An Annoying Increase in the Use of the Term "Whilst"

My SEO guy advised me not to post this, but I couldn't contain myself.

Am I the only person who has noticed a disturbing increase in the use of the word "whilst."  If so, I'll shut up.  But seriously, what the hell is going on?  I used to see it once in a blue moon, and the fact that it was a little bit strange and different made it kind of fun in certain contexts.  Now it has gone too far.  It is sort of in an uncanny valley for words where it is too common to be cute any more but not common enough to go unnoticed.

Now that I have pointed it out, I'm sure it will annoy you too.  You're welcome.

Government is Necessary

The title statement may seem an odd contradiction coming from an anarchist, but the fact is government is necessary so long as the people think they need it.  The government provides three essential functions:

  • The illusion of order
  • The illusion of security
  • The illusion of accountability

The Shocker of the Decade - Bailout of GM Not a Good Investment for US Treasury

Yes, you read that right folks, the federal governments bailout of GM through a massive purchase of stock may not have been such a great investment after all.  In fact, the treasury may have lost as much as $10 Billion on the deal.  But please folks, I implore you, give these poor public servants a break.  No one could have predicted that a government action could have gone so wrong.

Atlas Slacked Off - or - The Tragedy of the Margins

Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, Capitalism
Atlas Shrugged, being one of the most popular and controversial books of all time, is probably familiar to you.  While I still credit the book as a major turning point in my young life and for fundamentally shifting the way I think about ethics and politics, I no longer wave the Ayn-Rand-was-right-about-everything banner.  Putting the major disagreements aside, I want to focus on yet another epiphany I had in the shower this morning (is there a better place for such a thing?).  The following will be a minor plot spoiler to those entirely unfamiliar with the novel.

The theme of the book is the most productive members of society - the men (and a woman) "of the mind", in Rand's parlance - getting fed up with the parasitic elements of society and going on strike.  This strike usually involves the self-destruction of their huge industrial businesses and their disappearance.  This, it struck me this morning, is where the story departs starkly from reality.  I am not disagreeing with the premise that those who produce wealth should bristle at the thought of it being pilfered from them.  Nor am I suggesting that they should not resist such acts of aggression - by force if necessary.  My qualm is with the literal interpretation of the book.  I see the plot as an abstraction intended to illustrate the morality and the consequences of the producers going on strike.  Unfortunately, the practical effects of government intervention into otherwise peaceful interactions are considerably more subtle.

The most insidious aspect of the strike going on with the producers here in the real world is on the margins.  People should not be expected to shrink away from society all-together when being fed up with taxation and regulation.  Rather, they will for the most part simply let those projects which require too much effort for too little gain (whether because of taxes or regulations) slip away, never to be seen or heard from again.

We should consider here Bastiat's warning against focusing solely on that which can be seen and ignoring that which is hidden.  The medical doctors who retire early, citing increased regulation and the affordable care act as their reason, are quite visible.  Those who decide not to go into medicine or those who simply elect to spend more time on the golf course are the unseen.  The chemist who discovers a potential cure for a rare disease but doesn't pursue it because the potential market just doesn't justify a billion dollars worth of regulatory hurdles is part of the unseen.  So is the dentist who doesn't expand his practice because the additional income moves him to the next tax bracket, netting him a pittance for the trouble.  So is the young couple who let their small business dreams die when they couldn't afford the new minimum wage.

I would argue that the "Brain Drain" is not the physical movement of ability from the borders of an overreaching state, though that certainly happens.  It is rather the creeping apathy of a mind grappling with the inability to be independent and effectual in a static, constrained and centrally planned world.

The little things that we have lost are a crime against humanity.

Where Were You the Day Oswald Was Framed?

I know that was a loaded question, but bear with me.  Do you believe the official story?  Or are you one of those conspiracy theorists?  Neither one sounds very good does it?  Did Oswald act alone, or was he framed altogether by one of myriad powerful cabals?  I frankly have no idea who shot Kennedy.  My only knowledge of the JFK assassination comes from the Oliver Stone film and a couple of History channel documentaries.  Given that it is Oliver Stone after all and given the ubiquity of Ancient Aliens, I'm not sure either of my two sources are reliable.  I do consider myself a skeptic, which puts me in the official story camp.  But, I am also a libertarian with a strong distrust of government, aligning me with many of the conspiracy theorists.  So I clearly don't know what happened that day, and I am comfortable never knowing.  What I do know is that conspiracies, while difficult to execute and keep secret, happen every day.  Look at 911, that was a relatively large conspiracy.  On the other hand there are a ton of crazy theories out there that are given the general blanket of "conspiracy".  But I think attacking something as a conspiracy theory is kind of a cop out.  To me, there are theories for which there is strong evidence, and theories for which there is not strong evidence.  We do not need further distinction.

Physical Rhetoric and the Non Aggression Principle

The Non Aggression Principle, LibertarianismI was telling a friend last night about the Non Aggression Principle.
I said, "I don't think there is a moral basis for any government institution as it currently exists or has ever existed to the best of my knowledge.  I believe this because there is always an explicit or implicit initiation of force as the basis of every government action.  It is that initiation of force that I find morally repugnant."

"How did you come to the conclusion that the initiation of force is wrong?" He asked.

"It is not a conclusion.  I hold it as axiomatically true."

"Oh, well in that case we are going to have to agree to disagree."  He replied.

"Oh, so you won't mind if I ..."

It was then, mid sentence, that I socked him right in the gut.  I didn't do it too hard, just enough to prove a point.  It turns out he agreed with me all along.

A Simple Life Lesson

It seems to me that the single most common mistake people make, especially in their youth, is to assume that anyone knows what they are talking about.  This is an unreliable assumption regardless of the person's social status, academic title, professional training or other credentials.  Most people are faking it; the rest don't know that they are.

Upstart - A New Approach to Funding Education

A few months ago (it feels like years for some reason), I wrote about a novel idea I had to change the way education is funded.  I still have not fully developed the concept, but basically, instead of paying tuition the student would agree to pay back to the educator a certain percentage of future income.  This morning, I read in Reason Magazine about a similar approach that is being applied on the loan side of the equation.  Instead of getting a risky loan from the government or some other institution, a student would enter into a contract to pay back a percentage of future income to their benefactor.  This bolts on to our current system much more readily than my idea.  Good luck and God speed to them!

Oh and to those who said it was foolish... well... you know what to do...

State of Pennsylvania Voter ID Request Advertising Campaign

So, in upcoming elections the state of Pennsylvania is going to ask voters to show their ID when they come to the booths on election day.  Voters will not be required to show ID - it is entirely optional.  Ok, big, fat, hairy deal right?  Wrong!  The state has seen it necessary to spend tax dollars on an ad campaign, which runs constantly on local television, letting us know that we will be asked but not required to show ID on election day!  Geniuses, I think I could have dealt with this optional program on the fly, with no prior notice.  I do not need to be mentally prepared to be asked to show ID on a voluntary basis.  I really cannot decide what the worst part about this is.  Is it that I am constantly annoyed by these useless advertisements?  Or, is it that I have been forced to give money to the state so that they can tell me that, if I choose to show up on election day, someone might - gasp - ask politely to see my ID.
State of PA Voter ID Commercial
State of PA Voter ID Commercial

Saturday Morning Spooner - Part 3

Lysander Spooner from “No Treason — No. II. The Constitution.”
The Constitution certainly supposes that the crime of treason can be committed only by man, as an individual. It would be very curious to see a man indicted, convicted, or hanged, otherwise than as an individual; or accused of having committed his treason otherwise than as an individual. And yet it is clearly impossible that any one can be personally guilty of treason, can be a traitor in fact, unless he, as an individual, has in some way voluntarily pledged his faith and fidelity to the government. Certainly no man, or body of men, could pledge it for him, without his consent; and no man, or body of men, have any right to presume it against him, when he has not pledged it himself.

