More for the Trolling Archive

I usually take criticism and negative comments pretty well, but recently the trolls have just been going through the motions.  In response to my previous post about we-firsters, I received the following comment:

Were you homeschooled by Michele Bachmann or something?

"Government is the great fiction through which everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everyone else."

Your own spell-check calls out "endeavors". That great private Enterprise (geddit) spaceship Endeavour spelt it right.

Literacy aside, let's look at this post. The first sentence categorises a group of people according to a new collective noun I had not heard of until today: "Me-firsters". Your second sentence then affirms that hating these people is ok. that's as far as I need to go with a blog like this.

What fun?! Let's begin.

The We-Firsters - A Lesson in Statism

You're familiar with me-firsters right - those people who always want to go first and get the first, best items all for themselves?  You probably revile these people and rightfully so.  I don't advocate altruism in the sense that one's duty is first to sacrifice for others, but I do recognize that a man leads a better life if he loves and gives.  Trampling on others without respect for their wants and needs deserves some reproach.  But what I propose to you is that you revile, high above the me-firsters, the we-firsters.  These are the apparently kind souls who, upon hearing of something they don't like or broadly disapprove of, claim that "we ought to do something."  Whether that something is to invade country x, y or z (or all three), establish a federal schooling system, ban handguns, large capacity magazines and semi-automatic weapons, or pass legislation aimed at keeping drugs off the streets and away from the children, these busy-bodies always want what is best.  They just aren't willing to go it alone.  They need the help of the royal "we". 

Example: "Why don't we do something about Darfur, Afghanistan, and Libya?!" 

To me this is like saying, "why don't we do a better job at the Olympics?"  "We" isn't the correct word to use.  What is meant is "the US Olympic team", just as above is meant the "US Government" or the" US military."     

You want to contribute to the success of the Olympic team?  Get off your duff and start training.  Donate money or volunteer to drive struggling young gymnasts to training at the crack of dawn every day.  You want to help the poor or protect the children?  How about starting within your self?  Champion a cause, donate money to a charity, volunteer your time or peacefully protest that which you see as evil.  Stop invoking the long arm of the law to force "us" to help you.  See something evil worth stopping?  Think "me first!"

Time for another Ban

Based on an uncontrolled and selective sampling of the news, I cannot help but be alarmed at the sky-rocketing rate of gun violence in the united States.  These massacres make the "Wild West" look civilised, based on the documentary depictions of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.  Considering how these acts of violence were perpetrated, I cannot help but come to the logical conclusion in spite of my previous beliefs and upbringing.

The time has finally come for a comprehensive, nationwide piece of legislation banning schools.

When was the last news report on a mass shooting at a home school?

"It's deplorable," you say, "to make light of this tragedy and use it to further your own political ends."  I would have to agree; please do not interpret my words as making light or cashing in on the sad, sad tragedy that has befallen these people.  But go on Twitter, go on Facebook and see hoards of well-meaning busy-bodies clamoring to "attenuate" my right to self protection in the name of the fallen children who they have never met.  I have not doubt that most of this outpouring comes from a place of empathy and a desire to do good, but that doesn't make it any less wrong.

The statement that inspired this belated post was one on Twitter proclaiming something to the effect, "The right to own guns does not outweigh the right of a child to live."  On the surface and in a vacuum, this statement is thought provoking and not all that disagreeable.  Let's unpack it.

First, let's agree that the child's right to live is paramount - nothing trumps it.  But to whom do we refer when we say "the right to own guns"?  It is my position that rights only apply to individuals, so I will use myself as the example.  Does my right to own a gun outweigh the right of any child to live?  Does any right of one person outweigh any right of another?  Does my right to eat an ice cream sandwich outweigh the right of a child to drink chocolate milk?  Do rights of certain individuals have objective relative merits and values?  No, all such values are subjective and therefore incomparable.  We could all spend the rest of our natural lives debating the relative value of right A vs. right B and end up with no conclusion whatsoever.  So the more elegant, more reasonable approach to rights, is to simply state what, in civilized society, you do not have the right to do: initiate the use of force.  This has been dubbed the Non Aggression Principle. 

Now we're getting somewhere.  Do I agress against the child by owning a gun?  Guns can be dangerous with particular intent or ignorant usage, but so can many things.  My ice cream sandwich could be used as a murder weapon if so intended.  Granted, they are different beasts, but the argument as to whether a particular person is more or less safe by my gun ownership, without sufficient context, is a debate that will rage until the end of time without conclusion.  Let's not go down that path.  Instead, consider if you have the right to take my gun.  I would argue that if you were to see me about to commit an act of violence, you have the right to take my weapons and my life if the process required it.  Otherwise, I would say you do not.  What would you, as an individual, be prepared to do to deprive me of my gun?  If you could take it without brandishing one yourself, I would be surprised.  I hope you see the hypocrisy in this.  If you got together with the neighborhood and decided to raid my home in order to rid the community of this danger, would you feel within your rights to do so?  I would hope not.  I would also hope that you see the fallacy of hiring a gang proxies to do the same. Is this not what you advocate when you clamour for gun control? 

If the child's right to live is so universally accepted, why is it so rarely questioned that the state has the authority to administer compulsory education? Let's bus them across the county, lock them in a box and make them all try to learn the same subjects at the same pace in spite of drastic differences in interests and skills.  If they don't pay attention, if they day-dream and want to do things they are more interested in, we have pills for that.  Then let's throw up our hands in desperation when a select few of them go bat-shit insane.

Free Software for Government "Servants"

I am a fanboy for free and open source software, partly because I'm cheap and partly because I am fascinated by the phenomenon of peaceful community productivity.  In fact I'm writing this in Ubuntu Linux right now, and as I've mentioned before, I've become quite a devotee. 

I had a dream last night that I was working on some important project and had found some amazing gem of free software.  However, I couldn't save anything to PDF, which I desperately needed for some reason, unless I was a Canadian citizen.  Crazy huh?  Well it gets better.  I concocted an elaborate scheme to pretend to be a Canadian student studying abroad in the States and thereby receive a free copy of the software.  A majority of the time spent in the dream consisted of an elaborate series of difficult question from the software vendor, intended to establish my citizenship.  They were very difficult, and I didn't succeed in acquiring the PDF plugin before waking. 

I know what you are saying, "What a bizarre and irrelevant story!  Where is he going?"  Well, apparently my sleeping brain aspires to write for Law & Order, because this tail was ripped from the headlines.  At work yesterday I was looking for some free software to do some meshing for finite element analysis of the spine.  I found several software packages that seemed to have been developed as part of some NASA program.  These were very promising leads, but as I dug deeper I found that some of the software was free to government employees, agencies and contractors only.  Surprise, surprise I am not a government employee, but the way I see it, I'm a government employer!  Is it not bad enough that I had my money confiscated against my will to fund the project from which this software emanated?  And now I come to find out that the only thing that would entitle me to free access is to be employed by some other government agency.

6 Harsh Truths - From

I usually try to provide original content, but I came across something today that was so unexpectedly enjoyable that I wanted to share it.  The following video clip was referenced in a very good article over at  I enjoyed the hard line the author took with regard to getting off your ass and doing something.  I think we could all benefit from that advice from time to time.  Enjoy!

A View Into Krugman

Paul Krugman recently provided some insight into the influence Isaac Asimov had on him at a young age over at the guardian (yea, they don't capitalize it either).  I will provide only a few snippets.  He begins:
There are certain novels that can shape a teenage boy's life. For some, it's Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged; for others it's Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. As a widely quoted internet meme says, the unrealistic fantasy world portrayed in one of those books can warp a young man's character forever; the other book is about orcs.
Ok, that's a little bit funny, but in reality Atlas Shrugged, one of the most popular and highly acclaimed books in human history, is a tale of a struggle to be free.  Yes, those people who are struggling have made alot of money for themselves, but nonetheless, 16 year-olds the world over are able to see the heroism inherent in a free mind in spite of the class warfare they have been marinated in since kindergarten.  An economist who cannot say a kind word about this novel should raise a few red flags.  Interestingly he links to another guardian page with a single review of the book.  Surprise, surprise, they didn't like it.    
The Foundation itself seems to recapitulate a fair bit of American history, passing through Boss Tweed politics and Robber Baron-style plutocracy
The emphasis here is mine. What serious economist uses the term "Robber Baron"? 

