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IP Freely: Patri on Intellectual Property

Nothing you probably haven't heard 1000 times before, but Patri has a useful post up on his livejournal summarizing his views on intellectual property, with helpful input and clarification in the comment thread.

In unrelated news, I downloaded Limewire this morning and am currently listening to a mix of The Ramones, The Misfits, The Raconteurs, Maroon 5, and The White Stripes' newest album, Icky Thump.

Breaking the law, breaking the law... ooh, time to download some Judas Priest... Come get me, RIAA.

Other People Are Not Your Property

Roderick Long had it right when he said that the most succinct formulation of libertarianism--which is to say, liberalism rightly understood--is the single sentence, "Other people are not your property."

No clearer can this lesson be seen than in the case of free migration of people. Will Wilkinson riffs on the Last Knight of Liberalism himself:

My long-term aim regarding migration is the best feasible approximation of a single global labor market–a world in which people are free to travel the world in search of the most valued use for their skills. That this idea should seem shocking to some (most?) of us reveals how deeply-seated are our essentially illiberal nationalistic impulses. But there is nothing new here. Mises had this all nailed down tight in his chapter on "Liberal Foreign Policy" in Liberalism, written eighty years ago. A politics aimed at world peace requires an integrated world of peaceful cooperation. Here is your bracing refresher statement of ideals:

The starting point of liberal thought is the recognition of the value and importance of human cooperation, and the whole policy and program of liberalism is designed to serve the purpose of maintaining the existing state of mutual cooperation among the members of the human race and of extending it still further. The ultimate ideal envisioned by liberalism is the perfect cooperation of all mankind, taking place peacefully and without friction. Liberal thinking always has the whole of humanity in view and not just parts. It does not stop at limited groups; it does not end at the border of the village, of the province, of the nation, or of the continent. Its thinking is cosmopolitan and ecumenical: it takes in all men and the whole world. Liberalism is, in this sense, humanism; and the liberal, a citizen of the world, a cosmopolite.

As I’ve argued before, I think this conception of cosmopolitan liberalism almost got lost in the Cold War, during which cosmopolitan, internationalist ideals were largely ceded to the communists while liberalism rode out the red tide by tying itself defensively to nationalist feelings in those nations with a more or less liberal identity. The Cold War has been over for almost twenty years now. It is time to get back to the project of securing world peace through extending the scope of mutual cooperation. It is time to get back to the cosmopolitan ideals of liberal humanism.

And if you're looking for an even more passionate, eloquent, emotionally charged, and entirely correct formulation, be sure to read, re-read, and re-re-read Rad Geek's Sin Fronteras:

This controversy, like the debate over slavery, like the debate over abortion, and like all other controversies over simple moral issues, is and should be a debate between extremists, not a case for middle-of-the-roader rhetoric or halfway-house solutions. It is immoral for the government to stop, harass, restrain, confine, and exile peaceful people from their current homes, solely on the basis of their nationality. It is criminal that even one refugee cannot immediately escape from danger, or must live even one day longer penned up in a refugee concentration camp, simply because governments in the U.S. and Western Europe continue to enforce the SS St. Louis immigration policy. It is inexcusable that even one undocumented worker should have to live in fear of emergency workers, neighbors, or her boss, simply because she failed to get a signed permission slip from the federal government before she set out to make a living.

And it is ridiculous that these facts continue to be obscured by nativist bullying, by national security mysticism, or by pseudo-reformist wonkery-wankery. Goodbye to all that. The demand for open borders and immediate amnesty is simplistic, naïve, starry-eyed, unrealistic, extremist, uncompromising, radical, and also obviously correct. It is your job, reader, to live up to the best part of yourself and make that demand loudly, courageously, without compromise and without apology. Mumbling dismissal and pseudo-reformist compromise mean not prudence, but complicity.

Smash international apartheid, now and forever.

So say we all. This as about as close as I can get to a secular prayer. 

Jesus Should Have Had A Safe Word

Jesus should have had a safe word – that about sums me up.

[Note: Jonathan has been pestering me to write an "about the author" type essay for a couple of years now, and I finally got around to doing so. This occasion just so happens to be coextensive with my writing a personals ad to post on various singles/dating websites. So consider this me shooting three birds with one stone: getting Jonathan off my back, piquing the curiousity of readers who were dying to know more about your humble author, and blegging potential cute and like-minded female blog readers for a date. There's gotta be some girl out there as weird as me. And for those of you who bother reading all the way through, feel free to offer suggestions/corrections. I know it's a bit on the long side, so I should probably attack it with a big red sharpie at some point and cut it down to a fraction of the size.]

