Public

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

Complete the serfdom of the US in one easy step

To make a long story short, all our owners need to do is to give the corporations a tax credit for building "free" employee housing. The suggested rules are:

1. Housing built within a half mile of the place of employment.
2. 80% of the units would be less than 1200 square feet.
3. 20 years longevity AND 65 years old (or a disability) would qualify the employee to retire and stay in the unit as deferred compensation.

This would:

1. Pragmatically kill the unions.
2. Tie the employee to the company as serfs were tied to the land.
3. Permit wages to be cut as employee would have much lower living costs.
4. An on site medical facility would cut medical cost.
5. Employees would not need cars. High rise apartments could be built on company parking lots. Company transportation could be provided.
6. Company store (modern version) would provide store - cafe - pub - whatever.
7. Replace taxpayer built low income housing, reduce tax load.
8. There would no longer be a need to send jobs off shore. Manufacturing could return to the US.
9. Personal economic security would depend upon the big Corporations' continued success which would give them continued political power. Workers would continue to vote for their national and local tax collectors.

The housing could be run by some sort of company credit union structure which would provide long term stability and security. With company housing provided a person could live on SS and and some (tax) Deferred Comp. The manor lord would be replaced by the corporation.


The Divisive Peace Blimp

Trevor Lyman has a new project.

A few days after hearing about the Peace Blimp, it occurred to me how a strong protest against the war could separate the Liberty movement from the neocon elements of the Tea Party movement. Is there a better issue at making the distinction between the two camps?

It may even have the added benefit of dividing the anti-war Democrats from the Obama administration.

It will be interesting to see how the project plays out...


Austin's Temporary Insanity

So I turn on the news today (mostly interested in more Olympic coverage), to find the local news plastered with city officials blathering about what a great job they have done.

Until that moment I had not realized how much I had tuned out "the news" lately. I discovered, (mostly by questioning my husband), that a plane had crashed into a building approximately 15 miles from the area I live and work in, and I was blissfully unaware of the event for well over 24 hours.

When I did try to tune-in the reports I got were smiling officials talking about "how bad it could have been" if they hadn't been so very well prepared.

Okay so maybe they need that for their morale, but really?! It hasn't been two days since a horrific tragedy of the intentional variety and the big news story in Austin is officials explaining in detail how well they performed their jobs.... creepy!

Meanwhile the debate that seems to be raging in Austin and nationwide is whether or not to call the guy a "terrorist." The Austin Police Department thinks calling him a terrorist will lead to greater fear in the community.

But as expected there are those who feel that it is important to immediately condemn this man's actions by boldly going out on a limb and calling persons who intentionally crash airplanes into buildings "terrorists."

The story for the online news media seems to be all about which fringe groups online have been labeling the guy "hero" and/or "patriot," and also the fascinating detail that the FBI insisted the guy's suicide note be taken down after it had gotten over 20 million visits.

Interestingly enough it can still be read over at the Austin American Stateman's blog. Though most of it has been quoted in detail in the major news media anyhow.

We all know the guy committed homicide, suicide, arson, and some pretty serious assault via airplane, so I suggest it doesn't really matter what we call him now. What should matter is what we called him a few days ago.

A few days ago Joe Stack was a fellow Austinite, according to the news he was a good friend and a good neighbor to those who knew him. He wasn't the weird guy in the corner, or the quiet guy. He seems to be pretty average as far as Austinites go even in his distaste for government.

That guy slaughtered a fellow Austinite whom he had never met and severely injured many others in his attempt to strike at a government and more importantly a tax code that he hated.

We really should be reeling from this instead of trying to write him off as a fanatic, or patting ourselves on the back for a job well done. Austin should be thinking about this, and America should be thinking about this. When the average guy commits an act of terror-suicide against his own city, surely we have misstepped.


If it fails, do less or more?

One of the key differences between private and public sectors is that in the private sector, failure is punished. If a product or company fails, resources shift away from it. In the public sector, unfortunately, the opposite seems to be the case. A program which solves its target problem will go away, while one which cleverly tackles an impossible problem or uses a poor strategy is guaranteed a long lifespan.

The private method is more scientific, because it views any project as an experiment, whose initial success or failure is a meaningful data point about whether the project is possible or worthwhile. The public method ignores the data generated by early trials (or even worse, gives them a reversed interpretation).

I'm at a Mercatus Center + IHS mini-conference today, and Brian Doherty gave a talk about the enduring legacy of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman. Most of the talk was about the details, but his views on the future basically seemed to be that Rand & Friedman had significant cultural & academic impact, and so we should be optimistic and keep on trying those routes.

Yet I can't help but see a disconnect between the positive change in the cultural and academic climate, and the lack of change in outcome metrics like government spending as a percentage of GDP, pages in the Federal Register, or the government's Keynesian response to the recent financial crisis.

Now, one way to look at this disconnect is as progress - we've won part of the battle, now it's time to bring it home. Yet this perspective ignores the data generated by the results so far. Another way to look at the disconnect is as evidence that cultural and academic change may not work, and if we want results, we may need to try something else. This interpretation is scary because it suggests that the approach most natural to us may not be the most effective - but it is no less valid for of its unpleasantness.

I'm not arguing that we should completely ignore culture or academia - they are surely part of the answer, and perhaps even the ultimate solution. But I am deeply concerned that the freedom movement is almost completely invested in strategies that may have won mindshare, but have demonstrably failed to achieve our ends.

