You are currently viewing the aggregator for the Distributed Republic reader blogs. You can surf to any author's blog by clicking on the link at the bottom of one of his/her posts. If you wish to participate, feel free to register (at the top of the right sidebar) and start blogging.

The main page of the blog can be found here.

Good news everyone

In a sudden outbreak of common sense, the government is going to give back $800 to every taxpayer... or at least it seems likely.

Form Bloomberg :

The Bush administration is close to completing an economic-
stimulus proposal that will include $800 rebates for individuals
and $1,600 for households as well as tax breaks for businesses,
people familiar with the plan said today. 

On to drink my 267 cups  of coffee.

On a more serious note,for once this is a policy that can actually have a positive effect and that is moral. Yipee.


Should I use consequentialist arguments ?

I've been arguing with many people about politics, and, over the time, my argumentation power has steadily decreased. This may seem paradoxical, as I should be gaining experience but here is what happened.

As David Friedman says, people are generally more convinced by consequentialist arguments. Not all people are though. I was exposed to many consequentialist arguments, stemming from economics for a long time. I even wasconfronted with libertarians arguing this way but I never really espoused their views. And why should I have, there were also convincing arguments from other economists. When I was exposed to libertarianism as a moral theory of right, I became an ancap in a matter of days.

When I first started to argue with people on this topic, I was relying extensively on consequentialist arguments. I would generally start with a moral argument and then end up pointing out the "good" consequences brought by this position. I had some moderate success with that approach, but the more I was  using it, the more I grew disatisfied with it. I realized that all I was achieving - when I was successful- was to convince people that certain policies should be or should not be followed. While a very practical goal, I felt it was not what I was looking for. I wanted to convince people to be moral, to recognize the immorality of agression in all its forms. When presenting  a moral argument tied to a consequentialist argument, I felt I was cheating by providing the consequentialist argument as a carrot. Fiat justitia ruat caelum, but I will only reassure you about the sky once you accept justice.

I don't want people to accept moral ideas because there are good consequences, I want them to recognize that they ought to be respected. Sadly, the only way to do that is to refrain from using any consequentialist argument, which I started  doing. This is when my argumentation started becoming less and less effective. To be sure, if someone claims that anarchy couldn't work, I feel answering the question is not cheating as one cannot claim that morality requires the impossible. The basic requirement of morality is that we can live moraly. I do, however, refrain to try and convince people anarchy would be a merry happy place. This should  be reserved for dessert : they have to eat  the ethical meal first... only once they're done accepting justice can I tell them the sky will not fall.

While my approach may seem a bit quixotic, I believe it is not. One of my goal for example is to encounter someone similar enough to myself so that, when exposed to the same argument, he will become an anarcho-libertarian on the spot. I am really following a very skewed strategy : low success-rate, but total success once in a while. Although these types of strategy may be depressing during long losing streaks, they are useful. There's also an argument, from Rand, to which I agree ... to a certain extent. She somewhat famously opposed Milton Friedman's tract on rent control as it did not rely on property right but on altruistic considerations to attack the policy. While I do believe the net effect of teaching people about the economic problem of rent control was positive, I agree with Rand that it is a dangerous path. (More powerful ? No, quicker, easier, more seductive)

Consequentialists arguments are very efficient because people are generally willing to change their mind easily on those matters... but what make them successful also makes them weak : they can be replaced with other consequentialist arguments. Moral arguments are much tougher to make because people are more reluctant to accept a new moral philosophy, but they are also much more stable, and will likely be successfully passed onto children. Every consequentialist argument however is a step away from freedom as an end instead of freedom as a mean. On the long term, the fate of the new belief is unknown... it may  be replaced with an economic fallacy. It's negative effect on morality will always be damaging though.

To go back to my initial problem, my rate of success has indeed considerably dropped, but I believe I am doing the right thing. While consequentialist arguments may be useful for short term political goals, as long as conquering the noosphere is concerned, I believe they should seriously be avoided.


Why I won't get a 23andMe account for Christmas

23andMe.com is a website launched by Sergey Brin's wife Anne Wojcicki. For $999 your whole genome can be sequenced. They then claim to offer datamining tools, find characteristics about you, your genetic history, predispositions to possible illness, whom you get that allergy from, etc etc.

I won't buy that for christmas. Why?

Am I put of by the stiff $999? Well a bit but it still seems reasonable. Am I, like many libertarians concerned with the disclosure of my personal information? After all, is my DNA is on the internet, it means omg-gattaca-totalitarian-society. Nope, I don't give a damn.

