29 June 2012

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Supreme Court

According to a handful of my favorite bloggers,* the USSC ruled that the health care mandate is constitutional because it’s a tax and congress is authorized to levy taxes. I would say that I’m surprised with the ruling, but that would mean I cared about the ruling before it was handed down. ObamaCare is obviously unconstitutional and, more importantly, antithetical to liberty, which makes it in noncompliance with the spirit of the law.

Some have argued that the constitution is itself antithetical to human liberty, which is a not altogether unreasonable claim in light of the fact that the constitution a) authorizes a central government in the first place, b) authorizes said government to levy taxes, c) authorizes said government to regulate coinage, d) authorizes the government to have an army and wage war, and e) gives the government authority to regulate commerce. Basically, if the government is authorized to have coercive power (i.e. an army) and to have power over currency and business, then it would appear that the increases in federal power over time were all but inevitable.

Of course, it should now be obvious, if it was not already, that the United States is basically a socialist nation. It may not engage in the massive slaughter of its citizens (unborn babies excepted from this assertion, natch), and it may not engage in ethnic cleansing (yet), but it is undeniably socialist. It is a soft socialism born of the fear of uncertainty, wherein people are afraid to live without the guarantees of basic “necessities.” Nothing is guaranteed in life, save death and taxes, so the idea that people can be guaranteed that their health care will be provided by the government at no direct cost to them should all else fail is nothing more than a mirage.

It is also indicative of a broader pathology, namely that of cowardice. It appears that too few people are willing and able to live a life of risk. The American people are not only soft and doughy of body, but of spirit as well. Having amassed the greatest collection of wealth and prosperity that the world has ever seen, they are now afraid to lose it. Thus, the recent health care crusade—successfully defended by five tyrants in robes—is nothing more than the triumph of fear. Fear that someone somewhere may have to go without antibiotics because they would rather buy shoes than Amoxicillin. It is as if people neglect to remember that most people in most of the world throughout most of history did not have health care. And yet, they managed to procreate before the expiration of their various nasty, brutish, and short lives.

Life, of course, always goes on, regardless of whether one has immediate access to a doctor. Lack of immediate access to comprehensive health care—once a fact of life for all but the most rich and powerful—is now considered a violation of rights. Funnily, it was not considered as such until providing immediate, comprehensive health care on a wide scope was technically (though not necessarily economically) feasible.

Anyhow, getting back to the point at hand, the SCOTUS decision simply demonstrates that security is to take precedence over freedom, however illusory that economic freedom may actually be. It is better to feel that one will be taken care of than to have the freedom and responsibility to take care of oneself.

Incidentally, this decision has completely destroyed what little support I might ever have had for Romney. I had once argued with a neoconservative friend about the merits of Ron Paul vs. the rest of the GOP field (this argument occurred in the halcyon days of Herman Cain’s not-yet-a-joke campaign), and in the course of this argument had ceded the point that any GOP candidate would be better than Obama because that GOP candidate would at least pick a strict constitutionalist as a Supreme Court nominee. The ObamaCare decision, though, has shown that conservative Supreme Court nominees are pretty much worthless. Sure, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas all ruled against ObamaCare, but it was Bush’s own appointment—Roberts—that sided with the leftists. If this is the sort of thing that right-wing appointees will do, I think I’d rather have liberals because at least you know where you stand with them, which means you don’t get stabbed in the back. At any rate, it now seems ludicrous to vote GOP simply to ensure that SCOTUS picks are conservative, because it turns out that not even this is guaranteed anymore.
At any rate, the great experiment of liberty is over. It appears that it cannot be sustained indefinitely, as tyrants constantly seek power, and will contort the law to enslave the people. It’s sad that it had to end this way, but I suspect that it would have ended regardless. And now on to the next experiment.

* Vox, Karl Denninger, Foseti, Ulysses, and Sonic Charmer, among others.

28 June 2012

People Are Stupid

It’s obvious to me now why libertarianism is doomed to failure: most people are idiots. Quite simply, the vast majority of people are completely stupid—possibly borderline retarded—and should not be allowed to make decisions for themselves as said decisions will inevitably be wrong and impose significant social costs on the rest of us.

More to the point, it seems obvious now that we must have a state if for no other reason than to ensure that people make the right decisions about everything. Given the current rate of obesity, it seems clear that we need government to tell people how to eat in order to make sure that they don’t grow fat and impose significant costs on the rest of us. Also, given the generally far-reaching effects of sexual promiscuity, it seems equally clear that the government needs to be in our collective bedroom, telling us with whom, how often, and under what conditions people may engage in sex. We are obviously too stupid to make good decisions for ourselves, and we need the government to step in and tell us what to do and how to think.

We are quite obviously going down the path of Idiocracy, and the only way to prevent this is through massive government intervention. Only the government is able to prevent massive stupidity from happening because only the government has coercive and is selflessly paternalistic in its concern for citizens. We need the government to prevent people from making mistakes and, more importantly, to reduce the consequences that come with those mistakes.

People are stupid; they should be ruled.

The Newsroom

Aaron Sorkin is insufferable. I suspect this is due to how leftist television critics love hearing Sorkin preach to the benighted masses on their behalf via slickly-written, slightly overacted, overly self-serious television shows. At least that’s my theory based on watching the first episode of The Newsroom.
For what it’s worth, the characters are generally compelling, and it’s fun to watch the various leads interact with one another. However, the show is generally hindered by the dialogue’s preachiness and by the general vapidity of the underlying theme.

For whatever reason, Sorkin feels compelled to write preachy scripts, and this leads to several scenes where Will McAvoy (the male lead, played by the excellent Jeff Daniels) basically breaks the fourth wall and preaches directly to the shows presumed audience under the guise of having an exchange with another character. This gets annoying fast, especially if you disagree with the points being made. This appears to be a stylistic habit of Sorkin dramas, and people who like this sort of thing should find that, to quote Abraham Lincoln, they like this sort of thing. Beyond Sorkin’s annoying preaching, though, the more significant flaw of the show, for the time being, is that it is predicated on the utterly asinine assumption that news organizations are actually necessary for improving democratic discourse.

This assumption, of course, is flawed on several levels. As Sorkin implicitly admits during one scene, the news exists solely to sell advertising. In fact, virtually all entertainment is designed to do as such. This is even true, to a limited extent, of most newspapers and magazines. Neil Postman dealt with this matter quite neatly in his book How To Watch T.V. News. To put it briefly, news, like all other television shows, needs to sell ad space, and the easiest way to do this is to appeal to man’s baser instincts and shallow emotionalism, which generally means running certain types of stories—generally those that involve death or gore, and those that allow viewers to feel morally superior.

Also, it should go without saying that the news stories that are run on a daily basis are chosen by completely arbitrary means. Quite simply, there is no consistent metric used to determine which stories are relevant or will have long-term real-world consequences. People can guess, but they will often be wrong.

Furthermore, as Sorkin also implicitly admits during another one of The Newsrooms overwrought scenes, all reporters have bias. The theory, though, is that as long as reporters are upfront about their biases, everything will be okay and everyone and trust them again.