We need to decide: do we want to be like the public sector, throwing good money after bad, or like the private sector, nimbly switching strategies based on the evidence? At the very least, we should take seriously the idea that we might be fighting the wrong war - like the war of ideas instead of the war of concentrating power. And if that is a possibility, shouldn't we be putting more of our resources into new strategies, like the Free State Project, my own Seasteading Institute, or Agorism?


Government: Save me from myself!

Seriously.

[I]f we were to think about raising taxes on cigarettes, we would typically say raising the price is bad for people who smoke, right? But there's a little bit more going on. Lots of people actually want to quit. So we might ask, is it possible to improve welfare by raising cigarette taxes? A pair of economists Jon Gruber and Sendhil Mullainathan found that excise taxes make potential smokers happier. The intuition is that because some people actually quit smoking when the price goes up, they are made better off. And so it is possible to improve welfare by raising a tax that encourages us to kick bad habits.


"How to Start Doing Agorism"

Cross-posted from a comment at George Donnelly's blog:

Agorism may sound complicated, but it’s just extra-governmental trade. Anyone can do it.

I was in South Africa in the '90s when the National Party (who had run the apartheid political machine) and the ANC were negotiating the future rule of the country. The two parties were highly antagonistic to each other, yet each had lost the backing of their cold-war benefactors (US support exclusively for the Nats crumbled with the sanctions program and the Soviet Union had simply evaporated) who could have helped one dominate the other. Each party attacked the other's bad ideas: the Nats wouldn't allow the ANC to nationalize the mines, the ANC wouldn't allow the Nats to continue the agricultural control boards. The Zulus, the DP, and dozens of other parties were doing whatever they could to avoid domination by the two major parties. More than gridlock, this was actually shrinking the political pie. As a result, the country was on the brink of complete freedom. Laws were deleted from the statute books, entire government departments closed, and people ignored what unpopular laws were left in the expectation that they would soon be overturned. Finally, the negotiators realized they better start agreeing or they would lose everything. The future was with the ANC--individual Nats either left government or finally merged with their "archenemies" to stay in the power game. It took the ANC the better part of a decade to reimpose the restrictions on the country; to make sure no matter what you wanted to do with your life, first the government had to get its cut.

But in that period of crippled government, the country bloomed like a desert when the drought finally ends. Office buildings turned their underground parking lots over to managers to rent out as flea markets on the weekend. Traders could rent two parking bays for the weekend (though competition was fierce for spots and most were tied up with long-term commitments). Sometimes a food court would be built in a cul-de-sac. Traders would chat during the day--which markets were doing well these days? Have you got an "in" there? Can my brother share your cousin's stand until we get our own?

I was doing contract work (mostly scientific data analysis for mining houses), and my wife was running a goat dairy. Milk is highly perishable, and your animals' production varies wildly from a maximum after newborn kids are weaned to nothing in the last few months of pregnancy; the name of the game is to figure out how to deliver a steady supply of products. We sold pasteurized, frozen milk to regular shops and made cheese during the peak times. We had big wheels of Gouda that needed to be matured for anywhere between six months and two years, we had soft cheeses that could be sold within a month, and we had a processed cheese made from the wheels that cracked open or otherwise didn't pass our QC test (taking a plug from the side and tasting it) at the end of a six month production process.

We wanted to know what customers like, so we would pack up everything for our stand: cheeses and some frozen milk (using a broken chest freezer as a big cooler), the cheeses of other suppliers (some ran their own stalls at different markets, some were busy enough with just cheese-making), tables and shelves built to fit in our two parking spaces, table cloths, packaging, scales, and cleaning supplies. We'd tie it all on the back of a pick-up truck, and try to be early in line when the market opened for traders at 06:30. If you were early, you could drive in and unload in 15 minutes; the later it got, the more difficult it was to drive out around the other stands; if you didn't get in well before 08:00 when the market opened to customers, you had to hump in all your gear on your back. Then, the music would start being piped in, signaling that opening time had arrived.

I loved the buzz of the marketplace! Indian traders with spices, Boere with biltong, undocumented black immigrant peddlers with blankets, east-ender type English with pirate CDs, Pakistanis with carpets, car parts, books, clothing, art work, fish, balloons, candy, jugglers, musicians, puppet shows--the place was all color and sound and smells and desire swirling together. It was the glorious integration of hundreds of individual wishes being negotiated and satisfied. As a trader, you had to learn to manage your focus. At once, you had to keep an awareness of everything around you, and make personal eye contact with your customer. You had to keep the line moving or people would leave, yet you had to make enough time to swap pleasantries and stories with whoever was trading with you, for you were selling the market experience as much as your product. You had to invite opportunities and yet protect your goods against thieves and cheats.

The best times were when the whole family worked the same market together. Our two sons were probably between six and ten during this period, and my wife and I would coach them in how to serve customers and run the till. It was amazing to see our eight year old offer up samples for tasting, then slice a piece of cheese that came to within 5g of the price the customer wanted, wrap it, ring it up, and bid the customer well on their way. As they became comfortable with the routine, my wife and I would excuse ourselves to go to the food court for a schwarma, or satay, or boerewors. We wouldn't tell the boys that one of us had our eyes glued to them while the other bought food; that the topic of discussion while we ate together rarely strayed from pointing out to each other the skills they had developed. The boys would get paid as soon as the morning rush was over so they could go buy treats and toys from the other stands.