 Yet if the Foundation books are a tale of prophecy fulfilled, it's a very bourgeois version of prophecy.
And "bourgeois"?  Seriously, it appeared twice.  
economics is, after all, largely about greed, while other social sciences have to deal with more complex emotions.
And here we come to the essence of the man who has been very influential in guiding the policies - enforced at gunpoint - which are intended to scientifically and magnanimously guide us to the promised land of wealth, health and prosperity for all.  He sees your quest to maximize your subjective self interest as nothing more honorable or complex than greed, and he doesn't even know you.  What you choose to buy, eat, wear, drive, watch and read - and at what price - are simple matters for the economic scientist of tomorrow. 

Admittedly, I have made nothing here but ad hominem attacks, but in the realm of economics, a field far from the certainty and consensus of the physical sciences, it pays to understand the ideology of the shaman offering you the cure. 

More on Mandatory Blood Donation

As faithful readers and people who exerted the effort to look directly to the left to see "Popular Posts" already know, one of my greatest hits is a post on mandatory blood donation.  It is of course an absurdity to stand for individual freedom and also advocate for mandatory blood donation, but is it really the worst thing a citizen of the united States might be subjected to?  Consider this:

  • If you are a male over the age of 18, you have probably registered for the selective service.  As I write this, you are in no danger of being drafted, i.e. forced into slavery and subjected to mortal danger during war time.  I cannot speak for the future.  From the website of the selective service "In a crisis requiring a draft, men would be called in sequence determined by random lottery number and year of birth."  This brings a whole new meaning to the word "service". Sears' call center isn't looking so bad now. 
  • If you work for a living in sectors of the economy visible to the eyes of the law, somewhere on the order of one-third to one-half of all of your earnings are taken by one government or another.  Now of course, you may receive some benefits and services as a result, but nevertheless, your payments are not truly voluntary, contrary to the assertions of Harry Reid
To me, a pint of blood here or there pales in comparison to risking my life and having a large chuck of my earnings taken before touching my bank account.   So why don't they do it?  It makes so much sense; most people could spare the blood, especially the young and healthy who benefit so much from the system of law and order created single-handedly by government.

They don't do it, because the force in the process is too obvious.  Evan an idiot like Harry Reid cannot fail to see the needle in the arm, even though he seems oblivious to the gun in the room. 

Bastiat on the Fiscal Cliff

 The following excerpt from Bastiat illustrates the predicament of the current regime more eloquently than I can, and he died over 150 years ago.  After 60 years of promising everything under the sun in order to gain power, they are embarrassed, or at least they should be, to admit that they have no money.  This is the so called Fiscal Cliff:

The hundred thousand mouths of the press and of the speaker’s platform cry out all at once:
“Organize labor and workmen.”
 “Do away with greed.”
 “Repress insolence and the tyranny of capital.”
“Experiment with manure and eggs.”
“Cover the country with railways.”
“Irrigate the plains.”
“Plant the hills.”
“Make model farms.”
“Found social laboratories.”
“Colonize Algeria.”
“Nourish children.”
“Educate the youth.”
“Assist the aged.”
“Send the inhabitants of towns into the country.”
“Equalize the profits of all trades.”
“Lend money without interest to all who wish to borrow.”
“Emancipate Italy, Poland, and Hungary.”
“Rear and perfect the saddle-horse.”
“Encourage the arts, and provide us with musicians and dancers.”
“Restrict commerce, and at the same time create a merchant navy.”
“Discover truth, and put a grain of reason into our heads. The mission of Government is to enlighten, to develop, to extend, to fortify, to spiritualize, and to sanctify the soul of the people.”

... And the people believe, and the people hope, and the people make a revolution! No sooner are their friends at the head of affairs, than they are called upon to redeem their pledge. “Give us work, bread, assistance, credit, education, colonies,” say the people; “and at the same time protect us, as you promised, from the taxes.”

The Productive, Peaceful Sector and the Nonproductive, Violent Sector

The words we use to delineate between the portions of our world run by governments (public) and everything else (private) strike me as nebulous and inadequate.  The "private sector" sounds shadowy and secretive, and the "public sector" sounds the opposite-open, visible and cooperative.  But it isn't so.  Ask yourself if you feel more cooperative with Walmart or with the IRS.  Think of all the classified information, protected from your eyes for your own benefit, and of the secret mission carried out in your name.

No, "public" and "private" just won't do.

How about this: the "productive sector" and the "nonproductive sector"?  Admittedly, the "nonproductive sector" is a little cumbersome, so we may want to consider variants in wording, but you get the idea.  Some would argue that the government and its agents, public-private partnerships (yuck!) and the like, occasionally produce goods and services people want, to which I would argue, "not without forcibly creating monopolies for themselves."  Be that as it may, it is prudent to search for better, more universally accepted alternatives.

Which leads me to the distinction that I think is incontrovertible: the "peaceful sector" and the "violent sector".  The unifying principle of government is force, and I feel that the nomenclature should reflect it.  If you don't believe me, try starting a government of your own without the use of weapons.  When you fail, open a bakery or a lemonade stand and give something back to the community.

I don’t mean that a business politician won’t steal; stealing is his business. But all politicians are nonproductive. The only commodity any politician has to offer is jawbone. -- Lazarus Long

Dog-eat-dog Capitalism

The Utopian dreams of Communism abound with adolescent attacks against free markets and trade.  For example,  "A dog-eat-dog struggle for goods will give way to a family of humanity." 

Ayn Rand was fond of saying that the "dog-eat-dog" description of capitalism didn't aptly apply to either dogs or men.  As a broad general statement of course, this is true.  However it goes far beyond that.  Capitalism, or volunteerism, or free markets, or whatever you want to call it is precisely the opposite of dog-eat-dog.  It is dog-please-dog.

Take the infamous and much hyped Cola Wars waged between Coke and Pepsi.  Despite the moniker, this "war" was waged over the opportunity to bring you the cheapest, sweetest, carbonated beverage imaginable and was waged without drones, planes, bombs, guns, whips, chains or military prisons.  I doubt so much as a fist fight broke out between the two sides, and I am not aware of a single unkind word officially spoken by either side about the opposition.  Yet to hear the enemies of capitalism tell it, you would think that two companies, engaged in a violence-free "war" to give you pleasure, were starving hyenas snapping at each other while ripping the flesh from  your cooling carcass.

There are none so blind as those who will not see.  The essence of capitalism is voluntary exchange.  The goal is an improved standard of living, and the means to achieve that goal is to provide it to your neighbor according to your ability and his needs.  But, and here's the big "but", you must do it without the aid of a knife, or a gun, or a mob, else you are a thief. 

If dogs were able to negotiate the trade of physical objects for  services rendered (think two chew toys for one dead bird), we would instantly transform into giggly 9-year-old girls, reflexively declaring "how cute" the exchange was.  Yet, when this is the behavior of men are we to believe it should be curtailed, that it must be bridled or else we will be strapped with run-away, free-wheeling, dog-please-dog capitalism?  The horror! 

Sic semper tyrannis

I always thought that "sic semper tyrannis" meant "death to tyrants."  I learned this, as I imagine pretty much everyone else did, in reference to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. 

You too?  Yea, it was probably because that is what you were told repeatedly in school by a history or "social studies" teacher who didn't really know much about history and didn't care to learn anything outside the textbook.  It really means "thus always to tyrants" which I learned from the very enjoyable film, The Conspirator.  It is also the motto of the state of Virginia, an interesting fact that I think could have been thrown in to the lesson plans.  Before you get ahead of yourself, I don't think there has been a conspiracy to modify the meaning behind Booth's proclamation, but we do ourselves a disservice if we perpetuate this myth for another generation.   

Happy Birthday Bastiat's Corner

Well, I've made it one year.  My first post was November 1, 2011, and I have been annoying anyone who would listen ever since.  I have posted 57 times, and I'm sure I have more than twice as many typos.  I want everyone to know that I appreciate all of the readership and all of the comments I have received over the course of the year.  I would especially like to thank all of the people who have come once, thinking they were in for something interesting, stayed for 5 seconds and left.  I couldn't have done it without you. 