Saturday Morning Spooner - Part 2

Lysander Spooner “No Treason — No. II. The Constitution.”
One essential of a free government is that it rest wholly on voluntary support. And one certain proof that a government is not free, is that it coerces more or less persons to support it, against their will. All governments, the worst on earth, and the most tyrannical on earth, are free governments to that portion of the people who voluntarily support them. And all governments—though the best on earth in other respects—are nevertheless tyrannies to that portion of the people—whether few or many—who are compelled to support them against their will. A government is like a church, or any other institution, in these respects. There is no other criterion whatever, by which to determine whether a government is a free one, or not, than the single one of its depending, or not depending, solely on voluntary support.

Saturday Morning Spooner - Part 1

Lysander Spooner, The Constitution, LibertarianismLysander Spooner in “No Treason — No. II. The Constitution.”

No middle ground is possible on this subject. Either "taxation without consent is robbery," or it is not. If it is not, then any number of men, who choose, may at any time associate; call themselves a government; assume absolute authority over all weaker than themselves; plunder them at will; and kill them if they resist. If, on the other hand, "taxation without consent is robbery," it necessarily follows that every man who has not consented to be taxed, has the same natural right to defend his property against a taxgatherer, that he has to defend it against a highwayman.

An Update to Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher once said that, "The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money."  While I think that is mostly true, I want to improve on the accuracy of the statement just slightly:

The problem with socialism is that it requires the use of violence against innocent people, and the practical limitation of it is that you eventually run out of their money.  

Insert "communism", "fascism" or "a mixed economy" for "socialism" and the statement will remain true.

Liquor as a Store of Value

Vodka MartiniI had quite a bit of liquor left over from my wedding.  When I was putting it away, the thought crossed my mind, "I wonder if I can return it?"  I thought about it for a moment.  I like rum and vodka, the two varieties I had left, so I would eventually drink it all.  If not, my wife and I could throw one heck of a party that would take care of our alcohol stock.   But when?  Would we be through the liquor in 6 months, a year, two years?  Would I rather have the cash or the booze?  Then I thought about what the price of the drinks might be in a year or two.  Given the propensity for the central bank to inflate the money supply at the risk of increasing prices, I expect the price of practically everything to go up over the next couple of years.  I see no reason for vodka and rum to be excluded.  On the other hand, the drinks are mighty stable.  The mojitos and martinis I make next December will taste just as good as the ones I made this weekend with the same libations.  So in my estimation, distilled spirits, properly cared for, are a considerably better store of value than the Federal Reserve Note, though that may not be saying much.    

A Tale of Home Ownership?

I was planning to put a privacy fence up in my back yard to shield the neighbors and passers by from my occasional early morning nudity.  You see, my kitchen and living room are unfortunately eye level with the back alley, and my cats occasionally like to wake me up in the wee hours of the morning, in which case they need to be locked in the basement for a couple of hours.  I usually pull the blinds before bed, but I do not always remember.  I do however insist on sleeping in the comfort of my own skin.  You do the math.

So you can see how a privacy fence sounds like a good idea.  However, it seems that I do not actually own my house or the ground it is on.  Between Federal, State, County and Township governments, we are sharing it.  I almost just put up the fence after looking through the Township's website and not being completely clear on whether I needed a permit.  I decided to call just to be safe.  Sure enough, they sent me an application packet in the mail.  I filled it out, found a survey of the property in my records and drew a line where my fence would protect  my neighbors' innocent eyes.  I got a call a couple of days later asking me how high the fence would be.  I told them 6 feet per the regulation.  That was all they needed; we are all set.

Last weekend I received my denial in the mail.  Privacy fences are not aloud in the front yard it said.  I was surprised to say the least but assumed that it was some sort of mistake.  Clearly my address is on the other street, and my house faces that way.  It was Sunday so I emailed the Township asking for clarification.  They were very responsive, but unfortunately, there was no mistake.  What I consider my back alley, they consider a street.  This means that I have two front yards in the eyes of the Township.  Lucky me!  Poor neighbors.

The Statesman as Hero

I came across this quote at a site I am sure will soon be one of my regular stops on the net, Quote Investigator:
If you shoot one person you are a murderer. If you kill a couple persons you are a gangster. If you are a crazy statesman and send millions to their deaths you are a hero. — Watertown Daily Times.

Imagine

Statist Newspaper Headline:

Federal Agents Bust Hells Angels on Drug Charges


Anarchist Newspaper Headline:

Hells Angels Lose Battle with Rival Gang.  




The One Good Thing to Come from The Drug War

The War On Drugs, Libertarianism
AMC
Those who say nothing good has come from the War on Drugs have clearly not seen Breaking Bad.  In case you do not own a television or have internet access, in which case someone has printed this article out for you, Breaking Bad is the tale of a milquetoast high school chemistry teacher who turns to cooking methamphetamine upon being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.  I just happened to catch the pilot when it first aired, and I have been hooked ever since.


I was fascinated by the character of Walter White from the beginning.  He is frustrated, not just with his cancer diagnosis but with his career and his ability to support his family.  We learn early in the series that he has a history as a brilliant chemist and co-founded a now successful company with this college roommate but left the scene before he was able to cash in.  After being presented with his terminal diagnosis and confronting the end of his life, the relative comfort of his mundane existence turns to the realization of his own untapped potential.  In his angst, Walter White becomes an entrepreneur.


He hooks up with a drug-addicted slacker and former student of his, Jesse Pinkman, who just so happens to also be throwing away quite a bit of potential himself.  The two develop a complicated, father-son (or at least uncle-nephew) relationship as they develop a drug empire based on super high quality meth.  Based on the pilot, I thought the show was going to be primarily a comedy, but the dark consequences of a life of crime spoiled the fun early and often throughout the series.  The remainder of the show has been a dramatic thriller, with Walt and Jesse facing down kingpin after kingpin while growing their business and keeping it a secret from Walt's wife and his DEA agent brother-in-law (did I  forget to mention that?).  


So Walter White becomes the bad guy, or at least that is the goal of the show's creators.  I have a difficult time seeing him as pure evil like so many others do who have commented on the show.  Of course he has committed crimes beyond retribution -- murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, grand larceny -- but, really, who started it?  Imagine if methamphetamine was not a controlled substance.  Walter would have developed his recipe, purchased his ingredients and started cooking.  Maybe he would have taken out a small business loan.  He would have documented and controlled his process and would have approached retailers with Heisenberg's brand, ultra-pure, blue methamphetamine.   Perhaps he would have negotiated a price and exclusive distribution deal with Walgreens.  I doubt at any point he would have had cause to murder any of the Walgreens executives, poison their children or dissolve any of their bodies in hydrofluoric acid.  There would be no violence, no suspense and thus no television show.  