I can remember only two interactions with government people during this time. One was 40-ish Xhosa woman in expensive western business dress and speaking in a condescending tone that confirmed she was from some child welfare bureau. She asked lots of pointed questions to our eight-year-old about how many hours he was working, and gave him a card with a help-line number before she left. My son gave me a puzzled glance--I explained to him that if he was unhappy working on the stand, she could use the police to remove him from us and put him in the care of an institution or another family. He rolled his eyes and threw away the card. The other government worker was a 20-ish white girl from the health department, new enough in her job to take things seriously. She gave me a lecture about how we needed running water on the stand in order to keep selling cheese. She didn't seem to be worried that this would be impossible in the middle of an underground parking lot. It was a slow day, and she was kind of cute, so I kept asking her help for how we could bring things up to her standards. I think we got 20 minutes into designing a portable water storage tank above the stand with a gas heater before she got creeped out by the middle-aged married guy having such an interest in her. Never saw her again.

This system worked in layers of government legitimacy. There were those, like the building owners, with assets that couldn't be easily hidden and were easy pickings for tax collectors. Then, there were the market managers, who had offices in the buildings, but made private contracts with traders. They would have to show some income on the building owners' books to justify their position, but it would have been nearly impossible for anyone to track their transactions.

Finally, there were the traders. They were doing business in cash and turning over a handful of bills to the market manager. They could disappear at the end of the day, if they wished, leaving nothing behind but a pay-as-you-go cell phone number on the manager's application form.

The market exists everywhere there are two people who can satisfy each other's needs. A free market exists anywhere they can do so without interference.


Of Property and Parking

Libertarian theory, being grounded in property rights, sometimes founders in the question of how a person establishes an initial claim to property. By what authority can anyone claim an exclusive right to land? Yet in the absence of the right to exclude, what incentive do people have to expend resources improving land?

While I've often pondered these questions on a theoretical level, I hadn’t realized how they are being fought out, day by day, in the very streets of America.


"Subversive Activities Registration Act."

South Carolina, notorious for it's willful disregard of a crusty piece of parchment, is at it again.

South Carolina legislature adopts Subversive Activities Registration Act.

My take: When everything is illegal, everyone is a criminal. The purpose is clear to me, when someone is declared to be a criminal by the state, their rights can be abrogated without too much bleating from the voters.

SECTION 23-29-90. Penalties.

Any organization or person who violates any of the provisions of this chapter shall, upon conviction thereof, be punished by a fine of not more than twenty-five thousand dollars or imprisonment for not more than ten years, or by both fine and imprisonment.


The Libertarian Argument For You To Drop Dead

Fukuyama via Caplan:

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

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


Pick up that can

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

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

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

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

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

I guess those who survive will decide.


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


Market 1, Chavez 0

Yesterday came an awesome piece on news hasn't been spread enough so here it is.

It is strongly reminiscent of a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal arguing for the same thing... dump the US gold reserve to burn the nutty right wing hoarders. Some nutty right wing hoarders said in the comment: Bring it on, we'll be here to buy.

Well Chavez tried to do something quite similar. Prop up his failing currency by dumping his foreign reserves on the market. And guess what? The evil speculators thanked him and sucked up the money.

Of course, those greedy speculators artificially devalue the great revolutionary bolivar by manipulating the market, but somehow a huge oil exporting nation sitting on a ridiculous amount of foreign exchange reserves is unable to manipulate anything. Manipulation works in mysterious ways ^^

Now don't get me wrong, dumping one's reserve in dollar might be a good thing, but if you're going to do that

- You do not brag about it. Trading 101. You do it stealthily like the Chinese. When the Chinese central bank say they don't want to buy more Gold, it's dumb to believe them, that's what they'd say regardless.
- You do not exchange it against your moronic socialist currency that you're simultaneously working to devalue.

All in all, this is evidence that markets work pretty damn well.


How I shook hands with the theocratic statist-right.

Original content for the DR.

I was in the midst of getting a cup of coffee from downstairs when I was beckoned to a side office. Sue Lowden, who is running for US Senate against the much maligned statist Harry Reid, was paying our office a visit.

By what appears to be coincidence, not but 30 minutes earlier I had read a piece by Justin Raimondo over at Antiwar.com, which had an advertisement for Sue Lowdens campaign. Creepy but true. I read Sue's opinion on the issues and found that I almost resoundingly disagree with her on everything. Which is fine, because I have been resisting the urge to vote for a long time now.

What are the odds? I don't know, but what I do know is that the owners of the company I work for are Republicans, and participate/donate heavily in the local state party machine. This means the office is frequently visited by candidates of one caliber or another. No surprise, the last company I worked for in this state had many fund raisers for local campaigns. This allowed me the opportunity to shake hands with many a future judge and politician. Among the more notables, I once had the chance to meet former-Sheriff Bill Young of Clark County and his future-now-current replacement Doug Gillespie.

Bill Young was interesting, we chatted about our mutual enthusiasm for personal firearms ownership while munching on various forms of cheese and seafood. His buddy Doug, scared me, I shook his hand but I voted for Airola. That was back in the day when I still voted, but I digress.

Sue Lowden was the original reason for this post. I knew how she stood on most every issue, except the war. At this point, with the memory still fresh in my mind, I should have realized that the reason she didn't talk about the war on her site. Sue failed to mention the ongoing atrocity for the simple fact that her potential voting pool is mostly comprised of pro-war statist-right individuals.

