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Problem is power, not money

Before money was invented, the king knew he was king and the slave knew he was a slave. All money does is to give a numerical value to the levels on the food pyramid.

Potlatch

The Pacific Northwest Indian People didn't have access to metal until they were invaded by white people. Because of the climate (rain) it was difficult to preserve and store food and goods that they could manufacture. There was an old saying, "When the tide went out diner was served." In other words, fresh food was easy to obtain and life was relatively easy. Under the potlatch economy, one gained stature by giving stuff away. The potlatch was an intertribal feast. The tribe who gave away the most stuff "won."

But the Indian People had the same sort of social pyramid as did the white people. The Chief knew he was chief and the slave knew he was a slave. This, I think, is why people with billions in invested assets don't retire and enjoy life. Their enjoyment comes from having life and death power over the people on the bottom of the food pyramid.

The family with 20 billion has power over the family with only 10 billion. The "old money" families must hate Bill Gates, who claims his children will not grow up to be billionaires.


What’s REALLY at stake in the health care debate

Whether I get laid.

According to a recent study, a woman’s preference among male features is influenced by the mortality rates, life expectancy and impact of communicable disease on those around her. The worse the health statistics for her area, the better she likes masculine features. The better the health statistics, the less value she places on masculinity.

Why? Who knows, but people offer theories. Masculinity, manifesting a higher amount of testosterone, has trade-offs. A deep voice, stronger jaw line and bushier eyebrow are man's way of advertising good genes, dominance and likelihood to father healthier kids. Those attributes are also associated with infidelity, domestic violence and divorce. Women in different circumstances make different trade-offs. Women in less healthy environments find the benefits of greater masculinity relatively attractive and the detriments relatively unimportant. Women in more healthy environments tend to reach the opposite conclusion.

Fascinating, but so what? Each to her own. Celebrate whatever land you love, and whatever loves you land, right?

Fine. But the extent to which we live in a healthy environment or a sick one tends to be a social, not an individual, choice. In short, your votes determine whether or not I get laid. Please think about that the next time you’re in the ballot box; I know I do.

(Ok, don’t go OVERBOARD here; other people need to use that booth, too.)

For what it’s worth, Argentina seems to be pretty good environment for manly men. Lots of Old Spice there? On the other hand, meterosexuals might find optimal hunting in Belgium. And by passing the health care reform act, the US just took a big step away from Argentina and toward Belgium. So if future generations of Americans start to look curiously like Hercule Poirot and Tintin, you’ll know why.


The Hayek Project

I don't normally plug causes, but Jeffrey Friedman's Critical Review Foundation is one of the most important in contemporary academic libertarianism/classical liberalism. Here is an email I received from Jeff announcing the launch of a new project:

Dear Friends of the Critical Review Foundation,

The financial crisis has rubbed my nose in the cluelessness of economists about human ignorance. That, of course, is something that Austrian economists have long screamed about, but it takes immersion in economic literature to really see how bad it is.

And it is nearly as bad in political science, where objective interests and subjective "values" are usually taken to be the moving forces of politics, which leaves out the role of ideas, theories, ideologies, and the errors they may cause.

So I decided to start The Hayek Project, www.hayekproject.org, a website that will identify the Critical Review Foundation with Hayek while furthering our scholarly mission, which is directly in line with Hayek's life work: the promotion of awareness of social complexity, hence human ignorance, hence error in human behavior. It is a rich research agenda, since ignorance and error are so central to the human condition--and since complexity is so central to the modern condition.

The Project website will try to bring together writings that contribute to Hayek's own scholarly project, defined as drawing the attention of social scientists to the role of ideas (including ideas about a complex society that may be erroneous). Should we be so lucky as to be able to afford it, the Project will also promote scholarship along these lines by making research grants. Some day....

Jeff
----------------------
Jeffrey Friedman
Visiting Scholar, Dept. of Government, U. of Texas, Austin
Max Weber Fellow, Inst. for Advancement of the Social Sciences, Boston U.
Editor, Critical Review
www.criticalreview.com

In related news, my friend Dain Fitzgerald has begun a series of interviews with those who have published in Critical Review, probing the implications of these writings. The first interview, with Slavisa Tasic, can be accessed here.

Slavisa's article, "The Illusion of Regulatory Competence," was published in vol. 21, no. 4 ("The Age of Uncertainty"). Slavisa's article is right down the "ignorance and error" alley, and should become one of our most cited ever.


Four Scenarios to Test Your Business

First article from the AnCap Entrepreneur Network:
 
 

A useful planning exercise is to consider the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats related to your business. Your SWOT Analysis depends, of course, on how you estimate the broader business environment will develop.

