Public

Public posts will appear on the Community blog, and may be promoted to the front page.

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.


1 in 100 U.S. Adults Behind Bars

1 in 100 U.S. Adults Behind Bars

Good god. This is insane.  How long can a political and economic order persist while 7% of state budgets are going to forcing a significant portion of the population to rot behind bars? The internal contradictions of state capitalism are destroying the system from within.


coComment

The Distributed Republic should consider integrating with coComment. A Drupal plugin exists. I think this service can potentially do a lot for people who comment around the net.


Let's Hear It for Apathy!

I'm not a huge baseball fan, but my respect for the players as individuals shot through the roof reading this strange hit piece on them from Jeff Pearlman on ESPN's Page 2. Apparently athletes are focused on being athletes rather than being political activists:

Yet while ballplayers are bound both by their disparate backgrounds and an uncompromised love of the game, they are also united by one not-so-great characteristic: political indifference.

And what's the problem here? Pearlman complains that ballplayers didn't know the results of the Wisconsin Democratic primary. Why should they? What difference could that make? It's one thing to be uninformed about issues, but are we all bound to follow the incredibly boring ins and outs of the "Ballot Bowl" (as CNN dubbed it) process? I'd like to think most Americans are sick to death of this election already. The only redeeming feature I can see of having the process last over two years is that by the time Obama is inaugurated, people will already be fatigued of him that he won't have a honeymoon in which to ram through his whopping tax increase.

Another apparent issue is that the athletes don't sit around and discuss politics in the locker room. This is totaly bizarre too: Who wants to sit around their workplace talking about elections, especilaly in sports, where team chemistry is so critical? More importantly, who wants to listen to their officemate prattle on about Obama (or McCain) forever? Most workplaces would probably be a lot more productive, not to mention happier, if there weren't obnoxious activists foisting their beliefs on everyone else. (I've almost stopped reading the excellent sports site Deadspin because I'm so sick of Will Leitch's incessant pimping for Obama. Sports is where I go to escape the nonsense of everyday life, not to be "inspired" about politics.)

There's a great big America out there, full of people falling in love, raising kids, going to the ballpark, and doing everything else that make life worth living. If most of those people don't spend their waking hours obsessing over which stationary bandit is going to rob them more, or worse, actually spending time to help the bandits take power, well, then I say God bless them.


Internet Abuse

I made the unfortunate choice to comment on a blog, www.wernerpatels.com, run by Werner Patels regarding the Ezra Levant lawsuit. Instead of posting my comment he instead made claims about the comment that were untrue, and posted those instead.

I did not keep the original text of the comment because I assumed he played by the same rules as everyone else. I do remember the character of the comment and it did not include any dirty words, defamation, racism, or any of the other claims made by Patels. In fact, several of my arguments are substantiated by news articles, and the contents of the Qur'an. I think Soharwardy an extremist for some of his actions known at the time, and further news articles point in this direction.

I posted two follow-up comments on this same article in order to point out this action of his was dishonest and that my claims are substantial and not in any way defamatory, racist, etc. These were not long comments, and only three in total. He did pretty much the same thing with those additional comments but now painting it like I was a stalker for my three comments.   Maybe that's a record on his site?

I later found that several articles on this issue, of Soharwardy and how Patels thinks he's a nice guy, were removed from his site. It looked to me like he was whitewashing his record on this. The news reports had changed in nature and the person he was praising as a moderate was being accused in news articles of using physical violence against other Muslims. I thought whitewashing his past positions on his blog was also dishonest of him.

Seeing that he had a track record of changing comments on his blog I decided to talk with him via email. His response was to post my email on an entirely different blog, set up a special category just for me, and make additional false charges against me. I only noticed this later when trying to search for the original post.

Today I started to write a short post in reply to this attack piece which claimed I didn't have a job because I had a window open to his site open for five hours on Monday, Presidents day. Well I have one open right now on his site in the background and I am not reading anything. I was foolishly planning posting a reply, and had written it. I decided against that. In fact, my current policy is to never comment there but instead somewhere else and then provide a link, so he doesn't have the power to delete the comment, and also will not have an excuse for deleting the link. After all, anything he might be afraid of a lawsuit about will not be on his site so there is no reason to delete the link. His lies will then transparently be lies.