Into the office I venture, the room is occupied by Sue and about 4 other persons. Introductions are made, in which I shake her hand after shifting the coffee cup out of my dominant hand. Short of stature but very commanding, that is how I would describe her presence. I mentioned how I read her website and even threw in the part about how I found it through antiwar. She took the opportunity to laud her web campaign and how it is an essential tool for getting to the young people. She said to me, "I have more facebook friends than Harry Reid". We all shared a laugh and I took the opportunity to poke more fun at Harry by saying that she probably has more friends in general than Senator Reid.

I told her that any vote against Reid is a good vote, her response was that she would prefer me to vote for her instead of against Reid. So she gave me the opening to pose a question, I seized the opportunity to ask about her stance on the war. Her opinion is: We are there now, we should make sure our boys and girls have what they need to win.

Obviously uncomfortable with her response, she asked me what I think we should do. I told her that I agree with Representative Paul from Texas, who said that "We marched right in there we can march right out". All she could do was repeat her mantra of "We are there now, we should make sure our boys and girls have what they need to win."

I nodded in agreement and left, so as to prevent any hard feelings over my obvious disagreement. Off color remarks at work could seriously interfere with future employment.

So I clocked out for lunch and typed this up. I also found a suitable image. Thanks to Carlos Latuff.

Now I sit here almost completely dumbfounded by the blood-lust of the sedentary. With the unborn being the only exception, the apparent disregard for all human life by those in the theocratic statist-right is appalling.

Voting just makes people like Sue think that the status-quo is OK.

Two of every three Massachusettsians either didn’t want what Brown, Coakley and Kennedy were offering, or weren’t asked.

If that happened in Iran or Venezuela, the US State Department would strain its public relations muscles pumping out press releases on the significance of the “massive election boycott” or the “general voter strike” and asserting that “the people” had spoken clearly in rejection of the the regimes which rule them.

Since it happened in America, we’re expected to go along with the pretense that a “majority” sent Scott Brown to Washington. But no such majority for Brown exists. He was the choice of fewer than one in five of his fellow citizens, and more than three in five appear to have either been disenfranchised or to have rejected the notion that they require representation in, or consider themselves in any way bound by the edicts of, the US Senate.

- Thomas Knapp at C4SS

I am part of the REAL silent majority. The non-voting, alienated persons who simply want to be left alone. These wars are predicated under the false assumptions of imperialists who cannot recognize that our situation is CIA blowback, manifest.


I am above the law.

Posted by W. Edwin Hinds IV on Jan 21, 2010 @ Fed Land

Despite what the bureaucrats and judges say, you too are above the law. The trick, is to know that you are. As the old GI Joe cartoon used to say, "...knowing is half the battle".

A character of fiction, a William Wilde Curringer, once stated:

"People - pardon me, journalists and politicians - have often accused me of believing that I'm above the law. And yet, who isn't? Everywhere you prod it, even with the shortest stick, the established system isn't simply corrupt, it's unequivocally putrescent. The law is created by demonstrable criminals, enforced by demonstrable criminals, interpreted by demonstrable criminals, all for demonstrably criminal purposes. Of course I'm above the law. And so are you."

Apparently one Zhang Xuping in China took those very same feelings to their logical conclusion of free-market justice. He stabbed the local criminal chief, Li Shiming in his heart, putting him down like the dog he is. I have absolutely no sympathy for Li, or his family.

Unfortunately Zhang was captured, and he apologized to Li's family while in court. Li's eldest son naturally rejected the apology. The good thing is, his rejection wont get his vile father back.

Screw the Shiming family. I raise a clenched fist in honor of Zhang Xuping.


Science and Motivated Skepticism

A fun new headline which might make a splash in the blogosphere in the near future:

World misled over Himalayan glacier meltdown

A WARNING that climate change will melt most of the Himalayan glaciers by 2035 is likely to be retracted after a series of scientific blunders by the United Nations body that issued it.

Two years ago the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a benchmark report that was claimed to incorporate the latest and most detailed research into the impact of global warming. A central claim was the world's glaciers were melting so fast that those in the Himalayas could vanish by 2035.

In the past few days the scientists behind the warning have admitted that it was based on a news story in the New Scientist, a popular science journal, published eight years before the IPCC's 2007 report.

It has also emerged that the New Scientist report was itself based on a short telephone interview with Syed Hasnain, a little-known Indian scientist then based at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi.

Hasnain has since admitted that the claim was "speculation" and was not supported by any formal research. If confirmed it would be one of the most serious failures yet seen in climate research. The IPCC was set up precisely to ensure that world leaders had the best possible scientific advice on climate change.

Whoops.

Pointing out failures in environmental science tends to invite all sorts of accusations upon the speaker. Among baser epithets, you'll face charges of denialism, or at least a kind of crypto-denialism and various sorts of motivated skepticism. The ubiquity of the term "denialism", being not-so-subtly meant to evoke the rawer emotions associated with Holocaust denialism, would do George Lakoff proud. Skeptics have fought back by drawing parallels between environmentalism and a sort of secular fundamentalism; the environmentalists, tending to be fond of the term "market fundamentalism" itself, cannot dismiss this metaphor at the outset and instead get bogged down into debates over whether environmentalism is really like religion - at which point they've already lost.