But, as much as my heart wants to, I cannot let Walt off the hook.  Murder, whether to protect Jesse, his family or his empire, is wrong.  Still, at its core, the cause of the violence in the show is the War on Drugs.  If Walt sold his drugs to Walmart and CVS instead of Tuco and Gus, he probably would have lived happily ever after, or at least until the cancer killed him.  So remember: no war on drugs, no Breaking Bad and no destruction of the character Walter White.  





To Protect and Serve

My usual commute to work is 10 minutes.  Lucky guy right?  Well, today it was 45.  Was there an accident?!  Maybe someone was pulled over and the rubber necks put me behind?  As I waited, I realized that this was too much of an ordeal for something like that.  

After about 30 minutes in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I saw a clue to the mystery: "Regulatory Area Ahead.  Prepare to stop." Shortly thereafter I reached the epicenter, ground zero of traffic enforcement stupidity.  I saw no less than six cop cars in the HOV lane with their lights flashing, pulling people over for using the HOV lane improperly.  I was absolutely beside myself.  This is a quote from a local news story covering the topic today:
Pennsylvania State Police officers wrote more than 60 tickets, and gave out 14 warnings to drivers who were driving alone in the HOV lanes.
“We were very surprised at the number of violators that we had,” said Trooper Robin Mungo, of the Pennsylvania State Police.
However, the crackdown caused a nine-mile long traffic backup.
Surprised?! Really?!  You were surprised that six police cars with their lights flashing, during morning rush hour, as you enter downtown on one of the largest and busiest thoroughfares in Pittsburgh caused traffic to backup?!  You are either lying, in which case you do not care about the people you are supposed to be protecting and serving, or you are too stupid to operate a motor vehicle, let alone enforce traffic laws for those of us who are not.
“I don’t want to say I apologize; it’s unfortunate that they had to sit in the backups, but in our profession it kind of comes with the territory,” said Trooper Mungo.
Yes, in your profession, sitting around in a car all day may come with the territory, but not in mine.  Officer, you seemed to be a little bit confused about this non apology you have reluctantly not rendered to whom I can only interpret are other police officers.  Here is what you meant:
“I don’t want to say I apologize; it’s unfortunate that they had to sit in the backups, but when people as dull as me are in charge, you should just come to expect this sort of thing,"  Trooper Mungo meant to say.    
It seems relatively likely to me that traffic was backed up the way it was on purpose.  Are people more likely to illegally take the HOV lane if traffic is backed up as far as the eye can see?  I know I would be.  This spells harvest time for the state police.

The hits kept on coming in the interview:
“We weren’t doing it to purposely make anyone late, but we can’t enforce that law any other time,” said Trooper Mungo. 
Yes, it does indeed help to pull people over on the HOV lane when it is open.  I will grant you that one, but is there honestly no other way to enforce these traffic laws?  It seems like a very simple proposition.  So simple that I am going to provide a few suggestions:
  1. Next time, do not worry about having so much staff on duty.  One cop car with its lights on can cause a backup.  Six cars causes a traffic nightmare.  Take the same budget (as if you have to worry about it) and spread the six cars out over six mornings.  You'll probably get just as many tickets.  Do not worry so much if traffic slows down a little in the HOV lane; there are way fewer people over there.  
  2. Occasionally set an officer plainly in view of the HOV lane entrance.   This will prevent all but the very stupid or inattentive solitary drivers from using the HOV lane.  This will, however, have the unfortunate effect of preventing you from actually getting to write any tickets.  
  3. This seems like a no brainer use case for traffic cameras.  Instead of having some lackeys sitting in cars all day trying to enforce the law in real time mucking up the traffic and wasting everyone's time, have some other lackeys doing it at 2X playback speed in an air conditioned office.  If they see a solitary driver, capture the plate and image and send a ticket in the mail.  Delete the remaining video, rinse and repeat.  If you are particularly budget conscious, put the cameras in plain sight but only look at them once or twice a month.  
  4. Finally, just learn to pick your battles.  Is this really that big of a deal?  Are people put at risk by this relatively rare behavior?  Maybe start cracking down on the HOV lane if it starts becoming a problem.  If traffic backs up there for instance, go check it out to make sure everyone there is legit.  
My point here is not just to harangue the officers involved, who I am sure occasionally do good work.  My point is that the way we structure the policing functions in our society does not allow them to make the appropriate cost benefit analysis in any situation like the one I have outlined.  Consider the case in which the police department was liable for the lost time at work for all of those unfortunate souls trapped in traffic for an hour.  I have a suspicion that that would have an effect on their behavior.  

Imagine If Intellectual Property Applied to Football

Intellectual Property in Football
Football is an intensely competitive and dynamic game.  Every season brings changes in offensive and
defensive formations and plays.  Occasionally a young upstart coach at a junior college will come up with a new scheme that, in as little as a couple of seasons, will completely revolutionize the game.  The evolution of the sport is made possible by the rampant copying of one's competitors.  This is what makes the game so much fun to follow.  What works like magic this week may not work at all next week, once one's opponents have watched the game film.  What passes for offensive genius this season may next season be widely exposed for its fundamental weakness.

Imagine for a moment if plays and formations could be patented.  What effect would that have on the game?  An offensive coordinator would come up with a new play, document the design in an overly verbose and incomprehensible document, and wait for the NFL Patent Office to release their verdict.  Finally, 3 seasons later, the coach can incorporate his new play into the offense, or he could try to license or sell the rights to the play to another team.  Perhaps it just does not work with his current crop of players.  Once a defense sees the new play in action, they will have to scour their portfolio for a countermeasure that they think will work in defending it.  If nothing is found, they may have to resort to purchasing the rights to one.  The could of course take the time to invent their own play and check it against current patents issued, lest they land themselves in court for trespassing on the intellectual space of some coach who came up with a too similar blitz 12 seasons earlier.

It is difficult to project exactly how a football patent process would effect the game, but I submit without equivocation that it would put a major damper on that element which makes the game so much fun, innovation.  This is because the incentive of the game would be bastardized.  Instead of just doing whatever it takes to reach the goal line without holding, clipping and the like, the coaching staff must now do so while avoiding the patent courts.   The focus would be shifted from coming up with new plays to protecting the plays already in the team's portfolio.

Is this a perfect analogy to intellectual property to be applied outside the realm of sports?  Probably not.  But I hope what is clear by now is that the absence of legal protection of ideas does not present a disincentive to innovate as is so often leveled in defense of intellectual property.  Being the first to the field or to the market with a new plan, or even an improved implementation of an old plan, is all the incentive that is needed, in life or in sport, to be inventive.  The takeaway that is just as important is that, in the absence of legal protection from copying, one must not rest on one's laurels but must - gasp - keep innovating to keep moving the ball forward.

Big Data Explained

I stumbled upon a very fascinating blog this morning, which is focused on statistics of all things.  He did a perfect job of capturing my frustration with the meaninglessness of the overused term "Big Data".  Here is an excerpt:

What is big data?
Whatever the labeler wants it to be; data that is not small; a faddish buzz word; a recognition that it’s difficult to store and access massive databases; a false (but with occasional, and temporary, bright truths) hope that if characteristics down to the microsecond are known and stored we can predict everything about that most unpredictable species, human beings...