I'm 27, white, 6'0, 230 lbs. I'm a smoker (hoping to quit one day), occasional drinker, and 420 friendly. I live in the Emory area. I'm currently a student at Georgia Tech, and will be graduating this upcoming semester.

I'm a submissive male looking for a dominant female, open to any race (for what it’s worth, I’ve mostly dated black women in the past), most body types, and any age (within reason; if you’re old enough to be my grandmother, um, wow, that’s not my thing; if you’re old enough to be my mother, and you are serious MILF material, we can talk. If you’re under 18, sorry, but I don’t feel like spending the next few years of my life in prison, no matter how much I may despise poorly formed age-of-consent laws). I want a girl who is comfortable wearing the pants in the relationship, and is as freaky and open-minded as I am when it comes to breaking social taboos. I’m not interested in a purely sexual relationship; although sex is important to me (and I want something more than yet another platonic female friend; I’m sick and tired of being every girl’s inverse fag hag), I want to find someone who shares common interests beyond just sex. I’m extremely skeptical of the value and long-term stability of monogamy; I’m interested in exploring aspects of the poly lifestyle. I’m a very open, public person, place extremely low importance on privacy and shame, and hope you are the same.

Movies I like: The Big Lebowski, Secretary, May, Donnie Darko, The Breakfast Club, Superbad, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Memento, Dark City; anything directed by Tarantino, Romero, the Coen Brothers, Francis Ford Coppola, Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Scorcese, David Fincher, David Lynch, Tim Burton; anything with zombies, Bruce Campbell, Johnny Depp, or Helena Bonham Carter. Cheesy horror movies are my guilty pleasure. Music: 70s and 80s funk (Zapp and Roger are one of my all time favorites), Prince, OutKast, cheesy 80s one-hit-wonder dance beats (A-ha, Cyndi Lauper, Boy George, Wham!), Tears For Fears, The Cars, The Ramones, The Cure, Tenacious D (Jack Black is a God among shlubby men, with Seth Rogan as first runner-up), White Stripes, Weezer, Fountains of Wayne (Stacy’s Mom is a MILF!), as well as classic rock icons Jethro Tull, Tom Petty, The Black Crowes, and Neil Young. Nothing beats going to a concert, smoking a bowl, and lying next to you on a beach blanket on the grass with our eyes closed, absorbing everything around us.

I’m also a big TV junkie. The quality of television production has reached its prime in recent years, surpassing even most feature films. I can’t stand people who denigrate television as an “idiot box” or devoid of all cultural value; they just don’t know what to watch. HBO may have started the trend of high quality serial dramas with Oz, Six Feet Under, Carnivàle, and Deadwood, but traditional networks quickly picked up the gist with gems like Firefly, Battlestar Gallactica, Veronica Mars, and the new and ever satisfying Mad Men. It’s a damn dirty shame most of these serials have been canceled long before they deserved to be.

The Office is perhaps the only non-cartoon sitcom since Seinfeld that’s not only watchable, but piss-your-pants-funny watchable. The cartoon comedies of choice include, obviously, early Conan O’Brien-era Simpsons before it turned to complete crap, Family Guy, American Dad, South Park, and Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Reno 911 and the late sketch comedy troupe show, Upright Citizens Brigade deserve special mention too. Any sitcom with a laugh track makes me want to shoot myself in the face. You should feel the same. Reality TV is another guilty pleasure, especially American Idol and its spin-offs, So You Think You Can Dance and The Next Great American Band. Beauty and the Geek is brilliant. Any reality show on MTV generally sucks. (For that matter, anything on MTV generally sucks.) The Bravo reality franchises sometimes make me wish I was gay, and not just bi-curious. I think I’ve seen every episode of Law & Order that has ever aired in the last 17 years at least twice, and yet I continue to Tivo the reruns anyway. ER, House, and CSI (only the original Vegas version, not the cringe-inducing spin-offs) are worth watching too.

Wow, I think I’m coming across as incredibly shallow for being so deeply obsessed with TV and movies. But if that bothers you, just move along to the next listing; I’m looking for someone who can match, check and raise my shallowness.