A quick tour will give you the answer:

Genetic Nondiscrimination.

Various state laws exist to protect individuals from genetic discrimination. On a national level, we support passage of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), currently under consideration by the U.S. Congress.

So what is GINA?

The Genetic Nondiscrimination Act of 2007 (GINA) was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, by a vote of 420-3. The act will protect individuals against discrimination based on their genetic information when it comes to health insurance and employment. These protections are intended to encourage Americans to take advantage of genetic testing as part of their medical care.

Although I'm dying to use the service I'm not giving $999 to fund socialism >(


Liberty dollar seized ?

There is of piece of news that has been circulated since this morning on the Internet, 

http://www.rabidquill.com/?p=17

(excerpt) 

I sincerely regret to inform you that about 8:00 this morning a dozen FBI and Secret Service agents raided the Liberty Dollar office in Evansville.

For approximately six hours they took all the gold, all the silver, all the platinum and almost two tons of Ron Paul Dollars that where just delivered last Friday. They also took all the files, all the computers and froze our bank accounts.

We have no money. We have no products. We have no records to even know what was ordered or what you are owed. We have nothing but the will to push forward and overcome this massive assault on our liberty and our right to have real money as defined by the US Constitution. We should not to be defrauded by the fake government money.

But to make matters worse, all the gold and silver that backs up the paper certificates and digital currency held in the vault at Sunshine Mint has also been confiscated. Even the dies for mint the Gold and Silver Libertys have been taken

While I immediately thought of a hoax, I checked their yahoo group and it looks real, their order webpage is down and no one answers the phone. There is the possiblity that this is real, or it might be a huge scam from the founder trying to steal the backing metals.

To be sure, I think that the liberty dollar is crappy, it relies on shady multi-level marketing tricks and their idea to create an implicit parity with the greenback is just retarded.

However

- this is certainly no ground for confiscation
- the same thing might happen to other forms of asset storage, bullionvault for example has a vault in New-York. While there is no easy pretext to crack on it, it is certainly a possibility.

What happened looks like the realisation a cranky libertarian paranoid dream, but it may actually be real. Scary. 


An experiment among the grassroot Ron Paul supporters

After a few days of experimentation, I have finally been permanently banned from ronpaulforum.com .

I participated in two threads over there, both on the subject of immigration:

http://www.ronpaulforum.com/showthread.php?t=156865

http://www.ronpaulforum.com/showthread.php?t=144320

Some interesting conclusions I reached are

- for the average debater, a reductio ad absurdum is too complicated, it will confuse him into thinking you embrace the absurd conclusion. 
- people believe immigration to be a privilege granted by the government
- people have a hard time making a distinction between immigration and naturalization
- people generally have a hard time following a sequence of logically constructured arguments 
- Ron Paul supporters are trained to answer to socialist arguments, they're completely off when faced with libertarian arguments, it's fun (in a sad way) to watch.

I conclude with Mises

If you have to convince a group of people who are not directly dependent on a solution of a problem, you will never succeed. 


Second amendment erotica

The right of hot chicks in bikini to keep and bear arms. Apparently it's a real show, not a fake... So there's a reality sports (sure it's all about sports) TV show featuring, hum girls and guns.

Behold:  

Girls and Guns BTSUploaded by girlsandguns

Girls and Guns BTS
Uploaded by girlsandguns

www.toughsportslive.com/?page=ggHome

See also, 
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Rule+34


HHH On the Simpsons and forced cancellation

Yesterday, I wanted to watch the Simpsons on TV. The Simpsons is a very popular show and no doubt that in a free anarcho-capitalist society people would still watch the Simpsons. However, on that same day, the United States decided to execute 5,000 anti-war protestors. This act of barbarism was featured in the news all the evening, and the broadcast of the Simpsons was cancelled. In a free society, there is no government to execute people, thus it is unlikely that the news will spill over the evening cartoons. As long as government mandated killing of protestors continue, it equates to forced cancelling of the Simpsons and therefore the network channel should not be free to change its programming.


Aliens against egalitarianism

A lot has been written on the evils of egalitarianism, my point is not to reaffirm it but rather to forge convincing anti-egalitarian bullet. Next time you are spoiling a friendly dinner party by arguing against any form of welfare system, opposing egalitarianism and its bastard child opportunity-egalitarianism, here's some ammo. I don't recall reading that argument elsewhere, it's not very original but the analogy is good as few will extend egalitarianism to it.