I'm not going to press this metaphor seriously, but if environmentalism is to be likened to a religion, then the vaguely-defined "scientific community" would undoubtedly be its clergy. Its higher-ranking members, through their communes with tree rings and ice sheets, speak ex cathedra from Nature Herself - or something like that. Of course, this authority only extends to the community of environmental scientists. As an economist, this deference to Science doesn't cover my discipline. I realize that the credibility of economists is at something of a nadir at the moment, but let's not pretend that it was ever that high to begin with among Science-touting left-of-center individuals, even despite the existence of a strong professional consensus on many issues that are of great contention among the general population. As Bryan Caplan (whose book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, is required reading on motivated political cognition) might observe, economics is relatively unique in its being respected as a science without its actual practitioners being given the usual intellectual deference which comes with the mantle of expertise.

I'll admit that this is somewhat embittering - that not believing in AGW can make you a pariah who is (gasp!) "anti-science", but believing that rent control is an awesome idea that only hurts rich people - often the "Other", as it were - is perfectly respectable, or at least understandable if you've spent your life learning about more important things than what happens when prices can't rise to clear a market. When you tell someone that the professional consensus is against their personal view, you're usually told either that economics is a "right-wing (or left-wing) discipline", or that economists rely on a poor model of human behavior which renders their entire discipline useless at best and dangerous at worst - didn't you know that the financial crisis discredited free markets?

But a little skepticism really isn't a bad thing. It's somewhat reassuring that the people who trumpet Science in the context of the environmental debate are such keen skeptics of the economic discipline - it shows, at least, that they do have an understanding of the general process through which the scientific investigations can be derailed. Stories like the one linked above and Climategate reveal many of the unsavory processes that are actually at work in generating consensus - scientists misrepresenting/losing/hiding data which might have been selectively chosen and shoddy, trying to silence dissent for political or financial reasons, "common wisdom" being based on narratives hopelessly distorted in a telephone game of motivated communication. This is the norm of how politicized science proceeds when the black box is cracked open, and it's understandable that environmentalists act far dumber than they actually are in trumping up the fidelity of consensus.

Trying to determine what the ex ante "optimal level of deference" to be afforded to a given expert or set of experts is an incredibly difficult problem. But like most things in life, it's probably somewhere between "none" and "infinity" - and not embracing the latter extreme does not make you "anti-science." These kinds of labels might make for effective politicking, but those who employ them would make themselves rather ironic champions of reason and science.


Great Cthulu brings us his Constitution

Posted by W. Edwin Hinds IV on Jan 8, 2010 @ Fed Land

How do you protect yourself from great evil? Invoke the very power of the great evil and hope you get left alone.

On December 24th of '09, Roderick T Long over at Austro-Atheninan Empire informed his readers of what he called a "charming bit of theocratic statist-right propaganda". The propaganda he referred to was an artists rendition of Jesus standing amongst us lesser mortals, holding the Constitution in his right hand. The image portrayed the very false statist assumptions of war being good and a woman's right to choose what happens to her body as evil. It also unfortunately lumped people like Thomas Jefferson with the likes of Hamilton and Lincoln.

The statist jesus image depicts state power as holy. It implies that the evils of government stem solely from the wrong people being in power, politicians who do not follow the word of God. Personally I find that to be a total load of hogwash. The Constitution is far from perfect and is certainly not a divine gift from on high. As a matter of fact, it is the foundation of power that the evil use to enslave the masses. It hands over the responsibility of the individual to the aggregate of the body politic.

With that being said, you can imagine how delighted I was to find a piece of counter-propaganda that was just as rich in symbolism as statist jesus. As a matter of fact, the image is a corrupted version of former. The part that struck me as brilliant was the inclusion of the child reaching up and scrawling the Elder Sign on the blank constitution, with his own blood. The imagery itself is evocative and repulsive, calling it disturbing fails to do it justice. As for its origins, the horrible work of art was posted in the Paranormal board on 4chan. A gift from Anonymous.

If you are unfamiliar with the Elder Sign, I can do some explaining for you. The Elder Sign is a symbol that according to the Cthulu Mythos, protects the person who wields it, from the depredations of the Great Cthulu or his lesser cohorts. It doesn't always work in the literature.

If you are ever faced with the horrors of a Great Old One, you shouldn't put much faith in symbolic gestures. The same is true for the Constitution, it wont extricate you from the corrupt bile that is spewed forth from R'lyeh on the Potomac.


Would like someone to please explain how a non-manufacturing economy

can maintain a large middle class where a blue collar/white collar hourly employee can have a 3000 sq ft house, a new car, a boat, a truck and camper . . . Small tax shelter countries like Switzerland are an obvious exception to the rule.


The Time of Separation

(Even more than usual, this is something of a rough draft. And way too long.)

A few months ago, Robin Hanson wrote a fascinating post asking what made this time period unique:

When our distant descendants think about our era, however, differences will loom larger. Yes they will see that we were more like them in knowing more things, and in having less contact with a wild nature. But our brief period of very rapid growth and discovery and our globally integrated economy and culture will be quite foreign to them. Yet even these differences will pale relative to one huge difference: our lives are far more dominated by consequential delusions: wildly false beliefs and non-adaptive values that matter. While our descendants may explore delusion-dominated virtual realities, they will well understand that such things cannot be real, and don’t much influence history. In contrast, we live in the brief but important “dreamtime” when delusions drove history.