Below is my response to his current attack article that I was planning to post on his site. He also had sent me a bunch of offensive emails I will share in another article. For someone who is afraid of lawsuits he sure likes to slather on the defamation. Not surprisingly he threatened to sue me for harassment over my emails. As you will see he has poor judgment when it comes to what's legal and what's not.

Not surprisingly this guy is notorious for dishing out internet abuse. In the past I had another more famous run in with Dean Esmay, another internet abuser that got carried on several heavily trafficked blogs. Esmay called me a traitor because I disrespected Islam. I know it sounds ridiculous but that was what it was about. His wife even disagreed with him on that and invited me to be a co-blogger on her blog. I think in the future it behooves me to look up the name of any site owner for abuse before I post on their site.

Here's some of what Patels had to say about me which is prefectly ridiculous:

"Poor fool. Too bad Brian Macker can't read or open his eyes. My
stuff (previous and current articles) are all out there; nothing has
been whitewashed or hidden.

Macker is also a bit mad because I previously edited one of his comments on my site: it contained serious libellous [sic] allegations, as well as hate-filled language, which could have exposed this site to litigation.

But Macker is a disturbed and backward individual: at this point,
he's already spent five hours on this site today, and counting. He must
be unemployed -- then again, who would hire a nutter like that?

Proof again that those without much brain and/or a good education
always fall off the deep end (on the far right or the far left)."

Here's my response to his article:

Feb 18 was Presidents Day. I use Windows often with multiple windows open in the background, and my computer on for long periods. Apparently one was left open for five hours. Believe me I know little about you.

All my posts here have been reasonable. You did delete the article on you other blog (that was critical of Ezra Levant and praised Soharwardy as a moderate) or at least you provided no explanation for why it has disappeared.

Here's the URL: http://www.wernerpatels.com/canuck_columnist/2007/12/the-trap-so-eas.html

Another dishonest thing you've done here is to do a character assassination of one of you commenters, me, on on a different site than the one on which I commented. I commented on the www.wernerpatels.com blog and not over here on this different blog I was not aware of at the time.

It's dishonest because there is a likelihood I wouldn't see it and even if I should find it then any defense is not only buried in the comments (not a problem here) but buried in time. The damage is done with no chance for defense. Of course, it's clear that you aren't interested in my defense.

You understand that there is a power differential between a blogger and his commenters. This is obvious because you feel free to not only delete comments but also to substantially misrepresent their contents.

I will also be sharing your side of our little email exchange with other bloggers. The one in which you made profanities about my national origins and said nasty things about all Americans. You also had some derogatory comments about being gay to share.

I looked up internet abuse and your name. Seems like you are notorious for doing this kind of thing. You have been very unfair with me and fail to recognize that I have reasonable concerns about this ideology called Islam. Those concerns do not automatically imply any kind of bigoted beliefs or behavior towards Muslims. That I think chopping hands off is not a reasonable punishment for stealing a loaf of bread, or the death penalty is not a reasonable response to apostasy does not mean I hate Muslims.

I realize you'll probably just delete this comment and claim it was hateful. Therefore I am posting it on a remote site and including a link to it. In fact all my posts from now on will be done in the way.

I suggest in the future you reconsider your blogging ethics and not mischaracterize other people's posts on your blog. The correct ethics is to send a private email to the commenter with an explanation as to why you think the post exposes you to a lawsuit if that's the case. You have a right not to post comments that you are concerned about even if they are not truly defamatory. However, publicly claiming they are defamatory, racist, or smut as fact when that is merely your opinion and not fact is in itself a form of defamation.

Clearly you believe your claims about me should affect my employment
prospects when you say the following:

But Macker is a disturbed and backward individual: at this point, he's
already spent five hours on this site today, and counting. He must be
unemployed -- then again, who would hire a nutter like that?

You believe the false charges you make against me are grounds for not employing me. If this is true and I should be fired based on these false accusations, and I might be without my knowledge, then it is you who will be facing a lawsuit.

In fact I suggest strongly that you take down your article, and if you persist in your behavior you might find that your fears of having a lawsuit for defamation are both misplaced and realized at the same time.