Assume we discover a peaceful planet populated by intelligent humanoid creatures. Through the marvels of convergent evolution, they are actually very similar to us, only they have 100 years of advance in almost everything (a ridiculous drop considering the length of evolution). They have much better machines, better education, quality of life, better health care and so on.

According to the defender of egalitarianism, the very day we discover this planet, every birth of human child suddenly become "unfair" as the unprivileged human child doesn't have the same chances in life as the alien child.

Had we not discovered the planet, we should not consider the birth unfair, but as soon as we barely know of the existence of that civilization, the whole meaning of fairness should be altered to reflect that any birth of a human baby is unfair.* After all, what did the alien babies do to deserve a better life? Nothing!

That alone undermines I think the whole idea behind egalitarianism. In order to finish (and definitely kill the mood of the party):

Since the alien are privileged it is only fair we force them to share their wealth, thus we should build a fleet, invade their planet and take their resources, machines and most valuable things back to earth.

 

On further thoughts, that argument is most efficient against someone defending equality of opportunities rather than pure egalitarianism. A pure egalitarian would claim the only "unfair" thing us the alien's attempt to prevent us from grabbing their ressources, the opportunity-egalitarian however must consider that being born human suddenly becomes unfair.

* Yes, that is the rothbardian view of egalitarianism as a revolt against nature, nothing new here but the framework.


Tobacco Vs Children


http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/7026454.stm

US President George W Bush has vetoed a bill to expand a children's healthcare insurance scheme, after it was passed with a large majority in the Senate. Mr Bush argues it takes the programme beyond its original purpose of insuring children from low-income families. The vetoed bill proposed higher tobacco taxes to provide an extra $35bn (£17bn) to insure some 10 million children.

A small tax on the evil tobacco smoker against poor children in need of medical care... can't possibly make it more emotional. This is probably a bad political move so I tend to think it is principled. For once, kudoz to Bush, it takes lot of balls to veto such a bill.


Good faith execution of contracts

A lease contract for an apartment has a provision by which any late rent will trigger a $50 late fee, the rent is around $1500. On a given month, the tenant sends a check but he forgets to add the cents in the check, therefore 75 cents are missing to the monthly payment. The next month, the landlord asks for 75 cents and $50 of penalty.

Such a behavior can be rational from the landlord in the case of rent control, where his reputation does not negatively affect the price of the rent.

Assuming this silly (and purely hypothetical, honestly I swear) situation applied to you, would you feel justified in saying this is abusive or would you bow to the contractual rule?


The moral ambiguity of default

With the subprime crisis raging, there are many stories of people walking out of their mortgage. It also seems that it is not uncommon among young people to walk out of a mortgage before the first payment thus getting one year of free rent (credit re-building apparently not being an issue at a young age).

In a free and just society, there cannot be compulsory personal bankrupcy law. Maybe debtors buy as an insurance the right to default, maybe they don't and they go to debtor's work camp. In the U.S. the state allows anyone to declare personal bankrupcy.

According to two different analysis of the law I reach two opposite conclusions.

a) Defaulting on a debt is theft, the creditor should be able to sue and settle an agreement where the debtor repay some of all of the debt (through total liquidation of assets, work, etc). This is prevented by the governement, thus creditors charge a higher interest rate, covering default risk as a defence against this agression. The higher rate does not legitimate defaulting, much like the shop raising its prices to account for stolen goods does not justify shoplifting (this is Rothbard's position).

b) The State force creditors to bundle their service with a default insurance. When someone contracts a debt, he his buying the insurance as well through higher interest rates. Defaulting (or walking out of a mortgage) is merely exercising an option that was bought.

This same ambiguity can be applied to many different laws, such as zoning laws. If I bought a house close to a school, is building a peep-show ok because zoning laws are coercive, or is not okay because the State prevented me to buy the right-to-build-a-peep-show from the original owner (who died with no heir thus destroying that right)

So, is walking out of a mortgage a rational arbitrage or a fraudulous theft?


Political trends among the tech crowd

Slashdot currently has a poll on political affiliation. Most people are either liberal or libertarian. Anarchists (which in the current context probably implies leftist) communists and socialists outnumber conservatives and moderates.

There's a somewhat famous article from 1992 I came across in the past highlithing a few reasons why programmers can make good consequentialist libertarians, it's very worth reading.

This coin has two sides though. I think the left part (except the anarchists whom I suspect to be merely being anti-conformist) are mostly people who believe in central planning, it may be the dark side of a computer science mentality, people can be organized as data and with the right "program" society can be organized. They are the typical positive constructivists described by Hayek in "The counter revolution of science".

Some interesting posts in the discussion following the poll, healthcare seems to be a huge issue.


