctors have to give up autonomy and “learn to operate less like solo practitioners.”

Destroys medicine:

The goal, Daschle’s book explained, is to slow the development and use of new medications and technologies because they are driving up costs. He praises Europeans for being more willing to accept “hopeless diagnoses” and “forgo experimental treatments,” and he chastises Americans for expecting too much from the health-care system.

From Bloomberg via The Agitator.


I come out against illegal immigrants

No, not generally speaking, but in this case, going by what is described here, I come out against the illegals.

This the first time I found myself siding with the American citizen who rounded them up. A novel experience.

An Arizona man who has waged a 10-year campaign to stop a flood of illegal immigrants from crossing his property is being sued by 16 Mexican nationals who accuse him of conspiring to violate their civil rights when he stopped them at gunpoint on his ranch on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Roger Barnett, 64, began rounding up illegal immigrants in 1998 and turning them over to the U.S. Border Patrol, he said, after they destroyed his property, killed his calves and broke into his home.

In my view, property owners have far more genuine rights to defend their property than is currently recognized in law.

At one point, it said, Mr. Barnett’s dog barked at several of the women and he yelled at them in Spanish, “My dog is hungry and he’s hungry for buttocks.”

Good for him. Trespassers do not deserve any better.

One way this may be reversed: if he has not clearly marked his property. A person can't be blamed for trespassing on property that has not been clearly marked.

If you are upset by what this guy is doing and seriously want to help illegals, you might buy property along the border and then simply turn a blind eye to trespass.


Without a King

Tom Bell's son decides he doesn't need a king.


Kelo - the aftermath

From The Liberty Papers:

Interestingly, this new development that was supposed to bring in so much revenue and jobs to the City of New London remains an empty lot. The city has lost a tax base and the only new jobs which were created were for demolition.

I admit: I didn't see this coming. I continue underestimate the stupidity and harmfulness of government.


A Libertarian Use of the Exclusionary Rule

What's wrong with the scenario of 1984, in which the average citizen is under constant surveillance by the government? Surely only those who are breaking the law should be concerned that they are being watched constantly. If you are not hurting or stealing from anyone or committing any other crime against anyone, then why should you be concerned by universal surveillance?

One answer is that the government is apt to criminalize things which are not truly wrong. If innocent activity is criminalized, then universal surveillance threatens the innocent.

But this same answer applies to evidence gathered by the police.

We might generally say, then, that to the extent that the government criminalizes innocent activity, then the less government surveillance there is, the better, and by the same token, the less government is able to use evidence gathered by the police, the better. The exclusionary rule, like the absence of universal surveillance, protects us from the criminalization of innocent activity.

But what about truly evil activity? Doesn't the exclusionary rule protect the guilty along with the innocent? Doesn't the exclusionary rule place the innocent into jeopardy by allowing criminals to more freely prey on the innocent?

The violation of the rights of others is by its nature particularly difficult to cover up. A victim who is not murdered is able and motivated to act as a witness and he is also motivated to invite the police onto the scene of the crime, and as for murder, that is also difficult to hide, and the victim's surviving family and associates are motivated to help in the capture and conviction of the perpetrator. In contrast, for instance, a drug dealer or a prostitute and their customer are highly motivated to avoid betraying each other to the state. For this reason, there is particularly little need for universal surveillance to discover crimes with victims, as compared to victimless "crimes", and particularly little need to brush aside the exclusionary rule to prosecute criminals with victims as compared to victimless "criminals". The exclusionary rule disproportionately protects the innocent against bad law, as compared to the guilty against good law.

I end with some responses to Arthur's article on the exclusionary rule.

John and Jack are supected of murder, but Jack has a good alibi and only John is tried.

Such a scenario is possible, but disproportionately, the exclusionary rule protects the innocent against bad law.

However, saying evidence should be discarded is a poor consequentialist decision that violates people's right over their own brain, over the information they should to take into account.