So let's consider four scenarios for the future of the United States economy. The scenarios make some very different assumptions, yet I believe each incorporates themes drawn from anarcho-capitalist literature. The idea is not to try to guess which scenario is the most likely, but to consider different ways to position our businesses so we can adapt. How will your market be affected? Your financing? Your suppliers or personnel? Will your production methods be able to fulfill your orders? Can your business scale up or down as required to meet customer demand? Will you be able to openly promote your product or service without being a target for extortion?

The market is not monolithic, but highly varied. Your local business environment will be different from any broad description of the "US economy", and during this exercise, you should consider what those differences could be. Given the relative size and reach of the US economy throughout the world, it will likely affect you, even if you are on a different continent.
 

Hyperinflation

In this scenario, the federal government has extracted all the taxes it can from the economy without risking riots and large scale non-compliance. It has borrowed as much as the bond market can bear; buyers don't believe that the government will be able to extract enough future wealth from its tax base to pay off its loans. The only means for finding the dollars necessary to meet government promises is for the Federal Reserve to create money out of nothing. The new dollars are distributed as the government sees fit and the recipients use these to bid up prices for the limited goods and services in the economy.

At first, new or existing suppliers work overtime to increase production to chase the higher prices. But soon, all suppliers hit the physical limit of what they can produce, and are bidding against each other for whatever factors of production they need. Still, the government is issuing huge payouts in an attempt to command the economy to do the impossible. If it were a monolithic entity, "government" might recognize what is happening and perhaps act intelligently and decisively to correct the problem. But despite its rhetoric, government is nothing more than a collection of individuals, each with their own agendas and spheres of influence. The political game gets more ruthless as each power broker tries to grab more before the whole system collapses.

As the realization sets in that the economy is at capacity, and that many projects underway will never reach the stage that generates revenue, various actors scramble for more newly created money to outbid competing buyers in a zero-sum game for control. Prices begin to rise significantly; market participants lose faith in the ability of fiat money to hold any value over time. They trade whatever dollars people will take for hard assets, and cautiously save these, waiting for sanity to return to the market. Production is lowered, unrest increases, and government feels ever more pressure to either outbid in the market, or directly seize by force, the resources necessary to gain control. In a matter of months, the situation spirals out of control, ending with complete loss in faith of the currency.

How can faith be restored in any fiat currency at this stage? Will people who have never touched a gold coin accept it in trade for their goods? Will people be willing to run hospitals, generate power, and deliver train- and truck-loads of goods without knowing how they will get paid? How can they manage their companies productively if even the pricing structure has broken down?

If doctors are dedicated enough to work in their communities without pay and survive from donations of food, how long will they have the supplies and support services to continue? How effective can they be when each day batteries, perishable medicine, office supplies, vehicle parts, or communications could be missing?

As lenders see the prospect loom large of being repaid in worthless currency, how drastic will they be in repossessing equipment or foreclosing on properties? How much political pressure will they bring to bear to have contracts unilaterally rewritten to suit them? How secure can property titles be in such a world?

What happens to local police who don't get paid? Will even honest police understand what is happening? How will they deal with housebreakings, repossessions, the collection of outstanding fines, family violence from mounting stress, lesser police gone rogue or simply run away--when the number of cases that used to occur in a year are now happening weekly? What about the rest of the bureaucracy that supports government? Will each DMV clerk or health inspector try to support themselves by bribes? When murders are going unsolved, what are the chances of getting caught for petty corruption?

In short, this scenario presents a rapid disruption to existing institutions. New organizations can be introduced to fill the gap, but they will be judged quickly and harshly if they are not perceived to be effective. Not only Austrian Economists, but every school of thought that predicts a cataclysm will be claiming vindication and proposing bold new solutions. People will find it difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, and will settle for solutions that feel familiar, even if flawed. It will not be a time of tolerance and exploration. There is a danger that people will accept any authoritarian that can make the trains run on time.
 

Ron Paul for President

The second scenario considers what unfolds when a libertarian reformer takes the reins of government. Simultaneously aware of the urgency of avoiding hyperinflation, of the folly of introducing solutions by decree, and of the political backlash that awaits anyone closing down entire departments of government immediately, the reformer has little room to maneuver.

Ending foreign interventions would yield the largest boost for the economy--it simultaneously improves both sides of the ledger by saving hundreds of billions of dollars per year and yielding improved trade relations in return. But it would require huge amounts of political capital to disrupt the military-industrial-aid complex that infiltrates every corner of society: not just military contractors, but politicians, media companies, banking, education, energy companies, and telecommunications. It is not enough to win the presidency; the reformer must be accompanied by legislators that dismantle major portions of the State. The obvious source of the reformer's political capital would be popular support, but could this be achieved in time for the 2012 election cycle? Could the current monetary system survive until the presidential elections in 2016? If this minefield proves too difficult to navigate, will Liberty be discredited as a solution?

