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

The main page of the blog can be found here.

Basic references on democratic failure

I'm working on the new edition of my Seasteading book. The beginning of the "Why?" chapter:

While we hope that some readers will immediately see the appeal of seasteading, we expect others to be mystified as to why anyone would want to go live on a floating platform in the ocean. Until you understand "Why" we believe this to be the best path towards a better future, the details of "How" are likely to be of little interest. Thus we will attempt to answer the following basic questions:

1. Why should we seek to create new societies at all? What’s wrong with the ones we have? Do they really need more than a little incremental reform?
2. Why seastead - is the ocean really the best place for these experiments?
3. Why settle the ocean using the particular approach recommended here?

However, our treatment of them will vary widely:

1. This we will mainly punt on, as the mission of chronicling and diagnosing the general problems with democratic politics is too broad for us, too distant from our core message, and well covered by others.

Given that I'm punting on this, what is a good basic set of references to argue that the current pinnacle of societal organization (modern democracy) has serious systemic flaws? Presumably many such references will be libertarian, but if possible I'd like some ideological diversity. The first two books that come to mind are Bryan Caplan's MRV and my dad's MoF. But that's far from a complete set. Thoughts on more?


Introducing The Seasteading Institute

Mountain View, CA, April 15th, 2008. The Seasteading Institute today announced that it has been established in order to establish permanent, autonomous ocean communities to enable experimentation and innovation with diverse social, political, and legal systems. It will continue and expand on the work of Patri Friedman and Wayne Gramlich, authors of "Seasteading: A Practical Guide to Homesteading the High Seas".

"The public sector is simultaneously the largest industry in the world and the least innovative, with a barrier to entry and lock-in on its customers that dwarfs any private monopoly", says Patri Friedman, TSI's Executive Director. "The world needs a new model of politics where a diverse ecosystem of providers offers a variety of institutions that evolve to serve their citizens. The open oceans, Earth's last frontier, are the ideal place to nurture this vision of a better world. By making it safe and affordable to settle this frontier, we will give people the freedom to choose the government they want instead of being stuck with the government they get."

To help launch the organization, entrepreneur and philanthropist Peter Thiel has pledged $500,000 to The Seasteading Institute, saying: “Accelerating innovation is rapidly transforming the world: the Seasteading Institute will help bring more of that innovation to the public sector, where it’s vitally needed. Decades from now, those looking back at the start of the century will understand that Seasteading was an obvious step towards encouraging the development of more efficient, practical public sector models around the world. We’re at a fascinating juncture: the nature of government is about to change at a very fundamental level."

The Institute will initially focus on three major areas:

  • Community: Building a network of potential residents who are inspired by the possibilities of seasteading and have the skills and resources to establish vibrant new communities.
  • Research: Exploring the core requirements for seasteading to be safe and affordable, such as structure design, political feasibility, and infrastructure (power, heat, food) and advancing key seasteading technologies through independent research and partnerships.
  • Engineering: Proving that the mission is viable by building a safe, cost-effective, gorgeous seastead, based in the San Francisco Bay and able to travel in the open ocean.

For more information, see the Institute's website, www.seasteading.org.

Contact:

The Seasteading Institute
info@seasteading.org
http://www.seasteading.org/

(The Seasteading Institute is a California nonprofit corporation that is in the process of applying for recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code.)


Original press release can be found here
.


How to make money as an investment bank, part 2

This one comes courtesy of JP Morgan Chase. Have employees that figure out how to game your automated mortgage approval system (Zippy), by following these simple steps, described in a leaked internal email called "Zippy Cheats &
Tricks":

1. Lump all of an applicant's compensation as the applicant's base income, rather than breaking out commissions, bonuses and tips.

2. Do not disclose use of gifts for down payments.

3. If all else fails, simply inflate the applicant's income. "Inch it up $500 to see if you can get the findings you want. Do the same for assets.