I disagree that the exclusionary rule is a violation of rights. It is, indeed, an impediment on the use by the government of information for a certain end. But it is not a violation of any individual's rights to place such an impediment on the government. Impediments on the authority of the state are not violations of individual rights. It does not violate anyone's right over their brain, because it does not make it illegal for a person to use whatever evidence is available to them to think any thought that they like. What the exclusionary rule prevents is not a person, even a judge, from thinking whatever he will think, but a court from convicting. Everyone who is exposed to the evidence is free to come to any conclusion they like. What employees of the state are not free to do is to employ the authority of their position as agents the state.

This is not a consequentialist moral argument. Regardless of the consequences, it would not be a violation of anyone's rights to place an impediment on the use of the state's authority. Even if that impediment made things worse, it would not be a violation of anyone's rights, because no one has any right to begin with to use the authority of the state. So the argument is not that the good consequences keep the exclusionary rule from being a violation of rights, but that the exclusionary rule is already, for a different reason, no violation of rights, and that it furthermore has a consequence of protecting the innocent against bad law.


Having the right politics doesn't make you a better person

And having the wrong politics doesn't make you worse.

Of course, there may be some relationship in some people, but not a necessary one. What makes you a good or bad person (on various levels) is your personal actions, and your attitudes insofar as those attitudes affect your personal actions. Have you hurt anyone? Have you taken pleasure in humiliating anyone? Are you a kind person? Do you help your friends? Do you help strangers?

Things that you do determine whether you are a good or bad person. And while politicians do indeed act on their political views, the vast majority of us are, for the most part, not in a position to act on our political views. One exception is how we treat people with different political views who have not otherwise done anyone any harm. It is not a nice person who vandalizes the property of a person who has not done anyone any harm and who simply has sharply opposed political views. People with the wrong views who have not acted on their wrong views are innocent. A physical attack on people with the wrong views for having the wrong views is an attack on an innocent person and is wrong, even if you're a libertarian and your victim is a communist - or vice versa.

I think this goes without saying. But it goes against one of the principal reasons that people have for adhering to and espousing political opinions. Everyone wants to be a good person, and people espouse certain views in order to feel that they are good and to project to others an image of themselves as good people, and people are afraid of entertaining contrary views because they are afraid that they will be tainted by it, made bad. And indeed, in the view of many, they are made bad by it.

A thief is actually a bad person. A thief is morally corrupted. A vandal is morally corrupted. A con artist is morally corrupted. These are bad people. But someone with the wrong opinions about society, about the way the world works and about the way the world ought to work, is not a bad person except insofar as this makes him do bad things to other people - and for the most part, for most people, it does not.

Fear is the mind killer[*]. Fear of becoming bad, or of seeming to be bad (which, in the social part of our mind, amounts to pretty much the same thing) clouds our thought and freezes our opinion. People's political thinking is hampered by fear. They don't want to explore views which they have come to think of as "evil" because they don't want to become evil themselves, or to seem to be evil to their friends. Fear traps us intellectually.

[*](yes, I love science fiction, though I wish it were better than it actually is)

To be sure, our political views affect how we vote. But the effect of a vote is too dilute for the individual act of voting to be evil. That, in any case, is my view of it.


Now it begins

Despite numerous public claims in the past that he would leave gun owners alone, reinstating the Assault Weapons Ban and enacting other restrictions are very much on Barack Obama's "Urban Policy" agenda.

From Confederate Yankee, via Instapundit

We'll see. Obama's recent hires and speeches have been comforting to conservatives and unsettling to liberals, both of whom were expecting something more liberal and less Bush III, but it remains to be seen how he will govern.


Nature and politics

Here are some relationships between beliefs about nature (the nature of the world and of humanity) and political beliefs.