Domestically, the wisest course for the reformer may be to open all government functions to competition. As private and home schools now compete with federally subsidized government schools, and express delivery services compete with the US Postal Service, the government may grant permission to establish private monetary systems or pharmaceutical testing. If so, the market could begin immediately and openly to serve the demand for these goods and services without waiting for government departments to be dismantled. But, politically and legislatively, government monopolies would have to be dismantled department by department. Can competing businesses afford to wait until they are given permission to start their venture?

The Federal Reserve may take concrete action to restore faith in the dollar. Certainly, holders of US Treasury Bills will bring whatever pressure they can bear to maintain the purchasing power of future Federal Reserve Notes. Interest rates could rise significantly for an extended period, say between 10%-20% for several years as they did in the US during the 1980s. A rescued (and less malleable) dollar would put pressure on the federal government to return significant tax revenue to bond holders--perhaps by cutting spending, perhaps by increasing taxes, perhaps both.

Suppose the reformer manages to bring us back from the brink of monetary disaster, make significant cuts to government spending, and introduce new government enforced checks and balances on the growth of government. What will happen when he leaves office? Will individuals who believe they have been set free by their ruler change their minds when the next ruler tells them otherwise? Will they be satisfied with the freedoms they are allowed, or will they demand others and inspire a government backlash? Will the market have developed its own checks and balances on coercive government? Will the gains in individual wealth and productivity make coercive control of markets impossible? Or will central planning creep again into every transaction, bleeding value from the market and using it to build yet another empire?
 

The Road to Serfdom

While the previous two scenarios were driven by sudden events, these next two are gradual. This one supposes that we endure a long, steady decline of freedom and prosperity.

What if the US experiences economic stagnation for years, as in the Great Depression or Japan's "Lost Decade" of the 1990s? Each year brings more government Keynesian plans; whatever wealth is created in the voluntary economy that could be used for growth is transferred instead to inefficient, politically-connected organizations via "stimulus" plans. Some analysts predict disaster with each new bailout, but they underestimate the initial wealth and resilience of society. As another wound is inflicted, somehow the host limps on, using up every last bit of reserves to find another way to compensate as parasites suck the life from him.

As new ideas emerge, they are censored. As political reformers step forward, they are jailed. Before new businesses can open, they must wait months for licenses, worker approval by government labor boards, and connection to municipal services. Older people see options closing down; the young are never introduced to the ideas that could save them. The "brain drain" and "capital flight" by which individuals once escaped the State have been stopped by border patrols and currency restrictions. Prices become more meaningless each day as they are set by coordinating committees instead of negotiated by individuals.

How can we preserve wealth and knowledge under these circumstances? What tools can we prepare now, when communication is still possible, which could help us escape from this death spiral? How have pockets of resistance communicated and sustained themselves under totalitarian regimes in other places and times? If the best hope for survival is escape, what services will develop to help people realize this hope? What will the escapees be able to offer in return? Where will they escape to?
 

Stumbling Toward Utopia

This scenario is more optimistic. It posits that a free society emerges as if of its own accord, molded into shape by the invisible hand.

Although each human has their own unique flaws and perspective, they seek out those who help them most effectively fulfill their goals. They may hold ideologies that are radically different, but over time a trend dominates showing people avoid those who abuse them and deal with those who cooperate with them. Decision making genuinely is distributed at the individual level in the world, and this natural sovereignty of individuals, over centuries and millennia, reveals that central control by a separate ruling class of humans is an unworkable fiction.

Suppose, for the most part, we are good people trapped in a bad system. That when we realize where our authoritarian institutions have brought us, some of us--not all, but enough of us--decide not to act as cogs in a machine, but as human beings: teachers who refuse to indoctrinate children to submit to authority; judges who set free a youth rather than ruin her future; Guardsmen who do not follow orders to disarm their neighbors.

As we accumulate wealth, each individual becomes further empowered. As more people have access to the knowledge of the world's cultures, past and present--as they adapt the best inventions to serve their own goals--as they communicate ever more widely and precisely--they use this power to entrench individual sovereignty. The world becomes a tangled mesh of billions of actors negotiating how to meet their own ends; so complex that no nano-sized eavesdropping device, no supercomputer, no authoritarian ideology, no weapon of mass destruction can coerce it under control. The cost/benefit ratio for violence grows ridiculously large. It is only the rare criminal that risks losing the opportunity to trade with a globally diverse selection of suppliers to instead attack nothing but well-protected targets.

