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A Tale of Two Systems

This one can't wait until our May Day memorial:

Here are the two most shattering facts about North Korea. First, when viewed by satellite photography at night, it is an area of unrelieved darkness. Barely a scintilla of light is visible even in the capital city. (See this famous photograph.) Second, a North Korean is on average six inches shorter than a South Korean. You may care to imagine how much surplus value has been wrung out of such a slave, and for how long, in order to feed and sustain the militarized crime family that completely owns both the country and its people.

Six inches?! North and South Koreans formed a common genetic pool until the Korean War, and now they differ on average by six inches in height? If we needed a clearer sign that Stalinism is always and everywhere an economic failure, this is it.

The Libertarian Argument For You To Drop Dead

Fukuyama via Caplan:

The second argument [against life extension] --and this should appeal to libertarians that take individual choice seriously--is really a question of the social consequences of life extension. Life extension seems to me a perfect example of something that is a negative externality, meaning that it is individually rational and desirable for any given individual, but it has costs for society that can be negative. I think if you want to understand why this is so, you just think about why evolution makes us, why we die in the first place, why in the process of evolution populations are killed off. I think it clearly has an adaptive significance, and in human society generational succession has an extremely important role. There is the saying among economists that the science of economics proceeds one funeral at a time, and in a certain sense a lot of adaptations to new situations--politically, socially, environmentally--really depend on one generation succeeding another.

Now if that's true then how could we best accelerate the progress of the science of economics, let me think....

Pick up that can

Hey, all right! it appears that the Grammy's also made sure to push the police state agenda. What am I talking about? Well, Beyonce and her ode to JBT's - thats Jack Booted Thugs for the uninitiated - that garnered so much applause. If you do not see a problem with the blatant, over the top militarism that gets pumped into homes on a nightly basis, I guess you can just enjoy Beyonce as much as you please.

The lyrics may not have been overtly obscene or laden with bloodthirsty jingoism, but the imagery certainly was. The site of men in black armor goose-stepping in sequence to the sound of applause is frightening. I am reminded of the scene from the 3rd Indiana Jones film. Nazi's prancing about with wooden heels, carrying banners in torchlight all while der Koniggratzer plays in the background. How delightfully civic minded!

This is all incredibly reminiscent of some prison documentary I had seen. CERT, otherwise known as Corrections Emergency Response Teams routinely parade down the halls - stomping their feet in unison - prior to making a hard entry into a cell. This type of psychological warfare is intended to get the subject to submit before the JBT's with taser-shields go in and give them a serious ass kicking. Can you imagine being pinned to your bed with one of those until you comply?

Omar Deghayes doesn't need to imagine torture at the hands of civil servants, his story is far worse. When I view these things I see a systemic problem, one that requires more than just structural changes, but indeed a whole new foundation.

Society is rotten to the core. Democracy is a joke that brings us unaccountability and places like GITMO. I find myself leaning more towards Hoppe by the day. Democracy is the god that failed, the experiment should end now. Instead of now it will happen later, when inevitable central bank failure will place democracy in the trash heap alongside the US Dollar hegemony. Then what?

I guess those who survive will decide.

P.S. Before I forget. If you intend on resisting just remember that when they tell you to pick up that can in real life, you had better hope you made a shank out of your toothbrush this morning. Just don't store it in your prison wallet.

Adam's Family Jewels

John Payne hipped me to a great article about how dirty the Bible really is. Highly recommended. Here's the intro:

“And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and He took the bone of Adam’s penis and made him a woman.”

Er, wait, wasn’t it from one of Adam’s ribs that Eve was created?

Not according to Ziony Zevit. A professor of Semitic languages at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles Zevit posits that the Hebrew word tsela (literally “side,” but traditionally translated as “rib”) employed in Genesis refers in fact to Adam’s member.

The Culinary Grammys

I'm thinking of starting my own awards ceremony: the Culinary Grammys. Each year we'd reward truly outstanding culinary creations in the same way that the Grammys reward musical excellence. This year's best burger winner: McDonald's. Best restaurant: T.G.I. Friday's.

I haven't decided on the other ones yet--I mean, the experienced, knowledgeable judges haven't decided on the other ones yet. Feel free to make suggestions in the comments.

Structuralists @Cato

Cato offers some marginal structuralist ideas in lieu of campaign finance reform:

Life Terms Members of Congress serve for life. Few special interests will throw money at the political process in this system, because the cycle of funding and response won’t exist anymore. Elections will be hard to predict and infrequent, and once the election’s over, the member-elect can vote however he wants till he kicks the bucket. Parties and partisanship will be vastly weaker — also a good thing as reformers see it.

Repeal the Seventeenth Amendment We hear much about the corporate influence in politics, and many worry that it is bought through campaign contributions. The solution to the problem of faction, as our founders understood it, was not to prohibit faction, which would restrict liberty, but to set one faction against another. Let the corporate interests have the House of Representatives. The Senate will once more be elected by state legislatures, which will use their powers to advance interests not necessarily in line with the corporate agenda. Faction will check faction, and free speech will survive.