If you think that humanity and society are not especially malleable by a political elite (but nevertheless destructible and enslavable), then you think, in particular, that the way things are and the way people are is pretty much the way they are going to be. You think that the significant alternatives to the way things are is not some other healthy way things might be, but slavery or death, disaster, things falling apart, the end. The role of the government is limited to the following:

a) to preserve society

b) to enslave (or more mildly, to feed on) society

c) to harm or destroy society

You think, furthermore, that the way things are right now, the government is already either preserving, or harming, or enslaving society, but is not in any significant creative sense molding society. You believe, therefore, that the way things are is in large part a detailed reflection of their detailed nature - rather than being imprinted on their malleable nature by the creative state. You think that the productive economy is not run, either secretly or openly, by the government, as that would grant the government creative powers which are denied it by the vision of society as not especially malleable. You may believe that the government has the power to defend, but apart from this you are liable to view government activity as harmful and possibly parasitical.

A subtlety which I did not take into account in the preceding discussion is that the vision of society as non-malleable is not necessarily a vision of society as not subject to spontaneous change. It is a vision of society as not subject to deliberate change (such as by a political elite). Like the weather - it changes, but it is hard to influence.

On the other side: if you think that humanity and society are highly malleable then much of this reverses. You believe in the capacity of government to effect significant positive change in society. More interestingly, this leads to the idea that this has already happened and is happening, which leads to a whole set of (in my view mostly delusional) ideas about the way the world is right now. You are liable to see the government's hand everywhere. Depending on how much positive creativity you assign to the government, you may see society as essentially nothing without the state, as something which, if it has any form at all, necessarily has the form imposed on it by the artist, i.e., the state. You are liable to have difficulty distinguishing totalitarianism from free societies, as you see the government's hand everywhere in both societies - and, in consequence, you are liable to become a totalitarian yourself.

You are liable to believe that society is largely an intentional creation of those who seek to mold it. You are liable to give rather a lot of credit for positive changes to political and other activists who have advocated for those changes. (A contrasting view is that political activists are essentially epiphenomena, having scant actual causal power, though limitless capacity for self-congratulation.)


It Goes Deeper than Nature versus Nurture

Jacob Lyles writes:

The right accepts human nature, the left wants to change it.

I think this is a good observation, but it brings to mind a certain distinction which I'd like to make. A person could believe in the blank slate theory and yet be anti-leftist, and a person could believe that nothing is learned and everything is instinctive and be to the left of Karl Marx. And all this while still displaying the essential distinction between left and right that Jacob is touching on.

Nature and nurture are alike, and so they do not themselves distinguish left from anti-left. Evolution is a kind of very slow learning process, so our "nature" is a kind of very long term nurture. In principle, our nature (our genetic makeup) could be changed through genetic engineering, so that, in principle, choosing the genetic makeup of your child could be as central a part of parenting as choosing the right schools and the right lessons.

The fact that nature and nurture are alike and could in the near future as we master genetics become even more alike does not dissolve the difference between left and non-left.

Here's why. Compare the following two ideas:

a) Behavior X is an instinct, and all the government-sponsored reprogramming will not stop people from engaging in Behavior X.

b) Behavior X is learned but the environment will inevitably teach Behavior X - all the government-sponsored social engineering will ultimately prove to be ineffective in creating an environment that teaches anything other than Behavior X.

These two conclusions are very similar in their implications. They both fall squarely on the non-malleability (and therefore anti-leftist) end of the malleability/non-malleability spectrum of opinion. In (a) it is the human who is not malleable and in (b) it is the environment which is not malleable, but both come to the same thing, which is that Behavior X is pretty much unavoidable, regardless of what the government tries.

At the same time, (a) is on the "nature" end of the nature versus nurture spectrum, and (b) is on the "nurture" end.

A similar pairing could be made at the leftist end of the spectrum. Twentieth century leftists thought man could be remade by indoctrination, but twenty-first century leftists may think that man can be remade by genetic manipulation.