How could we connect with this urge to become more than boxes on an organizational chart? How can we insulate our customers from the State, so they not only imagine life without it, but look forward to it? How will our suppliers insulate us? Is our business flexible enough to do things on our customers' terms, rather than the way things always have been done? Can we offer people a richer life, full of possibilities denied by the institutions they were trained to take for granted? Are we prepared to operate in a hyper-competitive world where we either meet our customer's unique need or refer her to someone who can?
 

Conclusions

Anarcho-capitalist entrepreneurs, by definition, recognize that their direct impact on the world extends no further than control over their life, liberty, and property, and cooperation with others who freely associate with them. They introduce change into the world by arranging factors of production into new, unproven ventures and offer these to the market to accept or reject. They are not so ambitious to imagine that they can control the weather, or interest rates, or command the people of the world how to think.

For this reason, we need to consider how our ventures will adapt when they meet with the larger forces of nature outside our control. We can construct a few scenarios to anticipate how society might develop, but this exercise is only to help us better plan our ventures. When events unfold, they will be a combination of these scenarios, perhaps similar to one for awhile until some exogenous event suddenly makes another dominant. Perhaps different scenarios develop in different regions, or in different market sectors, before they interact in some larger area. It is impossible for any one human mind to contain the wonderfully complex and subtle ways events will play out in the real world. Your venture should be ready to adapt to the various ways the market could shift.

As an agent of change, the ancap entrepreneur views existing institutions not as fixed structures defining acceptable thoughts and actions, but as human inventions; chosen perhaps unconsciously, but chosen nonetheless, by individuals one at a time. The ancap entrepreneur can search for principles of human culture, and use these to offer better ways for us to interact with each other.


Birth of a libertarian – but not an anarchist

New study shows that, contrary to my recollection, kids don’t resist all rules. They generally go along with rules related to safety, morality and even social norms. However, kids in a wide range of cultures develop a sense of autonomy (about friends, clothes, etc.) and resist rules that they perceive as infringing on that autonomy.


On von Mises and human motivation

Forgive me if I've posted this here before; I can't remember.

Shamelessly ripping off Mark’s comment:

Being able to imagine a world better than the one we live in is not a bug, its a feature. Its how we take the world we are born into and start to adapt it to the one we want.

We call contentment or satisfaction that state of a human being which does not and cannot result in any action. Acting man is eager to substitute a more satisfactory state of affairs for a less satisfactory. His mind imagines conditions which suit him better, and his action aims at bringing about this desired state. The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness. A man perfectly content with the state of his affairs would have no incentive to change things. He would have neither wishes nor desires; he would be perfectly happy. He would not act; he would simply live free from care.

--Ludwig von Mises, Human Action, p. 13

Just make sure you don't fall into a trap of despair. Von Mises' next paragraph shows the problem with this:


But to make a man act, uneasiness and the image of a more satisfactory state alone are not sufficient. A third condition is required: the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness. In the absence of this condition no action is feasible. Man must yield to the inevitable. He must submit to destiny.

Intriguing – these statements seem to mesh well with my understanding of contemporary psyc research.

Regarding the first von Mises paragraph above: If we were content, would we stop acting? Apparently. If you give a rodent a button that delivers a dose of dopamine on demand, the rodent will just push the button endlessly – ignoring all other things, such as sex, food or even sleep – until it dies.

Regarding the second paragraph: Harvard psyc prof Daniel Gilbert (author of Stumbling on Happiness) conducts research on “affective forecasting” – that is, our ability to predict how we will feel in the future if we do X rather than Y. In a nutshell, humans seem to be systemically LOUSY at this. Our minds are filled with ideas about how great our lives will be if we could just get that job, or how devastated we would be if we lost a limb. Yet the bulk of research suggests that people have a natural “set point” of happiness, and we tend to regress to that point. Certain phenomena do correlate with improved affect – having religious faith, avoiding poverty, having a marriage and social networks (but not having kids!). But most things we worry about have little long-term consequence to our happiness.

So why would humans have this curious systemic “defect”? It suggests that there’s something adaptive about being wrong. What could that be? One hypothesis is that the adaptive feature is motivation. By having an exaggerated sense about the potential risks and rewards of future events, we become more motivated to shape those events.

This has some curious implications for libertarianism:

1) People, left to their own devices, will make choices that predictably will make them less happy than they could be. In other words, you can seek to maximize freedom or maximize happiness, but not both.

2) The more discontent people are, the more adamantly they will seek change – regardless of whether the change they demand has any relationship to their discontentment. This creates problems for small government advocates because, especially during emergencies, the public will clamor for their leaders to “Do something!” even if the something is weakly correlated with the emergency. Sometimes the “something” will be to shrink government. But more often, it’s the opposite. And a humble acknowledgement that there’s little to be done and patient restraint would be the best policy – that’s never an option.