The story was first broken by The Oregonian, and further described in The Big Picture:

Anyone with even a modicum of experience in the mortgage industry will confirm the rampant disregard for lending standards and the corner cutting and shortcuts that were all but official corporate policy during the boom years. There was headlong rush to originate, process and securitize mortgages -- and the ability to repay the loans be damned. (Predatory Borrowing my ass!)

Exactly how deeply this attitude was in the business of making loans was revealed by this memo.

...

It provides a rare glimpse into the corporate mentality that has been a key factor in the current mortgage crisis. (A Chase spokesperson denied that Zippy Cheats & Tricks was official policy; thus we are reassured that this was only "unofficial policy).

Reminds me of the dotcom era fraud. In both cases, the heady euphoria of a bubble led to corner cutting and fraud. it's a good warning to be careful about investing in something new and exciting until more sober heads are prevailing. Unless you plan to get out before everyone else - and let the devil take the hindmost.


How to make money as an investment bank, part 1

  1. Generate worries about your solvency
  2. Notice that the value of your debt has decreased, because of worries you may go bankrupt
  3. Notice that your debt is an obligation, therefore a decrease in its value is an increase in your firm's net value
  4. Declare a profit

Thanks to Lehman Brothers for the idea, as described in Lehman's Debt Shuffle:

For several quarters, all the investment banks have been taking gains on their liabilities. Say you owe $100 to your friend. But you run into severe problems and your friend starts to figure you can only afford to pay back $95. If you were an investment bank, the magic of fair value accounting dictates that you could get to reduce your liability. What’s more, that $5 gain gets added to earnings. Because investors thought Lehman was more likely to default, its liabilties fell in value and Lehman garnered earnings from this. How much did Lehman win through losing? $600 million in the quarter. How much was its net income? $489 million.

Lehman and all the other investment banks are following the accounting rules on this, but that $600 million is hardly the stuff of quality earnings.

As an equity holder, I don't think I'd feel too reassured about the firm's financial status by the "profit" of an increased chance of going bankrupt. As a holder of put options, though, I'm eagerly anticipating further such "profits".


Peter Thiel on bubbles and globalization

This Hoover piece is a fascinating view of Thiel's views on globalization and bubbles, and the importance of macro (that is, thinking about the world economy and what it is doing - not the bogus field of macroeconomics):

Because we find ourselves in a world of retail sanity and wholesale madness, the truly great opportunities exist in the wildly mispriced macro context -- rather than in the ever-diminishing spreads on esoteric financial markets or products. Indeed, one could go even further: What is truly frightening about the twenty-first century is not merely that there exists a dangerous dimension to our time, but rather the unwillingness of the best and brightest to try and make any sense of this larger dimension.

From a contrarian perspective, one could be more optimistic if others were not so naively "optimistic."

Here is a key passage, but you should really go and read the whole thing:

In recent years, the pace and amplitude of these booms has accelerated tremendously, in complete contradiction to the widespread notion that markets are becoming more smooth and efficient over time. During the last quarter century, the world has seen more asset booms or bubbles than in all previous times put together: Japan; Asia (ex-Japan and ex-China) pre- 1997; the internet; real estate; China since 1997; Web 2.0; emerging markets more generally; private equity; and hedge funds, to name a few. Moreover, the magnitudes of the highs and lows have become greater than ever before: The Asia and Russia crisis, along with the collapse of Long-Term Capital Management, provoked an unprecedented 20-standard-deviation move in financial derivatives in 199824 the Nasdaq at 5,000 in 2000 was farther from equilibrium than the Dow at 350 in 1929, perhaps the greatest previous distortion; no 10-year government bond yield ever fell to 0.44 percent in all of history, until this happened with jgbs in 2003; as measured by the buy/rent ratio (or any number of other indicators), U.S. real estate prices in 2005 were more distorted than in 1929<, 1979, or 1989, or at any other time in history; and no emerging market had ever reached a p/e of 62, as China’s Shanghai a Shares index did in 2007. It has not been a good time for those investors who are merely sane.