Election by Lot In ancient Athens, important officers were commonly chosen by lottery among all the citizens. This method, called sortition, may be asking a bit much of our citizens today, but it would certainly end the problem of shady campaign contributions. This measure would be most effective if it came with a life pension for former members, to avoid all fears of bribery and to compensate citizens for their interrupted lives.

The Old Legislators’ Home Much like sortition, ostracism has a fine pedigree in western democracy. Here’s to bringing it back.

We hear a lot about the “revolving door” between lobbying and serving in Congress. Let’s end it once and for all, not by restricting lobbying groups, but by restricting congressmen. Whenever anyone retires from Congress, they aren’t allowed to go back to work in the private sector… as anything. They’re permanently retired.

We’ll send them to the remote, though very pleasant, Hawaiian island of Molokai, where they will be maintained in idleness, with all reasonable expenses paid, for the rest of their lives. (An inducement to early retirement would also do much of the same good work as term limits.)

Unlike Seasteading, these ideas are too dependent on the whims of the majority of a Democratic populace to ever get enacted. But it's still good to see people think outside of the policy box from time to time.

Lefty Structuralists

Lessig makes a structuralist case against US Govcorp

The Second Vermont Republic

There's something awesome brewing in Vermont: a secessionist campaign. If you recall, during the Revolution Vermont was its own republic, and the group is aptly titled Second Vermont Republic.

A former Duke University economics professor, Naylor heads up the Second Vermont Republic, which he describes as "left-libertarian, anti-big government, anti-empire, antiwar, with small is beautiful as our guiding philosophy." The group not only advocates the peaceful secession of Vermont but has minted its own silver "token" — valued at $25 — and, as part of a publishing venture with another secessionist group, runs a monthly newspaper called Vermont Commons, with a circulation of 10,000. According to a 2007 poll, they have support from at least 13% of state voters. The campaign slogan, Naylor told me, is "Imagine Free Vermont."

Another member, Dennis Steele, points out:

"People in Vermont in general are very antiwar, and all their faith was in Obama to end the wars. I ask people, 'Did you get the change you wanted?' They can't even look you in the eyes. We live in a nation that is asleep at the wheel and where the hearts are growing cold like ice."

Obviously, I recommend you get on over there and read it.

Intellectual Privilege and Pharmaceutical Patents

Back when healthcare-debate status signaling/peer pressure was all the rage on the Facebook, Glen Whitman had an insightful comment in response to a call for more government intervention. I can't link directly to the comment because it's on Facebook, but one portion of his response stuck out:

Here's the fact: the vast majority of important medical advances over the last 40 years have been made in the U.S. This is true despite the fact that the EU has a population 50% larger than ours. Why? Well, there are lots of factors. But surely one important factor is monetary compensation; that is, profit. U.S. pharmaceutical sales account for 45% of worldwide pharma sales. The prospect of profit is the incentive for companies to create new products. Other countries, with price controls and supply-based restrictions, contribute much less on a per capita basis. Those countries are, in effect, free-riding on the financial contributions of Americans to medical research.

I have not yet read all of Tom Bell's work on IP (Bell is Glen's co-blogger at Agoraphilia), but I know he is some kind of IP skeptic. How would Tom approach the pharmaceutical innovation argument Glen makes here? After all, patents are a form of government (or at least legal system) granted monopoly. Maybe this form of government intervention is justified on economic efficiency grounds, but maybe it isn't. And it is certainly more difficult -- if not impossible -- to justify government granted monopolies on non-consequentialist, deontological grounds. (So much the worse for deontology, says the consequentialist.)

I'm not sure what pointing out other countries' price controls and free-riding does for Glen's argument. A government granted monopoly is a lot like a price control - monopolies by definition set price by reducing quantity supplied relative to what price and quantity would be under a competitive market.

Further, wouldn't it be in our "national interest" (ugh) to free-ride on other countries' innovations? If our system of government granted monopolies is just as artificial and contrived (and some would argue anti-free-market) as other countries' price controls and supply-based restrictions, what evidence is there to justify the current arrangement? Perhaps if we reduced the financial incentive to innovate by lessening the duration of pharmaceutical patents (to zero?), other countries would be less able to free-ride and have greater incentive to contribute to the global public good of advancing human knowledge and technology.

Question for Open Borders Folks

What do believers in open borders do about terrorists who want to immigrate, or other people of an unsavory character? What if the extent of a potential immigrant's transgressions was praising terrorists in public press? He hasn't actually harmed anyone, so to prevent him from immigrating would be unjust according to an open borders philosophy.

I think it clear that the government should prevent such a person from immigrating. In the worst case scenario, he is actually a peaceful person and our country will lose a tiny bit of economic benefit through the loss of economic exchange with him. But if he is not a peaceful person then the decision to let him immigrate is disastrous.