Arguably some of the New Deal programs were popular not because they did much to mitigate the effects of the Great Depression, but because they LOOKED like they were doing something about the effects of the Great Depression. Roosevelt riding around, visiting the Hoover Dam and CCC projects, created a great narrative, and he was a great narrator.

Similarly, during the OPEC oil embargo and the resulting stagflation, the public kicked out every president that came along, and voted against the Reagan-led Republican Party during Reagan’s first mid-term, in a perennial mood of “throw the bums out.” Only after OPEC collapsed and the economy revived after the 1982 midterms did the public begin electing presidents for two terms again.

The public threw George HW Bush out of office when the economy turned bad at the end of his first (and only ) term. Gore lost to W when the economy dipped. And W nearly became the first wartime president to get kicked out of office. I suspect W was spared his father’s fate only through the felicitous/strategic choice to begin a war in Iraq – a place that, unlike Afghanistan, would have targets to destroy, terrain to capture, and periodic symbols of progress.

With a terrible economy, I expect Democrats will lose seats in 2010 (unless Obama starts a new war to rally around?). But assuming the economy revives by 2012, Obama will be claiming that all his stimulus spending has made the difference. Accurate or not, it’s a narrative. Republicans will argue that they actually should be given credit for improving the economy because … they restrained Obama from making things worse? Not much of a narrative, even if true.

The public clamored for change, and change occurred. Much like Reagan got the benefit of the economy’s revival when OPEC collapsed, I expect Obama will get credit for the economy’s revival in 2012. And the public will be reaffirmed in its belief that political leaders can actually mange the economy.

3. Von Mises and Gibert seem to point to a common conclusion: happiness is maladaptive. The individual that is most likely to pass on genes to the next generation is the discontented, and therefore active, individual.

Query: So what? Does the fact that something is adaptive make it virtuous? Consider the rodent on the dopamine drip. Lacking external constraints, it has freedom to refrain from pushing the dopamine button. Yet it chooses that option. It seems to be maximizing its utility. Should we not all emulate the rodent?

Seems like an icky outcome. Yet I don’t see why I could feel that way unless I value something more highly than the freedom of the individual to choose how to live his own life. The fact that I would reject that kind of life suggests I believe people have some kind of duty higher than the duty to pursue their own choices. I’m still struggling with this.


2015 - Two headlines from alternate universes

 
 
 


Freedom Industry Eyes China
Having successfully stared down the US Empire, America 2.0 businesses look for growth in Asian market

 
 
 
Alternatively:
 
 
 

American Brides for Chinese Men
Why be lonely? Millions of exciting girls looking to emigrate--many already speak Mandarin!

 
 
 


I’ll see your Friedman, and raise you.

Richard Friedman’s in the NYT? Big deal.

We’ve got PATRI FRIEDMAN on the NYT’s Freakonomics Blog and podcast! The theme is “What if economists ran the world?” (Just scroll down/fast forward a bit; he’s squeezed in between the Estonian prime minister and the ultra-high-end call girl. Location, location, location….)


Even Boulder Prediction

Someone’s gonna get a bad case of poison ivy.


On Populism

Micha Ghertner notes media accounts of bigotry among the Tea Partiers. As I noted in that context, this phenomenon doesn’t strike me as unique to the Tea Party; rather, the practice of organizing around a common enemy is the hallmark of populism.

Thus, I expect contemporary conservative gatherings to attract a following from people motivated by animosity against ethnic minorities, religious minorities, sexual minorities, etc. Because these people have a justifiable fear that the prevalence of their world view is declining, they may well be among the most energized people at conservative gatherings. Similarly, I suspect that liberal gatherings attract Communists and people who regard riches as the sole capital offense.

I don’t think these dynamics to say much about conservatism or liberalism. But they do speak to the political “marketplace of ideas.”

Both liberals and conservatives can marshal principled reasons for their positions – well, “principled” by their own standards, anyway. Those principles speak to a certain segment of the electorate. And then we’re left with elections being driven by people who are not motivated by those principles. So politicians go around eating the local burritos and kissing the local babies and otherwise trying to appeal to people on some other-than-principled basis.

Among the strongest of these bases is appealing to people’s sense of grievance. During war every government beats the drums about the harms that the government’s opponents are inflicting on the public. Those rapacious Jews! Those dirty Japs! Those fanatical Islamists! Those cowardly conscientious objectors! It’s us vs. them!