Were the comments available then people could judge for themselves if your opinion is substantiated and then it might be ethical for you to comment on them. As it stands people only have your word on the issue. Your powers of deduction are obviously faulty as is clear from your belief that I don't have a job based on your evidence, or the crazy idea I'm a "right winger". I'm both employed and not a right-winger. Your hateful smutty email that you sent to me where you claim that I am "harassing" you will further show people you are not to be trusted on legal issues such as what constitutes defamation, smut, etc.

Now I can certainly see where a Muslim might find my comments offensive, and sue you, but that doesn't mean they are defamatory. You certainly have a right to even ban me on that issue if you like. I really wouldn't care. In fact, in a way I am self banning myself. I will only comment on articles related directly to me, and only via comment links to responses on blogs where content will not be deleted.

I will post a link to this article in the comments there. I won't be surprised if he deletes it.

Patels: "... nothing has been whitewashed or hidden."

Yeah, right. I guess, in Patels mind, removing comments and articles doesn't count as hiding just so long as you misinform people of the actual content.


Seattle day care indoctrinates 8 year old capitalists into collectivism

According to this article:

Into their coffee shops and houses, the children were building their assumptions about ownership and the social power it conveys — assumptions that mirrored those of a class-based, capitalist society — a society that we teachers believe to be unjust and oppressive. As we watched the children build, we became increasingly concerned.

[...]

We met as a teaching staff later that day. We saw the decimation of Lego-town as an opportunity to launch a critical evaluation of Legotown and the inequities of private ownership and hierarchical authority on which it was founded. Our intention was to promote a contrasting set of values: collectivity, collaboration, resource-sharing, and full democratic participation.

In the end, the writers report, the teachers successfully indoctrinated the children. This happened (and presumably is happening) at "Hilltop Children's Center, a child care program in Seattle." (via hacker news)


Congestion and zoning

Ilya Somin has a wonderful post here discussing the effects of zoning laws on the housing bubble. In the comments, someone objected that without zoning, we would have everywhere look like Houston, which is "dirty, congested, sprawling, and the traffic is horrendous".

It never ceases to amaze me what people will just make up, when two seconds of googling will reveal this argument to be nonsense (my first foray into Distributed Republic was about similar numbers, about state migration). Average travel times in American cities are not state secrets. Houston's average travel time is lower than mass transit centers like Boston or Chicago, and much lower than the worst in the U.S. (New York City, beloved of the planners). Nor is Houston without all planning laws. A neat tome about parking regulations explains that Houston suffers from the same ludicrous requirements for minimum parking regulations. But Houston just isn't the high traffic hell people assume.

What does any of this have to do with libertarianism? If there's one area where libertarianism has a realistic chance to make an impact in everyday lives, it's probably zoning (Bryan Caplan agrees). The welfare implications are immense. (And, I might add, pathetically understudied by economists. I suspect that the gains from deregulating housing would be of the same order as the gains from adopting optimal taxation, a massive area of study).

The first step to a free housing market is showing that less zoning doesn't lead to long commutes and congested hell-holes. (The second might be showing it doesn't lead to hog farms next to children's playgrounds. As if the common law on nuisances that dates back to before the time of Blackstone doesn't cover localized pollution concerns!)


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.


Health Care Conundrum: Quality, Cost, Longevity, Goals

Unfortunately no one has tackled the problems Arthur raised in his post above about getting out of socialized medicine. Other things that no one has honestly dealt with are the problems of transitioning into a socialistic system as seen in Europe or as proposed by the Democrats.
This weeks New England Journal of Medicine has this article explicitly attacking private health care. It’s free on line.

“U.S. health care expenditures rose 6.7% in 2006, the government recently reported. According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, total health care expenditures exceeded $2.1 trillion or more than $7,000 for every American man, woman, and child. Medicare costs jumped a record 18.7%, driven by the new privatized drug benefit. Total health care spending, now amounting to 16% of the gross domestic product, is projected to reach 20% in just 7 years.

http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/358/6/549

Relentless medical inflation has been attributed to many factors — the aging population, the proliferation of new technologies, poor diet and lack of exercise, the tendency of supply (physicians, hospitals, tests, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and novel treatments) to generate its own demand, excessive litigation and defensive medicine, and tax-favored insurance coverage.”