I would like to take just a moment to review some of my favorites from the year. 

  • How Can you Defend Capitalism - That one is pretty self-explanatory and was a quick, fun write.  
  • Helicopter Government - This was my first attempt to coin a term ... we're still waiting for it to take off.  Helicopter parents... paternalism...Helicopter Government.  Makes sense right?
  • Hegemony Christmas - It wouldn't be the holidays without a little word play.  By the way, I capitalize "united States" that way for a reason.  Clever huh?
  • Jamaica is a Harsh Mistress - My love affair with Robert Heinlein begins with the New Year.  That won't be the last we're hearing of him. 
  • I published a two-part series on Keynesian Fallacies.  I don't think I have gotten to quite all of them yet, so stay tuned.  
  • Change In Which We Can Believe - More uber clever word play and some awesome graphics. Spoiler Alert: It's gold!
  • I observed that Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich would make an awesome, real-life Pinky and the Brain team. 
  • I tried to point out the core fallacy of central planning and became the subject of a douchey rant on a philosophy blog. Then I responded, pretty solidly I might add. 
  • I equated Warren Buffet to James Taggart. 
  • I stood up for the humble moonshiner
  • I laid into the Penny4NASA movement in a series of posts. 
  • I wrote a critically acclaimed (by which I mean one guy really liked it) piece on Mandatory Blood Donation following an afternoon on the donation cot.   
  • Heinlein showed up again, foreshadowing Cash for Clunkers in The Door Into Summer.
  • I wrote an article on the how to argue with liberals.  I misspelled "tenet" in the title, and the liberals on reddit had a good time with that.  
  • I tried to define capitalism my way - big mistake according to the comments. 
  • I wrapped up the year with a review of the new Atlas Shrugged movie

So thanks again for stopping by.  Here's to another year. 

Atlas Shrugged Part II: Atlas Mugged

I first arrived at this title upon seeing Atlas Shrugged Part II in the theater.  I was reeling from the disappointment with several minor points in the film (the corny opening scene, the overuse of under budgeted and unnecessary graphics, the watering-down of the author's hardcore message and particularly, the not-so-handsome depiction of John Galt, the supposed ideal man).  I was prepared to rip the film apart.   I was so disappointed because the book had such a transformative effect on me.  How could they do this to Ayn Rand's fictional masterpiece that explains the moral underpinning of free markets, free minds and free money?!  It was epic, iconic and eerily predictive of so many subsequent conditions of government overreach.  But that's enough bickering; it gets us nowhere.  Besides, I'm sure someone, somewhere who claims to know far more about movies than I do has done plenty of the bickering for me.  I bet there are even people out there who don't like Ayn Rand and saw the film.  I'm sure they'll have a hay day tearing it down.
Instead I will focus on the aspect of the film that came across most clearly and was the most accurate representation of the novel's theme:  actions of the state represent force enacted against the citizenry.  This is clearly demonstrated in the government's aggression against Hank Rearden, in my mind the undisputed hero of Part II.  Mr. Rearden committed a crime against the state by selling Rearden Metal to his friend, the coal magnate Ken Danagger, in a quantity contrary to the newly minted "Fair Share Law" which limited the sale of "strategic" goods and included a laundry list of other elixirs sure to save the world economy.  He was hauled before the court to answer for his crimes.  Then he performed what is in my opinion the most courageous act in the entire story.  He stood before the gang of black-robed thieves and told them that he did not recognize their authority to take his metal.  They appealed to the "common good" and to the needs of his fellow men.  They placed themselves in the position as the savior of mankind, and they demanded that he be reasonable and submit to their authority.  But, Hank recognized their obfuscation.  He called them on their bluff and made their threats explicit to all who could hear, "If you think you have the right to use force against me, bring guns." 

Anyone who wishes to hide their aggression behind the veil of love for fellow men requires your consent.  Don't give it. 

The mind is the instrument that holds the world aloft.  Atlas Shrugged is a tale of the mind, weary from being beaten and robbed, going on strike. 

Atlas was mugged, so...

... Atlas Shrugged. 

What is My Vote Worth?

It has become in vogue within libertarian/anarcho-capitalist circles to proclaim that one's vote does not matter or is of no value because of the historical improbability of any individual vote determining the outcome.  However, when determining whether or not to vote and for whom, one needs to evaluate this position a little bit more deeply.  The prospective voter must consider, "What is my vote worth?" 

The value of one's vote is subjective, so the answer to this question depends on the reference frame one takes in evaluating it.  From the perspective of the outcome of local, state and federal government election results, your vote is statistically meaningless in all but very rare (usually local) circumstances.  So the point is well taken that if your only goal is effecting the make up of government, you are money and time ahead to stay home on election day.  However, when viewed from the perspective of the individual, the value of a vote takes on an entirely new dimension much greater than the spitting-in-the-ocean effect on the election outcome.  To me, voting is an opportunity to express my opinion - usually dissatisfaction with the dominant parties and the political system in general.  This election I will be casting my vote for Gary Johnson because he represents a radical improvement over past administrations and the republican and democratic nominees.  I know little of local politics, so I may just write in obscenities.  I like Ben Dover's position on the tough issues.  This may be blasphemy for the statist, but it makes the trip worthwhile for me.

Related Post:  The Not So Fundamental Right to Vote     

Wonks and Derivative Issues

Jeffrey Tucker, in an article published at, introduced a dichotomous classification of political philosophies.  He divided those who are politically active into two camps: geeks and wonks.
...Political wonks are fascinated by process. They love the game. They get as much satisfaction from observing as changing. They want to be players above all else. Ideals bore them. History is mere data. Intellectuals seem irrelevant. What matters to the wonk are the hard realities of the ongoing political struggle. They defer to title and rank. They thrive on meetings, small victories, administrative details, and gossip about these matters. Knowing who is who and what is what is the very pith of life.

There are political wonks and policy wonks. They exist on all levels of society. They appear to be running things, because their aim is to control the levers of power in just the right and strategic way, which means in a way that benefits the other wonks of their tribe. Geographically, life begins and ends in the beltway. They thrive on keeping information private and cartelizing their class. Their newspaper is the Washington Post, which they consider to be the insider report.

In contrast to this are the policy geeks. They are no less fascinated by detail but are drawn to ideals. Observation alone bores them. They are drawn to the prospect of change. They don't want to be players as such; they question the very rules of the game and want to change them. They are happy to make a difference in the ideological infrastructure, whether big or small. They tend to work alone and totally disregard caste distinctions. They are interested not in the surface area but what's underneath, not the veneer but the wood. In software terms, they are forever looking forward to the next build. They are risk takers, so they prefer to debug after the system is live....
I rather enjoyed Mr. Tucker's article and, of course, find myself firmly in the camp of political geek.  I despise the wonk outlook, which is probably why I struggle to watch television during election season.  They are consumed with what I consider derivative issues - ones that are related to secondary matters not fundamental principles.  The wonks are chattering:

  • Who prepped Obama for the first debate (if anyone)?  Maybe his poor showing was due to the altitude.  
  • How is the race shaping up in the battleground states?
  • How was Obama's performance in the second debate?  Let's fact check the tid bits - and oh - here are the top 10 sound bites
  • How about a comparison of the candidate's pensions and some sexual innuendo? 
  • For the love of God, can someone please tell me where Obama is going to hold his election night rally?!

The most egregious manifestation of the wonk obsession with derived issues is the person who votes dependent on whether or not a candidate is "electable" (most often in reference to a third party candidate like Gary Johnson or a primary election long-shot like Ron Paul).  How circular is that?  Prepare to have your mind blown: perhaps these candidates would be more electable if more people voted their principles and fewer watched the polls. 

It's not just that I want to hear a higher percentage of principled debate (Is it right to tax the rich more than the poor? When and how should we deploy armies overseas? What is the government's role in child rearing? etc.).  I want to her only these things.  Tell us the principles of the candidates, what there goals are in office, how they view the role of the state, then let's skip to celebrity DUIs and let the chads fall where they may. 