A large component of the hippy movement involved a populist revolt against the war in Viet Nam. ("Tin soldiers and Nixon's coming; we're finally on our own...!") Nixon was able to flip the white South to the Republican camp by conveying the idea that Democrats were sacrificing their interests to the interests of blacks. I suspect that Carter, Reagan, Clinton, W. and Obama were able to win office in large part based on populist disenchantment with their predecessors, distinct from a positive statement about their own merits or agenda.

Obama has given frequent speeches about the problems that the aging population will create for the future, and for the federal budget in particular. Whatever the merits of these discussions, they did little to motivate people who were not already motivated. So then he started playing the populist card: Those health insurance execs are evil! Their gouging us with rate increases! It’s us vs. them! While insurance creates an unavoidable Moral Hazard problem – and nothing in the health care reform bill will eliminate that – I understand that health insurers were actually one of the few market forces that succeeded in moderating the growth of health-care spending. So, in his drive to push the health care bill, I suspect Obama has been flogging his friends in order to whip up the crowds. If the public needs a morality play, we’ll give them one.

Similarly, arguments about the need to avoid certain abuses in the financial markets are all very nice and intellectual, but are going nowhere. But whip up a little populist resentment about bonuses paid by investment banks and – well, it’s probably still going nowhere. But that’s the most effective lever Obama’s got. And once health care is off the table I expect we’ll see more of it.

So with the Republicans out of power, their best hope to influence public policy is to appeal to populism. Oh, now Republicans are deeply concerned about deficits; that’s what the crowd wants to hear. We dare not grant civil rights to those accused of terrorism; the Republicans are the only thing that stands between you and terrorists attending your schools! And Republicans want no part in negotiating public policy with the Obama Administration; that would muddle the clear Us vs. Them narrative.

Populism is the One Ring of Power: it may help you achieve your objectives, but you get a little more evil every time you use it. For better or worse, populism is the only tool the Republicans have right now, so they need to don the Ring a lot, even in counter-intuitive ways. As I noted before, the Republican leadership has positioned itself as the true defenders of Medicare. Oy.

But once the Republicans return to actual power -- and they may take control of the House in November -- they'll have to do some actual governing. And then the populists will feel betrayed because the simple narrative will no longer apply.


"Fair share"

I can't stand Glenn Beck either, but the first sentence of this Media Matters piece raised my blood pressure a little:

Want to annoy Fox News' Glenn Beck in five minutes or less while simultaneously making sure your community gets its fair share of federal money?

I am interested in seeing the calculator that determines my fair share of someone else's money.


Battlestar Political-Economica?

I just started watching the first season of Battlestar Gallactica and I find it curious that the Cylons don't appear to have any politics or economic activity. I would think that beings advanced enough to be sentient would have disagreements, factions, problems of collective action, specialization, and trade. Maybe the writers reveal more about Cylon society later in the show.

It is an interesting choice to make the cybernetic lifeforms monotheistic (I'm guessing based on hints through the first six episodes and Caprica). The BSG writers have a more creative imagination than most when it comes to envisioning the culture of killer robots. I'll be disappointed if it stops at that one little detail. Also, I would have been more impressed if the robots developed a religion themselves instead of apparently inheriting it from their human creators.

In episode 3 the humans were wise to choose democracy as a form of rule. Libertarians often criticize democracy because voting acts as an "opiate of the people". By dangling the hope of non-violent change through the ballot box in front of discontents it stifles the growth of revolutionary movements. This is a priceless feature for the government of a tiny human society in constant threat of military annihilation. Governing by the consent of the governed reduces the chance of conflicts that would split the human remnant and leave them weakened. Besides, with only 50,000 survivors they will not have to worry about the danger of a government growing too large, entrenched, and powerful.

I won't be reading any comments so as to avoid spoilers. And yes, I know I am terribly late to the party.


On Democrats, Republican, and Voting – 127th edition

Golly, it’s been months since the last general election – time enough to drag out this old chestnut: After noting a bit of Democratic union pandering, Jacob Lyles remarks,

I doubt that I can ever vote for a Democrat without breaking out in hives....

which prompts me to ponder what afflictions attend his votes for other parties.

On voting, I basically see two options: 1) vote for the candidate that will always do what I would do, or 2) vote for the lesser of evils. Option 1 requires that I write in my own name (or perhaps engage in some studied ignorance combined with wishful thinking). Option 2 requires me to candidly acknowledge that life is full of trade-offs, go through my pouty period, and get on with it.

As far as I can tell, all successful politics is coalition politics. As Lord Acton remarked, "At all times sincere friends of freedom have been rare, and its triumphs have been due to minorities, that have prevailed by associating themselves with auxiliaries whose objects often differed from their own...." You can have purity, you can have victory, but you can’t have both.