I don’t read much fiction - not because I don’t like novels, but because I just can’t find the time or discipline needed to focus on longer written stories. I do make some special exceptions. First, there's Nabokov (Lolita represent!). Second, Heinlein; The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is my favorite of his novels, and All You Zombies my favorite of Heinlein's short stories. Moon revolves around polyandry line marriages, each headed by a dominant female, and Zombies is a solipsistic, incestuous, transsexual time-travel story about a hermaphrodite forced to undergo an unwanted sex change operation who then later impregnates both future and past versions of him/herself, thereby populating all the characters in the story. I think my interest and love for these two Heinlein stories in particular says something about my kinky, transgressive personality. Other noteworthy literary loves of mine include Ira Levin’s dystopic masterpiece This Perfect Day, Vonnegut’s dystopic anti-egalitarian short story Harrison Bergeron, and Neal Stephenson's anarcho-capitalist, dystopian cypherpunk novels The Diamond Age, Snow Crash, and Cryptonomicon. Chuck Palahniuk can be hit or miss (miss: Diary)(hit: "Guts," from the short story collection Haunted)(hit: Fight Club, both the book, and the movie adaptation - though the movie was better). What’s with me and dystopias anyway? I guess that’s just the cynical, pessimistic nihilist in me. Good thing I have a cheery, bright, cup’s-half-full side too to balance me out.

As for non-fiction, which is what I mostly spend my time reading, I’m currently slogging my way through Douglas Hofstadter magisterial (and oh-so lengthy!) Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid, and enjoying it immensely if but slowly. The last book I finished was Shalom Auslander’s Foreskin's Lament: A Memoir, which simultaneously delighted me and completely freaked me out, as it reads as if Auslander wrote my autobiography for me. Nearly every concrete life experience he describes has happened to me, from the infamous Stone of Pornography, to the year (ungainfully) spent at Yeshiva in Israel after high school, to the haunting coincidence that both he and I worked part time as night watchmen at Jewish funeral homes. (Orthodox Jewish ritual requires dead bodies to be kept “company” overnight, both for spiritual and utilitarian reasons.) I also regularly devour “good writing” magazines: The Economist, Harpers, Esquire, and Wired. And, of course, Reason.

When I’m not rotting my brain with pop-culture, I spend time reading and writing about economics and philosophy (especially--but not exclusively--political theory). Some might say that I spawned from the brow of David Friedman. I find Nietzsche and David Hume inspirational (Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day as a watered-down portrayal of the concept of eternal recurrence, anyone?) Daniel Dennett is my favorite contemporary philosopher – not because his ideas are especially profound or persuasive, but his writing style is a pleasure to read. And, while I’m still in Dennett territory, I might as well name check Stephen Pinker, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins - for all of whom I share a similar fondness.

I write for a widely read group weblog (, the blog formerly known as Catallarchy), and my writing has opened doors for me for my upcoming career (as soon as I graduate) working in the non-profit, think tank, public policy, public interest world. My radical politics and rebellious cultural views are important to me, and while I can’t expect (and don’t want) to find someone who agrees with me on everything, I do hope we are both moving in a similar direction intellectually and ideologically. My views can be best described as left-libertarian individualist market anarchist, radical feminist, multiculturalist, cosmopolitan, egalitarian, and anti-authoritarian. While I consider myself spiritual in some sense of the term, I am rabidly opposed to organized religion and most forms of theism in general. I view some of the watered-down forms of theism – Spinoza’s Pantheism, certain forms of Buddhism, Reconstructionist Judaism, and Unitarianism as at best a stepping stone for humans to get off their god addiction, and at worst a distracting waste of time. I was raised in a very insular, socially conservative Orthodox Jewish community, and as you should probably be able to tell by now, I’ve made a complete 180 from that viewpoint; nothing pisses me off more than self-assured, paternalistic, religious conservatives.

If I sound like your kind of people, please get in touch.


4chan is a guilty pleasure of mine. It's tough to describe what 4chan is without actually experiencing it yourself. And I'm not recommending you do, because when I say it is a guilty pleasure, I put particular emphasis on the "guilty" part. It really is a terrible, terrible place, and you will feel horrible and hate yourself for enjoying it. On the other hand, it is the source of great genious, creativity, and humor - an accurate portrayal of both the good and bad of complete chaos and anonymity.

My coblogger Scott turned me on to screenwriter Todd Alcott's blog recently, and in a post about making Garfield funny by removing Garfield's thought bubbles, the commenters do a pretty good job of describing what 4chan is to the uninitiated. I especially liked this comment from leechan:

The beauty of 4chan (and also the fatal flaw) is that everything is completely anonymous. No handle, no email, no name attached to your posts. This allows for a complete flow of ideas and images with no consequence. It's beautiful and horrible.