The Not So Fundamental Right to Vote

It's time to elect the "leader of the free world" again.  How wonderfully contradictory by the way.  Everywhere you look there are proclamations that you need to get out there, exercise your fundamental right and vote.  After all, I learned in High School government class that if you don't vote you can't complain about the political system.  We cheer when nations around the world hold their first elections - finally liberty and justice for all!  We've rallied to war under the battle cry of "making the world safe for democracy."  People just have to be able to vote.  Anything less would be uncivilized.  Our own nation's past with respect to the right to vote is anything but perfect.  At one point only property owning white males could vote, but over time we have seen the light and opened it up every adult.  Occasionally, there will be an uproar over attempts to restrict voting only to those with identification, and it makes for exciting news stories.

Now I take no umbrage with everyone having the privilege to vote, but I can no longer stomach the cognitive dissonance required to embrace voting as the be-all and end-all of human rights.  For instance, while we have been arguing over which individuals should have the opportunity to have zero influence over the make up of government by voting, we have had military conscription.  Now to be fair we don't currently have the draft, but there are politicians who salivate at reinstating it in one form or another.

What good is the right to choose your masters without the right to your own life?

Ben Swann - Reality Check: Is This The End of the Petro-dollar?

It's refreshing to see someone in the media discussing real issues like the petro-dollar.  Hats off to Ben Swann and bonus points for not mentioning Big Bird.  I am far from an expert in the history and economics of the petro-dollar concept, so please provide any viewpoints in the comments section.

Daron Roberts - From Harvard Law to Mountaineer Football Coach

I am a sucker for any passionate story about a young man or woman flouting conventional wisdom and following their dreams.  I am also a sucker for all things Mountaineer football.  So you can imagine my delight in hearing this story.  To make a long story short, a young man with a J.D. from Harvard and aspirations to become a Senator, a Supreme Court Justice or the Governor of Texas, left this all behind to become an assistant football coach at the collegiate level.  So hats off to you Daron Roberts.  Thanks for leaving us alone and doing something productive.

Is Linux Capitalist or Communist/Marxist?

Over the past several months I have begun do dabble in the Linux world.  I have installed Fedora, Ubuntu and Mint (my favorite) on an old laptop which really brought it back from the dead.  I have set up my desktop to dual-boot Windows Vista and Ubuntu which, besides being a fun learning experience, has opened the door to a wide variety of applications while still allowing me to seamlessly sync my Zune (Yes, I actually have one of those).  As with most things in my life, once I become interested in it, I start listening to podcasts about it so that I can then become completely obsessed with it.  One of my favorite podcasts on the subject recently held an open ballot on the question, "Is Linux Marxist or Capitalist?"

Most responses were of the inane line of thought describing it as some sort of mix between the two.  Some seemed to think it was an ultra-groovy, though imperfect form or example of communism, while a few less muddle-headed listeners realized that the operating system and the community that surrounds it were not inconsistent with capitalism.  This last perspective lights upon the first relevant insight on the subject - that the question is slightly ill posed.  An operating system and it's supporting community cannot very well be said to conform to a particular ideology.  We will instead attempt to answer whether Linux is consistent with a capitalist society or a communist one.

As anyone who has written about the subject of capitalism vs. communism has doubtless learned, it is impossible to unwrap the various definitions everyone has in their minds of these two political systems.  Thus, while I know that I will be scolded for it later on, I choose to provide my own simple, rule-based definition of the two.  I define capitalism as a social system in which all individuals are free to own property.  Similarly, I define communism as a social system in which individuals are excluded from owning property by the state.  The characteristics that emerge in societies based on these respective rules such as wage labor, capital accumulation, competitive markets, profits, class structure and lack thereof are irrelevant and tend to distract from the core principle and nature of each system.  

The relevant question then becomes, "Is Linux owned by any state which in turn claims to confer communal ownership to each of its subjects?"  Clearly this is not that the case.  Linux, in all of its manifestations, was freely given by all of its many contributors who had the choice along the way to either not participate or to keep their contributions proprietary.  This is not inconsistent with a social system of people free to own property and is thus not inconsistent with capitalism.  Capitalism does not require all facets of human life to be driven by the profit motive.  Giving money to the Salvation Army, birthday socks to your nephew, hugs to your children and sensual massages to your significant other(s) are not acts of communist revolution.  Neither is contributing your time and expertise to a free software community.

A better analogy to communism would be forcefully nationalizing Microsoft and Dell, distributing their products for free, and "'lawfully" eliminating all competition.  This is because the defining characteristic of communism is force.  Contrary to the Utopian ramblings of Marxists everywhere, communism is not about giving; it is about taking!

What is Capitalism?

The Common Definition of Capitalism:

An economic system that is based on private ownership of the means of production and the creation of goods or services for profit.

My Definition of Capitalism:

Capitalism is the consistent application of peace to every aspect of life. The result of this ideology is the material success that we see around us - the extended order that arises spontaneously when people are free to own property. This "economy" is the emergent property of the action of free people.

How the Average Layman Defines Capitalism:  

What is capitalism? Is it forceful oppression?
I was quite dismayed to find that the first Google result for "What is capitalism?" was from the website of the World Socialist Movement.  I actually tried Bing as well and got the same result.  This would be like asking the Nazi Party, "Who are the Jews?" - they will likely be capable of pointing them out but poor at honestly understanding them or treating them fairly.  Interestingly, the same site ranks second behind Wikipedia in response to "What is Socialism", and there are no pro-capitalist antipodes on the first page of Google results.  Perhaps this is because there is no World Capitalist Movement, at least as far as I can find.  I doubt that this is the result of any major conspiracy, outside the search engine optimization team at the World Socialist Movement, and is more likely attributable to the fact that socialism just seems like such a warm, fuzzy ideal when placed up against the cold, calculated exploitation  that is commonly associated with capitalism. This sentiment is no doubt the inspiration for the picture included above - capitalism represents the exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class and results from the private ownership of the means of production.  Ugh, what a downer!

Now check out this short video of enthusiastic young Australians describing their Utopian (not pejorative, quoted) ideal of socialism.

How grand!  Socialism sounds awesome.  Here is a list of some of the wonderful descriptors of socialism from the video:
social justice
no racism
no war
people before profits
fulfillment of human potential
balance between humanity and nature
relating to each other as people not commodities
So we've established what seems so groovy about socialism, now what specifically is wrong with Capitalism?  The article referenced above uses as its primary source the authoritative Communist Manifesto, so let's begin with it.  

The basis of Capitalism according to the article is class division where the working class (those dependent on wages or salary for survival) is exploited by the capitalist class (those who own the "means of production" such as "land, factories, technology, transport system etc").  The author is careful to state that it may be difficult to determine which class some "relatively wealthy"  individuals are in and that there are some other frequently mentioned class distinctions, such as "middle class", but the reader is assured that assuming only these two classes exist statically and exclusively is the key to unlocking the mysteries of Capitalism.  Ignore the man behind the curtain - nothing to see here.

The second pillar of Capitalism, saith the gospel, is the profit motive:
In capitalism, the motive for producing goods and services is to sell them for a profit, not to satisfy people's needs. The products of capitalist production have to find a buyer, of course, but this is only incidental to the main aim of making a profit, of ending up with more money than was originally invested. This is not a theory that we have thought up but a fact you can easily confirm for yourself by reading the financial press. Production is started not by what consumers are prepared to pay for to satisfy their needs but by what the capitalists calculate can be sold at a profit. Those goods may satisfy human needs but those needs will not be met if people do not have sufficient money.
To whom does one sell products if not to consumers?  What better to sell than what they want?  How does one arrive at a sales price if it is not related to what the consumer is willing to pay for to satisfy his or her needs?  It's not clear, but somehow greedy capitalists, driven by competition, arrive at prices and products that are profitable but not in line with the desires of the huddling masses.  The Labor Theory of Value, the theory underlying the price mechanism in this system of "thought", is complete rubbish and has been thoroughly debunked by Austrian Economists and satirized by your's truly.