This, then, is the inherent flaw in the show’s premise: the news is not, and hasn’t ever been worthy of trust. Sorkin seems to think that if he presents an admittedly idealistic model of what television news can be, news media organizations will sit up and take note and follow this ideal to its natural end, whereupon all of America will be able to come together and discuss “national problems” (whatever they are) in a rational and reasonable manner and all will be peace and happiness. This summary of Sorkin’s idealism may be a bit of a stretch, but not by much.

Sorkin ultimately fails to understand that the problem is not that there are a few bad eggs that ruined the media’s reputation. The problem was that the modern news show was flawed from the get-go. It just was not until the rise of talk radio and the internet that people began to realize just how terrible TV news shows were. The idea that people need to know certain things (or, conversely, don’t need to know certain things) is simply arrogant. Furthermore, the idea that people can learn about all the important things that happened the world over in just an hour every day is absurd on its face. Between the biases and occasional dishonesty of reporters and the simple fact that humans simply cannot know every last detail of every last thing that will impact their lives on a daily basis, it should not be surprising that people sought alternative means of knowledge and, having found them, dismissed television news shows as worthless. To put it another way, the problem that the modern news organization faces is not that negative effects of a couple bad eggs; rather, the problem is systemic.

In the final analysis, The Newsroom fails thematically because it appeals to an ideal that has never existed, and cannot exist because the medium in which it based is simply too limited. Also, the dialogue is rather preachy at times, which tends to feel condescending. Still, it is nice to escape into a fantasy world, particularly one that feels a little utopic, especially since the characters are compelling. For the time being, The Newsroom seems worth watching, but not for it politics. Its politics are suited for four-year-olds who still naively believe that fairness can be attained in this life.

18 June 2012

What Happened to Iran?

Here’s an interesting video about Iran in the 1970s:

Note how modern everything looks, and also note how the women are dressed.  Obviously, things have regressed in Iran since then.  But why?

I’m sure will argue that the current theocracy is responsible for the problems facing Iran, but this view is somewhat shot-sighted, and begs the question of why a prosperous country put this government in charge.  Part of the answer to that question is, unsurprisingly, US intervention in foreign affairs.  Wikipedia has a pretty good overview of the matter, so I will simply say that the US government’s attempt at meddling in another nation’s affairs set up the chain of events the established a literally retarding government.  No wonder Iran hates the US.

Heartiste’s Questions

Regarding the future:
1. How is the present automation and productivity conundrum qualitatively different than ones from the past (for example, the classic case of the auto replacing the horse and carriage)? If you do not believe it is qualitatively different, explain how we escape the “zero marginal productivity” worker trap, especially in an era when human capital is shrinking due to a combination of dysgenic birth rate differentials and mass migration of unskilled poor? Note: “Humans are fungible” is not an acceptable cop-out.

The present automation and productivity conundrum is not qualitatively different from the past. The zero marginal productivity trap is escaped by the fact the fact that human demand always exceeds supply, broadly speaking. As such, there will always be demand for more…something, anything, and everything.

Of course, the broader assumption—that automation and productivity will continue apace without interruption—is wrong. In Neurodiversity, the author noted that dysgenics and/or small populations lead to technological stagnation and regression. Furthermore, the history of progress is not exactly linear. Thus, we may be in for a stretch of devolution for a while, as “society” becomes too stupid to maintain its current level of wealth. It’s happened before (that’s why it was called “The Dark Ages”). Let’s not be so arrogant to suppose it won’t happen again.

On a more optimistic note, it may be the case that technology becomes more idiot friendly, which enables the less intelligent to capitalize on intelligence without actually possessing any. Simplified UIs should do the trick, they it will be a while before they are common. I’ve written on this before.

2. If, say, most of the profits go to the top 10% in society, while the bottom 90% are unemployed or marginally employed, how is it exactly that those top 10% will be able to extract profits from a customer base that doesn’t have the income stream to afford more than the basic necessities?

It helps to keep in mind that money is dynamic. It is a medium of exchange, after all. Income is usually spent, which is how the wealthy extract profits from it. The poor earn money then turn around and spend it. Rinse and repeat. The key is to differentiate between wealth and income. Income is what you earn; wealth is what you keep. The wealthy will keep, in a sense, the labor of the poor (beyond that which is necessary for survival, of course). Since poor people don’t want to starve to death, they will continue to work as long as they can provide for their needs. And the rich will exploit them in the meantime. Assuming, of course, that the poor don’t get pissed off and kill the wealthy and the elite, as has been done in the past.

10 June 2012

Money Is Power

The central bank is still up to its regular shenanigans.  Here’s the proof:

Now, however, is the first time in more than half a century that the average American is both earning less and worth less than four years earlier, at least after inflation is factored in. [Emphasis added.]

Inflation is a sure way to transfer wealth from the poor to wealthy.  It is a sure way to enslave all but the upper class.

How inflation works is pretty simple:  the central bank prints new money, expanding the currency base.  The question that the central bank has to answer, though, is:  to whom does the newly printed currency go?  The answer is simple:  the newly printed money goes to the friends of the central bank.  Now, because market participants are often ignorant and irrational, the market does not respond to the inflation right away.  It takes a while for the new money to circulate.  Thus, prices remain relatively low at the onset of each round of inflation, so that those who first receive the newly printed money are able to buy at prices that do not yet reflect the money expansion.  This causes the initial recipients of the inflated currency to demand more, thus raising the price level of goods throughout the economy.  There is a trickle-down effect from there, as sellers are the second-level recipients of inflated currency, then producers, and ultimately services.  Thus, the politically-connected wealthy are able to essentially steal resources by the virtue of having the inflated currency first, and buying more assets at lower prices.

Incidentally, this is why Mayer Rothschild said (via Hawaiian Libertarian) "Give me control of a nation's money and I care not who makes the laws."  This is the truth.  Whoever controls the currency will have the adulation and brown-nosery of the wealthy, as they all desire to suckle at the teat of inflation.  Many of these men are corrupt, and will do what is necessary to curry favor from those who control the currency.  There then develops an elite club of leaders who constantly work together to enrich one another by controlling the currency.  This comes at the expense of the poor and middle class, who lack the connections to profit from defrauding the currency of its value.

This is why those in powerful hate men like Ron Paul.  Because Ron Paul opposes not just the Federal Reserve Bank of America, but of the entire concept of central banks, the men in power will hate him because he opposes the very foundation of their power.  Ultimately, the greatest defense of liberty is a free currency.  A free currency helps to keep men honest, and helps to prevent evil men from subtly defrauding other men out of their property, which is why those who are truly in power would love nothing more than to see Ron Paul and his followers dead.

In closing, simply note that the banks have given rather liberally to both Obama and Romney.  They are not so generous to Ron Paul.  This is because the banksters understand that there really is no difference between Romney and Obama:  both will allow the banksters to loot the people via the central bank.  Both will preserve the status quo of fraud and deceit.  Both will continue to allow the ruling elite to chip away at citizens’ wealth through the lever of inflation.

A Patently Good Idea

From Gigaom:

A U.S. judge yesterday threw aside a much-anticipated trial between Apple and Google-owned Motorola Mobility over smartphone patents. The decision and a blog comment by the same judge could prove to be a watershed moment for a U.S. patent system that has spiraled out of control.
In his remarkable ruling, U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Posner stated that there was no point in holding a trial because it was apparent that neither side could show they had been harmed by the other’s patent infringement. He said he was inclined to dismiss the case with prejudice — meaning the parties can’t come back to fight over the same patents — and that he would enter a more formal opinion confirming this next week.