4chan is made of many boards, some of which are safe for any viewer like Photography, Animals and Nature, Anime, Video Games, and Technology. You post images to start threads, and then anyone can reply with more images or text. Then there are adult boards like Sexy Women, Hentai, and Yaoi. Then there's /b/ (Random).

/b/ has a complete mind of it's own and many people refer to it as if it is a living breathing thing. I would argue that it is. The interesting thing is, /b/ kind of developed it's own language, it's own way of speaking, and it's own mythology. Much like the Japanese Futaba. You might be familiar with the term "lolcats". That "lolcat speak" is sort of what goes on in /b/.

Really, from a pop culture or visual studies or media studies point of view, it's very fascinating, though not as funny as it used to be. I would suggest just lurking some Friday or Saturday night (away from the eyes of small children) and see if you can't keep up with the language, memes, and images.

The True Meaning of Cricpmist

This is how I want to raise my kids:

My son Sam (6) has a gesture that's difficult to describe. It's a head-shake, a guffaw and an eye-roll that indicate "okay Dad, whatever you say." He uses it when I've spoken something that sounds completely outlandish to him, but he can't figure out why I've told him such a fish story. For the sake of moving forward, I'm going to call this gesture The Sheesh. [...]

SAM: So, seriously, what does God look like?

DAD: What does God look like? Well dude, I've heard a lot of different ideas about what God looks like, and I honestly haven't heard any better ideas than "God looks like Mace Windu."

SAM: Yeah, but really, what does he really look like.

DAD: Well dude, nobody knows what God looks like. The important thing you have to know is that no matter what anybody says, nobody anywhere has any idea what God looks like. If someone says they know, they're lying to you. Now then, since the idea is that God created the entire universe, one could say that God looks like everything, and maybe looks like nothing.

SAM: But what does that mean "God looks like everything?" You mean God looks like a plug, and a pen, and a radiator?

DAD: That's exactly what it means,dude, it means that God looks like a plug and a pen and a radiator. But don't forget, you're leaving out a lot of stuff, like trees and the sky and the ocean and fish and stuff. In fact, there's a story in the Bible where God shows himself to a guy, and you know what he looks like?

SAM: What.

DAD: A bush.

SAM: (laughing out loud) "A bush!"

DAD: It's true!

SAM: So, like, I could tell a story about God talking to me and God could look like a lamp.

DAD: You could absolutely tell a story about God talking to you and God could look like a lamp.

SAM: (does The Sheesh.)

Down With Privacy, Up With The Panopticon And Sousveillance

I view privacy the same way I view intellectual property (or, more accurately, intellectual privilege, as Tom Bell dubs it): if it's worth keeping private, people will generally find a way to keep it that way, and that's great. In most cases, however, information--both personal and commercial--isn't worth keeping private, so it won't be. We are biased towards the status quo and have a hard time imagining alternate scenarios in which what most of us currently consider private matters are no longer so, and what most of us consider viable business models for the production and dissemination of information make about as much sense as copyrighting new words like w00t.

Sexual mores of modesty provide a good framework for thinking about this: a woman living in, say, 19th century Europe or present day Saudi Arabia might be mortified to go out in public with her hair uncovered, naked elbows, shoulders, or knees displayed to the public. But put that same women in a culture in which these public displays are as commonplace and pedestrian as watching grass grow, and the shame is gone. People aren't going to ogle that which they see constantly, everyday, so there just isn't any reason to be embarrassed about it.

To use another contemporary analogy, this is the same logic behind nonconsensual "outing" in the gay community. The desire to stay in the closet presents the gay community with a prisoner's dilemma: it may be perfectly rational for an individual gay person to keep his or her sexual identity private, so as not to risk public censure, loss of career opportunities, and distancing from friends and family. But if every gay person went public with their homosexuality, there would be much less for each individual gay person to fear: society would simply adjust (as it already has to a great extent) and come to accept the normalcy of the phenomenon, by virtue of the fact that each and every member of society has so many friends and knows so many acquaintances who are both normal, respectable, and gay. By hiding in the closet, the gay individual is fueling his or her own greatest fears, as the public then associates homosexuality with only the extreme outsiders, who tend not to be as normal or respectable as the average. The same, of course, is true with responsible drug users (in contrast to irresponsible drug abusers) and libertarian anarchists (long-time readers of this blog may remember my little adventure in trying to out a famous libertarian of his anarchism).