Yes, the Democrats are beholden to unions and trial lawyers. However, these ties have not kept Obama from proposing a tax on the “Cadillac health plans” included in some union contracts, and his substitute proposal for No Child Left Behind that focus both rewards and punishments on teachers; nor have they kept Obama from putting tort reform on the table.

And what’s the lesser evil? As F.A. Hayek remarked in Why I Am Not a Conservative,

Unlike liberalism, with its fundamental belief in the long-range power of ideas, conservatism is bound by the stock of ideas inherited at a given time. And since it does not really believe in the power of argument, its last resort is generally a claim to superior wisdom, based on some self-arrogated superior quality.

[T]he most objectionable feature of the conservative attitude is its propensity to reject well-substantiated new knowledge because it dislikes some of the consequences which seem to follow from it - or, to put it bluntly, its obscurantism.... I can have little patience with those who oppose, for instance, the theory of evolution....

Connected with the conservative distrust of the new and the strange is its hostility to internationalism and its proneness to a strident nationalism.... The growth of ideas is an international process, and only those who fully take part in the discussion will be able to exercise a significant influence. It is no real argument to say that an idea is un-American....

[T]he anti-internationalism of conservatism is so frequently associated with imperialism. [T]he more a person dislikes the strange and thinks his own ways superior, the more he tends to regard it as his mission to "civilize" others....

And Hayek wrote that in 1960! (If Texas teachers remove all their Jefferson quotes from their walls, at least they can put up this quote in their place.)

When it comes to picking the lesser of evils, I regard Republican crony capitalism, loopy public finances and paranoid fundamentalist nationalism as the greater threat.


The Genetic Impact of Ancient Sexual Arrangements

Time for a little break from defending and improving upon democracy. The Moldbugosphere enjoys indulging in the politically incorrect, and I have found a doozy for ya’ll. And it should be fun for those interested in alternative sexual arrangements and the economics thereof. Have a look at this article on Evolution in the Bible. Here’s a bit to whet your appetite:

Sex is rather pleasant. The blind, the cripple and the stupid enjoy it too. And so defective genes do propagate to the next generation unless we allow nature to weed them out. Welfare prevents the unpleasant culling, and I salute the process even as I admit the price. Besides, as long as welfare recipients breed at the same rate as taxpayers, we break even. The human race is good enough, no need for nasty eugenics programs.

But are we breaking even?

Hear the tale of two teenage girls, Sally and Ellie. Sally is diligent, studies hard, goes to college, practices safe sex or even abstinence (we need not investigate). After several years building a career like a modern woman should, she meets Mr. Right. They buy a home in the suburbs, and when their finances are finally in order, she manages with difficulty to bear 2.1 children before she gets too old.

Ellie, on the other hand, lives for the day. The teenage years are time to party hardy! And check out Joe Studly, with his snazzy clothes, James Dean stares and that sleek sportscar! Time to get busy while the hormones are hot, and those rubber thingies really kill the romance. Ellie gets big, Joe moves on looking for tight new hotties, and Uncle Sam has a new ward. Ellie’s value on the marriage market goes down considerably, but no problem. Uncle Sam pays the bills, and plenty of handsome hunks with steamy stares are ready to provide sperm donation services in between pregnancies. By the time Sally and Mr. Right are on child 2.1, Ellie is on bastard number 5 with a grandchild on the way.

Old Dr. Darwin says over time we will have more free-spirited Ellies living for the day and more Joe Studlys with great fashion sense and no conscience. After several generations we might run low on taxpayers to fund all those food stamps and housing projects. Then what?

Maybe we shouldn’t worry about it. What constitutes “fit” today may be unfit tomorrow. Maybe we will be hit with a massive plague, so a propensity for rapid breeding will be most critical for human survival. Maybe civilization will collapse, making today’s gang members more fit than today’s doctors, lawyers and dot-com millionaires. Maybe we’ll have GMO humans and designer babies to offset natural selection before too long. Maybe our robot overlords will take over all responsibilities: ambition and intellect will become liabilities; today’s welfare recipients are the prototypes for a brave new tomorrow. Maybe the Second Coming will happen before too many generations, so Christians should focus on charity and ignore genetics.

Or maybe societies with stricter breeding codes will conquer the decadent West, and we’ll all live under Sharia law, bringing us full circle. Don’t laugh; it’s already beginning in France.

The article goes on to point out how the Old Testament Law got around this genetic dilemma. It explains some of the more politically incorrect parts in terms of reconciling welfare system and longterm genetic viability for the Israelites. Might be worthy material for the Antiversity.


2010 LVMI Book Catalog now online!

For those of you that are interested, the Ludwig Von Mises Institute has released their new 2010 Book Catalog today. I can easily imagine spending a couple hundred on books that will be added to my own personal backlog of literary works that will eventually be read.

http://blog.mises.org/12123/2010-book-catalog/


Ayn Rand’s genius….