Skipping on past a section on how China, Cuba and the U.S.S.R. didn't quite get it right because they were foolish enough to allow "commodity production, buying, selling and exchange", the article continues:
It is also possible (at least in theory) to have a free market economy that is not capitalist. Such a 'market economy' would involve farmers, artisans and shopkeepers each producing a particular product that they would exchange via the medium of money. There would be no profit-making and no class division—just independent producers exchanging goods for their mutual benefit. But it is doubtful whether such an economy has ever existed. ... Such a system would almost inevitability lead to capital accumulation and profit making—the definitive features of capitalism.
It is a tragedy that it is not harder to find wishful, Utopian, childlike thinking of the sort on display here.  There is one sentiment I can certainly agree with though; it is absolutely doubtful if any such economy ever existed with merely the casual notion of magical money, farmers, artisans and shopkeepers keeping everyone clothed and fed without the possibility of accidentally making a profit that might hold them through the next drought or cold spell.

You think I'm cherry picking the articles?  The second article is a brief, matter-of-fact post from which is neutral on the subject.  Wikipedia comes third, followed by a longer neutral article from  The fifth article is a real gem from "The End of Capitalism" blog and starts off with:
Capitalism is the name of the power structure that currently dominates all human society, and which has done so for the last 500 years. It is a system based on ecological and social exploitation for the profit of the wealthy few. I sometimes refer to it as a “global system of abuse” because our relationship with capitalism is based on violence and submission, even though the system would like us to believe that it has our best interests at heart.
I could go on, but I expect my point is clear.  The first five articles an individual in the United States will encounter if struggling to understand the meaning of Capitalism consist of two absolutely banal pieces from the socialist left and three rather boring, dry, neutral descriptions of Capitalism.  Fortunately, if one is patient enough to scroll to the bottom of the page, he or she will find two items extolling the virtues of Capitalism.  The first is a fantastic piece from the Capitalism Institute.  The second is this video from the venerable Tom Woods:

It is an indelible mark of my character to shift between delusions of grandeur and total lack of self confidence.  I have at times struggled to keep this blog going and justified my apathy by the observation that so much has been written about Capitalism, libertarianism and the ideas of liberty in general that I could not possibly contribute to the body of knowledge.  What could I possibly add to the movement with just my spare time and without any formal expertise?  Since discovering, in my first, brief foray into keyword research, that we have failed so miserably in bringing our message of peace and prosperity to those who may be seeking it, I have been invigorated in my quest to do so.  Remember that Google search rankings are temporary.  I would love few things more than coming back in a year's time and finding that this post is in need of a drastic edit because the cogent work that has already been done to expound the virtues of Capitalism has been optimized to be found by those seeking it.

Learning From My Mistakes - A Tool for Sorting Out Trolls

My recent post was intended to be somewhat provocative as one might have guessed from the title.  However, I unwittingly inserted a device into the title that proved to be an excellent tool in sorting and categorizing my readers.  I foolishly used the word "tenant" in place of the word "tenet".  Contrary to the assumptions of a few, I do know the difference.  I fully admit the mistake and attribute it to the careless proofreading of my own writing, but I don't regret it.  It has led me to the following conclusion which I want to share with writers of all kinds:

Making a mistake in the title of your article is excellent troll bait. 

Allow me to demonstrate by describing the following types of reddit and blog commenters:
  • Those who provide anonymous and useful help of the form, "Hey, did you mean 'tenet' not 'tenant'?"
    • These are my absolute favorite and the highest form of human being.  
  • Those who either don't notice the mistake or look past it for the merits of the actual article.
    • These folks are right up there on my list next to the helpful proofreaders.  They are either understanding enough or ignorant enough to read my work, which is cool with me.  
  • Those who provide somewhat constructive criticism based solely on the mistake.
    • These people are alright.  I can take some criticism, especially when I screw up on a relatively large scale, provided that they are not too scathing or demeaning.  
  • Those who make personal attacks without reading the article.
    • As far as I am concerned these people can pound salt, good riddance.  These are the trolls.  It is much easier to point out the mistakes of others than it is to create original content, alone, in your spare time without making an error.  A mistake in the title is the epitome of low hanging fruit for the troll; they get to make snide comments without all the pesky legwork of reading.  Besides being a sensitive test for the trolls, it is specific.  No honestly interested reader is going to behave this way.  Only a douche hellbent on destruction would do such a thing.  
Happy fishing.  

How to Argue with Liberals, Progressives and Other Leftists - The Central Tenet of Statism

The key to rhetorically dominating any flawed ideology is in attacking its basis, which is naturally usually mistaken.  The root of leftist, progressive, social democratic and other euphemistic variants of socialist/statist thought is the idea that people basically suck.  It goes like this.

People suck so:

  • They will not educate their own children up to our standards.  We must take their money and their children and educate them ourselves.  
  • They will not help each other, especially rich people who look down on the helpless poor masses.  We must take a portion of everyone's money, especially the rich because they won't miss it, and give it to people who can't support themselves.  Anyone who considers this thievery doesn't care about the poor.  
  • They are unscrupulous and will rampantly profit off of the ignorance of consumers by selling them defective, dangerous products.  We must wield the long arm of the law to regulate the production and marketing of practically every product in every market to protect the poor, stupid masses.  
  • They are easily conned and too ignorant and lazy to look out for their own interests.  See above.  
  • They will destroy their minds and bodies with drugs, alcohol and unhealthy food if left to their own discretion.  Some drugs are just too dangerous to be in the presence of these poorly programmed automatons; they must be banned.  Other drugs, such as alcohol, must be tightly controlled and highly taxed to prevent the breakdown of society.  The amount of salt, saturated fat, sugar and other nasty ingredients in the commoner's diet must be managed by law if possible.  If we fail in that, we can take their money and educate them on the matter.       

Granted, few people I know would ever justify their world view by bluntly stating that people suck, though I can recall at least one who has.  Somehow the premise for these ideologies is generally given as a love or respect for people, but I fail to see the logic behind loving and respecting humans so much as to advocate for their control, in whole or in part. 

Of course the human condition is more complicated than "people suck" vs. "people don't suck".  I tend to the believe the latter more often than not, though I try to shy away from such banal generalities.  

Individuals have a variety of skills, aptitudes and ambitions.  They interact, exchange, improve and decline in unpredictable and fascinating ways.  People, even at the "lowest" rungs of society, think and act with volition; there is no such mass of poor, starving automatons who need to have their lives planned for them.  There are people like you and me who want to be free from coercion.  Even those who do not recognize this just and moral sentiment of human interaction should be granted the privilege.  If you care so much for your common man but fear that the remainder of society is too evil or inept to help of their own accord, please volunteer your own resources to the cause before advocating codified force against your neighbor.

Stossel: NASA Brought us CAT Scans?

Anyone who knows me could guess that my DVR is full of Stossel episodes.  I think the man and his crew are doing an excellent job distributing the ideas of individual liberty and freedom into the mainstream.  I was surprised this weekend, however, to hear him attribute the invention of the CAT scan to NASA.  This is not in line with the origin story I have heard, so I did a little bit of research.  Now this should not be taken as an attempt to scoop Stossel, as it is one of my favorite shows.  Rather, I am chasing down what I see as a theme of attributing to NASA the full-scale development of any project with which it was associated.

I did a little bit of very superficial research which confirmed what I had heard about the origin of the CAT scanner.  The first commercial machine was developed by Sir Godfrey Hounsfield in the UK, at EMI Central Research Laboratories, the very same company which held the record label for The Beatles.  The popular tale says that it was the success of The Beatles that helped fund the research lab which led to the development of the CT, but of course, this is difficult to confirm.  The invention of the scanner was preceded by a series of advancements and discoveries in x-ray technology, imaging and mathematics dating back to the early 1900's.  In my brief research, I found very little specific attribution to NASA except a few statements on NASA-related websites indicating that image processing technology developed for the Apollo program is used in modern CT imaging.  No doubt the program deserves credit for advancements made under its many programs.  Clearly there have been several that have had considerable, positive impact on human life.  However it is not fair to, as is commonly done, attribute recognition in toto for the development of a technology in which the program played only a bit part.  This only serves the fuel the drumbeat for greater government funding of research and development, a task better left to the market as I have discussed in detail previously.