Consider the strangeness of the American context. One would not have thought it possible for the internet bubble of the late 1990s, the greatest boom in the history of the world, to be replaced within five years by a real estate bubble of even greater magnitude and worse stupidity. Under more normal circumstances, one would not have thought that the same mistake could happen twice in the lifetimes of the people involved. One might be tempted to invoke extraordinary psychosocial explanations — for example, that all of this was driven by baby boomers who destroyed their minds on drugs in the 1960s and therewith merit the dubious distinction of being America’s Dumbest Generation. But when one surveys the many other bubbles that have proliferated throughout the world, one realizes that this cannot be the whole truth.

The most straightforward explanation begins with the view that all of these bubbles are not truly separate, but instead represent different facets of a single Great Boom of unprecedented size and duration. As with the earlier bubbles of the modern age, the Great Boom has been based on a similar story of globalization, told and retold in different ways — and so we have seen a rotating series of local booms and bubbles as investors price a globally unified world through the prism of different markets.

Nevertheless, this Great Boom is also very different from all previous bubbles. This time around, globalization either will succeed and humanity will achieve a degree of freedom and prosperity that can scarcely be imagined, or globalization will fail and capitalism or even humanity itself may come to an end. The real alternative to good globalization is world war. And because of the nature of today ’s technology, such a war would be apocalyptic in the twenty-first century. Because there is not much time left, the Great Boom, taken as a whole, either is not a bubble at all, or it is the final and greatest bubble in history .

I have very mixed feelings about this viewpoint. On the one hand, predictions of extremes seem to always be wrong - the world, so far, has shown a very strong aversion to either utopia or apocalypse, despite numerous predictions of both. On the other hand, as a techno-optimist, I find a lot of plausibility in scenarios of both Singularity and Apocalypse. We have clearly nowhere near exhausted the limits of technological advancement, and enormous prosperity seems quite plausible. On the other hand, the flipside of technology is Murphy's Law of Mad Science - the IQ needed to destroy the world decreases by 1 point every cycle of Moore's Law. The probability of apocalypse temporarily decreased when the Cold War ended, but until we get off this rock, I don't see how anyone can deny that the long-term trend is up.


Alternate business structures

In Paul Graham's latest essay, You Weren't Meant To Have A Boss, he applies evolutionary psychology to organizations and discusses how people are naturally ill-suited for working in large corporations. There is a similar libertarian argument about government, which views The State as The Tribe writ large, with people's intuitive belief that the state can work well deriving from their hard-wired expectation of a tribal-sized group. Anti-market biases such as those Bryan Caplan has documented, or Arnold Kling's "Folk Economics" have a similar origin.

As an employee, i've spent the past few years working at, and thus observing, a large corporation. And as an anarchist, a mechanism designer, and a dreamer, I can't encounter a large heirarchical system without wondering whether it could be done better. So, like Paul, I've pondered alternate organization schemes:

A large organization could only avoid slowing down if they avoided tree structure. And since human nature limits the size of group that can work together, the only way I can imagine for larger groups to avoid tree structure would be to have no structure: to have each group actually be independent, and to work together the way components of a market economy do.

That might be worth exploring. I suspect there are already some highly partitionable businesses that lean this way. But I don't know any technology companies that have done it.

It seems to me that there are some clear advantages, if the business is seperable, in seperating it, in resisting the empire-building temptation. Especially if there are alternate suppliers for what some of the units create - that way you stay open to using a different supplier if they are better, and keep competitive pressure on the unit. In a lot of cases, this is just not possible - businesses can be highly interdependent, with some functions that are very speculative or don't have clear bottom-line contributions. But I think this could be done a lot more than it is.

Let's take, for example, a hypothetical technology company. This company has a core business which generates a lot of money, and results in it creating a lot of generally useful infrastructure. As a result of this, it has a variety of small, speculative projects which make use of this general infrastructure. These projects are organized in the standard ways: employees are employees of the main company. Their career path and rewards depend somewhat on the success of the project, but not like a startup.

This seems, to me, like a pretty bad setup. The project's employees are far less invested than if they were at a startup, yet they are basically doing a startup-like job. Why not structure it that way? The big company could invest and provide the general infrastructure along with some cash, the employees could get equity and control, and you get a more "natural" structure.