It is fairly easy to explain why healthcare costs are accelerating in this country without a proportional superiority in longevity compared to other advanced countries which spend less. We also have bigger cars, houses and closets full of stuff. This is America, for Christ sake. Just don’t forget that longevity is increasing and new modalities often provide significant quality of life benefits and extend life for individuals even if this not reflected in gross mortality statistics nor are they equally distributed among all people.

Let’s look at an example at the micro level, far from the pontifications of public policy experts. Healthcare for individuals advances in ways that are not publicized since this kind of publicity would do nothing to promote the media’s socialist/ sensationalist agenda. Commercial interests which are ceaselessly pilloried by the media develop these advanced technical methods silently, for profit. This does not mean that corporations don’t have higher missions than just money. It is just that, unlike government bureaucracies, businesses can’t survive without eventually generating profits.

For example manufacturers are introducing super accurate methods of measuring a protein that escapes from the heart that increases if you are getting ready to have a heart attack. Scientists are using the same chemical process to measure the protein that fire flies use to glow in the dark, chemo-luminescence. The chemicals are bound to chemically created “Senso Beads” that glow when exposed to minute amounts of troponin, the myocardial protein in question. If the measured protein is inappropriately high this predicts a heart attack. We can already accurately measure this protein when it is grossly elevated and you already have had a heart attack. If doctors repair your coronary arteries before you have a heart attack it could save your life. Thus commercial companies adapt processes used by insects to develop methods of saving human lives. But for the profit motive would any such thing happen? I doubt it.

Critics of the fee for service medicine would homogenize and “rationalize” medical care. If successful it would depend more on public health measures such as coercive life style and state supported therapeutic regimens to ameliorate chronic diseases. Salaried primary care physicians would work at a more relaxed pace, order less tests, and practice less aggressively. For instance VA hospital MDs, so I am told, see about half the number of patients seen in private practice and get paid about as much. Manpower needs would increase not decrease.

If successful in remolding society to preventing deaths we suffer today this public health effort this would only delay deaths from other forms of decrepitude. This would consist of degenerative joint disease, various forms of organ failure that would not have supervened if one had died earlier. For example dementia, loss of senses such as vision and hearing and advanced forms of degenerative bone and joint disease already loom large in the elderly population. Just how much bionics, custodial care and organ supplementation does the government want to provide for oldsters? The sky is the limit without explicit rationing, which would be a political quagmire. Failsafe procedures, check lists devised by the aircraft industry are now available to prevent oldsters from that one in a hundred “mistake” that might be a friend in disguise that would push the fragile ones over the edge.

Sweeping generalizations are easy but lives are lived and end individually. There will be no lessening of the demand for care in the long run. Americans, many of whom are used to Cadillac care at minimal personal cost will make the system very expensive regardless of what is done. Either way your beloved dog has a better chance of a dignified death than you or your grandma does.


What restraint on government borrowing?

What immediate restraint is there on the government from borrowing too much money?  We know they like to finance their operations through debt beyond what's available in taxes, but why do they stop where they do?  Why not borrow even more?

I assume there is some sort of market force that puts the breaks on their ability to do this and does so in the short term (because we know they only care about the short term).

Can anybody clue me in? 


A hidden cost of moving to socialized healthcare

When I argue with Americans about socialized healthcare, I argue we shouldn't move towards it, when I argue with French people, I argue we should get out of it. On a moral level, the arguments are roughly the same and there is no need to go into details here : you shouldn't be forced to buy an insurance service, period.

When arguing for getting out of the system, there are legitimate practical problems that I need to deal with. Even if the moral case is rock solid, the practical issues, moving from here to there, are always relevant. There is one practical issue that I've never seen raised, and it's a tough one.

Imagine a socialized healthcare system where everyone is insured. Insurance is mandatory so there are no adverse selection problems. The state forecasts the costs and adapts the premium - it's actually not that hard to balance as long as it's fairly stable. Of course there are many other problems, moral hazards, the impossibility to decide what should or should not be covered, etc. 