And so, every time we object to a thing being done by Government, it concludes that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of education by the State—then we are against education altogether. We object to a State religion—then we would have no religion at all. We object to an equality which is brought about by the State then we are against equality, etc., etc. They might as well accuse us of wishing men not to eat, because we object to the cultivation of corn by the State. -- Frederic Bastiat

Breaking News: Studies Prove Studies Unreliable

I don't generally appeal to a broad audience or allow my profession to leak into my writing, but my following very modest proposal should appeal to most level-headed people.  Further, I think you will find it useful if you fall anywhere in one or more of the following debate categories:

  • Skeptics vs. Mystics
  • Republicans vs. Democrats vs. Libertarians
  • Economists vs. Other Economists vs. Laymen
  • Gun Control Advocates vs. Gun Rights Advocates
  • Modern Medicine Practitioners vs. Alternative Medicine Gurus

Let's all agree to stop saying phrases of the type, "Studies prove 'X', 'Y', or 'Z'."  (I'm looking at you journalists.)  More than likely the study being cited doesn't "prove" anything, and if history is any guide, the study is more than likely to later be refuted, indicating that either it or the subsequent study(s) is(are) incorrect.  Consider the following intriguing research from the medical field:  
In the interest of full disclosure, I was introduced to the preceding work by the book Wrong:  Why Experts Keep Failing Us...And How to Know When Not to Trust Them, which I highly recommend.

Bottom Line:
I propose the following alternative phrasing, "Studies provide evidence for 'X', 'Y', or 'Z'."

Inductive arguments can never be proven in the way that deductive arguments are.  Thus we can never have the certainty regarding the efficacy of homeopathic remedies, gun control laws, minimum wage restrictions or the teachings of Zoroastrianism that we can about Euclidean geometry.  So let's stop pretending.  I know it's a small change, but maybe this way fewer middle aged house wives will be sucked into the latest supplement craze (green coffee bean extract?).

Any priest or shaman must be presumed guilty until proved innocent. -- Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love  

Heinlein Foreshadowed Cash for Clunkers

In a brilliant scene from Heinlein's classic The Door into Summer, written in 1957, the main character seems to channel Bastiat himself when confronted in a futuristic world with a government program essentially the same as Cash for Clunkers.  The main character goes on a long sleep in 1970 and awakes in 2000.  His first steady job upon waking is crushing new, unsold cars.  This is the conversation he has with a coworker upon his first day of work:
“It’s a simple matter of economics, son. These are surplus cars the government has accepted as security against price-support loans. They’re two years old now and they can never be the government junks them and sells them back to the steel industry. You can’t run a blast furnace just on ore; you have to have scrap iron as well. You ought to know that even if you are a Sleeper. Matter of fact, with high-grade ore so scarce, there’s more and more demand for scrap. The steel industry needs these cars.”  
“But why build them in the first place if they can’t be sold? It seems wasteful." 
“It just seems wasteful.  You want to throw people out of work? You want to run down the standard of living?” 
“Well, why not ship them abroad? It seems to me they could get more for them on the open market abroad than they are worth as scrap.”  
“What!—and ruin the export market? Besides, if we started dumping cars abroad we’d get everybody sore at us—Japan, France, Germany, Great Asia, everybody. What are you aiming to do? Start a war?” He sighed and went on in a fatherly tone. “You go down to the public library and draw out some books. You don’t have any right to opinions on these things until you know something about them.”
Sound at all like the familiar parable of the broken window?  There truly is nothing new under the sun.

The Labor Theory of Value in Everyday Life: The Soylent Brown Fallacy

The labor theory of value stipulates, in a nutshell, that the value of a product on the market represents the value of the labor input in the course of its production (plus evil, pilfered, bourgeois profits if you're an old-fashioned Marxian).  This theory, though it is intuitive and attractive on its surface, is fundamentally flawed.  This doesn't stop it from being applied in everyday life, especially by the common layman who has never heard of the formal theory.  For example:

  1. I once had a coworker who, fresh out of his undergraduate schooling, declared all advertising to be wasteful.  Therefore, he claimed, it would be better for the government to distribute all relevant product information and for advertising to be illegal.  The primary driving force behind his thinking was that embedded in the price of goods that are advertised is a unit related to advertising costs, and if that were to be removed, the savings could be passed along to the customers.
  2. Similar to the previous notion is the often heard proposition that generic grocery items cost less because the companies that produce them don't have to pay for advertising.   
  3. The development of costs in grant proposals is usually based in part on a number of employees at a percentage of effort for a fixed period of time.  
  4. The bottom line on your invoice from the auto shop or your contractor includes "parts" and "labor".
This is not to say that the going rate of labor an other inputs is not involved in the calculus of prices paid.  These activities simply contribute to the misguided notion as to the origin of value.  Consider the following:

Imagine that you intended to open a restaurant based on the sale of reconstituted  excrement.  Of course, assume that you have developed a laborious and expensive technique to sterilize the manure through a process involving intense heat.  Assume also that this process has been approved by the various regulating bodies and that you have obtained contracts with local farms and sewage agencies to acquire the raw material at a fire sale price.  How do you arrive at a list price for your various incarnations of, for lack of a better name, Soylent Brown.  You would probably start by adding up the cost of the raw material, shipping charges, labor expenses for you and your employees, a function of your rent on the building and a percentage markup that you think is reasonable and that you expect to represent your profit.

Now it's all a matter of raking in the dough.  Will the product sell?  I haven't done any market research, but probably not.  You think that maybe your list price was too high; perhaps you are too far up the demand curve for anyone to be interested in your curried excrement over rice.  You then might decide to invest in an advertising campaign to get the word out about your new lower priced delicacy.   You've had to cut into your potential profits to do this because raising your prices is clearly not an option.  Still, in spite of your efforts, you are not successful.  What to do?

Inspiration strikes!  You decide to sell your product to local ranchers who are less squeamish about what they feed their livestock than the average soccer mom is about what to feed her children.  You realize that this must be done at a lower price point and that you have the opportunity to sell a larger volume, so you ditch the expensive rent for a restaurant downtown in favor of a small factory on the outskirts.  You let your sandwich artisans go in favor of lower paid and less skilled workers.  You scale back your operation by eliminating hoagie buns and guacamole from your inventory, and you finally settle into an operation that can return a profit selling the region's lowest form of refuse to a couple of cheapskate farmers.

Admittedly, this is an unlikely scenario and a business plan that I wouldn't recommend, but I hope it illustrates the origin of the value of your product.  It wasn't some intrinsic value in your labor (how wonderfully circular that would be) or the quantity of it.  It wasn't the money you spent advertising your low-priced fecal sundaes.  It was the subjective valuation of your product given by those farmers.  Your profits, were you be lucky enough to have them, were not milked out of your employees or reaped from operant conditioning of the masses through clever advertisement but from your hard-earned knowledge of what someone valued and how to deliver it to them.    

Related Post: Starship Mises

How are you supposed to pronounce Iraq?

I was 5 or 6 during the first war in Iraq.  I seem to recall that everyone, including the newscasters, pronounced it "eye-rack" at the time.  Obviously I was pretty young then, so I could be mistaken, but it seems that the pronunciation has changed in this country to something more like "ear-rock".  I recollect that this occurred around the build-up leading to the second war.  I wonder if this was because we felt that we had progressed as a country or become more cultured in the decade since our last attack that we felt the need to change the pronunciation.  Doubtless it is perceived as more politically correct by some to pronounce the name of a country more akin to the way natives say it, but I maintain that this does not give the impression of higher culture.  I rather believe that it gives the impression of one who attempts at the mere appearance of it.  Does the president think that he is connecting with the people of "pawk-i-stawn" on their level when he rises above the low-brow, Americanized "pack-u-stan"?  If you think so, consider the last English-speaking white dude you heard say "Mehico" in lieu of "Mexico".  Assuming he was sober and not physically in a Spanish class, you probably thought he was quite a douche, and you were right.

All I'm saying is, you don't need to be ashamed of the language you are speaking.  If you don't pronounce some country the way it sounds in the native tongue, that's cool. You wouldn't expect a German speaker to switch mid sentence from the strict, halting rhythm of their native speech to a drawn and mumbled "Nawlins Lusana".  He might get some laughs, but I doubt he would fool anyone.   