While I, of course, oppose the legal concept of patents—and intellectual property in general—I do applaud this ruling as a step in the right direction in terms of both the legal theory underlying it and the more practical ramifications of reducing the scope of IP.  Since Judge Posner is asserting that neither party had harmed the other, he is basically saying that there are limits to patent law.  Since this is basically a matter of personal opinion rather than longstanding legal tradition (court have often stretched the limits of patent law rather than limit them), Posner’s decision will likely get some coverage, and hopefully cause people to think more carefully about the whole concept of IP.

Better yet, though, Posner’s decision is in keeping with the spirit of the constitution.  The rationale for patent law in the constitution is that it will promote the progress of the arts and sciences.  This is a utilitarian argument, not a moral argument.  There is no evidence that the founding fathers—or the politicians that adopted the constitution, for that matter—viewed ideas as a form of property, subject to some sort of property laws.  Rather, the idea was that by giving artists and inventors limited monopolies, they would be more encouraged to produce new works, ideas, and innovations.  Thus, the main purpose of patent law is to encourage the spread of ideas.  It is not intended to cause pointless fights between mega-corporations.  Posner’s ruling is thus encouraging because it reinforces the utilitarian view espoused in the constitution.  The entire purpose of IP laws is to make society wealthier.  Mega-corporations paying lawyers to ship boxes of paper to one another does not enrich society.

09 June 2012

Disraeli on Democracy

If you establish a democracy, you must in due time reap the fruits of a democracy. You will in due season have great impatience of the public burdens, combined in due season with great increase of the public expenditure. You will in due season have wars entered into from passion and not from reason; and you will in due season submit to peace ignominiously sought and ignominiously obtained, which will diminish your authority and perhaps endanger your independence. You will in due season find your property is less valuable, and your freedom less complete.

Since Disraeli’s prophecy is coming true before our eyes, I think that it is safe to say that the idea that democracy is somehow necessary for, or even related to liberty is nothing more than a pretty lie used to conceal the tyranny of mob rule.  Quite simply, most men desire to be tyrants.  The difference between a monarchy and a democracy, then, is that in the former, one must heed the commands of one tyrant whereas in the latter one must heed the commands of all tyrants.  In sum, democracy sucks.

08 June 2012

The Theology of Game

There was a question at Athol Kay’s site asking how Christian teachings match up with the concepts of Game.  “Christian teachings” is a rather broad term, and can refer to a variety of things ranging from any doctrine that any nominal Christian has ever taught to the specific and sole teachings of Christ on the matter.  Since I do not know what, specifically, is meant by “Christian teachings,” I will supply my own definition, which in this case will simply Biblical teachings.

In specific, the reader has concerns in five areas:  1) Attracting other women, 2) Alpha attitude, 3) Indifference to emotion, 4) Willingness to walk away, and 5) Hot kinky sex.  Before addressing each of these in turn, though, there are a couple of things that need to be put in order.

First, it is critical to understand that the relationship between males and females mirrors the relationship between God and Man.  In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul compares the relationship of husbands and wives to the relationship of Christ and the church.  This general metaphor is also found in the Old Testament as well, particularly in the book of Hosea, wherein the prophet Hosea is told to marry a prostitute in order to illustrate to the Children of Israel the pain that God felt for their unfaithfulness.  They way that a man feels when he knows his wife is a whore is the way God felt when the children of Israel forsook him for other gods.

Second, it is important to understand that humans—that is, those who bear the image of God—are expected to imitate God as dear children.  Thus, it would be hypocritical for God to tell his children to act in a way that differs from his own behavior, or to condemn his children for engaging in the same behaviors that he has engaged in.*

With this in mind, consider the first matter:  is it wrong for men to try to attract other women?  In Romans 11:11, Paul asks whether Israel had stumbled so as to fall.  He answers this question in the negative, and goes on to say that salvation had come to the gentiles in order to provoke Israel to jealousy.  In essence, God gave up his special relationship with Israel and turned his attention to the gentiles in order to make Israel jealous.  The relationship dynamic, in a metaphorical sense, is that of a husband engaging with other women in order to provoke strong feelings in his wife.  If God can and did do this, it would be hypocritical for him to condemn his children for doing the same thing.  Thus, it is not wrong for men to provoke jealousy in their wives.

The second matter—alpha attitude—is a bit vague in meaning.  I assume it refers to the general attitude of high self-regard (arrogance or confidence, depending on one’s view) and self-direction (leadership or selfishness, depending on one’s view).  God claims that he is radically superior to man.  Since their assertions were and are correct, this is not arrogance but rather a simple assertion of higher value.  I would posit that as long as one’s assertions of higher value are observably true, then it is not inherently arrogant to highlight one’s superiority.  The command in Romans 12:3 is to not think of yourself more highly than you ought.  It is not arrogant to, say, claim that you are extremely good at playing guitar if, in fact, you are extremely good at playing guitar.  Thus, it is perfectly acceptable demonstrate higher value, and to be confident in one’s higher value if one actually has higher value in some specific dimension.  Regarding leadership, I will simply point out that leadership is not only permitted, but actually expected, per Ephesians 5.

The third matter—indifference to emotion—also has interesting theological connotations.  In Matthew 13, Christ, in the course of explaining the parable of the tares and the parable of the dragnet, claims twice that those who are unacceptable in the sight of God will be cast into the fire where there will be “weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.”**  There will certainly be emotional turmoil among those whom God punishes.  Interestingly, though, God is indifferent to this emotionality.  Those who have sinned against God will be punished, and no amount of crying or histrionics will change that fact.

 A broader point to be made regarding emotions is that of their purpose in creation.  Quite simply, we must ask ourselves why God gave man the ability to feel.  Perhaps it was merely a way for Man to bear the image of God (and God certainly experiences emotion).  Perhaps it was a way to prevent life from being interminably boring.  The emotions we feel certainly give life some degree of meaning.  However, we are not to be ruled by our emotions.  We may feel a certain way about something or at a given point in time in response to a specific stimuli, but we are not to be ruled by emotions.***  Extending this principle further, we should not be ruled by other people’s emotions.  As Christ said on the Sermon on the Mount, no man can serve two masters.  Man should thus serve God, not his emotions, or anyone else’s emotions, for that matter.

The fourth matter concerns a willingness to walk away.  This is really nothing more than an extension of the third matter, and both are merely applications of aloofness.  In the interest of brevity, I will simply note that even though God desires that all men to repent (i.e. turn to him), he neither forces men to repent nor excuses their lack of repentance.  In essence, if men do not obey God, he has no problem with leaving them alone to experience the natural consequences of their actions.

The fifth matter—hot kinky sex—has caused some consternation among Christians, probably because most people (Christians especially) are idiots about sex.  Catholics have correctly pointed out that humans were expected to be fruitful and multiply, and sex is thus intended to be procreative in nature.  Unfortunately, many have ignored the part of the Bible that talks about how two are to become one flesh.  Neurological studies indicate that rather intensive pair-bonding generally occurs during sex.  This suggests, then, that the purpose of sex is more than mere procreation; it is also a way to solidify the most sacred of bonds.