When I think about the kinds of things people wish to keep private, I can usually sort them into one of two categories: (a) activities that they truly should be ashamed of, such as aggression, dishonesty, and hypocrisy, for which a lessening of privacy would be beneficial in creating greater incentives for good behavior, and (b) activities that are shameful merely by virtue of the public goods problem mentioned above, and would cease to be shameful as soon as everyone realized everything about everyone else.

The issue of insurance might seem to be an exception to this dichotomy. A loss of privacy could mean loss of insurable claims, so people value keeping, say, genetic medical information private from insurance company eyes, and yet this sort of privacy matches neither (a) nor (b).

Insurance is predicated on a lack of knowledge. We purchase insurance because neither we nor the seller knows what is in store for us individually. But the insurer is better able to manage risk by pooling together many policy holders, thereby spreading out the risk to just slightly less than the premium paid by each member. Once we introduce something like genetic testing into the mix, however, it makes no sense to claim to want to keep the results private from insurance companies, because this would completely destroy the very purpose behind insurance, through the problem of adverse selection. The presence of asymmetric information, whether actual as in the case of private genetic testing, or virtual as in the case of government fiat forcing insurance companies to treat all policy holders equally regardless of relevant individual characteristics, weakens the rational for insurance, increases the cost of individual policies across the board, reduces the profit margins and thus the incentives for companies to enter and remain in the insurance market, and ultimately destroys insurance companies qua insurance companies and instead turns them into pre-payment programs for certainties, not risks, like paying for car "insurance" that covers all gasoline refills, or medical "insurance" that pays for regularly scheduled checkups.

So loss of privacy of genetic information in this context is a good thing, so long as we accept that knowledge of genetic information at all is a good thing. Perhaps it isn't. Perhaps whatever benefits might accrue from early knowledge of genetic predispositions to certain diseases are outweighed by the loss of being able to insure those claims. But if that's the case, the objection shouldn't be made on privacy grounds, but on the existence of genetic information in the first place.

Despite this uncertainty, I'm pretty confident that the benefits of greater information will outweigh the risks. To paraphrase Socrates, the unexamined private life is not worth living. Two cheers for the Panopticon and its counterpart, sousveillance.

Outsourcing: Haha, Told Ya So, N00bs

Before the current crop of anti-immigration chicken-littles, there were anti-outsourcing chicken-littles. Remember? Wired does:

When issue 12.02 went to press, US tech jobs were pouring overseas faster than ever, and programmers were pissed. "You can feel the rage," wrote Daniel H. Pink, who chronicled the turmoil in his February 2004 cover story. Well, we survived — prospered, even. In fact, the reason there aren't more tech jobs in the US is a shortage of talent.

The anti-outsourcing activists have mostly melted into the woodwork. One Web site we mentioned — — is riddled with Google ads for (oh, the irony!) outsourcing firms. Of the four political action groups we cited, only one seems to still exist. And programmer turned politico Mike Emmons didn't even make the ballot in his bid for Congress.

Meanwhile, the software companies we profiled are thriving. Patni has doubled its ranks to some 14,000; Hexaware Technologies has quadrupled. Outsourcing is blooming in places like Bulgaria, China, and Egypt. And still, the US economy continues to create jobs. Remember that happy ending we promised? Roll the credits.

So, who wants to bet that in five years, the anti-immigration chicken-littles will have moved on to some other economic fallacy?

Jewish Fable on Christmas Eve

There is a well known midrash [parable] about the two brothers, one who had a family and the other who was single, who each night would deliver wheat to each other. The one with the family rationalized: I am so fortunate to have a family, my brother has nothing, let me at least give him extra wheat.

The single one rationalized: I have no need for all this wheat, my brother has a family, he needs it more.

One night they met while delivering the wheat to each other, hugged and cried. The place they met became the site of har habayis [Temple Mount, holiest site in Judaism, site of the First and Second Temple].

A modern version of this midrash has it that the brothers each night go into the others' field to take wheat. The single brother rationalized: My brother is so fortunate to have a family. I have nothing, Let me at least enjoy a larger portion of wheat. The brother with the family rationalized: I have a family, I need more wheat, so I will go to my brother's field and take wheat from him. One night they met, fought, and the site of their meeting became the Knesset [legislative branch of the Israeli government].

My translation in brackets, present formulation found here.

The Client/Server Model: David Friedman on WoW, Wikipedia, Private Property and Trade

David Friedman writes,

Part of what makes [World of Warcraft] interesting is that you are interacting with lots of other players--and humans do a much better job of imitating humans than machines do. To put it differently, Blizzard has decentralized to its players most of the job of populating for each player the world he plays in. So as the game grows, so does the number of minds devoted to the job of populating it.