To be fair, problems of scale are good problems to have - you only achieve them by succeeding wildly. But just as it's worth thinking about whether there are radical alternatives to democracy which might better meet our needs as citizens, it's also worth thinking about whether there are radical alternatives to large corporations which might better meet our needs as employees, consumers, and investors.


I killed libertarianism!

Arnold Kling suggests in TCS that the way to libertarianism is carefully structured civil disobedience. I think this is an absurd idea, as does Ken Silber. Bryan Caplan weighs in with a short post I totally agree with that ends:

Libertarian ideas have been ably defended by an army of smart, thoughtful people for decades. And yet only a tiny minority remains convinced. Clearly these ideas are not "compelling enough" to win out in political and legal competition

Ken Silber makes the absurd reply "My advice: try harder.", which is so wrong-headed I want to scream. It's like if your friend is complaining about not being able to knock down a concrete wall with his head, and you say "My advice: try harder".

Brian Doherty mentions the discussion on Hit & Run, which has some wonderful comments, like:

jj: We can't get 20,000 people to move to New Hampshire to promote freedom.
How are we going to get millions to act is ways that will get
themselves jailed?

ithaqua: "[W]e would be counting on a civilized society not to engage in severe repression." Two words: Waco, Texas.

But my narcissistically favorite part is a response to my reply on Caplan's post:

Patri Friedman writes:

And if they aren't compelling enough to win in public discourse, you
aren't going to get a social movement together to promote them via
civil disobedience. (And even if you did, the movement wouldn't work,
as Silber points out. So Arnold's strategy is doubly absurd).

Libertarians need to suck it up and accept that their case is
hopeless in existing large countries. They can either accept that
statism is inevitable, or get involved in a frontier (seasteading /
spacesteading / cryptoanarchy...)

greg newburn writes:

when future citizens read about that long-dead philosophy,
"libertarianism," they will be taught that the end began with patri
friedman's comment, above.

Look, I know it feels good to think you are fighting against the state, standing up to the man, even though the odds are long, you're gonna make a difference. It's a load of bullshit. Well, sort of.

What I mean is, if you enjoy doing that sort of thing, great. Just don't fool yourself into thinking that you are accomplishing something besides giving yourself enjoyment. That's a slight exaggeration - there is some value in keeping the dream alive, spreading ideas, etc. But inaccurately estimating the effects on the world of your actions will only hurt us. And most of what I see people do and propose are totally hopeless wastes of time.

Ron Paul is a perfect example of this principle. To the degree to which he increases support for libertarianism (or any of the individual, sensible ideas he campaigns on), his campaign has a positive impact on the world. But many of his supporters seemed to think he had an actual chance to get nominated, and made their donations of time and money on that basis. And that's just crazy. He never had the slightest chance, and any decisions made under the illusion that he did were bad decisions. And I think Arnold's proposal is similarly hopeless.

I think we should be very leery of hopeless efforts, and more self-aware of what we are doing and why. Yeah, it's good to keep the dream alive. On the other hand, it's brutal and wearying to keep fighting for a dream that never comes. I'm just saying, know when you're saving some embers and when you might actually be able to fan a flame. And know that it's almost always the former, unless you are at a really unusual leverage point. Think about how previous similar proposals may have failed and why before you put significant effort into something.

Yeah, it totally sucks that one vote doesn't matter, and one person can't make a difference in politics. But pretending it ain't so don't change 'nothin. The same theories which tell us why government sucks also tell us that it isn't worth our time to do anything about it. In fact, you might say that what the theory says is that government will suck because it isn't worth our time to do anything about it. It blows my mind that libertarians, the very group that ought to have the best understanding of this problem, still fall constantly prey to it and get mad when I point it out.

Arnold's proposal (like Ron Paul's candidacy) doesn't plausibly explain how it changes any of the sad facts about the world that make government suck. Contrast this with the Free State Project, Seasteading, or Anarcho-Capitalism. It's not clear that any of them are actually possible, but at least there are real reasons why each of them might substantially affect the systematic factors that lead to sucky government.