The two goals of procreation and pair-bonding are not inherently exclusive.  By the same token, they are not synonymous.  In fact, it would appear that the former is a subset of the latter, given that pair-bonding occurs during every occasion of intercourse though procreation does not.  At any rate, there is a serious problem when one builds a doctrine by considering only one of the purposes of sex.  To be blunt about it, procreation is not the only purpose for sex.  Therefore, it is theologically shallow to argue that it is immoral to engage in non-procreative sexual acts with one’s spouse.  Since sex also has the purpose of strengthening pair-bonding, any sexual act that strengthens the bond between husband and wife would be acceptable.  Furthermore, since variety is generally considered the spice of life, sexual experimentation within the confines of marriage is certainly acceptable.

I believe that it was Vox Day who, some time ago, asserted that concepts of Game are certainly compatible with Christianity.  I would say, though, that not only are the concepts of Game compatible with Christianity, they are the proper theological application of Christianity, particularly as it concerns the relationship between men and women.  Furthermore, the relationship between man and wife mirrors the relationship between God and Man, which means that there are many subtle spiritual truths to be learned by observing not only good relationships, but bad relationships as well.  Ultimately, marriage is but a way of looking at God through a glass darkly, and it thus behooves husbands and wives to consider whether their marriage properly reflects God.

* There are a couple of theological side points worth dwelling on here.  The first is that since all humans are made in God’s image, all humans are, in a sense, children of God.  Some of them may currently be prodigal.

The second is that this theological approach explains why God allowed men under the old law to marry two wives.  Romans 2:14-16 tells us that gentiles who lived by the law of conscience would be found acceptable in the sight of God, though the Jews still had to live by the Law of Moses.  In essence, God had entered into covenants with two different people.  One covenant was with the Jews; the other was with the gentiles.  In a metaphorical sense, God had two wives.  As such, it would hypocritical for him to condemn his children for doing what he was doing.

** Sounds like a woman who gets told no, amirite?

*** Just to be clear, I am not saying that we should deny our feelings, only that we should not be ruled by them.  If we, say, feel fearful, we should acknowledge that feeling but make sure to do what we know or believe to be best.  And yes, this is a very tall order.

Book Review

The Great Stagnation by Tyler Cowen

The central thesis of Cowen’s book is that the recent economic downturn is mostly due to the law of diminishing marginal returns.  The metaphor he uses to explain this is that of an orchard.  In any orchard, some of the hanging fruit is closer to the ground than other fruit.  The natural tendency is to first pick the low-hanging fruit, then move on to the fruit that is harder to reach.  In the same way, the natural tendency in any macro economy is to make easier, more obvious innovations before making more complex (and more expensive) innovations.  There is a kernel of truth to this, in that there are always diminishing marginal returns in any endeavor.

In particular, Cowen advances the argument that it is becoming more difficult to innovate, as evidenced by the decline in the patents per researcher rate.  This argument is problematic for two reasons.

First, not all inventions and innovations get patented (and some patent attempts are rejected).  There has been a rather slight, though appreciable decline in the patent per researcher rate of the last several decades, but there is no research indicating whether any of this is due to the effects of various open society movements.  These “open” movements are generally predicated on either the belief that ideas are free (in which case patents, copyrights, and other forms of intellectual property are null and void) or on the belief that ideas should be free (the open source movement is predicated on this).  Perhaps the movement away from patenting every last innovation might explain some, most, or all of the rate decline.

Second, there is no attempt to discern whether patent law itself is the cause of declining innovation and invention.  It is assumed, perhaps because this is the constitutional view, that patents encourage innovation.  However, patent law has often been used to bludgeon one’s competition from copying one’s ideas and business practices.  Jeff Bezos’ use of patent law to block other businesses from using one-click shopping is an example of the more extreme tendencies of patent law abuse.  The continual lawsuit wars between Apple, Google, and Microsoft are another.  In this case, innovations are being squelched because a) it is unprofitable to innovate if your profits simply go to your competitor and b) it is more lucrative to litigate than innovate.  When litigation is more profitable than innovation, it should not be surprising that people and firms prefer litigation to innovation.  Thus, it may be that the recent downturn in innovation is due not to diminishing returns but due to inept government market interference.

One bright spot in Cowen’s book is his critique of macroeconomic measuring tools.  In particular, his criticism of counting government costs at face value when determining GDP is well thought-out and intelligently argued.  The insight that government spending is likely subject to diminishing returns isn’t exactly brilliant, but the conclusion that perhaps government costs are inflating the real value of GDP output is quite useful.  His critique of educational spending is similarly insightful, in that he notes in brief that while educational spending has roughly doubled in inflation-adjusted terms, the output, measured in terms of educational testing and economic output, has not budged much.  He makes a similar case for health care as well. Ultimately, his conclusion is that our economy hasn’t really grown; it’s just that the numbers measuring it have been inflated.  Unfortunately, his analysis is not yet able to indicate how much inflation currently exists in economic growth estimates, but at least he’s pointed his fellow economists down the right path.

Cowen also spends some time considering innovation in the online sphere.  He notes that this is classic low-hanging fruit, to use his metaphor, but that this is not likely to lead to economic growth because of the net’s scalability.

One interesting point that he makes as evidence of the internet being low-hanging fruit is that there are a lot of amateurs driving innovation.  The widespread presence of amateurs, then, is a signal that there is plenty of room for innovation.

As an aside, there is one sector in the US economy that has a significant amateur presence, and that is the automotive sector.  The presence of amateurs, though, is relatively small, and confined primarily to the area of kit cars.  Kit cars are a sort of DIY car manufacturing project wherein one purchases a frame and body components from a manufacturer, plus whatever accessories one wishes to buy, then goes out and purchases a separate transmission and engine, and assembles the car oneself.  This is not a significant portion of the market, but there is a decent amount of innovation within this subset that is absent from the more general automotive production market.  Perhaps coincidentally, kit cars do not face as much regulation as production cars.  Likewise, the internet is, relative to other sectors, remarkably unregulated.  One possible conclusion to be drawn, which Cowen fails to do, is that perhaps the issue is not that we lack low-hanging fruit but that the government forbids us from picking it.

From there, Cowen observes that the growth of government size and scope is largely tied to technological growth.  This would suggest that government’s attempts to regulate, and thus hamper technological growth will ultimately hamper the growth of the state.

Cowen also dedicates a chapter to explaining the current economic crisis.  His explanation for the crisis is that “we thought we were richer than we were.”  This might seem glib at first, but it is correct.  Basically, all the investments that feel through did so because they were overvalued.  Banks overestimated the wealth and income of marginal lendees.  Investment groups overvalued stocks, bonds, funds, CDOs, and all sorts of other financial instruments.  Cowen does delve a little bit into pop psychology when explaining why we overvalued things.  He relies on an argument about human beings’ tendency to follow other people and rely on signals instead of direct sources.  He doesn’t spend much time discussing policies that gave the illusion of wealth, which would in turn lead to overconfidence.

The book concludes with Cowen asking what, if anything, can be done to fix the problem.  His policy prescription is this:  raise the status of scientists.  This strikes me as an incredibly foolish policy.  First, some scientists are likely to resist this.  Richard Dawkins and PZ Meyers come to mind.  Both have the social skills of an autistic eight-year-old, as evidenced by the fact that they routinely mock and denigrate the belief system held many people, even though the issue of the existence of God is well outside the scope of their respective scientific disciplines.  Basically, these scientists (and several others as well) are complete assholes that few people will ever come to like or respect.