Non Profit Porn Site

It's official, any sort of business can qualify for non-profit status if so inclined.  I have lately been somewhat obsessed with the arbitrary and wrong-headed distinction between "for profit" and "not for profit" organizations.  Then last night it hit me - I can shock the reader with something completely beyond the pale.  I can provide an example so ridiculous that it will reveal the absurdity of dividing endeavors based on the intention to make a return on investment.  My idea:  a non profit porn site.  But alas, I was foiled.  It has been done!

Who is Being Naive?

I watched The Godfather again the other night, and I have to say I have a new favorite scene.  
Michael: "My father is no different than any powerful man, any man with power, like a President or senator."
Kay: "Do you know how naive you sound, Michael? Presidents and senators don't have men killed!"
Michael Corleone: "Oh. Who's being naive, Kay?"

Taxation Is Theft

There are those - and by "those" I mean "the vast majority of people" - who do not believe that taxation is theft.  The minority of those people who have actually encountered the idea that taxation may be theft left the idea quickly in the dust with such euphemisms as "taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society."  In order to accept this statement one must first ignore the fact that prices emerge from voluntary exchange, a blatant impossibility with a government decree such as the tax level.  One must then proceed to accept an unspoken definition for "society", including such important aspects as who comprises it, how its will is to be determined and how that will should be executed.  This is absolutely critical as it is clearly "society" who will be determining the constraints of what is "civilized", and there will be no shortage of highly energetic do-gooders who will be happy to interprets society's will for the good of civilization.   On this point, I will leave the thought experiment to the great Lysander Spooner.  From "No Treason — No. II. The Constitution.":
No middle ground is possible on this subject. Either "taxation without consent is robbery," or it is not. If it is not, then any number of men, who choose, may at any time associate; call themselves a government; assume absolute authority over all weaker than themselves; plunder them at will; and kill them if they resist. If, on the other hand, "taxation without consent is robbery," it necessarily follows that every man who has not consented to be taxed, has the same natural right to defend his property against a taxgatherer, that he has to defend it against a highwayman.

What Patriotism Means to Me

Everyone likes to throw around "patriotism" as if it actually means something.  The fact that it does not makes it that much more useful I guess.  Consider this:

From Wikipedia for Patriot (American Patriot):
Patriots (also known as RebelsRevolutionariesCongress-Men or American Whigs) were those colonists of the British Thirteen United Colonies that violently rebelled against British control during the American Revolution and in July 1776 declared the United States of Americaan independent nation. Their rebellion was based on the political philosophy of republicanism, as expressed by pamphleteers, such as Thomas JeffersonAlexander Hamilton, and Thomas Paine.
But just plain old "Patriot":
patriot is someone who feels a strong support for his or her country. See also Patriotism.
Hmmm...Those seem to be opposite things.  Wouldn't it have been more "patriotic" for the "American Patriots" to have supported what the "sovereigns" of their period would have considered "their country"?

I wonder which form of patriotism my teachers were using when I was asked to write essays about in high school?


Welcome Back with a Few Words of Wisdom

I'm sorry faithful reader - or readers as the case may be - for  the dearth of posts lately.  I got married two weeks ago today to the most beautiful woman I know, and those of you who have been there know just how much time and energy that can consume.  But, it is totally worth it if you are lucky enough to find the right person.

It may be a little bit off topic ("this blog has a topic?" you are saying), but I just wanted to share with you a couple of definitions that have lately been transforming the way I see and operate in the world.  I don't remember exactly where the first one came from.  I am fairly certain it was one of my regular podcasts.  I want to say it was The Voluntary Life, but do not quote me on that.
The true definition of wealth is the proportion of your life that you get to spend doing what you really want to do.  
 In hindsight that seems obvious, so why didn't anyone explain that to me when I was growing up?

The second definition is from a seemingly unlikely source, Adam Carrola.  I am paraphrasing from his book which a read a couple of months ago, so I apologize for any slight inaccuracies.
The true definition of intelligence is the ability to get what you want in life.   
I do not have much to add to those two things.   I just wanted to share them with you and hope that they can be as helpful to you as they have been to me.

Breaking News - I Am Not a Lone Nut

In the latest episode of Penn's Sunday School, the hosts discussed a topic that is very near and dear to my heart and about which I had assumed I was alone:  Why are we afraid to pronounce the names of other countries in our own dialect?  They even went so far as to one-up me:  Why don't we just pronounce the country the way they do?  For example, Spain would become España.  Mind blown...

A Cynical Take on Economics

Call me crazy, call me simple, call me what you will, but the main reason I don't trust mathematical economists is that I am not aware of a single one who made a billion dollars doing it.  With reliable, scientific information about the future of a national or the world economy, shouldn't it be a peace of cake to make massive fortunes with well placed, well timed investments?

This Sovereign Is Enjoying a Day around the House

I realize this probably doesn't bother most people - which itself annoys me - but I had the unfortunate opportunity of seeing, over my scrambled eggs, some news coverage of Kate Middleton's pregnancy.  It bothers me enough to see the British obsessing over the Royal Family, but why are so many Americans interested in the least about their day-to-day activities?  They are the ultimate celebrity for the sake of celebrity.  Granted Paris Hilton has never been particularly productive, but at least her recent family has been.  How many generations of royalty do you have to go back to find an ounce of wealth or fame that was actually earned?

All of that aside, the part that really stuck in my craw was when the news correspondent referred to the baby as "the future sovereign."  I guess technically, by most people's definition of the term, her statement was correct.  But as someone who considers himself a sovereign (and his neighbor, and his coworkers, and the kid down the street...), it really made my skin crawl.  So this sovereign turned off the tube, poured another cup of coffee and took a shower.  Stay tuned for more developments from the royal estate here in Pittsburgh.

Marble Wall Coverings

I've been in the homes of some pretty wealthy people.  They weren't billionaires by any means, but they are well off.  I have seen enormous rooms with unnecessarily high ceilings and televisions bordering on the absurd.  I have been in swanky, downtown office buildings of hugely profitable companies.  I've seen some nice amenities is what I'm trying to say.  Today I was in the county Marriage License Bureau - the epicenter of the mundane - and the room was covered in marble from floor to ceiling.  This led me to develop what I am going to call the Marble Law of Finance:
Nobody covers a wall with marble using their own money.  
This is a helpful realization.  If I am ever abducted by aliens, wake up on a marble floor and look up to see marble walls, I'll know I'm in one of their government buildings.

The Golden Rule Revisited

There is a tongue-in-cheek version of the golden rule, "He who has the gold makes the rules."  Sure, it's humorous and to some extent true - those who wield political power are on average likely to come from relatively high levels of economic status.  But, I have formulated a golden rule that I think is more universal and incontrovertible, "He who makes the rules obtains the gold."

Who Stopped Dreaming?