He's thinking about the very distant future, to a time when humanity has fallen back into the Malthusian trap through an explosion in human mind uploads. I'd like to instead think a little less abstractly, and a little closer to the present.

Here's one: More than any period in the past, and probably relative to the future, we are more dependent on romantic relationships to fulfill all of our emotional needs. Our other friendships and relationships, such as with extended family, are shallower, and of shorter duration, than they "naturally" are, than they were, and than (I think) they will be.

What do I mean by dependent on romance? The decline of friendships is well-documented:

According to a study documented in the June 2006 issue of the journal American Sociological Review, Americans are thought to be suffering a loss in the quality and quantity of close friendships since at least 1985. The study states 25% of Americans have no close confidants, and the average total number of confidants per citizen has dropped from four to two.

Here's an anectodal, and I think illustrative, example: Last month, the New York Times Style section ran an article about marriage which had this remarkable bit:

Monogamy is one of the most basic concepts of modern marriage. It is also its most confounding. In psychoanalytic thought, the template for monogamy is forged in infancy, a baby with its mother. Marriage is considered to be a mainline back to this relationship, its direct heir. But there is a crucial problem: as infants we are monogamous with our mothers, but our mothers are not monogamous with us. That first monogamy — that template — is much less pure than we allow. “So when we think about monogamy, we think about it as though we are still children and not adults as well,” Adam Phillips notes. This was true for us. On our wedding day, Dan and I performed that elaborate charade: I walked down the aisle with my father. I left him to join my husband. We all shed what we told ourselves were tears of joy. Dan and I promised to forsake all others, and sexually we had. But we had not shed all attachments, naturally, and as we waded further into our project the question of allegiances became more pressing. Was our monogamy from the child’s or the mother’s perspective? Did my love for Dan — must my love for Dan — always come first?

This all came pouring out last summer in the worst fight of our marriage. At the time, we were at my parents’ house, an hour northeast of San Francisco. More than food, more than child-rearing, we fought about weekends — in particular, how many summer weekends to spend up there. I liked the place: out of the fog, free grandparental day care; the kids could swim. Dan loathed it, describing the locale as “that totally sterile golf community in which your mother feeds our kids popsicles for breakfast and I’m forbidden to cook.”

For the past few years I dismissed Dan’s complaints by saying, “Fine, don’t go.” I told myself this was justified, if not altruistic: I was taking our girls; Dan could do what he wanted with his free time. But underneath lay a tangle of subtext. Dan wished he spent even more time with his own parents, who were quite private. I felt an outsize obligation toward mine, because they moved to the Bay Area to be closer to us. We’d had some skilled conversations, which helped a bit, as I now knew those weekends with his in-laws made Dan feel alienated and left out of our family decision-making. Yet at root we fought because the issue rubbed a weak point in our marriage, in our monogamy: I didn’t want to see my devotion to my parents as an infidelity to Dan. To him, it was.

It's not my intention to criticize these people (although, for the record, I think they both come out like most people do in the NYTimes Style pages: Self-absorbed and unpleasant). Rather, I'd just like to point out how funamentally strange this approach to emotional monogamy is, historically and (I'd argue) evolutionarily. Stephanie Coontz wrote an interesting article a few years ago about the history of marriage:

In John Adams’s view, a “passion for the public good” was “superior to all private passions.” In both England and America, moralists bewailed “excessive” married love, which encouraged “men and women to be always taken up with each other.”

From medieval days until the early 19th century, diaries and letters more often used the word love to refer to neighbors, cousins and fellow church members than to spouses. When honeymoons first gained favor in the 19th century, couples often took along relatives or friends for company. Victorian novels and diaries were as passionate about brother-sister relationships and same-sex friendships as about marital ties.

The Victorian refusal to acknowledge strong sexual desires among respectable men and women gave people a wider outlet for intense emotions, including physical touch, than we see today. Men wrote matter-of-factly about retiring to bed with a male roommate, “and in each other’s arms did friendship sink peacefully to sleep.” Upright Victorian matrons thought nothing of kicking their husbands out of bed when a female friend came to visit. They spent the night kissing, hugging and pouring out their innermost thoughts.

By the early 20th century, though, the sea change in the culture wrought by the industrial economy had loosened social obligations to neighbors and kin, giving rise to the idea that individuals could meet their deepest needs only through romantic love, culminating in marriage. Under the influence of Freudianism, society began to view intense same-sex ties with suspicion and people were urged to reject the emotional claims of friends and relatives who might compete with a spouse for time and affection.

Look, I realize some of this was subliminated homosexuality in age of repression. And another part was probably that men had trouble developing emotional relationships with women in separate spheres. Nevertheless, I think it's virtually undeniable that friendship has declined in importance relative to marriage.

But try telling somebody that you're unhappy about the constant dissolving of friendships, unhappy that every couple years you move and everything starts over. You get told, bluntly, that's life, grow up. And it does just sound juvenile, doesn't it? But then there's this, from the always fascinating The Edge:

Women in hunting and gathering societies breastfeed around the clock, eat a low-fat diet and get a lot of exercise — habits that tend to inhibit ovulation. As a result, they regularly space their children about four years apart. Thus, the modern duration of many marriages—about four years—conforms to the traditional period of human birth spacing, four years.

Perhaps human parental bonds originally evolved to last only long enough to raise a single child through infancy, about four years, unless a second infant was conceived. By age five, a youngster could be reared by mother and a host of relatives. Equally important, both parents could choose a new partner and bear more varied young.