That aside, there is a second concern.  Namely, that scientists in general are not trustworthy.  The relatively recent scandal at East Anglia suggests that there are some scientist who are more committed to ideology than scientific truth.  They can be trusted or respected, and it is unwise to give any form of power to these sort of charlatans.  (Of course, giving power to charlatans is the foundation of democracy anyway, amirite?)  Worse still, even when scientists are being sincere and honest in their research, most of it cannot be replicated and therefore cannot be trusted.  Does it make sense to give status to those who can’t be trusted even when they are sincere?

Furthermore, it was scientists that produced the atomic bomb.  Scientists were behind the technocratic drive of Nazi Germany.  Scientists supported the efforts of central planning in the USSR.  This is not to say that all scientists are evil.  It only to point out that scientists are human, just like everyone else and, as such, are prone to the same problems and imperfections of the rest of us.

Finally, it should be noted that pure science does not lead to as many contributions and innovations as engineering.  Perhaps Cowen conflates scientists and engineers (and that is certainly his right, though it would be helpful to clarify that).  Even so, the better solution would be to give higher status to engineers and other “hands-on” producers and workers that generate the bulk of day-to-day innovations.

In all, this book is generally a mixed bag of obvious truths, shortsighted analysis, and mildly brilliant insights which makes for an interesting, if uneven read.  It’s short and fun and thought-provoking, and seems at times that it’s designed to pick fights.

07 June 2012

He Who Pays The Bills Makes The Rules

Fox News, the bastion of modern neo-conservatism, is knee-deep in stupid:

Soft drinks have unfairly become the whipping boy of most anti-obesity campaigns. Maybe friends shouldn’t give friends Big Gulps, but to my knowledge, no one’s ever been forced to buy and drink one. People who want sweet drinks will find and consume them, regardless.
There’s an element of personal responsibility and control that this law and others like it don’t even attempt to address. At the end of the day you end up with a well-intentioned law that oversimplifies the problem and provides a correspondingly oversimplified solution.
No one’s denying that that we’re in the middle of an epidemic. Twenty-five percent of applicants are deemed too fat to serve in the Armed Forces. The implications for the defense of the country as well as for the future competitiveness of the American workforce are catastrophic.
But taxing, limiting and legislating soft drinks will not solve this crisis. Our history of isolating, demonizing and replacing ingredients in a quest for health proves that.

Here’s the thing:  the government pays for health care* and as a natural consequence is the one who gets to create ways to keep down the cost of paying for said health care.  Most people understand this when it comes to families:  daddy pays the doctor bills, and so daddy makes little Tommy eat spinach and beets instead of Snickers and Butterfingers because daddy doesn’t want to pay for diabetes meds for little Tommy for six, ten, or fifteen years.  No one has a problem with this because everyone understand that whoever pays the bills makes the rules.

Of course, the government is the one paying the doctor bills.  If it assumed that legislators actually represent the people who elect them, the government is paying the doctors’ bills at its citizens’ request.  Thus, it is well within the right of the government to limit what people consume because the government is stuck paying for the consequences of people’s consumption.  When fatties decide to load up on sugary soft drinks, it’s the government that pays for diabetes medicine and cavity fillings.

It would be irresponsible for the government to let costs get out of control, and there are only two ways to prevent it: the government can stop paying for health care or the government can try to prevent people from needing health care in the first place.  My personal preference is that the government simply does not pay for health care at all.  However, if people demand that the government pays for health care, then I’m going to demand that the government find some way to limit costs.

The problem, ultimately is that conservatives, like liberals, have unreasonable expectations.  We cannot have everything we want.  There are limits.  These limits can be self-imposed voluntarily in the market, or they can be imposed coercively by the state.  But make no mistake, these will be imposed at some point.  Thus, it is foolish and unrealistic to demand a system that has no limits.  And yet, this is exactly what conservatives want.

* And don’t give me any nonsense about Obamacare.  The government has been paying for health care on a large scale in some form since the advent of Medicaid and Medicare, both of which receive strong support from conservatives.

The Paycheck Fairness Act

It failed.  That’s a good thing, if Barbara Boxer is to be believed:
“It’s the way every law is implemented. You have a law and it’s enforceable, in the courts. That’s how we enforce laws. You have to obey the law and you cannot discriminate against a woman, if this were to be the law. You cannot fire her and if you fire her then you’re going to get sanctions by a fair court and a fair jury. That’s how we do things in America.”
Of course, this law would have the general effect of increasing unemployment among women, since no rational person would want to hire them.  Not even generally irrational people would be stupid enough to hire women under such a regime.  Really, governments would be the only employer retarded enough to hire women in lieu of such regulation.

At this point, I don’t know why feminists just don’t go ahead and say that they want all the resources at the united states’ disposal, and that they don’t want to have to do anything to get them, other than having a slit and a pulse.  Because that’s basically what this sort of legislation amount to:  women being able to have a job completely on their terms, without having to worry about such mundane things like showing up or actually performing the tasks for which you were hired.  (As Boxer observed, no woman could be fired because the employer firing the woman would have to prove that the woman wasn’t fired because she was a woman.  This is a generally difficult thing to do.)

Really, this piece of legislation was nothing more than a shit test, writ large.  Thankfully, the US passed the test.

Furthermore, it can be said, in a sense, that feminists are desperate to be governed by masculine leaders, given the sheer inanity of this test.  The demands were so far-fetched that only the saddest-sacked of leaders would even take it seriously. When the tests start getting this severe, you can tell that there’s an absence of true masculine leadership.  The proper response is to laugh derisively and then sponsor a bill that declares women to be the government-approved maker of sammiches for male consumption.

At any rate, it’s nice to see that rational (read: masculine) leadership isn’t altogether dead in the US.  Hopefully this is the start of a new trend wherein the political advances made feminism are clearly and decisively reversed.  My only concern is that this reversal doesn’t lead down the road to totalitarianism.

Satisficing Guaranteed

Here’s some sad commentary about the current set of grads:

Seven in 10 of these recent graduates said they would need more education if they were to have a successful career. Despite their belief in the value of post-secondary education, though, only 38 percent definitely planned to attend college to get more education in the next five years. Barriers included skyrocketing tuitions and family obligations.

These grads are, of course, entirely correct in believing that college credentials are generally necessary to having, if not a good career, at least a decent one.  What’s sad, though, is how many of these grad think they need a higher education in order to succeed.  In essence, 70% of current grads are not willing to make their own success; they are relying on others to do it for them.

I know that not everyone can self-employed entrepreneurs that go about making new businesses and products, but it is pathetic that so many won’t even consider such an option.  People can’t work at Microsoft or Apple without their first being a Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.  Unfortunately, not many seem to want to be Gates or Jobs.

Of course, given the current economic climate, this isn’t altogether unexpected.  The current regulatory regime very much favors established big businesses, and generally hamstrings small businesses (assuming they operate within the bounds of regulation).  The taxes accompanying success aren’t encouraging, either.  Really, it is easier to rely on others to provide some small measure of success for you than to fight for it yourself.
And really, there is no better sign of a declining society than its youth’s lack of desire to take risk.  Quite simply, young people in the United States have bought into the notion that they need to have a higher level of education to succeed in their career.  That they are so concerned with conforming to the desires of economically privileged in order to have a tolerable life is saddening. That the current state of affairs actively encourages this mindset of dependency is simply sick.