Imagine now that, one day, a better government decides to get rid of the system. They say for example, from next year you'll have to find yourself a private insurer, or, from next year you may opt out of the current system and get a private insurer if you wish. You have an expensive chronic illness, next year comes, you have no risk to insure so you try to stay with the state insurance. So does everyone with an existing condition, adverse bankrupts the system, at best your premium increases dramatically.

I was actually never opposed that argument... but I could. So I've come up with some patchy solutions. One is to decide on a cutoff date, people born after next year will not be insured. That solves the problem, but it takes a century to get out of the system. Another solution involves the state's insurance making packs of 1000 insured persons drawn at random and sell the pack (without revealing its content) to insurers committing to offer insurance for life. Your risk has become insurable again since you're just a random person. From there, you can always arrange with your insurance to move to another insurer and you're free again. It's a bit cumbersome but I think it works.

The blog title was about moving towards it, and so far I've been talking about how to get out of it... what's my point ? I've heard many people argue for socialized health care on the US om the ground that "it hasn't been tried", that it deserves to be tried etc. When you try something, that generally implies a free option to get out of it. Well, that option is not free, it comes at a huge cost. Getting out of socialized health care is a terrible mess.

Once it has been argued thoroughly that socialized health care is simply criminal, it might be helpful to point out that, if it's implemented and it fails, it might be almost impossible to get out of it. It cannot just be "tried", it's a very pricey commitment.


The other war

The US killed one of the top Al Qaeda guys.

Abu Laith al-Libi, a wanted al Qaeda terrorist, was killed in Pakistan by a CIA airstrike, three U.S. officials told CNN Thursday.

Al-Libi was described as a senior al Qaeda leader believed to have plotted and executed attacks against U.S. and coalition forces, including a February 2007 bombing at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan during a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney.

But not all news is good.

The Taliban is now setting off more bombs — including one in Kabul's fanciest hotel on January 14 that killed eight people — and fueling its insurgency with profits from the opium trade. (Last year, the country produced 93% of the world's supply.) The declining security situation saw foreign investment in Afghanistan fall by 50% last year.

The Taliban is also killing more Americans: From 2002 to 2004, an average of one U.S. soldier was killed per week in Afghanistan; by 2007, that figure had more than doubled. Indeed, nearly 500 U.S. troops have perished in America's "forgotten war." Despite the presence of 50,000 foreign troops, including 28,000 Americans, arrayed against the Taliban in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has just ordered another 3,200 Marines into the fight. And the reluctance of other NATO members to send additional troops is threatening the future of the alliance. "Make no mistake, NATO is not winning in Afghanistan," said a study by the Atlantic Council released Wednesday. "Unless this reality is understood, and action is taken promptly, the future of Afghanistan is bleak, with regional and global impact."

It's hard for me to get a read on exactly how well the US's efforts in Afghanistan are going. 


Help me to understand the stimulus package

I'm trying to understand the economics related to the proposed stimulus package. I've seen the following claims made:

A. It isn't large enough to have a significant effect.

B. The legislative process takes so long that the stimulus package will arrive too late and thus fail to produce the desired effect.

C. Rather than spend the money, people will save the money, and thus negate some or all of the desired effect.

Is the argument for the stimulus package sound but for these objections?


Anonymous vs. Scientology

Scattered groups of hackers across the internet have united in response to the Church of Scientology's attempts to remove the Tom Cruise video from the internet. They call themselves anonymous, and they aim to destroy the church. Tons of people seem to have joined the raids. IRL raids are also happening. Relevant video:

Digg is their media outlet at the moment. They are keeping related links at the top of the page rather easily. Tons of news reports, some in mainstream outlets, are there, along with a couple vids of IRL raids, ex-scientologists talking about their experiences, files- including the full length tom cruise vid (hosted on torrent sites) and tons of documents (also on torrents).

They also seem to be trying to get Anderson Cooper to give them some attention, since he has been going after Scientology lately.

Here we have a decentralized "organization" taking on a centralized organization. The results should be rather predictable as long as the anons don't either get bored or, worse, scared once the church starts striking back, and they should be able to have the law on their side.