Sorry for the rant.  Really, I just view y'all as a potential market for floating condos, and so I get bitter about anything that distracts you from that prospect, especially if it gets you to cough up any cash :).  More generally, I deeply, passionately want to live libertarianism, not just talk about it, and so I get angry and frustrated about memes that I think reduce the chance of that happening.


Culture matters

Food at Google's Mountain View campus (free for all employees) is delicious, healthy, quick (as it's buffet-stylt) and the cost (to Google) is comparable to a restaurant meal.

I find it quite ironic that if Charlie's Cafe was a restaurant, I would (were I not a Google employee) go there all the time. Yet this fabulous service is provided by a tiny department of a huge corporation whose focus is in a totally different area. How can it be that a group with such indirect incentives does so much better than the restaurant business, which has direct monetary incentives to make good food?

Culture is the best answer I can come up with. Google has long prided itself on its food and how it takes care of employees, and the cafes are considered to be a key benefit and an important part of the culture. Still, I find it pretty surprising that this factor is strong enough to outweigh the indirectness of the financial incentives. It's something worth thinking about for those of us who tend to assume that financial incentives are the bedrock of motivating employees.


Why I am not a libertarian

I'm halfway through Unqualified Reservations' Why I am not a libertarian, and loving it (although I wish it used the big-L convention, since it's more about why he is not a Libertarian). The criticism of Beltway libertarians is perfect:

In my opinion, the practical problem with grounding libertarianism in the ideals of the American Revolution is that Americans no longer hold those ideals, and Europeans never did. Both, today, follow a moral code which is essentially socialist. It is true that this is the natural consequence of "education" at the hands of a government which is essentially socialist. It is also irrelevant. The consequence is the reality. You cannot explain to people that they ought to believe in, say, freedom of contract as a fundamental human right, when in fact they don't. As Hume, again, pointed out, ethical axioms are not debatable.

The response of many libertarians, especially those who for some awful, unimaginable reason seem to have congregated in the watershed of the Potomac, is often to borrow a trick from the Fabian Society, and try to steer Washington gradually and moderately in the direction of smaller and freer government.

They should know better. As we'll see shortly, the monotonic growth pattern of the State is not a coincidence. It is one thing to surf that wave. It is another to paddle out through the breaker. When we look at the results of 25 years of Beltway libertarianism, we see hardly any substantive policy achievements. I'm sure there are some. But I can't think of any.
...
I mean, why in God's name would anyone come to the conclusion that the US political system is in some sense reformable? Talk about the triumph of hope over experience. And all the energy, and money, and time, that the Beltway libertarians put into trying to apply a single smudge of lipstick to some flap of flesh in the remote vicinity of this hog's maw is energy, and money, and time uninvested in putting the beast to sleep. Moreover, since the official story of Washington is that it represents everyone, it fits all sizes, it contains multitudes, a few decorative pseudolibertarians may be just the right camouflage for it to weather another century's storms.
...
Perhaps I have dug deep enough in this rich seam of defeat and despair. But in case I haven't, let's observe that the United States once had a healthy and functioning libertarian Constitution, with Ninth and Tenth Amendments that were anything but inkblots. 220 years later, we have... what we have now. Does this inspire you with great confidence in limited government as a durable and effective engineering principle? Suppose, by some miracle, libertarians elect Ron Paul, and he actually succeeds in reforming Washington and restoring the 1787 interpretation of the Constitution. And how many years would this last? Why would we expect different results on the second go?

This is exactly why I think Ron Paul is a dead-end (except inasmuch as he educates and converts people), working with the Republicans is a dead-end, working with the Democrats is a dead-end, and democratic attempts at libertarian reform are hopeless. Americans are not libertarians and constitutional democratic minarchism demonstrably evolves into a welfare state. You think it's an accident that Hong Kong, pinnacle of laissez-faire, was to some degree a dictatorship?

Instead of wasting your time on national politics, your best bet is to go sign up for my seasteading announcement list, and then go focus on your own life.