Stopping Tyranny

Every time police Sergeant Joseph Hubbard stops a speeder or serves a search warrant, he says he worries suspects assume they can open fire -- without breaking the law.
Hubbard, a 17-year veteran of the police department in Jeffersonville, Indiana, says his apprehension stems from a state law approved this year that allows residents to use deadly force in response to the “unlawful intrusion” by a “public servant” to protect themselves and others, or their property.
“If I pull over a car and I walk up to it and the guy shoots me, he’s going to say, ‘Well, he was trying to illegally enter my property,’” said Hubbard, 40, who is president of Jeffersonville Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 100. “Somebody is going get away with killing a cop because of this law.”

My hope is that all other states follow Indiana in this law.  I have yet to meet any cop that is a principled defender of liberty (and I say that as a nephew of a cop); they are all literally law enforcement officers.  It matters not to them whether the legislation and regulations they are enforcing are constitutional or in keeping with natural law.  Rather, the only thing that matters is that the government which signs their paychecks tells them to crack down on certain behaviors.  Thus, cops are generally the enemies of freedom, the jack-booted thugs on the front line of the assault on liberty.

Furthermore, cops are given special privileges, such as violating the very laws they enforce. Cops get to carry guns and use them, generally with impunity.  If they feel threatened, or if someone rises against them, the cops get to shoot and kill people, and only occasionally get punished if their mistakes are too egregious.  Since cops are antithetical to liberty, it is wonderful to see that at least one state is offering its citizens additional protections in the defense of liberty.  Hopefully, more cops will feel afraid and think twice before infringing upon citizens’ natural rights.

06 June 2012

Book Review

The Age of Onanism by Ferdinand Bardamu

I’ve been meaning to write this review for a while, and what with In Mala Fide shutting down, I figured now was the time to get this out of the way.  Especially since Ferdinand is pulling his books off Amazon.

Anyhow, Onanism is a very short read, and a cleaned-up version of a blog post bearing the same name.  The book itself mostly serves as a way of giving money to Ferdinand who, let’s be honest, has very much earned it.  The central insight—that we are now living in an age of unparalleled narcissism and self-focus—is spot on.  We truly are in an age of onanism, where relationships exist solely for the participants self-pleasure.

Naturally, the book features FB’s distinctive style, this time mixing stream-of-consciousness narration with insightful, albeit scathing and nihilistic social commentary.  It’s one of Ferd’s more insightful and entertaining essays, and purchasing it is a good way to say goodbye and thanks for all his work.

Book Review

One Click by Richard Brandt

One Click is more profound than it realizes, perhaps even in spite of itself.  It attempts to paint a portrait of Jeff Bezos, and instead provides a template for business success.

The template of success is pretty simple:  be highly intelligent, be extremely good at doing at least one thing, be extremely tenacious, and be lucky.  The first and last items on this list are generally beyond one’s control, but the old maxim is that success comes to those who prepare for it.  And Jeff Bezos prepared for it.

Like other tech giants, such as Gates and Jobs, Bezos spent a lot of time in his earlier years learning how to code, to the point where he was good at it.  So good, in fact, that he was basically able to write his own ticket to whatever coding job he wanted.  However, Bezos essentially rejected this and decided to start up his own business, Amazon.com.

Interestingly, it was his business sense, not his coding skills that made Amazon a success.  He was driven to create a site that was extremely customer-oriented, and so he eschewed unnecessarily flashy designs and data-heavy content.  He also took a rather rationalistic approach to his business, choosing to enter books not because he had a passion for them but because he figured that he would have a first-mover advantage with them in the online sphere.

He was right, of course, but it also helped that he was very aggressive with pricing and negotiating with suppliers and distributors.  Also helpful was the patent on the one-click method of ordering.

One thing that’s amazing about Bezos is how he basically invented a good portion of ecommerce practices.  He pioneered online ordering, and the security that accompanied it.  His Associates Program was an early way of capitalizing on word-of-mouth.  Really, his work in the ecommerce sphere merits a book of its own.

Anyhow, one thing that really stands out about Bezos is his lack of interest in books. It’s not that he hates them, but that he doesn’t have a zeal for them.  In fact, it seems that he’s a bookseller primarily because he wants to fund other things, like space exploration.  More to the point, he’s a living example that one does not have to be passionate about something to excel at it.  Bezos is an excellent e-retailer because he’s a hard-headed businessman with good business sense.

One thing that sits around in the background of the book is how Bezos benefitted from government interference in the market while simultaneously having his business’s existence threatened by that very same government intervention.  On net, government intervention seems to be net-neutral to the market, except for its maintenance cost, of course.

There are other themes that discerning readers will pick up on when reading this book.  Brandt does a good job of letting Bezos’ life speak for itself, so the book doesn’t feel weighed down with moral posturing or obvious themes.  In this way, the book makes for a rather compelling read, and provides many lessons worthy of contemplation, and does so without being heavy-handed.
In all, One Click is an interesting, if somewhat light read about a man that played a huge role in making the internet, and ecommerce in particular, what it is today.  It’s fairly short, and rather breezy.  Better yet, it doesn’t let its themes, inadvertent as they seem to be, get in the way of a truly fascinating story.

Book Review

Worthless by Aaron Clarey

Worthless jumps out of the gate by pointing out just how important a decision college is, and how worthless college is for many people.  Clarey recounts several stories of students who went to college, got into a ton of debt, and now have nothing to show for it other than a terrible and job meaningless credentials.  From there he explains the basic economics of the labor market in terms simple enough for most high schoolers, and presumably high school guidance counselors, to understand.  Quite simply, there is a limited amount of demand for college-educated labor, particularly when that education consists of mostly bullshit.

Fortunately, Clarey is very fair about the market for college-educated labor, in that he notes that one’s major is more important than the mere act of going to college.  To put it simply, college is a good choice if you’re going to be a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) major than if you’re going to major in some vapid drivel, like business administration or womyn’s studies.  There are some business majors that are decent, like accounting, and some STEM majors that are stupid, like environmental engineering, but a good rule of thumb is that more math that’s involved, the more profitable the major will be.

Clarey also spends some time discussing trade schools and other alternatives to college.  While his list is not as exhaustive as, say, James Altucher’s, it does get the job.  Clarey is especially helpful in pointing out that some majors can be done DIY.  English majors, for example, could just borrow classics from the library instead of paying some old fogey to tell them what to read.

He also spends some time explaining the current state of cult-like devotion to higher education, generally placing the blame on those who legitimately deserve it.  Quite a bit of time is spent on debunking some college myths as well.

The book is written in the Captain’s generally breezy, and generally humorous style.  The book is rather obviously an individual effort, as an editor would make the book’s tone a little drier, and would likely catch most of the grammatical and spelling errors.  That said, the book is quite readable, quickly paced, and easily grasped.  This would make a great gift for grads, or for ids celebrating their sixteenth birthday.  It would also be a good read for any parents who seem hell bent on having their kids go to college for the sole reason of having their kid go to college.