Similarly with Wikipedia. The job of writing it is decentralized to the readers. Any time a new topic appears, it brings with it a new set of authors--the readers interested in and knowledgeable about, that topic. A very powerful application of the client/server model, with human beings as the servers.

One might argue, however, that it is an old application--older than computers. Private property and trade create a decentralized coordination system with the computing delegated to the people being coordinated--essentially the same idea. Double the population and you double the resources to be allocated--and the resources to do the allocation.

Neat! Friedman excels at pointing out what, after the fact, seems so simple and obvious, but wouldn't have been quite as clear and illuminating if not first made explicit. Down with Encarta and single-player AI!

Doctor Long, Heal Thyself

Roderick Long reports,

At Geno’s Steakhouse in Philadelphia, a sign with a big American eagle says:


Why is “SPEAK ENGLISH” in quotation marks?

Perhaps Vento’s grasp of correct English usage isn’t as strong as he supposes – which suggests he may not be ideally positioned to be lecturing others on correct linguistic behaviour.

Behaviour? Behaviour?!? Roderick, are you secretly a royalist, doing your best (worst?) to undermine the sovereignty of this great nation, the U.S. of A? Dammit, Rod, this is AMERICA! They can take our lives, but they will never take our Americanized spelling. Yeeearrrrgh!


Inequality, Luxury, Rawls and Hayek

Ezra Klein reconsiders the wisdom of high luxury taxes:

[Taxes on luxury goods] mainly just lowered consumption, put yacht builders out of work, and pissed people off. To some extent, these effects don't bother me as I want to depress consumption of luxury items, but insofar as taxing the rich goes, revenues, and not quirky theories about positional competition, should probably be the aim.

Julian Sanchez responds, accusing Ezra of Harrison Bergeron-style destructive envy, and Ezra rejoinders, accusing Julian of hating poor sick children and black people.

I think both are missing something here: there are good Rawlsian, Difference Principle reasons to support luxury consumption, which override the unpleasantries of envy in the poor and boastful pride in the rich. Good ol' Ludwig von had this to say on the subject:

Many foolish things have been said and written about luxury. Against luxury consumption it has been objected that it is unjust that some should enjoy great abundance while others are in want. This argument seems to have some merit. But it only seems so. For if it can be shown that luxury consumption performs a useful function in the system of social cooperation, then the argument will be proved invalid. This, however, is what we shall seek to demonstrate.

Our defense of luxury consumption is not, of course, the argument that one occasionally hears, that is, that it spreads money among the people. If the rich did not indulge themselves in luxuries, it is said, the poor would have no income. This is simply nonsense. For if there were no luxury consumption, the capital and labor that would otherwise have been applied to the production of luxury goods would produce other goods: articles of mass consumption, necessary articles, instead of “superfluous” ones.

To form a correct conception of the social significance of luxury consumption, one must first of all realize that the concept of luxury is an altogether relative one. Luxury consists in a way of living that stands in sharp contrast to that of the great mass of one’s contemporaries. The conception of luxury is, therefore, essentially historical. Many things that seem to us necessities today were once considered as luxuries. When, in the Middle Ages, an aristocratic Byzantine lady who had married a Venetian doge made use of a golden implement, which could be called the forerunner of the fork as we know it today, instead of her fingers, in eating her meals, the Venetians looked on this as a godless luxury, and they thought it only just when the lady was stricken with a dreadful disease; this must be, they supposed, the well-merited punishment of God for such unnatural extravagance. Two or three generations ago even in England an indoor bathroom was considered a luxury; today the home of every English worker of the better type contains one. Thirty-five years ago there were no automobiles; twenty years ago the possession of such a vehicle was the sign of a particularly luxurious mode of living; today in the United States even the worker has his Ford. This is the course of economic history. The luxury of today is the necessity of tomorrow. Every advance first comes into being as the luxury of a few rich people, only to become, after a time, the indispensable necessity taken for granted by everyone. Luxury consumption provides industry with the stimulus to discover and introduce new things. It is one of the dynamic factors in our economy. To it we owe the progressive innovations by which the standard of living of all strata of the population has been gradually raised.