YouTube has gotten very good at suggesting videos that I will like, and it has gotten just as good at suggesting videos that will really get me torqued.  Case in point: this video of Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Bill Maher show (sounds like the perfect storm for trouble right?).  Dr. Tyson is livid, as usual, that not enough money is being extorted from the American public to fund his pet projects.  He compares the magnitude of money confiscated for NASA's budget to the amount confiscated for TARP and the various wars, as if two or more wrongs make a right.

I've written fairly extensively on the subject of NASA funding (and the funding of state science in general), so I think I will let Murray Rothbard take this one:
How shall we finance our future explorations in space? The answer is simple: insofar as space explorations are a byproduct of needed military work (such as guided missiles) and only insofar, let the space exploration proceed on the same basis as any other military research. But, to the extent that it is not needed by the military, and is simply a romantic penchant for space exploration, then this penchant must take its chances, like everything, in the free market. It may seem exciting to engage in space exploration, but it is also enormously expensive, and wasteful of resources that could go into needed products to advance life on this earth. To the extent that voluntary funds are used in such endeavors, all well and good; but to tax private funds to engage in such ventures would be just another giant government boondoggle.

Robots and the Non Aggression Principle

Robots and the Non Agression Principle
It seems that any science fiction involving sufficiently advanced robots usually includes some element of struggle between them and their human creators.  Is this just a useful plot device, or is their really an inherent danger in creating powerful, rugged, autonomous beings?  Perhaps the behavioral framework within which we have been considering robots is flawed.  Maybe the solution would be treating robots the same way we treat humans (or at least the way we ought to).  Consider the most well-known rules for programming well behaved robots. 

Isaac Asimov defined the Three Laws of Robotics as follows:
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
Those seem like pretty good laws, right?  They're pretty airtight.  But, what if we tried something a little bit different?  What if we paused for a moment and decided to program our robots to obey the Non-aggression Principle, the axiom that one shall not initiate the use of force against other persons or their property.  This is a fundamentally different way of treating robots that transcends Asimov's master/slave-relationship-based rules.

I think this is great fodder for any budding libertarian-sympathizing science fiction writers out there.  What would be different? What are the potential pitfalls, and what are the potential benefits of programing robots to be actually autonomous?  Not just autonomous slaves, but nonviolent, nonsubservient, synthetic beings.  Why can't the rules that govern human action also govern the action of artificially intelligent beings? 

Things That Annoy Me - Another Update

I really am going to be a grumpy old man, as evidence by my new label "Things That Annoy Me" required to organize the series of posts devoted to things that annoy me.  Tack on yet another thing that simply drives me insane: 

People who use the term "delta" to mean either "change" or "differential" in spoken language.  

If you are and engineer, or if you work with them, you have probably experienced this.  First of all, the mark of a mature, intelligent person is the ability to communicate at least moderately technical information to the lay person in common language.  Second, unless your audience is made up of engineers, they are not going to understand your meaning.  This is not because it is complex, but because you are simple.  Finally, unless they are as pretentious as you are, they think you sound stupid. 


Beyond Tuition - A New Model for Education

I have a crazy idea - one that I think is just crazy enough to work.  I propose a model for providing education, for a profit, without requiring students to pay tuition.  The model also provides strong incentives for the institution to give career-relevant lessons and to ensure that each student achieves financial success after graduation.  I'm sure I'm not the first person to suggest this, though I have done zero research on the subject. 

The model is simple.  Students are enrolled in the institution based on whatever criteria the school finds appropriate, but the student is never required to pay tuition (room and board, books, etc. are TBD).  The students agree by contract upon enrollment to pay the institution a percentage of their earnings following graduation for an agreed-upon period.  It could be 10 years, or 20 or until retirement.  I'm not sure how the numbers would work out, but it would likely correlate to the reputation of the institution for turning out successful professionals. 

If the school is not successful in fostering a good career for the student, the student owes them little, or nothing.  If there is a widespread failure to provide relevant education (hard to imagine...), the taxpayers are not on the hook to back bad loans paid to students with little chance of making a go of it with their degree in Art History.  The institutions responsible would be...well...responsible. 

First, Assume a Ladder

I was reminded of a joke I haven't heard in a long time but that everyone should keep in mind when listening to economists prattle on about their theories.  I have heard of few variants, but the one from this health care blog was the first to show up in Google and will do just fine:

[Have you heard ]the story of the engineer and the economist who, walking through a remote forest, fell into a very deep hole with vertical sides[?]  The engineer said, "We'll die down here.  No one can hear us calling for help, and it is impossible to climb out."

 The economist said, "On the contrary, there is no problem.  First, assume a ladder."





Peaceful Exploration in the 21st Century

To those who say that exploration cannot be done without the forceful arm of the government, to those who have presumed to take my money by force to see their whims enacted in space and to all those without the vision to see the possibilities of a truly peaceful society, please consider eating crow and donating (voluntarily) to see a small project of great importance get off the ground.  Is it the end of government funded science?  Is it an all-in-one replacement for NASA?  No, of course not.  But it is a beginning.  It is an idea so much more beautiful than two giant, lumbering gangs racing to the moon as to be in an entirely different category. 


Things That Annoy Me - An Update

In an update of my previous post on things that annoy me, I am providing a couple more things that are annoying me as of late:
  1. The overuse of the term "Juxtaposition".  It's not that the term is necessarily used inaccurately, I just see it cropping up all over the place for no particular reason. 
  2. The use of the term "Methodology" when "Method" would be more accurate.  
  3. The use of the term "Phraseology" in almost any case, because "wording" or "phrasing" would almost always suffice and be more accurate. Don't believe me that this actually happens?  Check out this interview with Senator Harry Reid in which he attempts to explain through contorted logic that taxation is voluntary in the United States. 
The common theme today is people trying to sound smart and sophisticated, when their goal really ought to be clarity and accuracy.  This is a common tactic (though rarely is it conscious) among academics and politicians.  My hypothesis is that this results from the lack of incentive for either of these groups to actually be clearly understood.  Both academics and politicians have a considerable amount to gain from the appearance of mental superiority and relatively little to gain from the actual transfer of thought and knowledge. 

The Mothering Effect of Government Regulation

The Case for Regulation

On the surface, government regulation provides a much needed service to our uncertain world and protects us from rampant subjugation to the whims of our neighbors.  It is such a compelling and simple concept that I have a great deal of empathy for those who believe it to be true.  Many of my fellow travelers in the quest for greater individual freedom hold the position that, of course, we need some minimal level of regulation from government.  Who could be so extreme, callous and ignorant to propose that we should have none?

Me for one.

When I was growing up, my mother made us do chores.  I'm glad she did because when I struck out on my own I knew how to cook, sweep the floors, do the laundry and clean the toilet.  I had the skills and the compulsion to keep a clean kitchen and an orderly bedroom.  But when I pause to think about the quality of the work I did as a child and contrast it to that which I do in my own house, I am embarrassed.  Now I was a well-behaved child, but I did the bare minimum I could get by with less I disappoint dear mother.  My style of cleaning in those days could well be described as "hitting the high spots."  I never moved chairs to sweep beneath them.  I rarely took the items off of the bathroom sink to wipe it down.  I mastered the art of pushing them back, wiping and pulling them forward, thus creating an illusion akin to sweeping dust under a rug, which I was also not above.

Comparatively, I am a cleaning Nazi when it comes to my own house - think rigid discipline and rampant germicide. 