Who do you guys think will 'win'? Who do you want to win? Should someone set up a betting market? Does anyone else find this hilarious?


Let freedom ring and wake Bill Clinton up


A sketch of SEK3: Founder of Agorism

There's been some great discussion on the blog lately about Agorism. I thought I'd share this exerpt about Samuel Edward Konkin III, founder of Agorism, from the book Anarchism: Left, Right, and Green by Ulrike Heider. Her sardonic tone (she is arguing that market anarchy represents a dangerous departure from her true eco-anarchist values) and infamiliarity, as a German social radical, with American libertarianism, combines with the apparent eccentricity of SEK3 and his lifestyle, to make this an entertaining read.

The main figure of the MLL (Movement of the Libertarian Left) is Samuel Edward Konkin III. A "leftist" anarcho-capitalist who lives in Long Beach, California, a city where miles of white sand beaches provide the backdrop for an eerie skyline of innumerable oil rigs and towers--which perhaps explains in part why Konkin III, who is an avid sicence-fiction fan, chose this city as the site for his so-called anarcho-village and his Agorist Institute (from the Greek agora marketplace). I had pictured the anarcho-village as a kind of free-trader colony of young aspiring businessmen. I found Konkin's street in a neigborhood of shabby, flat-roofed houses and rang the bell; the door was opened by a young Latino who showed me into a tiny apartment consiting of a single room. I thought I must be in wrong place-aren't libertarians supposed to be comfortable, if not affluent? A quick phone call revealed that Konkin III lived in a similar hosue next door which was part of the anarcho-village comprising five aprtments in the neigborhood. Konkin III's appearnce was as unconvetional as his dwelling was makeshift. He is a Canadian in his early forties, of stately stature, hair combed back close to his head. Dressed entirely in black, wiht a turtleneck sweater, a metal belt, cowboy boots, and a silver medallion around his neck, he looks like a cross between a leather guy, a catholic priest , and a romantic fascist. He announced proudly that he was preparing "real German coffee" and introduced me to two other inhabitants of the anarcho-village, who tried to speak German with me. A poster of Trotsky adorned a wall. Konkin III explained to me that Murray Rothabard, who likes to think of himself as the Lenin of the libertarians, once comapred him to Trotsky. Despite what I expected from their individualism, as typified, for instance by Ayn Rand's characters, the inhabitants of the anarcho-village apppeared to be as poor as church mice, and as sociable as bohemian collectivists.

Konkin III belives that the black market is the key to abolition of the state and the creation of a pure laissez-faire society. He considers himself a "theoretician and practician of countereconomics" and cultivates the image of a rebel. Any illegal act is sacred to him, evein if it is merely jaywalking. "We break the lawn," he then declared passionately. The Agorist Institute, the headquarters of the MLL, is located in an office buliding in downtown Long Beach, a city whose numerous palm trees lend it a tropical flair. The office consists of two cramped rooms equippped with two computers. Science-fiction posters cover the walls. The institute, I learned, is "technically legal," a non-profit, tax-deductible project "supproted by libertarian business people who feel guilty for being too honest and legal." But the movement publication, the New Libertarian Magazine, is "completely countereconomic," he says. It unequivocally breaks the law, simply by printing the stock market index without being registered wit the state. At the end of the interview, Konkin III presented me with the organization's official brassard: a white cicle on a red background, with a black flag above the letters MLL, encircled by the words "agora," "anarchy," and "action". To me, both the color combination and the design were somewhat reminiscent of fascist emblems, and the movement's acronym could have had a Stalinist model. Konkin III, who hinted that his political beginnings had been in the "far right," studied during the late 1960s in Wisconsin, a state with a strong German heritage. Converted to laissez-faire anarchism by Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and by the expulsion of the YAF's libertarian fraction [sic], he and three yippies founded a libertarian group at the university. He told the yippies thaty they could throw as many rocks as they wanted, as long as they threw them only at government buildings, not at privatete corporations or businesses.


Good news everyone

In a sudden outbreak of common sense, the government is going to give back $800 to every taxpayer... or at least it seems likely.