She doesn't talk about friendship, but I strongly suspect that it's evolved in order to bond tribes. You're more likely to fight with and die with someone with whom you share an emotional connection. And that bond is permanent: Men didn't get a new tribe every four years. They got a new wife every four years. In other words, we're evolved to be fine divorcing, not moving.

My fellow conservative-leaners share some of the blame for this, with their overemphasis of marriage as the apotheosis of human existence. When I was looking for that Coontz piece, I ran across this old Ann Althouse post, where in the comments Coontz is made out to be a radical for wanting people to build deeper relationships. (To be fair, here's a more sensible response, someone who appreciates the deep benefits of real community.)

Coontz attributes the decline to Freudianism. As happy as I am to blame him for the world's ills, I'd like to suggest another possible reason: Economics. Specifically, mobility. As the economy became more dynamic, it became necessary to move often. As people did so, they rationally stopped developing long-lasting, deep friendships. Why bother? The people will simply move away in a few years. The only person you could (barely) count on remaining was your spouse, and consequently, people became emotionally dependent on them, and only them.

So far I've been a downer about things here. I've said friendship has been on the decline, and nothing about why I think this is a transient stage. Here, of course, I'm of necessity vaguer, since I'm looking to the future, but I'll give it a shot.

One reason is the growth of communications technology. The rise of "helicopter parents" is, in my view, a negative. And surely it's partially driven by sociological factors. But it's also a result of technology. Without cell phones, webcams, etc., it's simply not possible to be a helicopter mom. And this development will continue. I IM my brother, 1000 miles away, far more than I would call him. And then what about something like this:

A new Army grant aims to create email or voice mail and send it by thought alone. No need to type an e-mail, dial a phone or even speak a word.

Known as synthetic telepathy, the technology is based on reading electrical activity in the brain using an electroencephalograph, or EEG. Similar technology is being marketed as a way to control video games by thought.

"I think that this will eventually become just another way of communicating," said Mike D'Zmura, from the University of California, Irvine and the lead scientist on the project.

Things like this will only continue. Already, I strongly suspect facebook and the like has led to people staying in touch for longer. True, some of these are shallow "reationships", but the technology is new. Imagine what instant, effortless communication, or truly authentic-looking holograms, or whatever would do. Friendships would be cheaper to maintain, and thus more enduring.

Potentially even transportation advances could help. Already airplane flights are far cheaper than they were a few decades ago. What about something like hypersonic transport? I don't think that's as big a deal as communications advances (partially because I view the advances as less radical). Even so, as economic growth continues, expect the time cost (that is, the hours you need to work to pay for something) of moving from one place to another to fall.

Another reason I view this phase as passing is the future of time off. I think I'm probably in the minority here, but I tend to think even highly skilled workers? Why? Because there simply isn't that much that money can be spent on. As Will Wilkinson once wrote, "The difference between rich and poor in transportation used to be feet versus carriage. Now, its a 1988 Escort vs. a 2002 BMW, which, despite our keen sense for the social distinction, is in fact a triumph of equality." This trend will only continue. Sure, people will work hard and compete, but there comes a point where the marginal gains are simply not that high, relative to just sloughing off and playing more golf.

I've noticed an interesting trend in my classmates. I don't have much to compare it to, but many, including myself, seem far less enthused about moving to random parts of the country/world than our predecessors. A huge number have strong desires to move back to the Pacific Northwest, or the South, or whatever. And why not? We have become so rich that we can allow ourselves to be moved by these non-economic considerations. Sure, you might get a few more bucks moving, but so what? Diminishing returns in material possessions kicks in, and being somewhere you want to be becomes more important. (This is, by the way, an excellent reason not to go to graduate school. More than perhaps anything else about the academic lifestyle, I'm distressed by the total lack of geographic flexibility in it.)

Better communications, transportation, and time off to enjoy them. All of this makes friendship cheaper, and just like with anything else, when things are cheaper, you get more of it. That's what I think the future looks like. I could, of course, be wrong. Perhaps the future is moving ever more often, severing all social ties every time, and having a social circle that consists of a single person, until you divorce. But I'm optimistic that we're seeing a passing phase in civilization, unprecedented and unusual.


Scan Me

I've never been very fond of the use of Benjamin Franklin's old aphorism that "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither." For one, it reveals the sort of childish refusal to confront the reality of tradeoffs that I usually associate with the most naive of leftwing economists. For another, it's actually a misquote, since what Franklin said is that "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." That is true, but rather uninteresting. Almost by definition it makes no sense to give up something "essential" for something "temporary". As guidance, this is worthless, since it just kicks the problem down the road: What is essential, anyway?

I bring this up because the attempted Christmas airplane bombing has brought these up these issues once again. The TSA, as you would expect, have chosen to fight the last war, first outlawing standing during the last hour of flight, then going to a "follow the crew's directions" standard.

But there are technologies that apparently would have stopped this kind of bombing. Namely, backscatter X-Rays, which produce images like this:

Security scan

Now, according to the people who want to use these, the images wouldn't be kept, and would be viewed by someone in a different room than you. Some people have claimed the images would inevitably end up on the internet. If you're really worried that an image than kinda looks like an outline of you, but can't possibly be identified as you, could end up being viewed by someone, I really think you should find something better to worry about. This hardly strikes me as worse than removing shoes, which I've already declared as a triviality to me. (And honestly, what kind of moron would look at these things instead of good, honest porn anyway? Am I alone in thinking these things are utterly boring as "revealing" images?)