Mandatory Blood Donation

I gave blood, no, thank you, please hold your applause...Anyway I gave blood yesterday and got to thinking, perhaps due to lack of blood flow to my brain, how grand it would be if everyone who was able donate blood on a regular basis or even just gave it a shot.  It's really not difficult or unpleasant.  I mean I am a particularly weak individual, and I have never had any trouble during or after donation.  Maybe the government should require all able-bodied citizens above a certain age to regularly be screened for blood donation eligibility, and if they pass the criteria, be compelled to "donate" a pint under penalty of law.  Maybe a simple tax on anyone who didn't show up for screening and a stiffer one for anyone who passed screening and didn't submit to the needle.  You would probably want to impose a stiffer penalty (tax, I meant tax, sorry) on anyone who willfully made themselves ineligible through international travel, living in the UK for a period exceeding 5 years, having sex for money, sharing an apartment with someone who has hepatitis etc.  Based on recent precedent, this should all be quite constitutional in the US.

Just think of the potential savings, not just in lives, but more importantly, in the federal budget.  I'm no medical expert, but it should be fairly straight forward to come up with a figure spelling out the cost savings for Mr. John Q. Taxpayer due to the ready access to compatible blood in the ER, since he is paying for so many of those visits for the uninsured and the insurance for the insured (Author's Note:  remind me to draft a plan on an O negative blood type breeding program).  Further, think of all the money it will save the blood banks.  If everyone is forced (sorry, incentivized) to give blood, they can stop calling me three times a day and asking me to donate.

More thoughts on the subject - More on Mandatory Blood Donation

"You Didn't Build That" - A response in favor of peace

For those of you living under a rock, there has been a recent uproar over something our gentle public servant Obama said the other day.  If you search for "you didn't build that", you will doubtless find a great number of  news items describing, quoting, misquoting, spinning and backpedaling on the statements of the president.  I will not sully my site with the banal news cycle.  I simply wish to provide my thoughts on the subject.

There are various arguments of the type, "You couldn't have accomplished (or you wouldn't have possession of) X, Y or Z without the government.  The government invested in the internet, microchips, space exploration, your education, and roads.  They provided laws and boots for your protection including such things as patents, police, armies, navies and courts.  Governments paid Columbus to "discover" the new world and Lewis and Clark to explore and document it.  Therefore, you have no cause to complain about taxation or other government interventions which have provided for your general welfare."

These arguments are generally given by the left, though the right is only conditionally allergic to them.  They are given in opposition to the simplistic, dare I say Randian, portrayal of the rugged individualist entrepreneur standing alone against the world to profit in a capitalist paradise.  They so often end with some variant of, "You didn't accomplish this alone."  Well of course is it overly simplistic to think that anyone succeeds in business (or in life for that matter) purely on the merits of their own efforts, but does it follow that we should back off any opposition to government based on this fact?

Of course we all rely on the kindness, savings, investments, intelligence, innovation and business of others in extraordinary and unpredictable ways.  You must receive your business inputs, you must obtain the capital and skills to produce your output and your customers must find you and decide to purchase your product at the price you have set.  You stand on the shoulders of inventors and discoverers who have come before you and presume that somehow a population will have the wealth and the desire to purchase your wares.  You didn't plan all of this; you would have had to start before you were born.  So if you succeed in business through loss of your own blood, sweat and tears, whom do owe and how much?

Certainly you can account for the prices paid for your raw materials, your capital equipment, your employees and your education.  You will pay interest or give up a portion of future profits to investors.  Your parents are unlikely to insist repayment for your upbringing, so you're off the hook there.  You either pay rent for your property or you purchased it outright.  Last but not least, your customers pay you, which ultimately allows you to pay for all of your inputs.  So maybe you owe your customer the most; you clearly couldn't have done it without them.  But wait a minute, they received something in this transaction - your product.  Did they pay too much?  Should you give something back, if not to them then to society?  Unless you defrauded them, forced them or sold a defective product, you should not feel the need to repay anyone.  The price paid for any good is a reflection of the subjective valuation of that good to the purchaser at the given place and time.  You give a man a hamburger, he gives you $5 and you owe each other nothing but mutual thanks.  This relationship recurses back through every transaction in the chain of production and we end up with this beautiful, spontaneous, chaotic order in which we can peacefully make progress and profits off the backs of our neighbors and owe them nothing but our thanks.    

Now enter a gang of thieves who disrupt this harmonious relationship with force or subterfuge.  Their guns represent an attempt to get something from the beautiful order of man without giving anything in return.  The gang may in special circumstances provide money in exchange for their takings, but this "price" is meaningless on account of their weapons and their "right" to use them.  Imagine a gang large enough to repel all other gangs between the sea and the nearest mountain range.  The pragmatic gang will not disrupt the order enough to destroy it as it provides for the welfare of all.  They will protect their borders with troops and the order on their streets with police.  They will take their cut of commerce flowing in, out and within their realm.  The population will become so accustomed to these takings that the guns will be rarely taken out of their holsters for the robbery, which then will be called a tax.  If possible they will monopolize the currency used by the populace to aid in extracting the resources required to "maintain" the order, which preceded their existence.  Finally, the populace will thank them and sing their praises for false promises written on paper to constrain the power they have already usurped for themselves.  They will put roads and build bridges where it pleases them and pay prices that mean nothing for materials and labor.  With funds taken from the people, they will pay meaningless fees to scientists to discover things they think people are interested in knowing and engineers to build things they think people will want.  In the same way they will enforce a curriculum upon the youth.  They will mistake progress with comfort and destroy both by paying men to dig ditches and fill them in.  For all of this they will claim a right to thanks from the citizenry.  They will shout down objections to their power with claims that the order would not exist without them and that their theft was necessary and beneficial.  And at this point, their resemblance to the state is complete.          

Conscription vs. Slavery

I don't know why I torture myself with useless and difficult thought experiments, but I find myself debating which is worse between military conscription and chattel slavery.  This brings to mind the schoolyard debate over whether it would be worse to burn or freeze to death.  I think in order to openly debate myself on this question without bringing offense to too many readers I must remove the quandary from its historical context.  To clarify, I am not considering the difference between being a slave in the antebellum American South or an Egyptian pyramid laborer on the one hand and fighting for the "good guys" in any of the various attempts to "make the world safe for democracy" on the other.  I don't think such a question could be answered, and frankly, it doesn't interest me in the slightest.

So imagine the situation that a war started tomorrow and a draft was instituted the day after.  Your number was called and your only opportunity to avoid compulsory military service was to submit to slave labor to a private farmer for a period of time equal to the alternative military term.  What would your preference be?

When placed in this context, I think the decision is easy.  I would much prefer private slavery to groveling before the state for the privilege of having my ass shot off.  Clearly the risk of death is less in slavery, and the risk of killing is practically zero.  Further, in slavery I could appeal to the good nature of a single person as opposed to the mob (a.k.a. the democratic majority), an entity with no heart and no brain.  I have no delusions of being set free as that would sort of ruin the thought experiment, but it is nice to know that I could  at least try for favorable treatment.  

Independence Day

This is the first 4th of July that I would describe myself as an anarcho-capitalist, and I am struggling to pinpoint exactly what it is I should be celebrating and how I should show it.  As someone who recognizes the illegitimacy of states in general, it is difficult to muster any nationalistic pride or go along with any of the myriad activities that can only be described as state worship - singing God Bless the USA, taking my hat off for the Anthem, wearing the national colors, honoring a flag, pledging allegiance, thumping my chest for the spreading of "democracy" etc.  On the other hand, I have come up with a few things that I can get on board with:

  1. Blowing things up in a nonviolent way - I like the idea of having a good time demonstrating man's power over nature in a mostly nondestructive and nonaggressive way.  I also like the activity of snubbing your nose at states who don't allow certain fireworks (for your own protection of course) by crossing state lines for your purchase.  
  2. Celebrating actual independence - Casting off the yoke of an oppressive regime is always something I can get behind, and some of my ancestors in the American colonies risked their lives to do just that.  It doesn't logically follow however that I should stand in reverence to the oppressive regime that has since then taken its place.  
  3. Getting together with loved ones to eat too much and celebrate our "American" culture - It is our personal relationships that fulfill and sustain us, not the promises of the government.  Further, it our customs - our food, our languages, dialects and pastimes - that bind us together in peace, not the imaginary lines on the map.  It is our societal customs and the good nature of our neighbors and our selves that we rely on to keep us safe and free.  To believe that government alone can provide this is a fantasy.  To paraphrase the insidious cliche, freedom is indeed not free, but never fall under the misconception that it can be preserved or defended by proxy.