Recall the evolutionary theory of natural law. The idea is (approximately) that man's inborn moral instincts are the way they are not merely by accident, but because those moral instincts enhance survival and reproduction. Thus, while a leftist geneticist might create a breed of human with significantly different moral instincts - he might create New Socialist Man in the laboratory - that new breed of human would have to deal with evolutionary pressure - with competition from unmodified humans. Given that our moral instincts are the product of evolution, the way to bet is with the unmodified humans. At least, this is what an anti-leftist might say.

For the most part, those who are at the "nature" end of the nature/nurture spectrum are at the "not malleable" end of the malleable/not-malleable spectrum, and likewise for "nurture" and "malleable". My point here is that there is, at least in principle, a difference between these two spectra, and that the spectrum of opinion on malleability, rather than on nature versus nurture, tracks best with leftism versus non-leftism.

In a nutshell, I might replace the reference to "human nature" in the above quote with a reference to "the nature of humanity and of the world", and further, I might replace the above quoted distinction with the following:

The right considers humans and the world to be less malleable than the left does.

This way of formulating it removes the presumption that the right (or anti-left) is correct, which I think is an improvement, because people sometimes err on the side of believing the current state of affairs reflects a permanent condition. However, insofar as economics pours cold water on the aspirations of leftists (which it very much does), it is not left wing.

(I would like to acknowledge, without going into, another aspect of the statement that "the right accepts human nature, the left wants to change it." Above I have been talking about a disagreement about what is possible. However, as stated, the quote actually refers to a disagreement about what is desirable. That is important also.)


Hiding in plain sight

Inflation and productivity: It has been pointed out that government expansion of the money supply is partially hidden behind increased productivity. That is, as humans become more productive, prices will tend to fall, or rather, would tend to fall if the government were not expanding the money supply, thereby pushing prices back up. These two phenomena partially hide each other: the real drop in prices caused by increased productivity is partially hidden by the expansion of the money supply, and the expansion of the money supply (i.e. debasing the currency) is partially hidden by increased productivity.

Inflation and fiat currency: The debasement of the currency is, of course, nowadays also hidden by the fact that a coin is no longer merely an ingot of precious metal with a government stamp guaranteeing its weight and quality. In the days of precious metal it was possible to observe the debasement merely by carefully comparing new and old coins.

Taxation and fragmentation: The state nowadays takes a large fraction of people's income. This is hidden in various ways. One way is by splitting the tax into multiple parts. The national government takes one part of income, the state (e.g. California) takes another part of income, and the tax is further divided into "income tax" and other taxes, such as property tax, sales tax, the splitting of the total income tax into a portion paid by the employer and a portion paid by the employee, tax on imports, and various other taxes. Each individual tax represents only a small-ish fraction of income, but taken together they add up to a large fraction of income.

Taxation and lost opportunities: The harm done by taxes is even greater than the taxes added up, because taxes act as a brake on economic activity. It is not easy to imagine something that remains only an unrealized possibility, so it is not easy to see this particular avenue of harm.

Taxation and productivity: The state also hides behind the past. When we judge something, we often rely on comparisons. For example, I judge my car as "good" by comparing it to other available cars. Among other things, my model is low-maintenance, but what this really amounts to is that it is low maintenance in comparison to other cars currently available. In a parallel world in which the majority of cars were vastly more reliable than they are here and now, then my exact same car would be (correctly) considered a high-maintenance car, and very likely a pile of junk.

Inflation partly hides behind increased productivity, and government taxation also partly hides behind increased productivity. Even though taxes have gone up, productivity has gone up even more, so we are taking home more than we have ever taken home, more than our grandparents took home. Taxes make us worse off in comparison to how well off we would have been today in the absence of taxes, but they do not make us worse off in comparison to how well off we (or our grandparents) actually were when taxes were lower. The past is the point of comparison that is actually available to us, and we are better off compared to then.

Had government raised taxes abruptly, everyone would feel it. But as long as government raises taxes slowly enough so that what is left over still increases (because of increased productivity), people will be less likely to feel the pinch.