Form Bloomberg :

The Bush administration is close to completing an economic-
stimulus proposal that will include $800 rebates for individuals
and $1,600 for households as well as tax breaks for businesses,
people familiar with the plan said today. 

On to drink my 267 cups  of coffee.

On a more serious note,for once this is a policy that can actually have a positive effect and that is moral. Yipee.


Should I use consequentialist arguments ?

I've been arguing with many people about politics, and, over the time, my argumentation power has steadily decreased. This may seem paradoxical, as I should be gaining experience but here is what happened.

As David Friedman says, people are generally more convinced by consequentialist arguments. Not all people are though. I was exposed to many consequentialist arguments, stemming from economics for a long time. I even wasconfronted with libertarians arguing this way but I never really espoused their views. And why should I have, there were also convincing arguments from other economists. When I was exposed to libertarianism as a moral theory of right, I became an ancap in a matter of days.

When I first started to argue with people on this topic, I was relying extensively on consequentialist arguments. I would generally start with a moral argument and then end up pointing out the "good" consequences brought by this position. I had some moderate success with that approach, but the more I was  using it, the more I grew disatisfied with it. I realized that all I was achieving - when I was successful- was to convince people that certain policies should be or should not be followed. While a very practical goal, I felt it was not what I was looking for. I wanted to convince people to be moral, to recognize the immorality of agression in all its forms. When presenting  a moral argument tied to a consequentialist argument, I felt I was cheating by providing the consequentialist argument as a carrot. Fiat justitia ruat caelum, but I will only reassure you about the sky once you accept justice.

I don't want people to accept moral ideas because there are good consequences, I want them to recognize that they ought to be respected. Sadly, the only way to do that is to refrain from using any consequentialist argument, which I started  doing. This is when my argumentation started becoming less and less effective. To be sure, if someone claims that anarchy couldn't work, I feel answering the question is not cheating as one cannot claim that morality requires the impossible. The basic requirement of morality is that we can live moraly. I do, however, refrain to try and convince people anarchy would be a merry happy place. This should  be reserved for dessert : they have to eat  the ethical meal first... only once they're done accepting justice can I tell them the sky will not fall.

While my approach may seem a bit quixotic, I believe it is not. One of my goal for example is to encounter someone similar enough to myself so that, when exposed to the same argument, he will become an anarcho-libertarian on the spot. I am really following a very skewed strategy : low success-rate, but total success once in a while. Although these types of strategy may be depressing during long losing streaks, they are useful. There's also an argument, from Rand, to which I agree ... to a certain extent. She somewhat famously opposed Milton Friedman's tract on rent control as it did not rely on property right but on altruistic considerations to attack the policy. While I do believe the net effect of teaching people about the economic problem of rent control was positive, I agree with Rand that it is a dangerous path. (More powerful ? No, quicker, easier, more seductive)

Consequentialists arguments are very efficient because people are generally willing to change their mind easily on those matters... but what make them successful also makes them weak : they can be replaced with other consequentialist arguments. Moral arguments are much tougher to make because people are more reluctant to accept a new moral philosophy, but they are also much more stable, and will likely be successfully passed onto children. Every consequentialist argument however is a step away from freedom as an end instead of freedom as a mean. On the long term, the fate of the new belief is unknown... it may  be replaced with an economic fallacy. It's negative effect on morality will always be damaging though.

To go back to my initial problem, my rate of success has indeed considerably dropped, but I believe I am doing the right thing. While consequentialist arguments may be useful for short term political goals, as long as conquering the noosphere is concerned, I believe they should seriously be avoided.


This Section Needs More Contributions so Here Goes

In 1960 Thomas Szaz wrote The Myth of Mental Illness.

He proposes that the term “mental illness”, unlike a physical illness is a phony term similar in explanatory power to the concept of witches that people use to explain conditions they don’t understand. He says this term is outmoded and he wants to retire this concept since he claims it describes two unrelated conditions, neurologic conditions or ordinary social conflicts inherent in life.

