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. 

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