The importance of this point cannot be overemphasized. The concept of luxury goods, like most concepts in economics, is not static; rather, to understand the concept, we must look at changes over time. And even moreso than Mises, Hayek's entire life work can be seen as a rejection of the static and a focus on intertemporal coordination. Writes Peter Boettke,

At one point in the interview I tried to explain the unity in Hayek's research program from his first works on imputation to his efforts in law, politics and sociology. The common thread, I argued, was Hayek pre-occupation with intertemporal coordination, and his method was both to increase the complexity of the problem situation in which coordination takes place and focus more on the institutional background that enables coordination. Hayek's revolutionary contributions in economics were tied to his focus on the coordination of economic activities through time.

That said, where's my fucking yacht already?

Libertarianism, Marxism, and the Jews

Two weeks late to the party, I enjoyed Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill's Spectator essay, What’s gone wrong with my Marxism? Help! I’m a Marxist who defends capitalism, especially this part:

Yet Marx quite admired the internationalising tendencies of the capitalist system. He argued that, ‘to the chagrin of reactionists’, capitalism dislodges local and national industries and turns production into a global phenomenon. ‘The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation’, he and Engels wrote. Now, if you will forgive their 19th-century language, ‘inappropriate’ and un-PC, I know, their point is clear: globalisation at least has the benefit of smashing down silly local practices and ‘civilising’ formerly backward societies. What’s more, this opens up the potential for a truly universal culture, said the communist duo: ‘The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.’

Hurrah! Only today’s lazy anti-capitalists — locavores and ‘reactionists’ the lot of them — celebrate the local over the international, and fight to preserve one-sided and narrow-minded cultural practices around the world from what they see as the carbon bootprint of capitalist expansionism. Unlike Marx, they’re not interested in superseding capitalism with something better — with something even more global and more productive, which will leave an even bigger human footprint on the planet — but rather in returning to a pre-capitalist era of local food production, dancing around maypoles and early death from cholera or malnutrition.

This reminds me of something Steve Sailer wrote around the same time, attempting to explain why so many Jews seem to gravitate towards libertarianism and Marxism:

Jewish intellectuals tend to have shared concerns, from which they often wind up at diametrically opposed proposed solutions.

For example, Berkeley historian Yuri Slezkine points out in his invaluable book "The Jewish Century" that so many Eastern European Jews became Bolsheviks because they had three main concerns for which they saw communism as the solution:

- They were discriminated against on account of nationality, so they favored Bolshevism because it promised to get rid of nations.

- They were discriminated against on account of religion, so Bolshevism would abolish religions.

- They were discriminated against by the working class and peasants because they were so good at capitalism, so Bolshevism would eliminate capitalism.

In contrast, say, libertarian Jews tend to reason (more straightforwardly) that if Jews are good at capitalism, then capitalism is good for the Jews. ...

Same concerns (e.g., Is it good for the Jews?), but different solutions.

I'm pretty much a Marxist when it comes to everything but the state and free markets, which are kind of a big deal.

Update: The article that inspired O'Neill's piece is a delight to read as well:

Far more important is the way that global capitalism has won the political argument, rendering the old distinction between left and right almost meaningless. Today, the divisions that count are the ones between libertarianism and statism; between the hard-headed empiricism of the Enlightenment and the (currently more fashionable) touchy-feely romanticism of the New Age. ...

By exploiting fashionable concerns like ecological correctness, equality and the dreaded health ’n’ safety, the state now feels it has a right to interfere with almost everything we do: what we eat and drink, whether we smoke, what we get up to in our bedrooms, how fast we drive on empty roads, how many bedrooms we have and with how nice a view, how many cheap flights we can afford, what our children’s view is to be on climate change, whether our kids get to learn anything useful, whether or not we can hunt.

If opposing the tyranny of the state, upholding the rights of the individual and standing up for scientific rigour, rationalism and empiricism makes me a Marxist, then a Marxist is what I am.

Update II: A bit more on Steve Sailer's observation above. Marxism and libertarianism were the two polar opposite reactions Jews had to discrimination based on economic success. As Sailer notes, there were also two polar opposite reactions Jews had to discrimination based on nationality: cosmopolitanism (contained in both libertarianism and Marxism) or ethnocentric Zionism. ("Other Jews reasoned that if not having a nation-state was bad for the Jews, then starting their own nation would be good for the Jews.") And, following the pattern, there were two polar opposite reactions Jews had to religious discrimination: give up on religion altogether, or embrace it with increased vigor and fundamentalism. This duality of solutions is not exclusive to Jewish concerns; we see the same duality with other minorities concerned with discrimination, e.g. the black nationalism of Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X vs. the integrationist cosmopolitanism of Booker T. Washington and MLK. So the psychological argument seems to be: If discriminated against on the basis of X, either reject X completely or embrace X completely.