Why the disparity?  What drives us to literally and figuratively sweep things under the rug in certain conditions and not others?

Ownership and Responsibility  

The difference now is that I own the house I live in and thus have an internal drive to keep it neat and orderly.  Even when I rented an apartment, the effect of being the sole person responsible for housekeeping created an immediate shift in my behavior.  I knew that if I did not keep my place in order it would directly effect how I felt about myself, and perhaps just as important, how visitors felt about me. 

Granted, in the case of industry in the market there is still the effect of ownership and responsibility to one's customers.   But consider for a moment the effects of a paternalistic regulatory apparatus on the goals of an organization.  The confines of regulation are inherently slow to change and rarely focused entirely on the safety and satisfaction of the consumer or the public at large.  They are necessarily driven in large part by political forces and are usually subject to the powerful influence of relatively small interest groups.  Besides these effects they shift the focus of industry in part away from satisfying customers, which includes an interest in their safety, on to the particular guidelines provided by regulatory bodies.  This provides industry with the perverse objective to dot the i's and cross the t's provided by regulation and then, if they run afoul of public safety, to blame the shortsightedness of the regulatory body which has claimed ownership and responsibility for an orderly society. 

Advice for the Young and Unemployed

I just found this great article on advice to young, unemployed workers over at FEE.  There was one section where the author, Jeffrey Tucker, really stuck a note with me.  He called out exactly what I have just learned after a very few years in the workforce:
 "At every job, you are going to learn so much about human ethics, psychology, emotions, and behavior. Most of what you will learn will be enlightening and encouraging. Some of it, however, is not pretty and might come as a shock. 
First, you will discover that people in general are extremely reluctant to admit error. People will defend an opinion or an action until the end, even if every bit of logic and evidence runs contrary. Sincere apologies and genuine admissions of error and wrongdoing are the rarest things in this world. There is no point at all in demanding apologies or in becoming resentful when they fail to appear. Just move on. Neither should you expect to always be rewarded for being right. On the contrary, people will often resent you and try to take you down.
How do you deal with this problem? Don’t get frustrated. Don’t seek justice. Accept the reality for what it is. If a job isn’t working out, move on. If you get fired, don’t seek vengeance. Anger and resentment accomplish absolutely nothing. Keep your eye on the goal of personal and professional advancement, and think of anything that interrupts your path as a diversion and a distraction."
I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have felt my own progress or the progress of my employer hampered by the simple fact that those around me were afraid to admit they had made a mistake or, despite their credentials, might not know everything about a particular subject.  If someone had told me 5 years ago that I would be openly ridiculed at work for having the skills and desire to quickly solve problems, I would have never believed it. 

I encourage everyone to read the full article here. 

Lysander Spooner on Democracy

Of all the commentary on the failings and conceptual problems of democracy, I think Lysander Spooner put it best in No Treason - No. 1:
The principle that the majority have a right to rule the minority, practically resolves all government into a mere contest between two bodies of men, as to which of them shall be masters, and which of them slaves; a contest, that—however bloody—can, in the nature of things, never be finally closed, so long as man refuses to be a slave.

Just Think About the Average

It's not every day that you run into expositions on mistaken aggregation in popular culture.  Maybe you aren't as big of a Rush fan as I am, so you might think that their lyrics from 1976 do not constitute 'popular culture.'  Let's just assume you are wrong and carry on.  In case you are not familiar with this epic piece (I really mean epic, not in the overly broad sense it has come to mean in our vernacular.  The song runs just over 20 minutes.),  I will poach a portion of the synopsis from the wikipedia page for the 2112 album:
In the year 2062, a galaxy-wide war results in the union of all planets under the rule of the Red Star of the Solar Federation. By 2112, the world is controlled by the "Priests of the Temples of Syrinx," who determine the content of all reading matter, songs, pictures - every facet of life. A man discovers an ancient guitar and learns to play his own music. Thinking he has made a wonderful discovery that will be a boon to humanity, he goes to present the guitar to the priests of the Temples, who angrily destroy it and rebuke him for unearthing one of the "silly whims" that caused the collapse of the previous civilization.
The section I would like to focus on is the main character's meeting with the priests.  After the priests deliver their initial rebuke, he says in absolute confusion and dismay:
I can't believe you're saying
These things just can't be true
Our world could use this beauty
Just think what we might do
Listen to my music
And hear what it can do
There's something here as strong as life
I know that it will reach you
To which the priests angrily reply (italics mine):
Don't annoy us further!
We have our work to do
Just think about the average
What use have they for you?

Another toy will help destroy
The elder race of man
Forget about your silly whim
It doesn't fit the Plan!
Picture the central planners of today and think of their conceit in reference to the priests.   There is no average, no class of averages, no average person or average family that can enjoy the beauty of music or will miss its absence.  These are actions and passions of individuals that cannot be summed, divided or averaged.  It is true that this wonderful new discovery doesn't fit the plan, because the goal of the plan is to maximize something that doesn't exist - average happiness.

Does Government Research Funding Really Contribute to Economic Growth?

I just read a great article over at Reason on a subject near and dear to my heart and related to some previous posts of mine regarding NASA funding.  I implore everyone to check it out.  Here is my favorite snippet from the article:
The story of the airplane is instructive. After the Spanish-American War, the federal government supplied a grant of $73,000 to the director of the Smithsonian Institution, Samuel Pierpont Langley to develop heavier-than-air craft. All six of Langley's prototypes crashed, the last one on October 7, 1903. Two months later, Ohio bicycle mechanics, Orville and Wilbur Wright, launched their first successful flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C. Their R&D budget? About $1,000.
This is merely an anecdote, of course, but what a powerful one it is, especially when the proponents of government funded science offer a handful of successes to make their case.  

All Hail - May 1st is Now Officially "Loyalty Day"

The proclamation has come down from on high: May 1st is now officially Loyalty Day.  What sort of procrustean bed must one's mind occupy to celebrate Independence Day and Loyalty Day in the same year and on the same soil?  

What exactly are we to pledge our allegiance and affirm our loyalty to?  Well our founding principles of, "service and citizenship; courage and the common good; liberty, equality, and justice for all."  These are the words of the president in his proclamation made April 30, 2013.

Herein lies the danger of the hero worship and allegiance to "founding fathers" and "founding principles".  It is the tendency to twist, distort and add to those "founding principles" that makes them particularly dangerous.  Principles, to be useful for the people must be few and clear.  To be useful to the expansion of the state, it is best that they are many, unclear and broadly interpretable.  Compare for instance:
  • Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness
  • service and citizenship; courage and the common good; liberty, equality, and justice for all
Service to whom and for what?
The courage to do what?  To follow the rules, to stand up, to recite a pledge without understanding and to fit in? 
The common good?  Defined by whom and to what ends?

Ask yourself also if the founders had held as core values "service and citizenship", would they have ever declared independence from the king? 

What are we being asked to celebrate exactly?