If he is proposing that attaching labels to things is not the same as understanding them of course he is right. Proposing taxonomy for things that are perplexing is a first step to understanding them. With new observations, theories, advances in pharmacology and neurosciences the classification of mental illness has expanded and changed. No one should assume that these classifications are anything but working diagnoses, anymore than the classification of bacteria. With the advent of DNA probes, PhD microbiologists routinely throw MDs into mass confusion by showing that the previous classification of bacteria was in error and renaming common microorganisms. Likewise, refuting old theories and practices of mental health does not refute the concept of mental health.

The question Szaz asks is “To what use is the concept of mental illness put?”

I have already said it is used in order to construct taxonomy, so as to develop a working understanding of the phenomenon. This is not the answer he wants to hear.
He compares it to witchcraft, for which there is no objective evidence.

As mentioned above he divides mental phenomenon into physical disease such as neurosyphilis or stroke where there is a loss of function and the trials and tribulations of daily life that affect some people and that are often labeled mental illness. Of course we now know that mental phenomenon act within the substrate of the physical brain. It is false that all brain pathology is composed of neurologic deficits. Mania and schizophrenia have positive symptoms that correlate with hyperactivity in areas of the brain. Some psycho-pharmacy relates to suppressing excessive function of neurotransmitters while other drugs boost the production of neurotransmitters, but mostly no one really understands how they work. There is also a borderland between neurology and psychiatry where you have conditions that can simulate mental illness such as psychomotor epilepsy. In other words, things aren’t so simple.

According to Szaz physical symptoms such as pain require no social interpretation in order to register in the diagnosticians mind as being a sign of disease. If a man says “ my abdomen hurts”, the MD thinks that the man has physical disease. Not true. The disease could be “functional”, psychosomatic, or otherwise non diagnosable as physical and hence possibly mental.

If a man reports that he is being persecuted by Communists, or that he is Napoleon, Szaz thinks the situation needs to be weighed against the possibility that he is telling the truth. Thus situational reality, he thinks, is based on the actual sociological fact that he is not Napoleon or those Communists are not really after him. Thus Szaz implies that what differentiates the mental state we call insanity from normal belief in reality is its veracity. But as they say, just because you are paranoid it doesn’t mean people are not after you. Insanity may cause a delusional state. It offers no protection from real Communists nor does really being Napoleon protect you from insanity. He is wrong that there is a simple dichotomy between physical and psychiatric illnesses.

He makes the same logical error when he posits that other psychiatrists claim“ people cannot have troubles -- expressed in what are now called "mental illnesses" -- because of differences in personal needs, opinions, social aspirations, values, and so on. All problems in living are attributed to physicochemical processes --”

No one claims this, or if they do they are wrong but this does not prove the reverse, that all problems experienced in their mind other than simple bodily misery or lack of function are due to personal or interpersonal dysfunction. Some people get elected to suffer serious psychic pain, depression schizophrenia, anxiety and what have you, that other persons in the identical situation would tolerate with less difficulty and it isn’t their fault.

Szaz then proceeds with the now familiar tactic of setting up straw men and making them commit logical errors. For example “the notion of mental illness is used to identify or describe some feature of an individual's so-called personality. Mental illness -- as a deformity of the personality, so to speak -- is then regarded as the cause of the human disharmony. It is implicit in this view that social intercourse between people is regarded as something inherently harmonious, its disturbance being due solely to the presence of "mental illness" in many people. This is obviously fallacious.”

If people say that all social dysfunction is due to mental health problems they are wrong. This does not prove the reverse statement that there are no mental illnesses besides those caused by known brain pathology.

He then goes on to criticize psychiatric ethics for participation in law, social control and other areas and to point out certain abuses. This section I don’t disagree with, except that physiatrists are needed in some forensic application but should not disguise themselves as therapists in this case. If he would confine himself to these points he would not be so controversial. In fact he would not be famous. He probably be like most shrinks sitting listening to boring patients and chain smoking and drinking coffee to stay awake.

The key point that may get lost in his thinking is that most psychiatric patients are hurting with a painful condition. If the psychiatrist remains an advocate for the patient who tries to use his powers, if any, to help the patient; he is no different from any other physician or ethical healer. If he deviates from this he is wrong but is no different from any other person who is guilty of a breach of trust. I have personally observed that there are usually a few quacks in every town and at least one of these is a psychiatrist.

This does not mean psychiatry or the concept of mental health is invalid.