Should I Cheat on My Taxes?

Ethically speaking, of course I should, if I can get away with it. Sure, the rest of you will have to pay more if I pay less, but that's between you and your tax collector - not my problem.

The tricky question is whether tax evasion is worth the risk. I frequently choose not to pay parking meters, or park illegally, betting that the penalty for getting caught multiplied by the chance I will get caught is less than the hassle of actually paying or parking legally. This seems to work quite well in most cases.

Bryan Caplan asks the question, by way of Gary Becker. (Incidentally, it was Becker who inspired me to stop paying for parking meters.)

Of course, now that I asked this question publicly on the Interwebs, the likelihood of future audits probably just increased significantly.





Catching Flies With Honey...

So as much as I may criticize Ron Paul for his ugly paleo positions, or electoral politics in general, it's stuff like this that makes me think twice and remember why I can't stay mad at him for very long:

And yet it was only late last month that his state headquarters here acquired a basic campaign tool: telephones. For months, Paul's avid supporters were perfectly willing to make campaign calls with their own cellphones.....

Paul admitted how much his election prospects are outside his own control...."They've been out walking the streets all day, and we didn't plan it. We didn't plan the money-raising. It is in a sense a revolution, a grass-roots revolution in the best of its meaning," he said.

Asked if he hopes to exert more control over the effort as the primary nears, Paul demurred. "It's the way I want the markets to work, so the market of politics should work that way, too," he said.

He added with a chuckle: "The only thing that's going to close it down is some [Federal Election Commission] ruling or something: 'That's too much freedom. We better abolish this spontaneity.' "

- via Hit & Run

Evolutionary Psychology: Use With Caution

Constant correctly deduces my underlying motivation in this post:

One thing that I expect really gets your goat is evolutionary psychology.


I used to be a big fan of evolutionary psychology, and I still find it interesting and useful to some extent. I also used to express righteous indignation, the way some of my co-bloggers still do, when those on the left would express extreme skepticism if not completely reject nature-type explanations.

But over time, I came to recognize a pattern. Over and over again, I noticed that evolutionary psychology--moreso than any other academic subject--attracted the Kevin MacDonalds and J. Philippe Rushtons of the world. Why is that? Are these sorts of people genuinely just interested in following the "truth", wherever it happens to lead them? Or do they have a preexisting agenda, and use evolutionary reasoning as post-hoc rationalization for it?

I've come to recognize why the left is so skeptical and so resistant to these sorts of arguments. And I share their concerns. It takes an extraordinary amount of chutzpah to pretend that evidence and not ideology is leading all these people to embrace these sorts of ideas, when the past 150 years has been replete with the same kind of "scientific" justifications for millenia-old traditions of anti-black racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and anti-gay bigotry. When these "scientific" proofs were later debunked, the bigots kept on searching for something new to justify their hatred.

Now, obviously not every fan or practitioner of evolutionary psychology is motivated by racism and bigotry. If evolution is true--and it is--and if humans are just another animal--and we are--then it follows that evolutionary reasoning can help us understand human nature. And that's great. But at the same time, it's also true that historically, this is dangerous territory, used and abused by people that were not sensitive to common pitfalls (dressing up "common sense" folk wisdom in fancy scientific language, often without malicious intent) or who were actively promoting a vicious agenda and not really interested in "truth" at all. Given our history in this area, it pays to be cautious.

The NYTimes piece discussing the recent Saletan debacle echoes my reservations:

To Eric Turkheimer, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia who specializes in behavior genetics, the research itself is morally weighted. Given the complex interaction between genes and the environment, Mr. Turkheimer said, "the question is fundamentally impossible to settle scientifically because we can never take people out of their environment."

That doesn’t mean research into genetic differences in intelligence should be banned, he said, but it should be judged. "What troubled me about posts at Cato" — an exchange Mr. Turkheimer participated in — "and the tone of Saletan’s blog is the assumption that because these papers are labeled as science, they are value-neutral and they’re as deserving of respect as any other scientific hypothesis," he said of genetic racial theories.

"But you can’t get away from what these people are trying to prove, which is exactly the basis of the stereotypical beliefs that informed segregation here for 200 years."


A subject as sensitive and complicated as this deserves to have a higher level of proof, he [Saletan] said, adding that he erred in treating it like any other topic.

"I don’t agree that it’s best not to discuss it,” he said, but “you have to do it in a responsible way and always with a constructive purpose." Judging from his own experience, he said, the Internet is not a place where that can be done at the moment.