Ascending Into Anarchy and Order

You always hear, in history and in fiction, about society "descending into anarchy and chaos" following the demise of some government or empire.  This is the premise behind Asimov's Foundation Trilogy so loved by Paul Krugman.  In summary, the ever present goal of generations of characters within the books is to restore the grandeur of the now fallen Galactic Empire and establish a second so that order, progress and prosperity would once again exist in the galaxy.  Even within the state paradigm, the idea that such a broadly centralized government would be effective or beneficial to anyone - besides those in charge of it - is outright silliness.  Still the specter of a galaxy "descending into anarchy and chaos" is invoked numerous times.  

I've got news for everyone: If the societal framework for peaceful coexistence did not already exist, undergirding the law and order provided by the state, then the state could not provide it.  There could never be enough laws or enough lawmen to make order out of a society in chaos.  I could go outside right now, with all our laws and regulations, and throw a brick through my neighbor's window, run back in and probably not get caught.  Even if he saw me, a conviction seems unlikely (and quite expensive at that).  Think about it as you go throughout your day.  What could you get away with if  you were so inclined, and what is the likelihood of getting caught?  If you work at it, I estimate that you could come up with a dozen or so petty, low risk crimes.  Extrapolate by millions and imagine the disorder and chaos that would be far beyond the law's powers to contain.  Now ask yourself why you do not do these things; I suggest by the way, that you do not.  It cannot simply be a matter of economic incentives.  Your neighbor's TV is pretty sweet, and you have seen where he hides his key and know what time he leaves and comes home.  You do not steal his TV because of your own moral rules, whether you derive them from God, nature or otherwise. 

These are the rules that 98% of us agree on 98% of the time and that hold our world together whether there is a state or not.  So let's put an end to the rhetorical nonsense of anarchy equating to chaos and pause for a moment to appreciate how internal rules for proper conduct on an individual and family level provide an extended order for peaceful civilization without the aid of a ruling class. 

A Chicken In Every Pot - A K-1 On Every Return

Experience has an unrivaled ability for teaching us important lessons.  The most persuasive arguments are still abstract compared to living experience.  Even the ones you buy wholeheartedly will surprise you in their veracity once they are solidified by your experience.  They are made real

Think of it: "war is hell", "taxation is theft", "the dealership garage is trying to screw you".  Experience matters. 

Imagine if Karl Marx had owned his own factory, or even a small shop.  Would his attempts to make a profit - a return on his own hard-earned capital - have still been viewed by himself as a parasitic exploitation of his workers?

If our dear leader Obama had done something more productive with his life than community organizing (I still haven't quite figured out what that entails) would he still shackle businesses with ever more regulations, stipulations and penalties (or are they taxes?) while deriding any theoretical business model that can not survive his machinations? 

The obvious answer to me is, No!  Take anyone agitating against capitalism, have them experience the risk of their own savings, effort and time toward some productive venture, and see how their tune changes with regard to state control and taxation of commerce.  You may say that such a change of heart would be merely self-preservation or that they have become sell-outs in the eyes of the "greater-good" or "community cause".  I say you are wrong.  I say that the nature of human commercial interaction is clarified by experience.  It is easy to be spoiled in the modern industrialized world into thinking that that which you can purchase is yours by obligation.  It is just as easy to forget what your in-kind obligations might be. 

This simplest path to libertarianism is an individual's dual realization that:
  1. I don't want to be forced to live my life or make my living at the direction of my neighbor(s) or the state.
  2. I don't want to be a hypocrite 
I do not know how or if we will ever get there, but I contend that if a majority of Americans even attempted to operate their own business a rational understanding of capitalism would be pervasive enough to move us toward a free society.  This is the educational experience we should hope for. 

We're All Racists Now - or - The Pretense of Race

I'm tired of filling out forms with the, usually optional, question of race.  At what arbitrary point in history and by what arbitrary percentage of my lineage am I to decide my race?  Some of my ancestors came from Germany and England in the 1750's.  My great grandmother was half Native American, but I'm not even sure which tribe one of her parents was from (or which of her parents obviously).  Some of my other ancestors were Irish, or Scottish or Scotch-Irish.  I'm really not sure which, or maybe it was all three.  These are only the aspects of family history which I know based on family names and certain individuals from history about which something was written or stories were passed down.  If I knew all the maiden names involved in my family tree I might know more about the countries my ancestors came from.  Given the time and location, it's a pretty safe bet that some were Italian, maybe even French, but there is little chance of something else.  Given this information I feel pretty safe in checking the box beside "White", but how boring and overly general is that?

Before moving into the great melting pot, trading and marrying with each other and taking up a common language, my ancestors spoke a handful of different languages, had a wide array of inherited customs, food and dress.  They even possessed among them a wide array of skin tones.  What if I were to go way back?  Maybe some of them were European nobility.  More than likely they were serfs.  Before that, some were probably citizens of the Roman Empire, or the republic that preceded it, or maybe they were part of barbarian tribes set against it. Maybe some fought against the Moors or even the Neanderthals going way back.  That is all fun speculation that can hardly be proven or disproven, but the one thing I am confident of is that they all descended from humans who left Africa many thousands of years ago.  So maybe the safest box to check, and this applies to everyone, is "African."

Certainly in the modern context, to do this would be disingenuous.  The purpose of such questions is generally to collect data regarding relative distributions in various areas of employment, purchases of consumer products, patterns of behavior etc.  But to assume the relevance of this information is, in my opinion, very much like Hayek's pretense of knowledge applied to the 'social sciences'.   We assume that this one metric, because it is relatively demonstrable, is relevant to achieving our end, whether that end is to hire an appropriately diverse work force or to bring about fairness with respect to some measure of socioeconomic status.  This is an understandably attractive technique because it is a simple matter of understanding history, defining under performing groups and then lifting them up through some political machinations.  However, it can not be reasonably argued among serious adults that race on its own carries any information regarding the aptitude of an individual to be successful in life.  So many more situations and events carry considerably more weight in one's life than ancestral lineage.  Was your father a gambler, your mother an alcoholic, your grandfather a priest, your brother a murderer, or your sister a movie star?  How much money did your parents make, and how did they treat you growing up?  Did they read books, ask you what you learned in school and attend your baseball games?  It will not take long to run out of room on the form at this rate. 

It is an unfortunate fact that to be born of a certain race in many places around the world is a distinct disadvantage, and this is an evil that must be fought in the prejudices in the mind of every human being.  But to see ourselves as social scientists, we must consider whether the things we seek to control are the ones that matter and whether the rules we presuppose contradict the notions of equality and liberty that we seek to maximize. 

My point here is not to claim an ancestry that is not my own or to offend anyone by supposing I check a box other than "White."  I simply resent the label as applying anything meaningful to my description and stand in firm opposition to the mentality that insists that we should continue to graduate ourselves by these ancient, arbitrary and irrelevant distinctions. 

I hope that someday, we can all see this question of race as irrelevant and offensive to the variety and beauty of human experience as it actually is.  

Remember the Alamo....I mean Arthurdale

Arthurdale, in Preston County, West Virginia was founded as part of the New Deal by FDR during his first term in office.  This 8-year experiment was part of the communist-inspired back-to-the-farm movement of the 1930s and was instituted in part to quell the upset of out of work coal miners in WV and to serve as a propaganda piece for the administration.  In spite of the fact that I grew up only about 2 hours away and took an entire course in 8th grade devoted to the history of the State, I had never heard of the project before today.  Perhaps, this speaks to the success of what was to be a model village for the country and the world moving forward from the great depression.  It turned out to be severely over budget and under productive with nearly all of the residents working outside of the private sector.  A variety of industries attempted to start up there and failed causing the federal government to give up on the project in 1941 and sell the property at a considerable loss. 