Book Review

40 Alternatives to College by James Altucher

By his own admission, the number of alternatives to college that Altucher chooses to write about is largely arbitrary.  This is occasionally reflected in the seeming randomness of his list, which includes illuminating alternatives like “writing a book” or “writing a movie script.”  Not that these two things are the same, but listing them separately seems like a bit of a stretch.  And, having written a book myself while in college, I can’t say that this is necessarily an alternative to it since doing both things are not inherently mutually exclusive.

However, Altucher’s broader point is well-taken:  you don’t need to go to college to accomplish something or become well-rounded.  In fact, he offers a list of free (generally non-accredited) college course that one can take if one is simply interested in something.  He also does a great job listing alternatives to college that are superior to the product given one’s intended purposes.  For example, Altucher recommends that instead of going to college to learn about the entertainment industry, one should simply produce their own entertainment, like movies, television shows, books, and so on.  He also highly recommends starting your own business with the money you would have spent on going to college.

While his list of alternatives is fairly valuable, if a bit repetitive at times, the most valuable part of his book is the first half, wherein he debunks the assertion that college grads earn more on average, than non-grads and non-attendees.  His main critiques are focused on the oldness of the statistics upon which the assertion is based and also on self-selection biases.

Altucher also takes some time to debunk the myths of college’s alleged value.  He observes that “socialization” is generally used as a euphemism for sex and booze, and he also notes that learning “how to think” is often just bunk.  Altucher also spends some time noting that there are many important life lessons that college does not teach which furthers his argument that college is overrated.

The book does have one significant shortcoming, and that is a failure to consider the need for credentials.  Because of a decent amount of regulation, particularly as regards those who desire to work in the medical industry, there are some jobs that simply require credentials.  These jobs often pay rather well, and the cost of attaining the credentials to get these jobs is generally worth it (in the sense of having a good ROI).  To simply toss these sorts of jobs under the bus and decry college and higher education as completely worthless is nonsensically extreme.  Still, the fact of the matter is that college is not essential for the vast majority of labor market participants.

In all, the book is brief, fairly thorough, and to the point.  This book is best suited for older teenagers who are thinking about college, and for the parents of those children.  I recommend it as a gift for kids graduating high school.  Or, better yet, for kids on their sixteenth birthday.  They may as well plan in advance.

05 June 2012

Models and Assumptions

A much better alternative is for the household to “buy” an annuity from Social Security. They can make this “purchase” by using their savings to pay current expenses and delaying claiming to get a higher monthly benefit at an older age. The savings used is the “price” and the increase in monthly benefits is the annuity it “buys.”
For example, consider a retiree who could claim $12,000 a year at age 65 and $12,860 at age 66 – $860 more. If he delays claiming for a year and uses $12,860 from savings to pay the bills that year, $12,860 is the price of the extra $860 annuity income.[1] The annuity rate – the additional annuity income as a percent of the purchase price – would be 6.7 percent ($860/$12,860). Remember that Social Security benefits are indexed for inflation, so the retiree is buying a real annuity. Vanguard – a wonderful company – also sells real annuities but it pays much lower rates.

This is all a lot of wonderful math, but the validity of the analysis is predicated on the assumption that Social Security is a reliable source of income.  Currently, it is.  However, it’s long-term reliability is very much in doubt.

The reason for this is simple, and two-fold.  First, Social Security is primarily redistributive, in that it distributes current taxes instead of invested savings that were paid in by participants.  Second, and more perniciously, a good portion of Social Security’s investments consist of owning federal government debt.  As Social Security continues to run a deficit, it will have to sell the US bonds it currently holds.  There are a couple of things that can happen.  The government can raise taxes in order to buy back the bonds, the fed can print money to buy the bonds, private investors can forego investing in productive ventures, or consumer can forego consumption.  With the exception of inflation, all of the choices require taking at least a short-run hit in aggregate standard of living.  Inflation merely requires taking that hit in the long-run.  To put it more simply, Social Security’s continued success as an investment is contingent on screwing taxpayers over.  Needless to say, this may not make for the most reliable of investment programs.  Just ask Bernie Madoff.

Brad DeLong, Idiot at Law

Only ignorance, malice, or stupidity can explain this assertion:

General Mills does not want the "freedom" to claim that Cheerios is the key to eternal life until and unless somebody publishes peer-reviwed scientific research saying it is not, and the FDA takes them to court and persuades a judge to issue a final order stating that there is clear and convincing evidence that it is not. But Rand Paul wants them to have that "freedom"--and wants the rest of us to have the unfreedom of having every reason not to believe what food and drug manufacturers claim. [Emphasis added.]

Actually, it’s the constitution that wants General Mills to have that freedom:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. [Emphasis added.]

Quite simply, the federal government has no business regulating speech.  Period, the end, full stop.  If some person, or some company, wants to claim that they have the power to grant immortality to people, the federal government cannot legally do anything to stop them.  Regulating speech, then, is not the government’s province.  So, while the validity of having the FDA regulate claims made by people and companies might be up for debate in terms of economic value, it is not up for debate in terms of constitutionality.  Quite simply, it is wrong.


Thanks to Ulysses, I’m a new blog to my blog roll.  It’s called Man.ifesto, and the couple of posts that I’ve seen suggest that it will become a new favorite.  In particular, this statement stands out:

I am not interested in comparing which gender has the shittier end of the stick. I don’t think that conversation is or has ever been beneficial, nor has it necessarily allowed us to get any closer to equality.

As I’ve noted before, this is the main reason why I’m not a MRA.  Quite simply, there’s no benefit to men’s complaints.  Women at least get off on complaining (I recall someone once writing that complaining is sport for women), but even then it’s still largely unproductive.  It’s best to simply remember that, for the vast majority of all men and women who have ever lived, are currently living, or ever will live, life is nasty, brutish, and short, and there is no glory and little comfort in it.  Thus, complaining about the generally unfavorable reality of life is simply pointless as it does not solve any problems, nor bring us closer to identifying their causes.

Anyhow, this blog is very much worth checking out and bookmarking or subscribing to.  For those who are too lazy to do that, there’s a link to it in my blog roll.

Social Conservatives are Disingenuous

To these types of statements about abortion and the definition of marriage, I would often respond with questions about economics, just to see where the discussion would go. “But what do you think of Senator Obama’s plan to raise taxes on rich people – is that a good idea?” I might ask. Or “Do you think John McCain is right about the stock market crash when he says that it’s all because of ‘greed on Wall Street?’”
Generally speaking, my economic questions would bring these brief talk show conversations to an abrupt end. “I only care about the moral issues” was the response I’d usually hear – as though economic issues are morally neutral or of no moral significance at all – and then the caller would say goodbye.

Social conservatives are completely disingenuous when they claim that they only care about moral issues while simultaneously dismissing economic issues.  It’s as if the words of the Apostle Paul have no meaning to them.  For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil.”  Evil is obviously a moral term, and it is certainly used in regards to money.  Thus, to dismiss economic matters as not being moral is to simply ignore the reality that money can very much be a moral issue.

For example, is it moral for the government to sell young adults into virtual slavery by constantly propagandizing kids to attend college while simultaneously offering them student loans (or subsidizing and guaranteeing private education loans) that cannot generally be discharged in bankruptcy?  Is it moral for the government to take money from hard-working citizens and give it to bankster elites who defrauded people out of personal property?  Should money be taken from hard-working people and given to banksters that refuse to take responsibility for their investment decisions in the housing market?  Is it moral for the government to inflate the currency and thereby rob people of their savings?  Is it moral for the government to rob people of jobs by imposing price floors on labor?  Is it moral for the government to hamstring domestic businesses while allowing foreign businesses to compete freely?