Jonah Goldberg nails it here:

Anyone who flies regularly will tell you, the hellishness of airline travel is not primarily derived from the outrage of lost privacy, it's derived from the outrage of inefficient, time-consuming, idiocy.

He's right. The problem of security is not that someone, somewhere, might get to see something that kindasortanotreally looks like a naked picture. The problem is it's slow, inefficient, and unhelpful.

So let's have two lines. One for people whose irrational hangups lead to nightmarish lines and delays. And those of us who are adults can get to where we are going.

Or, better yet, we could let the market decide what security people want. But I don't see that happening.


Have You Got a Form 27B/6?

Posted by Kevin Carson on Dec 29, 2009 @ C4SS

To me the funniest part of the novel Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson, was his description of the internal management practices of the Feds.

In the fictional world of that novel, most centralized states had collapsed, and the territory of the former United States was home to dozens of competing networked “government” franchises. The Feds, or the former federal government of the United States, was one of those competing governments (although it claimed continued jurisdiction over the former territory of the United States). Its main source of revenue was software design for private clients.

From the way the Feds organize their software design operations, they seem to have read “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” recoiled in horror, and decided instead that “Brazil” was the way to go.

Everybody’s assigned their tiny little share of the project on a need-to-know basis, with their individual pictures of the project resembling that subcommittee of a subcommitee Winston Smith sat on to decide whether the Eleventh Edition of the Newspeak Dictionary should put braces inside brackets or vice versa. Smith’s assignment was actually a model of transparency, in comparison, because at least he knew it had something to do with the Newspeak Dictionary. The overall design of the Feds’ software, or even its basic purpose, is outside the scope of anyone’s need-to-know below the highest level. And nobody can alter a single line of code without reference to endless policy manuals in three-ring binders; what’s more, since these policy manuals are revised every few weeks with endless interdeparmental meetings, most of the new code written has to be thrown out every time the policy is changed.

The coder’s first order of business, after clearing the hurdle of urine tests and personality profiling to get to work, is to spend until noon or so reading all the interdepartmental memos on new regulations or changes to the existing rules for writing code. Most of the afternoon is spent rewriting the portions of code rendered obsolete by changes in the rules (with none of the hundreds of programmers working on any project having any idea what it’s actually for, of course—that’s classified).

Even the interdepartmental memos include suggested reading times, with the surveillance system monitoring compliance. Anyone who scrolls through in less than the suggested time lacks proper respect for the importance of policy memos, while anyone who takes too long is suspected either of incompetence or of taking an unauthorized bathroom break. And anyone who reads it in exactly the suggested time to the second is a smartass who needs attitude counseling.

I’m not sure who the customers for the Feds’ software are supposed to be, but I get the feeling the IT department at my employer (and probably yours) would be among them.

Until last week, I thought Stephenson’s farce—hysterically funny as it was—was a grossly exaggerated depiction of even the worst real-world bureaucracies.

But no more. According to an op-ed by Jonathan Vaccaro at the New York Times, it takes 96 hours after the Taliban arrive in an Afghan village for an Army commander to secure the necessary approvals to act. The company in which Vaccaro was embedded failed to interdict the Taliban in some 70 percent of cases because its commander failed to get the required eleven approvals in time. Travel in anything but a 20-ton mine resistant vehicle requires “written justification, a risk assessment and approval from a colonel, a lieutenant colonel and sometimes a major” (over half the villages in Afghanistan are inaccessible to such vehicles). The Taliban walk in or ride donkeys.

The bureaucracy runs to the highest echelons. Small aid projects require endless delays for approval (the opening of a small free health clinic was delayed eight months after it was built “while paperwork for erecting its protective fence waited in the approval queue”). While Taliban propaganda operations turn on a dime in response to events, “our messages have to inch through a press release approval pipeline, emerging 24 to 48 hours after the event…” Battlefield commanders are required to submit reports in PowerPoint, “with proper fonts, line widths and colors so that the filing system is not derailed.” So, um, if you could put the new cover sheets on the T.P.S. reports, that would be great, m’kay?

John Robb, who blogs at Global Guerrillas, makes a couple of points about the American military’s organizational model.

First, “risk mitigation trumps initiative every time.”

Second, rather than using new communications technology to “enable decentralized operation due to better informed people on the ground,” the military instead uses it to “enable more complicated and hierarchical approval processes—more sign offs/approvals, more required processes, and higher level oversight.”

Just another example of why state capitalism is doomed. Small, agile, bottom-up organizations will eat government and corporate bureaucracies alive. One of my favorite sayings is that the twentieth century was the era of the large organization; by the end of the twenty-first, there won’t be enough of them left to bury.


Distributed Republic Social Network

I created a fan group for Distributed Republic at FR33 Agents (a social network built on top of ning).

FR33 Agents includes chat and private messaging features, allowing DR members to communicate more directly. However, membership at FR33 Agents is moderated by people outside of our control (to layer several collectivist errors on top of each other).

Since I'm a long-time, but not founding, member of Distributed Republic, I'm not really sure what decisions I should be making about the DR "brand". I just went ahead and did this. It seemed like a nice compromise between trying to create something unique to DR, and floundering around trying to find and use each other's email. If anyone has better ideas for extending the conversations here, have at it in the comments below.