Subprime Slideshow

The subprime mess seems to be sort of a mixed example for libertarians. On the one hand, bad stuff happened in an unregulated industry because buyer weren't wary enough - this is evidence against libertarian claims that investors can take care of themselves. And the AAA rating on toxic waste is evidence against the ability of private ratings agencies to give accurate ratings for reptuational reasons. On the other hand, the bad stuff happened partly because buyers didn't think about incentives and moral hazard - some of the principles which makes us skeptical of regulatory solutions. Those who issued these loans didn't service them - of course they will tend to overstate ability to pay. The bond rating agencies get paid (as I understand it) by bond issuers, not investors, so of course they're going to tend to overstate bond quality.

But that's not what this post is about. This post is mean to direct you to a subprime slideshow, some nice gallows humor illustrating moral hazard with this real-life example.


Evolution of Morality

One of the main reasons I am a consequentalist (rather than believing in natural rights) is that I suspect that intuitive morality is an evolved module meant for my genes' good, rather than a window onto absolute truth. I have very strong feelings about right and wrong. I also have very strong feelings about how much fun it is to eat a bowl of chips that's in front of me. Given my skepticism about the correctness of the latter feeling, it seems hypocritical to not be equally skeptical about the former feeling.

So the parts of my intuitive morality that disagree with others I treat as a personal preference about the type of society I would like to live in, rather than that which everyone ought to want to live in. Hence I think arguments about the negative consequences of those different moral codes are much more worthwhile than arguments about whose morality is right. (Although I often slip into the latter, sadly.)

It used to be that the only book I knew on the subject was Matt Ridley's The Origins Of Virtue. But it looks like there are now several more:

So, yeah. If you believe in evolutionary psychology, and you also believe your moral intuitions reflect a window onto objectively correct natural rights, then unless you have an argument for why objectively correct natural rights should exactly correspond to the intuitive moral sense produced by evolution, you have some cognitive dissonance to resolve.

You are not a rational creature. You are a moist robot, designed by little gnomes living deep inside you to carry out their fiendish goal of survival and reproduction. Not to be happy. Not to be unbiased. Examine your instinctive behaviors with your conscious mind whenever possible, to make sure they are actually serving your goals, not just the gnomes'.


It's not an accident that nice places to live have high tax rates

In a comment on Agorist Opportunity, Micha writes:

Meh, I wish the FreeStaters all the best, but it's not realy something I can personally get all that passionate about...Apart from the obvious costs of picking up and moving to a new state (which could be significantly, albeit not entirely, reduced by Patri's Dynamic Geography), it's also important to take into account the greater importance culture plays for most people than mere cost of living with gov't bureacracy.

He then quotes Nick Gillespie:

Fewer tax and regulatory hassles and, most important, a tremendously lower cost of living are, in the end, probably not that important to people.

Rather, I suspect the number of opportunities, for businesses and consumers alike, and something we might dub as "action"—a rough metric of buzz, restaurants, cool shops, weirdness, culture of all sorts—are far more important to most people in deciding where to live and work.

I think many people would agree that Manhattan is one of the best places to live in the country, although it's a bummer that it has such high tax rates. Many people would also agree that California is a lovely state, although it's too bad that it has such high tax rates.

This correspondence between tax rates and good places to live is no accident. It is exactly what the model of government as a stationary bandit[1], or my theory of Dynamic Geography, predict. Government works partly by exploiting fixed populations. The more the population likes its fixed location, the higher the rent that government can expropriate from them without driving them away.

For those of us who like culture and "action", this sort of sucks - it means that part of the value of anyplace cool will be taken away by the government. On the other hand, as a confirmation of my theories it is to some degree a confirmation of my solution - if we can somehow make a vibrant, productive economy on the ocean, we can, finally, have "action" without bandits exploiting it. That, in my very biased opinion, is what the let-down Ron Paul supporters should be devoting their energy to. And what, in at most a couple years, I will be focusing on.

[1] Apparently by someone named Mancur Olson who thought it was a good thing. Which it was, compared to what came before. But we can do better.