…was not in making a philosophy, but in selling it. Can you do as well?

This year’s ThinkOff debate topic is, “Do the wealthy have an obligation to help the poor?” They’re looking for a pool of 750-word essays from which to pick two champions for each side of the proposition for a live debate.

Easy-peasy, right? Here’s the real challenge: The judges ain’t lookin’ for a dry exchange of talking points comparing Objectivism to Rawlsianism. They’re looking for people with COMPELLING PERSONAL STORIES to illustrate their own arguments.

Now, it’s not hard to imagine lots of compelling personal stories from poor (or formerly poor) people about how they benefited from wealth transfers from the rich, or how they didn’t get those transfers and suffered as a result. Can you construct a countervailing compelling personal story for the opposite perspective? And having constructed it, can you think of a champion who could plausibly claim the story as his or her own? Some alternatives:

1. Find a real-life John Galt who is as succinct as Ayn Rand was verbose.

2. Draft Patri. Admittedly, I know nothing of his personal circumstances, although I suspect that everybody’s life story has SOMETHING that could be told. No, I nominate Patri because of his personal commitment to Seasteading movement – action with inherent drama. So we’d need a brief personal anecdote somehow related to the topic, and immediately transition into describing the life of the new frontiersmen. Recreating the story of the Pilgrims but without the Indians. Risking lives, fortunes, sacred honor in pursuit of the ideals of liberty. Hell, it writes itself.

3. As a fall-back position, there are various ways to criticize the “OBLIGATION to help the poor.” While I can’t think of how to mount an appealing attack on the concept of compassion in 750 words, I can drive a wedge between the idea of compassion and the idea of obligation.

A. “People with the discipline to change themselves are laudable – and rare. For most of us, change becomes possible only when we must confront the consequences of our refusal to change. X% of American adults living in poverty do so because of mental illness, chemical addiction, etc. -- circumstances that cannot be solved with money alone. For people with these issues, an entitlement to a stream of resources merely delays the day of reckoning and the possibility of reformation and growth. As the director of Alcoholics Anonymous – and a recovering alcoholic myself – I know the harm that can be done by a misguided sense of obligation….”

B. “As the principle fundraiser for Catholic Charities, the first thing I want to tell parishioners is to stop feeling guilty -- and among Catholics, that’s a hard message to sell! But I repeat, if you feel even the slightest resentment about contributing, please keep your money. That kind of contribution will not only diminish your own life and vitality, it will diminish the welfare of the poor. Today more families than ever are struggling with financial and other stresses. On top of this, they struggle with a sense of inadequacy for coming to us during their hours of need. We don’t want to compound their problems by subjecting them to a free-floating sense of resentment from the rest of society. So Just Say No to obligation. God loves the cheerful giver!”

C. “As a former Klansman, I can tell you that nothing is eroding the foundations of our society more than the widespread sense of resentment felt by people who feel that they’ve been compelled to help the poor. And because a disproportionate number of poor people are also members of ethnic minority groups, this resentment is fueling racism. If we as a society ever want to get serious about our real obligations – that is, our obligations to remedy the harms of racism – then we need to stop stoking resentment against members of minority groups. Don’t be fooled: while the Klan is currently – and blissfully -- in decline, the Tea Party Movement is now expressing this popular frustration more forcefully than ever….”

4. If the link between compassion and obligation is too great to be overcome in 750 words, then the next best position may be to whipsaw the argument: “Yes, the rich have an obligation to help the poor, just as the poor have an obligation to help the rich. We all have an obligation to use our resources for the betterment of society in general. But an obsessive concern with the resources of the rich – that is, with money -- reflects a misguided sense of envy. As the director of the Organ Donor Repository, I’m in a position to observe that people’s feelings about the duty that the rich owe the poor are not generally reciprocated. People who have signed up to donate organs, volunteer for a bone marrow transplant, or even give blood are overwhelmingly upper class. If we’re all in this together, let’s act like it. No more excuses!”

Those are a few ideas that leapt to mind. Whadda you got?

Deadline is April 1, no foolin'.


labor unions

Libertarians and Republicans tell me that they don't need a labor union because they work harder, smarter, and faster than the others in their shop and the boss knows it. This only works until the Libertarian converts the rest of the shop to his philosophy. Then we have a race to the bottom.

How does this come about? Everyone trying to work faster than the next guy? The shop a contract to make so many units a month. which is being met without anyone working overtime. The boss goes to a variable piece rate based on the median production rate and the desired production. When the month's production is done the boss closes the shop until the next month - or lays off the slowest worker.