I wish everyone a wonderful day of thoughtful celebration!

Brand X - Xtreme Stupidity

Unfortunately I was awake last night to catch part of an episode of Brand X on FX.  In the course of an incoherent argument, propped up by a Harvard graduate who used to work for congress (yes, you are supposed to be impressed), the host presented the audience with two examples of "the free market".  The basis of the argument was something like America doesn't need a Dalai Lama because we have the president of the united States, Oprah Winfrey and "the free market" to worship.  This is really too asinine to get in to, but who did he present as  models of the free market?  Warren Buffet and Alan Greenspan!  I have previously explained for those who don't already know how Warren Buffet is a poor example of a free marketeer, but Alan Greenspan, seriously?!  Perhaps when he was writing about the use of gold as currency for Ayn Rand's Newsletter that would have made sense, but he is most well known as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve.  The Federal Reserve is a banking cartel affiliated with the federal government and dedicated to controlling the monetary system!   Do I really need to explain how controlling a fiat currency and manipulating the banking system are not actions that can be associated with a free marketplace?  

In the interest of full disclosure, I stopped watching the show at this point, so it is possible that this was an elaborate set-up for a more informed discussion of economics and freedom.  I feel comfortable with the assumption that it was not.  

Penny4NASA Follow-Up

This thought came to me in the shower, as most good thoughts do, and I thought it was a shame I didn't include it in my previous post:

Consider for a moment the capital expended to mass produce the first automobiles.  Now think of how quickly they were adopted, how drastically they changed human activity and productivity and how unbelievably quickly they improved with respect to speed, mobility, style, reliability and efficiency.  All of that was produced with hard-earned capital, voluntarily given in expectation of profit, and a healthy dose of enterprising individuals employed for the same cause.  Now compare this with NASA's history.  The expenditure has been enormous, not to mention it was all taken by force, and the payoff relatively small.  The so-called "spin-off" technologies and secondary externalities created by the agency seem paltry compared to the advances in technology Ford alone developed.  I encourage anyone to look them up.  While you're at it, read Garet Garett's The Wild Wheel.

Freedom, Peace and Liberty - 1
Tyranny, Force and Plunder - 0

Related Posts:

Pennies for Flying Cars - Another Tale of the Unseen
Pennies for NASA - Ignoring Cost at all Cost

Pennies for Flying Cars - Another Tale of the Unseen

Wouldn't it be great if I drove a flying Mercedes-Benz?  I certainly think so!  Wouldn't it be great if everyone else did too?  No doubt.  Of course we would need to nationalize a major car company, but I don't anticipate any obstacles there.

How much would you pay for the universe (of flying cars)?  How do we examine the costs and benefits?

Besides the mere fact that everyone would be flying in style with little concern for congestion, just think of all the stimulative effects it would have on society.  We would probably all save a bunch of time going to and from work.  The ability to fly would eliminate many of the complexities associated with driving and would probably facilitate automating the process.  This would free us from the drudgery of the daily commute and essentially make the world smaller, expanding our zone of employment and improving our earning power.  Besides all that, I certainly would feel better about myself and my status, being a hot-rod pilot and all.  I would probably start dressing better, and maybe I would have the esteem to go for that big promotion at work.  Multiply that by millions of people so effected and imagine the economy purring along like a spoiled kitten.  Children everywhere would be inspired by the wonder of daily flight, as well as the precise engineering, the smooth handling and the attractive contouring that go along with the now ubiquitous, flying Mercedes-Benz.  Just imagine the young crop of overachieving engineers, scientists, designers and artists growing up and really getting after it in an ever expanding world of opportunity!  Beyond all of that, we're bound to happen upon a great many wealth-producing discoveries and labor-saving inventions in our quest to mass produce flying cars.  We can't afford to let go of this dream!  People probably won't go for it voluntarily, so we'll probably need the government to foot the bill.

Foolish, childish ideas and hyperbolic extrapolations?  Absolutely.  No one would ever seriously propose such an expensive, narrow-minded, centrally-planned "national greatness" program simply on the grounds that it would be inspirational or generally stimulative.  First of all, to attribute the life decisions and successes of any individual in an advanced society (let alone that of a group of such individuals) to a single program, stimulus or event is utter foolishness.  Further, to claim that directing that desire toward a particular field in lieu of all others is an improvement on the situation of men is a fatal conceit indeed.  Inspiring a young Sam Walton to design thrusters for the new F-Class would have deprived us of Walmart, which would have been an injustice nearly beyond this author's will to consider.

The rationalization of the program based on the stimulative effects of inventions made in the process is a particularly special pleading based on ignoring the costs of the program itself.  Of course the monetary price we would pay for the program is obvious, but the activities forgone in order to support it will forever be hidden to us.  I am not speaking here of what other great national work must be given up, like the Federal Jetpack Program, though that is a viable concern.  I am considering what activities in the private (or peaceful) market place must be displaced in order to make the flying car dream a reality.  It takes real saved wealth to pull off a project like this, and since the government has none, they'll have to take it away from someone (more likely a whole bunch of someones).  Your guess is as bad as mine as to what that saved wealth would have been used for.  Some of it no doubt would have been saved for consumption at a later date, while some of it would have been consumed right away on things like candy, shirts, smart phones and regular, old-fashioned rolling cars.  So that's simple enough; we're just asking for little Johnny to go without his chocolate for the week, or little Susan to cut back on the texts or 16 year-old Franklin's parents to go for the fixer upper instead of certified pre-owned.  That's not so much to ask of the patriotic citizen for the common dream of flying cars.  If you buy that argument, I guess this is where we go our separate ways, but there is one last thing I would like you to consider - investment.  Some of that wealth would have been invested in a broad array of forward-looking ventures, most of which probably would have had a better chance of turning a profit than the lofty dream of flying luxury cars.  Some, no doubt, would have been massive failures that were either poorly managed or not well thought out or both, but if history is any guide, a great many of them would have been successful, some of them fantastically so.  There would have been some AOL-TimeWarner's and some Betamax's, but there would also be the Amazon's and the Apple's.  Maybe we would be missing out on the next Iphone, Ipad, or hell, the Icar (not flying til generation 4.f).  Maybe Bayer would have cancelled a line or research on some young drug that would have turned out to cure cancer, or AIDS, or diabetes.  Maybe Pfizer pulled back on the next great erection enhancer.  Maybe Kenmore's new dishwasher would have saved us more time at less expense than the flying 'Benz.  The fact is, we'll never know the costs of the great flying machine project because they are simply immeasurable.  So you tell me if you can justify taking your neighbor's wealth by force to support this or any other technological fantasy.

In my previous post on the subject of Penny4NASA, I focused on the fiscal irresponsibility of clamoring for increased NASA funding.  Now I hope I have demonstrated the fallacious nature of the arguments used to present the supposed benefits of increased funding for the program as expounded on said website:

NASA contributes to society in massively huge ways in terms of technological, economical, and inspirational progress. The progress that we have seen in the last 40 years comes largely from the world's extremely talented scientists and engineers. Now, talk to most any scientist and/or engineer of the last 40 years, and we are willing to bet that they were drawn into their chosen field by something NASA related. And more often then not, they refer to the Apollo, Gemini and/or Space Shuttle program where humans were physically advancing a frontier. It's the human spirit of exploration that drives the world's greatest technologists to invent the future, today. We want to see to it that the US annual budget allocation for NASA reflects that hugely important role technology, economy, and inspiration bringer.

I hope my work can be a massively huge inspiration bringer to young thinkers everywhere so that they can root out the legal plunder of the future, today.

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Pennies for NASA - Ignoring Cost at all Cost

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