Dreams, Violence

Today is a good day to read this speech. Good stuff. I have very mixed feelings about one topic, however:

In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

On the one hand, it seems noble to fight violence without violence. There is less risk of getting carried away and overreacting, which increases violence and rights violations.

On the other hand, when violence is being used against you, to refuse to use violence as a tool is to put yourself in a significantly weaker position. I think it is naive to let the misuses of violence blind us to our uses.

From my libertarian perspective: is it right to shoot the city fire marshal who says you need a permit for your new outdoor lights? I certainly don't think so, and I'd consider anyone who did that a homicidal maniac. But what about the DEA agent who shoots and kills your son while looking for his pot stash? In my worldview, that man is a murderer, pure and simple. And it's a murder that will clearly not receive justice through normal channels, thus a classic case for vigilantism. Besides being justice for the death, it will improve the incentives for future situations. Surely DEA agents, like any other criminals, respond to incentives.

The authority of the state is backed by violence. To use that tool too easily is to become the enemy. But to relinquish it completely is unconditional surrender. We must walk the line with care.


Creating local alternatives to fiat money

The Common Good Bank is an ambitious project to create a locally owned and operated bank.  Among other things, they plan to create a new currency based on a bundle of stable local goods, and use it as an alternative to fiat money, to avoid having value stolen by the government.  Their proposals seem pretty well thought out and economically solid, much more so than most such "Corporations suck!  Here's my crazy alternative!" systems that I've seen proposed.

I wish them the best of luck.  It would be awesome if local alternative currencies sprung up to replace the fiat dollar.


Let us steer by the compass, the journey is the destination

Brad Spangler links to a Molyneaux video about how Ron Paul is a disaster for libertarianism. I totally disagree, and an astute commenter on Spangler's blog, Jeremy, has written a good enough response that I can save some time and just quote him:

The problem I have with his message is that none of what he’s championing precludes supporting Ron Paul. To the extent that it takes energy away from people who would be pursuing other, more authentic anti-state activities, then maybe he has a point. But that’s NOT what I see occurring. Instead, Paul’s campaign is inspiring new activists to seriously think, learn, and act on the principles of individual liberty that we all support - many of them for the first time in their lives. This is not a zero sum game.

    ...

That’s why I see all this (forgive the expression) pissing on Ron Paul’s parade as incredibly ill advised. So what if the campaign is a less-than-perfect vehicle for bringing about change? It’s in good company with the other strategies we libertarians have tried and continue to think up. None of us have it figured out. None of us have enough success that we can go to these people and show them how stupid or misguided they are. We’re all trying to get it right, and it’s counterproductive to turn it into a debate over strategy when we haven’t even captured the majority’s hearts and minds yet!

No, the Ron Paul campaign is not the ideal vehicle for raising libertarian, anti-state consciousness, but it’s the best vehicle we’ve had in some time. Let’s admit it’s flawed and use it for our own ends rather than complaining that the unwashed masses haven’t figured out what we know so well.

Even Ron Paul doesn't think that he has to win to make a difference. By inspiring young people out there with the idea of freedom, and a realization that they are not alone in their beliefs, his campaign is making a difference.

We lovers of freedom are few enough in number that we cannot afford to sneer at those who are not "true believers". We should delight in the philosophy of freedom wherever and however it manifests, not mock those who sully their hands with the machinery of democracy. For the world is not black and white, but infinite shades of gray.

I think this is the fundamental fallacy of the idealistic and elitist folk like Murray Rothbard who moan and gripe over anything that involves compromise or pragmatism about cooperation with the state. They have their mind so fixed on a single point that any deviation is unacceptable. But utopia is not an option.

So we should treat Libertopia, not as a place we are trying to reach, but as a direction towards which we are trying to steer. The winds and currents may sometimes dictate tacking back and forth to make forward progress, but as long as we keep the arrow pointed, inasmuch as we can, towards more liberty and justice for all, tack by tack the world will become an incrementally better place. We might wish to make better headway, but wishing does not make it so, and sailing straight into the teeth of the wind is rarely productive.