Cultural gender imbalance

Dave comments on "liberal eugenics" about the issues of being able to chose the sex of one's children.

Currently we use "biological planning", but what would market production of babies be? Assume everyone could chose the sex of their children.

As a marxist would put it, it is men's "gender interest" to produce women and women's interest to produce men... indeed theoretically more women than men benefits men whose value increase and vice versa. Not quite true. First of all, it seems that wanting to produce men is a general bias... if cultures are patriarchal (gosh now I sound marxist AND feminist), it is indeed an evolutionnary advantage to breed boys that will spread your culture. Second, it seems that in societies with a deficit of women, rather than women's value increasing women tend to be treated more like commodity... if the women are no self-owners their scarcity is more of a curse. It is possible that with increased gender imbalance these tendencies invert, but it is also possible to imagine that the majoritarian gender gets power and control thus creating an incentive to increase the imbalance.

These arguments ignore the multiplicity of cultures, and surely different culture would have different gender ratios. Which culture would be at a reproductive - hence cultural - advantage thereby spreading this ratio? My guess is that it would be a polygynous society. There are two reasons for this.

- Biologicaly eggs are the limiting reagent not sperm, it is currently a waste to raise so many males
- Less men and more women means less deadly competition among males. Since males are naturally more violent is is more efficient than the opposite.

Why didn't such a ratio evolve biologically? Well it may give a specie an advtange over another specie but it does not give a reproductive advantage to an individual within a given specie. If I live in a 50/50 society, having more daughters will not guarantee me more grandchildren therefore the mutation is lost.

In the distant futures, with biotechs, we might live in such a society (but let's not be utopians).


Mafia loans

And by mafia I mean the Hollywood version mafia... I don't know the mafia, but I've seen movies where it was featured prominently. From what I gathered watching movies and TV I noticed a few things

- The mafia makes cash loans
- The rates are insanely high
- The default probability is high
- The recovery rate is close to 100%

This strikes me as odd... the default risk is essentially 0 to the mafia because even if the guy wants to default, they always manage to get the money back, by using kneecaps as collateral. In this case, why the high rates? There are a few possible explanations all of which are linked

- There are costs incurred in recovering the money, paying goons, bullets, renting huge empty warehouses with a single chair, fixing the chainsaw once in a while... True, but one would assume the mafia has so much dissuasive power no one dares to default *, keeping the costs fairly low. ( *which contradict the high default observation from movies).

- The mafia maintains a coercive monopoly on underground lending. The bank won't lend you money to bet on a fixed boxing match but the mafia will and there's only one boss in the area.

- There is a huge demand for mafia loans but the mafia only has so much money. This means the mafia cannot really borrow from the bank to meet the adequate supply.

-  Mafias have humongous returns on their ventures and therefore will only lend at very high rate. (This also means the mafia cannot borrow from the bank)

 

Any thoughts ? What about the actual mafia ? Could they fix the subprime loan crisis the medieval way ?


Perverting isonomy

...or as I call it, the fallacy of isodomy (in poetic fashion)

Isonomy is a great thing, it says everyone should have the same rights. If everyone has the same rights, and since rights can't infringe on one another then isonomy roughly boils down to natural rights (there are degenerate solutions, for example it's possible to have isonomy where no one has any right at all). Well isonomy is more about law than rights, everyone should face the same rules, but if we apply isonomy to the law making process itself, we land back on our feet with isonomy as equal rights.

One may or may not agree with the possible equivalence between natural right and isonomy... that's not really what I want to discuss. There is a tendency among many people, including libertarian, to justify coercition based on a false view of isonomy.

It generally goes like this. A group of people X is being agressed with the exception of individual x. Isodomy claims that x should be facing the same laws as X and therefore should be agressed. There is a long list of example of the isodomy fallacy :

- Calling for the end of "subsidies" to a given industry / sector, even though these subsidies are really tax-cuts, immigration visas, etc. Only taxation should be opposed. Any "distorsion" created in the market is the fault of the State alone, it is not a legitimate motive to tax a company.

- Saying that "all immigrants should face the same waiting periods" (implying the end of "privileged" immigrants who face shorter waiting period) (Ron Paul)

- Claiming that a flat-tax is a "fair-tax" because everyone faces the same rate.

- Historically, allowing women in a government :o) (ok, extreme case here, but really no one should)

I coined the world isodomy from a parable I once wrote on the subject, explaining how being spared by a rapist was hardly a privilege. It's definitely not subtle but I think it conveys the message pretty well, please spread the word :)