I could go on, but the point should be clear:  money can be used for evil, and economic issues can often have moral implications.  What social conservatives are really doing when they say they only care about social issues is trying to status-monger as being morally superior.  In essence, they simply get caught up in their own self-righteousness.

Fortunately, the politics of self-righteousness, particularly of the right-wing variety, is often stupid and ineffective.  Nonetheless, its disingenuousness is rather galling, and deserving only of derision for its hypocrisy and short-sightedness.

Market Welfare

In reference to meteorites:

Approximately 5,000–17,000 meteorites plummet to earth every year—some the size of a washing machine, some as small as a golf ball. But when a particularly rare and scientifically valuable specimen like Tissint lands outside Antarctica, scientists and institutions such as the Natural History Museum must jockey with private collectors for the prize.
“We are competing within a commercial market, although we have extremely limited finances,” said Dr. Smith. “There’s a danger in the price hiking of the market. Institutions without much money to purchase things may be priced out.”
In the months after Tissint’s recovery, the Natural History Museum was approached by four different collectors, all hawking fragments of the rock. Pitt and Dave Gheesling, a meteorite collector based in Atlanta, Georgia, offered the largest piece of Tissint to the Natural History Museum for what Dr. Smith calls a “good price.”
“We could have made a lot more money,” says Pitt. “There are a lot of private collectors in Asia and the Middle East that would have paid far more than the Natural History Museum.”
Asked why he and Gheesling chose to sell it to the Natural History Museum, Pitt answered: “There exists a social obligation to make the extraordinary accessible. I would not have been able to sleep at night knowing that this object was in someone’s private vault.”
Nevertheless, the sum well exceeded the museum’s annual acquisition budget (neither Dr. Smith nor Pitt would disclose the exact sum). Half of the money was put up by an anonymous philanthropist, with dual American and British citizenship and a keen interest in the museum’s meteorite collection. [Emphasis added.]

I’ve noted multiple times before, within the pristine virtual walls of this highly esteemed blog, that the critics of the free market often rely on projecting their attitudes onto others when explaining why a free market will fail to take care of, say, poor people or science.  Quite simply there are some people that have absolutely no concept of philanthropy.

The theory is that the market always allocates resources of particularly scarce variety to the highest bidder, who then enjoys said object rather selfishly.  Of course, the above story indicates that this is not the case, as there apparently exist public-minded men who voluntarily take an economic loss for the public good.

Sadly, there are some people for whom such a concept is completely foreign.  They simply cannot understand how anyone would willingly sacrifice their money, time, or any other scarce resource for another human being.  Naturally, their political policies consist of having the government force other people to act in the public good because they, the proponents of acting in the public good, could themselves not think of any other way to act in the best interest of others.

More to the point, though, this story is simply a modern piece of evidence that the free market will not necessarily devolve into a dog-eat-dog world where everyone is self-absorbed and no one cares about anyone else.  Quite simply, there will always be people who are willing to concern themselves about other people and act in their best interest.  Because of this, one need not fear the free market or the absence of a welfare state.


Americans spend a ton of time commuting.  According to happiness researchers, commuting is the low point of the typical day.  If you look at the jobs that people actually do, though, it's hard to understand why so many workers continue to commute.  Given a computer and high-speed Internet, most desk jobs could now be done from home - or so it seems.  Telecommuting wouldn't just save workers time, frustration, and fuel; it would also let firms drastically reduce their overhead - and pass the savings along to their customers.  Are we really leaving a trillion-dollar bill on the table?

Other excerpts:

Though telecommuters will eventually be held responsible for measured output, they may be more inclined to shirk if not sharing a workplace environment with a boss and coworkers. A 2011 survey by CareerBuilder adds legitimacy to these concerns. About 17% of Americans who telecommute at least part of the time reported working for less than an hour, compared to 2% among the general working population. Among all workers, 48% reported working for over eight hours a day, compared to just 35% for telecommuters


[O]ther factors could be pushing employees to refrain from requesting to telecommute all or part of the time. For one, scams have cast some stigma on the prospect of working from home. However, more important is the signal to employers. In a recent Ipsos/Reuters poll, which questioned 11,383 people in 24 countries, about half believed that they would be at a disadvantage in earning promotions because of the lack of face-to-face contact (2012). Previous research suggests part-time telecommuters do not communicate less frequently with managers (Duxbury and Neufeld 1999). Even so, more than simple communication matters. Showing up at an office may signal positive attributes to a boss. If a boss leaves work for the day and notices an employee staying late, it could serve as a visual reminder of work ethic. Working in a shared workplace also gives greater opportunity to demonstrate cooperativeness.

I don’t doubt the validity of the signaling model as it relates to commuting being present for work.  Obviously, bosses want to confirm that their employees are actually being productive, even if that means employees spend a good portion of their time putting on displays of busy work, and wasting massive amounts of time and other resources to do so.  Thus, even though it is more efficient to simply allow employees to telecommute to work, employers refrain from allowing workers to do so because employers wish to confirm that they are getting what they pay for.

This issue raises several questions, though.  First off, don’t employers want to reduce their expense?  If so, why haven’t they come up with ways to measure offsite employee productivity?  Robin Hanson suggests that the metrics might be too invasive of personal privacy to overcome status quo bias.  However, this doesn’t account for outcome-based performance appraisals.

Second, what sort of market distortions encourage this inefficient behavior?  I would imagine that many labor laws encourage this inefficiency.  For starters, discrimination laws make firing minority employees inconvenient at best and extremely costly at worst.  Even non-minorities still have a decent set of legal protections.   As such, many companies will find it unnecessarily difficult to fire underperforming employees.  Since it is easier to underperform when telecommuting, employers may shy away from telecommuting because having employees show up at an office ensures that employers can punish slackers.  Additionally, the current tax structure of the US likely discourages employees from working for their companies as contractors rather than employees, which reduces the tie between work and employment outcome.

Third, what about workers’ desires which contribute to this status?  Workers likely prize job security to some extent, which likely means that they don’t want to be fired at will for lack of performance.  They might want to underperform, but they don’t want the negative consequences from it.  In essence, workers are concerned with satisficing, which means that the incentives they face are of concern to employers.  As such, employers will want a show of good faith from their employees in exchange for job security, and that show of good faith is likely displays of productivity.

The ideal market would be one where workers are paid solely on the merits of their work.  They don’t have to drive to an office and sit there for eight hours a day, but can rather take whatever time they need to complete the goals and outcomes set by their employers.  Employees can quit at will or be fired at will.  This ideal market, wherein most people work from home, will never be realized because some minor regulations get in the way, and also because employees are willing to trade massive amounts of resources for something else from their employer, most likely job security.

The difference between the ideal and reality suggests two things.  First, it may be the case that there are massive distortions causing the market function inefficiently.  Or, secondly, it may be the case that the primary goods of exchange are less visible than most think.  Most likely, it’s some combination of the two.  Given how difficult it is to get rid of legislation and regulation , and given the intractability of human nature, it seems unlikely that people will ever stop commuting to cubicle farms.