This is an excellent historical anecdote to keep in mind as our noble leaders present their plans for our future. 

The following links are worth reading for more history on the project:

The American Dream

Turn on the tube and you are likely to hear talk of the American Dream.  Owning a home is always considered part of that dream, and we are led to believe that this is what makes our ride up the most recent bubble a noble one.  After all, isn't home ownership for all a noble goal?

Home ownership is not for everyone, especially bloggers.  It's really tough to get time to write posts when you're refinishing your hardwood floor - trust me.  The hours I have spent convinced me that life is too short to remodel your own house.  This is why we have so many TV shows devoted to the process.  This way, we can live the American Dream vicariously through HGTV. 

The American Dream is not a house with a picket fence and a two-stall garage.  The dream is not getting a college degree or retiring comfortably at 65.  The American Dream is choice!




Workplace Motivation - A Lesson in Human Action

A while back I was introduced to this video (by Jake at The Voluntary Life) describing a slightly more nuanced and considerably more accurate account of workplace motivation than I had heretofore encountered.  I don't endorse the video in its entirety, and I have not researched any of the reference material for myself.  I had to put aside the fact that some of the research was funded by the Federal Reserve, the "mainstream of the mainstream" according to the video.  Just shudder and move on.

In spite of a few qualms, I do find the explanations regarding incentivisation to be in line with my experience.  I have, for the longest time, been walking around with this Homo Economicus model in my head when it comes to how people should be compensated and treated at work.  But the fact that humans are not purely rational, profit-maximizing John Galt machines, flies in the face of this viewpoint.  People are complex creatures with a wide array of subjective wants and needs who cannot be characterized by linear relationships of reward and behavior.  To paraphrase the video, we are purpose maximizers and each with his own purpose. 

Let this be a warning to central planners of all parties, personal autonomy is a requirement for the fulfillment of human aspirations, whether it is in the workplace or outside of it.  Narrow-minded, linear incentivisation schemes intended to 'nudge' a society toward some optimum state of behavior, besides being morally flawed, is almost certainly going to fail in predicting some nuanced aspect of human action. 

Discovery of the Week - No Treason

Do yourself a favor and read Lysander Spooner's series of essays titled "No Treason."  Doubtless, this will not be a discovery for a large portion of you, but wait there's more.  If you go to the Wikisource page for the essays, you can download them as pdf or epub.  I downloaded mine as epub on my Ipad and couldn't be more impressed with the quality of the result and ease of the process.  Welcome to the future. 

Full Faith and Credit

Turns out I'm not infallible.   Since I started my internal debate over whether to invest heavily into Bitcoin, it has more then doubled in value.

It seems that since the Cypriot banking debacle, Bitcoin has entered into the lexicon of the mainstream media.   The general uncertainty regarding government-issued currencies has contributed to its rise in popularity and price.  The news coverage has not all been well-informed or positive however. 

The following segment was appeared on Bloomberg:



Right away the well is poisoned by the title, "The Anarchist Virtual Currency."  My goodness, how frightening!  It could just have well been titled, "The Incorruptible Currency."  Maybe, "The Stateless Currency"?  Oooo, I know, how about "The People's Currency."  That one, I feel, has legs. 

IRS Wastes Money to Save Us From "Total Anarchy"

This IRS made video would be humorous if it wasn't so enraging. Count the crimes.  Your money (reportedly $60,000) was taken to make a terrible Star Trek parody with the intention of training 'public servants' in the proper practice of taking more of your money. 



My Problem with Star Trek

I'm a big fan of Star Trek.  I may not know as much trivia about the show, its characters or the actors and actresses who played them as the biggest nerds do, but I have as much admiration as anyone for the backdrop that the writers created to explore human nature.

I do have one relatively large quibble on the other hand.  I do not have a problem accepting the technological achievements of the time period.  Warp drive, teleportation, phaser pistols and all the rest I can handle within the context of the Star Trek universe.  What I cannot fathom on the other hand, and what seems too unrealistic to me, is the idea that they exist in a post-scarcity society in which money is no longer is necessary.  "We solved poverty." is the line the comes to mind.  Maybe so; maybe everyone in society has ample means.  I can buy that with sufficient technological achievement.  What I cannot buy is the idea that time, energy and materials are no longer scarce and that there is no longer a desire anywhere to make relative value judgments between any combination of goods or services.  Getting 'beyond money' in my mind is tantamount to getting beyond heartache and disappointment.  These are fundamental aspects of being human and living with other humans.  Even in space drama, subverting fundamental human characteristics runs counter to one's story telling goals. 

Where are all the Former Libertarians?

I am sure that I am not the first person to make this observation, but it seems as if there are very few people who have converted from libertarian or anarcho-capitalist to one of the more mainstream viewpoints on the political spectrum.  I never hear about anyone in the Republican or Democrat camps saying in an interview, "You know, I used to believe in the sovereignty of the individual and in doing all that we can to defend individual rights, but now I have seen the light and joined the Democrat party.  I realized after all that it is in fact morally justified to take some money from neighbor A and give it to neighbor B if he really needs it (or if he seems like a likely voter)." 

Am I wrong here?  Can someone provide counter examples?  Where are all the libertarian defectors? 

Where are all the former libertarians?

It's 10 o'clock, do you know where you ideas are?

Imagine that you have a grand idea for some new widget.  Maybe you will change the world.  Maybe you will make a mint.  Or, maybe you will just end up with a pile of scrap and an empty bank account.  Regardless, you need a plan of action to turn your dream into a reality.  What do you do now?


The first thing you need to do, as usual, is check with the State.  Someone else may have had the same idea, or a similar one, and applied for a state-granted monopoly on the use of it.  If you forge ahead, you could stand accused of stealing someone's idea, regardless of its actual origin!  You had better hire a lawyer to search the government's file of officially recognized ideas, though having done due diligence will grant you no immunity from future litigation.  If that goes well, you will need to hire another lawyer to help draft an otherwise very unhelpful document.  It will need to describe as many potential manifestations of the idea as possible, even though you already know what manifestation it will take.   The document will need to be both as specific and as general as possible.  After all, you need to protect your specific idea in as broad a manner as you can.  This will, of course, make the document unreadable and uninteresting to anyone not being paid $500/hour to interpret it, but it is very important that you protect yourself from someone taking your idea away from you in the dark of night.  Worse still, someone could submit your idea in writing to the state, and they will come take it, though it will probably be in the light of day.     

The Real Impact of the Minimum Wage

I usually like to  post original content on this site, and I have been meaning to describe in detail the disastrous effects the minimum wage can have on the poor in particular and the economy in general.  However, I found this article on the minimum wage over at Skeptical Libertarian that does a fantastic job at just that.  What's more, our old friend Frederic Bastiat is invoked in a discussion of the seen vs. the unseen.

He pulls some excellent information from the following video, which he links to.



I apologize for the simple plug, but it is well worth your time, so I hope you head on over and check it out.

Read the original article here. 
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